Baseball: “Where’d I Put My Integrity?”

Pete Abraham posted a provocative piece on his blog today.  In “A few thoughts on the steroids issue”, he echos Tony Gwynn’s assertation that blame can be thrown in just about any direction and it will stick regarding steroids.  I’m with him so far.  He continues with "The players started it by injecting the drugs in the first place," and I’m still in agreement, with the reservation that he asserts that this is an issue baseball players started, ignoring that this has been a long-term, ongoing, pervasive societal problem.  It is in that same paragraph where I have to get off his bus, when he makes the barely facetious analogy that since baseball does not specifically forbid murder, it is therefore acceptable for a player to “shoot a shortstop to break up a double play.”  That is a leap I just can not make, and his assertion that “these guys committed federal crimes,” which may or may not be accurate, throws a doper into the same class as a cross-country serial killer.  Somehow, long ago, we completely lost perspective of this entire situation.

I have great respect for Pete’s intelligence and have found his work and words in his blog to be invaluable in tracking the developments of the Yankees and of the game in general.  In this instance, I have to disagree with his blanket generalization that if you have “taken drugs to improve your performance,” you are therefore devoid of integrity, sportsmanship and character.  For whatever complex set of reasons, we lacked and continue to lack the foresight and perspective to deal with the problem of steroids, not just in baseball, but in most every aspect of our society.  Now, in dealing with the aftermath of that situation as it applies to baseball, perspective is still lacking.  Much of the current talk regarding steroids obviously has been brought into focus by the “McGwire Issue” and how not voting for McGwire somehow speaks to upholding the “integrity of the game of baseball.”  If there are two words that sound mighty funny together, it’s “integrity” and “baseball.”  Never mind the anthropomorphizing, baseball has been and always will be a dirty, tainted sport.  Tainted by drugs.  Tainted by bigots.  Tainted by cheating players.  Tainted by colluding, greedy owners.  Sounds a lot like the rest of the nation.  Baseball is the game I love, but I do not pretend that moral grandeur is one of its qualities.

In the form of testing, there have been deterrents put in place so that if a player uses banned or illegal performance enhancers, they risk a penalty.  Good.  It is a fine step towards sending the message to kids that idolize their players that they should not get caught using banned or illegal performance enhancing drugs.  Also, think about that specific distinction between the words "banned" and "illegal" when you throw around felony accusations.  Unfortunately, baseball’s efforts do very little to speak to the point of the multi-billion dollar supplement industry and culture that has millions of people, young and old, in the pursuit of chemical physique enhancement.  Tell me the last time you saw an in-game commercial where the NFL promoted not using steroids.  At the same time, it is absolutely, completely ridiculous to compare someone who juices to a corporate executive defrauding pensions.  And don’t kid yourself that beating up Mark McGwire has anything to do with restoring the integrity of the game of baseball.

24 comments… add one
  • Wow AG. What an excellent post. While I love the LoHud blog and Pete Abe’s insight on a lot of issue, he goes a little off the deepend with his assessment of the issue in this case.

    bloodyank78 January 11, 2007, 3:10 pm
  • The other day I lied to a prospective client to get their business and win it away from the competition, it was a small victimless lie, won’t have any impact on the outcome of the business relationship, it’s not against the law, but it gave me an edge.
    I am always looking for an edge; every ambitious person does, especially when there are large sums of money involved.

    LocklandSF January 11, 2007, 3:21 pm
  • Thanks, BY. After re-reading the post, I think it may seem like I have a beef with Pete. I don’t. His piece was, as I said, interesting and thought-provoking, and I respect and eagerly anticipate his frequent expression of his opinions and insights as opposed to expecting him to only report facts. However, I do not see this whole “baseball and steroids” thing in the dire terms that so many writers and pundits seem so eager to propone.

    attackgerbil January 11, 2007, 3:30 pm
  • I do agree with his murder analogy — intentionally exaggerated to prove his point, which was that the argument “it wasn’t illegal in baseball when this was going on” is fallacious because it ignores that using them without a prescription is illegal. Likewise, baseball did have a policy in place outlawing the use of such drugs, just no testing regimen to enforce it.
    That’s all. I agree that cheating in baseball is not the same as other problems in the world. The biggest problem, in my mind, is how do we distinguish between “acceptable” cheating (pine tar, spitballs, Ty Cobb, etc.) and “unacceptable” cheating? And should we?

