Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Steroid Controversy? Again?!

I was all set yesterday afternoon to write about something else, something interesting and non-steroid related, and then the news about Sammy Sosa and his positive test from the "anonymous" survey broke. And now it's impossible not to write something about Sosa. This is the third superstar to be busted for steroids so far this year, and I've learned by now that there's no use in writing about something else in the day or two to follow because no one is going to read it. Now maybe Sosa is different, since a) he is no longer an active player and b) so many people seemed to have written him off as a user years ago. I don't know, but I doubt it. If there's anything that we've learned in the last few years, there's nothing more that writers like to rail against and bloviate about than ballplayers' steroid use.

Which is all well and good, but it's not for me. Yes, the Sosa and Manny and A-Rod stories are all rather fascinating and each are incredibly layered in their own unique ways and, yes, it is worth exploring all of those layers. At some point, though, when the entire blogosphere is busy dissecting the story from every little angle it can think of, the overwhelming negativity becomes too much. Because, let's be clear, this is a negative story. You can put any kind of positive spin on it that you want, but we're still talking about cheating players and diminished memories. And while it can be healthy to address these issues, it is never healthy to wallow in them.

Instead, I like to focus on the positive issues. It's why I wrote this "A-Rod, Aaron and Snoopy" piece a few months ago, and why I never really said much about the Manny suspension. There are a lot of stories out there that we can follow on a daily basis, and I'm always afraid that, by choosing to follow the negative ones, we'll end up jading ourselves about something that's supposed to be fun and supposed to bring us joy. It just doesn't seem worth it.

When the A-Rod story broke in February, I did a little post about the MVP winners of recent years who have admitted to using steroids during their MVP season. There are four of them (Canseco, Caminiti, Giambi, and A-Rod), which is probably four too many. On top of that, there are those players, like Sosa, who have either been implicated or found out to be users, but only outside of their MVP campaigns. It's a big list (Tejada, Juan Gonzalez, Ivan Rodriguez, etc). After talking a little about the MVPs, I said this (sorry for quoting myself... I just can't think of a better way to express my opinion):
"Steroids have been part of baseball for 20 years now, apparently, and it's not something that anyone is too happy about. For better or worse, we need to figure out a way to fit this reality into our perception of the world. Sadly, these four "convicted" MVP winners are already proof enough that we have been rewarding the use of steroids for decades. How, then, can we blame anyone looking to compete in that environment? What's more, how can we as fans allow ourselves to simply wipe away the last 20 years of baseball? We may have played a part in all of this - we did buy all those tickets once the balls started flying out of the park - but the game isn't only about the home run record. It's about what we get from it - the experience of going to the park, cheering for our team, slapping palms with friends and strangers, sharing our passion with our kids - that keeps us coming back.

There are countless moments that I can remember as a fan from the last 10 or 15 years - from flying up to Seattle's new Safeco Field to see Cal Ripken play for the first time in my life, to meeting certain special people for the first time outside the ballpark, to seeing Craig Counsell catch a ball that bounced off the Miller Park roof during Game 4 of the NLDS - that tell more about why I love baseball than any one Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez home run ever will, and those memories needn't be wiped away in an ill-advised wish to "clean the slate." Certain aspects of the game need to be reviewed and placed into proper perspective, but our enjoyment of the sport and the joy that we have received from it should not just be thrown away. We are more than the home run, and that shouldn't be forgotten."
I still believe that. I just hope people start remembering it.


tHeMARksMiTh said...

I went to a Reds game with a friend of mine the other day. He doesn't know a whole lot about baseball, but he knows the basics, the best players, etc. He asked me a tough question:

How do you know Albert Pujols hasn't used steroids?

I didn't have a good answer for him even though I'm 99% sure he didn't.

lar said...

It is a tough question, Mark, and one that there isn't really an answer to (despite Pos's article in SI). The only way to really come to peace with a question like that, I think, is to answer yourself another question: "Do I care if Pujols used PEDs and, if so, why?"

By now, I've come to terms with the "steroid era" and I no longer care (much) if he used or not. Because of that, not being able to answer your friend's question doesn't bother me. If I were one to care, though, then the unanswerability (nice word, huh?) of that question would annoy me to no end. But that's something each individual baseball fan has to decide for themselves.

tHeMARksMiTh said...

In all of the fuss over Sammy Sosa, I really don't care. Maybe I've already been telling myself he did and it doesn't matter anymore. But ARod was a fairly big shock, and I really didn't care then. I've said this before, we can take into account that offensive stats were down for the Deadball Era, so why can't we just take into account that offensive stats were up for the Steroid Era?

As for Pujols, I think it's the naive desire for one clean superstar. Just one. To let me know that it's possible. Dumb maybe. That, and it probably means that Pujols is going to decline very fast in about 3 years. He's too good of a hitter for me to want that.