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The number that counts is 0 ... tolerance


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POSTED: Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Yes, baseball remains a numbers game. But no longer the numbers we used to think of—you know, the benchmark stats for the Hall of Fame: 3,000 hits, 500 homers, 300 wins, zero voters alienated.

These don't mean very much in the steroid generation, especially now that the most gifted player of our time has been caught with his pants down and a needle in his butt.

Those old numbers were leaned on too heavily before as reference points to a player's greatness, anyway. The game's undergone so many changes over the decades affecting statistics; some benefiting hitters, some helping pitchers. Bless Bill James and his calculator, but do you know what the difference is between .300 and .280? A couple of bloop singles over the course of a full season.

You can argue that all stats prior to integration of the game are inflated. But then you must also remember that Babe Ruth's homers came against pitching staffs undiluted by expansion, too. Then again, Walter Johnson, the Big Train, never had to take on a lineup of juiced behemoths just a few hours after a long ride on a Big Plane.

The important numbers right now are 103 and 25.

Alex Rodriguez is just one of 104 major league players who tested positive for banned substances in 2003. Since A-Rod's celebrity transcends baseball, the media has made this issue all about him, for the time being at least.

The reason that's a disservice to the game is the other number—25. That's how many players fill a major league roster. Now, A-Rod never had to battle for a spot on the team. As University of Hawaii baseball coach Mike Trapasso says, “;He was already a major league player in high school.”;

But how many of the other 103 made it to the majors—or clung to a spot that rightfully should've been someone else's—through their cheating? This is significant even if just one guy in Triple-A was denied one day in The Show.

Ever been aced out of something you worked all your life for by a cheater? Then you know what I'm talking about.

I keep thinking of Keoni DeRenne, the infielder from 'Iolani who kept getting passed over a couple of years ago when it seemed like even the batboys on his team were getting called up to the majors.

The closer this gets looked at, the farther back it will go.

Markus Owens, a left-handed hitting catcher with some pop in his bat, got to play in one spring training game with the Giants' big club. In 1990 before he was released. Owens says no one talked about steroids in baseball then. But looking back, the Cactus League may have been pretty juicy.

“;Certain teams had gigantic players,”; Owens says. “;The Rangers, with Juan Gonzalez, Pudge. And the Cleveland Indians.”;

When I suggest the idea of a class-action lawsuit, the former UH star laughs and says, “;You mean like the one that got me a $2 credit on my phone bill?”;

Owens says it was probably advanced age more than artificially puffed-up competition that kept him from the majors.

Trapasso says “;absolutely not”; when asked if he thinks he was cheated from his chance. “;I didn't make it to the majors because I wasn't good enough,”; he says. But he also says steroids can help pitchers recover quicker between outings and come back stronger after arm trouble.

Now Trapasso focuses on making sure his players don't unwittingly test positive for banned substances through seemingly innocent over-the-counter supplements.

“;We're fortunate the NCAA has tough testing,”; he said. “;And we go over the importance of label reading every year.”;

As the latest episode shows, mistakes from long ago can and will catch up to you.