Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tainted Legacies

Aviv wrote a really nice post today about Donald Fehr and how his legacy is inevitably stained by the prevalent use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) on his watch. I want to talk about another piece of the whole sordid pie; what to do with the players. More accurately, what to do if they have numbers good enough for the Hall.

I'm in what feels like, to me, is the minority these days; I think the players proven to have used PEDs should be banned from the Hall. Period. End of discussion. I don't care if this creates a huge gap in who enters when or a whole generation of players get wiped out as a result. If you used PEDs, you should be gone.

The arguments against this drive me crazy:

  • "Everyone was doing it!" - Ah, no. The 2003 anonymous test showed that only a shade over 7% of players were using PEDs. Even if that number jumped to 10% or so, that means 9 out of every 10 players played the game clean. I would wager a couple of those guys will put up HoF-worthy numbers.

  • "What about greenies?!" - For those of you not familiar with the term, "greenies" are amphetamines, immortalized in the classic tell-all "Ball Four" by Jim Bouton*. The argument for some goes that all the stalwarts of the 50s and 60s were popping greenies to stay awake and this gave them an advantage like PEDs do today.

    What these geniuses forget is what Bouton actually said about greenies in the book. He derided their overall effectiveness, saying they made players jittery. Look at it this way; Do you remember No-Doz? Did you ever pop four of five to study for a final? How well did you actually do studying? Welcome to greenies.

    More recently, Bouton has also made the necessary distinction that greenies were performance enablers, not enhancers. In other words, greenies didn't help your bat speed or your eyesight or give you more muscles. It helped keep a hangover at bay so a player could scrape by come gametime.

    All this said, greenies are dangerous as hell and were rightfully banned. And they did set the stage for actual PEDs. But to compare the two and call them equal is just ridiculous.

  • "It wasn't against the rules!" - This excuse drives me up a wall, because it shows a basic ignorance of what was going on in the game by the people who are supposedly covering the game.

    Baseball's rules in 1991 banned the use of steroids, rules that are still in effect today. From Fay Vincent's memo of that year:

    The possession, sale or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by Major League players and personnel is strictly prohibited...This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs and controlled substances, including steroids...

    So yes, it was illegal by the time Bonds, Clemens and the rest of the gang started getting funky with the PEDs.

A line must be drawn here and a penalty must be paid. No other sport reveres it's records and history as much as professional baseball. And the rampant use of PEDs threatens the integrity of both. The very fact that Barry Bonds is considered the all-time home run leader by MLB is disgusting. The fact that Roger Clemens is officially ahead of guys like Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver is repugnant.

The rule should be simple: You use and you are out. But the odds of that ever happening are remote because too many people who could make that happen are feckless, spineless or both. So here's another idea; guesstimate where they started using and base their candidacy on their prior stats.

A lobotomized ferret could look at Barry Bonds' stats and see he started using between the 1998 and 1999 seasons. So vote on him based on everything prior to 1999. Guess what...he'd get in and get in clean. He was a phenomenal player before all this crap and the fact he decided to use is pathetic.

Roger Clemens would be limited to what he did in Boston. Trust me; if you saw his fat gut in 1996 you'd also know he was clean at that point. He'd be more borderline than Bonds, but he'd get in as well. So I think this system could work.

Of course, this likely will never happen either. I'd settle for just marking their plaques with big asterisks and placing them in a new wing in Cooperstown dedicated to PED cheats. But since the baseball writers want to make this go away as well (since they ignored the evidence for so long until it smacked them in the face and they couldn't any longer**) the day will come when Bonds and Clemens and the rest go in as if nothing ever happened.

And the day that happens, baseball's history will be tainted forever.


* Which, by the way, should be required reading if you are any kind of baseball fan. My copy is practically falling apart.

**You think I am kidding? Anyone remember Steve Wilstein, the AP reporter who saw Andro in Mark McGwire's locker in 1998? Baseball writers everywhere tore Wilstein a new one because he had the audacity to write about what he saw while everyone else turned their heads. Wilstein made them look bad and the longer that PEDs continue to be an issue in sports, the longer everyone will remember that baseball writers are as responsible for this disaster as the players and the owners. So the sooner this goes away, the better it is for them.

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