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Thursday, February 12, 2009
Guest Post: How A-Rod Can Still Get to Cooperstown (And Save Baseball)

The following is a guest post co-authored by Aaron Zelinsky and Benjamin Johnson of Yale Law School

* * *

Americans love heroes, and we love to see them fall. Alex Rodriguez was a hero, and now he’s falling fast. Batting clean-up behind Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Mark McGuire, A-Rod joins the All-Star Team of the players who shot themselves in the foot – or the arm, or the thigh. The accolades and records of these disgraced players will find no place in Cooperstown.

But there’s hope for A-Rod. There’s still time to save himself and baseball.

We Americans also like a story of redemption. There can be second acts in American life after all. At 33, A-Rod still has good playing years left and much work to do on the field. However, it is off the field where he might find the road to deliverance and, with a little luck and a lot of contrition, maybe even the road to Cooperstown.

A-Rod’s comeback needs three things: First, he has to become the public face of baseball purists. He must ask for asterisks on his baseball cards for the years he was doping. He must disavow any claim to any records built even in part on banned substances. In particular, he must make it clear that he will never accept any accolades if he breaks Hank Aaron’s home run record due to those enhanced years in Texas. It will remain Aaron’s record.

Second, A-Rod must devote himself to cleaning up baseball. He needs to pressure the players’ union and the players individually to demand real, regular, and reliable testing. No more heads ups from the union. Everybody gets tested regularly. If you want to play major league ball, you will get tested.

Fans have been clamoring for this program for years, but don’t have the clout to budge the union. A-Rod does. He should follow Lance Armstrong’s example, and have himself tested publicly and regularly. A-Rod should thereby prove himself to be clean and pressure others to follow. If he can’t convince them into action, he can shame them.

Finally, A-Rod needs to stay healthy and play as long as he can play well. He must put up Hall of Fame numbers for the next five years to make the case that he is a Hall of Famer without the juice.

Baseball is an unforgiving game. Shoeless Joe was a great player who will never have his Hall of Fame plaque. Nobody played with more hustle than Pete Rose, but, to see Cooperstown, he will always have to buy a ticket. McGuire hit the ball out of the park, but the sportswriters still won’t let him into the Hall.

But for A-Rod, there is still hope. He can still earn his way to Cooperstown by saving the game he helped destroy.

Benjamin Johnson and Aaron Zelinsky are members of the Yale Law School Class of 2010.


I really have to disagree with this, and to insinuate that he "helped destroy" baseball is an incredible overstatement. I'm not upset with ARod or any of the PED users. I'm more upset about the way it is handled by the government, media, baseball, and the public at large. The hyperbole in the media that fuels the attitude that baseball is somehow in trouble because of steroids stems from a lack of understanding of baseball history. Baseball has gone through a lot worse – the gambling scandals of the early 1900s, and two World Wars – and it survives to this day, more popular and lucrative than ever.

As long as baseball has been played, players have turned to artificial means to enhance their performance. Hall of Famer King Kelly was known to skip bases as he rounded them because he played at a time where there was only one umpire to watch the field. In the 1890s John McGraw and his Baltimore Orioles grabbed players on the basepaths to slow their running (again, that whole one umpire thing) and prior to the game would muddy up the infield to hamper bunting if they were playing against a team that tended to utilize it. A modern illustration of what I feel is a more egregious example of cheating than any of the PED users is – yet, another Hall of Famer – Gaylord Perry, who was well known for throwing the Vaseline ball. At the very least, the PED users still have their skill in play even if it is an “enhanced” skill; Perry was operating with completely different equipment and Kelly was playing by a whole different set of rules.

To compare PED use to the Black Sox, Pete Rose, or any of the other many gambling scandals that plagued baseball in the early 1900s is foolish. Think of it in a little league context: if you are called safe at first base when you know you are out, there is enormous social pressure to shut up and take your base. If, on the other hand, the ball is grounded to you as an infielder and you can easily throw out the runner, there is enormous social pressure to do so rather than simply letting him be safe at first. This pressure is there to preserve the integrity of the athletic competition. When you take wanting to win too far, it creates a situation where it's too ugly and "not worth it," which needs to be punished. However, when you add wanting to LOSE into the equation, you've got a game that's going nowhere and might as well be called off or given a pre-determined outcome like pro wrestling.

Back to the way this issue is handled by the media, and why it is frustrating. Everyone is more concerned about getting names than anything else that actually matters in the grand scheme of things – how to fix the problem, what the effects are, etc. People often suggest that steroids need to be rooted out of the game "for the sake of children." Much like they screw up every other drug policy in the country, the powers that be have similarly handled the steroid issue all wrong by demonizing users rather than actually doing something constructive and educating. You hear more about [X player] who took HGH than the studies that show that HGH doesn't improve athletic ability (and there are many).

I don't think that steroids don't matter, or that efforts should not be made to weed them out of the game, but they should be placed in their proper context. Few things grate on me worse than media sensationalism and playing down to the lowest common denominator... and this whole steroids thing that has been going on for the last 5 or so years is full of both.

Anonymous Mark DeVincentis -- 2/13/2009 11:12 AM  

Mark McGwire. . .

not, Mark McGuire.

Otherwise, well written. Comparing Pete Rose to any of these guys understates the magnitude of the sin of gambling. Sure, Mac, Barry, A-Rod and The Rocket did the juice, but so did many (VERY many)of their peers. Gambling is in a different universe as far as a violation of integrity of a sport.

Remember, the media didn't give a rat's a** that the NFL Defensive Player of the Year (Sean (sp?) Merriman tested positive).

Please, folks, ignore this false outrage being peddled by the media about steroids. The media knew it then, and they knew that many players did it.

Forgive the players that did it, let's move on.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 2/16/2009 12:01 AM  

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