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Baseball needs a zero-tolerance policy
Scripps Howard News Service


May 08, 2007
Tuesday AM

WASHINGTON -- The other evening I watched my grandson size up a fastball down the middle and belt it all the way to Kingdom Come, well, pretty near anyway. The ball soared over the outfield fence and into the woods beyond, a distance of over 225 feet. Not bad for an 11 year old, even one with some size and documented skills.

As he rounded the bases and his fellow teammates poured out of the dugout to give him the traditional high five at home plate, I couldn't help think that this is the game in its purest form, the way it was meant to be played on spring and summer evenings with young men relying on nothing more than innate ability and enthusiasm and the joy of competing with parents, grandparents and friends cheering them on.

It seemed to me that if this relatively ancient American game is still the national pastime, it is in venues like this where perhaps hundreds of thousands of boys each season are learning some of life's lessons on diamond-shaped playing fields. One could argue that if the game is to retain its integrity, it will be at this level where the importance of winning and the money associated with it has not yet tainted those who play; where hitting a homerun is a tremendous rush because it wasn't the product of an illegal substance.

Major League Baseball - or MLB as it likes to refer to itself - has had many moments that belie the self-righteousness it has promoted over the last 150 years on its way to joining motherhood and apple pie as the metaphor for the American way, including the World Series scandal that changed the face of the institution. But nothing has done more to damage the image and break the faith with the kids the game will rely on in future years than the failure to deal forcefully and effectively with the use of steroids and other illegal ability-enhancing chemicals. It is as disgraceful a greed-driven performance as ever witnessed in the annals of sport and that includes Pete Rose's betting habits.

By the end of this season it is expected the new homerun king will be Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants who will have broken the long-standing record of Hank Aaron with a body that any idiot can see has been pumped up by something other than genetics or natural effort. A player facing allegations of perjury and drug abuse will hold the most important statistic in a sport that lives on statistics. What exactly does that say to my grandson and all those other impressionable youngsters, many in replica uniforms of the same team Bond's represents? That's some role model. Or perhaps MLB is no longer interested in role models to stimulate the talent it will need down the road, obviously believing the lure of giant pay days will do that.

While the ongoing Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative investigation, tell-all books and interviews by players have verified that all those ballpark-filling, crowd-pleasing home runs were the product of better living through chemistry, the toothless commission appointed by MLB for its in-house inquiry has been dithering for a year without any conclusions. Suddenly there are reports that the panel, headed by former Senate leader George Mitchell, has asked a number of active players to testify. Well, my goodness, are you sure you're ready senator? Bonds, of course, probably won't be one of the interviewees given his possible legal troubles.

In the "Black Sox" days just after World War I, MLB appointed a ruthless strong man, Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis, to restore faith in the game. As the new commissioner of baseball, his first step was to ban for life all the alleged participants in the scandal to throw the 1919 series even though all eight of the Chicago White Sox players had been acquitted of wrongdoing in court. That is exactly what is needed now: a zero tolerance policy for drug abuse of any kind and the determination to spend whatever it costs to put integrity back in the game.

Those caught should be instantly expelled from the game and their records expunged. The sanctity of the sport and the future of young Babe Ruths and Hank Aarons who play as they did with what God gave them depend on it. Quit dawdling MLB.


Dan K. Thomasson is former editor of the Scripps Howard News Service.
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Ketchikan, Alaska