(Coleridge – also not getting into the Baseball Hall of Fame)
Though I don’t believe Tim Marchman had the Denver Post’s Troy E. Renck specifically in mind when calling the recent Rick Ankiel coverage “a fake scandal”, The New York Sun columnist does ask, “have any of the sports moralists stopped to think how stupid this is?”
Growth hormone was, first of all, not banned by baseball in 2004. The stuff has also never been shown to enhance baseball performance (personally, I think it almost certainly does, because athletes wouldn’t use it if it didn’t, but there’s no empirical evidence proving this is so). Ankiel is also alleged to have used it three years ago! It’s hard to understand how drugs Ankiel took in 2004 would help him in 2007. Anyone saying his achievements this year are somehow tainted should come forward with evidence that Ankiel is on drugs or pipe down.
Past all this, how inhumane can the press and the fans be? In 2004, Ankiel was a 24-year-old who had gone from being one of the very best pitchers in the world to being unable to throw a strike, through no fault of his own and for no discernible physical reason. At 20, he had been able to look forward to a role as the ace of one of the game’s best teams, tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars in future earnings, and perhaps a Hall of Fame plaque. He must have felt like a god. Four years later it had all dissolved. Is this really the sort of player who deserves to be condemned for desperately looking for an edge?
Do you care that Louis Armstrong — perhaps the greatest American of the 20th century, the man who was more responsible than anyone else for forging our greatest art form — did so while smoking marijuana? Would the world be better off had Samuel Taylor Coleridge stayed away from the opium and competed with William Wordsworth while clean and sober? Of course not. Why, then, do we care about athletes, and in particular ballplayers?
The answers are long and complex and it would take far more than a newspaper column to address them all, but the most important is simply that we are an arbitrary society of hypocrites. Why shouldn’t ballplayers just do what they like? Barry Bonds can tell the world, “You can erase my records once everyone agrees to stop reading Freidrich Schiller.”
Though Marchman makes typically solid points about the Ankiel Witchhunt, he’s being a tad selective. I’m less unnerved about Ankiel’s ’07 big league totals being bogus than I am about his return to the majors being chemically enhanced, even if it were just for recovery purposes. His use of HGH —- unless we was sharing with the entire Memphis clubhouse — represents a competitive advantage over other players in the Cardinals organization, some of whom have had their own career drama (though perhaps on not as grand a scale). Tim’s take on drugs is unusually sophisticated, and while I appreciate the various analogies he’s laid out, we could also compare Bud Selig (or, uh, Dale Murphy) to Mike Curb.