A Frequent Problem With Steroid-Related Condemnations

January 15, 2010

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. Read the rest of this entry »

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A Hodgepodge Of Links

August 27, 2009

I really wish I had time for a detailed and focused post, but alas, life intervenes. Here are some links that I found interesting to help tide you over:

  • The Red Sox released starting pitcher and failed mega-bargain Brad Penny. Coupled with John Smoltz’ ineptitude and subsequent departure, this development is more than a little bit satisfying considering the praise heaped upon the Red Sox for their low-cost offseason shopping. I have a serious but unrealistic suggestion, though: the Yankees should look into acquiring Penny. The Red Sox couldn’t afford his poor performance because (a) he was effectively their #3 starter and (b) they’re in the thick of the playoff race. Surely, however, Penny would be an upgrade on the Sergio Mitre/Chad Gaudin duo that currently occupies the Yankees’ fifth rotation slot, right? Rob Neyer may well agree with me.
  • Deadspin has a brief but outstanding piece about the damaging role of machismo and toughness in professional football. I’ve often thought about making this same point, but Dashiell Bennett conveys in a few hundred words what would have taken me about a thousand. Beware: some of the language in the accompanying video clip is a little off-color.
  • An appeals court has ruled that the government was wrong to seize the list and samples of the 104 Major League Baseball players who tested positive for banned substances in 2003. Great, this really helps David Ortiz and Alex Rodriguez, who have had their reputations and accomplishments tainted by the egregious violation of their basic rights. What do the players think? Most seem to want the entire list released which, as I’ve said, is a horrible idea. Brian Bannister has the right idea though. Just another reason he’s one of my favorite pitchers.
  • Schadenfreude for Louisville (and probably many Kentucky) fans.

Happy Thursday, everyone.


Bronson Arroyo: My New Favorite Baseball Player

August 13, 2009

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Because he said these things:

“I have a lot of guys in [the locker room] who think I’m out of [my] mind because I’m taking a lot of things not on the [MLB-approved] list. I take 10 to 12 different things a day, and on the days I pitch, there’s four more things. There’s a caffeine drink I take from a company that Curt Schilling introduced me to in ’05. I take some Korean ginseng and a few other proteins out there that are not certified. But I haven’t failed any tests, so I figured I’m good.”

. . .

“I do what I want to do and say what I want to say. But society has made this such a tainted thing. The media has made it where people look at it in such a super-negative light. I’ve always been honest. I’m not going to stop now.”

. . .

“[Amphetamines are] like bubble gum compared to steroids. You’re playing [night games] in L.A., you fly across the country, and you’re pitching a day game at Wrigley [Field in Chicago]. You telling me you don’t want something to wake you up? You have half this country, maybe more, that can’t function without a cup of coffee.”

. . .

“I can see where guys like Hank Aaron and some of the old-timers have a beef with it. But as far as looking at Manny Ramirez like he’s [serial killer] Ted Bundy, you’re out of your mind. At the end of the day, you think anybody really [cares] whether Manny Ramirez’s kidneys fail and he dies at 50?”

. . .

“You think this country really cares about what ballplayers put in their bodies? If we really care, why are we pumping Coca-Cola in every kid’s mouth, and McDonald’s, and Burger King and KFC? That (stuff) is killing people.”

And my personal favorite:

“If Mark McGwire is hitting 60 homers, the only thing that matters is his performance. People don’t own teams to lose money. If you ask any owner whether they would rather make $20 million and come in last place or lose $20 million and win a World Series, there’s only one guy who honestly would take that championship: George Steinbrenner. Nobody else.”

In an interview that probably took five minutes, Bronson Arroyo was more honest about performance-enhancing drugs and their place in the game than Bud Selig has been over the course of several years.


Releasing The Names On “The List” Would Accomplish Nothing

August 7, 2009

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.


New Steroids Report Reminds Us Of Baseball’s Institutional Failure

July 30, 2009

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As a Yankees fan, my reaction to today’s news can be nothing but euphoric. I have nothing against David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez personally (I rather like the latter), but it’s very, very satisfying to put to rest the notion that the Yankees cheat while the underdog Red Sox scratch and claw and hustle their way to victory.

But when the dust settles, my take on the situation remains the same. It remains shameful that the supposedly anonymous 2003 testing samples had names attached to them, and inexplicable that these samples weren’t destroyed after they had served their purpose. The still-unrevealed players were promised anonymity and don’t deserve to have their names released, but then again, how is that fair to Alex Rodriguez, Ortiz, and Ramirez? At this point, it’s clear that baseball – the league office, team management, union representation, writers, and every other group that comprises the institution – has handled this situation in the worst way possible. For me, the most damaging effect of this saga isn’t the realization that many of the game’s most prominent players cheated their way to fame and into our hearts. I simply can’t get worked up about that. No, it’s the realization that those that were entrusted with protecting and nurturing the game I love categorically failed to carry out their ultimate responsibility. That’s what makes me lose faith in the game, not the cheating.

