Bonds. Clemens. Now Rodriguez. These are the names of some of the greatest players of our era. In some ways, it’s just been a matter of time with Rodriguez, hasn’t it? He’s another top dog, a historically great player with an enormous competitive drive to go with his ego. My question is: How long will we have to wait for the others? The other great stars. Historian Glenn Stout hit the nail on the head a few years ago when he wrote:
One has to be not only blind but considerably and willingly dumb to look at the last two decades of major league baseball and not raise an eyebrow at each and every number and achievement, not only of every single player, but of every single team, a point the Mitchell Report underscored. Apart from pushing the use of PEDs on the young, that is the worst aspect of this entire scandal, for just as the one player trying to throw one game calls into question everything that happens in that game, so too does the use of steroids and other PEDs by even a small number of major league players ripple through the game and undercut everything that happens after the umpire calls “Play ball!” The effects of steroids and PEDs on the game are not isolated events, but a like a disease, a long-term condition that affects every second of the patient’s life.
…When historians look back at this era there will be one irrefutable conclusion; it all stinks. Every number, every stat and every place in the game is suspect and tainted, artificial and enhanced. Since we cannot now and never will be able to state with any certainty who used what and who didn’t, how much and for how long, no player and no team comes out of this era pure. The implications of that are no more pleasant locally than they are in Oakland, New York or anywhere else, for just as the Canseco’s MVP award and McGwire’s and then Bond’s home run records are suspect, so too are the performances of those teams with those players in their lineups. And as the Mitchell Report told us, no team during this era was unaffected. There was a Jose Canseco on the field for every team in every inning of every game for most of two decades. Therefore the A’s 1988 pennant with Canseco in the lineup is as spurious as the Yankees four world championships in five seasons from 1996-2000, and – it pains me for m y Boston friends – as Boston’s two long-awaited championships in 2004 and 2007.
It is also personal. As an occasional writer of baseball history I do not look forward to a time in the future when I have to write about this era. And I am somewhat embarrassed by the way I have written about it in the past. Although I wrote about steroids in the pages of this magazine in 1998, my books barely mention PEDs and hardly consider their impact. Were I to re-write them today, armed with what we now know of the era, my recounting of the last twenty years would be radically different.
There’s so much to be disppointed in here, and it starts at the top with Bud Selig and the union and the owners and the players for allowing thier collective avarice and self-absorbtion to get out of control. I’m turned-off by how this story was reported–we’re talking about leaks from confidential documents. Why not release all of the names on the list? Why just Rodriguez? Color me cynical, I respect Selena Roberts as a veteran journalist, but I also know she’s got a book on Rodriguez coming out this summer. You can’t tell me that didn’t play at least a small part in all of this. Has she been sitting on the information waiting for the right moment to drop this bomb? I wish I knew. I don’t mean to discredit the story, but it’s hard to come away from it not feeling dirty.
It will be fascinating to see how Rodriguez handles himself in the coming days and weeks. The Torre flap is now meaningless, trivial. So will Rodriguez take the fight to these accusations or will be come clean, if in fact he’s guilty? I suspect he’ll deny everything. For a guy who seems to have two left feet when it comes to public relations, Rodriguez could potentially come out of this looking good if he copped to using PEDS in a way that satisfies our lust. The public craves blood but we are suckers for forgiveness. We love illusion but demand authenticity.
I’m left feeling that this is all one big, fat, ugly mess. On one hand it has ruined the game for many fans. It spoils the precious numbers that we use to evaluate our heroes. It reveals the players to be human, frail and weak, far from the kind of guys you’d want to have lunch with nevermind worshipping as role models.
At the same time, the game is thriving; attendance is up, and the game is viewed as a success–big time entertainment, ethics be damned. Baseball’s drug years forces us to either quit the game, to reject the culture of enhancement and cheating and find something else to enjoy, or accept the moral ambiguity that is part and parcel of the show and still root-root-root for the home team.
Never a dull moment, eh?