The Major League Baseball playoffs begin this Tuesday, but unfortunately the main story isn't about who will win this year's World Series. It's about steroids.
Last week Congress heard testimony from parents whose children committed suicide from depression directly related to their use of performance-enhancing drugs. Recent major athletes have died prematurely because of their use, and current users don't know what the long-term effects will be. Obviously steroids are extremely dangerous and illegal, and changes in policy need to be made immediately.
Wednesday Congress called in leaders from the four main professional team sports in order to review what they've been doing about their athletes' use of steroids. The main target again was baseball, the sport perceived to have the biggest problem but weakest punishments.
You can't blame Congress for the poor timing of the hearing, since it gave Major League Baseball till almost the end of the season to do something about its lenient drug policy. Instead, put the blame squarely on the shoulders of the drug-using players and their union.
Back in March, Baltimore's Rafael Palmeiro pointed his finger at congressmen and stated under oath, "I have never used steroids, period!" then later tested positive for Stanozolol. Mark McGwire said, "I'm not here to talk about the past," and Sammy Sosa suddenly forgot all his English.
Special blame also goes to home run season record-holder Barry Bonds and his current assault on Hank Aaron's career mark of 755. Bonds has never admitted knowingly taking steroids, but his ex-workout partner Yankee Gary Sheffield has spoken openly about "the cream" and "the clear" steroids that were used. The integrity of many recent records is irreparably damaged because Bonds' and some other players' statistics are not legitimate.
On a related note, it is amazing that there are still people out there who feel Bonds is innocent of any wrongdoing. Bonds' longtime friend and personal trainer Greg Anderson pled guilty to steroid distribution and money laundering. Maybe Bonds didn't ask what Anderson was prescribing to him that was making his head grow a few hat sizes, but he knew it wasn't flax seed oil.
Too bad Anderson's associate Victor Conte, the founder of Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO), also pled guilty to the same charges. Had he gone to trial, more than 30 baseball, football and track and field athletes would have been exposed as the cheaters that they are. Anyone who watched Conte's fascinating interview on ABC's 20/20 where he shared with us in detail his athletes' drug regimens, doesn't need anyone's admission of guilt to know who did what.
Certainly many things need to be done to educate and deter athletes and children from using steroids, but the MLB Players' Union is always the slowest to react. Ten-, 30- and 60-day suspensions for repeated drug use do not send a strong enough message. Congress' suggestion of an Olympics-like two-year suspension for a first offense and permanent ban for a second would send the message crystal clear. Commissioner Bud Selig's "three strikes you're out" policy would be a decent compromise.
Divisional Series predictions: As of Wednesday evening, none of the match-ups were set and some might not be set until Tuesday night. But in the National League, if Houston gets the wild card, the picks are Houston over Atlanta and St. Louis over San Diego. In the American, we're hoping Cleveland gets in but doesn't meet Los Angeles in the first round.
World Series: A wild card team has won the World Series three consecutive years. Houston, led by Roger Clemens, defeats Los Angeles.
• Message to Smashmouth: Another NFL Bonehead Call of the Week was San Francisco's Julian Peterson calling out the Dallas Cowboys before last Sunday's game. Days after a 42-3 drubbing at the hands of Philadelphia, the overpaid Peterson had the nerve to guarantee a 49er victory. The oft-injured linebacker would end the game helpless on the sideline with a pulled hamstring watching Dallas' winning drive.