“I’ve heard players, and I’m talking about some of the best players in the league, question whether I’ve taken steroids or not. Some of the things I hear are pretty funny, and some people are idiots, frankly.”
–Chicago Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta to USA Today last week
So let me get this straight: We have lived through arguably the most scandalous era in baseball history, a period so tainted that we might as well have taken a blow torch to it. A week rarely goes by without someone, somewhere, being popped for performance-enhancing substances. And we know, indisputably, that the cheaters are always one step ahead of the testers.
And we’re “idiots” for asking whether someone is on the level?
Earth to Jake Arrieta, and every other athlete who is seemingly insulted when we question your legitimacy: Get over it. Don’t take it personally. Your brethren have done so much damage to the professional athlete’s credibility that we have little choice but to raise an eyebrow, whether we’re talking about baseball, golf, cycling, football, track and field, billiards or poker. At this stage, we’d be idiots if we didn’t think something was up.
But let’s stick to baseball. At the moment, arguably the greatest hitter and pitcher of their era — Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, respectively — are presumed to have been steroid users. Ditto for Alex Rodriguez, Manny Ramirez, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Jason Giambi and a truckload of others, including the recently smeared Dee Gordon. But you, Jake? Well, you must be clean. You must be legitimate. Because you would never do such a thing while eating “plants and… lean protein,” and doing “Pilates.”
Well, good for youuuuuu, Jake! Good for youuuuuu!
The truth? We don’t know if you’re clean or not. But we have the right to wonder. And thanks to conspiratorial actions of the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA), the credibility of all Major League players is indefinitely in question, particularly during a stretch in which you look like a combination of Pedro Martinez, Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux rolled into one tidy, plant-and-protein-enriched package.
With last night’s victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates, Arrieta is now a platinum 17-0 with a 0.66 ERA in his last 19 starts. In 137.1 innings, he has allowed 66 hits while issuing 29 walks (1.9 per nine innings) and striking out 132 (8.65 per nine). Arrieta has demonstrated power and precision, and he has thrown a pair of no-hitters.
Is he clean? Let’s hope so. It would be a great story. But unfortunately, according to him, we’re not allowed to even ask.
We’ve said this before, and we’ll say it again: the list of those to blame for baseball having lost its credibility is long and distinguished. From owners and players to media and fans, we all did our part. But the players — or at least the clean ones, however many exist — made perhaps the greatest sacrifice of all when they elected to protect the guilty.
Allow me to explain.
Once the cat was out of the bag on steroids, the MLBPA resisted testing… and resisted some more… and resisted some more. Players circled the wagons more quickly than they ever circled the bases. The MLBPA made a concerted effort to harbor the users under specious arguments like invasion of privacy, something too many players blindly accepted and spewed forth because their union leadership told them to.
Just throwing a number out there, let’s say that 30 percent of all players were doing steroids. If that’s true, the union sacrificed the credibility of 70 percent by protecting the guilty. If the numbers were reversed — if 70 percent of players were using — than the problem ran far deeper than many have even guessed. But do you see the point? Players were either guilty or acted guilty, which leaves those of us on the outside with little choice now but to ask the question.
You, your fellow players and your union were the idiots, Jake. You stonewalled because you thought you were bigger than it all, at least until the former union boss sat before Congress.
Does this diminish Arrieta’s accomplishments over the last several months? Yes, at least to some degree. Whether that will ever change again remains to be seen, but we’re hardly idiots for looking at any sports achievement with a critical eye.
We’re smarter than ever, Jake. In fact, we know too much.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.