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PED Issue in Baseball Should Be More Complex for Justice and Ringolsby PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Tuesday, 12 May 2009 01:08

Steroids in baseballHouston Chronicle columnist Richard Justice said on Twitter over the weekend that he was "annoyed by the columnists that say Bud Selig and Don Fehr are to blame for Manny's positive test. How idiotic. It's all on the players.”

Hall of Fame writer, and former Rocky Mountain News columnist Tracy Ringolsby said via FOXSports.com that the MLB Players’ Association, not the owners, are responsible for the PED culture in MLB.

As if the world were all so black and white.

Starting with Justice, while the players ultimately make the decision to use PEDs, isn’t it the lure of incredibly high salaries that drive one to use them? Richard, isn’t there a case to be made that a player such as Barry Bonds saw what Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were doing, and decided that he too would get on the steroid gravy train?

By extension, aren’t the fans to blame for the PED culture, as well? After all, if there were such an outrage over the matter, the players would be playing to empty ballparks and fans would be turning off the games on TV and radio in protest. Isn’t the money spent by the fans paying for the salaries for the players?

To pull Ringolsby into the conversation, he wrote that the last two work stoppages in baseball were a result of stonewalling by the MLBPA over instituting a drug policy:

For the better part of two decades, Bud Selig — first as an owner who was part of baseball's labor negotiations and then as commissioner of baseball — lobbied for a meaningful drug-testing policy in the major league.

At least twice, work stoppages were created by the efforts to get a policy enacted, which were vehemently opposed by the Major League Baseball Player Association executives. And he made his desires known at the minor league level, where the players could not block him and he instituted a testing program that is generally lauded by those with concerns about substance abuse in sports

Tracy is someone I respect and can always count on to answer questions, so when I posed that the last two work stoppages were about a salary cap and salary arbitration, he supplied this quotes from a prior Baseball America article:

``The work stoppage was over competitive balance and drug testing,’’ said [original managing general partner of the Rockies Jerry] McMorris. ``We made the decision that we needed to get the game back on the field, but with the idea that we were going to work in the next round to get drug test included in the Basic Agreement.’’

Baseball did get drug testing included the next time around, and has since had the program strengthened, although it is still not at a level that the owners and outsiders would like. McMorris said given the stance of the leaders of the Major League Baseball Players Association he is surprised that the owners have made as much progress as they have.

``In (1994-95) negotiations I remember our efforts to getting drug testing,’’ said McMorris, ``and (MLBPA executive director Don) Fehr’s response was `over my dead body. All you owners will do is move the samples around to dump the high-priced players you don’t want.’’

While history has said that the prior cap and arbitration issues were the reasons for the work stoppages, let’s assume that in some fashion that McMorris is correct. Of course, as I mentioned to Tracy, baseball was most assuredly focused not on steroids, but rather, “recreational drugs” in the wake of the cocaine scandals of the ‘80s. By Fay Vincent’s and Bud Selig’s own admissions, while knowing of steroids, it was not something that was considered a major issue for the sport at the time. As former commissioner Fay Vincent said in his interview with me from 2005:

I think that we had become to realize that there were a variety of other compounds floating around that were dangerous. We’d heard rumors about Jose Canseco. I think we thought that steroids and the like were basically a “football problem”, but we did think that they were dangerous. And so for at least coaches and managers and everybody else in baseball we thought we ought to go on record and say that this is bad stuff and we don’t want it getting a toe-hold in baseball.

I wish I remembered more. Obviously, it wasn’t a major thing because I don’t think any of  us thought steroids was really a major issue at the time. We were so wrapped up in cocaine problems, so I just don’t remember that much about it.

Coming back around on this issue, and how it is often portrayed by the media as a black and white subject, everyone is complicit on some level regarding PEDs in sports. The players lead the charge, but the culture was cultivated by management and the players’ union, while the fans have bellowed that something should be done, but continue to purchase tickets and watch and listen to games.

Finally, the writers are to blame. It’s a complex issue. Those that covered the sport during the peak of the steroid era should have gotten on-board with reporting on the abnormal muscle mass increases and prodigious levels of power hitting in the mid-to-late ‘90s.

Richard, those writing that Selig and Fehr are partially to blame aren’t idiots. They just happen to live in a world more complex than you are giving it credit for; a world fill with gray, as opposed to the simplicity of black and white.


Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He is contributor to Baseball Prospectus, and is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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