A Note on the Whole Steroid Thing

One of the many unpleasant results of baseball’s steroid problem, beyond cheating players, is all of the poorly-informed, mean-spirited, and otherwise pointless commentary the issue has begotten among fans and press. I’m long since tired of commenting on this subject, but because there’s been such a pressing call for a “response” on this site to the allegations against Sheffield and Giambi, in particular, we might as well get a few things, um, clear.

-Evidence indicates Sheff and Giambi used steroids. Certainly a great many other players used steroids. Speculation as to whom those players might be (aside from Barry Bonds and those who have tested positive) is pointless and unfair.

-The wider fault for steroid abuse, beyond the individual players who have used them, stands with the commissioner’s office and the MLBPA, equally. Not the fans.

-Attacking one team, specificaly the Yankees, for signing players who have in the past used steroids seems ridiculous. The conditions for steroid abuse were set by the league as a collective, and we have no idea which teams did and did not benefit on the field, and by how much. Financially, all of the teams benefited—and everyone “knew.” No franchise is morally superior to another. (Though the Giants do seem to have some explaining to do regarding their treatment of Bonds.)

-As fans, all we can do is cheer for the players on our team, even if we don’t care for their personalities. We’re stuck with them, they’re stuck with us.

-Exactly what benefit steroids provide is hard to determine. Certainly they have had some effect, overall, and for certain individuals.

-Altering the record books is an unpardonable rewriting of history.

-A retroactive investigation of individual players by the commissioner would be a very selective form of justice administered by one of the chief culprits of the scandal, and therefore not much justice at all.

-We wish the new policy were tougher, but it’s pretty good. So let’s move on.

-Thanks to Barry Bonds, that’s not going to happen. Ugh.

36 comments… add one

  • //-Altering the record books is an unpardonable rewriting of history.//
    allowing records gotten by cheating to stand is an unpardonable rewriting of history. allowing barry effin’ bonds to surpass babe ruth and hank aaron is unpardonable. allowing mark mcgwire to surpass roger maris is unpardonable.
    it is absolutely unconscionable to let cheaters’ records stand over the guy who did it honestly. that’s why it’s a *record*. if any arsehole can take enough drugs to come along and break it, what’s the point in having it recorded?

    beth March 26, 2006, 1:37 pm
  • The point of having it recorded is because THAT IS WHAT HAPPENED, whether you like it or not. Revisionism is a very dangerous activitiy. Once you start pulling at the thread of the historical record, the entire thing will unravel.
    More to the point, Barry Bonds can hit 800 home runs, and that won’t change the fact that Babe Ruth is the greatest player the game has ever known, nor will it dim his accomplishment, nor those of Hank Aaron. We all know Bonds has tainted himself, and the game. Pretending it didn’t happen won’t make it so.

    YF March 26, 2006, 2:06 pm
  • Baseball history is quite unforgiving. Bonds “73” will forever be known as tainted, and it’s prominence at the top of the list magnifies the shame that much more – no asterisk needed. It is a good thing that it remain visible, ironically. There will always be a known contrast between those that accomplished home run feats cleanly and those accomplished by virtue of enhancement, and the presence of famous numbers near each other in the record books will only serve to remind us of the difference between these two things. Maris’ mark is, in retrospect, enhanced by sitting beneath a “66”, “70”, and a “73”. “61” and baseball history would not be served well by their elimination.

    SF March 26, 2006, 2:57 pm
  • I’ve got no problem with having an asterisk*, but ignoring the steroid use completely would be just wrong. I guess we just have to cross our fingers and wait till the day some skinny beanpoll of a player re-breaks the record. Then we can stop caring and just sit back and remain impressed.

    mrdavis March 26, 2006, 5:16 pm
  • and without an asterisk or at least some footnote change to the historical record, how exactly will it be “known”?

    beth March 26, 2006, 6:05 pm
  • of course, i personally think bonds should not even be allowed to *try* to defeat the home run record this season. he shouldn’t be allowed to play baseball anymore, period.
    and for the record, big papi could be found to have been a steroid user tomorrow and i’d feel the same way. i am not a fan of cheaters. period. ridiculous to have to say that, but there it is.
    any ballplayer who used substances that allowed him to produce results over the results of those who did it without substances should not be permitted to play or officially hold those records. i realize that that’s not necessarily always enforceable, or practical. but that’s how things *should* be whenever possible.

