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Return of the "Hypocritical Oath"

Return of the "Hypocritical Oath"

Return of the "Hypocritical Oath"
By Bruce Marshall
The Gold Sheet

Many, many years ago, TGS founder Mort Olshan had seen and heard enough self-righteous commentary from college basketball coaches who were quick to criticize the recruiting tactics of then-UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanian. Mort called it the "Hypocritical Oath," chastising those mentors for doing disingenuously what Tarkanian was doing openly.

Although the analogy doesn't quite fit exactly, we wonder what Mort might have thought decades later of Major League Baseball's ongoing struggle with the steroid issue. More specifically, in relation to Mort's long-ago "Hypocritical Oath," we wonder if the native Buffalonian would have called all of Jose Canseco's many critics on the carpet. For as time goes on, more and more it seems as if Canseco, of all people, might be one of the few main characters in the steroid legacy with a hint of credibility.

After all, Canseco has made no bones about his use of performance-enhancing substances, while acting as a whistleblower of sorts in an industry that has tried in vain to sweep the issue under the carpet. Along the way, Canseco was vilified, among other things, for being a cheat and a something of a weasel after pointing his finger at Major League Baseball for being a haven of steroid usage.

Admittedly, it is hard to have much sympathy for Canseco, an egotistical narcissist who so blatantly abused the performance enhancers during his playing days, only to turn on the industry when it was the best way he could make a buck after his tarnished career concluded. Canseco's personal life has also been something of a mess since his playing days. But in the bigger picture, Canseco's faults are not really the issue. Rather, it's becoming clear that 'ol Jose was on to something in his post-career books. Although there's no way to substantiate Canseco's claims in his book Juiced that up to 85% of big leaguers were steroid users, every steroid-related suspension further reinforces Canseco's claims that baseball has been overrun with performance-enhancing substances and innumerable "cheats" for years. And that those who chose to turn their backs and simply target Canseco and Barry Bonds as the only villains in the saga ought to wake up and acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, Canseco might just turn out to be the most credible source of all in this sorry tale.

Before going much further, it should be pointed out that steroids, which are produced by almost all living organisms, are not inherently evil. They're far from it, in fact. Their presence is an integral part of human existence, and there are plenty of legitimate medical uses for them. Like many things, however, abusing them, especially their unnatural introduction to the human system, can have benefits...and side-effects.

But we're neither prepared nor qualified to give a scientific discertation on steroids. We will gladly, however, point out both the inadequacies of Major League Baseball's attempts to "solve" the problem as well as the many inconsistencies in the coverage of those who have either admitted, or are suspected of, steroid abuse.

The fact that the Dodgers' Manny Ramirez (left) was recently nailed and hit with a 50-game suspension is merely the latest in a series of embarrassing revelations that have stained the integrity of the game. Only those naive enough to think that "sinister" sorts such as Canseco and Bonds were the only abusers would probably believe that era of steroids and performance enhancers has ended.

Not by a mile.

Those who believe the Mitchell Report and the publicized congressional hearings on the subject signal the end of the steroid era ought to be offered some oceanfront property in Phoenix. Both were just band-aids, superficially touching upon the width and breadth of the abuse that has apparently been going on for much of the past two decades, if not longer.
What's scary about the whole phenomenon is that there is little argument that some of the performance-enhancing substances can undoubtedly work, at least in the short-term before the side-effects begin to manifest. Ramirez, on the surface, didn't have the stereotypical appearance of a "juiced" player, but the improved endurance and coordination exhibited, especially a year ago, could certainly have been byproducts of use. (Ramirez, it should be noted, wasn't nailed for use of a steroid, but rather for human chorionic gonadotropin, a female fertility drug often used by steroid users to restart their body's natural testosterone production while coming off a steroid cycle. But putting two and two together, the conclusion regarding Ramirez is not hard to devine.)

Manny is the second ultra high-profile star to be stained in recent months. Not long ago, the Yankees' Alex Rodriguez was forced to acknowledge his use of the "juice" in the past when evidence came forth that he had tested positive earlier in his career. A-Rod subsequently admitted prior use, if somewhat sheepishly so, and has maintained that he hasn't been on anything since 2003, when still playing for Texas. Whether Rodriguez has been able to convince anybody that his usage ended six years ago is debatable, but it's also rather meaningless. In the public's eye, A-Rod's accomplishments will forever be tainted, just as those of Roger Clemens, whose stubborn refusal to acknowledge past usage has cast him as a somewhat pathetic figure.

