Yesterday, during a radio interview, I was asked how, from a player’s perspective, the new drug testing policies set forth in the mid 2000s have affected the way players think about using PEDs.
For starters, the game is cleaner. It really is. I know that guys getting popped for PEDs make big news these days, but that’s because there are now rules in place to show just how scandalous these perpetrators are. When things weren’t so strict, it wasn’t such a big deal.
Then baseball clamped down on the situation, effectively making the matter a serious issue, with serious penalties—funny how the severity of the punishment adds to the perceived deviousness of the crime, isn’t it?
Then the media realized what a ratings gold mine it is to drag rule breakers through the mud. Every day, whether you were tired of hearing about it or not, your former hero turned pin cushion got filleted by commentators, analysts, radio hosts and angry, venting callers who just wanted to take shots at someone who made more money than they did.
Those were dirty days, weren’t they? When baseball was like some crime syndicate running drugs behind the polished, public façade of America’s pastime. The MLB feds finally got someone on the inside, and boom—you needed a bomb shelter to dodge all the falling reputations.
But something else also happened. Some players, most of them members of the old guard, around before the rules came into place, had to pay the price for popping. They walked it out in the public’s eye. The media gave you minute-to-minute updates. Life was so saturated with positive-test drama that publicists and agents started to develop anti-venom.
Can fans have a real effect on MLB's drug culture?
The art of PED apologetics was born. Players learned how to tell fans they messed up, and make it sound genuinely believable. They learned how long it takes to scrub a reputation clean again after it gets tarred and feathered. They learned that in an entertainment-driven culture, the difficulty of staying front and center in the public interest is sometimes a good thing.
When the new rules came into effect, it looked as if a player wouldn’t possibly do steroids because the reaction would be social death, and players were terrified. Now, however, they’ve seen the fullness of the process.
If you’re eloquent, good with the media and willing to take your licks, you can get away with a positive test and come out better—and richer—for it. You can even spin it to make yourself look more human, despite being a medically enhanced superhuman. Hell, write a book about what you learned. It also helps if you keep winning.
Outraged fans are now starting to say things like, “It doesn’t surprise me anymore” and “I just assume that any of the good ones are doing something illegal.” It’s sad, but it’s true.
Sadder still is that we continue consuming the sport while we’re pissed at it.
Oh we have our idealistic solutions that bandage over the ordeal until it’s pushed from the center of our attention:
“Take their money and don’t give it back till they're clean!”
“Give it to all the guys who lost out because of player X’s contract built on false success.”
Thanks, Robin Hood.
“Boot them out of the game forever!”
The players union will never allow that. And frankly, superstar talent is hard to find, so don’t expect the MLB to institute something that radical.
The fans get upset when they see violators, and they have every right to get upset. They’ve been lied to. But then it escalates into something completely useless, this self messaging act of anger and denial that bears no fruit. The perpetuating of a cycle we all know: lashing out against the player like we have the right to punish him, because we buy tickets.
The player does not take kindly to this, he returns fire, something is recorded, YouTube videos are made, children cry, jerseys burn and somehow Skip Bayless finds a way to waste an hour talking over other commentators about it all.
Jesus, I need a Vitamin B12 shot just thinking about it. It’s all sound and fury, but no substance.
Fans want the game cleaned up. Let me amend that: Fans want the game cleaned up now that they know it’s dirty.
When they didn’t know, they wanted longer home runs and more of them. They wanted to be entertained. Now they still want to be want to be entertained, but with good, clean fun as agreed upon by current medical testing procedures, and by the drama that comes from people failing them.
Drama is entertaining. News about players breaking our heart is, sadistically, tragically, entertaining. Punishment is entertaining. The ratings say it is. The talk shows say it is. The trending Twitter topics say it is.
Again, fans do want the game cleaned up. But they also want to be able to bash the sport and the player for not getting clean. Meanwhile, they want to say they are responsible for the sport being able to provide riches to elite players. The golden carrot, if you will.
I’m not going to dispute that the game is built for the fans. Obviously it is. They’re the consumers and everyone on the business side of the act makes a buck off of fans, whether it's from ticket sales, advertising or domestic beer in a plastic cup.
This makes fans the muscle of change—if they want to be. So, fan, instead of burning one player’s jersey and then replacing it with another’s, or ranting on a sports radio talk show, just stop. Stop consuming baseball. At least until it’s clean, or the way you want it to be.
I’m not trying to be a jerk. I do love fans because I am one myself. I’m simply saying that baseball is a business, and in this world of Occupy movements and voting with our dollars, we can organize and refrain until we get the business we want.
Baseball doesn’t have to be the billion-dollar industry, where watchdogs have rubber teeth and the parties involved know we want to see amazing feats so they put the best product on the field—most of the time naturally. It can be what we want it to be—honestly clean, or unnaturally entertaining. It adapts to provide the experience we ask it too. So what are we asking from it?
Until a vast majority of fans want purity and accountability when it comes time to put our money where our mouth is, it won’t happen. The bottom line is, we can know about something being wrong, but as long as we’re willing to pay to be entertained by it, it’s not really wrong, is it?
Sure, PED’s may have cheapened the game, but prices are still going up.
Dirk Hayhurst is a pitcher most recently in the Tampa Bay Rays organization, and the author of the New York Times bestseller The Bullpen Gospels. His new book, Out of My League, is available for pre-order now. Visit his website at DirkHayhurst.com.