    beth March 26, 2006, 6:09 pm
  • Because it will be. I don’t have a really substantial explanation for this, but it will be known in the same way that we know anything about baseball, good or bad. It will be recounted through written histories. Through fathers and mothers telling their sons and daughters. Through a parent explaining to their son that they saw Barry Bonds hit a laser beam about halfway up the upper deck in right field at Yankee Stadium, feeling awe at the time, but realizing later on that it wasn’t achieved through fair play and that Bonds scarred the game, though not irretrievably.
    I don’t think asterisks or erasures are the way to document the game’s, our nation’s, or any other subject’s history. I have faith that the anecdotal histories that baseball always seems to hand down from generation to generation will be enough to sustain the memories of Bonds, Sosa, McGwire, Selig, and everyone who helped contribute to is already known as the steroid era.

    SF March 26, 2006, 6:15 pm
  • I think the author of this post has thrown out a bit of a red herring with the whole “revisionism” idea.
    I have never heard anyone saying that the records should be changed. They can’t be changed — what happened, happened.
    *But* the Commissioner could make a ruling that in spite of the historical record, he deems Bonds’ home run tallies to be ill-gotten gains, and that MLB will not consider Bonds to be the home run king even if he technically surpasses their goals (and/or McGuire to be the single-season home run king).
    Some are trying to imply that those who want to strip Bonds, McGuire et al. of their titles are trying to re-write the record books. That implication strikes me as rather misleading in its own right. The historical record should (and will) remain; MLB can (and should) take a stance legitimacy of certain titles.

    Hudson March 26, 2006, 6:37 pm
  • The idea of “legitimacy” is the most difficult thing to establish, Hudson. As we know, though they were illegal to obtain steroids were not explicitly forbidden by baseball, at least not until recently. So where do you being the expunging of numbers? What is the start date for the erasure? Bonds was a great player before he did steroids, so how much of his accomplishments are due to talent, how much due to medication?
    As far as I see it, the best way to remember this whole sordid era is the see Bonds’ name (or Sosa’s, or McGwire’s) at the top of the home run list and be able to point at them and say “cheaters”, if that’s the word you want to use. That’s a horrible legacy, and does nothing to legitimize the numbers, even if they are placed at the top of the official charts.

    SF March 26, 2006, 6:53 pm
  • The question, then, if refusing to recognize steroid-enhanced records as being true records is revisionism:
    Should we restore the medals taken by the International Olympic Committee from athletes who tested positive for banned drugs? Under the revisionism argument, yhey won the medals; they should get to keep them. It’s revisionist to do otherwise.

    Paul A. March 26, 2006, 6:59 pm
  • Athletes who were stripped of medals at Olympic games were tested and proven to have been on drugs banned explicitly by the IOC at the time, and were likely tested either immediately before or after their victories. This isn’t a fair comparison.

    SF March 26, 2006, 7:09 pm
  • I’m not legal expert, but:
    Don’t MLB rules contain some provision for censuring, suspending, or otherwise disciplining players if they do something illegal?
    For example, I doubt the MLB rules say “No player shall commit murder.” Or, “No player shall rob a bank.” But if they committed either crime, the Commissioner would still have the right to act on the fact that they violated the law.
    MLB rules don’t recapitulate every possible violation of U.S. and Stat laws.
    If buying steroids was illegal at the time, then presumably the MLB has a right to act on that fact — whether explicitly prohibited within its own rules or not.

    Hudson March 26, 2006, 7:15 pm
  • Also:
    The Commissioner does not have to determine precisely the moment when a player (let’s say Bonds) began to take a performance-enhancing drug to make a judgement call. Selig doesn’t have to say, “I’m recognizing 397 of Barry Bonds’ home runs.” I would propose that if he passes Ruth (and later Aaron) that the Commissioner simply issue a declaration that as far as MLB is concerned, he is not Baseball’s home run king.
    He can do so without altering any records, and wihtout making a judgement as to which home runs specifically count — a judgement that would be nitpicked to death. But he can honor the larger, obvious truth, and thus uphold some of the honor of the game.
    I would say the same of McGuire and Sosa: Selig doesn’t have to specify how many home runs each hit that year which he deems legitimate; he could simply declare that as far as the sport is concerned, Maris is still the single-season leader.

