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Let's end the silent treatment

By Nick Cafardo
May 11, 2009
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It will take more ex-players like Lou Merloni - those who were in the game at a time when steroid use was at its height - to chip away at this enormous story, which seems to consume baseball almost daily.

So many players, active and retired, have adopted a silly code of silence and refused to even acknowledge they saw or heard anything about steroids. Until more speak openly about it, there will be only a trickle of information, one that can only keep damaging baseball.

Yesterday, Merloni wasn't backtracking from comments he made on Comcast SportsNet's "The Baseball Show" Saturday, when he told of a meeting in spring training in which a doctor, speaking on behalf of the Red Sox, educated players on how to use steroids properly without abusing them.

Merloni was adamant that neither the Sox nor this doctor was encouraging the use of steroids, but said the doctor was simply informing players that, if they were using, there was a right way and a wrong way to do so.

"It was like teaching your teenage daughter about sex education," said Merloni. "The organization acknowledged that there were likely players using steroids and basically 'if you're gonna use them, this is how you use them so you don't abuse them.' "

However, former Sox general manager Dan Duquette, strongly denied that anyone associated with the team would counsel players on how to take steroids.

"It's ridiculous. It's totally unfounded," said Duquette, who was GM from 1994-2002, covering virtually all of Merloni's tenure (1998-2003). "Who was the doctor? Tell me who the doctor is.

"If there was such a doctor, he wasn't in the employ of the Red Sox. We brought in doctors to educate the players on the major league drug policy at the time, at the recommendation of Major League Baseball.

"This is so ridiculous I hate to even respond to it."

Merloni said he did not remember the name of the doctor, nor the year the meeting took place.

Troy O'Leary, who played for the Sox from 1995-2001, also was asked about such a meeting.

"Don't really remember anything like that," said O'Leary. "I remember the normal union meetings in spring training where they'd talk about drugs and steroids, and I remember doctors talking negatively about them, but I don't remember ever hearing anything like, 'OK, this is the right way to do steroids.' If that happened, I missed that one."

Merloni's revelations came two days after MLB handed out a 50-game suspension to the Dodgers' Manny Ramírez, who was with Boston from 2001-08, for violating the policy on performance-enhancing substances.

"I'm in spring training, and I got an 8:30-9:00 meeting in the morning," Merloni said on the Comcast show. "I walk into that office - and this happened while I was with the Boston Red Sox, before this last regime - I'm sitting in the meeting. There's a doctor up there and he's talking about steroids, and everyone was like, 'Here we go, we're gonna sit here and get the whole thing - they're bad for you.'

"No. He spins it and says, 'You know what, if you take steroids and sit on the couch all winter long, you can actually get stronger than someone who works out clean. If you're going to take steroids, one cycle won't hurt you; abusing it will.'

"He sat there for one hour and told us how to properly use steroids while I'm with the Boston Red Sox, sitting there with the rest of the organization, and after this, I said, 'What the heck was that?'

"And everybody on the team was like, 'What was that?' And the response we got was, 'Well, we know guys are taking it, so we want to make sure they're taking it the right way.' Where did that come from? That didn't come from the Players Association.

"It wasn't Dr. [Arthur] Pappas or anyone like that, but I don't recall who it was. We'd had many meetings and talks about how bad steroids were, but this one was different. It was the team acknowledging there were people taking it and they were trying to inform us about not abusing steroids. In no way were they telling us to take steroids or encouraging us to do so."

Duquette acknowledged that players in the minors at that time knew about steroids because many had been exposed to them in high school. There was a testing program in place in the minors, well ahead of the program that was developed for the major leagues after the 2003 season.

"To suggest we gave counsel on steroid use is not accurate." Duquette said. "I felt we had a responsibility to educate the players on steroid use and to emphasize to them that 1. it was against the law; 2. that it was against the rules because we had a testing program in place in the minors; and 3. to warn players of the health risks associated with steroid use."

The one point that seems to ring true is that players and management alike knew there were steroid users in baseball.

Obviously, there was a big gap between the time that steroid use was first detected and the time that something was actually done about it in the form of beefed-up testing. The Mitchell Report, and the testimony by Brian McNamee and Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski have gone far in unearthing much of what we know about steroid use in baseball.

But there are so many others who were around the game during that time that know more than they're saying. Merloni simply gave us a small snapshot of what he says he saw and heard. What we need is many more players and executives to break their silence so we truly can piece together the culture of the steroid era. Until then, the topic will be linked with baseball for years.

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