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Hard to maintain our level of steroids outrage ...


Did you notice that the gasps and the collective indignation wasn’t quite at the fever pitch that you might have suspected to learn that another of the top stars in modern baseball, Manny Ramirez, has been tainted by broad brush of performance-enhancing drugs?

Oh, sure, the blaring headlines were there, the cable television news chatter, the great big national sigh as the country shook its head in dismay at yet another revelation that one of the big boys was “cheating,” but our outrage seemed forced and almost a ritual. Is anybody really that mad or surprised anymore?

Speaking of rituals, all the traditional journalism battalions were marshalled and deployed in the usual fashion, thus rounding up the requisite quotes from an untainted modern star – in this case Chipper Jones – lamenting the whole affair and noting that the taint can’t help but be applied to any number of players who quite clearly wouldn’t think of doing anything illegal. I think he meant himself, at a minimum.

It says here that the decibel level on the outrage meter is going to continue to decline over time, even if/when there are additional revelations about new guys whom we previously couldn’t have imagined would be involved in something so despicable.

It’s just human nature that we can’t keep getting worked up to the same degree about events that get repeated with such frequency, but there’s more going on here. Our collective angst diminishes because at some level many of us realize that we’ve overblown the whole thing in the first place. Our initial outrage, while understandable given all the chanting from the sidelines and the peanut gallery to encourage it – think presidents, Congress, the fourth estate, maybe Joe the Plumber – was overcooked from the start.

In 20 years we’ll look back at this and wonder what the fuss was about. The professional athletes who have been doing this stuff were/are doing what performers at the highest level of any field have always done: seek any edge that they can find.

When your body is your instrument, that means all that tinkering with whatever’s available to help with strength, conditioning, recovery from injury, etc. All of the sanctimony and outrage is as disingenuous as a president mentioning it in the State of the Union: the athletes have to pretend to go along with it because of the public relations pressures, but if they really were upset about it they wouldn’t have used them in the first place.

And what of the integrity of the game, the records, our understanding of the relative positioning on the all-time hierarchy between one generation and another? As counterintuitive as it is to suggest it, the integrity of the game will be just fine. Over time, fans will simply learn to compensate in their minds for a 10- or 15-year periold that quite thoroughly distorted the record books. I suspect that for millions of fans already, the all-time home run champ is still the guy pictured atop this page, rather than the one with a half dozen more home runs. That's unwieldy and awkward, but there it is.

I know, I know, it’s a pain in the neck to figure out how to reconcile having the majority of the game’s top home run hitters come from that particular era, but I’m convinced that the game itself is so much bigger than the men who play it that we’ll figure out how to come to terms with the statistical aberrations.

Now figuring out what to do with the Hall of Fame, that’s another matter. And for another day.

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