ALWAYS CONSIDER THE SOURCE

When an habitual liar tells you something, it doesn’t necessarily mean that what he’s telling you is a lie. If you know he’s an habitual liar, though, you’d best not accept what he offers you at face value.

Take, for example, this AP story (available at many places, but linked here at Sports Illustrated’s website) which ostensibly places the steroids hoopla into historical context. I’ll place the link in the title, but I’ll reprint the entire story for you. I’ll make it clear why in a moment.

From gambling to drugs to ugly labor disputes, baseball’s history is dotted with dark days

A look at some of the darkest days in the history of baseball:

Sept. 29, 1920 – In an account published in The New York Times, Chicago White Sox pitcher Eddie Cicotte says that he and several teammates agreed to throw the 1919 World Series in exchange for cash, in a scheme hatched by a pair of professional gamblers. The eight players indicted in the “Black Sox” scandal were found innocent in court, but banned for life by baseball’s first commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis.

June 12, 1981 – Major league players go on strike. A total of 712 games are canceled before both sides reached agreement July 31 on a contract that would run through 1984.

Dec. 15, 1983 – Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspends Steve Howe, a star relief pitcher for the Los Angeles Dodgers, for one year for cocaine use. Howe, who was suspended seven times by the end of his career, came to symbolize the rampant cocaine problem that plagued baseball in the 1980s.

Feb. 28, 1986 – Joaquin Andujar, Dale Berra, Enos Cabell, Keith Hernandez, Al Holland, Lee Lacy, Jeff Leonard, Dave Parker, Lonnie Smith, Lary Sorensen and Claudell Washington are all suspended for drug use, based on testimony from the 1985 trial of caterer Curtis Strong, who was convicted of selling cocaine to players. The suspensions – some for 60 days, others for a year – allowed the players to stay in the game if they donated to drug-prevention programs, performed community service and, in some cases, submitted to random drug testing.

Aug. 24, 1989 – Cincinnati Reds manager and former star player Pete Rose, baseball’s career hit leader, is banned from the sport for life for betting on his own team. Rose steadfastly denies the gambling allegations until 2004, when he comes clean in his autobiography.

May 7, 1992 – Trainer Curtis Wenzlaff is arrested for steroids distribution. Wenzlaff later publicly admits helping Jose Canseco and 20 to 30 other major leaguers obtain steroids, but refuses to discuss another former client, Mark McGwire.

Aug. 12, 1994 – Players walk off the job in a protracted strike that results in the cancellation of the remainder of the season, including the 1994 World Series.

Aug. 22, 1998 – A jar of androstenedione is discovered in McGwire’s locker, just as he and Sammy Sosa are chasing Roger Maris’ single-season home run mark of 61. McGwire admits using the drug and goes on to hit a record 70 home runs. The precursor to steroids is not yet illegal in Major League Baseball.

May 28, 2002 – Ken Caminiti is quoted by Sports Illustrated as saying he used steroids during his MVP season in 1996 with the San Diego Padres, when he hit a career-high .326 with 40 home runs and 130 RBIs. He estimates half the players in the big leagues were using them.

Dec. 2, 2004 – The San Francisco Chronicle reports New York Yankee Jason Giambi testified to a federal grand jury on Dec. 11, 2003, that he had used steroids for at least three seasons and had injected himself with human growth hormone in 2003.

Feb. 6, 2005 – The New York Daily News reports Canseco says in his book, “Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big” that he injected McGwire with steroids and introduced several other sluggers to the drugs.

March 17, 2005 – At a hearing of the House Government Reform Committee, McGwire evades questions about steroid use as he testifies alongside Canseco, Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro, who denies having used steroids. Lawmakers scold Commissioner Bud Selig and union leader Donald Fehr, saying baseball’s penalties are too lenient. Some congressmen say legislation could be necessary.

Aug. 7, 2007 – San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds hits his 756th career home run to break baseball’s all-time record, held by Hank Aaron for more than three decades. Bonds’ accomplishment is tainted by allegations that he had used performance-enhancing drugs for years.

Nov. 15, 2007 – Bonds is indicted on five felony counts of perjury and obstruction of justice for allegedly lying when he testified he never knowingly used performance-enhancing drugs. If convicted, legal experts say Bonds could spend up to 2 1/2 years in prison.

