A few days ago, while watching Sports Center with a friend who is a casual baseball fan, he said something that lit my fuse: “Chris Davis is on ‘roids. No doubt about it.” This statement came after the highlight of a monster blast by Davis to record his MLB-leading 41st home run (he’s since added another). “No!” I said instantly, defending a player who doesn't know me from Adam, and causing my friend to question my sanity. “He’s not involved in that mess. He’s just that good.” I ran through Davis’s history as a one-time “Can’t Miss” prospect who struggled early in his career. I talked about swing adjustments, maturity, patience at the dish, and studying opposing pitchers. And within two minutes, Mr. Casual Fan completely tuned me out with a wide-eyed stare, changing the subject to something other than baseball. In retrospect, I don’t blame him for not seeing the urgency in my passionate rebuttal of his seemingly innocuous statement. Hell, he just brought it up for sake of conversation. Why did I react like a zealot?
More recently, Jack Clark accused Albert Pujols of juicing. Following that bomb, I started thinking about King Albert’s fat contract with the Angels, his struggle to produce at his former level and his sudden inability to shake physical ailments. I also contemplated how Pujols might be guilty, considering his numbers drop-off since joining his new team. Based solely on his career statistics with the Cardinals, he’s a sure first-ballot hall of famer. Did he manage to evade MLB drug testers, sign a gaudy contract, realize there is no more reason to risk being caught, and stop using PEDs knowing no matter how he plays from here forward he will remain a can’t-miss member of Cooperstown? Then I read Pujols’s statement regarding Clark’s allegations. (Clark, incidentally, has been dismissed from the radio show where he made his comments). And my mind opinion began to change.
Effectively, I made the same assumption about Pujols that my friend made about Davis. I defended one player while considering the certainty of another being guilty of cheating. In essence, I am guilty of hypocrisy. I like Davis because I’ve followed him since his prospect days, so I stuck up for him. I do not like Pujols because he, in my mind, will always be a member of the hated Cardinals. I wanted Clark’s allegations to be true. We all fall into this mindset at times, especially when it comes to favorite (or hated) players. I defended Pete Rose long after evidence proved he gambled on ballgames. I hated Bart Giamatti. I hated John Dowd. I hated Fay Vincent. Later, I hated Bud Selig. Then, Pete finally admitted they were all correct. And for about a decade after that, I hated Pete Rose. In my mind, he had made me a fool. But in reality, my choice to keep the blinders on is what created my foolishness.
But I digress. The main question I want to raise here is whether the suspension of a handful of players actually signals the league-wide prevalence of cheating? I think the answer is simply, "No." Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association have a testing agreement in place that rivals that of any other organized sport. Davis and Pujols, along with all of their peers, have been subjected to multiple tests each season. Ryan Braun, Jhonny Peralta, and the other ten players who were recently disciplined and accepted suspensions represent just a tiny percentage of the overall number of players in the game (I’m leaving Alex Rodriguez out of the conversation because drugs won't be what gets Mr. Arrogant banned from baseball. His ship will be sunk by hubris). Can guys like Davis and Pujols really be this good without using illegal enhancers? Absolutely. How many times have Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Andrew McCutchen or Joey Votto been mentioned as users? None that I recall. So why can’t Pujols simply be ailing at the moment and feeling the effects of age? Why can’t Davis be having another monster season as a result of a lifetime of hard work? Why are we so quick to assume that a player who is outperforming most of his peers has a foreign substance coursing through his veins? Oh… you still remember the 1990s, huh? Good point. But I’m encouraged by the diligence of Selig and crew in their effort to clean up the game. Really good players are getting bad raps for producing, just because a few of their cohorts continue to skirt the system. But for every Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, there is a David Ortiz and Buster Posey-- players who make memories for us without walking down shadowy alleys full of future denials.
Why the rant, and what does it have to do with fantasy baseball? Nothing and everything. I’m as guilty as every other fan of sitting in judgment and meting out imaginary sentences to athletes who have worked their entire lives to compete and excel at the highest level. I don’t want to assume anymore that a star player is thriving because of drugs. I want to see the beauty in the game again and marvel at superior talent. I want to see another Bo Jackson (the baseball version), but this time sans the career-ending injury. I want to believe in players like Yasiel Puig, without waiting for the shoe to drop on another scandal. I want to be encouraged by this generation’s Pete Rose, Bryce Harper, not discouraged by liars like Braun.
In short, I want to love this game like I did as a child without allowing swindlers to cause me to cast a suspicious eye at any player who performs at the elite threshold. That decision is totally up to me. No more zealot, a lot more zeal. If I allow my attitude to see the game this way, maybe the game will be as I remember.
Hey, have you picked up Hector Santiago yet? His ownership has increased from 5% last week to 16% this week, but the ChiSox hurler is still drastically ignored. Pounce! In the past month, Michael Saunders ranks 28th in the Yahoo game, yet is still only 23% owned. Minus one bad outing against the Pirates, Dan Haren has reverted to his K/QS ways for the Nationals since July 8th. A few more starts like this, and that 59% ownership rate will jump dramatically. DBack Wade Miley (56%) is begging for attention. Tyson Ross (15%) has pulled a Haren since jumping to the Padre rotation July 23rd. Take notice. Alexei Ramirez has shown some pop since taking over the #3 spot in the White Sox order for the traded Alex Rios.