Baseball's steroids pitch has a self-serving spin

The Baltimore Sun

Allow me briefly, in this baseball-related column, to channel Allen Iverson:

"We're talkin' 'bout Raffy. Raffy! C'mon, man, Raffy? Not current players. Not baseball executives and team officials. Not people who are named and implicated and under investigation now. Not the state of steroids in the game today. We're talkin' 'bout Raffy. Raffy."

Two years ago. That's where baseball's vaunted Mitchell investigation stands. It's stuck in 2005, on Rafael Palmeiro. And on Sammy Sosa and David Segui and a couple of other players who are past tense. And on confidential medical records, which teams can only release to the players and which players are an almost sure bet not to hand over to the investigators - and which might tell us nothing at all about the issue at hand.

And, strangest of all, on one downtrodden, off-the-radar organization. One that baseball swears, honest, cross its heart, it's not trying to depict as Doping Ground Zero, no matter how convenient that might be.

That may not be irrelevance, but you sure can see it from here.

Yet this might be exactly what baseball wants, needs, even deeply desires: steroid issues that fade into irrelevance. It's almost happening already.

Within the past year, no fewer than three post-BALCO legal developments have threatened to blow the lid off performance enhancement in every major sport: the Jason Grimsley affidavit last year, the Internet steroid ring a few months ago in Albany, N.Y., and the conviction and plea agreement by a former New York Mets clubhouse attendant-turned-doping kingpin a few weeks ago.

The lid has stayed on, though. Baseball has done little more than monitor the developments, for what that's worth. Fans have acted as if nothing ever happened - still showing up, still tuning in, still gawking at home run records set for the month, still cheering heroes whose names were blacked out in court documents, still questioning nothing.

The inroads by federal, state and local law enforcement and the courts have kept little traction in any of the media. There always has been something sexier out there to rant and rave about than another revelation of a massive steroid trafficking network with tentacles in major league clubhouses.

And, above all, there has always been Barry Bonds. Take a stand on Barry and you've taken a stand on drugs, and you're off the hook. Everyone is taking a stand on Barry right now, with him fewer than a dozen home runs away from Hank Aaron and the most uncomfortable historic moment in baseball history possibly less than a month away. The big exception to taking a stand on Bonds is, of course, the commissioner himself.

Which is why the timing of yesterday's New York Times story will always be curious. With all due respect to our colleagues up the highway, poring over the story over and over only convinces you that baseball is feeding us all a whopper of a red herring.

The ease at which it glosses over the current players whose names reportedly appeared in the Grimsley document should, instead, set off red warning lights. So, a lack of evidence, as a baseball official put it in the Times story, against Orioles Miguel Tejada, Brian Roberts and Jay Gibbons, huh? Forgive us if we hold off a little while until we get better confirmation than that.

And anyone notice the absence of any mention of a couple of significant names that were in the same document? Yep, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. Not even a "lack of evidence" dismissal from some baseball source for them. Odd.

So baseball stirs the pot on the largely silent, powerless and ineffective yet painfully lengthy Mitchell investigation, by dredging up old names and conducting dubious searches. Thus, a lot of talk about very little. That, in turn, drowns out any possible loud talk about something big.

And fans can stroll blissfully along, acting like their game is still on the up-and-up because no one besides the usual suspects is tainted by any allegations. Especially if that usual suspect wears No. 25 for the San Francisco Giants and keeps pounding and polarizing his way toward the record.

In fact, there hasn't even been anything new on Bonds in months, unless you count the findings of Curt Schilling, Private Dick, who recently took time out from vilifying the media for inaccuracy to extract a "confession" from Barry.

Now, that was juicy. That eats up air time and newspaper space better than explaining confidentiality policies and detailing Internet drug trafficking.

For that matter, so does choosing sides for and against Gibbons and debating whether the Orioles should stick with their latest lineup.

With the fight on all fronts against performance enhancers, there's much juicier news out there, but apparently the less said about that, the better.

You wish someone would say exactly how the emphasis on Palmeiro and Sosa, on medical records and on shrugging off all those redacted names will somehow bring us to a larger truth about the depth of the problem. Or even if it will get us closer to the truth.

No such luck. When it comes to the Mitchell investigation, no news is good news. And all their news is no news.

I mean, c'mon. We're talking about Raffy.

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