A Simple Answer to a Complicated Question

Ultimately, to extent that baseball had a steroid problem, it was a collective failure. Players didn’t say anything, managers looked the other way, ownership and the front office definitely didn’t care, reporters were silent about it, and the fans, oh the fans, well we certainly didn’t care. The more home runs Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa and Ken Griffery Jr. and Barry Bonds hit the more tickets me bought at higher and higher prices. We loved the offense, we loved the towering, majestic, bordering on unbelievable bombs we were seeing hit. People crowded into Wrigleyville and McCovey Cove in droves to catch the near murdered baseballs that were being sent there by the dozens, and revenue boomed all across baseball. If you think, in retrospect, that this was all a disgusting display of moral failure, then it’s one we are all responsible for, and seeking to punish individual players for being a part of it is akin to demanding Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig be taken out of the Hall because baseball was segregated during their careers.

But hey, I’m a practical guy, and I realize that I’m in the extreme minority here. Very few people share my level of tolerance for steroid users. And because of that, a lot of them are spending a lot of time trying to figure out what to do with Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa and so on, to say nothing of the Jeff Bagwells who are the unfortunate victims of suspicion and ignorance. Should we err on the side of keeping ‘roiders out, even if it means punishing some innocent players, or should we just vote for anyone we don’t have evidence against, even if it means some juicers inevitably get in? Personally, I see a rather obvious solution to this problem; create some sort of process for removing a player from the Hall of Fame, at least for disciplinary reasons. Jeff Bagwell goes into the Hall and 3 years later it’s proven he used steroids? Put it to some sort of vote to determine whether or the entrusted electorate thinks he should be kicked out of the Hall. This presents some logistical problems, but my guess is it will be relatively rare to see someone kicked out, and it should make the initial voting process easier, as voters won’t necessarily feel like they have to weigh their suspicion against baseball history if they really don’t want steroid users to be enshrined.

And then people like me can concentrate on going to work on the real morons in the media.

Born in Southwestern Ohio and currently residing on the Chesapeake Bay, Brien is a former editor-in-chief of IIATMS who now spends most of his time sitting on his deck watching his tomatoes ripen and consuming far more MLB Network programming than is safe for one's health or sanity.

41 thoughts on “A Simple Answer to a Complicated Question

  1. Bill

    I wonder how many of the "steroid police" who are refusing to vote for Bagwell, never mind McGuire and Bonds, voted for Gaylord Perry or would jump at the chance to vote for Pete Rose…

  2. I guess the real question is not how much advantage you gain from steroids compared with amphetamines, which were widely used going back to the 50s if not earlier, but whether all performance enhancements are to be considered equally.

    Also – what is the current status of amphetamines and things like pseudo-ephedrine in MLB? I know in the NHL they had a sudafed problem (a common source of pseudo-ephedrine) several years back and that it's on the list of banned substances at WADA…

    • LarryAtIIATMS

      Mike, baseball's list of banned substances is here: http://bit.ly/h6zWu9. Ephedrine is on the banned list. Since 20101, WADA has prohibited in-competition use of pseudo-ephedrine above a certain concentration — it is not absolutely banned. I don't think pseudo-ephedrine is banned by MLB.

  3. billtpa

    That Terrence Moore article is just about the most ridiculous thing ever written. The PED stuff is stupid in the same way that apparently almost every other voter is stupid, but then on top of that he's not voting for Edgar because he couldn't "play baseball like a man." It's just…I'm speechless.

    • Brien@IIATMS

      I don't normally pull the "you didn't play the game" card, but if you're going to say something like that, shouldn't you be a Hall of Fame player yourself. I mean, if Edgar Martinez plays baseball like something other than a man, what does Moore play it like in comparison?

    • Brien@IIATMS

      Also, I'll never really understand why people find it logical for guys who primarily DH to be penalized for not playing defense if if they're clearly Hall caliber offensive players, but no one would ever think of suggesting that Ted Williams shouldn't be in on account of his terrible fielding. It's just naked distaste for the DH, which is fine in its own right, but really absurd here.

