The latest scandal involving Major League Baseball and steroid use is generating lots of reactions and feelings among area coaches, players, administrators, and baseball officials, but surprise isn’t one of them.
“I guess in the last five or six years, with everything that’s gone on and the number of home runs hit in that era, nothing really surprises me anymore,” said former high school and American Legion coach Dave Paul, now the current American Legion Zone 1 commissioner. “I don’t think any name being associated with steroids would surprise me.”
Thursday’s news centered on two big names as both Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were reported to be among 104 big league players who tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs in 2003.
The news, coming on the heels of the same revelations about Alex Rodriguez, is generating almost universal disappointment and frustration.
“It’s like they’re trying to destroy baseball by leaking these names out one or two at a time from a list that wasn’t supposed to be out in the first place,” said Maine Sports Hall of Fame member Bob Kelley, a former Bangor High School baseball coach. “I wish they’d investigate that as well.
“It’s too bad because it’s just ruined all the stats in baseball, not knowing who did it and who didn’t. It’s just been a big black mark on a great game.”
The list, gleaned from the George Mitchell commission investigation into performance-enhancing drug use, was never released and was supposedly destroyed.
“I think if some names are going to come out, they should all come out,” said former Bangor American Legion standout Josh Pressley, a one-time Zone 1 player of the year. “None of them should come out to begin with, especially since they were supposed to be kept secret.”
Pressley, a first baseman and leading slugger for the independent Atlantic League’s Somerset (Mass.) Patriots, was a 1998 major league draft pick by Tampa Bay who served a 15-game minor league suspension in 2005 after testing positive for a banned substance.
The longtime Red Sox fan — who participated in Boston’s 2006 spring training camp — said it wasn’t a steroid, but rather an over-the-counter supplement or anti-inflammatory product he was taking for knee pain that produced the positive result.
“I’d rather not comment,” said Pressley of the allegations involving Ramirez and Ortiz. “I’m a huge fan of those guys, who I’ve met a couple times. They were great to me.”
University of Maine baseball coach Steve Trimper said about the only name that would surprise him by being linked to steroid use was his idol, Cal Ripken Jr.
“I’m really disappointed to see Papi’s name on there,” Trimper said. “Why it’s disappointing is whatever those guys do, general society — particularly the kids we’re working with and recruiting — are influenced by those guys.”
Dylan Morris, a 16-year-old catcher for Bangor’s Legion team and New York Yankees fan, had just heard the new late Thursday afternoon.
“It shocked me actually. They’re such big names I’ve been following since I was little,” Morris said. “My friends were always getting on me for Rodriguez being a cheater. Now I can tell them they have their own cheaters.”
Morris is a Derek Jeter fan.
“He’s a great athlete and role model. I believe 100 percent he hasn’t done steroids,” Morris said. “I’d be surprised if he did because he’s one of my favorite athletes all-time. He always speaks out against them so that would make him a big hypocrite.”
Current Old Town High and Orono Legion baseball coach Dave Utterback says rather than sour him on baseball or certain players, the ongoing steroid scandal makes him respect certain players more.
“One of my all-time favorite athletes is Ken Griffey Jr.,” said Utterback, who’s also a Red Sox fan. “Had he fallen into the mix with those other guys, how could that have helped him with all the injuries he had? He could have been the greatest player of all time had he been healthy, but I guess he chose not to do it.”
Utterback, who also works on the Mansfield Stadium grounds crew, is philosophical about the whole scandal.
“My big thing is although I don’t condone it, it doesn’t affect me wanting to watch the Red Sox or Ortiz in general,” said Utterback. “I’d just as soon they moved on.
“From a personal standpoint, I guess I don’t really feel disappointed. I mean, you can argue that it saved baseball with the big home run race in 1998.”
Paul, who played ball for Florida’s Eckerd College and pitched against future big leaguers Howard Johnson, Jody Reed and Glenn Davis, said he understands steroids’ allure.
“With all the money and the competition that exists, everyone is always looking for an edge and if other players are doing it and you want to keep up, you probably have to do it,” Paul said. “Not being in that situation, who knows how you would react if you were part of that lifestyle, dealing with that level of competition? It’s easy for us to sit back out here and pass judgment.”
It’s anything but easy to compare statistics of players in eras before and after steroids became used more and more from the mid-1980’s to the start of this current decade.
“I think it really puts a lot of players on the spot because those not on steroids have to compete against those who are and have a built-in advantage,” said Kelley. “Guys back before that era who set records, it’s not fair to them to have them broken by guys using steroids.”
So what’s the answer? Trimper says they need to start at the foundation.
“I think my opinion is they’re a day late and a dollar short in dealing with it. You have to start in the minors and work your way up,” he explained. “A good example is tobacco. They took a hard stand on it years ago in college and that kind of carried over into the minors.”
“Minor league umps started fining players in the minors in 1995-96 when it became illegal and it’s had an effect.
“Even though the players union won’t agree to that kind of ban in the majors, you don’t see nearly as many players chewing tobacco in the big leagues. I kind of see that happening a bit more in the minors now with long-term suspensions for steroid violators.”