Friday, May 8, 2009


Of all of the hypocrisies created by the "War on Drugs," perhaps the most tangible and quantifiable is that of the current steroids war within Major League Baseball. I am not the first person to point out these hypocrisies, nor am I in a respected minority. It seems as if almost all branches of communication are vehemently "anti-steroid" which is eerily similar to being "anti-terror." Of course, terror is a bad thing, as are steroids, and supporting bad things is akin to participating in bad things, and none of us want to be confused with a terrorist or a drug abuser, so down with terror and down with steroids.

The terror/steroid links don't just end there. The arguments for why exactly the two parallel "wars" must be waged seem to follow a similar ubiquitous, yet never quite concrete line of reasoning. For instance: "Excuse me Mr. Bush, why again are we invading Iraq, and again, tell me, why must we continue to wage war there after six years of stalemate?"

"Oh yeah, they were masterminds behind 9/11. Wait, they weren't involved...umm, they have something bad, something we need to rid them of, let's see…let's try this buzzword: weapons of mass destruction. No? OK then…this Saddam guy is pretty malicious, we'll ignore all of the other repressive dictatorships and bring this one down…what's that you say? Oh, we did that five years ago? Hmmm…have we installed democratic government there? No? That's it! Democratic government."

Similar lines of justification have surrounded the steroid "epidemic." We've heard that it taints the record books. It's cheating. It is harmful to the body. It gives players a competitive advantage. It's not natural. And quite simply "drugs are bad."

Why all the justifications, each of which is fundamentally flawed, and yet almost universally, amongst the press, the league, the common fan, and even ex-players seem to be unconditionally in agreeance that this problem is the biggest problem in sports.

First off, let's remember that NFL players have been busted for using these drugs for years. Players receive short suspensions and are forgiven. In baseball, we talk about players' legacies, their Hall of Fame credentials, and their attacks on the integrity of the game. You hear that Shawn Merriman, INTEGRITY OF THE GAME! HA. You've got more important attacks on integrity of your game; things like end-zone dances and trash-talk.

Given this week's news about Manny Ramirez, and questions about his Hall of Fame votes, let's address the justifications and see who else isn't getting into the hall of fame.

Drugs are bad: Ok, so players that do drugs are out, huh? OK, Mickey, Babe, and Ty, sorry, but despite your iconic careers, your literary legacies, and your incredible numbers, your alcohol abuse and participation in underworld culture keeps you out. And as far as the law is concerned, just because alcohol is legal now, doesn't mean it was legal then. Babe, those speakeasy trips are going to cost you. Sorry pal.

And while we're talking about Babe, let's address this tainting of the record books. Anyone that played before 1947, didn't have to play against black players. You know what, let's make this 1959, when Pumpsie Green became the first black player on the last team to integrate. So, Babe, Ty, Gherrig, Foxx, Wagner, Williams, Dimaggio – you guys are gone. Imagine if a marginal pitcher like say, Steve Avery never had to face Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, Kenny Lofton, or Mo Vaughn. Imagine if someone like Steve Finley never had to face C.C. Sabathia, Doc Gooden, or Lee Smith. Isn't that a little more of a competitive advantage than getting an extra four feet on a fly ball, or returning from injury three weeks earlier.

Speaking of injuries, the argument of late against steroids has been about how unnatural it is. Working out, that's natural. Batting practice, rehab assignments, and vitamins are natural, steroids are not. This is true…kind of. Steroids simply increase production of hormones that are produced naturally. So, while the drug itself is unnatural, the result is simply an unnatural increase of a natural substance. You know what isn't natural? Taking cartilage from your left elbow and putting it in your right. This procedure is more commonly known as Tommy John surgery. Mariano Rivera, Paul Molitor, and Pat Hentgen are all subjects to this completely unnatural surgery. As are current MLB stars, Chris Carpenter, Tim Hudson, Carlos Quentin, and Josh Johnson. These guys can forget the Hall of Fame, and, as per the war of steroids, have tainted their legacy and destroyed the integrity of the game.

Integrity. What an interesting concept. There are two main schools of thought against steroids. There's the record book school, and the integrity school. The record-book school assumes that scores of innocent, pre-pubescent children are somewhere pouring over books filled with statistics and numbers, and these children's innocence will somehow be compromised when come across Brady Anderson's 1996.

The integrity school assumes that the sport is not a business, but a game, played in either a prairie, or a busy Brooklyn street. The game is not played under lights, but somewhere in between Walt Whitman's death, and Ken Burns's birth. Compromising the integrity of such an idyllic slice of Americana is both unpatriotic and careless. But what these critics often seem to conveniently forget was that up until two years ago, the use of most of the Performance enhancing drugs that are currently under such scrutiny was simply not against the rules. Scuffing the ball of (see: Perry, Gaylord), use of violence (see: Cobb, Ty), and collusion (see: all owners up until the late 1970s) WAS, in fact against the rules. Not only does this find flaw in the "cheating" argument, but acknowledgement that rules are not always just, needs to be considered.

The most obvious would be the color ban that changed the way the first half of the twentieth century was played. How about the raising of the pitchers mound in the early 1960s? Pitchers like Koufax, Drysdale, Gibson, and Marichel certainly played within the rules, but the rules gave them a distinct advantage. Until Curt Flood came along, rules made the players pieces of property, slaves under the plantation-like leagues. There have been rules banning curve balls, a rule placing an asterisk behind certain records, even a crazy idea to let half of the teams put in a substitute hitter every time their pitcher bats, but not allowing the other half. Is this cheating? Of course not. But it kind of puts a damper on the whole "cheating argument."

And finally, the record books. Oh the record books. The fictional metonym that seems to represent all that is good about baseball, and the innocent bystander in the drive-by shooting perpetuated by Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Manny Ramirez. The biggest problem with the argument that these players' actions have ruined the innocence of the record books is simply bogus. To read the record books without context, without understanding that eras change, rules change, and records are not as symmetrical as we all want them to be, taints a comparison between any eras, not just one that includes the last fifteen years. To read the record books without acknowledging Jackie Robinson, changes in technology, changes in rules, changes in the way the game is managed, tracked, followed, and consumed is as irresponsible as casual drug use. The 1990s brought us tiny ballparks, expansion, exponential improvements in technology, increased scrutiny and coverage, and yes…it included the rise of designer performance enhancing drugs. We know this. We acknowledge this. No one will ever try to compare Bonds's 73 with Ruth's 60. There are too many differences in the eras. Anyone that loves baseball knows these things, and if you don't love baseball, then put down that 1,200 page fictional tome that your reading and go watch American Idol.

The point of all of this is that, yes, steroids, performance enhancing drugs, weapons of mass slugging percentage, whatever you want to call them, have changed the game. Not for the worse, or for the better for that matter. Players who can jump from the minors to the majors, increasing their salary by 1500 % have to do this. Players who need to take a pill, vitamin, antibiotic, or steroid, to compete with the rest of the league, have to do it. It is us—the consumers, the media, and the players who are no longer good enough to play—that have the biggest problems with it. It hurts us. It affects us. I say to you that this issue is not a problem, it has been addressed, and eventually, not far off, we will find a new demon to attack. Let's all relax, watch some baseball, and if you really have a problem with all the drugs, maybe it's time you took a puff of pot, squinted real hard, and maybe you can see the game played in 1927…but a little more colorful.

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