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Thomas Boswell

For Baseball, A Clean-Up Job

By Thomas Boswell
Friday, January 14, 2005; Page D01

For 86 years, the Red Sox couldn't win the World Series. For 33 years, Washington couldn't get back a major league team. For more than 25 years, baseball's owners and players couldn't reach a labor agreement without a work stoppage. And for nearly 20 years, everybody in baseball knew the game's dirty secret: a steroid problem that festered until it was an epidemic.

Just 10 years ago, after the Strike of '94, the sport seemed determined to commit suicide.

_____From The Post_____
Baseball unveiles a new, tougher drug-testing policy.
Thomas Boswell: It's about time baseball had a tougher drug policy.
Players from various teams applaud the new policy.
News Graphic: How the policy compares to other sports.

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Now, Red Sox Nation spends the winter passing the World Series trophy around New England, from town to village.

The Washington Nationals will gather for spring training in a month and will play in RFK Stadium in 90 days.

The sport's economic imbalances still exist. But a structure, which includes revenue sharing and a payroll luxury tax, has been established. The new system helps, though it needs to be tougher and will probably be strengthened in the next agreement.

And, finally, yesterday, with a concluding swiftness that few expected, baseball faced the most morally ugly of all its issues. At last, after who knows how much damage to the long-term health of a whole generation of players, baseball got a steroid-testing policy that appears, at first inspection, to be a vast improvement over the sport's previous shameless shams.

We may not know for decades how many current players will suffer the various steroid-related prices -- to life, health, mental health or reputation -- that the late Ken Caminiti, or Jason Giambi, Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Jose Canseco and others have, in various ways, already paid. But whatever that number turns out to be, it will be smaller thanks to the work that was completed this week.

For baseball, the long overdue arrival of this drug-testing deal was a watershed day that marked the sport's return to the daylight of good repute after many years in what seemed like a long twilight of decline. A decade was needed but, to a stunning degree, the game has cleaned up what not long ago appeared to be a discredited and antiquated act.

You can be seen in public with baseball again.

Coming up with a respectably tough, but not Draconian steroid testing policy was the last piece of the reclamation project for the sport. Time will test the loopholes in the new system, but it looks like baseball actually wants to make it more dangerous -- to your career, wallet and image -- to take steroids than to shun them. Baseball should not get too much credit for its progress. Those who run the sport, both owners and players, have fought the best interests of the game every step of the way.

Until the mob masses outside the turnstiles, screaming, "Off with all their heads," not much gets done in baseball. Universal outrage at the '94 strike produced the enormous public pressure that ultimately forced a labor compromise in '02.

So it was this time, too. Until Congress and President Bush mirrored the public's disgust and applied pressure, no great progress was made. But it's amazing how high a sanctioned monopoly can jump when lawmakers threaten to get involved. Why, if Congress discovered it could set baseball's drug policy -- and win applause and votes in the process, maybe that august body would also decide to look harder at baseball's anti-trust exemption some day. Bad precedent. Better shape up.

On the players' side, the rank and file found their voices and let their union know they wanted their sport off the juice.

Last month's eruptions in the BALCO scandal finally got the players to exert their collective will over their own union.

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