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Baseball - The Tenth Inning


I Can't Say, 'Don't Do It.'

Padres pitcher Trevor Hoffman and third baseman Ken Caminiti compare physiques

Padres pitcher Trevor Hoffman and third baseman Ken Caminiti compare physiques Andy Hayt/Getty Images

At the beginning of free agency in 1975, the average salary of a big league player had been $45,676 a season, just three times what the average American earned in a year. By the new millennium, with revenue pouring in from cable and satellite TV, radio, the internet, international markets and new ballparks, the average baseball salary had soared to nearly 2.4 million, almost 50 times what the average American made.

Barry Bonds connects, June, 2001

Barry Bonds connects, June, 2001 Brad Mangin

Howard Bryant discusses the competitive environment of baseball

But as baseball's popularity surged, rumors and suspicions about performance-enhancing drugs kept surfacing. "Everybody would have some sort of offhand comment about some player who was hitting the ball farther than they were supposed to or throwing the ball better than they were supposed to," sportswriter Howard Bryant recalled. Tom Verducci remembered that "players started feeling that they had to do that to keep up. And I began thinking that it's got to the point that if you don't jump on this train, you're gonna be left behind."

In May of 2002, Jose Canseco, who would later claim that without steroids he would have never even made it to the major leagues, retired from baseball with 462 home runs. Plagued by injuries, on occasion sensationally afoul of the law, he had played for seven teams in seventeen years, and had never fulfilled the great promise he had shown - his steroid use notwithstanding. He told the press that 85% of major leaguers were taking steroids. "There would be no baseball left," Canseco insisted, "if we drug-tested everyone." But Canseco had become such a pariah in baseball, hardly anyone took his claims seriously.

Then, a few weeks later, Sports Illustrated published a cover story by Tom Verducci which described players taking a wide range of performance-enhancing drugs: steroids, human growth hormone, amphetamines, Ritalin, insulin, ephedrine, and a long list of perfectly legal steroid-like supplements.

The "Bash Brothers" Mark McGwire and José Canseco

The "Bash Brothers" Mark McGwire and José Canseco Ronald C. Modra/Sports Imagery/Getty Images

Samples ready for testing

Samples ready for testing Fabrice Coffrini/epa/Corbis

In the article, former Padres third baseman Ken Caminiti confessed that he had taken heavy doses of steroids for years, beginning in 1996 – when he had been named the National League's Most Valuable Player. A recovering alcoholic and cocaine abuser, Caminiti admitted to making "a ton of mistakes," in his life, but insisted that "taking steroids is not one of them." And he did not hesitate to advise younger players to follow in his footsteps: "I can't say "don't do it." Not when the guy next to you is as big as a house and he's going to take your job and make the money."

Back in 2001, Commissioner Bud Selig had imposed a drug-testing program on the minor leagues, where he did not need the consent of Don Fehr and the Players' Association. But the union adamantly refused to permit a similar program in the major leagues.

Then, in August of 2002, three months after the revelations about Caminiti and Canseco, the union agreed to a limited drug-testing plan for 2003, designed to assess the scope of the problem, not punish users. Players would be tested anonymously, only once or twice, and not at all during the off-season.

If more than 5% tested positive, a punitive plan would automatically go into effect for 2004. Anti-doping experts derided the program as an "IQ test rather than a drug test" – anybody who had half a brain could figure out how to get around it.

In 2003, more than 5% of players did test positive; the following year, those who failed more than once would face suspensions of at least 15 games. After five positive results, they would be suspended for an entire season. Thanks largely to the resistance of the union, it was the weakest drug prevention program in professional sports, but it was a start.

From THE TENTH INNING film script and the new chapter by Kevin Baker of Baseball: An Illustrated History.

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