By Bill Begley
“Big Papi” becomes a “Big Flopi” and one of the first things that come to mind is, “Well, there’s another overpaid baseball player deflated by the crackdown on performance-enhancing drugs.”
Fair? Probably not.
Wrong to consider that possibility? Not even a little bit.
If fans — or even those negative nabobs in the media — are assuming the worst, then Major League Baseball can do little more than grin and bear the brunt of that doubt.
Baseball made that bed long ago, looking the other way while sluggers plumped up bigger than the Thanksgiving Day balloons that float along in the Macy’s parade and produced power numbers too gaudy for even the most over-the-top video game.
It’s easy to assume the worst in most any instance — in this age of who-knew-what-and-when, even Pollyanna would have a hard time not being a little pessimistic.
But in the case of baseball and PEDs, assuming the worst is a gimme even the worst hacker with the yips would get.
It may seem like things are tight now, and more and more players are getting caught by MLB’s crackdown on cheating. But, before that, Bud Selig and baseball’s ruling body looked the other way so often and for so long, it risked developing a permanent crick in its collective stiff neck.
And so, when big boppers like Boston ’s David Ortiz begin to look their age and flame out so suddenly, it seems only natural to wonder if there isn’t more behind the meltdown than merely the ravages of injury and time.
Defenders will say the doubt is a by-product of the “blogging” age, when speculation has taken the place of solid, fact-driven journalism. And, to a point, that is true. When every “tweet” is taken as fact on face value, what “might be” becomes “what is” way too easily.
Journalism is under attack these days, both financially and ethically — a great deal of that is its own doing. It is struggling to keep up with the glut of information spilling forth unchecked, unedited and unfettered by the standards that kept the industry vital and important for centuries.
But, in this case, it’s the message, not the messenger.
Or, more accurately, it’s the steady flow of negative messages that elicit the knowing rolling of the eyes and not-so-subtle “Oh, really?” response.
Is it fair to Ortiz to assume he is cheating? No. But that cynicism is the product of too many disappointments.
And, really, the disappointment is not so much in Ortiz’s performance, or even the possibility that he cheated. It’s in baseball itself, and MLB’s prolonged lack of action. Had something been done sooner — say, at the advent of the Steroid Era explosion, when it was obvious that something was up — the penchant for skepticism would have been nipped in the bud as quickly.
The assumption that Ortiz is struggling because of something nefarious is wrong for any number of reasons — not the least of which the innocent-until-proven-guilty tenet that is the foundation of our justice system — and exacerbated by the irresponsible and unchecked speculation that has become the norm in the dissemination of information today.
But to question why baseball fans might have their doubts is just as wrong. The seeds of that speculation were planted long ago, and MLB now is merely reaping what it sowed.