In Chicago, reaction to Sammy Sosa's inclusion on the list of 104 major league baseball players who tested positive for performance enhancing drugs back in 2003 has been a loud, "So? Everyone knew he was breaking the rules." Hosts of sports talk radio showgrams and listeners alike are weighing in on Sammy et al "breaking the rules" like they were caught siphoning monopoly money. Hey, everyone enjoyed the home run derby race Shammy had bashing 'em out with Big Mac in 1998; afterall, it "saved" baseball, right? Yesterday, in interviews before the onset of the Crosstown Classic interleague showdown betwixt my beloved White Sock and the Hubbala Bubbala Cubbala's, ChiSox manager Ozzie Guillen said that the steroid era should be dealt with "one time" (all at once) and baseball moves on, the game will continue," the old 'The Game is BIGGER than the players.' For his part, Cub skippee Lou Piniella pleaded ignorance, citing, "I don't know the difference between steroids and a reefer." The old managerial Lou-step. 'A Reefer,' Lou? What is this, a baseball noir. What's next: 'Youz mugs ain't oughtta try pinnin' me down on this, see? I won't take the rap on this, see? I wasn't anywhere around it, see? I was down in Florida at the time, see? And even a blind man could see them Devil Ray teams of mine weren't enhancing any performances, see? So, unless youz mugs wanna take the Big Sleep in the bottom of the Big Tank in the Shedd Aquarium. youz lay off, see?'
But Lou, PED use is not merely "breakin' the rules," see? It's not batting outta order. It's not missing the cut-off man or not picking up the third base coach or missing a sign. It's not lying about your age, using a corked bat, or doctoring the ball. It's not just "breakin' the rules." It's illegal, it's against the law, it's a crime. The real problem is the threat, the possibility, and yes, the LIKLEHOOD that THE GAME was comprimised beyond just the heightened performances of the participants. When illegal, controlled substances are puchased, they are purchased from career criminals. Career criminals are much like regular career businessmen in that they are always looking for opportunities for diversity and alternative revenue streams. So, when even a low-level drug dealer discovers that one of his customers or end-users is Joe Ballplayer, he sees the chance to improve his lot in life beyond the sale of some muscle sauce. He has Joe in a pickle because he has the goods on Joe. Maybe he tells Joe that their little secret is safe if Joe just strikes out in a key situation in the next game. Maybe Joe feels the heat and helps the dealer out, just this once. But Dealer isn't about to let this fish off. He knows the clock is ticking on his 15 minutes and so maybe he tells Joe, "Hey, you don't have to look bad at the plate---next game, just have an off day in the field. Ya know, break in on a line drive and it goes over your head and 2 runs score. Or, maybe you don't go 2nd-to-home on a single or you stumble trying to steal or you get picked off or you hang a curve with the bases loaded or you uncork a bad throw...or...or..." Or, maybe the dealer wants to move up in class and play for the big boys and he sees the dope he has on Joe B as his ticket up the criminal food chain. The wheeler dealer peddles his little black book to a more powerful crook in a more organized outfit who has bigger plans for the 411 on Joe Ballplayer. He has Wheeler inform Joe about a new deal, "We want to make sure nothing untoward happens to you or your family so we want to sell you our protection. So, not only are you gonna have an off year, you are gonna tell us who is hurting, especially pitchers. Or whhich other players juicing. Or who likes to play the ponies or online poker. Or...or...or" More easily agitated on the 'roids, an upset Joe snarls, "Or what?" The Wheeler to the wind-up, he kicks and deals, "Or else."
Sceptical? Can't happen? You watch too many late night Bogart movies, you say? Well I reply, do you REALLY think that of those 104 Joe Ballplayers, that ALL of them made uneventful purchases through their trusty, scrupulous personal trainers or from patriotic, stand-up dealers or from automated roadside juice vending machine stands in the Dominican? Sorry, sportsfans, but you know and I know that the probability is that at least some of the players got caught up in the net of Itchy Brother and once reeled in, you stay on the hook even AFTER you're off the sauce. "Protection" is not just for game day, or a series or a season, it's forever. So the steroid pitches, catches, at-bats, games, series, and seasons may be over, but odds are, the steroid era plays on. We now know there was a test where scores of players were found dirty. We now know there is a list with those names. And we can do more than collectively channel our inner child and have him tug on Joe Ballplayer's pleats and plea, "Say it ain't Sosa, Joe." We need to stop talking about the steroid stain on our national pastime in past tense because it is stained by people who take blood oaths, who don't just break rules, they break knees and necks and they are real people with real guns posing real threats, not to virtual players in video games but to real players, real people with real families who are STILL in real trouble with these real bad guys. Much more is at stake than Hall of Fame plaques for a few of the more notable cheaters. To look away as if all that happened is in the past and it was just some players "breaking the rules" is uncaring and untrue and will only end in the real tragedy of broken lives.