Send a strong message to baseball's cheaters

December 28, 2007|By David Frenkil

The idea staggered me. I remembered, of course, that the World Series had been fixed in 1919, but if I had thought of it at all I would have thought of it as something that merely happened, the end of an inevitable chain. It never occurred to me that one man could start to play with the faith of fifty million people - with the single-mindedness of a burglar blowing a safe. - F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

Since the Mitchell Report was released this month, it has become almost a clich? to draw parallels between the steroids scandal and the 1919 "Black Sox" scandal, but one would be remiss not to mention that dark moment in the history of the game because of a lesson learned from that experience: The sport of baseball ought not to have room for cheaters.

In his report, former Sen. George J. Mitchell urged Commissioner Bud Selig "to forgo imposing discipline on players for past violations of baseball's rules on performance enhancing substances ... except in those cases where he determines that the conduct is so serious that discipline is necessary to maintain the integrity of the game."

It seems appropriate that the day before the Mitchell Report was released, Marion Jones, the track star who broke world records and won gold medals in the 2000 and 2004 Olympics, was forced to return those medals after she admitted using steroids. The president of the International Olympic Committee said bluntly, "She is disqualified and scrapped from the results." The IOC is also considering further sanctions against Ms. Jones, including "permanent ineligibility for all future Olympic Games in any capacity."

What better way to deter athletes from cheating than by taking away the very purpose for which they sought to cheat - the medal or record - and making it clear that such behavior will jeopardize their future participation in the sport?

If, like the IOC, Major League Baseball seeks to preserve the integrity of its sport, the league cannot afford to recognize contrived records set by the beneficiaries of performance-enhancing drugs.

Perhaps these cheaters are better placed in the class of expelled players, along with the likes of Pete Rose and eight teammates from the 1919 Chicago White Sox - men whose behavior potentially changed the outcome of games.

In the era since the 1994 strike, in which inflated salaries and egos have gone unchecked, it is not surprising that a player might make a cost-benefit analysis and determine that he can prolong his career and thus make millions of dollars extra just by taking steroids. Nor is it surprising that in order to break a cherished home run record (take your pick - Roger Maris' record of 61 in a single season or Hank Aaron's record of 755 in his career), a player might take performance-enhancing drugs to get his name into the record books, and inevitably onto the walls of the Hall of Fame.

So far, the Baseball Writers' Association of America, the body that decides who is elected to the Hall of Fame, has denied entry to Mark McGwire - a home run king of the late 1990s suspected of taking steroids. But that is not enough.

It is not too late to send a clear message to the players who chose to cheat in order to get ahead: You are not welcome in our clubhouses, in our Hall of Fame or in our record books. Major League Baseball has the opportunity to restore the integrity of the game. Will Commissioner Selig and the rest of the league rise to the occasion?

Baseball is said to be a "game of inches." In a sport in which every inch matters, performance-enhancing drugs make a significant difference. The implications of the steroids scandal are vast: Steroids are illegal. Even if it wasn't expressly against the rules of the game at the time, the behavior was unethical, and cheating corrupts the sport, sending a message to younger followers of baseball that cheating is acceptable. It also leads fans to second-guess their faith in the records the nation's pastime holds dear.

In the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the idea staggers me.

David Frenkil, a first-year law student at American University, grew up in Baltimore and is an avid Orioles fan. His e-mail is frenkil@gmail.com.

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