PlayBook: Checks and Balances

By Fraser Lockerbie

We've learned nothing from the fallout of the steroid era and the Ryan Braun appeal proves it.

Not so long ago we lined up as a half-assed mob looking for heads of supposed cheaters to hang. Our list was long; from Bonds to Clemens, McGwire and Sheffield, we wanted blood. Balco blood and for the boys to bleed. They’d tainted our books, the long-standing records now lined and starred with asterisks and exceptions. Some 762 home runs and almost two decades worth of numbers all but null and void.

It was a time of confusion; no one knew who to try or trust. Trials were conducted by a sort of Kafkan code, a backroom affair complete with all the free and wild finger-pointing one might expect from indicted heroes looking to bring down the house and everyone within an arm’s reach of it. Canseco cried wolf and Clemens just cried. There was dirt in every direction and the bodies were piling up. We were at an impasse, to either absolve and ignore or indict and admit what we had known all along; that our Gods were cheaters and on the altar of Sabermetrics they would be sacrificed to the game, to save what was left of a sport ravished repeatedly by scandal and greed.

Then it was quiet. The towering shots of the early 2000s subsided and the numbers returned to normal. In the wake of all that happened, all the blood that had been shed, baseball emerged from under the cloud a relatively clean game or at least a shadow of its former steroid-ridden self. We settled back uneasily into our armchairs, moving slow so as not to further rock the boat that had just nearly been tipped. We’d survived the slaughter; the steroid era was behind us. The only thing that remained to do was to get back to baseball. The rest would only be a matter of putting in place the proper checks and balances.

Since then the Game of Shadows has changed. No longer do we publicly discuss The Cream and The Clear or Clomiphene and the cover-ups. Yet the puppet show continues on a PR level with ghostly allegations coming down from the powers that be. “Undisclosed substances,” “unnamed sources” and libel of the highest degree. Players named and never charged with nothing ever said about it to either us or them. A mock transparency; a lot of bark and no bite. In short, an all-out Dog and Pony Show the HPAC and the Commissioner’s Office are more than happy to host so long as no one stays too long or asks too many unseemly questions.

In the end, not a whole lot has changed since the dark days of baseball. Few lessons have been learned. Less players cheat or at least less get caught but the ones that do are often allowed back into the fold. The fix is still in; there is still money to be made in a name. Manny’s suspension cut down by half, Ryan Braun allowed off scot-free. The message it sends is that no more examples will be made of the players that pay. Enough heroes have been offered up, enough money has been lost. We’re back to putting meat in the seats. And we’ll circle the wagons ‘til the chickens come back home to roost. Checks and fucking balances be damned…

But that term of course has two meanings: one, the idiom we use to assure things have not gone awry and two, the banking nouns we might associate with matters of money. Today, with Braun walking free on a piss cup technicality we are concerned with both, an ethical matter in which we must decide which one we value more, the sanctity of a clean house enforced by an accountable, open system that works or a game of hired heroes governed by unequal laws and accountable to nothing.


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