Thursday, September 14, 2006

Ryan Howard
Ryan Howard is having an historic season, especially
to baseball purists.

Red pinstripes run from his shoulders down to his ankles, the Phillies home uniform sheathing the six-foot-four weapon of mass destruction. Ryan Howard calmly spits on the palms of his massive hands, also sheathed with leather batting gloves, and he points his bat towards the pitcher like a general calling his troops into battle, an indictment before the pitch has even been thrown. Howard always finds the opposing pitchers guilty, and sentences them to forty-five seconds of watching him take a victory lap around the bases.

You wouldn't know it if you asked Howard, but he stands just six homeruns away from baseball immortality, at least to baseball purists. Following the steroid scandal of Barry Bonds and the Capitol Hill blunders by Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, baseball purists are claiming that if Howard was to hit 62 homeruns this season, he would legitimately own the all-time single-season homerun record. Only two other players have hit 60 or more homeruns in a season: Babe Ruth and Roger Maris.

To call Howard the single-season homerun record-holder, though, would be to impinge Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa with guilt, even though it has never been proven that any of them have ever used banned substances. The suspicion has certainly been there, but the three have never been found in a court of law to have broken the rules either of Major League Baseball or of the United States.

Barry Bonds
Bonds, closing in on baseball's all-time career
homerun record, still owns the single-season record.

There are only several ways in which a player can be indicted for having used illegal substances: his own admission, a positive steroid test, or to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law. The court of public opinion -- the one that finds one guilty until proven innocent -- holds no water.

Baseball started hunting for steroids in drug tests in 2003, but the tests were anonymous and a positive test yielded no punishment. Steroids weren't illegal to possess in the United States until the Steroids Control Act of 2004 was passed in January, 2005. It had been in Schedule III -- available only by prescription -- since 1990.

Mark McGwire has admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs -- androstenedione -- but it was legal at the time he was using it, and by the law of ex post facto, one cannot be found guilty of committing a crime that was legal at the time it was committed. McGwire has never failed a drug test, although there was no drug testing during his tenure with the Oakland Athletics and the St. Louis Cardinals.

Sammy Sosa is a cheater, indeed: he corked his bat on June 3, 2003, and was suspended for seven games. Sosa, like most of the steroid suspects in sports, has never failed a drug test.

Mark McGwire
Mark McGwire insisted on Capitol Hill that
he wasn't going to talk about his past.

And that leaves Barry Bonds, quite literally Public Enemy No. 1. He admitted to a grand jury that he unknowingly took steroids, which were dubbed "the cream" and "the clear." "The cream" is a testosterone-based ointment used to mask the steroid in an athlete's system. "The clear" is Tetrahydrogestrinone, an anabolic steroid. Bonds maintains that he thought they were flaxseed oil, but ignorance is no excuse.

So, Bonds admitted to using steroids, right? We can take away his records completely, or at least asterisk them. Not so fast. He admitted to using steroids in a grand jury testimony which was wrongfully leaked, and therefore, Bonds cannot be indicted because of it. Furthermore, Bonds has taken as many drug tests as any other baseball player since testing was enacted in 2003, and has yet to fail a drug test.

Besides, it isn't as if performance-enhancing drugs are just a phenomenon that started in the late-1980s. Willie Mays, who played from 1951-73 was known to have kept a bottle of "red juice" in his locker. Phillies Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt even said that amphetamines "have been around the game forever." Should we erase or asterisk the accomplishments of these two players, and the score of others who have admitted to enhancing their performance with drugs? Good luck revising history.

As much as baseball purists hate to hear it, the accomplishments of Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa must stand. Unless Howard hits 73 or more, Bonds is still the sole owner of the single-season homerun record.