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Can Big Papi Save Baseball?

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In 1998 Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa virtually saved the game of baseball with their incredible homerun race. We found out later they might have also killed the game by bringing on the steroid era. Is it time now for another home run slugger to save the game?

Major League Baseball, the Players Association and the media have been fighting a public relations battle over performance enhancing drugs for nearly a decade, even causing the federal government to get involved. But, things got a little more interesting on Monday when Boston Red Sox slugger David “Big Papi” Ortiz entered the fray.

Ortiz, in his first meeting with the media since arriving at Spring Training, became arguably the highest profile player to call for stricter testing for PED’s. Ortiz not only called for testing more often, but called for every player to be tested multiple times during the season. He even went as far as recommending blood tests and a full season suspension for a failed test. Currently a player gets a 50-game suspension for a first time fail.

In the eyes of the fans he’ll been seen as one of the few star players that is finally putting the good of the game ahead of big numbers, ego and most importantly money. The public and the media will eat this up, but they’ve been on this side of the fence for a while, without much result. The missing link to this point has been the players.

The Players Association, one of the strongest, if not the strongest, union in sports has been doing its job, right or wrong, protecting the rights of their players. To the chagrin of the fans and even some media, they’ve been against any and all testing, at times making it difficult for Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, to even discuss changes to the CBA.

So now the question is, can Ortiz and other players use this moment to bring about real changes in baseball’s testing policy and penalties? Can Ortiz be the galvanizing force that helps put an end to the steroid era in baseball?

A few players have spoken out in the past, but for the most part, players have been reluctant to call out their peers, or go against the union that fights so hard for them. High profile players rarely like to ruffle feathers and go against the union, and fringe players fear losing their jobs.

But, maybe a player the stature of Ortiz is all that was needed? Maybe his words will be the first domino to fall, and he can be the guy that makes it ok for other players to step up publicly and demand more testing and harsher penalties. The only way the union will come to the negotiation table and seriously discuss a real testing policy is if the players they’re charged with protecting force them too.

We may see the effects of Big Papi’s comments as soon as Tuesday when Alex Rodriguez is set to hold his first press conference since his admission on ESPN last week that he used performance enhancing drugs from 2001-2003. You can guarantee players around the league will be fielding questions for days about A-Rod and Ortiz’s comments. Will they play it PC and listen to their agents, PR reps and the union, or will enough fed-up players side with Ortiz and begin putting some pressure on their own union?

It seems with fans and media ready for resolution, and the other shoe dropping with the A-Rod news, the time is ripe for the “clean” players to draw a line in the sand. Is Big Papi the guy to do that, or are we saddled with another decade-plus of wondering who is and who isn’t using?

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Written by Brian Gleason

February 17, 2009 at 4:07 am

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