Hayhurst: Hypocrisy of the herd mentality

New York Yankees' Alex Rodriguez listens during a news conference before the Yankees play the Chicago White Sox.(AP/Charles Cherney)

Yesterday, someone called me unethical because it made sense to me why Alex Rodriguez, or any baseball player for that matter, would cheat.

My basic argument was, if I could make half a billion dollars over my career by sticking a needle in my ass and, if caught, I’d only have to give back around $30 million of it, I’d do it.

I honestly think a lot of us would. Even though it’s socially acceptable to say we wouldn’t and fashionable to turn those who do into pariahs, we’d do it.

It’s ironic I feel this way since, when I first started playing baseball, I hated cheaters.

They made more money and had more opportunity than I did. I thought it was unfair and, ethically, it was. But the actions of the organization that employed me didn’t seem to reflect my sense of right and wrong.

Cheaters were promoted more often, paid more and re-signed even after they were caught. I was not.

The one thing I shared in common with cheaters, however, was the social scrutiny. We were all baseball commodities that had to perform in order to have any value.

Fail, flounder or stall out in the minors and you were written off as disposable, roster-filling prospect fodder.

Playing cleanly is of no consolation. Both the organization and the fan base care only about results. If I didn’t get them, I was garbage. If I got the results by cheating, I might still be garbage but at least I was rich garbage.

It’s the same way today. Sure, fans and organizations want their players to be clean, if possible, but they’re still both very happy to denounce the process and reward the result.

I’ll never forget what my coaches said to my entire minor league organization early on in my career: “Don’t get caught.”

Not, “don’t cheat ”or“ cheating is for losers” or “we’ll release you if you cheat.”

Don’t get caught.

That was only 10 short years ago and baseball was comfortable with its players at least trying to cheat because it understood full well what cheating meant for the player and the organization.

The punishments for getting caught were still laid out, but the choice was ultimately the player’s. And, since said punishments were explained in much the same manner one might explain that sneaking out past curfew to nail a cleat chaser was something you should only do if it’s worth the cost, it was almost respected.

And that was the general, ethical lens of the time: if you’re going to do it, make sure it’s worth the cost.

In A-Rod’s case, Braun’s case, Melky’s case, Colon’s … it was worth it.

They stuck themselves, got paid, got caught and the net gain still vastly outstrips the cost.

The temptress of cheating was worth breaking curfew for.

There are other players who say, “But wait, I went to bed on time, I stayed at the hotel, I deserve some recognition for following the rules.”

Sorry, you’re not going to get any besides a full night’s sleep. You’re moral, congratulations, but they just got laid. And at the end of the day, unless you play up to the same ability as them, you’re just a nice character piece for moralists to talk sweetly about until you suck so much you become a waste of a roster spot, in which case you’ll be called a bum until you’re released.

Makes you think twice about getting a little loving while the getting is good, huh?

The amazing thing in all of this is how much the general thinking about cheating has shifted. Not among the fan base, which has always been a screaming mob of hypocrites, cursing the unlikable, media-stunted cheaters as douches, forgiving likeable, gregarious ones as “only human,” all the while shouting how they’ll never forget the wrong done to them — at least not until the wrongdoer helps their team win with a clutch, walk-off homer.

No, the impressive thing is how fast the players have changed their view. They very well could have kept the testing dumb and blind and the penalties lax — though some argue they still are — in order to protect their potential earnings.

But team culture has always been remarkably insecure and prone to groupthink — a herd mentality where the safe move is to echo the thoughts and opinions of everyone else.

Twenty years ago the players would protect their own, even if it meant they created a culture of players that needed to be on something to keep up with the rest of the pack.

Now the general consensus among players is to hate cheaters and mark cheating as immoral and unethical, even though it still pays.

The players have changed culture, yet haven’t asked for the rosters to be expanded in the face of an increasingly injury-prone player population. They’ve changed culture with seemingly no recall of the role steroids had in the television deals they currently benefit from.

They’ve even went as far to say that those who accomplished records during the steroid era aren’t the true record holders, and shouldn’t be acknowledged as such.

In some ways today’s players have become so polarized on the matter or PEDs, you wonder if they’re the new benchmark for perfect morality, or just brainwashed.

I wonder if, because the thinking around PEDs and those who do them has become so toxic and binary, players feel they have more to gain by railing against the subject as hard and as public as they possibly can?

Where once the thinking was, “If I’m going to get chewed up and spit out unless I’m one of the all-time greats, I might as well get paid while the getting is good,” it has now become, “If I’m going to make a crap load of money thanks to the work of those who came before me did, I might as well look like and angel doing it.”

If you’re thoroughly objective about the Biogenesis scandal and Major League Baseball’s attempt to clean up the game as a whole, the tactical move for both finances and reputation is still to cheat — just so long as you don’t get to famous while you do it, since the backlash is in direct proportion to your production.

If you get suspended, just come back and play well and people will still love you. If you don’t, so what, you still keep the money.

Seeing this for what it is does not make me unethical. It just makes me honest.

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