Bob Wojnowski is ready to pillory Jhonny Peralta. Everybody, it seems, wants to do the same and worse to Alex Rodriguez. I say lets wait and see – from the supposedly extensive evidence that the MLB has of their transgressions (should it ever be made public) before we decide if what they did was to break a rule or to cheat. They aren’t the same thing, because all use of controlled substances is not the same thing.
Robert Fick‘s Good Day L.A. interview got a little coverage here – and what it got was primarily because Fick admitted to PED use prior to the implementation of the testing regime (and was, of course, now tainted). If you read beyond the headline – it got interesting: Fick did not use banned substances in order to bulk up and simply be a better baseball player (though many did and might still be doing it). Fick juiced – temporarily – to recover from shoulder injuries more quickly. Now how does that make you feel? How should it make you feel? I’m guessing you find that less offensive than the notion that Pudge Rodriguez juiced over the length of his career in order to be bigger, faster and stronger – and that the only fundamental difference between Pudge and Brad Ausmus may have been chemical alteration (not that we have proof of any of this, of course).
I’m sure we can all agree that testosterone-enhancing supplements have a strong potential for abuse in sports. A young player can get big. An old player can feel young. Both of those things damage the integrity of the game by changing the nature of the “playing field” – choosing not to juice might be good for your health, but it makes you a bad athlete when everything in the game is relative. It doesn’t hurt the “product” on the field – we like to see home runs, we like to see stars continue to play like stars – but that isn’t really the point. It’s only “good” if we don’t know what’s causing it (like the blissful ignorance of McGwire and Sosa’s home run chase) and it isn’t fair to current and aspiring baseball players who feel the pressure to somehow make themselves physically better than they can be.
The other kind of juicing, the Fick kind, is philosophically different: here we’re talking about guys in order to more quickly return to being their normal physical selves rather than in order to be something better than their normal physical selves. I would argue that this does nothing to damage the integrity of the game or to create an unlevel playing field – in the same way that IV fluids at halftime in the NFL is nothing like blood doping prior to a marathon. Injuries are part of the game and part of the history of the game, but they are not a desirable part of the game – rather something that baseball has always sought to prevent or fix with moderate success. No one will argue that Tommy John surgery is bad for baseball because it’s unfair for that guy to ever play again when the same injury in 1937 would have ended a career. We wouldn’t argue that physical therapy shouldn’t be allowed because it should take just as long to fully recover from an ankle sprain as it did in 1911. Quick recovery from injuries is a sort of Holy Grail for professional sports – injuries aren’t just bad for players, they’re bad for fans and bad for owners (and insurance companies).
It’s probably not a good thing for baseball to encourage PED use for the purposes of injury recovery. It’s an important question how damaging the side effects of short-term, low-dose use might be (though these things are prescribed for other medical uses, and the benefits are seen to outweigh the costs). Allowing use of testosterone (or testosterone analog) enhancing supplements for certain players at certain times would make a shambles out of the testing regime put in place for other types of juicing that are far worse for the players and the game. But before you call for Peralta’s head – bear in mind that what he actually did might have been against the currently written rules for the MLB, but it may not actually have been cheating and it may not actually have been anything morally or philosphically wrong – or harmful to the integrity of the game. The same could possibly be true for ARod – though he has admitted to prior steroid use (before the testing regime). ARod is an old player battling injuries who would really like to get back on the field as soon as possible – was he an old guy juicing to feel young or an injured guy juicing in a desperate effort to see a serious hip injury not end his career? If it’s the latter – I certainly can’t hate the guy for that. Yankees fans shouldn’t hate the guy for that.