Name That Substance

Michael Cox

All H-E-double-hockeysticks has broken loose again. In case you’ve been in a cave or rely on your RSS feed to provide you with your baseball information (silly, silly person), former Hall Of Fame lock and congressional fingerpointer Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for a banned steroid, and after a double-secret grievance hearing, was suspended this week.

Then yesterday, Mariners pitcher and Roaming Gnome impersonator Ryan Franklin went down under identical circumstances.

Across the land, a great shout was heard from sports journalists and talk-radio callers alike: “Let the blame begin!” Having been bored out of their skulls debating whether Bernie Williams was making a comeback or Ryan Dempster’s effectiveness as a closer, The Controversy was back with a vengeance.

And no one knows anything more than they did last time, or five years ago, for that matter. Goose Gossage even got dragged out by Dan Patrick to make the bold statement that Ichiro Suzuki’s single-season hits record had to be steroid-driven. (Goose Gossage apparently has not actually watched Ichiro play.)

Here’s a sampling of what I’ve heard so far:

“It’s obvious that the players aren’t getting the message.”

So you think that of all people, Rafael Palmeiro would throw caution to the wind immediately after testifying before Congress and as he approached the most visible milestone of his career? That somehow he thought he’d just slip through the cracks, or they’d be nice and throw away any positive test? C’mon, this isn’t Rob Dibble we’re talking about.

“He probably took a non-steroid supplement that was tainted, but that’s just as bad as taking a steroid. He was warned about that in spring training.”

If that’s so, better take the Flinstones chewables and Pedialyte away from your kids, because they are, in every sense of the word, supplements. Your One-A-Day? Supplement. There are supplements in most breakfast cereals. I’m confident that if you’re reading this, you have a supplement in your medicine chest or kitchen cupboard. Some items referred to as supplements are actually food items, like protein powder.

If you think I’m setting up a strawman, consider that MLB, at those spring training meetings they love to talk about, tell the players that the only way to be safe is not to take any supplement. It’s an easy out for MLB’s management, as is their rule that no team personnel can advise any player on any supplement. When it comes to athletes, demanding total abstinence is just plain stupid, and all it does is keep Bud Selig’s personal hands clean. The NFL can clear a list of “clean” supplements — why doesn’t Selig steal it like he stole the Wild Card?

“The supplement industry is evil and unregulated.”

Be realistic. The supplement industry is no more evil than, say, Major League Baseball. (That may be bad enough for some of you.) And supplements are in fact regulated. They just aren’t regulated as drugs. They’re regulated like food. I eat food regularly without many ill effects, suggesting that regulation of food is pretty effective, although that’s purely anecdotal evidence.

One of the biggest knocks is that supplement manufacturers aren’t required to list their ingredients. And giant alligators live in the sewers of New York City.

“The supplement manufacturers taint their products to boost results.”

Well, if that’s so, there’s one thing Palmiero and Franklin could easily do to help themselves in the court of public opinion:

Name the supplements that got them into trouble.

Give us brand names, and instantly, the heat goes off the player and onto the supplement companies involved. ESPN or SI (I hear Rick Reilly loves to test stuff) has a lab test a sample of the substance in question, and announces the results to the world. Congress now hauls the manufacturers into their “we (heart) moral high ground” hearings instead of the players, CEOs are browbeaten on “Outside The Lines,” and they’re subsequently forced to make an untainted product just to remain in business.

MLB and the players seem to be taking steroid punishment seriously. Now it’s time to take steroid prevention seriously. Unfortunately, that’s probably just another reason to pine for Bud Selig’s retirement.

Published August 3, 2005

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