In an interview with USA Today on Thursday, just a block away from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, baseball’s former most wanted man, Pete Rose, voiced some thoughts on the current PED scandal.
While Rose made sure to compare and contrast his transgressions to the cheaters of today, the all-time hit king sprinkled in some true reason into a debate that borders on the inane and ridiculous more often than not.
Among Rose’s quotes in the piece, his reasoning on why steroid users are roundly disliked among baseball fans was very measured and logical:
“But the most important thing in baseball — the history of baseball — is the stats. I did nothing to alter any stats. I did nothing that would (tick) Babe Ruth off. I did nothing that would (tick) Roger Maris off. I did nothing that would (tick) Ty Cobb off. So I guess my question would be — wouldn’t it be nice if you could talk to Roger Maris or Babe Ruth? Hank Aaron won’t talk about it. Those are the guys whose records have been assaulted by steroids. Not my record. And if someone ever got 4,257 hits that was linked to steroids, I’d have something to tell you about it.”
Outside of using the forum to defend himself compared to steroid users, Rose has a point.
In the NFL, most recently in Denver with defensive star Von Miller, performance enhancing drugs are part of the game. When a player is suspended, the violation is dealt with and the sport moves on quickly. Sure, in the hometown of the particular offender, fans will be upset. However, the sport does not harp on their offenders, instead using protocol to handle the situation.
In Major League Baseball, partly due to Rose’s point about statistics and the history of the game, fans take steroid use and cheating personally.
The history of the game, from Maris chasing down 61 home runs in 1961 to Henry Aaron catching Babe Ruth with home runs 714 and 715, the historical numbers live in infamy. Thus, when players like Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds emerge to shatter those numbers, fans take it personally.
Right or wrong, the game of baseball is in love with it’s history. For older generations, it severely impacts the way steroid users are viewed. Changes have been made – instant replay, designated hitters, playoffs, etc. – but the game is largely the same. That symmetry makes it possible to compare players across generations, and for a culture in which the oldest among us and the youngest among us seem to be communicating less and less, that is pretty cool.
The use of steroids throws a big wrench in this system.
Take a look at articles being written and tweets being sent out about guys like the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera and the Baltimore Orioles’ Chris Davis, the first ever players to have at least 30 home runs and at least 90 RBIs before the All-Star break. How do they quantify how well those players are hitting? They compare them to the all-time greats, guys like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Hank Aaron.
More recent comparisons would be to players like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire.
Here is where steroids cause a problem. They take the validity out of the game. So what if Cabrera and Davis are approaching or surpassing marks of Bonds, Sosa, McGwire? Those guys were juicing, so their numbers are no good – or, at minimum, it is hard to know how credible they are. Moreover, the extension of that train of thought is that if Cabrera and Davis are nearing statistics that those guys achieved, maybe they are using PEDs just like their home run-blasting predecessors.
Think about it. Davis’ 37-homer first half, an incredible feat, has been greeted with skepticism. Because of steroids’ presence in the sport, it is hard to enjoy and get swept up in that kind of accomplishment. What if it is not legitimate? The justified suspicion really cheapens the whole sport.
Maybe most people do not care whether players use or not, whether they cheat, whether their numbers have been earned honestly. For me, though, and I believe for others as well, it is less fun, less inspiring to watch a game in which everyone is suspected of taking shortcuts.