Friday, December 14, 2007

"M" Distinguishes Cycling and Baseball

"M" sends the following for posting...

In cycling the ultimate goal is to win the race, team tactics are secondary to support the lead rider. Doping with EPO, testosterone, and blood doping confers a key competitive advantage. So many of the winners of the big races have been shown to have doped or admitted to doping, yet few have been caught by the tests administered at the time. It's clear that the testing regime returns too many false negatives and very rarely confers a false negative. Yet even clear winning dopers like Landaluze can get off on a technicality. This means that there is an irresistable pressure on other riders to dope in order to earn the really big money that is available in this sport/entertainment. So the doping regime must be tilted even more against the riders, otherwise doping will continue. If you want to live with doping, then you can argue for rider rights. If you want to get rid of doping then you have make the penalties draconian or the riders will still risk doping to earn the big bucks. The economic incentives have to be draconian or rational behaving cyclists will continue to dope.

In baseball on the other hand the ultimate goal is to win games. Individual records, like the home run record are secondary. So while the incentive to dope is just as strong to earn the big money, doping is not as injurious to the ultimate goal of the team sport. So fans don't care as much, and businesses will not suffer economically if doping is swept under the rug. Nevertheless, publicity about doping may lead to more stringent testing and financial penalties due to the puritan anti-doping and marijuana type morality. What the heck do recreational drugs have to do with performance anyway, yet professional sports tests for this.


strbuk said...

So, are you saying that you hold cycling to a higher standard of behavior and detection than you do baseball? It's OK in baseball because the fans could care less and the sponsors therefore are not "injured?" Hmmmmm. Forgive me if I have misread you.


Mike Solberg said...

m, I think baseball is more of a mixed bag than you acknowledge. Notice that two of the biggest names in Mitchell report are Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite, both pitchers - the most individual position in baseball.

Both offensively and defensively, there are lots of individual reasons to dope in baseball - to make the big leagues, to make big numbers to make more money, to make big numbers to help your team win and get that World Series ring, to stay on in the big leagues as you age - and others. But they all have a direct effect on your team's success. Doping (at least with steroids) in baseball confers a direct and key competitive advantage, not just for the individual, but for the team. Especially for pitchers.

Perhaps there are more variables at play in baseball because it is first of all a game of skill, rather than endurance or even strength, but I don't think doping is any less a threat to the integrity of the sport than it is in cycling. It destroys both. My own view is that baseball fans will be less interested in the game because of the doping, just like they were after the strike in the mid 90s.

Now, when is somebody going to talk about steroid use in the NFL?


Nancy Toby said...

"What the heck do recreational drugs have to do with performance anyway, yet professional sports tests for this."

You're off the mark here. The reasons that professional athletes are tested for abuse of all sorts of illegal and non-permitted prescription drugs are a) said drugs are generally injurious to long-term health; and b) professsional athletes in all they do serve as role models for youth, for better or for worse.

Larry said...

M, I respectfully but strongly disagree with just about everything you have to say here.

1. You argue that the goal in cycling is oriented to the individual, requiring an individual cyclist to win a race. You contrast this to a team-oriented goal in baseball, where the ultimate aim is for a team to outscore its opponent. You admit that baseball players are just as motivated to dope as cyclists, but you argue somehow that doping does not affect a team sport like baseball in the same way it affects a more individual sport like cycling. This makes no sense to me. A team is made up of individuals; if the individuals are doping, then the team is doping. Perhaps your argument is that fans of baseball won't care about doping, because the fans identify with the team and not with the individuals on the team. This also makes no sense to me. Baseball fans have their favorite players, and identify with the players. We buy their jerseys, we line up to receive their autographs, we pour over their statistics, we argue endlessly over which players are best. And unlike cycling, we use player statistics to compare players from different eras, and certain individual statistics (like the home run record) are revered in baseball like in no other sport. With all due respect, M, you are WAY off base here (so to speak).

2. You seem to want to contrast the competitive effect of doping on cycling with doping on baseball. I'll grant you that doping probably is more helpful to cyclists than to baseball players, because of the effect doping can have on endurance. However, the testosterone-like drugs is arguably more helpful to baseball players than cyclists, because of the relative importance of strength in baseball. It's also clear that older baseball players were using steroids to allow them to train at the highest possible levels. Doping in baseball is potentially performance-enhancing, no way around it.

3. You state that in cycling, many of the best cyclists in recent years have been proven to be dopers, but that few were caught by the drug testers. That's a true statement. But are you saying that the situation in baseball is different? In baseball, it ALSO appears that many of the best players in recent years have been doping, and NONE of them were caught by the drug testers.

4. You say that drug testing in cycling returns too many false negatives and rarely confers a false positive. That's your opinion, and you're entitled to your opinion. You have no hard facts you can rely upon as a basis for this opinion, and it would have been better to have phrased this statement as an opinion.

5. You state that dopers like Landaluze can get off on a technicality. That's also a true statement, though you should point out that there are relatively few cases like Landaluze. No U.S. athlete has ever won a doping case, on a technicality or otherwise.

6. You conclude from the above that there is "irresistable" pressure on riders to dope. However, you later point out that the incentive to dope is just as strong in baseball. So, where is the contrast here between the two sports? If cycling has to impose even more stringent measures to successfully combat doping, then by your own argument, so would baseball.

