Roids, Rants and Rage, Part 2
2. Steroids and the state of baseball
A few weeks back, in a comments thread, Tom and I shot off a first volley about steroids, and then I stalled by promising a post on the matter in the future.
So here it is. Please refer to yesterday's posting of an important definition before reading this, or at least before dashing to this comments thread to flame me.
A further disclaimer: no one in their right mind can say that baseball shouldn't have a tougher steroid-testing policy. No one in their right mind can say that the league shouldn't take steps to prevent unfair advantages between players, especially of a technological nature. Technological advantages (unlike advantages according to race, background, position, etc.--there are any number of advantages and imbalances between players that are far less quantifiable), be they equipment that is not standard (corked bats, doctored balls, etc.), or biochemical training aids such as steroids and human growth hormone should not be permitted. There need to be tougher rules, stricter testing, more oversight by the league. They can look to the NFL's testing system as a model. And I believe this will happen.
The thing I take issue with is the attitude expressed by Tom specifically and elsewhere in general that:
....with all this steroid crap, I'm not sure how much longer I'll be a baseball fan.
In all seriousness, I don't think things can get any better than last year. I'll always be a big Red Sox fan, but if it comes out that all these superstars have been juicing, it's really going to make me think twice about following baseball for 6 months.
I don't think any of the current Red Sox do steroids, but it wouldn't surprise me at all if Nomar used them.
The thing that will make me stop watching won't be the players, per se, but the league. MLB knows this has been going on, and they let it happen. They let Sosa, McGwire, and Bonds rewrite the record books and piss all over anyone who played the game properly. Hard to support something like that. For me, anyway.
Okay. Tom is purely within his rights as a baseball fan to decide whether or not to purchase a league's product, be it through tickets, television, merchandise or online use. Tom absolutely has a right to his opinion and there are many who agree with him.
I am not one of them.
Yes, I am disappointed that several of the league's top sluggers are found to have been cheaters. I am disappointed that records have been broken, awards won, by those who have later been found to have used unfair advantages to break them. I believe that the people Tom mentioned who fit that category should be stripped of their awards, records, titles, and banned from the league.
However, where Tom and I fundamentally disagree is that he sees baseball as a product: he sees the league as a company and baseball as what they're hawking, and he's not going to buy it anymore if he feels it's been a poor one. Which, again, is completely fine. But from my perspective, baseball is a concept--as I stated yesterday, a fiction. And precisely its appeal, to me, is that it contains a vision of perfection that absolutely no one will ever reach.
Look at the early 20th century, and the Black Sox scandal. Can you imagine where we'd be now if everyone had thought like Tom back then? Because the famous "Eight Men Out" were unethical, should fans have renounced the game entirely?
Should no one be a fan of the Cincinnati Reds any longer because Pete Rose gambled, and then lied about it?
Should no one be a Red Sox fan because of their history of institutionalized racism?
Whenever I think about baseball's most recent scandal, I think of my friend Kellie, and how many rude questions she got when the clergy child-molestation scandals roared through the Archdiocese of Boston like a brush fire, all of them along the lines of: How can you be a Catholic anymore?
Kellie's essential response was one I admire: Because priests are not Jesus.
Like the priests, bishops, and archbishops of the Catholic clergy scandal, baseball players throughout history have been incredibly imperfect beings, as have owners, managers, coaches...and fans. There isn't a single person without sin in the religion that is baseball--but like Christianity, baseball is a process of aspiring toward unattainable perfection.
In baseball's case, the perfection aspired to is that of a golden past or a glorious future which do not exist and never have. Along the way, there have been all kinds of things wrong with baseball--steroids are just one of them. What about the number of players who do drugs, who beat and cheat on their wives, who use women on the road, who act like spoiled brats when they don't get their way though they're being paid millions, who assault one another and fans? Are we going to stop following that higher concept because of the many failures to reach it?
Or is baseball, as Bryant Gumbel once put it, "a love"? In my life, the answer's an emphatic "yes". Baseball is as close as I get to religion, and its failures are something I'm prepared to accept--in fact, something I accepted long ago as beside the point.