Baseball fans enabling sport to continue steroid debacle

The Baltimore Sun

Pitchers and catchers are reporting, which means it's time once again to ask how much longer fans plan to put up with what baseball is doing with performance-enhancing drugs.

Maybe this is the year, and this is the moment, they stop, with Alex Rodriguez's failed drug test stinking up spring training. But if last year wasn't it - after the Mitchell Report, after the Roger Clemens circus, after Barry Bonds' numbers still taunted everybody even as he was being blackballed from the game - then it will never happen.

Last year, fans were so enraged by the betrayals, so infuriated by what the commissioner and union and media and superstars themselves had allowed to happen, that only 78.6 million of them attended games, and they handed Bud Selig and Co. only $6.5 billion to divvy up.

That's all of 370 fewer fans per game than in 2007, roughly, but $425 million more in overall revenue. During the worst recession since FDR was in office. Yeah, you sure showed them.

That's how baseball keeps score. That's how baseball gauges the outrage over the never-ending revelations about the scam the sport pulled for the past couple of decades. The scam put in motion after the 1994 strike and canceled World Series helped a lot of fans kick the baseball habit for good.

The scam that worked, it's obvious now. A lot of failed, disgraced financial institutions didn't get away as cleanly as baseball has. Talk about a public bailout; the public just bypassed the government and stacked the cash right in the vaults.

Either fans lost their taste for such resistance or the ones who left were replaced by others who enjoy the spectacle more than the game. All those fans who traveled great distances in syringe costumes to boo Bonds and wave asterisk signs bought into the spectacle. Literally.

Meanwhile, all the fans who stayed away from Camden Yards last year because of all the Orioles named in the Mitchell Report, raise your hands. Anybody? OK, how about those who stayed away because of the September swoon?

In short, then, do you really care? Or do you just want to sound like you care? Or do the few who do care just happen to be the loudest? (Or was this about sticking it to Bonds all along? Let's not rule that out.)

There have been plenty of suggestions for how to cleanse the game, to change the Wild West environment in which these drugs still operate. Selig's ideas - discipline Rodriguez, reinstate Hank Aaron atop the home run list over Bonds - are nonsense and hypocritical. Others, such as demanding Selig's ouster, are impractical. Still others, such as releasing the names of the others who flunked the 2003 test that caught Rodriguez, might be illegal, or at least subject to a colossal lawsuit.

Baseball itself, though, will do absolutely nothing - not as long as fans keep running back like a bunch of addicts. Not as long as they look at the sport, its revenue and the nearly $18 million Selig is paid as less offensive than the frauds in banking and automaking and mortgage lending. Shouldn't the proposed cap on CEO pay apply here, too, with teams laying off workers and colluding - er, exercising restraint - on the free-agent market?

So, in reality, Selig isn't the problem. Neither is Bonds nor Rodriguez nor the union nor the owners nor the rest of the players.

You're the problem. Because the numbers that count - $6.5 billion and 78.6 million - say you don't even think there is a problem.

Listen to David Steele on Fridays at 9 a.m on WNST (1570 AM).

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