Thursday, June 18, 2009

Sammy "Say it Ain't" Sosa

OK, this being an opinion blog, let me remind you that the opinions expressed here are mine, and mine alone, and do not reflect the views of News 14 Carolina, Time Warner Cable, and anyone connected with the station--from staff to advertisers.

That out of the way, if you thought Sammy Sosa was clean, and not using performance enhancers, then you also believe the earth is flat, and that the moon is made of green cheese.

Now, I speak from a bit of personal history on this. I am a Chicago native, and saw Sosa play for the White Sox. At the time, he was built like a greyhound. Sleek, muscular, and had the propensity to swing at just about anything. Hitters mature over time, and Sosa was no different. He became a little more selective at the plate upon his return to Chicago, but as a Cub. His greatest success came as a Cub, but also his most embarrassing moment. You remember the one, where he claimed that he grabbed a batting practice bat for an in-game at bat, right? The bat in question the shattered and upon closer inspection, was found to have cork in the barrel. I'm no scientist, and won't even claim to know what that will do to a baseball. I do know that Major League Baseball frowns upon that sort of thing, so I can only assume it's not good and definitely not legal.

Oh yeah, and when Sosa was a Cub, he was built like a monster truck. Not speedy. Hulking. I admit, with training, athletes will put on bulk. Even if they are doing it with the help of things that are within the rules, such as protein shakes, and such, they can put on plenty of muscle. Sosa outgrew the norm in much the same way as Barry Bonds, and even to a degree, Mark McGwire.

Now comes the revelation that Sosa tested positive for performance enhancers in 2003, as part of an MLB test to determine a baseline for a potential steroid problem. MLB was sampling players, and not disciplining them for a positive test. That alone boggles the mind, but remember, at the time, there was no drug testing policy in place, so players basically could do what they wanted. Sosa is reportedly 1 of over 100 players that had a positive result, and MLB had told the players that the results would be kept private. This test was for MLB to determine if there was a problem that needed to be addressed.

Here's the rub: If baseball was trying to find the problem, why did they maintain the records? If they were going to keep these results private, then they should have destroyed the records. Period. Would it have suppressed evidence? Yes, but they are now guilty of violating the players trust, as the results are becoming public.

The fact that Sosa, and 100+ baseball players reportedly were dirty at the time is not the fault of the players. At the time, they faced no punishment for this. Now, they face stiff penalties (finally).

Sosa and McGwire are credited with saving baseball, thanks to their epic season record home run race they waged. Admit it, it was fun to watch. I can't stand the Cubs, and even I liked what baseball was getting as a result of this. I wasn't blind to the fact that these 2 were probably juicing--you had to be blind not to at least think it. Still, the game benefited from their on-field exploits. The game owes them both for that.

However, the cost to the game now is big. Baseball is sagging behind other sports in America in popularity, and also in the number of youngsters playing it. When I was a kid, there weren't programs to "foster interest in the game." Baseball WAS the game. It's what you did on a summer day after school let out. You grabbed your glove, met your buddies at the park, chose teams, and played until the sun went down. There was no talk of contracts, endorsements, ESPN, or anything. You played. The stakes are now too high for players to just play--so few roster spots are out there, and so many dollars are on the line. Guys finding a way to be just a little better stronger, or faster was the norm.

The players did the game a disservice by using, The game did the fans a disservice by looking the other way. There is plenty of blame to go around, and sadly, there is likely more bad news to come. More names, more heroes, more tainted records.

Incidentally, there is one constant throughout the timeline.

Bud Selig was named Acting Commissioner of Baseball in 1992.

Mike Solarte

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