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Commentary - Rick Ankiel on HGH? Duh.
by Asher B. Chancey,
September 7, 2007

I rarely trust my instincts when it comes to baseball. As I explained in a protracted debate with Karl and Rich over at the Fan Forum, I rarely trust anyone’s instincts. I look at stats, more stats, and more stats and then make the determinations I make. Is this a flawed approach? Maybe. Boring and unimaginative? Sure. But if you had gone “all-in” on the likes of Ced Landrum, Chuck Carr, and Marcus Thames in the past the way I have, you’d be distrustful of your instincts as well.

But there is a difference between trusting your instincts and having instincts. Like anybody, I have instincts, and yesterday my instincts gained back a little of the street-cred they lost when Johnny Damon didn’t win the 2001 American League Most Valuable Player like I predicted he would at the beginning of that season.

I can still picture where I was – at the corner of 8th Street and Chestnut in Center City, Philadelphia – like it was yesterday. Right before I left work, I checked the Cardinals-Pirates score and saw that Rick Ankiel’s amazing comeback continued with two more homeruns. All the way to the subway I marveled at this remarkable story, but also lamented not citing Ankiel’s return as the basis for reclaiming the Cardinals from below the Line of Death in my Power Rankings. I was just about to descend into the subterranean underworld of the SEPTA subway system when a thought suddenly crossed my mind:

“Man, if ever someone was screaming ‘I did steroids,’ it’s Rick Ankiel.”

With that, I scowled, content in the knowledge that baseball fans only see steroids where they want to see steroids – Barry Bonds, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa – while ignoring what I consider to be the incredibly suspicious exploits of other players – Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Howard, and now Rick Ankiel. I find it so ironic that baseball fans cry foul about being duped by the heroic exploits of McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds, but refuse to entertain the notion that our new heroes might be just as tainted as our old ones, and that we are currently being duped all over again.

In retrospect, I wish I had stopped in my tracks, just feet from losing my cell phone signal underground in the subway station, and called or texted everyone I know to share my instinctive reaction to Rick Ankiel.

As it turned out, for once, my instincts appear to have been right on.

This morning I awoke to find that the New York Daily News is reporting that Rick Ankiel received a year’s worth of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) in 2004, after missing the better part of three seasons with injuries and the year before Major League Baseball would ban the substance.

For quite some time now, I have told anyone who will listen that we would be foolish to believe that the usage of performance enhancing drugs was confined to the players we know about and maybe a few others. Personally, I am much more inclined to believe that the use of these drugs was widespread throughout not only baseball but all of professional sports, and I am shocked that this sentiment is not shared by more people. The drugs are too easily obtainable – and the rewards for success in sports too great – to believe that the mere fact that using these drugs is wrong on some quasi-intellectual or moral level is enough incentive to prevent athletes from using them.

Look, I have done a fair amount of reading on the effects of these drugs – from the comical big head and tiny penis accusations to the very real destructive effects that these things can have on the human mind and body. I know that using them sets a bad example, and creates a culture that frankly nobody wants.

That said, if you told me that a year’s supply of Human Growth Hormone might be what stands between me making tens of thousands of dollars playing minor league baseball and making tens of millions of dollars playing major league baseball, well, guess what?

I’d be first in line.

At this point, these allegations against Ankiel remain just that - allegations. And it is important - from a legal standpoint, at least - to note that his usage apparently pre-dated Major League Baseball's ban of the substance. But none of that really matters, because I am not here to condemn Rick Ankiel, or Alex Rodriguez, or whoever. I have not been in their shoes, presented with the opportunities they were presented with, facing the risks they have faced, and been forced to make the decision, with potential millions on the line.

The people I condemn are the fans who chide the few that have been busted or tainted – the already unlikeable Barry Bonds, the once heroic now admonished Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and the red-handed Rafael Palmeiro – while naively assuming that everyone who hasn’t been implicated is still heroic.

I think an examination of what we already know combined with a healthy dose of common sense leads inextricably to one conclusion – lots of guys have used these substances, lots of guys continue to use these substances, and many of the guys who have used or are using them are some of the biggest names in sports.

Do we have proof that the games biggest players have used performance enhancing drugs? No, and that would not be enough to convict them in a court of law. But this isn’t a court of law. This is baseball, and We the Fans sit in the courts of common sense and public opinion. In these courts, you do not always need hard evidence of every infraction to reach the logical conclusion.

In these courts, sometimes your instincts are enough.

Questions? Concerns? Comments? Asher lives in Philadelphia, PA, and can be reached at