Finally, Somebody Else Gets It

A while back I wrote about what I believed to be the Ten Biggest Fallacies in Sports. Leading that list is the steroid scandal tainted the integrity of baseball. One of my primary assertions is steroids were an easy scapegoat for a host of other factors which have changed the game. Allow me to reprise in the following excerpt:

Tainting the integrity of baseball under Bud Selig is like shooting out all your lightbulbs so the sun will go down. The sanctimonious hand-wringing on the part of baseball writers that is still happening over this is almost too much to bear. Where were all these scribing Dudley Do-Rights when Mark McGwire suddenly gained 50 pounds of muscle and transformed home plate at Busch Stadium into a bigger launching pad than Cape Kennedy? They were conveniently were sitting on their pencils because the offensive explosion that occurred in the national past time in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s was exactly what they wanted.

Flash the clock back to 1995 when baseball was trying to resurrect itself from the fiasco of the previous year’s labor stoppage that killed a World Series. The writers were bemoaning the fact that baseball is boring, there isn’t enough scoring, and the fans won’t come back to the game after the strike. So, when the moon-shots started flying out of ballparks across the league, the writers could barely contain their overt giddyness. This led to fans flocking back to the ballparks, and Bud Selig couldn’t have been happier.

The part nobody wants to admit is that the whole steroid issue began as attempt by writers to disgrace Barry Bonds. Writers have a problem with players who won’t kiss their collective asses, and Bonds was notorious for treating scribes with utter contempt. When it became clear that Bonds would be the holder of the two sexiest records in all of sports (the single-season and the career home run marks), the press began its delving into Bonds’ connection with BALCO. But much like Dr. Frankenstein, they created a monster they couldn’t control. Next thing you know, we have Congressional hearings and the resultant “outrage” at the “cheaters.”

Now for the fun part…baseball has a long and storied history of cheating. Since day one, players have been stealing signs, corking bats, scuffing or greasing balls, and generally doing anything else they could to win. Steroids are no different. It is far too easy to “blame” the aforementioned offensive explosion on the hypodermic needle, but doing so ignores some key facts.

  • In the 90’s, Major League Baseball expanded by four teams, meaning 50 pitchers who otherwise would have been in the minors now were plying their trade in “The Show.”
  • Several new stadia were constructed in the 90’s, and the vast majority of them have outfield fences and small foul territory making them very “hitter-friendly.”
  • Of all the players caught using “performance-enhancing drugs,” half were pitchers.

In other words, the increase in offense has several possible contributing factors. The emptiness of the steroid argument become clear when one stops to consider that from the list of players named in the Mitchell Report, there wasn’t a case of a player who suddenly became a star due to his use of “performance-enhancing drugs.” Players who were stars before the needle were stars after the needle, and “role players” remained just that.

Shakespeare penned the correct thought on this scandal 350 years before baseball even existed: Much ado about nothing.

Now, Ryan Hudson at SB Nation has penned a piece that echoes my sentiments. In his article, Hudson brings up the fact that there is not a proven link between steroid use and prolific home run hitting. Hudson also points out that very assertion is the central theme behind “Steroids, Other ‘Drugs’, and Baseball,” an exhaustive study of the subject done by Eric Walker.

Walker’s work is full of empiric data that casts some serious doubts on the credibility of the claims made by the “steroids are to blame crowd.” Hudson also quotes an piece written by Joe Posnanski that begs the question “What if we are wrong again about steroids?

If you are somebody who feels strongly about this issue, I would as strongly suggest you read these works. This is another issue where we in this country let allowed an easy belief  supplant a hard truth.

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11 responses

  1. I rarely click links from Poz’s site, and I don’t know what compelled me to click yours, but I’m glad I did. You’re a good writer and there’s some provocative stuff here. Amazing how many people have skipped the premise of “what if steroids aren’t the cause of the power increase” and simply regurgitated what they already believe to be true – further reinforcing the point of Joe’s article.

  2. […] run marks are held by Barry Bonds. Without getting into the (yawn) steroid discussion, there are enough other contributing factors in the offensive surge of the past fifteen years that neither 73 and/or 762 are safe. Alex Rodriguez is likely the career […]

  3. Don’t get me wrong, I’m with you on this, man.

    One thing I accept, however, is knowing who votes for HOFers and understanding it is their hypocrisy that will ultimately keep the majority of these players out. Personally, I’ve always felt the majority of the league was juicing, leveling out the playing field and still allowing for the greatness that was Bonds, Clemens and the like.

