Contortionist Baseball

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Can we pause for a second and talk about A-Rod? This all feels like another public hanging that obscures the origins of the problem. It seems clear that Major League Baseball – and by extension, all of us who consume its products and services – are unwilling to enforce a clean game. There are difficult problems to solve (see Afghanistan, toxic derivatives) and not-so-difficult problems to solve. As David Ortiz pointed out, this feels suspiciously like the latter:

“I think you clean up the game by the testing,” Ortiz said. “I test you, you test positive, you’re going to be out. Period.”

The system is perfectly designed to produce Alex Rodriguez. The testing policy is lax and bizarrely enforced. The rewards to owners, managers and players for performing well are astronomical, to say nothing of the sweeteners for breaking records and extending the life cycle of good players. And as fans, we’ve invested our viewing power and discretionary income in the game’s fireworks, the home runs and closers and inhuman endurance of the greats. That’s how we’ve defined entertainment, and MLB has delivered.

Changing that system is fraught with tremendous financial risk, and it’s clear that no one really has the stomach for it, particularly right now, when institutional trust is at a all-time low in this country. Kill baseball, too? In the middle of a recession? It’s not going to happen.

But it could, and it should, and this may be precisely the moment to do it, when Americans are ready to clean up the indulgence and toxicity in the rest of our lives. We could all keep contorting ourselves to preserve the illusion of a clean game, or we could take down the big tent and play baseball again.

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