Breaking News on the Baseball Scandal

August 19, 2013
 
The most recent player to fall in Major League Baseball’s latest laser surgery investigation is one of the biggest: Atlanta Braves All-Star second baseman Dan Uggla.
 
The three-time All-Star slugger was again leading major league second basemen in homeruns when it was discovered that he had recently gone to a clinic to have corrective laser surgery performed to improve his vision. As a first time offender of the Laser-Danger-Laws passed in 2004, Uggla will have to play the thirty-six games left in the regular season with a patch over his dominant eye.  
 
Reactions around the league were mixed. Oakland infielder Eric Sogard, who wears glasses on the field, was candid in his criticism of Uggla: "As a sight-challenged player who has used glasses throughout my professional career, I take great offense that Uggla would resort to laser surgery to give him the eyesight of Ted Williams. It reduces my own accomplishments. Further, it sends the message that wearing glasses is somehow a bad thing that needs correcting. I feel stigmatized by my stigmatisms."
 
Other players were concerned by the potential ramifications that Uggla’s decision will have on future generations. Rajai Davis, an outfielder for the Blue Jays, worried that teenaged players hoping to make the majors might have the surgery performed at a younger age. Major League baseball wouldn’t know about it, but there would be an elevated risk for younger individuals, whose eyes were still developing. "You’re incentivizing children to take risks with their eye-sight, on the promise of a big league career. That’s troubling."
 
Albert Pujols, a Hall-of-Famer, put the debate in a historical context. "Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx didn’t have the chance to fix their eyeballs with lasers. Is it fair for me, as a first-baseman, to give myself an advantage of perfect eyesight, just because the technology now exists?"
 
When asked about the revelation, Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster warned that if Uggla ever stepped into the box against him, he better not dig in. "I’ll be throwing at him, absolutely. I don’t care what the context of the game is: whether he’s hitting at the top of the inning, or whether the game matters in a tight pennant race. It’s a Canada thing, a hockey thing. We like to settle things man-to-man. And nothing is more manly than throwing a 95-mph fastball at a person, from a distance far enough to insure that my catcher will stop the other guy if he charges the mound." Dempster added that it might take three or four pitches for him to actually hit Uggla.
 
Josh Johnson, a then-teammate of Uggla’s who finished fourth in the 2003 NL Rookie-of-the Year vote, said that he should be moved up to third in the ROY ballot. "Everything Dan has done is now suspect."
 
At least one player voiced a defense of Uggla. "If you were in his position, you’d do the same thing," he said, under the condition of anonymity. "And it’s a much more widespread problem than people realize. How many players have glasses these days? Five? Seven? Here’s some news: it isn’t because they’re wearing contact lenses."
 
Commissioner Bud Selig, in a statement to the media, made it clear that Major League Baseball would pursue laser-surgery violators aggressively. "Major League Baseball does not abide players who cheat by getting dangerous elective surgeries on their eyeballs. With a laser of justice we will seek these players out and hold them accountable for their actions. If I have to put eye-patches on every player in the majors, I’ll do it."
 
Selig went on: "This is my legacy. This and the lock-out of 1994, and that lost World Series. And the contraction of baseball in Montreal, and the addition of the Wild Cards and the Crazy Cards and the This-Is-Getting-Like-the-NBA-Cards. And that All-Star game that ended in a tie. My legacy."  
 
The Commissioner added: "At least the eye-patches will make the Pirates look more authentic. Who ever heard of pirates on the Alleghany River?"
 
There are accusations from Uggla’s camp that the Braves actually urged Uggla to have the surgery, and that the organization and the Commissioner’s office are currently aligned in trying to get Uggla out of the game. Uggla is owed some $26 million over the next two years, and the Braves don’t want to pay that much money for a one-eyed second-baseman. "They gave me the time off," Uggla said in an interview. "They said they’d give Goose (rookie Philip Gosselin) a chance to play."
 
The Braves have an additional incentive to keep Uggla off the field: the slugger, who has 230 career homeruns, has bonuses in his contract that call for $2 million every time he moves up the all-time HR list for second basemen. Lou Whittaker (244) is within reach this year, and there is a good chance that Uggla could pass Bret Boone (252), Joe Gordon (253), and Joe Morgan (268) next year. Ryne Sandberg (282), Craig Biggio (291), and even Rogers Hornsby (301) are possible for a player who has routinely hit 30 homerun each year. These escalators limit the amount that the Braves can pay to free agents and drafted players, and they put the Braves organization in danger of crossing the luxury tax threshold.
 
