Wednesday, January 9, 2013

COMING TO GRIPS WITH THE STEROID ERA

ONCE HAD A CLASSIC BASEBALL BODY


INNOCENT BY THE LETTER OF THE LAW.

The haze from the Performance Enhancing Drug era is beginning to clear, but certain aspects have remained crystal.
  • Roger Maris' single-season home run record was raped repeatedly.
  • Soft-tossers who never hit 90 mph on the gun suddenly became power pitchers.
  • The 500 Home Run Club was about as exclusive as Oprah's Book Club.
The PED era distorted baseball history as much as muscles. It hurt people. Ruined careers. Damn the guilty and bar them from Cooperstown. Light the torches and release the hounds. Freaks, all of you. 

Not so fast. My opinion has been changing over time. Here's why: Segregation, like rampant PED use, was a lousy chapter in baseball history that can be blamed on its stewards, not its players. Segregation distorted baseball history. It hurt people. Ruined careers. And it lasted a lot longer.

Some questions to ponder:
  • How severely were major-leaguers' stats inflated during the live ball era because Negro Leaguers weren't allowed to play?
  • How many Cooperstown immortals would've been judged merely Very Good mortals if they competed in an integrated era? 
  • If a train leaves the station at 20 mph carrying 16 defrocked priests hoping to become circus clowns ...
You get the idea. Without black players on their fields, the best major-leaguers fattened up on an all-you-can-eat buffet of has-beens and never-weres until 1947.

Talk about performance-enhancing. 

Sure, steroids and the like were illegal on the street, but because of the game's lackadaisical leadership, they were allowed, maybe even encouraged. It's hard to blame the players for seeking every advantage. I prefer to castigate a commissioner who placed the dollar above integrity and union bosses who elevated the dollar above players' general health and well-being.

Then there's the clean average player beaten out for a roster spot by a user and the clean borderline Hall of Fame candidate who lacks "bold-face stats'' and super-sized career numbers. Who speaks for them? Not the union. Not enough of the writers, most of whom were busy selling us a story about how Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa were good for baseball. Now it's a cautionary tale.

Cooperstown isn't only for saints who happen to be Hall of Famers. It's also for Hall of Famers who happen to be sinners. Better players through better chemistry has been around awhile; amphetamine-use was an epidemic in the '70s. PEDs aren't going away despite better testing. And how do we know a Hall of Famer or two hasn't taken the needle or dabbed the clear and the cream? 

The Hall is a microcosm of society, not heaven, despite how idyllic Cooperstown, N.Y., looks on TV in July. Voters shouldn't start focusing on the "character clause'' now, as if the current crop of PED All-Stars would stain the Hall's walls. That germ was sloughed off the leper a long time ago. Plenty of these players were among the greatest in history, according to traditional stats, advanced metrics and the unscientific eye test.

So will I cheer later today if Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens gets elected?

No way, Jose Canseco

While I don't think it's their time, both were worthy before the PED era and both will have their day very soon. 

A motley crew of enshrined Hall of Famers awaits them and others. 

1 comment:

  1. You make valid points, however I disagree a bit.
    How do we know that any player was HOF worthy before the PED era, when we don't really know when the PED era really started. The Steelers were taking stuff in the 70's and they were not the only ones. Can we really pinpoint when Bonds (just an example) started using?
    Like a lot of others, I struggle with this whole issue and that is the real loss. At some point, I just will not care about the HOF.

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