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Beyond Comprehension Indeed

January 18, 2014

Hugh Atkins

Hugh Atkins

Last Saturday arbitrator Fredric Horowitz reduced the suspension of New York Yankees’ third baseman Alex Rodriguez from 211 games to 162 plus the 2014 postseason. Rodriguez appealed the suspension he received back in August and says that he will take his case to federal court.

Last Sunday Rob Manfred, chief operating officer of Major League Baseball, showed up on CBS’s 60 Minutes along with Anthony Bosch, founder of the “anti-aging” “clinic,” Biogenesis, to drag the Rodriguez case further into the mud. Bosch, coming across as a braggart, said that he personally injected Rodriguez with all manner of performance-enhancing drugs. Watching Bosch speak about his relationship with Rodriguez reminded me of the old story of Robert Johnson, who made a deal with the devil and became a great Blues guitarist. A more appropriate comparison may be Joe Boyd, who said, “I’d sell my soul for a long ball hitter” in Damn Yankees, except that Shoeless Joe was a much nicer guy than Rodriquez. Still, according to Bosch, Rodriguez wanted help to become the first and only member of the 800 Home Run Club.

For his part Manfred explained and tried to justify the manner in which MLB conducted their investigation of, and collected their “evidence” against, Rodriguez. To say the least the 60 Minutes coverage was not one of Major League Baseball’s proudest moments.

As sleazy as both Bosch and Manfred sounded, to me the most offensive segment of the 60 Minutes broadcast was the appearance of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. Speaking to reporter Scott Pelley, Selig said, “In my judgment his actions were beyond comprehension.” It is my contention that one does not have to go very far to travel beyond Selig’s comprehension when it comes to players who use performance-enhancing drugs. And I have more evidence for coming to that conclusion than MLB has against Alex Rodriguez.

60+ Home Runs 3A player has hit as many as 60 home runs in a season eight times in the history of Major League Baseball. Babe Ruth of the Yankees was the first to do it when he hit 60 in 1927. It would be 34 years before another player managed to reach 60; Roger Maris, also of the Yankees, hit 61 in 1961. Baseball rolled along another 37 years without a player reaching 60 home runs in a season. So from 1900 to 1998, only two players hit as many as 60 homers in a season. But then lo and behold, two players eclipsed that milestone in the same season; Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals hit 70 and Sammy Sosa of the Chicago Cubs hit 66. This should have been the first clue that something was amiss in MLB, yet the possibility that mischief was afoot apparently was beyond Bud Selig’s comprehension.

McGwire and Sosa were at it again in 1999; McGwire hit 65 home runs and Sosa hit 63. Ruth and Maris began to look like lightweights. No one topped 60 in 2000, but Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants walloped 73 home runs in 2001. It took 34 years for a player to break Ruth’s single-season mark, but McGwire’s record lasted only two seasons. And making matters even more absurd was the fact that Sosa hit 64 homers in 2001 – the third time in four seasons that he topped 60 – yet he failed to lead the National League in home runs in any of those years. If Selig still was unable to comprehend that something was wrong, then it’s easy for me to see why Rodriguez’s behavior was beyond his comprehension.

© T.C.G.

© T.C.G.

There is room for rationalization, if not forgiveness, for Selig failing to intervene while Maris’ record was falling. Baseball, in concert with the players’ union, ignored the problem of performance-enhancing drugs and resisted establishing a testing program and punishment system. Selig kept his head in the sand long enough for Bonds to make a mockery of Henry Aaron’s all-time home run record of 755.

Selig and Manfred can meet with drug dealers and buy evidence from them until the cows come home. But like I said last week, until MLB creates a monetary disincentive for players to cheat, performance-enhancing drugs are here to stay. Even though Rodriguez will lose $24 million due to the suspension, the Yankees still owe him $61 million for 2015 – 2017. While the Yankees may not be able to do anything about their contract with Rodriguez, the St. Louis Cardinals are the latest to offer encouragement to the steroid cheats; they rewarded shortstop Jhonny Peralta with a four-year contract worth $52 million as soon as his suspension was over.

I have very little sympathy for Alex Rodriguez. He made his deal with the devil and now he must pay the price. But for Bud Selig–with his track record of inaction on the issue of performance-enhancing drugs–to appear on 60 Minutes and act indignant about Rodriguez is beyond comprehension.

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