      Anyone who says a DH can't be in the Hall shouldn't be allowed to vote. Period.

      • Also, no one accuses American League pitchers of not being complete players because they didn't bat. I realize that's far from a perfect analogy, but the fact of the matter is, whether you like it or not, the DH was part of the game. Edgar Martinez was a player, not a player-manager, and if his managers decided he was more valuable to the team as a hitter only, should he have refused to DH?

        I'm sure, and this is basically Brien's point, that if there was no DH, Martinez would have been playing the field and his teams would have dealt with his defensive inadequacies, because he was that good a hitter. But also, a case could be made that Martinez wasn't really that bad a fielder after all. He was just a little older than average when he came to the majors and, after a few years was prone to injuries, so his team took the safe route of using him as a DH only.

        • Right, they used the DH spot to keep him healthy (especially after his monster 1995 season) and keep a really good hitter in the lineup. It's the smart thing to do, and as I said on Twitter last week, had the DH spot existed, I'll bet you Mickey Mantle would have spent a lot of his career there as well for the same reason.

  4. Sandy

    The notion that "for all intents and purposes juicing was completely legal" until 2004 is willfully ignorant. Fay Vincent made it clear to clubs in a 1991 memo that use of illegal drugs by players was not permitted, and he specifically called out steroids in that memo. Just because there was not an effective testing policy until more recently does not mean it was acceptable to cheat.

    Here are some other things that don't get players off the hook: the fact that some (but not all) of their colleagues were also cheating; the fact that cheaters and racists have previously been elected to the Hall of Fame; and the fact that the fans and media turned a blind eye for far too long. There is no value in further lowering the bar for admission to the Hall just because so many mistakes have already been made by the voters, the players, and league officials. We should be trying to improve, not giving up. Please stop making excuses for those who cheated; it's an insult to those who didn't.

    • That's great, but in a realm where there was no testing, no mechanism to punish someone for breaking the "rule," and where breaking the rule is at least implicitly socially accepted by everyone, "for all intents and purposes" there is no rule against it.

      In other words, imagine a world in which the mayor of a town has declared speeding to be illegal, but there's no official rule against speeding, police officers aren't allowed to use radar guns to catch speeders, and even if you admit to speeding or are ratted out by someone riding in your car, no one will do anything about it or even care. Is speeding illegal?

      • LarryAtIIATMS

        Brien, I'm with Sandy on this point. We're not talking about something that can be compared to a vehicle traffic offense. The possession of non-prescribed anabolic steroids has been a federal offense since late 1990. Steroids are Class III controlled substances — in the same class as opium, morphine and LSD. Mere possession of anabolic steroids is punishable by up to one year in prison, and the punishment is more severe for repeat offenders and possession with the intent to sell.

        I don't dispute your point that the so-called steroids era represents a collective failure. Nor do I see any point in trying to distinguish between the few guys who got caught taking steroids, the many more guys who did not get caught and (what I think was) the majority who never took PEDs. I just can't go with the idea that the non-prescription use of anabolic steroids was within the rules, not after 1990 in any event. If a player violated federal law in order to gain an advantage on the field, that act HAS to be seen as a violation of the rules of Major League Baseball. It should not be necessary to incorporate every provision of federal criminal law into the baseball rulebook.

        • Mark Smith

          I'll disagree with that. If it's against the US's law to use steroids, then the US judicial system needs to punish them. In the same way, stealing is against the law, but it isn't against MLB's rules. The MLB will not do anything about the theft, but the US will (should). In regard to steroids, the US can punish the steroid users to the full extent of the law, but the MLB, who had no such rule, cannot. If the MLB wants to punish a player for something or have one its affiliations do so, it needs to have a rule against it. Otherwise, leave the punishment to the people who have the rule against it.

