Thursday, February 19, 2009

A-Nough Already

Alex Rodriguez is the apotheosis of athletes as P.R. outlets. He doesn’t seem like a bad guy so much as a non-guy, a walking press release. With one major, tragic difference: press releases don’t have nerves. Rodriguez is like early-’70s Woody Allen trapped in the body of a world-class athlete.

As anyone who was reading this blog way back in March 2007 knows, I take the steroids issue seriously. But I’m having a really hard time getting worked up about this story. Of course, the New York press, whose steno pads and radio booths are always set to Stun, have no such problem.

The New York Times wrote: "the fact that (Rodriguez) is now admitting he took performance-enhancing substances for several seasons will damage his image and his legacy as a player."

True. But when do the era and the sport get equally damaged? Hundreds of players took these drugs. It isn’t like only the three best players in the game took them and that fully explains their dominance. The sport did an awful job of policing itself. And the players’ union, which has a record of successful bullying that makes the UAW look like the Washington Generals, continues to ignore the minority of players who wisely want to open up the books on cheaters.

But to keep acting shocked when it's discovered that players used in the past is ridiculous. Shock? The Mark McGwire scandal broke in 1998.

Besides, what exactly do steroids do? Hitting home runs takes strength, but in order to utilize that strength, you have to do a lot of complicated things right before the bat even hits the ball. I’m not defending Bonds, or any steroid users, but if just pumping yourself up with steroids was what it took to win seven MVP awards in baseball, we might see people like this winning them. (Apologies to the woman in that photo, who I’m not accusing of using. The only thing that would lead me to suspect she does is that she looks like the offspring of this and this.)

Hank Aaron himself, being a bit too gracious, still makes the point:
I don’t know if Barry would have hit as many home runs or hit them as far — if that’s the case that he did use steroids — but I still don’t think it has anything to do with him having the kind of baseball career that he had. . . . He could have had an excellent career, regardless of what he did. So it would be something that I don’t think the commissioner would like to get involved in, really.
It’s something the fans like to get involved in, and have. If the sport won’t punish its cheaters, the fans will. (Has a great player ever been missed in his sport less than Bonds was last year?)

After the strike and the lost World Series of 1994, baseball was widely believed to have tampered with its balls (er...), making it easier to hit home runs. And stadiums got smaller over the past two decades. On the other hand, I’m sure many of the players on steroids were pitchers (hi, Roger), making it, presumably, correspondingly more difficult to hit home runs off of them. In short, when you add up all the variables it’s hardly clear what exact impact steroids have had on the game. And when steroids of a different kind are routinely used to help players get over injuries, etc., the picture becomes even more muddled. What is clear is that using certain drugs is cheating, and that Major League Baseball -- led by its uber-schmucks, Bud Selig and Donald Fehr -- has no idea how to crack down with any efficiency, effectiveness, or guts.

Given the sport’s history -- with its earlier institutionalized racism, its various recreational drugs, and the pitchers (some of them in the Hall of Fame) who brag about having scuffed the ball in all kinds of innovative ways -- it’s not like the steroid scandal has to be a uniquely terrible chapter. But that’s only if it’s contained. If baseball would stop protecting its cheaters, and implement a strong, sensible testing policy, maybe we could move past this nonsense.

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Blogger Miles Doyle said...

This is worse than when the press vilified AP reporter Steve Wilstein for writing about McGwire taking Andro. I believe they said Wilstein violated the sanctity of the clubhouse or some such nonsense. Can we please just play baseball, now?

12:07 PM  

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