Steroids, Asterisks, and a Legacy of Thievery
A Reflection by Victor Lana
The recent 10-day suspension of the Baltimore Orioles’ Rafael Palmeiro, who tested positive for using some kind of steroid, has made me confront (once again) the idea of how this scandal will affect the record books. Palmeiro is in an elite club (500 homers and 3,000 hits), and I can only wonder how many of those came whilst he was juiced.
I’ve read some articles in which people advocate the use of asterisks, but to me that is like putting a band-aid over a gunshot wound. Asterisks indicate a sort of acceptance of the deed, indicating that the thievery of a record is okay as long as it’s noted that it was stolen.
The year Mark McGwire hit his 70 homers, I don’t think anyone watching the games thought about steroids. Everyone was cheering Sammy Sosa and McGwire in their race for a record. In all sports records are important, but I think baseball (and its fans) have an affinity for “stats” that is an obsession. So, the Lords of Baseball (the owners) were happy with this fever once it was ignited. They didn’t care that McGwire’s biceps looked like they had been inflated by a bicycle pump every time he came to the plate. Heck, it seemed no one cared.
But the truth is this “legacy” of cheating did not start with McGwire. We can look way back in baseball and find evidence such as the White Sox Scandal to give proof to that. How many baseball players over all the years have cheated? This question is difficult to answer now, but we are aware that drugs have been around a long time. Before there were steroids there were other performance enhancers available. Who took them? How often? What records are affected by this?
I, like any other baseball fan, want a certain level of purity in my game. I want to know that the batter stands there with natural ability coursing through his veins and nothing else. I want to believe the piece of wood he is using is a beautifully crafted bat with no hoses or corking shoved inside to give him an edge.
I want to believe the pitcher stands on the mound holding a brand new premium baseball, gripping its stitches with his fingers and ready to throw the pitch. I want to believe this pitcher doesn’t use a razor blade to cut a gash into the ball or a substance to make it wobble. This is the purity of the game I seek. I also want to know that no one on that field is taking drugs to make him Clark Kent weilding a bat or heaving a baseball with super powers.
Sadly, the purity of the game I seek may be an illusion. If we don’t know how many players have cheated over all the previous decades, then we can’t be certain which records are clean and which are not. In essence, the thought of putting an asterisk on any record is repugnant, but the truth is that there could be so many asterisks in the books someday as to force the legitimacy of the records themselves to be questioned.
We have no choice but to wait to see what will happen next. I remain a baseball fan, but I feel cheated by this situation and just hope the game I love is not tainted forever. More importantly, I fervently pray that children don’t buy into the cheating as a fact of life and start down the same ugly road. If this happens, then this ugly situation will be a lasting legacy of thievery for generations to come. That wouldn’t be just sad; it would be a real crime.
Copyright Victor Lana 2005