Dec. 7, 2007 – Bonds pleads not guilty to four counts of perjury and one of obstruction of justice.

Dec. 13, 2007 – A report prepared by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell details a troubling drug culture in baseball, and names 85 current and former players linked to performance-enhancing substances. Included are Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Miguel Tejada, Andy Pettitte and Eric Gagne.

That’s quite a list, but do you see what’s missing? For starters, there are the gaping holes in what is offered. The article refers to the strikes of 1981 and 1994, but it only mentions the actions of the players. What were the owners’ contributions to those work stoppages? There is also mention of a “rampant cocaine problem” in baseball in the 1980s. Later, the article mentions the trainer who gets busted in 1992 for distributing steroids. Did no one have the wherewithal to make the connection? Why was there no massive outcry from the owners and the corporate media (or, for that matter, for the fans) in 1992– especially considering all the noise raised by the “rampant cocaine problem”– for steroids testing as part of a comprehensive drug testing program?

As to what the list does not include, does not half a century of segregation and racist exclusion qualify as “dark days”? All those records (such as DiMaggio’s 56 game hit streak and Ruth’s 714 homers) from when the game was supposedly simple and pure were accumulated in a league that was absent some of the greatest talent in the game. The owners could have demanded the inclusion of African-American players, and the players themselves could at any point have refused to play in segregated leagues. But no, they all chose to participate in a decades-long farce that helped the Land of the Free maintain the most brutal manifestations of its racist legacy well into the second half of the twentieth century. The AP doesn’t see fit to mention that in its list, of course. Neither does the list mention baseball’s rejection of Curt Flood among its sordid episodes of labor relations.

There is a clear bias to the AP article, a bias which is reflected in the lion’s share of coverage of the steroid scandal. The corporate media are pushing the narrative that it is all the players’ fault. It is true that none of the players who used steroids were forced to do it, but players’ responsibility is only part of the story. It is a rare and sparkling commentator who is willing to place any significant blame for the steroid flap on the owners, the media, and the fans. The owners couldn’t reasonably have been in the dark about steroid use, especially since they knew about cocaine abuse. The media didn’t go out of their way to look into what must have been an open secret around the league, with so many players allegedly participating; they saw fit, as I recall, to opine that the ball was juiced. The fans enjoyed the long ball so much that none of them seemed to care enough to look under the carpet.

In fairness to the fans, though, I’m guessing that not many of them are as bent out of shape by the steroid issue as are the professional pundits and other loudmouths (a similar dynamic was at work during the right-wing witch hunt against Bill Clinton and his penis; Clinton enjoyed high job ratings while the conservatives in Congress and the Beltway pundit class went apoplectic over Monicagate). I’m guessing most fans probably look at it the way I do. I don’t condone steroid use, and I think it should be rooted out. However, baseball has instituted a testing program, so let’s just let this pass into history like all the other scandals and tough issues. The owners and the corporate media didn’t so much as furrow a brow while steroid use was supposedly rampant, so why make a big deal out of what is now a big, nasty bygone? (I would get into the involvement of Congress, but the duplicitous grandstanding of those jackals needs no explanation.) My guess is that they are worried about the image of the game, and they are sparing no expense and effort in lining up their scapegoats. Barry Bonds sufficed for a while, but since steroid abuse was seemingly so widespread, a lot of other names had to be posted to the bulletin board.

Nothing the Mitchell report says is going to result in any official action, either. That alone should tell you that this is all moralistic smoke up the public’s ass, and nothing more. Professional baseball is not only entertainment, it is huge business. In an effort to enhance their careers in a lucrative industry, an untold number of laborers used performance enhancing substances. In an era when the industry was suffering potential loss of its customer base due to fallout from labor/management strife, the supposed benefits of the enhancements couldn’t have come at a better time. No one was complaining about those benefits when the turnstiles were whirring, so there is no good reason to carp about it now that a punitive and prohibitive testing regime is in place.

Barry Bonds Hatred notwithstanding, the fans are going to forget about this and move on. The corporate media should do the same. There are far bigger (thieving, lying, and mass murdering) fish out there that the press should be spearing, and it is long past time for them to start.

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