Rick Ankiel. Apparently I’m supposed to be shocked, appalled, devastated, and disappointed by the revelations that Cardinal outfielder Ankiel received shipments of HGH three years ago. Over the weekend the sports pages, airwaves, and blogosphere were full of people expressing strong sentiments about the news. I kept wondering why.
First, I didn’t understand why Ankiel wasn’t subjected to the same assumptions that any other baseball player who suddenly performs at an exceptional level is subjected to. What about Ankiel made people think it was perfectly reasonable for him to get called up to the majors and immediately begin abusing pitchers without tossing around the J word? (The J word is juicing for those of you who haven’t been following along.) Instead, he was dubbed The Natural, which in the age of pharmaceuticals, clearly meant more than just having a sweet swing.
As I read a stream of outraged reactions over the weekend, I wondered why these people were so outraged. Haven’t we decided that everyone is at least under suspicion or at worst doing something more than just working out and eating their Wheaties? Were these people really outraged about what Ankiel was accused of, or where they just mad at themselves for forgetting about the times we live in and believing in someone for a moment?
Ankiel seems to be the textbook example of a player who would use PEDs. Most of the players who have tested positive since MLB began testing have been marginal players looking for the edge they need to stay in the league. Ankiel is much more talented than most of those players, but his situation is unique. He was a can’t-miss prospect who made it, then flamed out in as spectacular of a fashion as anyone has ever done. When he had a chance to remold himself and reclaim his career, wouldn’t it make perfect sense for him to look for a little something extra to make sure he returned to the majors? I’m not sure I understand how he earned the Clean card.
(Please note, I’m not implying that Ankiel has continued to use HGH or any other PED or saying that his story isn’t a great one.)
His case points out the problems with PEDs and why I’ve found it difficult to get too worked up about them. The line of what is legal is always moving. When reporters found andro in Mark McGwire’s locker in 1998, it was legal. A year later it was not. When Ankiel was allegedly using HGH, it was legal. Today it is a banned substance. If, and this is obviously a big if, Ankiel is clean today, how can we prosecute, castigate, or label him? If he’s always operated under the rules of the game, but changes in those rules alter how we view his past behaviors, how do we hold him responsible for that?
I hope players are clean, but I think most players are using something. Why wouldn’t you, if you could effectively mask what you were using or found something that there was no test for, be tempted to trade long-term health issues for a chance to make millions of dollars? If you know the people you’re competing with for roster spots are using, I imagine it is pretty easy to make the decision to use as well. That’s the reality of the times we live in, and it’s difficult for me to heap scorn on the few people we have proof have used when chances are most of the players I enjoy watching have probably used something during their careers as well.
What was most disturbing about the Ankiel case was how it was such a hot story and overshadowed the Troy Glaus story that broke at the same time. If you missed that, Glaus, the 2002 World Series MVP, was accused of receiving steroids over a two year period. The Angels beat Barry Bonds’ Giants in the ’02 Series, despite Bonds going nuts over those seven games. If the Giants had won, think of how many people would have called for an asterisk to be placed next to the result once Barry’s alleged steroid use became public knowledge. There would have been the outcry to end all outcries. I haven’t heard a peep about Glaus’ role in the Series and affect on its outcome. Somehow, the Ankiel story is more important. All because a bunch of people bought into his story without questioning him the way they would question any other player.
One last note, we went to dinner Saturday with a friend who is a big Cardinals fan. Naturally, I asked him what he thought about the issue. After talking through the details for a while, he said this. “If I was Mark Cuban, and had more money than I could ever spend, I would start investigating every single Met since 1986 to see what they were on.” It was the New York Daily News that broke the Ankiel story. To my friend, payback meant going after every Met. It was good to see some old fashioned, mid-80s NL East hate!
Now Playing: <strong>The Drugs Don’t Work</strong> from the album “Live from Mars” by <a href=”http://www.google.com/search?q=%22Ben%20Harper%20&%20The%20Innocent%20Criminals%22″>Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals</a>