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Ugly spill warrants cleanup

This is the gospel, according to the Book of Canseco:

"We're talking about the future here. I have no doubt whatsoever that intelligent, informed use of steroids, combined with human growth hormone, will one day be so accepted that everybody will be doing it. Steroid use will be more common than Botox is now. Every baseball player, and pro athlete, will be using at least low levels of steroids. As a result, baseball and other sports will be more exciting and entertaining. Human life will be improved, too. We will live longer and better. And maybe we'll love longer and better, too."

So, "Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits, and How Baseball Got Big" isn't just about naming names and pointing fingers and justifying a career based completely, by Jose Canseco's own admission, on chemical engineering. Canseco says he wants to start a national discussion on the merits of steroid use, and that baseball, after pretending for years that no one knew the extent to which steroids were prevalent in the game, is now taking a wrong-headed approach by discouraging the use of performance-enhancing substances.

Oh, sure, he slapped on the obligatory caution label when he said that steroids may not be for everyone and shouldn't be used without a doctor's supervision, though by all appearances he ignored his own counsel and made his own decisions independent of legitimate medical advice. But Canseco is bent on proselytizing not only a better way of hitting home runs, but a lifestyle enhanced by chemicals.

Given the prevalence of mood-altering drugs, cosmetic enhancers like Botox, and "lifestyle" pills like Viagra, Canseco may think he has a receptive audience out there, perhaps as ignorant as he apparently is to the deleterious effects that the vast majority of medical experts ascribe to steroids and human growth hormones.

But as distasteful a spectacle as he has created with his elephant-gun approach to identifying fellow steroid users, Canseco has permanently pulled back the curtain on an Oz that can no longer be tolerated in the game. Some reputations undoubtedly have been ripped apart -- did you catch the picture of a downsized Mark McGwire posing with his wife in the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue? -- but there aren't many doubts that the culture described by Canseco in his book existed, and needs to be blown up.

"It's bad for our game," Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek said. "But I have to deal with it. The steroid controversy created a distraction for some people that wasn't warranted. We're going to have to deal with the questions, but I'm very prideful of the fact that I don't have anything to worry about."

Some people, including Sox manager Terry Francona, have suggested that Canseco's violation of the "sanctity of the clubhouse" was worse than the steroid use itself. That's the same kind of thinking that causes police to close ranks instead of exposing a wrongdoer. Would we prefer that an accountant hadn't blown the whistle on her superiors at Enron?

It often takes a rat to give us the most vivid snapshot of what is happening in the sewer. Canseco has done that, and now it is incumbent upon people who care to make sure that he wins few converts to his "steroids are good" mantra.

Morgan still on call for Schilling

Curt Schilling says he plans to continue consulting Bill Morgan, the former Red Sox physician who performed the precedent-setting ankle surgery that allowed the Sox ace to pitch in the postseason. Schilling said Friday that he appealed to the Sox on numerous occasions to retain Morgan's services, but he understood their decision to sever the relationship with Morgan and hire Dr. Thomas J. Gill.

"It's their team," he said.

Derek Lowe mentioned how the players, in a meeting with ownership last year, had persuaded the club to keep Morgan, who had a major supporter in Nomar Garciaparra. Club executives were known to be unhappy with Morgan on a couple of occasions, most notably when Trot Nixon was given a clean bill of health last winter before signing a multiyear deal, then showed up to camp with a herniated disk in his back, and again when they apparently were unaware of how bad Schilling's ankle was before Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.

But Schilling insisted Morgan's work was not a factor in the team's decision to go in another direction. "None whatsoever," he said.

Varitek provides some solid defense

Former Red Sox manager Grady Little, who was a finalist last winter for the Mariners managing job that went to Mike Hargrove, returns to the Cubs as a special assistant to general manager Jim Hendry. One of Little's most ardent defenders remains Jason Varitek.

"The whole New England area blamed him [in 2003]," Varitek said. "He could just as well have been the Salem witch. In that case, [management's] hand was already forced. Whether or not they had the smoking gun or not, whatever the reasons are, the majority made a decision.

"The pulse of that team was the people. It's just sad. I'm not taking away anything from what Tito [Terry Francona] did, but there's got to be a fine line between statistical decisions and hunches. The information can help, but you also have to judge and evaluate talent and change and go against the norm sometimes.

"I'll give you another perspective. I'm out on that field and I don't even blink an eye when Pedro [Martinez] started that inning. I don't know all the other stuff that happened, but if there's going to be a change, it has to be at the beginning of that inning. The way our bullpen was successful was when they started an inning. When things got hairy and freaky things happened, then there's no question Petey stays out there, in my mind. None."

Varitek champions another frequent target for criticism, third base coach Dale Sveum, who was scorched for his judgment waving home a few runners last season. "He's one of the most underrated coaches we've ever had, one of the best coaches we've had," said Varitek. "Everybody grades him just because of a few people he waved home that didn't turn out right. They don't know about his knowledge of infield play, his knowledge of base running, his knowledge of hitting.

