By Jim Caple
Page 2

Doctors recently prescribed steroids to my friend Scooter for a debilitating inner ear problem. The good news is the steroids apparently cleared up the ear problem and put him back on his feet. The bad news is he can no longer play in the major leagues.

On the other hand, his Barry Bonds replica cap finally fits.

That's the last joke I'll make about steroids (for awhile, at least) because, frankly, I'm tired of people bashing baseball over the head on this issue. Enough already. Even Juan Marichal eventually let go of the bat.

Baseball recently announced a new, much more stringent steroid testing policy, but that apparently isn't enough to shut up the legions of critics.

  "Not much of a step forward," world anti-doping czar Dick Pound tells the Associated Press.

"They're not kidding anymore," Sports Illustrated's Bill Scheft writes. "Now if you get caught, they tell your parents."

A joke, BALCO's Victor Conte Jr. complains.

"Semi-Tough" writes SI.

Just a transparent attempt to get the politicians off baseball's back, moan columnists from coast to coast. Mere window dressing.

Well, it's more than window dressing -- no player is going to want to be outed with a positive test. But even if that's all it is, big deal. All steroid policies are little more than window dressing. Does anyone really think the NFL's policy has eliminated steroid use in a league where linebackers are 20 pounds heavier than just 10 or 15 years ago? For all their effort and all their opinions, have Pound and his agency ended steroid use by Olympic athletes? Does anyone think steroid tests have really gotten rid of performance enhancers in any sport?

I'm sorry, but window dressing is all fans want. Fans may say they don't like steroids, but they don't really want them eliminated. They want the local team's roster stacked with 260-pound linebackers who can run a 4.5 40. They want Olympians who truly are swifter, higher and stronger. And they want home runs traveling so far and so fast that they have to clear TSA agents before they sail out of the stadium.

Mark McGwire
We all loved McGwire's home run chase, even though we knew he was taking stuff.

This is not a health issue. If fans really cared about the health of their favorite athletes, they would insist the NFL play two-hand touch and limit the weight of linemen to less than 300 pounds. Given the chance at a $20 million contract by risking steroid use for a strictly limited time, we would all gladly pull down our pants, bend over and wait for the syringe. No, this simply is about allowing us to watch the performances we crave and still feel that the new numbers printed in the record book are legitimate.

Hey, we all knew in 1998 that Mark McGwire was on androstenedione (which baseball's new policy bans), but only a few misanthropic columnists cared much. The home run chase made everyone else feel too good to be bothered about steroids. As long as andro was defined merely as a steroid "precursor" and not an actual steroid, that was good enough for us.

That's the bottom line. We don't care about elaborate blood tests for Human Growth Hormone or a ban on amphetamines or specifics about random offseason testing. All we really want is a policy that allows us to feel excited when someone finally passes Hank Aaron's home run record. And why shouldn't we? Are today's records in the steroid era any more tainted than those achieved when greenies were so prevalent in the Sixties? Or when African-Americans and Latinos were banned from the game before WWII? All records have to be viewed in the context of the times they were reached.

We don't really want athletes who use steroids out of sports. We want them in the governor's mansion.

So enough bellyaching. Baseball has instituted the only steroid policy it really needs, and it's time for the critics to bitch about something else -- like the Doug Mientkiewicz baseball or the Yankees' payroll.

And now, if you'll excuse me, softball season is fast approaching and I think Scooter has a few steroids left over.

LIES, DAMN LIES AND STATISTICS
Johnny Carson's death brings to mind that Bob Uecker appeared on his show more often (at least 100 times) than just about anyone who wasn't in a safari suit and employed by a zoo. It also reminds us that one of the strangest moments in "Tonight Show" history happened in 1969, when Joe Garagiola filled in for a vacationing Johnny. His guests that night? John Lennon and Paul McCartney, perhaps the two most famous people in the world at the time. The two Beatles were clearly baffled by their guest host, whose chief claim to fame was having been the starting catcher for the 1952 Pirates, one of the worst teams in baseball history. It was the greatest guest-to-host mismatch in talk show history ... other than the entire run of the Chevy Chase show. Said Paul, when he and John sat down with Garagiola: "Ummm, where's Johnny?"

And while we're on the topic of the entertainment world, Paul Giamatti got screwed out of an Academy Award nomination. Only Jamie Foxx in "Ray" could match Giamatti's performance in "Sideways," perhaps the best movie of the year. And Clint Eastwood gets a nomination for playing the exact same character he's played in at least a dozen movies? There is no justice. This is the biggest oversight since Barry Bonds lost the 1991 MVP award to Terry Pendleton. Giamatti, by the way, is the son of the late commissioner, Bart Giamatti ... The government is considering doubling the bounty for Osama bin Laden to $50 million, which means it's finally willing to pay more to catch the most wanted man in the world than a baseball team is willing to pay an MVP infielder. And if Washington general manager Jim Bowden somehow tracked bin Laden down, he could make the nation infinitely safer and cover the Nationals' entire 2005 payroll.

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.




Jim_Caple
Jim
Caple
OFF BASE