Tuesday, May 12, 2009

On Manny and Steroids and Human Nature

There is no more over-written-about subject on the internets than steroids in baseball. I have tried to remain aloof. I have tried to reserve judgment. I have more or less navigated my way through the stages of grief quietly and introspectively. But now it has hit a little too close to home and I must make my completely unoriginal thoughts on the matter known.

It recently became known that Manny Ramirez, currently on the Dodgers, formerly of the Red Sox, has been suspended for 50 games, or about one-third of the season, for taking performance enhancing drugs. The offending substance was hCG, which is, and I find this amusing, a female fertility drug that steroid users inject at the end of a cycle of steroids to get their bodies back to normal (I think the term of art is, "cycling out").

Manny's excuse is that it was prescribed, just an innocent mistake. We've heard that one before. Some other reactions to getting caught with steroids or, more generally, performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) are:
Quick story about Roger Clemens. Last summer I was in New York City with my dad and brothers and we decided to go to a real nice steakhouse to, you know, get the complete feel of New York. At the table next to us is seated none other than The Rocket with what I imagine are some sons and other friends/family. I'm wearing my Red Sox cap, which he had to have seen. My thought is, I'm not the type of person that, as a grown man, will bother another grown man during dinner, so I'll just pull out my blackberry and take a real incognito picture because, hey, these things don't have a flash. It's a phone! It couldn't possibly have a flash! That would be absurd. I snap the picture, the entire dimly restaurant lights up in a blinding glow, and The Rocket looks right at me as I quietly put the phone away and act like nothing happened.

Anyway, like I said, this newest PED revelation about Manny hit a little close to home. I am someone who loves baseball, and I love the Red Sox. I am too old for this, I know, but it is what it is. My wife swears I came to tears when the Sox finally won the World Series in 2004 after an 86-year drought, and again when I bought the complete DVD's and watched the moment again. I say hogwash, but she is adamant. I almost named my dog Manny a few years ago to honor the greatest right-handed hitter of the generation who propelled the Sox to two World Series championships. And he's a druggy.

I was initially surprised and saddened. But that wore away pretty quick. Nothing should surprise us anymore in this regard. And then I remembered this take on the situation from baseball thinker extraordinaire, Bill James:

"You give me the opportunity to earn $22 million a year by taking steroids, I’ll shoot the pharmacist if I have to. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m not saying I shouldn’t be punished for shooting the pharmacist. I am saying it is self-righteous to pretend that I don’t have the same human failings that these guys do, and further, if you are insisting that you don’t have them, I don't believe you."

Now, obviously some people would not do it, and I imagine many baseball players resisted, but this is basic human nature, I think. There is a lot of money at stake, enormous amounts, and injecting a little steroids seems like a small price to pay. If I could inject something that I knew was illegal but that suddenly made me much better at what I do for a living and would increase my salary by three, four, five times, would I do it? I tell myself the answer is no but that is a very real temptation for anyone.

Another factor to consider is that advances in medicine and pharmaceutics has blurred the line between what is cheating and what is therapeutic. We can now remove ligaments from our ankles and insert them in our elbows to treat elbow injuries (the so-called Tommy John Surgery). We have medication that treats illness and allergies far better than in the past. We have corrective laser surgery for our eyes to make us see better.

Of course, we can see a distinction between these advances which are deemed safe and legal and corrective, as opposed to PEDs which fewer players are presumably willing to take because of long-term health risks and illegality, and which put the person on an unhuman level of ability and strength that the other treatments don't, but it really isn't so cut and dry. Especially in the heat of the moment with millions of dollars on the table.

So I don't end up angry, or sad, or give up the game completely. I try to remember how I felt when this happened. How I feel when I play catch in the backyard with my boy or watch one of his little league games. I try to remember that these are all still just humans and that, like the rest of the population, some are cheaters, some are jerks, some are idiots, some are genuine, some are honorable, and some are just completely normal except for the fact that they can throw a ball 95 mph and nail a precise target. Or hit a round ball coming in at 95 mph with a round bat, 400 feet and make tens of thousands of people cheer and forget about life for a moment.

Knowing this almost makes the game seem more real, in a finding-out-there-is-no-Santa kind of way. I feel a little nostalgic for the cleaner past, but more human knowing the truth.


Randall said...

Call: Misrepresentation

The Proclamation to the World is not an internal memo given to guide and advise Latter-Day Saints. It is a broad declaration, “To The World,” as it states. To make that more clear the language of the document speaks clearly not just to individuals but to nations.

On this document, one does not have the luxury of saying “I live these principles, but they’re not for everyone.” That, of course, is not what the document suggests. The document is literally a prophet crying out in the wilderness repentance to all people.

The Proclamation is three things, ( liberals hate all these words )

Absolute: There is no wiggle room on these principles, they unnegotiable and undeniable.

Eternal: This is not a time specific policy, these are the same principles which our society requires since the dawn of time till the end of time.

Universal: These principles do and must apply to everyone, everywhere. They are not culturally specific, not for people of a certain nation or point of view, they are universal, like gravity.

Reread the text, I’m right.

Call: Misrepresentation

I specifically indicated that the discussion about the resonance between liberalism and Mormonism was not a partisan question. It was you who framed that definition by calling your site “The Mormon Left.” Is it were.

It was clever to try to dismiss the entire discussion by quoting Hinckley words that you can be a Mormon and a Democrat. But I specifically went out of my way to say that was not the content of the forthcoming debate. The question is about Mormonism and the Principles, Practices, and Positions of CONTEMPORARY LIBERALISM.

