Restoring purity?

From an article with the headline “Next generation must restore baseball’s purity:

THE DAY after Alex Rodriguez’s disillusioning steroids admission, local top baseball prospect Jason Castro was at Canyon Middle School speaking to a group of about 200 youngsters about the importance of education, the rewards of hard work and the dangers of poor associations.

He was talking to the same kinds of kids, presumably, whom A-Rod now says he wants to advise and help now that he’s rediscovered honesty, accountability and his conscience.

Sorry, Alex, but you’ve had your chance and you blew it. Please leave it to the young guys now, OK? If the sanctity of Major League Baseball is to be restored, it’ll be the next generation of players, not the ever-growing cast of tarnished stars, that does it.

Emphasis supplied. And now some definitional assistance:

Pure: (adjective) 1. free from what vitiates, weakens, or pollutes; 2. containing nothing that does not properly belong; 3. free from moral fault or guilt;

Sanctity: (noun) 1. holiness of life and character; 2. : the quality or state of being holy or sacred : inviolability

Restore: (transitive verb) 1. to give back; return; 2. to put or bring back into existence or use 3. to bring back to or put back into a former or original state

Someone please point me to a single time in the game’s history where purity and sanctity existed, and if you can’t, please explain to me how a state of affairs which never existed can possibly be “restored.”

The steroid era has brought about enough problems which need to be fixed as it is. Why make the job harder by setting the goal so unreasonably and unprecedentedly high?

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  1. Richard in Dallas said...

    OK, how abot purER than it’s been?  As a fan, I just want to be sure that everyone is playing to win with all the gifts that God gave them.  I’m not interested in who can hire a better chemist.  As the parent of a very gifted young ballplayer, I don’t want to see my son pressured into doing something detrimental to his well being so he can make a living by showcasing his natural given talent that he has worked very hard to develop.  Isn’t that what we all want for our kids?  If there were a substance that would make you a better accountant or police officer or baker, but it took 10 years or so off the end of your life, would we want our kids to feel pressured into using it so they could make more money to have a better life?  Or to even survive?  I don’t think so.  Bud needs to grow a pair, use the “best interest of the game” clause in the commissioner’s charter, and start ending these guys’ careers, CBA be damned!

  2. Jacob said...

    Through all of this, people have been talking about the purity of the game.  When will people start worrying about what really matters…the purity and essence of our natural fluids.

  3. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Richard: please tell me you’re not serious.  As someone who obviously (and admirably) appears to be tired of the non-baseball BS surrounding the game right now, you surely must appreciate how much litigation and general ugliness even attempting to do such a thing would cause.  It’s an utter non-starter and should rightly be dismissed out of hand.

    Jacob:I don’t avoid those who oppose steroids. I just deny them my essence.

  4. General Jack D. Ripper said...

    “God willing, we will prevail, in peace and freedom from fear, and in true health, through the purity and essence of our natural… fluids. God bless you all.”

  5. Richard in Dallas said...

    Craig:I am absolutely serious.  The original commissioner (Judge Landis) was given the authority by the owners to do whatever was necessary “in the best interests of the game”.  How is it in the best interest of the game to allow this lethal (see Ken Caminiti) behavior to continue.  One or two lifetime banishments of note should do the trick (how many spring training camps still have a March Madness pool?).
    As a point of reference for you, my 15 year old HS freshman son is the proud owner of an 85+MPH fastball with which he can hit a Coke can at 60’6” with alarming regularity.  He can do the same thing with his 60MPH curveball, and he can go 7+innings every time.  I don’t want him pressured in to TAKING any of the crap that’s floating around, just so he can help out with college costs or make a living.  I also don’t want him to have to play against anyone that’s so juiced that a comebacker could be fatal, or the frequent longball could end his career, or a little high heat could trigger a disfiguring display of roid rage. 
    What I’m suggesting, is that regardless of the CBA, the commissioner has the authority to do whatever is in the best interest of the game.  Although I disagree with what he did to Pete Rose, Bart Giamatti had the kind of stones it took to be commissioner.  Bud Selig (I was AT the 2002 All-Star Game with my son) does not.  What I’m suggesting, is that the next commissioner have a personality, and that personality includes a strong distaste for the bad guys.  I understand there’s a big baseball fan that’s recently retired to Dallas that could use a little something to do so he doesn’t drive Laura nuts!  And HIS record of dealing with the bad guys, although a little extreme for this case, is quite effective.

  6. scatterbrian said...

    Thank you Craig. I’ve come to the conclusion that fans may be projecting their own innocence and self-purity from when they were introduced to the game and confusing that with the game itself.

  7. Richard in Dallas said...

    Scatterbrain:Please go back and read my answer to Craig.  Then put yourself in my place, and the place of countless parents that have unwittingly raised potential future victims of the pressure to use steroids.  I do not confuse what has been introduced to the PLAYERS of the game with the game itself.  I do not advocate reducing the game to 6 innings for TV purposes.  I do not believe that it would be a good thing to add an extra out per inning to allow for ridiculously high scoring games.  I do not believe that the mound should be lowered (or raised), or that fences should be brought in.  I DO BELIEVE that chemically-altered humans should NOT be allowed to sully the record books and force others into partaking of their destructive (but short term performance enhancing) mixtures.  The rules are that these poisons are not allowed, and if there are those who wish to test the rule, they need to be sent packing.  If they disrespect the gifts God gave them, they should have that avenue closed to them.  And if they were not given those gifts, that avenue is not theirs to travel in the first place.

  8. scatterbrian said...

    Richard: My comment was not an attack on you or what you wrote. That is my opinion based on a false notion that baseball was pure and/or can be restored to a pure form. Provided baseball is competitive—and will always be a business—it will be sullied by people trying to get an edge over the competition. This is not a recent development. Ever heard of greenies?

    I completely understand your position, but I also believe that it is the responsibility of parents to steer their children away from drugs, performance-enhancing or otherwise. Not baseball or it’s commissioner. Not television or PSAs.

