Defending the Undefendable: Giving a Pass to A-Rod and the Steroid Era

Chuck Porter JrContributor IFebruary 11, 2009

I must admit that this article is not an attempt to defend Alex Rodriguez or the other names that we know—and the ones we don't know, for that matter. Quite frankly, I don't know how anyone could consciously defend A-Rod or any of the other alleged steroid users.

Clemens, Bonds, Palmeiro, Sosa, McGwire.

They're just not likable people. Pompous, arrogant, self-absorbed, quick to judge and quicker to lie in the face of blatant truths. 

All characteristics that you would expect from a steroid user. But here we are dealing with the issue of steroids in baseball, one more time; disgusted, shocked, disappointed, and repulsed.  

And although those guys have shamed themselves and the game, I can give you 706 million reasons why I can't blame them—that's roughly the combined earned career salaries of those six players, to date, not including endorsement deals and outside engagements. 

Money isn't everything, but when you're playing a game that rewards performance, you can't really argue with the facts, and the facts are that those drugs got those guys paid in a big way.

Of course, to a man, his reputation is far more important than money, and this is where things get interesting and ugly all at the same time, because the other characteristic that those players share is a strong desire to be the best. And, arguably, they achieved that goal. Fortunately, for baseball purists, none of those players will ever be able to wear that crown because it's going to be impossible to compare their enhanced stats with the greatest "clean" players of all-time.

But the question remains: "Should steroid use negate these players from entering in the Hall of Fame, and has it been overlooked already?"

For those of you who are ready to storm their estates with burning pitchforks, I would urge you to consider the facts. 

To understand the breadth of the situation, you have to understand the history of steroids. The facts, coupled with a high degree of doubt surrounding the past, are the main reasons why I believe that these players deserve a fair chance to earn their place in the Hall.

First and foremost, steroids were not introduced as an illegal drug until 1990 (trafficking was banned in 1988), but synthetically-produced testosterone has been around since the 1930s. In the 1940's, testosterone was hailed as the next "wonder drug," partially due to a medical publication, The Male Hormone, by Paul de Kruif, and the drug was knowingly used by body builders and weight lifters.

We didn't hear a lot about steroids for the next 30 years, but it's becoming pretty clear that the game was not as pure as many believed it was.

Former Major League pitcher Tom House, a teammate of Hank Aaron in the late 1960s, has been one of the first to confirm that he and several teammates were taking steroids. In May 2005, the San Francisco Chronicle reported that House said, "I pretty much popped everything cold turkey. We were doing steroids they wouldn’t give to horses. That was the '60s, when nobody knew. The good thing is, we know now. There’s a lot more research and understanding.”

More and more players from every sport are coming out: In the NFL, the San Diego Chargers teams of the 1960s have openly admitted that steroids were a regular facet of their training regiment, prescribed and overseen by the team trainers. 

The field is not as uneven as we have been led to believe.

The anti-steroid movement only truly began in the 1970s, as steroids became banned substances by the Olympics and several collegiate and professional sports.

Baseball, however, was not one of the sports that banned steroids.

The International Olympic Committee was the first organization to implement a legitimate testing effort, and the anti-steroid movement intensified in the 1980s, hitting its peak in 1988 when, during the 1988 Olympics, sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of his gold medal and world record for failing a test on the grandest stage.

Track and field has always led the charge for stricter requirements and better tests because of the nature of those games—they are meant to be true tests of sheer athleticism. Running, jumping, hurdling, referee interference and very little strategy involved. Substances are the only thing that can really impact the sportsmanship of those games. The cardinal sin of track and field has always been doping. 

With baseball, the cardinal sin has always been sports betting—just ask Pete Rose—and, not too long ago, performance-enhancing drugs were not that big of a deal. The inference that a player could have altered his approach to the game simply to win a bet was far worse in the eyes of Major League Baseball than taking steroids.

In 1991, Fay Vincent sent out a famous memo to the owners of MLB teams indicating that steroids were banned and that any player suspected of taking steroids was to be confronted by team personnel.

Zero players were approached, and zero players were asked to take a test. 

That all changed in 2003, when a "random" sample of players were chosen to be tested—coincidentally, this is right around the same time that Jose Canseco retired—the results of which were supposed to remain anonymous and be without penalty.

And yet, Alex Rodriguez is the first of many names to come; outed and abandoned by the sport that promised him immunity. 

I would not classify Alex as the victim, and his apology radiates insincerity, but some things that he said during his interview with Peter Gammons certainly ring true. 

It's pretty clear that the clubhouse, the owners, the managers, and baseball, in general, accepted the obvious steroid abuse. The laissez-faire attitude that trickled down from the top created the "loosey-goosey" era that A-Rod spoke of.

That much I am sure of. 

The fact that baseball was the last major professional sports organization to implement mandatory testing requirements and an express steroid policy, including suspension, is appalling. Prior to 2004, there was no testing in baseball, there was nothing that governed the punishment of a player caught taking performance-enhancing drugs, and baseball was as naive as the players that have admittedly said that they didn't know what they were taking.

A lot of questions remain, but I think that baseball needs to turn the page and grant this generation and this era a level of protection. These players will rightfully lose endorsements, and their reputation will always be tarnished, but baseball as an organization has a responsibility to step up to the plate and protect these guys, because their naivety is as much to blame as the players who took the drugs.

They have a responsibility to leave no doubt that they let their fans down and that these players are not the ones to blame. 

Just because baseball suddenly decided to test for steroids and make it an issue, doesn't mean that these players are any worse than the players who didn't have to do as much to hide it. 

If you are still thinking about using those flaming pitchforks, Bud Selig's office is not too hard to find. 

Hall of Fame-worthy...absolutely.

Unless you can legitimately answer these questions in a way that proves otherwise, I suggest you reconsider your opinion.

Are there players currently in the Hall of Fame that took performance enhancing drugs?

Did the Commissioner and/or owners know that A-Rod, Clemens, Bonds, etc., were taking performance-enhancing drugs?

Did the trainers question whether players were taking performance-enhancing drugs?

Was steroid use prevalent prior to 2004 when testing was introduced? 

Are players currently taking supplements, not banned by MLB, to enhance their performance?

Were players in the '40s,'50s, '60s, and '70s taking supplements, not banned by MLB, to enhance their performance?

If a performance-enhancing substance is not banned, does that make it all right?

If we found out that Babe Ruth was taking speed throughout his career, would that be grounds for removal from the Hall of Fame? 


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