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Thursday, June 15, 2006
At least MLB is trying to clean up

By Jim Caple
Page 2

Can everyone stop piling on baseball for just one minute?

I hate to sound like baseball's official apologist, but someone has to counter the relentless criticism of its drug testing policy. Geez, even the IRS lets up at some point. But no matter what baseball does about performance enhancers, it's never enough for some people. The criticism is so constant and so unreasonable that I'm beginning to feel sorry for Bud Selig.

Listen, I get it. People don't want performance enhancers in the game. Good. I don't want them, either. But can everyone just stop hyperventilating for a minute? I mean, columnists, radio hosts and politicians are all bashing baseball now because the sport doesn't test for a substance for which there is no reliable test. That's right. They're upset that baseball doesn't test for HGH even though there is no reliable test for HGH. A couple congressmen -- now that they've got that whole Iraq thing, the federal deficit and soaring gas prices licked -- are even threatening to take action unless baseball does something about its lack of an HGH test. That's like bitching about an American League pitcher not having any RBI.

Bud Selig
Jim Caple, actually feeling sorry for Bud Selig? Now that's something.
When these critics reluctantly admit there is no reliable test -- the IOC never has caught anyone using HGH with its impractical test -- their solution is to draw blood from players now and store the blood for an indefinite period until someone develops an effective test. Great. That won't lead to any problems. After all, Lance Armstrong can tell you how reliably the authorities usually store blood and urine samples.

This is going to hurt a little. But we're just going to draw some blood and hold onto it for as long as we like so that at some unspecified future date -- say, two months or six years -- we can detect any substances we want to bust you for. Of course, we might mix up some of the samples between now and then, but that's to be expected when storing thousands of samples for several years. Oh, and could you speak a little louder on the phone? We can't always hear everything when we tap the line.

The criticism of baseball's drug policy usually includes a quote from a disgusted (and apparently always available) Dick Pound. Need someone to criticize a drug policy? Dick's your man. He's like when a guest fails to show for David Letterman and they call the bullpen for Regis Philbin. I don't believe there is any drug testing policy in any sport that ever has met Pound's approval. In fact, after he saw "Midnight Express," he called Roger Ebert to complain that Turkish drug laws were too lax.

Meanwhile, despite all the self-righteous condemnation of baseball's drug testing, there is a bewildering reluctance to discuss the elephant standing in the middle of America's living room. No, not David Wells. I mean the 355-pound offensive lineman. For some reason, no one is outraged that the NFL doesn't test for HGH, only that baseball doesn't. NFL players' union chief Gene Upshaw recently told The Washington Post he opposes blood testing. One quarter of NFL players weigh 300 pounds or more -- one quarter! -- and the rest of the players are so big and muscled they should be wearing masks and smashing their opponents into the turnbuckle. Yet no one ever suggests the NFL might have an HGH problem. No, HGH is strictly a baseball problem.

I guess the next proposal will be a demand that we simply forget about proof and start suspending players on suspicion alone. A sudden weight gain? (Or a sudden weight loss?) A surge in home runs? A couple of injuries? A bad case of acne? An 8 3/4 baseball cap? Hey, that's all the evidence anyone needs, right? After all, this is too important an issue to wait around for proof.

Look, I know baseball is an easy target. But this is a sport that dramatically intensified its drug policy in the past year. This is a sport that is funding research into developing an effective urine test for HGH -- not very much money so far ($450,000 over three years), but it's something. This is a sport that is trying to clean up a mess that plagues every sport. If people can't resist bashing the sport, can they at least have the sense of fairness to count to 10 first next time?

Eliezer Alfonzo and other Giants
Alfonzo gets congratulated by teammates after his first home run.
BOX SCORE LINE OF THE WEEK
How about this for a first week on the job? After spending 10 years in the minors, San Francisco catcher Eliezer Alfonzo homered June 3 in his first big league game. "Sometimes I spoke with my wife and I said I don't know if baseball is for me or not," Alfonzo told reporters. "I've got 10 years in the minor leagues and I don't know if I'm going to get a chance to go to the big leagues. Now, the Giants gave me a chance and I'll try to do the best I can."

But that wasn't the end of it. A couple of days later, Alfonzo squatted behind the plate and caught Jason Schmidt's 16-strikeout game that matched the Giants' club record set by Christy Mathewson in 1902.

Schmidt's line:

9 IP, 7 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 16 K

We don't know about you, but to us, whenever you're matching Christy Mathewson, it's a pretty good thing.

LIES, DAMN LIES AND STATISTICS
Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer is batting .452 since May 9 (52-for-115), raising his average from .299 to a majors-leading .376. He has had at least two hits in 11 of his past 16 games. Unfortunately, he's not even in the top five in the All-Star vote, trailing leader Jason Varitek by at least 300,000 votes. "If he doesn't start, it's a conspiracy," teammate Torii Hunter said. "I've never seen a player go through a streak like that. It's sick. And it's not like he can just hit -- he can catch, too, and run, take the extra base, throw guys out. I mean, who's better? Really -- give me a name. I see the games; I know who the guys are. Name someone who's better." … Ichiro, meanwhile, is right behind Mauer after raising his average from .260 to .367 since May 5. He has 22 multihit games in that span, including five three-hit games and four four-hit games. He reached 2,500 hits combined between Japan and the majors last week, and has nearly as many hits in five-plus seasons here (1,234) as he did in nine seasons in Japan (1,278). … According to reports, 13 FBI agents spent six hours searching Jason Grimsley's house for steroid and HGH evidence. That's 19.5 man-hours for each of Grimsley's four career saves. Just imagine how big the search would have been if Grimsley had a career winning record or an ERA below 4.77.

OZZIE GUILLEN QUOTE OF THE WEEK
"Every time I see a kid in the clubhouse, I ask whose it is, and it's always Uribe's. Maybe he has 20, I don't know. … I don't know what kind of kid you're going to be when you're born on 6-6-6. If he's like his dad, he's going to be a problem."
-- Ozzie commenting on Juan Uribe's new child, born June 6

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. You can reach Jim at jimcaple.com. Sound off to Page 2 here.