I had nine moments of genuine irritation during last night’s Red Sox-Yankees game. Seven of them were Joba Chamberlain’s walks, which remain his only real weakness as a starting pitcher. The eighth involved Jorge Posada’s base running, which I am reasonably sure will be listed as my official cause of death on that inevitable certificate. The ninth followed an impassioned, well-intentioned, but ultimately wrongheaded plea from Yankees color commentator Ken Singleton. Singleton – with whom I usually find myself in total agreement – expressed frustration with the ongoing denigration of baseball via continued steroid revelations. Paraphrased:
“The way the names are coming out little by little is hurting the game. It’s unfair for players like Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz to get all the criticism while everyone else on the list gets none. Joe Girardi said something very smart about this the other day, and I agree with him: you just have to rip the Band-Aid off. If you rip it off slowly, it’s just going to hurt longer. Just rip it off – get all the names out there – and be done with it. Because these leaks every few months – they’re just hurting baseball.”
I want to be clear about this: the only way Major League Baseball could mess this whole thing up any more is to release the entire list of players who tested positive in 2003. These players have already had multiple rights violated by a variety of parties. Most prominently, their samples were supposed to be kept anonymous and subsequently destroyed; they were labeled and preserved. Then, the federal government overstepped its boundaries and seized the list after discovering that the players’ union was going to file a motion against issued subpoenas. Finally, the outed players have had their HIPAA rights violated with the public release of private medical information (from a court-ordered sealed document, no less). The players, to be coarse about it, have gotten screwed.
It is this point that Ken Singleton, the talking heads, and many, many members of the public continually forget or ignore. Releasing all the names would be nothing short of a tragic violation of guaranteed rights. Singleton is right that it’s not fair to players like Rodriguez and Ortiz to wear the scarlet letter for a much larger group. But releasing the rest of the names and violating one hundred individuals’ guaranteed rights dwarfs Singleton’s concern with respect to unfairness.
Also, it’s important to remember who benefits from the full release of the list. As has always been the case, the appeal (to whatever extent it exists) of the performance-enhancing drugs investigations has always been in acquiring names so that we can point at them, say “he’s a cheater,” and feel better about ourselves and our obvious virtue. If the names are released, mainstream media types get to mount their high horses and lecture us about sportsmanship and integrity, while one hundred United States citizens’ rights fall by the wayside. This is not an even, worthwhile, or ethical exchange.
Releasing the names all at once simply is not the best way to salvage baseball’s image or perceived integrity. In fact, and for reasons already explained, it would have the opposite effect. If people are truly concerned about the game’s health and credibility, they would not demand an en masse release of the players’ identities. Instead, they’d demand answers to basic questions about the institution’s seemingly inherent inability to get out of its own way. They’d ask why Bud Selig’s ignorance of performance-enhancing drug usage conveniently coincided with increasing revenues, attendance, and national popularity. They’d ask why the vast majority of the sports media is totally willing to give players of days gone by a pass for their own brands of cheating, while vilifying current players for doing essentially the same thing. They’d ask why the government even gives a damn about all this. And, most concretely, they’d ask why on Earth union leadership failed to ensure their constituents’ anonymity during testing, and the samples’ destruction after the necessary information was recorded.
Asking these questions would do much more for baseball’s long-term credibility than continuing this stupid witch hunt by releasing more names and violating more rights.