Subjecting baseball to an unfair double standard

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Steroids. Santana. The Bullpen. Melky. Pick one, and you’re bound to hit a topic that we — and countless other Yankee blogs — have hit upon with more regularity than any of us would like to admit. But we’re almost done with that. As the handy-dandy countdown on the right tells us, Spring Training starts in about four weeks, and it couldn’t come soon enough.

For now, as we slog through the last few weeks without baseball, we’ll spin that Wheel of Topics and land on steroids. As we all know, Congress got to be on TV today. Lucky them. Appearing in front of a few members of Congress were Senator George Mitchell, Commissioner Bud Selig and Executive Director of the MLBPA Donald Fehr. If you want to read the news coverage, The Times has article on the way Congress latched onto the stimulants issue, another article on the day’s events with a focus on the Congressional inquiry into Miguel Tejada and a George Vecsey Sports of the Times piece on the hearings.

For the purposes of this post, I don’t care about what happened at the hearings as much as what didn’t happen at the hearings. Missing from the hearings were much mention of the NFL, the NHL or the NBA. Missing from the hearings were talks of Michael Vick’s questionable moral decisions representing a league filled with many players who have faced legal troubles. Missing from the hearings were talks of steroid use in football, referee scandals in the NBA and general PED use across sports that aren’t baseball.

This double standard — baseball must hold itself to some unattainable, drug- and cheating-free standard that has never existed in the history of the game — just has to stop. As witnesses to Congress, Selig and Fehr were deferential toward Henry Waxman’s House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which somehow holds sway over baseball. But as the figureheads of baseball, it’s time for them to go something of an offensive. How can they sit there mostly passive while the NFL elects steroid users to the Pro Bowl and EA Sports awards them with video game covers?

Personally, I have stopped caring about steroids in baseball. Once upon a time, I cared about this scandal, but in the ensuing years since this scandal became more and more of a front-page issue, I grew less and less concerned. Does it matter what people did in the early 2000s? There is no Delorean. We can’t change the past.

Instead, Congress, baseball, whoever should focus on what the game can do to improve in the future. But beyond that, the powers that be, the grandstanding masses, should look beyond baseball. They should look at football and see what’s going on there. They should look at basketball and the Olympic athletes who will do just about anything to gain a competitive edge. It’s become an overplayed Internet meme, but leave baseball alone. Go fry some other fish for a change.

I can only laugh and wonder at the irony: Mark McGwire was right when he said he wasn’t there to talk about the past. Why talk about the past? It looks good for politicians and doesn’t solve the problem. Three years later, nothing accomplished.

Sheehan: Melky's break-out potential
Justice out as YES Network analyst
  • iYankees

    Nicely put Ben. Baseball fans are quickly growing numb to these unrelenting steroid scandals and the government’s loaded “concerns.” Honestly, I’m just waiting for the season to start, not only to see something new, but to just move beyond this entire thing.

  • Babe’s Ghost

    OK fine, let’s say that congress is only grandstanding. That their motives are as pure as campaign finance. I would argue that the only reason why they pretend to care is that large groups of regular people care.

    I’m a regular guy and I care. Not so much about the health and well being of millionaire athletes, but from a public health standpoint, I’m concerned about the thousands of wannabes who are risking their health to chase the dream or emulate their heroes. You can argue all you want about how ball players shouldn’t be heroes, but the bottom line is that they are to lots of people and that’s a big part of the reason why we actually care about sports and why ball players make so much money.

    The question of whether the Federal government should be sticking it’s nose in private citizens’ business is a valid one, but if we accept that we’re going to criminalize the abuse of certain drugs, then there’s no barrier to including steroids along with marijuana.

    One thing that’s a bit murkier is what if someone came up with a PED that had no health risks that slowed but didn’t reverse aging. So you’d have to take it while you were still young to gain the anti-aging benefits, but it would also extend your athletic prime and ‘enhance’ your performance, wouldn’t we all want to take it? Now dial up the health risks slightly, say 1 in 100,000 get cancer, but it greatly reduces arthritis, osteoporosis and pushes frailty back into the eighth decade. Would you still want to take it? Would you be upset if people banned it because it could enhance performance?

