The Village Idiot
by John Brattain
John Brattain is a 36-year-old baseball writer from Campbellford, Ontario, Canada. After graduating from high school, he worked in a number of jobs, got married, and is the proud father of two beautiful daughters--who thankfully got more of their mother's and not their father's DNA. Following a lengthy recovery from a truck accident in November 1991, John came to the decision that he wanted to work covering sports. He is a longtime (and long suffering) fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He also hasn't forgiven Roger Staubach for his 90-second rally over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game back in the 1970s.
John's greatest sports love is baseball. He describes himself more of a Field Of Dreams than Bull Durham kind of fan. He's done extensive research into the history of baseball including nineteenth century baseball, the Federal League, and the Negro Leagues. He fell in love with the Montreal Expos and remains a frustrated fan of Les Expos--still cursing Jim Fanning to this day for having Steve Rogers pitch the ninth inning in the final game of the 1981 NLCS when they had a rested Jeff Reardon waiting in the bullpen.
John is also an increasingly rare phenomenon: a fan of both the Expos and the Toronto Blue Jays. He is also considered an authority on the "inside game" of baseball, having studied baseball economics, labor law, and collective bargaining.
John began writing about baseball in 1995, and initially struck out more often than the early 1990s Detroit Tigers. After getting a small number of freelance articles published in some small (and we mean small) town papers, he was hired on as a baseball history guide for The Mining Company (now About.com). He was later picked up by MLBtalk.com and published well over 100 columns and features--some of which went into syndication. He also enjoyed a stint with the New York Yankees official web site doing over 30 historical features for Yankees Xtreme. He was cut loose when MLB took over all teams' official web sites.
When MLBtalk went belly up, SABR and TOTK columnist Lee Sinins, fearing the consequences of John not having anything to do, considered it his civic duty to invite him aboard TOTK.com Sports.
He will most likely live to regret it. :-)
Sports Bytes 9/3/01
Sports Bytes 8/31/01
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|Hodge Podge VI
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|Where Do We Go From Here?
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|For What It's Worth
TOTK Today 8/13/01
|Barefoot Through The Rose Garden
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|Hodge Podge V
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|The Talented Mr. Griffey
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|Coulda/ Woulda/ Shoulda
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|It's Easy To Criticize....
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|Hodge Podge IV
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|They Need The Money For A Liver Transplant
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|Hodge Podge III
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|Smile When You Say That
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|Hodge Podge II
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|Where Labrums Go To Die
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|If I Had A Hammer
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|Here Are A Few Of My Favorite Things
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TOTK Today 6/21/01
|If A-Rod's Head Split Open, Would Scott Boras Jump Out?
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|Countdown To Armageddon, Part Two: Predictions and Outlook
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|Countdown to Armageddon, Part One
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|Manny Ramirez�s Paychecks Don�t Bounce and John Harrington Doesn�t Eat Alpo
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|My Dinner With Bess
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|Crimes And Misdemeanors
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|The Killer B's
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TOTK Today 5/29/01
|Putting The Fun Back Into Funeral
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|The First Black Yankee
World Wide Church of Baseball 5/23/01
|There Is Nothing To Fear But Fehr Itself
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|Not An A-riginal
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|Don't Be Stupid
TOTK Today 5/15/01
|There�s No Free Enterprise in Baseball
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|Orioles Go Belly Up
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|Pedro Martinez Suffers Career Ending Injury
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|Rough and Tough and Hard To Diaper
Top of the Key 5/1/01
|Memo to the Baseball Gods: Hasn't Junior Suffered Enough?
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Sports Bytes 4/20/01
|It's Not About the Money, Honest
Top of the Key 4/17/01
|The Federal League
Top of the Key 4/11/01
|Cheeky 19th Century Baseball Essay
Top of the Key 4/11/01
|The Negro Leagues
Top of the Key 4/11/01
There's going to be a generation of players who live in financial security and physical misery.
You can always earn back wealth, but not health.
I'm speaking of course of the use of performance-enhancing substances including androstenedione and anabolic steroids.
A little background:
I have the genetics required to be a body-builder. I've dabbled in it here and there in my life. I have broad shoulders, thick arms and the barrel chest of a miner from whom I've descended from several generations of. Truth dictates that, although I'm not fat, (5'11" 200 lb) the only "six-pack" I possess is the one I pick up at the beer store.
In short I know what it takes to build muscle naturally and the gains that can be made even for a person who has genes favorable for it. Now that I'm 36 (and rapidly closing in on 37), I'm beginning to wonder if my doctor has been lying to me all these years and that celery has been high in fat all along.
So when I see a player in his early to mid-thirties put on 10, 15, 20, 30 lb of muscle over the off-season, well....
I've had friends who juiced, and after a while you begin to be able to distinguish who's doing it and who isn't. Granted, there are exceptions (some people suffer from body acne post-adolescence, and male pattern baldness early in life simply due to nature and it isn't a positive indication of steroid use). I've been in a few major league clubhouses (although I try to avoid "the beat" as often as possible) and at the risk of sounding like I'm propagating National Enquirer style innuendo--well, you *can* see that it's more prevalent than MLB officialdom would let on. I've used creatine at various points and can tell you that it doesn't give "the massive gains" that some of their alleged proponents claim.
Depending on who you ask, it's been said from 40 percent of position players to 40 percent of *all* players use steroids in one form or another. The reasons for doing so are legion: it adds power in an era where 5-10 extra home runs translates into a few extra million dollars in the paycheck; it allows players to recover from workouts more quickly thereby enabling a player to [work out] more frequently; and men generally like to be more muscular simply for appearances sake.
The downside however is far more insidious; steroids can cause long term health problems with vital organs, it reduces libido, it can alter moods ('roid rage) and is quite frankly illegal in most sports--baseball being the most notable exception.
