As you well know, much has been written about the Biogenesis suspensions by Major League Baseball and in particular, the still-under-appeal suspension of Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. My purpose here is not to try to parse that suspension, discuss why it is or isn't appropriate, or try to read the tea leaves and try to figure out exactly how many games he'll sit out (I do believe he will, in the end, sit out a significant length of time).
That's not nearly as important as the message being sent by the multiple suspensions. At ESPN.com recently, Howard Bryant wrote this long and detailed article laying out some of the history behind how we got to where we are. It's almost 4,000 words long, but well worth your time. Here, to me, is the most important part of Bryant's article, boiling down this whole situation into two paragraphs:
Now, players are demanding an accountability from one another that didn't exist in previous years. For the first time, players no longer view steroids as a victimless crime. Users aren't cheating the public as much as they are other players. "So, let me get this straight," an American League player said. "Guy uses steroids. He then puts up better numbers than I do. He goes to free agency and gets the years and the money, takes a job I don't get and now I have to scramble during the winter to find another slot. Then, he gets busted for steroids and we use my union dues for his lawyers, his defense and his appeal? And that makes sense to you? That bulls--- is fair?"
This unnamed player is correct. He's not the only one who feels that way, either. Here's a quote from a major-league player not afraid to be quoted by name (Michael Young):
It's outlined in no uncertain terms every spring to every team. These are the rules. Don't effing test positive. Everyone gets due process, but the idea of a level playing field is now a union mantra.
And if that's not enough for you, check out what the Cubs' Carlos Villanueva said:
Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva, who’s on the Major League Baseball Players Association’s executive board, gets that sense from union members who want to see even more changes to the drug program. "If it was up to me, it would be a lot stiffer penalties," Villanueva said Tuesday inside the visiting clubhouse at Citizens Bank Park. "It’s definitely something that when we meet this year, we’ll address. We just want to clean it up, whatever it takes. "(But) it will probably never be 100 percent clean. The rewards just outweigh the risks still. It doesn’t matter – 50 games is nothing. Those guys are getting suspended 50, 60 games – it’s basically a vacation. And now they’ll come back and they’ll still make their money."
This is where the change is going to come. Bryant's article points out that MLBPA leadership under Marvin Miller and Don Fehr used to drive the discussion, telling players where they were going to take them. Now, players are taking the lead, telling their union leaders -- and Michael Weiner has been much more conciliatory than Miller or Fehr ever were -- how they want to approach their relationship with major-league owners. Check out one more portion of the CSN Chicago article linked above:
One tweet from Dan Meyer – who lasted 10 seasons in the minors and managed to pitch 113.2 innings in the big leagues – went viral and summed up the frustration. Meyer targeted a Philadelphia Phillies reliever, one of 12 players in the Biogenesis scandal who accepted a 50-game suspension: "Hey Antonio Bastardo, remember when we competed for a job in 2011. Thx alot. #ahole."
That's exactly it. Players who have cheated haven't just cheated the game and the fans. They have cheated players who have competed against them, not just on other teams, but their own teammates. I know some people who have taken the attitude: "I just don't care if anyone uses PEDs, it's just entertainment, it doesn't matter."
Read those quotes from people actually in the game and tell me it doesn't matter. It does matter. Look at this quote from Dale Sveum, who played during the so-called "Steroid Era", saying much the same thing:
"We all know now it was pretty prevalent in the 90s before the drug testing," Sveum said. "Now guys are trying to beat the system. But I think everybody on the field – 99 percent of all the players – want it cleaned up because (of those situations). "(You’re) competing with one of these guys in spring training for a job and got beat out (mainly) because of the PEDs. That’s what people don’t want to have happen when they’re working their butt off and someone else is cheating."
That's exactly it. Not just the cheating, but the lying. Players feel betrayed by what Ryan Braun said in that pre-2012 season news conference. It likely won't be easy for Braun nor his Brewers teammates when he returns at the beginning of 2014. The air will have to be cleared, and even then, Braun is likely to be reviled in every park the Brewers visit -- for the next eight years.
For Alex Rodriguez, as for Braun, it's almost more about the lies than about his PED use. This column by Scott Miller is a bit over the top, but it does contain this important reminder about A-Rod's actions going back several years:
In the aftermath of the Mitchell Report back in 2007, Rodriguez went on 60 Minutes as a de facto spokesman for the game and what was still good about it, setting himself up as a bastion of purity in a dirty era. "I've never felt overmatched on the baseball field," he told Katie Couric then. "I've always been in a very strong, dominant position. And I felt that if I did my work as I've done since I was, you know, a rookie back in Seattle, I didn't have a problem competing at any level. So, no." So, no. He never did steroids. Until he was ratted out in 2009, cornered for using them in '01, '02 and '03. "I was probably a little bit too naive when I first came up to understand the magnitude of all of this," he cooed to Couric in '07. "I was young, I was stupid, I was naïve," he gushed to Peter Gammons, then of ESPN, when the first steroids firestorm enveloped him in '09. So, to summarize, he did not do steroids because he was too naïve to understand what they did ('07), and then he took them because he was too naïve not to take them ('09). One of the most pathetic days in Yankees history came in spring training 09, when the players all dutifully filed into a room behind A-Rod at a press conference at which he "apologized" and asked to be judged "from this day forward."
The Biogenesis clinic began doing business in 2009, and at least according to MLB, Rodriguez was one of its biggest clients, possibly even recruiting other players there, and then allegedly attempting to acquire some of the paperwork from the clinic so that investigators couldn't get their hands on it. All of this is simply what's been reported; we don't yet know all the details and we might never know, depending on what happens with the arbitrator's ruling.
But it seems pretty clear that the nickname "A-Fraud" could have a basis in reality; the reports have him doing all this after that apology on that "pathetic day" in 2009.
The players want a level playing field. You can see in the quotes above the reasons why. I want a level playing field; I want the players I see on the field performing to the best of their natural abilities, not some artificially-enhanced performance that is what, exactly? Like switching settings in a baseball video game?
I'll leave you to think about this commentary from a non-sports columnist, Mary Schmich of the Tribune, who wonders what it would be like if any of us could take a pill to improve our performance at our jobs. While acknowledging that most everyone might succumb to that temptation if it were available, she concludes:
You cheat because you want to get ahead. Or stay ahead. The rules are in the way. There at the intersection of hubris and insecurity, you think you can get away with breaking them, and that you're entitled to. But cheaters are almost always exposed, if only, in some cases, to themselves. And that can't feel great, in any sense of the word.
That's what I want from baseball. No more cheating. No more lying. No more. Part of this occurs because many of the players have made so much money, obtained so much fame, that they don't believe the rules to which Schmich refers apply to them.
They do, or at least they should. Baseball, at last, appears to have reached the point where they want to do something about it. And I'm all for that.