At least we’re mere days away from “2004*, 2007*” shirts being available for purchase outside Yankee Stadium.


DUI Manslaughter Is Worse Than Steroid Use… Right?

April 2, 2009

If nothing else, the ongoing Donte’ Stallworth case serves as another disturbing reminder of how far the sports media has fallen. To summarize, the Cleveland Browns wide receiver was out drinking at a Miami club in the wee hours of March 14th. On his way home, Stallworth struck and killed a construction worker that had just gotten off work. In my opinion, the victim’s failure to cross the street in a crosswalk was canceled out by Stallworth’s blood alcohol content: .126.

I want to be clear about how horrifying it is to drive drunk. It is a disgusting, reckless, and selfish act that has no business occurring anywhere, particularly in a society that is well aware of its dangers. It was reprehensible with Joba Chamberlain did it, when JJ Redick did it, when Deltha O’Neal did it, and when Tommy Kelly did it. All of these athletes made the decision to drive drunk, and, unlike Stallworth, they somehow managed to avoid killing someone. But in all of their cases, they put the lives of others at risk because they were too lazy or dim-witted to call a cab.

Somehow, both this general problem and specific case have induced almost zero outrage amongst the people paid to cover sports. Reporters and columnists can try to justify it by claiming their job is to cover the events and feats occurring solely in the athletes’ professional realm. But that hasn’t stopped them from excoriating Josh Howard for disrespecting the national anthem in a YouTube video, or lambasting Alex Rodriguez for participating in unusual photo shoots. Such incidents clearly took place outside the confines of a basketball court, baseball diamond, or football field, yet the sports media saw no problem with sinking their teeth into those stories.

I repeat: Donte Stallworth killed someone. He did so because he drove drunk, an act that occurs with much more regularity and consequence than taking steroids. An oft-cited explanation for Major League Baseball and the federal government’s “war on steroids” is ensuring the safety of America’s youth. Well, I’d hate to break it to the congressional grandstanders, MLB owners, and baseball reporters that all stand to gain from such a crusade, but it turns out that drunk driving poses a far more serious threat to people of all ages, areas, and creeds. It has for some time now. 

Ultimately, I find it both sickening and heartbreaking that journalists have opted to use their considerable power to write frenzied and unhelpful columns like this, instead of using their time more responsibly. Like any journalist covering any subject, sports reporters have an obligation to write cogently about the events, trends, and participants in the world of professional and amateur athletics. Part of this duty, I think, is bringing perspective and insight to the sports landscape. They have to make honest attempts to make sense of it all, to point out inconsistencies and oddities, to question and probe, and to demand serious thought of their readers just as they should of themselves. Then a prominent baseball player uses steroids – hurting no one but himself, if that – and legions of sportswriters and fans are ready to declare the end of integrity as we know it, sounding the death knell for professional sports and perhaps civilized society itself. Yet when another athlete drives drunk and kills a man, we are given nothing but AP reports and a half-hearted admission of its tragedy. Invariably, we are then shuffled off to Barry Bonds and his latest attempts to kick small children and defenestrate old women.

Sometimes I wonder if the death knell isn’t meant for contemporary sportswriting instead.


Florida’s Decision Could Hurt Argument’s Credibility

February 17, 2009

florida41While watching Alex Rodriguez’s press conference today, I caught a brief but interesting blurb on ESPNews’ ticker. The blurb essentially reported this story. To summarize, Florida has ended its high school steroid-testing program because the benefit didn’t justify the cost:

Florida’s pilot steroid-testing program has been eliminated, the result of budget concerns from state officials who said they cannot justify spending the $100,000 needed to do the testing.

Only one steroid user was found among 600 teens tested. Tests were randomly administered at 53 schools, at a cost of $166 apiece.

The decision leaves just three states — New Jersey, Illinois and Texas — that test high school athletes for steroids.

This development is interesting in light of the steroid-induced frenzy currently engulfing Major League Baseball. From the very beginning of the steroids issue, everyone from athletes to Congressmen has cited the danger these drugs pose to young people as a primary impetus behind this crusade. Athletes under suspicion are asked “what kind of example are you setting?” and “how could you possibly explain this to young people for whom you serve as a role model?” In testimonies and hearings, press conferences and interviews, we have been told that the use of steroids amongst young people is a very real problem with very real consequences. All of this, we are told, is why this issue matters.

I often stress the importance of sample size when evaluating information, so I must be careful not to over-state my case here. But I find it incredibly interesting that just 0.16% of eligible Florida high school football players, baseball players, and weightlifters tested positive for steroids. It is a small sample in one state, which is not enough information to disprove the idea that steroids are a problem in high school athletics. It is, however, more information than we had before, and thus far it suggests that maybe Major League Baseball and Congress have been getting their knickers in a twist about a relatively small issue.