I want to try out a new philosophy today. I know in advance that you’re not going to like it, but I want to try it anyway: I don’t care about steroids. I don’t care about how steroids supposedly perverted the record book. I don’t care that the playing field may have been uneven. I have no use for moral outrage on the subject. Just don’t care. Hands over ears, can’t hear you, nah nah nah nah nah.
The forgoing is not a preamble to one more discussion of why the reaction to steroids has been overblown. If at this late date you’re not ready to take an unbiased look at why the effects of steroids on a baseball player might be different from the way it aids a track runner or a cyclist, you’re probably never going to get there. A whole lot of ink has been spilled in that pursuit, but as always, finger-wagging moralists will hold sway because nuance isn’t something that the public does well. I get that and it’s fine. You can feel that ballplayers received an outsized benefit from steroids and I’ll still welcome you here with me in the Magical Land of Frankly-Scarlett-I-Don’t-Give-a-Damn.
Yesterday I had the dual pleasure of receiving an in-person anti-steroids rant from a colleague and reading Ian O’Connor’s anti-A-Rod screed in the Bergen Record. I can’t reproduce the rant here, but I can quote the screed:
It’s about Alex Rodriguez. It’s about a once-in-a-generation ballplayer who cheated the game, cheated the fans and cheated himself, and who now is discovering that even a World Series ring and ticker-tape parade can’t absolve him of his not-so-venial steroid sins.
Rodriguez also is waiting for a break in the storm clouds that never will come. A-Rod’s waiting for the day when he’s completely liberated from his admitted past as a chemically altered fraud.
Every day he walks past a posted clubhouse memo on the substances and stimulants added to the sport’s no-no list, a warning posted too late for a legacy forever stained.
But when A-Rod hits his 600th homer, his 700th homer, his 800th homer, his past most certainly will haunt him. All career achievements will be tethered to asterisks (real or imagined) the size of Central Park.
Whew. John Wayne made this very overwrought picture in 1948 called "Wake of the Red Witch". The Duke plays a sea captain, and at the end of the film he sails his ship into, well, I really don’t remember. It could have been a really bad storm, or a fight with a squid, or several squids, or maybe a Klingon battlecruiser. It was probably all of the above. In any case, there is an endless scene in which you watch the ship being torn to pieces, unable to withstand the hurricane-strength winds and damage from the, um, Klingon-fired squid cannonballs. Imagine a film that’s a cross between "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" and a Weather Channel documentary on tornadoes. It’s very tiring to watch. Reading O’Connor’s column feels a lot like that. "Watch someone become so wound up that they shake themselves to pieces!" It’s a lot better when John Wayne does it, especially when he can up the illusion by having stagehands heave buckets of water at him from the wings. In other words, O’Connor is all wet.
Still, let’s concede… I’m not sure what point to concede. Alex Rodriguez, spectacularly talented player, used something that did, well, something at some point in his past and it was against the rules in some sports but not baseball. Then he had hip surgery, missed about a month, and with his hip still healing and his body supposedly free of anything stronger than a caffeine-free Diet Coke, he had, on a per-game basis, one of the top five seasons in the American League. But I’m getting off track, because I promised not to make any arguments about how PEDs do or do not work, so never mind if his production, very similar to his career rates, would seem to suggest that de-juiced A-Rod has much in common with the other variety, but never mind that. Let’s do it O’Connor’s way: he’s guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty, guilty.
Know what? I don’t care. Get over it. It just doesn’t matter to me. I don’t know what sport has been 100 percent on the level and I’ve stopped trying to figure it out. If baseball in the 1990s and early part of this decade was juiced, I’m at peace with it. From the establishment of the color line until the Red Sox integrated and beyond, the game’s record book was formed by racism, gambling far more pervasive than the 1919 World Series. It was formed by teams that were there to fill out the schedule, and still is—the Kansas City Royals are a performance-enhancing drug. It was shaped by unequal talent distribution and the haphazard talent procurement process of the pre-farm system years. And in the last 15 years or more, maybe it was shaped by a pervasive culture of PED use.
In my heart I don’t believe that much came out of it, but if you disagree, I say, have it your way. Now that we’ve agreed on that, perhaps we can also agree not to care. Say it with me, sing it out: Baseball of the last 15 years was a mixture of juiced and juice-free players. The game was played in that way at that time. It wasn’t the way we would have liked to see it played. We’d have liked to see it played the way the ancient Greeks did back in Athens, except for the part where their pitchers rubbed up the ball with olive oil. It just was what it was.
Baseball has never been pure, never been pristine, never been wholly uncompromised. I’d like to know what the record books would have looked like if not for collusion, if Tim Raines would have been a Hall of Famer if he’d gotten out of Montreal a little bit earlier, if Kirk Gibson could have played left field for the Yankees if they’d been allowed to make him an offer. Baseball had steroids in it. They had some effect. I think it was minimal, but even if they had a profound effect, just keep repeating that mantra: "That’s the way baseball was played back then." You say it often enough, you get used to hearing it, and you stop caring. The misplaced outrage fades, replaced by excitement about the way the game is played NOW …Until the next time someone feels the need to stir up some more vitriol on the cheap.
It was what it was. It is what it is. That’s a philosophy I could get used to.
BACK WITH OUR FIRST REAL BASEBALL STUFF OF THE YEAR…
…After the spring opener.