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…. News Flash

The latest steroid scandal involving Lou Merloni is old news. I wrote about teams bringing in doctors to talk to players about the positive aspects of using steroids years ago, and the Mitchell Report mentions it as well. Nonetheless, it is refreshing to hear a player, even one who is out of the game, talking candidly about the issue:

…. Merloni’s exact quotes, according to The Boston Globe, were: “I’m in Spring Training, and I got an 8:30-9:00 meeting in the morning. I walk into that office, and this happened while I was with the Boston Red Sox before this last regime, I’m sitting in the meeting. There’s a doctor up there and he’s talking about steroids, and everyone was like, ‘Here we go, we’re going to sit here and get the whole thing — they’re bad for you.’

“No. He spins it and says, ‘You know what? If you take steroids and sit on the couch all winter long, you can actually get stronger than someone who works out clean. If you’re going to take steroids, one cycle won’t hurt you; abusing steroids it will.’

“He sat there for one hour and told us how to properly use steroids while I’m with the Boston Red Sox, sitting there with the rest of the organization, and after this I said, ‘What the heck was that?’ And everybody on the team was like, ‘What was that?’ And the response we got was, ‘Well, we know guys are taking it, so we want to make sure they’re taking it the right way.’ … Where did that come from? That didn’t come from the Players Association.”

Steroid Nation’s piece goes on:

…. In fact, there were occasions when physicians presented steroids in a favorable light, in particular Dr. Robert Millman, of Cornell. Here is what John Rocker said about a presentation:

The loudmouth former reliever said he and then-Rangers teammate Alex Rodriguez, among others, were advised in spring training of 2002 by management and players’ union doctors on how to use steroids in a way that is “not going to hurt you.”
Rocker said a doctor hired by the Players’ Association pulled aside himself, A-Rod, Ivan Rodriguez and Rafael Palmeiro following a spring training lecture and candidly told them how to use steroids.

“Look guys, if you take one kind of steroid, you don’t triple stack them and take them 10 months out of the year like Lyle Alzado did,” the doctor told him, Rocker said yesterday during an interview on the Buck and Kincade Show on WCNN-680 The Fan in Atlanta. “If you do it responsibly, it’s not going to hurt you.” (italics, mine)

My steroids category link is taking too long, but I’ll find the piece I wrote back in ’03 or ’04. Old news, but still good news. I’m all for transparency. The people who profited from the home run explosion, the owners, GM’s, and baseball officials who are pointing fingers need to be put to the same scrutiny players have been. About time.



…. History lesson

I have written –repeatedly– that I simply cannot believe that sportswriters like Mike Lupica and Rick Reilly and Tom Verducci only just recently discovered that athletes will use PED's to improve their performance. I have stated again and again that the real reason –the ONLY reason– we have this “scandal” in baseball, and nowhere else, is because of the recent assault on the venerated baseball record book. I didn't read this Sports Illustrated article when it came out 40 years ago, because I was only 5 years old, but, it raises the same questions for me again:

How do these sportswriters expect me to believe that they haven't known what's been going on in the world of elite athletic competition over these last four decades? How can they ask me to be outraged when most of them have watched this problem develop, and waited over three decades to start sounding the alarm?

Bill Gilbert, a writer I have never heard of, wrote this piece, a damning indictment of the widespread use of all sorts of PED's. It was published in 1969, the same year we put a man on the moon:

…. after it has been admitted that most citizens dope themselves from time to time, there remain excellent grounds for claiming that in the matter of drug usage, athletes are different from the rest of us. In spite of being—for the most part—young, healthy and active specimens, they take an extraordinary variety and quantity of drugs (see cover). They take them for dubious purposes, they take them in a situation of debatable morality, they take them under conditions that range from dangerously experimental to hazardous to fatal. The use of drugs—legal drugs—by athletes is far from new, but the increase in drug usage in the last 10 years is startling. It could, indeed, menace the tradition and structure of sport itself.

…. “Are anabolic steroids [a male hormone derivative that supposedly makes users bigger and stronger than they could otherwise be] widely used by Olympic weight men?” rhetorically asks Dave Maggard, who finished fifth in the shotput at Mexico and is now the University of California track coach. “Let me put it this way. If they had come into the village the day before competition and said we have just found a new test that will catch anyone who has used steroids, you would have had an awful lot of people dropping out of events because of instant muscle pulls.”

…. There are abundant rumors—the wildest of which circulate within rather than outside the sporting world—about strung-out quarterbacks, hopped-up pitchers, slowed-down middleweights, convulsed half-milers and doped-to-death wrestlers. Nevertheless, it is the question of motive and morality that constitutes the crux of the athletic drug problem. Even if none of the gossip could be reduced to provable fact, there remains ample evidence that drug use constitutes a significant dilemma, not so much for individual athletes as for sport in general. One reason is that the use of drugs in sport leads one directly to more serious and complicated questions. Is athletic integrity (and, conversely, corruption) a matter of public interest? Does it matter, as appreciators of sport have so long and piously claimed it does, that games be played in an atmosphere of virtue; even righteousness? If not, what is the social utility of games—why play them at all? Drug usage, even more than speculation about bribery, college recruiting, spit-balls or TV commercials, raises such sticky questions about the fundamentals of sport that one can understand the instinctive reaction of the athletic Establishments: when it comes to drugs, they ignore, dismiss, deny.

