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MLB faces ugly past

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With an increased crack-down on performance enhancing drugs (PED), Major League Baseball has gradually restored its reputation after the past decade saw it soured by steroid use. The days of impossibly good hitters racing to achieve unprecedented home run totals are seemingly gone, replaced by strict rules against performance enhancers and harsh penalties for any athletes found in violation of those regulations. Greater emphasis is now placed on player honesty – baseball’s new wave of young stars continues to excel under the heavy scrutiny of constant drug testing, ensuring that their success is the pure result of hard work. Fans have slowly regained their trust in the MLB. Now that the league is constantly under scrutiny, it seems impossible for professionals to cheat under the table.

Therefore, when rumors surfaced accusing Chicago Cubs ace Jake Arrieta of improving his performance through illegal means, many fans, myself included, brushed the pessimists aside. Arrieta, a massive failure during his early seasons with the Baltimore Orioles, immediately revived his career after being traded to Chicago in 2013, transitioning from a nobody into arguably baseball’s best pitcher by the end of the 2015 season.

Had this occurred around a decade ago, steroids would have jumped out as a likely explanation. However, with all the advancements made towards mitigating PED use, the notion of the biggest name in pitching cheating seemed an increasingly laughable proposition. Fans believed baseball to have progressed far beyond the steroid era, perfectly content to accept tweaked throwing mechanics and pilates as legitimate explanations for Arietta’s phenomenally rapid improvement.

However, current developments have kindled discussions about baseball’s unshakable steroid dilemma, calling into question the legitimacy of Arrieta and athletes like him. Chris Colabello of the Toronto Blue Jays tested positive for anabolic steroids, while Miami Marlins leadoff hitter Dee Gordon got caught for using synthetic testosterone. Both men were swiftly issued 80-game suspensions, the MLB norm for a first offense.

In 2015, Colabello emerged as a surprisingly great hitter after several years of poor play with Minnesota, and Gordon became the first player to lead the league in batting average and stolen bases since Jackie Robinson in 1949. Neither player amounted to much early on in his career, but then miraculously turned it around. Furthermore, both athletes insisted that they never knowingly used performance enhancers and were completely blindsided by their respective positive test results.

If all this sounds familiar, that’s because these cases of spontaneous success and subsequent claims of innocence are eerily similar to Arrieta’s situation. Naturally, the criminalizing PED rumors resurfaced following the suspensions of Colabello and Gordon.

This illuminates a disturbing reality that could potentially hinder baseball’s growth: players insist that they aren’t using steroids, but there’s a very real chance that any of them could be. Thanks to the recent suspensions, doubts surrounding players who become great seemingly overnight have become increasingly justified.

The past week has made it painfully clear that the steroid problem persists. The reality of the matter is that trust, something that the MLB has worked tirelessly to resurrect among its fandom, continues to elude America’s pastime. Fans want to believe in heroes like Arrieta who embody the American ideal of hard work translating to success, but admiration now has to be met with skepticism.

Speaking not just as a diehard Cubs fan but as a baseball fanatic who loves the sport with every fiber of his being, I so dearly want to believe Jake Arrieta. But recent developments have made it clear that complete faith in baseball’s Cinderella stories remains an impossible fantasy corrupted by doubt.

seidel1@stolaf.edu