It can also affect a player [negatively] *during* his career; one need look no further than Mark McGwire's knee problems, Jose Canseco's back problems etc.Body-builders use steroids to -- as has already been mentioned -- recover from exercising more quickly. That's fine if your only goal is to add muscle mass. Baseball however is a sport where the athlete has to make quick starts, stops, lunges, twists, leaps, dives, pivots et cetera; a body-builder generally doesn't incorporate such things in a competitive routine. The human body was designed to tolerate only so much mass whether it be muscle or fat. An obese person isn't *generally* physically active so the aforementioned movements don't really come into play. For a baseball player carrying excessive weight in the form of muscle mass is exacerbating the strain of quick starts, stops, lunges, twists, leaps, dives, pivots etc. The joints of the human body weren't designed for that kind of action, especially with so much weight on the [human] frame.
Another factor that occasionally comes into play can be demonstrated thusly: take a 30 lb. weight and simply carry it around, how long until you begin to tire? A woman who's carrying extra weight while pregnant complain of fatigue, extra pain in the knee joints, lower back, etc. Part of that is no doubt due to simply where and how the weight is distributed and the physical strain inherent in pregnancy--but not all of it; the remainder is due simply to the extra weight being carried. It's the same with baseball players. It's true that being in good condition is more beneficial than being obese but it doesn't change the basic fact that *any* extra weight being carried by the body causes fatigue over time--thereby negatively affecting player performance over a long stretch. Make no mistake, one can be muscular absent good conditioning. Muscle is produced by anaerobic activity, aerobic activity is a must to be physically fit. Regardless, excess mass and long term use of performance-enhancing substances will exact a hefty price down the road.
As you no doubt know, there is no drug testing in baseball. The reasons are many why the players will not submit to drug testing but those reasons are often contradictory or hypocritical. Let's examine some reasons more closely:
*Drug testing is a violation of privacy and freedom to choose*
So is child abuse (to use an extreme example. You can *choose* to hurt your children in the *privacy* of your own home. The freedom to privacy and to choose is relative, not absolute), but it's still illegal. Leaving aside the testing for narcotics for a moment; androstenedione is legal to obtain in the United States but not in Canada. Players who reside in the USA have an unfair advantage over those who reside in Canada (and possibly other countries from where players hail from. I don't know the law on it in Mexico, Japan, the Dominican Republic etc.)
*It's nobody's business but the players'*
Superficially that's true, but this arrangement lacks mutuality. For instance: If an owner makes bad business decisions of his own free will and it negatively affects his ability to pay the player for his services, does the player, or his union simply attribute the potential lack of payment to "one of those things" and simply allows the owner to forfeit his obligation? Of course not. The poor choices made by management should not affect the benefits owed to the player. If the owner tries to weasel out of the situation, there's a structure in place that affords a player the avenue to enforce the contractual obligation. Either through binding arbitration or the courts, the owner has to make good.
The flip side: What happens if the poor choices (narcotic and performance-enhancing drug use) made by a player negatively affects *his* ability to render the services in the contract for which he is being paid?
If a player injures himself either from something stemming from illegal drug use, or from the effects of an illegal substance he is taking, he still gets his contract and benefits paid in full in all but a few exceptions--however that happens about as often as Scott Boras telling his client to make his decision of where to play based on where he'd be happiest instead of where the most money being offered is.
In short: the team assumes most, if not all of the risk from the current contractual arrangement.
So why doesn't the MLBPA accede to drug testing for the good of its membership? If you were to pose this question to union officials you'd get a number of high-minded answers; the real reason is simply because they can. This is just another manifestation of the MLBPA's single minded goal of seeing how high the salary bar can be pushed; all other considerations are simply waved aside. Does a player want to play in city "A" but city "B" offers more money, then there's pressure to play in city "B." If an owner representative (general manager) were to call another owner representative (general manager) about offers/thoughts about a free agent player the MLBPA would file a grievance against it claiming collusion whereas if a player representative (agent/union official) were to do likewise with another player representative (agent/union official) in order to drive up bidding for a free agent player, well, that's O.K. because it raises the salary bar. If a player were to use a substance that could negatively affect a player's long-term health but drive up player salaries in the short-term, then the MLBPA does everything in its power to protect that arrangement--the players long-term health be damned.
What to do?
Sadly (because it means ownership would achieve a victory that would be used capriciously) the only way for *anything* to be done is for the players' union to be beaten in the next round of bargaining--badly. That would allow ownership to institute reforms to the game--including (hopefully) seeing performance-enhancing substances removed from baseball and deterring punishments put in place to enforce it.
Drug abuse is as rampant in baseball as it is in the real world. However that shouldn't be used as an excuse to argue in favor of the status quo. There are a great many things in society as well as baseball that have existed since their respective inceptions. No one would argue that racism, child abuse, misogyny, and violence have been with us far too long. It would be idiotic for anyone to argue that its long history justifies inaction. It's the same with drug/alcohol abuse and competitive (im)balance in baseball. Yet some will make that very argument and it allows the situation to perpetuate itself. Still others argue that you cannot compare society's and baseball's problems therefore action in one is justified and inaction in the other is likewise.
That's just plain dumb; trying rationalize away a problem by arguing that it has always been thus is like a child refusing to be potty-trained because he soiled his diapers for his whole life to that point in time. It's not illegal, or a threat to society, or all that big an issue to choose to mess yourself simply because potty-training requires effort and a change of thinking--but it is asinine. Refusing to tackle a problem simply because action requires effort and a change of thinking is likewise; it's not a reason--it's an excuse.
It's time to get illegal and performance enhancing drugs out of baseball--for everybody's sake.