Players: Get serious about drug testing
by Tracy Ringolsby
DENVER--Here's a word of advice for the players: Get serious about drug testing.
Major League Baseball has the most watered-down drug-testing program in pro sports--and even then the owners had to battle to get it included in the most recent Basic Agreement.
For more than two decades, the owners have pushed hard for a strong testing program, but the Major League Baseball Players Association argues that it is a matter of the players' privacy.
No argument on that point.
But get to the bottom line. It's called public perception, and perception--even if wrong--becomes fact to the public.
As players get bigger and stronger, questions arise as to what led to the gains in size and strength, and skepticism has flourished about the validity of accomplishments.
There is a lingering suspicion that it hasn't all been natural.
Heck, some players are even wondering which of their peers might be finding illegal ways to improve their abilities.
That's unfair to the players who have put in the effort to improve their physical conditioning, but the assumptions are fueled by the feeling the players have something to hide or they wouldn't be so strongly opposed to legitimate drug testing.
Face it, a majority of jobs in America today require drug testing.
What Todd Helton remembers most about arriving in the big leagues with the Rockies in August 1997 was the impact of being around so many proven veteran hitters.
In only his second full professional season at the time, Helton watched intently the approach of the likes of Andres Galarraga, Dante Bichette, Vinny Castilla, Ellis Burks and Larry Walker.
"You'd learn by watching and listening," Helton said. "Vinny was always on me. He'd say, 'Don't slap that ball to left field, drive it to left field.' "
The Rockies are going with a veteran look again in 2004.
In fact, the Rockies' projected starting Opening Day lineup in Arizona will be the oldest in the franchise's 12-year history.
Giving youth the benefit of the doubt, and putting Aaron Miles at second base, the eight position players in the Rockies lineup for that April 6 game against the Diamondbacks will be an average of 32 years, 11 months, 7 days old as of April 1.
The only other time the Rockies opened the season with a lineup that averaged more than 32-years-old was in 1997, when the eight position players averaged 32 years, 4 months, 7 days old April 1.
The Rockies' Opening Day lineup has averaged less than 30-years-old, based on ages April 1, only once since 1995. The 2001 Rockies averaged 29 years, 2 months old.
Larry Walker, looking to be in the Opening Day lineup for the eighth time in nine years, will be 37 years, 4 months old April 1, the oldest any member of the Rockies' Opening Day lineup has been. Todd Zeile was the oldest in the previous 11 years, checking in at 36 years, 6 months, 22 days in 2002.
This year's lineup, barring a spring injury, has only two potential starters younger than 30. Miles will be 27 years, 3 months, 15 days, and Preston Wilson will be 29 years, 8 months, 12 days. The Rockies also had only two players younger than 30 last year (Ronnie Belliard and Helton), as well as in 1999 (Neifi Perez and Helton) and 1997 (Eric Young and Castilla).
Around The League
• Chin-Hui Tsao rarely has been mentioned this spring, but if there were one young arm from within the Rockies organization that will force his way into the season-opening rotation, it would be Tsao. He has dominating ability, and the two months' exposure to the big leagues last year reinforced to Tsao what he had to learn to make it. The first time out this spring, he was running his fastball into the mid-90s against the White Sox on Friday afternoon.
Tsao's emergence creates a potential problem for the Rockies. If he's in the big leagues, he won't be eligible to pitch for his native Taiwan in the Olympics. The Taiwan government has agreed to waive Tsao's mandatory two years of military service if he competes in an international competition for Taiwan.
• Six key members of the Red Sox are potential free agents after the season, creating a sense of urgency in the team's plight to knock off the Yankees. The six include righthanders Derek Lowe, Pedro Martinez and Scott Williamson, shortstop Nomar Garciaparra, catcher Jason Varitek and DH David Ortiz.
• An interesting sidelight to the name-calling among owners John Henry of Boston and George Steinbrenner of the Yankees is that Henry used to be a limited partner with the Yankees, and even kept the limited partnership when he owned the Florida Marlins.
• Twenty-four of 31 players that the independent Atlantic League sold to major league teams last year played at either Triple-A or the big leagues.
• Jose Canseco failed to impress the Dodgers during a tryout. Now his agent says he's ready to go into the movie business, and plans to start shooting a film with Steven Seagal this summer.