Sunday, May 10, 2009

'Roid Rant

I guess my real question is why Manny Ramirez couldn't have been caught doping immediately following game four of the 2004 American League Championship Series. Then, perhaps, the Yankees would have won game five, there never would have been any of the ridiculousness with A-Rod interfering with play as he ran down the first base line...

...of course, then, we'd have had to have dealt with A-Rod's on steroid use at the same time. Apparently, Lily Allen is correct (per the first track of her awesome new-ish CD) and everyone is at it. We're all medicating one way or another. It just seems athletes are doing do to bulk up.

The sad irony here is that baseball is the one sport that steroid use almost doesn't matter. Steroids don't put the ball on the corners of the strike zone. Steroids don't put the bat on the ball. Steroids certainly haven't made A-Rod get hits in the playoffs. They didn't help Barry Bonds and the Giants in the World Series several years ago, when the Giants collapsed. They might give you an extra four miles on your fastball. They might let your 450-foot home run travel 500 feet - both distances easily clearing any modern-era wall in the game.

So, in baseball, the sport where steroids provide the lowest ROI, we have the most strict punishments. The NFL, where size and strength play a role on every snap of the ball, offers comparative wrists slaps. The NFL - which in almost every other way is the model for how to run a major sports league - is seemingly content to allow its players to dope up and die young (see "Alzado, Lyle") than give any suspensions of consequence to its players.

That may be a good solution for Darwin, but it doesn't do much if we're still going to say that steroids are awful.

Perhaps the only real solution is to kick the bums out en masse. Let's announce that at the start of every league's 2010 season, there will be mandatory, weekly testing. That gives everybody (except for baseballers) more than a year to get clean. The players who are benefiting from steroids will quickly be weeded out. And we don't have to deal with the whining that we're kicking out the best players, not giving second chances and all that. This plan, simply, would mean everyone's second chance starts now.

Even that, though, may not go far enough. Much like we try to fight terrorism with guns and bombs, we still have done very little to stop young Pakistani boys from being motivated to join the terror-core.

Similarly, even my plan fails in that it will do little to stem the desire of every athlete to be a step ahead. Sure, performance on the field would be the best way to separate, but, like anything else, we know people will lie and cheat to get ahead.

And sports offer a major incentive to be set apart. It's not salaries players play for. It's Nike endorsements, licensing deals and more. Tiger Woods has his own logo, folks. Endorsements have always been part of sports and always will be. And media - especially ESPN - glorify these athletes, not just by glossy feature segments and preening analysis, but by paying the athletes to participate in ads and events of their own.

Fantasy sports only holds to reinforce this, placing individual efforts above that of the team the individual plays for. More people play fantasy sports than ever before. Every year, some stud running back is the first pick in everyone's fantasy draft. And almost without fail, that running back's real team never makes the playoffs.

If you're a baseball player, that's money in your pocket. So, the solution to the Steroid Era isn't simply drastic prevention/discipline methods for the players. We, as a culture, need to change the way we experience sports and its stars. We need to cheer for our teams, and demand they play the game right.

No comments: