Baseball Season Clouded by Scandal, Investigations
MICHELE NORRIS, Host:
Come Sunday, peanuts, Cracker Jack, the home team are all back in season and with them, Major League Baseball's lineup of distractions. The biggest one of course is an internal investigation announced yesterday into steroid use by players, a subject that is hounded the sport in recent years. Joining us is Stefan Fatsis, sports writer for The Wall Street Journal, and a regular guest here on Friday's. Hello, Stefan.
STEFAN FATSIS: Hello Michele.
NORRIS: Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig appointed former Senator George Mitchell to lead the investigation. He didn't mention San Francisco Giant slugger Barry Bonds by name yesterday, but he has to be the focus of this probe.
FATSIS: Yeah he's the focus and he's the trigger of this probe, which comes after the publication of a book called Game of Shadows by two San Francisco Chronicle reporters who document alleged steroid use by Bonds and other players. And Bonds is going to be a monumental distraction and a potential embarrassment to baseball as he closes in first on Babe Ruth's 714 career home runs, and then on Hank Aaron's records of 755. Bonds starts the season on Monday with 708 homers.
NORRIS: So, what does baseball hope to achieve with this investigation?
FATSIS: Well, this would allow baseball to say its come clean and it's moving on. It would give fans something official to use to reconcile all the records that were set in the 1990s and early 2000s. It would allow baseball maybe to put an asterisk in the record books and say that there was no drug testing in the sport prior to 2003, but there are a few problems here. If baseball doesn't investigate itself, who knew what when and then kept quiet, as opposed to just who took what steroids when, then an investigation, I think, will be incomplete. It's potentially embarrassing in any event, given that steroid use was known or suspected in the sport for years and only now, after usage has declined because of steroid testing and after a book by a couple of reporters comes out, then baseball finally decides to investigate it.
NORRIS: Now with all this in the background, the cable TV sports network ESPN will be featuring Barry Bonds in a reality program, Bonds on Bonds. That's a bit curious.
FATSIS: Yeah, the network commissioned the show about Bonds. It's being done by an outside production company which is sharing marketing revenue with Bonds himself. So there's a legitimate question of whether ESPN is giving Bonds an unfiltered platform in the guise of entertainment that he wouldn't be able to get from any network that's just reporting the news. And the show has caused internal conflict at ESPN, but it's supposed to debut next Tuesday as scheduled.
NORRIS: So where does this all leave baseball's public image?
FATSIS: Oh, it's been getting better. This has been a period of labor stability and public popularity, record attendance. The drug testing has been a good thing. It does have some shortcomings, but the penalties are the stiffest in pro sports. This World Baseball Classic we just saw was terrific. There's been a shift away from power on the field to baseball's traditional values, speed and defense. But the continued focus on steroids is a distraction, but you know, tough luck.
NORRIS: So let's turn our focus to the field. The Chicago White Sox begin defending their World Series title in baseball's regular season opener on Sunday night. Can they repeat?
FATSIS: Sure. They're young, they're talented and they've added 35-year-old slugger Jim Thome as their designated hitter. If he can regain the great power he had earlier in his career, the White Sox should be right there again. But the real strength in baseball is its parody, and who thought we'd be saying that these days? The Yankees still may outspend everybody and plenty of teams are relatively cash poor. But five different teams have won the last five World Series. In Sports Illustrated this week, Tom Verducci points out that since 1979, only five of the 28 cities that host baseball haven't hosted a World Series.
NORRIS: Now Chicago has of course hosted a recent World Series, but there is that other team on the north side of the city, the Cubs.
FATSIS: Yep, and they're hoping that baseball's gods keep rewarding teams that haven't won the World Series in forever. The Boston Red Sox, of course, won the World Series in 2004, ending their famous drought which dated back to 1918. Then came the White Sox who hadn't won since 1917. The Cubs are the last team standing. They haven't won it since 1908.
NORRIS: Keep praying.
NORRIS: Thanks, Stefan
FATSIS: Thanks, Michele.
NORRIS: Wall Street Journal Reporter Stefan Fatsis. He joins us on Friday to talk about sports and the business of sports.
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