Wednesday, August 07, 2013

This Is Your Brain on Baseball Grandiosity

Until recently, I would have told you it was impossible for any fact about performance-enhancing drug use in baseball to interest me, let alone surprise me. Then I ran into a fact that astounded me. And it was about me, too!

As part of its lovingly puritanical coverage of the suspensions of Alex Rodriguez and 12 other saps, the Globe published a list (editors all love lists) of players who have been suspended under the sports' drug policy as agreed to by Major League Baseball and the MLB Players' Association. There, under the list for 2012, I spotted the name of Bartolo Colon.

And this was news to me. I had completely forgotten that the A's pitcher served a 50-game suspension at the end of 2012 and the beginning of this season. When I saw Colon pitch, which I have at least once, he wasn't a wicked drug user, he was an older retread hurler having a damn good year, which he was and is.

If I forgot, so must have many other baseball fans. We had nothing on A's general manager Billy Beane. He must've forgotten the suspension while it was still going on, as he signed Colon to a $3 million contract before this season started, more than respectable money for a 40-year old pitcher or 40-year old anything.

Colon's suspension, in short, does not appear to have inflicted any material damage or moral stigma to his baseball life in 2013. Oh, maybe Keith Olbermann snubs him, but I bet Colon can life with that.

And that's fine!! That's great for baseball and baseball players. That's how a drug-use policy is supposed to work -- it should be dull and routine, like all policies. Here's a rule, you broke it, here's the penalty, see you when it's over. As I have stated before, the reason football fans don't get all hot and bothered over player drug use is that the NFL has made its policy so routine, fans get no signal to be bothered. Pro football treats its customers, at least in this case, as human beings mature enough to realize that human nature means that whenever an institution has rules, it will also have rulebreakers.

The Case of Forgetting Bartolo Colon goes a long way towards explaining why both Alex Rodriguez and Bud Selig have acted like damn fools in the Biogenesis affair, each with a flagrant disregard for their own best interests. It also suggests why Bud leads A-Rod by percentage points in the tightest pennant race of the season, the quest for the Missing Nose to Spite Face Division gonfalon.

A-Rod starts off with a handicap in that race -- a legimate excuse. He's a psychological basket case, way too messed-up and delusional to see what his best interests are. Out of an unhealthy desire to be loved, Rodriguez basically has come to believe that his own self-love is universal. He looks in the mirror and sees Derek Jeter. Baseball heroes like me don't do PEDs, Therefore, I will fight this charge with every fiber of my being.

This stance is hampered by the fact Rodriguez has already admitted to past PED use. If he'd only had the self-perception to crawl off his high horse, A-Rod could've already put Biogenesis behind him, serving a 50-game suspension that'd just be another unpleasant cloud across his superstar sunshine life, like getting booed, snarky items in Page Six, and the fact he sees the real Derek Jeter right next to him in the infield, or used to, anyway.

Selig cannot plead mental illness. He is of eminently sound if slow mind. Alas, rational people have egos, too. Since Selig is also the CEO of a multibillion dollar business enterprise, he deserves more public scorn for letting ego get in the way of his and his sport's best interests.

When it comes to PED use, what is baseball's best interest? To eliminate it? No, that's impossible. Minimizing it would be nice, but that's not nearly as important to the sport as the Colon Effect, that is, getting media and fans to stop freaking out about it. The less attention PED use gets, the better.

So Selig chose to pursue A-Rod in the Biogenesis case not just vigorously, which could be excused, but noisily, which cannot. He made PED use in baseball front page, network news lead item in August, the slowest month of the news year and not incidentally, one of the two months where baseball has the major team sports calendar all to itself. That's worth a stadium's worth of boos from Harvard Business School.

Selig had options with A-Rod. He could've, as he was advised by the MLBPA, given the miscreant a 50-game suspension indicating this case was just more grist for baseball's routine PED policy. But no, Bud was also enthralled with his self-image, in this case, the image of a fearless Commissioner crusading to clean up the sport. This image is as delusional as Rodriguez's. Selig, after all, was Commissioner for the Great PED Binge of the 1990s and early 2000s. He used to say then his hands were tied, and wow, did you see how far those balls Mark and Sammy hit went!

It's almost impossible to like A-Rod and if you meet him, it's almost impossible not to like Bud. But pleasant or unpleasant, dumb is dumb. Somebody needs to step in and take their scissors away, before the two kids hurt themselves even worse.


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