First came a report that Jason Giambi told a grand jury that he used an expansive regimen of illegal, performance-enhancing drugs. Barry Bonds also said he may have used steroids unwittingly. Then U.S. Sen. John McCain threatened to legislate drug testing if baseball didn't quickly clean up its act. Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig responded by welcoming a federal initiative, and last week even the players' union showed signs of buckling, saying it might agree to tougher testing before next season. How did MLB's testing policy become the laughingstock of sports? And what can it do to make amends on this issue? NEWSWEEKâ€™s Mark Starr joined us for a Live Talk on baseball's big problem.
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Mark Starr: Good afternoon. I'm Mark Starr, Newsweek's national sports correspondent. I've been ranting about steroids for several years now (and, to be honest, been scolded about it by many readers). Now I think folks are ready to listen. Here in Boston, it has been a rather exciting year for baseball, even now with the comings (Edgar Renteria) and goings (Pedro Martinez). I'd much rather be talking Red Sox-Yankees, the 2005 season and Randy Johnson than the steroids mess. But finally, thankfully, the steroids scandal is reaching such critical mass that the cowards at baseball's top and the obstructionists in the players union are being forced to take notice and maybe even do something about it. I am ready, without the use of any performance-enhancing supplements (ok, i cop to coffee, but just one cup), to take your questions.
Kansas City, MO: Do those who take steroids really have an unfair advantage over those who don't?
first for the purposes of this discussion, let me say unequivocally i am not a doctor nor am i a medical expert. but this one is easy. steroids definitely boost muscle mass and they help rejuvenate athletes, thus enabling them to train more and bounce back from minor aches and pains of competition and training more quickly. users have a definite edge, unless their muscles get too huge and they begin to break down. anybody who follows sports sees how some of these day to day pulls and strains knock players out for weeks and months. that's because the muscles become so big that the strain is actually a tear. takes much longer to recover.
Baltimore, MD: What do we know about BALCO now? Do we know the other athletes that were (are?) clients? Has BALCO been shut down?
Mark Starr: BALCO has been shut down, its two highest officials indicted on about 42 counts of distributing illegal drugs and money laundering and two trainers affiliated with it, including barry bonds' trainer, have also been indicted. about two dozen athletes testified under immunity before the federal grand jury including bonds, jason giambi, garry sheffield, footballer bill romanowski, olympic queen marion jones, world 100-meter recordholder tim montgomery and a host of other well-known athletes. common sense dictates that BALCO could hardly be the only lab out there.
Louisville, KY: I am an ex-Major League Baseball player and I can attest to MLB steroid usage, as I have seen it firsthand and even participated for a short while. It made me psycho, so I stopped. Fact is, nothing--including steroids--will assist a human in hitting a baseball. Injuries heal faster and steroids will make you look better in your uniform, but that's about it. My question is: in knowing that professional football would not exist without its higher than 80% usage rate, why has the witchhunt stopped at baseball?
Mark Starr: i am always interested in talking to ex-player so if you want to talk more some time, send me an e-mail at email@example.com
as for your statement, well this is a really complicated one. bear with me. first of all, when we talk steroids, we actually are using it as shorthand for a wide variety of performance-enhancing drugs. when the feds raide BALCO and the home of Barry Bonds' trainer, they found steroids, human growth hormon, synthetic testosterone and other drugs. there is some evidence that eyesight can be improved by certain drugs, thus improving hand-eye coordination. moreover, there are other drugs that improve the reactive reflex, which is why sprinters were using the drug modafanil, which aids narcoleptics. (that's what they caught kelli white using.) in sports like track and swimming, a significant performance boost in mid or late career is consider a prima facie case of cheating by insiders. and folks like kelli white and the irish swimmer michelle smith, who suddenly found their speed in their mid to late 20s were found out to be cheats. barry bonds went 14 seasons avging about 29 home runs and below .290. we know steroids and hgh boost power. if 20 of bonds' home runs stayed in the park and were just long outs, well he would have hit a slightly less stellar .267 and folks wouldn't have been terrified to pitch to him. finally, baseball has gotten the most attention because it has done the least to combat it. we know there are drugs in other sports, but at least their governing bodies have testing programs and penalties in place. maybe not enough, but more than the joke of a policy that is baseball's.