    • Ben K.

      You know what? I think that whole children line of reasoning is total BS. One of the Members of Congress yesterday said at one point: “This most important issue is how this reflects to our kids.”

      I don’t see a steroid epidemic in the U.S. right now among kids, and I think that’s just an excuse for Congress to but into this issue. If they’re so concerned about the children, then why aren’t other public sports figures from other leagues being called before Waxman’s committee too? Why aren’t NCAA officials there, for example? I don’t buy it one bit.

      • Count Zero

        Sorry, but the fact that you don’t see it, doesn’t mean it isn’t there. Are you hanging out with HS athletes on a regular basis?

        From a purely logical viewpoint, it should be obvious that this will become a problem even if it isn’t already one.

        Point 1) Athletes are being cultivated at an ever lowering age — basketball prospects are tracked by agents and coaches at age 11-12. My neighbor’s son has been a perennial all-star in Babe Ruth since he was eight (he’s now 13) — the pressure on him to attend baseball camps year-round in faraway places since he was 10 has been relentless. How about tennis and golf? Michelle Wie anyone? We won’t even talk Olympic sports like gymnastics and figure skating. Face it — most of our athletes are made between the ages of 11 and 17.

        Point 2) Given the ever-increasing monetary payout associated with creating the next A-Rod or Tiger Woods, parents will do anything, pay anything, risk anything if they think their kid has a shot. You and I might not do anything to endanger our children, but that puts us squarely in the minority, especially as you work down the income level.

        If artificially created bodies become the norm in professional sports, then you have basically setup a scenario where it becomes a requirement. (Anything not forbidden is compulsory.) Since your shot at the pros is nearly always determined by the time you are 17, this means there will be relentless pressure to begin building that artificial body at around age 14 or younger. This is an unavoidable consequence given the stakes involved.

        Believing that you can bless PEDs in sports without it trickling down to early teens is to ignore everything we know about today’s society and culture.

        • Ben K.

          Do you see among high school students all the time? If so, where are the exposes and reports about it? It’s a typica Congressional straw-man argument: “There are people using steroids. We don’t know who are where, but they must exist because we say so.”

          Give me cold, hard proof that steroid use in baseball is responsible for an increase in teen PED use and I’ll believe you, but right now, I don’t buy it one bit.

          Meanwhile, how about investigating the practices of high school wrestling coaches? What they do to train their athletes and keep them in the right weight classes is far worse than any straw-man PED use among teens. At least, that’s a tangible problem with teen athletes as opposed to your hypothetical drug use among teenagers.

          • Count Zero

            I don’t disagree with you about the whey and the creatine and the dieting, etc., etc.

            But if you really think this isn’t a problem at the HS sports level, I suggest a quick google…the only reason you think the problem doesn’t exist is because you have chosen not to look for it.

            Basically, what I’m saying is that your statement that “I don’t see a steroid epidemic in the U.S. right now among kids” has ZERO credibility. Are you a HS athletics coach? Are you a pediatrician treating HS kids? Are you even the parent of a HS athlete? Or is your assertion based on the fact that it hasn’t made headlines in the media?

            You need some fact-based research to back up a statement like that — same as you need sabers to back up statements about the value of a player. :-) You can’t expect anyone to just swallow that assertion when you have no qualifications to make it on your own.

            • Ben K.

              What makes you any more qualified than me to discuss steroid use in high school? I’m still waiting for an answer to that one.

              And I’m still waiting to hear how steroid use among athletes is directly related to steroid use among high school kids. I’d love to hear that increased pressure to get college scholarships and spots in competitive collegiate athletics programs has nothing do with the increase in steroid use among high school students recently.

              And I’d love to hear how baseball and not any other sport is disproportionately affecting the nation’s perception and acceptance of steroids (which, funny enough, was the main point of this post).

