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This is intended to be a response to baseball writers' almost universal denigration of Manny Ramirez for his 50-game suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs. Here's the thing: Almost every story I've read has taken steps to trash Ramirez as not only a cheater, but also as a terrible human being and possibly the devil incarnate. A small sampling of what I'm referring to:
- Jayson Stark calls Manny a " scoundrel " and even worse, says Ramirez "...personally sabotaged the magical season of a team like the Dodgers."
- Here's what Hat Guy (aka Mike Celizic) had to say : "Ramirez didn't just let (the Dodgers) down. He kicked them all where it hurts the worst. It came without warning, a dark-alley attack that never gave them a chance to brace for what was coming." He goes on to say that "Manny's got to stop being Manny and start being a decent human being."
- Tracy Ringolsby's reaction : "The saga of Jose Canseco, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, et al is an embarassment to the game," and even attempts to demean Ramirez by comparing his use of PEDs to the affliction of Clint Hurdle's daughter, which requires her to take growth hormones.
There are many more of these, but I have neither the energy nor the inclination to track any more of them. They all follow in a similar vein and have the constant theme, one belittling Ramirez's place in the not only the annals of baseball history, but also as his status as a person. I have several problems with this. My first is there is no outcry when Guillermo Mota or Alex Sanchez tests positive for PEDs. Nobody is admonishing Adam Piatt for being a terrible human being or Neifi Perez for castrating his teammates (figuratively speaking, of course). There's a vicious excoriation given by baseball writers that the stars get for cheating that goes beyond their ability to hit a baseball. But even these things don't get to the heart of my problem with this issue.
It's that we just don't care.
That's not exactly true. It's not that we don't care, per se. Obviously, the so-called "Steroid Era" has left an indelible mark on the fabric of the baseball tapestry. And there's no question that some of our childhood heroes have lost their hero worship status. I'll come back to this in a minute. To quote the venerable Stephen A. Smith, "HOWEVA"...the baseball writers (specifically, the BBWAA) have gone completely overboard. Whether it's an attempt to overcompensate for their unwillingness/inability to blow the whistle on the players during the height of the Steroid Era (didn't want to lose access) or from their ridiculous self-appointed, self-aggrandizing position as the bastions of baseball justice, as these high and mighty upholders of the sanctity and purity of the baseball code. I have significant problems with both of these, although my harsher criticism is reserved for the latter of these two. I will, however, tackle these issues in the order I raised them.
The hypocrisy of many baseball writers is both ridiculous and slightly delicious at the same time. Many of the writers who are deriding and cursing the stars of today are the same ones who were lauding the accomplishments of Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and the other big stars of a decade ago. (A note: As a rule, I try to avoid lumping people in to the same category based on supposition, but I've noticed that the majority of BBWAA follow this pattern. There are a number of very good writers who have the wherewithal and the gumption to tackle this issue in a straighforward, logical manner. Joe Posnanski and Keith Law are the two most prominent examples that spring to mind. In fact, it was an answer Klaw gave in his most recent chat that gave me the initiative to write this.) Cowardice is perhaps too strong a word to use, but the activity of the baseball writing community, dancing in the shadows of the game's giants for favor, too timid to write about the undercurrent of PEDs and synthetic testosterone that so defines this period, is grievous. Even worse than that are the writings of this ideologically misguided and self-involved association of panderers.
If I could take a minute to speak directly to the BBWAA as if it were a single, rational person: I get it, I really do. You're outraged. You don't understand how someone with a humongous amount of competitive juice and with an unquenchable thirst to be the best baseball player possible would take every advantage of a system that didn't test for something that would make them stronger or faster. Or for those guys right on the fringe of making a major league club...you don't understand the frenzied desperation of a guy who needs to add 2-4 MPH to his fastball to make it to the show or else be forced to work at the family business. Here's the thing: Baseball is a game. It's a great, wonderful game, and in it's purest form, it's poetry in motion and beautiful to behold. At the same time, it's played by men, not gods, and so it's never really been played in its purest form. Men are fundamentally flawed. Building these men up to be more than what they are, human beings, and then later on decimate these same guys for their flaws is foolhardy at best and unconscionable at worst.
My last point, which I alluded to earlier and promise is my last, is this: We really don't care. By we I mean serious baseball fans. The outrage at the use of PEDs has been ongoing since approximately 2001. Since that time, MLB has set new attendance records in 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007, and in 2008 the National League shattered the previous league attendance record. Also in 2008, the Red Sox, Cubs, Tigers, Brewers, Mets, Yankees, and Phillies all set franchise records for attendance ( according to MLB.com). Additionally, MLB itself has found itself flush with cash, as the launch of its new flagship television station, MLB Network, can attest. The game is apparently not crippled from the fallout of the steroid era, and if the BBWAA would simply turn down the volume of incessant self-righteous indignation, perhaps this would be a more peaceful transition to a new, less murky era.