In 2005, I was studying for a brief period in France. As an American in a French academic institution, I was constantly challenged to defend many things American, including Lance Armstrong. The French held him to be emblematic of American chicanery. (The French should know; they practically invented la tromperie.) I usually rose to the bait.
"If Armstrong is a doper," I said at the time, "he must be the greatest doper of all time! He hasn't failed even one drug test!"
As we all know now, Monsieur Armstrong was, indeed, one the greatest dopers of all time. (The greatest doper is the one who is never caught, of course.) When the Armstrong scam finally ended, I felt foolish about my defense of the rat. (It is always excruciating having to admit the French are right...about anything.) I also felt very queasy at the thought of Armstrong's blatant, self-absorbed corruption.
Well, folks, I'm feeling nauseated again, this time by the news that MLB and the Player's Association has failed, once again, to invoke any meaningful penalty for juicing. I'll go even further: I feel as if Bartolo Colon, and the A's, got away with one, and I'm not pleased. This is not like some blown umpire's call that goes the A's way. This one is about bigger issues.
How are the A's winning while carrying as many bad hitters as they are? Colon is one reason, and that is a big source of conflict for me. Colon may be the A's best pitcher, but he is also a thief. And he's making off with more than just loot. By extending his career with banned substances, he is stealing from other players' careers.
Years ago in show business, I learned to separate my opinion of a performer from my delight with his performance. The artist is different from the art. And that is certainly true for Colon. His performance has been spectacular, but the performer himself? Granted, the A's wouldn't be where they are without him. I keep asking myself, though, where would Colon be without the A's complicity?
When it comes to drug use, I am no prohibitionist. Someday, somehow, we are going to have to make an uneasy peace with drugs just as we did with alcohol in 1933. The black markets we are creating with our drug prohibition have corrupted law enforcement, the judicial system, immigration and foreign policy, and much more.
This piece isn't about drug use, though. It's about theft. And baseball has allowed the PED thieves like Colon, ARod, Ryan Braun, and Melky Cabrera and all the others, to get away with grand larceny for years. Monday's suspensions were just another sorry episode.
There are few things more precious than the opportunity to play major league baseball. I know this, and you know this, even though few of us have been anywhere near a major league roster. Making the Show is the prize. You labor all your life, you perfect your craft, you overcome injuries, you play by the rules and you get, maybe, one brief opportunity. I have heard the odds of a minor leaguer making it to the major leagues are 1 in 1,000. That may be exaggerated, but certainly the odds are very, very long.
Unfortunately, those odds get even longer when one of the precious available places on the roster is taken up by Bartolo Colon. And when Billy Beane hires Colon for $3 million, he has three million dollars less to give to someone else, someone more worthy.
My father, a practical moralist if there ever was one, said, "You never steal...unless you're hungry." (His philosophy was developed in Dust Bowl Oklahoma where there were many opportunities for starvation and few opportunities for high-mindedness.) In following this whole PED saga, I have thought of his words.
I suppose I would be more philosophical if these were poor kids desperate to escape poverty. But Colon, Braun, ARod, and most of the notorious PED miscreants, are not hungry. They are fat. Colon has made more than $76 million from baseball, more money than most people reading this would see in several lifetimes. (Rodriguez has made more than $315 million.) Yet they are obsessed with staying at the table as long as they can, gorging while their younger colleagues are living on hope and long odds in the minor leagues.
Juicing to stay in the major leagues a few extra seasons, after you've had a career and a net worth, is simply despicable. Grabbing the money is bad enough, but Colon is also hogging the limelight and the adulation that goes with it. He is hoarding the gratification of being the best of the best, too.
There is no excuse for Colon's behavior, or baseball's complicity, or the fans' winking forbearance, but the rationalizations do fly, don't they? Everybody in baseball juices. No. And as long as there is even one guy being cheated out of his rightful place by reprobates like Colon, baseball should be defending his interests rather than negotiating with people like ARod.
Baseball has always had cheats. Gaylord Perry is in the Hall of Fame. Hey, I didn't vote him in! And, remember, Pete Rose is not in the Hall of Fame.
PED's are just another technological advance like Tommy John surgery, elbow guards and domed stadiums. I'm not sure PED's are an advance but characterizing them as such ignores one fact: For all its flaws, major league baseball does make a big effort to level the playing field, so to speak. Players can't use titanium bats, or even cork the wood ones. Every infield has exactly the same dimensions. MLB has a rule book and umpires so teams don't cheat each other.
But (name your PED scofflaw) is a nice guy and he's popular with his teammates. Bartolo Colon, for instance, is making $3 million to pitch a baseball. Why shouldn't he be a nice guy? And he's popular with his teammates and fans because he, and the A's, are winning.
MLB should just allow players to use whatever drugs they want. Presumably, baseball has a financial interest in protecting its highly-compensated participants. To allow unrestricted use of PED's while requiring the players to wear batting helmets would be incongruous, even for MLB. The fact of life here is illicit use of drugs is banned. Bartolo and his fellow miscreants signed contracts explicitly acknowledging that ban. And they still took the drugs.
Colon served his sentence. Doesn't he deserve a second chance? Yes, he does, but only after he has made meaningful restitution for his previous offense. Bartolo Colon was banned for fifty games, at the end of the season, after he had earned most of his $2 million. Fifty games is a damn vacation, folks. Some of the recently banned players will be back in time for the playoffs! Nelson Cruz doesn't have to play August games in Texas! Damn, that's tough!
And that brings me to the institutional participants in this little queaze fest, the individual clubs, MLB, and the Players Association. If these phonies were serious about oversight, they would make the gluttons disgorge their profits.
Disgorgement is a precept of law, and common sense. People convicted of illegal, or even unethical, acts must give up profits gained from those acts. When caught, a bank robber must go to prison and give back the loot. He can't just put the swag into CD's and wait out his prison sentence. Even a bank robber understands this system but MLB and the Players' Association are unclear on the concept. Indeed, the Players' union seems more inclined protect ARod than it does to defend the interests of the players ARod is cheating out of opportunities.
Until MLB institutes disgorgement as part of the remedy, PED oversight will continue to be a sham. Just imagine ARod's calculation if he knew getting caught meant losing future pay and disgorging millions of dollars he had already earned. Based on the feeble bans we have seen so far, minor leaguers everywhere should be headed for the Biogenesis Lounge for a Caribbean Cocktail. Why not? The reward is great, the punishment unlikely. Even if they do catch you, you get a vacation.
One other thing burns me up about this. If you have read anything I have written, you know that I am a great admirer, and defender, of the A's. By shrewdly exploiting and encouraging Colon's behavior, the A's, the team I love above all others, are trifling with my affections. The accursed, conniving Giants acted with more conviction than the Athletics in this matter. They booted Melky Cabrera's sorry ass all the way to Toronto. The A's not only rehired Colon, they rewarded him with a new contract 50% greater than last year's deal.
That's embarrassing! That's worse than having to apologize to the French.
The other night my wife and I were watching a movie called "A Good Year," with Russell Crowe. He plays an arrogant London commodities trader forced to return to France to settle an estate he has inherited. Wending his way through the French countryside, he passes a group of French bicyclists, flips them the bird, and shouts, "Lance Armstrong!"
If there were any justice in the universe, the producers would have to re-make the scene. Russell Crowe would have to drive by the French cyclists once again, and they would flip him the bird while shouting, "Lance Armstrong!"
And Armstrong would have to pay for the re-shoot.