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Freelance sports journalist Jay B. Webster delivers some chin music from the world of Major League Baseball
What to Believe In
So Major League Baseball has put their latest PED scandal behind them, suspending 13 more players – including Alex Rodriguez – for their involvement with a so-called anti-aging clinic in Florida called Biogenesis.
Of those named, shamed and suspended, all put up their hands, said 'my bad' and headed home to watch the next 50 games in HD. All except A-Rod, who filed an appeal and will continue to take the field for the Yankees until an arbitrator rules on the matter, which may not happen until December.
So why did A-Rod get hung out to dry for 211 games, instead of the requisite 50, even though he has never officially failed a drug test? Well, it apparently had to do with obstructing the MLB's investigation, attempting to cover up his indiscretions, being a bad person and generally pissing Bud Selig off. Had A-Rod's suspension matched Ryan Braun's 65 games, I expect he would have shaken Bud's hand, said thank you very much and gone back home to Florida to get ready for next season. I'm guessing the appeal has a lot more to do with the length of the ban, rather than whether he was 'anti-aging' or not.
So baseball is clean now, right? Well, we can all feel good about things again until the next BALCO or Biogenesis comes along. The fact that this round of suspensions comes not from MLB's drug testing prowess, but from Tony Bosch turning song bird doesn't exactly instil a lot of confidence that all the PED users are being caught out.
Richard Gale's recent Sideline column
got me thinking about why we seem to care more about doping in baseball than we do in the NFL. PED users are met with righteous indignation in the baseball world. They are a threat to the integrity of the game. We put them on the same moral plane as wife beaters and puppy kickers. We reserve a circle of hell for them, and wait for hell to freeze over before we even think of opening the doors of the Hall of Fame to them.
Meanwhile, a couple of burly football players get caught chemically enhancing their performance and there's hardly a ripple in the fabric of the sports universe.
By and large the difference comes down to numbers. That is, statistics. Baseball is built on statistics, and every hitter and every pitcher, i.e. every player, is subjected to and measured by the same statistical categories. In football, this just isn’t true. On the gridiron, you've got pretty much yards gained (either rushing or passing) and touchdowns that anyone pays any attention to, and the only players on the field that can even be measured by those stats are quarterbacks, running backs and receivers. That's a fraction of the players on the field.
In baseball, statistics are holy, and there are milestones by which we judge greatness: 60 home runs or 20 wins in a season, 500 home runs or 300 wins in a career, for example. When a player achieves those we know they are among the greats, and we enshrine them in a pantheon of immortality, and all is well with the baseball universe.
In football, a linebacker or left guard is never going to soar to any great statistical heights, no matter how good they are, even if they’re juiced to the gills.
Performance enhancing drugs can't make a baseball player hit a ball farther, or even better – neither Barry Bonds nor Mark Maguire could hit a baseball any further than Joe DiMaggio or Reggie Jackson. But what they can and do – over the course of time – by improving strength, endurance, confidence and shortening recovery time – is improve a player's statistics. And when players used drugs to help reach milestones and break long-held and hallowed records, it affects us in a very visceral way. We feel aggrieved and insulted and cheated. We take it personally, and it makes us question everything we see in the game.
There was a time when we could watch a physical freak of nature like Bo Jackson in complete and utter awe. But we've been burned too many times. Now someone like Yasiel Puig comes along and there is a niggle of doubt, and that's too bad. That's why we as baseball fans are poorer now than we were before.
What if we found out that Emmitt Smith used illicit substances to break Walter Payton's all-time rushing record, or that Jerry Rice prolonged his career with 'the cream' and 'the clear'? Would it affect football fans in the same way as it has baseball fans? It's hard to say, but whether the NFL is clean or not, the reason football fans are in a better place now than baseball fans is that they haven't been confronted with that reality, haven't had to stare it in the face.
I'm not convinced that the NFL itself has any real moral high ground over baseball when it comes to PEDs. The NFL players union is currently throwing up plenty of roadblocks in the league's quest for testing for HGH. Why is that, I wonder?
But for now anyway, I agree with Richard that it’s easier to 'believe' in football than baseball.
It pains me to admit that, but while my faith has been shaken to the core, at this point there’s nothing to do but log on to my mlb.tv subscription, root for the Pirates and enjoy the rest of the season. What else can I do?
Maybe look forward to the NFL season.