07 February 2009

Allegation and Collusion

To me the most damning allegation in the "Alex Rodriguez tested positive in 2003" story has nothing directly to do with A-lightning-Rod*. It's this line: Three major league players who spoke to SI said that Rodriguez was also tipped by Orza in early September 2004 that he would be tested later that month.

*--- This is a horrible nickname for A. Rodriguez, I admit, because it's too long and complicated. But I think in that way it's also fitting as a one-time nickname because he is such a complicated player and subject.

I guess I wasn't paying enough attention when the Mitchell Report came out, because Orza was accused of something similar in that report. I find the subject of which players were using and what punishment they should have and what effect it should have on their hall of fame candidacies tedious, which I guess is why I missed it the first time, but this accusation against Orza is something else again.

For better or worse we ( most fans and baseball writers ) have decided that we don't want baseball players juicing and that we care about actually enforcing that rule and we want those who break that rule to be caught and punished. This is a statement about what kind of competitive framework we want for baseball; without some kind of competitive framework we can't have any confidence in the game as a fundamentally fair thing. Another statement about the competitive framework of baseball is that we support a particular team and want that team to do everything it can to win including going after the best free agents it can get. Simply put, all teams should try to win, which doesn't mean they have to try to maximize winning right now, but they should be aiming for winning at some point.

Owners and the Players Union claim to support the competitive framework of baseball, in particular the two aspects of it detailed above. They undermine the game and our faith in the legitimate competition when they do not uphold the competitive framework. The Owners strike against the game with collusion ( among other things ). The Players Union, it seems, strikes against the integrity of the game by trying to circumvent the drug testing system.

When a single player juices and tries to circumvent the testing it is disappointing, but not surprising or indicative of widespread corruption. Players have been cheating for a long time. We can, perhaps with some amount of self-imposed naïvity, think of a player doing this as an isolated incident. It is, certainly, just one player. There may be lots of other cases of "just one player", maybe 104 such, for example, but they are all still individuals acting alone who in theory could be caught and corrected by large systems and organizations whose purpose is to do the right thing. You know, the player's union and the owners. But if the head of the player's union is ( allegedly, and I hope it's not true! ) warning players about upcoming tests then now we have an entire organization trying to defeat the competitive structure of baseball. It is the difference between a single soldier torturing prisoners on his own and the head of state setting a policy of jamming bamboo under fingernails as an interrogation technique.

When Randy Wolf signs a contract for one year and 5.5 million I wonder. Not too much, given the economy and his patchy performance and injury history, but I do wonder how the market for pitchers could turn so dramatically. That is not the contract I thought Wolf would get entering the off-season, and I'm sure it's not the contract he thought he'd get. He got plenty more his first time around with the Dodgers when he was coming off injury!

There are individual teams who don't really seem to try to win, or maybe they're just really inept. But there are also times when the owners band together in an effort to defeat the competitive structure of the game. A collusion to drive down the price of free-agents. They've done it before. I'm not saying they're doing it now, and honestly I don't think they are, but the bad economy would be the perfect cover for it, you know? Maybe ... maybe I do think they are doing it, because sometimes I think people will do whatever they can get away with. And there is also this depressing thought: maybe the owners are who I think they are. I sure hope not.

So maybe we have corruption on both sides. Rich men doing whatever they can to rip apart the competitive structure of the game we love. Maybe it's best just not to think about it too much. When does Spring Training start?

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