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PD Editorial: Baseball's drug abusers called out

  • New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez has a news conference before the Yankees play the Chicago White Sox in a baseball game at US Cellular Field in Chicago on Monday, Aug. 5, 2013. Rodriguez was suspended through 2014 and All-Stars Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta and Everth Cabrera were banned 50 games apiece Monday when Major League Baseball disciplined 13 players in a drug case, the most sweeping punishment since the Black Sox scandal nearly a century ago. (AP Photo/Charles Cherney)

On Feb. 13, 2005, our sports section featured a Miami Herald column lambasting Jose Canseco for his "snitch-book on steroids" in major league baseball.

"Jose Canseco, who grew up in Miami, is severely testing the elasticity of the concept, 'favorite son,' " the column began.

"Alex Rodriguez, likewise raised in Miami, surely is that with exclamation — a source of South Florida pride not only for his accomplishments as a ballplayer, but for his charity and character as a man. ..."

Canseco's gift for buffoonery hasn't endeared him to South Florida or anywhere else, and the motive for his tell-all memoir, aptly titled "Juiced," was hardly pure. But the book, in which Canseco admitted steroid abuse and named many other star players as users, was the first significant breach in a culture of silence that shrouded the widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs by pro athletes — Mr. "Charity and Character" among them.

Change came slowly — and beyond baseball and bicycling, another sport visited by a drug scandal, change may not have come at all.

Baseball certainly resisted. With an unprecedented display of home-run power filling the stands in the late 1990s, team owners and league officials ignored rumors of drug abuse, hoping the issue would go away. When a congressional committee subpoenaed Mark McGwire and other suspected drug abusers in 2005, many dismissed it as a photo op for publicity-hungry politicians. And fans protested criminal indictments of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

Yet each development was a step along a path that culminated Monday with lengthy suspensions of Rodriguez and 12 other big leaguers for using performance-enhancing drugs.

The scandal has taken some of the luster from baseball's most-hallowed records. But there's more at stake here than statistics, and juicing isn't a harmless way to make sports more dramatic, more entertaining.

Anabolic steroids and human-growth hormone, the most commonly abused performance-enhancing drugs, are controlled substances. They're regulated by federal law, with prescribed uses and require a physician's supervision. There can be serious side-effects from the drugs, as well as the unspoken pressure on athletes and would-be athletes to get the same edge as their competition.

Ask the family of Rob Garibaldi, a baseball star at Casa Grande High in Petaluma. Told he was too small for pro ball, he turned to steroids. Garabaldi never got his pro contract. Instead he battled 'roid rage and depression until, eventually, he killed himself. His story isn't unique.

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