Monday of this week, pitchers and catchers for many professional baseball teams reported for spring training, completing the annual southern migration and signaling the beginning of Major League Baseball’s relevancy once again.
This year I am apathetic, at best, about the start of the MLB season.
It isn’t that there aren’t storylines to be interested in. Big names like Josh Hamilton, Kevin Youkilis, B.J. Upton and Zach Greinke will be wearing new uniforms during spring training. The Blue Jays’ acquisitions of Melky Cabrera and Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey might flip the tables in the American League East. Everyone is wondering whether Mike Trout will endure a sophomore slump, or if he’ll be able to replicate the production that placed him second in the American League Most Valuable Player voting last season.
The problem that plagues Major League Baseball is that every great story, like Trout, is accompanied by an equally devastating one elsewhere in the league.
In late January, the Miami New Times published records from Biogenesis, a now-closed anti-aging lab in Coral Gables, Fla. known for selling performance enhancing drugs (PED) like anabolic steroids and human growth hormone. The investigation revealed that several current MLB players were clients of the firm, including former All-Stars Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz, Gio Gonzalez and the aforementioned Cabrera.
While there haven’t been any direct accusations of PED use in this case yet, the records are suggestive. This is the second time Braun and Caberera’s names have surfaced in PED investigations. After Braun’s 2011 MVP season, it was revealed that he had violated baseball’s PED policy and was suspended. Braun appealed, and had his name cleared due to issues regarding the chain-of-custody of his urine sample.
Cabrera seemed to be enjoying a career resurgence, hitting over .300 in 2011 for the first time in his seven-year MLB career. He followed this campaign up in 2012 with a .346 average through 113 games and All-Star Game MVP award in what became a season shortened by a 50-game suspension resulting from a positive testosterone test.
Whether Braun and Cabrera are in fact repeat offenders is almost moot at this point.
Major League Baseball is quickly losing its traction in the American populous. Its hard-core fans are disillusioned and its casual fans are skeptical, if they haven’t changed the channel to another sport. And why wouldn’t they be? How many times can you watch the poster boys of a league be brought down by any kind of allegations and keep tuning in?
The 2012 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers was the lowest television-rated Fall Classic in league history. World Series television ratings have steadily declined since the late 1980s, but the effect is more pronounced from the late 1990s forward.
From 1990-99, the World Series averages viewership of 27.08 million viewers, while viewership averaged 18.01 million viewers from 2000 to the present. Fans are expressing their disapproval by voting with their remote.
The league and those involved in its greater interests are making efforts to curb the use of PEDs. The adoption of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program in the mid 2000s and the expansion this year to include in-season human growth hormone testing were major strides in holding players accountable for PED use.
For the stars of the league, the biggest deterrent might be the effect on their lasting legacy. This past Hall of Fame election cycle was the first year rumored steroid users Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza, among others, were eligible. None of them earned the necessary 75 percent of votes to be inducted.
The baseball writers of America can stonewall suspected PED users at the gates of Cooperstown and keep them out of the Hall of Fame, but that won’t dissuade journeymen players from using.
After serving his 50-game suspension, Cabrera signed a new two-year, $16 million contract with the Blue Jays this offseason, a pay-bump from the $6 million he made in 2012.
Some punishment, huh?
– Dylan Lewis can be reached at sports@HuntNewsNU.com