Alex Rodriguez and the Pink Elephant in the room

In all likelihood, you are feeling bloated by all-things A-Rod. Maybe you're repulsed by the person and what you feel he's done to baseball. Perhaps you're just sick of the 24/7 media swarm over what a ball player may or not have ingested. Or possibly you're just amused by the entire spectacle, a particular highlight of which occurred when A-Rod described his pending suspension as "the pink elephant in the room."

But the A-Rod focus obscures what's revealed by the bigger Biogenesis scandal. Gander at the names of everyone suspended.  

Tops on the anabolic trophy list after A-Rod is Brewers 2011 MVP Ryan Braun. After that we have a group little-known to the casual fan. There is Jordany Valdespin, Antonio Bastardo, Sergio Escalona, Nelson Cruz, Everth Cabrera, Jhonny Peralta, Jesus Montero, Francisco Cervelli, and minor leaguers Cesar Puello Fautino De Los Santos, Fernando Martinez, and Jordan Norberto.

Once we are past Braun, each and every one of these players comes out of baseball's notorious Latin American pipeline (or notorious for anyone who bothers to investigate).

Almost all the suspended players are from the Dominican Republic. This isn't coincidence or happenstance. It's the set-up of our globalized National Pastime in the 21st century. 

Any serious discussion about performance enhancing drugs and baseball needs to deal with the fact of who is getting caught. Major League owners choose to invest billions of dollars in Latin America to develop talent on the cheap in the school's baseball academies. In the Dominican Republic, where 40 percent of the country lives below the poverty line, steroids are actually legal and available over the counter. 

As Gregg Sarra reported for Newsday in 2009, "Here's how easy it is to buy anabolic steroids in the Dominican Republic: Walk into the local pharmacy and ask for them." 

Human Growth Hormones are also available but you need a prescription.

Children get scouted before their tenth birthday, are signed to contracts for peanuts, and their families see baseball—not without reason—as the best shot to escape poverty. The incentive to use steroids weighs on the Tweens charged with dragging their families out of poverty. According to my own interviews with Major Leaguers who've injected their bodies with banned substances, they're psychologically—if not physically—profoundly addictive.

Look at one of the most prominent people branded with the scarlet "S", Sammy Sosa. Before his 13th birthday, he stitched soles in a shoe factory for, as he remembered, "pennies, just enough to survive." His choices, as he said, were the cane fields, the army or baseball.

Baseball's owners prey on this reality. They want to benefit from steroids in the development of talent and then excoriate those same players when caught on US shores. It's a context that speaks to the imperial arrogance at the heart of the game. It's a context right in front of our faces that we are asked not to see. Put simply, MLB owners want to have their anabolic cake and eat it too.

It's also worth noting that many white, college-educated, US-born players have been front and center speaking about why they oppose steroids in the game, leading one of the main media storylines: that "the players are demanding more testing and harsher penalties." Perhaps. But it would be nice to hear just one US born player say that maybe—just maybe—the context and reality of a lot of the people getting pinched is profoundly different than their own.

16 Reader Comments | Add a comment

Predictable

I was waiting for the racism defense to be thrown out & once again you didn't disappoint in your predictableness. How bout steroids legal for Hispanic players & illegal for white players? Last time I checked that list they were major league players being suspended not children. These guys knew the rules & they broke it plan & simple. Sosa was in the major for decades before he added 40-50 lbs of muscle & quite a few hat sizes so how does his rough childhood excuse him from cheating? He also corked a bat, is that excused?

The Bears new coach is from the CFL can our receivers make catches in the wider CFL lines?

Seriously Dave you can justify steroids better than this. Horrible attempt.

Bring up a good point but for wrong reason

I agree that the baseball pipeline is wrong and that many players juice to try and get out to the rough neighbourhood and the baseball managers pray on that. Also why they top list on suspension. Unlike bball dress code there is an actual legitmate racist subtext here. However that doesn't make steroids legal, that doesn't make steroids less dangerous, and it doesn't make them more "moral". Are they going after them for wrong reasons? Potentially. Does that make steroids ok? No. I love how you hate the moral arguement for anti-steroid people but you use the same arguement in your pro steroid stance. I believ there's a word for that begins with an H....

Amazing how zarin thinks

The race card can always be played and that none of these guys are responsible for their own actions and they are all victims.

Zarin has a strong case of white guilt

Also zarin articles are very predictable

Any issue comes back to race and how, why even the worst offender is a victim. I don't know who taught zarin such a skewed world view but I don't see how he can write any of his articles with a straight face.

The primary contradiction here is capitalism

I didn't read this as justifying steroids, nor did I read it as focusing on race, or on moral arguments, but on the material realities that underlie the use of steroids for a number of Dominican players who've been suspended for steroid use, and the antagonistic material realities of the owners who benefit from the steroid use, from childhood on, of those players.

we've not come far yet

inequities beget exploitation and vice versa.

keep exposing them, Dave.

