Two days ago Sports Illustrated reported that Alex Rodriguez had tested positive for steroids in 2003 (the year he won the AL MVP, a Silver Slugger and reached 300 career home runs), when Major League Baseball started testing anonymously and without charges to see whether the League in fact required compulsory drug tests. Evidently it most certainly did. (When you look at the all-time most home runs in a season list the top six are all 1998-2001 – the so-called ‘steroid era’ runs from – the rest are from the 1921-1961)
Anyway, the tests were supposed to remain anonymous and the samples destroyed, but a year later the Government started knocking on doors and sopenaing evidence in its federal investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative (BALCO). BALCO had been busy creating undetectable steroids for Major Leaguers like Barry Bonds, NFL big-men from the Oakland Raiders as well as a handful of cyclists and field athletes. Barry Bonds, who holds both the career home run and the season home run records, was indicted for perjury and obstruction of justice based on his grand jury testimony in this investigation. His trial is to begin on March 2, 2009.
The interesting thing about this is the way that fans and followers of the game have reacted. American sports fans are more statistic-obsessed than any other. And of those, it’s the baseball heads that take the cake. It’s not even close. These people pour over records, decimals, percentages, at every minute step of the game. Sitting in the stands when a batter approaches the plate huge screens alert you to the statistical chance of any number of things happening in five seconds time. Will he make first, second, third, home? Will he foul, be struck out, walked? Watching the game is a constant arithmetic of the pitchers stats versus the batters stats.
Where was I going with this? Oh yeah, the funny thing is not so much that the prevalent use of performance enhancing drugs is ruining the game, but that it is ruining the record books. Apparently when the Bonds shit really hit the fan a couple of years ago when he broke the career home run record (there is talk of Barry Bonds not making the Hall of Fame BTW), Major League Baseball execs were relieved that the next in line to beat Bonds in the books was the then some-what squeaky clean A-Rod – Mr Milk & Cookies as one of his now outed steroid using teammates called him. (This was before Madonna, the stripper, the wife in the ‘Fuck You’ shirt, the divorce, and now the ‘roids.)
So now what? Come clean? Clear the record books? Rodriguez is one season into the richest contract in baseball – a ten year deal for $275 million, with a $30 million bonus if he beats Bonds’ record. Some have suggested that the Yankees cut their losses and save face, but is that really feasible. This is the story that is going to dominate the season, perhaps dominate the game for years to come. How much is that worth to baseball?