MLB getting serious

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:47 AM ET

Major Leaguers begin peeing into bottles today and it's a sad sign of the times that baseball has to stoop to a crackdown on cheating.

Enforcement of anything more than balls and strikes has always contravened the spirit of baseball. Baseball is the sport of the sociopath, a team game without penalties where chewing out the only authority figure is considered part of the spectacle.

Hall of Fame spitballer Gaylord Perry used to enjoy using Philip Wrigley's chewing gum as a contact point for the saliva he deployed so masterfully when visiting Wrigley Field.

Cheatin' has always been right up there with boozin', chasin' skirts and fishin'.

Now the real money is in public sobriety and professional development through drug use. The game is largely played by urbanites and Latins, two groups not usually represented on the cover of Guns and Ammo. As for the womanizing, well, steroids have a say in that as well.

Steroids took cheating to a terribly sinister level and while it can be argued that you can't cheat if there are no rules to break, even baseball has its limits ... they're just harder to reach.

That was especially true in the 1990s, when bulked up longballers such as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and yes, Barry Bonds, were drawing fans back to a game driven to the point of collapse by interminable labour troubles.

It was all too good to be true, this notion that baseball players, built like linebackers, had added sheathes of muscle by sheer hard work and when the facts arrived, they came late to ruin the party.

Ballparks were built. McGwire and then Bonds set new standards for homers in a season. Sosa had given the Chicago Cubs a star in a key market and Bonds was stacking MVP season atop MVP season while changing the tactics of the game.

McGwire is gone and shrunken back to a semblance of normal. Sosa is in Baltimore. Only Bonds, perfectly suited for baseball's traditionally lax views toward self-recrimination, remains potent

Bonds' assault on the career home run mark of 755 will carry him past Babe Ruth this summer and on toward Hank Aaron. Some vexing questions are on tap should Bonds physique or production go the way of many of the stalwarts of U.S. track and field once real drug testing kicked in. All that, though, is for another day.

San Diego Padres GM Kevin Towers, who witnessed Ken Caminiti's drug induced transformation into a hulking MVP, is now talking publicly about the game's complicity. That's a huge step, however, solitary, in the right direction.

So, in its own way, is Jose Canseco's rioutously salacious tell-all book in which he alleges he and McGwire jabbed each other in the Oakland A's clubhouse bathroom.

Word of his book along with a mention from his former boss with the

Texas Rangers, George W. Bush, in a State of The Union Address goosed the players association into doing something closer to the right thing.

Still, this is a rush job. The language of the new drug testing legislation was still being determined this week.

The sanctions are set. A first offence nets the player a 10-day unpaid suspension. Four flunks equals a year-long suspension.

Players can be tested more than once, even if they pass the first test. Testing can be carried out in the off-season and in countries other than the United States.

Meaningful drug testing might be the best thing that could have happened to Bonds. If his production continues unabated, and Bonds spends nearly every waking minute working toward that goal, then he makes a solid case that no chemical intervention was necessary. If he isn't juiced, he lengthens the gap between himself and the rest of the game's elite players. Already they are talking in St. Louis about how suddenly thin Albert Pujols looks.

"I think everybody in baseball should read Canseco's book although I don't have a clue about his veracity," Padres owner John Moores said yesterday. "Scrutiny on large issues is good."

All this, of course, came too late for Caminiti, whose steroid use was part of a deadly cocktail of addictions and mental illnesses that saw him lose his life from a cocaine binge in October.

The notion of cheating as harmless fun died with Caminiti. Today, they start to make sure he didn't die in vain.


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