Steroid Scandal: Can A-Rod be Punished?

by Suzie Raven

New York Yankees 3rd baseman Alex (A-Rod) Rodriguez hit 35 home runs a season during the last 12 consecutive seasons, tying Babe Ruth’s record. The difference is that A-Rod used steroids from 2001-2003 while with the Texas Rangers, but Babe Ruth did not take performance-enhancing drugs.

Some fans have excused A-Rod’s steroid use because he appeared on ESPN this week with an admission and an apology. I don’t consider this to be a so-called “admission” or forthright. He spoke out two days after Sports Illustrated published the leaked the results of his failed drug test from 2003. Forthright would have been admitting his mistake before SI published the article. He handled the situation far better than Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, but that’s not saying much.

What will the repercussions be for A-Rod? Nike might not renew his contract after it expires in 2010, but the $6 million a year he makes in sponsorships is a fraction of the $25 million a year he makes for playing. Losing Nike won’t put him in financial trouble.

Major League Baseball (MLB) can’t punish A-Rod because it didn’t start penalizing steroid use until 2004, the year after he stopped. I understand that A-Rod can’t be suspended in 2009 for something he did in 2003. That’s fine. But counting A-Rod's statistics for 2001-2003 is not fair to the players who never used steroids.

"Maybe they can have two sets of records — one for those who used steroids and one for those of us who didn't," Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller suggested.

I’d like to take it further than Feller. The statistics of steroid users should be separated and the records invalidated. There shouldn’t be one list saying that A-Rod led the American League (AL) in homeruns in 2003 and another with Carlos Delgado’s 42 at the top. The homeruns A-Rod hit from 2001-2003 should not help make him the youngest player to hit 500 homeruns or the shortstop with the most homeruns. He’s chasing Barry Bonds' homerun record, but neither he nor Bonds deserve the title of Homerun King.

It’s harder to take away a player’s Gold Glove or MVP awards, because MLB can’t redo votes from years ago. However, A-Rod barely edged out Delgado for the 2003 AL MVP award. Now that we know A-Rod used steroids that year, in retrospect, Delgado should have been granted the honor.

A-Rod has nine more years left on his contract with the Yankees. He’s an impressive player when not on steroids. In 2007, Rodriguez hit .314 with 54 homeruns. Assuming he stays clean, he still has the time and ability to post a long list of impressive statistics that can restore his good name and possibly earn him a place in baseball’s Hall of Fame.

For more on Rodriguez and steroids, please see last season's post on the topic: "Baseball Controversy: Steroids, Canseco & A-Rod." For other posts about baseball and steroids, please see these from the archives:

(The photo of Alex Rodriguez is from 2004; the photo is by Randy Oostdyk, using a GNU Free Documentation license. To see a portion of the ESPN interview with Rodriguez, please check below.)

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Turk said...

Wow. There is so much that's wrong with this, I don't even know where to begin.

I guess I'll start with the patently absurd idea that any player who ever took steroid should have his stats erased during the period they were on the drugs. First off, it would be nearly impossible to tell when or how long precisely a player was on steroids. Secondly, most performance-enhancing drugs were not banned until 2004... can you really fault players for doing all in their power to be competitive when this stuff was legal? Thirdly, how will you define steroids? It's a silly, catch-all term that encompasses a lot of so-called PEDs, most of which the public has zero understanding or knowledge of, and little proof exists that shows the effects of these drugs on baseball performance. Also, do you plan on erasing the stats of every player that took greenies (amphetamines) in the 60's and 70's? Cocaine in the 80's? Every player who ever threw a spitball? Corked a bat? There are representatives from each of these categories in the Hall of Fame. Rightly or wrongly, it is entirely unfair to decide to start arbitrarily enforcing these silly moral standrads just because A-Rod is a superstar. How about Jason Grimsley? You want to wipe out his statisticalcareer as well? No, because no one even knows who that is.

This is a which hunt, and always has been. A-Rod is just the latest to fall victim. the only feasible thing for baseball to do is to implement stronger testing and punishment for future violations, and move on from its past.

Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez are the best players of our generation, two of the best of all time. And I'm tired of hearing people selectively tar-and-feather great athletes based on tenuous moralistic garbage. The only thing these players are guilty of is want to succeed at the highest level. Take all the "steroids" you want -- there will never be another Bonds or A-Rod.

Suzie Raven said...

If you read my post all the way through, you would see that I believe A-Rod should be given a shot at the Hall of Fame as long as he plays at that caliber while clean. That being said, steroids are banned for a reason. It's crazy to say that they have no affect on a players ability. Look at the obvious, exponential muscle growth players like Jose Canseco or Mark McGwire acquired in one off season. And it's not like these are players who decided to lift weights for the first time - they would've been lifting weights for years. Canseco admits in Juiced that he never would have made the major leagues without taking steroids. Someone who can not even get to the majors as a result of talent and hard work should not be credited with being only one out of two players to get a 40 40.