    Paul SF January 11, 2007, 3:39 pm
  • You are a tool AG.
    Peter was giving a general comparison about just because steroids weren’t in the CBA doesn’t mean they weren’t still illegal. Just as murder isn’t in the CBA but it’s still illegal.
    Hey wasn’t saying that steroids is comparable to murder..

    meals January 11, 2007, 3:40 pm
  • No need for name-calling, meals.

    Paul SF January 11, 2007, 3:41 pm
  • Pete/Meals,
    I agree with Pete in taking on anyone who would say that just because it wasn’t in baseball’s rulebooks, or that they couldn’t or didn’t test for drugs that the behavior was therefore not wrong or illegal. I disagree with use of, in my opinion, a flawed analogy to make the case, which destroys the perspective of the argument.

    attackgerbil January 11, 2007, 3:48 pm
  • Paul: What does it mean that steroids are “illegal”? Illegal where and how? In the US? What about Latin America? If a player legally uses steroids in their home country, or outside of the US, when not under contract, exactly what laws or rules have they broken?
    I’m not defending the use of steroids. I’m for a more aggressive policy. But the legal issues, as noted in books by Will Carroll and, especially Howard Bryant, aren’t black-and-white. Columns that pretend this is anything but an extremely complex problem are very distressing and dubious to me, as they effectively create a charged atmosphere where everyone is defensive, and that’s when nothing gets accomplished.

    YF January 11, 2007, 3:50 pm
  • Baseball’s long tradition of “acceptable cheating” is part of the problem, IMO. It helped create an atmosphere wherein it was acceptable to do (nearly) anything to get an edge.
    I’m not really in the mainstream about stuff like this, because I’m the sort of guy who hates it when a player tries to “sell” a call. That’s pretty innocent compared to steroids or sign-stealing via telescope, but I still hate it.
    Given that, obviously I take a very dim view of those who used steroids. The problem I see, however, is that we will likely never know exactly who took what, when they took it, and what effect it had on the game. The only thing to do is to try and do better in the future (in a sense, much like McGuire’s line “I’m not here to talk about the past).
    The new testing and suspension policy is a good step. Testing in the minors, which came earlier, is also good. Hopefully, the culture changes… but with the type of money that’s involved in MLB, I’m not getting my hopes up. It’s one thing for me to be scrupulously honest when I’m playing in my company slow-pitch softball league. It’s another for a guy with a shot to make millions to do the same.

    Rob (Middletown, CT) January 11, 2007, 4:26 pm
  • By way of calling out that analogy, I didn’t say that Pete was saying that steroid use was comparable to murder. By stating “these guys committed federal crimes,” Pete was grouping nameless alleged steroid users with people convicted of felonies in federal court. I then made the mistake of exaggerating on my own side by citing examples of extreme cases of federal crimes, so I’m a hypocrite.

    attackgerbil January 11, 2007, 4:27 pm
  • I agree, AG, that comparing people accused of doing something that arguably should not be considered a crime with people who have been convicted of much worse offenses is a bit much.
    If a player legally uses steroids in their home country, or outside of the US, when not under contract, exactly what laws or rules have they broken?
    None, but then that isn’t part of the question before us, YF. Have any of these players been accused of doing that? These are largely American players under contract to U.S. baseball teams. Players who are not American-born (such as Sosa) and under suspicion have been under contract throughout their careers — including the time when steroid use is suspected. I guess I don’t understand your point. Sure, the problem is complicated — both ethically and legally. You’ll get no argument from me there. But it is still true that most steroids are and were illegal to take in the U.S. without a legal prescription, and that, as such, MLB does not need to specifically ban them because, presumably, taking part in illegal activity — even off the field — is banned from baseball. Likewise, MLB actually did have a policy in place dating from the early 1990s specifically stating that illegal substances were also not allowed to be used by MLB players. I don’t see this particular aspect of it as complicated at all.
    The complication arises from substances such as andro — legal in America, currently illegal in baseball, but legal in baseball for a long time — as well as the questions over guilt, innocence, records, the Hall, and the different levels of cheating.