7. You then state that the doping regime must be tilted even more against the riders, and that arguing for "rider rights" is tantamount to being tolerant of doping. This is where my disagreement with you is strongest, because your argument is a dangerous one. You are saying that there's an inevitable trade-off between individual rights and effective law enforcement, that if we want one, we cannot have the other. This argument has to be rejected in the strongest terms. We CAN and MUST expect our systems of law enforcement to be both fair and effective. Otherwise, our choices are pretty grim: anarchy on the one hand, and fascism on the other. I think that the success of free democratic systems is proof that no such choice is necessary, and that we don't have to trade off freedom and liberty for security and the rule of law.

8. You state that in order to combat doping in cycling, the penalties for doping must be made "draconian", or rational cyclists will continue to dope. It is very strange you would make this point in a post that's meant to contrast baseball with cycling! In cycling, a first time doper faces a two year suspension, and in the current environment, may struggle to find a team willing to hire him. In baseball, a first time doper is suspended for a couple of weeks. Shouldn't you be arguing that the penalties in baseball should be made more severe? Also, you've pointed out earlier that cycling is not able to catch most of the dopers. If you can't catch the dopers, you're not going to scare them by increasing the penalties.

9. The last two sentences of your post completely confuse me. Are you saying that baseball shouldn't care about doping?

I'll agree that testing for marijuana is a complete waste of time ... except maybe for pie-eating competitions!

Cyntax said...

While I think the previous posts have done a very good job of highlighting some of the contradictions and less than logical reasoning in M's post, there is one further point I'd like to make. M seems to take a very segmented view of the problem by limiting his remarks to what must be done to the riders (even more draconian standards). Contrast M's view with that of the German prosecutors in Jorg Jaksche's case who have decided to drop the fraud charges brought against him. Why? For the most obvious reason of all: that everyone Jaksche could have defrauded (the teams and the sponsors) had to know what was going on.

Until more holistic solutions to doping are developed, there will always be riders to take the fall for the rest of the people (DS's, doctors, sponsors) who benefit from the doping and support it either actively or by turning a blind eye. I'm not saying the riders are innocent babes in the woods, but it doesn't seem a stretch to imagine that on many teams, one is expected to do what's necessary to stay competetive. And if that means making an appointment with one of the team's "medical consultants," then pay attention to your recommended dosages and pray for the best. So until real efforts are made to change this sort of culture in cycling, calls for even more draconian standards for the riders sound short sighted at best, and self servingly hypocritical the rest of the time (i.e. whenever the distinguished Mr. McQuaid opens his yap).

Russ said...

To borrow a thought from DPF and syi to Ali ...

"Ali, could you please stop wasting time and go answer my serious question at TbV,"

Larry could you please get back to specificity, syi has made a quantum leap with gc/c/irms historical context analasys in a comment in Friday Roundup at 11:07PM

Thanks and biggist grins :-)!

Larry said...

Russ, LOL! Will do! ;^)

ludwig said...


I generally agree that baseball's team structure does perhaps make fans care less about pervasive doping, since there is no one winner who can later be found positive and stripped of the title. However, I think the insult to fairness inherent in the doping culture will continue to rile the public, unless all disenting voices are silenced and the public doesn't hear about this problem again. The culture of breaking records drives doping, but this sort of cheating is perenially insulting to the real fans who tell their children stories of the classic baseball legends.

I think the core of your argument remains untouched--that in the current system cyclists (like baseball players) have more incentive to dope than not to dope, and that the key to preventing doping is reversing this dynamic through meaningful reforms. Certainly good people can and will disagree about how to enact such reforms--however it is doubtful that one can be part of the solution if one refuses to recognize the problem to begin with.


Some responses to your initial response.

To #4--Engaging in bad faith arguments diminishes your other arguments. You know and I know that M's conclusion is based on fact--the fact that Pantani, Ulle, Beloki, Jaksche, Manzano. Basso etc never tested positive. We know far more riders evade the controls than are caught. The issue is why? Is it corruption at the level of testing? Is the anti-doping science simply better? Or both? Denying the fact that the tests don't ensure clean sport does not get us anywhere.

#7--Your argument relies on faulty legal analogies that have nothing to do with the business of cycling. If you are going to make an analogy, make analogies to professional organizations trying to enforce ethics, or a corporation trying to enforce quality control. No one is going to jail here, and hyperbole only clouds the issues at hand.

8--Larry the whole point of increasing the penalties is that the science could catch up with the doping. So if the penalties are severe enough and the testing procedures have integrity, then the cyclist knows he's undertaking a real risk. Currently, the main risk to the doping cyclist is from media and law enforcement, rather than the testing.


The "holistic" solution to doping is holding teams responsible for the doping that goes on and taking steps to force managers who encourage doping to get out of the sport. I wish such positions were more popular at TBV. However, given the structure of the doping culture it's hard to find "hard facts" linking doping to a DS without a criminal investigation a la Puerto. The answer is reform, which will inevitably sound "draconian" to those fans whose emotions are invested in their doped-up heroes.

Larry said...

Ludwig, your issue with my points 4 and 8 can be discussed at another time. Point 7 is critical. The ends do not justify the means. Not ever. There's no exception to this rule, and it doesn't matter whether jail time is involved. This is a fundamental rule of a free society, and any departure from this rule is perilous. No hyperbole intended.

We can and must expect the rule of law to be both fair and effective. This is not a matter for trade-offs.

You can disagree if you like, but then there's no common ground between us, and no reason for us to continue a discussion here.