Posted by: Larry Smith Jr. | February 11, 2009

A-Rod, Steroids In Baseball, and Other Concerns

EDIT: 

I wrote this piece prior to the existance of this blog. In order to maintain continuity of my writing and to get as much of it into one place as possible, I added this post at a later date and time stamped it to the date and approximate time that I originally wrote it. This is the reason why it appears before the “introduction” blog entry. It is because this piece actually predates the blog. What follows below is the original entry as written whenever I wrote it.

Okay, a combination of things has happened. First, everyone has been asking me about the A-Rod situation, since for most people I’m the resident baseball guru of whatever social circle they are in. Secondly, I haven’t been able to respond at length because the story broke on Saturday morning, which was literally smack in the middle of my work week. Today is the last day of my work week, but I’m not even waiting until I go to and then get off work, because listening to five days of sports talk commentary and reading five days worth of editorials on the matter has raised my anger to a boiling point that I can no longer wait to make a comment.

Note to those who aren’t familiar with my writing or writing style — I’m long-winded, so you should just stop reading now if you don’t have time on your hands.

Getting to the subject matter at hand, as everyone should know, this past weekend the news leaked (important word choice there, that “leaked”) that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for steroids in 2003, during an (supposedly) anonymous test taken by the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) in order to determine how widespread the steroids problem was and if a testing program would be necessary. This round of testing turned up 104 positive results, and it would appear that Rodriguez was the biggest name among those who came up positive. Then again, he’s debatably the biggest name in the MLB period, so it would follow that if he tests positive, he automatically becomes the biggest positive test.

My reaction to this? Anger. Just like everybody else.

But I bet I’m not angry the same way that everyone else is.

I’m not mad at A-Rod at all. AT ALL. In fact, I’m angry at just about everything EXCEPT A-Rod. I’m angry at the MLBPA, I’m angry at the sports media, and I’m angry at the ultra-hypocritical so-called fans of baseball most of all.

Starting with the MLBPA, how is it possible that a supposedly anonymous test gets leaked like this, especially so many years after the fact? I’ve heard that as many as five days passed between the time that the samples were interpreted and the time that the subpoena for them was issued. What kind of Mickey Mouse work were they involved in that allowed it to come to this point to begin with? Why were the samples even labeled by name, instead of being assigned a numeric value? This seems like a serious breach of privacy issue that to me, that is dramatically more outrageous than anything related to the game of baseball itself. Right now the list of other players is in the hands of a California court, which will decide very soon whether or not to release the names. At this juncture I think they should, though prior to this break, I would’ve been against it.

Regarding the sports media, I’m probably the *most* angry at them. They love this steroid non-issue like they were married to it. The week before pitchers and catchers report, and three weeks before the start of Spring Training games, yet ANOTHER steroids story about a player, and it has consumed the airwaves for nearly a full-on week. The MLB network pre-empted a ton of scheduled programming that I was attempting to put on the TiVo in order to air 24-hour (no exaggeration) A-Rod steroids coverage. It’s come up on sports talk radio every day. It seems like these people wait until the absolute worst time of year to break these stories, to break these stories. This is the LAST thing I want to hear or read about right now. As the season prepares the start, I’m more concerned about the Tigers spring training preparations. If I want to read a story about A-Rod, the story I want is the one about how he, the Yankees, and their re-armed (pun intended) pitching staff intend to lay waste to the division that includes the best franchise in baseball (Boston) and the defending AL Champs (Tampa Bay). Reading recently on a message board, I saw someone make an excellent point, that I will share here, since I agree with it completely. The media makes such a big deal of steroids, not because the issue of steroids itself moves that many units. They do it because the public is overwhelmingly (and wrongly) opposed to steroid use in pro sports. And this issue gives every editorial writer in the country a pinata to beat. Since most of the country will agree with this writer beating the pinata, millions of Americans will be endeared to and will remember the guy they agreed with who beat up the big, bad roiders in newsprint. And the next time that writer has anything to say, on any subject, be it an authoritative view on who the next NASCAR champion will be or an opinion on eliminating the three-point line again in basketball, people – Who are now favorable to the guy for beating up on the roiders – Will read it. And THAT will move units.

