A Frequent Problem With Steroid-Related Condemnations

I’ve determined that I simply can’t get worked up about steroids in baseball. I just can’t do it. Even though I’ve written about this issue in the past – and in this piece, most significantly – it doesn’t have the same inflaming effect on me that it apparently does on many other people. It is, at its core, a rather simple issue. Major League Baseball didn’t have strict rules against or testing for performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball players, who are fiercely competitive and enjoy the accumulation of money (just like everyone), dabbled in or abused these drugs that were essentially condoned. And in recent years, when the problem because too obvious and big to ignore, Major League Baseball retroactively vilified and persecuted the same players off of whom it had previously profited, and perhaps had done so with knowledge of steroids’ proliferation. Many choose to focus on the immorality and duplicity of the most prominent players involved in this era, but to me, what I just wrote is the story in its purest and most important form.

What I absolutely can get worked up about is the overwhelming sanctimony put forth by the brainless writers, analysts, fans, and former players that this issue seems to attract. In the interest of brevity and maintaining a minimally civil discourse, I’m going leave completely untouched the first three groups in that sequence and focus on the last – former baseball players. Some of these men have been understanding of the so-called “Steroid Era,” recognizing that athletes habitually seek ways to gain an edge, and that many baseball players had way more reasons to experiment with performance-enhancing drugs than they did to eschew them. Sure, they frown up the decisions some of their contemporary peers made, but they understand them. Most importantly, they appear to be genuine in their desire to move on.

Then there are former players like Goose Gossage and Jack Clark. These men not only appear unwilling or unable to forgive users with any modicum of understanding, but they also appear to be relentlessly ignorant of the inconsistency (and occasionally outright hypocrisy) of their condemnations. And, as I hope you will see, it’s infuriating.

Today, Jack Clark was quoted as saying the following:

“A lot of them should be banned from baseball, including Mark McGwire.”

“All those guys are cheaters — A-Rod [Alex Rodriguez]. Fake, phony. Rafael Palmeiro. Fake, a phony,” Clark told the newspaper. “[Roger] Clemens, [Barry] Bonds. [Sammy] Sosa. Fakes. Phonies. They don’t deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.”

“They’re not really a man’s man. They’re just whimpering boys who are just sad to watch. They try to put it off on somebody else. I don’t know how they sleep at night, looking at all their fame, let alone the money they took by faking everybody out and lying to everybody.”

“[McGwire] should not be in baseball. He should be banned from baseball more than ever.”

On Wednesday, there was Goose Gossage:

“I definitely think that they cheated. And what does the Hall of Fame consist of? Integrity. Cheating is not part of integrity.”

“The integrity of the Hall of Fame and the numbers and the history are all in jeopardy. I don’t think they should be recognized. Here’s a guy Aaron, we’re talking about the greatest record of all records. And he did it on a level playing field. He did it with God-given talent. And the same with Maris, absolutely. These are sacred records and they’ve been shattered by cheaters.”

Both former players imply that both baseball and the Hall of Fame are pure and untainted institutions that should embrace similarly chaste players and accomplishments. Both men believe that cheating should nullify records and preclude induction into Cooperstown. This is all well and good, but the problem is that their opinions are based on the delusion that baseball has been a model of morality and fair play since its inception. Even the briefest examination of the game’s history will reveal this. The 1951 New York Giants sign-stole their way to the World Series. Gaylord Perry – a Hall of Famer – regularly and notoriously doctored the ball on the mound. So did Whitey Ford, Joe Niekro and Don Sutton. Ty Cobb had all sorts of problems, some baseball-related and some not-being-a-good-person-related. Baseball didn’t allow black people to play for a really long time. Amphetamines and cocaine have been a part of baseball since their energizing effects were discovered, particularly in the 1980s. The point is that baseball has never, ever been a wholly clean, fair, and upstanding game. Some of these offenses are worse than others, but they all definitively occurred, and many of their perpetrators are either enshrined, glorified, or simply condoned. Steroid users, on the other hand, are apparently guilty of the worst kind of infraction imaginable outside of betting on baseball, and should be shunned and banned for it. How former players like Clark and Gossage can whiff so totally and pathetically on this expansive gap in logic is beyond me, although I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that these guys aren’t all that bright to begin with.

I’d also like to reveal some things that Gossage said almost exactly a year ago, which happens to also be on the topic of steroids in baseball:

“They weren’t around in my time, but if they were I probably would have been tempted to use them.”

“If you did it, the best thing is to fess up and life will go on.”

“The money is so great that it would be easy to be tempted. And who am I to say I wouldn’t use them?”

Now, Gossage did not say that he took any banned substances. He said nothing like that. But he did say that he understands the temptation to cheat. And, more importantly, he claimed that the best course of action for users is to come clean and get on with their lives. It appears to me that this statement, when compared to his recent condemnations of outed users, constitutes the height of hypocrisy. In a phenomenon that is not confined to former players, there has been an outcry over the years for suspected users to reveal their transgressions instead of continuing their charade of innocence. Yet when these suspected users do just that, the same people that demanded honesty and openness proceed to deride the confessions as belated, pandering, or amorphously insufficient . This is exactly what Gossage did here in a year’s time. If it is really true that “life will go on,” perhaps Gossage could do his part and not provide an exacerbating comment when interviewed by the Associated Press. Perhaps he could have just said “I’m glad he came forward, now let’s get on with things” or something similarly demurring. But no, the same man who said that “life will go on” instead lectures us on why these players have no integrity and are therefore deserving of our chagrin. I suppose that’s just what happens when – as my dad often says – you feel unencumbered by the burden of  defending a fixed position.

This would be a near-optimal time to launch into an impassioned discussion about why former players shouldn’t be allowed to publicly discuss or analyze anything that requires critical thinking, and instead should be asked to demonstrate how to lay down a bunt, or how to get a good read on a ball hit into the outfield, or any other highly specialized bits of information that people like me cannot even begin to impart. Trust me when I say the temptation is overwhelming. But the truly important thing that people need to understand from this post (and the thousands of posts like this elsewhere on the internet) is that baseball has never, ever, remotely been a pure and chaste and entirely honorable game. Like every other athlete, baseball players are intensely competitive and interested in their abilities, legacies, and bank accounts. On numerous occasions, the result of this has been the rather understandable participation in behaviors and practices that cannot entirely be called fair, but can be expected. And with this pattern being so heavily and unquestionably woven into the history of baseball, it strikes me as the height of either hypocrisy or ignorance to condemn modern-day players for their iteration of habits that have existed since the game’s inception.

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