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Steroids And Sosa: What's Next?

With tonight's rainout (early rumor: makeup on September 3, nothing official yet), there's time to discuss today's revelation that Sammy Sosa appeared on the 2003 list of players who tested positive for steroids.

Thanks to BCB reader mykalmorgan who first posted this late this afternoon right after it was announced, and for the discussion that followed. But I thought this deserved a front-page post, too.

When Mike wrote the BCB top 100 post on Sammy 2 1/2 years ago, there had been no specific allegations regarding Sosa, though there were rumors, as there had been for several players in that era. But here's what's in that post that summed up my feelings at the time:

Of all the players tarred with the steroid brush, Sosa remains the most enigmatic. He never quite attained the comic-book bulk of the others. He never tested positive. There is no anecdotal or investigative account of his usage, as there is for Palmeiro, McGwire, and Bonds. Whatever happened, if it did, happened in the Dominican, and stayed there.

Sosa was the only player in the majors to diminish, every year, in home runs, RBI, and batting average in the span 2002-05, a damning pattern of decline. Only McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds achieved and maintained their historic levels of performance during the unregulated years, they are undoubtedly the greatest sluggers of their generation. But McGwire and Bonds had already established HOF credentials before performance enhancing became rampant, Sosa almost literally came from nowhere. No player, perhaps, has ever risen so high so swiftly, and then declined to his previous level, as swiftly.

But the deeds were done, the numbers are permanent, and awesome in any circumstance. What to do with it? If a definitive answer exists among the myriad suggestions, this author has yet to hear it.

Years after `98, Al and I had our attention called to a book entitled Baseball's Best Shots, a compendium of photos taken from all eras of the game. One spread is a shot of the right-field bleachers at Wrigley during a seventh-inning stretch in `98 (probably the game of September 18). A typically festive, half-dressed, half-bombed crowd gone half-bonkers over what they were seeing.

Except, that is, for two figures, in one corner of the image, bent over a pair of scorecards; literally the only people in the frame whose faces are not visible. Yes, it's us; and we agree, as do our baseball friends, that it's our perfect portrait.

I'd like to remember `98 that way, a season of joy, a season for the ages, fit for groupies and students alike, our season. But I can't, not anymore. It was stolen from us, under false pretenses, and time has not assuaged the anger.

We now know, presuming the report on Sosa is true, that the joy was indeed stolen from us. The numbers put up were put up by cartoon figures, not baseball players as we had known them for decades earlier. I know, I know, amphetamines in the 50s and 60s, other PEDs, other ways of cheating, ad nauseum.

But we were sold a bill of goods. They all swore up and down that they were honest -- "Flintstone vitamins," Sammy told us with a straight face. Now we know that face was lying to us, presuming the report is true.

Here's what I think should be done, and then has to be done by MLB, to put this era in perspective, and then behind us forever.

The 2003 list was supposed to be destroyed and forever private. The fact that privacy was breached with the outing of Alex Rodriguez is reprehensible. The proverbial cat, however, is now out of the bag and cannot be replaced. The 2003 list should be made public -- and sooner rather than later. Because if it isn't, all we'll have is guessing and speculation and names named that might not be on the list. Let's have the truth.

And then, let's have amnesty. For anyone caught before, say, this year -- let's set 2009 as the benchmark -- total and complete amnesty from any punishment (save those who have been punished under the current rules, and if you want to be consistent, set whatever date the 50 and 100 game suspension rule came into being). We'll not talk about "enhanced" sluggers, numbers off the charts; we'll judge them for the Hall of Fame based on the merits as they stand... all the while understanding that from about 1990 through 2005, the numbers can be termed the "Steroid Era", and will show in baseball history as, say, the 1930 season (a hitting aberration -- look it up sometime) currently is viewed. Look at Hack Wilson's 56 HR and 191 RBI that year -- both still Cubs team records. "Oh, that's 1930," the historian will say, discounting that year since it was such a freak.

That, to me, is the best way to reconcile the decade and a half that superstars cheated. They put on a great show, but it was inherently unfair to those who didn't do it -- and with the testing now in place (which has to get stricter, and the players have to tell Don Fehr that he works for them, not the other way around), perhaps we can have a level playing field from here on out.

You may disagree. Have at it.