"For me as a hitter, I could relate a lot because he, too, was a switch hitter. When I got hot for a couple of weeks, I was hitting off Dale [in practice]. It was me and Gabe Kapler, then Doug [Mirabelli] hit one off the upper facade [in Yankee Stadium], then [Kevin] Millar jumped in a week later. The poor guy was throwing to us every single day in the cages, then would come out and pitch regular batting practice."

Etc.

Ramirez: Man of the century

Manny Ramirez enters this season with 100 or more RBIs in seven consecutive seasons, which ties him with Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees for the longest current streak. If Ramirez or A-Rod knocks in 100 this season, he will join select company at eight straight years: Babe Ruth, Mel Ott, Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Frank Thomas (1991-98), and Chipper Jones (1996-2003). Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx each drove in 100 runs in 13 straight seasons; among active players, Rafael Palmeiro and Sammy Sosa (both 1995-2003) did it nine straight times.

Does this make him a Babe Boomer?

Six (actually, four) degrees of separation linking David Wells to his hero, Babe Ruth:

Ruth played with Ray Mueller on the 1935 Boston Braves.

Mueller played with Gus Bell on the 1950 Pittsburgh Pirates.

Bell played with Phil Niekro on the 1964 Milwaukee Braves.

Niekro played with Wells on the 1987 Toronto Blue Jays.

(Source: Baseball-reference.com)

But they're not all jersey guys

What do the following have in common: Foxx, Walt Dropo, Pete Runnels, Dalton Jones, Jody Reed, and Wells?

Answer: They all wore No. 3 for the Red Sox. Jeff Frye, Grady Little, and Pokey Reese recently preceded Wells with the number.

It's lonely at the top

Former Sox pitcher Derek Lowe on how this season will be different for Curt Schilling: "The last five years it has been Randy Johnson and Curt, Pedro [Martinez] and Curt. A No. 1 and 1A. For five years, there's been a dynamic duo at the top. Now he stands on the mountain all by himself. Knowing him, he's going to accept the challenge and have success again. But as the years go by, none of us get younger."

Specials on the menuThere are a few tickets left for tonight's World Series trophy party sponsored by the Sons of Sam Horn, the little Internet community that became nationally known once Schilling and Sox owner John W. Henry, among others, became visitors to the chat rooms. The dinner is at the Great Bay Restaurant in the Commonwealth Hotel in Boston, with Luis Tiant, Bill Monbouquette, and Sam Horn himself among the expected guests. For ticket info, go to sonsofsamhorn.com. (A PR firm used by Horn sent out a press release identifying Monbo as "Bill Mumblecat.") And for the high rollers out there, the Baseball Hall of Fame announced last week that it will stage its first Hall of Fame fantasy camp in Cooperstown, N.Y., Oct. 5-9. Hall of Famers George Brett, Lou Brock, Phil Niekro, and Duke Snider are scheduled to be on hand. The price, which includes a private tour of the Hall and numerous other perks: a cool $7,995. There are only 48 slots available, and you must be 35 or older. Register at baseballhalloffame.org or by phone at 607-547-0327.No spring in his step

For the first time in 31 years -- the last 25 in a big league uniform -- former Sox manager Jimy Williams will not be in spring training with a major league club. Williams, who was booed at last year's All-Star Game in Houston and fired by the Astros before the second half resumed, was hired by the Angels in 1974 as the manager of their Quad Cities farm team. In 1980, he went to the big leagues as Bobby Cox's third base coach in Toronto, and he had been in the big leagues ever since, either as a coach or manager. His winning percentage of .535 (910-790) in parts of a dozen seasons as manager ranks 32d all-time, just ahead of Tony La Russa.

Foot, don't fail him now

The Cardinals will be closely watching Albert Pujols, who has been plagued with plantar fasciitis in his left foot. Pujols opted for rest instead of surgery over the winter, but the pain has returned. The condition, more common for basketball players but not unknown in baseball (Mark McGwire had it), refers to an inflammation of muscles around the arch.

Another scare for Ramsay

Remember Rob Ramsay, the former Sox prospect who was traded to the Mariners in the 1999 deal for Butch Huskey? Ramsay pitched for the Mariners in 1999 and 2000, was out of baseball for a year after a cancerous tumor was removed from his brain in 2001, then pitched again in the Padres' system for a couple of years before being released by the Orioles last spring. Writer Howie Stalwick reports that Ramsay had another near-death experience: He and his pregnant wife, Samantha, survived a horrific car crash on New Year's Day on a highway in Washington. Their Jeep Cherokee rolled over several times, and Ramsay's neck was broken. His wife escaped serious injury, and doctors assured the couple that their baby, due in July, was OK. "I feel great," said Ramsay. "Everything's great. I just feel I'm very blessed to have overcome everything."

Tough to swallow

Cubs ace Mark Prior didn't mince words about the club's collapse in the final two weeks last season: "We choked," he said. "We were in control of the wild card, and we lost it."

Material from personal interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.

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