This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and this is The Score.
As Major Leaguers arrive in both Florida and Arizona to take their first swings at spring training, the sport is feeling the weight of a public image disaster. Fans lament their overwhelming impression that the sport is dirty. Allegations run wild that many in the sport inject illegal steroids and the list of purported cheaters includes baseball-s current biggest star, Barry Bonds. But Bonds could actually turn this disaster around and singlehandedly make 2005 the year baseball cleaned up its act. Baseball is sitting on the perch of a golden opportunity to clear its name. All they have to do is study the path of Olympic Sports and follow that path themselves.
Track and Field athletes, along with Olympic wrestlers, were the first athletes to make steroids a regular staple on the breakfast table. By the 1950-s, it was highly unusual to find a discus thrower or a shot putter who was clean. By the 1980-s, the sport was saturated with drugs, to the point that great champions such as 400-meter hurdler Edwin Mose quit in disillusionment that it was no longer possible to compete if you weren-t jacked up on Winstrol or Dianabol.
The collective feeling was that it would take catching a superstar cheating to ring the alarm loud enough to really clean up the sport. That event came in Seoul in 1988. The moment the winner of the 100-meter dash, Ben Johnson, tested positive for steroids, marked the beginning of the end of steroids in Track & Field. Money for testing bumped up and the chemists rolled up their lab coat sleeves and got to serious work. It-s a big, sweeping statement but, as Olympic officials struggle to identify all manner of other illegal substances used by athletes, they are 99% confident that they can make an event steroid-free.
Barry Bonds started taking nutritional supplements just before the 2001 season, the season he filled out into a booming power hitter and captured the single-season home run record of 73. Bonds now admits the supplements were steroids, but he claims he had no idea that was the case at the time. Bonds says we can-t put any asterisks on any sports achievements of the past. We can-t put an asterisk on Mark McGwire-s 1998 record season and we can-t put an asterisk next to Bonds- incredible numbers. Fair enough. But we can control the future and it-s so obviously simple, on two fronts. First, baseball just instituted its new drug testing policy which is erroneously referred to as a -zero tolerance- program. First offense, a 10-day suspension. This is a highly tolerant policy. Ask Olympic sprinter Tim Montgomery. His first positive test late July meant he was kicked off the Olympic team for Athens in August. He-ll have to wait four long years before he can compete in the Olympics again. That-s zero tolerance.
Second, all Barry Bonds has to do is stand up and demand to be tested constantly this season. He needs to say, -Bring It On. Test me every week, test me day and night so that, come October, there will be no inkling of a doubt that I clearly have the talent to smack the ball out of the park and into San Franciso Bay over and over again.-
Bonds makes a point many have made before him. It doesn-t take big muscles to hit home runs. It takes coordination, a quick eye, and timing with the swing. Yes, but once you have that particular talent and you-ve put on an extra thirty pounds of sheer muscle mass, the ball tends to fly 400 feet, instead of 300. If Bonds proves to us fans that he is beyond-a-doubt clean and then he eclipses both Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron in career homes, trust me, we will rest assured the best player in the sport is in fact the best player and baseball will be well on its way to regaining the public trust.
This is Diana Nyad for KCRW, and that-s The Score.