              • Count Zero

                You mistake me — I don’t really disagree with your original post. Here’s where you lost me:

                “I think that whole children line of reasoning is total BS. ”

                I don’t claim to know one way or the other — perhaps it is, perhaps it isn’t. I can’t really say for sure. My quibble with your statement is that you don’t have any facts to back it up, yet you shot down that argument as if you did. And you said it like anyone who disagrees is a believer of “BS” stories. :-)

                Google-ing steroids+teen+use reveals the following from the Mayo Clinic (a pretty respected source regarding sports medicine) in less than 60 seconds of research (emphasis mine):

                “In the United States, about 3 million people use anabolic steroids — one in four of these steroid users started as a teenager, and one out of every 10 is a teenager.”

                That’s a pretty significant statistic. Now what we don’t know (does anyone?) is what the trend is. Is that going up or down? If it’s going up, then I would say there is a pretty good case for correlation with the usage of professional athletes. If it’s going down or is unchanged over the last decade, then there isn’t.

                In summary, logic tells me (as detailed in my first post) that as more and more big-name athletes break records and collect record paychecks while using PEDs, teenagers who idolize them are going to be tempted to follow suit as are parents who are looking to create the next Tiger. That’s logical — it may be wrong, but it’s the logical expectation. Your assertion — that increased publicity of successful careers tied to PED use does not lead to increased use by teens — is counter-intuitive. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong — it may be 100% accurate, but it does mean that if you’re going to try and pass that off is the obvious conclusion, you’re going to have to back it up with something.

                In other words, this statement — ““I think that whole children line of reasoning is total BS. ” — is your unqualified opinion and has no basis in any fact-based research or statistical analysis, nor does it even make sense in any sociological or psychological context. I.e., it’s total BS. ;-)

                • Ben K.

                  You’re still completely missing(or, perhaps, avoiding) the point. Why aren’t other sports held up the same standards? That’s the point. People cite the anti-trust exemption, but if Congress requested a hearing with Tagliabue, he would show up.

                  And another five seconds of Google research reveals that steroid use among teens is on the rise. But no medical experts are blaming professional athletes for that.

                  • Jobu

                    I think it’s great that baseball is held to a higher standard. I wouldn’t want it any other way. I just wish it was MLB itself had the high standard – not Congress (or presumably the public).

                    PEDs are a difficult issue as Babe’s Ghost, Count Zero and Mike point out but let’s try to tackle it instead of just ‘moving forward.’

                    I understand anger towards how baseball + steroids is GENERALLY viewed – people seem to think the Mitchell Report was some great thing when it failed in many ways (if you ask me). I’d hate to see the Mitchell Report lauded in the general culture going forward.

                    • Mike P

                      I agree with the article mostly. But Ben it’s pretty naive to think that there is no steroid problem amongst kids because you haven’t heard about it. Doesn’t the whole steroid era show you that the press cannot be trusted to give a damn? Investigative journalism is practically dead. Apart from the guys at the SF chronicle, no one even tried to find out about steroids.
                      That said I agree the whole thing about congress “doing it for the kids” is absolute BS. We should care about steroids, deeply. But applying these standards to the past is stupid. I mean come on this was only 10 years ago! And we knew then, but ignored it. Congress is full of shit for caring suddenly.

  • Bo

    I cannot wait for the Congressional hearings and public outrage over rappers and actors using PED’s. Now we will all finally get to the bottom of the problem.

  • YankCrank20

    guys, i think you’re missing the original point. yes steroids are a health issue, and they also paint an unfair picture to younger athletes on what it takes to be the best. but the main point was about the double standard that kills baseball and nobody else. i remember an article on espn that compared two pro athlete’s actions after they revealed to the public they used steroids or hgh. actions were the same, but one athlete’s case stood out in the public so much more than the other. that person who stood out was andy pettitte, and the athlete who slipped under the radar was rodney harrison. baseball just has this impossible standard of having to be clean and pure, but football and basketball have no such standard when the athletes caught cheating are honored with awards and all star roster spots.

    i’m glad you care about health but come on, congress? really? is ruining roger clemen’s credibility and career accomplishments worth it? go focus on building roads and bridges and let the mlb and mlbpa govern their own sport

  • Mike

    From my blog om Jan 11.

    If using HGH to help heal your elbow faster so you can get back in the game is considered “cheating”, how come getting a cortisone injection in your elbow to temporarily reduce pain and inflammation so you can get back in the game is not considered “cheating”?