          • LarryAtIIATMS

            There ARE consequences within baseball when a baseball player violates criminal law, even if the rules of baseball do not expressly prohibit the conduct in question. See, e.g., k-rod. If a baseball player is caught knocking off a liquor store, he's going to face suspension. It's not true that "MLB will not do anything about the theft."

            But we're not talking here about whether MLB baseball can punish players who used anabolic steroids in violation of federal law. We're talking about Brien's statement that "juicing" was legal, for all intent and purposes. It was not legal, it was not close to legal, not for any intent or purpose.

            And ultimately, we're talking about whether it's fair to ban a baseball player from the Hall of Fame, because the baseball player committed a criminal act with the intent to improve his performance on the field. I DO see a fairness issue here, because we've identified only a small number of the players who used PEDs. But there's no fairness argument based on the act being prohibited under law but not expressly under baseball's rules.

          • LarryAtIIATMS

            If it turned out that Hall of Fame candidate Joe Blow routinely used blackmail and extortion to get opposing pitchers to throw him hanging curveballs … would you think it unfair to exclude Joe Blow from the HOF merely because baseball's rules might not explicitly outlaw blackmail and extortion?

          • The difference is that baseball would care about that. The point is, absolutely no one in baseball cared about steroids. No one.

          • LarryAtIIATMS

            I think there's a subtle distinction to be drawn between "not caring" and being in a state of denial. Baseball was, I think, in a state of denial, whereas pro football does not care.

            In any event, the distinction is besides the point. After 1990, any baseball player in possession of anabolic steroids was in material and serious violation of federal law. No such baseball player can fairly claim that his PED use was an innocent act. No such baseball player can fairly express surprise today that adverse consequences might flow from his illegal use of PEDs.

  5. lou

    I feel I am in the middle in this arguement. I feel bad for the players because I feel that they were encouraged by MLB to use PEDs, and when they got caught MLB pushed them right underneath the bus. With that in mind, I would not with hold a vote fom a player solely because I suspected them of steroid use. Taht being said, if a voter chose to wait for more public information and choose not to vote for a player on the first ballet, I also don't think that is a crazy decision.
    I feel Sandy makes a very complelling argument, but at the same time I do feel that MLB was ore complicit in the usage than Fay Vincent had in mind in his 1991 letter.
    I also, feel that rarely do I see something in print more laughable than Brien's arguement, "(a stupid misnomer, by the way. We don’t actual know with anything close to certainty that these substances actual improve a baseball player’s performance)." I mean, really?
    I will break it down simply, taking something that makes you stronger and faster will help you at sports. The players new it helped, which is why such a high % of them used.

    • Mark Smith

      Players think those ridiculous necklaces help, too, but it doesn't mean that they do.

      As for steroids, getting stronger (more muscular) is not always a great thing for baseball players due to a possible loss in flexibility, and I don't know that they help you get faster. Also, steroids "help" pitchers and fielders, too. It's just as logical to think that steroids could have prevented some runs as well as accumulating them.

      On the HoF argument, I don't blame those who won't vote for steroid users. I don't agree with it, but even if it was "encouraged", players still knew they were cheating or else they probably would have openly admitted using it. They may not have considered it "wrong" or "illegal", but it seems they knew something wasn't "right" about using PEDs either.

      However, not voting someone because of the "suspicion" of use is completely irresponsible and against our values of innocence before being proven guilty. Unless you have concrete evidence or even tangible accusations (ie. "I gave X steroids"), there is absolutely no reason to withhold a vote based on the suspicion of using PEDs. A player cannot prove his innocence (you cannot prove the existence of a negative). Only his guilt can be proven, and knowing this to be the case, it is possible that no one will prove these players to be innocent, possibly excluding them from the HoF for no reason.

