Barry Lamar Bonds on August 7, 2007 finally hit the record breaker. Over the past two years, I have been very interesting in the pursuit (both on and off the field) of Bonds, Steroids and the defining of the Enhancement Era. Below are excerpts from emails I have wrote to various people in the past 18 months:
June 9, 2005 : To Kevin Wheeler, Sporting News Radio, Responded
I attached an interesting Excel file on baseball stats w/graphs. (TheBaseball Archive website is the source of this information.)
First, in 1950, the strike zone was redefined as being from the armpits to the top of the knee. Evidently, the umps back then (or complaints from the players) were getting out of hand and hitters and pitchers needed this stated again for their benefit. (See: Baseball Encyclopedia for rule changes and game scoring changes.)
Second, in 1963, the strike zone was expanded to the top of the shoulders to the bottom of the knees. Analysis of pitching strikeouts per team during this era reflects greater strikeout percentages. With the Pitching Mound all ready ‘set’ at 15 inches (a rule change originally made in 1903), this did give power pitchers (or great curveball pitchers) an advantage over most all hitters.
In 1969, after 6 years of anemic offense, the mound was lowered and the strike zone shrunk back to 1950 standards. This did not however precipitate an enormous increase in offense in the impending years. Essentially, run scoring did revert back to pre-1963, post-1950 standards. But strikeouts continued much as they had for a decade. Hitters were probably more willing to expand their strike zones instinctually and it is generally reflected in strikeouts records of that era (the early 1970’s.)
The turmoil of the mid -1970’s and early 1980’s era was due to the introduction of unrestricted free agency (and the reentry draft), league expansion (a continuation of the 1960’s), owner lockouts, player strikes and the DH rule. All would have a significant role in the‘redefining’ of the AL versus the NL play, but also the players’ wants versus the owners’ greed and control. Statistically, this era shows the first significant change in run scoring for each league upon adoption of the DH. (But overstated usually…)
Oddly, the stolen base was the new weapon, at least statistically, that emerged during this era. Before 1974, the league average never top 100SB/per team since 1941. Since then, rarely has it dipped below that marker. Speed has always been a plus, but rarely have players taken advantage of using it like they do during these recent times. Homeruns/per team/per season did not rise until after 1994.
Whether it is just steroids, newer ballparks (designed for power – the ‘Coors Effect’, The Ballpark at Arlington, Minute Maid, U.S. Cellular or Kauffman Stadium to name a few hitters’ havens), overly aggressive league expansion (causing a watering down of pitching talent vs. better hitters) or just chance, something has skewed the offensive numbers significantly enough to have increased run scoring to new heights.
Strikeouts are higher than ever, though possibly due to ‘going for homeruns’ instead of solid contact hitting, like the 1950’s and 1960’s are deemed to have been. (Walks have never varied much by league during the last 65 years.
March 13, 2006 – Prior to Book research: Written to Dan Lebatard, No response
During the last few of years, Steroids have once again made a big splash in the oldest of professional sports: Baseball. Each day, somenew revelation, opinion, rumor or media storm transpires to include more players (or the same ones), deems steroids as serious threat toassaulting long standing records and to the frail human body, and mostoften mentioned as a ultimate deterrent: the usage by children.
Dennis Kurcinich, a U.S. senator, once stated , “it is important to show that steroids cannot get you ahead…and teaching children that steroidsare bad.”
First, steroids are not “bad.” Abuse of them through overdosing, improper usage and lack of proper medical prescription and guidance is the real terrorizing factor, not the drugs themselves. For those athletes that took them in the 1970’s, 80’s and early 90’s without medical supervision, inadequate personal knowledge of side effects and the 2nd rate resources, steroids did indeed have tragic results in someof these athletes, namely boxers, football players and track athletes,among others that “typically experimented.”
Like anything else considered taboo, illegal and performance-enhancing against the ‘rules’, written and/or unwritten, people shied away from advertising their usage, even to their own personal doctors, and going against proper medical advice or getting no advice at all. This is more likely the reason for the adverse reactions to Steriods – in much the same vein as breast augmentation went so horribly awry in 1960’s through late 1980’s.
To say steroids do not help, as the senator said in misspeaking about the ramifications and/or results, he needs to look at these immediate results: Ken Caminiti, NL MVP; Barry Bonds, multiple-MVP with usage(confirmed in illegally leaked GRAND JURY testimony); Mark Mcgwire, former HR record holder; Jason Giambi, AL MVP; Ben Johnson, once the fastest man in the world (for a time); Jose Canseco, prodigious HRhitter; The 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers; and many others that weretransformed into better ball players, became faster, stronger, etc.
The caveat is to utilize them correctly; and to know how to reduce usage appropriately, while playing, and after retiring from a sport. My viewpoint is this: The ‘real’ business of athletics is to obtain or reach the highest levels of performance through any means available. However, this sometimes is deemed unscrupulous by the media & legal perspective, yet with the substantial rewards (the money) to follow, aplayer rarely rejects the ability to improve his/her performance.
