Baseball and image problems

So if you have been paying any attention at all to American sports, particularly baseball, the last couple of years, there’s been fairly significant public image problems. Several players in different leagues have tested positive for banned substance, most notably steroids.

Lately there has been discussions, mainly in the newspapers, but a discussion none the less about what to do about the “Steroids Era” in baseball. Do you let people who were outed as users of banned substances or admitted that they were using illegal substances to remain the record holders for, at least in American pop culture, fairly significant records? Or do you do as Tony Kornheiser does as he refers to “protecting the shield”…rolling back the records and putting an asterisks by the questionable numbers?

At first, I thought that the asterisks was a great idea, the baseball players in question did make those records. But then again, Pete Rose is still the hit king as far as official stats are concerned, but he has a lifetime ban from MLB. The players that used illegal substances damaged the game and its credibility as much as Pete Rose did by gaming on his own sport. Add in the fact that many lied to Congress and while under oath, and how is that worthy of being a record holder of the American national pastime? Marion Jones lost her Olympic gold medals for taking banned substances and for lying under oath, her name has been stricken from the IOC Records as a gold medalist.

There was an interesting proposal that I heard on ESPN Radio, that baseball could instead just lift the ban on steroids and other growth enhancing hormones and let everyone use them, simply to have a transparent, equal playing field. I see how this could possibly be a good idea because it’s not a secret and no one has an unfair advantage over another. But it takes much of the gloss and grandeur of professional sports and athletes away from the fans. The real justification that athletes are paid as much as they are, as opposed to teachers, police officers, fire fighters, etc., is that very few can do what they can. If you allow banned substances in the game, the finesse and professionalism of the professional athletic arena becomes really nothing more than the everyman with some chemical and hormonal help to do amazing feats rather than individuals that are blessed with amazing skills showcasing their gifts against another competitor.

Another thing that is upsetting about the banned substances problem is that of Alex Rodriguez, the much-hyped poster boy of MLB, and his admitting that he used steroid like substances. I wasn’t really for him joining the Rangers, I thought that he wasn’t really worth the contract, but I do understand that part of the price was to keep division rivals from signing him. We had a very interesting conversation about his contract and it’s possible impacts on not just baseball, but American professional sports in my sports economics class with Dr. Craig Depken. The Rangers had a pretty decent team, more than Alex Rodriguez, we needed good pitching that could go the entire season without breaking down and then some. Instead, Ranger fans had to watch the promising team be broken apart one player at a time because of money concerns and then watch Rodriguez himself bolt for greener pastures, but we still had to pay a significant portion of his contract. Several seasons later, came the allegations, accusations, and the revelations that when he was in Texas, Rodriguez used banned substances, claiming that the pressure of the contact made him decided to use. So basically he wasn’t “good enough” to not use.

But even worse than that, is the allegation that while he was with the Rangers, he told batters what pitches to expect, for the same treatment somewhere down the road. Not only  is that wrong because you’re telling a competitor what pitches are coming, but you’re sabotaging your own team to inflate your personal numbers. Is this why the Rangers were terrible while he was on the team? The guys at PTI made a comment, that if this true, than the pitching staff for the Rangers from that time period should thrown at him. Initially when I heard this accusation, I was all for it, but what does that do to the pitchers and their reputations? I think that there should be an investigation not really for if he used steroids, but is this accusation true. This is more important than steroids, because what it says about Rodriguez and what MLB will allow its players to do in the name of offensive numbers.

Like it or not, athletes are seen as heros in our culture, as people to emulate, and with the 24/7 sports news stations and entertainment (gossip) stations, everything that athletes do are there for impressionable children to copy. In no way is it far for the amount of pressure that is placed on athletes to be surrogate parents, role models, moral guides, but that is a burden that is fostered on them, partly because of the ease of information about them and their lives, the money that they make, and the way that they live their lives. So basically with everything that is becoming slowly revealed from professional baseball is that anything you do to get ahead, whether against the law or immoral or unethical, is okay as long as you’re getting the numbers. This is what we want younger and future generations to think of us?

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