A different kind of level playing field

A different kind of level playing field

An inescapable and troubling fact of baseball's steroid testing is that, to date, the majority of positive tests have come from players of Latin American origin.

Why would this be so? The question was posed to Felipe Alou, manager of the San Francisco Giants, and a man qualified to provide some insights. Originally from the Dominican Republic, Alou is an astute observer of the game and of the human condition.

For Alou, the question of steroid usage by Latin American players had two basic answers. One was a lack of education regarding the dangers of steroid usage and the nature of the substances themselves. The other was the fact that these substances might be more readily available in Latin America.

"The Latin players come mostly from, like we used to say not too long ago, Third World countries," Alou said. "There are so many things available there, from false birth certificates to anything else. It's a wider opportunity to acquire anything; a paper, a document, a drug.

"I told somebody the other day I went to a supermarket this past winter [in the Dominican Republic], went across the street to buy a newspaper and I saw a sign that said 'Feminine Viagra' over the counter. It was not what I was looking for," the manager said with a smile. "It was a big sign, too. You're not in North America there. I don't know if you saw some of the articles that came out, one guy was using some of the substances they used to give to the horses. A couple of kids died. ... It's a different kind of world. Still is.

"Some things have become more or less like the U.S., but it's not like that there yet. All of the Internet, all of the television, all of the information, it's still not quite there yet."

It may be up to baseball, Alou suggests, to undertake the education of Latin American players on the dangers of steroids, and the specific nature of various banned substances.

"I don't say do a better job [of explaining all the banned substances to Latin players], I say a job," Alou says. "I don't know that a job is being done. I think we missed the boat somewhere.

"Baseball should have more control of the players that sign in the Latin countries. I know the game has done a lot [for Latins], teach English to the kids, send them trainers and instructors, prepared the Latin instructors.

"But the Latins don't have the same people who would counsel them along the lines of what could happen. If anything, from what I've heard, there's been a lot of the counseling that hasn't been positive. It's been the other way: 'This stuff will make you stronger, you'll go to the big leagues.'

Some of these same points about the variance in knowledge regarding these substances were made by Donald Fehr, executive director of the Players Association, in testimony before a Congressional committee Wednesday.

"Our players are extremely diverse," Fehr said. "Some are far more educated when they arrive in the league than others, and there is no uniformity as to their legal sophistication or the operative medical rules among their respective countries of origin. In addition, some substances which are illegal in the United States ... are legal in other countries. Given these circumstances, there is always the possibility of error or mistake. "

Fehr, in these remarks, was arguing against far more stringent penalties for positive tests, the kind of penalties that have been proposed for Congressional legislation. That is not Felipe Alou's core argument.

"I believe they should test kids when they sign," the manager said. "What a step that would be for the Latin countries. To make it real serious now, to make a big issue, test positive, you don't sign. No million-dollar bonus. Who's testing? The organization's not testing. Major League Baseball is testing.

"I don't question the test. I want to allow them to test. I support it. Everybody should be tested, even the managers."

The early results of the steroid testing, at both the Major League and Minor League level, support Felipe Alou's contentions and concerns. The steroid problem in baseball is a problem that unfortunately transcends borders and cultures and covers altogether too much of the Western Hemisphere.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.