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State of game troubles Williams Hall honorees

Former greats Foster and Jenkins say the policy on steroids is too lenient.

By DAWN REISS
Published March 22, 2005


HERNANDO - George Foster looks up. The twinkle in his eye makes him seem much younger than his 46 years. His muscles bulge beneath a fitted silver shirt. He is signing autographs at the Ted Williams Museum and can't stop grinning.

"He was like a little kid on the drive up," joked Ted Williams Museum staff member Sharon Aaron, who drove Foster from the 12th annual Induction Ceremony in Fort Myers on Wednesday. "He kept asking if we were there yet. It was like friends riding in the car. He's so down to earth and very funny."

The trip went by quickly, with Foster making wise cracks along the way. By the time Aaron and her co-workers arrived at the museum, they had come up with a new nickname for Foster: "Sir George."

"Yeah, they said Mister Foster and I told them to go call my father," said Foster, a five-time National League All-Star. "I'm not that old."

But a lot has changed since Foster's days as an outfielder with the Big Red Machine. A season without the World Series, steroids and players earning more money are affecting baseball.

While signing autographs at the museum Friday, Foster, Cy Young Award winner Ferguson Jenkins, both of whom were honored at last week's ceremonies, and Hall of Famer Monte Irvin agreed the game needs to start giving back to the fans and needs a tougher steroids policy.

"It has to be a lot better," Jenkins said. "I'm a fan now, and as an ex-player I think these players shouldn't be in such high esteem. If they break the law, things ought to be done. Unfortunately, the punishment now that is given to them is just a little slap on the wrist."

The policy, revised in January, contains penalties for positive test results, with first-time offenders being suspended for 10 days. Second-time offenders will be suspended for 30 days, third-time offenders for 60. Four-time offenders will be suspended for a year. All suspensions are without pay.

Jenkins said MLB should follow the United States Olympic Committee's policy. It states that a first-time offense means a two-year ban from competition and a second offense a lifetime ban for steroids or substance abuse related to steroids, said USOC spokesperson Darryl Seibel.

"Warn them the first time, and the second time they're out," Irvin said.

Foster said many teams won't be strict with players who draw fans and increase revenues.

"The GM (Kevin Towers) for the Padres even admitted it's tough to blow the whistle on someone when attendance is doubling, because it's going to affect your pocketbook," Foster said. "While they are making money on a player, they aren't going to do anything. They might go out and crack down on the marginal player or a player who has been in the major leagues for a long time that doesn't attract fans, but they aren't going to crack down on impact players."

Foster said the most important thing is to make young athletes aware of the dangers of steroids. "At least give them more information to make a sound decision."

Foster said baseball needs to cater more to children, where kids with good grades can get in for free and clubs are more involved in charity work.

Irvin sees skyrocketing ticket prices as a problem, going from $2 for a box seat during the 1950s to $60.

"I'm worried about that," Irvin said. "But I still think it's the greatest game invented and if it had not been so great, I think the owners and players would have killed it already."

Still, Irvin said, players have more money so can afford to spend time helping out their community. "Whether we want to be or not, we're role models," he said. "Once you get out there, the kids are going to look at you, imitate you, so try to do the right thing. Watch your conduct, try to perform as well as you can, and try to leave a good legacy."

Proceeds from Friday's event went to support the Ted Williams Museum and scholarship fund and the Ferguson Jenkins Foundation.