Prescription: Steroids

The Mariners seek to improve on their evidently unenhanced performance at the plate.

It comes to us that certain modern jocks may have gotten buff on muscle-inducing drugs. Gee, to look at a stripped-down Barry Bonds or Jason Giambi (before his sudden weight loss in the offseason), you'd never guess steroids. Anyway, so what if modern long-ball records owe more to tablets than talent? That noted historian and Nobel laureate Jeff Kent (he also plays second base for the Houston Astros) recently supposed that Babe Ruth and others might also have achieved baseball greatness via steroid use. Kent had forgotten for a moment (Nobel laureates can be forgetful) that Ruth, Gehrig, Cobb, and the rest were known to eschew such yet-to-be invented enhancements, choosing instead to loll about their clubhouses preoccupied with iPods and satellite TV.

Sen. John McCain and others seem to know better about improbable anachronisms matching old-time ballplayers and modern drugs. That's why the Arizona Republican dared to lecture baseball leaders about drug testing last week, perhaps forgetting that it isn't really fitting for a mere U.S. senator to try to dress down Donald Fehr, who, as players' union suzerain, is far more powerful than anybody in Washington, D.C.

Anyway, around here, we have ample evidence that no Seattle Mariners player uses any drug stronger than Viagra. We know this by applying the prevailing negative logic of the Bush administration, e.g.: If we haven't found any WMD, then we can't conclude that they don't exist; if nobody saw young Dubya in 'Bama, we can't say for sure that he wasn't there. Similarly, since the M's had just 139 home runs last season (Bonds and Giambi combined for 120 in 2001), weakling players either aren't taking steroids or, if they are, need to reread the directions. (Hint: It's much less effective if you just rub it on your skin.)

No, the M's are a little old-fashioned. This year, despite how easy Major League Baseball makes it to abuse steroids, the local hardballers are looking to remain drug-free in their annual pursuit of missing the playoffs. Perhaps they should get with it and bulk up instead.

It's as easy as a Google search. There are 139,000 links to "anabolic steroids," many Web sites offering either to sell the stuff or to warn about how "abuse" of such substances will make you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger and act like Bobby Knight (or, worse yet, vice versa).

If the half-elapsed spring-training campaign is a clue, the M's will be going easy on the old horsehide again. Limp singles and leg doubles will again deprive fans at Safeco Field of souvenir baseballs starting April 6 against Anaheim; no one seems to mind much, judging from brisk single-game ticket sales that commenced a fortnight ago.

There was an early indication that grizzled-veteran field boss Bob Melvin, with 162 games behind him, is bent on putting his small-ball offense in motion again this season. Randy Winn would be moved to the nine hole in the order to bring in speed ahead of lead-off-hitting Ichiro. Then Melvin contradicted the plan by suggesting planting John Olerud in the two position, the skipper explaining that his first baseman has all a great second-slot hitter needs but speed—kind of like saying a singer has everything he needs but a voice.

The Olerud gambit hasn't been the only odd development in camp. Another has been the persistent suspicion that management actually would consider bringing back Ken Griffey Jr. If this meant dealing Winn (the center fielder), it would make about as much sense as ditching Bret Boone to make room for Joey Cora at second. Gimpy Griffey has hit 83 home runs in 379 games during his four injury-marred seasons with Cincinnati. Even if it could be guaranteed that he'd stay physically healthy in Seattle, his grumpy disposition could make locker-room life miserable. Besides, Melvin wants to try Raul Ibanez at cleanup. With Boone batting third and Edgar Martinez at fifth, where would that leave Griffey? Hitting sixth at age 34 as he passes the obligatory Hall of Fame–cred 500-dinger level?

One doubts that his ego would handle the "demotion," even if the team could deal with a reunion similar to remarrying your ex after a protracted divorce.

The 2004 M's also are looking at some serious bench decisions. The versatile Willie Bloomquist is said to be a lock as a 10th-man kind of presence. The club also likes Quinton McCracken (homers from both sides Saturday make him the Mickey Mantle of the M's), Jamal Strong, Dave Hansen, Luis Ugueto, and Ramon Santiago to go along with a backup catcher (Dan Wilson or Ben Davis). Carrying 11 pitchers and eight starting position players means few roster spots for reserves. Melvin's final call may not come until wind-down weekend in early April.

But pitching so far seems solid at worst and potentially excellent. It will need to be. Thirteen of the season's first 16 games are against Anaheim and Oakland, division rivals with players who (like Ruth, et al.) may not use steroids but sure hit as if they did.

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