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Thursday, May 18, 2006

Baseball and Performance-Enhancing Drugs. . . Again

Here's the lastest from ESPN's Buster Olney.

So the questions are the following:

Are we to assume that players now have found undetectable performance-enhancing drugs and are taking them?

Are we to assume that you can't tell whether a player is using or not because you have no proof either way? (That's Olney's basic premise).

Are we to conclude that we've lost our innocence and that basically to get ahead you have to cheat -- on your resume, on the authorities, on the rules?

Clearly, Messrs. Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and Palmeiro, among others, have taken the cloak off baseball and have shown us a part of the process that we didn't want to see but, perhaps, needed to. Olney's article focuses on Albert Pujols, and Olney doesn't conclude one way or another whether Pujols is using performance-enhancing drugs. That's sad for Pujols, because there's been nothing to suggest that he's breaking laws or rules.

Except to some fans, perhaps, his amazing performance thus far.

And isn't that sad?

Olney's a thoughtful writer and one who has agonized more over the steroids affair and the baseball media's totally whiff on a decade-long story. I give him more credence than some of the bigger names who not only missed the story, but seem unrepentant about it and haven't seemed to have learned anything from their mistakes. Having been burned once before (or, put differently, having burned himself before by not tackling the story he should have pursued but writing the one he wanted to pursue -- that of home run chases and records), he's more than cautious this time around.

As well he and his sportswriting sisters and brothers should be.

Over many eras it's been written that the present-day baseball players owe a debt to those who went before, if for no other reason that it was they who paved the way for the lucrative salaries, fancy clubhouses and elegant travel that baseball players enjoy. Today, perhaps, the story should be that those who have gone before -- in the preceding decade -- owe a debt to the players who are playing today and who are, after drug-testing, presumably clean, because they cast a pall over the national pastime that will be their legacy and will cover those who succeeded them and tarnish, perhaps, their accomplishments.

It's an interesting theory, anyway.

But first you have to believe the premise that because of the drug testing that's going on today, all current players are clean of everything except Tylenol, Motrin and Advil.

Do you?

Buster Olney can't be sure, and he's in clubhouses most days of the week.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're wrong. The players of today are the ones who owe a debt to the steroid users. It was the home run barrage that reinvigorated the sport after the strike and that is responsible for the huge increases in revenue that baseball has enjoyed. It's the players of today who get to enjoy the fact that their MRPs are higher as a result.

Despite all the hand-wringing in the media, steriods are not a big deal. Fans have not abandoned the sport. In fact, deep down, fans seem to LIKE steriods because it produces a style of play that they enjoy more than the game as it was in 1967.

Saying this is heresy of course, but that doesn't make it any less true. I'd compare this with the amateurism myth of big-time college sports. Fans aren't upset when their teams break the rules; they're upset when their teams get caught and punished as a result.

7:25 PM  
Blogger SportsProf said...

Thanks for your post. It wouldn't be the first time.

I do think that steroids are a big deal. Fans like the game, and they'll go because they like the game. The game has become such an important part of our culture that they'll go unless mass murderers are playing it. That's different, though, from saying that they like steroids. Most don't, either because most can't get away with that sort of thing in their real work or because they think that they're dangerous. Does that mean that the fans are taking the high moral ground versus the expedient one? Perhaps yes, perhaps no.

It is interesting, though, that they don't feel betrayed by baseball. Certainly, the recent home run feats have questionable meaning, but were the fans to feel betrayed they wouldn't be showing up. I also think that the new parks count for a bunch of the increased attendance; some of the anomalies that were the 70's-inspired stadiums have been replaced with great venues.

7:30 AM  
Anonymous PK said...

Superficially it seems fans are upset, but why? Presumably, players take steroids in order to make more money for themselves. However, they will only make more money if they increase their MRPs. If they're increasing their MRPs, that means players are producing a product that fans value more, though some of the increased revenue could be unrelated to increases in player quality as you note. Thus, the product produced by steroid users is presumably BETTER than the product produced by players without steroids.

It's odd, then, that we criticize players who are trying to produce a better product for us. The main critique appears to be that steroid are artificial, thus the records are "fake." But much of what today's players do is different from the players of yesterday. Protein shakes, exotic supplements, and year-round weight training made possible by huge salaries have all presumably changed the game, but records produced by these modern inventions are not "fake." Why?

You mention that steroids are dangerous, but that should only make us appreciate steroid-using players MORE because they are putting their lives at risk to produce a better product. Of course, one could say its unfair to force players to make that choice, but the players themselves could address any such concerns through their unions, as state and local governments have done by demanding drug testing of high school athletes.

Deep down, I think fans realize all of this, that's why they don't feel betrayed. I'm just surprised no one else is willing to say it.

1:58 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This HGH "controversy" in sports will be meaningless in a few years. Growth Hormone is not a steroid. It's found naturally in the body. Banning it as a performance enhancer is like banning caffeine, sugar, chewing tobacco, or aspirin as a performance enhancer. Shooting HGH is passe now because it can be obtained legally over the counter in a homeopathic oral spray form which does not involve needles. There are about 30 companies selling it legally over the internet. Get over it. HGH is here to stay, like caffeine, sugar, chewing tobacco, and aspirin.

7:26 PM  

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