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Le miserable truth

There is another side to the moral outrage that is fueled by baseball's PED scandal, and David Murphy provides it.

AT&T Park. (Jeff Chiu/AP)
AT&T Park. (Jeff Chiu/AP)Read more

Javert: You are a thief.

Jean Valjean: I stole a loaf of bread.

Javert: You robbed a house!

Jean Valjean: I broke a window pane. My sister's child was close to death. And we were starving.

Javert: And you still starve again unless you learn the meaning of the law.

WHEN ANTONIO Bastardo stepped onto the mound at Turner Field on April 3 for his first appearance of the 2013 season, the Phillies reliever had already pocketed more salary than most of his countrymen will in the entire fiscal year.

By the time Major League Baseball announced that it was suspending the 27-year-old lefthander for 50 games without pay for violating its policy on performance- enhancing drugs, his gross pay had exceeded $1 million, more than the average resident of the Dominican Republic will earn in a lifetime.

Neither of these facts should be interpreted as excuses for Bastardo's apparent decision to supplement his natural ability with substances that are outlawed under the terms of MLB's Joint Drug Agreement. Rather, they are important pieces of context to consider as we listen to the moralizing screechfest that always accompanies revelations like the ones unearthed by the league's investigation into Biogenesis, the now-defunct Miami anti-aging clinic that helped players in their quest for a competitive edge.

Since Biogenesis first appeared in the headlines, the bulk of our attention has focused on superstars like Ryan Braun, currently serving a 65-game suspension, and Alex Rodriguez, currently fighting a 211-game ban.

But the key to understanding and limiting the role of performance-enhancing drugs in competitive sports lies in the fringe players: the Bastardos and the Fauntino De Los Santoses and the Sergio Escalonas. These are the players with the most to gain and the least to lose. These are the players who require us to expand our moral equivalence beyond 30-second sound bites and 140-character tweets.

The problem with our outrage at PED use is that we often arrive at it after conflating a value proposition with a moral one. It is easy for White Upper Middle Class America to regard cheating at baseball as a significant character flaw, because WUMC America is Baseball's America, and in Baseball's America, the outcomes of games and seasons and careers are things that we worry about. Countries like the Dominican Republic do not have a national pastime, because most of the people who live in them are so busy with the requirements of living that they do not have time for amusement, recreation, entertainment, fun. Or, at least, not enough time to afford any amount of worry or angst about them.

Let's say you are single woman or man who takes a second job in order to support a child, but your new workplace is 20 miles away from your original workplace, and the only way to arrive on time for the start of your shift at Job B is to leave Job A 5 minutes before the end of your shift and then drive 20 mph over the speed limit. In other words, your choice of means to your choice of ends requires that you both violate a traffic law and short your employer 1/12th of an hour of pay.

Now let's say you are a lawyer who competes in marathons as an amateur, but the only way for you to win a marathon is to leave the course at the 10-mile mark and then hop on a bicycle to cut across to the 13-mile mark, where you ditch the bicycle and rejoin the race.

Are the single parent and the marathoner both cheaters? Is one more contemptible than the other? Is a man who decides that baseball is his best chance at moving himself and/or his family out of poverty closer to the single parent or the amateur marathoner? Or are they the same? And is his decision to use PEDs closer to the shortcut utilized by the single parent or amateur marathoner? Or are they the same?

In 2009, Jay-Z told Oprah Winfrey that he started dealing crack in Brooklyn at the age of 13. In his song, Dead Presidents II, he raps about how his choice of means afforded him financial security greater than that enjoyed by an artist who might have attempted to hone his craft while supporting himself legally ("I dabbled in crazy weight/Without rap I was crazy straight/I'm still spending money from '88"). Is Jay-Z's success tainted? Maybe, but Jay-Z has hundreds of millions of reasons to believe in the path that he took. And those hundreds of millions of reasons are made out of the same green paper that serves as the incentive for future Brauns and Bastardos and Rodriguezes to play outside of the rules.

When you really break it down, there are only two ways for baseball to eliminate foul play: eliminate the incentives, or eliminate the motivations. Until then, its best course of action is to prosecute violators to the fullest extent allowable by the CBA. Players who decide to compete within the rules - the fringy and the injury ravaged, the aspiring and the aging - deserve respect from the public and maximum effort from the game's drug police. But to Bastardo and the rest of the Biogenesis gang, good luck arguing that the cost of the speeding ticket exceeds the dividends of the crime.