Furthermore, it irritates me that baseball has taken the brunt of this beating. I told a co-worker yesterday…..and I really believe this……..that part of the reason baseball takes a beating is just the hard knocks of being #2. As a more relevant sport than the NBA or NHL, they get the money for being number 2, so they also have to take more of the heat. However, those leagues take NO HEAT, and I refuse to believe that there are no Performing Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) being used in either of them. Furthermore, the NFL, which is NUMBER ONE, doesn’t take the heat that baseball does, and they fairly regularly catch people doing some PEDs. Not only that, but like baseball, they don’t test for HGH. Why are they not getting this scrutiny? I’ve heard theories, one of which I have subscribed to, but I don’t want to get too far from my main point in this writing, so I won’t delve into it. Maybe another time. For now, I will leave that question as semi-rhetorical, and if anyone has an opinion on it, I’d love to hear it. My point is, baseball taking the majority of the beating is primarily the media’s doing.

Finally, my issue is with the delusional fans. And I guess its here where I’ll get into my feelings about steroid use in baseball and sports in general.

Give it up guys, your favorite player is *probably* a roider. And you can give up watching baseball if you want and that disgusts you too much, but guess what? Whatever sport you take up watching in its place, your favorite player………………is probably a roider. Or does something else that is “cheating”. And you know what? It’s not really that terrible.

Do I wish my favorite player DID NOT roid up? Yes. Admittedly, I would be slightly disappointed if it came out in the following days, or even years later, that Frank Thomas was on steroids. I choose to believe he didn’t until I see proof of otherwise, yet I know it remains a distinct possibility. But I’d get over it in about two days tops if such news hit.

The main opposition that I’ve heard is that its “cheating”, but quite frankly I see players roiding up being cheating in the same way that speeding is “illegal”. Yes, technically it is against the law, and so everytime you speed, you’re technically doing criminal activity. Yet I don’t think I’d ever look down my nose at a speeder, and I’ve never known anyone who has. People use the word “cheating” to define it similarly to the real-life equivalent of comparing it to “murder” when its alot more akin to “speeding”.

The fact that it is not one — Or even a handful — Of teams that is giving their players, and only their players, steroids or other PEDs, that it is players acting on their own, eliminates to me any notion of destroying the competitive balance between individual teams. It’s not like you have the Detroit “Roided” Tigers playing the Kansas City “Unroided” Royals. You have the Tigers who have some roiders playing the Royals who have some roiders.

The fact that SO MANY players have now been positively identified as doing this, over SUCH a lengthy period of time, and that these are only the players who have been caught using the stuff that they test for, and not necessarily other stuff that may be against the rules that isn’t being tested for, indicates to me that there is such a dramatically high number of players on some sort of juice or drug that it also eliminates any competitive imbalance in between players, for the most part. Can you really nail Roger Clemens for roiding when Barry Bonds was roiding? To use less high profile players, can you really nail Jason Grimsley for roiding when Alex Sanchez was roiding? Did one have the advantage over the other, when both were on the same stuff? That seems pretty much like balance to me. Certainly there were players who didn’t do anything against the rules, but during any individual game they weren’t really at a disadvantage either. Steroids has more to do with the ability to recover, than the ability to perform in a specific game. Think about this, that MLBPA test caught 104 people (something that isn’t getting alot of talk, by the way). At any given time there are 735 MLB players, and during the course of any season, roughly 1000-1100 players. Depending on how many people the test was given to, you’re looking at 9-14% of the league that was caught — Which excludes people who were doing undetectable drugs and players who normally juice but may have been clean at the particular time of testing. That could bump your number up as high as 25%, which is one and four players, or higher. When much of the league is already doing it, I fail to see a significant competitive disadvantage at the individual level either.

While I’m sure that there are tons of medical differences between steroids, HGH, and the supplements that you can purchase at GNC, ideologically and cognitively I cannot distinguish between them. What makes the person that buys steroids from Victor Conte any worse than the guy who goes to GNC and buys whatever supplements that athletes use from GNC or similar places, wheat grass or whatever it might be? The fact that they’re illegal? The fact that they’re potentially more dangerous? Both true, but doing dangerous things is a personal choice, as is doing something illegal for that matter. I won’t even get into the drug legalization issue wherein I don’t think steroids should be illegal in the first place, but just keeping the argument simple and keeping the steroids illegal, if people want to do illegal things that can potentially lead to their going in jail, that’s their problem, it still doesn’t change the fact that they’re going to jail for something that supplements their performance — Which is exactly what the people not going to jail for taking vitamins, wheat grass, ginseng, and whatever else they’re taking that also supplements their performance.

As far as I’m concerned, once you move beyond the little league level of game preparation — Doing exercises, getting proper rest the night before the game, and eating a big bowl of spaghetti a few hours before the game for a carb boost — Then everything you do is equal in my mind with regards to performance enhancing. Anything that is about putting something into your body that under natural circumstances you probably wouldn’t, is performance enhancing. Popping a ginseng pill is no different to me, than getting a steroid shot. Taking a cortisone shot to “numb the pain in your pitching shoulder”, which is legal and within the rules and is done all the time by every team, is no different to me than taking an HGH shot to boost up a bit. Assigning demons to certain types of PEDs and allowing others to go free creates cognitive dissonance in my mind. It’s all the same to me.

