After an opening statement rife with apologies but meager in substance, Jason Giambi was asked, once and for all, whether he ever used steroids while playing Major League Baseball.

“I can’t comment on that,” Giambi told the reporter, “because of legal issues that have gone down, but hopefully, someday, I’ll be able to answer that question.”

The reporter moved on.

Days later Jose Canseco was interviewed on 60 Minutes and outed some of baseball’s biggest heroes for allegedly using illegal drugs to enhance their strength.

Canseco earned the title of “Whine of the Week” from http://www.NBCSports.com, arguing that the ballplayer “is the classic example of the whining brat.”

“Even if what he says is true,” the column states, “it’s still whining simply because he has no business telling anyone the proper way to behave.”

And much of America – baseball managers, writers and fans alike – moved on, too.

Anybody notice something wrong with this picture? Anybody see a double standard? Anybody curious as to why a player who “lost only four pounds” last spring is awarded greater credibility than a man who didn’t need a court date to tell the truth?

There’s little question that, in baseball, Jose Canseco is a man of ill repute. He broke the unofficial oath that mandates silence when one player witnesses another’s wrongdoing. Even worse, he probably did it for book sales. And “The Chemist,” as he calls himself, has earned a criminal record by abusing women and violating his parole.

Has Jose Canseco shown himself to be a man of character? Of course not. But it doesn’t take a saint to uncover iniquity, and a saint without knowledge is of use to no one.

Take Tony LaRussa. After Canseco claimed that he injected former home run champion Mark McGwire while both were members of the Oakland Athletics, the team’s former manager felt it necessary to defend his slugger in an editorial in the San Francisco Chronicle.

“Canseco’s credibility has steadily declined to the point of zero with his latest accusations,” LaRussa wrote. “The A’s during that time had a stretch of great baseball . that was a product of hard work and a desire to play the game right.”

It’s refreshing that you support your former players, Mr. LaRussa. But how can you be so certain that Canseco is wrong?

As far as any oath-breaking goes, solving baseball’s steroid crisis will require a whistleblower. And if baseball officials truly want to solve their steroid problem, they will have to realize that Canseco may be the best informant they can find – so long as in-the-know athletes continue paying lip service to the cause.

That’s the problem with much of Major League Baseball. The players cry for the league to do something, but they doubt any sufficient response. When the owners propose a system of testing, the players cry about invasion of privacy.

The system is ineffective, and the result is a lukewarm policy like the one baseball courteously served its players last month before moving on to take their drink orders. According to the plan, which operates via random testing, first-time offenders face a 10-day suspension, and it isn’t until the fourth violation that the sentence hits one year.

In the NBA repeated offenses can result in lifetime bans. At the Olympics, commit just two violations and you’ve entered retirement.

Major League Baseball, for whatever reason, doesn’t operate by the same rules. The policy is weak. Players won’t fear the random testing because it carries the punitive equivalent of a mosquito bite. Even in Athens, where the gravity of steroid seeking was without precedence, a record number of athletes tested positive.

The result? They couldn’t compete, even if they were approaching the status of Greek royalty.

The long-term impact? We’ll see how many athletes are found repeating their transgressions.

As far as baseball is concerned, a serious steroid policy will require some serious changes in the way players and owners do business. It will demand a response that isn’t afraid to hurt baseball’s biggest stars and that doesn’t waste energy trying to manage embarrassment within the media.

There is, I suppose, a chance that players might follow Canseco’s example, minus the criminal charges, and begin to emerge from the woodwork. Maybe the unwritten oath will dwindle after a few big names announce they’re ready to disclose what they know.

But it probably won’t.

Baseball needs to act. It needs to put forth a policy that will actually affect its players – a policy whose invasion-of-privacy rejection would be a tarnishing blow to the players’ images.

Thanks to Jose Canseco, the first day of Spring Training – a day supposed to be teeming with hope for the upcoming season – is now covered by a cloud of controversy. What better time could there be to start anew?

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