Maury Brown is the president of the Business of Sports Network, which includes BizofBaseball.com. He is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus and Forbes.
From comments by fans for articles on the internet, to social media, to your local bar, right now someone is railing on about performance-enhancing drugs in baseball. They seethe on one side of the argument or the other, pouring out venom (and often expletives) in extra-large doses. Many times, in 140 characters or less, adjectives are sprinkled about and dripping with snark. To them, the matter is offered in black and white terms.
As if blame is ever that easy. The PED issue in baseball has plenty of blame to go around.
Start by blaming the jar of “greenies” that used to sit on the clubhouse table. We don’t talk about this much because we like to think that those players “back in the good-old days” didn’t need to performance enhance. Maybe they simply used them like one downs espresso and energy drinks but even Henry Aaron admitted to using “greenies”.
Blame the players or those that were “above 5% using steroid” as part of the survey test in 2003. When those players tested positive, it put in place the mandatory drug testing policy. While it was the first step in addressing the steroid issue, since then we’ve all become jaded. A player starts to perform above their norm—for whatever reason—and our immediate reaction is they “juiced.” Somewhere, Jeff Bagwell is nodding his head.
Blame the shifting sands on what was and wasn’t banned and how that changed the view (see androstenedione). Hate how the system was not yet fully formed at the time with testing, certification, and a case of where the MLBPA had fought tooth and nail because the rank and file hadn’t gotten any balls yet, and those that juiced had the upper hand. Who doesn’t remember Gene Orza, the former COO of the MLB Players Association, saying of steroids, “I have no doubt that they are not worse than cigarettes.”? Who can’t remember Donald Fehr fighting the battle for his constituency, the players?
Blame Commissioner Selig for either being blind to seeing it all go down, or as some think, letting it slide when McGwire and Sosa were in the midst of their historic (and PED fueled) race for the single-season home run record (I have always thought Bud simply couldn’t put 2 and 2 together on it). If, as Selig said, he really had no idea it was going on, where were those that must have seen it occurring and didn’t advise him?
Blame a large quarter of the media for being pious now, but missed it all when it was in front of them then (sans Steve Wilstein of The AP). You can’t have it both ways. Yes, it makes for great ink, but be accountable, just like the rest of us.
Blame those inside Major League Baseball that have decided that it’s somehow “good” for the game to leak information on the Biogenesis case (namely around Alex Rodriguez) to the media on a near daily basis. Congrats, whoever you are, you’ve broken the league’s own unwritten rule by having us focus in this nonsense instead of the play on the field.
Blame the investigators. The league paid for information and is willing to drop charges for Tony Bosch, speaking to both the league and Bosch’s credibility. For those outside the league, think of the millions of dollars poured down the drain by the federal investigators hell bent on getting a trophy prize in Barry Bonds. Yes, I’m speaking to you, the FDA, and Jeff Novitzky.
Blame Victor Conte, Tony Bosch, Kirk Radomski, et al, for being chemists of greed or ego. They are the devil standing on each and every player’s shoulder whispering evil thoughts in their ears. When or if you become “reformed” don’t act surprised when the league doesn’t hire you. Maggots are hard to swallow.
Blame the fans for their inability to really care about PEDs in the game. Only when it’s the high-profile player or when the sacred records or being molested do you jump up and down. You can cite records dating back to the game’s beginnings but all but a handful recount that Alex Sanchez of the then Devil Rays was the very first player suspended for PEDs in Major League Baseball. Fewer still are concerned about the near daily reports of Minor Leaguers being suspended for this drug or that. Ultimately what fans care about with PEDs is building star athletes up, and then (sadly) tearing them down.
Closer to now, blame Ryan Braun for dragging people like Dino Laurenzi Jr. through the mud and lying about PED use in the first place. If true (and this is the loop back to those sordid leaks), blame Alex Rodriguez for throwing Braun under the bus. We’re into the realm of leeching animals at this stage.
Blame the league and Commissioner Selig for over-stepping the boundaries of the Joint Drug Agreement in the Alex Rodriguez/Biogenesis case. A-Rod’s no saint, and seems to have juiced (he hasn’t denied it, nor has his team of lawyers), but you’re all in a tizzy over the fact that he wouldn’t go quietly on a 211 game suspension when there’s nothing outlined in the drug agreement, that you agreed to with the union for the players that allows for such stiff penalties. Not only does it put you in a position of looking weak should arbitrator Fredric Horowitz overturn the suspension, or more likely, lower the number of games he’s suspended for, it more importantly puts labor peace in jeopardy. Congrats. Not since the owners colluded has there been an action on your part that could potentially kill the game’s golden goose.
Blame poverty for the Latin kids who juice to want a better life. Blame the minor leaguer who’s juicing to make the show. Blame the high-profile players for greed. At every level of the game, a single source is the issue, which is…
Blame the money. Blame the salaries. Blame it on the revenues. This is what fuels it all.
Finally, blame yourself. Don’t act shocked. Don’t be aghast at the comment. Be honest. The incredible salaries which fuels this hyper-competitiveness that leads some to PEDs is what drives it all. You’re appalled, and yet like some drug addict you go to games, watch on television, and buy the merchandising. In that sense, those that are griping the loudest are those that are the biggest hypocrites. You’re the enabler. If the money stopped—if we all became Howard Beale in Network and said, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!”—it would slowly subside. In the end, the issue of performance-enhancing drugs in sports is tied to you. Ultimately, that’s where the power resides. I know it. I’m one of them. The only difference is, it’s all not as simple as it’s often portrayed. All I ask is that the next time you want to lay a finger at those “lying cheaters” or call Selig “the sport’s biggest overreacher” you remember that. Be mad. Want the game to be clean (if it ever has been). But, I can’t take the easy path on it. I can’t accept the arguments. I see it as Pandora’s Box, and we’re not going back. Am I apathetic? Maybe. Am I tired of it all? I think you can read this and say, no. You can’t see it but my shirt reads, “Reality Sucks”. Welcome to reality.