I have been a baseball fan since the middle of the 1955 season. I have written books about baseball. I have a web site dedicated to baseball. I have built whole life adventures around baseball. My wife and I spent the 2000 season living across the street from (what was then called) Pac Bell Park in San Francisco, and I went to every Giant game except five (when a client insisted I be in London to speak…) I wasn’t a Giant fan; I did it because I love baseball and a “walking life” and I realized when I saw where the new SF ballpark would be that one could comfortably live right in the vicinity.
That summer, Barry Bonds, the Giants leftfielder, became the favorite player of my adult life. This was the year before he started hitting home runs like a machine. From my seat in the stands, I admired his batting eye and plate discipline; the fact that he never threw to the wrong base from leftfield; the fact that he only attempted stolen bases in late innings of close games and was almost always successful. Ellis Burks, the Giants rightfielder, was our upstairs neighbor that year. Ellis told us that Bonds was an unbelievably hard worker. The press couldn’t stand Bonds, but that’s because he wasn’t particularly cooperative or friendly with them. As a fan, I couldn’t have cared less. What was there not to like?
Well, we all know now, don’t we. STEROIDS!!! CHEATER!!! The sporting press has made an industry of ferreting out these miscreants. We know who they are.
I wasn’t a Giant fan, but I am a Yankee fan. ARod is another great favorite. Yes, he’s a recent additon to the steroid dungheap.
And this past week we have Manny Ramirez. I’m getting sick of this. Nobody can tell the truth.
What’s the truth?
The truth is that — whether it was 30% or 50% or 80% — a huge number of players were using PEDs (that’s “performance-enhancing drugs”) for many years. The owners knew it and encouraged it. The players were relaxed about it. The union did nothing because the union’s job is to fight with management and there was nothing to fight about! Management loved it because PEDs create home runs and (when pitchers take them) strikeouts. Home runs and strikeouts put fans in the seats.
So can Bonds or Tejada or Palmeiro or ARod or Clemens or Manny or any of them tell the truth? “Yes, I used these drugs. But, frankly, everybody was using them. I was competing against players who were using them. Nobody seemed to care or mind.”
No, they sure can’t. If they did, everybody — the Commissioner’s office, their ownership, their teammates, and the leadership of their union — would be down on them like a ton of bricks. If there is a “crime” here, just about everybody’s guilty. So everybody’s much more comfortable letting the unlucky ones be consecutively outed, each one being treated as an isolated example of immorality. The collective hypocrisy — including on the part of the sportswriters who strut their purity — is nauseating. It’s really just pandering to an anti-drug hysteria which, if we give it a chance, might prove to be as passe as a lot of the other mistaken political and social ideas of the past three decades.
From Joe Torre’s current bestseller (I’d cite the page number, but I’m reading it on my iPhone in eReader so that wouldn’t mean anything):
Said one former All-Star and steroid user who competed against those Yankee teams, “Everyone around baseball did what they could possibly do. It was the survival of the fittest.”
…The player said that everybody in the game just understood that attitude was acceptable. “Now whether it was right or wrong, now you’re talking about a moral issue, but there were no rules. You did what you did. It was the wild, wild west.”
How should we regard performances during an era when steroid use was, as a practical matter, allowed and encouraged by the entire baseball establishment? Remember that when Mark McGwire was hitting 70 home runs, he had “andro” in plain view in his locker and it was written about during the season. Lenny Dykstra showed up one at Spring Training one year looking like he’d been inflated with a bicycle pump. Brady Anderson went from a gap hitter to a 50 home run guy in 1996. Suddenly lots of players were hitting 50 or more home runs in a season, which used to be a rare accomplishment.
The era is going to define itself statistically. As the dead ball era did. As the 30s (an era of very high batting averages and low strikeout totals) did. As the stolen base era ushered in by Maury Wills and extending to Rickey Henderson did. But it is really unfair to judge the people of the 1990s and early 2000s by a a standard that was developed when people noticed the size of Barry Bonds’s head in 2003.
If the Truth and Reconciliation Commission concept ever came to baseball on this topic, the list of villains would be far more extensive than the ones whose drug tests were leaked.
May 28 at 11 am at Javits Center: “Stay Ahead of the Shift.” Publishers are chasing their tails trying to figure out how to keep getting paid adequately for content. It will just get harder and harder to do. Use your content to build community. That’s where equity is in the long run. The good news? This shift will take a while. And publishers are well equipped to stay ahead of it.