Fix baseball? Not as long as there's money

I have never seen an organization so intent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory as baseball.

Last October, it was all I or anyone else I knew wanted to talk about. The Red Sox breaking the Curse of the Bambino, coming back from three games down to beat the stinking Yankees and then snapping off a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, taking the World Series title after an 86-year drought on a night when the moon, appropriately enough, turned the color of Curt Schilling's sock.

It was the stuff of legends, a story so far-fetched that you couldn't have sold the script in Hollywood, but if you did there's a fair chance Kevin Costner would've shown up in it somewhere.

And now it's spring training, that magical time of year when nobody's a loser yet, except maybe the Devil Rays. We ought to be asking some big questions right now. Can the Red Sox make it a two-fer? Will evil George Steinbrenner ever run out of money? Can the National League version of Boston, the Chicago Cubs, duplicate last year's Massachusetts Miracle? Can the Braves piece together an outfield? Will Tom Glavine be within shouting distance of 300 wins at the end of the year? Will there be a new all-time home run champion before the playoffs start?

Actually, that last one ties in with the questions that are being asked. Questions like, "So, Mac, when you broke Maris' single-season home run record, were you juiced up on steroids?"

When Mark McGwire was asked that question not too long ago, he responded forcefully, with the same vigor that he used one magical season to launch 70 small white spheres into low earth orbit a few years back. No, he had never used steroids. No quibbling.

Under oath in front of a congressional committee, McGwire, like Shoeless Joe Jackson, couldn't just say it wasn't so. If he did, he said, nobody'd believe him, people would hound him if he said yes and, gosh, he'd do anything to keep kids off steroids - except turn dime on his fellow players, which nobody asked him to do in the first place.

I didn't watch the rest of the 11 hours of the hearing, which means I missed Jose Canseco deciding steroids are bad after all, despite the endorsement in his book, Bud Selig and Donald Fehr squirm about a toothless drug policy that hasn't even been written yet, Sammy Sosa suddenly lose his ability to communicate, Schilling turn front man for Selig & Company and Rafael Palmeiro deny using anything, regardless of what Canseco might have written. I'm sorry I missed the parents of the children who committed suicide after using steroids. I'm not sure steroid use causes kids to kill themselves any more than an Ozzy Osbourne album would, but no matter what baseball players, football players, basketball players and even rock musicians think, kids are influenced by what they do. And maybe the damage isn't as immediate as taking your own life, but damage will be done. Ask Ken Caminiti's family.

And as far as jerk ballplayers telling me how to raise my kids, I'd like to say parents do take these damn "supplements" with heaven knows what in them that their kids bring home because "everybody else" is doing it and because they want to be big and muscular like Mark McGwire and those parents throw that garbage in the trash where it and the people who peddle it belong.

And we can rail about how The Game has been cheated by these who are its keepers now, how its records are blemished. I don't really care anymore. This whole steroid frenzy was started in earnest when the baseball strike destroyed the '94 World Series. Nothing fills the stadiums quite like home run exhibitions that used to only be seen on slow pitch softball fields full of company teams with ringers.

The likes of gamblers like Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe didn't destroy baseball's integrity: It was those who hide behind the sport. Baseball's hierarchy knew good and well that Caminiti and Canseco and plenty of others were living larger through better chemistry and couldn't have cared less as long as the TV money was rolling in and the turnstiles were spinning. The players didn't care that they were knocking off a few years at the end of their lives for big paychecks right now.

Here's my "preseason" forecast. Congress won't do squat. This is the issue of the day and it'll be replaced soon enough with other grandstands to sit in. Baseball will bob and duck and wait for something to happen, like a Cubs' World Series appearance, to make it all go away, another storm weathered. Barry Bonds will become the all-time home run champion and there won't be an asterisk. Athletes will continue to strive for bigger paychecks, even if they have to cheat and risk their lives to get them.

And people like you and me ... well, we will rail occasionally.

But we will continue to watch them and pay our money and feed the beast.

And it will get bigger and bigger.

Jim Hendricks is editor of the Albany Herald, sister paper of the Gwinnett Daily Post.