Some claim that university professors live in an “ivory tower.”  In certain ways, though, baseball writers are worse.  They obsess about the minutiae of a pastime, whether so-and-so is “clutch” or what so-and-so said about another team.  What these baseball writers seemingly forget is the world outside sports — a world where the questions dominating sports headlines show themselves to be the trivial matters that they really are.

Since I like reading baseball articles, I rarely have a problem with the ivory tower attitude.  That is, at least until I stumble upon a story more important than just baseball. The Biogenesis scandal is the latest example.  Biogenesis is the name of the Miami-based clinic that allegedly supplied performance-enhancing drugs to a number of baseball players, including Alex Rodriquez and Ryan Braun.  Major League Baseball is taking a hardline, proactive stance.  Braun has been hit with a 65 game suspension.  Rodriquez’s suspension is a nearly unfathomable 211 games, currently under appeal.  Both suspensions, obviously, are above the mandated 50 game suspension for first time offenders as written into baseball’s collective bargaining agreement.  Clearly, the Commissioner’s office is trying to make Biogenesis a landmark case against PED usage.

As far as I can tell, general outrage seems directed more at players than at MLB.  Predictably, overly vitriolic baseball (“look at me!”) writers are throwing around comments like “arrogant” and “cheating” and “disrespecting the game.”   Commentary on Alex Rodriquex has been particularly harsh, insofar as he’s a particularly disliked player — even though he has never never committed tax fraud, violent crime, domestic abuse, or driven drunk.  MLB, however, has gotten a relatively free pass.  Reactions range from approval to (at most) some disquiet about the practical merits of their cases against the players.

This is where the “ivory tower” attitude of baseball writing seems most culpable.  Since the dawn of the “steroid era,” baseball writers have ceaselessly attacked Bud Selig’s and MLB’s inaction.  Yes, the players took the PEDs, but the Powers-That-Be winked and looked the other way.  (Rarely do the journalists blame themselves.)  What is praise-worthy is that Selig et al  took those criticisms to heart.  Motivated by baseball writer histrionics, MLB has cracked down more harshly on PED use than all the other major American sports combined. Responding late is better than never responding at all.  They did their jobs, and I have no issue with MLB for that.

What I never hear from the writers, however, concerns the fundamental justice of MLB’s current efforts.  A few, of course, have cynically sneered at MLB’s crackdown, suggesting that MLB is overcompensating for years of neglect.  While possibly true, such a critique seems unfair — why criticize MLB for failure to act and then give them no credit for responding to our criticisms?  That’s exactly how public discourse is supposed to work.  People talk about issues; the Powers-That-Be respond.  Congratulations all around.  Still — and this is the heart of the issue — we have to ask, “Have the baseball writers pushed MLB too far?”  That is to say, in efforts to make MLB get “tougher” against PEDs (which is much like asking a politician if we should get “tougher” on crime), we may be enabling MLB to go in a disturbing direction, far beyond the bonds of where any private, for-profit corporation should go.

Let me put the situation in this light.  Regardless of one’s opinion about PED-usage among players, the fact remains that PED usage is both non-violent and victimless.  (And let’s not disrespect  real victims of crimes by saying that Barry Bonds’s “tainted” records victimize fans.)  So the employers of accused players, in order to forestall the bad press of those non-violent and victimless actions, take legal matters into their own hands.  To that end these employers willingly launch investigations, offer “deals” to people like Tony Bosch, and subpoena records from Federal Express, AT&T Mobility and T-Mobile USA to use as leverage against their employees. Such investigations might be necessary if this was, let’s say, a case of possible illegal racial discrimination or sexual harassment, and MLB wanted to avoid a lawsuit.  Unfortunately, MBL’s investigations stem only from a fear of bad public relations — and using a tortuous logic slap a 211-game suspension on Rodriquez is more than quadruple the agreed upon penalty.

