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Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Baseball's Tarnished Modern Era

I don't like the idea that people only get riled up about Barry Bonds. Ignoring the race question for the moment, I dislike the focus on Bonds because people feel like taking over the #1 all-time home run record is the only record that's important. This post is really about Ken Griffey Jr.

As a kid, I poured over the all-time numbers. My buddies and I could all recite the top ten home run hitters and their totals. And I knew all of the next 20-30 (though maybe not in order.)

This year more active players leapfrogged hall of famers like Dave Winfield, Stan Musial and Willie Stargell in the all-time lists. And these guys had already been pushed down the list by modern steroid-using players like Bonds, McGwire and Sosa... as have Mike Schmidt, Ted Williams and Jimmie Foxx.

Now I ain't no George Will, but I'm conservative enough to mourn the idea that some of these great ballplayers are being pushed into obscurity. Aaron, Ruth, Mays isn't some kind of holy trinity to me. But...

Bonds
Aaron
Ruth
Mays
Sosa
Robinson
McGwire
Killebrew
Palmiero
Griffey...

sounds more like a Letterman top ten list than the top ten sluggers of all time. Five of them played during the steroid era (and of the lot, only Griffey's name remains unlinked to illegal substances.)

I posted this argument on a sports blog recently. I figured that with four of the top ten homerun hitters of all time being KNOWN USERS of steroids/HGH someone would be bothered by this. Apparently, they weren't. They claim to be so good at seeing past the numbers and recognizing the context those numbers are achieved in that it doesn't matter to them.

My rebuttal was that the initial twinkles of fandom (the ones that start when you're 11 years old) don't account for dead ball eras or park adjustments. And I think Bud Selig, and everyone else entrusted with the well-being of the national pastime, have a duty to try to keep the nature of the game as similar as possible across eras. So that numbers are roughly comparable.
My argument isn't that HGH or Steroids are wrong. But that we dishonor the history of the game with a system where 20-40% (my unscientific estimate) of players are using some kind of doping advantage, and the rest are not. If everyone is taking human growth hormones, great.... it's an even playing field. Instead, we have a game where a few players wind up putting up some pretty crooked numbers.

But, as a thought experiment... let's say Ken Griffey Jr. is the one guy out of this generation of super-sluggers that didn't cheat. How much MORE special does that make his accomplishments then compared to all the rest? What if he were the only modern addition to the top 10 list... coasting in at number six with this year's totals? What if we were all witnessing the ascendancy of this generation's finest player into the pantheon of "greatest players ever"? Instead we saw an entire new cast of characters dethrone Hank Aaron and push their way into the record books. We saw hall of fame veterans committee members grumbling about this new crop of steroid-fueled mashers rather than embracing the newest generation of stars. And we saw images of these same sluggers lying, or refusing to answer questions, in front of congressional committees.

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4 Comments:

At 9/11/2007 11:51:00 AM, Blogger Scotty Walsh said...

Nice post. I agree completely, but what would you do if you were the commissioner of MLB?

 
At 9/11/2007 01:01:00 PM, Blogger Yojimbo_5 said...

Well said. I think of McQwire and Sosa and Bonds and Palmiero as distractions from the national past-time.

And Griffey II made it this far despite well-publicized injuries that shortened his play (which might have been prevented with steroid useage).

But you can only take this so far before wearing the petals off the already well-worn asterisk. Exceptions can also be made for the shortened season (as in Maris' case), sports medicine, the designated hitter, bat technology, night games and the evils of inconsistent stadium construction. Hell, baseball has changed so much to MAKE it easier to hit home runs because that's what brings in the fans. It is impossible to make it a (no pun intended) level playing field with Ruth's time.

But if you wanted to level the playing field with Ruth, you'd have to make sure everybody consumed the same prodigious amounts of hot dogs, beer and cigars.

 
At 9/12/2007 09:00:00 PM, Anonymous A said...

