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Tuesday, March 23, 2004
Updated: March 26, 11:34 AM ET
In search of a hero

By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

We need a hero.

God, I feel like Bonnie Tyler just for saying so, but it's true; we need a hero on this steroids thing.

We don't need the commissioner's "best interest of the game" threats. We don't need Fehr talking about "constructive dialogue." We don't need guys who aren't using saying they're in favor of some kind of testing. And we sure as hell don't need a gag order users are only too happy to abide by.

We need one of the big boys with a dark cloud hanging over his head to step up and talk about what he's taken. Full disclosure, consequences be damned.

Defy the union, defy your buddies, and defy all expectations.

Any takers? Come on.

You can be repentant. You can explain yourself. You can argue that the problem in baseball pales in comparison to the one in football. You can even say it's your body and you have a right. (I wouldn't buy it, but I'd be happy to hear the argument.)

Anything but silence, because the quiet is sitting on the game like an 800-pound canary right now and we?re running out of air.

Am I crazy? Is it insane to imagine someone would just own up? It must be. No one in the locker rooms, the boardrooms, or the press is even hinting at the possibility. It's like the truth is thought outside the box. Well, the box is boxing us in. It's time for some wacky Python courage. And now for something really different, you know what I'm saying? And now for a sentence that begins, "I used steroids ..."

Where would it end?

Would it just be a sad, sick sacrifice that wouldn't make any difference at all.

I don't think so. I think there's a chance it'd compel other players to speak, and it might push "negotiation" into reform. The come-clean guy would be the new measuring stick. Every other user would come up short against his honest standard. Guys wouldn't stand for that, they'd want to join him.

It would alienate and anger some fans, but breaking the seal would win a whole lot of good will, too. People want the healing. They want to get angry and then get about the business of forgiving.

The first player who pipes up would be praised as much as damned. He'd be the guy who turned the tide. He'd be the guy in the history books getting credit for bringing the game back to its au naturale roots.

Plus, even if none of that happened, he'd be the guy in a roomful of zip-locked mouths and averted eyes willing to look straight into the camera and speak, and that ought to be its own reward.

* * * * *

NOTES FROM ERIC'S SCORECARD
GOOD IDEA
Oakland signing Eric Chavez. Hard hit groundballs throw themselves into his gloves like lemmings to the slaughter. He struggles with lefties, but still puts up big, healthy numbers at the plate, he's personable and he's got a swing to inspire poetry among the faithful. The A's let Giambi and Miggie go, and they should have. But there is a time to say to the fans, "This is your guy." This is that time, and at just 26, Chavez is that guy.
IN THE BATTER'S BOX
Take a look at Miguel Cabrera, the baby-faced Marlins phenom. He does a series of stuttered half-swings before the pitch, like he's lining his axe up for the fault line in a tree trunk, like he's picking the perfect place to cut the cake. It's got a hint of Joe Morgan in it. It's the ritual of a man who won't be rushed and is about to do some serious damage.
A BETTER IDEA
They blew up the Vet in Philly last Sunday, and broadcast it on MLB.tv so the long-suffering and afflicted all over the country could be exorcised in the comfort of their own homes. Just like Linda Blair.
THE OVER/UNDER
Johnny Damon
  • On Johnny Damon wearing it in a ponytail: 3 days.
  • On Johnny Damon answering all questions from the press with Jim Morrison lyrics and suiting up in leather pants: 3 days.
  • On Dan Haggerty suing for copyright infringement: 3 days.
  • A BAD IDEA
    The D-Rays announced Don Zimmer Face Mask Day for April 7. Sounds clever enough, but have they thought about the screaming babies? Kids who might have grown up to be fans (probably not Devil Rays fans, but still ...) instead become jumpy, bedwetting, insomniac candidates for a life of therapy. "I still see his face, Doctor. I still see so many of his faces!"
    BRIAN GILES ALL-STAR
    A spot reserved for unheralded greatness

    Aubrey Huff, RF, Tampa Bay Devil Rays

    Last year's line: .311 BA, 34 HR, 107 RBI, .922 OPS
    The spring line: .419 BA, 3, HR, 5 RBI, 1.244 OPS
    The '04 line: Smells good
    BUY UP
    Stock in James Loney, the Dodgers' first-base prospect. Loney hit .500 with five doubles and seven RBI this spring, and got an invite out west for the Dodgers-Angels Freeway Series even after he'd been assigned to the minors. He may not be up soon, but he'll be up soon enough, and he'll stay a good long while.

    SELL OFF
    Your shares of the Rocket. We're all excited about the homecoming thing, but it's a better story than a bet.
    VITAL YANKEE-HATER NUMBER
    Kevin Brown
    Eighteen players on the roster over 30.

    Nine of them pitchers.

    Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick, tick ...
    CATCHPHRASE
    "Pitching wins championships."

    Aaron Boone's ALCS blast was big, but Josh Beckett's throwback Game 6 got the last word.

    So pitching wins championships, and if I can have only one staff in the Bigs this year to call my own, give me Oakland's.

    Pitching wins championships, and if I can express my heartfelt sympathy to the citizens of only one major-league city in this great land of ours, let me just say to the good people of Arlington, Texas:

    "In the name of Dock Ellis and Fergie Jenkins, in the spirit of Nolan Ryan, and in loving memory of the young David Clyde, I'm truly sorry for what you're about to go through."
    IF YOU LIKED MONEYBALL
    Stanford
    Check out the statistical analysis of college hitters and pitchers available now from Craig B. at Batter's Box.
    IF YOU BELIEVE MONEYBALL MIGHT LEAD TO THE DOWNFALL OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION
    Dusty's Cubs are for you. They do it old-school in Chicago: Men are men, you go with your gut, you dance with who brung ya, horses are rode hard and put away wet, young arms are pushed deep into the eighth, bats are for swinging, walks are for sissies, and fans start holding breath 'long about April 1.
    GET THIS MAN A NICKNAME
    Garret Anderson. I'm talking about an old-time thing. I'm talking about the days when men were called Rabbit and Dutch, Highpockets and Ee-Yah. Garret Anderson is a fine ballplayer but he has the name of a CPA or a middle school science teacher. We need to spice this man up. We need to speak of him the way folks once spoke of the ancient masters, men like Peach Pie O'Connor and Dom "The Little Professor" DiMaggio.

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  • FASHION STATEMENT
    Justin Miller
    Blue Jays pitching prospect Justin Miller's been instructed to keep his armloads of tattoos under wraps. He'll have to wear sleeves, even for day games in July, because the tats are a distraction to hitters.

    The "H-A-T-E" and "L-O-V-E" ink jobs scrawled across his knuckles will remain open for business, however, and should provide him with some powerful Bob Mitchum mojo. After the vampire in "Nosferatu" and Glenn Close in every movie she's ever made, Mitchum's Reverend Harry Powell, who wore the same letters on his knuckles in "Night of the Hunter," is the scariest character in film history.

    Justin should channel him every time out. And he shouldn't stop with the Rev's tattoos, he should toe the rubber and recite the speech that goes with them:

    "H-A-T-E! It was with this left hand that old brother Cain struck the blow that laid his brother low. L-O-V-E! You see these fingers, dear hearts? These fingers has veins that run straight to the soul of man. The right hand, friends, the hand of love. Now watch, and I'll show you the story of life."

    Nobody's gonna want a piece of that. After a little bit of that, Justin could throw underhand grapefruits and blow guys away.

    Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2. His "On Baseball" column will appear weekly during the baseball season.