Trade deadline day in the NHL was significant if you were a Hossa brother, I suppose, but Canada’s teams were either curiously inactive or curiously unproductive and, frankly, the whole event was a trifle overblown and a bit of a letdown. And, coincidence or not, I started feeling sick during its final hours.

So enough ice for now. Allow me to think warm thoughts. Let’s focus on baseball.

Major league teams begin spring training competition in Florida and Arizona today and that will mean no more about the Mitchell Report or performance enhancing drugs or any of that stuff, right?


Well, no.

Fans will be fans. They’ll heckle. They’ll take shots. And baseball types fully expect to hear the worst from the seats, starting today.

“I’m sure there’ll be references to steroids,” acknowledged Tony La Russa, manager of the St. Louis Cardinals. “It’s been in the news a lot. It won’t just die suddenly.”

Especially not for La Russa, who manages a major-league-high five players implicated in the Mitchell Report. Two were off-season acquisitions — Troy Glaus, formerly of the Blue Jays, and veteran slugger Juan Gonzalez.

La Russa would like to add a sixth. He’s trying to persuade his bosses to sign free agent Barry Bonds, the king of home runs and, some say, the king of steroid users.

La Russa is not concerned that Bonds is facing perjury and obstruction-of-justice charges in connection to steroid-related charges. La Russa, who happens to own a law degree, is a fervent believer in the innocent-until-proven-guilty ideology and is prepared for derisive remarks from fans and critics who have mentally convicted players for steroid and HGH use. In fact, he’s already heard the shots — about himself. And about his longtime coach, Dave McKay.

“People seem to think Dave and I are the godfathers of performance enhancing drugs in baseball,” La Russa said. “It’s unfair, but it’s out there, and we’re learning to deal with it.”

McKay is a Canadian and an original Blue Jay. With the Cards, he’s responsible for the players’ conditioning. He handled the same function in Oakland, when La Russa managed the A’s and won championships with the likes of Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire. One of those Bash Brothers, Canseco, admits he used steroids. McGwire has made no such confession. And La Russa won’t convict him.

“I don’t think Mark used anything,” he said. “I think he could just hit.”

Perhaps La Russa is deluding himself. Perhaps he’s developing a thicker skin. Whatever, this is how he and others in baseball are preparing for what clearly will be a challenging, different kind of season.

Play ball!

In three-plus decades as a columnist and broadcaster, Marty York has built a network of solid contacts and a renowned reputation for his hard-hitting, groundbreaking style. The tradition continues in Metro Sports.

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