Baseball Doesn’t Want New Legends

Let’s make this real simple: the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, the Food and Drug Administration, Major League Baseball and science need to get together and come up with whatever formulas, safety measures and policies necessary to get anabolic steroids, human growth hormones and other performance enhancers to a place where they can be legally and safely used in professional athletics.

A 38-year-old Cy Young-winner throwing heat in the World Series? I want that in my life. I want 73 home runs, too. I want consistent 50 home run hitters trying to go yard on a pitcher throwing a 110 mph fastball. Why wouldn’t I want that? That sounds like incredible entertainment, to me.

The potential dangers of unchecked use of some PEDs in their current state – especially anabolic steroids – are real and well known, albeit debatable. Nobody wants back acne, lazy sperm, small testes or a heart attack. Roid rage can be fatal. So, science needs to get moving. As a species we should be able to solve this through chemistry. And, while scientists and pharmaceutical companies are working on the whole testicle-shrinking, possible-heart attack thing, this country’s drug agencies and MLB need to start working in concert to figure out a way to legally allow its use with proper supervision.

Here’s the rub, though: MLB is so sanctimonious, self-righteous and beholden to the past, that – even if we could ensure legal and safe usage – MLB would stall PEDs because it doesn’t want to its numeric records/plateaus or the lore of its former greats to wane even one iota with time. Baseball doesn’t want Mike Trout to be greater than Willie Mays. This is probably why, as a league, it’s going culturally bankrupt, with declining television ratings, players with low Q-scores and a fan demographic that skews older and whiter than its NFL, NBA and NCAA peers.

The league, its fans, its caretakers and much of its media are so hung up on romanticizing the past that I suspect they never want HGH (which helps with injury recovery) safe and legal enough to allow dozens of players to hit 30 to 40 homers for 15 seasons. This incessant harping on and obsession with 3,000 hits and 500/600 home runs is nauseating.

There is an assault on greatness-plateaus in the NFL (thanks to changes to the game) and the NBA (due to longer careers) that no one really cares about, because numbers aren’t fetishized in that league. So it won’t bother anyone if Matt Ryan ends up with 40,000 yards for his career. That won’t diminish Jim Kelly’s 35,000 yards – it’ll just mean we got a chance to see the Falcons air it out to Roddy White and Julio Jones for a decade-plus. That’s what I want. Gimme that.

And if there’ll come a time when a safe, anabolic steroid can help a Jamaican sprinter run the 100 in less than nine seconds, I’ll take that, too…and give me a 35-year-old two guard dunking from the free throw line while you’re at it.

I enjoyed – immensely – watching Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens play baseball. They played the game as well anyone else ever played the game. They deserve to be in the Hall. As ESPN’s Jayson Stark so aptly put it: “If it's a cathedral, not a museum, it means we're going to have to throw out Gaylord Perry. Sorry, Gaylord. And everyone who corked a bat or scuffed a ball or used an amphetamine. And anyone who was a notorious off-the-field scoundrel.”

Younger generations don’t do moral outrage as hard as their elders. This doesn’t mean that new blood pumped into the Baseball Writers Association of America will vote in Hall-worthy candidates from the Steroid era, though, because the old guard has already been indoctrinating them. I find this lame and overzealous, but I’m not on a crusade to get steroid users in the Hall. A man like Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci one of the best baseball scribes of the past few decades offers a sound perspective :

“When I vote for a player I am upholding him for the highest individual honor possible. My vote is an endorsement of a career, not part of it, and how it was achieved. Voting for a known steroid user is endorsing steroid use. Having spent too much of the past two decades or so covering baseball on the subject of steroids — what they do, how the game was subverted by them, and how those who stayed away from them were disadvantaged — I cannot endorse it.”

And a man like Howard Bryant, also a voter, asks pertinent questions of those of us that might be riding extra hard for Bonds/Clemens/Sosa and castigating the BWAA:

“What will always baffle me, however, is that even in an age of intense cynicism, the lying and deceit don't matter to some. Why are people who were offended by these years of dishonesty being cast now as outdated charlatans, soapbox preachers or the "moral police"? I wonder why there is so little outrage toward the liars and cheaters who for years used their clout with the fans, their enormous wealth, their fame and their influence in the game to deceive the public.”

So, sure, punish the Steroid era cheaters. But baseball and its legion of romantics need to ask themselves whether, moving forward, they ever want their game to break free from the reign of grainy images, black-and-white photos and numerals.

MLB and the union just announced an agreement on more diligent testing for HGH. (Slow clap.) But, why not get a handle on PEDs – make them safe, legalize them, figure out how to police them and then let’s watch the fastballs flame and home runs fly? Fifty might become the new 40, but that’s the new world we’re living in, anyways. Catch up.

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