At 2 pm yesterday afternoon, the New York Times broke news that Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz tested positive for steroids in 2003, making them them the sixth and seventh names to come to light as being on that list. In case you don't know, this list is the result of a test that Major League Baseball conducted to see if it needed to implement league-wide testing for performance enhancers, enough players tested positive in that 2003 survey for the league to start cracking down on the problem and testing regularly. (I wrote a little more about it in this February article about Alex (A-Rod) Rodriguez's admission of guilt, if you need some more info.) Needless to say, this is devastating news to the people of Red Sox Nation (I'm not a member), as two beloved members of the 2004 team that broke the curse have now fallen, though Ramirez has recently lost some of his luster after serving a 50 game suspension this season for testing positive for a female fertility drug, the kind of drug that one would take if they needed their body to restart the production of testosterone. Either way, it doesn't seem like baseball's steroid problem is going to go away any time soon, and it's probably going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
There's no longer any question that tons of major league players were at some point using performance enhancers. All kinds of players have gotten caught, it doesn't make a difference if they're a big star or a guy doing whatever it takes to stay in the Majors. Baseball is mired in a major quagmire right now, this is no longer up for debate. Changes need to happen, and they need to happen right now. There are two things that Major League Baseball should do to change the course of the sport: 1) release the names of everyone on that list and 2) tell Bud Selig to take a hike.
Even though the test and its results were supposed to remain anonymous, that 2003 list of the first steroid offenders is haunting the game right now. I don't know how or why it wasn't destroyed, as the Commissioner's office had promised at the time, but it's too late to destroy it now, as it is in the hands of federal prosecutors. In order to avoid a situation where the game gets dragged back to 2003 every six months or so, the names on that list need to be made public. The league has already established the precedent of not suspending players for being on that list because A-Rod wasn't suspended, and no one listed in the Mitchell Report was suspended as a result of having his name in that document. But, these guys need to take their lumps, make their veiled apologies and we all need to move on. It's never gonna be over until it's over, and by being in a situation where "anonymous sources" leak a name or two every few months, or whenever the sports news cycle shows a sign of slowing down. I'm not a lawyer and I don't know what the legality of this might be, the Deadspin post on the subject remarked that the anonymous source might have broken some laws by leaking the names, but it's really the only way.
And Bud Selig has to go. I don't understand how he has held his job this long anyway, but it's really time for someone else to come in and change the culture. Bud is too entrenched in his product at this point, and he's not able to look rationally at what's happening. Maybe it's that he's more worried about profitability than integrity, and the league is quite profitable, and maybe he's just too much a member of some old boys network. Either way, his time has passed. How much more do we, as fans, have to take? From the World Series-canceling strike of 1994 to the Expos/Nationals wandering franchise to the consistent talk of contraction in the late 90's and early Aughts to the steroid issue that has plagued the league for the last twenty years, enough is enough. I'm not blaming it all on Selig, but it's time for him to step down for the sake of the league. The league needs someone totally transparent and new to make clear that the time when we all looked the other way as players bulked up to ridiculous degrees and blasted home runs is over. Baseball needs a new direction, and it starts at the top, with replacing Selig.
As for Ortiz testing positive, this one is gonna hurt a lot of people. The amazing irony of all the steroid admissions is that, while many high profile names have come out, there hasn't been a widely loved player on the list, until now. Sure, San Francisco Giants fans loved Barry Bonds, but most everyone else found him to be an asshole. The same is true for players like A-Rod and Roger Clemens, they had both built up enough ill will throughout the course of their careers that they were not iconic anymore. Ortiz is a little different, he's still loved by everyone who roots for the Red Sox, and he's always had an incredibly lovable aura surrounding him. What's worse, he is on record as wanting a really harsh penalty for steroid users, making him not just a de facto liar for using them, but a hypocrite as well. Oh yeah, and a cheater.
In a certain way, this news makes us have to face, once again, the disparity between who we think these athletes are and who they really are. We've seen before players who have ruined their good guy reps by engaging in sketchy off-field behavior (Kirby Puckett, anyone?), but this is a little different because now (as much as ever) we've got to accept that this is cheating and these guys are cheaters, no matter how many names come out. A very basic and schoolyard-esque rule has been broken, and for some reason, the more players who come out as having broken it, the more necessary that rule seems. Which is to say, an aberration is one thing, but an epidemic is something completely different. On the bright side, sometimes cheating only costs you your reputation; unfortunately and tragically for Steve McNair, cheating can sometimes cost you your life.
The steroid issue is never going to be truly behind everyone, not unless there is a major sea change within the game or we stop caring about it entirely. In all likelihood, it's the latter that will happen first, and if the Ortiz revelation proves anything it might be that, indeed, such a vast majority of players are on performance enhancers that it will take several generations of players to weed it all out. I don't really believe that this is a realistic expectation, and I think maybe it's time to accept that this is the state of the game. No star is above suspicion, no fan base will remain unaffected by future leaks, the Hall of Fame will eventually (and might already) include steroid users. We need to learn to get used to it because that's just the way it is, and it's probably the way it will always be. Whether or not it has to be that way is an entirely different discussion.
**concurrently posted today at stevesword.com