1 - One professional sports league that currently has its three best players going head-to-head in the playoffs
2 - Another professional sports league with its own two best players seemingly on track to run into each other in the championship series
3 - A third professional sports league that is in its offseason managing to maintain a position in the headlines thanks to one of the sport’s legends refusing to finally retire
That’s a lot of competition for the sports entertainment airtime. And what’s the best way for Major League Baseball to keep itself relevant?
I know: have one of the game’s best players become yet another name to fall with a positive result in a test for performance-enhancing drugs.
Let’s go with the Washington Post story.
The riveting, uplifting story of Manny Ramírez's transformation from cancerous malcontent in Boston to dreadlocked, beloved eccentric in Los Angeles was derailed yesterday by the news that the Dodgers' slugger has been suspended 50 games for violating baseball's policy against performance-enhancing drugs.And while we’re at it, let’s get the Pirates’ take on the matter, courtesy of John Grupp at the Tribune-Review.
"Very shocked," Pirates outfielder Nate McLouth said. "It sucks for him."I’m sure that, at least in part, McLouth was referring to the fact that Ramirez will lose about $7.65 million due to his 50-game suspension. But you know what?
Screw him, McLouth. You know who it sucks for? It sucks for us, the baseball fans in this country who still think - or hope or wish - that the game still mattered and carried some relevance in the modern-day NFL-crazy America.
But no matter how much we cling to baseball, time and again baseball screws us.
So Barry Bonds broke the home run record and he probably did most of it on steroids. That sucks but it’s okay because one day in the not-too-near future, Alex Rodriguez - in all of his purity and good looks and nice-guy-ness that couldn’t be diminished even by his struggles in New York and his affair with Madonna - would break Bonds’ record and baseball would once again have a home run king it could be proud of.
The issue of giving Bonds an asterisk would fade away when he was the No. 2 name on the list. As long as the No. 1 spot was held by someone we could trust, someone we knew was clean, someone who got there honest, everything would be okay.
Except A-Rod admits this spring that he used performance-enhancing drugs, and we the fans get screwed.
And when A-Rod goes down, we all come even closer to the realization that there is no one - no one - in baseball that you can be sure about. Everyone is suspect.
There was a time not too long ago when you could say with confidence and authority that Manny Ramirez was the best right-handed hitter in the game. And when you said that, you could feel good about yourself because, for all of Manny’s antics and ridiculousness, he was one hell of a good hitter and you were sure he was clean. No questions there.
Until now. Until Manny tested positive for human chorionic gonadotropin (which, according to the graphic on ESPN, is “A women’s fertility drug that has also been taken by steroid users to restart their body’s natural testosterone production coming off a steroid cycle”). And now there’s no way anyone can - or should - believe that anything Manny ever did came from honest measures.
It doesn’t matter if Manny says he has “taken and passed about 15 drug tests over the past five seasons” in that Washington Post article. No one cares. You had a banned substance in your system and you got caught. You’re a cheater and you screwed us. We, as fans, have the right to expect something approaching a fair competition, and by having that substance in your system, Manny, you screwed us.
So I’d like to return the favor and say “Screw you.”
But it’s not that easy. Because what Manny and A-Rod did to us this spring is effectively - and further - indict every single player in Major League Baseball.
LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke was on ESPN talking about how the Dodgers will get by with Russell Martin, Matt Kemp, James Loney, and Casey Blake. But how am I supposed to know that those guys aren’t doing it, too? Before these two players, before these guys who were two of the best hitters in the league, before these players who you felt like you could count on to be clean, you could always keep the wool pulled over your eyes and believe that Major League Baseball was in the downturn of the Steroid Era and that juicers were the minority and not the near-standard that they were 10 years ago.
Now? Not so much.
Now you can look around the league at the best players in the game and question each and every one of them.
Albert Pujols (wouldn’t be a surprise, would it?)
Carlos Pena (he sure does hit a lot of home runs)
Miguel Cabrera (seems like a natural candidate)
Ryan Braun (he’s got surprising power
Evan Longoria (see above)
Adrian Gonzalez (he’s a power-hitter; that’s all you need to know)
Ian Kinsler (he’s slugging .642; that’s reason enough)
Jason Bay (at this point, why not?)
And that doesn’t even get into the pitchers. I’m sure you could throw a lot of accusations around about pitchers, particularly after Roger Clemens’ revelations last year.
As a matter of fact, the only people I’d bet on not using steroids are the Pirates, who are third-to-last in home runs so far. Then again, given the incompetence of that organization, they’re probably using performance-enhancing drugs and sucking at the same time.
So yeah, Nate McLouth, you might think that it sucks for Manny Ramirez, but the truth is, it sucks for us.