  9. Chipmaker said...

    The only things the ex-preznit was effective at was ruining companies and utterly disregarding the law. Al Qaeda didn’t use lawyers—the MLBPA can and does and will.

    If one does not want another “weak” commissioner, avoid this person for the office.

  10. James said...

    Hi Richard!

    While I agree with you in the abstract and in an ideal world, there’s such a fog surrounding the classification of “substances” that the reality of the situation makes your suggestion, while admirable, completely untenable. There are genetically-modified foods like chicken or broccoli, multivitamins taken in unnatural and varying concentrations, steroids of varying strengths with varying effects, some safer than others, some far safer in proper dosages than alcohol and tobacco, human growth hormone, and so on and so on. I certainly don’t trust the government to make good decisions for me on what I should or should not put into my body. If baseball has a comprehensive and easy-to-understand-and-enforce drug policy, with some sort of testing regimen, that they are happy with, that’s really all you can hope for. It shouldn’t be held to some higher standard than other careers. Just look at the entertainment industry. Movie stars certainly aren’t being drug-tested, though many would admit they get “performance enhancements” from any number of illegal substances they take.

    Anyhow, cheers for the strong opinions and good luck with your boy! I’m sure you’ll help raise him to make the right decisions for him. And if he follows the path of performance enhancing substances of any kind, hope that he does it responsibly under the care of a physician. Drugs aren’t evil, they’re just demonized!

    By the way, Kevin Caminiti’s death was not caused by steroids. Look it up grin

  11. Richard in Dallas said...

    James: Thank you for the kind words and encouragement.  I appreciate it, and my son does, too.
    Whatever raising there is to be done with a kid is done with mine at this point.  Very little, if anything can be done to change his propensities at this point, and I DO hope that I’ve done it right.

    As my name indicates, I live in the North Dallas metroplex.  The Rangers (those of steroid storm center) are my home team.  Pudge Rodriguez, Juan Gonzales, Raphael Palmiero, Jose Canseco, Sammy Sosa, John Rocker, Gary Matthews, Jr. and now, the great A-Roid.  And yes, Ken Caminiti.  All now known to have been steroid users to varying degrees (Just a note about Caminiti-while his official cause of death was a cocaine/heroine OD, his deterioration due to steroid abuse was listed as a contributing factor).

    My son and I have made frequent visits to our beautiful park to watch Major League Baseball, sometimes bad, sometimes not too bad, and sometimes even pretty good.  I find it an excellent opportunity to teach life lessons.  Today, the one that stands out most to me happened about 4 years ago.  We were in the Grand Slam gift shop, looking at autographed baseballs.  An Alex Rodriguez ball in a lucite cube was, understandably, priced at $295.  A plain, unsigned ball in a cardboard box was priced at $14.  A Ken Caminiti autographed ball, in the same lucite cube as A-rod’s ball, was priced at $10.  No, I didn’t forget a zero.  My son knew that Caminiti was dead, but he didn’t know why or how.  He also knew that he had been an MVP.  Why, he wanted to know, was his ball so cheap?  Didn’t prices on something like that go up when a really good player died?  Like the Teddy Baseball baseball we lusted after in the local card shop.  And why was Alex’s ball worth so much? 

    Well, if ever there was an open door to a GREAT lesson to teach a kid, here it was, and I gladly ran through it (into a burning building, as it turns out).  Ken had disgraced himself by cheating, using steroids.  He died using other bad drugs.  He shamed himself before the baseball world and was considered an outcast.  Alex, on the other hand……oops, same hand   :(

    Anyway, and I know it’s not in their job description, these guys have GOT to realize that they are role models to our kids.  They are the keepers of the greatest game in the history of the New World.  If they are not going to forgo the greed that a jaded society exposes them to and keep the game as “pure” as it deserves to be, they need to be jettisoned.  They, and we, need to understand that after Barney is done, baseball is a very common second stop on the enertainment trail for American children.  If they are lucky, as was I, it will remain a central player in their amusement world for the rest of their lives.  And whoever is occupying the rosters of MLB need to become responsible for making sure it is still there for the next generation of ballplayers, which could include THEIR children, too….

  12. Sara K said...

    Richard- as a baseball fan and mom of two young studs-in-training, I am with you in wanting a drug-free sport. The problem I have is with draconian solutions to complicated problems.  If MLB could guarantee a system which treated every player with total equality in the application of testing, assured that no player could get around the test through either influence or access to “better” drugs, and eliminated all chance of false positives, *then* they can “end players’ careers” for positive tests. Until then, absolutism exists in proportion to idealism.

    It sounds like you are already giving your son the best defense against the lure of drugs.  He’s a lucky kid!

  13. Richard in Dallas said...

    Sara:  As with James, thank you for the kind words. 
      I agree you can’t just end a career based on rumor and inuendo.  Random tests (at least 6 per year per player) need to be the rule.  If we must allow leeway for everybody making A mistake, fine.  First offense, a suspension of one full season, plus the remainder of the season during which a positive test result was recorded.  Upn reinstatement, WEEKLY tests given on a random day of the week, 52 weeks a year at the palyer’s expense.  If someone is stupid enough to fail a second time, lifetime banishment. 
      I’m not worried so much about my son succuming (sp?) to the temptation as I am about him having to compete against the idiots that do.  All I want to see is a level (except for the mound) playing field.

  14. JYD59 said...

    Cheating has ALWAYS been in baseball, in every era. Spitballs, corked bats, stolen signs, amphetamines…you name it. PEDs are just the latest thing to come along. We all romanticize the past because we miss The Good Old Days but there is no way that-had they only been available back then-players like Ty Cobb or Houus Wagner or Christy Matheson wouldn’t have used steroids. I’m not saying I condone using PEDs, but given baseball’s sordid past we really can’t condem people for using them without being hypocritical. And the very LAST person I want to be a Hero for my son would be some overpaid jock in ANY sport. You want a Hero? Every PARENT who puts their kid’s lives ahead of their own are hero’s in my book.

