Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Who's to Blame for McGwire's Steroid Use?

I'm a baseball fan first and foremost. I've had periods when I was really into hockey or football, but I've always been a fan of baseball. Back to my youth of little league, trading my extra Ricky Henderson rookie cards away, cherishing my oversized Brooks Robinson card, growing up watching the infield of Garvey, Lopes, Cey and Russell all those years, standing on the rail of the right field foul pole at Anaheim stadium and watching Dave Henderson kill the Angels, rooting for a team in a French speaking non-American country and year after year watch them cut payroll by getting rid of more stars than you can imagine, and yes, turning on the TV during my honeymoon to watch the homerun chace of 1998.

But then Ken Caminiti started saying that 40% of players use performance enhancing drugs (PED), and Jose Canseco came out with allegations of rampant steroid use- even going so far as naming names. Now some of our biggest names of recent years have been labeled PED users or cheaters. We're talking Sheffield, Tejada, Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, Palmiero, and now Mark McGwire. And with those players I just named, through the 2009 season, they have made $889 MILLION dollars... and they are cheaters! And that's just some of those who have admitted it. You and I can both name two giant names who are still denying allegations, and who else knows the truth about other offenders.
Now I'm not defending the use of these drugs in the first place, but why were they using these drugs in the first place? To hit home runs? To return from injury? To get a job? To keep a job? Because everyone else is doing it?

Sorry to jump ahead, but allegedly, Barry Bonds was upset with the attention that Sosa and McGwire got in 1998, so he decided to put himself on the same level by using PEDs (allegedly). This is a guy who was already a superstar as far as stats go. He was already beloved by the fans of San Francisco. He already had a ton of money. But the longball is what people wanted.

My favorite baseball team IS the Montreal Expos. The experiment to the north started the year before I was born and they went through the typical expansion team era where they were just plain bad. But then they developed a team, got fan support and by the late 70's the Montreal Expos were THE game in town. Sure the Montreal Canadians hockey team was always popular, but the Expos had enormous fan support. But just like a majority of teams (no not the Yankees, Cubs and Red Sox), when the team doesn't win, the fans don't come. And when the team doesn't win consistently, then that fanbase gets worse and worse as people change their lifestyles away from going to the stadium.
Now this is not an essay about the Expos, but they are the perfect example of what went wrong with baseball in the early/mid '90s. The Expos had an awesome team in 1993 and in 1994 it was even better. The fans were there and the team was in first place- by a lot. But then a players strike killed the end of the 1994 season and for the first time in 90 years, the World Series was cancelled. Come 1995, the Expos had to get rid of their stars because they deserved more money and the team couldn't afford it, and the true decline of the Expos ensued.
But beyond the situation in Montreal, baseball fans in general were upset. What about the Yankees of 1994- they were on track for the postseason- and Don Mattingly was probably upset. Tony Gwynn was close to hitting .400 and with his friend Ted Williams still alive, that would have been a great storyline. Frank Thomas and Matt Williams and Carlos Baerga all missed out on record breaking seasons.

The fans suffered and Major League Baseball as an entity suffered, and they needed reasons to come back. Sure we had feel-good stories in the next few years- like Cal Ripken passing Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games, a world series won by an expansion team and othe rindividual milestones, but it was the home run that brought fans back.

Guys like Bonds, Williams, Bichette, Galarraga, Walker, Thome, Beltre, Jones, Belle, Griffey, Ramirez and Ortiz were crushing it. Guys like Luis Gonzalez suddenly became home run hitters. Heck, one year there was a commercial with Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux (and Heather Locklear) talking about chicks digging "the long ball". Home runs became the reason for fans to come out to see the games.

Did anyone question this power surge? Was anything done about it? Were PEDs allowed in MLB? As you may know, I'm a real estate appraiser by trade. Was the housing boom caused by individual loan officers, realtors and appraisers? Or was it caused by lax policies coupled with hype? But when the real estate market crashed, who got the blame? The loan officers, realtors and appraisers.

Who promoted home runs? Who benefitted from the additional fans at the park? The merchandise purchased? Naming rights? Television contracts? Concession sales? It was THE OWNERS and the head of the PLAYERS UNION, and yes, THE COMMISSIONER himself.

I just saw "8 Men Out" again a few weeks back and in the end, the gamblers and owners got away clean- and rich. And it was the players- the face of the team, who suffered the consequences. Never mind that some of them took bribes. Never mind that our current crop of players got huge salaries. They are still the pawns of this big scheme.

Guys like Canseco and Caminiti spoke out and were criticized (by whom?)
Guys like Giambi, A-Rod and Pettitte denied then admitted and they were praised
And guys like Bonds, Clemens and McGwire have denied amid overwhelming evidence.

Mark McGwire finally came clean for his own reasons. Perhaps one day Clemens and Bonds will too. Will they do it to get in the hall of fame? To free their soul? Heck, pretty soon, players will be considered a minority if they didn't use PEDs.

But how many players and past players have escaped suspicion and finished off their careers without incident? I'm sure the hallworthy ones will be under a cloud, but what about the career .280 guy who played 13 seasons and finished off his career with 1800 hits, 260 home runs, a few all star games and perhaps a gold glove- I'm not talking about anyone in particular, but that's a pretty solid career isn't it? And a player like that could make $5MM a year in baseball. Not bad if you're taking PEDs and not getting caught.

I've forgiven Mark McGwire because it was the system that failed him. It was the leaders of baseball who failed him. It was the greed of rich men who wanted to get richer who failed him. And they've done a disservice to the game.

No comments: