By Derek Rosenfeld
Well, here we go again. Another summer, another performance-enhancing drug (PED) scandal. Before you start yawning, remember that the Biogenesis clinic case has very little precedent; the supposedly anonymous list of positive tests conducted by Major League Baseball (MLB) from the 2003 season which incriminated such names as Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, and Alex Rodriguez was never supposed to be made public, while the BALCO scandal resulted in only one 50-game suspension (Jason Grimsley).
After the story broke of how clinic worker Porter Fischer delivered his employer Tony Bosch’s paperwork to the Miami New Times last year1, a new round of media furor has been launched which depicts a more well-rounded view of how PEDs have allowed minor league players to become major league players, major leaguers to become starters, starters to become stars, superstars to become hall-of-famers, and hall-of-famers to become legends.
With the Brewer’s Ryan Braun out of the game for the rest of the season and Rodriguez, Detroit’s Jhonny Peralta, Texas’s Nelson Cruz, and at least 16 others next on the chopping block, a debate must now be had which must go further than just being about athletes taking PEDs, and that is: Just how big is the divide in attitude between the fans and the players? And why does baseball seem to bear the brunt of negative coverage regarding PEDs when it is being uncovered regularly that athletes spanning the whole of organized sports are partaking in this so-called “cheating”?
Fans and media from around the country continue to express their outrage about how baseball and its cherished numbers are being sullied seemingly day after day by uncaring, unscrupulous men with their own selfish agendas. However true this may be, it still does not account for an even bigger truth: The athletes do not and will never look at their respective sports the same way as the fans do. To the athlete, this is their business, a way to make millions. To the fan, this is their leisure as well as their hopes and dreams. Numbers mean less to the player; they are not in it for the history of the game so much as they are in it for the contract and the adulation.
Moreover, there are, at times, good reasons for the players to behave the way they do. Major League executives treat their players like stock market assets and commodities, and they will deal with them as they see fit for the good of the bottom line; even Derek Jeter, who you’d think by now has won the respect of his organization, receives constant scrutiny from his employers when it comes time to negotiate a new contract. Players understand this, so why not treat teams and the game in the same manner? There are players in the big leagues today who could not tell you who Jackie Robinson was, let alone who the all-time home run leader is. So, where does “integrity” fit into the grand scheme of things?
Let me take it one step further and ask the following questions:
- How many home runs did Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron hit?
- How many wins did Cy Young amass?
- How long was Joe DiMaggio’s record hitting streak?
- What was Ted Williams’ batting average in 1941?
- How long was Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak?
Chances are—if you are a baseball fan—you know the answer to some or all of these questions.
Now, try to answer these questions:
- How many points did Michael Jordan and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar score in their careers?
- How many yards did Walter Payton and Emmitt Smith rush for in their careers?
- How many career goals did Pelé score?
- How many points did Wayne Gretzky collect in his career?
- How many yards did Dan Marino pass for in his career?
Those numbers don’t immediately come to mind, do they? Many of us know that the names mentioned above were the best at what they did and that they have accumulated the highest statistical totals of their respective positions in their sports’ histories. And therein lies the problem: baseball’s numbers matter; the other sports, somehow, do not.
Hall-of-Fame basketball player Karl Malone has the second highest point total in National Basketball Association history next to Jabbar. Is he the second greatest player of all-time? The second greatest scorer even? Probably not. Emmitt Smith has the highest rushing total in National Football League (NFL) history. Is he the greatest running back ever? Most would say that distinction belongs to Jim Brown or Barry Sanders. Dan Marino holds or held many of the NFL’s passing yardage records—for a season and a career—but is he the greatest quarterback ever? One of the greatest, certainly, but not THE greatest. (Pelé, on the other hand, is still considered the greatest soccer player ever.)
There is no debate, however, who the greatest home run hitter of all time is (Aaron), or the greatest base stealer (Rickey Henderson), or the greatest strikeout artist (Nolan Ryan). Baseball’s numbers define the game. The same cannot be said for the other major sports; when you mess with baseball’s numbers, you mess with its history.
Also, PEDs seem to be more tolerated in other sports because fans presume baseball involve less physical contact and strenuous activity than the others, with players just standing around for prolonged periods of time in between short bursts of action. However, the constant grind of a 162-game season, where games are played nearly every day, coupled with the unnatural, explosive movements it requires continuously taxes the body and challenges the constitution of even the most physically fit athlete.
Not the least of the reasons PEDs have woven their way into the fabric of sports is the tremendous wealth that athletic success generates. Remember last year’s PED poster boy, Melky Cabrera (left)? After being suspended for 50 games for high testosterone levels on August 15, 2012, just one month after he won All-Star Game Most Valuable Player honors, Cabrera signed a two-year, $16 million contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. Should he be suspended a second time as a result of the Biogenesis scandal, he still would have earned more than $15 million from his time in the game.
Oakland A’s pitcher Bartolo Colon (right) won the American League Cy Young Award in 2005. The following four years saw the hefty Dominican righty bounce around the league, floundering at each stop, going a combined 14-21 with a 5.18 earned run average (ERA). He did not pitch at all in 2010. Then in 2011, he hooked up with the New York Yankees and miraculously showed flashes of his former self. This minor resurgence led to his signing a one-year, $2 million contract with Oakland. In August 2012, Colon was suspended for 50 games for testing positive for synthetic testosterone. He subsequently resigned with the team for one year at $3 million. This year, at the age of 40, Colon was an all-star for the third time and is currently 14-3 with a 2.50 ERA, on pace to put up numbers even better than his Cy Young season. Since Colon only has one suspension against him with two to go, is it safe to say that he is on something now?
Braun came into the big leagues in 2008 and promptly led the National League in slugging percentage; he has since banked more than $21 million and stands to make another $133 million over the next eight years. Rodriguez has made more than $250 million since he came into the league in 1994. Jason Giambi, an admitted long-time steroid user, has made $133 million in his 19-year career. Sounds to me like PEDs paid off, especially when MLB, a $6.6 billion industry, seems to have no problem flipping the bill for these many transgressions. In other words, the system has been and will continue to get beat.
And what of the fans who say, “Hey, just let em’ take drugs. What do I care what they do to their bodies”? To them, I ask this: Are you willing to be the one who tells a red-blooded seven-year-old American kid who wants to play in the major leagues that, “Sure kid, you can make it…just take this drug first. Otherwise, you’re not good enough and you’ll never make it”? The line must be drawn, and competition must thrive. No less than an immediate lifetime ban from the game can be handed down for the first positive test. Anything else is a reason to continue to cheat.
Photos found on Wikimedia Commons courtesy of, from top to bottom and left to right, Steve Paluch, Keith Allison (3), X Wad, and Keith Allison.
Derek Rosenfeld is an associate editor for Fire Engineering. He has coached baseball at the collegiate level for nine seasons, including stints at New Jersey’s Bloomfield College, Bergen Community College, and Ramapo College. He has also been an infielder in several highly competetive semipro baseball leagues throughout the New York tri-state area.
During the mid-90s, Rosenfeld was a three-year starter at second base for the Ramapo College baseball team in Mahwah, New Jersey, where he earned all-New Jersey Athletic Conference honors and was a two-time New Jersey Collegiate Baseball Association (NJCBA) all-star selection. He was named MVP of the 1997 NJCBA All-Star Game. He has a bachelor of art’s degree in communications from Ramapo College.