Two Cents: Baseball Leads Congress to “Clean Sports Act” (5/27/2005)

(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)

The other day my first-grade son brought home a journal that he had been keeping since the beginning of the school year. One of the entries was his take on baseball, where he said, “I like to hit the ball. My dad throws me the ball and I hit it”.

That’s pretty much it in a nutshell isn’t it? In two sentences he boiled down the essence of baseball, summer and the dynamic between fathers and sons. Reading his entry and looking at the picture he masterfully drew, gave me feelings of joy and dread at the same time.

I wasn’t dreading throwing him the ball so he could smack the tar out of it – that I cherish. What I do dread is the next few months when Major League Baseball will rule the sporting world.

MLB is already 43 games into its season, and it’s not even halfway done. Consider that 43 games would make up roughly two and a half seasons of the NFL. 43 games would be better than the halfway mark of the NBA season.

But MLB is just getting started. From now until October – yes, October – we’ll be sitting through four-hour games praying for a repeat of Law & Order we haven’t seen. (By we, I kind of mean me, except I won’t be sitting through any MLB games.)

There will be a brief respite, with the NBA Finals in June, and a 7 on 7 league that the Heber Springs Panthers will be hosting this summer. And just because our local high school teams recently ended their outstanding seasons, doesn’t mean there will not be another opportunity to see the Cleburne County youth suit up.

Pee-wee and Pony League games have already started, and rest assured that is always a good excuse to buy some peanuts and cracker jacks. It is genuinely fun to watch the little guys and gals light up when they make a play or get a big hit. Who cares who wins and loses?

(I know there are some parents out there that really, REALLY care, but I don’t have the space for that today. However, this is a good time to mention that I can’t wait for the new Bravo show: Sports Kids Moms & Dads that will be premiering June 1. If you think I can’t get a whole series of columns out of that show, then you’ve underestimated this technological terror I’ve constructed – sorry, I can’t stop with the Star Wars references.)

And we can’t forget the big kids, who take the field for the American Legion teams. I had a blast last year covering Lee Agency and following them all the way to the second round of the AA District Tournament. Current UCA freshman Jonathan Nichols provided one of my lasting memories from last year in said tournament, when he hit a seventh inning game-winning RBI, just moments after setting off a car alarm with a foul ball.

Rest assured that neither Nichols nor any of his Legion or Panther teammates needed steroids to produce on the field.

You didn’t think you were going to get through a baseball piece without reading the word steroids did you? If you did, then my apologies.

When I was kicking this column around the office – after it had rudely talked back to me – I had no idea that it would mention performance enhancers. Then I read that on Tuesday Congress introduced the “Clean Sports Act of 2005”.

The “Clean Sports Act” would subject athletes in the four major sports (yes that includes the NHL) to a two-year ban on the first positive test of steroids. A second positive test would result in a lifetime ban and would fall under the umbrella of the White House Drug Czar.

(By the way, isn’t Czar kind of a weird word to be used in conjunction with the White House? Maybe they should change it to ‘White House Drug Dude’ or something a little less Russian.)

Before I give you the wrong impression; I’m all for this. Steroids have no place in professional sports, and I think that those harsh penalties should prove to be a strong deterrent.

But the cynic in me can’t stop screaming, ‘Why now’?  Steroids have been a problem for a long time, with deaths and the percentage of users steadily increasing since 1991. Is it because of that beloved bash brother Jose Canseco?

I don’t want to believe that Canseco and his shoe sized IQ was the impetus in Congress getting involved in the cleanup of professional sports. But the facts prove otherwise.

It wasn’t until his tell-all book came out that people started questioning the sanctity of our most holy of games  – baseball.

It was all right to steal signs, scuff balls, pine-tar bats, have drunken fan uprisings, brawl, have racist death threats directed at star players, and fix games.

But when Canseco suggested the majority of MLB was doing steroids (and according to Jose, feeling sexier), then the mighty Congress gets involved. Put aside the fact there are more pressing matters that deserve Congress’ attention – like a war-mongering President and shady elections and corporate greed and pharmaceutical companies controlling doctor’s diagnoses – if professional sports could police themselves, none of this would be happening now.

While reading over their proposal, I came across something that was curious to say the least. After a positive test, players can get a reduced penalty if they prove they didn’t know they were taking a performance enhancer or, get this, provide information on someone else who is violating the drug policy.

So, snitching on someone will set you free. I wonder how many innocent players will get their names smeared because a ‘Roid Ranger wants to get off the hook for making his hair fall out while increasing his pecs.

According to Congress the real reason for all this was the testimony of parents who had lost their children to steroids. If that’s so, that’s a noble reason and they are doing the right thing. And I’ll leave it at that.

So, let’s get out this summer and watch kids who are untouched by chemicals or scandals, kids who just play for the sheer enjoyment. And parents…try to relax. If little Timmy’s team doesn’t win or the ump is blind, who cares?

After all, we wouldn’t want Congress to pass the ‘Sane Parent Act of 2005’.

Categories: Baseball, sports

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