And many GMs and owners, such as San Diego’s GM Kevin Towers, have understood that this is a player’s primary motivator. Owners & General Managers have turned a blind eye for years to continue to attract record numbers to the park, the arena and the stadium while padding their bottom lines, unscrupulously and callously doing so at thedetriment of the players and the fans. (The media has played its part too in the lack of focus on this issue for years at a time.)
Professional and collegiate sports have grown into multi-billion dollar industries which promote vigorously the business aspects of sport overthe dying respect of the supposely long-begotten days of youthful excitement of just playing the game for the game. And with this, persons that participate at an expert level, the game is no longer just fun, but a lifestyle, a career and end-all-be-all, to most players. With all the technology and desire to do it, would it not be better tomonitor all athletes, knowing they are using, but to keep the steroids at reasonable levels with doctor’s analysis?
Many experts (doctors, not users) have stated that these chemicals can be safe and effectivewith proper management, dosages and prescription. At least this would protect athletes, give a safeguard and possibly open dialogue to cleanup voluntarily, without accusations and asterisks. But more to the point, Steriods are to no greater detriment than othe ractions taken in sports to gain advantages.
As Dr. Norman Fost states,”Every athlete uses unnatural enhancements,” as a University of Wisconsin professor of Pediatrics and Director of the program in Medical Ethics he has been outspoken in his regard of Steroid usage since the 1980’s. Certainly, when one compares the usage of training methods that significantly improve performance, endurance and peak outputs, one can hardly argue against such usage of techniques solely based on their results. But Dr. Fost goes on, “My major point is that the multiple claims that these drugs are immoral are incoherent, disingenuous, hypocritical or based on unsubstantiated, false orexaggerated empiric claims.”
Because there is no compelling evidence that Steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs pose a health threat and can kill. For Fost, there is no compelling evidence the use of the drugs causes cancer or other serious ailments. “I think athletes should be allowed to use them if they want, preferably under medical supervision,” he said. In an interview, Fost recalled the day former Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson was stripped of the 1988 Olympic gold medal he won in the 100-meter dash after testing positive for taking steroids. On the same day, Fost said, world-class swimmer Janet Evans was bragging about the”slime suit” she wore that she said made her swim faster.”She was quite sure it had shred precious seconds off her time. This was hailed in the press,” Fost said.
In each case, Johnson and Evans used unnatural methods to achieve their goal of faster times and fame. But Johnson became the poster boy for drug use and Evans was acclaimed as America’s sweetheart, he said.”There are a thousand-plus drugs, chemicals, supplements, foods, etc.,that athletes take to enhance performance, most of which are allowed,” Fost wrote. Should we ban them all? he asked. Another example of this false dichotomy: usage of high-altitude training to increase one’s red blood cell count, which is legal, while taking EPO is illegal to garner the exact same results.
The usually arguments against performance enhancers are: Character, physical disability and “rules are rules.”
Does it really take ‘character’ to carbo-load or utilize a special dietto enhance performance? Not if we define “character” as being of “Moral or ethical strength” which has nothing to do with the physical training process.
Physical disability is high prevalent in the NFL and NHL due to the violent natures of both sports, yet we rarely mandate much more than improved safety gear and regularly used Pain Killers (ala Brett Favre). After retirement, most players are forever plagued by nagging injuries suffered in their sport. It is a fallacy to place a singular cause ofthese aggravations (in the pre-testing era) on steroids.
“Rule are rules” mentality means we should be even more appalled at the clear cases of violations of any rules at all.
For example, Gaylord Perry for 20 plus seasons utilized a spitter which was flagrantly against the rules that outlawed it in 1920. Yet, a premier publicationin baseball, The Sporting News, condoned and “wanted legalization” ofthe pitch in the 1960’s. Also, the commissioner at that time, Ford Frick, condoned the cheating while lobbied for legalization. But Gaylord is a HOF pitcher and no doubt will continue to be, as will Mr.Frick.
It is quite circumspect to critique harshly so many Steroid users as”bad” or “bad role models” when we, as a society, blantantly over look others utilization of gaining “an edge” on opponents through ANY means necessary to win, garner records or moreover, gain monetary success. Have we ever stopped long enough to learn exactly what the long-lasting effects are, or what (if any) controls can exist? Or how we can change the usage, procedures or maintenance of any situation involving drugs (or other possibly useful ideas), without criminality introduced intothe foray?
We sometimes talk of an open society, a tolerant society, but it does not truly exist. In fact, more everyday, America becomes dead set against anyone trying to succeed or changing himself or herself, outside the perceived norm. Some ways are harmful, but it is not solely due to the drugs, or techniques or the direct personal reactionsto them. Some of it is driven by a freedom-restricting, quasi-pious society afraid to properly address (or cope) with the spectrum of human behavior which is driven by instinctual, psychologically motivating andpeer pressure-related factors.
Accountability for steroids is mutual; and no one wants to address that, because it lessens the societal impact of the perceived wrong or future punishment to be meted out forthe objectionable action.
