Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Baseball's Train Wreck

I got a text message from my friend TJB on Monday after Alex Rodriguez's admission that he had indeed taken performance enhancing drugs while with Texas in 2001 through 2003, despite his previous statements to the contrary. Apparently, he was responding to a leaked test result that indicated he was one of 104 players that tested positive for a banned substance. We don't know who else has tested positive, but reactions around the sports world have ranged from yawns to calls for suspensions to statements that his career legacy is now tainted. TJB was proud of herself, saying "I told you so, and now I'm proven right."

Mind you, there's a lot of bitter feelings in the Pacific Northwest when A-Rod talked about wanting to play for a winning team and get into the playoffs with a team that had a great legacy, then he bolted the Mariners for the Rangers for a $252 million dollar contract, by far the biggest amount ever shelled out for a player. Never mind that in his 3 or so years in Texas, they didn't come close to winning a title, and only marginally competing in the AL West, while the Mariners did pretty well until they imploded the past few years. A-Rod's playoff record is strictly from appearances with the Mariners and Yankees, and some of the Yankee teams have done well enough to advance to the ALCS, but for supposedly the game's best overall player, he's never played in a World Series. Granted, not winning a World Series or even appearing in one doesn't mean a player can't be great, but championships are what many careers are measured on, and some players have cemented a stellar career with a great playoff performance.

I won't have so much of a problem with A-Rod had he been honest in 2000 and said I want to go where I can be paid the most money, rather that his lame attempt to talk about team chemistry and playoff potential. His contract essentially prevented the Rangers from fielding a competitive team, and they suffered for it immensely. But instead of being honest about things, it was always about wanting to win and be competitive. Some of his language about steroid use mirrors terms he used then, saying he felt pressure to succeed and I only wanted the best for myself and my team. While his statements did have some candor to them, it was only after being faced with the accusations he was that he came clean. Up until then, he was living a lie, much like a lot of other players from that era.

And instead of being able to determine the cheaters, it's become a cat and mouse game of who's going to get caught and for what. As the drug tests and evidence are put out in the media, it appears that Jose Canseco was really on when he wrote his tell all book about who was doing what. He was dismissed as a crackpot when the book first hit the shelves, but now, he's been the most truthful one of all. And if that's what you have to hang your hat on, that's not saying a whole lot. Instead, the situation is leaked drug tests, admissions of wrong doing written in vaguely cryptic terms to not admit too much, and the drug rules get bigger and longer each year. The MLB Players Association and MLB have worked out a test plan that has seemed to work to a point, but apparently the need to enhance stats is much more of a need than the associated risks of taking drugs and possibly being caught or doing damage to your future for many players. It's a cat and mouse game, and the stakes are getting higher and higher as time goes on, and discussions about records and history .

Baseball is an unusual sport when it comes to protecting history and legacy. Many old time sports fans and writers protect the history at all costs, saying that anyone convicted of a drug issue should have any records removed from baseball's annuls. Younger fans don't seem to have as much of an associated concern, instead saying that nobody is really being harmed by this, so why can't we just look past it all and let bygones be bygones. And the debate rages on, as your current home run king is prosecuted for drugs and tax problems, while the legacy of some great players hangs in the balance as their legacy is tied to drug use. Hell, baseball's all time hit leader isn't even in the Hall of Fame for his betting on baseball, which really was a near 15 year cycle of lies about betting which then coincided with a confession and tell all book with an admission. The same baseball guys that talk about history also mention the integrity of the game, and needing to protect it at all costs, and people that cheat shouldn't be part of the Hall.

