Why are we so bothered?
Allow me to preface this. I don’t agree with what Barry Bonds, Raphael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa, Mark Mcgwire or any of the other juice-heads did. The peddling of illegal drugs doesn’t interest me, and I’m in a profession where I see lives destroyed by drugs on a regular basis. I don’t differentiate between steroids and the methamphetamines ruining our rural areas, or the cocaine and heroin tearing apart our inner cities. Is heroin still a problem? The Lizard King says yes. For those of you skeptical of steroids being put into this category, tell that to the family of “The Canadian Crippler,” or the Marerro family. Steroids are a drug, and a drug which can lead to heavy depression with dangerous and violent results. For that reason I detest steroids. However, from a strictly baseball standpoint, I actually don’t understand what all the fuss is about. Is this really a game where we abhor cheating? Really? (Editor’s note, I hate Tony Danza strictly because he was a pretend second baseman for the Cardinals).
Baseball is a game that requires great precision and skill. It’s not a game where pure athletic talent alone will make you great. The smallest fraction of time or distance can make all the difference. This is not an easy game. So when something is not easy within the confines of the rules what do you do? You bend or break the rules. What about when the tiniest fraction of time or distance can be the difference? You find a way to get that fraction whether it’s within the rules or outside. It happens everywhere, and it most certainly has happened in baseball since day one.
There are so many examples of cheating in baseball that to list them all would take weeks and time that only a select few have. How about we start with beloved Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry. Gaylord was a pitcher with 314 career wins and a 3.11 career ERA. This man could pitch, but there’s a lot of guys who can pitch, so what separated Gaylord? Maybe his attempted Vaseline endorsement will help you figure it out. Gaylord doctored baseballs and people love him. He cheated, every time he took the mound he admittedly had a foreign substance in more than one place on his person. He also would load up the ball with rosin powder so there would be a puff of white dust when he let go of the ball, which is awesome, but again illegal. But we embrace him, in 1991 he was elected to the Hall of Fame by 77% of the same writers that have lambasted anyone using steroids. If hitting a baseball is the most difficult thing to do in all of sports, why are pitchers gaining an advantage embraced, but hitters who do something to help themselves bludgeoned with criticism? Maybe it is because it is outright illegal. I admit that’s a possibility. However, HGH and other PED’s aren’t illegal and are hammered much the same.
Further, there is a major difference in the way steroids are being handled compared to other methods of cheating within the game. Spitballs were legal in the sport until 1920, and when they were deemed unlawful within the game, pitchers who were currently using them were put on a list and allowed to continue for the rest of their careers. We made a list of steroid users after the modern day Salem Witch Hunt, and being on that list was essentially a baseball death sentence. Until recently if one was caught doctoring a ball during a game they were given a warning before being kicked out. Perry didn’t receive a suspension until 1982 (he retired in ’83). Doctoring a baseball now is a mandatory 10 game suspension. If one is caught juicing now, they lose 10 games at the bare minimum, with the norm being 50 games.
It’s clear that steroids are being treated much differently than other forms of cheating. Sidebar: wouldn’t it be great if they were treated like other things in baseball? You think a guy’s juicing so you drill him in the ribs once a game. It would probably lead to more fantastic Nolan Ryan incidents, if we’re really lucky another Kyle Farnsworth bonanza, or if the baseball Gods are truly smiling on us that day, any sort of brawl involving an Asian player. So why are PED users so vilified? One word, stats. Steroid users are screwing up the numbers side of this game that so many love so much. If Barry Bonds had walked out of this game with a couple 55 home run seasons and 550 total nobody would’ve much cared. But because while using PED’s he broke the most cherished records in the sport (and he is an asshole, ask Jeff Kent), he will be remembered as a villain for a long time. Is this right? Probably not, every time you flip on a ballgame there is cheating right before your eyes. You may not notice it, but it’s there. Managers still designate people to steal signs, catchers are still setting up outside the catcher’s box, batters are still wiping out the back line, and as Bob Gibson once said, “Rules or no rules, pitcher’s are going to throw spitters, it’s a matter of survival.” Cheating is a part of baseball, try and remember that next time the topic of PED’s comes up.