Commissioner Bud Selig can foresee a swift return to the old days of spring training when ballplayers never felt the need to justify the size of their testicles.
"I am very confident we will effectively rid our sport of steroids in this coming season," Selig said Saturday while announcing a decline in positive steroid tests last year.
Selig said that positive steroid tests dropped from five to seven percent in 2003 to "a range of one to two percent (in 2004) -- which startled me and a lot of other people." He also said positive tests in the minors dropped from 11 percent in 2001 to 1.7 percent in 2004.
Critics, of course, will point out that it's more important how test results go this season now that baseball has begun a much stricter, unannounced testing program for all players, both during the season and in the winter. They will also insist that this week's results don't prove that, as Selig stated, steroids are "not rampant" in baseball, only that the tests didn't catch very many players. Those are valid points. But the bigger question is whether anything baseball does will ever satisfy the critics who are "outraged" by this issue. Not only has Jose Canseco appeared on "60 Minutes" and the top of the New York Times bestseller lists, Congress is preparing to call players in to testify about steroid use. "Are you now, or have you ever been on the juice. Oh, and can we have your autograph?"
When no one seems to notice that the NFL's testing program has failed to keep its players from swelling to the size of Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons, it seems odd that the issue of steroids in baseball requires a Congressional investigation. Like, it doesn't have anything better to do?
Well, as Selig said several times, "Baseball is held to a higher standard and I've learned to accept it. And we should be held to a higher standard. When I go to a game, I expect to see a sport that is a sport."
Selig defended baseball's punishment system for steroid users, saying that a first offense results in not only a 10-day unpaid suspension -- $140,000 for a player earning the average salary -- but more importantly, in public condemnation as well.
"The greatest deterrent to this is the fact that [the player's] name will be public to everybody on the North American continent -- immediately," Selig said. "So anybody that takes any chance will understand that this is public and there will be no attempt to hide anything."
He's right. That will have an effect. And the new testing program will reduce use, even if politicians and talk show hosts want more.
Critics will insist that the new test results don't prove anything. But the bottom line is that baseball now has a testing program and is doing something about steroids. It's time to stop criticizing and see where that program leads.
Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," is being published by Plume and goes on sale March 2. It can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com.
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