Thursday, July 26, 2007

Chemist Who Created THG Spills Beans to HBO's Bob Costas

In case you still believe that steroids and other performance enhancing drugs don't help players hit home runs, check out what Patrick Arnold--the chemist who created androstenedione and tetrahydragestinone (THG)--said to HBO's Bob Costas about this subject: "THG is probably one of the most potent steroids, milligram per milligram, that's ever been made." Arnold added that it increases bat speed and even helps a player's ability to focus, concluding, "The best way I could put it is it puts you in the zone. And athletes know what that means. I liken it to an animal that's hunting. Like a lion or something. The way a lion can stand there still and just zone in on the kill." Arnold supplied his state of the art--and quite illegal--drugs to Victor Conte of BALCO fame, who then provided them to many athletes. Arnold told Costas, "All I ever heard was Victor telling me how great Barry's doing. You know how...Barry's on the program and his reaction time's better than ever. And how he feels great." During Bonds' home run tear in 2001, Bonds declared, "I can't tell you why. Call God. Ask him." Arnold told Costas, "I don't think it was a miracle from God. I think there's a reason for it."

Barry Bonds is a remarkable athlete--but he is a cheater. He has cheated the game, he has cheated the fans, he has cheated many of the people he passed on the home run list and he is about to cheat Hank Aaron of a hard-earned record, perhaps the most prestigious mark in all of sports. During Wednesday's ESPN "Town Hall meeting" about Barry Bonds, Buster Olney, who is a Hall of Fame voter, said that he voted for Mark McGwire and plans to vote for Barry Bonds, also. Olney's reasoning is that he cannot prove who took steroids and who didn't, so he will simply base his decision strictly on statistics and just ignore the entire issue of performance enhancing drugs. That is just a weak cop-out. Olney and the other voters are supposed to use their judgment to determine who is worthy of being inducted in the Hall of Fame; this is not a court of law, with rules of evidence and a presumption of innocence. I don't know if the court system will ever catch up with Bonds regarding his illegal drug use--didn't the feds ultimately nail mobster Al Capone on tax evasion because they could not make the more serious charges stick? Nevertheless, you have to be in serious denial to not realize that Bonds intentionally took performance enhancing substances that transformed his physique and his statistics. Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for steroids and never offered a satisfactory explanation for it. Mark McGwire admitted to taking androstenedione and the fact that he would not answer the most simple questions on Capitol Hill does not make him a criminal but certainly makes him a "suspect" as a Hall of Fame candidate. I would not vote for any of those guys.

People get things twisted when they start bringing up "innocent until proven guilty." Folks, that applies to criminal law. I'm not saying that Bonds or McGwire should go to jail (I'm not sure how Palmeiro skates, since he tested positive, but that's a story for another day); I am saying that Hall of Fame voters should use their judgment to protect the integrity of the Hall of Fame. Some people argue that, unlike McGwire, Bonds was a clear cut Hall of Famer even before the steroids era. The problem with this reasoning is that prior greatness does not give one immunity from wrongful actions. If someone has a clean criminal record for the first 35 years of his life and then kills someone he cannot plead innocent on the basis of his clean record; Bonds had a clean career that was tracking toward the Hall of Fame and he chose to sully it. Bonds used to be one of my favorite players and he still is amazing to watch, but he is amazing in the same way that the old East German swimmers were or the pumped up Olympic sprinters or the riders in the Tour de Fake--I mean Tour de France.

Bud Selig has presided over so many catastrophes that it defies comprehension why baseball is still so popular. On his watch the World Series was canceled, an All-Star Game ended in a tie--which led to the equally absurd decision to base home field advantage in the World Series on the outcome of an exhibition game--and, worst of all, baseball's crown jewel, its pride and joy, the record book, has been trashed like the barbarians sacking Rome. Baseball's never been the same to me since the 1994 World Series was canceled; if the sport's premier event meant so little to its participants then why should I care about it? This steroids mess is even worse, though. The canceled World Series is one stain on one page of the history books, a sad footnote--but steroids are a massive blot on an entire era.

I don't know how baseball can ever truly fix this mess, but a good start would be for the Hall of Fame voters to not induct this era's most tainted players and instead go back and recognize guys like Andre Dawson, Dale Murphy and Jim Rice, each of whom put up Hall of Fame worthy numbers without resorting to cheating. Their inductions are long overdue and I'd rather have them come to Cooperstown and talk about their careers than hear Bonds talk about how God helped him to become the all-time home run king.

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