Reassessing Your Heroes: Fandom and PEDs


Mandatory Credit: Jim Cowsert-USA TODAY Sports

I was researching a related article the other night, a piece I’m putting together about my All Ranger Team, when I was struck by a complication I hadn’t really thought about.  I was prepared to put aside emotional responses and really dig down into numbers to determine who the best Rangers of my time really are.  I wasn’t prepared to throw cheating into that hopper, but I must.

No fewer than four Ranger greats have been linked in one way or another with Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs).  It’s no surprise to anyone who follows baseball, it was an epidemic.  Still, I hadn’t really taken the time to think about the use of PEDs in relation to the players that I had idolized.

In the big picture, I am extremely anti-PED.  I do a little mental happy dance each year when the main offenders (Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Sosa) fail to gain entrance into the Hall Of Fame.  I hope that they never do.  I am satisfied that their records will forever be tarnished.  There may never be an actual asterisks beside their names, but their names will always be linked to the artificial means that helped them achieve those feats.

But it’s easy to pass those kinds of judgments about players that you’re either ambivalent about or outright dislike.  It’s quite another to view players that you idolized through that same prism.  How then, do I judge those four Ranger stars of the past?  I decided to take a stab at it.

Alex Rodriguez

A-Rod is the easiest of the four to address, for a number of reasons.  He’s also the most guilty by a country mile.  Still, in his short stint in Ranger Blue, A-Rod put up jaw dropping offensive numbers, won two Gold Gloves and an AL MVP while playing for a last place team.  If it weren’t for the mountain of evidence that now condemns him, you really couldn’t make much of an argument for anyone else as the greatest shortstop in team history, not even Elvis Andrus.  Really, the only knocks on him would be the ridiculous contract he signed, which wasn’t his fault, and his general unlikability.

However, his Pandora’s Box has been blown wide open and it’s pretty clear that most of what made A-Rod special came out of a vial.  Combine that with the fact that his contract probably set the team back by a half a decade and that he is slightly less sympathetic than Justin Beiber and A-Rod’s time in Texas is best brushed under the rug.  And then burned.

Nelson Cruz

Now it gets a little more difficult.  Nellie played such a vital role in the 2010 and 2011 World Series runs that his place in Ranger lore should be ensured.  His penchant for big hits should even be enough to overlook some tough times in the field, like Game 6, but I digress.

If it weren’t for the ugly little matter of a failed drug test.  During the heat of a pennant chase.  In which the Rangers missed the playoffs.  By one game.

Do you think that having Cruz in the lineup every day might have been worth at least one more victory down the stretch?  I do too.  For that reason, he becomes an easy scapegoat for the disappointing end to 2013 and a convenient villain.  Makes you look at some of those aforementioned big hits a little differently, doesn’t it?

Juan Gonzalez

Juan Gone hit the first Rangers post season homer ever.  In fact, Gonzo terrorized Yankee pitchers in that 1996 ALDS.  He almost singlehandedly powered Texas past the eventual champs.  Juan was a run producing, baseball crushing machine and the unquestioned superstar of the Rangers first Golden Age.

How disappointing to hear him linked to PEDs.  Disappointing but not surprising, because I honestly don’t think I’d be surprised by anyone anymore.  Still, the evidence against Juan is the weakest of the bunch.  So I’ll just close my eyes and pretend that it was all God-given talent and hard work.  I hope that’s all it was, but it’s hard to believe it’s true.  I’d love to say that the allegations against him were just lies Jose Canseco told, but as it turns out, Jose got quite a bit right.

Rafael Palmeiro

Sigh.  Raffy was one of my all time favorites.  His acquisition after the 1988 season, along with Julio Franco and Nolan Ryan, was a sign that my little ol’ Rangers were ready to get serious.  Palmeiro was a stud for those early 90s Ranger teams that I followed very closely.  I never particularly took to his replacement, Will Clark, because he just wasn’t Raffy Palmeiro.  He was one of the few players who left that I still openly cheered for.

His fall, however, was most embarrassing.  Let’s recap: March 17, 2005, Palmeiro tells Congress that he has never used steroids.  Period.  August 1, 2005, suspended 10 days for failed drug test for steroids.  Whoops.  There’s Jose, standing in the corner telling everyone “I told you so.”

Maybe some baseball fans can ignore it, some may just see it as part of the game.  The whole “everybody’s doing it” crowd.  Certainly cheating in baseball isn’t uncommon.  Still, I can’t lump a guy like Gaylord Perry putting a little goop on a ball in with a guy shooting chemicals into his body to make him bigger and faster and stronger.

I can’t look past those things, even when the players involved where heroes of mine.  I wish I could, but now, every time I see my daughter wearing the Mickey Tettelton or Jeff Bagwell jerseys I handed down to her, I can’t help but frown.  The memories I have of those players crushing baseballs shouldn’t be bittersweet and when I try to decide who the best players I’ve ever watched are, I shouldn’t have to wonder if their magic was injected.

I really wish I didn’t have to think about things like that, but I do.  What about you?