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A-Rod episode could bolster game once the otrage subsides

It's only February and pitchers and catchers have just reported but the Conventional Wisdom (CW) has already pronounced the baseball season ruined. It is, of course, entirely the fault of that craven, cheating, wretch Alex Rodriguez. Lynch mobs are forming in certain frenzied sectors of the media, the members collectively foaming at the mouth.

They should calm down. Take a deep breath. Go for a walk. Count to ten. The only certainty in this latest fiasco derives from that most precious and ancient of wisdom that holds, "This too will pass!"

And when it does, baseball will have survived, maybe even emerging from all the tumult and shouting a better and sturdier institution. The odds, I'd say, are quite good.

In the meantime we must endure a lot of needless claptrap, much of it from the self-appointed guardians of the moral indignation. Sanctimony is never very pretty.

The performance of the New York tabloids would be hilarious if it were just another scene from a 1930's movie about deadlines and monkeyshines authored by Ben Hecht. But this is the real world we are talking about, or at least as real as it gets when the conversation has to do with American sport. And real people are getting hurt.

The pummeling Rodriguez is taking - and it's only just beginning - is frightful. The headlines have been actionable and much of the alleged 'journalism' absurd. Certain staffers on the New York Post and New York Daily News (among other rags) need to be reminded that the man stands accused of violating his game's cannons of sportsmanship, not perpetrating genocide in Central Africa. It rather reminds you of that painful observation Wade Boggs offered at the height of his persecution in the Boston media for being an unfaithful husband. Said the deeply confounded Boggs, "It's not like I killed the President or something."

We do get carried away in our business, now and again. And even our best and brightest are sometimes guilty. One New York columnist - a chap I like and respect too much to name here - has argued strenuously that the Yankees were in duty bound to slash Rodriguez from the team, eat his entire contract of close to $300 million, and cast him adrift like some jock Lord Jim, presumably with a scarlet letter "A" stapled to his chest. The honorable scribe was dead serious. Madness!

It is with all of this in mind that Tom Boswell, columnist of the Washington Post and one of the true giants of the business, noted: "These investigations have turned into witch hunts and we have long passed the point where the punishment fits the crime."

In fairness, there has been some rational discourse on the subject and it is mounting and if you tune out talk-radio's lunatic fringe and shunt aside the fulminations of the tabloids, you will find that the thoughtful observations are developing a healthy dissent to counter the superficial claims of the CW. That's always good to see. The tide in this conversation may even be turning.

A good example was Dan Shaughnessy's Globe column asking 'Why all the hate for Alex Rodriguez' and pondering the rampant 'glee' over his misery and ruin, all of which has been enough to give schadenfreude new meaning. Shaughnessy writes:

"We ripped into Bonds and Clemens for denying the obvious and treating us like stooges, now we tear into Rodriguez for admitting his guilt and saying he's sorry. He's not really sorry, the saying goes. He's only sorry he got caught. How does that make him different from the rest of us? Any of you ever call the IRS to mention that you forgot to report some of your income from your 1998 tax return? Bet you'd tell them you were sorry if they caught you."

Excellent point. One that edges into the territory of that glorious New Testament maxim having to do with 'throwing the first stone'. But then this issue touches upon so many of the classic hypocrisies.

The estimable Sally Jenkins, also of the Washington Post, smacked one over the fence with a brilliant column that argued the outing and shaming of athletes '…doesn't get us any closer to the truth (and) only creates a larger cycle of untruth'. She sharply states, "The public flogging of athletes and the forced extraction of their confessions is becoming a disgusting spectacle smacking of the clapping of people in stocks on the town square."

Jenkin's thesis seems predicated on two major premises that while debatable are surely worth debating. She questions whether the majority of Americans actually view the use of 'performance enhancements' as 'particularly criminal' and whether the current fuss might be roughly comparable to the moral and legal dilemmas of Prohibition, when the alleged 'crime' of drinking was both widely disdained and extensively ignored, largely with impunity.

But it's the persecution of sports in general and baseball in particular that rankles her most. She writes:

"It's a fundamental question whether Major League Baseball has a larger performance-enhancement problem than Hollywood or whether athletes use more artificial aids than Sylvester Stallone. Congress's public grandstanding against baseball has created the impression that it's somehow worse than other leagues, or professions. But are hitters and pitchers bigger frauds than, say, politicians? A show of hands, please. How many people think (Miguel) Tejada is a worse liar than a cigarette company executive? Who cheated America more? Olympian Marion Jones or John Thain of Merrill Lynch?"

Then there are the obsessions of government, which many increasingly find curious. Ms. Jenkins notes that the Justice Department's use of perjury charges to nail foes who manage to elude more specific charges is very rare. She says that in 2006 - apparently the last year for which such statistics are available - Justice charged only 99 out of more than 88,000 defendants with perjury. Now, in a rather amazing defiance of the odds, Justice has three baseball players and an Olympic gold-medallist on that hook. Jenkins adds: "Yes, Miguel Tejada should have told the full truth, and so should have Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Marion Jones. But why are they facing federal charges for lying when tobacco company executives are not?"

Amen, says I. Truly, the dilemmas are countless. But there is some light coming into this discussion at last for which we can be thankful although the simplistic sermons of the hanging judges of the sports pages still overwhelms reason. In the end, much of the damage that's been inflicted will stick, rightly, wrongly or otherwise and much of it will be arbitrary and that is always unfair. Sorry, A-Rod. But in your vanity you did rather ask for it.

You'll have trouble finding a hero in this fiasco but there are plenty of goats. Prominent among them being the $18.5 million a year commissioner, Bud Selig, who spent most of his too many years on the job ignoring the problem, denying the problem and ducking blame for the problem. Old Bud was at his pious best when - while fighting back tears and muttering about punishments and altogether boiling over with righteousness - he slammed Rodriguez for having 'shamed the game'. It was such a pretty sight.

I have news for you, Bud. At the end of the day when history gets to write the final chapter of this mess you are the one who is going to take the fall. It all happened on your watch, old Sport. It's all about being captain of the ship. So be careful about attributing shame. It just may come back to haunt you.

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