    Hudson March 26, 2006, 7:19 pm
  • Wouldn’t that be an empty, absurd declaration? “According to our math over here at MLB, 61 is a larger number than 73. Have a nice day!”
    Relativism is a slippery slope. Don’t like Bonds’s 73? Maris hit 61 in a an expansion year in a 162 game season. Ruth it 60 in 154, but with NO BLACK PLAYERS in the league! In 1919 he broke Ned Williamson’s home run record of 27–set back in 1886, when a quirk in the ground rules in Chicago allowed Williamson’s ground rule doubles to count as dingers. So which of these records is legit? Any? None? Maybe we should just learn our history.
    And if we’re not bouncing players who’ve broken US laws, does that mean Ty Cobb gets his hits revoked? How about Pete Rose? Where does it end, exactly?

    YF March 26, 2006, 8:48 pm
  • Poor Bud, damned if he does, damned if he doesn’t.
    If he lets Bonds skate through this he’ll be roasted by all those who want action.
    On the other hand, if he tries to mount some sort of an investigation, a real investigation, he could very well open up a Pandora’s box that could make a very bad situation much worse.
    What could an investigation hope to accomplish? Everyone is already convinced Bonds and the others used steroids.
    Would Bud come out and say, “Yup, were pretty sure Barry was using more than Mega-Men vitamins from GNC”.
    Would Selig hope he could somehow build an airtight case against Bonds? Good Luck.
    Then what? Take dramatic measures against Bonds, whatever that might be? OK fine, but you can’t stop there.
    Let’s see, we’ll go after Giambi next. He’d be an easy target because he’s already admitted using them. Those two home runs he hit off Pedro in the 2003 ALCS game seven? Well, they gotta go.
    BREAKING NEWS: Red Sox declared 2003 AL Champs! 2003 World Series to be replayed on Diamond Minds projections 1,000,000 times to determine 2003 champion between Red Sox and Marlins.
    And after we leave Giambi broken and disgraced, it’s Canseco, McGuire, Sammy, Raffy, and Sheff, not necessarily in that order.
    Then it’s on to a sweep through everybody else to determine who else might have been involved with performance enhancing drugs.
    Say, what about greenies? Amphetamines sure are performance boosters and a lot of guys were/are using those. And by the way, how many of those home runs did Sammy hit with a corked bat?
    Of course I’m being facetious here. MLB would need more investigators than the IRS for a real investigation. It would drag on for years. It’ll never happen.
    And trying to negate home runs already hit would have a trickle down effect on the record books that would get, heh heh, a little complicated.
    I thought YF layed the situation out perfectly in his original thread, and I also thought SF was dead-on in how history and future generations would perceive Bonds.
    I don’t like Barry Bonds, because from what I’ve read and seen over the years, he seems to be a self centered a-hole who treats most people like shit.
    But Barry Bonds is not OJ Simpson. He and the others made some very poor choices which I’m sure they regret. And they’ve suffered for it.
    This whole thing is an albatross around Bond’s neck that will always be there. If he goes on to break the records, glory and acclaim will not be heaped upon him.
    And what the Babe, Hammerin’ Hank, and Roger Maris did will not be lessened at all, especially among true baseball fans.

    the new and improved whatever March 26, 2006, 9:06 pm
  • No, it wouldn’t be an empty and absurd gesture. It would restore some sense of integrity to a sport which has been tarnished by certain players’ cheating ways, and certain officials’ unwillingness to acknowledge the problem.
    And yes, there is a way that 73 is smaller than 61 — when a large portion of the 73 were achieved through cheating.
    Anyone who can’t understand that, frankly, probably also can’t understand how an American dollar could be worth less than a Canadian dollar, or how getting an A at a crappy school is worth less than a B+ at a top-notch school.
    Why is it that some people are so eager to coddle blatant cheaters who demean the value of a sport we all love? What’s with the “boys will be boys” attitude to flagrant malfeasance?
    Seriously, I’d love to hear an explanation.

