Sunday, August 07, 2005

Rafael Palmeiro and the MLB Conspiracy

I recognize that the world of sports is a business and that some entertainment/excitement is required to maintain the casual fan's interest. If a sport rests on its laurels, eventually the general public will become dissatisfied with the product because there's nothing new as athletes start looking like they're going through the motions. With this in mind, I've been thinking about Palmeiro and his steroid suspension, its timing, and Major League Baseball's look-the-other-way policy for the last 15 years.

You have to question the timing of Palmeiro's results being made public. Apparently, his positive test was found in May, yet he was allowed to continue playing. So here's one line of thinking...MLB had the results in hand, but saw he would get his 3,000th hit sometime in the summer, only after that would he be knocked off his pedestal with the test's results. He's the biggest name to get busted and makes a great example of a "star" who cheated. MLB's ability to choose to suspend someone who just got his 3,000th hit two weeks earlier says a lot about how well its foundation has been rebuilt since the early 90's.

During the strike year of 1994 when no World Series was played, I penned a column in my high school newspaper that essentially said, as a member of the next generation of paying sports fans, MLB really lost an entire generation with the strike, games that end far too late for the East Coast, and escalating prices for a day at the park. Heck, things were so bad that when the 1995 season was played, even the Atlanta Braves won a World Series that year.

With MLB at rock bottom, the suits at the league's offices were well aware that players were getting unnaturally larger. With players becoming so strong thanks to hormones and any number of designer steroid drugs, the steroid ban began in 1990 (but had not real penalties) in conjunction with Congress' passing of the Anabolic Steroid Control Act of 1990 (of course). Before this ban, the suspected steroid use of McGwire, Bonds, etc., was perfectly legal in baseball's eyes. Sure players were getting bigger and homeruns were increasing, but games weren't the out of control homerun derbies that they became in the late 90's and early 2000's.

So back to 1994 and the strike that put baseball in a ton of trouble. Fan interest has waned, ticket sales and tv ratings are at record lows and fans lament the time between pitches, overall length of a typical game, and salaries. I theorize that the higher-ups in baseball realized that as steroids become more refined and complex, players will be hitting homeruns, records will be set, and most importantly, the fans will love the game again. Sure there's a steroid ban, but there was no consistent test policy in place. This allows high schoolers in the early 90's to play with steroids and ultimately reach the majors as fully grown and strong hitters because they've always (ab)used drugs.

MLB allowed the use because they saw the obvious - fans will return to the game if today's players do things better than anyone else before them. The commissioner and team owners wanted a tangible thing the casual fan would relate to so why not highlight the simplest of baseball skills - smashing a ball over the fence. Sure I love great pitching, but all of us are in awe of a massive homerun. So MLB lets the players juice, smash homers, and break the most hallowed records by incredible marks, specifically the battle for Roger Maris' season homerun record between Sosa and McGwire.

What do you do when the "best players" are juicing and you have to as well to keep your job?
Baseball writers "thought" (or just looked the other way) that the homeruns were due to smaller parks, watered-down pitching thanks to expansion, and a possible conspiracy by MLB to stitch baseballs tighter. Of course, like all of us, they ignored how all of the players were incredibly large by chalking it up to better exercise, weight training, and supplements (not steroids of course). Thanks to your typical baseball contest looking more like a videogame, everyone returned to the ballpark and actually cared about pennant races during the season. Previously small players like Ken Caminiti came out of nowwhere to win the 1996 MVP and Brady Anderson suddenly hit 50 homeruns while his previous high was 21 and he never hit more than 24 the rest of his career. Think about this...36 times in the history of baseball has a player hit at least 50 homeruns, yet 18 of those happened in the last 10 years.

Baseball's foundation in the nation's sports mind was solid once again.

Now that the league is on good terms with its fans, it can crackdown on the steroid controversy that it allowed to happen. The ability to crackdown on itself says a lot about the game's strength, in that it's strong enough to humiliate the same players it used to rejuvenate the game, yet has no problems washing its hands clean by burning the candle at both ends and making the players the scapegoats. MLB made a deal with the devil by allowing steroids and is trying to act as its own archangel.

It's easy for Bud Selig to ask for stiffer penalties and look like the good guy, but shouldn't we be asking him why it took so suspicioulsy long (or rather waited until now) to finally get vocal about this problem?


john moulder said...

A vg analysis of MLB's culpability for the roid's.

buzz girl said...

The current steroid policy introduced by the MLB is indeed harsh particularly for first-time offenders. It is even understood that young players want to do everything possible to gain an edge, but the latest attempts to restrict steroid use will change that.
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