8.08.2007

why the new home run record does not need an asterik, or, why i don't care about steroids in baseball

Members of Joy Nation have read (or skipped) my defense of Barry Bonds in comments for a long time. I pulled together all my thoughts on the subject and plunked them down here. I'll make this a list, and maybe flesh it out into an essay some other time.

Here, for what it's worth, are the many reasons I defend Barry Bonds.

  • In every human endeavor, from the playground to Wall Street, there will always be a certain percentage of people who will cheat. It appears that many hitters and pitchers in professional baseball have used steroids or other performance enhancers; most of these were legal under Major League Baseball's lax rules.

    Unless we can definitively determine every single person who cheated in baseball - not just now, but in every era - and students of baseball history know that is a very large number of people, including any number of people already in the Hall of Fame - then I won't single out one person for my condemnation.

  • The percentage of people who cheat - in anything - will always go way up if people know they can't get caught. Major League Baseball had a disincentive to control cheating - because they profit from home runs and bloated offense - so they looked the other way. If steroid use is rampant in baseball, it's Baseball's own fault. Commissioner Bud Selig's sanctimonious hypocrisy is much worse than any player's possible steroid use, in my opinion.

  • Every statistic and record in baseball is subject to variables. Depending on the era, the balls were made differently (and so hit and carried differently), the season was a different length, the pitchers only faced white players, there was a less demanding travel schedule, there was no jet lag, and hundreds of other variables, including the possibility of many varieties of cheating. The numbers are still the numbers. We don't distinguish. Barry Bonds's accomplishment deserves the same treatment.

  • The National League's first season was in 1876. In 1877, there was a huge game-fixing scandal: Louisville players conspired to lose the pennant. One hundred years later, in the 1970s, amphetamine use was rampant.

    Are there any players in the Hall of Fame who used greenies? Almost certainly. Would some of the great hitters of any past era have used steroids had they been available? Since they were human beings, working in the ultra competitive world of professional sports - and since, in those days, they made very little money and could be cast aside for any reason with no protection, and so had tremendous incentive to win at all costs - the answer must be yes.

    Players were not more ethical in the past. Humans were not more ethical in the past. The only difference is what's available, and who gets caught.

    Barry Bonds is being scapegoated for what is likely a widespread issue. I don't want to scapegoat anybody.

  • When bashing Barry Bonds, people often throw in rumours (or maybe fact, I don't know or care) about his personal life. Players' personal lives are not my business. If I wanted to cheer only for players who were good people, I'd have to know every player really well. Since I have no opportunity for that - and since it would take all the fun out of my baseball experience - I discount the whole enterprise and stick to the game.

    I would make exceptions for something truly egregious, like rape, child abuse or the animal torture committed by Michael Vick. But allegations about a player who is already loathed are suspicious to me. Not being a nice guy is not a crime.

  • People say Barry Bonds is arrogant, rude, surly. Yet in reading and seeing dozens of interviews with Bonds over the years, I have never heard a nasty word out of him, except when the media is harassing him.

    The sports media has a long history of creating images for different athletes, then unceasingly perpetuating those images. There are numerous examples in baseball history of players who were consistently and unfairly maligned, or whose decidedly non- family friendly exploits were shielded from an adoring public. If I don't hear or see the arrogance for myself, I don't credit it.

  • Many players are arrogant, rude, surly, and so forth, but are never called on it. If those players are white, they're likely to be described as fierce competitors. If they're African-American, however... I'm not saying that Bonds is hated because he is black. But if you discount racism in mainstream US sports reporting, you are living in a dream world.

    American society is too racist, and American sports especially has such a long racist history - and sports reporting is such a conservative (read: hidebound, slow to change) medium - that racism can never be discounted.

    Barry Bonds is not hated only because he's black, but Mark McGwire (white, alleged steroid user) and Jason Giambi (white, proven steroid user) and Roger Clemens (white, suspected steroid user) earn very different treatment in the mainstream press.

