Only Baseball Matters
…. In vogue

I'm back. Vacation was great, but it's time to start breaking some balls.

With the recent Hall of Fame vote concluded, it has again become fashionable to write, (incoherently, for the most part) about steroid use in the game of baseball. Today, I'd like to focus on a coherent writer, and an incoherent one. Let's start with incoherence.

Here's a man with no Hall of Fame voting credentials (Jeff Pearlman*) explaining to us, (and actual HoF voters, I presume) why Jeff Bagwell probably did steroids:

…. what the hell are we supposed to think?

A. Have you seen the photographs of a young Jeff Bagwell, first as a prospect in the Boston system, then with the Astros as a pup? He looks, perhaps not coincidentally, like a young Jason Giambi; like a young Barry Bonds; like a young Sammy Sosa; like a young Bret Boone. I know … I know—people gain weight as they get older. And, hey, he lifted! And used natural, over-the-counter supplements! And … enough. I’ve heard enough. Seriously, look at the guy as an in-his-prime Astro. Dude looks like Randy (Macho Man) Savage. And while I can already hear the “Just because he had muscles atop

muscles doesn’t mean anything” argument brewing, well, it does—in the context of a sport overrun by cheaters—mean something. In fact, it means a lot.

Further on, in what could hardly be called an article, Pearlman also comes up with the fantastic statement that 75% of players during the “steroids era” were users! Wow! I didn't know that. Of course, no one knew that. No one “knows” that, either, because it not only isn't true, it's made up. It's what can only be charitably called, stretching the truth. In fact, it's a lie.

Sure, I know that Pearlman is just trying to get some reader reaction. Make a controversial statement, get lots of traffic, etc.. I find it reprehensible. But, hey, that's just me. In the meantime, real conversation about the situation, as shown in the work of Joe Posnanski, who is actually reasonably trying to wrestle with what we know about what happened, gets lost in the shuffle:

…. Jeff Bagwell — though he never tested positive for steroids, never was implicated in any public way, was not named in the Mitchell Report or by anyone on the record as a suspected user, and is not even on this rather comprehensive list of players linked to steroids or HGH — seems to have become in some voters’ minds a player who used performance-enhancing drugs.

I can’t even begin to describe my disgust at No. 2 … it makes me absolutely sick to my stomach. This is PRECISELY what I was talking about when I said how much I hate the character clause in the Hall of Fame voting. I think it encourages people to believe their own nonsense, to stand up on high and be judge and jury. It’s something that my friend Bill James calls the “I see it in his eyes” tripe. Bill has finished a book on crime — it is, he says, actually about crime books as much as crime — and one thing he kept running into in his research was people who claimed that they could pinpoint the murderer because “it was in their eyes.” Well, as Bill says, that’s a whole lot of garbage. Eyes are eyes. Some people look guilty when they’re innocent, and some people look innocent when they’re guilty, and most people don’t look innocent OR guilty except when we want to see that something in their eyes. Oh, but we love to believe we know. It’s one of the flaws of humanity. And the Hall of Fame character clause gives voters carte blanche to judge the eyes and hearts and souls of players.

…. I would say this to those people who would not vote for Jeff Bagwell because they simply believe he used steroids, based on how he looked or some whispers they heard. I have a better idea: Let’s just burn him at the stake. If he survives, you will know you were right.

A Hall of Fame voter who wants to exclude someone from the Hall because they can reasonably be assumed to have used is fine. It's the voters choice to determine whether it matters or not. But to simply assume they cheated because they were great is not just absurd, it is a travesty, and it demeans the honor that having a Hall of Fame vote is. That's right, it is an honor to be a voter. As such, if you cannot keep yourself from acting like an insufferable prick, if you cannot refrain from making unsubstantiated accusations, then maybe you should have that honor taken away.

We don't know who did or didn't use unless they tested positive or confessed, and even then, we are looking at laughably thin evidence; just look at the apology/confessions of A-Rod, Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte or Mark McGwire. Or even better, just look at the testing protocol, which I doubt Jeff Pearlman ever has.

I'd also like to correct the commonly used fallacy that it is impossible for someone to put on twenty pounds of muscle without using steroids. Any man in reasonable shape (as in, not a flabby, out of shape sportswriter) under the age of thirty-five who puts in a two hours a day, six days a week serious weight-lifting regimen, under competent supervision, with a coincidental improvement in their diet and rest, could put on twenty pounds of muscle in six to nine months, twelve at the outside. A professional athlete, a man who is already filled with the highest levels of natural testosterone, and is already in terrific shape, who has the time and money to obtain the best training possible, could do it in six to nine months easily.

