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February 08, 2009

Baseball, steroids and history

Frontpage_cover I am going to go way off the beaten path of my blog here, this is not about security and if you like you don’t have to read beyond this.  The latest bombshell in the steroid scandal on baseball has been dropped.  None other than Alex Rodriquez it seems tested positive in 2003 for steroid use.  Never mind that it was 6 years ago and that since then a rigorous testing plan is in place that would ensure that players today are no longer juicing.  It does not stop the papers running headlines about A-Roid, as if the positive results were from recent tests. But the media have every right to react this way.  After all didn’t A-Rod hold himself out, time and time again, as “the clean one”, “the natural” who didn’t resort to better living through chemistry.  At the end of the day A-Rod has turned out to be no better then Bonds, Clemons, McGwire and all the rest.

Jeff Passan in his Yahoo Sports column asks the right question.  What drives some of these superstars to juice? Does anyone doubt that A-Rod would be a great player without steroids?  What about Roger the Rocket?  Perhaps the greatest pitcher of his time, did he need to juice up for a few more years and some better numbers?  Barry Bonds was a multi-year All Star.  Why did he feel the need? What drives an athletic superstar to reach beyond the bounds of his god given talent and seek the edge of modern chemistry.  Its simple, it is the burning desire to be the best.  Even more than the marginal player who is seeking whatever edge they can get to make it to the big leagues, the elite players are driven by being the best. In a cold war like arms race, if the other guy is juicing, they juice to keep up.  They want no one to have more hits, more Ks, more home runs then they do. Elite competitive players take steroids for the same reason dogs lick themselves, because they can. They are going to do whatever they can to be the best and gain an edge.  That kind of drive is what makes these players the best.

So we understand what drives these players to seek an edge.  They live in a highly competitive world.  The fact that they have succeeded in that world and share in the spoils that go with it, makes them even more likely to seek advantages.  But why the cover up?  That is the part I don’t understand.

Many of these players used steroids before there was a policy in place against their use. I am not saying that makes it right, just that they didn’t break any rules at the time.  If they would just fess up to using whatever means was available to them to gain an edge and move on, it would be better.  The denials and lies are what screws the pooch. 

By now we all realize that the late 90’s and early 2000’s will go down as the steroid era in baseball. I assume that most, if not all the players of that time took some sort of performance enhancing drugs or supplements. Baseball was not alone in this either. I think every sport also had the same issue.  It is only because of the denials in baseball that it has risen to this level of controversy though.  It is only because of lying to congress and grand juries that Bonds and Clemons find themselves facing criminal investigations.

Baseball has had other eras.  There was the “dead ball” era when the way the baseball was manufactured made it harder to hit home runs.  There was the jack-rabbit era where the ball was flying off bats.  The technology of baseball has also changed over the years, as has off-season training and a million other things.  It is impossible to compare players from one era to another era. So it should be with steroid era players. Judge them by their peers. They are children of their times in every meaning of the words.

So my advice to A-Rod is come clean. Admit you did what every other player was doing at the time.  Taking every advantage you could because you are driven to do so. That is the dark side of the force that makes you an elite athlete.

Forget the idea of an asterisk next to their names.  These players are players of their times and their records and accomplishments should be judged as such.  Now if they can just come up with a drug that makes you hit in the playoffs and in clutch situations!

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