Steroids: why does the NFL get a free pass?

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Headline to a column written in the Philadelphia Daily News: “NFL seems to have better handle on steroid problem than MLB.”

The keyword is “seems.” According to the article, steroid use was de rigueur in the NFL back in the 80s in a way that it has never been alleged to be in baseball. Ex-lineman Brian Baldinger:

“I remember the first day of training camp, going into Player X’s
dorm room when the vets showed up,” says Baldinger, who played 11 NFL
seasons for the Cowboys, Eagles and Indianapolis Colts. “A brown bag
was dumped out on the bed full of syringes and you name it. And you
just kind of grabbed what you needed.

“It wasn’t like it is now, with baseball players saying, ‘Let’s get
the playing field even.’ Back then, it was understood that X-amount of
players, mostly linemen, that’s what they did [use steroids]. It wasn’t
looked at as a competitive advantage.”

In light of that culture the NFL, to its credit, instituted steroids
testing in the 1980s. And it has had some success. According to the
article, anonymous post-retirement surveys by a medical journal
indicated a 20.3% rate of steroid use among respondents in the 1980s
and a 12.7% rate currently. While it’s not unreasonable to assume that
the actual usage rate is higher simply because human nature does not
easily allow people to admit bad stuff, let’s just say that 12.7% is
accurate.

So rates are lower, but is that any basis to claim — as the people
quoted in this article claim — that the NFL’s testing regime
represents success? 12.7% of current NFL rosters equals roughly 215
players. In the past four years, however, a total of 43
players have been suspended for violating the NFL’s PED policy, or
about 10 a year. I’ll spare you the math, but trust me when I tell you
that 10 a year is somewhat less than 12.7%.

Yet despite this — and despite the fact that the no one has ever
provided any data suggesting that as many as 12.7% of baseball players
are using PEDs at any given time in the testing era — football is held
up as having its PED house in better order than baseball. And that’s
before you apply the same “look how big those dudes are” logic to
football that is so often applied to baseball.

I won’t claim that baseball’s testing regime is perfect — it’s
actually less comprehensive on paper than the NFL’s — but I find it
incredible that the NFL is given a virtual free pass when it comes to
steroids while baseball’s drug problems are continually dragged out for
public ridicule and abuse.

Royals pay tribute to late Yordano Ventura during spring training opener

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - AUGUST 12: Yordano Ventura #30 of the Kansas City Royals delivers a pitch against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on August 12, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Royals honored former pitcher Yordano Ventura prior to their first Cactus League game against the Rangers on Saturday. Ventura was killed in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic in late January.

Rangers’ third baseman Adrian Beltre and center fielder Carlos Gomez paid their respects to the pitcher with a floral arrangement that was laid on the mound. Both teams stood along the foul lines during a pregame video tribute that highlighted Ventura’s tenure with Kansas City. Following the game, Gomez spoke to the media about his relationship with Ventura, describing their frequent conversations during the season and commending the pitcher for having “the same passion that I had early in my career” (via WFAA.com’s Levi Weaver).

A plaque dedicated to the 25-year-old was also presented to club manager Ned Yost as a more permanent commemoration of Ventura’s contributions to the sport. Blair Kerkhoff of the Kansas City Star reports that the plaque will be mounted in the club’s spring training facilities alongside tributes to members of the Royals’ 2014 and 2015 playoff teams.

The full text of the plaque is below, via MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan:

A brother and a teammate, Yordano Ventura, passed away on the morning of January 22 in his native Dominican Republic, at the age of 25. He signed with the Royals as a 17-year-old, eventually making the big league team in 2013 as a 22-year-old. On most days, he could be found laughing and joking with his baseball family in the clubhouse. However, on days when he pitched, that smile was replaced by a quiet confidence and an intense fire, which he brought to the mound for every start. He had many highlights in his abbreviated career, not the least of which was throwing eight shutout innings in Game #6 of the 2014 World Series to force a Game #7 vs. San Francisco.

Gerrit Cole named Pirates’ Opening Day starter

BRADENTON, FL - FEBRUARY 19: Gerrit Cole #45 of the Pittsburgh Pirates poses for a photograph during MLB spring training photo day on February 19, 2017 at Pirate City in Bradenton, Florida. (Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images)
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Right-hander Gerrit Cole is set to take the mound for the Pirates on Opening Day, according to a team announcement on Saturday. It’s a spot that was most recently occupied by former Pirate Francisco Liriano, who made three consecutive Opening Day starts for the club before getting dealt to the Blue Jays last August.

The 26-year-old produced career-worst numbers during his fourth run with the Pirates in 2016, due in large part to bouts of inflammation in his right elbow. He finished the year with a 3.88 ERA, 2.8 BB/9 and 7.6 SO/9 over 116 innings before getting shut down in September to avoid further injury to his elbow. When healthy, however, Cole has been lights-out for the Pirates. Prior to his injury-laden campaign last year, he touted a career 3.07 ERA, 2.2 BB/9, 8.5 SO/9 and cumulative 10.2 fWAR from 2013 through 2015.

Cole will go toe-to-toe with the Red Sox during Boston’s home opener on Monday, April 3. Right-hander Jameson Taillon is scheduled to make the second start of the year, while fellow righty Ivan Nova will cover the Pirates’ home opener against the Braves on April 7. The Pirates’ third and fifth starters have yet to be announced.