    I’m okay with it either way because I have a brain that helps me differentiate right from wrong.

    See, Stern never needed steroids in the NBA. He had Michael Jordan.

  4. JW

    It’s not so much the scapegoat in the way that blatantly the owners and league hierarchy chose to bury their heads in the sand as if nothing was happening .

    What this all boiled down to was the fact that everybody was making money and included those in the loop and the suppliers of the ‘roids and absolutely no one wanted that particular gravy train </i? to stop and that included then union director Donald Fehr .

    ‘roids it does a body good including shrinking the ‘nads and magic stick ! Never mind the fact that excessive use can fu_k up your renal system once and for all.

    tophatal ……………..

  5. […] the whole issue is much ado about nothing, and I’ve stated my reasons for believing that on more than one occasion. Besides, if all the sudden moralists in the BBWAA want to exclude “cheaters’” […]

  6. […] Schilling’s statement that steroids are the reason for the offensive explosion in baseball completely ignores so many other contributing factors. But the second sentence ironically drives my point about how the effect of steroids on the game […]

  7. J Dub, I agree with some of your thoughts but not all. The steroid scandal broke on McGwire when whoever asked him what that bottle of pills was in his locker.

    I think you are right that the media did not want Bonds to break any of the records held by Aaron and for all the reasons you pointed out.

    I completely disagree with the notion that steroids did not make role players into all-stars. Case in point: Greg Vaughn, Ken Camminitti, Juan Gonzales, Jeff Bagwell, Andrew Jones, Javy Lopez, Sammy Sosa, David Ortiz, Brady Anderson, Jason Giambi, Jose Canseco, and so on. Would some of these guys been all-star caliber players without PEDs of one kind or another? Maybe? But they played the majority of their careers using and we will never truly know.

    As mentioned in a previous comment, in my opinion it all came down to money. Honestly, it was good for baseball at that time. Lots of excitement everyday centering around the game.

    The size of the parks and thinning of talent contributed as well. I have always maintained that A-Rod’s career has been full of beating up on team’s 3, 4, and 5 pitchers never doing well against aces on other staffs; as an example.

    The other thought about steroids is the ability not only to take a warning track shot and turn it into a home run but also the ability to react and see the ball better. This point gets lost in many debates on the subject. Take away the debate about the extra 50 feet on a home run but one cannot deny the ability to see the ball better etc…

    I feel that Bonds and Sosa are more the poster children for the movement than McGwire. McGwire at least hit 49 his rookie year. Sosa was a 25 a year type of guy at best before roids. Bonds was the same. Bonds never hit over 50 home runs in any season other than the year he hit 73. That’s too much of a jump for anyone, in my opinion.

    Another thing about Bonds. At that time I knew a few players in the game. Pitchers would complain about the ridiculous strike zone Bonds got. Bad enough he’s tearing through the league but the umps gave him a really small zone. Pretty much he would have to swing and miss most nights to get a strike called on him.

    Maddux and other pitchers get the reverse respect on the black part of the paint, maybe some of it evens out but it really puts/put pitchers behind in the count every time he was in the box. Especially the less talented players that are having to fill roster spots.

    Good points in your piece. Thanks for dropping a line.

    1. Thanks for the comments.

      No offense, but you’re proving my argument. Look at all the guys you named. Got any solid evidence on them? No, by your own admission you don’t.

      Then you go on to validate the arguments I offer about why PEDs are not the only cause. Even your anecdote on Bonds says the umps were more of a factor than PEDs.

      Now, let’s discuss your point about the numbers being “too much of a jump.” How come nobody every mentions the name of Luis Gonzales when the subject of inflated numbers comes about? To the inverse, why does nobody ever point out the fact Mickey Morandini’s name figured in the Mitchell Report, and he didn’t become a 50-homer guy?

      But more importantly, let’s talk about how PEDs weren’t against the rules of baseball during the careers of all the guys you mentioned. It begs the question about what is the basis for not voting for players?

  8. […] act now” mentality which ultimately leads us to create some really awful solutions.  I first laid out a case to this effect over a year and a half ago. At that time, Ryan Hudson at SB Nation had penned a piece that […]

  9. […] about the steroid thing for a minute…of you are a regular reader of this blog, you know what I think of the whole steroid issue. Alex Rodriguez is one of the greatest players of all-time, regardless of how the writers and the […]

  10. […] said multiple times on this blog that I think the whole steroid argument is a bunch of crap.  Whether or not you believe that, there’s no denying the current situation with Lance […]

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