As Alex Rodriguez stepped to the plate for his first at bat of the year, a line drive, baseball felt very stale. The story of the latest performance enhancers in Major League Baseball, Biogenesis, has been circling since the beginning of the year. However, as the New York Yankees Network YES and ESPN cashed in on the return of A-Rod, it was another notch in this morally ambiguous play as Rodriguez fights his pending 211 game suspension. MLB and sports at large are content in giving us villains, so what is the incentive for living well in this most recent modern era?
There’s an uncomfortable friction in the story of MLB; Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED’s) saved baseball. When baseball was being tuned out in comparison to flashier sports during the 1990’s and the 1994 World Series was cancelled due to labor strife, commissioner Bud Selig called for more power. What came next was a flush of fastballs and home runs. The game that had turned its head to make a profit on their cheating later cut down Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Baseball had to move on and they turned to Rodriguez.
This is the comical nature of the witch hunt led by commissioner Selig, who is set to exit the game at the end of next season. Selig waged a war against the savior of the “post-steroid era” for taking the same substance. He cut down the man that was supposed to right the record book, to make up for Selig’s previous errors. Now he’s set up another public fight to clean up the game against A-Rod, which will tarnish the league’s image more than that of the fading player running out of credibility.
It has come to the point where players are pushing for harsher penalties because baseball has chained itself to the issue. Ryan Braun’s soft punishment to sit out the rest of the season and lose only three million of the 120 million dollars total for his current contract is laughable to the blue-collar players of today. For Rodriguez, he will likely make more than the entire Houston Astros roster this year with his appeal taking up a couple weeks. If he is finished after this year, he’ll still have been paid more than any other player in baseball history. On the other end of the scale are players who never made it to the major leagues, some who were passed over for those who turned to PEDs.
Baseball needs to lead the charge to fix the game when the players reopen the Collective Bargaining Agreement. To hold players to a higher standard, baseball players must be judged dually on their performance on the field and off the field. At best, Braun and Rodriguez should lose half their contracts for gaming the system. If players were only guaranteed half of their salaries for playing the game and earned the other half by staying out of jail, not testing positive for drugs and avoiding image issues, sports culture would drastically change.
While this punishment may seem far-reaching, it would fix the performance enhancing problems and quickly the image problems in sports would follow. The teams would suddenly have incentive to turn their players in if they were cheating the system because their contract obligations would be cut in half. The Milwaukee Brewers have financially chained their franchise to Braun and now they are stuck with the legacy that follows him around.
A-Rod has tarnished the Yankees legacy, the pinnacle of baseball, more than any other player. Baseball makes the most money from fans loyal to the Yankees, and now it all seems like a joke that Rodriguez played for them for a decade. The secret to being a good franchise is having the fans pay for everything (including stadiums) and the owners pay for nothing. Fans of A-Rod paid for his deception. Fans of baseball fueled the cheating.
The implications of Rodriguez’s actions will far outlast his numbers. It was a long time before I knew Pete Rose was anything more than a cheater. I know more about the 1919 Black Sox scandal than the 1908 Chicago Cubs, the last Cubs team to win the World Series. The next generation will know that Barry Bonds was a cheater before they know that he broke two of the most sacred records in sports.
It is no longer morally acceptable for leagues to turn their backs on the actions of the players and plead ignorance later. The NFL had 27 arrested players this offseason, including Aaron Hernandez. Major League Baseball may be able to point to that and think they are doing an okay job, but NFL players do not usually have guaranteed contracts and can be cut anytime. Alex Rodriguez played last night and Ryan Braun will take the field on Opening Day in 2014.
Let’s look to Lance Armstrong on baseball’s path forward. LiveStrong trumps Live Well until the first option is taken off the table.
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