Thursday, July 23, 2009

Once More, With Feeling

Former major league player Jim Parque takes to the pages of the Sun Times today to discuss his use of performance enhancing drugs, specifically HGH. He tells a very personal, and likely a very common story:

I threw a slider, striking him out looking, but I felt a pop in my left shoulder. I returned to the dugout filled with adrenaline, but the fear of the unknown clouded my thoughts. I had sacrificed so much for my dreams -- no girls or partying in high school, a limited social life, sacrificing a normal life for the rigors of baseball -- and just like that, with one pitch, it was all gone.
With my career in jeopardy, I turned to performance-enhancing drugs, like some other players did. I never had needed them before, but with a shoulder that wouldn't heal, it was realistically the only thing I could turn to.

Work harder, you say? Take vitamins and get in better shape? Did it, and I was rewarded with pathetic Triple-A stats, a fastball now in the low 80s and an average high school curveball.

What Jim did, while unethical, was completely understandable. It was also not against the rules of Major League Baseball at the time.

But even if it was against the rules? So what? No one was harmed. He didn't commit a fraud on anyone. He used a medical option to try to repair a breakdown in his body. How is this different from Tommy John surgery? Why is taking a chemical solution perceived differently from a surgical solution?

Steroids hurt no one except, potentially, the user. And the user is potentially rewarded with millions of dollars for taking the risk. The fans are not harmed as they are only promised unscripted entertainment. The owners are not harmed as they get higher performing employees who can generate higher revenues. Perhaps one could argue that the record book is harmed by the performances of chemically enhanced players. But the record book is also "harmed" by the more effective surgical techniques of today compared to even the recent past.

But there is a greater point for Mr. Parque to understand. Other than a few media types and a few business owners who have a hypersensitive fear or liability, no one cares about performance enhancing drug use. In fact, the majority of us embrace it. Just look at all the hate fans are spewing at Jason Giambi and Alex Rodriguez.

Oh, right. There's no hate being spewed.

If you look at the players who have or have likely done steroids that are derided by fans, the derision is not drug driven. People don't hate Barry Bonds because he cheated, they hate him because he's a classless jerk. Sammy Sosa, had he not walked out on the team in 2004, could possibly have his dream of a bas relief of him engraved into the right field wall at Wrigley come true.

The extreme majority of fans don't care about steroids or how much you make from them. Just entertain us, that's all.

In fact, Major League Baseball, and all professional sports for that matter, could do everyone a huge service by announcing that they will un-ban all banned substances and that players can take anything they want so long as it is obtained legally.

Such a change would have saved Jim Parque the need to write 3,000 words in the Sun Times.

And don't even bother to bring up the trope of "we have to protect the kids." The "we" in that is the parents. It's up to the parents to teach their own kids what is acceptable and what isn't. If my kid follows Albert Pujols down the drug path, that's my issue, not Albert's.

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