Baseball is a game. And in games, people cheat. They always have. It happened when you were a kid and, even though they are adults, it happens today in sports. With 750 active players in baseball, there will always be someone cheating. People want to win and some will go to extremes to do so.
This isn’t the first instance of cheating in baseball. Pitchers, most recently Francisco Rodriguez, have doctored baseballs. Sammy Sosa, Albert Belle, and others have corked baseball bats. Teams and players, allegedly including Ty Cobb, have fixed baseball games.
Performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) create wins. With the number of close games in baseball, it can be assumed that over the course of a 162-game season PEDs will create wins for a club and potentially put an average team in a division race, improving sales across the board. Of course the Texas Rangers, one of the most notoriously injected ball clubs, have been bad for years despite this. That can be chalked up to horrendous pitching.
Big names get smaller: Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi, Roger Clemens, Miguel Tejada, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez, and most recently, Manny Ramirez. And he won’t be the last. We have to be honest about this. We, baseball fans, are surprised time and time again when a superstar falls from grace. It will never end, ever.
Players will always seek an edge on their competitors. I won’t say players are the victims, but they definitely are not the root of this epidemic. It's larger than the players. The question that jumps to mind is, will science stay ahead of the MLB drug testing policy? The way things are going now, I believe it will. MLB tends to let capitol hill take the bulk responsibility in prosecuting players. For a player, a 50-game suspension is a risk worth taking when millions of dollars are at stake.
I grew up watching injected men play a game. That is fact. The worst part of it all is that an entire era, the entire span of my baseball fandom, is littered with uncertainty. I’d love to live the rest of my life knowing that Ken Griffey Jr’s incredible talent was the result of inherit skill, achieved knowledge, and the perfect swing. But I can’t. I can’t justify thinking he, or anyone else, played a clean career. It’s utterly absurd to take away the accomplishments of anyone playing the game of baseball today, but in this case a few bad apples have spoiled the bunch.
History won’t be kind to this era of baseball. But is this the end of an era, or just the beginning? There will always be peddlers like Greg Anderson and Brian McNamee looking to capitalize on others’ vulnerabilities. Do PEDs have a permanent home in baseball, and if so, how does MLB adjust? The numbers are skewed to oblivion and an asterisk can’t be applied to every record post-dating 1998, right? So what can the baseball society do? Perhaps this is only the beginning of a complete overhaul of the sport, shifting from the sacred historical numbers to the now numbers, the fantasy numbers, and the immediate productivity of a player.
There will always be question. Always. It’s impossible for any of us to know if our childhood heroes were playing with clean blood. Before this tainted era of baseball, superstars weren’t so common. Now we can find superstars in every division.
The contracts in baseball grew exponentially. Owners expected results. Players needed to produce. It’s a slippery slope. And even in this economy it’s certain to continue. Free agency won’t be going away and top talent will continually go to the highest bidder, and subsequently be pressured to perform at an incredible level.
PEDs won’t make Todd from Jiffy Lube into Josh Hamilton. But they will make an average player better and a good player great. They won’t add 40 feet to a long ball, but they’ll improve production, consistency, and extend a career.
I’ve got my rally hat on. Regardless of how this plays out, I’m in it for the long haul. It’s not too late to restore the integrity of baseball but it’s not going to come easily. Perhaps at the conclusion of the 2012 season, when Bud Selig retires, baseball will experience a reformation. Perhaps the new commissioner, whoever they may be, will evaluate the game and make the appropriate changes. Undoubtedly, baseball will adapt and evolve, for better or worse, as it has with all of its obstacles throughout it’s history.