Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Zen Dayley: Beleaguered big-leaguer; jungle of jaggled little pills

Baseball is so embarrassed over Mark McGwire that it is taking out on J.C. Romero.

MLB can point to Romero's 50-game suspension as evidence of the success of its crackdown on performance-enhancing drugs -- as much as one hates to dignify talk-radio shorthand. They got a solid middle reliever -- an established player, but not one whose absence would be noticed the same way it would with Ryan Howard or Chase Utley (oops, bad example). The kicker is that Romero is being punished for his "negligence" for using a supplement that, coincidentally, was "created and marketed" by the same guy who was the first in the U.S. to sell androstenedione, which was what Big Mac took. That is irony writ large.

Two big takeaways are that (a) at least the media, notably Peter Gammons at ESPN.com, are saying this is bogus; and (b) at least people are understanding that what Romero took is part and parcel of what it takes to get through the Long Season. It is kind of like MLB is still stuck in Dick Cheney's America and believes people will swallow whatever is handed down, no equivocating, no ifs, ands or buts, while most everyone else is over here in 2009.

It is all pretty greasy. Romero and other ballplayers are in the same Minnesota Vikings' Kevin and Pat Williams, in the StarCaps case. Big Pharma in the North America is such a multi-headed beast that the ball-and-stick leagues are really powerless themselves to do anything. It's like a jungle of a jagged little pills.

Ultimately, this does come back to the spectre of McGwire and Barry Bonds (and if you haven't read it already, go to the Hardball Times, where John Brattain has written a pretty impassioned defence of Bonds.)

Like the Philadelphia Inquirer story put it, "Baseball, because of its embarrassing mishandling of the steroid issue in the 1990s, is under pressure to catch cheaters and create the impression it has improved its policing techniques. At the same time, the FDA has had enormous enforcement issues with federal laws regarding the ingredients in over-the-counter supplements."

It is stranger still that Romero has been "ruled guilty of 'negligence' " (Cherry Hill Courier-Post), but there's no punishment for people in the Phillies organization who were advising him. There are so many gray areas, and if you read through the stories, there's conflicting stories about the labeling on the package, the involvement of the players' association, the advice from the Phillies's strength coach, and so on.

Gammons, God love him, also points out the biggest part of why the guy would use a quote, unquote PED.
"The season is a grind," Romero said. "When you're a middle reliever, you have to be ready to get up and down and pitch every day. Everyone takes something. Some guys drink coffee, others supplements. We try to make sure they're all legal. I certainly did."
It is brutal. Please try to have some consideration when a ballplayer gets caught. Calling someone a cheater is just too easy.

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