Joe Lavin

August 9, 2005

Performance Enhancement For Dummies

Now that Baltimore Orioles first baseman Rafael Palmeiro has tested positive for steroids, here's the only way he should be allowed into the Hall of Fame -- if he confesses completely and with as much detail as he can muster. Some believe Pete Rose deserves to be there because he's confessed to gambling on baseball. Perhaps the same could go for Palmeiro, except that it would have to be one hell of a confession, preferably in front of Congress.

"Members of Congress, I would just like to say that, man, did I ever use steroids. You wouldn't believe how many illegal substances I've injected into my ass over the years. Those home runs wouldn't have made it past the pitcher without all that juice. Between that and the Viagra, I'm barely human anymore."

Candor like that would have to be worth something, wouldn't it?

Here's something else Palmeiro should do. He should volunteer to tell us exactly when he was on steroids. No one knows how much effect steroids really have on a baseball player's numbers, but if Palmeiro gives us the exact dates, we could then go back and compare the juiced Palmeiro to the un-juiced Palmeiro. We'd have hard data, and we could adjust past records accordingly. "Okay, let me just check our steroid-equivalence chart, Mr. McGwire. Oh, I'm sorry. It seems that we have to adjust your career home run total from 583 down to six."

Actually, I don't mean to pick on Mark McGwire. I'm not here to talk about the past. I want to talk about Rafael Palmeiro and his reluctance to admit anything. Not surprisingly, he has no clue how he could have tested positive, although personally I think the steroids might have had something to do with it. "I don't have a specific answer to give," he said after the results were made public. "Unfortunately, I wasn't able to explain to the arbitrator how the banned substance entered my body."

Notice how the banned substance suddenly becomes the active noun in that sentence, as if it was acting entirely on its own. After all, we must always be vigilant for banned substances attempting to leap into our blood stream. They're like terrorists, those banned substances always trying to break through the borders of our bodies and wreak havoc, or in this case multiple 40-home run seasons.

Slate recently ran a compilation of steroid excuses from athletes -- appropriately titled "The Dog Ate My Steroids" -- and it's amazing how apparently no athletes have ever willfully taken steroids, unless of course they've recently signed a good book deal. The article contained such a wonderful variety of shameless excuses that it almost read like poetry.

There's the "How could I be taking steroids when I suck this much" excuse of Tampa Bay outfielder Alex Sanchez who said, "I'm surprised because look at what kind of player I am. I'm a leadoff hitter. I never hit any home runs." That must be particularly embarrassing -- to take steroids and to notice no effect whatsoever.

There's the apples and oranges excuse of Mariners minor leaguer Damian Moss: "I don't take steroids, period. I bought supplements."

From shot-putter C.J. Hunter comes the "O.J. Simpson I'm going to hunt for the real steroids on the golf course" excuse: "I don't know what has happened and I don't know how it has happened. I promise everybody I'm going to find out."

Lithuanian cyclist Raimondas Rumsas even said that the steroids found in the trunk of his wife's car were for his mother-in-law and not for him, which in some perverse way might be the most believable excuse offered.

Finally, there's the time-honored and noble "I trust my friend" excuse best popularized by Barry Bonds but used by many others as well. This excuse can best be boiled down to: "When my trusted friend gave me that large needle to inject into my ass, I never thought it could possibly be a banned substance. I am shocked, shocked to discover that he gave me steroids. My only true crime is in trusting a friend."

Bonds also used the "I thought it was only flaxseed oil" excuse, which isn't quite as effective. I don't know about you, but I've never even heard of flaxseed oil, so that wouldn't really convince me that I wasn't taking a banned substance. Then again, what do I know? I'm just a writer. I have no direct knowledge of steroids. One look at me, and you'll know that I've never been on any juice stronger than orange. With the possible exception of alcohol and coffee, I don't believe there can even be performance-enhancing drugs for writers.

At the very least, all this certainly makes one appreciate the career of Babe Ruth, a man with such awesome ability that he could turn a thick steak and some whiskey into performance-enhancing drugs. I hazard to guess that he also didn't need any Viagra either.

©2005 Joe Lavin

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