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Thursday, June 02, 2005

Roids Redux

I watched a few minutes of outside the lines yesterday; subject: the impact of steroids. Big topic, for sure. The guests were Juan Williams, formerly of the Washington Post, now of NPR but never a baseball or sports writer; Gwen Knapp, sports reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle; and some guy with a title like "President of the Baseball Bloggers Association" or something along those lines.
Williams moaned about the impact of steroids use on little kids who look up to major leaguers. Get over it. They do not care and will not care if their parents parent and don't act like little kids about the entire subject. He also wanted to throw out the records posted in the past few years and cried about the poisoning of the game.
Gwen Knapp was honest about closing (or blinking) her eyes to the fact that she knew people using Andro did it to boost the effects of steroids, not because Andro did anything dramatic on its own, and that she did not follow up during the home run-record-breaking year of 1998, a year baseball desperately needed to restore fan interest.
The blogger fellow noted, among other things, that fans go to the ballpark to enjoy the game and get away from their day-to-day lives, like to see the long ball, have a hot dog and beer, and don't really care about the steroids issue.
Which leads me to this thought: I don't care either. Yes, using steroids is cheating, but baseball essentially condones or winks at cheating until people get caught; only then, does it punish them and only then does anyone really care. Did anyone actually LOOK at McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, et al., and not think their bodies had some help other than great nutrition and weight training? Of course we did, but the competition, the race to the records, the sheer thrill of it all for hard-core (and soft-core) baseball fans was more compelling than wondering how they did it. Even after McGwire gave it up on Andro and threw it away, did anyone really care? Did anyone really care that he might have been taking a LEGAL, OTC supplement? Nope, because whatever you do to get an edge, especially if it's LEGAL, is okay by most of us.
And let us please get over ourselves and our "the baseball records are dogma" attitude, that anyone screwing with the records is the Antichrist. We have no way of knowing 1) just how many of the existing records are 100% accurate, especially the ones from the earliest years of baseball; 2) whether the competition among 16 teams up, eight per league (up to 1960) was really better than or even as good as the competition now - we wax poetic about the old days of baseball, when no one wore batting gloves and everyone was a tough, hard-driving player, but we have no way of knowing whether, for example, there were just as many easy outs then as there might be now; doesn't having a DH actually make it tougher for pitchers now than when every 9th player was a pitcher whose average probably hovered below the Mendoza line?; or 3) what those old timers did to even the odds (spitballs, scraping the ball with tacks and sandpaper, corked bats, etc.). The bottom line is: Is there anyone who can positively attest that all the records pre-1998 are 100% valid - attained only by sheer skill and determination? I doubt it.
We are on the verge, for the first time, of having the government intrude into how professional sports manage themselves - a very slippery slope. Is the next step to start tinkering with the rules? We have laws already banning the sale, distribution and use of steroids, so whatever these guys did to obtain and use the drugs was an illegal act. Enforce that law before you pass other ones that put the government INTO the game.
Enough with the moralizing about steroids' impact on society. What about the impact of war? poverty? shitty educational systems that guarantee a slide to mediocrity for the US in the next decades? We, typically, attack the pop-up target, the easy mark and manage to ignore the less visible, but more insidious problems that, let's be honest, do not lend themselves to an easy solution.
Steroid use in baseball is not the proximate cause of the downfall of US culture. The energy devoted to steroids may make us feel good, but the problems lurking outside the walls of every stadium should be the ones we try to solve first.