Baseball held to higher standard, and that's good
Baseball's moral high ground compared to other pro sports is worth taking pride in
Baseball has always been held to a more stringent moral standard than other professional sports. Rather than whining about this status, devotees of the game probably ought to be thankful for it.
The double standard extends to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. Major League Baseball now has the toughest anti-drug policies of any North American professional sport. But no other sport was leaned on by, for instance, the Congress of the United States, the way baseball was in this area.
The latest round of outrage centers on a defunct "anti-aging clinic" in South Florida that was allegedly a source of PEDs for professional athletes. Twelve baseball players have been named as having had contact with the clinic and its staff.
Major League Baseball has undertaken a full-fledged investigation of the allegations. Baseball has an investigatory arm now -- a product of one of the Mitchell Report's recommendations on ridding the game of PEDs.
While this goes on, elements of the media are, in some cases, declaring the guilt of the players involved, urging indictments, suspensions, prison sentences, exiles to Devil's Island, you name it.
And while this prosecutorial zeal might seem excessive in some cases, the impulse behind it is made of credible stuff. It reflects the general belief that the integrity of baseball, the fundamental credibility of the game, should be beyond question. You can't buy that kind of status. You can't maneuver your way into it. You either have it or you don't have it. Baseball has it. Good.
Contrast this righteous indignation with what went on recently in the Super Bowl media circus, specifically in the case of Baltimore Ravens veteran linebacker Ray Lewis.
Lewis was essentially caught using a banned substance contained in deer-antler spray, in an attempt to recover more rapidly from a torn triceps. There were a flurry of stories regarding this development, but investigations were not demanded of NFL officials and Lewis was given what amounted to a pass.
By the way, no deer-antler spray was used in the creation of this column.
Lewis was the spiritual focal point of the imposing Baltimore defense. He probably had a higher public profile than any other single player in the Super Bowl. The Lewis storyline that the media obviously liked better was his spiritual growth subsequent to Lewis beating a double-murder investigation in 2000.
In that case, Lewis's attorney negotiated a plea agreement in which Lewis entered a guilty plea to an obstruction-of-justice charge and agreed to testify against two companions. Those two were subsequently acquitted. No one else has been arrested for the crime. Lewis, who admitted giving a false statement to police on the morning after the murders, was sentenced to 12 months' probation. He was also fined by the NFL, but he has been allowed to have a highly successful, lucrative career, and even with the PED charges, the story of his personal religious revival was allowed to drive the personal Super Bowl drama.
Imagine, if you would, a star baseball player on a World Series team being named conclusively as a PED user as the Series begins. That story would dominate the entire event. The chances of the player in question being allowed to answer a few questions and then move on to happier topics would be somewhere between none and negligible.
The reaction that would occur in the parallel case of a baseball player implicated in two counts of murder is beyond imagination. Take it, run with it, but I don't like his chances of dancing untouched in the winners' spotlight 13 years later.
Or consider the matter of individual awards. In 2006 in the NFL there was the case of Shawne Merriman, then a star defensive end with the San Diego Chargers. Merriman was suspended for four games after testing positive for steroids, a result he blamed on a tainted nutritional supplement.
That season, Merriman finished third in the Associated Press balloting for NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Wow. The league subsequently passed a rule prohibiting players suspended for PED use from winning personal honors. But the episode stands as a statement regarding the lack of public retribution in pro football cases of PED abuse.
In baseball, some of the greatest players in the game have merely been alleged to have used PEDs. Upon becoming eligible for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, they have been rejected by the voters. The debate that goes on about whether baseball's Hall of Fame should include this moral component is, no matter which side of the argument you take, a worthwhile discussion. It reflects the desire for a game that is, in the largest sense of the word, fair.
If baseball is held to a higher public standard in these matters -- and it appears to be -- that may make for more difficulties for those players who are publicly identified as rule-breakers. But it has also made for a game with more incentives to keep its act as clean as possible.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.