The last two blogs have covered the chaos that has ensued from baseball’s not having a comprehensive drug policy. The result is that today it’s impossible to know with certainty which players are clean and which are dirty. But when baseball players do get caught using performance enhancing drugs (PED’s), can they get back into the good graces of baseball?
Well, it seems that some can and some can’t. Andy Pettitte, for example, has been forgiven, off scott free, while others remain surrounded by a PED cloud for the rest of their lives. Today, the casual baseball fan has no clue that Pettitte ever used PEDS. What did he do to avoid the spotlight?
He went with what is now a time tested approach. He apologized!
The Apology has become a miraculous ‘get out of jail’ card, a phenomenon, even a movement. Baseball should start teaching an Apology class in rookie ball and the minor leagues.
Fans have always assumed that athletes are clean, and if a player is outed as dirty, they are shocked. But if the cheater apologizes in a media-approved manner, he is often forgiven and can then re-join the clean world. Those nasty non-apologizers, however, have to suffer eternal baseball purgatory.
The first to walk out of the Gates of Hell in baseball was the esteemed Jason Giambi in 2005. When Giambi was one of the first MLB players to be publicly singled out for using steroids, he gave an awkward public apology. The odd part was that he didn’t even specify what he was apologizing for—and when asked what he specifically was apologizing for, he just apologized for his general apology. He did this to avoid becoming liable to criminal prosecution for using an illegally procured prescription. Apology accomplished, Giambi continued his baseball career, and he still plays to this day for the Indians at age 42.
Andy Pettitte soon followed suit, admitting to using HGH and publicly apologizing. He, too, was forgiven. He pitches on to this day and gets very little negative attention on his PED use. He recently surpassed Whitey Ford as the Yankee all-team leader in strikeouts, and on television and in print nobody mentioned his PED confession. By contrast, fellow cheat Rafael Palmeiro never apologized for his PEDS use, and when he hit his historic 600th home run, his accomplishment was just an afterthought in the news cycle that day. Did Palmeiro really cheat any more than Pettitte? According to public opinion, yes. But in the end, they both made the basic decision to use a banned PED to gain an advantage.
These days, players who incur the wrath of the Joint Drug Program often turn to the tried and true public Apology. Each Apology is analyzed by the public and judged for things such as contrition level, humility, humiliation expressed, and, of course, the go-to “love for their teammates”. The two most recent PED users in the eye of the storm have gone different routes on their Apology strategy. A-Rod has gone for all-out resistance and fight against the commissioner because this was his second bust, and he does not want to admit guilt and face a longer suspension. But if he had gone with the Apology, it would have opened up a very interesting question: can a person apologize twice for the same thing to the public. He could have used the exact same script from the first Apology he gave (when he was able to muster up a tear), and just add the word “again” where appropriate. Would the public have embraced this apology as much as the first?
Ryan Braun went with the Apology route last week. It’s possible that as a result, Braun and his PR team will be living the good life next year. But unfortunately for Braun, the Apology system is always evolving and he could still be in hot water. Why? In this case, alleged former steroid user Nomar Garciaparra did not fully approve of Braun’s Apology (yes, you read that right).
Last week, Nomar Garciaparra, who is now an ESPN analyst, critiqued Braun’s Apology for not admitting enough specifics. Some day, will Apologies receive actual letter grades and not just the ‘pass fail’ of today? Most baffling is that Garciaparra is the one defining the PEDS forgiveness culture! In fact, Garciaparra is on The Bleacher Reports “all time steroid team”. It’s hard to believe that ESPN actually devotes air time to analyzing the Apology. I wonder if the producer used a suspected PED user for this story to show the viewers that they have experienced analysts who have real life experience with the subject matter?
The “Apology Movement” demands a state of forgiveness defined by media and then repeatedly discussed until the public thinks it all makes sense and has significance. Public relations people can make a science of figuring out when a player should start crying in the press conference or when he should just write a letter. The bottom line is that the Apology is essentially a way that the casual fan can justify cheering for a known PED user. But David Ortiz, the rebel, the beloved tough guy “Big Papi”, has gotten away with thumbing his nose at Apology Movement. He is also on The Bleacher Reports “all time steroid team” from being on the 2003 steroid list, and yet he never apologized. He just continued with his angry look and swagger and showed no weakness to the press or the public. He may turn out to be the first ever public PEDS user to get into the Hall of Fame.
This brings us to the Hall of Fame. While the Apology seems to do a great deal to get a player back into the public’s good graces so he can continue his career with dignity, it has not been enough to allow a player get into the Hall of Fame. Then again, none of the superstars have gone the public Apology route yet, and Pettitte could be the first to test out the true power of the Apology. Or on the other hand, since nobody ever talks about Ortiz as a cheater anymore, perhaps he will be the first open PEDS user to be inducted in the Hall of Fame and really change the dynamics. As of right now, though, the Hall of Fame is the last bastion where baseball draws a line. But will that line hold?
Mark McGwire gave an evasive Apology. Although he is now is allowed to have a job in baseball as the batting coach for the Dodgers, the Hall of Fame looks unlikely for him based on the number of votes he received. Suspected PED users like Manny Ramirez, Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa never gave the beloved Apology, and they all find themselves out of both baseball and the Hall of Fame. If guys like Clemens and Bonds apologized today, would they get in to the Hall of Fame? Probably. If Sosa did, would he?
Probably not. This is because the media have the leeway to analyze this utterly confusing situation in their own subjective way. And, as in the cases of Clemens and Bonds, who, unlike Sosa, both won MVP’s and Cy Youngs in the 1980’s before “the steroid era”, the argument can be made that they were already great baseball players before PEDS.
The Hall of Fame may be the only incentive right now in baseball for players not to cheat. If a player uses PEDS in baseball, has success, and is signed to a long term contract, he still receives all the money in his contract when he is caught using drugs. Is this incentive not to cheat? The real incentives not to cheat right now are the likelihood of exclusion from the Hall of Fame and a little public humiliation. But as we see, with the right Apology, at least the public humiliation can be short lived.