History will remember Monday as another dark day for Major League Baseball, lumped together with other scandals in the sport’s checkered past.
In reality, baseball should rejoice. Cheaters were exposed for their transgressions and a commissioner who once buried his head in the sand over performance-enhancing drugs delivered punishment that had real bite to it.
Some referred to the development as baseball’s D-Day, the moment Bud Selig swung back in the game’s fight against steroids in the workplace by handing down lengthy suspensions to 13 players with ties to a Miami clinic that distributed PEDs.
Baseball didn’t rid itself of cheaters or banned substances — that won’t ever happen — but it showed it won’t turn a blind eye to them, either.
If only the narcissistic phony in New York would have accepted his punishment, too, and faded into oblivion. Alas, Alex Rodriguez clings to his last shred of hope, a pariah even to his own team and fan base, defiant and smug to the end.
In an ultimate irony, Rodriguez made his season debut in the Yankees lineup on the same day baseball suspended him for the rest of this season and the 2014 season. Unlike the others, Rodriguez plans to appeal his punishment, allowing him to play until his case is resolved.
Rodriguez’s quotes over the weekend about the need to eliminate PEDs from baseball had to enrage Selig, who reportedly considered issuing A-Rod a lifetime ban under the “best interests of the game” clause. That nuclear option would have appeased different factions — including the Yankees, who are on the hook for Rodriguez’s massive contract — and displayed a willingness to banish repeat offenders, the best possible deterrent.
But Selig faced a slippery slope in terms of his relationship with the players union and whether he could build a case that proves Rodriguez’s involvement far surpasses everyone else to the degree that a lifetime ban was an appropriate ruling.
Ultimately, the punishment — 211 games, if upheld — serves as a resounding smackdown because it effectively could end Rodriguez’s career. And besides, the man known as A-Fraud already has taken a blow torch to his legacy.
We might never know the scope of evidence the league collected from the Biogenesis clinic because Selig’s office and the players union worked in conjunction behind closed doors on punishment. That so many players, including several high-profile ones in pennant races, were willing to accept 50-game suspensions indicates they realized they were ensnared with no wiggle room. Those cheaters also had to know that public sentiment isn’t on their side, either.
Everyone associated with baseball — even players, most importantly — is sick and tired of steroids, and the game is better today because of Selig’s rulings. Yet only a Pollyanna believes these punishments will make baseball clean. A lifetime ban on the second offense would be ideal but even that might not rid the game of this stuff.
Advances in science make testing difficult, and the temptation to gain an edge, a job or a rich contract always will compel players to seek the latest wonder drug. More will cheat and get caught because PEDs have created a new normal in professional sports.
Steroids have made us more jaded and cynical. Any athlete who looks unusually strong or does things beyond the perceived realm of normal invites a skeptical eye.
That skepticism can be healthy, though, if it helps avoid a repeat of the way we cheered with blissful ignorance during the great home run chase of 1998. We got sucked into the euphoria and forgot to ask why home runs were flying out of ballparks like missiles and players had swelled to the size of the Michelin Man.
Those cheaters made fools of us, then cynics.
That’s why we reserve particular disdain for guys such as Rodriguez and Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun, who earlier accepted a 65-game suspension in the Biogenesis case after initially lying about his involvement. If you cheat and get caught, don’t rub our nose in it.
Some argue these penalties remain too lenient and don’t go far enough to discourage PED use. But what price do you put on one’s reputation and legacy?
Rodriguez and Braun answered that question with their own selfishness. Baseball, meanwhile, moves on, knowing it’s better today because a bunch of cheaters got their comeuppance.
Chip Scoggins • firstname.lastname@example.org