This week Alex Rodriguez, the MVP third baseman of the New York Yankees, admitted to taking illegal, performance-enhancing steroids between 2001 and 2003. While the number of current and past Yankees who have been accused of or admitted to injecting steroids is higher than any other team in baseball, this recent episode has been the most shocking. It has led me to question my loyalty to a team that appears to have lost its moral bearing. More fundamentally, it has reinforced my skepticism towards utopian expectations and the importance of responsible guardians.
Since Rodriguez’s admission, friends and family have called and e-mailed me to rub recent events in my face. This action is not atypical. I received similar taunts when the Red Sox won the World Series for the first and (gasp!) second time this decade. I would come back with a clever retort or point to the team’s 26 World Series Titles. Roland Osterweis would be proud.
This was before Rodriguez. I will not defend him. There is something morally unforgivable about the use of steroids in baseball, perhaps because baseball players are defined not only against their contemporaries, but against the hallowed greats as well. Steroid usage is a deliberate attempt to cut oneself off from baseball’s past. Baseball is irrelevant without its connection to history.
I will not be put in the position to defend a man who cheated the game. But I will not stop caring about the game. The crime of the steroid user was to cut off the link to the past; were I to do the same, I would be an accomplice.
I think baseball requires a temporary change in how fans relate to the game. It will require of them a level of introspection and consideration that, to the average fan, is unnatural.
In order to right the ship, we who are most loyal to our teams must also be most critical. We must stop excusing the actions of our guys because they are our guys, and we must start expecting more of them because they are our guys. We must ask our teams to adhere to a higher definition of win — to play not only to win the game on the field, but also in order to be recognized as the team that comported itself the best, that deserved victory.
I have decided to remain loyal to my team, but to place myself firmly in the loyal opposition, those patriots who understand their allegiance is first and foremost to the game and only second to the momentary whims of a fallible institution.
I will not cheer for the Yankees as long as they have Rodriguez, but I will also not root against them. I will pull for Jeter to get his 3,000th hit. The allegiances I will maintain are not borne of recent memory, but from dedication at a time when the Yanks did things right — and consequently won championships.
The issue is larger than steroids, larger than the institution of baseball. Baseball’s problems were not created by the fans, but they were exacerbated by our perspective — we did not view ourselves as the guardians of the game. We as a society put too much faith in the players and too little faith in the game. We came to value personalities over the collective, and we came to have expectations of the personalities that were fair but unfortunate. We were asking to be let down.
Baseball is but one example of this phenomenon. Obama enacted unrealistic ethical standards for those interested in serving in his administration. (I am talking about the restrictions on lobbyists, not the requirement to pay taxes.) As a result, respected public servants have been embarrassed and unable to serve. Similarly, Hollywood movies have transitioned from movies driven by story and acting to movies driven primarily by character actors and media personalities. As a result, movies stink.
Our society has deified a select group of individuals out of proportion to their quality and has seen them subsume the institutions of which they are a part.
John Updike, in his masterful essay on Ted Williams’ final game at Fenway Park, entitled “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu,” wrote that William did not acknowledge the applause of the fans because “Gods do not answer letters.” I say we shouldn’t write them in the first place.
Adam Lior Hirst is a junior in Branford College.