  • Bonds has never tested positive for steroids that I know of, and has never been officially accused of anything by MLB, also as far as I know. My knowledge may be lacking because I don't follow the issue, because I don't care about it.

  • I love MLB records being broken. It's what sport is all about. But for some reason, some people do not. Some people believe certain marks are "hallowed" and meant to be preserved indefinitely.

    When Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris's single-season home run record, his accomplishment, and the home run chase between McGwire and Sammy Sosa, was celebrated. But when Roger Maris was in pursuit of Babe Ruth's single-season home run record in 1961, Maris was attacked, vilified and hated. It seems to me that some of that dinosaur mentality may be at work here.

  • What percentage of people booing Barry Bonds in ballparks all over the country know anything about this issue whatsoever? What percentage of them are simply reacting to inflammatory rantings from sports radio, or late-night comedians' jokes? I don't like Barry Bonds because everyone hates him, but the jumping on a bandwagon is a pretty stupid reason to hate anyone.

  • Is everyone who hates Barry Bonds completely free of cheating in their own lives? They've never cheating on an exam? Their taxes? Their spouses? Would they cheat to earn more money, if they were sure they could get away with it? Hypocrites.

  • And lastly, something purely baseball. People point to the offensive explosion (more home runs being hit, more runs being scored) over the last 10-15 years as "evidence" of steroid use. There are actually several reasons for the increase in offense, including: smaller ballparks, livelier baseballs, an ever-changing, umpire-dependent strike zone, fewer pitchers pitching inside, and certainly, highly developed technology and information for better (legal) training methods. Steroid use is probably among the reasons, but to what extent it figures in, we will never know. That's why the numbers are the number are the numbers.

    And Barry Bonds hit number 756.
  • 25 comments:

    Woti-woti said...

    Re: Bud's "sanctimonious hypocrisy", go to MLB's website (if you dare). The money machine to shift 756 gear is in full throttle. God Bless America.

    L-girl said...

    Woti, great point. Bash the man, denigrate his accomplishmens - then use him profit. GBA indeed.

    redsock said...

    The front page of the New York Post (website and paper) spells out "756" in syringes.

    (click, if you must)

    L-girl said...

    Wow. That is low, even for the Post.

    M. Yass said...

    What's your position on Pete Rose? Would you put his betting scandal in the category of something "egregious"? Do you think he should be elected to the HoF?

    deang said...

    I don't know much about baseball, but Dave Zirin's sports writing has made this issue fascinating to me. And I feel the same way you do!

    I'm guessing that in Canadian English, the British "sport" is used instead of the American "sports"? So, do Canadians also use the British "maths" instead of the American "math"?

    Jere said...

    It's interesting about Rose: Gambling's legal in some places, yet the baseball rules forbid gambling on games. So he was doing something that was legal, but against his sport's rules.

    Bonds was (supposedly) doing something that' illegal, yet was technically allowed by baseball rules.

    So, I guess it makes sense: Rose not allowed in baseball's HoF because he broke baseball's rules. But public mostly would rather see him in there. Bonds will be allowed in, because he never broke baseball's rules. But public would rather not see him in Hall.

    At least I think what I just said is correct.

    L-girl said...

    M Yass, IMO Pete Rose absolutely belongs in the Hall of Fame. He holds one of the most amazing records in the game, and for that alone, he deserves to be inducted.

    You can't imagine how much gambling has gone on in baseball over the decades.

    L-girl said...

    Dean, I love Dave Zirin's work! Although I must admit to being a little envious, as he occupies a niche I would love to work. (But I've done very little about getting into that niche, and he's done a lot - but envy is not rational!)

    I'm glad to know you share my views on this issue.

    L-girl said...

    Rose not allowed in baseball's HoF because he broke baseball's rules. But public mostly would rather see him in there. Bonds will be allowed in, because he never broke baseball's rules. But public would rather not see him in Hall.

