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Cheaters Never Win — Except In Baseball

San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds watches a home run, his 755th, in August of 2007. With the hit, Bonds tied Hank Aaron's career home run record. (AP)
San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds watches a home run, his 755th, in August of 2007. With the hit, Bonds tied Hank Aaron's career home run record. (AP)

To many, the Fourth of July celebrates what makes life good in the United States.

We may reflect on our nation's history of independence and democracy in strange ways (beach trips, cheeseburgers, Bud Light Lime), but in ways that are traditionally "American."

We enjoy the summer weather and we're perhaps able to catch a ballgame, or at least catch a game of catch. For many families around the country, baseball is linked to July 4, to the country, to being or raising a kid in America.

But this weekend isn't special only to the scores of Americans who will fire up a grill. Though baseball may dominate the summer sports landscape in this country, it isn't the only game around.

Saturday marks the start of the 97th Tour de France. The epic three-week cycling race will once again captivate France and the rest of Europe as it winds its way through the Alps, the Pyrenees and the limits of human ability.

Both sports, baseball and cycling, are steeped in the traditions of the nations in which they are popular. What links baseball and cycling is the widespread cheating that has threatened to destroy the faith of fans. What sets them apart is how they've attempted to clean themselves up.

Across the world sports landscape, cycling is regarded as a bastion of cheaters and dopers. Despite les Alpes' best effort, the tallest mountain cyclists need to climb this summer is the one toward respectability.

Baseball, likewise, is questioned internationally. The combination of light sanctions for steroid-users, a lax testing policy and public indifference to the sport's crisis has left global sports fans unable to understand what should be done with America's strange game.

Floyd Landis, of the U.S., celebrates after winning the 2006 Tour de France. Landis tested positive for high levels of testosterone during the race and his title was stripped. (AP)
Floyd Landis, of the U.S., celebrates after winning the 2006 Tour de France. Landis tested positive for high levels of testosterone during the race and his title was stripped. (AP)

Cycling, at least, is making tangible efforts to combat the rampant doping among its athletes. The sport's independent governing body tests all cyclists before, during and after competitions — and even out of season. Without obstructionist players unions getting in the way, cyclists must provide both urine and blood for testing. Convicted dopers have received lifetime bans from the sport and some have had major victories taken away.

Those who maintain that cycling is irrelevant are entitled to their opinion — unless they're baseball fans. "But everyone in the sport is doping!" they cry. "How can you root for those liars and cheaters?" they ask. Easy, it's the American way.

Stars from across baseball's landscape have been linked — very convincingly — to steroids. Yet no records have been stricken, no titles have been erased, no players have even truly been ostracized.

At least cycling's biggest stars are caught and held, if belatedly, to the fire. Disgraced Tour de France champion Floyd Landis is just that: disgraced. Is there even a single steroid-era baseball star who could be categorized that way, even among those who lied to a U.S. grand jury?

Cycling and baseball are touched at all levels by the ugly mark of performance enhancing drugs. It seems, however, that both the baseball leadership and the viewing public are in denial of the widespread problem. Cycling fans recognize that their sport is deeply flawed and are on a campaign to change it. Baseball fans are stuck looking for the prize in the Cracker Jack box.

This program aired on July 2, 2010. The audio for this program is not available.

Jeremy Bernfeld Producer
Jeremy Bernfeld was formerly a producer for WBUR.

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