  15. Jack Marshall said...

    “Why make the job harder by setting the goal so unreasonably and unprecedentedly high?”

    Craig,the simple answer to your question is that if you don’t aim high, you never achieve a respectable level of integrity at all.

    Yes, the article chose its words badly. But “realists” who ridicule the aspirations of idaalists not only settle for a grubby world, but implicitly embrace the false ethical standards pf “everybody does it,” “it’s been this way for a long time,” and “nothing’s going to change, so why bother” that ensure keeping it grubby. And that, in turn, gives cover to Bonds and Rodriquez and others.

    It DOES hurt baseball to have the “best player in the game” and “baseball’s highest paid player” an admitted cheat, a liar and an illicit drug user. It IS bad for the game. It DOES hurt the game’s image. And simply repeating “the game was never free of scandal” does no good, and amplifies the harm.

  16. Rick Johnson Blair said...

    I completely agree with you guys.

    If you appreciate scathing satire, I found this little jewel of a blog on Pete Abraham’s blog roll yesterday.

    The author makes the same points you guys do.  I think his title, “The Trial of Alex R.” is an allusion to Kafka’s Joseph K.

    I’m pleased to see some baseball fans actually are rebelling against the pundits.

  17. Jack Marshall said...

    Dave, the fact you knew it was a joke proves that I don’t need smiley faces. Pretty soon Stephen Colbert will have to flash emoticons on the TV. (Besides, I couldn’t figure out how to do it.)

    Craig, it may have taken 3 years to get Rocker out, but his comments were the catalyst for his decline. He couldn’t take the pressure, and I think you’ll agree that once he did start getting hit, his opportunities were further reduced by his unpopularity. (I think what SI did to him was blatantly unfair, by the way.)

    Not that the reasons for The Decline of John Rocker are essential to my argument at all. I’ll stipulate that it was lousy example.  :-!

  18. Jack Marshall said...

    I read Abraham’s post. I appreciate satire, and that showed hard work, but his message could not be more wrong-headed. It’s Bonds all over again: critics are hateful and jeolous and racists…using PEDs are like cocaine or spitballs…because the authorities looked the other way, cheating is less objectionable, etc…the whole, tired, corrupt list of rationalizations. They are completely invalid here as the have been for Barry, and cheering them just embraces a cover-up and easy excuses for a player who has no excuse but greed, cowardice and bad character for his conduct. Sure, let’s let Alex, who is 100% responsible for every bit of trouble he is in, play victim. That’s productive!  :-D

  19. Dave Studeman said...

    Hey Jack, I’m willing to be lots of people didn’t interpret your comment as a joke.  That’s why I made my comment.

    Excellent use of emoticons in subsequent messages!


  20. Jack Marshall said...

    “I’m willing to be lots of people didn’t interpret your comment as a joke.”

    That’s their problem! :-D (I guess its only possible to paste the full smiley on one’s own website. How the heck do you do that?)

  21. Phil said...

    Alex Rodriguez is a cheat, albeit an ineffective one (, and a liar and deserves whatever opprobrium he encounters from fans. For $33 million (his 2009 salary + signing bonus payment) he can put up with it.

    However, calls for his career to be ended are ridiculous over-reactions by hysterics who fantasize about a return some virginal era of purity that has never existed in major-league baseball or any other professional sport and is not likely to exist in the future.

    Rodriguez was hardly the only player using steroids. One of the few believable admissions in his completely disingenuous and self-serving ESPN interview concerned the culture of the game during the time he admitted using a “banned substance”. Where were Bud Selig and the team owners during this period? They were burying their heads in the sand – seeing no evil while home runs and revenues soared in proportion to the average bicep size among players.

    No player or players should be asked to take the fall for what was an industry-wide problem fully aided and abetted by the tacit acceptance of PED abuse by teams and MLB. For Selig to invoke a “best interests of the game clause” to ban PED users would be completely hypocritical, to say nothing of the insurmountable legal issues that would be involved.

    I hate to break it to you Richard from Dallas but there is no Santa Claus, the talent your son has came from you and his mother (it’s genetics, not some supernatural magic) and professional athletes competing for large prizes will always seek whatever edge they can find ( Your son can either accept that the competition will be using all means legal, ethical or otherwise to tilt the playing field in their favor or choose not to play. That’s little different from the choices we have in any other field of endeavor. Anyone who selects professional athletes as their role models will eventually have to face up to this fact.

  22. Sara K said...

    Jack – I think I’m getting closer to understanding what you are saying: You believe that the attitude of owners should be such that they would terminate the contracts of any players found to have used steroids or other PEDs, and the attitude of the fans should be such that if a team hires the services of a player known to have used PEDs, they should boycott that team.  You feel that if this were the case, there would be no need for MLB as a body to have rules in place to impose penalties on offending players (or teams). 

    I have no problem with this position in theory. Where I start having a problem is how it might apply in practice. Does it make sense for teams to apply unwritten rules arbitrarily? What constitutes evidence?  If the goal is to create a zero-tolerance atmosphere, what, if anything, happens to people who fail to report evidence of cheating when encountered? 

    I guess what I don’t understand is why it should be so difficult or undesireable for the league and/or the union to have clear-cut, unambiguous rules about this.  Richard, here’s where I have a problem with the “best interests of the game” argument; I’m all for the sentiment, but what does it *mean*? *How* is it enforced?

    It is, perhaps, an unfortunate truth about human nature that most of our kind need to have rules in order to behave appropriately, but knowing the difference between right and wrong deep down in our hearts has never been enough to guarantee good behavior. This is why we have institutions, isn’t it?  One example that comes to mind are civil rights laws.  It took outrage to bring the issue to a head, but without the passing of laws, the behaviors wouldn’t have changed (at least, to the degree that they have).  Far more often than not, behavior has to be conditioned by rules before a real change in group values can occur.  I believe the PED issue is one of those cases.  Relying purely on humans to do the right thing is, in my view, wildly optimistic.

