John Rocker Tells A Truth No One Wants To Hear (Especially From Him)

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There’s no difference between what John Rocker said and what baseball as a whole did regarding performance enhancing drugs. Rocker’s recent comments elicited a rehashing of his behaviors when he was playing the wrestling bad guy. The entire genesis of “Rocker is an idiot” stems from his ill-advised interview in Sports Illustrated. Because Rocker said some offensive things then doesn’t automatically make everything he says meritless. If it were a former baseball owner, a respected player, a broadcaster, an agent, or a writer who came out and said the same things Rocker said, would it be seen as blatant honesty or Ann Coulter-style, absurd over-the-top salesmanship?

Rocker said the following while appearing on Cleveland’s 92.3 The Fan:

Honestly, and this may go against what some people think from an ethical standpoint, I think it was the better game.

At the end of the day when people are paying their $80, $120, whatever it may be, to buy their ticket and come watch that game, it’s almost like the circus is in town.

They are paid to be entertained. They wanna see some clown throw a fastball 101 mph and some other guy hit it 500 feet. That’s entertainment. You’re paying to be entertained.

Was there anything more entertaining than 1998—I don’t care how each man (Sosa and McGwire) got there—was there anything more entertaining than 1998?

Nowadays Rocker’s a guest on radio shows only because they realize that whatever he says will be twisted out of proportion because of the new politically correct sensibility against PEDs. Never mind that the owners, the players, the media and the fans were all holding hands denying the reality that the home run records set by Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa and the resurgences from pitchers long past their sell-by date like Roger Clemens came about due to drug use. Since Rocker said it, it has to be treated with revulsion. The only problem is that he’s right.

After the 1994 strike that wiped out the playoffs and World Series, blew away Tony Gwynn’s last chance at hitting .400, ruined Matt Williams’s run at the home run record and essentially demolished baseball in Montreal, the sport went into overdrive to replenish fan interest. Whether or not there was a tacit decision to ignore PED use or a whisper campaign to encourage it probably depends on whom you’re talking to or about. Commissioner Bud Selig acts as if he had no clue what was going on; the players were looking to get paid; the front office people had to sign players they knew were using to keep their jobs; the owners couldn’t care less; the media turned their heads; and the fans came back to the ballpark to watch the players hit dingers and shatter records. If no one’s innocent, everyone’s guilty.

It was only when the moral outrage started based on the self-aggrandizing investigation of Jeff Novitzky that got the ball rolling on exposure of PED use in sports. By then baseball had no choice but to put up a front of ignorance and take steps to “clean up” the game. It’s still ongoing with the current Biogenesis investigation threatening to be the newest in a string of baseball’s attempts to be dictatorial against one of the most powerful and committed unions on the planet. To meet their current ends they’re willing to run the risk of another collusion verdict in the inevitable lawsuits to be filed by Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and all the other players named in the records.

To imply that Rocker is wrong in his assertion that it was a show MLB was putting on to entertain the fans and make a lot of money is contrary to the facts. His statements were not based on wringing the last vestiges of attention from his infamy.  He was telling a truth that no one wants to hear or admit.

It’s simple to dismiss Rocker as a bitter fool by pointing to an entirely separate incident that happened over thirteen years ago. What happens when someone who’s not perceived as a bitter fool says the exact same thing? Then will it be seen as someone bringing forth contentions that all of baseball, the media and the fans loathe to admit: they got a thrill out of seeing all the records falling and balls flying out of stadiums. In their statements, baseball acts indignant at the PED use. In their actions/inactions, they were in on it and, in fact, encouraged it.

Say what you want about Rocker as a person, but his statements are dead-on. Because no one wants to hear them, especially from him, doesn’t alter their accuracy.

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Guilty By Association; Innocent By Facts

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It’s a strange world we live in when the person who was rummaging through the garbage on his own time and by his own volition is on the side of “right” and the people who were technically doing “wrong” end up in jail and automatically vilified for the rest of their lives as a toxic name not to be associated with under any circumstances.

But that’s where we are.

The BALCO investigation began when an IRS investigator Jeff Novitzky received a tip that the lab was providing illegal drugs to its athletes and, under his own initiative, poked around the trash of BALCO and found evidence to begin building a case to stop what was essentially a victimless crime that few wanted solved.

Novitzky was the vigilante on an inexplicable crusade.

You can read the sequence of events here.

Because he was seen as a “dealer” who tried to circumvent the law and rules of the sports in which his clients competed, Victor Conte has become that vilified and toxic name.

Of course it’s not that simple.

Once the government got the ball rolling on that case it had to get a conviction to justify what one of their employees—Novitzky—was doing; it was in the media, people knew about it, purists were complaining about the shattered records and ludicrous muscular development and everyone jumped in to get their piece of the action.

But it was all after the fact. The complaints from people inside and outside of sports during the BALCO era were completely ignored for personal and institutional gain.

It’s not unlike the Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds trials that ended with no significant penalties assessed to the two aside from the destruction of their reputations, ruining of their career accomplishments and draining of their finances.

Marlon Byrd failed a test for performance enhancing drugs and was suspended for 50 games. Byrd worked with Conte. Therefore, the simplistic logic goes, it was Conte who gave Byrd the drug.

Byrd claims that the drug he took was unrelated to baseball; that it was a private matter for a medical condition and wasn’t used to enhance his performance. Byrd’s performance validates this claim. He was released by the Red Sox following a disastrous tenure. His production has taken a dive since last season and also resulted in the Cubs dumping him on the Red Sox.

Conte has been the one person whose answers to the questions of his complicity in the case have been consistent and believable. That he was doing something that’s considered against the law and rules of competition is based on a floating set of principles that aren’t inherent, but are created and stem from the judgment of others as to right and wrong. Conte was providing a service to his athletes by helping them improve their performance. Legalities notwithstanding, it wasn’t his problem that the scheduling of X drug made it a violation to use while Y drug was okay; that the heads of baseball and other sports looked the other way as a convenience to themselves.

It’s a capricious set of “rules” that were being “broken”.

Attacked because he tries to cut through the fog of athletics and the sanctimonious pretentions by the heads of the sports whose rules he supposedly violated, a misplaced connection between Conte and Byrd was presented as proof of guilt.

Conte’s main crime now appears to be telling the truth about PEDs and how prevalent they still are; that he accurately says if enforcement and eradication were really the goals, more would be done to improve the tests and procedures.

Factually, it doesn’t appear that Byrd got caught using something Conte had given him.

But that doesn’t matter.

It’s a splashy and attention-getting headline to say, “Marlon Byrd Busted With PEDS; Once Worked With Victor Conte”.

Facts are irrelevant when they would preclude the headline and the story detailing their conspiracy especially when there was no conspiracy at all.

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