Rochester, NY: Why all the attention on Barry Bonds(loads of speculation, no real proof)--yet when Mark Mcguire was caught with andro in his locker (no asterisk by his records) he gets to ride off into the sunset with nary a peep about his drug use?
Mark Starr: first of all, there is plenty of "proof" depending on whether your definition is court of law or common sense. his performance, by sports tradition with its huge late-0career boost, is one form of proof. but he has now testified before a federal grand jury that he may have taken steroids unknowingly and his personal trainer, his guy, was arrested with a house full of performance-enhancing drugs and other baseball players have testified before the same grand jury that bonds' trainer gave them seteroids, hgh and other drugs. if you want to belive that he was just directing barry's workout in the gym and dealing on the side, that your right. but i don't.
Seattle, WA: Bonds' body and build is not so outlandish that it could not be achieved by someone who did not take steroids--even comparing the early Bonds with what he is now. Many of the "drug free" body builders achieve his frame without cheating. Why is no one on Barry's side raising this as a defense? Has anybody who knows anything about drug free weight lifting commented on this? Many columnists write that his build is impossible without drugs.. is it? They should explain.
Mark Starr: again, his body is not impossible, but there are some signs that suggest otherwise, particularly compared to his old body. but we now know that he probably took steroids cuz he said he did and possibly more cuz his trainer was indicted. we would never assume the same "i guess that's possible" defense of an enron exec denyiing knowledge or a congressman saying he didn't knnow what his aide was up to. or maybe we would, but i can't understand why everyone wants to cut barry so much slack here. there is plenty of evidence now.
Belcourt, ND: I am pretty certain that Bary Bonds used steroids; but, as a former minor league baseball player who could hit for power myself, I cannot ever believe that steroids can assist a person in making contact with a 95-mile-an-hour fastball. The fact that Bonds can hit almost everything thrown to him cannot be explained away by muscles. He must have uncanny hand-eye coordination that is beyond compare. No drug can make you hit a pro pitch so perfectly. Of course his power is freakish, but you have to be able to hit the ball to hit it out of the park. If McGwire hit .370 he would have hit 100 HR's.
Mark Starr: i think i was answering you too a couple ago. the real truth is we don't know all that much about what this panoply of drugs can do for you. research is decidely minimal.
Montreal, Canada: Why call it the "Asterisk General"?!! You Americans and your "catch phrases." Write and say it the way it is: "The Cheat Players"!
Mark Starr: we americans tend to be euphemistic. but i could ask you the same. why do canadiens watch hockey players hit each other in the head with sticks and call it two minutes for roughing. you remember hockey, don't you. it used to be a sport played in north america. maybe again some day, but not some day soon.
Naples, FL: How does the cream and the clear work? is this stuff that Bonds just rubbed onto his aching joints to releave pain and to help him recover? It sounds something like Icy Hot or any over-the-counter analgesic. I'm not in favor of any injected or pill form but I really find it hard to believe that a rub-on cream helped Bonds bulk up and if he was using steroids, why is he not suffering the injuries the other athletes have?
Mark Starr: i can't tell you why bonds hasn't suffered injuries. maybe he is smarter, better-conditioned, i don't know. but balco was marketing state of the steroids and the cream was back then an undetectable steroid, a THG compound, and it was one of the centerpiece along with "the clear", which bonds apparently also tooks as drops, of their program. ask kelli white who has been stripped of her world championship spring double. she'll tlel you it was no analgesic. it worked.