  23. Richard In Dallas said...

    Sara; The “best interest of the game” clause was intended to be put in the hands of someone that actually had the game’s best interst at heart.  It would need to be someone with good old-fashioned American values.  Someone with a high moral standard.  Someone with a good business sense.  Someone level headed, to whom you might go for crucial personal life advice, like a grandfather or older uncle.  It would also have to be someone that was willing and able to implement what they knew to be best without fear of public opinion.  After all, they were being entrusted with a national treasure.  Someone like Judge Landis, Bowie Kuhn, Bart Giamatti or Fay Vincent.  NOT someone like Bud Selig.  Bud seems to be all about public perception.  That being said, I wonder what his “approval rating” would be right now if there were such a thing for baseball commissioners?  And could he possibly drive it further downward by exhibiting an actual backbone?  Methinks he’s much more interested in protecting his absolutely ludicrous salary than in protecting the game he is supposed to love….
    If anyone is interested, I would be willing to do his job for Major League minimum.  Neither players or owners would love me, but I can assure you that at the end of my tenure, the ticket, jersey, MLBNetwork buying public would be quite pleased with the product on the field…..

  24. Jack Marshall said...

    “Stricter regulations” are not the solution and are never the solution. An ape can understand punishment and will usually avoid it. The solution is to make a clear cultural statement that using PED’s is wrong, bad for the game, bad for society. A “cool, rational” approach to reform that just concentrates on punishment and rules will never achieve success, because it never has the courage to make an argument—-it just uses power to punish.
    Those who demonstrate their “ccolness” and moral relativism by declaring clear judgements of right and wrong “moralistic bluster” make reform impossible, tying it up (as lawyers tend to do—-I know, because I’m one too) in rights, words, rationalizations and technicalities—-“well, it was illegal then, but not really banned in the game then, and the management wasn’t enforcing the rules anyway, so it was as good as de facto approved…etc,. etc.”

    Why the repugnance at saying “It’s wrong, it’s not what sport is supposed to be about. It’s sordid; it involves lying and deceit, and it makes following the rules a disadvantage. It casts suspicion on those who don’t deserve it, and is a disgrace to the game”? How uncool.

    The way to discourage and stop misconduct is to be willing to say to those who cheat, “You didn’t “make a mistake:” you weren’t “caught up in the culture.” You lied and cheated and broke the law for your own benefit,and won awards and got extra millions and took jobs away from clean players and caused fans to lose faith in the game.There will be comsequences to that for you in diminished respect and trust from now on.”

    Sneer at that as “moral bluster” if you like: it works, and it’s needed, and it is richly deserved.

  25. Sara K said...

    @ Jack

    I don’t know that I did call any “clear judgments of right and wrong” moralistic bluster. I was referring to (as Craig was in the original post) the overly-emotional, sentimental language that tends to get used to discuss the PED issue – things like “sanctity” and “back to how it used to be” and a whole lot of other unclear language that doesn’t add any content or clarity to the situation. Rules tie up the process?  How is it possible to have an effective policy that does no more than to offer “values”?

    I can understand your point of view that in addition to having rules in place, baseball needs an fundamental attitude that cheating is verboten. As for the rest, I’m really not sure what you are advocating. 

    Do you think it is proper for baseball to retroactively enforce rules regarding the use of PEDs? If not, then the observation that “it wasn’t against the rules then” is valid. Do you think that the coaches, managers and owners and ostensibly clean teammates who turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to PED use should be subject to criticism? What should their punishment be for their part in this? 

    And when you talk of cheaters’ punishment being in the form of “diminished respect and trust,” was that the only punishment you think is necessary?  Because they have that already, even from most of us who are turned off by the rather melodramatic tone of the collective reaction. Will the threat of our distrust be enough for players to lay off the PEDs, or does there need to be some, you know, *system* for dealing with this? 

    I sense that you are feeling defensive about what you perceive as an attack on your emotions or values.  I never said that having feelings is “uncool.”  My position is that indulgence in the more righteous emotions rarely accomplishes anything more than to provide their hosts with feelings of self-congratulation.  If outrage motivates change, then great.  But outrage isn’t change.  Outrage calms down, eventually, and when it’s gone, I hope that a well-considered policy is left to continue the mission the outrage started.

  26. Richard In Dallas said...

    Sara:  I won’t address the two or so contributors just before you, since it might be considered confrontational, but I will comment on something you said.  Yes, the outrage needs to inspire a well-considered solution, and, in fact IT DID. In 1919.  I hate to sound like a broken record, but, it’s the “best interests of the game” clause.  Use of the rule has been sparse throughout the years, and with good reason.  It is intended only for those situations that bring the most serious threats to the game. THIS is one of those situations.  All we need now is someone with enough love for the game along with the intelligence to recognize the ramifications of his or her actions or inactions (very much unlike the current stewardship)to be commissioner for a long enough period of time to get this cleaned up (Bart, the surviving true fans miss you).  Yes, invocation of the rule would surely bring the vultures, er, lawyers flocking to whatever court has jurisdiction over such matters, since there would indeed be a large amount of money to be made.  But right is right, and sometimes doing what is right is the hardest row to hoe.

  27. Jack Marshall said...

    I’m not feeling defensive at all. After all, I’m right.

    The observation that “it wasn’t against the rules then”  has never been valid when it involves illegal substances. It is against the rules of any profession to break the law, and no profession has to explicitly say so. The basic player agreement could and should be interpreted to permit voiding the contract of any player who intentionally breaks the law or broke the law, whatever the state of baseball’s regulations were at the time. (A-Rod, however, was violating baseball’s regulations in 2001-2003)

    Sure, you need policies. But as long as teams aren’t willing to declare, for example, A-Rod’s contract as negotiated under intentional misrepresentation ( all those bonuses for breaking records would not be there if the Yankees knew he would be following in Bonds’ footsteps in the matter of steroids as well as homeruns), or release a Jason Giambi; as long as home fans continue to support a Bonds, a Giambi, a Sheffield….as long as the raw numbers lead commentators to say, “yeah, he may have cheated, but boy, I’m glad he’s in our line-up!” the unethical players will be able to dance around the rules, get bigger salaries, and let bloggers make sufficient excuses to allow them to laugh all the way to the bank.

