There is an old adage in professional sports that says, "If you ain't cheatin', you ain't tryin'." In our win-at-all-costs American society we say, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing." Olympic silver and bronze medals are just not good enough since, "second place is just the first loser."
Back in the older days of Major League Baseball, everyone would chuckle at stories about players who threw Vaseline-coated spitballs, scuffed balls with emery boards and occasionally corked bats. Unfortunately in recent years as salaries have skyrocketed, things are not funny at all, as many athletes have turned to the use of dangerous steroids to gain their competitive edge.
After the horrible strike that canceled the 1994 World Series, MLB needed something to get the fans back to the ballparks. In '98 along came Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to save the game. With no MLB illegal drug policy whatsoever, McGwire and Sosa could openly display creatine and andro bottles and sluff off accusations of steroid use. Surely balls were suddenly flying out of stadiums at a record pace because of better bats, tightly-wound baseballs, and a decline in pitching due to expansion. It couldn't be steroids! Or could it?
As we have hopefully all now learned from the Congressional hearings, obviously it was steroids all along. When sworn to tell the truth, McGwire did not deny his past, saying that he was there to "look toward the future." A known cheater for having once splintered a corked bat during a game, Sosa instantly forgot all his English when the subject of steroids was addressed. After being denied immunity, Jose Canseco could not answer many important questions. Open steroid user and former Most Valuable Player Ken Caminiti was not able to answer any questions, of course, because he had recently died from multiple and long-term drug problems.
And that really is the key to the issue here. Not only is doing steroids cheating, but people across America are dying because of their abuse. Allowing players to return to action after slap-on-the-wrist suspensions is sending the wrong message. Only by banning such athletes will kids get an understanding of the seriousness of the problem.
The International Olympic Committee has the closest policy to perfection, giving a two-year suspension to a first-time offender and a lifetime ban for a second offense. The IOC doesn't ask questions, it just punishes. Ignorance is no excuse for cheating, because the athlete is ultimately responsible for what goes into his/her body.
Which leads us to Barry Bonds. Those people who believe that Bonds didn't know he was abusing steroids are the same ones who think Bill Clinton didn't inhale. Workout partner Gary Sheffield and BALCO founder Victor Conte have willingly spoken about "the cream" and "the clear" steroids that were used.
So now, if Bonds exceeds Hank Aaron's 755 home run total, should that record count? According to an AP-AOL poll, 70 percent of us think no one who used steroids should be allowed into the Hall of Fame, so the guess here is that most people don't feel the records should count either. Putting asterisks in the books was a good idea for Roger Maris' 61 home runs in eight extra games in 1961, but it wouldn't be a good idea to acknowledge any record achieved or aided by the known use of steroids.
Certainly MLB isn't the only sport with a current steroid problem, as the NFL's Carolina Panthers would attest to. But MLB is the sport with the most immediate need for change. Ten-day suspensions are better than nothing, but they are not anywhere near the effective IOC minimum of two years. The MLB Players Union must give some way if everyone is truly interested in solving the problem.
• This year the Montreal Expos have moved and changed their name to the Washington Nationals, while the Anaheim franchise has stupidly changed its name to the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. You don't need a degree in Spanish to figure out that translated, Los Angeles means The Angels, so in reality their name is The Angels Angels of Anaheim. How creative! What's next? The NFL's Buffalo Buffaloes? The NBA's Phoenix Fighting Phoenix? The NCAA's Duke Dukes? Congratulations to the Angels for owning the most ridiculous name in major American team sports history.
• Predictions: American League Division winners - Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, New York Yankees and Minnesota. Wild Card - Boston.
National League Division winners - Atlanta, St. Louis and San Francisco. Wild Card - Florida.
World Series - Having won three consecutive World Series, the success of Wild Card teams cannot be ignored. Florida beats Boston.