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Are baseball fans ready to call sport out?

This baseball season, boys and girls, has been brought to you bythe letter S.

That stands for Steroids, Selig and Strike.

Like the classic children’s program Sesame Street, fans aregetting an education about this season’s sponsor letter.

First, 1996 National League MVP Ken Caminiti admitted he usedsteroids the year he won the award as a third baseman for the SanDiego Padres.

Caminiti, whose career also included stints with several otherteams, most notably the Houston Astros, speculated that he was notalone in the steroid-using category. His estimate, I believe it was50 percent, prompted others to offer estimates that were higher orlower and, of course, calls for substance testing.

Some players had no problem with testing while others decriedthe potential for harm, such as confidentiality issues and thepossibility of a legal substance showing up as a steroid. “Legalsubstance” implies that steroids are illegal, which they are inother major sports, but baseball can’t seem to figure that out andsimply ban team altogether.

Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa verbally stepped up to the plateto be tested. He angrily ran back to the clubhouse, though, when aSports Illustrated columnist gave him the address of a testingclinic and asked him to go.

The real problem with steroids, though, is the taint they arecasting over the game.

If today’s players are considered steroid-pumped jocks, thenfans rightly have to question the legitimacy of recent home runrecords and other inflated statistics. In fairness, smaller ballparks, a shrinking strike zone and other issues also have a role intoday’s big numbers game.

Speaking of Sesame Street, Commissioner Bud Selig kind ofreminds me of Oscar the Grouch. He certainly threw some garbageafter Tuesday’s All-Star Game tie.

While wringing his hands about the difficulty of the decisionand vowing changes in the future, Selig said he had “no otheroption” but to declare a tie when the game was 7-7 after the 11thinning. Both teams were out of pitchers.

Of course there were options, Bud. Recycling pitchers and a homerun derby-style shootout were two that sounded OK to me.

Selig has also been the biggest cheerleader for this season’sother sponsor letter: C. That stands for Contraction.

The Montreal Expos and the Minnesota Twins were targeted to beeliminated this year.

But legal maneuvering, especially in the Minnesota case, andother questions staved that off for another year. It doesn’t helpSelig’s plan that Minnesota is in first place in its division andMontreal is also contending this year.

Some other low-attendance, low income teams have been mentionedfor possible contraction, but no decisions have been made.

Contraction talk leads us to the third and most dangerous S ofall: Strike. Contraction is sure to linger as a sticking point inplayer union and management negotiations on a collective bargainingagreement.

Fewer teams mean fewer opportunities for players to make the bigbucks. Citing a variety of financial issues, owners say there mustbe better competitive balance between big-dollar, big-market teamsand low-dollar, small-market teams.

Regardless of the player-owner blame game in the event of astrike, blue collar working fans will lay fault at the feet of theplayers whose multi-million dollar contracts are becomingcommonplace.

A friend of mine said that owners’ and players’ mentality afterearlier work stoppages was that the “suckers” (read the fans) willalways be back.

This time I’m not so sure.

A strike, compounded with an overall perception of corporategreed from recent scandals, could mean baseball is called out byfans who are sick and tired of the greed in their sport.

Write to Matthew Coleman at P.O. Box 551, Brookhaven, Miss.39602, or send e-mail to matt.coleman@dailyleader.com.