Sweetness And Light

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The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

Sticking with the National Pastime While It's Down

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In Depth

After 20 months of investigation, former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell finds "widespread" use of steroids in Major League Baseball. His report links dozens of players to doping, including stars like Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada and Barry Bonds.

First, it's interesting how apologists claimed that taking any performance drug could not possibly help anybody hit a major league pitch. But now the proof is in the pudding. If so many hitters used them, steroids helped plenty.

In a real way, baseball, which proceeds rather leisurely, may actually be a more difficult physical sport to play than all the back-and-forth games. After all, on top of a prime athletic body, you must have the keenest hand-eye coordination, as well as an ability simply to endure — six months of games, with only about three off days a month. Though the two sports are very different, it's the day-to-day grind that makes baseball and cycling in the Tour de France so similar, and both so seductive to drug use.

Then, in response to the Mitchell Report, it struck me again how the entitled modern athletes — or at least those who cheat — think, so that even when they presume to apologize, they can't. Did you hear Andy Pettitte's statement? "If what I did was an error in judgment, I apologize." Andy, I'm sorry, but no apology can begin with the word "if."

But, let us look on the bright side. The report gives Barry Bonds more esteemed company as a cheat, doesn't it? But it removes the one excuse his supporters offered — that he was picked on for racial reasons. Now that Roger Clemens (who is to pitching in this era what Bonds has been to hitting), a white man, has been fingered and dishonored, Bonds, as a black man, can't claim that he has been discriminated against.

In fact, it's terribly ironic that Bonds and Clemens, who share so very little, will forever be joined in infamy. They'll be the Bonnie and Clyde of baseball.

But, apropos of Messrs. Bonds and Clemens, here's a thought: Can we simply put a moratorium on Hall of Fame discussions for the next five years, please?

And then there is the players' association. For failing to cooperate with the investigation and for, at the least, tacitly encouraging players not to speak to Sen. Mitchell, the union once again has clothed itself in the mantle of the obstructionist. If it has any sense of perspective or public relations or responsibility, it will now stop its picayune objection to blood testing for HGH (human growth hormone).

Baseball fans have, in a way, already put the whole drug issue behind them. The controversy does not seem to have kept a single ticket-buyer away. Baseball has never thrived so. It's part of the folklore that after the Black Sox World Series fix of 1919, Babe Ruth saved the game. We've come to accept that.

But now I wonder. The Babe was obviously a magnificent distraction, but seeing the way fans have stood by the game even during all the recent ugly revelations, I wonder if one player really did matter. We Americans just seem to accept our national pastime, even when it lets us down.



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Sweetness And Light

Sweetness And LightSweetness And Light

The Score On Sports With Frank Deford

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