Steroids Dominated Baseball in 2005
Saturday, December 24th 2005, 8:15 am
By: News On 6
NEW YORK (AP) _ Baseball took a lot of shots in 2005 _ from politicians, commentators and players themselves as the sport struggled with steroids.
While the Chicago White Sox were getting plaudits for their first World Series title since 1917, Rafael Palmeiro left a big blot when he tested positive for a steroid after poking a finger in the air and emphatically telling Congress: ``I have never used steroids. Period.'' His Aug. 1 suspension came shortly after he got his 3,000th career hit.
Mark McGwire sat alongside Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa at that March 17 hearing and refused to say whether he had used steroids, leaving his reputation shattered and his Hall of Fame chances shaky.
``Yes, we caught quite a bit of heat. But in the end, the only thing that really matters is how did it end?'' commissioner Bud Selig said Thursday. ``And we ended up with the toughest steroids program in American sports.''
Baseball went from no drug policy in 2002, to anonymous testing in 2003, to counseling for positive tests in 2004 to a dozen 10-day suspensions this year. Palmeiro was the most prominent player to flunk a urine test.
Starting next year, an initial positive test will result in a 50-game suspension, and players will be tested for amphetamines for the first time _ with penalties for a second positive result. After resisting Selig's proposal from April to November, the players' association gave in after Congress threatened to enact a law, which likely would have provoked lengthy and complicated litigation.
``Hopefully we can move on to other things,'' union head Donald Fehr said. ``I still think it was something much better handled by agreement than it would have been by legislation.''
Management and the union will be bargaining again in 2006, this time over a subject that's far more significant to most players and owners: money.
Baseball's labor contract expires Dec. 19, 2006, and with it the sport's luxury tax, designed to slow spending by the New York Yankees, who despite baseball's first $200 million payroll failed to advance past the first round of the playoffs.
New York has run up tax bills of $3.15 million in 2003, $25.96 million last year and $34.05 million this season. The only other teams to exceed the payroll thresholds were Boston ($3.15 million in 2004 and $4.16 million this year) and the Angels ($927,059 last year).
``I think we've made some considerable progress. I think we have some work to be done, though,'' Selig said.
That figures to be a point of contention with the union, which thinks teams are benefiting from a boom.
``The fiscal and economic landscape is not at this point equivalent to what it was in 2001 and '02. And obviously, when you go into bargaining, you deal with what is, not with what used to be,'' Fehr said. ``The clubs have made a lot of comments in virtually all of our negotiations about distressed economic conditions. I will be very surprised if we hear very much of that this time.''
Another big deal also will expire: baseball's $2.5 billion, six-year television contract with Fox, which broadcasts a Saturday game of the week, the All-Star game, the World Series and most of the playoffs. Pending the next national TV agreement, the sport's plans to start a baseball channel appear to have been put on hold.
``We're working on it,'' Selig said. ``Too early yet to know definitively.''
In September, baseball and ESPN agreed to an eight-year contract worth $2.368 billion that covers telecasts on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday nights during the regular season.
On the field, the White Sox were the big story, going 11-1 in a postseason that included a World Series sweep of the Astros. Roger Clemens, Houston's 43-year-old ace, had a 1.87 ERA to lead the major leagues for the first time in 15 years.
Barry Bonds, another 40-something star, missed most of the season after knee surgery, returning in September and getting just 42 at-bats. While his streak of four straight MVP awards ended, he hit five homers to boost his total to 708. His quest to top Babe Ruth (715) and career leader Hank Aaron (755) will be a big part of 2006.
Bonds, too, was part of the steroids story. His trainer and friend since childhood, Greg Anderson, was sentenced to three months behind bars and three months in home confinement after pleading guilty to money laundering and a steroid distribution charge as part of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative investigation.
Jason Giambi, who like Bonds testified in 2003 before a federal grand jury investigating BALCO, didn't do much at the start of the season before rebounding. He batted .271 with 32 homers and 87 RBIs for the Yankees, and led the AL with a .440 on-base percentage, earning AL comeback player of the year honors.
His former Oakland teammate, Jose Canseco, sparked the latest round of steroids scrutiny with an autobiography released in February that accused several top players of steroid use.
It didn't deter fans from buying tickets. Total attendance set a record, and the average was not too far off the mark set in 1993.
Players spent a lot of time in the offseason discussing the first national-team tournament to be played with major league stars, the World Baseball Classic, set for March 3-20. The Yankees' Alex Rodriguez waffled between committing to play for the Dominican Republic and the United States.
``Yes, we had some problems. We solved those problems. That's all part of what made it a great year,'' Selig said. ``Record attendance, record revenues, great pennant races, great excitement. By any criteria one wants to use, the sport couldn't have a better year.''