    People who are uncomfortable making judgements about bad character like to label them “emotional.” If you think Barry Bonds is a cheat and a liar, that makes you a Bonds “hater.” That’s nonsense. Designating someone a liar and a cheat is not an emotional excercise, but a necessary analytical one. Bonds is a cheat and a liar. I don’t hate him. I just believe he dimininishes the legitimacy, professionalism and fun of any sport that considers him representative of greatness. Ditto Clemens. And A-Rod. Taken together, they have made baseball a lot less special and exciting to me than the sport I cheered when I watched Carlton Fisk wave his ball fair in Game 6, 1975. I never thought that would be possible.

    I believe that being willing to declare unequivocally that the steroid-users are wrong, beyond justification and blots on the field, is not only not “melodramatic” but is essential to ending the conduct. Stop cheering them, stop buying their jerseys and autographs, stop rooting for the teams that hire them, stop making excuses for them, and shun those who do.

    That sounds naive, I know. But John Rocker was run out of the sport for being a bigot, something that has no impact on the game on the field and is, in fact, Constitutionally protected. Is it too much to ask that using PEDs and lying about it should generate just as universal comtempt as an idiot making offensive comments about Asian-Americans and gays?

  28. Jack Marshall said...

    Richard: I am in absolute agreement with you. A true Commissioner with the original Commissioner’s powers and independence would go a long way to resolving the problem.

  29. Jack Marshall said...

    I cop to being excuciatingly inarticulate in this exchange; internally, I’m blaming Tylenol 3 [see? The evil of drugs!  wink ], but officially, I’m embarrassed.

    Let me try agin, on the off chance anybody is still listening: yes, let’s have clear rules and laws, and aggressive, fair, consistent enforcement. But what I see from the widespread lack of what you call outrage and the employment of time-tested rationalizations by fans, players and commentators tells me that the rules/enforcement approach is doomed to failure, just as the U.S. private sector’s forced adoption of ethics codes after 1990 led to the worst two decades of corporate corruption in US history.

    Almost ALL rules are gray. To an unethical or unprincipled player,  a rule is just specific words, and the goal is to violate the intent of the rule without violating the letter. “This drug wasn’t banned yet!” “This drug is a treatment for my ADD, so it doesn’t count.” On the other hand, a culture in which fans, players and management agree that certain conduct is unacceptible has created a culture that will enforce itself. The rules are still a necessary part of the package, but they won’t work without the cultural change.

    Ridiculing the outrage, at this stage, kicks the legs out from under meaningful cultural change. That’s why I think the Hall of Fame voting, also much derided, is one of the more hopeful signs. It puts surrepticious PED use on the same level as gambling, and that points in the correct cultural direction. The first known steroid-user who makes it into the Hall will effectively kill any chance at cultural coherence on the issue.

    I hope that’s clearer than my previous babbling.

  30. Craig Calcaterra said...

    “That sounds naive, I know. But John Rocker was run out of the sport for being a bigot, something that has no impact on the game on the field and is, in fact, Constitutionally protected.”

    Actually, John Rocker wasn’t run out of the game because he was a bigot.  His racist comments came prior to the 2000 season. In 2000 he had 24 saves, an ERA under 3.00, and retained the closer roll for the Braves all season.  He was run out of the game because over the following three seasons he (a) hurt his arm; (b) lost velocity; and (c) became an ineffective pitcher.  It was that simple. If he could still throw a 98 MPH fastball, he’d still be pitching today.

    I now return you to your regularly scheduled debate about ethics and morals and steroids and stuff.

  31. Pete Toms said...

    I don’t think I “get it” because I’m not an American.  What baseball means to America, the purity of the game, the national pastime etc.  Olney asked a question this week that has been posed many times; why do we get so upset about roids in baseball and not in football?  You don’t hear or read the same bleating about the shame brought on the game, yada yada.  It’s a good question.

    I’ve read that baseball represents the American myth and football represents the American reality, or somethin like that….is that it?  I think we see that represented in American pop culture, no?

    Also, and this is gonna come off real smug coming from somebody from outside the US but….are we less upset about it in football because it is a blacker game? (DUCK!)

  32. Pete Toms said...

    Woops forgot…Richard in Dallas…you are the most important role model for your boy and I suspect a damn fine one.

  33. Jack Marshall said...

    The reason is, though some people like to pretend it isn’t, is that baseball is connected to America’s culture, history and values through tradition and literature in ways that football and other sports are not. There is no “Field of Dreams” or “The Natural” about the NFL.

    It has zero to do with race.

  34. Sara K said...

    @ Jack

    Far be it from me to speak for Craig, but I get the sense that he and other like-minded fans are not saying “don’t try to eliminate steroids from baseball.”  What we tire of is the sanctimonious posturing that inevitably occurs in reaction to “new” steroid stories – which is exactly what was happening in the article Craig was responding to. What’s wrong with a rational, cool-headed, realistic approach to reform?  Why does it have to be couched in moralistic bluster?  And why make a straw-man of Craig’s post?

    @ Pete – as so often happens, the clearest viewpoint comes from without. Nice to have your perspective to remind us how irrational cultural values can sometimes be.

  35. john Henning said...

