Commentary

No closure on steroids era

As long as players remain silent, fans will be left to wonder

Updated: January 13, 2010, 9:07 PM ET
By Melissa Isaacson | ESPNChicago.com

It is simply understood, a rule among boys, a code among men.

You don't snitch.

You don't do it on the playground, and you don't do it in the locker room.

It's OK to whisper, but never to tell. Talk among yourselves, but keep it in-house.

You wonder how many of Sammy Sosa's former Cubs teammates know things they're not telling. You wonder how that code is working for them now.

[+] EnlargeSammy Sosa
Paul K Buck/AFP/Getty ImagesSammy Sosa allegedly tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003, according to a New York Times report. The former Cubs slugger has not admitted to using steroids.

Jose Canseco will never win awards for popularity or integrity. His motives have always been questionable at best, vindictive at worst. But in a fittingly scummy way, he might be the closest thing to a conscience that Major League Baseball has right now.

When MLB commissioner Bud Selig says in a statement, "The so-called steroid era … is clearly a thing of the past," when St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa contends that he knew nothing about Mark McGwire's use of the performance enhancers, when Sosa and all those in close proximity to his career remain silent, there is no closure.

Perhaps McGwire is sleeping better this week after apologizing to the Maris family and weeping in numerous interviews -- though why he's so weepy and apologetic if he used steroids only for recuperative purposes is anyone's guess.

But for the rest of us, it does not go away, and it won't until the last remnants are scrubbed clean or swept away.

While it is fair to say that on some level, all of us -- media, players, coaches, managers, baseball executives and the nature of the sport itself -- bear some responsibility for the conspiracy of silence, it is now up to those who knew and those who know to own up and to protect the integrity of their game.

That includes Sosa and every other of the 104 players who, according to the New York Times report in June, tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug in 2003.

It's unrealistic to expect baseball players to turn in a teammate when it would negatively affect the team and their own livelihoods. But while in the short term the code may have protected the sanctity of the team, in the long term, it betrayed the sanctity of the game.

You wonder how many in baseball were secretly glad that Canseco had the stomach to say what they could not, and how many wish he would say more.

[+] EnlargeMark McGwire
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesFormer St. Louis Cardinals slugger Mark McGwire admitted Monday that he used steroids throughout his career.

We all saw it. We saw the players who were normal-sized one season and big-headed and muscle-bound the next. We knew.

In the days, weeks and years to come, we will hear from the players who competed cleanly and were overshadowed during the steroids era. Presumably, some of them knew, too.

Maybe former Cubs pitcher Steve Trachsel explained it best when, in talking about the McGwire-Sosa home-run-record chase in 1998, he told ESPN 1000's "Afternoon Saloon" that "everybody wanted to believe them. That goes from the fans to the ownership, everybody. Nobody wanted to believe they were cheating."

OK. But how about coming clean now?

In a 2006 interview with Sporting News Radio, former Sosa teammate Mark Grace said of his career, which spanned from 1988 to 2003: "There were a lot of guys doing [steroids]. I saw it with my own eyes."

Surely, Grace was not the only player to witness this personally.

Will we ever get the truth? And when will it come out? Will it be after one of those clean players from the steroids era has been turned down one too many times by the Hall of Fame and blurt out tales that will have lost all credibility?

Will it have to wait until Sosa and others are no longer around? Will it take that long to see the big picture? Or by then, as Lou Piniella suggested Wednesday when he predicted that McGwire would eventually get into the Hall of Fame, will it be that much easier to forget?

Will we ever get closure?

Melissa Isaacson

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Melissa Isaacson is a columnist for espnW.com, ESPN Chicago and ESPN.com. The award-winning writer has covered Chicago sports for most of her 31-year career, including at the Chicago Tribune before joining ESPN in 2009. Isaacson has also covered tennis since 1986.

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