    Hudson March 26, 2006, 10:50 pm
  • YF and SF, you want anyone to be able to look at the history books (btw, where are they exactly? does a ‘book’ even exist?) and know that certain players achieved what they achieved through cheating – your words – how is this not best accomplished through an asterisk?
    *s do not change the records, and wouldn’t be altering what happened – changing the numbers and records themselves would.
    an asterisk lets baseball say exactly what you want anyone (who might not even know anything about these people) who looks at the records to know, that there was something else affecting these numbers – but the numbers are still there and aren’t going there.
    otherwise these records, wherever they are housed, would have to be accompanied with a large contextual history (number of games, ehtnic composition of the leagues, etc etc.)
    an * is simpler and more responsible.

    rk March 26, 2006, 11:17 pm
  • Hudson, I think your misrepresenting YF’s attitude by implying that he is “coddling blatant cheaters” and somehow supporting the “boys will be boys” attitude toward misconduct. Again, he agrees with you: Bonds has cheated, he’s tainted his legacy and history, regardless of the (complicit) commisioner’s official stamp of approval or disapproval, will show that. To place asterisks by records seems unnecessary and highly selective. Put an asterisk next to Bonds, then McGwire, then Sosa, and we can begin a full-scale neverending official deconstruction of previous baseball records. For instance, might not Gaylord Perry’s career warrant an asterisk given his reliance on the spit ball? If so, how many asterisks do you want filling the books? And since quantity affects quality, won’t these asterisked records become par for the course, until an asterisk will have no significance at all?
    Man, this jet-lag is fun.

    NickYF March 26, 2006, 11:33 pm
  • I’m late to this discussion, but I keep reading things like “though they were illegal to obtain steroids were not explicitly forbidden by baseball, at least not until recently.” This is simply not correct. In a memo from Fay Vincent, dated June 7, 1991 (a copy of which can be found here), it is stated that:
    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 or prescription drugs for which the individual in possession of the drug does not have a prescription.
    So steroids were banned in baseball almost 15 years ago. So were amphetamines or other drugs taken without a prescription. The whole thing’s a mess…

    Earl March 27, 2006, 1:24 am
  • …of course, that memo put steroids and prescription drugs on the same level. So in terms of cheating, taking one was no worse than the other. This reinforces the comments above that if you go after steroids, you need to go after all other drugs as well. Seems like an intractable problem to me.
    (And regading the worries about the legacies of those whose records Bonds, McGwire, etc. have beaten, I don’t see it as an issue. Babe Ruth hasn’t been home-run king (single-season or career) for some time now; yet we still recognize him as one of the absolute greatest HR hitters in baseball history.)

    Earl March 27, 2006, 1:48 am
  • I think the idea that you need to revise the record books, or put in asterisks because people cheated is nonsense. Probably half of the pitching records would need to be thrown out. And exactly how would you define cheating? If someone had a legitimate prescription for steroids (they ARE used as medication for many ailments) does that still constitute cheating. What if the drugs were administered legally in a foreign nation that had no laws outlawing them? To my knowledge neither MLB or the courts have found Bonds, Giambi or Shef guilty of anything. There is some illegally exposed grand jury testimony. So now some of you are suggesting we alter the record books on this at best hearsay evidence. Ridiculous.
    What about plays that were called wrong by the umps? Isn’t that cheating as well. Do we really want to go to an official instant replay? Baseball is imperfect. Always has been, probably always will be.

    bronxborn March 27, 2006, 4:37 am
  • Earl: Thanks for the Vincent memo link. I suppose that this is the best and perhaps only case for banning players or erasing numbers; though I still disagree with that as a solution. I personally believe that this would be too sweeping and haphazard a move as well as a disservice to the history of this period. As we know, the policy was so toothless and so vague as to be 100% useless with regards to steroids. Where would you even start the hunt?

    SF March 27, 2006, 6:47 am
  • Check that. Where would you end it. I think we all know where to start.

    SF March 27, 2006, 6:52 am
  • Absolutely. The rule was on the books, but many (perhaps more than half) of the players flaunted it, knowing there would be no repercussions. Not sure about Vincent, but Selig didn’t have any interest in enforcement (until it became a PR issue and Congress moved in), and obviously the union had even less. “Toothless” is the right word.