Waterloo, Canada: What do you think should be the consequences of a baseball player using steroids?
i think they should be suspended for a very long time. if the penalties were severe enough, the players would, for the most part, police themselves. note that the u.s. anti-doping agency last week suspended American sprinter Michelle Collins, who has a national and world title behind her, for 8 years for her involvement with BALCO--and that was without a single positive drug test. just evidence collected in the BALCO investigation. when risk outweights benefits, steroids will be less of a problem. but baseball right now suspends players--and make that possibly suspends--for 25 days for a third offense. since it only tests major leagurs once a year, starting the past season, that means a player unlucky to flunk each of his annual tests for three years would finally get suspended in 2006. certainly seems like a reasonable risk for an aging ballplayer at the very least.
Dallas, TX: Is creatine similar to steroids?
Mark Starr: only in effect, which is to build muscle mass. but it is definitely not a steroid.
Lone Tree, CO:
Should George Bush take steroids with the hope and, of course, the prayer that it might increase blood flow to his brain?
Mark Starr: look, i may be a red sox fan, but i am a blue stater. that being said, i credit the president and his administration for recognizing that performance-enhancing drugs are a scourge. maybe we don't care if bonds or other players take them, aware of the risks, but a significant number of youngsters are mimicing their heroes with tremendous risks. that is unconscionable for us to accept. so i give the administration its due on this issue. and it's great to see that this country finally has a body, the u.s. anti-doping agnecy, that is willing to kick butt and actually has credibility in the rest of the world. for years out there, they considered us the biggest hypocrites of all, always pointing fingers at east germasn and chinese and ignoring our own drug epidemic.
Ft Lauderdale, FL: I wanted to let you know that my only child, Sean, age 26, committed suicide as a result of trying steroids at a local gym. Anything I can do to prevent this from happening to others I will do. Thank You and God Bless.
Mark Starr: You have my deepest sympathies. Unfortunately, sean is not the only one. Steroid use can lead to uncontrollable rages, confusion, depression and a host of serious mental problems. this is unacceptable for our nation.
Columbia, MO: Why is it all right for someone to have themselves cut upon (plastic surgery) to look better yet taking steroids is wrong? Why is it that women can get all the replacement (even augmentation) of estrogen that they want, yet a man can't boost his hormone, testosterone, without health "Nazi's" crying wolf? Why is it ok for our own government to play with our DNA, the very building blocks of life itself, to weed out traits they don't like, or enhance traits they do, but when a private citizen decides to make an informed judgment on how he will improve his/her own body, that is considered wrong? The hyprocisy is mind-boggling. Over 58,000 emergency room visits for Tylenol last year alone and 5000 deaths, yet no one is calling for it to be banned and its users criminals.
Mark Starr: i placed your question after the prior one so maybe you'd rethink your plastic surgery metaphor. sure, there's plenty of hypocrisy. but that doesn't mean we have to accept the lowest common denominator because we are vain in other areas. check out some of the literature--"faust's gold is an excellent book--on the east german experiment. it is one of the few well documented cases of state orchestrated drug programs and there is now evidence that it resulted in an excess of cancers, other illness, birth defects and deformities.
Denver, CO: Besides bigger muscles, are there are other telltale signs that someone might be using steroids? I worry that some of the kids on my son's football team might be using them.
Mark Starr: besides the dramatic changs in physique, there is irribility and 'roid rage, tho that is hard to tell with teens who are moody and angry anyway. outbreaks of acne are often one of the telltale signs, which often leads users to cover up a great deal--bulky sweats, hoods etc.
Buffalo, KY: Do you think baseball will ever get a governing body that can effectively implement rules and penalties that are rational?
Mark Starr: Not unless the feds force their hand and keep the whip handy. the most powerful union in sports distrusts management and has failed to recognize that the interest of its membership is served by combatting steroids.
Colorado Springs, CO: How is it that Bonds can get away with pleading ignorance to the fact that the 'supplements' he was taking were really steroids? Give me a break.
