Baseball integrity: Is that a thing?
Integrity (n.) — The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles; moral uprightness.
Let me start off by stating that the intention of this article is not to irritate fans of baseball (or baseball integrity). The intention is to post a legitimate opinion designed make TTFB readers think outside the box.
I have been a fan of baseball since I was barely out of diapers, and for the most part, love every aspect of this wonderful sport. However, the one area that continues to make me want to slam my head against the wall is this Puritan philosophy of the “Integrity of the game.”
Fans, commentators and writers all carry on about the integrity of baseball, as if it is this moral standard that everyone should uphold in the sport. They claim today’s players lack respect that undermines baseball integrity.
To this I say, give me a break.
Without going into another long repetitive debate, let’s focus on performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). In some fashion, forms of cheating have been in baseball since the sport began. Pitchers used to doctor the balls to get more spin on their pitches. Where was the baseball integrity in that? Players would take Greenies to help them stay on the field through the dog days of August. Where was the baseball integrity in that? To all the writers and fans who are so vehemently appalled by PEDs, I say, “Get off of your high horse and just stop.”
In this writer’s opinion there is one group of people out there who should have a legitimate problem with PEDs — the borderline players. The “quadruple-A” players. Everyone else, just stop it.
The players out there who get a cup of coffee in the majors every summer between stops at Triple-A are the only ones are the one group of people who I feel can complain. These are the players just slightly below the talent level of a major leaguer and will probably set Triple-A records but never accumulate enough MLB service time (or money) to support their families. They are being beat out by some out there who are doing PEDs while they are clean. They are losing jobs because there are still players who are dabbling in the PED world.
Why shouldn’t the rest of the “clean” major leaguers speak out against PEDs? Because quite frankly, the dummies who continue to take steroids are getting caught. The system is working. Yes, they get to stay in baseball after they come back and continue making a paycheck but if that is their beef, take it up with the players union.
It was their players union who signed for the penalties for steroid use. It was their players union who advocate for super agents like Scott Boras, who attempt to decimate available payrolls by getting teams to dish out these ridiculous contracts for players. To the players like Matt Holliday, who came out and stood aggressively against the players who received 50 game bans, I get the frustration, but seriously just stop. If you have such a problem with it, step up and get your union to change the penalty. Put some of your own scratch in to clean this mess up. It’s that same union which got you that ridiculous contract.
What denotes good baseball integrity?
This is the same league which didn’t allow non-white players to play until in the MLB until Jackie Robinson broke down the barrier, right? Babe Ruth, arguably the best baseball player of all time, never played against African-American, Asian or Latino players. “But that was the time back then, you can’t hold that against him!”
Really? I can’t question if he would have held those records had he been playing against the best competition? I can’t point out that if you look at it from that lens you can throw moral integrity out the window? Give me a break.
Let’s examine another baseball legend that came a little later. Mr. Mickey Mantle. It probably seems like I am slamming the Yankees here but I promise you I am not. My father’s favorite player was Mickey Mantle. I was raised a Yankee fan around Mantle memorabilia as well. I am not trying to bash these legends; I am trying to make a point.
Let’s be honest: Mantle was an alcoholic. Players back then played the game because if they didn’t, their families wouldn’t eat. What would Mantle have done if he was around today and received a nice 10-year, $200 million contract? Most likely, he would have been suspended and stuck in rehab facility for part of his contract. Where was the baseball integrity from the league and his team when Mantle was battling a disease like alcoholism? No one did a thing about it as long as he kept trotting out there and performing? Give me a break.
Let’s fast forward even more. Many people criticize players like Puig and Harper for their actions on the field. The baseball purists claim these celebrations and antics are ruining the integrity of the game. For example, the other night Puig thought he hit a home run. As he was running out of the box, he raised his arms in celebration only for the ball to hit the base of the wall.
Explain to me how what he did was any worse than what most players do literally every time they hit a deep drive? He still did it and in the same light that is considered to be disrespectful and thus ruins the integrity of the game, did he not? If we’re going to call out a few players for compromising this so called integrity, call them all out. This type of behavior has been going on for decades, from Reggie Jackson to Manny Ramirez. Why was it alright for them to do it but not Puig and Harper?
What about my personal favorite player, Ken Griffey, Jr.? Griffey was widely loved by most fans of baseball, but every time he hit a home run, he would turn, spin, walk about 10 feet down the line, casually drop his bat and then start into his home-run trot. Why was that accepted? Where were the people whining about baseball integrity then?
I’m not saying these things shouldn’t irritate us. I feel the on-field celebrations for home runs, saves and wins are so over-the-top now that I feel like I am watching a WWE event. I am not saying I condone PED use, because I don’t. It ruins these players’ legacies, bodies and costs other players their jobs. What I am saying is these things exist today in baseball and in some fashion, on some level, less than savory activities have always existed in baseball. So while I am not saying one should completely accept these things, I am saying let’s take a step back when claiming players today ruin the “integrity” of the game.