Of course, there's also Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro (who indeed was suspended by MLB for testing positive after emphatically denying steroid use in front of Congress), Miguel Tejada and others who have all been implicated, if not officially uncovered, as "juiced" players that have jeopardized their chances of ever entering the Hall of Fame. There have also been other high-profile big leaguers, such as Eric Gagne, Kevin Brown, and Lenny Dykstra (among countless more) who were long suspected of being juiced and eventually fingered in the Mitchell Report. That Mitchell Report list goes on and on (104 players were named), but many "in the know" suspect that it probably only scratched the surface of the abusers.

What's scary is that as the money has increased for the big-time players, so has the ability to "mask" steroid usage. After all, it was a transgression in that area which nailed Ramirez. But big-money players, intent on staying on top, mostly have the means to stay a step or two ahead of the testing procedures, and can often effectively conceal their ongoing usage. And for others trying to climb the mountain, it's understandable, if not a bit sad, at why they'd gamble on the juice in the hopes of never getting caught. The financial rewards are so staggering at the top levels of the game, that many feel it is worth the risk. Especially those from an impoverished background, like the many youths in Ramirez' home Dominican Republic, a great number of whom would gladly risk taking the juice if it could help at all in getting an otherwise unlikely shot at the majors.

Not that potential use is limited to the disenfranchised who might view it as their only shot to make the big time. Plenty of better-heeled sorts have been sucked into the performance-enhancing whirlpool as well.

At the Major League level, human performance is separated by such small factors that make the difference not only between being good and great, but from marginal to good, and from unemployed to marginal, that getting any extra edge might be considered worth the risk. Star hitters use to stay star hitters; star pitchers use to deal with star hitters; minor leaguers use in hopes of becoming a star.

It would be both unreasonable and unrealistic to think that there will ever come a day when steroid abuse is erased from Major League Baseball, especially since ownership and the player's union have been lukewarm at best in addressing the issue. Had the public and press not made "juice" an issue, we don't think the owners or players would have done a thing about it. But we also know that if MLB had a testing and penalty system similar to that used by the IOC, Ramirez and others who have been caught would be suspended for a lot longer than two months or so. Look at tainted sprinters such as Ben Johnson and Marion Jones for examples.

Manny Ramirez can at least be thankful he isn't a world-class sprinter.

We do find it interesting, however, that those who have come forth to admit they used the "juice" have mostly been able to continue their careers without much reprisal, even if their statistics have subsequently waned. Jason Giambi admitted use earlier in the decade, and his production at the plate hasn't been the same since, but the public seems to have forgiven him his transgressions. Ditto Andy Pettitte, whose admitted use of steroids was to accelerate his recovery from an elbow injury (as mentioned before, not all use of steroids need be nefarious). Many steroids are indeed an accepted form of therapy in recovery from a variety of ailments. But the bigger point is that the reputations of guys such as Giambi and Pettitte who have admitted they used the stuff is a lot better than those such as Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, and Clemens who continue to either avoid or deny past usage, or Palmeiro, unveiled as a hypocrite when testifying about his non-usage only to later be suspended for it.

It's time, however, for fans and followers of the game, to start acknowledging what's been going on, and not simply ascribe blame to villainous players from enemy teams. Dodger fans, that means you; Barry Bonds and the Giants aren't the only ones you should have been booing for being supposedly "juiced" the past several years. Granted, it's no surprise that many fans believe steroid abuse is a problem for other teams, not their own. But it's a disappointment when so much of the media continues to turn its collective head on the problem, such as the L.A. press corps that continually overlooked evidence that past stars such as Gagne and Kevin Brown would eventually be implicated, and effectively ignored those revelations when they came forward after those players had left town. No wonder so many fans of the Dodgers and other teams believed that steroid abuse was limited to "bad" guys such as Barry Bonds from "bad" teams such as the Giants.

How silly. If there are indeed "bad" guys in this tale, they're everywhere. We're just waiting for the day when someone in the press comes forward to say that Jose Canseco and Barry Bonds and maybe Roger Clemens (who, amazingly, still has a fewe defenders) aren't the only guys who might have bent the rules.

And we do know that if Mort Olshan were still around, he would have reminded his readers that the "Hypocritical Oath" could also apply to those who continue to ignore the overwhelming evidence that baseball is full of abusers beyond just convenient targets such as Canseco and Bonds.

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