Mark Starr: He can get away with it cuz a lot of people our so enamored of sports stars and celebrities that they are willing to believe anything they say. and they confuse reasoned opinion with the standards required in a court of law. and by the way, michael jackson never has had plastic surgery and john kerry didn't take botox. they said so.
Birmingham, AL: Why were these guys too scared just to do it on their own? Isn't that what sports is all about?
Mark Starr: the drugs were out there, weren't banned by baseball and it became easy to convince yourself that everyone was doing it cause a lot were. i don't feel sorry for bonds and other stars. i do feel sorry for those who felt they had to cheat to compete and make it to the big leagues and were facing the difference of millions in income in their choice to use or not to use.
Sykesville, MD: We as a country are posting all of these anti-drug messages for people against drug use and how it is bad for you. With the MLB players, owners and commissioners turning their heads, isn't this sending the wrong message to the people who see these player as role models? It appears to me that this is telling everyone it is okay to use drugs if it helps you win, increase performance, and sell ticket at the box office.
Mark Starr: you got it right, which is that it's wrong.
Scottsdale, AZ: I know that the MLB is under particular scrutiny, but doesn't it make sense that if MLB players are taking steroids, then other athletes in other professional sports probably are as well? What about the NHL and NFL? How often are players tested for steroids or other illegal substances?
Mark Starr: i can't give you all the facts on other leagues, but suffice it to say that the nfl and nba test more and have stiffer penalties than baseball, which gives them more creidiblity on this issue. football's penalty for a third offense is a full year's suspension compared to baseball's 25 days. both the nfl and nba suspend first-time offenders. mlb keeps it a secret and requires counseling. that's a free passs for a year of cheating.
Westport, CT: Why doesn't MLB simply ban Barry Bonds forever instead of creating some silly, squishy, artificial and meaningless asterisk? Ruth and Aaron earned their marks. Why let Bonds make a mockery of them?
Mark Starr: Barry Bonds to our knowledge did not violate baseball rules, since steoids weren't banned until last season (and there was no pentalty last year, it was just for practice). it is an amazing world where bonds, giambi and others may have violated federal law, but not any baseball rules. pretty pathetic actually.
Bethesda, MD: It seems that there is already an law on the books that can do much to mitigate the use of steroids in sports.
It's called the RAVE Act, this departing Congress passed it a year ago April.
Maybe, just maybe, if Peter McGowan, George Steinbrenner and Daniel Snyder had the gate, their stadiums, and teams confiscated from them, as well as fined $250k, and were sentenced to a mandatory 10 years in one of our lovely Federal Gulags as punishment, that the RAVE Act calls for, then that will send the kind of message that illegal drug use of this kind will not be tolerated.
Can you tell us any reason why enforcing this law wouldn't work in these cases?
Mark Starr: i'm all for penalizing teams. i suggested that teams whose players tst positive lose draft choices. and it would be great, like what happened in rome (in this case because of bad behavior by fans in the stands) where the team hosted a game with nobody there. that would hit folks in their pocketbook and might even embarrass those who seem beyond embarrassment.
Washington, DC: Is anyone considering harsher treatment for Bonds, Giambi and Shefield than that which was received by Rose (banned for life, including the Hall)? In my opinion, steriods is a much bigger problem for the integrity of the game than Rose's gambling.
Mark Starr: i don't think baseball is considering anything right now except trying to get the feds off their backs. i doubt players will be banned from the Hall, unless they are convicted of drug crimes and then the character issue can be used. and i don't think we will ever see the record books revised or asterisked. it's just too complicated. the asterisk has to come from fans' attitudes. and i'm sorry that your town may be on the verge of losing baseball, but maybe, in light of all this, you don't care. wouldn't blame you.
Tempe, AZ: This whole situation is MLBs fault. If guys are getting an edge by taking steroids and there is no consequence, then why wouldn't they? MLB is a flawed monster. The players dictate way too much in the way of how things are ran. I blame Donald Fehr. The NFL is the model for how pro sports should be run.
