June 23, 2006

Game of Shadows

I just finished the phenomenal book Game of Shadows by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the San Francisco Chronicle reporters who broke the BALCO steroids scandal. The book details the far-reaching conspiracy of the Bay-Area Lab Co-Operative (BALCO) that engulfed countless world-class athletes, including Major League Baseball (MLB) players Jason Giambi, Gary Sheffield, and of course, Barry Bonds, among many others.From reading news reporting throughout the BALCO scandal and the Game of Shadows book, I believe the following statements to be true:(1) The use of performance-enhancing substances is rampant in professional athletics, and in particular, in Major League Baseball.(2) Major League Baseball's steroid policy, even in its newest form, is far too lenient and easy to sidestep.(3) Barry Bonds is guilty of taking performance-enhancing substances both before and after MLB banned steroids, and is also guilty of perjury by lying to a federal grand jury.(4) The United States Government should strongly consider implementing the strict Olympic anti-doping model for all government-sanctioned professional and amateur athletics in the country, including MLB, NBA, NHL, NFL, MLS, and NCAA.I base these opinions on the evidence presented in Game of Shadows. The authors' source material is comprehensive and utterly convincing.The issue remains, for MLB in particular, how to handle past-steroid users and their athletic accomplishments. While steroids have been illegal by law for some time, MLB did not institute a specific steroid ban until after the 2002 season. I do not believe that MLB can retroactively punish players for using steroids before the 2003 season; it can however, cooperate with any legal investigations into steroid use before 2003 and would be obstructing justice if it didn't. Just as Babe Ruth's records are not discounted because he played in a league that did not allow black players, today's sluggers cannot be athletically penalized for something that the world of baseball sanctioned.Beginning with the 2003 season, however, players found to have used steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs should be penalized. Records and results found to have been set, in part or whole, during a time when a drug would have an affect should be discounted, just as is done in the Olympics. Because baseball is a team sport, such policies will be more complex (should team wins be affected by a single player's steroid use?), a lengthy discussion is necessary to determine proper punishments and to setup a committee to evaluate situations and hand down decisions.Baseball did a disservice to itself by ignoring the issue for so long, and for allowing many games to be played under the influence. The all-time single season home run record of 73, set by Barry Bonds in 2001 should stand. Bonds' current assault of Hank Aaron's career mark of 755 home runs should be vigorously questioned.