Put yourself in the position of these players.  How many of you would feel comfortable giving their bosses that much power over them?  Too many fans seem to think that baseball is a “fake” job subject to different rules from normal jobs; baseball customers feel a greater sense of entitlement than Apple or Microsoft customers do.   Thus their peculiar brand of outrage and indignation.  They blame the players and want MLB to do something about it — in their anger never asking if employers should have that right.  To a business like MLB, “protecting the game” is simply another way of saying “protecting our positive PR,” and we all know that protecting PR is just a way of protecting profits.  As much as Bud Selig et al care about the steroids issue, and I honestly believe they do, the consideration of money is not far from their minds.  Baseball writers, however, seeing baseball through the lens of fans, tend not to see the problem in economic terms.  They see it as a moral issue. Their indignation is not about spreadsheets. Yet this indignation gives MLB a rationale for targeting its employees in order to protect and even enhance its historically-high profits.

And the baseball writers never ask themselves, “If my own boss — my editor — found something I had done, which was both non-violent and victimless, to be potentially threatening to the company’s bottom line, would I condone them doing to me what MLB is doing to Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriquex, and everyone else linked to PEDs and Biogenesis?”

To be sure, baseball players are much luckier than average people.  Their wealth — and their union — gives them more leverage than regular schmucks like us.  Yet their ability to stand up for themselves has limits.  In the end, rich as they are, they cannot ever completely match the clout and power of MLB.  When Ryan Braun failed his drug test at the end of 2012, his case was arbitrated by third-party arbitrator Shyam Das.  When Das — following the rules of the collective bargaining agreement — failed to rule against Braun because of a technicality, MLB fired him.  The corruption implicit in such a maneuver is stunning.  Arbitration was Braun’s right, just like it is the right of any U.S. citizen accused of a crime to be judged by a jury of his peers.  MLB basically fired the “judge” for following the law.  Technicalities are not just there to let criminals go; they exist — both in arbitration and in courts — to protect the fundamental rights of relatively powerless individuals against powerful entities like a government or private corporation.  Firing Das undermines the entire notion of judicial objectivity.  Luckily, Das was brave enough to enforce the rules properly, regardless of personal consequences, but who knows if the same will apply to the next arbitrator, Fredric Horowitz.  Protecting such objectivity is the reason that Supreme Court justices have life tenure.

And MLB does have major financial stakes in these decisions.  It is not just about “protecting the game.” An A-Rod suspension or voided contract would save the New York Yankees tens of millions of dollars.  An attempt was made to void Jason Giambi’s contract when he admitted to PED use. And MLB refused to honor Bonds’s homerun chase partly out of fear for increased public scrutiny on PED usage in baseball.  While the San Francisco Giants themselves profited immensely from the homerun chase, the rest of baseball suffered quite terribly — a true public relations nightmare.  Increasingly, as MLB extends its power over the private lives of its employees (many of whom of free American citizens), we must ask ourselves to what extent we, as baseball fans, are willing to see a private business usurp the prerogatives of our judicial system.  Spurred on by a decade of baseball writer histrionics, MLB no longer has any motivation in protecting the fundamental rights of its employees.  Instead, they are seeking to do everything in their legal power to further their own private interests.  This is not a precedent we should be happy to see established, either as baseball fans or American citizens.

Of course, it’s difficult to defend athletes in a post-Lance Armstrong age.  I stoutly defended Armstrong for years, not so much because I believed him innocent as because he passed every single drug test given him by his sport. Innocent until proven guilty: no exceptions.  That is a foundation of legal justice.  So I was outraged when bicycling banned Armstrong for life and stripped him of his Tour de France titles.  After all, what else could an “innocent” man have done besides pass drug tests?  The United States Anti-Doping Agency was eventually vindicated, of course. Armstrong confessed his sins on Oprah (of all places).  Despite the unquestionable good Armstrong has done combating cancer, his confession irrevocably eradicated  his good name.  What Armstrong did was worse than simply taking drugs — which, after all, is still a non-violent and victimless crime.  Armstrong engendered a vast conspiracy of silence and corruption.  Doctors charged with testing had to collaborate with Armstrong; Armstrong’s teammates dared not speak for fear of ostracization and ruined careers. Using PEDs does not affect the integrity of the game; corrupting the testing-system through semi-mafia tactics certainly does. Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriquez, for all their unlike-ability, never went to such lengths.

