High moral dudgeon is cheap and easy to manufacture. The capacity for an empathy that attempts to understand another human being first and judge him second is in far shorter supply. Given a situation like the Biogenesis scandal, there will never be a shortage of those willing to cheerlead for the lowest common denominator sentiment out of all the possible responses, to offer further vituperation instead of attempting to add clarity. We call this demagoguery, the attempt to exalt one's own position by kicking someone else.
One of my favorite Casey Stengel stories involves a minor league game in which he was ejected for arguing a close call. The home crowd was obviously unhappy with the call as well, booing lustily, perhaps throwing raw produce. Instead of leaving the field, Stengel apparently encouraged them to riot, to rush the field and attack the umpire. I enjoy picturing the manager exhorting them, the fans rising from their seats and streaming past him, throwing themselves over the railing to get at the arbiter.
I enjoy thinking about it, I'm glad it happened somewhere 85 years ago so I can, but it's not something I want to see happen anywhere other than in my imagination because I realize it was a terrifically irresponsible and dangerous thing to do. Putting oneself at the head of a mob may seem like leadership, but it's actually the abdication of responsibility.
Alex Rodriguez is a pathetic and reprehensible figure. He is a living vampire in the sense that a vampire is a parasite that thinks the maintenance of its own existence is the highest moral imperative, the community be damned, and casts no reflection when it looks in the mirror. Rodriguez, in involving himself with Biogenesis, reportedly leading other players to the ruination of their reputations, and in engaging in a protracted battle with baseball to save as much of his contract as possible, has shown little regard for the community of baseball, be it his team, his fellow players, or his fans, all of whom have in some way been injured by his conduct. In his seeming lack of self-awareness, his narcissism, his stance as the persecuted party who has no need to show contrition, he clearly lives in a world without mirrors, even if he's wealthy enough to have purchased his own Versailles.
Beyond that, there's something that's just off-putting about the guy. There always has been. He has always seemed fraudulent, even when talking about mundane matters. It seems to me that when you suspect someone is a liar and you don't have a good reason to do so, it feels bad, like you're judging someone unfairly. When it turns out that the person you suspected was indeed a liar, you feel twice as righteous and perhaps disproportionately angry, because you subjected yourself to pain in the form of doubt and self-criticism that really would have been better spent on the other guy.
Yet, having said that, I don't understand the degree of outrage. What Rodriguez has done is disappointing, but it falls far short of the crime against humanity that pundits such as CBS's Scott Miller have made it out to be. Anyone who looks at the numbers put up by players from Barry Bonds to Alex Rodriguez and thinks a substantial proportion of their output was attributable to drugs is making an assumption that is unsupported by the facts. This is particularly true when the prohibited substance under discussion is Human Growth Hormone, which has not been conclusively shown to have any performance-enhancing effects.
Barry Bonds (Jed Jacobsohn)
Yes, there was a period in Major League Baseball, now colloquially referred to as "The Steroids Era," in which offense was up and some cherished old phony records were shattered, but saying that drugs were the cause of that isn't the same as proving it, not when there are so many other factors to account for. That is not to say that Baseball should not be a clean game; it should. MLB has a vested interest in protecting its image as an honest game, and even if the impression of cheating is stronger than the actuality, it's the impression that does all the damage. So, yes, throw the book at the malefactors. Drive them out of the game.
Still, that's just basic policing on the level of issuing tickets to jaywalkers and litterbugs so that the neighborhood remains livable. We don't execute those people, because most of us are those people. If you have ever gone 65 miles per hour in a 55 mph zone, you have cheated. If you have ever fudged your taxes, you have cheated. Ever brought 11 items to the 10-items-or-less express checkout line? Rotten cheater -- there is no circle of Hell deep enough for you.
In every one of those cases that applied to you, guess what: Not only are you a cheater, you're a better, more successful cheat than Alex Rodriguez, because you actually got a demonstrable benefit from your cheating.
Let's move on from things that are antisocial, hooray-for-me-to-hell-with-you violations and talk about ethical lapses. Ever call in sick to work when you were perfectly well because you just didn't feel like going or fake a fever so mom would let you stay home from school? Say "I got caught in traffic" when you were late to dinner instead of just admitting you didn't care enough to leave on time? Fluff up your résumé? Tell the intake nurse that you're really 6-foot-1 and 210 pounds instead of 6-foot-0 and 225? Tell a friend you make $50,000 a year when you really make $30,000? Ever, in any sense, represent yourself as something you are not?
If so, then you are just like Alex Rodriguez. He is the small-b bad guy in this story, not headline-style A-FRAUD, and maybe not even just "a fraud," but merely fraudulent. To make him bigger than that, to inflate him into one of the game's great monsters on a par with the men who organized the 1919 World Series fix is, paradoxically, an act of self-aggrandizement. The critic is giving himself a bigger target. Instead of addressing this sorry, inept, ineffectual wannabe cheater who was stupid enough to put his future in the hands of a confidence man like Tony Bosch, you build up this Mt. Rushmore-sized giant. Then you prop a big ladder up next to him and climb to the top so you're looking down at him from a still greater height. Then, Godlike, you issue your judgment.
Rodriguez is hardly worth the effort. He's a bug! With his financial resources he could have hired his own biochemist and put him to work in a state-of-the-art sterile laboratory manufacturing him personalized designer drugs. Instead he went to an "anti-aging" clinic, as if that is a real thing. In the A-Rodverse, there are anti-aging clinics, time-travel parlors, and android bordellos. You can hit ‘em all in the same strip mall, along with the nail shop and the Chinese take-out. Darth Rodriguez was so good at cheating that he (1) managed to decline in consecutive seasons beginning in 2008, (2) could not get on the field this year until August, and (3) got caught.
This is not a master of evil. This is an idiot. Those commentators who are the most shrill and hysterical when it comes to his misdeeds are the least trustworthy. They're a different breed of vampire, one that exploits him to exploit you, demeaning him to exalt themselves. Don't be fooled: There might be someone somewhere in the world of baseball that is worthy of this kind of ire. When you find the real horsehide Professor Moriarty, be sure to let us know. Until then, the leader of the Gang that Couldn't Juice Straight ain't it.