    Earl March 27, 2006, 10:43 am
  • to me, saying you CAN’T put asterisks or some other indicator next to the numbers of bonds et al because you can’t possibly figure out all the ppl who should have asterisks is a total fallacy. for heaven’s sake, let’s at least call out the cheaters we KNOW about. the fact that we can’t say with scientific certainty every single player in history that *might* deserve an asterisk doesn’t mean bonds *doesn’t.* two wrongs don’t make a right.
    and SF, i have to say i find the “people will just know” argument pretty disingenuous.

    beth March 27, 2006, 12:41 pm
  • I think one of the biggest problems here is that only certain players were singled out for testimony in front of a Grand Jury. Those are the only guys we’re really focusing on. If we were to erase the records of Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, etc., then what about other records that were set? Pitching? Baserunning? Fielding? It’s not even about records, it’s about the state of the game. A broken record does not tarnish the game, an entire league of potential cheaters does.
    These guys that got fingered weren’t the ONLY ones cheating, there’s no way anyone can believe that. They have done themselves much harm. When you hear “Barry Bonds” 20 years from now, you’ll think about the steroid scandal. It isn’t fair to blame an entire era of cheating on one man. Bonds may be the posterboy for Juice R Us, but it’s not all his fault.
    I agree that baseball has always been an imperfect game. Cheating has always existed, just not to this extent. Mr. Selig turned the other way during the ’98 homerun chase because everyone was finally starting to get involved again. Baseball lost a lot of popularity after the strike in ’94. It was back on the rise. Unfortunately, it didn’t stop with McGwire’s 70 and Sosa’s 66.
    Should Bonds be punished? No. He has been punished enough. He did most of this to himself, but eventually we have to move forward. The Red Sox and the White Sox broke 80 year droughts and we talk about the negatives in baseball and not the positives.
    IMHO, Barry Bonds is an attention whore. He is playing this season to stir up the media. They pissed him off, so he’s going to piss the world off. Nobody can really stop him from breaking the record, so he’s going to do it. He loves this contraversy. If we really want him to go away, we should just ignore him. He doesn’t deserve the satisfaction of an entire heated debate.
    Rich

    RichYF March 27, 2006, 12:46 pm
  • “disingenuous”? How is it disingenuous, since it’s what I sincerely believe? I am not sure what you mean, Beth.
    Just to push this even further: should we take away Ken Caminiti’s 1996 MVP and give it to Mike Piazza? I mean, he admitted to being on steroids. Should we put an asterisk next to that award too? I just see no good way to deploy these qualifiers.
    Our memories are stronger than you think, Beth.

    SF March 27, 2006, 1:02 pm
  • I guess a good way to get down to the crux of the argument you are having is to ask what exactly you’d do if you took Selig’s place right now. SF, you say he dropped the ball (not sure anyone doesn’t think that at this point), what would you do to pick up the ball, right now?
    That’s one question, and the other is what you would have done back in 97-98-99.

    rk March 27, 2006, 2:20 pm
  • I can answer that RK. What would I do right now? I’d cancel the ridiculous witch hunt, and instead work the with PA to offer a joint apology to the public for the malfeasance and mismangement of the past decade or so, and make it very clear what steps have currently been taken to ensure that the problem doesn’t crop up again. Then history can write itself.
    As for what should have been done. The present problem is, in essence, a product of the fact that ownership, for roughly 125 years, refused to come to terms with the fact that it was in a partnership with the players. Selig, in his early tenure, only exacerbated the mutual distrust between the two parties. (And remember just how eroded that relationship was following the collusion scandal). By so thoroughly undermining the relationship with the PA, Selig left himself in no position to work with the union to preclude steroid abuse when the problem cropped up. That the big offensive surge of the late 1990s proved so profitable for everyone only encouraged all parties to brush the whole thing under the carpet rather than address such a contentious problem.
    So what should have been done? What would I have done? A commissioner understood to be an honest broker between two parties in partnership, acting proactively and firmly, might have been able to nip the problem in the, er, bud. But that would have taken an extraordinary man. I’m quite sure I could not have done it. I wish someone else had the opportunity. It’s a shame no one did. But that’s where we are.

