- Steve Wulf, ESPN The Magazine senior writer
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Before you wearily sigh over baseball's latest PED scandal, before you mutter, "Who cares anymore," before you punch a chad on the All-Star Game ballot for one of the names on the Biogenesis list, before you wonder how this might affect your fantasy team or your real team's performance, listen up.
This is important. You must care. You need to stop enabling the cheaters the way we used to. You have to root, root, root just as hard for the game itself as you do for the players.
Yell, don't yawn. A new generation of players is playing us for suckers, just as Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro and Roger Clemens did. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, A-Rod, shame on me. Whether it be on the blogosphere, or in Twitterville, or over sports radio, the vox populi seems to want the latest revelations to go away. Funny that some of the same people who criticized Major League Baseball 10 years ago for not doing anything about the steroid epidemic are now blasting the commissioner for trying to prevent a relapse. Has the blind eye we turned become a jaundiced one?
If so, we need to be reminded of all the reasons we got upset then, even as we're reminded of the professional athlete's inclination to cheat.
• Integrity. The illegal use of PEDs strikes at the belief in the game. If you can't trust a player's numbers, you can't really trust the score. Does anybody have the nerve to ask this: Should the Yankees even count the past two of their 27 championships, the ones they won with Clemens (2000) and Alex Rodriguez (2009)?
• Competitive balance. The contraband pharma system will escalate if unchecked. If a player knows, or suspects, that the other guy playing above his head is taking something, wouldn't he be tempted to take the same something?
• Health. Taking steroids or HGH or any other illegal substance is not a victimless crime. Even if the players don't care about the side effects of their elixirs, baseball does have a responsibility to the young athletes who would emulate those regimens.
• Infestation. As with cockroaches, the pushers and suppliers are always there, and hard to get rid of. Tony Bosch, the man behind Biogenesis, first surfaced in 2009, when Manny Ramirez was suspended 50 games for his use of hCG (human chorionic gonadotropin), which was prescribed by Dr. Pedro Bosch, Tony's father. Now at least 20 players from at least 11 teams are implicated in the Biogenesis scandal.
• Disillusionment. The financial investment we put into being fans is nothing compared to the emotional investment. Remember that wonderful moment when Mark McGwire passed Roger Maris, hugged his own son and then met with the Maris family? Feels kind of cheesy now, doesn't it?
• Morals. It's just plain wrong. Yeah, Gaylord Perry threw a spitball, and Ty Cobb sharpened his spikes, and King Kelly used to take a shortcut from first to third. But the use of clearly prohibited banned substances is cheating of a much more profound nature. The decision encompasses at least five of the Seven Deadly Sins: pride, envy, greed, gluttony, sloth. (Lust and wrath may be in there, too.)
That's why the world finally turned its back on Lance Armstrong. That's why so many baseball Hall of Famers have threatened to boycott the annual festivities if Bonds or McGwire or Clemens is ever elected. That's why the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America will feel tortured for years about leaving the best players of a generation out of the Hall. And that's why MLB is trying to make sure it's not two generations.
In a way, the Biogenesis scandal has come along at the right time. It has reminded us of the need for vigilance, and reinforced the sanctity of the game. Whatever the outcome, as long as baseball follows through with a serious effort to enforce the rules, people will know that the game has to be played on a level field.
MLB's efforts to punish players tied to the Biogenesis clinic is important. You must care. You need to stop enabling the cheaters the way we used to. You have to root, root, root just as hard for the game itself as you do for the players.