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Baseball old-timers swing away at steroids issue

  • Story Highlights
  • Past players remark as baseball season opens under cloud of scandal
  • Brooks Robinson: "It's cheating. That's as simple as you can put it."
  • Warren Cromartie: Big money puts pressure on today's players
  • Bill Lee: Every generation has issues. "Clean up society! The game is fine."
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From Rich Phillips
CNN
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FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (CNN) -- When it comes to performance-enhancing drugs, the Human Vacuum Cleaner says baseball needs to clean up its act and the Messiah is appalled at the sins of this generation. But the Spaceman thinks everyone should lighten up.

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Former pitcher Bill "Spaceman" Lee says he believes in better living through chemistry.

As Major League Baseball opens a new season in the shadow of revelations of drug use by some of its biggest stars, opinions vary among players from what is now called the "clean era" of baseball -- before steroids and human growth hormone entered the game's lexicon.

Baseball fan John Miller, sipping beer in the stands with three buddies under the Florida sun, remembers that era and its top players, particularly Brooks Robinson of the Baltimore Orioles.

"I grew up on him and saw the game played the way he played it. That's my memories of baseball," Miller said. "Just watching him play, that was the thrill of the game. You can't take that away."

Robinson, a Hall of Fame third baseman nicknamed the Human Vacuum Cleaner for his amazing fielding ability, is saddened and a bit angry that steroids have affected the game.

"I think it's terrible. It's cheating. That's as simple as you can put it," Robinson said. Video Watch old-school players talk about the scandal »

"I think the Mitchell Report was great," he added.

A report by former U.S. Sen. George Mitchell named dozens of current and former Major League Baseball players who allegedly used anabolic steroids or HGH to enhance their performance.

Big names like Roger Clemens, Gary Sheffield and Andy Pettitte were included. A handful of players, including Clemens, testified before Congress.

Talk of the scandal was unavoidable when baseball old-timers gathered recently for a game to benefit Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

"We used to think these guys spent seven days a week in the gym, pumping iron," Robinson said. "We know different now."

Warren Cromartie was an outfielder with the Montreal Expos who was called "the Messiah" when he signed with the Yomiuri Giants of Tokyo, Japan, in 1983.

Cromartie's reputation was all about hard work. He uses words like "integrity" and "perseverance" and "old school." He says big money puts added pressure on today's players.

"We weren't about the money then," he said. "We didn't make the money they make now. We went out and played ball and got dirty, so that means something. That's something that we're going to hang onto."

Cromartie's values began at home.

"I've got a father [Leroy Cromartie] who taught me, who played in the Negro leagues," he said. "We went out and played. We practiced. We practiced, practiced, practiced, we got good. So either you had it or you didn't, so we didn't think about putting anything but vitamins in our bodies at the time."

Bill Lee was a left-handed Boston Red Sox pitcher known as "Spaceman" for his colorful and offbeat opinions and behavior.

Some things never change.

"So what!" he said of the reports that players have tried to chemically enhance their bodies.

"I believe our whole society and science is to protect us and make us better human beings," he said. Video Watch Lee riff on "juicing" »

He said his generation didn't know of vials, but had its own issues with stuff in bottles.

"The ballplayers [today] are working out 12 months a year. In the old days, we used to drink," he said, laughing. "Eighty percent of the money we spent on fine women and whiskey, and the other 20 percent we spilled."

Lee seemed almost happy that he missed out on baseball's big money.

"Well, I'd have a lot of money, but I'd probably be dead, the way we partied," he said.

Society has taken the steroid issue far too seriously, he said.

"Everyone is as serious as a heart attack. The thing we've got to do is make people, nicer, kinder, gentler. Open doors for people, and do charity events like this," he said. "Clean up society! The game is fine."

From his seat in the stands, fan John Miller said the scandal "changed my opinion about some of the players and the records."

But in baseball, hope springs eternal.

"Hopefully the young guys coming up will see this and we'll get back to where we were a number of years ago -- a cleaner game," he said.

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And Lee offered this sobering reminder:

"The saddest day is when all the leaves fall off the trees and you shut down baseball -- and you have six more months of ice hockey." E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Jim Kavanagh contributed to this report.

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