The Braves have rejected any notion of a conspiracy, stating that they want Uggla in their lineup, and don’t regret their decision to sign the aging Uggla to a long-term contract with easy incentives. "One eye or two, we want Uggla on the field," Braves owner John Schuerholz said. "I can’t state that clearly enough. Unless there is any possible way to void his contract, or at least get insurance to kick in some portion to cover it. Because we’re working on extending Kimbrel, and we could use that cash."
 
When asked about the possibility of collusion, Selig said: "To suggest that I, as acting Commissioner, would collude with owners to deny players salary is an accusation without any merit. I haven’t participated in collusion since the mid-1980’s. And sure, maybe I dabbled a bit in the 90’s. But that was a weird time for all of us."  
 
Baseball fans have been loudly intolerant of the rise in players having elective surgeries to get better at baseball. In a recent poll on ESPN, 89% of fans suggested that the present eye-patch punishment wasn’t enough, and that Major League Baseball should ban all players who are caught having had laser surgery immediately. This comes at a time when the use of laser surgery is generally on the rise in the U.S. Thousands of Americans have had their eyesight improved by the surgery, and the rate of health risks has declined sharply. "But we have to hold baseball players to a higher standard," one fan argued, standing in the beer line under Fenway Park. "They get paid a lot to be role models. Leave lasers for the common folk."
 
This higher standard is reflected in the results of the recent Hall-of-Fame elections: Larry Walker and Jeff Bagwell, two players known to have had laser eye surgery during their careers, went unelected this year, despite their overwhelming credentials. There has been a campaign to have Wade Boggs, a player who received laser surgery prior to Major League Baseball instituting a ban on the surgery, retroactively removed from the Hall-of-Fame.
 
Greg Maddux, who will appear on next year’s ballot, is an interesting test-case for how laser-players will be judged in the future: Maddux is the first pitcher of note to have had laser surgery, and a player whose career, prior to the revelation of him having laser surgery in 1999, seemed beyond reproach. Now Cooperstown is facing the prospect of having no plaque memorializing a player with 355 career victories and four Cy Young awards.
 
Indeed, the laser controversy is only a portion of what concerns baseball. A source within the Commissioner’s Office has confirmed that Major League baseball is investigating a wide range of surgical enhancements, some of which aren’t covered in the current collective agreement between players and owners. One prominent pitcher in Houston said: "I’ve heard that pitchers can go to the D.R. and have tendons taken from one arm and reattached in the other. It’s called Juan Marichal surgery. The rumor is it’ll let a pitcher go fifteen, sixteen innings in a game."  
 
A final player interviewed hinted that this story wasn’t close to being over. Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez who has emerged as a rational voice of restraint in a conversation that has frequently edged towards opposing poles, stated:  "If you think lasers are the end of it, you aren’t paying attention. Lasers are just the tip of the iceberg. There are things called nanorobots that are small enough to swim in your blood stream. They’re going to use them to hunt out cancer cells and stuff. If you think lasers are impressive, just think about the ethical questions that will come when we all have invisible robots swimming in our blood."
 
Asked whether nanorobots would someday prove better at aiding players than the current drug policy that controls and moderates the use of chemical medical enhancements such as steroids and hormone therapies, Rodriguez couldn’t say.
 
Dave Fleming is a writer living in Wellington, New Zealand. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com. 
 
 
 

COMMENTS (12 Comments, most recent shown first)

evanecurb
Dave:

I liked your column; I felt like I was reading The Onion.

The questions around PEDs have to do with not only with enhancement of performance but safety. I guess there are sevael broad categories:

Substances / procedures that are legal and effective; e.g. laser surgery, Tommy John surgery. Are they safe? Generally, but no surgery is completely safe. Cortisone ain't safe over the long haul. Neither are most prescription pain killers. Heck, Kenny Easley (who should be in the HOF, by the way) of the Seahawks, got kidney damage from Advil. So maybe there should be two categories here: stuff that's legal and safe, and stuff that's legal and unsafe.

Substances / procedures that are banned and are effective: Steroids, blood doping, HGH, testosterone, amphetamines. I think the biggest hypocrites are the fomer players of the sixties and seventies who took amphetamines and now want to punish all of the PED users.

Stuff that is banned but either doesn't affect performance or impedes it. Some is safe, some is not, i.e. recreational drugs.

Stuff that is dangerous but doesn't affect perfromance, e.g. tobacco.

