Let’s Just Use the Fake Steroids List

ramirez 3 getty Lets Just Use the Fake Steroids ListHow good is the next name going to have to be, from baseball’s secret steroids-offender list? The returns on the leaks from the six-year-old document are already diminishing: Alex Rodriguez was boffo, scandal-perfect, exactly what everyone wanted to hear.

But that was the peak. The Manny Ramirez–David Ortiz combo? Ramirez was already serving a drug-test-related suspension, and the news that Ortiz was implicated was just like the news that Ramirez was implicated, only a little fatter and slower.

The idea of the list is much more exciting than the list itself. Everything you didn’t know you knew about performance-enhancing drugs, all in one place. Just let the list out, and let the public stand face to face with the truth about drugs and baseball.

“Name them all and get it over and let baseball go on,” Hank Aaron said. Put the names out, Mark Teixeira said. Put the names out, Johnny Damon said.

Damon’s name is on one list already. The Yankees outfielder is No. 3 on a list of 103 baseball players that you can turn up if you Google “baseball steroids list”—or that you can find even more quickly by Googling “fake steroids list.”

People who post the Internet list like to make a point of saying they don’t really believe what’s on it. There are plenty of forensic criticisms of the list—too many Red Sox (it’s a Yankees fan’s hoax!), too few no-name players, suspicious formatting—but the main objection to the list is a matter of attitude. The steroids scandal is about the feeling of being duped, or worse, letting oneself be duped. So now the desire is to be in the know but also to be knowing, to be wised up.

That said, you wouldn’t care to bet that any particular player on the fake list is not also on the real list. Plenty of the names have already gone into the history books for being otherwise implicated for performance-enhancing drugs—Rafael Palmeiro, Gary Sheffield, Barry Bonds, Benito Santiago—and even more are the sort of names that history has a hard time paying attention to. Wasn’t that journeyman utility infielder already caught for something? What about that slow-footed corner outfielder? Or that other slow-footed corner outfielder? It’s like trying to keep track of who used to play for the Rangers and who used to play for the Astros. Six years is a long time in baseball.

So the Internet list hovers on the edge of public view, not quite fit for discussion. Information does not exactly want to be free, at least not in this case. Information would rather be certified by someone who knows what he or she is doing: The New York Times and Sports Illustrated, the old media of record, slowly digging out the names on the real list, one or two at a time, like scrupulous archaeologists clearing a site with brushes. Look, here we have … what appears to be … yes, here is Sammy Sosa. Definitely Sammy Sosa. Sammy Sosa, “according to lawyers with knowledge of the drug-testing results,” was on the list of players who failed drug tests.

Thanks, lawyers. Come on. You gave up the guy shaped like the Thing, the guy who hit 243 home runs in four years. That’s like shooting a farm-raised pig on a captive hunt. Put the names out!

Or better yet, don’t. The ethical problems are bad enough: Sammy Sosa may be a fraud and a hypocrite, but his drug test was supposed to be anonymous. Turning a private screening program into a public blacklist is a much more serious breach of trust than trashing the home-run record book ever was—even if the list were to tell us what we want to know.

And it won’t. The secret list, the one seized by drug investigators and passed around and leaked, is not the final word on performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. It is a list of 104 names of players who were told in 2003 that they would be tested for drugs, and were then associated with a positive drug-test result. As with any drug-testing program, some of those positives were false positives: Major League Baseball has said that only 96 players were ultimately counted as positive, and that the players’ union disputes some of those 96 results.

So after we learn who the 104 guilty players are, it will be time to get the list of the eight guilty-but-not-guilty players, and then the list of however many players’ guilt that is in dispute. Meanwhile, the list will still be missing all the drug-assisted players who got a false negative, or who took a masking agent, or who had moved on to drugs too advanced for the drug tests to catch.

What can the real list tell us that the fake list can’t? Yes, it would be funny if one of the anti-steroids crusaders like Curt Schilling or Jeff Kent showed up on the list. But it wouldn’t be surprising. Jeff Kent hit more home runs after his 35th birthday than he did before his 30th. Maybe he’s a clean guy who happened to hit like a steroids guy. Nobody knows.

One national sportswriter wrote recently that he would give up on baseball if Derek Jeter’s name showed up on the list, because Jeter seems like a guy who would quit the game rather than “cheat to compete.” That’s nice, but Derek Jeter never refused to cross home plate when a known steroid cheater like Alex Rodriguez or Gary Sheffield knocked him in. He’s a team player, and he plays to win.

Every time a drug list comes up—the fake one, the Mitchell Report, the collected works of Jose Canseco—it looks at first glance as if your favorite team is especially implicated. You can find the suspect list online with the names of all Mets-linked players underlined: 30-some out of 103 players. Those dirty Mets! But it’s mostly perception: Ballplayers knock around, and the Mets’ alumni are other teams’ alumni, too. Gary Sheffield is a Met and a Yankee—and a Brewer, Padre, Dodger, Brave, Marlin and Tiger.

Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees have the best record in the American League at the moment. Manny Ramirez and the Dodgers have the best record in the National League. Here comes baseball history, or more of the same baseball history.

The last championship Yankees were a steroids team. The Red Sox who knocked them off were a steroids team. The Baltimore Orioles who sat in fourth place and watched them were a steroids team. Nobody’s roster was hydroponically grown in a clean room. Everybody comes out of the same dirt.