Manny's a cheater. So is A-Rod. Why do we care?

Elliott SmithCorrespondent IMay 7, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 19:  Manny Ramirez #99 of the Los Angeles Dodgers at bat against the Colorado Rockies during the game at Dodger Stadium on April 19, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

When the news broke that everyone's favorite dreadlocked slugger, Manny Ramirez, had been suspended for 50 games after testing positive for a banned substance, we were immediately greeted with the usual hand-wringing dispatches about preserving "the sanctity of the game" and calls for "zero tolerance" for steroid users.

But, I must ask, as I have ever since the entire steroid cloud started raining cheaters, why do we care so much?

Baseball has a long and storied history of cheating. From spitballs to greenies to sandpaper to coke to 'roids, players in every era have tried to circumvent the rules for their own advantage. It's only natural that as the stakes (and money) have been raised, the deceptions have gone from relatively harmless to high-tech.

Are we really, honestly still surprised that players are being busted for steroids?

It could come out that David Eckstein was juicing and I wouldn't blink an eye—in the dog-eat-dog world of professional sports, and especially baseball, in which the players were allowed to do what they wanted while the league looked the other way for so long, many players feel like they have to do whatever it takes to keep their multi-million dollar jobs.

Asking if it's right or wrong is a moral question with no correct answer. Worrying about what children will think and do is a pipe dream—we tell them that murder is bad, yet people still wind up getting killed. Trying to rid the game of cheaters is a lost cause, because right now, even with arguably the game's best player shamed, someone has figured out a better way to get better without getting into trouble.

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We watch games and buy tickets with the expectations of being entertained. Part of that deal is that we want to see some of the best athletes in the world doing what they do best—hitting the ball longer, throwing harder, and running faster.

If the game was filled with Adam Everett types, our interest would wane.

We all knew what was going on when players started ballooning in size. We all held our nose and plowed forward, hoping for the best and basking in the barrage of homers.

I covered the Mariners during the heyday of the Steroid Era, and the assembled journalists all whispered about certain players with suddenly ripped physiques. But nearly everyone was willing to overlook it.

I was there the night Rafael Palmeiro got his 3,000th hit, and we were all falling over ourselves to write about how great this player was, both for his on-field abilities and his dogged stance against steroids. You know how that turned out.

It absolutely stinks for the players who have played clean throughout their careers to be lumped in with cheaters. But it is an unfortunate side effect of the time in which they played the game.

Maybe one day, we can honestly say that baseball is clean, but right now, A-Rod, Manny, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and others have poisoned the well for everyone else.

Am I saying that baseball should become steroid central? Of course not.

But the reality is that performance enhancing drugs are out there, have been out there, and will continue to be out there for those athletes willing to destroy their futures for today's riches. Let's just accept this, so when the next big name gets busted, we can skip the righteous indignation and move on.


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