Jason...

You missed the major point of this column by a mile, which is that MLB and its owners are up on a moral high hoarse about steroid use and cheaters, all the while they are setting up developmental programs in countries where steroids are legal and easily attainable. Not to mention the factor of poverty which gives young players all the more motive to use.
To put it quite simply, easy access to performance enhancing drugs PLUS poverty PLUS chance of escaping poverty EQUALS People using performance enhancing drugs, which are easily accessible to potential escape poverty.
MLB is clearly a willing and able participant or willfully blind, before, during and after the fact.

Mike

I might agree if these were kids being banned but that's not what this is. Then why are the vast majority of Latin players not testing positive? Last time I checked all but one of the players caught in this sting were veteran Major Leaguers not kids These guys already escaped poverty they are making millions. Also, there are 100% street legal supplements in the US that are banned by sports leagues. Example, Jim Miller.

So because MLB has development leagues in countries where steroids are legal means they can't ban them? Isn't that like saying that if a man is from a country where beating your wife is legal then he is allowed to do it in this country?

So should we have different rules for players from different classes? If you come from poverty you're allowed to do steroids?

These guys did the crime they should do the time. And lets not pretend there lives are ruined. I'm not gonna shed a tear for guys that cheat and then end up still getting huge contracts. Example, Melky Cabrera, David Ortiz, shit everyone really..

Jason

Excellent points, couldn't agree more

Point of Order

Thanks for your last two columns on A-Rod and PED's, Dave, and especially this one. The owners are still untouchable and their feedlot labor plan continues unmolested.

Reading some of the comments on these important issues reminds me of Brecht in front of HUAC; an observer said "it was like a man being cross-examined by apes."

Again..

You are missing the main point, no one is saying MLB can't ban steroids or other PED's. My main point is that MLB and the owners don't care nor
really want to completely rid the game of PEDs.
If they did truly want to they would have fired Bud Selig, who was running things when the problems really took hold in the 80's and 90's and they would have also punished owners and manegement who allowed their teams to become havens for it.
Then on top of that they are still pouring money into developing talent where steroids are legally accessible and where the people have all the more motive to use all the while saying they want to clean up the game.
Face it all of this league generated hype around steroids and PEDs by baseball is just to keep congress off their backs. It is public relations plain and simple.

Class, not race

Having actually read the article, I find it hard to believe the comments about race when race isn't even the topic.

It's all about class. The author only mention race once at the bottom when he talks about how many "white, college-educated, US-born players have been front and center speaking about why they oppose steroids in the game".

You could take out the word "white" and it wouldn't change the article one iota.

One way to avoid suspension: Don't get caught

One difference between MLB and other US sports leagues is its recruitment model. The NBA and NHL scour the earth for players, but no matter whence he hails, he must enter the draft process, where teams must wait their turn to select him. Baseball's draft covers only amateur players, age 18 and older, from US and its territories. Overseas, a team can recruit and develop players as young as the local governments will allow, without sharing info on said youths with other teams. After coaches, physicians, dentists, and whatever slush funds they have to pay out to local authorities, whether this model saves money is debatable. 50 years ago maybe, but now that every team has at least one such clinic on foreign soil, not so certainly.

Actually owners never wanted to fool with steroid tests in the first place. This was never some moral imperative on their part, just a bargain they struck to appease Congress. Still, the PED tests have been in place for 7 years, so it's a little late to say "MLB owners want to have their anabolic cake and eat it too." The players know the exact date of one test, with possible random ones during the season. You don't have to refrain from PED's completely to pass the tests; you just have to refrain for part of a year.

cheating

In game six of 2004 ALSCS, A-Rod swatted the ball from Bronson Arroyo's glove, knowing very well that kind of play is illegal. The announcers on the radio called it a good play since A-rod was out anyway. If the umpires did not catch it, then Jeter would score and A-Rod would get first base. The announcers made the case that cheating was A-Rod's best possible option.

That demonstrates a culture of cheating is OK unless you get caught and even then it's OK because it may be the best possible option.

This kind of culture needs to be included in any discussion of the use of banned substances.

Alternative hyothesis

You're assuming that Domincan players use PEDs at a higher rate. It's possible that they use at the same rate as White, college educated players but are more likely to be prosecuted. Did MLB pursue other cases with the same vigor as Biogenesis? It's similar to the differential penalties for crack v. powder cocaine. Just depends on who is doing it.

You also misjudge motivations of players. You get to that level because you love the game. And that's why players take the drugs--they want to play and do well.

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Dave Zirin is the author of the book: "Welcome to the Terrordome: The Pain, Politics and Promise of Sports" (Haymarket). You can receive his column Edge of Sports, every week by going to dave@edgeofsports.com.
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