    What I enjoy about this site, and this is a credit to Craig really, is the level of respect in the comments. Richard in Dallas makes a comment that runs counter to Craig’s post (and I would imagine runs partially against the viewpoint of many of his readers) and the responses are respectful and thoughtful. Add to this Richard’s own respectful responses to those responses, AND the fact the Pete Toms can make a politically incorrect but interesting and important comment without being attacked and you have the makings of a pretty darn good community I’d say.
    Sara K and Richard’s point about the danger that steroid users pose to non-users (in the very real, physical, roid-rage, come-backers hit too hard kind of way) is probably exaggerated by a parent’s very understandable concern for the well-being of their children, but is nonetheless an important point. If even one kid (or adult, really) is hurt because of someone else’s drug use, then that’s a grave and awful crime, and the strictest regulations should be in place to keep that from happening. Unfortunately, stricter regulation/punishment doesn’t always help in these kinds of situations. You’d think that if you made the punishment for illegal behavior so high that someone would have to be crazy to engage in that behavior you would go a long way to getting rid of the problem. Unfortunately, history and society don’t really show that to be true. People are stupid, people are greedy, people are selfish, and people are mostly incapable of thinking about the future and about future consequences. They tend to focus on the present, damn the future. It would be nice if there were a silver bullet for the problem of steroids (not least because such a silver bullet would probably also represent a solution to some of society’s larger problems) but it’s just not possible

  36. Jack Marshall said...

    “So you’re interested in who inherited better genes, instead?”

    As rejoinders go, that one is pretty lame. I think it’s fairly well documented that a lot more goes into being a successful ballplayer than “good genes,” and that factors like hard work, practice, dedication, focus and training can make up for a lack of superior physical ability. And all of them are a credit to the individual athlete’s character and determination. See: Outfielder Michael Jordan, Infielder Pete Rose; Outfielder Clint Hurdle; Infielder John Kruk.

  37. Richard In Dallas said...

    Neil:  Absolutely!  Physical competition is supposed to be just that.  It’s about being blessed with the gifts necessary to compete at the highest level, and having the character, from a young age, to develop those gifts.  The character part comes from upbringing, as well as the foresight on the parents’ part to provide the physical, emotional and moral guidance to succeed at the sport for which they are best suited.  The addition of chemicals to the competitors body, while providing a short term edge, is sure to cause problems for the users later in life (think Lyle Alzado).  While the use of these substances by itself is not a moral problem for me, the pressure that is put upon others, who believe in the sanctity of their own bodies, to do so in order to stay competetive, is abhorrent.  THAT is the problem I have as a fan and as a parent.

    By the way – My son pitched in his first high scool scrimmage today.  He pitched one inning.  Faced four batters.  One reached on an errant throw to first by the shortsop afer a weak ground ball.  He struck out two, and fieled a popup to the mound, and he didn’t use any PEDs.  Not too bad for a freshman facing the big guys. 

    He and I both understand that the funnel will get MUCH smaller in four years, and that going to the next level is not a given, even for someone with his abilities.  We also uderstand and agree that it would be better for him to be a middle inning garbage time inning eater playing for league minimum, and be clean and honest, than to be Roger Clemens.

  38. Neil Stevens said...

    However all of the things that hard work, practice, dedication, focus, and training give you are things that are not given to you by steroids.

    You still have to lift weights a lot.  You still have to watch what you eat.  You still have to take lots of BP.  You still have to research your pitchers.  You still have to know the strike zone.  You still have to keep conditioned.  You still have to show up every day and grind it out.

  39. Richard In Dallas said...

    Neil: I get it that you still have to work hard when using PEDs.  And I see your point that what they basically do is give you what genes didn’t.  But look at it this way: If SOME players use, and take away the genetic advantage that others may have, eventually, those that no longer HAVE that advantage will be pressured to use to regain the advantage that God gave them.  Eventually, what you have is the same balance of abilities that you had in the beginning, but everyone playing will suffer pain and disfigurement later in life and die 10 or so years earlier than they might have otherwise….

    Is that really what you want?

  40. Neil Stevens said...

    You raise an excellent point Richard.  If everyone has to do it, then it’s not going to go away.

    On the other hand, you already have to do major league damage to your arm in order to be a major league pitcher.

    So while I can buy the argument that we should ban PEDs to keep that sort of thing from happening, what I don’t buy is that the game would be anywhere near pure with respect to the players and their health without them.

  41. Richard In Dallas said...

    Neil: With respect to damaging an arm in order to pitch, see  It’s all in the mechanics.

    As far as purity goes, no kidding.  There are evils everywhere.  Therefore, you have to pick your battles.  This is my battle.

  42. Sara K said...

    VanderBirch – Amen, particularly on points 5 and 6.  Changing behaviors requires understanding of the information, of the motivation, and of the consequences.  Neither stricter rules nor moral judgments alone can effectively address a complex and pervasive issue like PED use. 

    This thread was originally about the rhetorical value of a particular column.  I would definitely like to see links to any story where the writer is not offering a simplistic moral view (or equally simplistic refrain from judgment), but saying “This is one place where the current policy lags, and here are some suggestions for making it better.”  Your point 5 comes closer to this than I’ve seen in quite a while.

  43. Dave Studeman said...

    Awesomely good post, VanderBirch. And I don’t mean to single just you out. I have to say that, over all, this is one of the best threads I have read about steroids.

  44. Jack Marshall said...

    1. a) I said that violating the law is inherently wrong. That is true, unless the violator is engaged in some form of civil disobedience, in which case A-Rod would take steroids, put out a press release declaring so and announce, “I believe the law prohibiting this is wrong, I am defying it, and will accept whatever punishment I receive!”

    Fat chance.

    Laws ARE a declaration by society that particular behavior is harmful to that society and undesirable. Until society changes its conclusion and hence the law, a law-breaker is violating a social norm and doing what his society has declared is harmful.

      b) The ever-popular alcohol analogy is false. Alcohol is a dangerous and terribly destructive drug—-my family, for one, has been ravaged by its effects. Unfortunately, it was imbedded in most cultures hundreds of years ago, used in ceremonies and in casual socializing, sung about and given legitimacy through tradition. By the time its damaging effects were completely understood, it was too late to do anything. The fact that there is one (or two, including tobacco) dangerous drug that is legal is no argument for adding more. It shouldn’t be legal, but there’s nothing we can do about it now. (The other dangerous legal drug, interestingly, one not so imbedded, is being addressed by cultural disapproval.) That’s no reason to legalize more drugs….in fact, alcohol is a strong argument for keeping genies in bottles.

        c) You punish whom you can catch. I don’t hold Bonds, and certainly not A-Rod, solely responsible for spreading steroids in baseball. But the most successful, popular and visible practitioner of any misconduct will do more to spread acceptance of that misconduct than anyone else. There were gangsters in the 40s and 50s who said that Al Capone was their idol growing up. The Beatles persuaded a lot of musicians to try LSD because it might help them write a hit song.

