The problem with believing everything our eyes see

And Pearlman’s counter:

Joe blames some of us (and I’m among the us) for speculating that Jeff Bagwell cheating by using PED? Well, what the hell are we supposed to think? A. Have you seen the photographs of a young Jeff Bagwell, first as a prospect in the Boston system, then with the Astros as a pup? He looks, perhaps not coincidentally, like a young Jason Giambi; like a young Barry Bonds; like a young Sammy Sosa; like a young Bret Boone. I know … I know—people gain weight as they get older. And, hey, he lifted! And used natural, over-the-counter supplements!And … enough. I’ve heard enough. Seriously, look at the guy as an in-his-prime Astro. Dude looks like Randy (Macho Man) Savage. And while I can already hear the “Just because he had muscles atop muscles doesn’t mean anything” argument brewing, well, it does—in the context of a sport overrun by cheaters—mean something. In fact, it means a lot.

I left the links in the blockquotes above because those links sent me on a multi-hour Google search exercise. My goal: To show that just because a player is larger at 35 than they were at 20 does not automatically mean that chemicals were used. Some players, as you will see, barely changed, while others have gotten much larger. I tried to pull a vast sampling of players from the late 1980’s through today, using their rookie baseball cards (if possible) and their most recent cards (again, if possible). Again, the point of this exercise is to illustrate that you cannot simply ascribe innocence or guilt just by looking at a player, or remembering what they used to look like as rookies contrasted to their appearances during their prime or later years. Some of the selections below included accused/admitted PED users. Others below have no PED asterisk tacked to their chest, as far as I know. Some have had hints and rumors. It’s a vast array.

The point is, to me, that the late 1980’s through 2005-ish is just another era in baseball. Like the deadball era. Like the 1950’s-1980’s when amphetamines and recreational drugs were incredibly prevalent but largely glossed over by history and historians. It is up to us, the fans, to color this era as we see fit. The HOF is a museum and through a random and inconsistently applied selection process, the BBWAA are doing fans a disservice. Elect the best players of the era and let us decide who we want to cheer the most for or who we want to cast aside. If nothing else, the inclusion of “guilty” players will help us in recognizing the problems of the era and what to watch out for as the game rolls forward.

Now, onto the fun part, Young vs. Old:

About @Jason_IIATMS

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46 thoughts on “The problem with believing everything our eyes see

  1. The whole baseball card argument made by the likes of Pearlman is so obscenely silly, it’s actually hard to believe someone would put their name to it.

    It is fun to compare rookie cards to the present, however. It’s kind of like looking at the graduation pictures of your friends.

  2. honestly, there isn't much contrast between most of these. guys like tony gwynn just got fat.

  3. In addition to the fact that it's borderline insulting to make assumptions about people based on their appearance (hmmmm, I think I've heard of people doing that before) I think the bigger issue is, as you say, that PED's were clearly pretty widely used. I don't think everyone used them, but I can't imagine it was less than, say, 40% of players. So if it was widely used, among hitters and pitchers alike, then can't we accept that some people were pretty damn good no matter what? Bagwell, Bonds (obviously), etc…those guys were far and away better than whomever they played with. They were the best of the era and deserve to be in the HOF as a result. Are we really going to have a HOF without the top HR hitter, a top 5 1B of all time, the best RH pitcher in decades, etc? Nevermind the fact that it is impossible to KNOW who did what…nevermind the fact that we don't know how much, if at all, steroids helped players accrue stats, nevermind that most of the people who are so appalled now were happy to turn a blind eye for so long…nevermind the fact that players used "greenies" for ages or that other players starred in a league with no black or hispanic (or japanese) players…the simple fact is that some players were clearly better than others of their era. Isn't that how we've always defined a HOF'er in the past?

  4. God help me if Pearlman ever sees my 8th grade football picture and senior baseball picture together.

    • Even more interesting … and i realize it is before the period you were speaking about … but look at someone such as Dave Winfield. Very similar growth to a Barry, perhaps without the greatest training methods. I am not absolving Barry but come on … hard work helps. People fill out. I gained twenty pounds of muscle in one year with no help at all. Of course, I stopped working out and that good weight is now located somewhere near my midsection.