    YF March 27, 2006, 3:26 pm
  • “When was the last time you beat your wife”. That’s the kind of question that’s being asked of Selig right now, and you just asked of me. I honestly don’t know if Bud can do anything to appease either side – those who want reprimands, bans, and asterisks verus those who think they are unnecessary. The ultimate goal is to get a steroid/drug policy that is very strict and enforceable. But that takes hard, devoted, and sincere work from Selig and Donald Fehr, along with other owners and the MLBPA. If I were Selig and the world was black and white, I’d start playing hardball with the union, tell them that I’m going to start banning guys starting now and the f*ck with 30 game suspensions, we’re talking 1/2 a season for first offense, lifetime for second offenses, and that I’m happy to fight it out in court until the cows come home (which is where this would end up if this tack were taken), unless the players’ association bucks up and understands that integrity is integrity, and they are accountable as well. But the world isn’t black and white, the courts would take over, and nothing would be accomplished. If I had a wayback machine I’d have done everything I could have to avert the Fay Vincent ouster, and perhaps we’d be looking at a different league right now, devoid of discussions about asterisks and lifetime bans.
    Impossible problems don’t beget useful solutions. Banning Bonds for past sins not exposed during their transgression and erasing his records or highlighting them in the books are all pretty darn limited in their utility and questionable in their legality. It stinks that this is the case, because Bonds is a sinner. But baseball has to move to prevent this from happening again, and we need to stop dwelling on the symbol, Bonds. Instead, the league should be doing everything they can to bully the players into compliance with a brutally strict program.

    SF March 27, 2006, 3:30 pm
  • It looks like SF and I are of essentially common mind here, though perhaps we differ on how we’d approach the PA from the standpoint of the Commissioner’s office. My feeling is that “playing hardball” with the union instead of treating it as a legitmate partner with a shared interested, has repeatedly through history, and here in particular, made problems worse and not better. It looks like the League and the PA are finally starting to set up some pontoons to cover the bridges they’ve burned. I would only encourage more work in this direction. And if there’s any good to come from Barrygate, it’s that there will be serious public pressure on both parties to do so.

    YF March 27, 2006, 4:30 pm
  • In a fantasy world I’d play hardball with the union, but as I say in my post that would probably lead nowhere – reality wouldn’t permit it. I think we are on identical ground here.

    SF March 27, 2006, 4:50 pm
  • Poing taken, SF. I was only trying to emphasize, that even in a fantasy world, we need to get beyond the hardball, zero-sum attitude. In my fantasy world—okay, my baseball fantasy world—everyone plays happy and nice together, and there’s no need for bullying anyone around. My guess is that squares with your ideal scenario, and we’re talking semantics here–so I’ll let this go, in the spirit of compromise!

    YF March 27, 2006, 5:08 pm
  • poor word choice on “disingenuous.” bottom line is, i just plain disagree with you that history will “write itself”, that we’ll all just remember. i mean, maybe you and i will, but our grandchildren? i don’t personally think so. i think there are written records for a reason, you know?
    i can see the point about a slippery slope, etc., but i mean, how can we just let bonds, et al get away with what they’ve done? it’s like saying, no matter how many murderers you catch, there are still going to be people murdering out there in the world, so why bother locking any of them up?
    in my opinion, it’s because you do what you can to stop wrongdoing. you don’t do nothing whatsoever about one issue or one known case because you can’t solve every problem.

    beth March 27, 2006, 5:34 pm
  • I saw McGwire twice during his record season and Bonds twice during his record season. Their feats seemed superhuman.
    Bonds not only hit 21% more home runs than the Babe, he was the first person other than the Babe to have a slugging percentage over .800. And Ruth hit over .800 ONCE. Bonds, .863, Ruth, .847, NL Record, .756 (Rogers Hornsby, not McGwire or Sosa).
    Bonds had a 177 walks (old record, Ruth, 170). 47% of his hits were home runs.
    Bond had an OBP of .515, the first time anyone hit over .500 since Williams and Mantle in 1957. It was the highest OBP in the NL since 1900.
    It’s sad in retrospect to know that Bonds could only do these superhuman feats because of the drugs he took.

    john March 27, 2006, 6:54 pm
  • In the three years following 2001, Bonds’s OBPs were .582, .529 and .609!
    His mere .515 was the highest in the NL in 101 years, and at that time entire teams would hit 15 home runs.

    john March 27, 2006, 7:00 pm

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