King Kaufman's Sports Daily

Baseball owners and players negotiate: 3 steroid strikes and yer ... out? Maybe? Plus: LSU lets down Katrina victims. And: Tear down Fenway!



Salon Staff
September 27, 2005 11:00PM (UTC)

The baseball owners and players are negotiating a new steroids-testing agreement with stiffer penalties and tests for amphetamines.

One thing they can't seem to agree on is whether you should be "out" with three strikes. The owners say yes. The players have strong feelings about their answer: maybe.

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Commissioner Bud Selig, who is scheduled to appear before a congressional committee again Wednesday along with union chief Don Fehr and their counterparts from the NBA, NFL and NHL, wants a 50-game suspension for the first offense, 100 games for the second and a lifetime ban for the third.

Fehr wants 20, 75 and a possible lifetime ban. What he also wants is some flexibility in the process.

The union's latest proposal calls for positive-test cases to be subject to review by an arbitrator, who would be able to increase the penalty for a first offense from 20 games to as many as 30 if there are aggravating factors, or reduce it to as few as 10 if there are mitigating factors.

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A similar review would take place for subsequent violations, meaning a player might avoid a lifetime ban for a third positive.

That would be good news for people like Seattle Mariners rookie Michael Morse, who earlier this month got a 10-day suspension for a first offense under the major league program. But Morse also tested positive twice in the minor leagues. Morse says his second and third positive tests were both the result of 2003 steroid use that remains detectable, a claim that has gone undisputed.

Major League Baseball executive vice president Rob Manfred said in a statement defending Morse's suspension that players negotiated the right to come to the big leagues with a clean slate, drug test-wise, and that can work for or against them.

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Just as two positive tests in the minors don't mean Morse is punished as a three-time loser after his first major league positive, Manfred wrote, he is not "immunized" from big-league punishment for a violation that was also punished in the minors.

That's fine as far as it goes, but what if Morse had been in the majors in 2003 -- when he admits he made an "enormous mistake" by taking steroids -- and what if MLB had had a testing program in place then? Morse would now be banned for life for a single offense, the evidence of which lingered long enough to be noticed by three different tests. That wouldn't even seem fair to Draco.

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"We always thought there was a need for a review," Fehr told the Associated Press. "You don't have a cookie-cutter approach. The better approach if you can is to gauge the individual facts and circumstances."

But Sen. John McCain, a leader in congressional grandstanding on this issue, told ESPN Monday that any proposal that doesn't include an automatic "three strikes and you're out" clause couldn't be taken seriously. MLB spokesman Rich Levin echoed the sentiment, sniffing, "The union's proposal is not three strikes and you're out. It is three strikes and maybe you're out."

I'm agnostic about the length of suspensions for steroid violations. Ten games, 20, 50, whatever. I think the whole program is misguided, that a law-enforcement, testing-and-punishment approach to a drug problem accomplishes little other than spurring improvements in the field of positive-drug-test avoidance. More undetectable drugs, better methods of fooling the labs.

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It also provides plenty of jobs for drug cops, and allows policymakers to act like they're doing something about the problem whenever the testers nab some poor sap who's fallen behind the herd or some bigger fish who's gotten careless, if I may mix my animal kingdom metaphors.

Given that, I do think the move toward testing for amphetamines is a positive step, because at least it's a step toward honesty, since amphetamines are a longer-standing and probably far more pervasive problem in baseball than steroids, and they aren't as sexy. Congress isn't holding hearings about abuse of greenies in sports, and most people who talk about amphetamines have a rough idea what they are and what they do, which isn't true about steroids.

I also think it should go without saying that a system that allows for review of individual cases is better than one that doesn't.

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But what I really want to know is: Why is it always three strikes and you're out? Why isn't it ever two or four? Does it really make sense to base a whole law-enforcement philosophy on the rules of an athletic contest?

In 1887 baseball experimented with requiring four strikes for a strikeout. What if that had stuck? First of all, that song would be harder to sing -- "for it's one, two-three, four strikes you're out ..."

