The A-Rod Roundtableby David Gassko
February 09, 2009
Sports Illustrated reported on Saturday that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003, the first year of MLB's steroid testing program. Over the weekend, THT authors debated the implications of this report.
Sky Kalkman: Anonymous private testing turned exactly the opposite. Lame.
Joe Dimino: I agree 110 percent. The union failed the players. The names should have never been associated with the samples if it was going to be confidential—there should have been nothing to leak. That's the union's responsibility. The players should fire everyone who was associated with this.
Richard Barbieri: While I agree completely with what everyone has thus far said about the failures of the MLBPA, I think that's ultimately not going to be the takeaway from this story. Unless A-Rod is somehow exonerated—the government winning the legal battle over the 104 names and Rodriguez's not appearing on the list seems the only way—this is a huge public relations nightmare for him, the Yankees, and baseball in general.
A-Rod was going to be the "Clean Home Run King" taking the record away from evil, PED-using Barry Bonds. That's all gone now, and while some fans—myself included—are indifferent about this—I think a majority will see it as further evidence baseball in the late 90s/early 00s are hugely corrupted.
Sky Kalkman: I also think, as more and more of the big-HR hitters are shown to have used PEDs, that it's tougher and tougher to argue they don't have a significant effect on performance. Although steroids vs. HGH is an important distinction.
Sal Baxamusa: Agree about everything said regarding the union.
Having said that, I am hugely disappointed in A-Rod. Even more so than Barry, this guy seemed to have no reason to use.
Geoff Young: The whole steroids thing has been a witch hunt to cover asses from the beginning. There is almost no integrity on either side, and I'm disinclined to trust pretty much anyone at this point, which forces me to accept one of two positions: 1) denounce everyone associated with the sport as a liar and a cheat, and spend my time and money on some other form of entertainment; or 2) shrug my shoulders, give implicit approval of a system that is badly broken, and try to enjoy the games. Both options kind of suck, but I'm not seeing a door #3.
Dave Studeman: My reaction is...meh. Why are we surprised that a slugger from the early part of the decade (or any time in the 1990's) took steroids? Can't we just say that lots of players took steroids, the time wasn't a good one for competitive and fair spirit, and move on? I don't have any negative reaction toward A-Rod as a result of this. In the grand scale of things, I think cheating on your wife is a much bigger lapse of ethics.
As for the union, I don't know enough to have an opinion.
Geoff Young: One of the great ironies of this witch hunt is that while it attempts to solve a problem (or more accurately, gives the *appearance* of attempting to solve a problem), the process itself has desensitized many of us. We know lots of players took steroids and at this point we just don't care.
Dave Studeman: Geoff, I don't know if you're reacting directly to my comment, but the "witch hunt" hasn't desensitized me. I've never been focused on trying to uncover the past—I've always thought it was fruitless. Clearly, lots of parties are to blame for the steroids era, and trying to pin down who did what is only useful, IMO, if it helps us better handle the future. I don't see that it does. Once it became clear that many players had taken steroids (and this has been pretty clear for a long time), I never saw the point in determining who did what.
Colin Wyers: I was explaining earlier on Primer that I really don't understand the extent to which people are bothered by steroids. Certainly a requirement of a viewpoint being valid isn't my understanding of it—I'm not trying to claim that I'm more correct than anyone else here, just that I can't seem to conceptualize the other point of view here.
To me, steroids is cheating (at least since about 2004 or so, depending on how you interpret MLB's edicts on the issue), but it's not any worse than uppers or scuffing the ball or a lot of other things that were standard practice in baseball at some point or another.
I do get bothered by gambling or anything else where the "competitive integrity" of the sport is questioned—I expect all the players on the field to be trying to win at all times. (I do understand that teams will sometimes play a roster that's suboptimal, either due to incompetence or due to being out of it or having clinched a spot—I'm not bothered by that so long as all of those players are trying to win.) But other than that, I don't get that upset by any of it.
What does greatly bother me is the fact that the Federal Government's excessive prosecution in this case, combined with the apparent rather lax ethical standards surrounding sealed evidence in this case, has lead to a rather gross violation of civil rights. (The especially troubling part is that the judge has ruled that these drug tests aren't even admissible evidence—it looks like the Feds went on a fishing expedition divorced from any prudent standard of discovery.)
