As a diehard baseball fan, the steroids scandal just depresses me. Once it started to fall apart, it was pretty obvious which players would eventually be outed as users (the monster sluggers), along with a few surprises (Brian Roberts? Andy Pettite?). And while I will stress to my kids that they shouldn’t take steroids, I will not wag my finger at any of the players who did; who’s to say what I would do if I were in their position, and stood to make tens of millions by using a little juice, especially when there were no repercussions for getting caught? It’s a complicated issue that, by and large, is painted as a simple black-and-white question by many sports writers today.
And that is the part that bothers me. These same people covered the players while all of this was going on, and I can barely stomach their sanctimonious hindsight when flaying their latest target. With each new development on the subject, we are told that:
1. Lots and lots of players took steroids
2. No one else, not the trainers, coaches, managers, anyone in the commissioner’s office and certainly not the writers and reporters, had any idea these players were taking steroids
The first part is obviously true. The second part, however, I find highly unlikely.
Let’s break this down, shall we? In order for both to be true, it means that the players would all have to individually seek out dealers, who by the nature of their business are not the most upstanding citizens, without drawing any attention to themselves. Ever. That’s giving the players and dealers an awful lot of credit, don’t you think? One of them would have slipped up, and in a moment of desperation met his dealer at the team hotel during a slump. It’s just far too big a secret for so many people to keep. The odds of no one else in baseball stumbling upon it, even accidentally…well, there’s no point in calculating the odds, because it didn’t happen.
No one in baseball knew that these men took steroids. Uh, sure.
But this doesn’t just require all of the players and dealers to have the stealth of a ninja – it also requires the player personnel and writers to be blissfully unaware of what is happening around them, to a point that approaches obliviousness. And these people aren’t oblivious. That must therefore make them liars, yes? Well, it would be irresponsible of me to say, since I have no proof that anything I’m saying here is true, but let’s just say that each group of personnel involved here has their own reasons for keeping their mouths shut. Here is how it looks from my ‘Joe Sixpack’ perspective.
The players: Those inflated statistics raised the value of contracts across the board. Even the ones who didn’t take steroids benefited from those who did, the whole ‘rising tide lifts all boats’ thing. The primary reason the players are playing dumb, though, is because nobody likes a tattletale. If a current player dished on teammates both past and present, he would never stop getting his ass kicked. It’s like the mafia: honor the omerta, or pay the price.
Managers/coaches/trainers: I had an RA in college who summed up his supervisory role like this: “If I don’t see it, hear it, or smell it, I don’t care about it.” Managers and coaches are in a similar position. They need plausible deniability in the event that shit meets fan, but until that day arrives, what they really need is to win. If they don’t win, they get fired. That kind of motivation will lead a person to overlook a lot of things. And remember: the managers and coaches are all former players. Omerta.
Reporters: Two words: career suicide. If anyone who covers baseball were to break a story about steroid use, they’d be banned from every clubhouse in the country. Nope, that story will have to wait for an investigative journalist with no agenda and nothing to lose. Like, say, Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, who nearly went to jail over the content of their BALCO exposé “Game of Shadows.”
Let us not forget, baseball was dying when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa went on their home run tear in 1998. Those two men are widely credited (and rightly so) with saving the game. Whether or not they achieved their results through illicit means, they put butts in seats, simple as that. The sudden spikes in home run numbers had to have raised an eyebrow or two at mission control, but I think it’s safe to say that the game’s salvation was a far greater priority at the time than its sanctity. Either way, that’s a hell of a choice to make, and in fairness to all concerned, I probably would have done the same thing. I mean, which would you rather be known for, being a participant in the Steroids Era, or the man who killed baseball?
And that’s the bottom line here. I completely understand why all of these people are denying any knowledge of the rampant steroid use that took place on their watch, and I don’t expect otherwise from them. But please, stop trying to convince us proles that the only people who knew about players using steroids were the players themselves. It’s insulting.