Right now congress is taking time out from important issues like the War in Iraq to focus on the evil scourge known as steroids. Why are they doing this? Because it is an easy way to appear busy and active to their constituents. It’s a win-win issue. What voter in any state is pro-steroids? The congressmen can act tough, get face time and earn brownie points with the people back home.
It’s been really educational to see Congress involved in something about which I know a little. Because let me tell you, the questions they are asking in these hearings are, let me put this gently, moronic. Now, I don’t expect career politicians to be versed in either baseball or steroids, but if the issue is important enough to call hearings on, then you damn well better get your staff on the case so you don’t look like a fool when you are grandstanding for the voters back home.
And it’s not just that the questions asked are idiotic, congressmen are declaring people innocent or guilty before hearing all of the evidence. Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) declared informant Brian McNamee to be telling the truth in the opening statement to the hearings! Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN) screamed at McNamee that he was lying during his testimony.
Now I realize that this is a hearing and not a trial, so the requirements are different, but still why even bother having a hearing if you have no interest in asking informed questions or even listening to the responses from the bone-headed queries you are asking? Waxman is on record as saying that there was no need for the hearing. Well, then as the Chairman, why did you even call them? He claimed that Roger Clemens insisted on the hearing.
It’s almost like the most ridiculous scene from an otherwise outstanding movie – A Few Good Men – when Demi Moore’s character objects, has the judge overrule her and then she strenuously objects. Oh, you strenuously object, well by all means then you must be right! Waxman doesn’t want to have the hearing but somehow Roger Clemens “strenuously objects” and they go ahead and have it.
When it comes to steroids in baseball, I am something of an agnostic. I am against them because there are rules in both society at large and (now) baseball in particular making them illegal.
But there are two things to keep in mind with all of the hysterics surrounding steroids. First, there is nothing magical about steroids. It’s not like you take them and all of the sudden you are an athletic marvel. You have to do an amazing amount of work to accrue any benefits of steroids.
Mark McGwire, a heavily suspected but not confirmed user, was not a stiff one day and then magically transformed into a star by a simple injection. It doesn’t work that way. Sure they help you get bigger by allowing you to recover quicker from workouts, but even great muscles aren’t going to help you hit a curveball or throw a strike on the outside corner. There is still an insane amount of work required on behalf of the athlete.
Secondly, I am not as up in arms over steroids because I remember the cocaine scandals of the 1980s. That was when athletes were getting high and throwing away their careers on performance-reducing drugs. How many Hall of Fame careers were thrown away with cocaine? I am much more upset that we didn’t see Dave Parker play up to his ability because of his preference for cocaine than I am that a bunch of fringe players tried (and mostly failed) to help their Major League chances by roiding up.
But it’s not just the fringe guys, you might say, it’s the stars like Bonds and Clemens and that’s why this issue is important. Well, I don’t buy that.
First, for every star you can name just suspected of PED usage, I can name five scrubs that are confirmed users, which indicates the problem was much more on the bottom half of the Majors. And if it’s the issue of cheating that so bothers you, then you have to be equally upset when Guillermo Mota does it as when Clemens does and react with the same amount of disgust and contempt.
And nobody feels or acts that way.
The steroids hearings are our generation’s McCarthy Trials. Everyone is up in arms about who is and who isn’t and people are tripping over themselves to either deny or give up other names, if there’s a bigger fish than you to fry. And some of us recognize it as a witch hunt now, while others will come to that conclusion later.
But what about the record books, one might say. These users are making a mockery of baseball’s historical record. Well, this is the worst possible excuse imaginable to support what is going on now. If you think there is some time in history when baseball was “pure” and everyone competed on an even playing field, well, I have this nice bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
Hall of Famer Cy Young pitched in 125 games before they moved the pitching mound back to 60 feet, 6 inches. How can we take his stats seriously?
Hall of Famer Babe Ruth only played against white Americans, how seriously should we take his stats when he never had to bat against anyone who looked like Pedro Martinez or beat out anyone who looked like Hank Aaron for the home run title?
Hall of Famer Burleigh Grimes was legally allowed to throw a spit ball after the pitch had been banned by MLB, yet we are supposed to take his stats as pure?
Hall of Famer Stan Musial put up outstanding numbers in the years 1942-1944 while most of the top players in this country were serving in the armed forces and fighting in World War II. How can we take those stats seriously?
Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle used greenies, which MLB now tests for and is against the rules. Do we discount his entries in the record book?
Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax and Juan Marichal pitched off mounds that were, well mounds. If you get a chance, look at the pitching mound that Marichal threw from in those old black and white clips. You almost needed a ladder to climb those things. Yet we don’t discount their records.
Since 1973, many Hall of Famers had their careers extended, and their stats padded, with the introduction of the designated hitter. Should we complain that all of the stats achieved by a player when he was the DH cheapen the record book? By extension, should the rule itself be thrown out? Do those players get the same “asterisk” that people want to put on those suspected of using steroids?
Clearly, the record book is not pure and players from different eras competed under unequal conditions. One of the joys of baseball is learning about the game’s history and understanding the conditions of the game during different times in the past.
And I haven’t even addressed the big white elephant in the room. By far, the biggest performance-enhancing drug in baseball is cortisone. Injured players get a cortisone shot which allows them to play when they otherwise would not. As I am sure you know cortisone is a steroid. Should use of that steroid be illegal and all those who’ve used it have their records mocked?
I am interested in the steroids question, but my interest is different from most people. I want to know who used and who didn’t so perhaps we can make some headway to determine how effective steroids are to performance.
In the five-year period from 1968-1972, American League teams scored 3.8 runs per game. The AL introduced the DH in 1973 and the ensuing five year period, teams with the DH scored 4.2 runs per game. Because we can compare these numbers, we have a ballpark idea of how much the DH contributed to run scoring. Of course, the DH was not the only change to scoring in this time period. We have expansion and the lowering of the mound to name just two others.
But, we have no idea the effect of steroids on scoring. We don’t even know if it has been a net positive for scoring because since testing has been implemented, there have been more pitchers than hitters found cheating. Could it be that these drugs have kept scoring lower than they might have been otherwise with all of the pitchers juicing? Everyone is up in arms about how PEDs have increased scoring and we don’t even know if this statement is true, much less to what degree.
We don’t know how many people used or when they started. And we have no idea how to filter out the effects of expansion, smaller stadiums or the change in both how and where baseballs are made, among many other factors.
It would be wonderful if we could conduct an investigation as a true fact-finding mission instead of as a witch hunt or as a public-relations move, either on the behalf of MLB or Congress. But unfortunately, that’s not the priority of the people in power. MLB wants to sweep it under the rug and declare the problem over while Congress wants to find a big-name scapegoat or two to take the blame. How perfect that we have Bonds and Clemens! One black, one white, one a hitter and one a pitcher – what balance. They could not have drawn it up better if they tried. Hmmm……
Yet while I want to find out who used and who didn’t, I don’t want to dispose of the Constitution or any of the legal principles we hold dear to accomplish that goal. People are innocent until proven guilty and are entitled to have their day in court, where their representatives can challenge statements, evidence and innuendo under cross-examination.
I want multi-millionaire Roger Clemens to have this right as much as I want the non-English speaking person beaten up by cops for a crime he didn’t commit to have it.
Did Roger Clemens use steroids? I have no idea. But I’m not willing to declare him guilty based on the testimony of Brian McNamee in the Mitchell Report and the paraphernalia produced by him later that allegedly has Clemens’ DNA without having both things subjected to cross examination and ultimately judged critically by someone more neutral than Henry Waxman.
And neither should you.