Saturday, February 21, 2009

Liars and Cheaters

When Mariano Rivera was an up and coming pitcher, he had surgery on his right arm. A tendon from another place in his body was inserted into his elbow to replace an inferior tendon. After this artificial enhancement, Rivera added around 5 mph to his fastball, and went on to become one of the greatest closers in the game. Nobody blinked an eye because any number of pitchers have had Tommy John surgery, and went on to have productive careers. When Wade Boggs was entering the latter half of his career, he had a laser shot into his eye. This laser was able to improve his vision so that it was better than 20/20. After this artificial enhancement, he went on to collect his 3000th hit and finish a Hall-of-Fame career. Curt Schilling once had an ankle tendon that was giving him trouble. He had a doctor insert stitches into his ankle to create a tendon sheath that wasn’t there. After this artificial enhancement he went on to win two playoff games and was hailed a gutsy hero.

Clearly, it’s not “natural” ability that makes players popular. Clearly, artificially enhancing your natural ability isn’t cause for alarm. How does that apply to steroids? Aren’t they just another way to artificially enhance performance? Where do the differences lie? Steroids are bad for you. That’s one issue. But, just being a professional athlete is “bad” for you. Jerry Remy played baseball, and now can barely walk or sit due to his bad knees and back. So, steroids aren’t banned because they’re bad for you. They’re illegal. That’s a big one. Although, athletes do lots of illegal activities, and it doesn’t throw away their reputations. If a player is caught with a DWI, or assaulting his wife, fans may call him a butthead. But his career plugs along. I think the big issue is that steroids combine all the things that, on their own, would be barely ok. They’re illegal artificial performance enhancers that are bad for you. That’s a pretty big triple whammy. Similarly, if a player is found to have smoked pot, fans may call him a pothead, but not call his career into question. But, if CC Sabathia is so nervous about the expectations of pitching in NY that he smokes a little before each start to calm down? That’s crossing the line. Getting a massage to relax is OK, doing an illegal drug to relax is not. Having surgery to enhance performance is OK, doing an illegal drug to enhance performance is not. As far as “cheating” it’s about opportunity. Anyone dedicated enough can have a massage, or surgically repair damage. Anyone can work out, and use batting gloves or pine tar. But, not everyone “can” do an illegal activity. That’s when it becomes cheating.

So, what to do with the people who have been found to (or admitted to) use steroids? Obviously, they need to be punished somehow, no matter when the drugs were taken. Please don’t give me the load of crud that “steroids weren’t banned by baseball.” They’re illegal. From where I sit, that makes them banned in baseball. I’m pretty sure there’s no specific rule on the books prohibiting a player from murdering the catcher to avoid being tagged. I’m hoping though, that if that happened, the run wouldn’t be allowed to count…and the player would be promptly sent to jail. You can say that there was no punishment spelled out prior to a few years ago. And, that would be true. So, either Bud Selig can use that “best interests” clause and make up a punishment, or there has to be a different kind of penalty. I always like the way the NCAA treated an ineligible player by erasing him from the record books. While I have a hard time punishing a team, I don’t mind STATS Inc. erasing a player. So, if ARod admitted to cheating from 2001 to 2003, those years are erased from his career. Gone are his 156 homers, 395 RBI, and 569 hits. (In a perfect world, we could go back and change the ERAs of pitchers he faced, or runs for players he drove in…but that gets a little too iffy and complicated.) He’d be stripped of his MVP from that ERA. From there, his career would go on as it would…with a cloud of uncertainty over it. If you want to question the rest of his numbers because, obviously he didn’t stop using when he went to NY, you’re free to do so. If you think his 400 “clean” homers still makes him one of the all-time greats, you’re free to do so. If you want to add in those years when you consider him, you can do that too. It would be like including Ichiro’s Japan numbers or Satchel Paige’s Negro League numbers when considering his place in history. His official numbers, however, would not include the ineligible stats. Plus, he’d always be a liar and a cheater.

Now, is that perfect? No. Is it fair that he is punished because he was dumb enough to get caught, while others get away with it? No. Just like it’s not fair that everyone drives faster than the speed limit, but only some people get a ticket. It’s the best you can do. Frankly, if you cheat, you deserve to be punished, whether it’s fair or not. That’s just the way it is.

Now, let’s go out and get real testing so we can put this subject to rest.

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