    At least I think what I just said is correct.


    I think it is, too.

    redsock said...

    You can't imagine how much gambling has gone on in baseball over the decades.

    And highly likely game-fixing by at least two of the greatest players of all-time -- which was brushed under the rug by the Commmissioner to avoid bad publicity.

    (Ty Cobb and Tris Speaker, 1927)

    L-girl said...

    It's great living with a baseball historian. :)

    redsock said...

    In my research on the 1918 Red Sox, most of the pennant races and all of the World Series during the 1910s were suspected of being fixed.

    And based on what is known, I think many of them were (to say nothing of regular games during the season).

    It was simply a way for players to earn some extra dough.

    In 1918, the Sporting News estimated that an average of three players on each of the 16 teams were totally in the employ of various professional gamblers.

    redsock said...

    The sportswriters of that time must have known sooooooooooo much that they never wrote down. Obviously, the owners knew it all, too.

    Gotta keep the game's image clean for the young boys.

    I'd kill to know even 10% of what some of them knew as fact.

    M. Yass said...

    Gee, Allan, you're not a baseball fan or anything, are you?

    L-girl said...

    I'm guessing that in Canadian English, the British "sport" is used instead of the American "sports"? So, do Canadians also use the British "maths" instead of the American "math"?

    Oops, I forgot to answer this.

    I use "sport" because I picked it up from athletes I've interviewed. I noticed that anyone who has competed on the Olympic or Paralympic level uses it. I liked it, so I adopted it. I'm not sure what Canadians say.

    Maths, I don't know, either.

    Anyone?

    L-girl said...

    Gee, Allan, you're not a baseball fan or anything, are you?

    Fan is an understatement. :)

    Jere said...

    Seriously--if NBA refs today are fixing games, I'm sure we can only imagine what went on in pro sports 90 years ago. Bookies, and the mob, get what they want. It's sad. Thanks for the lesson, Allan. I think it's about time I actually read your book....

    L-girl said...

    Players had massive incentives to cheat in those days. They were treated like crap.

    I think it's about time I actually read your book....

    It's a terrific book, you'll enjoy it. I know I'm biased (duh), but as a serious Red Sox fan and a progressive person, you will really enjoy it.

    9casey said...

    L-girl said:Here, for what it's worth, are the many reasons I defend Barry Bonds.

    I have read numerous accounts on your feelings toward Bonds..But I still don't really know what you are defending...

    You are not saying he didn't do steroids, You are not saying he is a nice guy....

    Are you just saying you are happy he broke the record?

    In that case there is no defense, he did break the record.....Some of just to choose to belive His use of steroids helped him to get that record...I believe there is leaked testimony that says he did....Same as Giambi....

    Woti-woti said...

    Re: "maths" for "math" and "sport" for "sports", when I lived there that usage sounded weird to me, as did mine to them. I'd say theirs are English and mine are Canuck.

    Re: gambling, I heard that the 2 things that drive the NFL are the owners' socialistic revenue sharing and the point-spread keeping fans around to the end of the game. It's amazing what rich, white, god-fearing Republicans will do to make even more money. GBA.

    L-girl said...

    9Casey:

    I don't think he deserves to be boo'd, or hated, or demonized.

    I think he's an amazingly talented ballplayer, and I think he deserves to be cheered and celebrated.

    Seems pretty clear, no?

    L-girl said...

    And I'm explaining why I still cheer for him. In case that still wasn't clear.

    L-girl said...

    I heard that the 2 things that drive the NFL are the owners' socialistic revenue sharing and the point-spread keeping fans around to the end of the game.

    Socialized sports-team ownership is ok, but not socialized medicine. Funny how that works.

    redsock said...

    As I posted at JoS:

    "Until we can get an accurate list of everyone (pitchers and hitters) who has done steroids, then I'm not going to waste precious energy fretting about rumours of one guy here or another guy there."

    Maybe that's what Laura means.