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Posnanski: Fair or unfair, Major League Baseball making example of Alex Rodriguez

Aug 5, 2013, 9:18 PM EDT

WASHINGTON — Yes, there were lots of questions (at least 211 of them) Monday after Major League Baseball suspended a bunch of players and Alex Rodriguez for taking performance-enhancing drugs, but one question kept echoing.

Question: How many times over the last dozen years do you think Bud Selig looked jealously across the field toward those National Football League suits?

Think about how many different ways Selig has tried to tackle this PED scandal over the years.

– There was the PIDE (Pretend It Doesn’t Exist) Era. That led to disgrace, ignominy, a tainted home run record, another tainted home run record, another one after that, a dressing down from the U.S. Government, a few thousand yottabytes of bad publicity and an empty Hall of Fame ceremony. So that didn’t work too well.

– That was followed by the MCTIS (Most Comprehensive Testing In Sports) Era, where everybody seemed to think the game was dirty but the Commissioner bragged anyway about how proud he was about the way the game was cleaning itself up. This coincided with Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens trials that produced almost nothing, fewer home runs and absolutely no confidence that baseball had anything under control.

– Finally, we moved into the GAROD (Get A-Rod) Era, also known as Fryin’ Ryan, in which Selig and baseball folks put on their deputy badge, loaded the single bullet into the gun, did some investigatin’, and fired serious suspensions at former MVP Ryan Braun, good players Jhonny Peralta and Nelson Cruz, a bunch of other guys and, mostly, Alex Rodriguez, who they slammed with a 211-game suspension because, um, I think because it’s a primorial prime number.*

*Look it up! I did!

And what will be the reaction to this? Will people say: ‘Good for baseball! Cleaning up the game! I think it’s much cleaner now! I’m more of a baseball fan today than I was yesterday!’

No.

Will people say: ‘Good for Bud Selig! Yeah, maybe he was a little bit clueless or entirely negligent in the early days of the steroid scandal but he’s made up for that by punishing these cheating ballplayers and, especially, for coming up with some crazy suspension number for Alex Rodriguez that probably won’t hold up in appeal!’

No.

What will people say? Most of them will say nothing at all because they’re studying for their fantasy football draft.

Yes, how many times has Bud Selig looked across the way and grumbled bitterly about professional football. The NFL has 330-pound offensive linemen who can lift forklifts. The NFL has 250-pound linebackers who move faster than Porsches. The NFL has running backs who can sprint like Usain Bolt, then stop instantly like the Road Runner from the cartoons. And so on.

Meanwhile, if a baseball player hit four home runs in a week, Twitter is dancing with steroid allegations.

The NFL drug tests will get a few players here and there, though few stars. The punishments will be a handful of games. And generally speaking, nobody seems to care too much (or at all) about any of it. Some players have been hurt by players who were found to be using steroids – there seems almost no outrage about any of it. As more than one baseball official has muttered over the last few years: “How does football avoid all of it?”

The answers always seemed too pat to me. I’ve heard it said that the difference is record-keeping – baseball’s records are cherished while nobody cares about football records. I’ve heard it said that the difference is familiarity – fans feel like they KNOW baseball players while football players are hidden behind facemasks and under armor. I’ve heard it said the difference is the violence – football players have to endure so much pain and brutality, that it would be almost cruel to deny them PEDs just for survival.

MORE: Subdued A-Rod: ‘I’m fighting for my life’

I have another theory, but first it’s worth taking a moment to discuss Baseball getting A-Rod. It’s worth noting that for all the talk about steroids, MLB has rarely actually caught anybody. They never punished Barry Bonds (unless you believe the owners colluded to keep him out of the game at the end), never punished Roger Clemens, never punished Mark McGwire. Jason Giambi admitted using – no suspension. Gary Sheffield said he might have unknowingly used – no suspension. Andy Pettitte admitted using HGH twice … no suspension. The list goes on and on.

There are good reasons Baseball did not suspend any of these people by the way – but it still paints a picture. And the picture is of a bunch of kids trying to sneak into the ballpark without paying, and the helpless ticket guy (representative of MLB) trying to grab as many as he can, while shouting in a funny Irish accent: “You … little … squirts … get back here … oh … when … I … get … my … hands … on … you!” And in the end the guy catches one, holds up him by the scruff of his neck, and says, “I’ll make an example of this one, I will.”

So Baseball wants to make an example out of A-Rod, and he’s the obvious choice because almost nobody likes him. Well, he brought that on himself. He’s pompous, a bit delusional, strange, certainly a cheater, certainly a liar, and anyway not good enough anymore to have many Yankees fans in his corner.

When a governing body can unload on a wildly unpopular figure they tend do so with gusto and fury and all measure tossed out the window. So Baseball floated the crazy idea of a lifetime ban, cut off negotiations with A-Rod’s people, talked about keeping him off the field in the best interest of baseball and then slammed A–Rod with a suspension four-times longer (and many millions more expensive) than the others. None of it exactly seems “fair” – the guy used steroids to become a better baseball player, like many others; he didn’t torch a village — but when it comes to A-Rod, how many people care about fairness?