    Paul SF January 11, 2007, 4:44 pm
  • Brilliant, AG.
    My .02:
    Players were cheating. They were breaking laws (yes, YF, as hard as this might be to admit or as simplistic as it sounds, they were crooked – how many prescriptions can be coughed up for the drugs taken, do you think?). And they still cheat. And baseball chooses to give them a free pass (Bonds gets no punishment for violating PED rules until he’s a proven recidivist!). But there’s an easy solution, despite the fact that YF asserts that oversimplifying does nobody any good: baseball needs to deter far more strongly and harshly than they do. Baseball needs to test up and down the line, from A ball to MLB, and they need to fine organizations for big bucks when their players test for PEDs. And MLB needs to tell players that they are going to be booted from baseball (and I mean booted–no more baseball on any level, no coaching, no front office job, no association with the sport) quickly if they abuse PEDs and can’t produce the proper medical paperwork(!). This is all assuming that baseball really cares about this issue. I’m skeptical.
    The sad thing is that we’re all, for the most part, in the same boat as fans: most of us don’t like the idea that records or accomplishments are tainted. And the boat’s rules are that none of us can really do anything about it. We can’t get baseball to change their policies to no-tolerance (my thoughts above are a pipe dream, never gonna happen). And we can’t stop going to or watching games in order to drain revenue (none of us have any discipline, as diehards), which would probably be the only way to impact Ownership. There’s no revolution possible. Baseball has to clean up its act from within, which means that they need to show discipline, to a point where a deterrent is actually a deterrent, and not an unpaid vacation. Baseball, sadly, has no such discipline. Neither the owners nor the players can stay off the pipe.
    I know this comes off as a kind of law-and-order cowboy justice conservatism (which I detest), this wish for no-tolerance (how are those Rockefeller laws working out?), but this is baseball, not greater society, and therefore a little experimentation might be in order. At this point a good number of players are in it for the money first, the game is just a means to the bucks. Cut the money off to these guys if they cheat, and let’s see what happens down the road. Let’s see then how many guys stick it out for the love of the game. My bet is the guys who do will still be making a boatload, and deservedly so.

    SF January 11, 2007, 5:09 pm
  • “The other day I lied to a prospective client to get their business and win it away from the competition, it was a small victimless lie…”
    Not to make too big an issue of it LocklandSF, but couldn’t it be argued that your competitor was the victim? Likewise, some pitcher gave up an extra home run (or more), or their ERA went up. Or, some pitcher was using, and some hitter didn’t get a few RBIs, or lost points on their BA. It all just points to (as others have pointed out) how incredibly complicated this whole issue is.

    pastorsteve January 11, 2007, 5:10 pm
  • As has been stated in a few comments here, the issue is not that steroids were legal within the game at one time prior to the new testing rules. They were banned along with every other illegal substance (including cocaine, marijuana, etc..) What there wasn’t, was testing.
    To say ownership turned a blind eye to the practice is somewhat disingenuous. With testing specifically prohibited by the CBAs in force during this era, a prohibition pushed strenuously by the players through the Players Association, there is not much that could have been done to stop it, or to enforce the illegal substance rules that were on the books.

    Vic SF January 11, 2007, 5:31 pm
  • My two cents — and I don’t see anyone here saying this so I’m a little off topic — but I’m tired of people saying things like “there’s NO PROOF that Bonds or McGwire cheated” or “innocent until proven guilty” or “without a positive test we’ll never really know”.
    Granted, no one but Canseco and Caminitti have actually admitted to using Steroids and there’s only the positive test of Palmeiro, then I suppose you have to look at circumstantial evidence, but it’s still evidence; it’s still proof. Everyone always says that circumstantial evidence is worthless, but you can convict someone in a court merely on what the circumstantial evidence says. I suppose there’s four things that you’d look at:
    1. STATISTICS: Did the hitter suddenly, unexpectedly and without warning see a surge in his power AFTER the hitter reached his mid 30s? Why do I ask that? I ask it because Bill James has done some of the work for me and long ago concluded that most major leaguers peak at the age of 27. While any bell curve is going to include players who peak at 28 or 29 or even 25, by and large, players peak at 27. So, when you see a player suddenly hitting more homers than ever before at age 35, that’s a red flag.
    So, let’s take 3 examples:
    a. Sosa at 30 years old had never hit more than 40 homers. But, at 30, he hit 66 and continued to hit 63, 50, 64 and 49 after that, which looks suspect.
    b. McGwire was a pure power hitter his entire career. But he’d never hit 50 homers before 1996 when he suddenly hit 52 when he was 32. Then at age 33, he hit 58; at age 34, he hit 70; at age 35 he hit 65.
    c. Bonds had never hit 50 homers, but at the age of 36 he suddenly hit 73, and then put up the following totals the next 3 years — 46, 45 and 45.
    2. BODY SIZE: Did the player see a dramatic weight increase that happened suddenly. You don’t put on 30 pounds of muscle in one off-season when you’re over 30. You just don’t do that. But, Mr. Bonds did, McGwire did.
    3. ACNE and JAW CHANGES: Bonds and McGwire had bad acne late in their careers, which is symptomatic of steroid use. Also, look at the jaws of all three of them. Holy cow!
    4. EXTERNAL EVIDENCE: There are witnesses who claim that Bonds and McGwire were juicing. Granted they have serious bias issues — Canseco says he personally juiced McGwire and Bonds’s ex-girlfriend says that Bonds juiced — but you just factor that into the analysis. Look at other things too: Giambi was McGwire’s teammate and we know that Giambi was juicing. I wonder where he learned to do that? Also, Bonds was a client of Victor Conte and Conte plead guilty to supplying athletes with steroids. Also, look at Bonds’s trainer who has also been convicted of supplying athletes with steroids. Frankly, I’d be more surprised if Bonds didn’t juice just given his associations. You guys know what they say bout birds of a feather.
    5. REFUSAL TO TESTIFY OR LYING UNDER OATH: Why did McGwire invoke his 5th amendment privilege if he did nothing wrong? Why did McGwire tell Congress that he’d work to keep kids of Steroids, but he’s done nothing? Why did Sosa suddenly not understand English? Why did Bonds tell a grand jury that he took steroids by accident b/c he didn’t know they were roids, but when he was asked by a reporter later (when his testimony was still sealed) “Barry could you have taken the steroids by accident?”, he said, “NO”.
    The facts don’t stand in isolation, but together they add up to create a pretty good evidentiary inference that something wasn’t on the level. Look at the totality of the circumstances and then make a call — connect the dots. Is there enough to convict someone and put them in prison? I don’t know, maybe or maybe not. But is there enough evidence to keep them out of the Hall? I think so. Apply those tests to the 2 guys who got in the HOF the other day — Ripken and Gwynn. You’ll see that Ripken’s homers declined after 30 and that his body size didn’t increase. And Gywnn was a fat guy who never hit more than 17 homers. What I’m saying is that if you apply the tests, the right guys OUGHT to get in and the wrong guys didn’t.
    One last thing I’ll say though. I’m uncomfortable with a guy that lies who gets into the HOF, but then someone who tells the truth about it like Canseco doesn’t because it creates a chilling effect on being truthful. People will conclude that it’s better to lie and get in the HOF than to be honest and not. That’s not what we want to encourage.

