Fire Jim Tracy

Sunday, December 05, 2004

In the Interest of Full Disclosure

I link this article from Reason magazine, a magazine I enjoy. I think it is an interesting summary of the "pro-steroid" (for lack of a better term) argument. BUT (and this is a big but...), it should be taken with a gigantic grain of salt. Why? A couple of examples.

"But then there are skeptics like Tony Cooper of the San Francisco Chronicle, a longtime sportswriter and 20-year veteran of the weightlifting and bodybuilding culture. During the 2001 season, as Bonds was assailing McGwire’s freshly minted home run record, Cooper responded to the groundswell of steroid speculation by writing that he saw no evidence of steroid use in baseball. Cooper had seen plenty of steroid users and plenty of "naked baseball players," and he couldn’t name one obvious juicer in the entire sport. As for Bonds, Cooper called the accusations "ludicrous," writing that the Giants’ slugger "merely looks like a man who keeps himself in condition."

That guy's just dumb, covering for Barry Bonds; and he writes for the San Francisco Chronicle, which is a newspaper of great dumbth. He'll probably never have to answer for that, but now who looks "ludicrous?" Of course, he did then. Though probably less ludicrous than the people who still claim he didn't do it even today. (Today's great rhetorical feint: He didn't "admit" to doing steroids because he didn't admit to knowing he did them. He admitted to using steroids. He didn't admit to knowing what they were, a completely different issue. But I digress.)

Also, the author is fooled by his own cleverness. At one point, he argues (via one of his experts)

"Yeager asserts that steroid use may have decreased home run levels in certain instances. Specifically, he points to Canseco. "I’m almost positive Canseco used steroids, and I think it hurt his career," says Yeager. "He became an overmuscled, one-dimensional player who couldn’t stay healthy. Without steroids, he might have hit 600, 700 home runs in his career."

But then IN THE VERY NEXT PARAGRAPH, the author concludes "In short, steroids are a significant threat to neither the health of the players nor the health of the game."

Well, if steroids are decreasing home run levels and creating one-dimensional players, isn't that hurting the game? Which is it?

And then there's the political reality of the situation, which is that if Barry Bonds and the steroids scandal gets tied to the Drug War in general, MLB and Bonds are going to be in for a very, very rough several years no matter what Rob thinks. That's just bad strategy.

I guess that while I am skeptical of Rob's and others claims, I'm a little more open to their arguments than some because:

1) I am a natural dissenter, and find myself entirely disturbed at agreeing with so many people.

2) I am a fellow traveller with libertarians like those at Reason and Cato, who make excellent, well-reasoned arguments for a more moderate drug policy.

3) Nancy Pelosi just endorsed testing. I can't imagine anything Nancy Pelosi does or endorses to come to much good at all.

On a related subject, I wonder if Adrian Beltre's botched surgery would have normally led to the legal, prescribed use of steroids in his recovery if he had not been a baseball player. Just curious.

UPDATE: If you read this Rob, I hope that even if you find the last couple of posts a "load of comstockery, a half-baked clamshell of the usual anti-drug goop" like Gammons's (Does that apostrophe go there? Ask Jerry!) you'll at least concede a "coherent thought" in it. :) But perhaps I ask too much.

UPDATE 2: An anonymous commentator stated that the NBA and Tennis do not test for steroids. Such is not the case, at least unless something has changed since 1999. The NBA Collective Bargaining Agreement. An article by Ivan Lendl discussing the Petr Korda decision a few years back. Strangely (simply because it is a more international game, and I would have thought more in tune with the anti-doping frenzy the accompanies, say, the Olympics), the NHL does not have any kind of testing policy. I have read that major international soccer leagues test (but do not care, nor do I care whether MLS tests -- it's soccer for crying out loud.). In any event, again, the issue is not how many people take steroids (if they all did, it wouldn't be an issue), or whether Bonds did it knowingly (he did), or whether his records should stand (they will), or whether we should all hate him (we already do), or whether steroids help performance (why else would you take them?), or whether they hinder performance (which would be reason enough for fans to want to ban them), or whether they're bad for you (I guess), or whether they're good for you (like candy!), or whether they should be banned by the Federal government (they are), or whether the Drug War is a big mess (it is). The issue is forcing others to take risks that they would not otherwise be willing to take. It should not be a prerequisite to playing MLB that you have to either throw in with the percentage of users (whatever it is) or otherwise run the risk of being unable to play MLB. Some of us facing that same decision would take the risk (what is the risk? 5%, 15%, 25%, 35%? OK, Lauren (my oldest daughter), the risk is only 5% that you'll go sterile and get liver cancer, go for it!) -- others wouldn't. It is a Hobson's choice that none of us would want to be faced with, except for maybe the 3% of America who is absolutely, positively sure that steroids has no effect on your health (Show me your studies! Show me my studies! That's my point!). Yet it's the decision Rob, for instance, wants baseball players to have to make. And yet Rob positions himself as the defender of truth, justice, and baseball players everywhere? I don't think so.

