For as long as professional sports have existed, getting an edge has ridden shotgun. This comes in the form of cheating on the field, ignoring tampering rules with potential free agents and of course PED use.
The Pirates were just bitten again by PEDs as Edgar Santana who had just fully recovered from Tommy John Surgery worked his way back to the Pirates bullpen. Reactions are all over the map. Some don’t care because it’s his body and if he chooses to use steroids, who are they to judge. Others feel the guy should never wear black and gold again. Personally, I always think of the other players on the squad. We were hit by this when Starling Marte was fingered for PED use and missed 80 games after the Pirates decided he was going to take over center field for Andrew McCutchen, much to the chagrin of the All Star outfielder who now plays for the Phillies.
Pablo Reyes too was nabbed, but let’s face it, he wasn’t expected to contribute nearly as much as the other two I mentioned so the reaction led to more “he’s an idiot” or “and he still sucked”. See, not all PED offenses are created equal.
Francisco Cervelli, fan favorite here in Pittsburgh, arrived in town with a history of injury and PED use from the Yankees. None of that stopped him from being popular. Did everyone assume he was all done with that stuff when he got here? I guess so. I didn’t think about it much because if I’m blunt, it never hurt my club. I never had to watch the Pirates go half a season without their starting catcher because he wanted to take a shortcut. Granted, I certainly watched him miss half the season, just not due to suspension.
Starling Marte did take some heat. Partially because fans had already labelled him as dumb or unfocused which led right into the fun that goes with cheater. I’m not here to argue about your feelings on Marte, but I will say, forgiving him his transgression was a bit more necessary knowing he was at least close to the best player on the roster.
Why do we have different levels of ire for those who have used? Or should I say, those who were caught? Is it race? Maybe skill level? Effect on the club? Maybe all of those.
I remember PNC being quite unhospitable to Ryan Braun when he first came back from his suspension. I get it, we didn’t like him before he did anything wrong. If I’m a Brewers fan, I think I’m most irritated that he used PEDs to get himself that huge contract and then after his suspension went on to prove PEDs played a huge role in what he had put on tape. He wasn’t the same player.
Marte was never the power threat he was becoming after his suspension, but he still had a potent bat and played a great outfield. Is that why we forgave him?
We all, with open arms ate up the Melk-man hit parade last season. He’s a former cheater. We all knew it, most of us never said anything. Why not? I mean, maybe I just ruled out race here. Maybe it simply has more to do with how they come back.
The truth is, we have a very conflicted history with PEDs right down to what constitutes “performance enhancing” in the first place. Does LSD count? I mean I’d say if Doc really was tripping, he threw that no-hitter despite the LSD not because of it, but we celebrate the event like a national holiday. What about all the greenies and cocaine in the 70’s? Any chance those helped some players?
Watching Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire bash homeruns arguably saved baseball back in the late 90’s, but nobody thought they were clean. Many of the same writers who had to clean drool off their notepads before filing their stories have formed a human shield to prevent anyone wrapped in that scandal from reaching the hall. Hell, they even ignored when Sosa’s bat exploded, and the entire thing was corked. And note I said “many” up there. Some have been on the train that these guys were juicing from the beginning, Dejan Kovacevic comes to mind.
So, is cheating bad or is getting caught bad? What is one of the loudest narratives you hear when a guy gets pinged for steroids? “What an idiot” right? That comes from players, who know full well how easy it is to avoid failing a test. It comes from journalists who also know (from the players) how easy it is to never fail. See, we’re more upset they get caught than we are about the action itself. Getting suspended is selfish, not the use itself.
Some don’t even have to get caught, they just need to look the part.
Did Edgar Santana just destroy the Pirates season? No, of course not. Returning from TJ already had him in a “gravy if he contributes” situation to begin with. Many will forgive him as it’s easy to say he was just trying to recover from surgery faster, plus when he comes back next season, I’d imagine his 95+ fastball and missing an already bastardized season will play to his advantage.
The bottom line is we have a love-hate relationship with PEDs, and we pick and choose those who get to put it behind them as well as those who never get to shed the label. Maybe the best way to put it is this, if you put Ken Griffey Jr., and Barry Bonds side by side I’d tell you I respect Griffey far more, but Barry was the best I’ve ever seen. That doesn’t explain why the same fan base accepted and washed away the past of Cervelli but wouldn’t do the same for arguably the biggest star on the team in Marte. To me, the cheating pulled off by the Houston Astros is far more damning and I hope its reflected when players like Jose Altuve reach Hall eligibility, because if cheating is a disqualifier, let’s make actual on-field cheating at least rise to the same level as suspected PED use.