Less than a month after performance enhancing drugs took center stage during the Hall of Fame voting process, the specter of steroids in baseball reared it ugly head before the beginning of spring training. Baseball legends Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have had their legacies greatly diminished, and today’s news destroys what was left of Alex Rodriguez‘s credibility. Besides Rodriguez, current players Gio Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz also appeared as clients of a Miami clinic run by Anthony Bosch.
As long as games have been played, athletes have attempted to gain an unethical disadvantage. Baseball, of course, is no different as spitballs and corked bats are part of the history of the game. So why all the fuss over the Hall of Fame vote and A-Rod’s second incursion into the world of steroids?
Because the systematic use of PEDs by players disrupts the dynamic of the game in a far more dramatic way than Sammy Sosa corking a bat or Joe Niekro’s emery board. The very essence of baseball boils down to Newton’s Second Law: f=ma.
Mixing Newtonian physics and Alex Rodriguez may seem odd to may baseball fans. Newton’s Second Law, however is quite simple, force (power) = mass (bat size) * acceleration (bathead speed at contact). Simply put, PED’s allow a player like Rodriguez or Bonds to swing a heavier bat faster, thus causing the ball to leave the bat at a higher speed. Baseball is built upon the balance between pitcher and hitter at 60 feet 6 inches, and ballparks of certain dimensions yielding consistent results. The systematic use of PED’s to gain an unethical disadvantage has thrown these age old relationships out of balance.
Unfortunately for baseball, the PED genie is out of the bottle. The financial reward is staggering, the temptation to use for some too great. Through its testing policy, baseball needs to remain vigilant, cheaters will try to remain ahead of the law. Competitors who intentionally and willfully attempt to gain an unethical and illegal advantage over competitors (and teammates) should not be rewarded or celebrated.
The path to the moral high ground and relevancy runs through improved testing. 50 game suspensions for a first offense and a lifetime ban for a third PED offense should serve as a deterrent for current players. Unfortunately, a decrease in the amount of positive test results signifies that a new Victor Conte or Anthony Bosch is peddling his wares, always trying to outsmart the testing system.
Also effective in countering rampant use is the damage done to an individual’s credibility and the perceived invalidity of their records by the public. Clemens and Rodriguez are wealthy beyond reason, but would likely trade a large sum of their money for a restored reputation. And while Bonds is still the home run king of record, most fans consider Hank Aaron the rightful holder of the crown.
Baseball is moving in the right direction, the Hall of Fame vote and the public’s reaction to Lance Armstrong’s admission should serve further notice to those who violate the integrity of the game. PED suspensions and steroid investigations will remain with us as long as games are played, and this is not necessarily a bad thing. A strong testing program and the court of public opinion can help maintain baseball’s position as our National Pastime.