Major League Baseball and Steroids

by

As Major League Baseball enters it’s 2010 season, fans everywhere are more skeptical about the sport’s integrity and legitimacy than ever before.  In light of Mark McGwire’s recent admission to taking steroids during his celebrated career, I think Major League Baseball has reached a point where someone needs to speak out about what they have done to the American public over the last 20-30 years.

The obvious question is “Who is to blame?”  The answer to this question is multi-fold.  The blame lies in so many places, from the players and their representatives, to the offices of Major League Baseball itself, to television, and even on the fans themselves.  The past years have been very complicated, so I will attempt to present a very possible set of events that has led to the loss of credibility that Baseball has seen in America.

30 years ago, baseball players made a discovery.  They could get stronger by taking drugs that were not forbidden by the league.  This extra strength made them appear to be better players, which then led to them making more money.  This monetary incentive caused more and more players to take Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED’s), and MLB’s ignorance, whether ignorant or intentional (a theory I will discuss later), led to America’s pastime being ensnared in what could be the biggest scandal in the history of American professional sports.  However, players would never have gotten away with their cheating for so many years without the MLB Players Association.  This union has misplaced its priorities, placing a higher value on money than on fans, and recently has blocked efforts by the League office to institute mandatory drug testing for all players.  However, the office of the commissioner, in the eyes of the fans, did not seem to make too much of an effort to force this drug testing onto the players.  But why?  Wouldn’t the league care about its public relations and how it was perceived by society?  The answer is no, because there is one thing that trumps all in professional sports: Money.

Money is the ruling principle of Major League Baseball.   This is the league that starts World Series games at 8:00 PM, making it impossible for the younger fans to be able to see the entire game, which aces out one of their largest fan demographics, just so that they can get an extra hour of prime-time airing, leading to an increased revenue.  What does this have to do with steroids?   Steroids make players stronger, which allows them to hit more home runs.  The home run is what draws the average fan to the ballpark.  The more of these average fans show up to games, the more money the league will makes through ticket sales, parking, concessions, and souveniers.  Let us look at the typical day at the ballpark.  How much money does a fan spend on a day at the park?  (For this section, I will be quoting prices from Sun-Life Stadium, or at least that’s what I think they call it now.  Anyways, where the Florida Marlins play their home games.)  First, the ticket itself.  The cheapest area to sit where you can still see the game action is the bullpen box, a seat there costs $25.  Parking at Sun-Life costs $20 for general parking with a quarter-mile walk to the stadium.  Lets say you get hungry an you get a hot-dog and a soda (or a beer).  Between your 12 inch jumbo hot dog (they don’t sell any other dogs) and your drink, your tab will be somewhere around $13.  To refute the argument that you can just not eat or drink, or just bring your own, let us think.  Baseball is played in the summer.  Summertime in florida is very hot (average in the 90’s with humidity at a near-constant 100%).  You are at the very least going to need to get a bottle of water.  That right there costs $5, and to make it worse, you cannot bring your own snacks or drinks into the stadium because of liability concerns.  Baseball is also a long game, so the chances of not wanting to buy some kind of snack are very slim.  Even a bag of peanuts will run you up $5.  Now, let’s say you want to keep score.  A program will cost around $5.  So, for 1 person to go to a game, it would total around $60.  $60 is a lot of money for 1 person, but think about this: if a family of 4 were to go to a game, they would be spending $240, and that is without the kids wanting to get an ice-cream, more drinks, a foam-finger, etc.  Last year, the Marlins sold an average of 18,770 tickets per game (2nd lowest in the league).  Let’s say that every one of those fans spent $60 at the games.  The SINGLE GAME TOTAL IS $1,126,200.  Multiply that number out over a 81-game home-schedule and you get a grand total of $91,222,200.  Subract expenses for player salaries, advertising expenses, money that they are required to share with the front office of Major League Baseball, and other costs, the team will bring in a grand total of around $40,000,000 yearly (the Marlins have one of the league’s lowest paid teams, which accounts for their low attendance and ticket prices, yes I said LOW ticket prices.  For $25, you cannot even get a seat at Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium, or Wrigley field, where games are routinely sold out.  Also remember that this is a very low-ball number because I am assuming that every fan will be sitting in the cheap seats).  Let us now say that this coming season, the Marlins call-up a young minor-leaguer with prodigious power.  He goes on a season-long home run tear and the fan-base gets excited.  More tickets will be sold to people who want to see this phenom in person.  Not only does this sell more tickets, concessions, and souveniers, it also gives the team a better chance at receiving more nationally broadcasted games, which in turn generates even more revenue for the team.  The same thing happens with any player, young or old, who suddenly discovers the ability to hit awe-inspiring home runs.  The key, however, lies in something I just mentioned: Television.  TV ratings rule baseball.

If it is true that home runs draw more fans to the stadium, then it can be assumed that more people are likely to tune in to a game being televised if more home runs are being hit.  The networks understand this and will then tend to televise teams with dynamic sluggers and high-scoring offenses in order to increase their ratings.  With that being said, how can you place the power on the networks, or the players, or the teams, or the people who run the league itself without realizing that the fans have been the one’s who continued to celebrate the tainted feats of the athletes?  Even though we (yes, I include myself here) have been taken advantage of, doesn’t some of the blame fall to us for continuing to buy tickets, buy expensive TV packages that allow us to see every game at once, and buying MLB merchandise?

This situation is very similar to what we explored in the excerpt from “The Grapes of Wrath”.  Like the farmers, baseball fans have been kept in the dark about something that greatly affects both our wallets and us, the fans.    In fact, the same kind of power that operated in “Grapes of Wrath” applies here.  What we see here is a very complicated form of systemic power.  We, the fans are caught in the middle of a corrupted system that works to increase profit at the expense of the fans.  It works so well because they are selling a commodity that people care so much about.  The players begin the cycle by taking PED’s.  Fans gain an interest in the game that leads to higher attendance, profit for the league, and TV ratings.  Eventually, the league figures out what the players are doing but don’t do anything because of their increased profit and popularity.   We, the fans are then being told a massive lie, as we sit in amazement, wondering how players can be so talented.  So, here it is.  A massive conspiracy theory that has been floating around in my mind for months, and I know I am probably blowing this up way beyond what it is.  But it is something that needed to be said after all of this time.

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