Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Respecting The Man

Rather than build up the comments section in Andy's handsomely decorated Barry Bonds SI article post (who is that scrawny man, Rickey Henderson?), I'm going to once again stake my claim to six arguments that the steroid-frenzy crowd wilfully ignore.

At the risk of repeating arguments I've made before, here is the case for Respecting the Man:

1. It was permitted: The use of steroids was permitted by MLB until late 2002. You can turn up your noses all you want at a player using steroids pre-2003, but anyone could have done it within the rules, so it's not relevant. Period.

2. It's nothing new: A vast number of baseball players have used performance enhancing substances or methods that were later ruled out of the game - from the spitballs and sandpaper of the early 1900s to the amphetamines of the 60s - 90s. Steroids are now on the prohibited list. Case closed. Unfinished business: Someone should get around to adding HGH, and the critics, for the sake of consistency, should consider where they stand on the newest fad in MLB: elective laser eye surgery to get to better than 20-20 vision. Is there a reason that doesn't count?

3. He's being tested: Now that steroids are banned Bonds is subject to testing like all major leaguers, and will have to deal with the consequences. Once MLB introduced the ban and real testing, the number of positive tests plummeted to less than a dozen a year. Conclusion: the players got the message.

4. Equal time needs to be given to harassing other more media-friendly (and whiter) players who've been tagged with the steroids accusation. Critics - and the media especially - are acting as though Barry is the only one. Why is he the whipping boy, and not Giambi? Why did McGwire get a near free-ride for the substances he admitted taking (and those he's suspected of taking)?

5. Bonds's achievements are beyond reproach, even if you limit your analysis to an assumed pre-steroid period. There is no question that he's one of the greatest of all time. He was already, by 1997, a 3-time MVP, 7-time Silver Slugger, and 5-time league leader for OPS and BB.

The article points out a jump in HR in 2000: so let's "discount" his HR total for that year and every year after by an arbitrary 25%. What would you get? A man who slugged 664 homers in his career rather than 708. And by the way: if you're discounting Barry's HR totals, you'd better be applying the discount to others as well.

6. It's all about the hand-eye: The stand-out achievement of Barry Bonds career is not the homerun total, but the walks. The walks were not simply the product of the opposing pitcher's fear of his power, they were about an exceptional patience and vision at the plate. No batter needs the physique of a Disneyfied Casey to hit the ball over the fence: what he needs is selectivity and solid contact. Bonds was, and probably still is, the best.


At 6:50 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

It's not simply a matter of "period", since:

a) saying they were "permitted" is a huge stretch. It was more like the Player's Union stalled on them becoming illegal.

b) he has consistently lied about using them.

c) steroids and eye surgery are more than a little different.

d) ditto spitballs and injecting yourself with stuff put in cattle.

e) has he really been tested? He sat out almost all of last year. I wonder why?

f) the attention focused on him has less to do with race than it does to his supposedly being the best player in the game (perhaps the best ever), as well as his ties to the legacy of the game through his father and godfather. Giambi, lucky for him, had none of this going for him.

g) there is now proof of Bonds' use of steroids. I agree that Sosa and Maguire, in particular, should be judged as harshly, but until there is evidence of usage it's a no-go. Jose Canseco doesn't count. Course, I am sure reporters in Chicago and St. Louis will be salivating now.

h) it's not just about hand-eye. It's about recovery from injury, additional endurance and stamina, power on contact, and the impact of said impact on managerial and pitching psychology. how much did his BB numbers go up from 1998-2005?

At 9:18 AM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

To your points:

a)“...It was more like the Player's Union stalled.”

Doesn’t matter; steroids were still permitted. That which is not forbidden is permitted. There’s no reason to believe that any baseball player restrains himself from seeking all the advantages that are available within the system (consider the ubiquitous greenies, which are banned for the first time this season), right up until the rules change.

b) “he has consistently lied…”

This may be a moral failing; it’s not a baseball failing. Many of baseball’s greats were men of questionable morals (cf. Cobb), yet we still revere them. Has Bonds ‘consistently lied’? Depends on whether you think he was obligated to tell us the truth.

c) “steroids and eye surgery are more than a little different.”