But more important, would law-and-order types be a third more lenient toward repeat offenders? Would our national sense of the proper blend of punishment and second chances be governed by the saying "four strikes and you're out"?

What if track were the national pastime? Would states be passing "two false starts and you're disqualified" laws that locked up second offenders for life? Or if football had developed earlier and become the American game a century before it did, would legislatures have debated "four downs and you're punted" bills?

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These questions only sound crazy because you're used to "three strikes and you're out." Maybe Fehr's right that reflex and habit aren't the best ways to approach a problem. Even in a bad system, a little rational thought can go a long way.

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LSU lets down hurricane victims [PERMALINK]

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Louisiana State University played its first home game of the year Monday night, a big Southeastern Conference matchup against Tennessee.

The nationally televised game was the first major sporting event in Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina, LSU having had to postpone one home game and move another to Arizona, and the New Orleans Saints having had their home opener switched to New Jersey.

In a game that had been postponed for two days by another hurricane, Rita, in front of an even more frenzied crowd than the usual gathering that makes Tiger Stadium one of the toughest places in college football for visitors to play, LSU not only lost, it lost spectacularly, blowing a 21-0 lead before falling in overtime, 30-27.

As dominant as the fourth-ranked Tigers were in the first half, they were almost that bad in the second half, though No. 10 Tennessee, rattled and shaky early, recovered and had something to say about it too. It didn't look like it was going to be one, but it turned into a damn exciting game.

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But I've spent the morning searching in vain for stories about how LSU let down the hurricane victims with its second-half collapse.

Surely, had the Tigers won this game, much would have been made of the inspiration and joy they'd brought to Louisiana residents who needed a lift as they tried to rebuild or waited out their exile in other states. That was the story line being laid out in the opening of ESPN2's broadcast, which was tasteful and touching.

"We need to watch our team win, in our stadium," said Fred Geary, a restaurant manager in Baton Rouge.

"As a team, we want to be something to help people get their sense of inspiration and pride back," said offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth.

"I think the best thing that we can do is win as many football games as we can to try to bring back a little joy to people that don't have a lot," said defensive tackle Kyle Williams.

Well, if all that's true, and if it's true that, as widely reported, the Saints gave Katrina victims their sense of inspiration and pride back and brought them a little joy with an upset win over the Carolina Panthers two weeks ago, the opposite must be true too.

The Saints' two subsequent losses must have been a body blow to the Gulf Coast diaspora. And since emotions run deeper about college football than they do about the NFL, LSU's come-from-ahead loss Monday must have been devastating.

Where are those quotes from evacuees in Texas?

"I know it's only a football game, but I was really counting on LSU to lift me up in my hour of need, give me a little joy, and then they go and give up 17 unanswered points. Thanks a lot."

"It was inspiring to watch them go ahead 21-0 there. I smiled for the first time in a month. But then when they gave up all those touchdowns, I felt even worse than before. Maybe things won't get better after all."

Maybe people are saying these things and they just aren't being reported. Or maybe, just maybe, a football game really is just a football game, even in dark times, even if it would have made a more compelling, more heartwarming story if the losing team had won.

Nothing against LSU, but I'm glad it doesn't always work out that way, except in the movies. Real life wouldn't be interesting if it always followed the easy story lines. In real life, sometimes, the local team puts the hopes and aspirations of a community on its shoulders and then falls down the stairs.

That's OK, because there are stories to be told in that too. Here's a part of the story that Katrina victims might be able to identify with: Next week, the LSU Tigers, fresh off that terrible loss, will try again. They play Mississippi State.

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Replace Fenway! [PERMALINK]

That was a tough rainout for the Boston Red Sox Monday night at home. Now a half-game behind the New York Yankees, who beat Eastern Division whipping post Baltimore Monday night, the Sox will have to play a day-night doubleheader against the Toronto Blue Jays Tuesday.

That's going to put a strain on both their starting rotation and their bullpen in the last few days of the division race. The effects may even stretch into the final three-game showdown with the Yanks at Fenway Park this weekend.

This is just the latest evidence that the Red Sox need a domed stadium.

Previous column: NFL coaches and the clock

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