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East Carolina Hall of Famer and
former baseball coach Keith LeClair.
 (Photo: ECU Media Relations)

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Editor's note: This feature
coordinated by Denny O'Brien.


From The Dugout

By Keith LeClair

Steroid use spiraling out of control

This is a hot topic around Major League baseball these days, but I am afraid it doesn't stop there. Unfortunately, steroid abuse is popping up all over college and high school campuses around the country as well. Why the explosion of steroid abuse in baseball? I can offer several reasons for the outbreak, but sadly it really only comes down to one specific reason that is driving baseball players to this dangerous performance enhanced drug at all levels and that is money.

I won't say all, but the majority of players that take steroids don't abuse this drug for the sake of the team. No, they take it to make themselves stronger and bigger to enhance their own performance to hopefully make it to the big-time stage one day. This is the case with Major League players as well as those in college and high school.

Bigger numbers mean bigger contracts, better draft position or even a bigger college scholarship. Every kid thinks he is going to be the next superstar and will do about anything to get there. Having been around recruiting and kids for most of my life, I have seen the baseball draft turn into a multi-million dollar business that parents and kids think why can't that be me? I have also seen Major League contracts soar into the millions for average players, making steroid abuse become even more attractive to players.

It is a sad, cold reality about the value we have put on money in today's society. When you see Lyle Alzado die of years of steroid abuse and are still willing to take that risk, something is seriously wrong with our priorities in life. I hate to say this, but I would say the figures of college and major league players that are using steroids or have used steroids is a staggering number. Yes, I included college players.

In fact, there are a few schools, not to mention names, that it was widely known players were on steroids. Whether the coaches knew or not, I cannot speculate on that. I do know as a coach it is nearly impossible to detect without a specific drug test, which most schools don't test in baseball because of the cost.

As we all just heard, Major League baseball will begin to start testing for steroids beginning next season. Only problem, the penalties are a joke. It will take an act of Congress for a player to be suspended for using steroids. What's the first offense, a $10 thousand fine or something like that? It's just so bad for the game and all the potential records to be broken under such scandal. I have no idea who is using steroids in the big leagues right now, But we all know they are being used.

I think it would be such an embarrassment to the game if, hypothetically speaking, Barry Bonds tested positive. What would fans think of his record-setting home run season and, potentially, Hank Aaron's career home run record?

It's quite obvious when you look at players' bodies today compared to those as recent as the eighties that something has happened. The question is whether it's better conditioning and legal supplements or is it steroid abuse? There is no question that players spend more time in the weight room these days than in years past, but when a percentage of folks test positive for steroids it makes you wonder if these massive bodies
are from better conditioning or steroid abuse. It doesn't help matters when former players come out like Canseco and Ken Caminiti and say it's a major problem and over fifty percent of players are on roids.

So what needs to be done? I really have no answers except stiff penalties if you're caught, and I mean stiff as in long suspensions for first time offenders, not just a $10 thousand dollar don't do it again fine. As for college folks and steroids, they will ultimately idolize what the big leaguers do. If they make a public push, encouraging the use of steroids to be stopped, you will see a major reduction in young kids abusing the drug. Unfortunately, I don't think anything will happen until a well-known player comes down with cancer from steroids and dies. This seems to be the only thing that wakes us at times to see the potential effects.

Medically, we have no idea the long term effects of steroid abuse that these athletes today are taking. Obviously we know what happened to Lyle Alzado, who I mentioned earlier, but what about this new steroid that has been going undetected? How long has this been going on? I vividly remember before Alzado died pleading with athletes not to make the same mistake he did. Sadly, we find out years later that the numbers have skyrocketed. The availability of steroids is growing ever so increasingly in the black market. It's turned into a multi-million dollar business and is preying on younger kids at an alarming rate. We are talking about sixteen to seventeen year old kids using steroids to enhance their performances.

