Baseball's sinners have become anti-drug crusaders
Having seemingly turned a blind eye to steroid abuse for years, the league's new fervour has all the hallmarks of a crusade
It's great to find religion, particularly if you have been wallowing in confusion and despair. But if you are an acknowledged sinner and you find religion through guilt and previous misdeeds, it's usually embraced with the type of missionary zeal that obliterates any and all in your wake. Everybody is a sinner now except you.
Me, I am a sinner as well and primary amongst my sins is that I am irreparably cynical when it comes to the folks who run professional sports. But unlike me, the good people who run Major League Baseball are reformed sinners. Once they were lost but now they can see and what they see they don't like.
After a work stoppage in 1994, the game became a pariah. But baseball proceeded to get big and buff and in the proceeding years home runs were hit at a captivating rate. The game was back, even though players looked like extras from the bodybuilding documentary Pumping Iron. It sure was suspicious. But business was good and MLB was selling T-shirts that read "Chicks dig the long ball". It's a lot easier to look away when it's raining money and everybody from players to agents to the TV networks and, most notably, the owners were swimming in cash.
However, the gig has been up for quite some time now. Many of the stars of that generation have been thoroughly exposed as drug cheats, while MLB commissioner Bud Selig has repeatedly and incredulously feigned ignorance. To prove it he has overseen a drug-testing regimen that has seen MLB go from the most ludicrously lax protocol to the most stringent of all American sports. He may not officially be a confessed sinner but Selig sure is acting like one and you know what happens to the irredeemably pious? The stamping out of previous indiscretions becomes a crusade.
This past week a story was leaked that MLB was looking to suspend at least 20 players for 100 games because their names have been mentioned in the sales records of a clinic in Miami that apparently supplied them with banned performance-enhancing drugs. Foremost on the list were New York Yankees slugger Alex Rodriguez, Milwaukee Brewers All-Star Ryan Braun, Texas Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz, Toronto Blue Jays slugger Melky Cabrera and Oakland Athletics pitcher Bartolo Colon.
There is no greater sinner in baseball today than Rodriguez and A-Rod's greatest sin is that he makes an ungodly amount of money to play the game. Actually, he makes an ungodly amount of money not to play the game because his body, arguably through years of pharmaceutical abuse, is now breaking down.
He has yet to play this season but will still make US$29 million and is owed US$104 million over the next five years. Next month he turns 38 and has had surgery on both hips and was a healthy scratch last year during the playoffs. He is a narcissistic, self-indulgent tabloid magnet who has connived and lied his way in and out of a number of situations. He will have earned over half a billion dollars playing baseball and is arguably the least sympathetic creature in the universe.
And yet I hope he collects every single penny owed to him. Before the beginning of the 2008 season when the Yankee brass gave him the ludicrous 10-year deal, there were numerous rumblings that A-Rod had taken performance drugs in the past. But the Yankees, and MLB to some extent, were looking at A-Rod as the guy who could remove the stench of the sullen and seemingly drug-enhanced Barry Bonds' record-breaking home-run binge that saw him top Hank Aaron as the game's all-time leader.
The Yankees were so sure A-Rod's pursuit of the record would be a profitable windfall they installed a US$6 million bonus when he passed each of the top four home-run leaders of all time. One year later Rodriguez was publicly forced to admit he had indeed used steroids in the past. Over the past two years more damning revelations have come to light and now a disgraced owner of an anti-ageing clinic is willing to turn over evidence against A-Rod and his crew so MLB will drop a lawsuit against him. I don't know if MLB has a legal leg to stand on, but one thing is certain: it is suddenly more dogged than the IRS at tax time when it comes to drug cheats.
Meanwhile, the Yankees are hoping A-Rod will just go away and the rest of his contract can be voided on behavioural violations. Yup, they have all found religion now. But I don't care how much redemption you invest publicly. You will, and should, reap what you sow.