Sunday, August 18, 2013 was one of MLB's most entertaining, complex and exhausting days in recent history.
In the spotlight once again, Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun cemented themselves as the leaders of MLB's "New Steroiders."
A colleague mentioned to me he thought these stories are "played out" and I agree. While the steroid era was properly stamped and aptly named over a decade ago, last night ushered in a level of complexity and deception we've never seen before.
A short breakdown of the events of August 18:
1. Yankees-Red Sox on Sunday Night Baseball showcased one of the most thrilling matchups between the rivals since the "Bloody Sock" game in 2004.
After Ryan Dempster nearly hit A-Rod three times, he plunked him in the elbow and the benches cleared. Yanks manager Joe Girardi went ballistic and got ejected, the benches cleared, and all of a sudden it felt like Don Zimmer nearly apologized for everyone (not really).
Then A-Rod went yard off Dempster, which made every Yankee in the dugout grimace ("Do we congratulate him? Do we sit here? We suck, what are we gloating for?")
2. According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, a report surfaced that in April A-Rod rejected an MLB deal for a shorter ban due to his steroid suspension.
3. An ESPN report emerged that A-Rod tried to pay for (and pay off) the lawyer of Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch.
4. Ryan Braun reportedly told MLB veterans/stars that the 2012 urine sample collector who allegedly tampered with his sample was an anti-Semite (per Yahoo! Sports)
5. Yankees general manager Brian Cashman admits he's "not comfortable" talking to A-Rod (via The Star-Ledger).
6. According to ESPN, A-Rod reps opened a grievance claim against the Yankees for mistreating him regarding his injury.
As I waded through the muck, I tried making sense of a twisted night in a way-past-soiled sport.
From gut to brain to out-of-body experience, the journey of my reaction is as follows:
Visceral Reactions: MLB's Greatest Gift
Phrases I used in when first discussing this waterfall of events included:
"I can't believe this guy."
"Why not just retire right now in full-bodied shame?"
"Might as well make an attempt at being a decent human being for the second half of his life."
Thin slicing situations and acting with our gut is a human instinct. And frankly it's a trait even more inherent to sports fans since we live on a never-ending calendar and cycle of drama and controversy. Work sports media into this cocktail and you find yourself having regular nightmares about Luis Suarez, Nick Saban and our very own Braun-Rod duo.
Last night, baseball fans didn't know whether to throw in the towel, angrily dig a deeper trench for the "New Steroiders" or just take another punch to the gut like a good ol' head-turner.
I'm glad I live in the UK—I didn't have to go to sleep thinking about all this garbage. Thankfully, I got to eat my cereal with all the chaos flowing in at once.
Take a Step Back, Form an Opinion
My guess is not many people are surprised by anything that happened—benches clearing, managers getting tossed and a tornado of ugly reports—in the Red Sox-Yankees game.
In a 2009 column, ESPN's Bill Simmons remarked that MLB's stars will never be fully trusted due to the labeling of "The Steroid Era."
Simmons was right. The only problem is, athletes aren't people we trust to begin with. There's too many X-factors in the life of an athlete to every really trust them.
Fortunately, this is the way we want it. We deliberately put space between ourselves and our heroes because we want them to stay way up there on their proverbial pedestal. Sure, it's always a little earth-shattering at first when we realize they're not superhuman. But we put up that wall for a reason.
We don't need to trust them!
A lot of this started to make sense for me last night. The hardest part to stomach isn't the cheating or the bold-facing lying, really. It's just knowing that players harbor that insatiable desire to get away with something that, to fans, feels like a knife in the face.
The downward spiral of a fallen athlete saddens me not because I feel for the person. We see people in our everyday lives go through things much worse than paying a lawyer $50K to cover up the fact you did PEDs.
I'm just sad because they won't ever have a chance to redeem themselves outside of the game.
Floating Away on a Cloud of Invincibility
At this point, I mostly don't care what happens to these guys. They're humans, they have support groups to hold them afloat and ultimately they'll live a non-tortured existence. Sports fandom is not about the athletes or the coaches or teams, however. It's about a community of people who share similar beliefs coming together and living tormented lives as fans so that athletes don't have to.
(Read, I can't hit the ball 446 feet to dead center, and A-Rod can't tell the truth or admit responsibility for a mistake. We're a match made in baseball heaven.)
From baseball's craziest night in...forever, I take away many things: an empty conscience, a mind devoid of care for our "fallen" heroes and an untouchable shield magically hovering around me. All these things make it easy to watch A-Rod parade around the bases and enter the dugout to boos and a few empty high-fives from confused teammates.
What About Athlete Jail? Can We At Least Toy with the Idea?
In 2011, 21-year-old Bayern Munich defender Breno was sentenced to three years and nine months in jail for arson. He was recently released on good time and is going back to Bayern with a job working in the club's academy.
It seems his time in jail did him some good.
Maybe we should send Braun-Rod to jail, just for being deceptive freaks. MLB can fund it so the taxpayers won't have to. Commissioner Bud Selig can walk away from the game with a legitimate accomplishment instead of the bogus one we all know he'll claim: "I cleaned up baseball and ushered it out of The Steroid Era."
Since I know BraunRodJail will never happen, here's my advice to our cloaked, mysterious "New Steroiders." Pull a Mark McGwire and get yourself a hitting job somewhere.
Repent. Start over. Turn yourself into a fan if you want.
Hell, you can even do steroids then if you want. Just do me a favor: Don't come dragging your feet back when your Twitter account morphs into Jose Canseco's.
Follow me on Twitter @ericdrobny.
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