Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Cooking the Books

Are we now already in the post juiced era? Though it may be impossible to completely eradicate PED’s, if baseball isn’t out, it can probably at least see the light at the end of the tunnel. Look no further than the average age of MLB players (Moneyball has helped this too, no doubt) or more so the number of players hitting 35-40 + HR’s each season, for which the number has declined rapidly. The days of 60-70 HR are over. That mark of 73 may never be broken.

The question should be raised, is it just to pin this period as the steroid era and consider each player who played within it suspect? I personally agree with pinning the era with the tag completely, but it will take years before they know when to put a timeline on the madness. There just isn’t enough information yet. There likely won’t be adequate information ever. What player has admitted to more than they were caught for? Certainly not A-Rod. Steroid users, like criminals, have shown time and time again they will only admit to what they’ve been caught for. Andy Pettite might be the only exception. What’s more? You cannot definitively say anyone was definitely clean – not even Jeter. We know who ABUSED steroids but not who simply USED them. But they don’t classify them any differently really, do they? They say Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Jason Giambi and Sammy Sosa USED steroids. Why? Because it’s so obvious they did and or were caught because they so clearly ABUSED them. But then it’s pretty easy to spot Frankenstein in a crowd.

You can’t definitively say Jeter* didn’t use them because there were no signs. What if he used them one season? Do you think you would be able to tell, really? Don’t you think he’s close to if not just as guilty if he even used them once, though? If he did, he was obviously 1) smarter about it and 2) used them with much greater control.

(*) Please keep in mind this is not an attack on Derek Jeter. I have incredible respect for the player. I merely want to use a player with a shining resume who’s been able to completely remove himself from the steroid discussion. I could use David Eckstein, but what fun would that be.

Perfect example: Rafael Palmeiro was one of the most adamant people during the Grand Jury hearings, “I never used steroids!” Shortly after this he tests positive. Does he go down as a user or a Jeter type without that test? Everyone is a suspect. If Jeter didn’t use and wants to cry that he should be enshrined separately from the known users, too bad.

I say too bad because he should have said something when those around him were juicing up, but hindsight is 20/20. Maybe they were afraid, didn’t care or didn’t think it was that big of a deal. They do say that the HR chase revived baseball. Whether or not that’s true, I have no idea. It could be a very good scapegoat or justification to turn a blind eye. When the Ortiz and Ramirez tests came out this year, there was a lot of talk about the ’04 Red Sox. Apparently, they were all on the juice. It seems more than likely now that we know David Ortiz was on the 2003 list and Manny Ramirez was using as well. Just like the homerun chase, their quest to erase the curse was bigger than the steroids.

In terms of the hall of fame, I’m glad I don’t have to choose who gets in. Cooperstown is completely compromised because of this and I doubt there will ever be a really fair and good way to remedy the dilemma steroids created. The voters are just now starting to confront the issue of how to vote for the players who played within the era. It requires a 75% vote and since McGwire (who was once considered a likely 1st ballot HOFer) got something like 25% or less in his vote we have a pretty good idea about how they will treat the abusers. There will be players who may not get in that were deserving based on their pre-use skills and stats (Barry Bonds) and also others who may sneak in because they never got caught and had inflated numbers because of the use. They really should have a PED section and era at Cooperstown. They need to embrace that it was a reality while not condoning it. They need to admit the mistakes they made and show some accountability. Selig* most definitely should play a huge role in this. It will probably always be a mystery in a lot of ways (perhaps the JFK of sports) but I believe we will know a lot more in 5 to 10 to 15 years then we do now.

(*) Selig turned a blind eye (as did every single person in MLB basically) and then pretended like he had no idea what the extent was and didn’t act as promptly or aggressively as he should have. They should be freezing blood like they do in the Olympics which takes doping much more seriously.

The books are so cooked and this is the primary reason the fans, media and legends of the game are so outraged. It’s not because the game isn’t fair, etc. It’s because Ruth, Aaron and Co.’s records were considered sacred and they were obliterated over a 10 year or less period when they’d stood for 30 and 40 years. Perhaps one of the reasons Bonds took the most heat is because his name now tops not one but both of those records – Single Season and All-Time HR leader.

It will probably take years for baseball historians to sort it all out. For one, it will take years for all of the information to come out. Players might admit more when they get older. Also, through time we will probably get a better idea of when steroids started and when they finally ended. To determine that they will probably have to analyze the statistics as well as create a timeline from the players.

If pressed to ponder, there has been a plethora of things that have changed baseball over the years and have impacted statistics and thus records. If steroids never existed there are plenty of reasons why comparing players of different era’s is pointless.

Let me give some examples:
  • Shorter fences
  • Harder baseball
  • When Gehrig & Ruth played, they played exhibition games on their off-days… Can you imagine that? What if they had more rest?
  • Ground rules; sometimes there were people sitting on the grass in bounds in the old days.
  • Black Sox scandal
  • Mound height changes
  • Wars? Know any players that can hit .400 (with power) and fly a fighter plane in Korea and WWII? Meet Ted Williams.
  • Elimination of scheduled double headers
  • 4 man rotations becomes 5 man rotation
  • Emphasis on bullpen, specialty pitchers and Closers (Gagne broke the saves streak – you think it’s tainted? I do.)
  • Tommy John Surgery (blown out shoulder used to mean go get a 9-5 job) (Notables: Mariano Rivera, John Smoltz, Kerry Wood, Matt Holliday, Eric Gagne, Brian Wilson, John Franco, Tim Hudson, David Wells, and Kenny Rogers have had the surgery among many others… these are record holders, hall of famers, one time saves leaders, perfect game pitchers and once in a lifetime pitches (The Rivera Cutter) on that list. Without Tommy John and depending on when they had the surgery, some would be nobodies.)
  • Amphetamines
  • Betting (Pete Rose?)
  • DH
  • Coors Field (Todd Helton flirted with .400 some years ago, no chance he does that if he’s not a Rocky. Also, look at the batting title winners and other stats leaders over the last 15 years, there are tons of Colorado Rockies on the list. Once upon a time, they weren’t putting the balls in the humidor.
  • Steroids…
What’s next? It is pretty crazy when you put them all in a list. Do you believe it ends at steroids?

With steroids it’s impossible to compare players of even the same 10 year period because 1) you don’t know when they started and stopped and 2) you don’t know who used them. When you raise the mound, you raise all the mounds. You don’t raise the mound for just one player (say Roger Clemens because we know he used).

I mention all of these things not to discredit the fact that steroids caused the recent obliteration of records and bloated stats of the last 15 years, but rather to illustrate that you can’t accurately compare players from one era to another or even 10 years apart in certain instances because it’s not a level field. In some cases it’s not even apples and oranges, it’s apples and pop-tarts.

The problem is 1) steroids were and are illegal. 2) It wasn’t something they fundamentally changed in baseball – like a mound height change – it was something players were doing in the locker rooms like back alley type stuff, however out in the open it may have been. But what it really comes down to is the fact that they cooked the books. In this decade of corporate crime, ENRON and the Madoff’s of the world, you can clearly see why people get so bent out of shape about it.

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