Sunday, July 28, 2013

Truth, Reconciliation & Major League Baseball

Ryan Braun's 65 game suspension for using "performance enhancing drugs" (PEDs), rumors of an even longer ban for Alex Rodriguez and the potential that other major league baseball players will be similarly disciplined has again raised the specter of cheating in our national pastime. Some have suggested that this is all too much, that an investigation into an obscure company called BioGenesis that may yield records of PED purchases but no actual positive test results is not enough to go nuclear on ballplayers or sully the sport's reputation. Others prefer to simply turn a blind eye, pointing to lowered run production, everyday players that no longer look like Incredible Hulks and a more robust testing system as evidence enough that PEDs have largely been removed from the game. But the truth is, a full accounting of the "Steroids Era" is necessary to move baseball, which is otherwise experiencing a renaissance of young talent, exciting regular season races and compelling post-season match-ups, forward. 

In some ways, actions already speak louder than words. At the Hall of Fame, once surefire first ballot candidates like Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire have all been kept out because of their suspected (and in McGwire's case, admitted) use of PEDs. Production has largely reverted to norm as players enter their early to mid-30s and the newest trend in baseball is accumulating young, cheap talent and locking up your best players years before they reach free agency. These are all good and important steps, but will be insufficient if Major League Baseball does not, presuming it has the evidence to do so, levy significant suspensions on Rodriguez and any other player connecting to BioGenesis. The message must be clear and unmistakeable to any player looking to cut corners and cheat - you will be caught and you will be punished, severely, for your conduct. 

But baseball must go further though than simply kicking out cheaters for long periods of time. It needs to rewrite its record book too because the numbers that define baseball are more important than any other professional sport. The violence done to "61" and "755" can only be repaired by acknowledging the impact PEDs had on baseball's record book. Fortunately, baseball need not write on a blank slate. The simplest solution would be to split the record book in three - records through 1961 (when the league expanded), records from 1961-1994 (when the league shut down and had no World Series) and 1995-present. Nothing would need to be said about this third category, it would simply speak for itself. And while players who were never suspected of PED use, like Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine would, to some extent, suffer from guilt by association, true fans of the game will be able to separate out those whose reputations are clean versus those who are not. On the other hand, players from earlier eras who "played the game the right way" will retain their rightful place in the sport's history. 

At the end of the day, addressing, head on and in full, the legacy of the Steroids Era is not just the right thing for baseball to do, but the only way it can move toward what should be a bright tomorrow. 

1 comment:

  1. This would presume that MLB wanted to fully come clean on decades of failed oversight... and do the right thing. That's a big assumption. It's easier for MLB to say they're doing all they can now than to truly face facts about the past in such an overt way. --JM