  5. The Rivera before picture is great…was he attending a lunch at the cabana club when the photographer showed up?

    • Can you imagine the person taking the picture, muttering aloud: "There goes Mariano Rivera, the best there ever will be."

      And having his assistant mutter back: "are you freakin' nuts? That guy could get knocked over by a gentle breeze"

  6. It would be wrong to assume that Curt Schilling is a pedophile based on his mustache. The danger of assumption. Time showed us that he was merely an a-hole.

  7. I see Bowman went in a different direction with Mariano, choosing to exploit his ability to model casual/dress clothing

  8. To be fair, though…don’t all the pics of suspected steroids users very different than the others? Most non-suspected players look the same (but older) or just fatter, while the suspected ones really do look pretty jacked (except arod, actually).

    I still believe all the points I made above and I agree with the sentiment of the post, that suspicions (or even, in my opinion, admissions) of use should not stop someone from making it into the Hall…but I do think there is a difference in appearance in the then and now photos among suspected users and presumed non-users.

    • Bobby:

      "Non-users" like Rickey, Frank Thomas, Puckett…? Because their "older" pictures look pretty jacked and by all accounts, these are "non users".

      The danger of assuming anything…

      • It's pretty well assumed by a lot of people that Rickey was probably a juicer now isn't it?

          • No, probably not, though I think it was deduced that Verducci was talking about him and the Canseco Milkshake in The 10th Inning, so to some extent there's been an actual accusation made against him, which is more than pure speculation.

            Anyway it's more interesting than anything else. It's a lot like pitchers; other than Clemens, who do you remember being hounded for suspected roiding? And even Clemens was praised for his amazing 40's until the Mitchell report came out. And no one really seems to care when speedsters test positive or are suspected of juicing. Which tells me we only care about steroids when prolific power hitters do it.

      • To be fair, Puck's after baseball weight was probably 2-3x what it was his rookie year… his wasn't so much a "muscle-y" look in his later playing years. (Spoken with love, as only a Twins fan could.)

        • I am probably the world's biggest Kirby Puckett fan because he was short and fat like me, but could do anything on the baseball field. BUT…I was at the 1986 All Star game… He had been this little skinny guy in '84 and '85… At the All Star game in '86, they showed a picture of him flexing his guns in the locker room and even back then, I thought that he must have used steroids. His muscles were massive. He had completely transformed himself in one year. Yeah, he had a lot of body fat too, but that guy was muscular.

  9. Spectacular article! I will definitely be linking to this in my link-o-rama later this afternoon.

  10. I think Frank Thomas looks pretty jacked in the before picture too, actually. And Puckett just looks puffier, not jacked. But I see your point. Mine is that I don't care – it doesn't matter, to answer Jason's question above.

    And…I thought Brien was being sarcastic re Rickey on 'roids, but Jason's response makes me think otherwise. Do people really think Rickey juiced?(Rickey doesn't need steroids to make Rickey great. Rickey has always been great. )

  11. JoePo says he's disgusted that a voter can leave Bagwell of the ballot just b/c they suspect him of juicing. To me it seems like there are two distinct sides to this, both fans and writers. I'm in the group that is disgusted by all the players who juiced, the coaches, GMs, owners, Bud the Dud who all ignored it. No one wanted to do anything about it. Now, if some of these players don't get into the HOF, I don't really care. Maybe they should have thought about that when during the steroid era. I respect the other side too. They can have their opinion and I can have mine.

    We just don't have anywhere close to all the information. Bits and pieces. When you have bits and pieces it can only lead to speculation. Accept that fact. It's just a consequence to the selig era. We need more baseball people to speak out candidly and thruthfully. We don't want generalizations and vagueness. People bash Canseco for being a rat, but since when is telling the truth being a rat?

