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Baseball opens spring training under a cloud



Published: Fri, February 18, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



Major League Baseball has been working for a month on its new policy covering steroid use in the sport, and missed its first self-imposed deadline, this week's opening of spring training. Lawyers for MLB and the players' union are still hashing out the details.

The next policy the baseball lawyers are going to have to start vetting is one that will determine what kind of asterisks they'll be using in the record books if it is proven that long-standing records fell only because a generation of phenomenal players came by their muscles and stamina pharmaceutically.

Record denials

So far, all the record holders are denying steroid use, despite years of allegations, including the latest ones in Jose Canseco's book, "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits & amp; How Baseball Got Big," which came out this week.

While Conseco has some credibility issues and has already been caught up in contradictions while being questioned on his book tour, discerning fans have wondered about steroid use for a long time. They have seen players bulk up virtually over night and watched as records that had stood for decades fell from year to year.

It will be amazing if all of the recent record holders survive unscathed the ongoing grand jury probes and other investigations into steroid use.

Obviously, baseball is going to resist the idea of memorializing a scandal such as steroid use. But the only thing worse than memorializing it would be pretending it didn't matter.

Late to the game

Baseball was the last major sport to recognize its need to outlaw performance enhancing drugs. It announced its policy Jan. 13 and had hoped to have the formal language on paper by the opening of spring training. Now it is shooting for March 1.

Under the new agreement, players who test positive will be suspended for 10 days. Under the old policy, first-time offenders were sent for counseling and their names were not revealed publicly. The new deal will include more frequent testing, including during the offseason, and escalating punishment for repeat offenders.

As soon as the ink is dry on that agreement, baseball's executives and lawyers should start puzzling out how they will deal honestly with their sport's tradition if it turns out that records fell to men who got their muscles out of a vial rather than a gym.

In track, a record is scratched and the athlete is asked to return his or her medals. The least baseball should do is warn the readers of its books that some records should be taken with a grain of salt.




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