STILL THE GREATEST SHORTSTOP OF ALL TIME: The big news in sports today was, of course, Yankees star Alex Rodriguez's confirmation that he took "a banned substance" from 2001 to 2003 (when he played for the Rangers), which corroborates this weekend's reports that he was one of 104 major league players to test positive for steroids in 2003.
Rodriguez haters -- and I'm not one despite the Seattle angst over his jilting the team; unlike the strange people in New York who concoct bizarre fictions to justify their reverence of the wildly overrated Jeter at Rodriguez's expense, I think Rodriguez is one of the rare instances of a player justifying a superstar contract, and I have the win value data to prove it -- have already made this Exhibit ∞ in The Case Against A-Rod. But come on, let's think clearly about this.
104 players tested positive in 2003. What are the odds that MLB caught everybody? That Gene Orza did not, as is rumored, tip players off to the tests? That nobody used science to mask drugs? That the list of 104 overlaps the entire roster of players we know to have been using BALCO drugs, for which there were no tests -- including Bonds, Giambi, and Sheffield? So the 104 names on that list really are just a minimum, and reasonable minds can speculate about how many players just evaded detection. In other words, how many names you think should have been on the list depends upon how effective you think MLB's testing program was, given that MLB designed the testing program to create the appearance of doing something while actually doing nothing at all (there were no consequences, and both the names and the number of names were supposed to stay secret). It's shocking they even got 104 people -- how many players do you think they would have caught if they were trying to catch anybody? Anyway, even 104 players is more than one in every 7.5 players in major league baseball. Rodriguez had a lot of company.
My argument against caring about steroids usually isn't "everybody does it" (or its corollary, "the old-timers used to take performance-enhancing amphetamines"). Usually it's that I experience professional sports much like I experience video games or fiction -- it doesn't much matter to me how a person, character, or construct acquires his athletic skills. What matters to me is that he has them. But to the people who are crying about Rodriguez's unfair advantage, I'm skeptical that the unfairness of his advantage came from steroids, and I would caution people against demonizing Rodriguez while coddling their own heroes. This is grossly unfair, but which three or four players on your team do you think tested positive? And have you really taken an objective look at your heroes? At Derek Jeter? At Ryan Howard and Chase Utley? At Edgar Martinez? At Cal Ripken, Jr., a prematurely bald man who constantly played through injuries? Can you really say, "I am 100% certain that those guys never took steroids? I'm skeptical, and I always will be, even if somebody leaks the entire list of 104 (which I would love, by the way).
And for people who think that this is a stain on the sanctity of the game, or something like that, I'd just like to point out that major league baseball has, at one time or another, looked the other way as its players became violent drunks, institutional philanderers, vicious racists, self-destructive drug addicts, and mustache-wearers, all of which impose greater externalities upon others than do performance-enhancing drugs. Pro baseball players, by and large, are bad people, don't kid yourself.
One other thing I feel like I have to mention: I love that after all these years, whenever Alex Rodriguez gives a high-profile interview he still feels like he has to dress like an Archie Comics character, with the button-down collar peeking out from the brightly-colored sweater. Go Riverdale! I feel like that kid must be good at heart!