Spectre of steroids

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

At a time when Major League Baseball is showering wads of cash on just about anyone who can walk and chew gum at the same time, interesting isn't it that the man who would be the greatest home run hitter of all-time is without a team and without a suitor.

Such is the stench of steroids.

The San Francisco Giants passed on the opportunity to offer arbitration to Barry Bonds on Friday, further indication they have not much interest in bringing him back next year, despite the fact Bonds needs only 22 home runs to match Hank Aaron's record total of 755.

And, it's not just the Giants who are tired of Bonds' act. Outside of the Oakland Athletics, who have expressed only a mild interest, no team is baseball seems willing to take on Bonds and the Gong Show that follows him around.

The Giants still seem to be Bonds' most likely landing spot because they know him and have been dealing with the fallout of his situation for years, a situation that has cost them a great deal in clubhouse chemistry.

But, if not San Francisco, then where? What team is willing to accept the public relations fiasco, the aging body, the potential legal complications, not to mention Bonds' prickly personality?

Having the artificially aided all-time home run champ in your midst isn't an even tradeoff and most general managers don't even want to consider it.

Which brings us, roundabout, to Mark McGwire and the dilemma his presence on the Hall of Fame ballot presents.

He, too, has been stained by the human pharmacy scandal. And while there are legitimate arguments to be made in his favour, the truth of the matter is, judging by the response within the game and that of the fans, not many people want him in the Hall.

For this voter, the questions that swirl around this issue are serious enough to deny first-ballot admission. That doesn't even address the question of his overall on-field qualifications which, in many areas, don't measure up. Still, all things being equal, his home run feats alone would have once gotten McGwire inducted in his first year of eligibility, but for the steroid issue.

Most Hall of Famers don't get in on the first ballot. Right or wrong, first-ballot induction is reserved for the game's special players. That offends some non-voters, but it is just one of the avenues voters take so they can get it right.

Last year, for example, Andre Dawson was selected on 61% of the ballots cast, up from 51% the year previous. He still needs a surge to get to the 75% requirement for induction but if that happens, he won't be the first player to have waited longer than he should have for his day in the sun.

Over time, if a player deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, he will get a fair hearing and the voters, eventually, will get it right.

The McGwire issue will be fretted over more than most and, eventually, the voters will get it right.

And then we will go through it all again with Bonds -- maybe sooner than we think -- unless somebody offers him a job.

NO DEAL

Hats off to the voters of both Sacramento and Seattle who recently turned thumbs down on municipally funded arenas for their NBA franchises.

Not that long ago, it was considered the inalienable right of every professional sports team to have a new arena whenever they snapped their fingers. Now folks are getting smarter.

If an NBA team can find the money to fund a six-year, $100 million US contract for the star of the moment, it can find a way to privately fund its playpen.

FORTUNE HUNTERS

Given the dearth of quality starting pitching available -- and the number of teams such as the Blue Jays who are hungry to add some depth to their rotations -- some modestly talented hurlers are going to feel like they won the lottery this week. The annual baseball meetings start today in Orlando and you can expect the action to be fast and furious, at least on the free agent front.

Think about it this way: The Boston Red Sox already have paid $51 million to a Japanese team just for the right to talk contract with Daisuke Matsuzaka, who has never thrown a pitch in the big leagues.

In that climate, how much do you think Barry Zito or Andy Pettitte or Jason Schmidt is going to get? How about a $10 million-a-season Ted Lilly? Just when you think the pro sports money game can't get any goofier, it does.


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