Baseball's quagmire needs a creative solution
If nothing else, you've got to admire the brass Rawlings of Michael Rains, the attorney for Barry Bonds. Rains says his client wants to cooperate with George Mitchell's Major League Baseball-sanctioned investigation into performance-enhancing drugs, but only if the feds can't use the information to, you know, send Bonds to a mininum security dugout with razor wire.
"We believe Sen. Mitchell's investigation will be fair, thorough and impartial," Rains told the New York Daily News.
This is lawyer-speak for, "The worse thing Bud Selig can do is suspend my guy. Big whoop. My client plays about once a week, runs like he's got a slug in his thigh, and might not make it through the season. The feds, though, can put a choke hold on his bank account and even insist on jail time. So, sure, we'd rather make nice with George Mitchell than with a federal prosecutor."
Rains knows the feds aren't going away. If anything, they're doing what Bonds does at the plate: They're digging in, wearing body armor, daring you to make a mistake.
Bonds has made plenty of mistakes, which is why he's sweating out the possibility of perjury and tax evasion charges. It's also why tens of people outside the Bay Area were thrilled when he hit Home Run No. 715 to pass Babe Ruth. Meanwhile, Rains blabbers about not trusting the feds, about enduring the feds' "double talk," about not wanting to provide fodder for "another book that will make reporters rich."
I'm just asking, but why exactly should anyone trust Rains and Bonds? After all, when's the last time we got a straight answer from Mr. Flaxseed? As for books that make reporters rich, isn't it interesting that Bonds recently dropped a lawsuit against the two San Francisco Chronicle writers who authored the damning and damaging "Game of Shadows?"
Rains is doing what he can to protect his client, but he's holding a parasol in a hurricane. If the feds have the time to exterminate a no-name such as Jason Grimsley from baseball, they have time to wait out Bonds and anybody else. That means months -- maybe years -- of more investigations, more raids, and more arrests. It is baseball's next-to-worst-case scenario. The worst scenario is if Congress decides it's time to teach MLB and its players a lesson in legislation.
However it shakes out, baseball risks going from a vibrant sport to an inert one. The NHL can tell you what that feels like. So pardon the mixed metaphor, but right now baseball is walking on ice as thin as a lineup card.
How do you fix this mess? You can't -- at least, not all at once. There is no owner's manual for mushroom clouds created by the use of steroids, human-growth hormone and assorted other performance enhancers. The feds have their search warrants. The players have their unspoken code of "Thou Shalt Not Rat." The union has its constituency to protect, no matter how corrupt that constituency might be. And the owners have a profit margin to preserve. This is a boat rowing in four different directions.
Perhaps it's time to consider something different, even borderline outrageous. Think Sean Connery's Irish cop in "The Untouchables," when he asks Kevin Costner's Eliot Ness about taking on gangster Al Capone.
"And what are you prepared to do?" booms the cop.
"Everything within the law," says Ness.
A one-time amnesty program would be within the law. A player would get one chance, and one chance only, to divulge his use of performance-enhancing drugs without fear of suspension or prosecution. His name would be protected by a joint agreement between MLB and the players' union. If future random testing revealed the presence of performance enhancers, the player's name would be made public and a mininum five-year MLB ban imposed.
Those players who don't request amnesty would provide a blood and urine sample for testing. If testing either now or later (reliable HGH detection is an evolving science) revealed steroid or HGH use, the player would be banned for life.
The amnesty proposal isn't without flaws. It doesn't address the distribution question. It doesn't rule out the possibility, if not the likelihood, of some players' trying to beat the system with, say, new designer HGH. And who knows whether the union, MLB and the government would actually sign off on the idea. Politics.
But amnesty might spare baseball of an investigative threesome: the feds, Mitchell's investigation and Congress. It would give players a Get-Out-Of-Suspension/Jail card, give MLB a chance to regain some of its integrity, and give the union a way out of defending HGH users.
It's nothing more than an educated guess, but I think Selig, if allowed, will eventually suspend Bonds, Gary Sheffield and Jason Giambi for using performance enhancers. Then will come another wave of names, followed by more suspensions. And more of the same after that.
Or MLB and the union could consider amnesty. No, the idea isn't perfect. Then again, neither are the alternatives.
Gene Wojciechowski is the senior national columnist for ESPN.com. You can contact him at email@example.com.
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