Tiger shortstop Jhonny Peralta is now facing a suspension of at least 50 games for violating the league’s Performance Enhancing Drug policy.
Peralta’s name was on a suspected drug order sheet confiscated from Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch. At this point the MLB views the list as hearsay evidence, and is expected to formally interview Bosch tomorrow, anticipating he’ll confirm the names on the order sheet.
In this moment, we should examine the possibility that one of our athletes did actually cheat with performance-enhancing drugs and that many Detroit athletes could also be cheating with P.E.D’s.
I’m not saying Peralta is guilty, I don’t know if he is yet and we may never really know based on the evidence. That’s not the story for me. The story is about accepting that our professional, college and high school athletes are increasingly bigger and faster. Evolution is either moving at a disgustingly rapid rate or the initial steroids era of the mid-80′s broke the seal of pure athletic competition forever.
I’ll go with the latter.
This isn’t me being a cynic, it’s me refusing to be naive. We are feeding into a hyper-competitive, hyper-spending culture where more is expected of today’s athlete than ever. It’s only logical that the better athlete tends to make the better player and the better players tend to make the better team, the better team finishes better in the standings, the higher finish in the standings the more merchandise and gate revenue. Enhanced-performance is business and sports isn’t just competition it’s also business.
The MLB will come down hard on these players mostly for PR purposes. The days of trying to cover up steroid abuse is long gone. There isn’t a wiped out World Series to recover from with juiced players and balls as the elixir, there’s only an earlier steroid scandal to absolve. In solving the union crisis, the MLB permitted the steroid crisis, which now enters its second generation, sweeping up former National League MVP Ryan Braun and active-home run leader Alex Rodriguez in this most-recent scandal.
They know that baseball culture is far different from that of any other sport, steeped in tradition and statistical number crunching–no game pays more reverence to debate on who should be most revered than baseball fans. If it weren’t for the tradition of debating past and present with all the countless variables that differentiate ball players from then and now, I don’t think Major League Baseball would care about its steroid problem, because fans wouldn’t care. Us fans create the steroid uproar yet gave it cause at the same time. When we started caring, they started acting.
Major League Baseball is acting for YOU. The NFL only pretends to take steroids seriously because you don’t seem to really care.
Fans laud concussion-inducing hits, freakishly fast and strong players–apparent physical mutants–trying to hurt each other on a down-by-down basis. The nature of the NFL is to inflict trauma and survive trauma to win. We don’t seem to have a problem that NFL players retire barely functional and suicidal from the brain-damage they receive entertaining us. Instead we keep cheering louder the more violent the hit and marvel at the bigger the freak. The NFL tries to legislate on the style of hits to cover their ass, but get by completely ignoring the real source, blatantly evolving physique. They get by because in 2006, former San Diego Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman tested positive for Nandrolone, a banned substance, and no one cared. He went on to lead the league in sacks and was named to the Pro Bowl despite the four game suspension.
The NFL eventually excluded any player who broke their banned substance policy from Pro Bowl and post-season award consideration. Good on the NFL, but had they not implemented that rule, you wouldn’t have cared. Did you say to yourself in 2007, “OH, Merriman is playing in the Pro Bowl?! That’s BS! HE’S A CHEATER!!!” No, you likely didn’t and Charger fans didn’t seem to mind when he was selected to their 50th anniversary team. Merriman isn’t the best football-to-baseball example of a debated legacy due to steroid use, he won’t be up for Canton consideration, but my point is that he was an elite player, decorated by the league and celebrated by fans after his known usage.
We can accept steroid use in football, yet baseball remains sacred.
I’m not in denial of the possibility that Peralta or any other Detroit athlete could possibly be using steroids or at least some substance that gives them an edge. In the 60′s, 70′s and 80′s, it’s well-known and documented that baseball players were doing copious amounts of amphetamines because they believed it gave them a competitive edge. I do not know for certain, but we need to accept the possibility that our ‘Roar of ’84′ heroes were using substances that they believe gave them an edge whether legal or healthy, just as we need to acceptMiguel Cabrera or any other Tiger could be doing steroids today. (There is not even speculation Cabrera is on steroids, but I’m using him as an example for the sake of argument.) Players are paid to perform and will do what they can to keep their jobs and pockets lined. With the salaries these players have, they can find new labs, new supplements and new masking-agents to stay ahead of drug-testing.
This is the reality we’ve lived in but denied as fans since the mid-80′s brought anabolic steroids in place of amphetamines. Controversial slugger turned Twitter-fiend Jose Canseco and former Michigan State offensive tackle Tony Mandarich both denied using in their day despite bringing a new level of size to their respective sports.
Canseco teamed with infamous steroid-abuser Mark McGuire to form the “Bash Brothers” in Oakland, known for crushing home runs of absurd distance then banging their protruding forearms together in celebration–almost as if they were directly thanking the ‘roids in front of unsuspecting but awestruck fans. He cashed in on coming clean in 2005, releasing a supposed “tell all” book, titled Juiced, alleging everyone who he knew and personally did P.E.D’s with.
Mandarich was proudly nicknamed the “Incredible Bulk” and his unprecedented measurements (6’6, 311lbs.) made him the then-highest drafted offensive lineman ever as the second pick in 1989. While he was a bust in the NFL, he was an All-American in college that led the Spartans to their only Rose Bowl win since 1956. After coming clean about his own steroid and substance abuse, he claimed steroids were rampant on ‘State’s 1988 Rose Bowl winning team.
Canseco and Mandarich ushered in an era from which athletics will likely never recover. They were celebrated by fans and media for their unimaginable size and physical capabilities, later to be torn down by those very same camps and become the tragic figures they are today. Despite that, they hold an incredible amount of influence, even today, by raising the standards of speed, size and strength for all professional-then college-then high school athletes. Even the already accomplished Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds felt pressure to catch up to the needle and receive the pre-B.A.L.C.O lore that P.E.D’s brought baseball in the late-90′s through early-00′s. If you look back at Mandarich’s then-unprecedented measurements, they were revolutionary but not everlasting. The “Incredible Bulk” is now the “Average Bulk”. At the time, the average NFL offensive lineman was 6’4 270lbs. In less than 30 years, the average offensive lineman has put on an inch and forty pounds.Evolution cannot be moving that fast.
If the average NFL lineman has increased forty pounds in 25 years, statistically some of our beloved Lions had to have gotten swept up in the mean, maybe naturally but I doubt it.
Instead of immediately denying that Peralta could’ve taken steroids–or that any Tiger could be so guilty–lets just accept the possibility that any Detroit athlete could be on steroids or some performance-enhancing drug and that it is a near omnipresent reality in modern athletic culture. While not widely proven, the numbers are too suspicious, too sweeping, too scientifically illogical to lean on the side that most athletes are clean–our Detroit athletes are no different.
I believe cheating is wrong, and you can continue to tell your kids cheating is wrong and you yourself can continue to believe cheating is wrong. I’ve just reached a point of concession, that in fact, cheating is prevalent across athletics of all levels and has been for decades.
I’m no longer in denial or appalled that one of our Tigers’ could be busted for steroids. I just can’t be that naive. In the case of Peralta, maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised, we’ll see.
Kyle Bauer is an award winning college sports broadcaster and former Sports Director of WXOU 88.3fm, freelance journalist and radio producer who has been published in The Macomb Daily, mlive.com, Oakland Post and MIPREPZONE.com, follow him on Twitter @kyle_bauer