The League

Doug Farrar
Writer

Doug Farrar

A FootballOutsiders.com staff writer

Football is Visceral, Baseball is Pastoral

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First of all, I think there's a much filmier line of delineation when it comes to steroids in football -- I don't think people are necessarily surprised when someone like Shawne Merriman tests positive. Lineman Luis Castillo, Merriman's Chargers teammate, tested positive for androstenedione before the 2005 Scouting Combine, and he was still drafted in the first round. The test results barely made a ripple in Castillo's history. A recent ESPN.com article by T.J. Quinn details steroid use by the 1963 San Diego Chargers, the AFL champions that year. Baseball players may have been living on Scotch and greenies at the time, but I doubt anyone was ingesting Dianabol back then.

Second, there's always been a myth of connection about baseball players -- guys like Greg Maddux put forth the proposition through their appearance that what he does is possible for others, since he looks more like a CPA than one of the great pitchers of his generation, which he of course is. The idea of superhuman muscle-puffed players offends that sensibility in a way that it doesn't in football. I would maintain that we watch baseball to see people who sort of look like us doing things we can't do, and we watch football to see people with alien strength and speed do things we couldn't imagine doing.

Third, baseball is a sport full of ghosts in a way that football will never be. Football is becoming more and more a statistical enterprise (thank goodness, says I!), but the romance surrounding strikeout and home run records is on an entirely different level. When McGwire, Sosa, or Bonds blow away Ruth's and Maris's and Aaron's records, and we find out that they did so with help that they shouldn't have had, it offends us because we perceive those records to have the purity of a simpler time. And of course, the perception with Alex Rodriguez was that eventually, Bonds would lose his all-time home run record to A-Rod, who did it cleanly.

Now we know the truth. And it hurts in a way that it wouldn't if a juiced-up guy set the current single-season sack record. It could be because we assume that the current record-holder was juiced up when HE did it, and it could be because we don't even know what the current single-season sack record is (22.5 by Michael Strahan in 2001, and there's no evidence tying Strahan to performance-enhancers, but you get the point). There's no tie to these numbers like there is to 60 and 714 and 3,000.

I don't know that we would like to admit it, but we might think that steroids are almost permissible in football because we can't imagine the game being played at the current level without them. Football is visceral -- baseball is pastoral. The ground rules are different. They shouldn't be, but they are.

By Doug Farrar  |  February 9, 2009; 8:22 AM ET  | Category:  Doug Farrar , Steroids Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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