We don’t go easy on ballplayers who use PEDs because they’re “our heroes.” Quite the opposite

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I linked to Jeff Pearlman’s radio interview and post about how he feels Mark McGwire should be banned from baseball because he took PEDs back in the 90s and early 2000s when he was playing. There has been considerable reaction to his thoughts on that, mostly negative.

Pearlman responds to that at his blog. He’s quite upset that people aren’t as upset about it. And he thinks he knows why: fans worship athletes and let them get away with murder.

He says that McGwire and Bonds unconscionably destroyed records but “[t]o the athlete worshiper, none of that matters.” He goes on to say that even though sports is a fun diversion, “kids are watching” and “accountability means something” and for that reason “heroes can be called out, even if it hurts.”

I disagree with the very premise. As I said the other day, the idea that athletes are or should be heroes is simply foreign to me. Thus the notion that I and those who think like me go easy on PED users because we’re star struck or because we worship athletes is totally wrong. I get less outraged than most on the topic specifically because they are not heroes. Because they are ordinary people with ordinary human flaws.

This does not excuse them. If there are punishments rightfully due to them, they should receive them. But it does render moral outrage at their failings to be inapt, to say the least.

About those punishments and sanctions: Pearlman says this:

Stephen Glass never worked in journalism again. Myriad accountants and lawyers and doctors—once found guilty of violating serious professional bylaws—are done. Yet, in sports, coaches always say, “In America, we give second chances.” Yeah, if you hit home runs.

Yes. But that’s because The New Republic and journalism as a whole was very clear to Mr. Glass before he started working that plagiarism and fabrication was a fireable and, essentially, banishable offense. Lawyers and doctors have specifically set-out bylaws that detail the rules to be followed and the punishment to which they will be subject if they do not. It’s very, very clear.

Pearlman, on the other hand, would banish McGwire for conforming to norms of his profession at the time. Norms that, however odious they may seem to us now, existed and were strongly reinforced by the system in which he played when he did so. And even now, when those norms no longer apply, there are specifically set-out penalties for violating the rules. They do not include banishment for life unless someone has three offenses and they in no way apply retroactively. His comparison, then, is totally out to lunch.

But back to McGwire: No matter how angry he makes some people, he does not mean anything more to me than any other entertainer or celebrity does. The home run record is a statistic, not a sacred thing. Others may disagree with that, which is their right, but that’s on them. For my part, my lack of outrage on the subject is not because I believe them to be special or untouchable. It’s quite the opposite.

Major League Baseball needs to make an example out of José Ureña

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We’re about an hour and a half separated from the first pitch of Wednesday night’s Marlins/Braves game that featured Marlins starter José Ureña hitting Braves outfielder Ronald Acuña on the elbow with a first-pitch, 97.5 MPH fastball. The benches emptied, Ureña was ejected, and the game went on. Acuña left the game not long after to tend to his injured elbow.

After the game, when the Marlins speak to the media, they will almost certainly deny any ill intent towards Acuña, who had hit leadoff home runs in three consecutive games against them. When they do so, they will be lying. Watch how catcher J.T. Realmuto sets up on the first pitch.

ESPN Stats & Info notes that Ureña’s 97.5 MPH fastball was in the 99th percentile in terms of velocity of the 2,125 pitches he has thrown this season. It was also the fastest pitch Ureña has ever thrown to begin a game. Ureña put a little extra mustard on this pitch, for some reason.

Ureña has a 6.8 percent walk rate, which ranks 37th out of 95 starters with at least 100 innings of work this season. The major league average is eight percent. Control isn’t typically something with which he struggles.

Furthermore, Acuña isn’t the only player who has drawn Ureña’s ire:

Ureña wanted nothing to do with Hoskins — even though Hoskins has yet to get a hit off of him — in his August 4 start at home against the Phillies, walking him twice which included a few up-and-in pitches.

Ureña will almost certainly be fined and suspended for his actions on Wednesday night against Acuña. But will his punishment be enough to deter him and others from wielding a baseball as a weapon? Probably not. On June 19, when Marlins starter Dan Straily intentionally threw at Buster Posey, he received a five-game suspension and manager Don Mattingly was suspended one game. If you look at Straily’s game logs, you can’t even tell he was suspended. He started six days later on June 25 against the Diamondbacks and again on July 1 and 6. Because starters only pitch once every five days, it was like he wasn’t even suspended at all.

Major League Baseball needs to levy harsher punishments on players who attempt to injure other players. A 15-game suspension, for example, would force Ureña to miss at least two starts and it would inconvenience the Marlins enough to more seriously weigh the pros and cons of exacting revenge. The Marlins couldn’t work around it the way they did Straily by pushing back his scheduled start one day.

Major League Baseball also needs to make a legitimate effort to do away with this culture of revenge against players who are just a little bit too happy. Batters get thrown at when they flip their bats, when they yell at themselves in frustration, and even when they’re just hitting well. Baseball’s stagnating audience is very old, very white, and very male. It is not going to bring in fans from diverse backgrounds by keeping this antiquated culture that prevents baseball players from showing their personalities and being emotive. In the event Acuña needs to go on the disabled list for a couple weeks, that’s two weeks that Acuña isn’t on SportsCenter’s top-10, isn’t on the front page of MLB.com, and isn’t in articles like this. The culture of revenge is actively harming MLB’s ability to market its bright, young stars. If ending this culture of revenge doesn’t hit MLB from a moral angle, it should absolutely hit home from a business angle.