UPDATE 3: The issue is also that Major League Ballplayers have no privacy "rights," not because they are multi-millionaires, or privileged, and therefore lose any "rights" they supposedly had, but because they are subject to the rules set out by their employers, who manage a private enterprise under the umbrella Major League Baseball, Inc. You know, subject to their employers, like we are, because...they're not privileged. Are they? And finally remember, if it hadn't been for Cheech Orza and Donald Chong, the government would never have been involved AT ALL; Barry, Gary, Jason, and everybody else would have sat out five games, and we wouldn't be having this discussion. But those guys are clueless idiots (not that the Owners are a MENSA society -- this is all part of the same problem), the government is necessarily involved (because, umm, it's illegal...that argument that is hardly an argument is threatening to topple MLB, again whether Rob likes it or not), and please (whatever particular deity you pray to) let me hear something in the next week other than "We never renegotiate a collective bargaining agreement in the middle of the last one." Go ahead. Thumb your noses at the FBI, and the U.S. Senate, and 86% of baseball fans, and a media that you might have thought was your friend before, but ain't no more, cause they've got a juicy story to tell. Go ahead. Rant and rave about the Drug War and Grand Jury leaks and the word "knowingly" and your non-existent "rights," and people over-reacting. Dumb. Dumb. Dumb. All of that will do more damage to the game than steroids ever could.

If the players bleat like sheep on behalf of the "union," (whatever that is other than themselves, who continue to claim that their interest is served by drug testing, except at the table) they will be in for a world of hurt. The FBI will not be mocked. DOJ will not be mocked. DEA will not be mocked. That whole "illegal" technicality, you know, that minor little detail that is hardly worth discussing? That is not going to go away. Forget drug tests. The government doesn't need those anyway! They hate drug tests, because they're a big hassle to order, everybody fights about them, there's always an excuse, they're too technical to be good evidence, etc. Nope. They like sales records. Slips of paper. Stakeouts. Get a lead on a pusher. Watch him go into a major league clubhouse. Probable cause, baby. You win wires, cameras, microphones, and a very unpleasant and embarrassing criminal investigation. Undercover agents offering their wares. You think the FBI, full of young agents looking to make career moves, is going to ignore MLB as a way to get there? Especially after they've seen what they've seen in the BALCO investigation (even if they can or can't use that particular evidence in court?) Welcome to the world of being a target in a criminal investigation as opposed to being an incidental player. In the small town where I live, law enforcement put the smack down on an assistant coach and a bunch of kids giving out pain pills to the High School Baseball Team! They were late to the BALCO dance, but they are starting to learn where the other bodies are buried. Bush talked about this in the State of the Union because the FBI was going to ignore the problem?

Time to face reality, kids. You either deal with the incompetent baseball owners, who need you and love you and make them money and make you money, or you deal with the Feds, who do not need you, do not love you, would like nothing better than to see you forfeit your money to them, and want to nail your scalp to the wall. I don't know. Is that a good enough argument for getting rid of steroids in MLB yet, or should we discuss the requirements for qualifying as an enterprise under RICO?

I guess I've come to the conclusion that I'm all for theoretical discussions of this and that and the other, but the time for those discussions has long since passed for Major League Baseball. It has nothing to do with who is in the White House (the FBI would stop because Kerry won? Please. See Nancy Pelosi. Or Dianne Feinstein, who ran against the anti-Drug War guy and only got 57% of the vote.), or civil liberties (probable cause? Yep, it applies to Barry Bonds too, and man do they got it after looking through all of BALCO's stuff), or the Patriot Act. People are sort of dancing around it, and talking about home run records and "tarnishing the game." It's bigger than that, and it's not my fault, and I can't change it. I vote for saving the game. Steroids, even if they have magical powers, just aren't worth it.


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