It is a bit curious to witness so much fan and media outrage over baseball’s continuing performance-enhancing drug (PED) scandal, and yet feel so disinterested.
My disinterest, which others may share, stems not from any curse-upon-your-houses anger at players (I think baseball players are great, because they are really good at baseball, which is loads of fun to watch) or Major League Baseball (which appears to have instituted a state-of-the-art PED testing program).
My disinterest in the PED scandal stems from really not caring about players using PEDs. That turns down the emotional temperature a little when considering the subject, and leaves me room to feel outrage when Dan Shaughnessy, Jack Morris, Marcus Hayes or Bill Madden make slanderous and unsupported accusations about other people (which, I guess, is something that I do care about).
It is a tricky thing to figure out why one doesn’t feel outrage, but I think it might be this: I can’t see how baseball players who used PEDs cheated me.
Here is how I understand the PED problem:
1. PEDs work. Steroids make your muscles bigger and help you heal faster. Amphetamines help you concentrate at the plate and in the field. HGH makes…well who knows? All of them bolster players’ confidence in themselves, which is probably pretty important.
2. If baseball players have incentive to do something like take PEDs, and little reason to believe they will be caught or punished, then many will take PEDs. The logic of this incentive will affect players who are likable (like McGwire, Pettitte and Giambi) and unlikable (Bonds and Alex Rodriguez). Some guys who want to experiment with drugs will do it; other guys who don’t particularly want to take drugs – but who just want to stay competitive with other players – will feel pressure to use PEDs to keep up. Character isn’t the central issue; incentives are the issue, and without a ban, testing, and punishment, all the incentives point toward PED use.
3. So, changing the policy changes the incentives. Baseball has made a policy decision – over the course of several seasons, starting in the mid-2000s – to follow other major team sports and ban PEDs, test for them, and provide significant punishment for their use.
4. You will have a clue that your policy is working if the sort of players you are now catching are now no longer the top players, but rather fading former stars, marginal major leaguers, and minor league types. Nelson Cruz aside, that seems to be precisely the sort of players caught up in the Biogenesis investigation, for instance.
So, MLB now has a policy in place. Most players appear to believe that the overwhelmning majority of other players are following it. Those who break the rules have reason to believe they will be punished.
There may still be some outrageous behavior going on. Alex Rodriguez may have done some extraordinary things to block the Biogenesis investigation. MLB appears to have violated their own agreement with the players about the length of the suspensions. But beyond that what is there to feel outraged about?