In the wake of another PED bust that fingered several high profile baseball players, Nelson Cruz, Gio Gonzalez, and Alex Rodriguez among them, I am at a loss for words. Honestly, what can be said at this point that hasn't been already said? When I stumbled across the first reports last week, I must admit that I didn't have any feelings resembling surprise, outrage, or disappointment. The only word to describe my emotions, or lack thereof, is apathy.
I guess I just don't care anymore. For nearly a decade now, doping revelations have torn down some of baseball's biggest names, many of whom were the heroes of my childhood. Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, the sparring sluggers who captivated the nation and saved its pastime when they shattered Roger Maris's single season home run record in the summer of 1998. Rafael Palmeiro, one of only four players to accumulate at least 500 home runs and 3,000 hits. Manny Ramirez--possibly the best pure righthanded hitter the game has ever known as well as a repeat offender--plus his partner-in-crime David Ortiz. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, arguably the best position player and starting pitcher, respectively, in baseball history. The list goes on (and I'm not even including "suspected" dopers like Mike Piazza, Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, and Miguel Tejada, among others)
Now a new generation of stars is being outed as frauds. 2011 National League MVP Ryan Braun, 2011 ALCS MVP Nelson Cruz, and 2012 All-Star Game MVP Melky Cabrera, all of whom debuted after baseball installed penalties to punish steroid users, are just some of the names that recently failed drug tests (though Braun got off on a technicality). Unlike the McGwires and Sosas before them who juiced during baseball's "Wild West" era when there was no policy in place to identify, much less penalize, steroid use, these players have no excuse. They can't fall back on the "everyone was doing it" excuse or play the "baseball turned the other cheek" card. They knew what they were doing was wrong, that they could face punitive consequences if they were caught, but ultimately decided that was a risk worth taking.
Unfortunately there is no easy solution. Stricter testing and harsher punishments help, but these measures only do so much to combat and prevent PED use. They can't possibly discourage every potential cheater, not when there's fame, endorsement deals and millions of dollars on the line. There's too much at stake. The rewards outweigh the risk.
Baseball has changed the steroid culture considerably in recent years, but no amount of testing can change human nature. Cheating, in some form or another, has been a part of the game since its earliest days. The methods and tactics have evolved, but the psychology hasn't. There are always going to be rogue individuals looking to gain an unfair advantage, willing to game the system and get a leg up on the competition. Cheating can't be eradicated. The sooner society accepts that, the sooner we can forgive the muscly men who wowed us with their titanic home run blasts and move on.