Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Oh, What Have They done to you, Old Friend?

I wrote more or less this e-mail in response to a text from a friend asking me if I was shocked by A-Rod’s steroid use:

I think, basically, that people who are serious about baseball have, for the last couple of years, recognized that steroids were amazingly fucking rampant and there is no real reason to assume that anyone was clean, and no revelations of steroid use should be seen as "shocking." That said there are a couple of points that I would make in no particular order, some of which would be "shocking" if the main actors (the government and the media) had not established such an abysmal track record of behavior such that the only surprising thing would be if they had acted decently:

1)if you asked me, prior to the revelation, if I thought A-rod was a juicer, I would have said probably not-- because there weren’t any particularly reliable rumors, and he never seemed unreasonably huge. That said, I really am not at all surprised. It does fit in with the conventional interpretation of his psychology (insecure, anxious for greatness/ultra competitive). I generally think that psychoanalyzing a guy based on stuff in the sports section/deadspin is a big waste of time, but if you buy the conventional interpretation of the guy, the juicing fits just fine.

2) The circumstances under which this was revealed really were appallingly unethical: In 2003, MLB decided to do a supposedly anonymous survey test of all major leaguers to determine the extent of steroid use: if over 5% of players tested positive then they would institute random testing the next year: 104 players (over 5%) tested positive and the testing was introduced. The survey test was conducted by a 3rd party contracted by MLB. Somehow, information linking these players to their positive tests was kept (its hard to see why it existed in the first place), and was seized by the government as part of (I think) the IRS investigation of BALCO. How it then got leaked to the SI.com people isn't clear either-- but it was astoundingly unethical for the list to have existed, astoundingly incompetent of the Players Association to have allowed it to exist, and astoundingly stupid/weird that the government felt entitled to take it as part of an investigation of a fairly unrelated thing.

3) It is really hard to guess what went on, but it seems as if the SI.com people had access to the whole list of 103 and chose to only, initially, release A-Rod's name, which is just sort of fucked up. HE WAS NOT THE ONLY GUY DOING THAT SHIT, and releasing only his name is such unethical journalism that it really makes your head hurt.

4) the media's hysterical approach to the steroid issue is appallingly useless. I find myself fascinated by the story of steroids in baseball, but the media has consistently reduced this to a black and white issue, which is not informative, accurate, or useful. Keep in mind that these are the people who have the most access to baseball, and it is kind of their job to write about shit (like a steroid epidemic) that is newsworthy in the sport: yet the writers who are freaking out about steroids right now are, for the most part, people who acted like steroids did not exist in the late '90s,-early 2000s, when it was taking over the sport, and kept their mouths shut when it seemed like it might be sort of good for baseball. In the word’s of Baseball Prospectus’ Joe Sheehan “Take your pick: they missed the story, or they were too chicken-shit to report it.”Now they are repulsively jumping on a bandwagon to make news.

5) The evidence connecting PED use to performance is not all that good. Stat guys are not hugely impressed by the effect of PEDs (although what they base that on is unclear); anecdotally there are a ton of scrubs who took a ton of steroids and remained scrubs.

6) A weird side-effect of this is that Jose Conseco was right: the only person who had linked A-Rod to 'roids was Conseco, who claimed that he introduced A-Rod to a dealer in his 2nd book "vindicated." He also claimed that A-Rod attempted to seduce his [Conseco’s] wife, making it seem fairly reasonable that he would be lie about the 'roids, on account of Conseco is an ass. Conseco seems like such a slime-ball that it actually is shocking when he is right about anything, but his track record with steroids is surprisingly accurate: most of the people he has named have eventually been implicated by other, non-dirtbag, sources.

7) efforts to eliminate performance enhancing drugs (which I basically support) are fairly quixotic. I recently read an article by Will Carrol, the sports medicine guru, about sitting down with a guy who was pushing the next big thing, called SARMs, which is like steroids but better and way, way less detectable. Almost no one has heard of this shit, but as of this year, players in several sports WILL be on it. There is always going to be a PEDs out there that are slightly ahead of the curve, and the innovation will almost always be on the side of the cheaters, rather than enforcement. And with the size of major league contacts, there will always be an incentive to cheat, that some people will give in to.

8) I am WAY less surprised to find out that A-Rod did steroids than I would be to find out that Nate Robinson does NOT do steroids. Honestly, if that guy passed a drug test, I would be shocked.

9) INTEGRITY OF THE GAME IS A FUCKING MYTH: all those old ball players that you love so much were all on speed and threw spitballs. Sorry.


When I went home and watched Keith Olberman talking approvingly about Obama’s comment that A-Rod’s actions had “tarnished an era of baseball,” I realized that there was a little more to be said on the subject.

The basic belief that justifies such excesses of the previous regime as Gutamno Bay, torture, and domestic surveillance is that once a person has stepped over a certain line, they stand to loose their personhood; it is the belief that rights to privacy and the protection of the law are not universal, but must be earned by unfailing allegiance and compliance. One might think that for Olberman, and possibly even Obama, the violation of A-Rod’s rights that must have occurred might be at least worth mentioning, regardless of what wrongdoings that violation had revealed.

The last remaining justification for depriving A-Rod of all rights to privacy and due process is to say that it is all about the money: that by making his record breaking millions-- which is given to him by us when we buy a ticket to the ballgame, watch commercials during baseball games, or read the Post—that through our unprecedented investment in A-Rod, we have purchased a piece of A-Rod, and now own the right to pry into all aspects of his ridiculous life. Of course, there is something to this: A-Rod’s millions give him power and privileges that most of us can never reasonably dream of, in theory, they allow him to be existentially different from the rest of us, and so he might be held to an existentially higher standard. However, I would put it to you, that, in a world in a financial crisis, where thirty five hundred of A-Rod’s record breaking contracts were handed to the very institutions that had created the financial crisis in the first place, and then these thirty five hundred A-Rods promptly vanished: if you were to look at the ratio of gratuitous compensation to wrongdoing, A-Rod is not the worst guy out there. He is probably not in the top ten.

The ritual humiliation of the A-Rods of the world serves to set an upper limit on the amount of dignity that any one individual is entitled to, and serves to show what anyone stands to loose if they step over the line. Stay the fuck on the reservation, America.

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