    And I get tired of writing this, but leaders in any industry or system have an enhanced obligation to set a good example. We have had the last two players acknowledged as the “best in the game” set a standard of using PEDs. It is not “stupid” to hold them accountable for the larger implications of their acts.

    3. You can’t call a cheat a cheat without reciting the “context’? I don’t believe that at all. The context was the same for all the players who didn’t cheat. If you believe cheating is wrong and it isn’t an option, why is the context relevant? If someone had A-Rod’s family under gunpoint, I’d say, OK, now that’s a mitigating cercunstance. The fact that there were big rewards, that he didn’t think he would be caught and that lots of other people were doing it? Which of those would you say makes his decision defensible? Ethically speaking, none of them. Temptation isn’t justification. But yes, it does help us understand why. And you are correct that this is important too.

    4. It’s not a big point, but I don’t think your Lasik argument holds water. Do you want to argue that a player can’t get a an ACL repaired without engaging in the equivilent of PED’s? Lasik (personally, the procedure scares the hell out of me—-remember that Ned Flanders’ eyeballs fell out?) restores 20-20 vision following a physical deterioration. That’s normal, what a player was born with, in most cases. I see no difference between Lasik and wearing glasses. Do you? (of course, I’m wearing glasses, so you may see clearer…)  David Eckstein can develop “massive guns” by working out hard, because every player has that option. But when he uses gene therapy (or PEDs) to turn himself into the Incredible Hulk, that’s the equivilent of playing baseball using one of those robotic loaders Sigourney Weaver fought the alien mother in. That’s Human Being PLUS. That’s PED’s, not Lasik.

    6. Hmmmm. Craig also put the word “monsters” in my figurative mouth. I never used that word, nor do I think it’s appropriate. I think Jose Canseco is a true scum-ball, and I think Barry Bonds is probably a sociopath, but there are no “monsters” out there. (Well, maybe Bud.)

    In my business, it’s a constant lesson that otherwise good people can do really bad things because they aren’t thinking, at the time, about good and bad at all. That’s why it’s important to create a culture in baseball that encourages thinking about what is good for the game and good for the society it exists to entertain, engage, excite, and yes, teach.

    I agree with you that the conditions that spark steroid use need to be understood and examined. Where we differ mostly, I think,is how much we should hold individual violators responsible for the consequences of their actions, which in the case of a Clemens, Bonds or A-Rod, is going to be much, much greater than David Segui or Manny Alexander.

  45. William J. said...

    Two points:

    1) It is silly to suggest that the commissioner invoke “best interest of the game powers” to ban players who use steroids because MLB has a CBA with defined penalties for steroid use. If Selig attempted to do as you suggest, MLB would be sued and eventually forced to pay monstrous penalties once they were blown out of court. Comparisons to Judge Landis are irrelevant because he ruled over the game at a time when the players had no organization. As we know, that isn’t the case now. The MLBPA is strong and vibrant, and has proven very adept at destroying MLB in court whenever they try to do something illegal.

    Also, before we start pining for the good old days of a powerful commissioner, we need to remember that Judge Landis’ omni potency was instrumental in horribly unfair contractual treatment of players as well as extended segregation of the game. The grass isn’t always greener.

    2) There really isn’t a need to be concerned about one’s son having to compete with athletes using PEDs because there isn’t much evidence to suggest that they work. Instead of fretting over the use of PEDs, which artificially enforces the notion that they work, I would expose my son to the studies that they prove they don’t.

  46. VanderBirch said...

    Nice post William J.

    Regarding PED’s, I’d like to add that the stigmatism of such substances tends to be harmful to informed discourse on the subject. I’m no postmodernist, but the line between what is acceptable and what is not is very hazy. Consequently the notion that using steroids is inherently wrong is something of a construction.

    Lasik eye surgery is performance enhancing but is considered acceptable. No one finds injured pitchers getting tommy john surgery problematic. Weight lifting and conditioning work change the physiology of an athletes body but are perceived as signs of a good work ethic, not an attempt to gain an unnatural advantage. Creatine? Ok. Nandrolone? No ok. It’s a damn thin line.

    Now, I’m not suggesting sticking a needle filled with testosterone in your butt is fine, and I find it wrong. But if this debate is going to go anywhere, there needs to be specificity and not moralising. What exactly makes it wrong?

    I tend to think the problem is it the fact that these drugs have side effects, and that by creating a drug culture we are forcing athletes who would not otherwise use to either:
    a.) compete at a disadvantage; or
    b.) expose themselves to these side effects.

    Therefore, I tend to see drug use as an issue of player safety, not something linked to the sanctity of the game or any of these amorphous concepts. Baseball needs to deal with these issues openly, through rigorous drug testing as well as education and research. What works? What doesn’t? What is safe?

    I don’t find the players who used drugs during the steroid era to be stand-up guys. It lowers my personal opinion of them. But in a sport where small advantages result in a lot more wins and a lot more money, I don’t blame them. There were no real rules, and those in authority were turning a blind eye.

    The best ballplayers are by their very nature hyper-competitive people who will do almost anything to get an advantage. That is why baseball has such a history of cheating. It’s not something ingrained in baseball so much as a natural reaction to the risk-reward structure of pro-sports (and in many ways akin to the corporate example Jack mentioned).

    You can change the culture somewhat, but such a change is not going to happen from sportswriters and the public making scapegoats of people. It needs rules and consequences- sticks and carrots. Ethical reform didn’t work in the 90’s because the reform didn’t have any teeth- violations didn’t hurt companies in the pocket enough to discourage behaviour. Same for baseball. Baseball will always have cheaters, the key is to make sure they are making the wrong decision- that the risk outweighs the reward. Current drug testing technology is sufficient to achieve this goal IMO, particularly as the most effective drugs for baseball tend to show up more easily (as compared to blood boosters etc).

