Hear me out for a moment before dismissing what I am about to say before you even give it a chance to sink in. Instead of everyone criticizing Alex Rodriguez and the rest of the baseball players who have or are accused of using performance-enhancing drugs, let’s view it with our heads and not our hearts.
Yeah, I know that baseball is the National Pastime and as American as hot dogs, apple pie and Chevrolet, but what makes the sport so different from all of the others that have dealt with the same issues, some with them much deeper? Take the National Football League, for instance. How many years have the players been using steroids? It is safe to say that since the 1970s, most of the linemen on both sides of the ball have at one time or another taken steroids. As the years went on, the other “smaller” positions followed suit.
The late Lyle Alzado is perhaps the one most associated with using steroids and even tried to use himself as an example while dying of a brain tumor not to indulge in the manner that he did. With all due respect, Alzado’s death had absolutely nothing to do with his use of steroids and every medical report on the subject backs that up. What his “confession” did show shined a light on what everyone already suspected – that steroids were common all throughout football.
Track and field, cycling and even cheerleading all have gone through steroid scandals, so why is a sport such as baseball and its 162-game schedule expected to remain clean? Perhaps it is the stigma that baseball players have had over the years. The old expression, “He’s not an athlete, he’s a baseball player,” may have some truth to it if you subscribe to that theory.
Jose Canseco, if he was the first to use them or not, has been called baseball’s “godfather of steroids.” Just a few seasons after Keith Hernandez made smoking cigarettes in the dugout and drinking a Budweiser while the Mets made their Game Six comeback in the 1986 World Series part of baseball folklore, Canseco took it to the other extreme. Hernandez – who also had to answer for using cocaine during his playing career – has been beloved for years, even though he hasn’t exactly led a perfect life. On the other hand, Canseco has been raked over the coals and viewed as a clown for his truthfulness and outing of the baseball players that also used performance-enhancing drugs.
It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the former Oakland slugger wrote two books on the subject for financial gain and self-promotion. Canseco even went three rounds recently in a celebrity boxing match with Danny Bonaduce and had to settle for a draw with the much smaller former “Partridge Family” child actor. But that’s not the point.
When he was at his prime, Canseco was a physical specimen that excelled at what he was doing. If you read his first book, “Juiced,” he did not start using steroids blindly. He schooled himself on what would work for him and was careful about the amounts he was taking. When someone is that meticulous about their workout regimen, they are not going to destroy all of that hard work by practicing bad habits. If you are going to the extreme of using steroids, then the results you’re looking for will not occur if you do not do everything else proper, such as a good high protein, low fat diet, plenty of sleep and refraining from using alcohol, tobacco and the so-called ‘recreational’ drugs.
One major complaint by the public is that players such as Bonds, Mark McGwire and now Rodriguez are bad influences for children. While not disputing that logic, is Josh Hamilton a better role model for your Little Leaguer? The star of last season’s Home Run Derby nearly lost his career, marriage and life due to being addicted to crack-cocaine. He stole from his own grandmother to feed his habit and just because he cleaned himself up, does that make him better than A-Rod? Hamilton was considered a ‘can’t-miss’ prospect after he was chosen first overall by the then-Tampa Bay Devil Rays in 1999.
Tom Hicks, the owner of the Texas Rangers who signed off on the $252 million Rodriguez contract in 2001, told reporters that he was “personally betrayed” by Rodriguez’s comments. “I feel deceived by Alex,” he said. “He assured me that he had far too much respect for his own body to ever do that to himself.”
This is the same man that allowed his organization to trade their top pitching prospect Edinson Volquez for Hamilton, who did have a productive first campaign in Texas (.304, 32, 130) but can fall off the wagon at any time. Just as Dwight Gooden and Steve Howe before him, Hamilton is fighting a long, uphill battle and has the support of not only the fans, but the entire baseball family.
All the while, players who have chosen to live their lives clean and have done everything they could to perform at the highest level are the scapegoats and subjects of a witch hunt that has not been this deep since Joe McCarthy was trying to convince the country that everyone he dragged in front of the United States Senate’s Subcommittee on Investigations were Communists.
Before Rodriguez’s appearance on ESPN was five minutes old, President Barrack Obama commented that it was “disappointing,” and Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Maryland) was looking to drag the 33-year-old slugger in front of another congressional session.
Just how far will this go? Even previously believed to be squeaky clean players such as Rodriguez are now known to be just another in the long line of steroid users. Bud Selig may have had aspirations that one day A-Rod would have surpassed Bonds’ career total of 762 home runs to become the ‘real’ home run king, but that plan was thwarted. The commissioner is going to have to come to the realization that the fitness craze of the 1980s and ’90s also affected the game of baseball and some of the players who took it seriously may have taken it a step further.
That is old hat with the NFL, who have been dealing with this issue for much longer and seems to be doing just fine. Shawn Merrimen, Pro Bowl linebacker of the San Diego Chargers, wasn’t made to confess in front of Congress or the cameras and quietly received a four-game suspension.
Now after carefully digesting all of this, who is better off?