This is very alarming to me and should be to every fan that watches sports today. It's gotten so bad in track today that they are banning athletes and stripping metals from them. My question to the Major League baseball folks is did we know this was going on and turned our backs to it in fear of embarrassment? It seems that not implementing mandatory testing until next year is maybe a cover up to a problem that has existed for a long time. Players shouldn't have a vote on whether testing should or shouldn't be done on steroids. When this became a debate from the players' union, it became an admission of guilt. If you're steroid free, what do you have to worry about by taking a test? It's time Major League baseball and the players step in and clean this mess up. When that happens, you will see a reduction in users at both the collegiate and HS levels.

If any player is caught using steroids, it should be an automatic month's suspension without pay. A second offense and a six-months suspension without pay. A third time — sorry, in baseball, three strikes... you're out. As for what to do about college users, I have no idea until mandatory testing can be done throughout the NCAA for every athlete and not just randomly chosen ones.

As you can tell, I have no tolerance for steroid use in baseball and for that matter any sport. The only steroid Babe Ruth used was probably a fat steak and several cans of his favorite beverage. I once heard an old-timer say the only steroid he had ever heard of was a sharp ax and a big wood pile. I sure would hate to put a wedge between the records of the past and the records being broke today. But more importantly, I would hate to see a young man lose his life for taking steroids that we could have prevented.

The perfect hot corner

To give everyone a visual to go by, I will use Scott Rolen of the Cardinals and Eric Chavez of the A's. These players are two of the top third basemen in the game today, both on offense and defense. In comparison their numbers are very similar, but if you will notice they are built completely different.

Scott Rolen is a monster of a man, going about 6'5 and 240, compared to Chavez's 6'1 and 200 lbs. frame, but both of these guys posses the great qualities you are looking for in a prototypical third baseman. So, it's important that you don't categorize guys on height and weight.

First, let's look at the defensive side of third base. A couple of essential things you look for in this position is a strong arm and a quick first step. Third base is a reactionary position, that requires you to react side to side in a small area. That's why it's known as the hot corner, because balls get on you quick and your range is limited unless it's a slow roller that takes you in or to your left.

It's important that third basemen have good hands and great body control. What I mean by body control is that these guys have to be able to play slow rollers on the move and throw all in the same motion. Great players make this look like ballet in the way they keep their bodies under control. This is what separates the men from the boys. Chavez is the game's best right now at playing slow rollers. Also, with third being a reactionary position, you will see guys making diving plays to their left and right, which also requires body control in quickly getting to your feet and making a strong throw.

So here are the essentials to look for in finding your prototypical third baseman:

1. Posses a strong, accurate arm with the ability to throw on the move.
2. Quick first step to the left and right.
3. Soft hands and the ability to go to the backhand side.
4. Body control that allows you to throw on the run.
5. Flexible guy that can play down to up. What I mean is, third basemen have to play low to the ground and work with their glove from the ground up.
6. Hardnosed guy that is not afraid to get some stitches — not a position for the pretty boys.

That about wraps up the defensive side of third base and what to look for in the qualities of a great one. If you ever go see third basemen take ground balls, watch their actions and see if they can throw on the move. We have the best defensive third baseman in college baseball right here at ECU in Mark Minicozzi, so go watch him play the hot corner this spring. I bet last year he won five or six games with his defense alone.

Offensively, you would prefer this guy to hit in the middle of the lineup and drive in some runs. You won't see many speed demons at third base so you don't want to clog up the bases in front of your guys that are base stealers. For this reason reason, you see most third basemen hit 3-6 in the lineup. They don't necessarily have to hit a bunch of home runs to help you win games, but more importantly handle the bat well in RBI situations.

General managers and managers today are going with outstanding defensive guys that can drive in 70-80 runs a year and hit around .270.

What I look for:

1. RBI guy that can handle the bat.
2. Elevate the ball and hit 20- 30 homers a year, plus stay out of ground ball double plays.
3. Hit 3-6 in batting order.
4. Mentally tough guy that doesn't take his offense into the field.

These are my characteristics of a quality third baseman and some folks may agree or disagree, but that's what makes it all more fun. I know a lot of scouts would probably want more power and not care so much about defense, but I just think third basemen that can play D take so many doubles away and turn them into outs over the course of a year to win close games. What you often see at third is converted shortstops that got too big to play short.

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02.23.07 10:27 AM


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