Friday, July 14, 2006

Part 5: Demise of MLB...

Today I will address the steriod issue we all know is a problem. The real question to ask is how does MLB plan to contain the problem.

The Steroid Issue

MLB has also turned the other way when addressing the possibility that some players use steroids. Due to the fact that MLB’s commissioner’s office did not take a stand on this important issue and hoped it would quietly die down, we now have a period in baseball called the Steroid Era. During this time, players’ hitting and pitching statistics fluctuated from one year to the next. MLB promoted the fact that players were hitting home runs and presented an underlying message to its product (players) that the more home runs you hit, the more profitable you could become. For this reason, you saw players, who might hit 10 home runs one year, then hit 35 or 40 the next year.

Barry Bonds, the poster child for steroid use, has had to deal with a variety of different issues regarding possible steroid use. While Bonds continues to deny knowingly using steroids, all the evidence points to the fact he took illegal substances to help him become one of the greatest hitters in MLB’s history. [We can all agree Bonds was a Hall of Famer before he took steroids, but the drugs helped him rise to another level of play.] Some of these facts included a massive weight gain from his earlier playing days, an enlarged head and the ability to have his best batting years after he turned 35. Most players “top years” are from ages 28 through 32, not 35 through 40.

This is an extremely touchy issue since MLB, for over a century, did not have any official rules banning players from taking steroids. In 2003, the League began to test players to see if they were taking any illegal substances. As a society, people have been taught that using steroids can give an athlete an unfair advantage. The owners and senior management have looked the other way and hoped their players were not taking steroids when everything pointed to the fact that certain, but not all, athletes were using some illegal substances to try to get ahead. This strategic public relations plan to stay quiet and not address “the elephant in the room” has driven me up a wall. Once the commissioner’s office determined players were taking steroids, they should have taken a hard stand to remove illegal substances from the game

The Bergen Record’s Bob Klapisch believes Selig needs to take a hard stance when addressing the steroid issue affecting MLB. In an article from March entitled, “Selig shouldn’t play ball with cheaters,” he wrote: “Any fair-minded fan should have the same reaction to this widening mess: If Bonds is going to be investigated (and possibly suspended) by Bud Selig, so should [Gary] Sheffield. Let’s corral all of the game’s tarnished angels and sort out who’s cheated us and who hasn’t. Selig needs to do this before baseball 2006 turns into one, long joke. Already, the sport is teetering toward oblivion.”

MLB needs to admit they made a mistake about not addressing this issue a decade ago. They need to ban any players using steroids and put an asterisk next to their statistical records. It is refreshing to see MLB has stated it will not organize a ceremony to recognize Barry Bonds once he breaks Babe Ruth’s home run record. Thankfully, they are smart to understand they should distance themselves from Barry Bonds and any of his home run records moving forward.

Allison Ford, who wrote an article for entitled, “Roids, Riches, and the Demise of Baseball,” agreed with my assessment on how MLB should handle the steroid era. “What should be done? First of all, Bud Selig cannot wait for the players’ union to agree to stricter testing. He is the commissioner of baseball, and his job is to make and enforce the rules, and in this case, to save the integrity of the game. Of course, the players’ union isn’t necessarily going to agree to more stringent testing—it knows players are using steroids, and it doesn’t want to see any of its own take a fall. It is time for Selig to take a stand, and take control of the sport he was entrusted to protect. Secondly, a zero tolerance policy must be employed.”

From a business of sports perspective, MLB needs to create the strongest drug testing rules to ensure all the players are competing on a level playing field. Players should be banned from the game for at least a year or two if they are caught using steroids. This will show the general public and their die hard fans they are serious about drug testing. MLB needs to work with the Olympic testing committee to learn how they test for banned substances. Whenever I watch a baseball player either have a huge statistical jump or drop in their performance from one year to the next, the first thing I wonder is if they are on or off steroids, not if they are in a season-long slump, playing for a bad team or if they need to fix some physical mechanics.

MLB’s Players Association may balk at the idea of stronger drug testing for its players [more than the new suspension guidelines for players who are caught cheating]. If this is the case, bring the issue to baseball beat reporters at national newspapers and television networks to let them know the Players Association does not believe it is important to rid the game of steroids. MLB must be proactive and put all the pressure from the media and the fans on the Players Association to ensure this issue is addressed correctly. There is no need to strike or to have a lot of negotiations. Image is everything.

Allison Ford added, “The corruption in baseball is undoubtedly already filtering negative principles into our society. How can we as parents tell our children not to use common illegal drugs, such as marijuana and ecstasy, when their ‘role models’ are cycling illegal steroids during the off-season to improve their performances on the field? Should our children be taught that drugs yield success? That is certainly the message that Major League Baseball is currently sending.”


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