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Allen: Steroids continue to affect baseball (Aug. 23)

Chris Allen | Wednesday, August 22, 2012

No, it’s not the summer of 1998.

Baseballs are not flying out of Wrigley Field and the old Busch Stadium at record pace. Biceps have shrunk significantly as first basemen now look significantly less like He-Man. Mark McGwire still wears a Cardinals uniform, but only as he strokes a graying beard from the dugout as hitting coach. No, it’s not the summer of 1998.

But steroids are back in baseball. What’s worse? They really never left.

MLB commissioner Bud Selig was supposed to have delivered the drugs that divided baseball fans and tainted the game their deathblow by enacting sweeping drug testing and enacting a 50-game ban for first-time offenders. Since that time, the game has returned to normalcy – somewhat. The numbers have returned to Earth. Roger Maris’ 61 home runs in 1961 is yet again safe as a hallowed record. Sure, there have been occasional hiccups, like Manny Ramirez’ journey into the world of women’s fertility drugs, but steroids haven’t really meaningfully impacted baseball’s on-the-field sphere since MLB management enacted the reforms.

That is, until this past week.

It began with Melky Cabrera, who in a handful of years went from a pudgy and lovable fringe outfielder for the New York Yankees to a fit, strong and formidable MVP candidate hitting in the heart of the lineup for NL West contender San Francisco. Here was a player that got a change of scenery, found the right clubhouse and manager and playing situation and was thriving like never before. At least that’s what the media thought. What he actually found was performance-enhancing drugs, and he found them unapologetically. Now a pennant contender and a rabid fan base finds itself without its best player, with a gaping hole in the middle of the lineup and in left field heading into the thick of a pennant race. Whereas a certain notable Giants left fielder of the past impacted the game with steroids by tainting its records and compromising its integrity, this left fielder just leaves a hole in the lineup and a handful of questions. In this new era of baseball, there is less ambiguity, but more immediate impact.

Now, move across the Bay and into Oakland, where another playoff contender has an empty spot in the pitching rotation thanks to another 50-game suspension handed to aging Bartolo Colon. Here was a former Cy Young winner seemingly rejuvenated by a young clubhouse. Yet again, like Cabrera, all he found was steroids. One week, two suspensions, 100 suspended games and two playoff races affected.

The lesson for the fan is to maintain a healthy skepticism. Just because the Bash Brothers aren’t stepping into the batters box with bulging forearms and growing cap sizes doesn’t mean steroids aren’t still out there affecting America’s game. Baseball has always been a game lauded for its natural beauty. The crisp cut of fresh green grass. The soft lines in raked infield dirt. The crack of a maple baseball bat against horsehide. No, this is not the summer of 1998, so it is okay to trust in that natural beauty again. Just remember the events of this week as this season and others play on, and be mindful of a game where the artificial menace is still lurking in the shadows.

Contact Chris Allen at callen10@nd.edu

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.