“How can you love the game of baseball and do this to the game?”
This was just one of the farcical question 60 Minutes correspondent and acting MLB PR flack Scott Pelley asked Biogenesis “doctor” and owner Anthony Bosch on CBS’s 60 Minutes this Sunday. The question is absurd on its face — did Pelley forget he was talking to a literal con artist? But it is also illustrative of what I believe to a major problem with baseball media and baseball culture as a whole: the line between the sport of baseball and Major League Baseball the institution and corporation is blurred, and in too many cases, non-existent.
“Big win for MLB, great day for the game,” USA TODAY sports baseball columnist Bob Nightengale declared. Baseball won, according to Nightengale, because:
“It’s the largest performance-enhancing drug penalty in the history of baseball, and most important, scares the daylights out of anyone who dares to cheat again.
If you cheat, MLB will catch you.
Oh, you may beat the drug tests. You may even beat the system for awhile. Yet, eventually, the MLB police will get you.
And, oh, boy, will you pay.”
“Baseball can hope Rodriguez and Braun are the last former MVPs to be suspended, but history tells us at least a couple of elite players will keep trying to cheat. Selig will press on with drug testing because he must, for the good of the sport, for the benefit of his legacy, and, frankly, because there is more work to be done.”
And there are more examples. ESPN’s Ian O’Connor referred to Rodriguez’s offense as a “non-violent assault on his sport.” Fox Sports’s Ken Rosenthal says “baseball must continue fighting the good fight… There simply is no other choice.” Et cetera.
It is concerning that so few people in the mainstream baseball media bother to ask some simple questions. When the entity constantly referred to as “baseball” wins, who benefits? Who loses? What purpose does it serve? What is “the good of the sport,” and who does it concern?
Dig deeper into these columns and you see the answers. “Selig wanted A-Rod punished before he left office,” O’Connor writes. Nightengale crows, “Major League Baseball spent more money on this investigation than all of the other investigations in the history of baseball, according to one high-ranking baseball executive, and it was worth every single penny.” ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick writes, on Selig, “The two biggest blots on an otherwise strong résumé as commissioner are the 1994 World Series cancellation and the steroid explosion in the 1990s. Selig can never get 1994 back, but Biogenesis at least helps him cast the steroid era in a somewhat different light.”
This is not about baseball and the millions of people who play it and love it, many of whom do so far from the long arm of Selig’s Major League. This is about selling Major League Baseball, the product, and selling Bud Selig’s so-called legacy (unsurprisingly, MLB and many in the press practically sees these as the same thing).
At least since the Black Sox Scandal when Kenesaw Mountain Landis rebuild the league in his image, Major League Baseball’s selling point has been simple: we play with dignity, and we play with purity. The truth of this message does not matter. It has never been true, whether due to the color line, due to labor exploitation, due to rampant amphetamines use, due to unnecessary and extravagant use of public funds, or due to steroids. But the image must be maintained, or else what is the point of Major League Baseball?
Today I find myself wondering. What if the league didn’t fall into an anti-trust agreement, giving it the ability to freeze out competitors like the Federal League and the Pacific Coast League? What if Major League Baseball was not an entrenched institution able to hoard the best baseball talent in the world? Then what would be “the good of the sport?”
What about the players? Not just those in the major leagues, but those in the minor leagues — well over half of those suspended since 2005 — struggling for a paycheck and just trying to stay above water in a league where salaries balloon by some 7000 percent when you reach the top class? What about the people of the Major League cities and states, who continue to foot the bill for new stadia across the country, only to see those buildings deserted after as few as 30 years? What about the fans who want to focus on the field of play and not dubious chemistry and shady investigations?
It’s a fascinating set of questions, and obviously a set of questions much of the national baseball media has never considered. Until more people in the media (and in the general baseball fanbase) are critical of Major League Baseball and can separate the idea of baseball from the lumbering, monolithic institution at its top now, the game and its fans shouldn’t expect any real change.
For now, though, the health of baseball and the health of Major League Baseball Incorporated remain one and the same. And so the good fight will be fought, on, and on, and on.