“Hit Da Roid!” the New York Daily News cover advised Rodriguez.

“Just Go!” the New York Post said a bit more succinctly.

So, at the moment, most people figure to side with Baseball no matter how big a suspension they give A-Rod. If they ruled that A-Rod should be imprisoned in the Tower of London, it would probably get 73 percent approval rating. But now the court shifts away from public opinion. The appeal process will probably take a while, allowing A-Rod to play. Baseball’s case against A-Rod might rely heavily on Biogenesis’ Tony Bosch, who isn’t exactly Walter Cronkite in the credibility department. They will have to make a strong case that what A-Rod did was SO much worse than what the others did. Maybe they have the goods. Maybe they don’t.

In other words, it could all still lead to another pie in the face for Bud Selig and baseball.

And this stuff never happens in football – at least not with performance enhancing drugs. My theory on that: There’s a fundamental difference in the way many people watch baseball and football. People watch football as pure spectators. Oh we get into the game. But I know of very few people who watch a football game and think, “Oh, I could see myself out there.” People may gripe when a quarterback takes a bad sack or a receiver drops a ball over the middle or a linebacker misses a tackle. But you don’t often hear them say: “Oh man, I could have done better than that.”

But in baseball, many people are more than spectators. Here in Washington at this Nationals-Braves game, for instance, I just saw Nationals first baseman Adam LaRoche botch an easy ground ball. And the thought popped into my head before I could stop it: I could have made that play. Of course, I couldn’t have made the play – but I will never convince my mind of that.

I never once see a receiver have the football and his body forcibly separated by a kamikaze hit from a safety and think: “Oh, I would have held on to that.”

That’s baseball. There’s a closeness to the game that baseball fans feel, a connection to the field, a memory of a diving catch made in Little League, a lingering feeling of a softball home run, a sense that if one or two things had gone right that it might be me out there. The players out there are stand-ins for our own baseball fantasies. We want them to entertain our delusions. That’s not necessarily fair, but that’s the game.

  1. likedoohan - Aug 6, 2013 at 9:28 PM

    A couple thoughts about this mess. Is it believable that all the players using PEDs except Braun are Latin-American, mainly Dominicans? Is this because they use more, or because the one of hundreds of anti-aging clinic MLB had evidence dropped in its lap happened to be in Miami? Also, an anti-aging clinic with a real doctor as director would have confidential records, and releasing records to, say, a newspaper, would be a federal crime. If I were a player prone to using PEDs, I would find a licensed physician to “treat” me, make sure he or she protected records, probably pass repeated drug tests, and collect my fortune. MLB is delusional if they think they have detected more than the tip of the iceberg. It would surprise me not a bit to eventually see the most vocal critics among players revealed as PED users.

    • pjmarn6 - Aug 10, 2013 at 1:44 AM

      Ah let them all cheat! Baseball, football, tennis, basketball, hockey, bicycle sports, weight lifting, horse racing, olympics. What the hell! Let the fans pay outrageous ticket prices, ridiculous cable fees!
      That’s what you all want so go ahead and feast on it.
      Me???? I go fishing, read, study, enjoy my hobbies and say to all you and the cheating lying players and the fans who support them FUCK YOU!
      Just like the politicians and the bastards who are running this country into the ground. Most of you stick your heads in the sand and just wait for your time to die.

  2. doncoffin64 - Aug 6, 2013 at 9:43 PM

    My brother’s theory is that most people don’t treat player suspensions in the NFL as a big deal, because the NFL doesn’t treat them as a big deal. It’s almost a routine press release, with no fuss made about it, the players are out for a quarter of the season, come back, and that’s it. Meanwhile MLB treats each suspension in a hugely drmatic fashion (in which they are abetted by writers, who apparently think i’s a bigger deal in MLB than in the NFL). And so it goes.

  3. Vindickative - Aug 9, 2013 at 4:19 PM

    The NFL will stop being the most popular sport in this country just as soon as we’re no longer told that it is, both directly and indirectly by things such as coverage of unwatchable non-events like “the preseason”. Easily half of the viewership whose numbers are universally cited as ironclad proof of NFL superiority can be attributed to gambling, to people who have the game on merely to serve as “background” for partying, and to people who watch essentially out of a sense of obligation (“Well, this IS the MOST POPULAR sport . . . I guess I HAVE to watch it.”)

    The NFL is an insular entity comprised of and fomented by men possessed of the kind of robotic singularity of focus which prompted ubiquitous pundit Peter King to methodically rattle off the fact that Aaron Hernandez was selected 113th in the 2010 draft as indicative of Hernandez’s culpability in a
    brazen homicide. These men have no idea that the gravy train they’re riding is dangerously overloaded. Year-round saturation coverage of all things with the NFL brand attached — even the most tedious of non-events like the scouting combine — is yielding big in the near term, but when the bubble inevitably bursts and people in large measure come to realize they’ve been fed garbage for decades, the idea that any attention whatsoever be paid to Colt McCoy’s quarterback rating will be met with resounding bewilderment.

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