The entire baseball community was dealt a devastating blow this past weekend when it was revealed that Alex Rodriguez, long built up to be the man who would clean up the records tarnished by the villains of the steroid era, was in fact one of those villains himself. The reaction I had to learning this news was a feeling I haven’t experienced since the announcement of the findings in the Mitchell Report, and they are feelings that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to accurately convey in words. There are so many things that will (and should) be talked about with this announcement, but I’d like to initiate a dialogue (or at least a monologue) on the impact that this announcement should have on our fantasy leagues. Should we feel a moral obligation to not draft A-Rod based on this tragic news, or is he still fair game?
Obviously, this was a crippling revelation for Major League Baseball, and I believe that it should be dealt with and assessed very seriously by Selig and the powers that be. However, the issue in regard to fantasy baseball is whether or not having a moral opposition to steroids in baseball is the same as having a moral opposition to drafting a player who is a known user of steroids. I don’t think there’s a fan among us who thinks that using steroids is morally acceptable, but does this moral belief directly translate to the realm of fantasy baseball? While this is certainly a tricky issue with a lot of grey area, I think it’s safe to say that these two circumstances are separate entities that do not necessarily have to mirror one another.
The goal of any fantasy owner is simple: win your league. You do this by fielding the best team, which, presumably, is done by drafting the best players available. These vague and general terms hardly capture the intricacies of everyone’s drafting strategies, but most of our strategies are basically extensions of these general principles. That being said, if you perceive A-Rod to be the best player available when you’re on the clock, do you not owe it to yourself to draft him? Or, more importantly, if you’re in a keeper league, wouldn’t you be putting yourself at a huge disadvantage for not keeping the best player on your roster because you need to satisfy your conscience? Think of it this way: do you think the Yankees are going to let him go because of this news? Do you think they’re going to simply dismiss his contributions and his numbers because he’s tied to steroids? Did they do that with Pettitte? Of course not. They’re a competitive team competing in a highly-competitive division, so they’re going to do everything they can to be the best team. I see no reason why you shouldn’t employ the same logic. Why should you punish yourself for this athlete’s personal decisions?
Furthermore, what message do you think you’re going to send by not drafting A-Rod in your fantasy league? Do you really think it’s going to alert the world of what a grave tragedy this is for the game? The only impact it will have is within the small circle of those in your league. And even if you’re in a league like ours here at 3-D Baseball where everyone is family, it’s not going to have that big of an impact. You could take the moral high ground, but I don’t think anyone will really care. They certainly won’t remember that you made that choice in three months unless you remind them constantly. And they probably won’t judge you too much if you did draft him, anyway. Besides, are you not going to draft anyone who used steroids? Especially after we find out the other 103 names on that list of positive users, that may not even be possible.
And even if you don’t draft A-Rod based on your moral code, I guarantee you that someone else in your league will be willing to compromise his moral standards. And it’s not that this person would be all that nuts about drafting someone with the taint of steroids, but why would you pass up such a fantasy talent if he did fall to you that late simply because others weren’t willing to draft him? Is it worth it to put yourself at this kind of disadvantage?
I think it’s also important to ask ourselves whether this is entirely relevant in the topic of fantasy sports. In a way it reminds me of the Bill Clinton impeachment scandal of the 90’s. His affair was morally wrong – no one was questioning that. The debate about the impeachment, however, centered around whether that moral wrongdoing would effect his ability to lead the country as he had before. While there was a lot of partisan bickering, in the end it was deemed that the two circumstances – his immoral decision and his national leadership – did not affect one another.
In this same way I’m not sure that A-Rod’s steroid use is entirely relevant to the fantasy community. In our fantasy leagues we’re only concerned with the stats that players provide, not the context in which they are achieved. This is vastly different from baseball in real life for this one reason: while stats are equally crucial in MLB, the historical context of those stats is what is most important about them. The fact that A-Rod used steroids to help him get over 500 career homeruns wouldn’t matter if that number wasn’t historically significant. No one would care that much when A-Rod hits his 756th homerun if it wasn’t the shot that pushed him past Aaron’s eternally historic mark. And while I’m not saying that any benefits that a steroid user gets to give him better stats in a season over a non-user are not significant, I am saying that the edge in this situation is relatively meaningless when you compare this player’s numbers to those that have defined the sport for generations.
In conclusion, I’m not saying that I’m OK with the news that transpired over the weekend. Hell, I’m pretty damn far from OK. I can’t tell you how hard it is for me to swallow this pill that has drugged the game I’ve always loved and professed to love for the rest of my life. I am saying, though, that these are two different conversations. Don’t feel like you’re compromising your moral integrity just because you choose to draft A-Rod this spring. If nothing else, just tell yourself that fantasy baseball is a business of winning, and you’re just making a business decision.