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      A NATURAL HERO
      on an unlevel playing field



While driving home from a business meeting yesterday, two sports news stories on the radio caught my attention. The first was about Rafael Palmero getting his steroid-shrivelled nuts caught in the Congressional wringer. The second was of a miraculous at bat by St. Louis Cardinal shortstop David Eckstein. The contrast in these two stories is simply too sweet to avoid commenting on.

Palmero is the current focus of the investigation of steroid abuse in Major League Baseball. In the wake of testing positive for 'roids and a 10-game suspension, Palmero's test records are being sought after by Congress to determine whether Palmero lied under oath earlier this year.

For baseball fans, it's more than his urine or blood being sampled. It's not only his "honesty" being called into question. Now his on-field accomplishments appear to be as tainted as his bodily fluids. And he's not the only player under scrutiny.

Players taking steroids are artifical atheletes. Exercise, training and nutritional diets make for natural atheletes. Banging, drinking or smearing 'roids make artificial atheletes. Therefore, artificial atheletes have artificial stats. So it's patently unfair to compare stats of clean players to those of dirty players. Period.

On the other end of the baseball spectrum is one David Eckstein.

My admiration for Eckstein only dates back to the 2002 season's wildcard series, the ALCS, and ultimately the World Series. What struck me most about Eckstein was how game and feisty a player he was considering his diminutive physical stature. At 5'-7" and 165 pounds, he's one of the smallest guys in MLB, though what he lacks in height and weight he more than makes up for in spunk, discipline and baseball smarts.

I remember being delighted in watching Eckstein step up to the plate and hit strategically; not maniacally fixated on trying for the long ball. Bunt, looper or smash, he runs for first base like his life depends on it. That's smart baseball. Certain outs thrown to first frequently miss their mark. It's a saavy player who runs like mad to first in the face of a "certain" out.

In light of MLBs current steroids scandal and Palmero's apparently artificial stats, could it get any better than for a player like David Eckstein stepping up to the plate in a nail biter situation on Sunday, reading a misplaced pitch and crush it for all it's worth for a walk off grand slam homer?

David Eckstein is The Natural.

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Text - Copyright © 2005 by Jeff Bauer
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Revised - Thursday, September 8, 2005