Reread the text again I wrote. You might want to stop high fiving yourselves in the bull-pen.

Note: The church is not remarkably friendly to its members publishing representations of its position that are inaccurate. Representing the church in print is a tricky business. The church is less friendly to its members challenging their policies in print. Something to consider as all of these postings are being copied and saved independently.

Andrew said...

"On this document, one does not have the luxury of saying "I live these principles, but they’re not for everyone." That, of course, is not what the document suggests."

Actually, that's wrong.

There are exactly two sections of the Proclamation specifically about civic life and families:

"Further, we warn that the disintegration of the family will bring upon individuals, communities, and nations the calamities foretold by ancient and modern prophets."

"We call upon responsible citizens and officers of government everywhere to promote those measures designed to maintain and strengthen the family as the fundamental unit of society."

The rest of the document is a description of our beliefs.

The first quoted section is a strong warning about the consequences of disintegrating families. The second is a call for people everywhere to do what they can to strengthen families.

First off, the phrase "designed to maintain and strengthen the family" leaves a fair amount to interpretation. As members of the Church we have very specific ideas about how to do that (i.e., live the gospel); other people may have different ideas.

The Church is very specific about how it treats the issue of LDS politicans and those who participate in the political process. To quote from the lds.org website:

"Elected officials who are Latter-day Saints make their own decisions and may not necessarily be in agreement with one another or even with a publicly stated Church position. While the Church may communicate its views to them, as it may to any other elected official, it recognizes that these officials still must make their own choices based on their best judgment and with consideration of the constituencies whom they were elected to represent." (Source)

And, so, we are left to our own best judgment as to how we should proceed in the arena of politics. You may view same-sex marriage as destroying families; I view divorce as a far more sinister and prevalent force, and therefore far more important than the issue of same-sex marraige. I believe that so strongly that I think the same-sex marriage issue sucks vital resources away from other measures designed to strengthen families.

To me, countries like Norway are far ahead of us in consideration for and promotion of family life. So my politics generally trends along those lines and includes supporting things like paid parental leave (for both father and mother) when a child is born or an elderly parent needs special care. Those issues affect a huge number of people, way more than are affected by same-sex marriage. Decent sex education is another issue that I feel strongly about; after all, the main causes of divorce are financial and sexual issues. I think having decent sex education pays dividends all around; reducing teen pregnancies, improving the chances for couples to enjoy a healthy sex life, and so forth.

And so I make common cause with Liberals who support these measures because I feel they will save more families than efforts to deny same-sex couples the right to marry. After all, the Proclamation doesn't explicitly state that we must oppose same-sex marriage as a matter of public policy. It leaves the avenues we follow in protecting families open to interpretation, and that openess applies both within the church and without.

A style note -- if you're going to claim that a document says certain things, quote the relevant sections of the document that you think support your case. You assert that 'On this document, one does not have the luxury of saying "I live these principles, but they’re not for everyone."' What language in the document causes you to believe that?

Andrew said...

To comment on the original post (this isn't Randall's blog, after all) -- there is something structurally wrong, it seems. I don't know a better way to organize professional sports, but I agree that pursuing sports as a career does put you into compromising situations. Does it have to be that way? I don't really know the answer, but I get a sense that the whole structure of how sports are played and enjoyed could be modified to reduce the enticements for drug abuse and other unsportsmanlike conduct.

Shawn O. said...

I'm really not sure what your comment has to do with steroids, but whatever.

Nobody is arguing that the Family Proclamation is a suggestion. Nor are the scriptures, or any prophetic insight. I will argue that the choice to follow such commandments exists. In fact, the freedom to choose ones course of action is THE fundamental criteria of the Plan of Salvation.

You are wrong about liberals hating certain words. In fact, I would submit that the quest to discover that which is absolute, eternal and universal is the motivation behind everything that I do.

My beef with your fixation on "absolutisms" is your incessant desire to assign a set of traits or beleifs to all members of some group. For example, let's suppose I said "all red-haired people like to eat pizza." While it may be true that many red-haired people like pizza, it can not be true that ALL red-haired people like pizza. So when you make statements like "liberals hate all these words" you are utterly mistaken on many levels because you lump everybody into one category. The same is true when you suggest that all liberals support abortion and homosexuality. We should avoid these kind of absolutes, or similar ones like: all republicans own guns, conservatives all support war and capital punishment, Mormons all practice polygamy, etc.

Second, I have no clue what your motivation behind your "note" is:

"Note: The church is not remarkably friendly to its members publishing representations of its position that are inaccurate. Representing the church in print is a tricky business. The church is less friendly to its members challenging their policies in print. Something to consider as all of these postings are being copied and saved independently."

If you are suggesting that any of us have claimed to represent the church, then you are a moron. There is not on posted item that "challenges [the Churches] policies in print." Both Jacob and I (and so far Andrew as well) have not said anything contradictory to church policy. Perhaps you should try reading all of the posts (I mean actually _reading_ from the beginning of the blog). There is nothing that we have said that is shameful or jeopardizing to our membership (according to the principles of the church).

Finally, I'm fascinated that both you and Byron like to call us out on "dodging" the topic, and yet neither of you have responded to a number of arguments we have presented. For example, according to YOUR definition of socialism, Abraham Lincoln is one of the most social liberalists to ever sit in the White House.

While your at it, respond to the idea that some (see I said some, not all) Republicans in Texas and Georgia have voiced the desire to secede from the United States. Considering we have both professed love for the Constitution and it's divine inspiration, how is it that these Republicans can support such an unconstitutional act?