Baseball is a game built around tradition and a set of constants derived from a far removed era. As silly as it sounds, we enjoy these little eccentricities – the gospel of an ump’s strike zone, or the pitcher determined pace of a ball game. We honor these in an effort to show baseball our appreciation – our respect. For all the summers we’ve enjoyed, the sport deserves this one, small consideration. Those are the excuses we spew every time a player of Ryan Braun’s caliber is caught holding the needle.
This is no longer the WWII generation’s pastime. Baseball now belongs to twenty-something hipsters, statisticians and no small contingency of international fans. We can’t continue to hack off our nose to spite our face.
I’d like to draw a comparison between performance enhancing drugs in baseball and the drug war as a whole. In the drug war, we consistently establish rules contradictory to a person’s natural inclination towards self-preservation. It’s the idea that you can create a moral, ethical or financial consequence strong enough to override a man’s will to succeed – to prosper. It’s why arresting a drug dealer results in two more taking his place. The urge and opportunity to thrive are simply too strong. Braun, A-Rod and a slew of others will be suspended, but 20 more will take their place in the doping line because the upside is too great.
Baseball is business and Braun represents a man employed. He has no idea whether he’ll play tomorrow or next year. Maybe he’ll wreck his knee sliding into home during a silly spring training warm up. Success in baseball is the man’s entire world, the only measure by which he’ll be judged. That’s harsh, I know, but painfully true. With so much at stake, why do we expect a different outcome? Does it truly surprise anyone that these players are grabbing an edge wherever they can find one? Have you seen the AAU circuit in Florida? Kids are stronger, faster and younger than ever before, leaving no room for error and added room for “supplemental training”.
I know it hurts. Ruth, Gehrig and Aaron didn’t have PEDs and it pisses us off. We want to know what Mantle or Mays could have done with 25 year old legs at 30, or what Koufax would look like pitching in his 40’s. We have to get over this obsession with forcing relevance onto different eras of baseball.
In the end we know that steroids improve already existing skill, they don’t create it. We can’t take from Ryan Braun what he’s worked a lifetime to achieve simply because natural competitiveness drove him to find an edge other players already possess. Roids don’t get you in the cage at 5AM before class starts – that’s where passion jumps in.