Thursday, September 13, 2007

Steroids, part I

This is the first part of an extended meditation on the use of performance enhancing drugs:

The “opinions and controversy” section of Bob Feller’s wikipedia article reveals two interesting facts about its subject: firstly, that Feller, like Billy Wagner, admits that cheating has been present through out baseball’s history, and himself admits to throwing spiters and scuffing the ball in certain critical situations, and secondly, that Feller is a vocal critic of Barry Bonds and has adamantly stated that he thinks that no steroid cheats should be allowed into the Hall of Fame(of which Feller is the second senior living member), particularly Bonds, Mark McGuire, and Sammy Sosa.

This is, exactly, the problem with people who condemn steroid users for tampering with the integrity of the game: those in the best position to judge, frequently suggest that there was little integrity in the first place. In fact, scuffing a ball was in some ways a more deliberate and dishonest form of cheating, since it was deliberately breaking the clearly stated rules of the game (rules which came into effect after a tampered pitch killed the only person to die playing a professional game of baseball), and MLB’s anti-steroid policies are relatively new, nebulous and evolving. Yet to demand the exclusion of Whity Ford or Bob Feller from the Hall of Fame seems completely unreasonable, and to accept that the mass of ball players experience the fan’s reverence for the game, and are unwilling to look for any edge they can find to advance their careers and earn their livelihood, seems like unreasonable optimism.

Before this goes any further, I would like to state that ‘Sam’s Mets Blog’ is against steroid use, and feels that MLB should take whatever measures are necessary to eliminate, or failing that severely limit, its impact on the game of baseball. The reasons for this are that steroid use is insanely bad for you and if it is present it creates a compulsion for certain players to use, in order to compete against other users. Players should not be in a situation where they stand to gain a significant immediate advantage by sacrificing their long term health, or where doing so seems like the only way to obtain or extend a career playing against other players who had already made that choice. Furthermore, watching steroid users is not more rewarding or enjoyable for a serious fan, and the ‘power game’ that steroid use seems to enable is not the most interesting form of baseball—if steroid use is largely present, it creates a situation where players are poisoning themselves to provide an un enjoyable game, which doesn’t seem to be in anyone’s interests.

However, it is important to understand that the basis for objecting to steroid use more than other forms of cheating is medical and not moral, and that the idea that steroids have contaminated a previously existing integrity is somewhat specious. The integrity was probably not there in the first place; and then again, the idea of a profound honesty, in a game, that in the real politic of people's lives decides and means nothing, is a little bit of an odd one, particularly when people seem more interested in this integrity, of a thing that barely exists, than they are in certain other institutions with a seemingly more immediate effect on their lives.

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