I forgot the question.
1:34 AM Aug 26th
 
renny
If the argument is, "no use of technology," we get such a slippery slope that it's truly absurd. Lasik is a very apt metaphor, and you mention glasses, but what about something like meds for tourette's, as Eisenreich had? Or medical treatment for double vision, like Tony Conigliaro? What about someone who had antibiotics for a serious illness that might have made them unable to play because of premature death? Everyone who's ever had an MRI should have just let nature take it's course. What's with these automobiles, people should have to get to the stadium on their power! Television money! Baseball should get by without such artificial attendance. Not to mention artificial lighting for those artificial night games. I personally am offended by really low and really high IQ. Mandatory IQ testing, nobody smarter than 115 or lower than 100. That's a level playing field for you...
1:05 AM Aug 22nd
 
mauimike
I think the whole drug thing should be decided by the players, from below. Its their bodies, but that isn't going to happen. The folks in charge, think the best way is to impose their will from above. The War on Drugs has been going on for 50 years, how's that working out? What did Forrest say, "Stupid is as stupid does." So it goes. I think that baseball has stepped into a deep hole with this AROD thing. I'm not a fan of AROD, I think he's hit more HR's against the Angels than any other team, but I think old Bud made the wrong move, as baseball has done forever. There's a lot of money involved and AROD has a lot of it and wants to get the rest of it. He's got serious lawyers and I think baseball is going to get bit in the ass. And we'll keep watching, cause the game is the game.
2:11 AM Aug 21st
 
DaveFleming
If I believed that 'ballplayers should be able to take any drug they want, legal or illegal', I would, to DK's suggestion, say so.

I don't believe that; I haven't ever said that.

Further: if Scott wanted 'all PEDs to be legal', I imagine that he would've said exactly that. He didn't say that. He certainly could say that, but he hasn't.

For this discussion to be at all productive, it'd be helpful if we avoid making statements about what other people are 'saying', when they haven't yet said it.
9:43 PM Aug 20th
 
KaiserD2
Scott, you did come out and say it: you want all PEDs to be legal. That would drastically change baseball as we know it, because everyone would have to take them. That has happened in other sports such as track and field and cycling--and track and field is a much less popular sport in the US than it used to be, and that is part of the reason. Nor do I think it would be good for America if everyone could buy steroids and HGH over the counter. But as I say, you stated your opinion, and it's a free country.

DK
9:19 PM Aug 20th
 
ChitownRon
This is what happens when you:

"Watch out where the huskies go, and don't you eat that yellow snow...
doe doe doe doe doe doe,,,, I CANT SEE !"

Nice tongue in cheek article,
Dave

p.s. Hope you enjoyed the Frank Zappa lyrics

8:56 PM Aug 20th
 
hotstatrat
As fans and as human beings, it is perfectly reasonable to draw a line wherever we see fit. If you all want to go back to the days of gladiators and watch the athletes destroy themselves, that might be fun. Encourage you kids to play baseball - they'll be brave heroes.
6:41 PM Aug 20th
 
hotstatrat
Scott - What does condemning PEDs have to do with making them safe? It is not an either/or choice. I think your rebuttal further established DK's point.
6:32 PM Aug 20th
 
ScottSegrin
DK - You are missing the point. And the point is a good one. We have drawn an arbitrary line in the sand as to which performance enhancing drugs/techniques we accept as perfectly fine and acceptable and which we condemn as abhorrent. I'd throw Cortisone shots into the mix. And Tommy John surgery. What is the difference between an athlete having surgery to correct and speed the recovery from an injury and him taking a drug to do so? You always only get one of two answers: the drug is illegal and the surgery is not; the surgery is safe and the drug is not. But WHY the drug is illegal? Simply because it's not safe? Surgery was once not safe. But medical technology has made a huge investment into perfecting it and making it safe. Shouldn't we be doing the same for PEDs instead of condemning them as we do?
9:15 AM Aug 20th
 
Jack
Pretty good, but not enough anguished hand-wringing about how terrible it is For The Children.
8:56 AM Aug 20th
 
KaiserD2
Dave, if you believe ballplayers should be able to take any drug they want, legal or illegal, may I suggest that you simply say so? Laser surgery is legal and anyone can have it. It doesn't give anyone an unfair advantage over the competition, and it is not dangerous (in the vast majority of cases--there are people whose vision is wrecked.)

DK
8:12 AM Aug 20th
 
sprox
I remember Maddux getting eye surgery late in his career. Should have called him a dirty cheater when I met him in Vegas, just to hear what he'd say.

Nice job, Dave.
8:32 PM Aug 19th
 
 
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