    JS January 11, 2007, 6:25 pm
  • Not that it ruins your overall point, JS, but would Canseco have made the HoF anyway? The 462 HRs are nice. And I’m sure you can point to guys with lesser stats who’ve made it. Just not sure he’s a HoF player.

    QuoSF January 11, 2007, 10:02 pm
  • I agree with Pete’s logic, but that’s a terrible argument. He probably could’ve done better than comparing enhancements with murder..
    Quo – I think Canseco would’ve been a clear HoFer – not top two tiers, but definitely did it for me. He was a reasonably good all-around players. (first ever 40-40 year, 6 time all star and an MVP) At least the numbers would’ve gotten him in. (other than the obvious)

    Lar January 11, 2007, 11:37 pm
  • Okay, now that I checked BR, Canseco isn’t as good as I remembered. I’ll say borderline since some of his power came pre-steriods era, but he had a few good seasons, but as an aggregate isn’t nearly anywhere as good (other than the 462 HR’s..)

    Lar January 11, 2007, 11:43 pm
  • …what i keep getting confused about is what substances were/are banned/illegal and effective when…in my mind that makes a big difference in how we should judge these guys…just because a guy may have [let’s assume legally] acquired and used a substance that has subsequently been declared illegal, or is now banned by baseball, he is not on the same level as the guy who knowingly broke a law or rule that existed at the time of his transgression…i’m just very confused on which is which with each of these players…

    dc January 12, 2007, 9:19 am
  • “Not that it ruins your overall point, JS, but would Canseco have made the HoF anyway? The 462 HRs are nice. And I’m sure you can point to guys with lesser stats who’ve made it. Just not sure he’s a HoF player.”
    I don’t think it ruined my point. My point was that there’s plenty of evidence that Bonds, McGwire and Sosa juiced beyond a come to Jesus moment of confession. Incidentally, I left out that Bonds had a body fat index that was below the amount that is considered “presumptively using steroids” by the Olympics.
    As for Canseco, I agree with your points. But, what if the whole steroids issue never came up and he’d been allowed to get his 500 dingers.
    Just for a second, assume that the steroid issue never comes up, and then compare the numbers of 3 steroid guys and 1 probable non-steroid guy. Let’s play find the Hall of Famer(s):
    Canseco .266 .353 and .515 + 500 HRs
    Kingman .210 .255 and .431 + 442 HRs
    McGwire .263 .394 and .588 + 583 HRs
    Sosa .274 .345 and .537 + 588 HRs
    I realize Sosa would have hit more than 588 if the steroids issue didn’t come up, but he was close to being gone b/c he hit 14 homers his last year and struck out 84 times in only 380 ABs. So let’s assume that Sosa is done too.
    It used to be that guys with 400 homers automatically got into the Hall until Kingman came along b/c of his horrible other numbers. While McGwire looks like the best of the 3 left, Canseco is still in the HOF conversation if he reached 500 dingers in my mind.
    But that’s what the problem with steroids causes. It causes all of us to ask ourselves, “Would Sammy hit 588 with the juice? Would McGwire hit 583?” And at that point, I think that you just throw them all out.
    Bonds might get in because he was certainly a HOFer before evidence shows he started juicing, but in my book Sosa and McGwire never get in. NEVER. But, if you do let them in, I’d let Canseco in too in order to be consistent and not to reward lying over honesty.

