Pete Abraham posted a provocative piece on his blog today. In “A few thoughts on the steroids issue”, he echos Tony Gwynn’s assertation that blame can be thrown in just about any direction and it will stick regarding steroids. I’m with him so far. He continues with "The players started it by injecting the drugs in the first place," and I’m still in agreement, with the reservation that he asserts that this is an issue baseball players started, ignoring that this has been a long-term, ongoing, pervasive societal problem. It is in that same paragraph where I have to get off his bus, when he makes the barely facetious analogy that since baseball does not specifically forbid murder, it is therefore acceptable for a player to “shoot a shortstop to break up a double play.” That is a leap I just can not make, and his assertion that “these guys committed federal crimes,” which may or may not be accurate, throws a doper into the same class as a cross-country serial killer. Somehow, long ago, we completely lost perspective of this entire situation.
I have great respect for Pete’s intelligence and have found his work and words in his blog to be invaluable in tracking the developments of the Yankees and of the game in general. In this instance, I have to disagree with his blanket generalization that if you have “taken drugs to improve your performance,” you are therefore devoid of integrity, sportsmanship and character. For whatever complex set of reasons, we lacked and continue to lack the foresight and perspective to deal with the problem of steroids, not just in baseball, but in most every aspect of our society. Now, in dealing with the aftermath of that situation as it applies to baseball, perspective is still lacking. Much of the current talk regarding steroids obviously has been brought into focus by the “McGwire Issue” and how not voting for McGwire somehow speaks to upholding the “integrity of the game of baseball.” If there are two words that sound mighty funny together, it’s “integrity” and “baseball.” Never mind the anthropomorphizing, baseball has been and always will be a dirty, tainted sport. Tainted by drugs. Tainted by bigots. Tainted by cheating players. Tainted by colluding, greedy owners. Sounds a lot like the rest of the nation. Baseball is the game I love, but I do not pretend that moral grandeur is one of its qualities.
In the form of testing, there have been deterrents put in place so that if a player uses banned or illegal performance enhancers, they risk a penalty. Good. It is a fine step towards sending the message to kids that idolize their players that they should not get caught using banned or illegal performance enhancing drugs. Also, think about that specific distinction between the words "banned" and "illegal" when you throw around felony accusations. Unfortunately, baseball’s efforts do very little to speak to the point of the multi-billion dollar supplement industry and culture that has millions of people, young and old, in the pursuit of chemical physique enhancement. Tell me the last time you saw an in-game commercial where the NFL promoted not using steroids. At the same time, it is absolutely, completely ridiculous to compare someone who juices to a corporate executive defrauding pensions. And don’t kid yourself that beating up Mark McGwire has anything to do with restoring the integrity of the game of baseball.