Friday, July 31, 2009

'Roid Rage?

Big Papi was ridin' the 'roid train.

Am I disappointed in David Ortiz? No.

First, I don't know what he did, why he did it, when he did it, or what effect it had on his performance.

Second, I don't care.

Please don't misunderstand me. I am opposed to the use of steroids by any professional athlete. I believe the current MLB policies are slightly less draconian than they should be, but overall I think those policies are correct.

I do not, however, consider the Steroid Era as the greatest black-eye on the game. Nor do I consider the players who cheated (and I do acknowledge that these players are cheaters) the lowest form of life.

Instead, I view the Steroid Era in the broader context of a sport where cheating has always been a part of the game. After being enshrined in the Hall of Fame, Rollie Fingers marketed a movie where he demonstrated how he cheated by doctoring the baseball. Legions of baseball beat writers from ages of yore have written about the rampant drug usage (particularly speed) during the '50s and '60s.

None of this was acceptable, but it has always been part of the game, and in loving the game I accept these things as part of it. I want these things eliminated moving forward, but I'm not willing to begin a witch hunt for the perpetrators, nor am I willing to start dishing out asterisks to every record from the past 15 years.

By design, professional athletes go through a brutal selective process of elimination that produces a group of people who will do virtually anything to gain the smallest advantage because that tiniest of advantages might make the difference between making the varsity squad or not, or being dropped from the Single A team or not, or being added to the Major League roster or not. Consequently, those who actually make it to the highest levels of the game have been surviving hundreds (if not thousands) of evaluations by an incredibly coarse, harsh group of critics.

It's not an accident that the people who survive this process are likely to do anything (including breaking the rules) to gain an advantage. The entire system is set up to guarantee that ONLY those people are willing to do so (and those incredibly rare individuals born with an innate gift) survive.

So, yeah, apparently, maybe, I think, according to reports from people who violated the law to release this "vital" information Big Papi was using substances that have subsequently been banned by Major League Baseball.

Does that reduce my respect for what David Ortiz accomplished during those four or five years when he was the most feared hitter in the American League? No. Of course not.

Do I want Major League Baseball to punish ANYONE who is found to have violated the new policy? Absolutely.

Do I want those punishments to be severe? Oh, yeah. Really bad. 50-game suspension for a first violation is good, 162 games would be better.

Do I want any investigation of past offenses/continued revelations and investigations? No. I don't care.

What Big Papi did was wrong (if he actually did what he's alleged to have done). What all of those people did was wrong. But although there were laws against their actions, there were no policies by Major League Baseball against those actions. And in that type of environment, I can't claim to be too holier-than-thou about this situation.

I wanted my team to win. And if I knew that one of my team's players was breaking the law to help improve his performance (and hence my team's chances of winning) I wouldn't be saying anything unless the violation was also so enormously egregious that I couldn't tolerate it.

Using performance enhancing drugs? No, that violation doesn't cross the line I'm talking about.

It is wrong.

It was wrong when it was running rampant throughout clubhouses.

But the reason it's such a big issue has nothing to do with the players violating the policy. The real reason it's so horrible is about all of the people, especially the children, who don't become an All-Star but who are forced to use drugs that will irreparably damage their lives to pursue a dream of becoming a professional athlete.

I love sports, in particular baseball, but I'm not willing to accept a situation where we set up children to ruin their lives by forcing them to use drugs.

That crosses the line.

That's why I want the use of steroids or any other performance enhancing drugs banned with very harsh penalties for those convicted of violating the rules. But as a baseball fan, I don't want to even discuss whether Big Papi (or Manny Ramirez or Alex Rodriguez or Mark McGwire) used steroids.

It doesn't matter. It's over. Let's move on... to this year's World Series, where a drug-free Ryan Howard hits a grand slam off a drug-free Jonathan Papelbon in Game 4 to win the Series for the Phillies.

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