…. Setting aside ethical considerations for the moment, there are obvious reasons why athletes should use so many drugs. The most obvious is that there are more drugs available these days for everyone than ever before. Furthermore, we have all been sold on the efficacy of drugs. We believe that the overflowing pharmacopoeia is one of the unquestioned triumphs of the age. We have been sold on drugs empirically because we have tried them and enjoy the results. We have been sold by countless magazine and newspaper stories about wonder drugs—many of which later turned out to be less than wondrous—by massive pro-drug propaganda campaigns mounted by pharmaceutical manufacturers, by TV actors dressed in doctors' coats and by real doctors, many of whom are very quick with the prescription pad. Generally, we have accepted rather uncritically the central message of this persuasive pitch—drugs are good for you. These days it is a cultural reflex to reach for a vial, an atomizer, a capsule or a needle if you suffer from fever, chills, aches, pains, nausea, nasal congestion, irritability, the doldrums, sluggishness, body odor, obesity, emaciation, too many kids, not enough kids, nagging backache or tired blood.

It would be surprising if athletes were not influenced by the same trends and tendencies that have the rest of us so high on drugs.

…. An example of how athletic pressure, ambition or maybe just ignorance at a sub-medical level can result in what charitably can be called dubious drug practices occurred a few years ago at the training camp of the San Diego Chargers. The story was told by Dave Kocourek, now an offensive end for the Oakland Raiders, but then a member of the Charger team.

“I guess this anabolic steroid business must have started on the Chargers around 1963 or right in there somewhere. One guy I can remember who got involved was Howard Kindig. He came to us as a

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highly touted center and linebacker from Los Angeles State. He was long and lean and very quick, and they wanted to put weight on him, so in addition to using the weight program run by our weight coach, Alvin Roy, they started pumping him full of Dianabol [a popular anabolic steroid], and sure enough he gained about 30 pounds.

It's a six page article, one that you must read. I tried not to cut and paste too much, but, it's that noteworthy.

Now the cat is out of the bag. Forget about Barry Bonds, how about Tom Verducci? All of a sudden Verducci's expose, written five years ago, is dated, decades behind the real story. He blew the whistle? Really? Here's what Gilbert wrote FORTY YEARS AGO!!!!

…. “A few pills—I take all kinds—and the pain's gone,” says Dennis McLain of the Detroit Tigers. McLain also takes shots, or at least took a shot of cortisone and Xylocaine (anti-inflammant and painkiller) in his throwing shoulder prior to the sixth game of the 1968 World Series—the only game he won in three tries. In the same Series, which at times seemed to be a matchup between Detroit and St. Louis druggists, Cardinal Bob Gibson was gobbling muscle-relaxing pills, trying chemically to keep his arm loose. The Tigers' Series hero, Mickey Lolich, was on antibiotics.

Bob Gibson? He's one of the heroes these guys keep going on and on about. He's one of those guys who would never, ever have used steroids, right, Lupica?

…. “We occasionally use Dexamyl and Dexedrine [amphetamines]…. We also use barbiturates, Seconal, Tuinal, Nembutal…. We also use some anti-depressants, Triavil, Tofranil, Valium…. But I don't think the use of drugs is as prevalent in the Midwest as it is on the East and West coasts,” said Dr. I. C. Middleman, who, until his death last September, was team surgeon for the St. Louis baseball Cardinals.

Team surgeon? TEAM SURGEON!!!! How could that be? How could it be that the teams knew anything about this? The owners are paragons of virtue, men of impeccable character, who want nothing more than for the players to be healthy, happy and living on the same block as their sons and daughters, right?

How could a five-thousand word article, published in Sports Illustrated –which, in 1969, was THE preeminent publication on sports in America– not have been noticed?

Of course it was noticed. It was noticed to the point where the use of drugs continued, flourished and was an acknowledged part of the world of sports worldwide. And no one wrote about it, no one talked about it, no one did an Outside the Lines special report, no one did anything.

And in that type of environment, eventually, the drugs were gonna work. We have an NFL right now that has running backs as big as offensive linemen from championship teams of just a decade or so ago. We have baseball players bigger than offensive linemen as well. We have huge, super-fast, athletes everywhere you look, because the training programs, coupled with the tremendous advances in sports medicine, legal and otherwise, work. And one reason we know that they work is that athletes will do anything, will take any risk to win. The mantra, win at all costs, isn't a slogan for a sports drink. It is the water these men and women swim in:

…. The whole matter has been succinctly summarized by Hal Connolly, a veteran of four U.S. Olympic teams.

