Wednesday, February 28, 2007 Updated: March 1, 5:31 PM ET
Full disclosure would be best way for MLB to go
By Mark Kreidler ESPN.com
Listening to Gary Sheffield wax on about the "witch hunt" in Major League Baseball, it was almost possible -- almost, for a nice little second or two -- to forget that alleged lead witch Barry Bonds already has admitted using performance-enhancing drugs.
How can baseball avoid Gary Sheffield's charge of a "witch hunt"? Keep on testing, and make every cheater's identity public.
The problem is, Bonds did admit just that. Oh, he didn't know what he was doing, according to the leaked grand jury testimony first reported by the San Francisco Chronicle. Bonds' under-oath position reportedly is that he thought he was accepting not the "cream" and the "clear," the twin peaks of Victor Conte's chemical ascent on Mount Olympus, but rather flaxseed oil and arthritis balm -- mere comfort lotions after a long day afield. It's tough getting older in sports.
But I digress. Let's get to the "witch hunt" portion of the conversation, wherein Sheffield relays what he says is the players' association's off-the-record opinion of baseball's staggeringly lethargic investigation of itself.
Sheffield's remark came in the same week that officials raided two pharmacies in Orlando and are investigating another in Mobile with alleged performance-enhancing connections to athletes including Angels outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. -- part of a larger investigation that might take down steroid and other drug distributors in four states with connections to MLB and NFL players and to college and high school athletes. It came in the same week that Bonds' lawyer said he has told Bonds not to cooperate with George Mitchell's investigation on behalf of MLB because Bonds hasn't been cleared as a subject of the ongoing federal investigation in San Francisco.
There's stuff popping on this front almost daily, is the thing. So on the witch-hunt count, let's go with a solid no. Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Grimsley, Sammy Sosa ... it seems a little more likely that baseball understands it has a hell of a PR nightmare on its hands and at this point Bonds is simply the most prominent face of it, albeit the most obviously divisive among fans and media. Bonds is the one standing on hallowed ground, and the one with the mounds of circumstantial and anecdotal evidence piled around him. No apologies necessary for wanting to find out what he knew and when he knew it.
Still, MLB is sensitive to a charge like the one Sheffield relayed (for the record, the union says it doesn't know who would have said something like that). And here's how to avoid the witch-hunt charge: Go transparent.
Announce results. Identify the positives. Put the whole thing out there. Then keep on testing, and announcing. Don't get spooked. It's your industry getting hurt, isn't it? Act on that -- for the good of the clean players, the integrity of the sport and your future with the public.
It's not foolproof, transparency. No argument there. It can be a giant distraction. Full disclosure hurts. Just ask track and field, which has made a practice for years now of announcing its positive test results and taking the hit that comes along with that. There was nobody cheering Justin Gatlin's fall from grace, put it that way. Marion Jones was a modern force in the sport. But track announces its results. It even announces when its results are wrong or are contradicted by a negative B-sample. Over time, it becomes unmistakably evident that, however ham-fisted the process appears at times, the sport actually is trying to police itself.
Does baseball have that? God, no. Baseball has a track record of running away at the highest speed from its improprieties, never more so than during the steroid years, when even a confession such as Ken Caminiti's wasn't enough to shake the massive industry into action. All the usual motives come into play, including basic greed. But there's no pretending now.
Baseball may well have no more of a drug problem than any other major sport, but what comfort is that? The NFL essentially gets a year-round pass from rabid fans while baseball's the one getting beaten to death publicly, in part because of Bonds' chase of Henry Aaron's all-time home run record. Bad timing, that. Still, here's the opportunity for the sport to get it right.
The Sheffields of the world can be right only if baseball continues to selectively avoid meeting its drug issues head-on. Full disclosure of every positive test (and that would take the approval of the union, which is unlikely) is not a panacea, but it sends the right message. It sends, in fact, the message that baseball has yet to send even once: that it's serious about getting after the problem wherever it can, to whatever extent it can, and for all the good it'll do.
As a rallying cry, that might not catch on. In an imperfect world, it'll have to do.
Mark Kreidler's book "Four Days to Glory: Wrestling With the Soul of the American Heartland," published by HarperCollins, is in national release. A regular contributor to ESPN.com., Kreidler can be reached at email@example.com.