Alex Rodriguez Undeserving of Record Cleansing For PED Use
Alex Rodriguez should be stripped of the 190 home runs hit over several seasons as punishment for failing drug tests. That is what Chicago Tribune columnist Philip Hersh believes. Why?
Using the precedent of the International Olympic Committee stripping athletes who failed drug tests of medals, Hersh suggests in order to show the gravity of failing a test, new MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred make these ill-gotten numbers disappear forever.
Hersh is dead wrong.
Stripping Rodriguez, or any player for that matter, of their statistics because they failed a drug test is absurd. If an investigation reveals the pitcher offering the offending home run was not on the level himself, do we re-award that home run? Does Hersh suggest we strip wins and strikeouts away from Gaylord Perry or Joe Niekro because they threw doctored baseballs? Remember, the spitball was banned in 1920 for new pitchers. Do we airbrush the 1919 Chicago White Sox off the record books for throwing a World Series?
To be fair for a moment to Hersh, the IOC has made clear over the years a failed test means losing your result. Sprinter Ben Johnson in Seoul? Never happened according to the IOC. He never finished the 100-meter sprint. The key difference in how the IOC distributes punishment to other sports is the violations happen in individual sports. Baseball is not one of those.
Mind you, Rodriguez missed a full season due to the toughest suspension handed out by MLB for a failed drug test. The disgraced Yankee will answer questions until he retires whether he is playing clean, then will answer those same questions the rest of his life. In the eyes of his superiors, Rodriguez has paid his penance for the crime. A year mandated unpaid vacation during a career is a heavy price to pay.
We can argue whether Rodriguez, who already admitted earlier steroid use before his recent suspension, has a positive legacy in the sport. After he retires, the Baseball Writers Association of America will decide whether he is fit enough for induction into the Hall of Fame. All fair questions to consider.
To suggest, however, that any player be stripped of what they accomplished during games is absurd. Rodriguez is not the first person to cheat playing baseball, nor will he be the last. Current Home Run King, Barry Bonds, will always have his doubters as to the legitimacy of his crown, but his number stands. Whether we, as fans, recognize him or Hank Aaron as the champion is not MLB’s concern.
The sport has kept detailed records since the National League started play in 1876. Volunteers have turned scoresheets and box scores into play-by-play logs from the 1934 season forward with box scores ranging back to 1914. The transaction of how any game plays out down to pitch counts is one of the most endearing parts of being a fan. Bernie Madoff schemed billions from investors. Do you think the Security and Exchanges Commission scrubbed those transactions off the final record?
Whether players corked bats, drank speed-laden coffee, took stimulants to have a good time or improve their performance, players have looked for illegal advantages since the sport began. Is it necessary to go back through the books and expunge the records for every drinker, wife-beater and tax cheat? No, blemishes and all, MLB should not be called on to police morality and keep the numbers of the pure. As fans, we know what numbers stand and what does not.
Rodriguez, and others such as Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmerio, face a judgment tougher than a panel in Switzerland, the Court of American Public Opinion. The evidence, mostly, is their records. A generation from now, who do you think will draw the more heated argument, Marion Jones’ tainted record or Rodriguez? Those who cheated the system during baseball’s steroid era will never be truly innocent. Rodriguez, a complex personality, has as much a chance of induction to Cooperstown as your pet, unless there are several current players enshrined willing to come forward they cheated.
In the end, that is a bigger punishment than stripping a measly line out of a record book.