Thoughts on A-Rod, steroids and baseball

2003toppsheritagenewageperformersalexrodriguez

2003 Topps Heritage "New Age Performers"

Am I wrong for not being passionate about the steroids issue?

This is the question I am asking myself  after hearing the news that Alex Rodriguez tested positive in 2003 for using two steroids. Some fans are furious; others see this as a no-brainer issue. For me, I’m intrigued, but not so much that I am ready to write some 5,000-word diatribe expressing my disgust for A-Rod and the game of baseball.

I guess the way I see it now is the same as I have seen it for the last five years — it happened, it is a part of the game’s history and we cannot dismiss the era completely.

Baseball purists are the ones who are the most angry about this because they think this is a black eye for baseball. But did it ruin the game? No.

The sport has changed from the days of playing in open fields and we need to accept that. In the game’s 150-plus year history, it has evolved from being a straight competition between squads of men who also held one or two other jobs, to a highly specialized science where men get paid millions of dollars to enter the game for one lefty-on-lefty situation with two outs in the seventh inning.

And along the way other things have changed as well: technology has made bat and ball different too; given pitchers and batters the ability to break down game footage frame by frame to correct mistakes — or to show them how to take advantage of their opponent; and manufactured steroids have given players the ability to work longer, recover faster, ultimately helping them get stronger.

Where I get angry about this issue is how the PEDs have skewed modern numbers making it almost impossible to compare players of today to players of yesterday – afterall, isn’t statistical comparison one of the favorite pastimes of fans of the nation’s pastime?

But perhaps we’ve been fooling ourselves in this notion. I mean is it really fair to compare Ichiro and Ty Cobb strictly on their career achievements? Should we not take into consideration all of the changes that have happened over the last century?

As much as the term steroids makes many cringe — and remember, I’m the guy who grew up idolizing Roger Clemens — I do think the “Steroid Era” was good for baseball. We all enjoyed what we watched over the last 15 years, there’s no doubt about that.

2005toppsturkeyredbarrybonds1

2005 Topps Turkey Red

Barry Bonds may be a joke in some people’s mind, but you can’t tell me you weren’t glued to your television in 2001 when he chased and eventually passed Mark McGwire for the single-season home run record.

You can’t tell me you didn’t enjoy watching Juan Gonzalez pummel baseballs with ungodly power in the mid 90s; Jose Canseco create the title of 40/40 man; or even Roger Clemens’ achievements. In hindsight you can say you’re disgusted, but at the time you loved it. After all, you’re a baseball fan.

Now this is not to dismiss the use of steroids. Was it cheating? Yes, if there are specific rules baring the usage of such substances. But hasn’t this game always been full of cheats, many of whom were never caught?

Some sharpened their spikes to hurt another players while sliding into second or third base. Some used corked bats to aid their bat speed. Some threw spitballs, used nail files to give themselves a better grip on the baseball.

2005udespndayhistorytycobb

2005 Upper Deck ESPN "This Day in Baseball History"

Who are we to sit back and judge people for what they’ve done in this game — keyword: Game — when we are on the outside looking in. It’s amusing to me to see the hatred for Bonds and Clemens — and now probably A-Rod and a 100 others — yet there are real bad characters in the game. We all revere Ty Cobb as one of the best ever, yet he was worse that any of these supposed PED users. He was a racist prick who according to his book may have stomped a heckler to death. But it’s no different to us, right? We see him as a Baseball God because he amassed some 4,000 hits.

And speaking of hits, how about Pete Rose? At the time he was busted for gambling on his own team, there was much outcry about how evil he was. Yet, here we are some 20 years removed from said incident and now we all love Pete. We want him to sign our baseballs admitting his guilt; we want the guy in the hall of fame. I want him there.

But have we as fans drawn a line at the foul line? If players are terrible people off the field, does that make it OK for us to cheer for them if they are spectacular while on the diamond? Are we willing to punish a man in the court of public opinion if he has sullied the game of baseball, something we all love dearly, but give him a pass on almost everything else? Isn’t there something sick about this whole thing?

I’m guilty of this to an extent. I tend to think of players as players, in most cases — nothing more. I mean there are not 50 Roberto Clementes running around the Big Leagues today doing selfless acts without a camera documenting their every move.

In the end, I feel that the Steroid Era, which many have grown to detest, helped baseball. The achievements of the last 10 to 15 years — “tainted” or not — have helped the sport recover from the real black eye, the work stoppage (strike) of 1994. And in some odd way, I think it makes all of the history of the game relevant again.

aaronhank74

1974 Topps

5 Responses to “Thoughts on A-Rod, steroids and baseball”

  1. I can EASILY tell you I was disgusted by Bonds’ 2001 season.

    Big Mac’s 1998 year was different cause no one knew a thing.

  2. Err… I mean the year Bonds broke the all-time record.

    I stopped watching baseball around 2000.

  3. owlatnight Says:

    I experienced no joy in watching Bonds. Ever. But I get your point.

  4. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area. Although I am not a Giants fan, I did enjoy Bonds during his time with San Francisco. We here are not typical of most fans, I know this, we know this.

  5. Great blog. A couple of points: “technology has made the bat different”. But for everyone equally… which makes it different from steroids. “steroids have given players the ability…” No. They enabled their their bodies to recover quicker than competitors. God gives ability and players who work to maximize ability are the most admired (Pete Rose being the best example). “We all enjoyed what we watched”. But…that was because we did not know it was due to steroids. We thought it was better training, smaller parks, depleted pitching, smaller strike zone…. I watched Bonds because I thought he maximized his already hall of fame talent through lifting, etc. (Sure, some “knew” it–where were they, by the way?) The best writers –standing beside these guys– admit they missed it. “You can’t tell me you didn’t enjoy watching….” Of course I did, because I thought these guys lifted and trained and advanced the art of hitting. “In hindsight you can say you’re disgusted, but at the time you loved it.” Because I thought it was fair (It wasnt fair, because the cheaters had incredible numbers whereas non-cheaters had the usual good numbers). After all, you’re a baseball fan. No. After all, I thought the reporters would have exposed it if it was not natural. And again, they have already admitted to failing at this. “But hasn’t this game always been full of cheats, many of whom were never caught?” Full? You have to prove that. If you’re not caught, there is nothing we can do about it. But if you are (there is no argument over Bonds because it is unreasonable against the evidence and the historic numbers). “Some sharpened their spikes to hurt another players while sliding into second or third base.” But…they should have been stopped–we all agree. Because it is not a fair test of naturally ability. “Some threw spitballs, used nail files to give themselves a better grip on the baseball.” And where thrown out when caught! You tried to make the argument that others cheated, but you didn’t finish the consequences. Cheaters were thrown out then and cheaters are punished now. Even the players agree with this and the most powerful union in the world agreed to be tested. “Who are we to sit back and judge people for what they’ve done in this game — keyword: Game — when we are on the outside looking in.” We’re the fans. That’s what we do! And pay big money for it and the players acknowledge it. We boo the guy that drops the pop-fly. We judge he should have caught it. “We all revere Ty Cobb as one of the best ever, yet he was worse that any of these supposed PED users.” Here is the difference. Cobb was a great ballplayer, and awful person. His racism did not help him be a better player. “now we all love Pete. We want him to sign our baseballs admitting his guilt; we want the guy in the hall of fame. I want him there.” We don’t ALL love Pete. Not everyone wants him in the hall of fame just because you do.

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