You have completely lost me. They are exactly the same: both are believed to enhance performance, and both are procedures with significant physical risk to the athlete. If you pursue an elective surgery to physically alter your body to improve performance, doesn’t the same criticism apply – i.e. that the playing field is now un-level, and ‘clean’ athletes are now compelled to pursue the treatment themselves if they want a chance to compete?

d) “ditto spitballs and injecting yourself with stuff put in cattle.”

We didn't spend much time together back in the early 90s, eh? Pity.

See my answer to (a): That which is not forbidden is permitted.

e) “has he really been tested? He sat out almost all of last year. I wonder why?”

I’ve wondered about the nearly full-year recovery too. If your implied suspicion is correct, you should be happy: adding these substances to the prohibited list and putting in testing has deterred someone from playing until they’re clean. That’s a good thing.

I believe, though I can’t be certain, that I read he was tested during his recovery: all players on the 40-man rosters are required to be tested at least once a year.

f) “the attention focused on him has less to do with race than it does to his supposedly being the best player in the game (perhaps the best ever), as well as his ties to the legacy of the game through his father and godfather…”

I’d be more willing to concede this point if the media didn’t have a long history of skewering the man, and if McGwire hadn’t been treated to a summer-long hagiography during his homerun record chase (it grated on me; I never liked McGwire).

I’m also gearing up for the Hall of Fame fight, in which a segment of writers tries to block Bonds on the grounds that he’s not a good ‘role model’ for kids (again, cf. Cobbs, Ruth). Won’t somebody please think of the children?

g) “there is now proof of Bonds' use of steroids…”

The only proof that matters is a positive test. Also, see my earlier argument that use prior to the prohibition is irrelevant.

h) “it's not just about hand-eye. It's about recovery from injury, additional endurance and stamina, power on contact, and the [psychological] impact…”

Fair points. Which is why it was important to add HGH to the list (it was added last year), and even more vital to add amphetamines to the list.

Of all the changes made in the past year, I think the elimination of greenies will have the biggest impact on recovery, endurance and stamina, and I predict (I’m going out on a limb here) that we’re going to see more late summer drop-offs in performance than we used to.

Maybe the Jays stocked all those ‘extra’ bats for a reason: they need a new way to keep players fresh.

At 11:25 AM, Blogger Alex said...

I have to agree with Avi on almost every point here.

I find the uproar from sports writers who say that Bonds does not deserve to be in the Hall to be ludicrous.

For one, there is a strong case to be made that he had a Hall of Fame caliber career by the time he started taking steroids. Should the fact that he did something arguably immoral, but not illegal, wipe that out? Would you automatically discount Tim Raines and anyone else who did cocaine in the 1980s? Wait, that was actually illegal, no?

Secondly, Avi hit the nail on the head with point #4. McGwire has gotten off easy, as have Jason Giambi and a host of other, more likeable players.

Bonds has never been popular with the media, and that doesn't help. There's likely an element of racism involved too in some cases (same reason Big Mac was the toast of the nation while Slammin' Sammy was an afterthought). Finally, and I think this is largely a product of the first two points, is that people need a scapegoat for the whole steroid scandal. If they express their outrage and blacklist Bonds, they feel like they have exonerated themselves for tolerating the steroid rage (as fans, or professionally in the case of writers).

The Rafael Palmeiro case is also an interesting juxtaposition. After he tested positive (something Bonds has never done, as far as we know), many writers stated that they would "probably" still vote him into the Hall. Now that the truth about Bonds comes out, he's tarnished the game and does not belong in the Hall. Even though he's never failed a drug test.

Someone explain to me how this makes sense. I don't like Bonds, but to me this is not a popularity contest, but one of fairness and objectivity. And objectively speaking, I think Bonds is getting unfairly maligned here.

