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Tuesday, April 05, 2005 | Picture Mark McGwire, seated as he was two weeks ago before the U.S. Congressional hearings on steroids use in baseball, wearing the blue-and-white uniform of an East German Olympic athlete.
Now picture Barry Bonds, also dressed in East German colors, seated as he was a week ago before media members outside the San Francisco Giants’ spring training clubhouse.
Ah, see. Now it’s not so hard to dismiss McGwire, Bonds, et al. for the overwhelming evidence that says they used steroids in blatant disregard for our national pastime’s hallowed records.
Baseball fans become irrational over the issue of steroids if the athlete in question plays for their team. Fans still celebrate McGwire in St. Louis and Bonds in San Francisco.
And Padres fans are guility of turning a blind eye to a player benefiting from steroids. Ken Caminiti admitted in a Sports Illustrated article in May 2002 that he took steroids, yet he remained a beloved hero for his 1996 MVP season that led the Padres to the National League West title.
Not until Caminiti wound up dead from a drug overdose last fall did a public debate in San Diego begin on how Caminiti’s career with the Padres should be remembered or honored.
Americans despised the East Germans for cheating with steroids. East German swimmer Korenelia Ender won four gold medals at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. There were suspicions she was on steroids, but she says not until 1991, when the secrets of the East German evil sports empire were revealed to the world, did she know her coaches and trainers gave her steriods.
Shirley Babashoff, a silver medalist four times to Korneila Ender and other East Germans in Montreal, is viewed by American swim fans as the rightful owner to the fame denied her. Babashoff now toils in anonymity as a mail carrier.
In baseball, there is a Shirley Babashoff for every player who finished second to a Caminiti, a McGwire, a Bonds or a Jose Canseco – another MVP who has admitted to using steroids. But it’s easier for American sports fans to rationalize labeling an East German as a cheater than the guy who plays for the “Town Team.”
The Olympics, the NFL and college athletics have all acted to test for steroids in the last two decades, but baseball continued to risk the integrity of the game until forced to act by a doubting public.
The Major League Baseball Players Association prevented testing for steroids until now, but baseball should have found a way to get in front of the issue. The Padres, despite their chapter with Caminiti, attempted to do so as the first organization to institute testing for steroids in the minor leagues.
By ignoring the steroids issue, baseball has helped American sports become what we hated about East German sports. Our athletes cheat by using steroids to get an edge, and then they accept the fame and money that come with it.
We dismissed the East Germans because they were viewed as soulless communists. We should dismiss baseball’s steroids users for their soulless lack of respect for the national pastime.
Tom Shanahan has been writing about San Diego athletes at the professional, collegiate and high school levels for 27 years. He is the Media Coordinator for the San Diego Hall of Champions (www.sdhoc.com).