Saturday, June 13, 2009


There is much about the Iranian election that I don’t know. I can’t say which candidate received the most votes. Nor can I even state unequivocally that President Ahmadinejad and his minions have stolen large numbers of votes. But there are three things about the election that we in America can say with confidence. First, that the Holocaust-denying incumbent is more than just an embarrassment; he is a continued threat to the prosperity of his nation and to world peace. Second, that Iran never implemented the kind of checks and balances in its electoral infrastructure that were necessary to ensure that the Iranian people could trust the official election results. And third, that while Iran might be a “democracy” in name only, at least the people care enough to take to the streets and protest with passion what they take to be a fraud. We saw little such passion in the aftermath of Gore v Bush, an election that was ultimately decided when four Supreme Court liberals supported the Democrat and five Supreme Court conservatives supported the Republican. How’s that for democracy in action? And we are seeing even less passion to protest the fraud that has marred some of the most prominent non-political institutions in American culture. I am referring to our professional sports leagues.

As loyal readers of this blog might recall, we are now three months into my latest – and surely not my final – boycott of Major League Baseball. This boycott was prompted by a combination of the failure of baseball franchises to share revenues, thereby ensuring that less-affluent franchises do not compete on a level-playing field with pigs like the Yankees and Red Sox, and the revelation that many if not most of the sport’s greatest stars have received that status through the help of performance-enhancing drugs.

During my boycott, I have refused to buy any baseball apparel. I have refused to listen to any games on the radio. I have refused to watch any games on the television. And I have refused even to watch shows devoted primarily to baseball, such as ESPN’s “Baseball Weekly” and the shows about my beloved Minnesota Twins that are aired on Fox Sports Net. Nevertheless, I have been reading box scores to get a sense of which teams and which players are having a good year. Among other things, I’ve noticed that Joe Mauer, the Twins’ catcher, hit 13 home runs in his first 100 or so at bats, which was as many as he’d ever hit in a 500 at-bat season, and also had a batting average that exceeded .400. Especially given his position, that is a phenomenal start, the kind that any Twins fan should be proud of. And yet … how can I trust that he reached that level of performance any differently than such other superstars as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemons, Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa, Manny Ramirez, and Rafael Palmeiro? In other words, how can I trust that Mauer, the clean cut, homegrown boy from the Twin Cities hasn’t simply decided to juice his way to the Hall of Fame? Obviously, I can be no more confident about that than the Iranians can be in the outcome of their elections.

I shouldn’t be surprised that the barons of baseball couldn’t care less about the integrity of the game. The franchise owners are first and foremost businessmen, not public trustees. Earlier in the so-called “Steroid Era,” these owners couldn’t help but notice that the more juice that McGuire and Sosa consumed, the more home runs they hit, the more records they broke, and the more tickets they helped sell. So steroids turned out to be good for the bottom line, at least when the public wasn’t aware of the steroids – and Lord knows, everyone thought at the time that McGuire and Sosa were clean as a whistle.

It also shouldn’t surprise me that the baseball union wouldn’t want to take on steroids. There’s only one way to do that right: permit Major League baseball to draw blood from every Major Leaguer, and then punish severely the ones who are caught cheating. But when has a sports union permitted such an encroachment on the “rights” of the workingman? According to the union’s arguments, people have a Constitutional right to do their job without being subjected to such intrusions as having needles stuck in their arms so that the powers-that-be can obtain information about their lifestyles. Those players who juice up obviously wouldn’t welcome such intrusion. And even those players who may not support it -- they’re already making zillions of dollars in the Major Leagues. Why should they voluntarily submit to blood testing? Presumably, it’s the players who are NOT making the Major Leagues because other players are juicing who would support the blood tests, and the last time I checked, they are not part of the Major League Baseball Players Union.

Further, it shouldn’t surprise me that the so-called “sports journalists” continue to cover their sports every bit as much as before, regardless of how much credibility is sapped from them. This is especially true with team sports, in which so many journalists are essentially in-bed-ed (embedded) with the teams they cover. For them to stop covering a team would be tantamount to quitting their jobs. Who is going to do that over an issue like steroids in sports?

In short, none of us should be surprised that neither Major League Baseball nor its sister sports leagues have attempted to root out performing-enhancing drugs, or that the sports-news outlets haven’t attempted to punish these leagues as a result of the scourge of steroids. What is surprising how apathetic American fans have been in addressing the issue.

Do the fans simply not care that a large number of their favorite athletes are chemically enhanced? Do they not care that the best, pure athletes are being defeated by the cheaters? Do they not care that all the lifetime achievements from our fathers’ and grandfathers’ era are quickly becoming trivialized by the fact that the modern juiced-up athletes are breaking the old records with reckless abandon?

I really cannot answer those questions. Perhaps people do care, just not enough to change their viewing habits. After all, a heroin addict may “care” that he is destroying his health and risking his life, but that doesn’t stop him from shooting up. Perhaps millions of Americans truly are “sports addicts,” a term I’ve often used playfully to refer to myself, though I didn’t use it literally. Maybe there is nothing the Major Leagues can do to screw up their sports that can prevent many of us from buying our tickets and cheering for our teams.

Still, the fact that some people are hopelessly addicted doesn’t change the fact that we fans ALL have responsibilities as consumers. If we want a quality product, we have to discipline those who produce crap. That’s the only way a decent economy can function. Typically, when we’re dealing with a marketplace involving numerous competitors, the consumer’s job is simple: just identify the product that has the lowest price and the highest quality. But with professional sports leagues, we are dealing with monopolies, so the consumer has only two choices: either ignore the problem altogether or, to a lesser or greater degree, boycott the league. The latter approach is necessary if we hope to change the behavior of the folks who are destroying their sport. It’s the only way to get them to ensure integrity.

I would never tell my fellow baseball fans that what we’re dealing with is nearly as important as the results of a Presidential election, even when the “President” being elected is not his nation’s most powerful official. Nor, however, would I argue that the steroid-scandal, which is now apparent to any non-ostrich in America, is trivial. Fraud is fraud, and it should disgust us all in whatever context it is manifested. Right now, our sports leagues find themselves knee deep in it and they refuse to do anything about it, just as the Government of Iran appears willing to look the other way at the so-called “irregularities” in the election process. No, I haven’t lost my mind enough to call for Americans to take to the streets in protest, as they are doing in Tehran. But I would ask for people to avoid the stadiums in protest, at least for a limited period of time. That’s how you let the owners and players know that you truly love their sport. That’s how you let the cheaters know that you’re not as stupid as they think you are, or as crazy as the typical heroin addict.

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