Major League pain for supplements

Ok. So, maybe I don’t have any business writing about steroids in baseball. Maybe that’s not what this page is supposed to be about. And maybe Congress has no business investigating the use of steroids in baseball; certainly, this country has much bigger problems to deal with these days, not the least of which include a broken healthcare system, a sputtering economy, what to do about Iraq and Afghanistan, what’s next for Pakistan…and, oh yeah, whatever happened to finding Osama Bin Laden?

Still, I had made a conscious decision not to take the bait this time. But then Donald Fehr, executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association, decided to open that big, fat mouth of his. Not to admit, in this case, the complicity of his inaction; that is, his failure to do anything to prevent, stop or even curtail the use of steroids in baseball until Barry Bonds’ head had grown about the size of Mr. Met’s. No. Fehr opened his big, fat mouth as wide as he could and he blew smoke, enough, he hoped to create a smokescreen that he and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig and all the “juicers” could hide behind just long enough for the whole issue to vanish into the ether. Fat chance.

Steroids aren’t a problem, Fehr explained with that kind of a straight face only a lawyer’s mother could love; not anymore. He and Selig fixed that already. No, what Congress needs to worry about are dietary supplements.

“As I have previously suggested, perhaps the Congress should examine whether the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act—DSHEA, as it is commonly known—is being adequately enforced,” Fehr said.

“If any of you haven’t done it, please go to the drug store or GNC or somewhere else and look what’s up on the shelves,” Fehr added later. “Every tree, every grass, every bush, every mineral—everything anybody’s ever heard of is there.”

I have got some news for Donald Fehr: They don’t sell steroids in the supplement aisle. They don’t sell the “cream” or the “clear,” either. That’s because this industry does a better job of policing itself than Major League Baseball ever could.

But really, what choice did baseball have? Right? They had to so something, if they ever expected the game to recover from the 1994 strike. Rising ticket prices, rising player salaries, rising cable prices…for many crusty, “olde-tyme” baseball fans canceling the World Series was the last straw.

How in the world was baseball ever going to get the fans back? America’s Pastime had been hemorrhaging fans for years to sports like football, basketball, hockey and soccer. Baseball just didn’t move fast enough for the new generation; and it wasn’t quite sexy enough on its own for the ladies. The expression, “chicks dig the long ball,” is a product of the last decade.

Was it as calculated a decision as, say, physically injecting someone in the rear end with a needle full of steroids? No, of course not. But were Fehr, Selig and most of his fellow owners, and many of the league’s players complicit in their inaction, in their failure to do anything about the rampant use of steroids in baseball? Yes. Maybe “cover up,” is too strong a term, but would it be too much to say that they sure did take their time pulling away the covers?

And while that may not be fair to Babe Ruth or Hank Aaron, it’s also not really any business of Congress’. Any more than it’s my business to write about steroid use in baseball in a magazine devoted to the retail pharmacy business.

The thing is Donald Fehr made it my business, when he opened his big, fat mouth and tried to make a smokescreen out of DSHEA. And I’m not the only one who thinks so: “We are disappointed that some in Major League Baseball are inappropriately trying to use dietary supplements as a scapegoat to deflect attention from the real problem of baseball players illegally using performance-enhancing substances to cheat the system. Anabolic steroids are not dietary supplements and dietary supplements are not anabolic steroids,” said Council of Responsible Nutrition president Steve Mister. It’s not just Steve Mister and me either; according to an online poll of our readers, 42 percent of you believed that Fehr’s comments would have a negative impact on sales in the dietary supplement category.

So where exactly did Fehr think the government would get the money to conduct that kind of an investigation? Rather than spend $20 million to pay for former Sen. Mitchell’s investigation, why not just donate the $20 million to the Food and Drug Administration whose job it is to police the dietary supplement industry? Contrary to popular belief, DSHEA absolutely grants FDA regulatory authority over the dietary supplement industry.

If MLB was really concerned about what products the FDA allows to come to market, they’d spend the $20 million to lobby Congress for a greater annual budget allocation for FDA.

And for the record, Mitchell’s report is curiously absent of any members of the Boston Red Sox, other than a utility infielder named Manny Alexander. Funny, how Mitchell, a member of the Red Sox’ board of directors, would forget that Jose Canseco used to play in Beantown. And what about Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, for crying out loud? Oh yeah, I suppose this Yankee fan is supposed to believe that those guys got to be their present size from eating steak and plantains.

A better question is how many taxpayer dollars has this country spent on Congress’ investigation of steroid use in baseball? What’s next? Maybe we can spend another $20 million to prove that wrestling is fixed? Or how about $20 million to prove that Barbaro was a faster horse than Secretariat? Or how about a couple of million to see if Aquaman could beat Tarzan in a fight?

Bob Dylan once wrote, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows.” Left to their own devices, it would appear that Congress and Major League Baseball would need a weatherman, a weather map, George Mitchell and $20 million just to tell if it’s raining or not.

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