It’s about time I put something new out, isn’t it? Yesterday was 16 weeks since my accident, and I’m doing better. For the last two weeks, I’ve been able to put 50% weight on my right leg (that’s 50% of my body weight, or an equal distribution of weight on both legs if I stand still). And I’m able to drive, which is good. While I’ve appreciated all of the carting around my wife did for me since I took my fall, I’m happy to be mobile for myself again.
Not too terribly happy about the weather here. We’re headed back into the deep freeze for the next few days. And while I like winter and being outdoors in winter, when it’s so cold that your nose hairs freeze on contact with the outside air, it’s just a wee bit too cold for man or beast.
If there’s been an upside to the past almost four months, it’s that I’ve gotten plenty of reading done, and I’m making progress playing the guitar (which is what I do most nights before sacking out). So that’s the progress report. Getting closer to full mobility. Earlier today I had another checkup with the orthopedist. Since the healing is going well, I’ve “graduated” from using a walker to using a cane. Definitely, moving up in the world.
To answer Buzzy B’s question on whether I’ve accessorized my walker: Yes, I have. It’s got a cup holder (really) and I added some gel pads for the hand grips. Took me six or eight weeks to “upgrade,” but both modifications made the time a little easier. One guy I work with suggested flame decals. I told him I’d put them on if he provided them. Still waiting, but with today’s upgrade it’s a moot point, anyway. The walker is now going into (I hope permanent) retirement.
But onwards to a few short musings about the world of dope.
The Never-Ending Apology Tour
So, is Lance still out there trying to convince folks that he wants to help clean up the sport? Seriously. Is he still out there on his “Reconciliation Tour?” Over the last couple of months I’ve managed to put that completely out of my mind. I gather that Brian Cookson, the new head of the UCI, has set up a commission to look into the sordid past — or at least the sordid past 15 years. I suppose you can’t investigate everything that’s happened in the sport since the sport began (that would take nigh on forever), and that a line has to be drawn somewhere. But there’s nothing magical about the last 15 years. They were just the culmination of trends that had existed for decades.
Still, I wish them the best of luck. If the commission can gather a reasonably complete picture of doping during that time frame, they will understand the magnitude of the problem. And perhaps they will even provide an outlet in the vein of a “Truth and Reconciliation” commission. One can only hope.
But whatever the commission uncovers, and whoever comes forward to tell their stories (maybe even a certain resident of Austin and Aspen?), the real change that has to be followed through to completion is the shift from a “do whatever it takes to win” attitude to a “do the best you’re capable of naturally” attitude within the sport. On the surface, it appears that such a shift is under way. But it’s what happens behind the scenes that will determine whether that shift is successful.
A-roid Gets A Year’s Vacation
So it looks like Alex Rodriguez (better known as “A-Rod” or “A-roid,” depending on your point of view) gets to sit out the entire 2014 season. From what I gather, this is the longest suspension handed down in Major League Baseball. So that’s significant. From the news reports, it appears that the arbitrator wasn’t swayed much by Rodriguez’s arguments, but he did win a small victory. The original suspension was slated to be more than 210 games, so he can at least take comfort in the fact that his suspension is only for the 2014 season (the full 210+ games would go about a third of the way through next season).
Not that he takes any comfort in that thought, however. Going into the regular court system to overturn the judgement, ala the Lance Armstrong playbook, A-rod shows the same kind of attitude that a certain cyclist had for many years. (Assuming you believe that Armstrong is genuinely sorry for what happened in the past, and not just sorry he got caught.) I’m sure A-rod’s lawyers are only too happy to rack up the billable hours, but unless they have some truly compelling evidence that refutes the case against him, I don’t see the suspension being thrown out. And if they did have such evidence and didn’t introduce it during the arbitration, shame on them.
A couple of weeks back, 60 Minutes did two segments (part 1 and part 2)on the whole A-rod drama, drawing much of their material from interviews with Anthony Bosch and Bud Selig. Bosch’s tale sounds eerily familiar, a combination of what Jose Canseco said years ago, mixed with BALCO and a dash of the whole Armstrong-US Postal team thrown in. Perhaps the most telling part of the interview, to me, is that Bosch was using the same techniques to beat the system that Victor Conte had figured out more than a decade ago. And his attitude towards helping A-rod and others dope was pretty much the same as Conte’s.
It’s also a testimony to the idea that the “do whatever it takes” attitude permeates more than just cycling. Rodriguez, with his $250 million contract has literally millions of reason to dope. In order to maintain the performance level he needed to fulfill the contract, he had to find a way to extend his performance capabilities beyond the natural limits that the aging process imposes on all athletes, from the weekend warrior to the superstar. In the end, none of us can beat the effects of time, we can only postpone them. And A-rod had plenty of reasons to try and postpone the inevitable. With this suspension, he’ll be about $25 million poorer for the effort, but he’s still got all he received prior to his suspension, and whatever he will receive after he comes back. All in all, from A-rod’s perspective, maybe the risk was worth it?
In part 2, Bud Selig, the outgoing commissioner, said something to the effect that Rodriguez’s case is the biggest scandal to rock baseball. Perhaps. But I’d suggest that the dust-up over the home-run derby in the late 90s was a pretty big deal. And the whole Barry Bonds/BALCO scandal was a pretty big deal, too. As was the testimony (some of it misleading from the likes of Roger Clemens and others) before Congress by certain players a few years back. And the Mitchell Report. Selig has been in the sport for 50 years or more. Surely he knew before Rodriguez’s case that doping with steroids has been pretty rampant during most of that time. (Steroids go back to the mid- to late-60s among pitchers, with others catching on within a few years.)
So even if Rodriguez’s case is a big deal today, there have been others that were just as big.
Where it maybe goes over the top is in the ways that Rodriguez or his associates might have approached keeping his doping quiet. According to 60 Minutes’ reporting, Bosch thought he might be killed if he ratted out A-rod. If true, that’s pretty sinister. Definitely something beyond the pale.
Of course, it’s easy to develop tunnel vision when one works in a certain field. And it’s easy to miss what to outsiders might seem the blazingly obvious. So maybe Bud Selig wasn’t aware, or wasn’t paying attention to the seamy underbelly of the sport. And maybe this really is, to him, the biggest scandal to rock baseball in a long, long time. (Black Sox, anyone?)
Me, I’m a bit of a cynic and a skeptic. And I haven’t followed the sport as a fan for about 20 years now. Given the huge paychecks some of these players get, the temptation to take shortcuts to enhanced performance will probably always be there. So there will probably always be someone who dopes and eventually gets caught, generating yet another scandal in the process.
I saw recently that MLB has implemented a biological passport system, which may (or may not) help catch those who are cheating over time. But for it to be successful, many, many samples need to be collected and analyzed from each player. Unless MLB is willing to pay the cost to effectively implement the program, it may have a deterrent effect for a short while, at least. At least until someone figures out how to beat a limited implementation of the biological passport.
The sanction A-rod received is by all accounts the toughest ever meted out. But will it serve as a warning to others? I’m not convinced, yet, that it will. As always, time will tell.