Sunday, January 2, 2011

Steroids in Baseball: The Gift that Keeps on Giving

First, a happy birthday to Edgar Martinez.  Edgar may be the greatest Mariner of them all.  He was a wonderful hitter, both in the comfy confines of the Kingdome, but also managed to find considerable success in the open prairie at Safeco Field.  His line drive in 1995 that drove home Ken Griffey, Jr. to win the ALDS arguably saved baseball in Seattle.  Edgar is the player who never left, who played until it was clear he no longer should, and leaves an unblemished baseball legacy to the team and the city.

The debate continues whether a player who was primarily a DH for his career is fit to grace the halls at Cooperstown.  Looking at the "counting numbers," hits and home runs, suggest to many he is not.  While I am sold on the more advanced stats, I am more easily persuaded by what I saw and what the numbers say.  This was Edgar's line  .312/.418/..515.  His career OPS+ was 147.  That's not as good as Albert Pujols or Frank Thomas.  But it is better than David Ortiz or Alex Rodriguez , and the same as Jim Thome.  It is better than Hall of Famers Bill Terry, Duke Snider, and Eddie Matthews, great players all. I'm hoping the HOF voters will continue to look a little deeper than just the counting stats and find Edgar  Hall of Fame worthy as Joe Posnanski did this week.

While the debate goes on about the Hall of Fame, who's in who's out, the steroids issue raises its head again.  I have a pretty simple position on the use of PED's.  If you tested positive, or if there is some other evidence you used, i.e., Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens, you're out, you're done you're history.  Even if you fessed up as Mark McGwire did last year, I'm sorry, I'm glad you came clean but I can't support you. 

There is an effort among some to diminish the impact of steroids on the game. Eric Walker's lengthy article in August about the limited impact, if any, by steroids on baseball simply did not change my mind.  However, as writers try to find a way to bring the "steroids era" into focus with the rest of baseball history, rationalizing the blip in statistics between 1994 and 2004, some writers will concede the era was rife with cheating and just move on.  Maybe I will get there too at some point, but I'm certainly not there yet.  The notion of Rafael Palmeiro waving his finger at Congressmen and claiming he has never taken performance enhancing drugs is just a bit too disgusting for me to overlook, and is emblematic of the era.  "I'm not cheating, and what if I am," is an attitude I just can't condone.  It's the rule follower in me. 

But my view is nothing new.  What disturbs me even more is the flip side of the issue as it is emerging in this Hall of Fame season.  As Jeff Bagwell appeared on the Hall of Fame ballot, alongside McGwire and Palmeiro, writers have implicated him as a steroid user as well.  There is no evidence that Bagwell used PED's.  His name doesn't appear in the Mitchell report.  No teammates have rushed forward to implicate him injecting himself or others with dianabol.  Yet in the eyes of Fan House's Dan Graziano, no evidence is fine. His suspicions are good enough.   For Jeff Pearlman, who does not vote, but is voice in the baseball community, it is enough that Bagwell played during the steroid era to bar his admission to the hall.  To proof, not a shred of evidence is necessary, you are damned by the era you played in and the players you played with. 

 While I am a baseball fan, I am a history person first and foremost.  These views are emblematic of the very worst episodes in American history.  They are reminiscent of the red scares after both world wars.  They remind me of the critics of the right that accused critics of the war in Iraq of treason.  No evidence, simply guilt by implication.   It is cultural witch-hunting and a blot on baseball journalism.  Show us the facts, isn't that what journalism is about?

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