Thursday, July 30, 2009

Steroids, Hypocrisy, Baseball and the Media

I really wanted my very first column on this website to discuss this year's MLB trade deadline. But a funny thing happened on the way to writing the column....the NY Times released the names of two more baseball players that tested positive for performance enhancing 2003. David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez allegedly tested positive during a random, what was supposed to be anonymous test to determine the extent of baseball's PED use....back in 2003.

In 2003, steroids and other PEDs WERE against MLB rules. Any arguments to the contrary are just not accurate. What MLB didn't have in 2003 was a testing program set up to catch these players and subsequently punish them. So, steroid use became rampant in baseball. (Not unlike football, mind you, but America seems content to sweep the drug problem in the NFL under the rug, as though it doesn't exist.)

The biggest problem I have with what is now being deemed the "Steroid Era" in baseball is the blatant hypocrisy with which it is being handled. Now, I am not about to absolve any player of his fair share of the blame. After all, no matter how much hypocrisy this has been handled with, nobody forced these players to do drugs. It's just like a teenager who dabbles in drugs, then claims peer pressure. You can blame the parents, the schools, the friends, siblings or whomever else you can pin it on....but at the end of the day, unless the child was held down and forced to do the drugs against their will, we all have a certain amount of will power that allows us to make our own choices, for better or worse. In this case, these players made a conscious decision to cheat. And for that, they are all guilty. But to only hold the players accountable for the mess that has ensued would be short-sighted and unfairly biased.

To only hold the MLB Team and Commissioner's office executives accountable, along with the players, would also be a miscarriage of justice. The media wants the fans to hold the players and executives accountable for the Steroid Era. And while that is true, what the media fails to do is take a long look in the mirror at the mess they helped create and facilitate. And, us fans are not without blame, either. Let me cite a couple of examples of how the media helped create this monster....the monster they now so quickly condemn.

ESPN (the Everything Sox and Pinstripes Network) begins running ads in 1999 entitled "Chicks Dig the Long Ball", depicting players hitting home runs and wowing the ladies. 2-1 games now a thing of the past and rendered "boring" because of the rampant steroid use, rather than investigate and bring the problem to light, ESPN makes light of it and encourages the new found "power surge" in baseball. Not that ESPN has ever been known for cutting edge, investigative journalism, but to now act outraged and shocked over the power surge in baseball is ludicrous.

Journalist "extraordinaire" Mike Lupica chronicles the great HR chase of 1998 between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. He writes a book about McGwire and Sosa chasing Roger Maris' single season HR record and entitles it, "The Summer that Saved Baseball." A record that stood for 37 years and was never seriously challenged is suddenly not only threatened, but surpassed by two the same season. And rather than investigating why this might have happened, Lupica writes a romance novel on McGwire and Sosa that vaults to the top of the NY Times best seller list. Lupica makes a mint. Later, both McGwire and Sosa are linked to PEDs, and now Lupica in all is hypocritical glory, condemns the entire era in baseball.

The media, which hides behind the first amendment more than my 5-year old son hides during a game of hide and seek, and always uses "anonymous sources" to break stories now begs for the names of the players that tested positive in 2003....the tests that were anonymous, remember? But when the media asks, they claim they need the names because the public has a right to know. The same people that won't give up their anonymous sources for public interest, now use that same argument to get a list of people on an anonymous list. That reeks of hypocrisy.

Of course, none of that would matter if MLB would have actually conducted an anonymous test and destroyed the records after they got the information they used. But MLB managed to bungle that one, too.

But if we are to fully play the blame game when it comes to steroids in baseball, then we, the fans have to accept our own responsibility in the matter. We are America. We are the land of boycotts and protests. We protest a garden being ripped up for a new parking lot.....but yet we kept going to baseball games. In masses. When McGwire, Sosa and then Bonds all were chasing records, crowds flocked to games in record numbers. Even the Florida Marlins managed to draw better than their standard 5,000 fans for games when these players came to play. Bonds made an appearance on the David Letterman show a couple years ago, after the steroid rumors had hit their peak. Letterman asked Bonds, "Do you think people will stop going to baseball games because of all the steroid talk?" Bonds, smugly and arrogantly replied, "No. What else are they going to do over the summer?" Bonds was challenging us. He dared us to stay away from the ballparks. And how did we respond? We proved him right. We spent even more money taking our families to the ballparks to watch players we condemned around the water cooler. We spoke about players of the past and how they "did it the right way". Really? they did? The high and mighty Hank Aaron and Willie Mays? They've admitted amphetamine usage when they played. Just as illegal and performance-enhancing. But somehow. revisionist history gives them a pass.