“My experience,” says Connolly, “tells me that an athlete will use any aid to improve his performance short of killing himself.”

But before you start worrying about saving the children — please God, somebody save the children– let's get something straight here. There is some good in all this.

You wanna know how? Think of sports as the NASA of the human body. We all know about the major advances in the space program that have influenced our daily lives. There are major advances being made in health improvements for normal, non-athletes that have come from sports, including advances in weight training, surgical techniques, and yes, drug treatments. The sports world has been one giant chemical experiment for the last four decades –at least– and anyone who has been to a sports medicine treatment facility, or a gym, or a GNC, can see the results.

We all want to be better, and we all will do most anything to achieve that end. There's nothing new about that. It's part and parcel of being an American, and America's influence is global. In the world of competitive sports, the end almost always justifies the means. Using PED's is just one of the ways athletes place themselves in harm's way. One of my favorite players just passed away. Brad Van Pelt was THE linebacker for the NY Giants when Bill Parcells and George Young drafted Lawrence Taylor. He died in his sleep at the age of 57, a familiar story for the families of retired football players. Retire athletes die younger, have many more physical problems, and generally live in a world of constant pain once their playing days are over.

To say that they shouldn't use PED's because it could harm them is disingenuous at best.

BEING AN ELITE ATHLETE IS TO PUT YOUR HEALTH AT RISK EVERY SINGLE DAY.

We live in a culture that has embraced the pharmacological fix. That our athletes do shouldn't be thought of as wrong; it should be expected.

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…. Big-time

I said it before, and I’ll say it again, Prince Fielder is the best young player in baseball. Today, he became the youngest player ever to reach 50 home runs in a season, supplanting Willie Mays, who did it in his age 24 season. Fielder is 23, and looks to be a superstar for a long time. If only the Giants had a player with anything even close to the kind of upside Fielder seems to have.



…. A call to arms

The Cincinnatti Reds designated Danny Graves for assignment today, ending his Cincinnatti career. Listening to the Reds GM Dan O’Brien made me laugh:

His performance has been unsatisfactory and unacceptable. It hasn’t been up to the standards we’ve come to expect for the Cincinnati Reds organization. We appreciate Danny’s contributions to the organization, and we hope he finds an opportunity with another major league club.

His performance hasn’t been up to the standards we’ve come to expect for the Reds?!? Is this the same Reds who’ve lost 90-plus games for like the last ten years? The same Reds who asked Graves to go from the bullpen to a starting role to help the team, starting him on this slide to oblivion? In the same article Graves wonders about that:

…. Graves, 31, hasn’t been the same since he agreed to help the team by moving into the rotation in 2003. A career reliever, Graves wore down during a 4-15 season that took several miles per hour off his fastball and took a toll on his body. He was throwing around 88 mph this season, down from 94 mph in his prime.

“I changed roles and probably ruined my career,” Graves said. “I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. I felt like I’ve been given up on. It’s a shock to me. If I can recall, I’m not the only closer that has struggled.”

Yeah, and the Reds coaching staff seemed to have really helped him with that:

…. “It became a confidence factor,” manager Dave Miley said. “His confidence has been shaken in the month of May, and we weren’t comfortable bringing him in certain situations. We weren’t seeing what we were accustomed to seeing.”

Confidence, yeah, he’s lost confidence. Nothing’s like a ready made excuse for a coaching staff to clear itself of any part of players troubles. We don’t think he has any confidence, or maybe it’s his lack of heart, or any other completely unmeasurable intangible. Here’s a thought: maybe the coaching staff of this laughingstock of a team team failed to perform at a level that Graves’ had come to expect.

I’m sure free agents will look at the way he was handled at the end and think twice (or even three times) about joining the perennially under-acheiving Reds. His teammates certainly feel like management pulled the rug out from under the team:

…. Stunned teammates sat in folding chairs in the clubhouse after learning of the move, which leaves the team without a proven closer. Several players said Graves should have been given a chance to work out his problems.

“This is not his fault,” first baseman Sean Casey said. “We stink. For us to be 15-28 has nothing to do with Danny Graves. That’s the frustrating part for me.

“I know I’m a little emotional right now, but I think the Cincinnati Reds as an organization owe a lot more to Danny Graves for the eight years he stepped up every year. They owe him more than to just release him like this. I just disagree with it.”

Outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. said he’s never seen anything quite like the move.

“It’s tough,” Griffey said. “He’s not a troublemaker. He’s not a guy that complained. He wants the ball. It’s just upsetting. It’s a tough way to lose a guy that’s been here and dedicated himself to the organization.”

Yeah, that’ll rally the troops. Throw Graves out the window. Let me be the first to suggest that Sabean call up Graves agent and get him out here fast. Sure, he’s been horrible for a while, but I guarantee you, for $316,000, somebody will sit him down and try to figure out what the Reds were doing to screw him up, and he’ll be back throwing bullets again. It might as well be the Giants.



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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
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