    JS January 12, 2007, 1:23 pm
  • But, what if the whole steroids issue never came up and he’d been allowed to get his 500 dingers.
    But this is a strange discussion to have, to think about “what if the steroids issue hadn’t come up”. First of all, there’s the “what if they hadn’t done steroids” question, what would their career stats have been? In McGwire’s case, he would have been a good, perhaps not great, home run hitter, with no speed, middling batting average, and a fair glove at times. Not a HoFer. Canseco, what would he have been without the juice? Maybe he would have been even better (though probably not), he might have stayed healthier longer, accomplished more over a longer period of time. He might not have been as glamorous a player, but he might have been more valuable. To me he was a better athlete than McGwire, and with more skill all-around, even though he may not have been a great fielder.
    Then there’s the “what if noone noticed” thing, as in “would these guys be Hall of Famers if we just ignore the who steroids issue and look at the numbers in a vacuum”. For me, Bonds is a no-brainer, McGwire probably makes it on the HR numbers, and Canseco is borderline, barely. But again, it’s an irrelevant question, because if there’s one thing that can’t be forgotten with these guys is that they all took PEDs.

    SF January 12, 2007, 5:53 pm
  • SF, I had to think a long time about your comment. I keep coming back to perspective. Perspective about what the principle, recurring names upon which writers focus did to change their bodies, who draw focus only because they threaten records established under other flawed systems. Perspective about the involvement of the ownership to sell the product to the fan base in the aftermath of the strike. Perspective about what real, true harm is done to history and to “innocent” players of the same era who chose not alter their physique by means that were forbidden by the rules of the Major League Baseball and/or by the laws of the United States.
    Obviously, we’re not anywhere near the end of this story. I think that Rob (CT)’s comment that certain levels of dishonesty are tacitly accepted in baseball gets very close to the nugget of the issue. People want to think baseball is clean, but through law, baseball was made sacrosanct. It is not and never has been “clean”, and the exemptions from law afforded by the federal government makes it very difficult to rectify why one set of rules that govern society apply where others do not. That’s why I dismiss many arguments about integrity when thinking about baseball.

    attackgerbil January 13, 2007, 4:06 pm
  • My point was not to compare steroids with murder. My point was that it’s a ridiculous assertion when people claim that steroids weren’t banned in baseball.
    The laws of society govern baseball players, too, that was my point.
    I wrote:
    << Please don't tell me that steroids weren't illegal in baseball at the time. They were, and are, illegal in this country without a prescription. That would be like saying MLB doesn't specifically outlaw murder, so feel free to shoot shortstop to break up a double play.>>

    Pete Abraham January 14, 2007, 4:02 am
  • Pete:
    Your exact point was made here some time ago. I think there are many people who agree with you that just because baseball doesn’t regurgitate every law of our land they are not implicitly condemning those laws as toothless or ill-conceived. The bottom line is that players ignored the laws of our country at the same time they relaxed their own moral limitations in the interest of keeping up with the Joneses (or the Caminitis, as it were). I think the big question is about enforcement: how do you do it retroactively? Most of us seem to think you can’t, other than disallowing honors or continuing to write a history of the game that is bluntly honest. I for one believe baseball doesn’t do nearly enough to deter players, even to this day. The best way to deter professionals is to punish them for misconduct: if a player knew their career would end because of the detection of steroid use I sincerely believe fewer players would use. There will always be users; the realistic goal is not to eliminate the use of PEDs (impossible) but to curtail them as much as possible.
    Anyhow, thanks for stopping by our site: I know that we all think you do a great job at Lohud and are happy to know you tune in to our work here.
    And here’s a link to just one thread where this same point that you made came up:

    SF January 14, 2007, 6:57 am

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