MLB Doesn’t Care and Neither Do I
The Dee Gordon PED bust is both sad and eye opening. It also opens the door for questions about who else is using and who was but stopped after getting their big payday. A wise friend of mine (@TheDodgerOracle) and I were chatting about this the day we heard the Dee news. We joked (not really) that you have to give Dee credit – he got his $50M payday from the Marlins and still was using. In today’s day and age, that shows integrity. A weird word, we know, when discussing baseball cheats.
We went through a list of all the players who were monsters who suddenly, quickly, faded away – almost all after getting their payday. The list is pretty amazing. As fantasy baseball players know, there used to be a time when guys were first or second round picks, now you see those same names available late in drafts or on waivers. It also used to be that a player was good for a long period of time, reliable, to be counted on in real life or in fantasy, but suddenly their shelf life is only as long as their race for the payday.
You can go through a long list of players who got paid and then disappeared. You can also go through a list of young stars MLB banks on who got paid, but it’s not their last big payday, or they have an opt-out, so they continue to perform. I have my own theories too on the dirty business that is MLB, where generally the guys they catch and suspend are second or third tier, perhaps just to show fans they “do care” about the integrity of the sport.
Dee’s suspension seems like one where they wanted to throw a big name out there, and while a batting champ, a base stealer like Dee isn’t really that big a name to throw out. Well known, sure, but it wouldn’t hurt baseball’s marketing at all if Dee were given up. This is not to defend Dee but if we honestly believe a skinny guy who steals bases is the big cheat of MLB, we’re all in denial.
I wonder how frequently the new commissioner, Rob Manfred, tests more marketable stars such as Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Clayton Kershaw, aged Big Papi, etc. and if they ever turn a blind eye to the results of those tests? Baseball has done a terrible thing in creating doubt in fans’ minds, so me wondering it isn’t nearly as bad as me being forced to wonder it.
It’s pretty easy to look at players in recent years and guess they might have been on something, and then went off once they were paid. That’s why Dee still using, or doubtfully, starting to use, after getting paid is intriguing. I mean, we’ve seen players get paid, fall off the productivity charts, then perhaps pick up again because their vanity forces them to. I’m talking about players who were great, got paid, sucked, were ridiculed, then got good again. Without saying anyone is guilty or ever used, there are players such as Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun, Albert Pujols or Robinson Cano, many others, who fit this bill. Then there are guys who got paid and obviously don’t care anymore, sucking up a team’s financial resources while hitting .220 with marginal power.
The best way for someone to apply data to their fantasy baseball game would be to create a spreadsheet of players and when they got paid, or when they are going to be free-agents and hope to get paid. With that chart, you could analyze who is hungry and playing for the payout and who is flush with cash and isn’t. That, I suspect, directly correlates into who is possibly using PEDs and who was and stopped.
Again, it’s not a perfect science as some guys don’t care about shrinking their balls because the limelight and caliber of groupies as they blow into town on a road trip are better for top players. Barry Bonds kept using (allegedly), Big Mac, Papi (perhaps), etc. You have to hand it to those guys who want the fame so much they will risk cancer and death for their egos.
MLB is a dirty game and one I’ve lost respect for. They obviously don’t care about longtime fans, like me, older fans. They want to appeal to young people and casual fans who just care enough to go to the park, take a few selfies, dance to the between innings music and spend a lot of money. The game used to market to “baseball fans” but it’s now anyone who will show up with a wallet ripe for the picking.
I guess that’s how it has to be to compete with the NFL and NBA, sports that offer a lot more attention span challenged excitement. The demographics of baseball fans is older and while the sport has never made more money, I guess it’s necessary to think long-term and about the next generations of fans.
Exciting players sell, and as long as fans throw out conspiracy theories on cheats, there will have to be a few people handed up here and there, selectively, to make baseball seem honest. I don’t defend Dee for cheating – it’s a terrible letdown – but to assume he’s public enemy #1 in this age of sleight of hand is more than a bit naive.
Even if baseball is honest and trying to catch all the cheats, guys like BALCO president Victor Conte have said that there are plenty of ways players can cheat and not get caught. It could be as simple as being tipped off a test will be coming, or taking quick acting drugs in the morning, which are undetectable by the time the guy goes to the ballpark. I suspect it works that the top guys, like Barry and A-Rod and all the current crop, get the best drug dealers and supply, and guys down the ladder are more on their own. I’m not sure where Dee falls, but his contract is nowhere near as great as the top stars in the game. Make of that what you will.
Since the game appears not to care, neither do I. I have been a baseball fan since childhood and am perfectly content going to college games in recent years and not the big league ones. In Los Angeles, where Moneyball rules and the games are not even televised, it’s very easy not to care very much. Baseball is a dirty business and they are focusing on a fan base that doesn’t care, while turning its back on the one that does. In turn, I’m turning my back on MLB. They don’t care and neither do I.