      • lou

        I am with you on the necklaces, but I think you are a little off on the impact of steroids. Anabolic steroids make you stronger and faster (when used with weigth training, etc.). You kind of made my point for me in the next sentence as steroids helped hitters and pitchers (and we'll just assume that these two will also include fielders). Steroids have helped batters by makig them stronger. This allowed them to increase their bat speed (allowing stronger contact – which in addition to HRs also allows more grounders to make it through the infield), more time to recognize a pitch in the zone actually allowing a batter to improve their discipline or the batter could use a heavier bat – giving them both more force and better coverage. It also helped payers recover from injury faster. It also probably helped their speed, which isn't bad for range or baserunning. A stronger pitcher could pitch deeper into games, be effective longer into old age, and throw harder. (A stronger arm would also help a fielder).

        • Mark Smith

          But wouldn't increased performance for hitters and pitchers counteract each other somewhat? It can't just make them both better, can it (legitimate question)?

          • LarryAtIIATMS

            Mark, yes, legitimate question, no real answer. We can guess that steroids help make athletes stronger, and that stronger guys can generate greater bat speed. We can also make the general statement that a lot of home run hitters are big strong guys. Not all, but a lot.

            When we turn to pitchers, things get a lot less clear. Sure, there are pitchers like Tim Lincecum who are muscular, but we can think of many more power pitchers like Ron Guidry, Mo Rivera and Pedro Martinez who generate(d) great power without much muscle. It's not clear that a pitcher can add MPH to his fastball by adding 100 pounds to what he can bench press.

            Moreover, even if we could assume that anabolic steroids help pitchers and batters equally, a batter who used steroids would still gain a theoretical advantage against the field of pitchers he faced (which would include steroids users and non-users). Ditto for pitchers who used steroids and faced at least some batters who were non-users. So, yes: in theory steroids could make pitchers AND hitters better, so long as not everyone was using.

        • LarryAtIIATMS

          lou, I've seen NO scientific evidence that steroids help athletes recover from injury.

    • There's a difference between saying "I'll impose a waiting period on certain players to see if any evidence comes out and if nothing does I'll vote for him," as opposed to "that guy was playing in 1996 and he had big arms OMGZ STEROIDS!!!111!" I don't have any particular issue with the former.

      • Mark Smith

        How long are you going to wait? 3 years? 5? 10? I agree there's a difference, but they're both wrong. More importantly, though, I think it's still a double-standard. Larkin hit a lot of home runs for a SS. Why is no one suspicious of him? What about pitchers that will come up for enshrinement? Will we wait on them? Who do we get to suspect and who not?

        • Well I didn't say I agreed with it, I just wouldn't lump someone who says they have suspicions and would like to wait some amount of time to see if any evidence arises (assuming they'll vote for him at some reasonable point if it doesn't) with people like Pearlman and Moore who are casually making baseless allegations.

          • Mark Smith

            I understand what you mean, but I think both are wrong. Pearlman and Moore are more (pun) wrong, but I wonder if the voters who "wait" for info will wait on everyone who played in the steroids era to see if something comes up. If not, I think they are still baselessly alleging that certain players did or did not do steroids.

          • I guess it probably depends on how long you intend to wait.

        • lou

          I am a small Hall guy, so I can see waiting on Bagwell. To me the slam dunk this year is Alomar, and I would also vote for Raines. I am on the fence for both Larkin and Trammel, and I believe Blyleven belongs in the hall of very good – I just prefer the Koufax type pitcher to the compiler – I want HOF seasons, not just a HOF career. So anyway, I would wait on Bagwell. He was great, but overshadowed in this hey day – he made 4 all star teams and his "most similar players" on breference are all borderline HOF guys (some will get in, some wont). he is not such a slam dunk that waiting is a crime.

    • LarryAtIIATMS

      Brien may have overstated, but his point is essentially correct: we don't know with certainty that anabolic steroids improve baseball performance. We know with something close to certainty that on average, anabolic steroids help build muscle, and that in sports that rely largely on strength (such as weightlifting), anabolic steroids can help boost performance.

