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

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

All Cheating is Not Created Equal

Posted by: JoeyT at March 7, 2006 11:34 PM
I'm sorry to fan the flames of the fire, but it's worth mentioning: steroids WERE ILLEGAL in Major League Baseball prior to 2004. According to an unenforced, little-known paragraph in a 1991 drug policy, entitled "Baseball's Drug Policy and Prevention Program": "This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs and controlled substances, including steroids." Here's an ESPN
article about it.
So whatever Barry did, he was cheating.

Baseball Widow supposes it's fitting that she returns to blogging planted firmly upon her favorite soapbox. Here we go again. . .

Let's start with this idea: there's cheating, and then there's cheating.

Too much pinetar on your helmet? Cheating.

Fixing games? Cheating.

Yes, cheating in all forms is undesirable, but that's not why we argue about PEDs. If you peel away the layers, our arguments are indicative of a real lack of certainty about the future of sports: we don't know what we expect of our athletes, and that drives us crazy. We don't know how to define cheating.

Assuming that the use of certain substances should be considered cheating, we face the problem of defining which substances fall in that category.

Regarding which "drugs" should be allowed in baseball, it is insufficient to define cheating as merely that which is illegal outside the sport (i.e., controlled substances). To do so is to ignore logic, and Baseball Widow will not even entertain arguments that do so.

It's also insufficient to rest on the "unfair advantage" proposition, for one must ask the question, "Unfair advantage over whom?" Sure, Barry Bonds's use of steroids might give him an unfair performance advantage over Baseball Widow; she wouldn't know where or how to find them, even if she wished to use them. They don't, however, give him much of an advantage over Adam LaRoche, who probably has access to the juice, but certainly isn't imbibing, if his actual performance is an indicator.

We certainly cannot be content with saying merely that "unnatural" advantages shouldn't be allowed in baseball; the pituitary gland is about as natural as it comes, but a DVD player is not. Baseball Widow is willing to bet her Javy Lopez bobblehead that Albert Pujols would choose exposure to pitcher video footage over human growth hormone 110 times out of 100.

But this is oft-tread muddy ground. The point is that, even if everyone can agree that what Barry Bonds allegedly did is "over the line," no one has even come close to acquiring a workable definition of what "the line" is or should be.

The fundamental problem is that a professional sport demands super-human athletes. No one is going to pay to see Baseball Hubby and his high school friends play slow-pitch softball. A further point, though, is that Baseball Hubby's slow-pitch softball game is a modern marvel of aluminum bats and ibuprofen. As evolutionary biologist and baseball fan Stephen Jay Gould pointed out, there is a wall of human capability. Evolution pushes us toward that wall. Baseball Widow hastens to add that technology pushes us over the wall. Humans are "naturally" getting stronger and faster. Technology, in the forms of nutritional science, medical science, and engineering science, is only doing its job when it raises the bar of performance standards. The difference between "natural" and "unnatural" is bogus. If it occurred as a result of human ingenuity, it's natural--it's the inevitable product of the biological system that created the human brain.

The 2006 Tampa Bay Devil Rays would kill the 1906 Chicago Cubs, and isn't that how it should be? Records exist as a baseline for comparison as people seek to overcome the limitations of the past. We don't know where baseball is or should be headed. We're uncomfortable with the idea that athletes are somehow using technology to alter their bodies, but we don't know how to reconcile insulin pouches with juice packs. So let's stop talking about records and sanctity and natural highs and good old fashioned hard work. Let's get down to it: is there a place for professional sports in the rapidly-approaching future world of maximized human capability? Read this, and tell me.


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