When, in the middle of the worst economic crisis in decades, the president has to answer a question at a press conference about Alex Rodriguez, you know the hysteria about steroids in baseball has gotten out of hand. With all the foaming at the mouth and pious pontificating going on the last few days, one would think that before the scandal, our national pastime was some sort of Garden of Eden, unsullied by the A-Rods and Barrys and Cansecos who have besmirched the game's reputation. How quickly we forget.
Baseball players have cheated to gain an edge since probably about a minute after the first rule book was written. And Major League Baseball - not to mention the Hall Of Fame - has been littered with its share of crooks, scoundrels, and just plain unsavory folks since its inception.
Do we not remember the cocaine scandal that rocked the game in the '80s? Did anyone propose taking away Keith Hernandez's powder-covered MVP award? Who put an asterisk next to the bases Tim Raines stole headfirst because he didn't want to break the vial of toot in his back pocket? Nobody, that's who.
Amphetamines, or "greenies," have been a part of the game since at least the late '40s. It's been illegal to obtain them without a prescription since 1970, even though they weren't banned from baseball until 2006. It's been estimated that at least half the players in the majors took uppers at one time or another to gain the same kind of edge that steroid users sought. But who's saying we should stick a big green asterisk next to the Hall Of Fame plaque of Ralph Kiner, an admitted pill popper? Or, for that matter, Willie Mays and Willie Stargell, both of whom have been linked to amphetamine use during their playing days? Not a soul.
Why are pitchers Gaylord Perry, who slicked the ball up with whatever he could get his pitching fingers on, and Whitey Ford, who copped to nicking the ball with his wedding ring, not being de-Hall Of Famed for using illegal means to gain an advantage over their fellow players? Because they were lovable scamps while A-Rod and Barry aren't popular in the clubhouse?
And shouldn't there be an asterisk next to the stats of every pre-1947 player? I mean, talk about steroids all you want, but not having to play against black players is the ultimate unfair advantage. None of Babe Ruth's 714 home runs were hit off legendary Negro League hurlers like Satchel Paige or Slim Jones or Smoky Joe Williams. Doesn't that disqualify him for ... well, for something?
To pretend that steroids are the scourge that ruined baseball is simply silly. The only reason the hallowed greats of bygone eras will stay hallowed is that there are no urine tests around to de-mystify them. And it's just plain silly to think that by keeping a handful of players out of Cooperstown, the game's integrity is re-established and the slate is somehow wiped clean.
You can't rewrite history. You can't unplay those games, or remove those tainted home runs and strikeouts from the record. If the now-infamous 2003 tests are to be believed, more than one out of every seven players was ingesting something illegal that year. Which means that at every single game, at least a couple of players on the field were cheating. What are baseball writers going to do, pretend that major league baseball didn't exist in the '90s and the first part of this decade?
The rules are now in place to help ensure the guys on the field are playing clean. So let's stop with the asterisk-laden statistics, the ostracism of first-rank ballplayers, and the holier-than-thou attitude in general. It's time to move on.