ARod, steroids, and the greater effect

by on February 11, 2009 · 16 comments

Ok, I know you’re tired of hearing about the Alex Rodriguez steroid saga.  I’ve had more than my fill of it as well.  I don’t plan to rehash how Rodriguez has sullied the game, and how he is a liar, a cheat, etc. that has been trumpted across the blogosphere since Saturday’s announcement and Sunday’s “interview” with Peter Gammons.

What I would like to address is how this all is going to continue to affect the game in years to come (and likely many years down the road from now).

I’ll make a few bullet points, you can choose to agree or disagree – but I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments section.  This is such a polarizing issue for some that viewpoints can differ wildly.

  • Is Rodriguez still a shoo-in for the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame?  He still holds a fairly reasonable shot at breaking many career and single season records between now and the end of his career, will be regarded as one of the greatest hitters of all time, but now also carries the stigma of using performance enhancing drugs.  Hall of Fame voters have already established their moral high ground in the case of Mark McGwire and they still don’t have any proof McGwire did anything!  Now, I’m no longer naive enough to believe that McGwire was clean, but if ARod gets in, why shouldn’t McGwire or Barry Bonds?  The premise that if a player admits their use and/or apologizes for it, that they should be held in higher regard than those like McGwire, Bonds, or Roger Clemens who are fighting accusations against them.  Regardless of admission or apology, cheating is cheating.  How can an apology change that?  Not to mention the fact that depending on how technical you want to get in your rules interpretation, the question remains – was it against the rules?  Not to mention, if ARod makes it in after using steroids, can we finally let Pete Rose into the Hall?  After all, he was only betting on games, not physically altering performance.
  • Speaking of Rose, is this any different than the rampant use of amphetamines or “greenies” that used to be prevalent in baseball?  Obviously you’re talking about a different influence on performance than steroids, but they’re still a banned substance now.
  • Looks like Jose Canseco may have been right after all, eh?  Canseco may be the only one who has told the truth throughout this entire affair, yet he’s been the one most vilified.  It is clear how grossly powerful the MLB Players Union is (overly so, in my opinion), and how much the players are willing to adhere to “the code” of not giving up your fellow players.  Can’t believe I’m saying this, but poor Canseco.  Would MLB even be having these discussions and increased testing and policy without Jose’s book?  Maybe they should make him the league’s new czar of testing and prevention?  Chances are good no one else knows more about juicing in baseball than he.
  • There is no longer, and probably shouldn’t have been before, any player in MLB that is above suspicion of using PEDs.  Most Cardinal fans would harm me for saying this, but I think many of my fellow writers would agree, that includes Albert Pujols.  Albert has managed to stay above the fray thus far, but with ARod going down – his free pass is up.  Folks are going to be looking at him with a scrutinizing eye.  Moreover, El Hombre has never made good on his “test me anywhere, anytime” promise.  I’m not saying he’s guilty, I’m just saying that presumed innocence has long gone out the window for most – if not all – MLB players.
  • Michael Wilbon called for Commissioner Bud Selig to take a strong stance on steroids (finally) on Pardon The Interruption on Monday, including removal of any records set by those proven or suspected of using PEDs.  How different would MLB record books look without McGwire, Bonds, ARod, Sammy Sosa, et al?  It bears considering, when you think that the record books could be full of these guys, but none would be in the Hall of Fame.
  • I believe part of any “stronger stance” should include penalties that fit the crime.  Although MLB would never be able to push this through because of the aforementioned all-powerful Players Union, the suspensions and bans should be far more serious if they ever plan to truly clean up the sport.  First positive test?  Your name and test result goes immediately public, and you’re banned for one calendar year.  Second positive test?  Good bye.  Hope the Frontier League will sign a known (and repeat) juicer.  I don’t care about false-positives or grey areas with supplements.  Know what you’re putting into your body.  Think twice before you believe someone who says they’re only injecting you with vitamin-C.  Have an orange juice instead.
  • I think one way to try to get things back on track?  Offer an amnesty of sorts.  Tell players they should come forward and admit past use.  Perhaps once the fans and Hall of Fame voters find out that, as the players claim, *everyone* was on some sort of chemical cocktail – public opinion of that era may change.  Perhaps those guys could get elected to the HoF if it were just another “era” of baseball.  Just like the dead ball era, or the juiced ball era, or the years when games were routinely thrown for bribes – we’ll have the steroid era – or perhaps their own wing of the Hall of Fame, separate from those who made it in “legit”.

