With today\’s release of the Mitchell report on steroid use in baseball, Brewer fans have to do a little soul searching. Eric Gagne, who the Brewers just signed to a one-year, $10 million contract, is named in the report, allegedly buying human growth hormone in 2004. It appears many Brewer fans are willing to exhibit a little \”moral flexibility\” with regard to their newest reliever.
At the very least, fans should question the wisdom of spending $10 million on a player whose reputation was forged primarily when he was alleged to have been on steroids. Gagne is a three-time all star who won the National League Cy Young award in 2003, and the Brewers had to know that he had steroids in his past. Even Red Sox general manager Theo Epstein knew when he traded for Gagne last year. In an e-mail to a scout, Epstein said, \”I know the Dodgers think he was a steroid guy,\” and the scout responded, \”Some digging on Gagne and steroids IS the issue… Mentality without the plus weapons and without steroid help probably creates a large risk in bounce back durability and ability to throw average while allowing the changeup to play as it once did . . . Personally, durability (or lack of) will follow Gagne . .\”
While every Brewer fan wants to see the team succeed, how can they back a cheater? If Gagne was still pitching for the Dodgers, would they be willing to cut him so much slack? Remember all the vitriol aimed at Barry Bonds in Milwaukee for eclipsing Hank Aaron\’s home run record? How is Gagne any different?
People who think the whole steroid controversy is overblown say that HGH wasn\’t banned by major league rules at the time, so it\’s no big deal that players were using them. In fact, it is actually a very big deal.
As pointed out by Mitchell, steroids have been banned by the league since the 1991 collective bargaining agreement. The problem is, the league didn\’t begin actually testing for them until 2003. For that, the league and the union are both to blame. Furthermore, there still isn\’t a test for HGH, so players could still be using it undetected now. And it has always been a violation of federal law to obtain HGH without a prescription.
To say that the players shouldn\’t be punished because the league wasn\’t testing for HGH at the time is ridiculous. First of all, they were cheating. Second of all, they were violating federal law. Thirdly, they made a mockery of the record books, which is the one thread that connects generations of baseball fans.
So should Gagne be given amnesty for his steroid use?
Of course not. Just because something isn\’t in the baseball rule book (even though obtaining any prescription medication without a prescription was), doesn\’t mean it shouldn\’t be a punishable offense. If a player murdered someone, should it have to be in the league\’s rules to suspend them? (I am not equating murder and HGH use, incidentally – although HGH is even worse, in a way, because it affects the integrity of the game).
Additionally, there\’s no rule that says Bud Selig can only punish players who violated something specifically proscribed by major league rules. Selig can do whatever he wants, pursuant to the \”best interests of baseball\” clause in the league rules. Is there really any question that punishing cheaters who have erased the league\’s history is in the game\’s best interest? Should the fact that Gagne owns a Cy Young award that may have been won by someone else be left to stand?
There are those that will say Gagne\’s steroid use took place years ago, so there\’s no need to punish him now. Actually, we don\’t know that Gagne stopped using steroids years ago, since he was allegedly using a substance for which there is no test. But think about someone who robs a bank – the criminal justice system doesn\’t just order the bank robber to repay what he stole and call it all square. There are penalties for bad judgement and bad behavior – both of which Gagne displayed in his apparent receipt of steroids.
I recall being bewildered by San Francisco Giants fans who stood by Barry Bonds just because he was \”their guy.\” It makes no sense to judge a player\’s character by the uniform he happens to wear. It would then be the height of hypocrisy to now cheer for Gagne – a bad guy on a team I love.
Currently, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is running a poll of whether people care if Gagne used steroids, as long as he helps the team. The fact that the poll is running at a dead-even 50% to 50% split is dispiriting. It shows that there are too many people to make moral concessions based on their own rooting interest. And that is a shame.
While there\’s no question this report is an attempt by Bud Selig to cover his own tail during the Steroid Era, it doesn\’t mean that the players named in the report don\’t deserve to be punished.
Some other thoughts:
There\’s no question that the names of the players on the list are just the tip of the iceberg. Essentially, it\’s a list of players who were dumb enough to buy steroids with a personal check. But criticizing these players only because they have been identified doesn\’t make it unfair because some will go unpunished. If they did it, they did it – the fact that some are going to get away with it is completely irrelevant.
If ESPN was do die-hard about getting to the bottom of the steroid story, they could have looked down the desk at Baseball Tonight and asked Fernando Vina. As a commenter on Deadspin.com said, \”Fernando Vina does not surprise me. You don\’t maintain that perfect a goatee without performance enhancers.\”
The only people I marginally feel bad for are the players on the list who essentially were life-long minor league players. The message: these guys sucked so bad, they couldn\’t make the majors even by cheating.
The argument that you\’ll hear players use that they never tested positive is completely fraudulent. Marion Jones used that argument. She\’s headed for prison.
If anyone in the report is wrongfully accused, they can feel free to sue major league baseball. Of course, doing so will open their past up to all kinds of discovery. So don\’t expect that to happen any time soon.
I\’m also tired of people portraying steroid use as some kind of \”victimless\” crime. The only difference between steroids and a bank robbery is that players use needles instead of guns to steal statistics they didn\’t deserve. In a lot of cases, these players made millions of dollars they shouldn\’t have – and it\’s not like they\’re going to be giving it back after these allegations.
Imagine if your boss found out someone in your office had been stealing money, but didn\’t know who it was. Immediately, everyone in your workplace was under a cloud of suspicion. And the boss announces that because of all the money that went missing, nobody would be getting raises next year. Would you think that would be okay? Of course not. But that\’s exactly what steroid users have done to baseball – they\’ve stolen money they didn\’t deserve (money that the fans pay in ticket prices, FYI), and they\’ve put everyone under a cloud of suspicion.