Geoff Young: What I meant to convey is that, to the degree I might have cared about the issue at one time, the ensuing proceedings have killed my interest. I suspect that the folks in charge would be disheartened to learn that their efforts had had the opposite effect of what they presumably intended, i.e., to make me care *more* about steroid use in baseball. They failed in a big way, at least with this fan.
Or to put it another way, focusing on solutions would have been more useful (and engaging to me) than focusing on scapegoats. The obsession over naming names has put me off to the larger issue altogether. It all sounds like dogs barking in the alley at this point.
Lisa Gray: I am one of the few, I guess, who couldn't care less if baseball players shoot up steroids. Seems it doesn't do much good for real too long in most guys who we know for a fact used them—or they didn't do anything obvious.
I have a very VERY serious problem with the fact that the supposedly confidential tests were, in fact, easily linked to the people who supplied the samples—there was absolutely NO reason for that, and the fact that the samples were not destroyed, as promised. I'm not sure if that was a contractual arrangement between MLBPA and MLB or between both of them and Quest laboratories, but I believe this was serious malfeasance. The press doesn't care a bit if their information is illegally obtained because all they care about is the story.
To say that the crusade to protect The Sacred Home Run Record using millions of government money is absurd begs the point. The government bends laws to suit its whim only too frequently. However, the government has had a valuable ally in the media who are all too eager to use any means, legal or not, to bring down Barry Lamar Bonds, as well as any baseball player who they feel is too "arrogant" or who is, in their opinion, overpaid—as long as he is an all-time great player, that is.
Colin Wyers: So far as I can tell, it wasn't exactly easy to link the test results to names. It wasn't as difficult as perhaps it should have been, but the Feds had to execute two warrants in different states to get both the test results and the key that lists the names.
Sure, once the Feds DID execute both the warrants and cross-index the two lists, it's simple. But it's not like the names were left lying around, and I don't think any entity short of a Federal prosecutor would have been able to do what was done here.
Richard Barbieri: Colin is right that few entities short of the Feds could do what they did towards matching the names and results. But I cannot see a single reason why names were kept at all.
The only possible outcome of linking names with samples in an "anonymous" test was that the information might someday be released. I cannot begin to imagine why the MLBPA agreed to that.
Joe Dimino: The point is it should never have been left to chance. The names should have been destroyed immediately (as soon as they knew they had tests from everyone), so there was nothing for the Feds to pursue.
That this wasn't done was absolute incompetence by the union, and the players should not stand for it. Controls should have been put in place to make sure the names could NEVER be linked to the results before the first player peed in the cup.
This whole thing makes me think of the witch trials, the red scare, payola, etc... In the end, who cares who did what—especially if we are only getting partial answers? Why can't we just move on? I'm glad it's fixed going forward in terms of testing. But what's done is done.
People respond to incentives. Before testing there was no incentive not to take PEDs. As one friend I was talking with today said, any player would have been stupid not to take steroids, when comparing the benefits of a minor league career vs. a major league career. The benefits of being a fringe player vs. a starter. A starter vs. a star. There was simply too much money to be made.
The people that make the rules are the ones that failed here. The NFL took care of this in the mid-80s. By 1987 it was obvious that steroids were starting to make an impact in the majors and by the early 90s it exploded. Why was nothing done until 2003?
John Barten: Everything that has been said thus far has been spot on as far as I'm concerned.
I'll also stick up for Geoff by saying that from what I can tell among friends and fellow baseball fans, there's a deep-seated apathy that has permeated the public, something I call "Roid Media Fatigue Syndrome." I have a big case of it myself. Every story that comes up in this vein elicits a shrug. In large part it is because of the over-the-top reaction from those who cover the story. The "ZOMG! A baseball player done roided up! Collect the torches and the pitchforks!" approach works for a while, but wears out pretty quickly.
I think the biggest shame in this whole episode is that there is an interesting discussion that SHOULD be taking place that is. There's actually a whole range of topics that just aren't getting broached at all because people are too busy talking about who did this and who did that.
