Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Seems Like This Has Happened Before
2007-09-08 08:16
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I'm afraid I don't have much insight to offer on last night's game. I felt guilty about it, but instead of watching the Rockies last night I went to go see Built to Spill in Boulder. The Rockies play 81 home games a year and Doug Martsch and the boys only play in the Denver area... I dunno, six, seven times a year. (They're from Boise.) Maybe I could have waited for an offseason show, but I didn't, and you'll have to settle for the ESPN game recap. I heard on the highlights show that Colorado used ten pitchers in the win over San Diego, tying a record. If it were any other team I would have much to say on the subject of the loony rosters-expand-to-forty-on-September 1st rule, but in this case it was my team that benefited from the stupid rule. Now that Clint Hurdle has the entire Colorado Springs bullpen at his disposal it would be a good idea for all fans attending games at Coors Field to bring along reading material.

Now I'm going to force myself to write about the Rick Ankiel and Troy Glaus stories. I don't want to. They're awful and shocking and completely unsurprising. I'm sure I don't have any feelings that aren't shared by all real baseball people. Trouble is, writers avoiding the topic because it was too ugly and uncomfortable is a major part of why baseball's performance-enhancing drugs crisis has lasted as long as it has. Just as for years and years beat writers tiptoed around the subject, baseball's high-profile journalists were way too enthusiastic about accepting MLB's response to the Congressional hearings and the suspensions of such bright stars as Neifi Perez and Juan Salas as the definitive end to the era. Not so, and ignoring the evidence a second time would be much, much worse.

The steroid era might be over, if you want to go by the narrow definition of that family of drugs. Thing is, nothing MLB or ESPN or Congress did caused players to stop using steroids. The evidence suggests that the guys with the financial resources to do so had moved on to human growth hormone long before MLB even got around to addressing its fifteen-year-old steroid problem. Baseball's big campaign to stamp out steroid use has if anything compounded the problem by disproportionately punishing minor leaguers, marginal major leaguers, and Latino players in particular. Why should Jorge Piedra pay for Barry Bonds' sins?

I love baseball so much that I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to pushing the steroid thing to the back of my mind. Sometimes I even try to rationalize it away, reasoning that players have been gaining an advantage through self-evidently illegal means for as long as the game has been played. But little to no harm is going to come of 14-year-old kids trying to throw spitballs. Aspiring high school athletes using steroids or HGH is a completely different thing. Baseball's fight to get performance enhancers out of the game isn't ultimately about maintaining a level playing field (if they really wanted to do that, putting third teams in New York and Los Angeles would be a good place to start), or the purity of records (which is completely silly, just read the editor's note to Total Baseball sometime if you want to find out how utterly arbitrary and mutable many of the game's most beloved round numbers are). It's a question of social responsibility. By nodding and winking and handing out two or three no-name suspensions a season, Major League Baseball is continuing to send the message to young players that the rewards far exceed the risks when it comes to shooting your body full of rhino blood or whatever the next thing is going to be.

It's another one of those times that you envy the NFL, not because they've dealt with their own performance enhancement issues (not hardly) but because their weak players' union doesn't have the power to drag its heels on every single testing issue the way the baseball union does as a matter of practice. Roger Goodell in only a few short months as NFL commissioner has established a right to bring down swift summary judgement on those whom he perceives as damaging the image and integrity of the league whether or not they've even committed any crimes. For all the conspiracy theories fans of the players suspended would cook up, it might be the best thing for baseball if Bud Selig could do the same thing -- drop the hammer on Rick Ankiel and Troy Glaus right now so hard their careers would never recover. Honestly, as a Rockies fan, I would accept a season-long suspension to someone like Matt Holliday or Garrett Atkins (not that there has ever been a single Colorado player credibly linked to steroids, past the hapless Piedra) if the greater good of the league was being served.

Would it be totally unjust to suspend a guy for a season or more just because circumstantial evidence linked him to HGH use? Maybe so, but it's not Ankiel or Glaus's rights as a citizen that apply. Baseball is a private business and discipline of employees should be its own affair. Too bad the short-sighted MLB players' union can't see the forest for the trees.

2007-09-08 09:45:08
1.   kylepetterson
Built to Spill is a great band. I saw them back in '95 or '96. Great show.
2007-09-08 12:46:06
2.   voxpoptart

Apparently, as best as the sports physiologists can tell, there's no reason to think Human Growth Hormone gives any benefit to baseball players, not even making them stronger. This doesn't mean Rick Ankiel wasn't trying to cheat, which is sad, but if what he was doing was (1) useless and (2) extremely hard to detect/prove, I think baseball's overlords may legitimately have the moral right to sit this scandal out.

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