A-Rod, Manny detract from otherwise fascinating season
Readers wonder if any superstars can be trusted
Why the current playoff format usually rewards the best teams
Things seemed to be going so well. Alex Rodriguez was in virtual seclusion in Colorado, then Florida. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were neither seen nor heard, and Zack Greinke and Ryan Zimmerman were reminding everyone that baseball still held the power to surprise and amaze for all the right reasons. And then came news that Manny Ramirez had failed a drug test, instantly calling into question the legitimacy of his statistics and of the Dodgers' red-hot start that had been fueled by a player who was fueled, at least in part, by a female fertility drug. Perhaps worst of all, it turned the focus of this week's mailbag back to the dreaded topic of performance-enhancing drugs.
In light of Manny Ramirez using performance enhancing drugs, it makes me think, Are any superstars clean? I will lose my mind if Albert Pujols shows up on a list somewhere.
It's fine to hope that superstars are clean, but the hard lesson from the revelations of Rodriguez and Ramirez is that it's probably best not to get those hopes too high. Now that two of the game's biggest names have been brought down, only months apart, baseball is short of two more players who are shining examples that players could still reach great heights through hard work and natural ability.
In some ways, Pujols might be the last great defender of the game. His numbers make him a lock for the Hall of Fame and his character and cleanliness have never been legitimately called into question. He's already stated publicly and for the record that he has never used performance-enhancing drugs. Because of his status as the game's premier slugger, the spotlight will always shine even brighter on him. For all the value of singles and doubles hitters, it is the great sluggers who will continue to generate the most excitement, and thus have the most potential to disappoint when their gargantuan blasts are found to have been chemically enhanced.
Why is everybody so surprised when one of these big-name players gets busted for steroids or PEDs? Why? These guys are not like the old days when they played on talent alone. They are now about one thing: money. Tell me I'm wrong.
OK, Jon: you're wrong. Players have always been as interested, if not more so, in playing for money as they have been for any other reason since Harry Wright started paying the Red Stockings in 1869. Furthermore, there is no more reason to believe that every player in this day and age is dirty as there is to believe that every player in previous generations was clean. Players have always looked for ways to boost their performance, some legal, some not. The reality is that as long as people care about baseball, they will care about the stars of the game giving performances that are authentic and believable. And that means that they are bound to be shocked and hurt when the best of those players is revealed to be less than what they seem.
Makes you look in wonderment and awe at what James Howard Thome has done without the benefit of drugs.
As SI.com's Tom Verducci points out in this week's issue of SI, only five of the top 15 home run hitters from 1993 through 2004 have not been "connected to performance-enhancing drugs by positive tests, the Mitchell Report or news reports": Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Jeff Bagwell and Carlos Delgado. From what we know now, each of those players is to be commended for succeeding the right way when it was all too tempting to try and do things the wrong way. But the real shame is that we're probably all better off not being too amazed by what those guys have done as a means of insulating ourselves if it turns out they weren't worthy of that awe.
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