Saturday, August 17, 2013

The Needle and the Damage Done

2008 was supposed to be a new beginning.

As a baseball fan, I grew jaded and exhausted by the BALCO scandal, by the constant and nagging rumors of steroid and PED abuse. In August 2007, when Barry Bonds broke the career home run record with considerable scrutiny, I thought the wave had crested. The exodus of Bonds and Roger Clemens, the retirement of Sammy Sosa, and the establishment of harsher penalties all in one fell swoop, gave many the impression that baseball could get its act together. This was an embarrassing chapter in the history of the national pastime, and the healing process would slowly but surely begin. For a short while it seemed like progress was being made, that the strain between players, owners, and fans was gradually being alleviated. An era of freakish, suspicious power hitting would give way to a renaissance of fundamentals, of small ball and contact pitching. Suddenly, home runs grew scarce and "real" baseball was taking prominence. The game was detoxing itself, and to some degree cleansing its very soul.

In hindsight, 2008 was a red herring.

The Biogenesis scandal, while not as widespread as BALCO or the Mitchell Report, proved that the abuse of power-enhancing drugs was still active, it not necessarily rampant. The cheaters grew dumber and more clever at the same time. The scrutiny had a new face, trading the surly Bonds for the pretty-boy diva Alex Rodriguez. The cast of villains weren't aging American meatheads struggling to justify their bloated paychecks, but enigmatic young guns from Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

To some degree, I can understand why Jhonny Peralta, Nelson Cruz, Alberto Bastardo (what a fitting name) and everyone else caved into the temptation to cheat. Their homelands were one small notch above a third-world country, and for some of these boys an exceptional athletic prowess was their only way out. They could make the league minimum every year and have enough money saved to keep their families fed for the rest of their lives. Humble beginnings, however does not totally justify the fact that they still tainted the integrity of the game. They couldn't care less about the 1919 Black Sox or Pete Rose --and the ramifications of their wrongdoings-- because they've never heard of them.

As for Pretty Boy A-Rod, his ego and narcissism has reached dizzying new heights. He had the nerve to appeal a perfectly justified 210-game suspension (as I write this, he's still playing) and there is growing speculation and his "entourage" leaked names, including the already suspended Ryan Braun. Players like Skip Schumaker and Zack Greinke have made clear that they'd rather see Rodriguez banned for life, a daring moment of candor in the usually lockstep brotherhood of Major Leaguers. There's also nothing to indicate that the flames that A-Rod has fueled will be extinguished very soon.

I guess the cleansing of baseball's soul will have to wait a bit longer.


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