NEW YORK -- On one hand, the announcement of Alex Sanchez's suspension could not come at a worse time, obscuring an Opening Day that was supposed to be all about the Red Sox and Yankees.
But maybe that's the way baseball needs it anyway. Bud Selig, the commissioner, insisted at the March 17 congressional hearing that the sport's new steroid testing system was a great improvement, and that merely time was needed to show that it works. Now the first cheater has been caught; no one can say the system is completely toothless.
Yankees manager Joe Torre said that his reaction to the news was "the fact that the testing evidently worked, that's what we want to find out.
"We want to get the fans' trust back, and that's the only way it's going to happen ... This is a good sign -- not for Sanchez -- but it gives credibility to the way they are testing."
From baseball's perspective, Sanchez is the perfect bust. He is a fringe major-leaguer, already dumped by the Milwaukee Brewers and the Detroit Tigers and a part of Tampa Bay's projected lineup only because Danny Bautista retired. The Devil Rays' ticket sales are not suddenly going to be impacted by this suspension, as the Cardinals' might have been if Mark McGwire had been suspended in 1998. Major League Baseball can make a point without damaging one of its franchises.
The Alex Sanchez story probably won't have a lot of legs, either. So long as Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi are part of the conversation, now and into the future, steroids will be included. But Sanchez does not play in an enormous media market like New York, and it's quite possible that Sanchez won't last long with the Devil Rays after his suspension is over.
And the suspension of Sanchez demonstrates, empirically, that steroid users didn't merely include the cartoonish sluggers with the massive biceps; he managed only four homers in 1,351 career at-bats. It might be that an aggressive basestealer like Sanchez could have benefitted from steroids by getting help with daily recovery -- the nagging hamstring or calf strain, the bruising from the crash-landings into bases.
Bad news for baseball?
Buster Olney is a senior writer for ESPN The Magazine. His book, "The Last Night of the Yankee Dynasty," is being released in paperback on May 1 and can be ordered through HarperCollins.com.