    Let's just agree there's two sides, and probably a middle undecided. Keep up the dialogue and let people go to whatever side they want.

    • But if you don't have all of the information, how can you make an informed decision on someone who LOOKS like they used and someone who looks unassuming. I just think it is the height of hypocrisy for baseball writers to all of a sudden punish players who were caught or SUSPECTED, when the writers helped create the environment for steroids to flourish under the radar of the public. And when a writer did try to say something (the McGwire Andro debacle) the other writers shouted him down for being a party pooper. No. There is only one side — those that made it possible for steroids to happen. They should all have to deal with each other in the HOF and writers should take their medicine and vote for McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, Clemens, and Rodriguez.

  12. It is more than a bit ridiculous to claim a player used because he looks bigger, for sure. Still, the vast majority of body builders also use supplements as they weight train, so you might suspect that a player just doing weight training will surely run across steroids being used. Then when you hear that player say that it was OK for other players to use PEDs in his opinion, isn't that also saying he would think it OK for him to use them too?

    None of that is evidence beyond a reasonable doubt but it is evidence.

  13. I weighed a bit over 170 pounds at the start of basic training. Four months of basic and then 6 months at my line company i weighed in at 194. I didnt touch a single supplement stronger than gatorade, in fact for the first 4 months of ait i was only allowed water without ice to drink. I cant help but think what people would think of my high school pic and my usamps graduation picture. One thing i can tell you though i saw people come in bulky and large and the same program of pt i was on made them skinny and is aw people that could barely do a dozen push ups turn into lean ripped soldiers. I am sorry but you cannot judge people accurately on photos that are decades apart, or even on ones as short as six months or so, my experience with army basic and ait tells me that.

  14. How about Cal Ripken. He acted surprised when A-Rod admitted to Steroid use and in what I deem a "golden boy" moment suggests to his pals at ESPN that he would have liked to talk with A-Rod to better understand him and why he did this – Garbage. My personal opinion is that I have no reason to believe that Cal Ripken took any steroids. However, the culture of PEDs in the clubhouse were around since just after WWII. That culture led to not only MLB but minor league, college, and high school baseball players taking "pep" pills or "greenies". Again, do I have any reason to believe that Cal Ripken took steroids – no. However, I do have a reason to believe that the only reason that he was able to have an IRON MAN streak was as a result of PED's.

  15. Most of these guys look pretty normal from their the early years to later years, getting a little thicker around the middle, the legs a little heavier, etc. Normal stuff, even before weight lifting started. Other guys just got fat. Then there's the class of players like Bonds, McGwire and Sosa (and, yes, Bagwell), who undertook a dramatic change. Not sure this post will help the cause for Bagwell.

  16. I'm more concerned about Bagwell's very noticeable mullet moving from the back of his head to his chin.

  17. I think the argument that these players were great before steroids and without them should still get into the HOF is a misguided argument. You don't know when they started and for how long they were on them which taints years for many players. What if Steve Garvey took steroids and bumped his numbers in the last 6 years of his career? He would have gone from a borderline HOFer to possibly a first ballot guy. That to me means if a voter what's to excluded a player for actual or perceived PEDs use than they should.

  18. Here's how we fix this. Its easy You build an extension to the hall, just for for people who used steroids come up with a fancy name for it, Then hold a press confrence and say this is for steroids in the hall and say the only condition is that you have to publicly announce you roided, and say if you lie or ever lied about using, automatic lifetime ban. Simple, problem solved

  19. Look at Carlton Fisk. His career trend screams steroid use. Here's a guy who from age 23-34 averaged 1 home run every 25.5 at bats. At the end of that time frame (from age 31-34) that average dropped to 1 HR every 33 at bats. Fisk's career was clearly coming to an end. But suddenly, at age 35, Fisk dramatically turned things around. From age 35-37 Fisk averaged 1 home run every 16.5 at bats. This included tying a career high in HR one season (26), and obliterating that high with 37 HR in 1985.

