…. Backtalk

Over at the Sports Law Blog, they have posted a guest piece by Aaron Zelinsky and Benjamin Johnson of Yale Law School. Here’s a taste:

…. A-Rod’s comeback needs three things: First, he has to become the public face of baseball purists.

…. Second, A-Rod must devote himself to cleaning up baseball.

…. Finally, A-Rod needs to stay healthy and play as long as he can play well. He must put up Hall of Fame numbers for the next five years to make the case that he is a Hall of Famer without the juice.

Well, that’s an interesting take, but I like Mark DeVincentis’ backtalk even better:

…. I’m not upset with ARod or any of the PED users. I’m more upset about the way it is handled by the government, media, baseball, and the public at large. The hyperbole in the media that fuels the attitude that baseball is somehow in trouble because of steroids stems from a lack of understanding of baseball history.

…. As long as baseball has been played, players have turned to artificial means to enhance their performance.

…. I don’t think that steroids don’t matter, or that efforts should not be made to weed them out of the game, but they should be placed in their proper context. Few things grate on me worse than media sensationalism and playing down to the lowest common denominator… and this whole steroids thing that has been going on for the last 5 or so years is full of both.

Hear, hear! Echoing many of the sentiments that I have been screaming into a closet for those five years, Mark hits the nail on the head. A-Rod shouldn’t have to pander to the BBWAA, nor should Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds or, for that matter, Pete Rose. Few players can claim to have given more to the game than these superstars. Few players have been more dedicated to being the absolute best that they can be, few have worked harder, or brought more excitement and excellence to the national pastime.

I’ll say it again, if the BBWAA continues to hold these players hostage, if the list of players that they decide to exclude from the Hall of Fame continues to grow, then it won’t be a Hall of Fame anymore. It’ll be a place where baseball writers can celebrate their righteousness and hypocrisy.

Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

italics, mine

Let’s not forget that the decision to consider more than just raw statistics or having played for a long time wasn’t happenstance, the idea that integrity and character mattered didn’t occur in a vacuum. At the time of the Hall’s creation, baseball was awash in crooked players, the scandals were what eventually led to the creation of a commissioner’s office, and Kennesaw Mountain Landis. The players who were caught, or just rumored to be involved, (a group that included Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb, by the way), were threatening the game’s integrity, in that the fans would wonder if the results of the game were true. The issue was whether a players or players on one team were in cahoots with the other team to throw the game for betting purposes.

Bill James wrote about baseball in the 1910′s in the New Baseball Historical Abstract:

…. baseball in the teens was collapsing, leaving the players and the owners fighting over the pieces of a shrinking pie. It was bound to get ugly, and it did. The third major story of the decade was a product of the unhappy marriage of the first two. The players started selling games.

It is not my intention to make apologies for the dishonest players. But you have to know two things to understand what happened. Number on, there was a generation of players to whom baseball made a lot o promises which it didn’t keep. And number two, every baseball headline in the decade had a dollar sign attached to it.

…. It is a hard thing to know that another man is making money off your labor, and has no intention of dealing fairly with you.

…. (Charlie) Comiskey held all the power in the relationship between owner and players, and he had to rub their noses in it

Commiskey wasn’t alone in being a miserly owner. By keeping the lion’s share of the profits from the game, the owners were, in effect, forcing the players to choose between being completely taken advantage of, or bend and break the rules of the game to find their own ways to profit on their abilities. (A situation, by the way, in which the owners controlled the game ruthlessly, profiting from the players skill and efforts while the players –even the stars– were forced to work during the off-season, which continued all the way until the end of the reserve clause, and into the birth of true free agency)

The integrity and character clauses were included in response to these conditions, conditions in which the number of players who were rumored or known to have been involved in throwing games was substantial, including stars and even icons.

For at least the last four decades, the majority –if not all– of the “cheating” in baseball has been directed towards winning. The mantra of winning at all costs has been etched into the consciousness of even the youngest baseball players. Defending the game from “cheaters” has nowhere near the same importance in the face of a culture that has consistently looked the other way at bending the rules in an effort to win. Spitballs, scuffed balls, amphetamines, painkillers, and performance enhancers have been used and abused during this time, right in front of the baseball sportswriters, who did and said and wrote nothing about it at all.

Until Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds. Until steroids, and huge, muscled-up players began breaking records. Only when steroids became the PED of choice, and the records started to fall did the writers get themselves all up in arms. Why is that? Why did decades of uppers and downers mean nothing to the writers, but steroids and HGH meant everything? Lack of understanding, fear, and more importantly, nostalgia.

These writers are victims of their own nostalgia. They remember Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, and some of them even saw Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra and Sandy Koufax play, and nobody was breaking their records on speed. Nobody was hitting more home runs than Babe Ruth on speed. Nobody was winning six Cy Young Awards on speed. Nobody was winning seven(!) MVP Awards on speed.

These writers are defending their childhood memories, and poorly at that. They are, in effect, saying that these players aren’t as good as their heroes were, therefore, they are cheating. Never mind that some of their heroes were drunk on the field, or abused speed, or used cocaine during games. Never mind that many of the records they were seeing fall were destined to fall for reasons far more obvious than the simple choice of strength training enhancers.

Their youth was being debased, and for that, these “cheaters” must pay. Remember this when you read Tom Verducci, or Mike Lupica, and remember that these self-proclaimed experts have forgotten baseball history, if they ever knew it at all.

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One Response to “…. Backtalk”

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