Enhanced entertainment

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:36 AM ET

Bob Dylan is singing -- if you want to call it that -- on my car radio, but never once do I stop and wonder: Was he on drugs when he wrote the brilliant lyrics to Like A Rolling Stone?

On a CD at home, Richard Pryor is doing standup comedy the way no one had before, but never once do I wonder: How much is his act enhanced by drugs?

And yet it seems to matter so much that the six greatest home run seasons in baseball history -- each one of them entertaining in its own right -- are now tainted by the stench of performance-enhancing drugs.

Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs. Mark McGwire hit 65 and 70. Sammy Sosa hit 66, 64 and 63 homers. All in a four-year period from 1998-2001 in what is now being called the steroid generation.

Performance-enhanced hitting. That's why the United States Congress has launched an inquiry into the use of steroids in Major League Baseball.

Congress is doing rather sloppily what baseball might have done itself, if it wanted to air its own dirty laundry.

But what really happened in those four troubled seasons was pure entertainment. And with entertainment, the rules of engagement seem to change depending on expectations of fair play or honesty.

We don't seem to care that the greatest musical talents of our lives, the greatest writers, the greatest actors, the greatest singers, may have used some form of drugs or extra kick to enhance their careers or creativity.

We expect that, and we don't necessarily judge.

No one sits back and says the Beatles would never have had 20 No. 1 hit singles if John Lennon hadn't been a drug user. No one wonders whether their record for sales are tainted. No one opines that another band -- one that didn't use drugs -- would have been more popular or more successful if the Beatles' artistic talents hadn't been expanded upon.

There is no level playing field in music or arts or entertainment. Why does sport insist upon one?

And is it our Pollyanna view of fair play and honour and our own desperate need for integrity that determines the only way to succeed is to be clean in the process?

But yet we don't seem to care that Ray Charles needed to have a needle in his arm in order to make his music.

"The (baseball) records should be left in place," said Tony Mandarich, an interested observer of a sport he cares little about. He is a former football player of huge reputation and equal disappointment, suspected of steroid abuse, but never found guilty. He believes accomplishment is accomplishment, no matter what the circumstances.

"Ben Johnson ran the fastest 100 (metres) that was ever run (then) and no matter what you do you can't take that away from him," Mandarich said. "You can't say something that happened didn't happen.

"Barry Bonds hit 73 home runs and that's the bottom line. No one else has done that. He did it within the rules of baseball. You can't say it's tainted because he, in fact, did it.

"As for the legacy (of Bonds, McGwire and Sosa), I think you'll know more about that over the next 10 years. The testing in baseball has started.

"If you look back and the home run numbers have dropped off considerably, then you're going to have a debate. And then you'll see if baseball goes retroactive on those records. Until then, I don't think anybody knows."

But first there is panic in baseball, Congress to be heard from, lies to be told under oath. All in the name of sporting entertainment, trying to level the forever uneven playing field.


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