We’ve Seen The Future, And It Is … The Same As The Present?

Rick Morrissey has a good column in today’s Chicago Tribune, “Baseball’s future hinges on cleaning up steroids”

An excerpt:

A few players have been called to baseball’s principal’s office to explain why their names showed up in the records of a company that allegedly provided human-growth hormone to its clients.

Among the players implicated in the scandal are the Orioles’ Jay Gibbons, the Blue Jays’ Troy Glaus and the Cardinals’ feel-good story, Rick Ankiel. They reportedly bought steroids or HGH from a Florida-based company being investigated for illegally selling prescription drugs.

People scoff when I bring children into the equation. They say athletes aren’t role models. They say it’s up to parents to be their children’s role models, to warn them against the perils of steroid use. But usage is on the rise in high school sports, and that’s not coincidence. It’s the result of seeing pro athletes succeed with the help of pharmaceuticals. It’s the result of peer pressure, too, just as teenage drinking and driving often is the result of peer pressure.

Kids are the future.

The question here is whether the future is salvageable for baseball. And the answer is yes, if the sport can continue to make its testing even more stringent. Baseball doesn’t test for HGH, and it’s a major hole in the game.

It’s why you take any success story these days with a large grain of salt. It’s painful to say that, and it speaks to the nasty cynicism that pervades sports. But when Ankiel makes an incredible comeback and then ends up on an HGH mailing list, some of us wonder how we could have been so gullible.

Barry Bonds, the puffed-up power hitter, we get. All you need are two eyes and half a brain to see how he came to be the greatest home run hitter in history. But Ankiel, the pitcher-turned-outfielder, we miss. He comes back in another life as a home run-hitting fool just when the Cardinals need him most. And somehow we don’t question the improbability of that even a little bit.

It further adds to an atmosphere in which everyone is guilty until proven innocent. That’s a lot of proving and not enough evidence.

It’s also very painful. You hate yourself for your cynicism. Where does that cynicism end? At Jim Thome’s door? Does it end there because he’s a little chunky and looks like he could be a farmer in bib overalls if he didn’t play ball?

Another player might ask why Thome, on his way to 500 home runs, gets a free pass in the lineup of suspects. And your cynicism makes you think that maybe he shouldn’t.

Frank Thomas was big when he was little, as they say, and we’re certain his career was not drug-aided. But are we? Again, the jadedness of it all.

He’s got this exactly right, about both the kids and the cynicism.

Of course athletes are role models; kids are influenced by what they do, both good and bad. This is the definition of a role model, and athletes take this job willingly, knowing full well that fans (and advertisers) love them and idolize them. Some of those fans are children. Lots of them.

But still, we shouldn’t be too surprised by the fact that baseball turned a blind eye to the steroids problem over the last 15+ years, since this is the same league that decided all World Series games should be at night, many of them ending past midnight in some time zones. They had to know going in that by agreeing to this policy, they were trading future fans for more money today. If they didn’t, they’re stupid, and I don’t think they’re stupid. What they are is shortsighted. They valued increased cashflow today over creating new generations of fans via the drama of the World Series on TV.

Smart. Like a post.

Morrissey is also right about the cynicism and doubt. Who can really know any more, about who is cheating and who isn’t? Look at the names of the guys caught in the testing program recently: Neifi Perez, and a few guys I never even heard of. What? Where are the big names, like Bonds and Sosa? What this tells me is that only the dumb and/or careless guys get caught.

Drug testing is largely a sham anyway; athletes in various sports across the world have been cheating for decades, and covering up by taking other substances that mask the presence of the illegal drugs in their systems. It’s a big cat-and-mouse game, with the cheaters staying mostly one step ahead of the testers. So the whole idea of using testing as a way to clean up a sport is misguided in the first place. Look at a few other sports like cycling and track and field, they’ve been testing a lot longer, and is anybody going to tell me that they are clean?

I’m not sure what the answer is, for cleaning up baseball. It may just be that this is the future: doubt, cynicism, and big players whose stats and neck sizes may go up and down like yo-yos, year to year, based on any new tests administered that catch mostly just the dumbasses.

Baseball Fever: Catch It!

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