Do you think baseball has a PED problem? I ask in all seriousness.
I am not asking if you think some baseball players use performance enhancing drugs. Obviously some do, particularly if you let the definition of PEDs include "legal" enhancers like cortisone shots, Creatine, Red Bull, backrubs. And I am not asking if you think that players who use or have used PEDs are horrible people who hate children and puppies the way writers have been telling me they are for the last 20 years.
I am asking if you think baseball has a PED problem. If you think PEDs are such an issue in today's baseball world that you find it difficult to enjoy the game.
This has to be the mindset behind MLB's aggressive campaign to take down Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun and the rest of the named and unnamed Biogenesis crew. MLB has decided that punishing Braun in the wake of his overturned positive test last year, and running A-Rod through the wringer again, and dredging up whatever other names Tony Bosch may or may not have written in a notebook one time, is worth it. That working with such a reputedly untrustworthy fellow will be justified by the public outing of users, or at least people the reputedly untrustworthy fellow claims are users. That people will feel better about the game of baseball because we have some more scalps on the wall, that the embarrassment of yet another round of this business will be outweighed by the public disinfection.
Perhaps they are right. They have access to more information than I do. Maybe Bosch's files have some smoking gun that will settle this once and for all. Maybe there's video of A-Rod hanging out with Toronto's mayor. But I am skeptical. Not of their motives, but of their perception. I think MLB thinks PEDs are a bigger problem in baseball right now than they really are.
I'm just not sure baseball does have a PED problem. And by problem, I don't mean infestation, or users, or anything like that. I mean that PEDs are not a central part of the baseball conversation right now, except for times like this when MLB makes them one. MLB is coming from an understandable place -- we want to clean up the game, and we suffered so much from the steroid era that we can't let it happen again -- but it is possible it is causing itself more damage than the evil it's trying to root out. It is still fighting the last war.
When Barry Bonds was chasing down Hank Aaron's home run record, people were bringing fake syringes to the stadium, and magazines were commemorating the achievement with asterisks and silhouettes of Bonds' oversized head. It was an ugly, depressing time. Say what you will about the Mitchell Report's effectiveness and comprehensiveness, but in the public eye, it at least staved off the barbarians at the gate. That MLB was willing to work off the testimony of so many shady witnesses like Brian McNamee and Jose Canseco might not have constructed the most credible case in a court of law, but it certainly showed that MLB meant business.
For the average fan, I'd argue, this was enough. People want to like baseball, and don't need to be pushed particularly hard to do so. (If cancelling the World Series didn't kill baseball, nothing will.) Bonds and his oversized everything was out of the game, and the game began to revolve more around pitching, and defense, and speed than the brawn of before. That PEDs were all about sluggers smacking 600-foot homers was a misconception in the first place, but it was a widely held one. When the game started to go away from that, fans -- on the whole; there are exceptions in every corner -- made their peace with it and went back to treating baseball like the pleasant diversion from day-to-day life that it is. (As a general rule, the closer you are to something, the more important you think it is, the more you start attaching moral weight to it. The average fan has never attached much moral weight to baseball; they're too busy attaching moral weight to their life.) Fans didn't want PEDs in baseball, but they weren't going to lose their minds about it, and they certainly weren't going to stop watching baseball over it.
Which has led to the universe of today, in which fans have made abundantly clear their views on players who have been connected to PEDs: They don't care. Ryan Braun and David Ortiz are currently All-Star starters. Andy Pettitte is given an ovation every time he so much as sneezes at Yankee Stadium. No one even remembers that Mike Morse, Edison Volquez and Freddy Galvis were suspended for PED usage. Jason Giambi is a grizzled fan favorite who's probably going to be a manager soon, for crying out loud. Fans don't want it thrown in their face like with Bonds and company, and they're for drug testing and the suspension of those who are caught, but in a default scenario, they'd just as soon simply watch the games, thanks.
MLB has every right, in the Joint Drug Agreement, to suspend players without a positive test if they have proof of PED usage. And again: Maybe Bosch will provide that. (We've seen no evidence so far that he has anything close to that, but here again, MLB has access to a lot more information than I or the Miami New Times do.) But with this sort of bellicosity, it is possible that MLB is in fact creating its own PED problem.
Before the news broke that MLB was going after Bosch so hard, fans weren't thinking about PEDs when they were watching their baseball. This is an accomplishment MLB should be proud of: It was a long hard road to get to that point, and they worked diligently to make it there. Then, suddenly, everyone was back talking about PEDs again, and we're playing the same dumb parlor game we were six years ago. Whose name is gonna come out? Have you heard the rumors? Oh, man, it could be anybody! Oh, and let's burn A-Rod again too.
Is the goal to get PED use out of the game? Or is the goal to curb it as much as possible and let baseball fans enjoy the game without feeling like dopes? I'm not sure the first goal is even possible. And the second goal, which is achievable and noble, keeps being underminded by the very people trying to sustain it. If I ask you not to think about a zebra, you will immediately think of a zebra. MLB doesn't want us to think about zebras. But it keeps talking about zebras.
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