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Where's the team blame for Steroid Era?

Posted by Robert Burgess  February 8, 2013 09:14 AM

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For the players, always, there have been ramifications. Some, like Manny Ramirez, have been suspended. Others, like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds, have been denied entrance into the Hall of Fame. And others, like Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza, have sacrificed the benefit of the doubt because we simply know too much.

But what about the teams?

What real penalties have befallen them?

Curt Schilling is front page news this morning, not for something he did, but rather for something he said. According to Schilling and as noted by Peter Abraham in Friday's edition of the Globe, a former member of the Red Sox "medical staff" approached Schilling in 2008 about the prospect of using human growth hormone to save a dying career. Schilling's motives for disclosing the information certainly are worthy of discussion, but his admission sheds light anew on the conspiracy that was baseball's Wild West - namely, the Steroids Era.

The point: team and league officials and administrators were as much a part of this as Alex Rodriguez, Jason Giambi, Rafael Palmeiro or Mark McGwire. They just don't pay nearly the same price. The legacies of many players now will be tarnished forever, their accomplishments effectively regarded as circus acts. Sammy Sosa was a caricature and a strongman, but he wasn't much of a fundamental baseball player.

Or maybe he was just a clown.

But the teams? They skated. And this isn't solely about the Red Sox, our obvious focus here given where we live and what we love. Prior to the Schilling disclosure, former Red Sox infielder Lou Merloni once noted how a doctor addressed the team during spring training on how to properly take performance enhancers. Then-Sox general manager Dan Duquette subsequently denied the claims, the last such instance of doctor-player discussion on the topic until this one.

And then there was the matter of Eric Gagne, described by former Sox general manager Theo Epstein as a probable steroids user in an email cited in the Mitchell Report. So what did Epstein and the Red Sox do? They traded for Gagne anyway.

None of that makes the Red Sox different than any other organization in baseball during the last 20-25 years, which is precisely the problem. Throughout the game, baseball administrators, including commissioner Bud Selig, were as big a part of the issue as anyone else (media included). Years after the steroids scandal was exposed, Selig was still saying he wouldn't have done anything differently, a stance he has since softened thanks to better judgment.

We all would have done things differently, of course. Some of us would have asked more questions, pressed for more answers, been more skeptical. We wouldn't have been so helpless. If anyone connected with baseball's steroids era doesn't harbor at least some measure of regret, he or she is bordering on soullessness.

Schilling, for his part, has insisted that he has never taken performance enhancers during his career, and we would be fools to take his word for it. After all, Lance Armstrong told us the same. So did Palmeiro. Schilling's credibility is not affected by his own transgressions so much as it is by the failure of an entire era, largely because he was a member of a players' union that chose to protect the guilty more than the innocent.

Players were the last line of defense in the steroids era. Right up until the actual moment of injection, they had veto power. But the moment the needles broke the skin, they similarly punctured player integrity and credibility.

And so, rightly or wrongly, we look at Bagwell with a suspicion. Ditto for Piazza. Players are still collectively paying for their sins, and they will continue to for years and years to come.

But what of the executives and medical personnel throughout baseball? How many of them have suffered anywhere near the same fate for connection to the steroids era? For those of us in Boston, Epstein an Selig are only the easiest and most obvious names on a list that should include every owner, executive, general manager and league official in the game, among others. Brian Cashman, Billy Beane. Duquette. Mike Scioscia. Jim Leyland. Dave Dombrowski. Kenny Williams. Joe Torre. Nolan Ryan. Brian Sabean. They all probably knew something or at least suspected it, and they were all party to a multibillion-dollar fraud that heightened the popularity of the game, suckered consumers and drove revenue.

Ultimately, none of those people is guiltier than any other. But none is any more innocent, either.

And so now, more than five years after Schilling's last pitched in the major leagues, he has disclosed that a member of the Red Sox medical staff approached him about the possibility of using a performance enhancer. Are we really surprised by this?

Or are we surprised that the suggestion was just so overt?

Tony's Top 5

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The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
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For 2011 Red Sox, there was plenty of blame to go around Oct. 1, 2011. The disgraceful collapse of the Red Sox stoked the fire in all of us.
3
Behind Garnett and James, Celtics and Heat are digging in June 4, 2012. Improbably, the Celtics pushed the Heat to the limit.
2
Thrill is back for Patriots Jan. 30, 2012. Another Super Bowl has even Bill Belichick musing.
1
You’ve got to believe June 15, 2011. On the morning of Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals, we all had reason to believe.
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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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