    As for what *has* happened, there isn’t much that can be done. I don’t think PED’s changed the nature of the game to a huge extent- the gains in power reflect the change in ball composition, expansion, improved weight training and many other factors. Seeking to punish players (such as suspensions) is counter-productive, because they would be getting punished by the same bodies that tacitly encouraged such behaviour, and only those few unlucky to get outed would suffer any consequences.

    Having the Commissioner invoking some sort of mythical power and kicking people out of the sport is a massive overreaction. It is an attempt to divert attention from the structural problems that caused steroid use. Richard, you may agree that your son would be better off making the minimum than ending up like Clemens, but I think many people would disagree. There are plenty of PED users whose use of steroids got them big contracts or World Series rings they would otherwise not have had, and are fairly comfortable with their decisions. Not every steroid user is some sort of out of control Ken Caminiti type.

    I suggest the best response is for guys like Jayson Stark to get off their high horse and stop conflating guys who chuck around a little ball with the moral arbiters of the nation and actually start focusing on the issues that matter- like the nature of baseball drug testing policy, or the actual effect steroids may have had on the performance of a guy like Rodriguez. There is no point is making out PED’s to be some shadowy concept (like the ‘War on Drugs’). Lets attack the actual substance of the problem in a manageable fashion and not seek some sort of impossible level of competitive purity.

  47. Jack Marshall said...

    “Consequently the notion that using steroids is inherently wrong is something of a construction.”

    1.) Your mostly rational post is marred by this persistent mistatement. Using steroids is against the law (and was so in the 80’s, when they first came in), SPECIFICALLY against the rules since the early 90’s and is thus cheating, because players who don’t violate the law and rules won’t and can’t use them. Thus using steroids is cheating. CHEATING is inherently wrong.

    2.) Lying to conceal one’s own cheating, avoid punishment, and continue to have an edge over non-cheating players is also inherently wrong.

    3.) Saying that cheating and lying are wrong is not “moralizing,” which is a label used to discredit the responsible act of calling wrongful conduct what it it after rational analysis.

    3.) IF baseball decided, based on research and careful consideration, that steroids and other PEDswere not unhealthy, could be available to all players, would not undermine the game’s integrity or change it in undersirable ways (like if some super-drug led to all drives to the outfield being 20 yards deeper, creating 5 hour, 22-21, 8 homer a games, or created such strength in batters that pitchers were being killed, etc.) or destroy its popularity, AND if the drugs were made legal to obstain without a medical perscription, resulting in the rules permitting PEDs, then, and only then, would using them not be wrong.

    4) Lasik is a surgical procedure that repairs a medical condition and impairment, and therefore does not illustrate a “thin line” at all. Right church, wrong pew. If it was surgery that improved vision to an above-normal level, then it would start the debate, which would be akin to the “Blade Runner,” the amputee competitive runner who has metal legs below the knee.

    5) You can stick to the argument that harsher penalties will improve conduct if you want, but virtually all research, most behavioral studies, and the ethics community, for which this question is a core one, disagrees with you. Creating an ethical culture gets to the causes of misconduct far more effectively than loading up on penalties. There were more penalties, rules, codes and prosecutions in the 90’s than before. Laws and rules can help define a culture, but they have to reflect the culture as well.

    6) The fact that “many people would disagree” that it is better to make millions cheating than to make a fair wage playing by the rules is just a statement of human nature: many people would rather steal money than work for it too. The fact that amoral, unethical or sociopathic individuals “disagree” that cheating is wrong is no argument at all.

  48. Neil Stevens said...

    “I’m not interested in who can hire a better chemist.”

    So you’re interested in who inherited better genes, instead?

  49. VanderBirch said...

    1.) Just because steroids are illegal does not make them ‘inherently wrong’. Alchohol is a highly destructive drug, yet it is legal. Steroids are illegal, but there is considerable evidence to suggest that if used correctly (and granted, many athletes totally have totally disregarded this fact and ruined their own health) they are not particularly dangerous. I think, quite rationally, one can argue that like alchohol, steroids should be legal for adults capable of weighing up the dangers of their use. What makes unprescribed steroid usage wrong is the legal status of these drugs (which is largely unenforced on individual users); I tend to think their moral status is a lot more hazy.

    2.) I’m not denying using steroids is cheating. It is. So is lying to cover it up. I didn’t address this anywhere in my post.

    3.) I don’t think calling A-Rod a ‘cheat’ is moralizing. He was a cheat. I think doing so without acknowledging the environment he existed within is moralizing. Given the structure of baseball at the time, his behaviour was understandable. I don’t want to excuse him, but to blame Bonds or A-Rod for ruining baseball is just stupid, they were small cogs within a much wider systemic problem.

    4.) I guess we disagree on the LASIK point. Much of the argument against steroid usage is that these drugs enhance individuals beyond what the limits of their natural talent.  Why should a ballplayer with crappy eye sight get to performance enhance his eye sight while David Eckstein is prevented from turning his puny arms into massive cannons?

    5.) This is an excellent point, and one I agree with. Certainly, harsher sentences haven’t served to deter criminality. I perhaps didn’t clarify on this: I don’t think making people into pariahs, stigmatising steroids and conducting trial by media is going to change the culture.

    A strong drug testing system would only be part of the process- obviously the aim is prevention of usage rather than doling out a lot of suspensions. But more important is that instead of simply decrying steroid usage as wrong and then moving on, baseball really needs to provide guidance and education to trainers, players and teams. What do PED’s do, what are the consequences of their usage? Engage with the players/trainers and their concerns rather than tune them out.

    6.) I’m not suggesting such behaviour is right. But I do think it helps to put steroid use in concrete terms. Players used for many reasons: attempts to recover from injuries, desire to win, peer pressure, greed, ego, fear. Steroid users made an unethical choice, but a huge number made this choice, and I don’t think this makes them into immoral monsters. If we can accept that this was in part human nature, why are many commentators so shocked or disgusted?

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