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Part I: Inconvenient Truth

W. Ross Clites
Your City Sports-Cleveland


Saint Louis, MISSOURI--Scientists are always going to be one step ahead of those who police performance-enhancing drugs in sports. Even with new testing working its way through professional ranks, the situation will continue to play out like a cheesy Dukes of Hazzard episode.

First it was steroids, and now it is human growth hormone. It is hard to believe that players did not make transition along with their suppliers. Why quit cold turkey when you can simply move on to the next best stealthy product?

Cheating follows the path of least resistance. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig can block one avenue, but there are side streets and alleys that scumbag doctors and ex-con personal trainers will be happy to explore. Baseball would do better than its steroid investigations if it keeps the lid on the HGH version of Pandora’s Box.

By not fully disclosing the 104 names that tested positive for PEDs in 2003, it shows that Major League Baseball wishes they never knew.

For this reason, HGH is likely as widespread of a pandemic as its predecessor. Its rampant abuse will not be exposed for several years, but when it is, we will find that a vast majority of players have been injecting all along. The reasoning simple: HGH is inconspicuous, carrying fewer telling side effects (i.e. Barry Bonds' steady hat size increase).

Optimistic baseball fans are encouraged that there is an HGH test currently in place in the Minor Leagues. They are confident that it is on the fast-track for the Big Leagues as soon as next year. Some even believe that a blood test on the horizon has scared current MLB users into sobriety. The only problem with all this sunshine-and-gumdrop logic is that the test for HGH is a joke.

The current test is practically an incentive for players to continue, or even begin, an injection regiment. You would have to have a severe mental handicap to fail the current MiLB model, with as short of a measurable window as it has.

Therefore, certain players are naturally going to give lip service to the test. Players can egg on the witch hunt by saying things like, “I would love to have that in the Majors right now.” That way, when they pass the pathetic little checkpoint, they look to be as clean as Craig Counsell.

To catch an abuser, the test requires a blood sample within six hours of the injection/injestion. Seeing as the average American sleeps eight hours a night, and the average HGH user injects himself before bed, the drug cops are going to have to wake Major League athletes up in the middle of the night for this whole charade to be effective. Not going to happen. So, by the time an offender is eating his Cheerios, the drug is undetectable.

The abusers will also get a big cushion from their Players Association. The MLBPA will never let anyone draw blood from players during their pre-game routine. This means that a Major League version of an HGH test will take place after each game--likely 20 hours after a player injected. There go those rascal Duke boys, outwitting Roscoe P. Coaltrane yet again. How will players keep from smiling when their results come back negative?

Testing players would only paint an inaccurate picture of the modern landscape. Bud Selig will breathe a sigh of relief with every empty report card. Fans will believe their heroes are honorable and clean. Ignorance may be bliss, but deception (due to smarter science on the sides of the bad guys) is not.

Players will never “juice” in the same methods as the past 20 years. You have to give credit to Selig for that. But what part of being done with anabolic steroids means a player is drug-free?

The incentive to use performance enhancers is just too high. It is that multi-million dollar contract that Player A (using HGH) signs at age 37, while a worn-down Player B (same age, but completely clean) is forced to hang up his cleats. As in anything, money is driving this ship.

It will take a magical scenario to stop the uncontrolled HGH use that is out there. Unless anti-doping science creates a urine-based HGH test, or the window for detecting traces widens, baseball needs to concede its evitable loss to PEDs.

By the time that HGH test is perfected, everyone will already be onto something new. The “groundbreaking” innovation will be so late to the party that catching three or four players would be ambitious. If you are thinking, “Is that a knock on the current steroids test?” you are correct. Tests (past, present, and future) are only going to bring down the back of the pack; those stuck using the archaic drugs. In business terms, you would waste money creating a product that would only affect the "laggards"--the last 16% in the Law of Diffusion of Innovation curve. Not a sound business model to adpot.

So when the Hazzard County Sheriff's Department solves the HGH riddle, fifteen years from now, the kids of current Major Leaguers will be using ICX or PB&J9000 to aide their careers.

With the inevitability that cheaters will have the upper hand during their playing days, the only way a MLB Commissioner can have the last laugh is by targeting their life after baseball. Our current leauge officials have lumped together the legacies of all the greats associated with PEDs into one neglected pile. But how far can you take it? Can we really ban everyone from the Hall of Fame?

To date, there has never been a player--associated with steroids--who has been officially "blacklisted" from the Hall of Fame. On paper, everyone is still granted an equal shot and due process. Just try telling that to Mark McGwire.

If Major League Baseball will not directly come out and say that the Steroids Era is not welcome in Cooperstown, the voters sure will. They have only one tool on their utility belt--a ballot--but it has powerful implications. The past five years of polling has shed light on what future Hall of Fame classes will be: the revisiting of questionable candidates from an era gone by, managers, umpires, executives, or no one at all.

If this voting trend continues, there will someday be more people with 500 home runs out of the Hall of Fame than those who are in. This will become even more apocalyptic when more than half of the 600 and 700 home run clubs will be shut out of Cooperstown.

To some degree, they can be stubborn about ever having another induction ceremony. People will still visit to celebrate the past. People still go and the all-time hit king is nowhere to be found. But what will happen when the HoF crop goes stale and the museum’s financial numbers drop deep into the red? We shall see who caves first.

If the feeble HGH test does appear in the Major Leagues, it will actually make the current players look like saints compared to the Steroids Era. Bud Selig is about to cast out a "full-proof" net into the ocean; just be careful how you interpret the headlines when it keeps coming back to the boat empty. It will be sold to fans as "he got 'em all" when the truth is they swam to deeper waters.

In that, the Hall of Fame class of 2020 could consist of heavy HGH abusers, who skated by nearly 1,000 “trustworthy” blood tests in their career. That is a hypocritical stance if the Steroids Era is shut out due to poor technological timing. McGwire might be in the Hall had he taken X while a lousy MLB drug program searched for Y.

This explains why Baseball Hall of Fame voters are crying out for assistance. They are looking to a higher power to draw a line in the sand, but Major League Baseball refuses to step in. Why would Selig bear the brunt of a cold hard ruling on what to do with steroid users? There is just too much speculation to weigh in with conviction. And in today's court of public opinion, there is no number of clean tests to prove innocence.

If they deny players like Roger Clemens, but let in Ken Griffey, Jr., Frank Thomas, or even Albert Pujols the message is mixed. By all accounts, the latter three are completely natural talents. But how can you say with certainty? Not one of these four players have ever tested positive to anything. Their dark secrets could all be the same.

It is painful to say, but the only difference between abuse then and now is the sophistication of the drugs. Players like McGwire had too many physical features balloon too quickly. In the minds of many, his admission was inessential to prove his guilt. Current stars benefit from the stealth of a more progressive, more natural-looking, size increase; growth and recovery that better mimics that of an extreme work-out program. They are able to stay around the 200 pound plateau and not grow biceps that look like thighs, with just as many illegal drugs and benefits in their system.

From the blood test to the eye test, it is becoming harder and harder to detect abusers; there is no way of ever knowing. Mandating the use of PEDs seems like the only option to level the playing field and remove suspicion.

Truly, what would be the harm? Baseball is the ultimate skill sport. Increasing muscle mass by 25% does little to help novices hit an 0-2 curveball. Steroids Era or not, these players were freakishly talented athletes. Their numbers simply need a little tweaking. [See Part II]







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