I emailed one of the guys that oversees this site today, curious what he thought of my post about Mark McGwire’s admission of using steroids. He liked what I wrote and suggested I write about how upset Pete Rose would be.
“You know he is going to come out and say you banned me but hired a cheater that lied for 10 years,” my friend said.
I had to concur about baseball’s double standards. Rose got banned in 1989 for betting on baseball, while Ty Cobb remains in the Hall of Fame, despite the fact he told his biographer late in life that he killed a man in the street in 1912. And Cobb is far from the only unsavory character in Cooperstown. Longtime baseball writer Fred Lieb wrote in his memoir, Baseball As I Have Known It, that Rogers Hornsby, Tris Speaker and Gabby Hartnett told him they were members of the Ku Klux Klan (Lieb figured Cobb a member as well–what didn’t that guy do?) I could list dozens of personally flawed players if I wanted to. Nobody’s perfect, really.
I’m not sure if I quite see Rose’s cheating as being on par with McGwire’s cheating. No one ever said Rose hit a home run or won a game by gambling on it. But I thought of another connection between the two men.
In a 1990 postscript to his seminal bestseller and playing diary of the 1969 season, Ball Four, Jim Bouton wrote about Rose. Bouton called the all-time hit leader’s banishment from the game “cruel and unusual punishment.” He declared baseball’s rule against gambling “an anachronism,” a response to the 1919 Black Sox Scandal.
There’s no evidence that Pete Rose ever “threw” a ballgame. But it is pretty clear that he’s a compulsive gambler, even though he denies it. Today we know that compulsive gambling is an addiction, just like alcohol or drug addiction, and denial is part of the illness. Accordingly, Rose should have been treated the same as baseball’s drug users; a one-year suspension and rehabilitation with Gamblers Anonymous.
In the wake of McGwire’s announcement today, many people around the blogosphere have been unloading on the former Cardinal slugger, including yours truly. I stand by the statements I made earlier. It is reprehensible that McGwire lied for so many years, however nice his belated honesty is. But I can’t condemn him. I might not support letting him in the Hall of Fame, at least just yet, but I also don’t support continuing to ostracize him from the game.
Addiction is considered by many a disease. And steroids can be classed with narcotics like cocaine and marijuana as a drug of abuse. Any recovering alcoholic who used steroids, except under advice of a doctor, would need to reset their sobriety date. There are treatment programs for steroid abuse, just as there are for drugs, alcohol or compulsive spending.
I wouldn’t go so far as to say that every baseball player who ever touched steroids is a drug addict. I’ve heard only one in six people who use drugs typically become addicted. Some people can take them or leave them. But McGwire said he used steroids for 10 years. That goes far beyond the experimental stage.
Stanton Peele, a psychologist who rejects the disease model of addiction writes on his website:
Simply discovering that a drug, or alcohol, or an activity accomplishes something for a person who has emotional problems or a particularly susceptible personality does not mean that this individual will be addicted. Indeed, most people in any such category are not addicts or alcoholics. Addicts must indulge in their addictions with sufficient abandon to achieve the addicted state. In doing so, they place less value on social proprieties or on their health or on their families and other considerations that normally hold people’s behavior in check.
The wild card in all this is that McGwire told Bob Costas he only used steroids for health reasons, not to gain strength and that he’d been given a gift to hit home runs. That logic seems dubious, since steroids have been argued to help lead to injury. Any health benefit would only come in the short term, if at all.
Whatever the case may be, McGwire sounds like a sick man. When I look back on the Steroid Era for baseball, I see a lot of sick men.