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Dry spell over as juicy story hits home


Don't know about you, but I was feeling a little bit left out while Barry Bonds bore down on Babe Ruth the past couple of months. How could you help but pine for those halcyon days when Baltimore was -- for a couple of months -- the center of the steroid universe.

Now, you don't have to.

Former Orioles pitcher Jason Grimsley, with his tawdry admissions and redacted deposition, has re-established Charm City as the East Coast capital of baseball's still-mushrooming performance-enhancing drug scandal, and I have only one thing to say: Baltimore: Get In On It! Baseball's new Grim Reaper named names for a federal investigator and now it's only a matter of time before those names -- carefully obscured in the damning documents -- begin to trickle out, whisper by whisper, to indict team after team, probably starting with one near you.

Sadly, it's all starting to come together. Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for stanozolol last season and drew Orioles teammate Miguel Tejada into the scandal by speculating to congressional investigators that he might have been the victim of a tainted vial of vitamin B-12 brought in from the Dominican Republic.

Now, Grimsley, who was in that same clubhouse, tells the lead investigator from the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative scandal that "boatloads" of major league players still are using illegal drugs, particularly human growth hormone (hGH), and tied the rampant use of amphetamines (up until testing for them began last year) to Latin players who can get them more easily in their home countries.

Let me count the ways this is going to carry Major League Baseball further into the abyss, from the obvious legal and political implications to the cultural tension that it is certain to create in major league clubhouses that are increasingly populated with foreign-born players.

Now, every Latin player has been unfairly identified as a possible drug smuggler, compounding the cultural challenges every one of them faces attempting to assimilate into American society.

No doubt, it's easier to get amphetamines in, say, Mexico than it might be in Montana, but anyone who thinks that a millionaire major league ballplayer would have had any trouble whatsoever acquiring them in the United States needs to spend 10 minutes on any urban street corner or in the hallway of any suburban high school to find out otherwise.

Grimsley may well have been telling the truth that some Latin players are bringing drugs into major league clubhouses, but let's be careful not to look for a convenient scapegoat that diverts attention from the real issue that now attacks the credibility of the national pastime.

The Grimsley revelations should not be surprising to anyone. Soon after MLB imposed its strictest steroid penalties, experts predicted that players would move quickly to hGH, because the new drug policy doesn't allow for blood testing, which is the only way to detect the synthetic pituitary hormone.

Amphetamines have been a staple in clubhouses for generations. That wasn't even a well-kept secret until the 1984 Pittsburgh cocaine scandal focused attention on recreational drug use among major league players. Players routinely got "beaned up" for games, but the practice was pushed further underground by the increasing involvement of federal law enforcement in policing professional sports.

Baseball's new drug-testing program undoubtedly has caused a decrease in the use of restricted stimulants the past year or so, but it's only a matter of time before some new chemical is developed that will have the same effect without being detectable.

That's why MLB's battle to stay ahead of the science will never be completely effective. There will always be rogue scientists to engineer new molecules or unscrupulous people who find ways to use legitimate medications for illegitimate performance-enhancing means.

It's not about medical ethics. It's about personal ethics. It's about a seedy culture that has developed during the big-money era of professional sports and convinced athletes that it's OK to do whatever it takes to be the best and get the biggest contract.

In some cases, it's a little more complicated than that, because we (and Grimsley) are talking about a sport that has welcomed a huge influx of foreign-born players, many of whom come from backgrounds of abject poverty and some might feel obligated to do whatever is necessary to get that money to support their families.

The true challenge will be engineering a new ethical construct that will create the opposite kind of peer pressure in the clubhouses of the next generation.

Maybe the new wave of shame that Grimsley and his friends have brought upon the sport will turn out to be a positive thing, since he now has made it impossible for us to blame the steroid era on Barry Bonds and a small cadre of bigger-than-life cartoon characters. Grimsley is just a banged-up pitcher, not a record-chasing home run king. He's Everyman, which has got to be a frightening concept for Major League Baseball.

He's the canary in the mineshaft, and isn't that a double-edged metaphor after he sang so loudly that now everyone has to listen.

"The Peter Schmuck Show" airs on WBAL (1090 AM) at noon on Saturdays.

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