Sunday, March 7, 2004

Specter of drugs clouds the game


Around the majors

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SARASOTA, Fla. - It is a curious star-shaped symbol. * The asterisk is simple to draw and easily found on computer keyboards everywhere.

Affixed to Roger Maris' name after he hit a then-record 61 home runs in 1961, the asterisk is rising from obscurity again.

The accusations of steroid distribution and use, which focused on Giants outfielder Barry Bonds and five other players last week, are the reason why many are preparing to apply the asterisk to every notable power record.

"Everybody is talking, but how many people know what they are talking about?" Cubs manager Dusty Baker said. "Who's the gospel here?"

Steroids became a hot-button issue in baseball when at least 5 percent of players tested positive for the drugs last season. Every player, as stipulated in the collective bargaining agreement, will be tested twice this season as a result, according to ESPN.com.

What the BALCO investigation, which has yet to produce a conviction, and steroid allegations have done is allow countless people in the game to express desires about leveling the playing field and restoring integrity.

"Integrity is that you don't cheat," Astros second baseman Jeff Kent said. "(The current drug testing policy is) not a joke, but it's half-(baked).

"I think there is value in ballplayers policing themselves. It's a right players before me fought for, and it's a right that I respected. But if we're going to give up that right, don't embarrass yourself. . . . Do it right."

PAIN IN THE... The Cubs got a scare last week when Mark Prior was held out of workouts because of right Achilles tendinitis.

The team expects Prior, whose 18 wins were second in the National League and 2.43 ERA was third last season, to be ready for his regular-season debut against the Reds on April 8 at Great American Ball Park.

"I had it last year from the beginning of September on," Prior said. "We treated it and fought through it. When I started out again in January, working on the mound, it fired back up.

"We are just going to take time while we've got time."

PAY CUT: Josh Beckett earned World Series MVP honors but isn't a richer man for doing so.

The Marlins pitcher received a one-year contract that will pay him $1.509 million, $216,000 less than he made in 2003.

"I'm just happy to get paid to play baseball," he said. "I'm way overpaid for my service time as it is."

Last season, Beckett was in the final year of a four-year deal worth $7 million that he signed after being taken second overall in the 1999 draft. He will be arbitration-eligible after this season.

WISHFUL THINKING: Veteran first baseman Fred McGriff has been looking out for outfielder Delmon Young, the Devil Rays' No. 1 pick in the June draft.

Tigers outfielder Dmitri Young, who is Delmon's older brother by 12 years, said last week he lacked a similar mentor while in Cincinnati from 1998-2001.

"When I was with the Cardinals I had Brian Jordan and Willie McGee, guys like that," the elder Young said. "But when I went to the Reds, I had no one."

BY THE NUMBERS: Former Reds and current Cardinals outfielder Reggie Sanders will have played for five of the top-10 active managers once the regular season begins. Sanders, now playing for Tony La Russa (2009 wins), has played for Bobby Cox (1,906), Lou Piniella (1,382), Dusty Baker (928) and Jack McKeon (845). . . . Despite losing 119 games last season, the Tigers were the only major-league team not to place a pitcher on the disabled list. The remaining 29 teams placed 166 pitchers on the DL.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm trying to think of who is equally as good-looking as Carl. Maybe Orlando Bloom, but they'd have to put him on an apple box or two and make him bulk up." - Actress Alyssa Milano, when asked who would play boyfriend and Marlins pitcher Carl Pavano in a movie.

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This report was compiled with notes from other major-league baseball writers.




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