In today’ s LA Times, Bill Plaschke picks up the baton of baseball’s problem with alcohol first carried last week by the New York Times’ Murray Chass. What’s interesting is the comparison both veteran baseball writers make between drunk driving and steroids.
“Major League Baseball tolerates drunk driving,” said Chuck Hurley, chief executive of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms who want their boys to become baseball players.
Start substituting six-packs for juice boxes.
“From what we’ve seen, Major League Baseball thinks drunk driving is no big deal,” Hurley said.
Major League Baseball is admittedly, at times, an institution only a mother could love.
Now, after the drunk-driving death of St. Louis Cardinals reliever Josh Hancock, the sport has lost even that constituency.
“Major League Baseball is well short of the American public in its behavior toward alcohol,” Hurley said last week in a phone interview from MADD’s Dallas office. “If it’s going to be America’s pastime, then it should get more in line with the American public.”
Yeah, MADD is mad, and I don’t blame it.
Baseball struts around the national stage fighting steroids, then slips into the shadowy wings to embrace alcohol.
Baseball will suspend a player for 50 games if he plays while juiced, yet zero games if he drives while drunk.
Baseball has rid the clubhouse of all performance-enhancing drugs, yet continues to serve its players beer.
“The last I looked, there were a lot more people killed by drunk drivers than by steroids,” Hurley said.
At last count, the annual ratio was about 12,000 to 1.
Chass is even harsher than Plaschke in his view of the disparate approach to the problems of steroids and alcohol:
Alcohol last week killed one more major league baseball player than steroids ever have. I repeat: Alcohol last week killed one more baseball player than steroids ever have.
Yet Major League Baseball and George J. Mitchell and Congress and the steroids zealots are in a tizzy over the use of performance-enhancing substances in baseball. At least Mitchell is being paid to care about them, but he is in such a frenzy to get to the core of steroid use that he wants to run roughshod over federal and state laws barring an employer’s release of an employee’s medical records.
And, further down:
Major League Baseball has made television commercials warning against the dangers of steroids, and dangerous though they may be for possible future ill effects, no baseball player is known to have died from using them. Ken Caminiti admitted using steroids, but he died at the age of 41 from a drug overdose that included cocaine but not steroids.
Baseball, however, doesn’t issue alcohol warnings. Baseball and beer have long been a revenue team, especially in St. Louis, where the Busch family’s influence is still large.
Putting steroids in perspective, since the Balco investigation began four years ago, 1.6 million people have died from smoking-related causes (400,000 a year, the United States surgeon general says) and about 150,000 (nearly half in traffic accidents) have died from alcohol-related causes.
How comforting it is to know that some people care more about baseball’s career home run record than the lives of hundreds of thousands of human beings.
There are a couple of points of interest here. One, it’s noteworthy that two veteran baseball writers, each of whom has had some penchant for a “kids today…” approach to baseball have managed to put in perspective the current frenzy over steroids. Two, one of the key arguments against steroid use is the adverse health effects. But, in fact, the long-term effects of steroid use (and HGH use) are unclear, far more ambiguous than the toll that alcohol and smoking take on Americans every year. It’s true that cigarettes and alcohol are legal, while steroid use is illegal without a doctor’s prescription. But, the legal distinction between steroids on the hand and cigarettes and alcohol doesn’t easily account for the moral indignation that so colors the performance-enhancement debate. As I have written before, the arguments against steroids are, from a performance-enhancement perspective, also problematic, since there is a wide continuum of ways in which athletes alter their bodies for maximum athletic effect and I remain unpersuaded that there is a compelling argument for why some types of approaches to altering one’s body are acceptable, while others aren’t.
Neither on their health merits or their performance effects – there’s evidence that amphetamines, which have been a performance-enhancing drug of choice for major leaguers for a lot longer than steroids/HGH – are steroids an obvious choice for having received the level of scrutiny they have. In January, I wrote that:
Like Baseball, the NFL only added amphetamines to its list of banned PEDs in 2006. Judging by what’s going on in high schools – assuming that the role-model argument is central to Congress’ and the leagues’ desire to eliminate PEDs – the relative lack of attention paid to amphetamines is completely backwards. Then again, we already know that the news cycle for doping in sports has never been driven primarily by what sport, or what drugs, pose the most serious problems.
Plaschke and Chass add more weight to the evidence that “newsworthy” and “significant” are not always the same thing.