I'm not sitting here saying what McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, Clemens, ARod, Glaus, Ramirez, Papi and the hundreds of others did was right. But what I am saying is this - there is a lot more blame to be spread around than we are currently spreading. And to leave these players out of the Hall of Fame because they cheated actually cheats them, since we already have admitted cheaters in the Hall of Fame.


  1. Okay, I will admit that I am far from a knowledgable person when it comes to this topic. I do remember the excitement around McGwire and Sosa's HR season but I also remember thinking it was sad that a record so hard earned was beat by 2 men with much more "enhancements". In my opinion the records of yesteryear should not be compared to what occurs now. There are very few athletes that just do it the good ole fashion way.
    One thing that I have noticed at the PeeWee ballpark every summer is how far some kids are pushed by their parents. 8/9 year olds playing in 3-4 different leagues in one season. By the time they reach high school they are either burnt out or their bodies are shot. That is why I think some high school athletes turn to steroids....When not being good enough for Dad or Mom is just too much. starts at home in some cases.

  2. Sorry to do this to you Beamer, but Nike did the "Chicks Dig the Long Ball" ads, not ESPN. Can't question journalistic ethics for ads other people produced.

    You're friendly neighborhood fact checker...

  3. Yes, Ozzie, but who ran the ads? ESPN. Which means, who PROFITED from the ads? In other words, who did Nike shell out money to in order to RUN the ads? Answer -ESPN. That was what I meant by the hypocrisy. Sorry, I should have made that clearer.

  4. Let me take it even one step further....nobody forced ESPN to run Nike's campaign. I'm sure there was a lot of money in it for them as Nike is a client of ESPN. But for them to run the ads that portrayed the PED users as heroes and to now condemn that is textbook hypocrisy. They profited from something they now condemn, rather than actually research what they were profiting from at the time.

  5. George Mitchell, ESPN and the Red Sox have been joined at the hip for years and years. And Lupica's a piece of trash, his writing worse than that.


  6. I also love the fact that now that Manny and Papi have been outed goes to show just how biased the Mitchell report was and how ridiculous it was to let someone with an ownership share in a MLB team head-up the investigation. What a crock!

  7. The Mitchell report was biased because of who the main sources of information who were used (i.e. New York mets clubhouse guy).

    Remember that ESPN is not hard hitting journalism and in depth news. There are other people and outlets during the time that were casting suspicions and doubts (Thomas Boswell in 1988 and the AP busting the whole Andro thing). Everyone (fans, owners, players, union, other media) chose to ignore those stories and focus on the "feel good" resurrection of the game.

    Mass media (ESPN included) is a reflection of the times and what people want. They have to sell papers, ad space, get ratings. They can help feed into a frenzy but rarely do they create it.

  8. ESPN's editorial overlords issued a DNR (Do Not Report) when the Roethlisberger rape allegations came out. It's one thing to show great care reporting the incident and it's another to just blatantly disregard the thing. A suit was filed. Mention it in passing on that nightly joke of a news vehicle and be done with it. This isn't hard-hitting journalism, it's basic reporting. But there will be none of that, what with the Coors Six-Pack and the rest of the monkey shit they do to fill a 60-minute show.


  9. Krak, you missed possibly the biggest culprit. The MLBPA is charged with (and collecting fees from the players) protecting the interest of the players. Donald Fehr et al., allowed and even fought for their members "right" to break not only the rules by thwarting previous (albeit weak) attempts at a testing program. Don't forget these activities are and were ILLEGAL. What other union could enable it's membership's ilicit abuse of substances with a straight face for such a period of time? As powerful as the UAW has been over time, I can't imagine them seriously defending a member's right to illegal activities.