As I highlighted in my analysis above about competitive balance both at the team and individual level and how it relates to the concept of “cheating”, PED usage truly is more like “speeding” than “murder”. This isn’t the Anaheim Angels getting to run directly to third base from first base instead of having to round all the bases while all the other teams don’t, which I feel would be severe ACTUAL cheating and the baseball equivalent of “murder”. The only imbalance created by PED usage is the imbalance of stat tracking from one era to another, but once again this is where fans are painfully ignorant and hypocritical. I’ve heard talking of putting asterisks over a period of time denoted as “The steroid era”. This is sheer lunatic talk.

There have ALWAYS been differences throughout eras of baseball in the stats. There was a guy who played in the early part of the 20th Century who was nicknamed “Home Run” Baker because he hit so many home runs, and he never hit more than 20. At one time it was routine for there to be a player or two who hit above .370, if not regularly. Now it is a rarity. There was an era prior to 1920-something when spitballs and scuffballs were legal, an era prior to 1947 when Blacks were not allowed to play (which skewed stats…..if the best black and latino pitchers were available at the time, would Babe Ruth have ever hit 60 home runs?), an era prior to about 1920 when they played with a different type of baseball, an era when the pitchers mound was higher than it is today (Did you know there was only one .300+ hitter in the entire 1968 season for the whole league?), and eras when ballparks were both smaller and larger than they are today (although they’re about smaller now than they’ve ever been), eras where more games were played on floor-like artificial turf, eras where most of the best players were not playing because they were fighting in World Wars, and eras where there were only 16 or so teams in the league.

My point? The stats have NEVER matched, so why is the Steroid era such an offense to people in this regard? This was the second era of big power hitting, period (1920ish-World War II was another). Move on. Furthermore, there are now an abundance of stats that adjust for era and allow for easy comparison across eras, two of which — OPS+ and ERA+ — Are among my favorite stats to use in discussing hitting and pitching respectively, precisely for that reason. These stats are nearly impossible to calculate on your own without a very comprehensive spreadsheet, but they are easily available on the internet and tracked daily during the season. Therefore, I’d go as far as to say that we have more tools at our disposal than ever to put this era in proper perspective relative to other eras. Information that shows us just where and how contemporary players stack up against our favorite old time players.

My last point, and least aggressive one, is to address the one other rationale for anger that I hear. The fact that aside from being against the rules of baseball, steroids are illegal. And illegal things are bad. Again, I’m going to attempt really hard to not use the fact that I believe in drug legalization to drive my rationale here. Listen, if you’re one of these people, I kinda feel you. Just because I don’t see PEDs as the great boogeyman, doesn’t mean I think that we should pat these guys on the back for being users. However, whether or not it is illegal really is irrelevant to the conduct of the sport and the game. That’s a criminal and judicial matter. If David Ortiz came up to bat, pulled out a gun, and shot a fan before hitting, it would make him a less likable guy who should be in jail, but it wouldn’t make him a worse baseball player nor would it interfere with the competitive integrity of the sport. This analogy best captures my feelings on PEDs. Its up to these guys to decide if they want to break the law, and up to the police agencies and the judges to decide what to do with them. It’s a far lesser issue (again, think “speeding”) with regard to the actual game itself.

As I stated earlier, I would be disappointed too if my favorite player was outed. I also believe that it takes a great deal of integrity to not break the rules in an environment that was, and apparently is, so heavily tilted towards openly and blatantly breaking the rules. Such players that do so ought be admired, but given the severity (or lack thereof) of the offense, I’m not convinced in the least that players that don’t ought to be flogged in the court of public opinion. At least what they do for millions of dollars ultimately only hurts them. What would YOU, or many other people, do for as much money as they make? There are lots of headlines in the Detroit Free Press about people who were KILLED by OTHER PEOPLE for alot less, I’ll tell you that much. And before you answer the question, especially those of you with children, think about what that money could do for your kids. I couldn’t see myself taking steroids under those circumstances…..but I can see why someone would. And I do know of people — My Dad for one — Who have done things such as not eat some days (which is the equivalent of hurting your body……..which steroids does) so that their kids can. Get off your high horses people.

Those are my thoughts on the matter. Congratulations if you read it all. I’d love to hear yours.

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