But commissioner Bud Selig, who has done so much to grow the game, certainly seems to think his legacy is on the line. He is operating possibly with good intentions but in ways that create the illusion of a battle for the soul of baseball. Selig couldn’t even get the players union to agree to testing until 2003, but ever since he’s been chasing scalps so aggressively he’s making it look like his sport still has a serious PED problem, when it doesn’t anymore—if it does, it is one that the future of its fan base is tired of hearing about already. By almost every measure, the younger you are, the less you are bothered by PED use; a New York Times study as far back as 2003 showed that young people are “much less troubled by drug use in sports and believe it to be more widespread than do Americans age 30 and above.” As a general rule, fans are angry when players they dislike (e.g., A-Rod, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds) use PEDs, and they don’t really care when players they like (e.g., Ryan Braun, Andy Pettitte, David Ortiz) do. Pettitte, in particular, has escaped any PED backlash even though he has actually admitted to PED use (something Clemens or Bonds never did).
Which is part of the reason it’s so noteworthy that the collective fan reaction to the Biogenesis story has been more of a shrug than a rush to pitchforks (followed by worrying about how it might affect your fantasy-baseball team). The investigation is a pretty clear example of old generals still fighting the last war and fighting it poorly; MLB buying out the frantic Bosch before A-Rod or any player could purchase his records first, and planning to treat association with the clinic as a double offense (one strike for alleged PED use, one for “lying” about it), in a way that suggests it is more interested in making a show of public shaming than in enforcing the rules. (MLB has the power to punish drug offenders if there is “proof” they took PEDs, even if they haven’t failed a league-mandated test, which might help explain the Biogenesis aggression: MLB could be a little embarrassed that none of these guys has ever failed a test, save Ryan Braun, who got off on an infuriating-to-it technicality.) Never mind the fact that applying this sort of frontier justice in such an indiscriminate manner could arguably warp the game’s equal playing field more than PEDs ever did. If you use Biogenesis as your PED provider, you could be out 100 games. If you use anyone else, you’re clear! Congratulations on your random blind luck!
Which brings us back, yes, to A-Rod. Right now, A-Rod is the Yankee albatross, this $105 million anchor messing up everything. But that’s also what he was in 2009, before helping the Yankees win their first World Series in nine years. For all of baseball’s self-righteousness, performance tends to trump things like scribbled names in Miami “doctor” notebooks (Mickey Mantle, remember, got steroid injections from “Doctor” Max Jacobson before games). Right now, the Yankees are playing someone named David Adams at third base; you don’t think the Yanks will be ecstatic to have A-Rod back, at least in the short term?
And that’s just in the short term. Come 2017, A-Rod’s offenses, such as they are, may turn out not to be nearly as appalling as we might think them to be now. By then, Rodriguez will probably have hit his 700th homer and might even have passed Babe Ruth. And who knows? If he gets a burst of health, well, he only needs to average around 24 homers a year the rest of his time in the Bronx to pass Bonds as baseball’s all-time home-run champion. At this point that seems unlikely, but it is possible, even if he might have Biogenesis partly to thank for it.
Of course, piling on A-Rod isn’t just popular, it’s fun: A-Rod might be the most reliably mockable baseball player who has never played for the Mets. But the arc of history is a long one—sometimes tediously long, when it comes to sorting through baseball history with old-timers. The Yankees and their fans might be cheering for him to stay away right now, but let’s check back in five years. Attitudes in sports are changing, and the winds are blowing in A-Rod’s, and other PED users’, direction. The best thing he can do is just to keep playing, and, yes, getting paid.