Sunday, March 20, 2005

Matty on Steroids

I had a very difficult time with the recent steroid hearings. There a number of problems with them, and while I won't try to list them all, I do feel compelled, in these lean baseball-related news times, to comment, if only a little bit. Let me take a few statements that have been put forth by the media and baseball pundits and run em through the ol' ringer.

1) Baseball is forever stained by Steroids.
This just isn't true. This is hardly the biggest scandal to ever hit the sport, though you'd certainly think so by listening to reactionaries like Jay Mariotti of the Chicago Sun-Times and Bill Plachke of the LA Times. As a fan of the Boston Red Sox, the last baseball team to integrate (thanks to the ever immortal Pumpsie Green), I can tell you that people do get over the injustice eventually and remember that it isn't the people who run it but the sport that we all love. Yes, it can take a long time for this recovery to occur, but even suggesting the damage that steroids have done to baseball is comparable to the rampant racism who's domination of the sport through it's initial 100 years has yet to be alleviated, is tantamount to comparing George Dubya with Abraham Lincoln. In my humble opinion steroids aren't even comparable to the gambling problem that almost brought down the game in 1919.

2) Any player who used steroids should have his records banned or at least marked with an asterisk.
What is baseball's obsession with the asterisk? Can anyone explain this to me? Anyway... If you mark records made by players who are suspected of steroids then you're beginning a slide down a slippery slope. What about players who are suspected of or known to have gambled in the turn of the century? What about players who used (and continue to use) greenies and other uppers before games? What about pitchers who scuff the ball, or batters who cork their bats? And if your only concern is the integrity of baseball's sacred records, then what about expansion, lowering the mound, tightening the ball, the DH, shrinking the ballparks and even more expansion? The point is that there are different circumstances to every era, which when looked at through the prism of baseball history, must be explained. Would Bob Gibson be able to go a whole season with a 1.26 ERA against teams like the '04 Red Sox and '04 Yankees with a lowered mound, and decreased strike zone? Would Babe Ruth have hit 60 homers against today's specialized pitchers who employ pitches like the splitter that hadn't even been invented back in 1920? Would Ty Cobb have hit .400 against black and Hispanic pitchers like Pedro Martinez, Johan Santana and Javier Vasquez? Ok, maybe Vasquez... The answers to these questions are as unknowable as who took steroids, how much they took, and how much it altered their on-field performance.

3) Players who used steroids are cheaters and morally bankrupt scum.
To any person who thinks this is accurate I would politely remind them that back in the late 80's and early 90's not only weren't steroids banned in baseball, but the weren't even illegal! This retroactive judgment is simply blatant hypocrisy. I don't recall reading many articles about how steroids were ruining the game anywhere back then, and the reason for that is simple: nobody was writing them. This is not to suggest that I condone taking steroids, but it is difficult to call someone out for speeding when there is no speed limit, even if they were going 120.

4) It is easy to hit lots of homers when you are on steroids.
This is one of the underlying assumptions that people make when the talk about asterisks and cheating. But there is simply no proof that steroids improve your performance as a baseball player. I would like to think that people would be a bit more analytical about this sort of thing without just rushing to judgment and condemnation. I know steroids can make you stronger and when you are stronger you are able to increase your bat speed and therefore are more likely to hit the ball farther. What we don't know is by how much. Anyone who has ever stood in against a 90 mph fastball, or an 85 mph curveball that drops off a table knows how difficult it is to just make contact, let alone hit the ball 370 feet. When you combine questionable increases in performance with suspected health problems it becomes debatable whether or not steroids are help or a hindrance.

Something we do know, or at least are reasonably sure of, is that steroids don't improve your hand-eye coordination. What I mean by that is steroids will help you hit the ball farther, but they won't help you to hit the ball in the first place. If you can't hit a curveball (maybe like myself) then you can take all the steroids you want with no improvement on the field to show for it.

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On to another topic, I flipped on the ol' tele today and came across my first spring training game of the year today. Phillies vs. Indians. Jon Lieber and the fight'ns vs. the Tribe. I could care less about either team, but just for an hour or so I was transfixed. It was sunny down in Florida; I could hear the calls for peanuts and beer. Baseball is back, with it spring, summer, and another run at the World Series for the Red Sox. It's about time.

1 comment:

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