Monday, March 2, 2009

Misplaced indignation

My first baseball post in a long time is about something that I really have no interest in discussing - steroid use in baseball. The reason for this is that I have a larger issue with the reaction to players using the steroids than I do with the actual players themselves.

The outcries for having the records of the players that used steroids obliterated because they are "cheaters" makes me shake my head in wonderment. These same people can watch the freaks of "nature" that compete in the NBA and NFL and turn a blind eye to the fact that a man 6'8" and 270 pounds can run like the wind and soar through the air with the greatest of ease.

Mostly, though, it is the hypocritical nature of these bemoaners that bothers me the most. Our society today encourages and condones looking for that edge that steroids supposedly give, all in the name of more. More, more, more.

From our supersized meals to the oversized car-on-steroids sport utility vehicle to the megamillion lottery drawings, Americans crave more and "better" with little regard as to the consequences. Yet professional baseball players, who, for all but a few, work in a field with a very short shelf life, are expected to be above that? Much more so than your typical accountant, real estate agent, salesperson, etc., the career of a baseball player is about the survival of the fittest. If you're not one of the best in high school, you don't get drafted or get to play college ball. Same in college. Be the best, get drafted, or you're done.

Once you are a professional player, then you have to prove yourself superior to the alternatives out there every season as you progress through the minor leagues. Once in the major leagues, you still have to prove you belong there and fend off the attacks of younger players.

It is this constant competition that makes me believe that steroid usage is probably more rampant at lower levels, perhaps even within schools, because of that need to stand out from the rest of the players.

The progression of a baseball player relies largely on scouting. A team sends scouts to watch amateur players to determine who they should draft. They scout players in their own system to see who should progress and they scout players in other systems to see who might help their system. Appearance to scouts is critical. While scouts like to think they have some ability to project a player's future performance, they do get caught up with what they see now.

So say you have two hitters, one who takes steroids and one who doesn't. There seems to be little proof at the moment that steroids has any affect on hitting performance. But let us assume that they do give you a more muscular appearance. If steroids make you look more like an athlete (more muscular physique) than the guy who doesn't take them, you probably have an edge among the scouts assuming equal performance and projectability.

Something that tends to be overlooked, though, is the fact that many of the players that have been "caught" using steroids are pitchers. Maybe more so than hitters, the appearance of a pitcher (or at least one aspect of the appearance), is very important. How fast is your fastball? You'll hear arguments all the time that scouts look at other things but how hard you throw is crucial to your moving up the baseball ranks. If you throw 85 mph but with steroids you can now throw 88 mph..... Hello, career. And if you can get into that magic 90+ territory, all the better.

But, the naysayers, may be neighing, justification doesn't make it legal. To which I reply, until you're driving 55 mph on the highway and not talking on your cellphone, stop casting stones. We're all human. Driving infractions, embezzlement, killings (especially those "justified" by war), coveting your neighbor's wife, lying on your resume, getting the wrong change at the supermarket and not saying anything and on and on. We all engage in behavior that at the least is immoral, if not illegal. Why do we do these things? Mostly because we think we can get away with it. There are limited resources for policing all the wrongdoings in the world. We rely on our own moral compasses to guide our behavior. And just like the person driving 70, the guys taking steroids made the decision to take a chance.

So if you're berating what Alex Rodriguez and other players did, please stop. They're no different than you.

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