The recent suspension of Ryan Braun and the likely future suspensions of superstar Alex Rodriguez and others show that steroid use is still a problem for baseball. Though these suspensions are for past use, one would be naive and foolish to assume that doping no longer plagues America’s pastime.
Indeed, many fans and critics of the sport point to PED use as a black eye on the sport, perhaps second only to the segregation that marked the game until April 15, 1947, when Jackie Robinson started at first base for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Unfortunately, the use of drugs to gain an unfair advantage is not something as easily deduced as the lack of minority players in the sport, so eliminating the problem has become a matter of testing for banned substances and dealing out punishments accordingly.
But if this kind of cheating is a black mark on baseball, it is on every other professional sport. Lance Armstrong is guilty of it. Marion Jones is guilty of it. Many NFL players are guilty of it every season. If there is a situation where a player sees that he or she may gain an unfair advantage over his or her competitors by using a drug and thereby score a bigger contract with larger bonuses and not get caught, that player is likely to take the risk.
So if baseball is forever ruined, so is every other sport. However, since such pessimism is no fun to anyone, we should choose to see doping in baseball (and other sports) as a challenge to overcome, just like we overcame the problem of segregated baseball in 1947.
I believe that future generations will remember the players who used PEDs (or at least the ones who got caught) in much the same way that we remember racist players, coaches and owners that fought to keep baseball segregated in the early half of the 20th century. Regardless of their records, their World Series titles or their MVP awards, we will first and foremost remember them because they cheated. Just look at how we remember Pete Rose.
The sport of baseball isn’t ruined, but it does have a problem that needs to be solved. With ever more severe penalties for players who use PEDs and more reliable and specific ways to test for banned substances, I think the worst of the PED era is behind us. Once the risk of getting caught outweighs any potential benefit to a player’s career, that player will be much less likely to turn to PEDs. It’s the same thing that discourages players from corking their bats or throwing spitballs.
Baseball will come out of this as strong as it ever has. America’s pastime will always have a special place in its collective heart as long as the fans, players and owners have a desire to see it remain as pure an example of Americana as possible and not watch it become a drug-crazed freak show. The sport means too much to too many people to allow such an undignified fate to befall their beloved baseball.