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Commentary :: Politics
Steroids-- Did Jim Bunning Actually Know What Was Going on Around Him?
21 Mar 2005
Jim Bunning was elected to baseball's Hall of Fame in 1996 for his career as a pitcher with the Detroit Tigers and the Philadelphia Phillies during the 1950s and '60s.

"I remember when players didn't get better as they got older. We all got worse," Bunning, now a Republican U.S. Senator from Kentucky, said in testimony before a House committee investigating baseball's rampant steroid problem.

"When I played with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays and Ted Williams, they didn't put on 40 pounds of bulk in their careers, and they didn't hit more homers in their late 30s than they did in their late 20s. What's happening now in baseball isn't natural and it isn't right. Baseball has to get its act together or else."

"These substances have no place in baseball. And players who use them illegally are cheaters," Bunning said. Bunning went on to say that players who use illegal steroids are cheaters who have tarnished the game and should be punished with harsh penalties and by having their stats wiped from the record books. He further claimed that players from his era never used illegal substances and when "they cheated or broke the rules they were suspended." Bunning was in the Bigs from 1955 to 1971.

First of all, does Jim Bunning know anything about stats? Here are some interesting stats for the Hall of Famers he talked about. Henry Aaron hit 34 home runs in 604 at bats when he was 27 in 1961. In 1971, at 37, he hit 47 homers in 495 at bats. Aaron hit 40 dingers in 392 at bats when he was 39.

Ted Williams hit 32 home runs in 528 at bats when he was 29 in 1947. Ten years later in 1957, he hit 38 homers in 420 at bats. The "Splendid Splinter" had 29 homers in 310 at bats at age 42.

Willie Mays hit 29 home runs in 600 at bats at age 27, when he turned 39 he hit 28 in 478 at bats.

Secondly does he understand the term cheating? He played in the league with Gaylord Perry, who titled his autobiography "Me and the Spitter," a totally illegal pitch, which most of baseball knew he used but never caught him using. Also, he played with Duke Snyder whose career ended in 1964 who admits using amphetamines to help his game. Does Bunning want them both removed from the Hall of Fame?

In 1985 Curtis Strong who was a caterer for the Pittsburgh Pirates was convicted of cocaine sales to major league players. Over 20 current and former major leaguers, including Keith Hernandez, Dave Parker, Lonnie Smith, Vida Blue and Tim Raines, were called to testify in the September, 1985 trial. Ex-Pirate John Milner told of getting amphetamines from Hall of Famers, Willie Mays and Willie Stargell, Hernandez revealed he'd used coke for three years and Raines told how he'd keep a gram in his uniform pocket.

Interestingly enough, the amphetamines were referred to as "red juice" during the trial and players spoke of how they improved their game. Canseco's book on steroids is titled "Juiced."
Also, Jim Bouton in "Ball Four", which talks about the 1969 season, tells of amphetamine use by players. Again, they used it to enhance eye-hand coordination and to increase energy.

The verdict: Strong went to jail and baseball had a PR disaster with innuendo of rampant cocaine use that took place in the early '80s and cocaine sales taking place in the Pirates' clubhouse. Several players were suspended for 60 days and some were fined 10 percent of their base salary. Parker, a borderline Hall of Famer, may have cost himself any chance at a Cooperstown plaque. Rod Scurry, a Pirates pitcher who testified in the case, would later die of a cocaine-related death at 36. The Pirate Parrot, the Pirate's mascot, was implicated for buying cocaine and introducing players to Strong. Only Strong, a non-player, got jail time.

Does Bunning want to take Stargell and Mays out of the Hall of Fame for selling amphetamines and by inference using them during their playing days?

Suddenly it is important for Congress and Bunning to go after baseball players. Why now and not prior to this. Here are just some other interesting dates in drugs and baseball:

Sept. 9, 1980: Texas Rangers pitcher Ferguson Jenkins suspended indefinitely following his Aug. 25 arrest in Canada on charges of cocaine possession. Following a grievance hearing, arbitrator Raymond Goetz lifted suspension of Jenkins on Sept. 22.

Aug. 27, 1982: San Diego Padres outfielder Alan Wiggins suspended 30 days following his July 21 arrest on California charges of suspicion of attempting to possess cocaine.

Dec. 15, 1983: Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Steve Howe, Kansas City Royals first baseman Willie Aikens, Royals outfielder Willie Wilson and former Royals outfielder Jerry Martin suspended for one year. The three Royals entered guilty pleas Nov. 17 to federal charges of attempting to possess cocaine. Howe had tested positive three times in November for cocaine in voluntary tests. Following a grievance hearing, arbitrator Richard I. Bloch on April 3, 1984, commuted suspensions of Wilson and Martin to May 15.

April 17, 1984: Atlanta Braves pitcher Pascual Perez suspended retroactive to April 3 (opening day) through May 15 following his Jan. 9 arrest in the Dominican Republic on charges of cocaine possession. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn commuted Aikens' sentence to May 15. Following a grievance hearing, Bloch lifted Perez's suspension on April 29, 1984.

July 26, 1984: Free-agent pitcher Vida Blue suspended through remainder of 1984 season for illegal drug use.

Feb. 28, 1986: Joaquin Andujar, Dale Berra, Enos Cabell, Keith Hernandez, Jeff Leonard, Dave Parker and Lonnie Smith suspended for one year with provision that they still would be able to play if they donate 10 percent of their 1986 base salaries to drug-prevention programs, submit to random drug testing and contribute 100 hours of drug-related community service in 1986 and 1987. Al Holland, Lee Lacy, Lary Sorensen and Claudell Washington suspended for 60 days with provision that they still would be able to play if they donate 5 percent of their 1986 base salaries to drug-prevention programs and contribute 50 hours of drug-related community service during 1986 and 1987. All suspensions were based on testimony given at September 1985 Pittsburgh trial in federal District Court of Curtis Strong.

Feb. 25, 1987: Free-agent pitcher LaMarr Hoyt suspended for the 1987 season after his involvement in three illegal drug incidents during 1986. On Nov. 13, 1986, Hoyt entered a guilty plea in U.S. District Court in California to two misdemeanors -- possession of propoxyphene and Valium -- following his Oct. 28 arrest on charges of importing a controlled substance. Following a grievance hearing, arbitrator George Nicolau on June 16 commuted suspension of Hoyt to 60 days.

Not once has any of these congressmen said that the owners should be heavily fined and that a franchise might be taken away from an owner for allowing these actions to take place in their clubhouse. Certainly the Sosa's and the McGwire's have made millions but the billions that their inflated stats have brought the baseball owners has certainly given the owners reason to look the other way. For owners to argue, they have no control over what players do is ludicrous. When Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended Mays and Mantle for association with casinos they quickly ended that association. Pete Rose still has not been allowed in the Hall. But don't expect to see former amphetamine users taken out of the Hall. Since steroids improve player performance, owners see the revenues increase from that. Perhaps that's why owners and their Commissioner turn a blind eye. Unless Congress is willing to tell owners that they too are responsible for the product they offer the fans, things will not change. As long as cheating sells seats, the players will get a slap on the wrist, the owners will claim ignorance, and the fans will pay inflated prices.

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