What are the ethics of performance enhancing drugs? Do they actually work? Which ones actually help a player and what side effects are dangerous to the player who abuses them?
How do you actually craft a testing and punishment policy that acts as a kind of deterrent for substances that are dangerous to the players involved and still maintains a minimum level of intrusiveness and fairness for the players?
If this kind of discussion was given significant airtime, it would be riveting television. But at this point, the two types of sports-related programming that are surefire ways to induce a nap are televised golf and an ESPNews marathon discussion of the latest player who we're pretty sure took steroids at some point in time. We don't get people having informed, in-depth discussions weighing what is actually in play. On ESPN (or for that matter, CNN), you simply get an interview with Roger Cossack over whether Player X is going to jail followed by a parade of press releases and a soundbite from Skip Bayless or somebody of that ilk acting very serious and very pissed off. In the end, we're a little dumber than when we started out and a little more weary of the subject.
I may be wrong on this. The idea of a long-winded academic debate on where we go from here and what we should and shouldn't be angry/afraid of might very well be so boring as to make the Cossack/generic angry sports guys marathon look riveting by comparison and get people looking for their remotes faster than Cop Rock.
PS: The 2003 survey test was just a terrible idea that was poorly executed. They should have just started up the official testing process instead of going through a farce of "anonymous" tests that really weren't anonymous.
John Brattain: Not just the union...
A-Rod, Ivan Rodriguez, Eric Gagne, Kevin Brown, Rick Ankiel, Gary Sheffield and Barry Bonds have all been linked with steroid use.
Scott Boras often boasts about how deeply involved his agency is in every facet of his stable's professional careers—including the physical and psychological aspects of it.
All of the above players retained Scott Boras as their agent and all were among his highest profile clients.
According to the sworn testimony of both Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte the Hendricks Bros failed to pass along key communiques from George Mitchell. Mitchell states that he repeatedly tried to contact the players to discuss the evidence against them—Pettitte said he had a brief phone call regarding one letter but it appears it wasn't discussed in depth and Clemens said nothing was ever passed along to him.
How much complicity do sports agents have in all this—I can't imagine that they can be completely ignorant of what their bread and butter clients have involved themselves in...especially since it impacts their livelihood as well.
Why didn't they insist the samples be destroyed—aren't they supposed to protect their clients' interests?
Lisa Gray: Did the union think it WAS done? Were they lied to by MLB who just maybe wanted the info to use as blackmail, if they thought it would suit them? The fact is that names shouldn't NEVER have been linked to any particular sample in the first place. did the players even KNOW that their names were actually going to be specifically linked to specific samples?
Sure the NFL had "rules" but the fact is that their testing procedures were ridiculous and truth is that nobody gave a flip if some guy tested positive—and especially because any guy can be dropped off the team at any time without pay and replaced.
Michael Lerra: It's weird, my biggest disappointment with this whole thing is that the MLB was so powerless (or cowardly, or complicit) in 2003 that they had to settle for anonymous, punishment-free testing.
I don't feel too badly for A-Rod, because I believe he knowingly cheated and lied about it. I probably would have done steroids too, though I like to think I wouldn't have lied about it. And I just can't feel too badly about players getting exposed for taking illegal drugs. If the MLB somehow leaked that A-Rod takes part in their counseling program because he has PTSD due to abuse in his past, then I'd be busting down their doors with the rest of you. But when the leak is that some folks knew he was breaking a law, I have no sympathy whatsoever. Fortunately, he can hit a baseball far. If I was caught with steroids, I probably wouldn't be as lucky as to have it kept quiet for 4 years.
How long til Jose Canseco's third book, "I Friggin Told You So," comes out?
Lisa Gray: Either medical records are private completely or they aren't. What difference should it make what illegal drug A-rod had a problem with if he used the counseling service?
Medical records shouldn't lose their privacy just because a whole lot of people happen to be curious to see who took what.
And you lose ONE little bit of medical record privacy, you lose it all—because it is how it goes. You think we should all be able to know who got treated for STDs?
David Gassko is a former consultant to a major league team. He welcomes comments via e-mail.