On the roid rage of fans and columnists ...


Everyone has a #hottake about steroids and how they've ruined America's pastime. Most of them are steaming nonsense. But do you know who can be that disgusted?

A sample of player reactions to the Ryan Braun suspension:

"The guys that are cheating or whatever are taking something away from the other players. They're lying to the fans, they're lying to their teammates, they're lying to their GMs, their owners, and they're going to get caught"

- C.J. Wilson

"Watching him talk right now makes me sick. I have an autographed Braun jersey in my baseball room that I'll be taking down. I don't want my son identifying what I've worked so hard to get to and work so hard to have — I don't want him comparing Braun to me."

- Skip Schumaker

"Braun’s deal that he made or whatever, it’s going to last 65 games. To me, it’s not enough. Next year he’s making even more money. I think it should have been a year’s suspension, at least. Just my take on it. I don’t get why guys have to do that stuff. It’s almost like, really just a slap on the wrist."

- Joe Saunders

There are more, of course. A lot of players aren't happy. There's a subset of baseball fan that reflexively reacts against the overwrought steroids coverage. I err toward that side too, especially when the alternative is 1,500 words from various writers that are basically "What about the children?" with 1,496 additional words. So when reading reaction quotes from the players, my first impulse is to roll my eyes.

Except …

Part of the reason I'm tired of the overwrought, sanctimonious articles is because they're overwrought and sanctimonious. It's the little things that bug me. But I'm also tired of them because they're in defense of the wrong thing.

What about the records? Screw the records. They're variations on how many pickled eggs a person can fit in his or her mouth in front of someone from Guinness. I love records and baseball trivia, but they aren't pieces of scripture. If you disagree with the validity of the record, well, speak up. More to debate. But there's no purity in a record that you need to defend.

What about the children? I play Blue Train and Giant Steps in my daughter's room as she falls asleep. If she comes home from school one day with a saxophone, I'll be the proudest feller on the block. And when it comes time to talk about heroin, I will put my foot down and say, "Absolutely no heroin in this house!" But then I'll give her A Love Supreme because there's no sense pretending there's a human being who isn't flawed. And I'll do my best to keep her away from the worst, most preventable of those flaws. That's my problem, not John Coltrane's. Or Ryan Braun's.

Once you get past the sanctity of the game and the children, you've eliminated at least three-quarters of the polemics. I could probably deal with a quarter of the polemics. There would be enough time to sift through the arguments and have a reasonable debate.

I don't think fans qualify for outrage. The sport is still healthy. The players are as talented as ever, and the game is still fun to watch. There are a lot of emotions worth feeling. Outright rage probably isn't one of them. I don't know, maybe a roided-up goon locked you in a closet when you were a kid. Your mileage may vary.

But do you know who does qualify for outrage? Who has a reason to be spitting mad beyond all reason, who has the right to pen a poison-dripped screed about the steroid era? Skip Schumaker.

Take Schumaker at his word, and assume he's clean. He didn't make the majors for good until he was 27, after his third season starting in Triple-A. For years and years, he was competing with various players to be the 25th man, which would have meant hundreds of thousands of dollars, a pension, and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. For three seasons, he was denied.

Then he made it. And he had to fight for his spot every year. He had a couple good years as a starter, but it didn't take long for him to be 30 and hitting .265. Now he's 33 and he's scrapping for time with Nick Punto, his personal baby with one eyebrow. Next year he's a free agent. He'll probably get a guaranteed deal. The year after that? And the year after that? He's in NRI Land, where the signs read "You must have this much athleticism" if you want to ride the rides. And he'll be competing against players who would smoke powdered rhinoceros horn to gain an advantage.

That's Schumaker's life. Worrying about Hank Aaron's record, about Roger Maris ... look, I'm biased, but those are things worth arguing about, not things worth raging over. Wondering if you can provide a set of college funds for your children and grandchildren because your natural talent wasn't good enough against the chemical golems? Raaaaaage. And if Schumaker has made too many millions for you to buy that argument, pick the 25th man on any roster. Even better, pick the 26th man on the 40-man roster. Assume he's clean and that someone above him is dirty, and they don't have to ride buses from game to game. Raaaaaaaaaaaaage.

I can understand losing respect for players. I can understand feeling deceived as a fan. I can really, really, really understand wanting all this to go away. But I don't understand the abject rage of columnists and fans.

The players speaking out? If they're clean -- and one of the complainers will be busted eventually, but let's assume most of them are clean -- that's a different story. If they're clean, they can rage all they want. This is their livelihood. It's a weird, lucrative livelihood. But if they're unwilling to take the risks of cheating, and feel they're at a disadvantage when competing against the players who will take the risks, they should complain as much as they want.

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