    By the way…cortisone IS a steroid.

    “Cortisone is in a class of drugs called steroids. Cortisone prevents the release of substances in the body that cause inflammation.” (

    It is not an anabolic steroid in the P.E.D. sense, but it’s a steroid none the less, and it is used to get players through injuries that might otherwise keep them on the bench.

    If a player gets a cortisone shot and hits a homerun in a game that he would not have played in without the shot, is the homerun “tainted”? How about the pitcher who goes 5 innings thanks to cortisone? Should those innings get a ” * ” because without the shot, he goes ZERO innings?

  • Rich

    If a survey was conducted to assess the average fan’s awareness of records in all the major sports, I think it’s likely that the career HR mark would be the one that most members of the public are familiar with.

    Given that focus on counting stats, which are probably most readily impacted by PEDs, it’s hardly surprising that Congress would place a disproportionate emphasis on investigating their effects in MLB.

    That doesn’t excuse a singular focus on baseball, but it does explain at least part of the reason for it.

  • YankeeJosh

    Nice post Ben. I too am sick of steroids and the Mitchell Report annoys me, since it was an arbitrary sampling and not a thorough examination.

    What bothers me most is the hypocrisy of the media. The BBWAA writers won’t vote McGwire, or soon Bonds and Clemens into the Hall of Fame because they used steroids and thus cheated. Yet, the media also gave Bill Belichick the AP Coach of the Year award in a season in which the NFL found him to be cheating and disciplined his team for it. How is it fair to punish alleged cheating in one sport, and yet reward proven cheating (albeit of a different variety) in another?

  • Bo

    I think you’re crazy Rich.

    The average public doesnt care about records. They all just know that Hank Aaron passed Ruth.

    The other numbers have just been mytholized by sports writers.

    You think these same sports writers who now bash every baseball player didnt know about roids in 1992?

    Why aren’t they going on about the NFL players who have tested positive!

    Why isnt Merriman in front of COngress?
    Rodney Harrison?

    Two All Pros!

    What a joke.

    • Rich

      The average fan doesn’t care about records?

      Did you really type that?

      Babe Ruth got a candy bar named after him precisely because of his HR record.

      You cannot be serious.

  • Barry

    Baseball is subject to so much because of it’s popularity and the amount of money it brings in. If baseball wasn’t as loved as it is and made as much money as it does (correct if I am wrong but I’m possitive that MLB players as a whole make more money than any other sport combined?) then the government wouldn’t give two shits about it.

  • Jobu

    I’m not an expert on this issue but I believe that baseball is in front of Congress instead of the NFL (or other leagues) because of baseball’s federal antitrust exemption. The government doesn’t hold the hammer of repealing that exemption over any other league.

  • Dan

    Yeah, was hoping that someone would hit on that antitrust exemption. Major League Baseball is the only legal monopoly in the country (A famous line once used at an owner’s meeting around the start of free agency was “Gentlemen, we have the only legal monopoly in the country, and we’re f*cking it up”). As such, it is subject to certain degrees of oversight that the other leagues are not.

    Nomaas makes a great point about Mitchell’s admitting to using the standard of “innocent until proven guilty” in his report.

  • Joe

    Steroid use among teenagers isn’t 10% of the problem that alcohol use is. If Congress were truly worried about “the children” they’d be doing something about that.

  • Dan

    “Guily until proven innocent,” I meant.

  • Dan

    “Guilty until proven innocent,” I meant.

  • Mike P

    I agree that congress’ actions are a joke. As was the Mitchell report. But to say that trying to get baseball drug free is an “impossibly high standard” is simply not true. That standard is totally possible. What congress should be investigating is the current drug policies of all sports. The penalty for drug use is tiny in the US. In soccer, a Manchester United player (Rio Ferdinand) got suspended for seven months for MISSING a drug test. He passed a hair test a few days later, but still got banned.

    The rest of the world cares about PEDs a lot, and baseball should too. The current scandal is pretty fake though, considering baseball’s current policies are still very weak by WADA standards (a benchmark IMO). Just concentrate on the present, not the past. You simply cannot judge a former player by standards that did not exist in his era.

    I agree with everything else in the article.