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Government should stay out of baseball

| Saturday, June 22, 2002

Here we go again.

The politicians just can't keep their noses out of sports. The U.S. Senate wasted taxpayer dollars recently with a hearing about steroid use in Major-league baseball, and state legislators are now using the issue to get some face time and to waste state tax dollars. In New York and California, the state legislatures have proposed laws that would require visiting professional athletes to submit to random testing for steroids. It's only a matter of time before legislators in other states with professional teams seize on the opportunity for publicity and introduce similar proposals.

Here's a tip for our duly elected "leaders" here in Pennsylvania: Back off. Baseball players filled with steroids may be affecting home run totals and maybe that's a shame, but there have to be many, many other things that are more deserving of your attention and OUR money. If baseball players are stupid enough to shoot themselves up with drugs to enhance their performance, and if the prospect of seeing their testicles disappear doesn't bother them, that's their problem.

The players have a union that has said repeatedly that it's not interested in drug testing. The team owners have repeatedly given in and refused to take a stand on the issue. They deserve each other. You'll be serving your constituents much better if you keep your noses out of what's left of our former national pastime and spend your time on more worthwhile projects. You might start by fixing our roads.

  • I only spoke to Jack Buck, the St. Louis Cardinals announcer who died this week, a couple of times. I sat with him for a pregame meal in the Three Rivers Stadium press lounge, a few weeks after Bob Prince's death in 1985. I remember Buck's eyes welling up every time he spoke of Prince.

    Three years later, I ran into him on the field before a Cardinals-Pirates exhibition game in St. Petersburg, Fla. The Pirates had just traded Tony Pena to St. Louis for Andy Van Slyke and two other players. Van Slyke had been tried at all three outfield positions and third base by the Cardinals and was having trouble staying in their lineup. Barry Bonds, at the time, was the Pirates center fielder.

    Buck said, "Tell Jim Leyland to move Bonds to left field and put Van Slyke in center. Right now, he's the best defensive centerfielder in baseball."

    A few weeks after Van Slyke arrived, Leyland did just that, and for the next several years, Van Slyke proved to be exactly what Buck said he would be.

    Buck was one of the last of a dying breed. He and Prince were announcers who became as much a part of the teams they worked for as any player on the field. The Pirates never fully recovered from the stupidity of allowing Prince and his partner, Nellie King, to be fired in 1975. The response to Buck's death is proof of just how valuable guys like him and Prince can be (or at least, used to be) to a franchise. It also is a reminder of how devastating Prince's firing was to the Pirates. Nellie King should still be working in the Pirates' booth, although I don't know if that's been such a plum job the last several years.

    — The most amazing statistic about Tiger Woods may be the number of times he has won on the PGA tour when he has been the leader after three rounds. He's 24 for 26. That also has to be the most discouraging number for everybody else on the tour. If Tiger has the lead Saturday night, it's time for everybody else to start thinking about second place. When he's playing for pars on Sunday, it's no contest.

    — Any day now, the Penguins will be presented with a financing plan for a new arena. You can be sure it won't include a special sports lottery. Maybe it should. Maryland helped the Baltimore Orioles and Ravens finance their new buildings with a state lottery. There was opposition from the education lobby, which had been receiving money from an already existing state lottery and was worried that a sports lottery would cut into their revenues.

    The original lottery did not lose money and the sports lottery ran a surplus. The extra money was then directed toward education. It's still state money that probably shouldn't go to private enterprises like sports teams, but at least the money is spent VOLUNTARILY by the citizens.

    If you live in Maryland and don't want to be part of helping Art Modell make money with his Ravens, you simply don't buy a lottery ticket. Why is this a bad idea?

    — Don't be surprised if you hear a Big Ten referee announce at a game next season that a player or a coach is being penalized 15 yards for unsportsmanlike conduct. Sports-MAN-ship no longer exists in the Big Ten. The conference has published a new code of conduct, and it's no longer called the Code of Sportsmanship. It's now called the Code of Sportslike Behavior. Ah, academia.

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