Pill Poppin' Pros

Don't outlaw something you won't enforce.

My son has a board game called "Magical Maze."  This game has a little figure of a magician on the top side of the board, and a magnet stuck beneath him on the underside.  The object of the game is to move the magician to your side of the board without knocking the magnet off.  But, under the board where you can't see, there are plastic obstructions which form an invisible maze.  As you move the magician towards you, you're liable to bash into one of the barriers, knocking the magnet off and thus ending your turn.

If you are very careful and pay attention, you can move the magician and feel when the hidden magnet runs into a barrier, before the magnet is actually bumped off.  So you know not go that way, and go around instead.  In this manner, it's possible to win the game on your very first turn.

A few months ago, I was in a hurry to get somewhere, but my son reminded me that I had promised to play the game with him.  So we started off, and I used this method to trounce him on the first round.

Needless to say, he was not amused at the brevity of the promised game, and I haven't tried that trick since.  After all, it's not very nice to do that to someone who doesn't know the trick.

However, last week we were playing the game again, and suddenly he started to win with great speed.  In fact, something about his methodology seemed strangely familiar...  Apparently, he'd been experimenting with the game to improve his technique, and had come upon the same idea I'd had before.

Well, two can play at that game.  This time, both of us were playing in exactly the same way.  Nothing unfair about that - but it sure does make the games short, and not much fun.

Sen. George Mitchell's report on steroid use in baseball reminds me of this little family drama.  It comes as a surprise to no one that Barry Bonds' power is as artificial as the Terminator's.  But Roger Clemens?  It's pretty clear that drug use has infested the sport through and through.

However, we aren't talking about illegal drug use here, in most cases - we'll leave that to the National Felon's League.  Most of these substances are not banned by the FDA if administered by medical professionals, as seems to have often been the case.  Many of them aren't even banned by baseball, in large part because of the forceful and entirely foreseeable resistance of the players union.

So why is it the concern of government to be investigating this issue?  Apparently Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig had asked Sen. Mitchell to do the investigation, which is entirely proper; but why Congressional hearings?

Are they nothing more than a perjury trap, as Barry Bonds has discovered, being accused of lying to Congress about doing (or not doing) something that was not a crime?

Because, if there is any fault here, it is the fault of the management of Major League Baseball, and to some extent the union.  If the "war on drugs" has taught us anything, it is that there is no point in banning something if you have not carefully thought through the requisite costs of enforcement.

MLB's enforcement and testing regime, again in part because of union resistance, is more the object of ridicule than of fear; it is more likely that a player using steroids will be ratted out by a minion seeking a big check from a publisher than by being caught in an official drug test.

It's not like the players do not have the best legal and medical advice that money can buy.  And considering the astronomical rewards that can be had by entering and excelling at major-league sports, is it any wonder that the players are perfectly willing to better themselves by any means necessary?

A person wishing to excel as a lawyer will likely sacrifice tremendously in their personal and financial life to go to Harvard, knowing all the while the great payoffs that come from high-powered law firms.  In what way is this different?  A lawyer's tool is his mind; a player's tool is his body.  Both seek to improve their tools to the maximum possible extent, and for the same reason.

The problem arises in the fairness.  Some players use steroids; others don't, because they consider it to be cheating.  This penalizes the honest, and promotes the dishonest.  These days, the phrase "cheaters never prosper" doesn't always ring true.

Since baseball has proven itself incapable and unwilling to enforce any sort of controls on steroids, it is time just to face up to what we know to be the case:  Anything goes.

Just come right out and say it:  "If it's legal, go right ahead, we don't care.  And if it's illegal, it's the government's job to arrest, try, and convict you, not ours."  That way we'll all know where we stand, and each player can make his own decision on what he'd prefer to do with and to his own personal body.

If this harms the game, then the fans will surely let the sport know.  And as they see audiences and revenues decline, perhaps the union and management will be willing to revisit the issue.

When both my son and I were cheating, it was quite fair, but the games weren't much fun.  So after a few rounds, we agreed not to do that anymore, and now all is well in the "Magical Maze."

It may take a while, but the same can hold true in baseball, if only we can put honesty first and stop lying about what is obvious to all; and this starts with getting rid of "rules" that nobody is willing to enforce or even define.

Petrarch is a contributing editor for Scragged.  Read other Scragged.com articles by Petrarch or other articles on Society.
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