So A-Rod tested positive for steroids back in 2003, according to sources in a new Sports Illustrated report. And, in an interview with Peter Gammons of ESPN that broke today, he admitted to taking them for three years when he was a member of the Texas Rangers, from 2001 to 2003.
It's interesting to me that the people who are so enraged by this are the same ones who continue to ignore that steroids are not a baseball issue, they're a human performance issue. Players will always look to get an edge in whatever sport they play, and as salaries have risen in baseball and guaranteed contracts have become more and more lucrative, players have had more incentive to use, especially since there was no penalty for testing positive for steroids until 2004. A-Rod is quoted as saying he felt he needed the drugs to perform, to live up to that ridiculous contract.
How can we blame him? The difference between hitting .280 with 22 homers and hitting .300 and hitting 35 home runs is literally the difference between comfort and wealth, between making $3.5 million over two years and $27 million over three years. These guys are human, and with no consequences in place for failing a test, it's hard to say who amongst us wouldn't make the same choices. It's a culture of excess, one fostered by many variables but certainly aided by the choices of baseball's owners.
The problem with dismissing A-Rod's behavior is that he's been fundamental in shaping the salary structure for superstar athletes in MLB. His mega $250-million deal with the Texas Rangers is why Manny Ramirez still believes he can get a three-year, $75 million deal today. How can you undo establishing a new context for free agency? Without A-Rod 'roid year, there's no way that Mark Teixeira gets his mammoth contract from the Yanks this past off-season. A-Rod got his MVP numbers by cheating, and in the years he used, he was top-two in the MVP vote two out of three years. That cannot be undone.
But let's be clear, it's not like baseball has ever had the level of sanctity that many fans wish to remember is had. Baseball has always been romanticized in this country, with older generations looking back on the game as if it was perennially better in years past. But Ty Cobb once punched a fan out. Amphetamines were abused by a widespread number of players who used them to stay focused during a long season. Certain pitchers that are currently in the Hall of Fame have admitted to doctoring the ball. Let's not kid ourselves, here. The game will not destroyed by the A-Roid revelation, because it's never been as holy as many would like you to believe.
Just look at how this story is being shaped, and compare it to similar scandals in the NFL. Back in 2005, two offensive lineman from the Carolina Panthers were linked to prescriptions filed a week and a half before the Super Bowl. The uproar over that story was short-lived compared to the life cycle of romanticized stories about Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and upholding baseball's integrity. San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawn Merriman tested positive for the juice after winning defensive player of the year in '06. Little to nothing has been said about him "ruining the game" since then. Look at how he different he looked in 2005, when he was using, compared to 2007, when he was off the juice. We, collectively, couldn't care less, and the difference in coverage is hypocritical.
Our modern-day gladiators often use drugs to stay on the field. From shots to numb pain, pills to ease aches, and synthetic materials to get you recovered from workouts sooner, players have been gotten help in whatever way they could for years. Being bigger and better is an American ideal, from pro wrestling to GI Joe to superheroes. Show me a way to counteract America's culture of bigness - the all-you-can-eat buffets, the highlight reels exclusively showing strikeouts and homers, the strong man competitions - and I'll show you a way to get steroids out of baseball.
Until then, please: Don't act so shocked when a slugger tests positive.