Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Two Faces of Major League Baseball

As a baseball fan, one of the hardest things I have had to endure was watching the collapse of the integrity of the game.  I watched the Mitchell Report, I watched players being interviewed on Capitol Hill, and I watched as the game's popularity fell to the ground.  I remember being infuriated knowing my favorite players blatantly cheated, and did not give a shit about the implications of their actions.  To the 12 year old Danny, the blame fell solely on the shoulders of those who injected themselves with any performance enhancing substance.

Now, I put much of the blame on Bud Selig and the governing body of Major League Baseball.  They knew, they watched, and they freaking loved it.


Chicks Dig the Long Ball

From 1880 until 2005, baseball had only seen the infamous 50 home run season happen 36 times.  36 times in 125 years.  Yet, in a seven year time span (1995-2002), Major League Baseball watched in awe as eighteen 50 home run seasons occurred in miraculous fashion.

As this spectacular display of power was occurring, Major League Baseball was falling behind in testing.  Other sporting events such as the Olympics had been testing athletes since the 1960s, and had tested close to 2,000 athletes a year since the 1980s.  Could Major League Baseball have begun testing their athletes earlier?  Absolutely.  Did they want to?   Absolutely not.  Why?  It's simple; chicks dig the long ball, and fans pay the bill.

The 1990s were a point in baseball history where revenues soared, and owners wanted more for their teams.  Many new ballparks were being built, teams were receiving revenues never before encountered from TV deals, and some of the greatest talent in league history was surfacing on the scene.   Why would any owner want to cut back on these profits?  So what if the players were juicing!  The owners and the Major League Baseball governing body were presiding over one of the greatest eras in baseball history.  The game needed home runs, and that is exactly what the game got.

One of the most valuable pieces of evidence to Major League Baseball's lust for home runs has been the shrinking of Major League ballparks.  As time has gone on, stadiums are now shrinking smaller and smaller, giving players the ability to hit more home runs that in the past, would have been simply a lazy fly ball to right.  The infamous New Yankee Stadium has a right field home run porch of 314 feet, with a wind that is consistently to the players back, making the wall play closer to 305 feet at most times.

Additionally, baseballs are now being wound tighter than ever.  These so called "juiced" balls assist the physics of baseball, by providing an object that is denser, increasing the power and distance created by contact with a bat.

All of this information conclusively points the finger towards Major League Baseball.  They wanted more home runs, but they weren't willing to face the music when it became obvious players were using performance enhancing drugs.  Major League Baseball wanted to have their cake, and eat it too.  Owners, the MLB governing body, and the players association were greedy, and turned a conscious blind eye to the problems of the game.

Yet perhaps the most important aspect of the steroid era was the developed culture between players, all of whom used the excuse of...


"Everybody else is doing it"

Imagine yourself stuck in Triple - A.  You desperately want to make it to the Major Leagues, but you just cant get over the hump.  Players around you just have more power, more speed, more upside, and all you have been hearing about are these new drugs.  You don't get in trouble for them, Major League Baseball does not test for them, and you get a million dollar pay raise if you make it to the majors.

Am I saying that this is morally admissible?  Absolutely not.  It is cheating plain and simple.  But the notion that the blame for the steroid scandal falls directly on the shoulders of those who played the game is ridiculous and simply inaccurate.  It is the combined culture of the governing body, the players, and the moral ineptitude of those who are greedy and arrogant that brought this horrible era to fruition.

The point of this piece is not to ask you to assume the players were innocent bystanders, but rather to acknowledge that this was a multi faceted issue involving the failure of numerous parties and interest groups.  

I will leave your thoughts with a quote that sums up my view on those who were involved with the steroid era.  God bless.

"It's still a hand-eye coordination game, but the difference [with steroids] is the ball is going to go a little farther. Some of the balls that would go to the warning track will go out. That's the difference."
- Ken Caminiti