Obviously there was a lot of activity over the weekend, and while the blogosphere is often great at picking up and processing stuff quickly, it’s not very good at perspective or organization. So, in the interests of perspective and organization — with the knowledge that the A-Rod story is really three or four stories wrapped up in one — I provide this post as one-stop A-Rod steroid story shopping for the day.
Issue #1: How on Earth did this happen?
I touched on this yesterday, but the fact of Rodriguez’s test should never have come to light. As Mark Fainaru “thank God steroids are back in the news” Wada reported and many others have noted, the results from the 2003 tests should have been destroyed as soon as the positives had been tallied. They weren’t, most likely because Gene Orza or someone at MLBPA either didn’t realize or didn’t care that trying to protect the test results of ten BALCO people risked the disclosure of the at least 104 non-BALCO people from the 2003 tests. This failure to see the forest for the trees is, in my mind at least, tantamount to malpractice, and someone should be sacked for it. Probably should have been sacked already, but what has happened has happened.
In any event, it is my view that long after the Alex Rodriguez-specific portion of this drama has played itself out with an apology, a press conference, and a .300/.400/.600 season, this episode will be remembered mostly as the first known instance of the MLBPA truly betraying the interests of its own players. That, my friends, will have longer legs than anything else that broke on Saturday.
And of course, let us spare no ill feelings when it comes to whoever in the government leaked this stuff. Look, I don’t sit in my study wearing a tinfoil hat all day, but you don’t have to be someone like that to wonder why, if the feds have had this information for years, it’s only coming out now. To me this leak smells like a calculated and maybe even a vindictive move, designed to thrust the steroid story back into the public eye on the eve of Barry Bonds’ trial. I don’t like to use the term “witch hunt” because its misuse has long since caused it to lose its real meaning, but it is certainly the case that the federal government’s investigation of steroids in professional sports has gotten out of hand, both in terms of the resources spent and in the amount of zeal with which it is apparently being pursued.
Issue #2: What does this mean for baseball?
On one level it means very little. Spring Training will start very soon, and the regular season soon after, and the bulk of this will recede to the point where only wackos like me — the “chattering classes” as Pete likes to say — are talking about it. People will forget the idiotic hyperbole that has stunk up the joint over the past 48 hours. People will go to the games to forget how crappy the non-baseball world is right now, and more people will be talking about what Alex Rodriguez is contributing to the pennant drive than what he has contributed to the steroid story. And if you don’t believe me, just recall that this time last year we were still bobbing helplessly in the wake of the Mitchell Report and the opening scenes of Roger Clemens’ one-man tragedy. The A-Rod story is about one man’s acts six years ago. Last year’s stuff was about nearly a hundred dudes and high, ongoing drama. It all receded too.
But on the chattering class level, if there is any justice in the world, the A-Rod story will finally put public lie to the notion that the Mitchell Report meant anything. Not to toot my own horn, but I wrote a pretty spiffy little number in this year’s Hardball Times Annual about how the Mitchell Report was a PR piece that failed on every level except one: convincing the weak-minded that it approached comprehensiveness or represented finality. How does it look now that it missed the biggest name in baseball when evidence that the biggest name in baseball had used was in the league’s possession all along? How can anyone associated with Major League Baseball point to the Mitchell Report as anything other than a historical curiosity when Alex Rodriguez and, presumably, a hundred other ballplayers’ names will be leaking out over the coming weeks and months? Guess what? I hate the Mitchell Report, so I’m glad it has had its horse shot out from under it. I know everyone is sick of it by now, but let’s have a real blood-letting and really get it behind us, cool?
Issue #3: What does this mean for the Yankees?
Not many people are asking this question, but at least one commenter here was yesterday, and I reprint the way in which he raised the issue for everyone else’s consideration:
Above all else, the New York Yankees are a brand. The Mets play baseball, the Red Sox play baseball, and so so the other 27 teams that come through New York City every summer. The only reason people root for the Yankees instead of these other teams is proximity and brand. The last thing that brand needs is nine years of its best player constantly hounded by steroid talk as he gets paid millions in bonus money for hitting #600, #661, #715, #756, and #763.
I took issue with that by noting that the Yankee Brand, such as it is, is about winning lots of freaking baseball games. If the Yankees continue to win lots of freaking baseball games, the brand will not be sullied. Indeed, the only time in living memory when “the Yankee Brand” suffered was between 1965 and 1975 when they couldn’t win anything. As for now, if they continue to win lots of freaking baseball games over the next few years, it’ll be because A-Rod has continued to hit the cover off the ball, and if A-Rod is hitting the cover off the ball, people will go back to worrying about (a) the Red Sox; (b) Derek Jeter’s clutchiness; and (c) who Rodriguez is sleeping with, all as God intended.
Issue #4: What does this mean for Alex Rodriguez?
As far as career assessments go, I’ll leave the heavy lifting to Neyer:
I hope Alex Rodriguez didn’t cheat. If we do find out that he cheated, I will wish that he hadn’t. But whatever happens, I’m not going to change my opinion that he’s a great baseball player. Like many of the greatest players, he’ll do whatever it takes to be the best player he can be. For a stretch of five or 10 years — and yes, perhaps even today still — being the best player could have meant cheating. Maybe the cheaters were wrong; that’s the direction in which I lean, probably because I’ve got a streak of the moralist in me. But I will not sit idly while great athletes looking for an edge — not all that different from the many generations before them — are demonized by the high priests of baseball opinion. I will not.
That’s exactly where I sit, and I would hope that come 20 years from now, that’s where history will sit too. That instead of blackballing Alex Rodriguez because of steroids, his accomplishments, and the accomplishments of every player in this era, will be judged on a curve, just like we judge pitchers from the 60s and slap-hitters from the 20s and 30s. They’re different, and their numbers must be adjusted in some rough way in order for us to find value in them, but they are not illegitimate per se. Indeed, now that A-Rod is out of the PED closet and given that others will no doubt soon follow, maybe we’re more likely to get there than we would have had we never learned about this.
Why? Because the more players who are found to have used PEDs, the less accurate it is to say that anyone had an unfair advantage. Sure, on a matchup-by-matchup basis there were users facing non-users, but the caricature of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens — juiced up monsters cheating their way across a league of innocents — grows more ridiculous as each new name surfaces. Many, many ballplayers have used PEDs in recent years. So many, I’d guess, that at some point a blanket presumption of PED use — as long as it’s not accompanied by a blackballing and an excess of moralizing — should be in order for the players of our age.
If you take such an approach, you will admittedly find fewer heroes and villains, which is sad if you write for a major newspaper, because that’s how they seem to like their stories. But it does have the benefit of, you know, matching the reality which holds in the rest of our gray and ambiguous world.
And if you don’t? If you demonize and hyperbolize like Jayson Stark and all of the others each time a new name pops up, proclaiming each new PED transgression to be worst than the last and all of them worse than anything that came before? Well, then, you’re eventually going to have to give up on this game altogether, because you won’t have a recent baseball memory that isn’t terminally tainted. As I sit here today, no baseball memory of mine — 1998 home run race included — has been ruined by any PED-related revelations. If they had been, I probably couldn’t find the will to wake up and write about this game every day. And to be fair, the Jayson Stark’s of the world wake up and, most of the time anyway, seem to enjoy writing about this game too.
Which leads me to wonder: are they lying when they say how much they love baseball, or are they lying when they say that PEDs have destroyed it? It has to be one of those, right?