Certainly no one will ever agree on the “right” way to deal with this pox on baseball’s history, but I’m anxious to hear the thoughts of my readers (all three of you) on the subject.

Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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Cardinal70 February 11, 2009

I worry less about that “test me anytime” pledge not being fulfilled because of all the ramifications it has. Not only with the union but with other players. AP might not care if he’s being tested, but that precedent might be discouraged.

Though if he’s not on the list of 104, I think we are really safe. Who would be stupid enough to start using steroids after they increased testing?

undorgre February 11, 2009

First and foremost, the single most important factor with regards to the steroid/PEDs issue is that MLB and the Players Association take every precaution necessary to ensure that the game is clean moving forward. From my perspective the drug testing needs to be handed over to an independent, third-party agency. Until something like this happens there will always be suspicion moving forward. And the fact that definitive testing for PEDs such as HGH currently do not exist will continue to make it difficult for baseball to ever gain back trust from the public.

A few other thoughts around this…

[1] IMO the worst part of this whole “scandal” is that the shadow cast upon baseball by steroids/PEDs has lessened the value of the two most important and revered records in all of professional sports… the single season HR record and the career HR record. Neither of these records will ever have the same magical qualities that they once possessed.

[2] I am completely against the notion of altering the record books based on who has been linked to PEDs and who hasn’t. The fact remains that PEDs have been used by baseball players since the 1940s, when amphetamines (“greenies”) were introduced. Many accounts have been written about how the masses of players took greenies throughout the decades. That said, I could argue that, if one assumes that players are playing clean today, that those that played in the decades in which greenies were not a banned substance had a distinct advantages over today’s players. It would become a logistical nightmare to try and edit the record books. From my perspective the one thing that steroids does more than anything else for players is it helps them cope with and avoid with the fatigue of a long season, which is exactly what greenies did for players. Sure, steroids give some extra bulk and speed but I think the ability to fight off fatigue is the most significant aspect of steroids (and especially HGH).

As an example, can you really compare a yesteryear player of the likes of a Maris or Mantle, who could legally take greenies as much as they wanted, to the likes of an Evan Longoria, who is not allowed to use greenies and other banned PEDs? I’m not saying that Maris/Mantle did take amphetamines but they legally could have and it’s known that a large percentage of players did over the decades. So in that respect it’s fair to say that it’s a disadvantage to compare the today’s players (and those in the fut to those who played from the 1950s to the 1980s… very similar to how people say it’s unfair to compare those players from the 50s through the 80s to those in the 1990s and early 2000s.

[3] I think the comparison of gambling versus PEDs needs to be weighed separately. Gambling on sports has always been illegal (see Black Sox scandal) and as soon as a player or coach bets on their sport and the perception of a “fix” is on then all credibility and integrity are lost.

With PEDs, over the years some have been banned and as far as we know there are still some out there that are not. Greenies use to be legal, steroids were once not banned, and testing for some drugs such as HGH doesn’t even exist today. The use of various PEDs in some respect needs to be looked at in the same light as the differences that exist between yesteryear and today in sports equipment (e.g. baseball, bats, shin guards, etc.), rules (e.g. lower mound, shorter ballparks, etc.), and other areas (e.g. back in the day players worked 2nd jobs in the off-season, etc.). While I know some substances have been banned there is, IMO, more of a grey area when discussing PEDs but all things are black and white when gambling is involved. HoF voters will use their own subjectivity to determine the fates of players from this recent PED era.

I guess that’s enough rambling for now… for me personally, I really don’t care what’s happened in the past years as long as they figure out how to enforce the rules that they have today.

PHE February 11, 2009

@C70 – I would generally agree with you, but the designer substances available these days are likely to stay ahead of the testing curve (read: undetectable), at least for now.

Not to mention, as undorgre mentions – you can’t reliably test for HGH.

PHE February 11, 2009

@undorgre – would you like to just write your own post on the subject, I’ll gladly host it for you here? 😉

1 – totally agree with you on this. My biggest concern with the whole ordeal is that it has tainted the history of my favorite sport. And it’s a long history, now subject to a number of asterisks.

2 – I’m with you, I’m not necessarily advocating rewriting the books as much as I was passing along Wilbon’s idea. However, it’s equally disheartening when you relate it to your first comments.

3 – There is no doubt that a number of changes in the game have resulted in a revisionist history of sorts for MLB. But the fact remains that the home run records (and who knows how many others), for now, have been directly affected by this – by count of admission and/or indictment. I don’t know that we’d ever be able to prove anything regarding amphetamines. But alas, these are great opinions – exactly what I was looking for.

