My new Sports Illustrated came in the mail today. On the cover is Albert Pujols, slugger for the St. Louis Cardinals. The headline reads, “Albert Pujols has a message: ‘Don’t Be Afraid to Believe in Me'”
Sorry Albert, I have nothing against you personally. I might actually believe that you are clean – but I’m not giving you the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe you are clean – you are an amazing player. I lived in St. Louis for three years and marveled in your greatness. You are the only player I have ever watched that actually surprises me when you make an out. You are so good that I actually expect a hit every time.
There are no signs that you are, or ever were, on steroids. Yet you did sort of come out of nowhere. You have always been a huge man, yet you do sort of look smaller on the cover of this issue. Maybe you are clean – and I hope you are, but I still don’t believe you. And you have no one to blame but yourself – and your union.
I assume you’ve heard the saying, “Once bitten, twice shy.” Well, I was bitten when I believed Mark McGwire say that bottle of chemicals in his locker was just a supplement, and I was bitten over and over again each time I drove by the sign that read Mark McGwire Expressway just north of Busch Stadium. I was bitten when I believed that the reason for the increased home runs in the late 90’s was because of “hard balls.” I was bitten again when owners called Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco embittered liars. I was bitten (how many times is that now?) when Rafeal Palmeiro wagged his finger and angrily declared “Let me start by telling you this: I have never used steroids, period. I don’t know how to say it any more clearly than that. Never.” And I was bitten when Alex Rodriguez made himself out to be the great anti-Barry with Katie Couric. So I guess after all the times I have been bitten by the owners, media and especially by members of your union, I’m more than twice shy.
You might be clean, but you are not blameless. Where was this indignation when Barry Bonds’ hat size went from melon to globe? Where were you when your former teammate, he of the cartoon-like forearms that were built on something more than spinach, was declaring, “I don’t want to talk about the past”?
There is plenty of blame to spread around in this whole steroid mess. The owners probably turned a blind eye to it as Sammy and Mark rescued the game from the despair of labor disputes and a cancelled World Series. The media droped the ball as they gawked at the home runs while ignoring the signs. But the players – the clean ones – are as much to blame as anyone. They were the ones that really, undeniably, knew what was going on. They were the ones that were most directly being negatively effected by the cheaters.
So now you clean players want to say, “It wasn’t me – He did it.” Sorry, it doesn’t work like that. As far as I’m concerned – you’re all guilty. The whole era is tainted – not just Barry’s numbers, but yours too, Albert. Because it was you, Albert, that had the power to prevent the steroid era from happening. If the union cared about the clean players, then it would have acted to make testing happen to protect their integrity. Yet, the union continues to drag its feet.
You want me to believe you? Then demand that your union leadership be fired – now. Demand that Bud Selig is fired – now. Demand random blood testing – now. Demand full season suspensions for first offenses – now. Do that, and maybe I’ll believe you. Until then, you, and no member of your union, deserves the benefit of the doubt.