As someone who once trained under the supervision of a professional bodybuilder, someone who went from 5'8″ 158 pounds with a body fat percentage of 24%, to 5'8″ 177 pounds with a body fat percentage of 8% in 11 months, I actually know what I am talking about, you know, from actual experience. You think Pearlman, or any sportswriter can say that?

* For those of you in need of a reminder, Pearlman is the guy who wrote the book that goes into nauseating detail explaining how Barry Bonds was insufferable. He basically interviewed a couple hundred people who confirmed that, yes, Bonds was a dick to them. That was a book.

UPDATE: Regards Pearlman, here's a quote from James W. Loewen that is pertinent here:

“People have a right to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. Evidence must be located, not created, and opinions not backed by evidence cannot be given much weight.”

I'd also like to rebut the many writers now defending any players from the last fifty-plus years who used amphetamines. Unless you have used speed over a period of more than a couple of days, relied on it to get through your back-breaking, ten-hour-a-day, six day-a-week job; your opinion on whether it should be considered a performance enhancer is worthless. You don't know what you are talking about, and the hundreds of thousands of people who have used speed to get through the grind of their workday lives prove your folly. I have, and I'm telling you, you don't know what you are talking about. For a baseball player, speed can be the difference during one of those fifteen games in sixteen days road trip, or during the dog days of August and September, and only an apologist could even think otherwise.

The Baseball Engineer deserves some front page time:

…. they’re demanding that everyone skip the ethics and morality “crap” and stick to the performance on the field. They’re also calling the majority voters who did not vote for McGwire or Rafael Palmeiro as the “high-horse crowd” while referring to their submitted ballots as demonstrations “self-righteousness” and “McCarthyism.”

Maybe the scathing labels are all part of a strategy to get the fence-straddlers and the soft-stance majority to hop on over to their side. Regardless, it’s clear the minority wants to ignore half of the voting requirements set forth by the Hall of Fame, which says, “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.”

Which leads to one question for this resistance: Have you forgotten what sport you represent?

This is major league baseball, where sanctity, history, and tradition reign.

Are you kidding somebody? Sanctity? Really? What a crock of shit. Baseball — like life– is full of liars, cheats, and scoundrels. And so is the Hall of Fame. See, the issue isn't that amphetamines are good. The issue that Neyer is raising is that these writers are using double standards, and either making up facts, –as in the case of Pearlman– or ignoring and/or explaining away inconvenient ones. So, when Rob Neyer says that he feels like if we know that many Hall of Famers used speed, he can't hold any players steroid use against him, he's not arguing for speed, he's arguing for fairness. And when my friend David Pinto writes:

…. a lot of ballplayers like to party hard. Uppers allowed them to both party hard and play the game. Without speed, most players would have realized that partying put an early end to a career and let up so they were able to play awake. I guess what I’m trying to say here is that an amphetamine enhanced career wouldn’t be very different from his career if he went back back to his hotel room after a game and got a good night’s sleep.

He's making excuses for guys who were doing something illegal in order to do better than they would otherwise. In addition, the idea that a good night's sleep has the same effect as five or ten “greenies” is utter bullshit. I've read Ball Four. Bouton made it clear that there were players who couldn't function at all without amphetamines. He wrote of teams that had coffee laced with it, next to candy bowls full of pills. Guys weren't taking a pill, they were taking handfuls.

Furthermore, it wasn't just speed. Athletes, including baseball players, have been using every chemical available for at least fifty years, something that I was shocked to learn was common knowledge in 1969:

…. “We occasionally use Dexamyl and Dexedrine [amphetamines]…. We also use barbiturates, Seconal, Tuinal, Nembutal…. We also use some anti-depressants, Triavil, Tofranil, Valium…. But I don’t think the use of drugs is as prevalent in the Midwest as it is on the East and West coasts,” said Dr. I. C. Middleman, who, until his death last September, was team surgeon for the St. Louis baseball Cardinals.

That quote came from a Sports Illustrated cover story from June 23rd, 1969. So, let's get real. Or better yet, let's get off our high horses. Stop the “save the game” bullshit, the “protect the integrity” hypocrisy, and get back to doing what you are good at, writing about baseball. I don't need your help in determining what is right or wrong. You don't want to vote them in, don't. Stop inventing reasons. We already know your reasons. You want to make sure you're on the right side of the argument. Back when nobody cared, you didn't either. Now, Congressman Henry Waxman thinks it's a travesty, so you do, too. Please.

Hat Tip to Baseball Musings, where I've been finding virtually all of these latest articles and rants.


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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
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