    How can this be? Well, we recall Fisk began a new training regime that included "long sessions with weights" around this time. Fisk credits the change as the reason for success late in his career. From age 35-45 Fisk secured his HOF entry by hitting 193 home runs. A catcher with all that wear and tear suddenly becomes fresh and more powerful than ever? He had hit just 183 HR from age 23-34. Factor in that Fisk had 828 fewer at bats from age 35-45, and we have a lot of red flags that point to steroid use.

    So did Fisk use steroids? We will most likely never know. My guess is no. But if you look at Bagwell's career arc and Fisk's career arc, who looks more suspicious? Who is guilty? The surly Fisk? The congenial Bagwell? Both? Neither?

    What voters often forget is that professional athletes are generally genetically rare. They run faster. They jump higher. They have quicker reflexes. They also tend to respond to weight training much better. Their bodies often put on muscle easier. If I can put on 30 pounds of muscle from age 20 to 40 (without drugs), some elite athletes can certainly add 50 pounds of muscle over a 20 year span.

    That's what makes this witch hunt so difficult. We just don't know. Do we tie rocks to everyone and see if they'll float? One thing is clear, the trend of voters going on gut feelings when it comes to whether or not a player used steroids, is a terrible solution to a terrible predicament.

  20. I missed this post, been away from the internets for a while. As the self-appointed expert on PEDs here at IIATMS, gotta say that this is a terrific post and that the quality of the comments here is very, very high.

    Pearlman's comment on Bagwell is brought to you courtesy of the astonishing lack of knowledge about PEDs in the mainstream media. I'm sorry to say it, but it's true. There are a few writers like Bonnie Ford and Craig Calcaterra who have taken the time to learn something about this topic, but most of the mainstream media are completely ignorant when it comes to PEDs. You'll learn more just by reading this piece and the comments here than you'll get from most conventional sources.

    Pearlman is guilty of the kind of backwards reasoning that pervades most reporting about PEDs. I'll keep saying this until everyone understands: you cannot reason from effects back to causes. Even if you want to believe that PEDs make users more muscular, you cannot conclude that anyone who has become more muscular is taking PEDs.

    Jason, one thing to add. Just because a guy's body looks the same in your before-and-after pictures doesn't mean he's not juicing. You can't reason backwards and conclude ANYTHING about PED use.

    • I agree, Larry. The commenting has been very good. Either funny and witty or very good insightful posts.

      As for me, I know you can't tell a 'roider from the before/after any better than a non-'roider.

  21. Many of us have gained weight or "filled out our frame" as we've gotten older. But none of us have packed on 30lbs of muscle over a short period of time in our late 30's. That just doesn't happen without pharmaceutical assistance.

    • Neither did Bagwell as far as I can see. Then again, there's no particular reason it couldn't happen with a significant change in training, considering the physical and genetic superiority, for lack of a better word I guess, of world class athletes.

    • Eric, if it were possible to determine PED use with before and after pictures, then players wouldn't have to pee into cups, and we could avoid a lot of expensive lab work.

      It's easy to assume that we're all essentially alike, so if player "A" needed PEDs to build muscle, then muscular player "B" must have used PEDs. The assumption simply isn't true. We human beings are an extraordinarily biodiverse bunch. Moreover, if you're looking at pro athletes, you're looking at a collection of physical outliers — these are people whose bodies can do things that you and I (and nearly everyone we know personally) cannot do. Even if you and I might need PEDs to add muscle to our frames, you cannot assume that the same rules apply to guys who are hall of fame candidates.

  22. I don't see what the problem is–all of these players clearly did steroids. Good job rounding them up

  23. What we do know is that out of everybody featured in these pictures, the only person who has unquestionably benefited from a performance enhancing substance was Curt Schilling when he was able to pitch because a scientist inserted someone else's body part into his ankle during the 2004 playoffs. Ask the Big Blowhard if he played his career with "what God gave him" and he'd have to say no or lie to you.

  24. That is one sweet stache on the Ol' Professor there. Who knew Greg Maddux was a believer?