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September 14, 2005

Under The Knife

Testify

by Will Carroll

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It was about two weeks ago when the World Anti-Doping Agency asked me to come to their offices to discuss The Juice, baseball and their difficult job of policing the sports world. While they are not yet directly involved in baseball--or any professional sports in the United States--WADA is perhaps the one independent voice that could give baseball the transparency needed to regain the public trust. Yes, the NFL has the marketing muscle to spin any positive tests and a policy with enough loopholes to get Ron Santo the rushing title, but even there, public trust is eroding.

In the face of the Rafael Palmeiro story and the continuing allegations of Jose Canseco, baseball has come to be the national symbol of a drug-riddled sport. With six bills working their way through Congress, change is about to come. At WADA, they're considering the future while attempting to clean out the remnants of a stained era. Steroids, as we know them, are a relic, with designer compounds, advanced anti-detection techniques and genetic modifications either here or knocking at the door. Things have changed even since I wrote The Juice. The MLB program is having some effect, but it's unclear whether it's enough, and there is little patience in evidence. Is there then an improvement that could be made quickly, cheaply and that would have a positive effect? There is and, having seen it, I believe it could work.

It's called the "athlete's passport." It's a document that shows the date of each and every drug test an athlete has taken with the result. Positive results would obviously have penalties attached, but it's the mere availability of results that is novel. Unlike published negative lists as some sports have, the passport empowers the athlete. Rafael Palmeiro could not hide behind false privacy concerns and athletes who wished not to make their results public certainly could do so. Don Catlin of UCLA has a similar system he's espoused, though WADA's system has a head start. WADA, filled with smart, passionate people like Dr. Olivier Rabin and David Howland, has a chance to be a major force in helping baseball overcome this crisis if they can maintain their neutrality and transparency. It's funny that Baseball needs help from Montreal.

Powered by smoked meat, on to the injuries ...

  • I've joked a lot about the battle between outfielders and the wall. It's easy to make light of the problem, but teams have left nearly two million dollars on the shelf with time lost to injuries as the result of outfield collisions. Perhaps it's time to think about new ways to protect these players. New warning tracks, thicker foam on the walls, or even some sort of shoulder pad might be worth thinking about. Grady Sizemore is the latest victim. The Cleveland rookie injured his throwing shoulder in a collision with the wall, and while he hasn't missed time, the situation bears watching.

  • Johnny Damon stands to be out another week with soreness and inflammation in his throwing shoulder, injured during an awkward slide. Damon had an MRI that showed no serious structural damage, and though the Red Sox figure to only miss his services for a little while, teams will certainly note how his throwing arm looks when he returns. Damon does enough to earn his keep over 162 games, but in a short series, things like a poor throw or allowing the extra base are amplified. Damon is likely to come back as a DH first, then transition back to the outfield.

  • There have been some troubling reports about Mike Mussina lately, ones I'm still attempting to make some sense of. Mussina on the field seems to be making progress, giving the Yankees hope that they can get some sort of boost from him in-season as well as see what he might be able to do for them if the team is able to slide into the playoffs. Mussina completed a normal bullpen session; well, normal in every way besides the elbow sleeve that Mussina wore. He won't have it on, I'm told, when he pitches again on Friday. His reaction between the two sessions, as well as his ability to recover in time to throw Friday, are key. Assuming the session goes well, pencil Mussina in for a start midway through next week, meaning he's got a chance to get two, maybe three trips to the mound. Still, here's the scary part: Would you rather have Aaron Small than Mussina at this stage?

  • Take out the team's ace, center fielder and shortstop. Try to remember that the closer isn't who they thought would be the closer. Note that the third baseman is off his projections and ignore that anyone would be so foolish as to think, at the start of the season, that he could be the AL MVP. Instead, notice that in spite of all this, the A's are only a game out of first place. One solitary game. The A's have been ready to tread water given any injury or--and here's the key--any combination of injuries. Helped by a deep farm system and flexible roster construction, the A's are still in it with just 20 games to go.

    Rich Harden appears lost for the rest of the regular season. The strained lat shut down Ben Sheets and now looks for another victim. The A's are publicly saying that Harden could start the last week of the season. I've also publicly said that Jodie Foster is the mother of my children; saying things doesn't make them so. The A's may not need Harden to make the playoffs, but they'll need something from him if they hope to get any farther in the playoffs than they have in the recent past.

  • The Padres liked what they saw from Jake Peavy on Monday and have him penciled in for the start on Friday. Peavy will be on the strictest of pitch-management protocols. The slightest sign of struggle will mean the end of his day, and don't be surprised if the Pads have someone "shadowing" Peavy, ready to enter the game at nearly every point. Peavy's shoulder is rumored to have some mild fraying of the rotator cuff, similar to but not as serious as what Kerry Wood recently had repaired. Expect Peavy to finish the season as best he can, then spend the off-season strengthening the shoulder in hopes that he doesn't end up on a table somewhere.

  • The White Sox have decided to be strange with their DL usage. First it was Joe Crede hitting the DL when most teams would have avoided it since it only saved Ozzie Guillen from playing short-handed for a couple days. Now the Sox are likely to place Damaso Marte on the 60-day list, eliminating him from any possibility of contributing in the playoffs. The White Sox bullpen is thinning as their pitching is fading and the rest of the team is regressing to the mean. They sould watch out for black cats...

  • Quick Cuts: Albert Pujols will get a couple days off to rest that old hockey injury, the "upper leg" problem. To you and me, that's a sore hammy Zach Duke will come back for a start on Friday Mark Redman is out for the season after breaking a finger bunting Mark Kotsay is dealing with ankle and calf problems as well as his chronic back soreness Expect Justin Morneau to have the bone chips in his elbow removed shortly after the end of the season Barry Bonds is back, but both Moises Alou and J.T. Snow are out with leg injuries Joe Mauer will DH to save him from another foul tip to the shoulder. Paul Lo Duca is just having his typical late-season breakdown, last night's heroics notwithstanding.

Back tomorrow once I get over this strange urge to say "bonsoir."

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