      We rely more than we might like on anecdotal evidence. Mark correctly points out that anecdotal evidence can be wrong. But it's not possible to have professional baseball players engage in a controlled experiment to prove what anabolic steroid use can accomplish.

      The best study I've seen on the impact of anabolic steroids in baseball was written by Nate Silver in the book Baseball Between the Numbers. Silver looked at the so-called "Juiced Era" of 1994 – 2004 and concluded that "the average performance improvement from steroid use is detectable but small."

      Ultimately, Silver emphasizes that there's a lot we don't know. Which is why Brien is essentially correct on this point.

      • I would say that what we don't know is how much of performance is "athleticism" vs. "skill." Raw strength is fine, but there's a reason that power hitting tends to develop late in a prospect, and almost all hitting coaches would tell you it's because a large component of being able to hit for power is recognizing pitches and knowing the strike zone. Steroids won't help you with that.

        • Mark Smith

          We also don't know how much harder bats, smaller parks, better conditioning (sans PEDs), fewer double-headers, enhanced video databases for scouting pitchers and one's own swing, etc. factor into the increase in offense along with steroids.

        • LarryAtIIATMS

          Brien, it's really a simple answer to a complicated question. In baseball, we don't know if steroids help or how much. We suspect that they help, but the limited data available suggest that steroids probably help less than you might think. The take-away point is that the information we have is limited, and that any conclusions we can draw are tentative.

          For the most part, all we can say is that the conventional wisdom about PEDs is almost always wrong, because we know so little and because individual cases vary considerably from the average.

  6. Brian

    And then people like me can concentrate on going to work on the real morons in the media.

    And the cherry on top. Dude grossly misuses the term "witch-hunt" and in the same article, actually has the nerve to call other people morons.


    Sorry, Brien. You do a good job for the most part. And there is nothing wrong with not caring who used steroids. But stop being…. whats the word, a moron.

    • Don W

      I think you're being a bit hyper-critical but your point is valid. A, "Witch-hunt", is generally recognized as being a smear campaign orchestrated by a person or persons looking to benefit from the smearing of others. I don't see the writers that come up with this drivel as having some dark motive.

      • The first entry from Dictionary.com:

        "an intensive effort to discover and expose disloyalty, subversion, dishonesty, or the like, usually based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence."

        I'd say that fits well enough. Also, as I said, "witch-hunt" isn't an analogy so much as a figure of speech.

  7. So witch hunt is not a perfect analogy. Big deal.

    • Brian

      Hey, it's a monday…. good time to be calling out bad articles, even when they come from my favorite Yankee blog

    • It's also a figure of speech, not a direct analogy.

  8. Rich

    I think witch hunt is a valid usage here. It's original meaning stemmed from the Salem Witch Trials, but according to most sources, it has evolved etymologically. It's defined as "an intensive effort to discover and expose disloyalty, subversion, dishonesty, or the like, usually based on slight, doubtful, or irrelevant evidence." This certainly applies in the case of Pearlman vs. Bagwell.

  9. LarryAtIIATMS

    Lou, you can assume if you like that steroid use = increased strength = faster bat speed. It's a fair hypothesis but there's no proof I've seen to support it. Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle may have been unusually strong guys, but the greatest home run hitter in history was Henry Aaron, and he wasn't a particularly big guy (6 feet tall, 180 pounds).

    If you do the research, you'll see that lower-body strength may be more important to hitting home runs than having muscular arms. Some argue that steroids don't help much to improve lower-body strength.

    Generating bat speed is something like generating speed in swinging a golf club. Some of the golf long-hitters are big guys, but not all of them. Remember Tiger Woods as a rookie? Dustin Johnson is one of the longest hitters on Tour, 6'4", 190 lbs.

    I'll still go with my earlier conclusion: on average, steroids help, but probably less than most people think.

    • I'd add that, even if you accept lou's premise, at the most you're talking about gaining a fraction of a fraction of a second. It's not going to help Alfonso Soriano become a walk machine.

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