Say It Ain’t So, Jose

There’s no question that some people feel cheated by the likelihood that the home-run boom of the past decade in Major League Baseball has been, at least to some extent, a result of players using performance-enhancing substances. It appears, however, that these purist fans are in the minority when it comes to baseball’s latest in a long series of suicide attempts. The evidence seems to clearly suggest that most fans don’t really care all that much about steroid usage. At the very least, they’re willing to forgive and forget.

I think my teenage son’s attitude is typical: “I don’t care if players use steroids. I just like seeing home runs.” It kind of reminds me of a newspaper article I read back in the late 1970s when rational adults were concerned about the double-digit inflation that was driving real estate prices through the roof. The article mentioned an 18-year-old kid in Los Angeles who was making buckets of money buying and selling properties. It even quoted this prodigal investment “genius” as saying, “I don’t think inflation is a bad thing.

I think it’s a good thing. I don’t want inflation brought under control.” (Though I can’t confirm it, I heard a rumor that after the Southern California real estate collapse in the early eighties, he declared bankruptcy, got a job at McDonald’s salting french fries, then – later, of course – was invited to be a guest lecturer on economics at UC Berkeley.) Yet, Major League Baseball’s steroid problem does present some interesting issues. The foremost question, of course, is the illegality of using steroids in sports. As usual, the government is involved.

And, as usual, I don’t see why it’s any of the government’s business. But Major League Baseball’s involvement is another story. Baseball is a business, and if it wants to allow players to use performance-enhancing substances, it certainly has a right to do so. But whether it’s good for attendance remains to be seen. If fans don’t believe that what they’re witnessing is an athlete’s true ability, they might begin to think of baseball in much the same light as pro wrestling. Or perhaps as a freak show, sort of like “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”

The second issue is whether an athlete should be considered sane if he is willing to risk his long-term health in order to compile mega-statistics. This kind of thinking is foreign to me, because I can’t imagine voluntarily putting anything into my body that has the potential to cause damage. Third is the issue of out-and-out cheating. Rather than looking the other way all those years, Major League Baseball would have been better off if it had just made steroids legal.

Then fans and sports reporters wouldn’t be faced with the question of whether or not asterisks should be placed next to records – and, if so, which records? But to me, the most important issue is the question of integrity. Integrity is adherence to one’s code of moral values. A person who consistently acts in accordance with a generally accepted moral code is ethical. Someone who preaches a high standard of morality but selectively acts otherwise is hypocritical. Violating the rules of any game is unethical.

Deceiving people who are paying money to see you perform is unethical. But even more unethical is when a person divulges confidential information about a friend, especially if it’s done for financial gain. (Which is usually the case.) For example, while even Democrats agree that Bill Clinton’s sexual misconduct and lying were beyond the pale, that didn’t give Linda Tripp a moral justification to record intimate conversations with her supposed friend, Monica Lewinsky.

Tripp’s sob story that she only did it to protect herself didn’t even come close to passing the giggle test. Can you imagine a “good friend” taping your conversation when you’re telling her the most intimate details of your life? Unfortunately, it goes on all the time. More recently, Doug Wead, a long-time, close friend of President Bush, revealed that he had taped telephone conversations with the president. He said the reason he recorded their conversations was that he “viewed Bush as a historic figure.” Sure, Doug. Wead now claims that all the profits from his new tell-all book are going to be given to charity. But does anyone know that for a fact?

The question remains: What kind of person would do such a thing to a friend? Which brings me to Jose Canseco, a former baseball superstar whose career has continually been tainted by personal problems. In my opinion, by making the decision to “tell all” in his explosive new book (and on as many television talk shows as possible), he’s demonstrated a total lack of integrity. Even if most of what Canseco is saying is true, what’s his point? Does he really feel a choirboy’s moral obligation to step forward with the truth and clean up the sport that he now says he wants nothing to do with? I would have been impressed had he spoken up during the height of his career – when he had a lot on the line financially – because he had a sincere conviction that it was wrong for players to deceive fans.

C’mon, Jose, give me a break. Just admit that you wrote the book for money, and some of us might even respect you for doing so. (I think writing a book for money is a noble endeavor, which is why I’ve written eight of them.) I wish just one person, when asked in a TV interview why he or she wrote a book, would come right out and say proudly, “I did it for the money. We live in a capitalist society, and I have a perfect right to make as much money as I can.” Instead, we get Canseco, Marcia Clark, Kimberly Bell (Barry Bonds’ mistress), Amber Frey, Monica Lewinsky, and a steady stream of nameless and faceless jurors backpedaling, stammering, and droning on about how the real reason they wrote their book was to help others. Wasn’t that pretty much what Adolf Hitler said about Mein Kampf?

So, like most fans, I can’t get too excited about steroid usage in sports. After all, poll after poll has shown that many people in our society not only lie and cheat, but see nothing wrong with it. And since I don’t have the power to change how others think or act, I would rather focus on the secondary story – being discreet about what you say and who you say it to. In that regard, a good motto to live by is this: Live every moment as though the whole world were watching and listening. This is especially true when it comes to telephone conversations and e-mail. Even Microsoft had its e-mails used against it by the Justice Department in its antitrust suit against the company.

So, my suggestion is that you leave it to Major League Baseball to figure out how to handle the steroid problem. The challenge you should be focusing on is to be ever vigilant about saying anything over the telephone or putting anything into an e-mail that could come back to haunt you. Above all, remember that friends have an amazing capacity to morph into enemies at the worst possible times. And when and if that happens, if your phone calls, your e-mails, and your hands are clean, you won’t have to worry if a Linda Tripp or Jose Canseco happens to be on the other end of the line.