Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Revelations About Sosa Show That MLB Must Fumigate the Record Book

You can now add Sammy Sosa to the list of disgraced Major League Baseball sluggers from the 1990s and 2000s--and MLB should take action to fumigate the record book once and for all, purging it of the foul smell generated by the names Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, Jason Giambi and all the rest of the performance-enhancing drug (PED) cheaters. Those guys--and many others--have cheated the game and should have their names wiped out of the record book and their awards given to the next highest vote getter whose name is not sullied, much the way that the Olympic sports and cycling deal with their cheaters. If MLB had a real Commissioner with a backbone instead of a guy who shrugs when the All-Star Game ends in a tie and who has had his head in the sand about PEDs during the whole "Steroids Era" then the sport would have already taken action to restore meaning and integrity to the record book. Can you imagine a similar situation festering with David Stern on the case?

The baseball record book has been hijacked by the PED crowd. Four of the top 10 home run hitters of all-time--Bonds (1), Sosa (6), McGwire (8) and Palmeiro (10)--are dirty players who have shoved aside true legends of the game like Reggie Jackson (11), Mike Schmidt (14) and Mickey Mantle (15), not to mention McGwire stealing Roger Maris' single season home run mark. Five of the six players who hit the most home runs between 1994-2006--Sosa (518), Bonds (512), Ramirez (468), Rodriguez (464) and Palmeiro (437)--have been linked to illegal use of PEDs. Jim Thome, who is fifth on that list (462), has yet to be linked to PED use but consider this: in his first seven full MLB seasons he hit 40 home runs once (40 in 1997) before reeling off 49, 52, 47 and 42 from 2001-04. He was injured for most of 2005 but hit 42 home runs in 2006 at the age of 35. You be the judge if those numbers seem like a normal career development pattern; keep in mind that it used to be rare to hit 50 home runs in a season: after Willie Mays hit 52 in 1965 no one reached the half century mark until George Foster cracked 52 in 1977 and then no one hit 50 again until Cecil Fielder had 51 in 1990. Then, from 1995-2002 at least one player hit 50 home runs every season. Let me be clear that I am not accusing Thome of using PEDs, nor do I support taking action against a player merely because his numbers may look odd. At this point, though, the only big time sluggers from the "Steroids Era" who I would be surprised to find out used PEDs are Ken Griffey and Frank Thomas; Griffey never had an unusual power spike, nor did his physique change unnaturally, and the same can also be said of Thomas, who was robbed of an MVP by Giambi (Thomas probably should have won the 2000 MVP anyway and he definitely deserved it more than a player who cheated).

All of the players who have been caught by the drug testers, outed in the Mitchell Report or otherwise reliably linked to illegal PED use should either be removed from the record book completely--much like the NCAA "vacates" results by programs that cheated--or, at the very least, listed separately under a heading that indicates that their numbers are fraudulent to some degree. If the Players Association or individual players complain, then MLB should invite the aggrieved parties to file a lawsuit and then testify under oath that they are clean; that way, those players will open themselves up to criminal charges of perjury. Somehow I doubt that Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and crew will be interested in placing themselves in that kind of jeopardy.

There are two reasons why MLB must act so forcefully:

1) It is important to be fair to the players--past and present--who did not cheat.
2) The two main reasons that the cheaters cheated were to get paid and to establish a place for themselves in history (Sosa just smugly spoke about being elected to the Hall of Fame because of his great numbers); the best message that MLB can send to young baseball players is that cheaters do not prosper and that when they are caught all of their numbers are nullified.