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How to address steroids? Don't

3/5/2004

Day dawned bright and shiny across Baseball America. Games were being played, fans were being entertained, and the venomous BALCO drug scandal had disappeared because Bud Selig said so.

And not a moment too soon, either. In fact, you wonder why Bud didn't think of the "Ignore The Elephant, Pretend It Isn't Here" gag order sooner.

This is the kind of clever strategizing that has made Bud the model sports executive of his era ... well, that, and the Brewers. To know that the best way to solve a problem is to shut your eyes tight, put your hands over your ears, jump up and down and sing the theme music from "The Shield" at the top of your lungs ... I mean, if that isn't leadership, what is?

Better still, when you let your faithful ward, Bob DuPuy, get in the last official licks on the subject before the clampdown ... that's even more evidence of Trumpian reality-show skills.

After all, what did the absence of a gag order get you? Talk of asterisks and arrests, of cheating, and worst of all, short-sighted connivance of the owners and players in setting up a drug policy that could hang proudly in any meth lab in America.

Or did you forget the many negotiations on the subject over the past several labor negotiations, all of which went like this?

"We want organized and systematic drug testing."

"No."

"OK. Let's talk about arbitration."

No, the glory days of watching home runs, and income reports, soar into the ionosphere were being endangered by all this dangerous talk about steroids, THG, HGH and the super-sized ballpark bratwursts that were making our children the shape and size of Uruguay, and something had to be done.

And the industry-wide thoracotomy was just the trick.

I mean, why not call a press conference, bring in all your pals from the media, bring up Don Fehr and Gene Orza to stand with you, and say something troublesome and divisive like:

"Yes, we all screwed up. We're screwing up now. But we're going to get this right, because we're going to ditch the idiotic drug strategy we have now and make something better. And we're going to do that now, because we are getting killed, and rightly so, by you people.

"You see, this is our fault -- mine, and Don's, and the players. We spent our entire relationship establishing the level of trust that gave us the war in Bosnia, so that the players thought that when we suggested drug testing that we were trying to pull another fast one on them.

"That's on us. We negotiate with an eye toward killing each other, so sensible ideas just never enter into the conversation.

"Oh, sure, we could have made the drug issue more important, but, well, those home runs and those 99-mph fastballs were just so damned intoxicating. We were all getting entertained, and rich, and in honesty, you didn't seem to mind, either. So maybe a little of this is your fault, too.

"But it isn't your responsibility to fix it. It's ours. So we are going to sit down, together, as partners rather than adversaries, bring in drug experts from across the nation and come up with a coherent plan. Not only that, we're going to tell you what we're doing every day, so that you'll know we're not just giving you the old P.R. three-card monte we're so good at. And when we've finally done it to everyone's satisfaction, including yours, we'll make it law. And that way, none of us will have to see John Ashcroft staring at us through the bathroom mirror in the morning. Man, that'll make a man pull his undershorts up over his head as sure as I'm standing here."

Fortunately, there will be none of that full-disclosure nonsense, or any troublesome got-a-problem-we-need-to-fix-together spirit of cooperation that has remained unopened in that box in the corner of the storage room.

And most assuredly, there will be the usual round of leaked finger-pointing, anonymous name-calling and "This-sort-of-thing-wouldn't-happen-if-we'd-been-able-to-kill-them-and-eat-them-during-the-last-negotiations-like-we-planned" gripe-fests that have served the game so well over the last quarter-century.

Thank God for that. And thank God we have the gag order, too. Because you don't want any sensible exchanges of views between players, executives and the public that might actually advance the topic a bit, that might help the public formulate its thoughts and spend less time trying to assign guilt by weight, the greatest advance in jurisprudence since the witch trials of the 16th century.

No, this is way better just as it is. And now, let's all rise for the playing of "White Punks On Dope." And play ball.

Ray Ratto is a columnist with the San Francisco Chronicle and a regular contributor to ESPN.com