From Left Field

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By Jimmie Earls

Human growth hot dogs

Remember the good old days when the most toxic thing a ballplayer would put into their body was a hot dog from the concession stand? Oh, how I long for those bygone days when baseball players bulked up by downing a six-pack with their steak dinner.

Nowadays, athletes seem to be loading themselves up with an alphabet of substances, from PEDs to HGHs to EPOs.

I’m just wondering when leagues will finally get serious about this issue. Forget what the owners or the players’ union has to say, something needs to be done in order for pro sports to regain some semblance of integrity. Be it a lifetime ban for doping, whatever. The commissioners have sat on their butts for too long.

I remember the case of Steve Howe, an MLB pitcher who tested positive for drugs and had a storied history of substance abuse. He was banned from baseball a record seven times. You’d think maybe around the third or fourth time the league would have thought there was a problem. But that was back in the good ol’ days when cocaine made you perform poorly. Now there’s a whole new batch of “performance-enhancing” drugs that should be taken more seriously than booze or nose candy.

The latest sports-related, headline-grabbing incident to inspire late- night talk show hosts is the pot-smoking exploits of Olympic demigod Michael Phelps, whose eight-gold medal performance in 2008 had just about everyone on the edge of their seat – except me. Yes, it was exciting to see Americans compete and do their best. But athletes are not infallible and they sometimes make the wrong choice. I just wish they wouldn’t do it in front of cameras at a frat party.

It wasn’t Phelps first brush with being intoxicated. He was busted for underage drinking when he was 19 years old in 2004. Back then, he apologized and said it would never happen again. First drinking, then pot – what’s next? Will he wind up as an emaciated heroin addict who traded his gold medals for a bag of smack by age 30? What kind of message does this send to kids who hang on everything Phelps or any other pro athlete does?

These days, everybody and their grandmother is armed with a cell phone equipped with a camera of some kind. Are young people now so naïve that they think they can do something stupid and not have it captured for posterity? Some are even dumb enough to plan their stupidity on camera and post it on the Internet.

But some are arguing the pot-smoking is not as bad a using PEDs. Such is the stigma against steroids and human growth hormones, that some players who either had or were on their way to having hall of fame careers now find themselves on the outside looking in. Some doubt that Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez will ever be elected to the hall due to admittedly or allegedly taking steroids. But that’s always been the problem with allowing a select few who think they are holier than thou to sit in judgement instead of letting the public decide.

Suddenly, Hall-of-Famer Pete Rose doesn’t sound so bad, does it?