By Mike Steffanos
I was impressed by the comments left on yesterday's piece on A-Roid. While we don't all agree on the subject, I appreciated the mature level of discourse in the comments section.
Of course, that didn't stop the usual handful of crank e-mails I get whenever I write on anything even a little controversial. As usual when the subject is finding scapegoats for the steroid era, inevitably I get accused of defending the users.
I think most reasonable people understand that I do not write in defense of the users, but rather for fair and consistent treatment across the board. The simple truth of the matter is for every player like Rodriguez who was sold out by someone working for our government who was literally committing a crime when leaking his name, there are dozens who got away scot free. If your definition of justice only encompasses those who are actually caught, maybe that's enough for you.
My problem is that a couple of years ago, people who are supposedly "experts" on baseball were telling me that I should look up to players like Roger Clemens and A-Rod because they were clean, and "doing it the right way." Well, I guess that wasn't the case, was it.
For some reason we want to see the players who were actually named in the Mitchell report or elsewhere as bad apples, but the truth is that they had a lot of company in the bushels.
For me, while I hate what PEDs have done to the game of baseball and the sanctity of the sports' records, I really do understand why people took them.
I told the story a while back of my never-ending quest in high school to pack a few pounds on my skinny frame for football. I worked out with weights 3-4 days a week, and I pushed myself pretty hard. Inevitably I would always push a little too hard and suffer some sort of injury or set back.
Weightlifting works by tearing muscle down and then rebuilding it a little stronger. If you don't give yourself enough time to recover and rebuild, you eventually hit the wall that I always smacked into.
The way steroids were explained to me by someone a lot smarter on the subject than I could ever hope to be is that they speed up the recovery and rebuilding part, allowing an athlete to train longer, harder and more frequently.
Some people think of these drugs as magic bullets, but you don't get the results if you don't put in the work. I worked with an admitted steroid user years ago who lacked the drive to put in the hours in the gym, and his physique was nothing all that special, nor was his strength.
My talent ceiling was never anything more than a decent high school football player, but if steroids were available to me back then I might have taken them. I would have justified them as just a tool that allowed me to work out harder, and would credit the increased strength to the workouts rather than the steroids. In a way that would be true, although ultimately taking steroids is indisputably cheating.
Young guys are infamous for making bad choices, so it's no surprise to me that steroids are a hot seller in the high schools, even among guys like I was who have no illusions of a professional career. Please, please notice I am not defending the use of these drugs, just stating that I understand the motivation.
Anyone who has ever competed in athletics at any level understands the athlete's drive to succeed. If you were a baseball player during the steroid era, you understood that many of your competitors were taking these drugs. This was the case whether you were a minor league prospect looking to make it to the show, a fringe major leaguer looking to hold on, or a star building a case for the Hall of Fame.
If you've spent any time around athletes, particularly the elite ones, you know what a self-absorbed narcissistic bunch they can be. To me, the real shame is that the men who were running the game -- the ones who should have known better -- were willing to turn a blind eye to PEDs for so long.
Bud Selig and his cronies are the ultimate villains to me. It was their job to protect the integrity of the game, but they saw how home runs started bringing fans back to the game of baseball and allowed their greed to overrule their integrity. What's even more maddening to me is watching Selig's pathetically transparent attempts to rewrite history and absolve himself of all blame. I wonder is he has a sign on his desk that says "hell no, the buck doesn't stop here."
We can't change the past, but we could sure use some accountability from all sides. At least Rodriguez admitted to purposefully taking steroids for a period of three years. Contrast that with fellow Yankee Andy Pettite, who says he took HGH only once to recover faster from an injury so he wouldn't let his teammates down, and it's hard to give him any credit at all an admission masked by all of those obvious lies.
It's easy to say that A-Rod's numbers from at least the three years were tainted, but the problem is we don't know how many pitchers he faced who were also all 'roided up. Remember, steroids allow muscles to recover quicker, which has as much benefit to pitchers as hitters. So when Rodriguez was facing a pitcher who was also pharmaceutically enhanced, did that make it a wash as far as cheating?
The whole steroid era is a quagmire of the unknowable. It's just too easy in my mind to hold it against a relative handful of players while the equally or more culpable -- players, coaches, owners, union leaders and especially those who were given the power to police the game and chose not to -- are given a free pass.
Anyway, that's enough on this subject. Back to the Mets tomorrow.