Friday, February 20, 2009

"The Steroid Era" is non-negotiable

I don’t feel this way too often about the media’s sensationalistic nature but I think it has rightfully made a big deal out of the “steroids” issue. I’m sure most of you are nauseas from the coverage—I know I am at times—but this topic deserves the Brittney Spears-level scrutiny that it has received. I realize there is a double-standard going on in professional sports. Few people, if any, seem to care when players from the NFL get caught taking steroids. Some of that might have to do with the physical nature of professional football. Anyone who has seen Any Given Sunday in all its gory glory has an idea of what it takes to last in the NFL. I get the impression that players don’t take steroids in the NFL to break records—rather they take steroids just to survive in the league. I’m not saying that makes it OK. I’m just making a guess as to why fans and the media might be more tolerant of steroid-use in the NFL all things being equal. The problem for MLB is that all things aren’t equal. The difference in outrage between steroid-use in football and baseball would be incredibly hypocritical if it weren’t for two minor details: massive amounts of perjury and tainted records.

Major leaguers—the dishonest ones—might not have created the double standard but they certainly brought it to the level that it’s at now by doing two unforgivable things in the sports world: 1). Cheated their way to hallowed records and 2). Lied to grand juries. If NFL players did those things, they would get reamed by the media, too. Luckily for the NFL, none of its marquee records were shattered by steroid-users. If Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Miguel Tejada had told the truth, nobody would be facing jail-time. If Bonds and Mark McGwire hadn’t juiced themselves to the top of the record books with fantasyland numbers, the legitimacy of their career statistics would probably not be in question. Baseball players took drug use to a whole new level and now they’re paying for it.

A-Rod, of course, is the latest to pay. In the aftermath of his press conference--you know the one where he rolls on his cousin--the media held its breath for Derek Jeter's reaction. What Jeter had to say made my ears perk up like Shag and Scoob at a drive-thru:

“I mean, yeah, what, a hundred and some people failed a test. How many people are in the major leagues? 1,200? You’ve got 1,100 people that haven’t done it. So, let’s get that straight because that’s sending the wrong message…”

Say, what? Jeter whips out the tried and true ad hominem by objecting to his era being labeled “the steroid era” because everyone didn’t do it. Does that mean Wisconsin shouldn’t be referred to as “the Dairy State” because not everyone from Wisconsin likes cheese? Large amounts of players cheated. Therefore, it should be remembered as the era in which large amounts of players cheated. Then Jeter tried to pass off the 103 players who tested positive in 2003 as the only players who took steroids in his era. Anyone who is well-versed in the steroid revelations of the past ten years knows that Jeter is partaking in quite a heavy dose of revisionist history. The vast majority of players who took steroids took them before 2003. Mark McGwire and Ken Caminiti—two of the most notable steroid-users in MLB—weren’t even in the league anymore. Most of the players named in the Mitchell Report were out of the league by 2003.

The other part that Jeter conveniently ignores is that according to the Mitchell Report (and common sense) “smarter players” shifted to Human Growth Hormone (HGH) when it became apparent that steroids were being sniffed out. There wasn’t a test for HGH in 2003 and there isn’t one now. There is no telling how many players took steroids or HGH in Jeter’s era but that total is significantly higher than the percentage that Jeter infers. Isn’t it reasonable to assume that most players would’ve stopped taking steroids if they knew they were going to be tested for steroids? The fact that 5-7% (Mitchell Report) of MLB was still using steroids in the face of testing should indicate that the number of players who were using before testing was considerably higher. It would be shocking to find that number below 20% and that’s just counting steroids. Who knows what the number rises to with the inclusion of HGH?

Everyone loves Derek Jeter so he can get away with saying things that don’t make sense but what he said, well, doesn’t make sense. The fact that hundreds of players cheated in one era is more than enough cause to label that era by the cheating that was done. The fact that the two greatest players of said era—Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds—were cheats makes it even more reasonable.

I understand the position that Jeter is in. Assuming he did not take steroids—the four people on my “probably did not take steroids list” are Ken Griffey Jr., Jamie Moyer, Derek Jeter, and David Wells—Jeter has the misfortune of being lumped in with the transgressors of his era. I’m sure it’s frustrating enough to know that many of the hitters that he’s being compared to cheated to get their statistics. It must be doubly frustrating to know that many of his legitimate statistics were put up against pitchers who were also cheating. While I understand Jeter’s personal frustration, I do not understand his defense of an era that has clearly been soiled by cheating. The statistical credibility of his era is shot. “Everyone” might not have been doing it but enough were; including the two best players in the league. I don’t know what his motivation was for attacking the “Steroid Era” moniker but it was a feeble attempt at best. He should know more than anyone how much of an impact steroids had on his era. Twenty-three of his former teammates were named in the Mitchell Report. Four of the five highest paid Yankees in 2007 allegedly used steroids. He was the one who didn’t.

The last 10-12 years have undoubtedly been “the steroid era.” Other acceptable names include; “lying era”, “perjury era”, "cheating era", “shrinkage era”, “Cro-Magnon head era” and “I did not intentionally take steroids era.” If Jeter prefers any of those monikers, then I’m willing to compromise. Otherwise, “the steroid era” is non-negotiable.

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