But then again, many of the members of the Hall have issues of character that in our current days may have prevented them from being considered. They didn't live in a 24 hour news era, with breaking sports happening all the time and blogs talking about sports all over the world, playing in front of thousands in person and even more on television, with all the pressures and traps of wealth right there. I can't imagine how some of them handle the temptations at points, because you have a lot of time and money on your hands, and with the pressures of competing and winning, personal ethics and convictions get tested all the time. Seriously, how many people would consider cheating if you knew that it would be a while before you got caught, and you might be able to win championships and earn money in the meantime? The temptation is high, which is why people still do it to this day. Integrity may be something that some fans worry about, but you have as many players and fans that couldn't care less, if it meant wins and titles. It's all about winning, and the costs don't matter.

I'm tired of the integrity argument when it comes to steroids, because during the golden age of drugs, nobody seemed to care what was going on. Fans were tired after the baseball strike, and needed a great story, and got a home run race. Teams were making money hand over fist, as fans returned in droves, and ratings were skyrocketing on television. The executives were being paid well, and everyone was happy, even with evidence that things may not exactly be alright. It didn't matter, because the blind eye was turned. And now, over 10 years later, it's a big case of shame on them and how could they? They did it because they could, because the rules didn't say they couldn't until most recently. They did it, knowing the risks, but instead focusing on the long term rewards of fame and fortune. And they did it because they knew that the fans and teams wouldn't catch on until later on, and it was worth the chance.

If you really want to bring integrity into this question, I think it's really a simple solution. If integrity and personal ethics matters, then you expunge the records and statistics of everyone that is deemed to have character issues, and I mean everyone. Why just turn a eye to steroids, but why not excessive drinking, drugs, affairs, the whole gamut of character issues, and then let the chips fall wherever. If the Hall is really all about integrity, then make the people that get in live up to this high standard and don't put the grey areas of human experience into question. Make it very strict and don't allow exceptions. Or your alternative is to strictly focus on the numbers, and use that as your argument. Numbers are universal, and while drugs may have inflated some, if you take that out of the equation, it's simply numbers versus numbers. The best ones get in, and we celebrate the greatness of numbers.

Neither solution really is pretty, but the alternative is this grey area back and forth witch hunt that forces MLB to continue to try and keep ahead of the cheats, and list any possible substance that could affect performance, and they are playing a catchup game in a big way. And even with a fairly strict drug testing plan, players will continue to risk it because the penalties aren't enough to deter it, especially if now we deem a simple apology enough to wipe away the actions of someone trying to one up their competition. For me, I'm done with baseball until this issue is resolved, because while it's important to be able to make mistakes and be able to apologize for them and atone for actions, I'd rather players be honest about things rather that think they need to hide from what they do. I'd rather teams treat character as something that matters rather than thinking winning means everything, and it only matters how many trophies you have. I'd rather have the leadership of baseball stand up for what is the right thing to do, and not get caught in semantics games back and forth, preaching integrity for the game yet showing none of it in the decisions they make. You want my respect, play within the rules as they are put out, and give something back for the gifts that you've earned, and if you choose to do it your own way, live up to the consequences if it comes back to bite you. I wish nothing but that, because the grey area is getting really, really old.

So I'm going to the Trail Blazers - Thunder game tomorrow night with girl, and there's been a plea shared with the newspaper in town from former Sonics fans, who are coming down to watch the team they used to have. They are asking for our help to start a cheer for the former Sonics to show support for their bid to regain the NBA in Seattle. So after all of the years of having the Seachickens and Mariners shoved down our throats every weekend on the TV, we're supposed to feel sorry for you that your team is gone. Ok, I realize the irony of talking baseball in my story, but it's also topical baseball wide, but I'm not going to apologize for talking baseball here, either. That being said, I don't think they would be willing to do such a thing if the tables were reversed, and I'm sorry the team is gone because they had no reason to move. It was a slight of hand by the NBA, perpetuated by the league and the guy that purchased the team, and the fans deserve better. But, do you really think a cheer for the former Sonics means anything to anyone? I have better things to do with my cheering to be honest, and I'm sure there will be a lot of Sonics jokes or comments during the game that will be shouted. They used to be a rival, and while I respect them just fine, I'm not going out of my way to cheer for them in our house.

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