Sunday, July 01, 2007

Why not ban extra digits while we're at it?

My good friend and part-time Marxist "Big C" brought up some points vis a vis steroids and the need for there to be a decision, on the part of the baseball media and its administrative arm as to how the accomplishments of suspected PED users will be treated in terms of HOF eligibility and general sentiment. Of course, any argument about PEDs centers around Mr Barry Bonds, he of the expanding dome and expose-worthy suspicions. I have no interest in worrying about the "did he?" argument; I think it's fairly evident he was juicing, and since this isn't a court of law I have no use for holding my judgements to reasonable doubt standards. Sure, Game of Shadows was a perfect example of the modern media's inability to distinguish between sensationalism and investigative journalism, but there's an awful lot of smoke surrounding Barrold for there to not be any fire.

But there's a big difference between acknowledging Bonds' PED use — not to mention the likely chemical enhancements undertaken by Messers McGwire, Sosa, Palmiero, Clemens et al. — and determining that said steroid use is the breach that cannot be forgiven or accepted. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is my suspicion that, when we're better able to place a figure on the enhancing effects of steroids within the role of baseball, we will be surprised to learn its much less than we suspected or were led to believe. HGH has already been credibly shown to have basically zero competitive benefits for baseball players, and that was at one time considered by some to be an even bigger threat to the sanctity of the game than steroids. Furthermore, the issue of just how widespread the use of steroids actually was according to the few former players who have fessed up, and the fact that the "steroid era" coincided with the bandbox ballpark boom and the hardening of baseballs and bats, makes the conclusion to completely marginalize the accomplishments of the suspected akin to what one would expect from a scorned child.

But I think the single biggest, fundamental problem with the wringing of hands over steroids is how little has been done over another drug that was officially banned at the same time as the aforementioned PED: Amphetamines. There have been, probably, 4000 or so columns about just how shitty it is that these steroid users attacked the sanctity of the game — our game! — written in the last couple of years. Also: two books, just on Bonds, and a handful of other tomes documenting, or sermonizing about, steroid use in baseball. Yet, in regard to amphetamines, the silence has been deafening. The only book that's seriously addressed the issue of widespread amphetamine use in baseball is Jim Bouton's Ball Four, and that was written 37 fucking years ago! If anyone involved in baseball was ignorant to the ubiquity of amphetamines in baseball clubhouses prior to 1970, they certainly couldn't be afterward without purposely remaining ignorant about the subject.

But it wasn't until steroids forced baseball's hand that greenies were made to disappear, as well. For more than 30 years, baseball didn't even feel the need to keep amphetamine use a secret; it was accepted, laughed about, and most importantly participated in to the point where one was considered to be "playing naked" if he was to take the field without aid of the drug.

Sportswriters have done an excellent job of pretending that they didn't have a clue about PED use until the Steve Wilstein peeped the bottle of Andro in McGwire's locker, and even a few of them have had the nerve to write "self-effacing" columns about how they should have known, or should have dug deeper. Once you get past wanting to shit down the throat of anyone who insults you by writing a column about their ineptitude without accompanying it with notice of his or her resignation, what strikes you is how much sack it takes to apologize for not finding out about steroids when there was a blatantly obvious and rampant problem staring them in the goddamn face every time they walked in a clubhouse (admission: I have been in a baseball clubhouse, and I did not notice any greenies; that's probably because I was so enamored with Mark Grace while he discussed the merits of Montreal strip clubs that I pretty much don't remember another goddamn thing about the hour or so I was in there). If any of the parties involved — the media, baseball administration, the players themselves — cared about the sanctity of the game, they could have done something about it a long time ago.

The easy answer as to why nothing was done about amphetamines is that no one thought it was all that big a deal. Beyond the sheer stupidity of no one thinking that widespread abuse of a stimulant that is highly addictive and potentially life-destroying is a big deal, what does that say about what people mean by "the sanctity of the game?" Greenies were used to combat the deleterious effects of a 162-game regular season, which usually involves six-game weeks and long road trips. They aided in recovery time, allowing players the ability to play at peak performance without the aid of rest or superior conditioning. Bouton also documented (I'm pretty sure, though it's been a while since I last read the book) that use was more pronounced among older players or fringe major leagues, who saw use of the drug as a way to ward off the ill effects of age or a way to overcome a talent deficiency.

And what is it about the effect of steroids that's so different than what I just described?

All things being equal, I think it's better that players don't use drugs, whether they be greenies, steroids or anything else. It would allay my guilt as a sports fan to not deal with the knowledge that men are damaging themselves to such degrees for my entertainment. But just because I wish for something to be the case doesn't mean it ever will be, and I suggest to anyone who thinks that cheating and baseball aren't a lifelong couple that they are as high as any baseball player ever has been. It's not that questions like Colin's are invalid, it's just that the nature of the sport itself would render any exclusion of suspected steroid users as hypocritical to the extreme.

Furthermore, I suggest to any baseball writer — and I'm looking right at you, Buster Fucking Olney — that you quit being all haughty about steroids in public, lest people rightfully ask why the shit you never wrote word one about the fact that there were clearly marked "leaded" and "unleaded" pots of coffee in more than a few of the clubhouses you sauntered into over the course of your career.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The distinction between 'professional' and 'cheater' needs to be clear, it is the difference between MLB and WWE.