MLB will never receive the same level of vindication that the United States Anti-Doping Agency received with Armstrong.  MLB’s alleged PED users are simply not as corrupt as Armstrong.  (Melky Cabrera’s “fake website” was laughably pathetic but not heinous.)  Bonds and Rodriguez are jerks but nothing more.  Worse, Braun seems like a decent guy (despite some recent stories), and Mark McGwire remains one of the most humble, self-effacing sports athletes I have ever seen.  MLB is not unmasking some Machiavellian doping cover-up but only a few transactions with a seedy Miami health clinic.  Yet MLB’s response is greatly overshooting the nature of the new offenses.  A decade of hyperbolic outrage by baseball writers have spurred MLB into acquiring a power that no private, for-profit corporation should have over the lives of its employees — a power that includes punishments almost without limit.  What would we say about a judge who arbitrarily doubled the legally mandated maximum punishment for a crime?

We need to be cautioned by the case of Carlos Acevedo.  MLB named him in a suit with Tony Bosch and three others linked to Biogenesis.  According to Acevedo’s lawyers, MLB “bullied” his client, sending “investigators to his house to bang on the door. . . threatening him and intimidating him. It is like they think they are the federal government.”  Acevedo intends to fight MLB’s tactics because he (again according to his lawyer) is a “broke, broke, broke little nothing individual.”  Even with the caution that we should never take anything a lawyer says at face value, this particular quote is gut-wrenching.  I can only suppose that, being broke and in trouble, Carlos Acevedo has little else except pride.  And I cannot help but admire Acevedo for his willingness to stand up to MLB on this issue, so much more important that just another sports story — a story that seems to pit the rights of private individuals against the financial interests of private companies.

Dennis Wise is a graduate student and a lifelong Cleveland Indians fan.

10 Comments

  • Andy says:

    B*LLS**T. The victims here are the countless guys who played by the rules (ie didn’t take PED’s) and got screwed out of a job or money by the inferior player who cheated to get ahead. That is why the biggest supporters of this new crackdown are the players themselves. They realized it was the honest non-drug user who was getting the shaft in baseball’s inaction toward PED’s and they (the players) finally stepped forward and told their union to quit defending these cheaters.

    And sorry, most companies have vastly more power than MLB when it comes to their employees, as very few people in this country have guaranteed contracts to protect them (or even unions anymore).

    • Swift says:

      I am completely with Andy on this. Forget the pay difference, but almost none of us have the employment guarantees that baseball players enjoy.

      Oh, and most of us in the “real world” do have to pass drug tests, at least at the time we are hired (and often after), even if the drugs being tested for are “non-violent and victimless”, and our punishment for not passing these drug tests are either to not be hired or to be dismissed from our jobs.

      When you get our bosses to stop micromanaging our private lives, I’ll start to feel sorry for the poor baseball players who get caught breaking the rules that they and their union agreed to.

  • DiO says:

    The real victms of PED use in pro sports aren’t clean players, fooled reporters, or deluded fans. Are, in fact, as revealed by this investigation, high school kids receiving this drugs from greedy parents or coaches.
    Any punishment this cheaters receive is well deserved.

  • medfest says:

    Your entire argument isn’t just flawed, it’s preposterous.

    This is the type of sophistry you engage in during introductory philosophy classes in an ivory tower atmosphere and that’s just where it belongs.

  • Peter says:

    How come no one is discussing the fact that these guys who took the PED’s were able to evade being caught by MLB and their testing? Correct me if I am wrong, but did one one of these players test positive? Maybe Braun, but he got off. How about the others? They all got caught through the seized records or A-rod’s posse turning them in to deflect from his client. How many more are out there?

  • Ross says:

    I actually thought this article was thought provoking. I want MLB to crack down on the PED cheaters as much as the next guy, but there is always more than one side to a story, ALWAYS. Everyone has self-serving motivations, including MLB officials. So while I want to see these roiders get what’s coming to them, it’s naive to not realize that the entity of MLB holds their own private interests as their #1 priority. Bottom line, they care most about $ and positive PR (because that leads to more $). So when guys were using steroids and none of the fans realized it, it generated more PR and fan interest, and in turn, more $. Therefore, MLB was content to look the other way and ignore the cheating. Once the lid blew off on the steroid scandal and fans became indignant, Bud Selig wants to “go Roger Goodell” on the MLB and punish players beyond what is even allowed by the CBA. PR, PR, PR…$, $, $.

