Baseball: One Big Illegal Pharmacy

Steve Murray
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Wednesday - June 14, 2006
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Here we go again.

After finally getting a slight reprieve from the constant onslaught of steroid abuse allegations, we now have a career middle reliever resurrecting the whole damn thing.

When Jason Grimsley went to his mailbox one bright April afternoon he found more than his most recent copy of Redbook. In among the junk mail and utility bills were two kits of human growth hormones and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Caught red-handed, Grimsley talked to investigators. He named names and described his drug use and that around Major League Baseball, which evidently included coffee pots loaded with amphetamines and players from California making frequent trips to Mexico to pick up the pick-me-ups.

HGH is really nothing new. The hormone was isolated in 1956, and since 1959 it has been used to treat children with growth deficiencies and for other medical problems. But in regard to using it as a performance enhancer, it is one of the newer remedies out there. And since no reliable test for the drug exists, it won’t go away until testers catch up with the cheats or until something better comes along.

That’s what Grimsley did. Faced with getting busted for his steroid use, he simply switched products.

Do not think for a moment he’s the only one.

Grimsley’s bust brought four realities to light. First, it is now perfectly clear that the problem of performance-enhancing drugs is here to stay. What originally began as athletes taking simple steroids has developed into designer drugs and masking agents. Now it’s HGH, a prescription medication that, like steroids, allows the body to heal faster after workouts, thereby promoting greater muscle development and increased performance. And as with steroids, incorrect use of HGH can lead to a myriad of health problems that can affect the heart, liver and kidneys and may increase the risk of cancer.

Revelation No. 2: Although we’ve seen minor league pitchers come under the gun for using performance-enhancing drugs, Grimsley is the first one on the Major League level to get caught. Maybe now we can finally pull our heads out of the sand, and other holes, and admit that the problem is not one for just burly outfielders. That everyone is using this stuff. For years we’ve speculated that pitchers were the least likely to use the drugs because large muscle development would actually hurt their performance. Now we know better. They may be the ones using it most.

Fact No. 3: Major League Baseball is in trouble. After years of trying to sweep the problem under the rug, baseball must now explain yet once again how it has allowed drugs to become so common place that they’re being used openly in the clubhouse.

Of course, the league will bust out its “we’re concerned and looking into it” B.S. while attempting some damage control before Congress comes calling again. But no matter what spin they put on it, the league is responsible, along with the players and the union, for turning lockerrooms into Studio 54.

Finally: For anyone who thought Grimsley’s bust would take some of the heat off Barry Bonds, think again. The federal investigators, who took on Balco and who have been investigating whether the Giants’ slugger lied to a grand jury, still have him directly in their sights. So much so that they wanted Grimsley to wear a wire to see if he could find any incriminating evidence against Bonds. Grimsley declined, saying he didn’t know Bonds well and didn’t know anything about any drug use by the slugger.

Because there is no way to test for human growth hormone and therefore no way to enforce rules against its use, HGH could become the biggest scandal and health problem baseball has ever faced. What the league does about it in the next few weeks will go a long way in determining how much damage will be done.

If history is any judge, baseball will do nothing and confidence in the game will be further damaged.

Does anyone care?

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