Three Strikes: NFL steroid era

STRIKE ONE -- DOUBLE STANDARD DEPT.: A story on this site caught my eye the other day. It's gotten about zero attention. And by now, only a couple of days after it broke, you'd have to search feverishly to even find it.

But luckily for you, you're reading this blog. So you won't have to search feverishly after all, because I'm giving you a link to it here.

Before you click on it, though, you might be shocked to read the following term, in the first four words of this item: "The NFL's steroids era."

We all know baseball's "steroid era" gets dropped into our national conversation as casually as terms like "federal bailout" and "red carpet" and, for some reason, "Nicole Richie."

But how often do you hear the words "NFL's steroids era"? Hmmm. To be honest, I'm not sure I'd EVER heard them -- until now.

Well, check out this story when you get a chance. It will tell you that a University of North Carolina study surveyed 2,552 former NFL players and found that more than 20 percent of those who played in the '80s ADMITTED they used steroids -- before the NFL began testing for it.

And, just as significant, about 15 percent of all former linemen for more than a HALF CENTURY (from the 1940s through the 1990s) admitted they used steroids.

So how big a scandal has this revelation caused? Uh, we're still waiting for it.

Funny how the most monstrous baseball story of the year so far involved a baseball player who tested positive for steroids, then admitted he used them, before baseball imposed a system of random testing and stiff punishments.

Yet the national sports audience has just about no interest in a revelation that hundreds of football players were using steroids before the NFL imposed a system of random testing and stiff punishments.

I'm almost as outraged by that ridiculous double-standard as I am by the fact that that baseball player clearly hasn't told the full truth about his own steroid use. Am I crazy?

STRIKE TWO -- MADDUX STRIKES AGAIN DEPT.: Greg Maddux may be retired. But he's still wreaking havoc on his old sport -- and one of his old teams.

Maddux sprung a hilarious practical joke on the Braves recently. And it was recounted to me by Derek Lowe, whose arrival to help rescue the Braves' rotation is chronicled in my most recent column on this site.

Lowe said that shortly before he signed with the Braves, he called his pal Maddux and told him, kiddingly: "I want to wear No. 31" -- which, of course, was Maddux's old number. For the record, while the Braves haven't retired No. 31, they also haven't given it to anyone else since Maddux exited.

I can safely say that if Derek Lowe fired that quip out there to most players, they would have laughed and then gone about the rest of their lives. But not Greg Maddux.

"Jokester that he is," Lowe chuckled, "he actually called the Braves and told them he would let me wear No. 31."

Maddux even sounded so earnest when he made that call, the Braves totally bought his act. So GM Frank Wren decided he had to intervene.

"I was getting ready to sign with the Braves when Frank texted me," Lowe said, "and he said, 'We have a problem here. We're not really going to give out No. 31.' Was there any other number I'd like to choose?"

So Lowe said he'd take No. 32 if he had to. And you'd have thought that would have been the end of this. But it wasn't.

The Braves were still so unsure who was kidding and who wasn't that when Wren arrived at Lowe's news conference, he got a call from media relations director Brad Hainje. And the question of the day was: "Which uniform are we using -- 31 or 32?"
The GM was pretty sure he had the answer, but not quite sure enough.

"So I actually went to Derek at the press conference and said, 'Derek, what's this about 31? Are you really going to wear 31?' " Wren said. "And he looked at me like: 'What the heck are you talking about?' "

So obviously, Lowe is running around this spring, wearing No. 32. But he also has his very own Braves jersey with No. 31 on the back, as the ultimate souvenir. And somewhere (between pitching wedges, no doubt), Greg Maddux is still laughing.

STRIKE THREE -- INJURY OF THE SPRING DEPT.: Our first legendary injury of spring training broke this weekend, as reported by the Cleveland Plain Dealer's Paul Hoynes.

For another amusing account of this incident, check out Anthony Castrovince's piece at MLB.com.

This mishap involves Indians outfielder David Dellucci, who told the Cleveland beat writers this weekend that he needed stitches, and surgery, on his thumb because he'd been bitten by an alligator while saving a boy's life.

Proving how gullible us media types can be, two of those writers started scribbling that tale furiously until Dellucci laughed: "There are 10 or 15 guys in this clubhouse who still think that story is true."

But the actual story is still a classic: Dellucci smashed his thumb while trying to shut the tailgate on his truck a couple of weeks ago. He's OK, it appears. But now he's got me wondering: He got those writers to, ehhh, bite on his little fib with no problem. So which has the bigger bite -- the fib, the tailgate or a Louisiana gator?