    So yes, cheer on the cheaters being brought to justice, but don’t do so with your head in the sand. I think that’s the point that Dennis is trying to make. MLB isn’t innocent in all of this either, as much as they’d like you to see them as the swift hand of justice swooping in to “clean up the game.”

  • nikki says:

    “And the baseball writers never ask themselves, ‘If my own boss — my editor — found something I had done, which was both non-violent and victimless, to be potentially threatening to the company’s bottom line, would I condone them doing to me what MLB is doing to Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriquex, and everyone else linked to PEDs and Biogenesis?’”

    Oh, I’m very sure they do, since companies fire writers all the time for writing things that make the company look bad. Just ask the ESPN writer who got fired for the Jeremy Lin “Chink in the Armor” quip, or the commentator who got fired for questioning RGIII’s “blackness”.

    Were those comments non-violent? Yes. Were those comments victimless? No, but the worst thing about those comments was that they were offensive to RGIII, Lin, and — this is the sole reason why those ESPN employees were fired — they were offensive to some of the people who read and watch ESPN.

    Companies have every right to shape their own image. If an employee of a company is doing or saying things that ticks off your customers, then that company has every right to punish that employee.

    Is the 211-game suspension overstepping what had been established as a guideline? I would say yes. But MLB’s punishment of “everyone else linked to PEDs and Biogenesis” is fair and reasonable, period.

    • Dennis says:

      Racially or ethnically derogatory comments, I would say, are clearly in a different category as PED usage. I have no problem for the punishments meted out for the Lin/RGIII comments.

      But a point you raised more specifically related to this issue. While companies (who are now “people,” god help us) have a right to shape their own image, that power is NOT unlimited. No company, for example, can fire people (who are REAL “people”) for expressing a political opinion, since obviously constitutional rights trump corporate rights. So if an employee writes a non-offensive editorial in a newspaper expressing some sort of opinion, and that opinion runs contrary to the image of the company, then there’s a significant problem when the company tries to intimidate that person by firing him or her. Free speech is only possible when it’s actually FREE.

      This is the exact reason, btw, that we can vote anonymously in local and national elections. Without anonymity, corporations can (and historically have) simply fired those workers who voted the “wrong” way.

      This Biogenesis case seems like a clear case of a private, for-profit corporation overstepping its authority to interfere with the rights of private individuals. They are not elected officials, but they’re appropiating to themselves tactics that should only be used by appropiate institutions, like the police and the FBI.

      Btw, if you (or rather the other readers of this thread) think I’m arguing that we should let PED users go scot free, then that person has drastically misread this piece. Nowhere did I say that A-Rod or the others were innocent. They are simply not EVIL people. Give them their legal 50-game punishment and forget about the issue, I say.

  • Gvl Steve says:

    MLB is fighting to save the integrity of its sport in the face of opposition from the players’ union and lying players who are actively impeding investigations. Maybe the commissioner should hire Jack Bauer to ream the truth out of these people with pharmaceutical interrogations. It is arguable that MLB waited too long to get in the fight against PEDs and looked the other way to protect its interests, but that does not delegitimize the current effort. Just last year Braun beat a positive test and suspension with a chain-of-custody technicality and a mouthful of lies and protestations of innocence. Now he’s admitting guilt after a 2nd positive test. Imagine how many other cases are protected from disclosure by the CBA and players’ union that we don’t even hear about. If you want a disincentive to cheat, the suspensions need to be lengthy combined with voided contracts like the Indians did with Carmona. These guys cheat to get those $100 million contracts. Taking them away takes away the motivation to use these drugs in the first place. Public ridicule and suspension, followed by paying them the rest of their money is inconsistent and will not be effective.

    • Dennis says:

      “Imagine how many other cases are protected from disclosure by the CBA and players’ union that we don’t even hear about.”

      Really, you’re making a case that we should eliminate most civil rights and the 5th admendment to boot. But those things are incorporated into EVERY liberal democracy into order to protect private individuals from tyranny. Originally the Founding Fathers thought that tyranny could come only from the government, but they never imagined that private companies could provide their own sort of tyranny.

      Again, I think I should stress one of the central points of the above article. Biogenesis is NOT just a baseball issue. . .it’s a liberty issue. And I think a lot of the personal anger against the players that I see here is making people forget that.