Thursday, July 27, 2006

The positive drug test on Tour de France winner Floyd landis have caused some to echo the oft-heard question of why we care if sports are clean.

The answer isn't out of some paternalistic concern for Barry Bonds or Floyd Landis. I agree that they are old enought to make decisions for themselves.

The problem is that if steroid use is widespread, then it will be seen as a requirement for entry into competitve athletics, much like year-round physical training is now. That Barry Bonds takes steroids to hit 73 home runs rather than 45 isn't a great concern to me. What is a concern is 100 major league back-ups using steroids to crack the starting line-up, and exponential increases in those numbers as we work our way down the pyramid.

What did Crash Davis say?

Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is? It's 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There's 6 months in a season, that's about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week - just one - a gorp... you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes... you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week... and you're in Yankee Stadium.

The difference between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter in the major leagues is several million dollars a year. The difference between a .250 hitter and a .300 hitter in AAA is the difference between travelling in buses and motels through third-tier cities and flying in chartered jets and staying in the nicest hotels in the biggest cities in the country. Think some .250 hitter who might have a family to support might want to take that risk if they think it will get them that extra hit a week? Especially if the best major leaguers are doing it and not suffering effects?

And someone like Barry Bonds or even Floyd Landis has the resources to use steroids carefully and limit his risk. The scrappy AAA utility player wouldn't have access to these resources, and would be more desperate to take risks.

Think this is only risky because steroids are illegal? If you were the scrappy minor leaguer who got better using steroids, even if steroids were legal, would you want the organization to know that's why you've suddenly improved? Wouldn't you still want to hide your use so that the organization thought you were simply reaching your own potential?

To put things slightly darker, what's the lifestlye difference between being a high school assistant coach, head coach, or college coach? If steroids are an acceptable part of the game, might he not pressure his players to use them, to get that edge, to propel him to the next level?

I don't care so much if Barry Bonds wants to use steroids to put up historic rather than merely superstar numbers. I don't even buy the "role model" argument, since that's what parents are for. And while I probably have a vague preference for athletic competition that is not based on chemicals, that's a business problem for the league and unions.

But I don't want to get to the point where steroids are perceive as part of the price of competing in athletics at the highest level. And if steroids were legalized and de-stigmatized, I don't see how it could be otherwise.

UPDATE: Here is an example of what I'm talking about. Do you think stroids might have helped Trev Faulk recover from his surgery faster? If so, it could have been the difference between having a job in the NFL and being out of work.

The problem isn't people at the top setting ridiculous records. I'd rather they didn't, but don't feel moved to stop it. The problem is those at the margins who've devoted their life to their sport, don't know how to do anything else, but end up just short.

And there's a lot more of them than there are Barry Bondses.
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