A-Rod is not Canseco. He has more natural talent and got to the majors on his own accord. He has had MVP seasons without needing to use steroids. Hence, my belief that he should still be given Hall of Fame consideration. It's not a witch hunt to rout out the superstars. There are 104 players on the list with A-Rod, and they should all receive the same punishment.

Baseball has plenty of amazing players who don't need steroids - take Dustin Pedroia as a prime example. It's not fair to a player like Pedroia to rely on his hard work, while players like A-Rod and Bonds cheat to get ahead.

Turk said...

First off, we either need to define steroids or stop using the term. Since I'm pretty sure neither of us has a sophisticated enough knowledge of these substances, I'll stick with the more general term, performance-enhancing drug.

Now, show me proof that increased muscle mass makes you better at baseball. Baseball is perhaps the one sport that being a bulging muscleman won't help you be better at. The biggest benefit of PEDs is that they allow muscles to heal more quickly... this is why the MAJORITY of known PED users are pitchers, who have used PEDs to recover faster from the toils of pitching.

The Dustin Pedroia comparison is laughable. You have absolutely zero evidence to prove that Bonds and A-Rod did not work as hard or harder than anyone else in baseball. In fact, the fact that they used PEDs proves just how far they were willing to go to be the best they could possibly be. It takes a special breed of competitiveness to put you body in harm's way to achieve greatness. I'm not saying that's admirable, but it is indicative of the types of people these guys are. Bonds and A-Rod would be the two best without steroids.

Also, you never answered my question about cheaters of the past... what's your solution to that? Retroactively punish the scores of stars and scrubs alike that got away with these same types of transgressions in the past? Or do your rose-colored nostalgia glasses allow you to look past their faults while still railing against the current crop of offenders?

coffee said...

Another tragic aspect of A-Rod becoming A-Roid is the fact that his steroid use didn't really help him, statistically, which is probably because baseball is almost totally about mental sharpness and physical coordination, not brute strength. It doesn't make sense that such good players would mess themselves up like that.

Anonymous said...

The current state of baseball makes me sick. As a former fan, I hate what the stars of today and the commissioner have done to the sport. The whole process is corrupt. What makes me sicker is the current fans who rationalize the behavior of these cheaters. The so-called accomplishments of Bonds and A-Rod will always come with question marks and they have besmirched the game. Might as well take their records away. They are meaningless. And fans who continue to defend cheaters get the so-called sport they deserve.

Anonymous said...

Its funny how the best defense against the cheaters in baseball is to blanket them with greats of the past. It just shows a lack of respect and passion for the game. As a sign in Philadelphia said during one of Barry Bonds visits a few years back "Ruth did it on Beer and Hot Dogs." To justify the actions of A-Rod and Bonds through the claim that they aren't the first offenders is an incredibly pourous arguement. If you don't care about the integrity of the game then jusy say so; don't try to justify cheating by saying it happened before so its ok. You say steroids weren't illegal in baseball until 2004. NEWSFLASH, steroids were and still are illegal in the United States without a proper perscription. The steroids that were bought and used were purchased illegally. You seem to argue that professional athletes (in this case baseball players) are above the law. Tell that to Michael Vick or PacMan Jones. Your arguement's lack of depth is evident in your rant about greenies, cocaine, spitballs and corked bats. Although amphetamines may allow a player to get out of bed for a game after a long night, they certainly do not empower him to hit home runs. If a pitcher threw a spitball on every pitch, he wouldn't be in the Hall of Fame, same with a batter who only used a corked bat. What you fail to realize is that steroids or PEDs, whatever you want to call them, give a player an advantage that never goes away. A batter doesn't go to the plate and say, "hey this time I'm going to turn off the steroids." Hitting a baseball is hard enough, but when you consider the difficulty of reaching base safely, you see how difficult the game really is. If Bonds was clean, many of his home runs would have ended up the the glove of an outfielder rather than in McCovey Cove. Just because a guy trains hard doesn't mean he has the right to reward himself by stealing a coveted record that makes the game great. Giving A-Rod and Bonds a pass on this is a joke and its a disgrace to baseball fans everywhere. The fact you give these guys a pass because they have monster stats is even more illogical, considering its their star power that would deteriorate if they hadn't cheated.

Rick Rockwell said...

I wanted to let the dust settle here before weighing in, but I can see that isn't going to happen. I'm with the guy who earlier cited how the Babe did it with beer and hot dogs.

It's simple.
Those who broke the law should be punished.
Liars should be punished.
Cheats should be punished.

I probably wouldn't have waded into this debate, but my favorite sports columnist took this up in his column today. Norman Chad not only makes this debate funny but he also contextualizes A-rod's rationalizations and excuses into a hilarious bit that undercuts any supporting argument for the cheaters.

Turk said...

Rick, I'm not against punishing cheaters. But don't prospose to do it selectively. A-Rod is one amongst the very long list of PED users in baseball. PED use is one of the many stains on the sport throughout its history.

I have never condoned A-Rod's steroid use. I've simply refused to impose a bogus moralistic standard. The only logical solution to your abosolutist view of the issue is to retroactively punish every player who has ever cheated in the game of baseball. Not just PEDs, not just gambling -- and not just superstars.

