Like Barry Bonds, Baseball Widow hasn't retired; she's just not playing.
Enjoy the archives. . .

Monday, February 23, 2004

Performance Enhancing Drugs. . . I could sure use 'em for this post.

It's difficult to write with conviction about the subject of performance enhancing drugs because Baseball Widow is ultimately ambivalent about them. It probably does do some good, however, to lay out the reasons for my ambivalence. . .

As I see it, there are basically three ways to examine the consequences of Performance Enhancing Drugs ("PEDs") in baseball.

1. If Barry Bonds is the only person using PEDs, then it cheapens his accomplishments because his domination of the field stems, quite simply, from cheating. If that's true, then I'm sure history will appropriately asterisk his records and move on. This would hold true for any small number of individuals using PEDs in the game.

2. If everyone is happily using some sort of PED, then it's hard to feel indignant about any one person using them. We may fret over their health or over the ethics of introducing such a variable into the game, but if everyone does it, then it can't be cheating. At least, it doesn't threaten the competitive balance among players.

3. If most people are using PEDs and the people who don't are negatively affected, then baseball has a problem. A player who won't use PEDs when everyone else is will probably lose his job. . . either because his actual performance will suffer or because a club won't keep a player who isn't willing to do absolutely anything for the roster spot.

The obvious response to number three is trifold: no one's entitled to be a Major League Baseball player, no one's being physically forced to take PEDs, and no one cares if a player would rather quit than take drugs. Truthfully, I think that's a fair argument. I also think, however, that in a culture full of pressure to take the drugs, it's hard to tell which actions are voluntary and which ones aren't. Also, scenario three paints a picture where most people are cheating and the others are getting penalized for playing by the rules. That just doesn't seem right. That just flies in the face of promoting competitive balance among players.

I can't overstate the importance of competitive balance in baseball. It is the (Nerd Alert) sine qua non of pro sports. Certainly, performance enhancing drugs have the potential to destroy competitive balance, but can't you say that about anything? In fact, you can think of the Yankees payroll as the ultimate steroid: it's an artificial advantage. Every team has the same number of roster spots, and every team gets 27 outs. But Steinbrenner's thick wallet creates a capability that simply doesn't exist for other teams in the normal course of business.

So, Baseball Widow's official position is that she has none. I think PEDs are probably bad for the game, but I'm not sure exactly how bad they are. I'm also unsure as to the best method to regulate their use. Basically, I'm ambivalent, but I think I already told you that. But, Baseball Widow is rarely content to lack a definitive opinion on anything, so I'm sure we'll come back to this.

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