One final thought, occurring to me as I was reading your last items – if the government didn’t get involved, and wasn’t so against drug use and PEDs weren’t illegal – would we care? Baseball is entertainment, right? Folks surely loved McGwire and Sosa in 1998. Would anyone care if this hadn’t been made into an international incident? After all, at that point the players would only be hurting themselves.

undorgre February 11, 2009

To your last point, I’ve always looked at pro baseball as sports entertainment. The difference between MLB and professional wrestling is that baseball isn’t scripted to pre-determine the winner. Players should abide by the rules, but to your point I wouldn’t really care if players used PEDs. After all… aren’t today’s bats and player protecive gear PEEs (Performance Enhancing Equipment)? There are dozens upon dozens of ways in which the game has changed to make today’s players better than those that played before them… PEDs are only one them. Heck, I think today’s ballparks had a bigger impact on the barage of broken records than did the drugs consumed by the players.

And it’s not like it’s only hitters that are taking (or took) PEDs, pitchers took/take them too. So shouldn’t there be somewhat of a net zero effect even with the fact that PEDs were rampant in the previous decade?

PHE February 11, 2009

Yep, exactly. Again, I think the only reason it’s an issue is because the government (well, and health concerns obviously) make it so, because it’s illegal.

I’m not saying the government is wrong – but would this be an issue, would anyone care – if steroids weren’t illegal? It’d be just like you said, it’d be a “technology” improvement, like batting gloves and those massive elbow guards, etc.

It’s an interesting point for discussion, at least.

Ron February 12, 2009

You are right about Pete Rose. End the sham and let him into the Hall already.

PHE February 12, 2009

At what point does the Hall become a court of morality, and at what point is it about the baseball that the players played?

For that matter, what does Rose’s gambling as a manager have to do with his playing career?

Just because Bart Giamatti had it in for him, the hall excludes one of the greatest players in history?

primelord February 12, 2009

I never understand why so many people want to let Pete Rose in the Hall of Fame. Major League baseball has a rule that states if you bet on a baseball game in which you are playing in or managing then you are banned for life. There is no subjectivity to it at all. He broke a rule that had a punishment of a lifetime ban. This includes not being allowed in the hall of fame. This shouldn’t even be a discussion.

Now I understand if some people feel that what Pete Rose did was not as bad as players using steroids etc. That really doesn’t matter though. The rules are the rules and Pete Rose knowingly broke them. He should have to suffer the consequences of those actions. Just because he was a great player doesn’t mean he shouldn’t have to follow the rules and pay the piper if he chooses to break them.

undorgre February 12, 2009

@primelord: I agree with you 100%

PHE February 13, 2009

@primelord – I know you’re right, but I can’t help stirring the pot a bit, you know? 🙂

The real shame is that MLB, the commissioner, and most fans turned their heads the other way on PEDs because the entertainment value provided outweighed the perceived negatives.

Now those are the same people condemning the users for cheating.

I heard an interesting comparison last night on radio – MLB Hall of Fame voting criteria specifically contains a ‘character’ portion. NFL HoF does not.

Does Lawrence Taylor get into the NFL HoF if there is a character clause?

undorgre February 13, 2009

@PHE – I’ve always known that MLB has character listed as a one criteria to take into consideration when voting. The thing that always gets me about that is it appears to only help potentially add negative value to players that would normally get in but doesn’t appear to ever get a player on the fringe over the hump.

As example I look at Dale Murphy. To anyone from the game of baseball that has ever spoken about Murphy he seems to be held in as high of regards as a player can be held. While I’ll admit that his numbers make him a “fringe” candidate, he was easily one of the top 3 hitters of the 1980s. But I don’t think voters are saying, “Man, I should vote for the guy because he’s got as much class as anyone who ever played the game”.

Just my take.

PHE February 13, 2009

Great point – the radio show I was listening to mentioned Murphy by name much as you did, that he might be the only player in history who fit every voting criteria:

“5. Voting: Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.”

So does charging the mound once in your career tank your ‘sportsmanship’ rating?

I agree with you wholeheartedly on Murphy – if steroids can negatively affect a player’s eligibility, why can’t being a model citizen in all aspects of the voting rules put a guy over the hump?

undorgre February 13, 2009

PHE, Where did you get that definition of voting for the HoF? I’ve never actually seen the verbiage that voters receive with their ballot (although I’d love to see it).

PHE February 13, 2009

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