Take a minute to think about the implications of all those punishments, and you'll realize the only rational solution is one that neither condemns nor condones PED use but rather simply moves on.

Rick Rockwell said...

I completely understand what absolutism would do to the sport. It would clean it up. But the leaders of baseball are content just to move along. Baseball needed to clean this up years ago and chose not to do the difficult parts, even after being prodded by Congress. Perhaps some aggressive prosecutors can get the sport to finally punish all. But probably not.

Turk said...

Rick, that still doesn't address my main point here... how do you deal out retroactive punishments? Ex post facto. You just can't do it. And like I said, you can't punish guys in 2009 for testing positive in 2003 any more than you can go back and remove ball-doctoring pitchers from the Hall of Fame. If you truly advocate doing the latter, then I can respect your stance despite my disagreement.

Otherwise, the argument rings hollow. It's cherry-picking. I see only two logical outcomes: punish all cheaters, ever, retroactively or let the past go, acknowledge mistakes, and move on.

Also lost in this whole debate is the fact that this information was obtained in an entirely illegal manner, though I hardly have the energy to get into that at this point.

Anonymous said...

Oh, it looks like someone’s heroes got pinched and now he’s going to absurd lengths to defend them. Don’t they teach you anything about ethics in those downtrodden American schools?

The only bogus standard is the one you attempt to use as the basis for your shielding argument. What any sports league is designed to do is to put in force rules and standards for fair play and therefore for its team and individual records. Those who run the leagues are expected to mete out such punishments as necessary not only to rectify issues but also to provide examples to prevent further abuse of those rules. What makes matters worse here is the league’s standards were lower than the law.

By arguing you should just ignore these problems you therefore agree to set a standard that will encourage further cheating. The precedent will be set that the league will not act if its players are caught. Certainly justice systems and sports leagues should have reasonable statutes of limitations on such penalties. However, in this case it seems your American sports leagues were acting to shield their players from both the law and from public criticism to provide further profit for the league and the owners of the league’s teams. What a corrupt system indeed.

On top of it all, it appears from the comments here they have duped some of the fans in the process too.

Turk said...

Everyone has completely ignored my main point here: it is absurd to selectively enforce punishment on stars and current players. If you truly believe that Draconian justice is what makes sports great, then a) you must advocate for the retroactive punishment of every proven cheater in the history of baseball and b) you need to get a fresh perspective on sports.

And your assumption that I'm defending my "heroes" couldn't be farter from the truth. I hate Barry Bonds, or at least his public persona -- he comes off as a major jerk. I also have zero love for Rodriguez, because as a fan of the Cleveland Indians, it is requisite to hate anything and everything associated with the Yankees. I, however, do not delude myself into pretending to know *anything* about these players as people, and as such I judge them as ballplayers. By doing so, I can come to no other conclusion that these two are among the best of all time.

Let's try an experiment: please visit this link and take a look at the list of players mentioned in the Mitchell report as PED users: http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=3153646

Then I'll write a column about how the likes of Mark Carreon and Larry Bigbie have besmirched baseball's good name, and you see if you can come up with two or three more anonymous internet diatribes damning those players. What's that? You've never heard of these guys? Oh, well I suppose you best get to doing some research... though by your comments, I can tell research and rational analysis is not your strong point.

Suzie Raven said...

Turk - I fully believe that all steroid users should be punished. A-Rod, Barry Bonds, and yes, Mark Carreon and Larry Bigbie too. If that is your only point, then perhaps we don't disagree too drastically.

Anonymous said...

If you actually read the comments of others, Mr. Turk, you will see that your main point has been dismantled several times. It doesn’t matter if they are superstars or not. Baseball hasn’t done the proper job in cleaning up its mess. Read the comments above and you will see the argument is for strong punishment for all in these cases. Stop throwing in red herrings from other cases of the rules. Corked bats and spitters as several commentators above have noted are not equal to taking illegal drugs. Every player should be punished and baseball should be shamed for keeping this all secret to begin with. By the way, it appears the other commentators here not only read the other comments but have done more than adequate research. Get out of your sports talk radio mode and get into the real world.

By the way, the original piece that started this comment string says it all very well.

Rick Rockwell said...

Having already added more than my two cents to this debate, I'm wading in here merely to direct folks to Suzie’s latest posting, which takes up the next chapter in the steroids saga. Perhaps the debate will shift over there.

Turk said...

One last comment...

To Mr., um, Anonymous... You never addressed my statements about other illegal drugs, so I'm not sure how you can claim to have read my comments. Research? Please. ESPN.com's hackneyed commentary hardly counts. I'm not the one on sports talk radio mode... remember, those are the guys that are calling for a tar-and-feathering here. Like you.

And to Suzie... No, we still fundamentally disagree. I don't think any of these guys should be punished retroactively. I'm just saying that in order to have a logically consistent stance on the issue, you need to advocated the punishment of all the Joe Shmos and not just the A-Rods. This position is still wrong, in my opinion, but it's at least defensible.

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