The Biogenesis hammer finally came down in baseball yesterday and it packed a rather mighty punch. A dozen players were suspended, including A-Rod's whopping 221-game ban, and not including Ryan Braun's 65-game plea bargain announced weeks ago. The ruling resulted in a flurry of writing across the internet (here are a few) and part of me feels sheepish adding to the pile. So much has already been said, and so much can be said in general. There are lots of players involved, plus some deep ethics about the integrity of sports. Add in some star power, courtesy Braun, A-Rod, and the uncaught juicers of a previous generation, and there is simply a large swath of material to write about.
I could go with a Mariners focus and talk about Jesus Montero. However, that's not a blog post. It's a paragraph. How much is there to say? Jesus had a deflating, though not terrible, rookie campaign in 2012. He opened up this season as the starting catcher, got demoted to Tacoma after a few months of poor hitting to go with his poor fielding, injured his knee and missed a few months, then made it back to Tacoma for a little while before getting suspended yesterday for the rest of the season. There are failures and then there is Montero's 2013 campaign. He has hit rock bottom. He will rebound. I don't know how much he'll rebound, but my goodness have things gone wrong for him this year. I wouldn't say Montero is the victim of any bad luck, but things have certainly gone wrong in 2013. Here's hoping he puts 2013 behind him by learning and maturing some.
The most interesting angle of the Biogenesis story, to me, has been the rush to define legacies. Many pieces written in the last few days read almost like eulogies for Alex Rodriguez. I am curious to see how editorials from significant sportswriters like George Vecsey and Tom Verducci age as they looked to place A-Rod's career in perspective in the immediate wake of the Biogenesis ruling. The reality is that yesterday was the largest suspension for off-field activities since the Black Sox scandal in 1919, and that places Biogenesis in a stratosphere that I, frankly, never expected to see in baseball again.
Disclaimer: I am 26 years old. Obviously, I don't remember the Black Sox scandal. Hardly anyone around today was there back then. It happened 94 years ago. I've read about it though, and read David Pietrusza's biography on Kenesaw Mountain Landis, the commissioner who condemned the Black Sox. The Biogenesis suspensions and Black Sox scandal are an odd historical pairing, but here we are.
Landis is arguably the single most influential person in baseball history. I'm not joking about that. He's the reason there is even an MLB commissioner, and he set virtually every precedent involving the position of commissioner. Landis enjoyed a high-profile career as a judge prior to becoming commissioner, with perhaps his most famous ruling being the one that broke up Standard Oil.
Baseball, back in the days of Landis, faced a very bad image problem. It was known that player gambled and that threatened to destroy any and all integrity in the game. Mind you that this was back in the 1910s as well, when baseball was somewhat popular but hardly an established institution like it is today. The American and National Leagues had separated themselves from the rest of organized baseball as the superior leagues, but largely operated autonomously, save for their agreement to stage the World Series. This made the league presidents the most powerful people in baseball.
Landis changed all that. The owners of the time wanted a committee to lead baseball into a new era that scrubbed the game clean of gambling with Landis brought in to be tough-nosed and give credibility. Landis only wanted in if he had unilateral power. Long story short, the owners in both leagues decided Landis was worth this major concession.
Bam, we have an MLB commissioner. Pretty big development as it turns out - probably bigger than anyone realized at the time.
Landis ruled with an iron fist who was charged with cleaning the game of gambling. So Landis did just that, banishing players for life somewhat liberally, with the Black Sox scandal taking the most headlines then and now. It seems that the scandal will live on for eternity given how often it still gets referenced almost a century later. It helps when one of the men banned for life, Shoeless Joe Jackson, would undoubtedly be a hall-of-famer wtihout the ban, and also because controversy around Jackson's ban continues to this day. Jackson batted .375 during the World Series he allegedly threw for some gambling money. You'd think he'd be better at sucking than that.
Now, with "better-know-a-scandal" out of the way, it's hard to say what the Black Sox tell us about Biogenesis. It seems like they say something though. It's crazy to think of Bud Selig in terms of "the Mountain" (as I like to call him at least), but here we are. It's also amazing to see A-Rod more or less take Shoeless Joe's headlining role in a major baseball scandal, but again, here we are. The parallels seem like they are there, yet also seem so elusive. A lot happens in 94 years.
Maybe that is all that the Black Sox have to say about Biogenesis. There's what we think now, and then what will happen later. Baseball's leadership has focused on PEDs for the past decade and introduced a rather remarkable Joint Drug Agreement. Bud Selig has interpreted that agreement loosely at best to hand down some stunning punishments, with none more breathtaking than A-Rod's. We live in a modern world where everybody wants answers fast and it seems to me that's reflected in many of the pieces written about Biogenesis.
I am going to take a different approach. We know Biogenesis is a big deal, but there's no way we can fully comprehend the implications right now. The Black Sox scandal was the culmination of a number of changes baseball made to crack down on gambling. That moment in baseball history doesn't happen if baseball wasn't worried about gambling years beforehand and took some drastic actions, the most drastic being the creation of a commissioner. That decision has had consequences well beyond gambling, even though few cared about anything but gambling when the decision was made. Also, debate continues to this day around the decision, particularly Shoeless Joe's ban.
Biogenesis and PEDs seem to be on an awfully similar trajectory. PEDs were an issue before yesterday and baseball made systemic changes in their structure and policies that made yesterday possible. The Biogenesis suspensions are a landmark moment, one that has a chance to live on forever in similar ways to the Black Sox. What we don't know, and won't know for a while, is just how much the PED chase has impacted the game's future. The only thing that seems certain is that we don't comprehend what just happened, but it definitely happened.