Kent has the right idea on steroid debacle

So Bud Selig turned up at spring training in Arizona last week
to assure fans and the media that baseball’s serious about
So Bud Selig turned up at spring training in Arizona last week to assure fans and the media that baseball’s serious about steroids.

The Major League Baseball commissioner told reporters in Mesa, Ariz. that positive tests of major leaguers for steroids fell from 5 to 7 percent in 2003 (the first year of testing) to just 1 to 2 percent last year.

“This shows that the program is working,” Selig said. “You can speculate about a lot of things, but you can’t argue with those numbers.”

Your first instinct is to say, hey, old Bud makes a good point.

Your second is to say, wait a second – what numbers?

Are these the numbers from the secret steroid tests of unnamed players, processed at a private lab hired by MLB, and never at any point released for public scrutiny?

Are these the numbers that Selig can’t even give a decimal point to, let alone a single integer?

Are these the numbers that RUINED the buffet at the Harrow Club … no, sorry that was Axel Foley and we’ve gone off track.

That’s easy to do, though, with a situation that’s as crazy as this steroid mess. What more can you say about the debacle than that Jeff Kent of all people is making the most sense these days?

Kent has been outspoken in his criticism of baseball’s supposed religious awakening on performance enhancing drugs, while at the same time refusing to demonize the high-profile players being bitterly condemned before their guilt or innocence has been established. It’s a mature position to take, all the more so coming from a man who, if his own claims at being drug-free are true, has every motivation to tear into the suspected steroid users. Particularly Public Suspect No. 1, Barry Bonds, with whom Kent has famously feuded with over the years.

Most of the rest of the baseball family hasn’t been nearly so up front in dealing with this problem. The Players Union and the MLB front office have decided to fight congressional subpoenas to testify before the U.S. Congress on steroids – this despite more than 50 years of exemption for MLB from anti-trust laws … a special favor from government that makes baseball folks more answerable to the people than those without public protection in the market.

Kent essentially frames this as an employee rights issue. Baseball players, like other workers in other fields, ought to be able to compete for jobs without having to sacrifice their long-term health or break the law. Just as other employers are required to ensure certain safety standards for employees, so should baseball be.

It’s an argument that cuts through much of the bluster on both sides of this issue. Grandstanding politicians should stop trying to score points by talking about cheating (why no Congressional inquiries on corked bats or nail files?) and the example being set for kids. These are important moral issues, but employee safety is a legislative concern. Lawmakers have no place making the rules of the game for baseball or imperiling First Amendment rights by dictating what examples children require. It is already against the law to purchase steroids without a prescription, so even that would seem to be an enforcement issue, not one in need of more Congressional debate.

From the union side, the privacy argument still has some appeal, but what good is a right to privacy if your health is being imperiled? True, there are still big questions about the extent to which performance enhancing drugs imperil a person’s health, especially considering the widely different dosages athletes administer to themselves. But just as a truck driver shouldn’t fear getting fired because he’s not willing to drive 20 hours without sleep and others are, so should a baseball player not have to worry about losing his job because he doesn’t want to use performance enhancing drugs.

Let’s listen to Jeff Kent on this one. Even if he is a Dodger.

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