Recently, cheating has taken a high profile in the major league sports, and I'm very torn. I want to teach my son that cheating is wrong and that he shouldn't do it... yet, some cheating isn't as wrong as others. Right back to Orwell's Animal Farm: "Some cheating is more equal than others." I got into a discussion with this at the Big Apple Chorus's retreat this weekend, and it bothered me that, in the conversation, I was not angry about some of the cheating and furious at others. I consider myself to be a painfully honest and honorable person, and this attitude about cheating surprised and confused me.
First of all, to paraphrase Gregory House, MD: "Everyone cheats." How many people stay within the speed limit always? I don't. How many people have illegally parked their car - and yes, running inside for "just a second" doesn't make the parking job any more legal. How many people have fudged a few numbers on their income tax forms? How many people have snuck a glance at the cards of the guy sitting next to them at the table? How do we know what cheating is wrong and what isn't?
The New England Patriots are in the middle of "Spygate." Basically, other teams have accused the Patriots of videotaping secret practices and plays, as well as having cameras on the opposing teams' sidelines during games, in order to steal signals. This, I do not consider to be cheating and do not consider this to be serious.
I look at it this way: in baseball, the "art" of stealing signs goes back for more than a hundred years. Batters have always snuck glances at catchers to determine whether the pitch was going to be inside or outside; offensive teams have had players and pitchers in the outfield relaying signs to the batters, and - every once in a while - a team is accused of having a scout in the stands in the outfield relaying pitching signs to the batter. There's a traditional, and very successful, method that is used for keeping teams honest: the catcher calls for a low, outside ball, knowing that the sign would be stolen. The pitcher throws a high, inside fastball; the batter, who is already starting to dive across the plate for the pitch, then must dodge in order to save his life. Afterwards, that team is not as likely to steal signs from that catcher again.
What should teams facing the Patriots - or any team suspected of stealing signs - do? Simple. Set up in the same formation, with the same indications, that you normally do. Then, instead of having a play go as a run up the middle, as the signs say, you have a playaction pass to a streaking wide receiver. The secondary has come up to cover the run; the receiver goes past them; 80 yard touchdown play results. Another result? That team doesn't trust the signs they're stealing. Controversy over. The teams that are involve with sueing the league and the Patriots are coming out in public and telling everyone that: 1) they weren't smart enough to figure out that they'd been snookered, and 2) they weren't smart enough to deal with it on their own, and 3) they weren't smart enough to use that information to their advantage. I'd LOVE to know that Bill Belichek thinks that, when I call this sign, this play will result; any other play that I run SHOULD be hugely successful.
That's why I don't consider that to be cheating. With luck, I can convince The Boy that that sort of thing is just not worth the effort as well as being wrong. But, as a baseball fan, I have to admit that cheating is part of the fabric of the game. Spitballs, scuffed pitches, corked bats, illegal leads by runners, the "neighborhood" force out (watch a shortstop coming across second base to turn a double play - frequently, he won't even be within five feet of the bag when the out is called), sign stealing and gamesmanship (watch "Bull Durham" and see how Crash Davis deals with the batters up at the plate) have been an important part of the game for the game's entire history. Heck, Gaylord Perry won 314 games on the strength of nasty pitches and the constant threat of a world-class spitball. As a baseball fan, I would think it odd that a football team wouldn't be trying to steal signs and plays and all that.
Steroids and other performance enhancing drugs... that is another story, but not quite as other people think. Illegal drugs have been forbidden for use via baseball's collective bargaining agreement for more than two decades, and steroids were added to the list of illegal drugs, officially, in 1991. Anabolic steroids - steroids used for non-prescribed purposes - have been schedule one substances for several decades, which has made them technically illegal since baseball's CBA banned the use of illegal and nonprescribed drugs. Drug testing didn't start until 2001 in the minor leagues and 2003 in the major leagues. Therefore, any player using steroids was already in violation of both the laws of the United States of America and the Major League Baseball Collective Bargaining Agreement.
Now, take a deep breath on this one, folks: Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have never failed a drug test. They have been tested multiple times, each, but have never failed. Not once. Taking Clemens' case in the Mitchell Report: the ONLY accusations leveled at him are from a convicted felon who is trying to keep himself out of jail. I have read from reputable sources (specifically, Peter Abraham from the Journal News and Steve Lombardi from waswatching.com) that several of McNamee's reports (such as Clemens telling him about using steroids at a lunch party that Jose Canseco threw - when Clemens can prove that he wasn't at the party) are blatant lies or mistruths. McNamee's "evidence" against Clemens is several syringes that were allegedly used to inject Clemens with steroids... syringes that were kept inside of an old beer can for ten years.
Keep in mind that, according to what I've read, there is no medically credible way to establish what the syringes were full of when they entered Clemens' body. This evidence would not stand up in any court in the land.
Is their circumstantial evidence that Clemens used PEDs? Yes, kind of. He was a great pitcher into his 40's, something only done by Nolan Ryan. And, his career resurgence happened right at the time that he was accused of starting his use of PEDs. But, that does not really take into account his legendary workout routines - something very new to baseball, when - even into the late 80's and early 90's - players were told not to lift weights because it would make the "stiff" and "too big to play baseball." Players half his age couldn't keep up with him - and I have seen, in gyms, people Clemens' age who can do that.
What do I tell David, later on? Hard to say. Can we throw away the great career of a man who was never convicted of using Performance Enhancing Drugs? I don't think so. I think it's possible to appreciate the accomplishments of a Roger Clemens - or even a Barry Bonds or a Mark McGwire - while deploring the use of drugs. McGwire and Giambi - having admitted to using PEDs in one way or the other - have more to answer for. Bonds - currently fighting indictment for perjuring himself before Congress - has more to answer for. Clemens? Not so much. When real evidence comes forth, then I'm interested.