A couple of points:
- Baseball, has and probably always will taken a blind eye to cheating. Gaylord Spitball got him into the HOF. We laugh about corked bats and Shot Heard around the world was influenced by signs begin stolen by the Giants in the bullpen and related back to the dugout. Joe Nieko's emery board. Players taking "greenies". The Indians climbing over ceiling to steal back Albert Belle's corked bats. Teams watering down the basepads to slow speedster down. We as fans a lot of the time laugh and enjoy all of this. We enjoy the subterfuge. It is, for better or worse, part of the game. We as a society have condoned these actions. Given this nature of the game, should we really be shocked that when given the option, players started taking drugs? Isn't this just the natural consequence of the very nature of the game? I think they went too far, but on that slippery slope of cheating, it is often hard to notice when you cross the line especially when you know so many others are probably doing it to? Can we really fault someone like a borderline major leader, trying to set himself up for life with one good contract like Ryan Franklin? We Seattleites certainly took a blind eye to Boonie when he suddenly bulked up. And as desperate as fringe players and minor stars feel the pressure to take them, I'm guessing the pull from the massive ego on Bonds probably was even more powerful. Bonds is and was a sure fire Hall of Famer before he bulked up. I'm guessing he would have still hit somewhere above 600 homers without the drugs. IE he probably is one of the best players who will have played the game and yet his own greatness to a certain extent was being diminished by all of these guys who were so obviously were on drugs. I certainly don't claim to know what the hell Bonds was thinking, but guys collecting 50 homer seasons like it is going out style, I'm guessing somewhere along the way he figured he was entitled to do it as well.
- All that being said It strikes me just another slap in the face of baseball when the football commish has been flexing his muscles banning people recently and we still see Selig mumming around the whole Bonds Fiasco. Regardless if they ever proof he cheated, he and his generation pushed the envelop too far. They have done as much harm to the game as much as Refs in the NBA have on betting or NFLers or Cyclists on their respective drug use or the Patriots getting caught with a video camera on the sidelines. If you can ban Pacman for half a season for getting arrested 10 times, but never convicted, I think Selig ought to have thrown people out. I don't know if baseball has a good citizen clause the way football does, but that spineless oaf in Milwaukee should have done it regardless. Even in losing he and owners would have won the publicity battle with the union over drug testing. Bonds has been up against the clock to make it as it is. A long drawn out legal battle over whether Bonds could have played again, even if lost would have robbed him of potentially enough playing time to protect Hanks record. It would have sent a strong message to the players that this stuff isn't going to be tolerated any more and it would have made it very clear to the players that fighting drug testing is not something they should be negotiating so hard against. The integrate of the game shouldn't be a topic they fight hard against in the collective bargaining process. As it is the owners, general managers and the commish look complicit in everything that has gone on since the Bash brothers got to work nearly 2 decades ago...
- Finally, your discussion missed one very important name. A name we hate, in may cases more than all those steroid users. He is clean, but really does anyone really want A-Wad/Stray-Rod's name on that list near or at the top? That is coming very soon... 516 in hand at age 32...

 
At 9/17/2007 12:07:00 PM, Blogger John said...

Andres, as one of those other "kids that I grew up with" who could all recite those top ten lists, I'm glad you commented. But I have to rebut some of your remarks.

Emery boards and spitballs and corked bats haven't pushed the best performers in history off the all-time lists. Those are anecdotal... even entertaining stories... because they don't threaten the overall integrity of the game. They almost reinforce it by being the exceptions that prove the rule.

Similarly, fluke seasons by guys like Brady Anderson or even Brett Boone (who had more than just one inflated season) are almost entertaining, because it's such a blatant example of players ripping off ownership, by overperforming during their contract year.

I like where you take the Bonds issue... he was "compelled" to take steroids because of the huge seasons McGwire and Sosa were putting up. His own competitive need to be the best player in the game (or one of the best) pushed him to use steroids as well. That's one of the huge dangers (in my mind) of allowing a culture of performance enhancing drugs to exist in baseball, and why I hold Bud Selig accountable for Bond's decision to use.

And, as much as I hate him, I may root for A-Rod. I suspect that he's clean, and just benefits from a supernatural work ethic and modern conditioning techniques. He will "redeem" baseball when he takes over the lead without using any performance enhancers.

Rant over.

 

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