COLUMBUS, OH, June 7, 2013 — This weekend marks the 21st year since phenom-turned-drug addict Steve Howe was suspended from baseball for the seventh time, 13 years after earning Rookie of the Year honors with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1980.
In his second season at the big league level, Howe recorded the final out of the 1981 World Series for a Dodger team headlined by that season’s Rookie of the Year and Cy Young honoree, Fernando Valenzuela. In 1983, he earned a spot on what appeared to be the first of many All-Star rosters.
Howe never claimed the titles and awards that once appeared his for the taking. Instead, addiction and drug use laid an early claim to the promising lefty’s career. His addictions always followed close on the heels of each comeback attempt until his career finally came to an end in 1997.
Drug addiction would return to take his life nine years later, when he died in an automobile accident in the desert of Southern California. He died alone, with methamphetamines in his bloodstream.
Steve Howe’s name never became synonymous with victory. It was unfortunately always tied with defeat. His was a tragic story with no happy ending. It was a western without a white hat wearing hero.
Steve Howe was to become an emblem of the rampant illegal drug use of the 1980s in baseball, which hit its high point of public attention in the 1985 Pittsburg Drug Trials. Drugs continued to wreak havoc on active major leaguers well into the 1990s.
As Howe and his generation of ballplayers gave way to a younger crop, the rampant addiction from which they suffered and which they themselves perpetuated never went away. It merely changed labels.
Just last week, Major League Baseball officially released a list of 20 current big-leaguers whose suspensions are imminent because of their connection to Biogenesis, an alleged performance-enhancing drug dealer that had fronted as a Miami-based anti-aging clinic.
The names on the list come as no surprise. Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera, Bartolo Colon, and Johnny Peralta are all on the list. Also on the list is the supposedly clean cut Ryan Braun. Braun had his suspension overturned by an arbiter on a technicality in 2012 embarrassed Major League Baseball and its rather embarrassing drug policy. He tested positive for PEDs during his MVP-winning season in 2011.
No serious observer can so much as feign surprise at the mention of these names. Disappointment? Absolutely. Surprise? Not on your life.
The sad reality is the present generation of ballplayers is following exactly in the footsteps of its predecessors, both those of Howe’s tragic age and those of the purportedly bygone “Steroid Era.”
What was that line about those who refuse to learn from the mistakes of the past?
While, certainly, the detrimental effects of cocaine use are far more dramatic than most PED cases, the all-encompassing addictive nature of both bears a striking resemblance and both leave an unsightly blemish on America’s pastime.
It is time for Major League Baseball to act decisively. It is time for Bud Selig and the powers that be to rekindle the spirit of Kenesaw “Mountain” Landis. It is time for the players union to back up its claim of innocence by allowing the league to punish wrong-doers.
It is time for lifetime bans.
At least that is what was suggested by former big leaguer and current San Francisco Giants broadcaster Mike Krukow on a radio show on KNBR-San Francisco this week:
“(The fans) are saying they’re sick and tired of PEDs, and it’s coming up again…I’m fed up with it. There was a time when I was a little bit more lenient with my opinion, but now, forget it…If they do it, bang them one time for a hundred games. Twice, you’re gone for life…If you take a hard stand against Pete Rose, then by God, you’d better take a hard stand against these guys, because this is cheating, and it’s absolutely tainted our beautiful game, and I’m sick of it.”
As Judge Landis said while embroiled in the midst of the firestorm surrounding the 1919 Black Sox Scandal, “The only thing in anybody’s mind now is to make baseball what the millions of fans throughout the United States want it to be.”
Baseball needs to be what fans want it to be. The only dirt it needs is between the base paths and on the pitcher’s mound. Baseball is a great American institution, and it is worth purifying for the player’s sake and for society’s sake as well.
It is too late to save Steve Howe’s generation. It is time to save this one and ensure that the next does not need saving.
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