At 12:06 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

wasn't the possession/sale of anabolic steroids for non-medical use considered a crime after 1990?

im asking because i dont necessarily understand the draconian intricacies of drug laws....

if it was "illegal" in the strong sense(federal/state law)...then it wouldnt seem to really matter what mlb said about its use.

At 4:53 PM, Blogger huizinga said...

hmmm...you might to change the title of this post to "respecting the player"; no one in their right mind respects bbonds as a person.

At 8:53 PM, Blogger Andy Grabia said...

So you have no problem with him taking steroids? You really think it is no different than getting eye surgery? That correcting your vision is the same thing as drugging yourself and being on the recieving end of shrinking nuts, flaccid prick ,big tits, bacne, wolf eyes, bouts of extreme and violent rage followed by utter depression, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and palpitations,? And you don't think embarrasing the game by lying about this, as well as being an all-around cocksucker, is grounds for keeping him out of the Hall? I certainly do. I can't imagine your arguments that it wasn't cheating will sit well with players who played the game by the straight and narrow.

Really, the whole game should be ashamed of itself. That is the bigger issue. Players, owners and management all knew this stuff was going on, and just kept quiet. Bonds is the focal point because a) he is supposed to be the game's best player, b) he has great lineage, and c) he is an asshole who only draws further attention to himself. In a sport where statistics are so vitally important-where they are intended to represent the purity of the game-all is now in question. He, and others like him, damaged the game. It's not about morality in and of itself, although I have no qualms about going that way. His actions negatively impacted the game, in the same way that Rose and the Eight Men Out did. We aren't talking about just bad people, we are talking about people who directly damaged the integrity of the game. The fix was in, and everyone just let it happen. It might as well be professional wrestling now. How do I know that all of his stats aren't juiced?

I don't expect players to be perfect. But when they damage the integrity of the game, lie about it, and continue to lie about it,they should be thrown out. Case closed. If I wanted a freak show, I'd just go to the circus. That is all Barry Bonds is now, and you can throw Sosa, Maguire, Palmero, and Canseco in with them. I'll take my John Kruks' and David Wells', thank-you very much. It's better than watching the All-Drugs Olympics.

At 1:12 PM, Blogger Avi Schaumberg said...

Yes, I do think elective eye surgery is the same thing: it's not correcting vision (always), it's sometime improving on normal vision. Giving yourself 40-20 vision is quite the advantage. And the surgery comes with plenty of perilous side-effects and bad outcomes.

There's a great quote from Larry Walker in Jeff Blair's Thursday column: "I guess I'm both for and against what Barry has done, in a way. The 'for' is the fact that steroids weren't illegal in the game - there was nothing that told players not to take them, even though they were illegal in society. I don't know if that's good or bad. But a lot of guys took them that are getting away with it. Some guys...you don't even talk about anymore -- guys that have obviously gone from 270 pounds to 200 pounds and don't get talked about. But Barry, because of what he's done and his legacy he gets hammered for it."

I'd add to that that statistics are not, in my view, representative of the "purity of the game" as Andy suggests, particularly since we already apply all sorts of mental modifiers to player stats (cf. the deadball-era ERA discount). Or as Ray Ratto puts it on Sportsline: "If someone says this jeopardizes the legitimacy of the record books and the Hall of Fame, he or she is a Bonds attacker. But "jeopardizes" is a loaded word, not to mention dishonest, because the record books record numbers and leave the contextualizing to the person reading the numbers, and the Hall of Fame tells the story of baseball, period. After all, Ty Cobb, Cap Anson and Kenesaw Mountain Landis were roaring racists as well as important figures in the game, and Charles Comiskey was an exploiter and aware of gambling during the teens and '20s, and Gaylord Perry loaded half the balls he ever threw, and the so-called steroid era was preceded by the amphetamine era. In other words, baseball is a warts-and-all proposition, and should be viewed in that prism."

And yes, Huizinga, I totally respect Bonds the man.


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