Wednesday July 15th, 2009

Did you enjoy the All-Star Game last night? Of course, it would've been just a whole lot better if Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriquez were there. Hey, we wanna see the real All-Stars -- right? -- and what's a little thing like cheating and breaking the law to cut into our fun?

Really, that appears the way most fans feel about the drug issue now.

Alex Wolff wrote a fascinating piece last week for Sports Illustrated, discussing how the European cycling culture is such that the Continental fans pretty much accept the fact that the riders simply need drugs to compete. Likewise, by now many baseball fans seem just to have been worn out by the drumroll of drug scandals. Why, we've even reached a point where performance-enhancing drugs are so common they have a space-saving acronym now. Steroids and their like are just P-E-Ds -- PEDs. Sort of a cute little name, isn't it? Pets, pats, putt-putts, paws, peeps. PEDs.

Almost sounds like a product: PEDs, PEDs Lite, Diet PEDs: "Hi, I'm Alex Rodriguez for PEDs. Did you have yours for breakfast this morning? Some of us players like our PEDs with strawberries or bananas. Others, like my good friend, Manny Ramirez, likes his PEDs with female hormones."

Or maybe, in that wonderful phrase by the late Daniel Moynihan, the growing acceptance of PEDs is just the baseball version of "defining deviancy down." It's the fashion now to defend the druggies by saying, 'Hey, what's the big deal? Pitchers scuffed up balls. Teams stole signs. Boys will be boys. What's a few PEDs amongst friends when you want to give a hundred and ten per cent?'

When Ramirez returned to the Dodger line-up, he didn't even deign to talk about steroids. But, anyway, by then it was as if poor Manny'd been away on bereavement leave. ESPN covered his return to the minor leagues as a celebration. And yes, whereas WADA (the World Anti-Doping Agency) mandates two years if you're caught on drugs the first time, in baseball it's only 50 games, and, for your comfort and safety, you can come back early to the minors and get in shape for your grand resurrection back into the majors. Of course, that's chain-gang punishment as compared to the NFL, where a guilty PED consumer, like Calvin Pace of the Jets, only gets a four-game suspension and he can keep practicing with the team and play in exhibition games.

Oh, a few old spoilsports still dare scold. Chris Young, the Padres pitcher and player representative, was there when Ramirez made his smirking return in San Diego, where cheering fans in the crowd wore replica Manny dreadlocks. "It's shameful," Young said. And when, not to be outdone by ESPN, Fox cut into its regularly scheduled game to breathlessly show Manny's first return at-bat, the analyst, Tim McCarver, had the courage to fume: "Why all the adulation for a guy who's served a 50-game suspension?"

Why, Tim? Because we fans don't seem to care anymore, and the clean players cravenly accept their place as patsies. See you at the All-PED Game next July.

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