Mark Starr: Fehr definitely struck out on this one. He is only intent on leveraging power, not protecting his players' health and well-being. Some day there may be hell to pay if there are major health consequences for a generation of players. I bet there are a lot of players who can't say so who would like to see drug testing implemented in a major way.
Mauldin, SC: How can MLB even consider not excluding players that are juiced? What is the argument for allowing them to stay?
Drinking, gambling, and drug use is approached only sparingly, might as well add steroid use to the stack.
Mark Starr: once again, it wasn't against the rules and this policy is subject to negotiation with the union. that's a prescription for nothing. which is why mccain stepped into the act and demanded baseball take some action.
Istanbul, Turkey: What do you think about Turkish baseball?
Mark Starr: i love all baseball, but confess i know nothing about turkish baseball. i don't believe they qualified for the olympics. i know more about turkish wrestlers and weightlifters.
Philadelphia, PA: How can any journalist vote a guy MVP, when you know he's cheating? It seems to me that whether it's politics or sports, you guys don't ask the hard questions for fear of being denied access. Bonds was late on pitches and still hitting them out to left with that half swing. Willie and Hank have got to know Bonds is juicing. His skills were diminishing six oe seven years ago. That's a fact. What happened? Did barry find the fountain of youth?
Mark Starr: yes, he did find the fountain of youth. i am beginning to wonder about journalists--and i do this in some sports--voting on anything at all. it represents a possible conflict of interest. why should reporters, say, contribute to this bankrupt b.c.s system in college football. let baseball reward its own cheats without our complicity.
Philadelphia, PA: Do you think we'll find out that more MLB players are (or were) using steroids? Should they be disqualified from being allowed to break records (as they aren't relying solely on their own abilities)? What kind of testing is in place to make sure this doesn't happen again? The MLB really seems to have dropped the ball on this. Would we have even learned about Giambi if the SF Chronicle hadn't gotten ahold of the private testimony he gave?
Mark Starr: We probably would have learend when he was called upon to testify in court. the late ken caminiti, the 1996 n.l. mvp who confessed to steroid use during his mvp season, guessed 50 percent at the time. he was not a shameless self-promotoer like canseco so i'd be willing to bet his guess was in range.
Mesa, AZ: How do you think that baseball players should be punished for use of drugs like steriods?
Mark Starr: Long and longer suspensions. Punishments for their teams. Not fines cause that isn't scary enough. Lost draft choices, though, would be a big deal.
Indianapolis, IN: So it's okay to use steroids or HGH for sex changes but not for sports? Where do you draw the line?
Mark Starr: I'm no genius. There's no easy way to draw the line. But I would start in baseball by banning virtually all the drugs that are banned in Olympic sports. And I would have year-round random testing. The folks who like to say let them all take anything and then it will be a level playing field are fools. it will never been level. some will be able to afford state of the art cheating at balco and some will sill be buying cheap steroids at the local gym. and we would all be paying someday for the consequences of a nation indiscriminately on perfomrance-enhancing drugs.
Fort Worth, TX: Can you please suggest to MLB officials that all baseball players that used or are using steroids be stripped of their glory? That is home run records, Hall of Fame induction, including their jobs, Etc. Thank you!!!
Mark Starr: i've made a host of suggestions. it's up to fans to let their voice be heard. that's what baseball will respond to.
Kansas City MO: What the heck ever happened to the American sport? Is this how we would define America?!
Mark Starr: america and sadly much of the competitive world. but just because it is an epidemic doesn't mean we have to surrender. the forces of detection are finally making some inroads. let's support those.
Mark Starr: thank you all for your interest. now i can get back to real baseball. check out my column on saying goodbye to pedro when it posts this afternoon. (i know it's all right cuz i see all the guests do it with jon stewart.) finally, if i didn't love baseball as much as i did, i wouldn't care quite as much. good holidays all.