'It's a slap on wrist'

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

There's an old saying in sports that says if you're not cheating, you're not trying.

It's an adage that's probably been most true in baseball, where trying to get around the rules has a tradition as rich as the game itself.

Players attempted to cheat back in Hal Lanier's time, too.

The Winnipeg Goldeyes manager, who spent most of his 10-year playing career in the 1960s and 70s with the San Francisco Giants, doesn't pretend he and his teammates were angels.

"You had guys putting flat spots on bats," Lanier was saying from his home in Florida yesterday. "You had pitchers throwing spit balls, or putting vaseline on (balls). Then the sandpaper came out. It was there when I was playing, when I was coaching and when I was managing.

"But this is a little bit more than just doctoring a baseball. This is something you're doing that is not good for your body."

Lanier is, of course, talking about the cheating method of choice among modern major leaguers: steroids.

Today, baseball is being dragged, kicking and screaming, before the U.S. Congress to talk about what used to be its dirty little secret and what is now a full-blown scandal.

Super-star Sammy Sosa, retired slugger Mark McGwire, commissioner Bud Selig, union boss Donald Fehr -- they've all been subpoenaed to testify.

We're not sure how much they'll say, since they haven't been granted immunity. Jose Canseco's lawyer has already said his client will plead the Fifth.

Lanier isn't sure, either, how big a bat Congress brings to the plate. He knows as well as anyone how much power baseball, its commissioner and its union wield.

But you can count him among those who say it's about time something is done.

"I know some players came over the Internet with stories about how it's not good for young kids, which it isn't," Lanier said. "It's not good for anybody, really.

"But it's out there. You've got to face it. And that's what baseball is doing right now. It's a long time coming. There should have been rules long before now."

It's those very rules, though, that have so many people wondering if baseball is serious about getting rid of its problem.

The committee hearing testimony from players today has its doubts, and so does Lanier.

MLB's steroid policy, available on the Internet, calls for just a 10-day suspension for an initial positive test. And get this: players can opt to pay a fine instead of serving their suspensions.

Get caught a fourth time and you can either serve a one-year suspension or pay a $100,000 fine.

Compare that with Olympic drug penalties, where one positive test results in a two-year ban, and you quickly realize how serious baseball isn't.

"It should have stronger rules than it does right now," Lanier said. "I mean, 10 days for the first time you're caught with it is a slap on the wrist for these guys."

Lanier, who lives within 45 minutes of the Astros and Braves spring training sites, has read about pre-season drug tests being carried out.

But you never hear the results -- another problem with the policy.

"I haven't read anywhere that everything is fine with this club, or they found something with one club," Lanier said. "Hopefully, that happens in the near future, where they let the public know what's going on."

If not, the increasing home run totals will be matched only by the number of accusations flying around.

"It's bad for the game," Lanier said. "Hopefully, all it can do is get better, now that they're testing."

We'll know soon enough.

Because, in a twist of the old adage, if they're not catching the cheaters, they're not trying.

And you get the impression they're not going to get away with that any longer.


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