Baseball is still America’s favorite pastime. A.J. Kaufman points out that so far in 2013’s “breathtaking season,” Major League Baseball has averaged 31,000 fans per game. Yet this fact has gone unnoticed in light of Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun’s suspension on Monday for using performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs).
Most observers argue this focus is warranted to uphold the integrity of the game. Some, such as Matt Kemp, feel Braun should be stripped of his 2012 MVP award. Others believe Braun’s ban from baseball should be life-long. While Alex Rodriguez plans to fight any suspension, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and other major league stars wonder whether the taint of PEDs voids their chances to enter the MLB Hall of Fame.
The merits of receiving such awards aside, baseball is a game that thrives on deception and over-achievement. What other sport prizes stealing bases? Or taking the extra base? Or hiding the baseball?
Baseball also is a sport dominated by peer pressure. It bestows monikers such as “Charlie Hustle” and “Georgia Peach” on participants who play hard, even dirty. It admires players who run into outfield walls or slide into bases headfirst for their willingness to sacrifice their bodies. Taking a pitch or laying down a squeeze bunt is praised as sacrificing for the good of the team.
The pain derived from such behaviors is cumulative. And often self-destructive. Players like Braun or Jose Canseco sought a competitive edge to perform or maintain that higher level even when healthy because their bodies are running a losing race with Father Time.
Given these factors, ingesting substances to extend or enhance their professional careers is hardly surprising. Nor is it surprising that the members of such a close-knit community mimic their peers’ usage of substances alleged to bestow the physical enhancements they seek.
What is surprising is that these drugs often do not work. Studies like “Growth Hormone Doping: A Review” show that “to date, there is only limited and weak scientific evidence for its beneficial effects on performance.” Yet the hype surrounding GH’s effectiveness and the lack of a foolproof detection method encourage its continuing use.
Into this ethical void stepped former Milwaukee Brewers owner and current MLB Commissioner (since 1992) Bud Selig. Promising “to stiffen penalties for players who use PEDs,” Selig allied with Michael Weiner, the MLB Players Association executive director, earlier this year to discuss harsher penalties.
Braun’s suspension was the immediate result. As a Brewer player and former MVP, his willingness to fall upon his sword for the good of baseball cannot be lost on the other 49 players mentioned in the Biogenesis report or on anyone who aspires to Cooperstown.
What cannot be lost upon baseball owners are the salary savings from Braun’s action. Braun forfeits the rest of his salary for this year. Rodriguez, too, stands to lose his salary for this year and the remainder of his contract if identified in the report. Owners saddled with an overpaid underperformer like Josh Hamilton must view this legal loophole as heavenly manna that frees them from the consequences of their profligate deals. Even run-of-the-mill ballplayers must be worried if, as Canseco alleges, over 80% of them indulge in performance-enhancing drugs.
The hysteria surrounding this doping issue is baseball’s equivalent of the McCarthy Hearings. If most ballplayers are using drugs or suspected of it, their contracts could be voided with little recourse, restraint of trade on a very high order given the salaries and prestige of the employees involved. It may be no secret, as Kaufman says, “that sports talk radio, blogs and television obfuscate issues and brainwash the gullible masses” so they “don’t care about steroids; they care about enjoying baseball,” but these fans should be concerned how management is utilizing fear and hysteria to manipulate labor for the so-called sake of the national pastime.