Lastly, we overlook (and ignore) countless flaws of men or punishdecent men (ruthlessly) without merit. Kenesaw Mountain Landis was the first commissioner of MLB. He’s well-known for the “Eight Men Out”scandal involving gambling and the throwing a World Series. What he’s little known for is his racism and bigotry in including blacks in MajorLeague baseball. Yet his ‘overall’ service is given induction into the Baseball HOF.
In Ali v. United States, the Justice Department refused the petitioner Muhammad Ali to forgo entry into the U.S. Armed Services under the conscientious-objector claim. At one point, before his Supreme Court ruling, he was under a 5-year federal sentence. Additionally, because of this, he lost his World Heavyweight Championship and the ability to box in the United States. Yet, after appealing the ruling of lower courts, he was justly set free of all commitments. His is a case of injustice for no productive reason but spite.
We are hunting for reasons to keep intact records (in baseball) that are in fact ‘all ready tainted’ by racism, obvious cheating, gambling and various other on-field methods (scoring of fielding errors) of enhancing the records of individuals and teams.
We should let it all alone because to ‘pick and choose’ which players, managers,commissioners sought to fairly play the game, or right the wrongs in the past, justly and/or unjustly, is a total waste of effort and uses only Situational Ethics.
March 30, 2006: Various friends and sports minded people, one response
Once again, MLB is trying to dress up the whole steroid issue. By hiring (or appointing) Mr.George Mitchell (a former senator and current Boston Red Sox director) to inquire into usage by baseball player post September 30, 2002.
(Assuming) Do we think they are going to garner any evidence new to the fray? Are they just going to investigate power hitters (which seems flawed, since I would think Pitchers would benefit immensely from faster recovery times after pitching) and put blinders on for the time prior to 2002?
MLB has know about Steroids long before 2002 and even 1998. Owners, GM, top executives all had intimate details about who was using as early as 1994. So this whole ruse to portray certain players as engrossed in acon, sham or call-it-what-you-will is pathetic given prior knowledge.
If you were paying a guy $5 Million, $10 million or $15 million a year,wouldn’t you know what this guy does in is private life? As an owner, spending $200 million a year, you would. Not paranoid, but common business sense – that’s why they make money too. To understand risk/reward and the fallout that sometimes is beneficial to the bottomline.
Our POTUS (acronym) was once part-owner of the Texas Rangers back in the early 1990’s. At one point in 1992, Jose Canseco was traded to Texas.
Now, I ask you: you think they (Texas ownership) was unaware of his usage at all? Mr. Bush’s daddy, George the elder, was the former Director of the CIA. Intelligence gathering runs literally in the blood. People that are in high powered positions don’t go into situations without the slightest inkling of what are the character flaws of people hired. They actually make it a point to know. (Trust is a rare commodity where money and power is involved.)
The witch hunt now is driven by those dead set against Mr. Barry Bonds breaking a hallowed record. Funny though, it was originally set back in the 1930’s when blacks couldn’t play. Josh Gibson was every bit the power hitter the Babe was, and could have very well held that HR title. But that didn’t happen. Henry Aaron hasn’t said much regarding the chase that I’ve heard. Probably because he played with Barry’s father, and godfather, Willie Mays.
Or more to the point, he understands the striving for excellence leads people to do less than what is morally acceptable. (He saw plenty of it, even in the 50’s and 60’s.) Players have used drugs for years. Engaged in harmful activities, like Mickey Mantle drinking, that did the polar opposite of using Steroids. Course if hitting was just a steroid shot away, then anyone could doit, right?
No. Inherent talent must exist. Bonds genetically, through his daddy,was a superior ballplayer to begin with. Probably a first ballot HOFer before he injected or smeared steroid one. The jealousy and (paranoia) at having sub-par ballplayers hit 50,60 or 70 HRs may very well have motivated such an athlete. Especially when it’s the difference between a 9-million-a-year contract and $20-million-a-season gig.
But when people call Bonds paranoid now I say, “How can you be paranoid when people ARE ACTUALLY investigating EVERY last detail of your lifefor the last 10 years???” And even after testing all last season, they didn’t get a positive test? (Granted HGH doesn’t have a test from allaccounts…)
Then there is ‘Game of Shadows.’ Investigative reporting -leaked grand jury testimony (only illegal, mind you) – and all the TALKRADIO teems with negativity about one guy: Bonds, Barry Bonds.
It does put our little worries in perspective, given all the tabloids,media hype and circus and ESPN(Especially Suited for Pathetic News)reporting of Bud ‘the Dud’ Selig and his minions of silly baseball executives trying to STOP Bonds from approaching the record of putting balls over a fence from 330 feet or more away.
I use to adore baseball – played it everyday I possibly could growing up – but as my heros became frauds, my coaches turned out to be idiots,and the world became an ugly place, I lost my faith, in even baseball.
I still play ‘fantasy baseball’ because it’s a cold-hearted business attimes. Performance, not likeability, drives my decisions toadd/drop/trade a player. It’s math – the unbias science of numbers -that makes it enjoyable. Well, that’s my rant. If you read it, you might think I’m paranoid. 😉