A lot of you have asked me for my take on the A-Rod situation, so I'm going to delay my post on Benjamin Button and get right to this week's big story. As I mentioned to one reader, who pointed out that baseball is the only sport where statistics matter so much in comparing eras, nobody cares about steroids in baseball, unless it’s a player that may break a statistical record, or one that is being considered for the Hall of Fame.
J.C. Romero, one of the best relievers on the Phillies last year had a great World Series (at least from a middle relief standpoint). He tested positive for steroids last year some time (before the series) but was not suspended until the first 50 games to start this season because the appeals process was still working (slowly). So we had a guy who tested positive for steroids still effecting the outcome of the 2008 World Series and I’ll wager (I could be wrong) that most of you didn’t even know about this.
So why such an uproar over A-Rod from 6 years ago? Is it that we love to tear down our superstars? I'm not sure, but this doesn't seem right as everyone is now praising A-Rod for coming clean. Those two seem inconsistent. (I'll also wager, pun intended, that if Pete Rose had come clean 15 years ago he'd be in the hall of fame today.)
To me, the more interesting aspect of this case is realizing that in our society it is expected that people will lie. My hero Bob Costas, when discussing the fact that A-Rod lied on 60 Minutes, said something like you can't expect him to come clean in that situation. True, but you can ask that he decline to be interviewed. (In my opinion the worst part of the Monica Lewinsky scandal was Clinton's lie to the nation on national t.v. He should have just said his lawyers told him not to talk about it and kept his mouth shut.)
Was what A-Rod and countless others did wrong? Sure. It was against the rules. But others created a culture (A-Rod's word and Selena Roberts' word) that allowed for, and arguably encouraged, rampant steroid use. The stakes are high enough that given the chance athletes will do whatever they can to obtain an edge. The Olympics still find drug cheats at every games in spite of very stiff penatlies. The blame here is squarely on baseball's ownership and the union. The players, as a group, would have benefited had there been no steroid use in baseball. If you don't agree, ask Ken Caminiti, oh wait, you can't, he's dead. Yet the union was so intent on "winning" every argument with the owners that it turned a blind eye to testing. In fact, rumor is that the reason the '03 samples weren't destroyed as agreed upon by baseball and the union was because Gene Orza (who tipped off players about drug tests) was intent on proving that some of the samples were false-positives and, therefore, there were not enough postive tests to permit testing and penalties in '04 per the agreement. This is ridiculous. How many legitimate players has the union done a disservice to by refusing to submit to testing?
And the owners? Don't even get me started. Can you believe this Tom Hicks? His team, the Rangers, were among the worst offenders and yet he says now that he's hurt. Who cares about this guy? (Or his predecessor, W, who says he believes Palmero because he's a good guy. Why not just call him Brownie?) The GM's were the only guys interested in exposing steroid use (see Kevin Towers, who was lambasted by baseball for telling the truth) because they were on the hook for signing big contracts with guys with artificially inflated numbers.
But I'll save my harshest comments for my favorite steroid target, the media. (Congress is a close second.) I spend all of my time in the car (when I'm by myself, my wife likes NPR) listening to the MLB network on XM. The off-season in particular is great because the guys they have on are regular beat writers who are too busy to be on during the season. (Guys like Joel Sherman of the New York Post.) The regular year guys, like Buck Martinez and Kevin Kennedy, "baseball guys," suck, because they're too tied in to the system to tell the truth. Kennedy was on the other day complaining about A-Rod. Here's a guy who managed the Rangers at one time and has been in the media (with Fox Sports, etc.) for years. Yet he's never given any kind of information about steroids. He either knew about this stuff and, as a member of the media failed to report on it, or is the dumbest guy ever. Actually, I'm not sure it's not the latter with Kennedy.
When I'm at home I watch a lot of the MLB Network. Sean Casey made his debut last night. It was painful watching him squirm when asked questions about steroids. You could just see on his face that he was torn about selling out his buddies (the players) and fitting in with his employers (the media). All of these media outlets rush to sign up former players as analysts, yet none of them tells the truth. They all just collect their checks and give their opinions about stuff that no one cares about. Then, to make it worse, they all bring in current players, managers, etc. to interview. What's the point of this? None of these guys tells the truth, either. At least with the ex-players you get the occassional guy (Jim Kaat, Joe Magrane, Al Leiter) who tells the truth.
I guess what I'm saying is the constant coverage of baseball is great, but throw in the fact that it's mostly ex-players and interviews with current players and you get 80% crap and 20% good stuff. Guys like Joel Sherman give you their opinions, which are great, but guys like Kennedy and the ex-players never say anything useful.
That doesn't mean that guys like Joel Sherman are off the hook, either. The beat writers traded access to the players for their integrity in failing to report on the steroids issue. Which leaves guys like Hal McCoy (quoted in USA Today today that he would never vote for a player who took steroids for the hall of fame) look like delusional old farts who can't face the fact that their beloved game has been tarnished and that they share the blame.
The bottom line is that during the era after the 1994 strike the owners needed the fans back so badly that they didn't care what the players did. They needed the home runs. The union was so intent on winning everything with the owners that they refused to consider drug testing even though it would have benefited the vast majority of its membership. The media were so insecure in their positions that they could not rock the boat without risking expulsion from the locker room which would mean no access to the players. Can you also blame the players? Sure. Not all of the players cheated. But in this case, I think the owners and the union, with abetting by the media shoulder most of the blame.
Finally, can you blame the fans? After all we showed up in droves for the home runs. But I don't blame the fans. We're the consumers. Without us, sure there would be no steroids, but there would be no baseball contracts either. Are some of the fans naive and/or hypocritical? Sure. But don't blame us. We're paying for all of this.
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