x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

The truth is leaking out on steroid use

Prior to the start of the 2003 season, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players' Association agreed to implement testing to determine the extent of steroid use among players.

Prior to the start of the 2003 season, Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players' Association agreed to implement testing to determine the extent of steroid use among players. If the tests revealed use by more than five per cent of the players, a tougher programme would be implemented the following season. And above all else, the tests and results were to remain anonymous.

Six years later, try telling that to Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez. A total of 104 names were on the list, but Sosa and Rodriguez, who rank sixth and 12th respectively among the game's all-time home run leaders, are the only players whose positive results have been leaked. The news about Rodriguez came back in February, in advance of the publication of a less-than-flattering biography. Last week, meanwhile, the New York Times reported that Sosa, too, had failed his 2003 test. Somewhere, another 102 players are very nervous - and with good reason.

"I find it hard to believe that most, if not all, of those names aren't going to eventually come out,'' said one baseball official last week after the Sosa news broke. Until then, baseball continues to suffer one public relations disaster after another. While the bad news is, by definition, six years old, baseball finds one star after another implicated in doping and because some - like Rodriguez - are still active, it has the effect of dirtying today's game.

While the MLB and the players' association guaranteed confidentiality, two names have already become public knowledge. That's because the association didn't destroy the list of 104 players when it had the chance. Before long, the federal government subpoenaed the list as part of an investigation. For years, the union had fought any kind of testing with all of its considerable might and the players' association's No 2 - ranking official, Gene Orza, made the ludicrous assertion several years ago that steroids were no more harmful than cigarettes.

It is unknown who leaked the names of Rodriguez and Sosa, but it is widely assumed that the information came from a federal official or lawyer with access to "the list''. For Rodriguez, the revelation was devastating to his reputation, since many viewed him as a more worthy future home run champion. Previously, he had maintained his innocence on the matter of steroids in at least one national TV interview, further damaging his image.

As for Sosa, his positive test result was far less shocking, since both he and Mark McGwire, who had battled out a record-setting home run chase in 1998, had long been suspected steroid users. Interestingly, the Sosa story ran less than a week after he had been interviewed by ESPN in his native Dominican Republic, professing his innocence and speculating about his future induction into baseball's Hall of Fame.

The timing, then, suggests that Sosa was outed by an official who took offence with his erroneous claim of clean play and who decided to offer evidence to the contrary in a most public manner. Perhaps that will serve as a lesson for others who were contemplating the same false profession of innocence. It would seem that the best course of action for those who have so far escaped detection would be to keep a low profile.

Some have urged baseball to release the remainder of the names, in an effort to put the game's ugly past to rest, once and for all. For a variety of legal reasons - remember, players were "promised'' anonymity - that will not happen. And, whether baseball officials like it or not, others - slowly but surely - are doing the dirty work for them. smcadam@thenational.ae