Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Roids and Records

Here's one for you sportos out there, though I think it's got some wider implications too.

If the Hall of Fame is the baseball equivalent of heaven, should Barry Bonds or Pete Rose get a shot at the pearly gates?

Rose had more hits than any professional ballplayer in the 140 year history of the game. He won multiple world championships with multiple teams. Rose was clearly one of the best of the best ever.

He also gambled on baseball when he was no longer a player like millions of Americans do every season. As a result he was banned for life from the game and barred from the Hall of Fame.

His bets—again by all accounts--had no discernable effect on his performance as a player. He was the manager of the Cincinnati Reds when he wagered on pro baseball games, and no one has suggested those bets influenced his performance as a manager of the Reds.

Rose repeatedly lied about his gambling for many years. Recently he finally acknowledged that he placed bets on baseball games in the hopes that fans and Hall voters would forgive him and finally vote him into the Hall of Fame, where I believe he belongs.

I’m no real fan of Pete Rose, but I’m troubled that Rose is banned for life while the San Francisco Giants' Barry Bonds faces no penalties at all at this point.

For those of you who don’t follow baseball, Bonds is also a great player. He's jacked more home runs than anyone but Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth and has a chance to catch 'em both and set what is arguably the most revered of all American athletic records.

Extensive excerpts from the upcoming book Game of Shadows just appeared in Sports Illustrated, and the legit authors--award winning reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle--carefully document Bonds’ addictive use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs over a 5 year period. Anyone who has been paying attention already thought Bonds was a serial steroid user but the book's meticulously documented allegations remove any real doubt. The evidence is overwhelming and is based on grand jury testimony, trial records, law enforcement interviews and numerous eyewitnesses.

Bonds played for many years in the majors as a strong but wirey outfielder. How many men in their late 30’s put on 40 pounds of muscle without chemicals? And how many men in their late 30's suddenly "grow" a much larger head ('roid head' is a sure sign of steroid use)? I mean, you could use Bonds' batting helmet these days as a jacuzzi :^) His home run and power numbers went up dramatically at the same time he started using drugs.

It's true that many other great power hitters of his era, like Mark McGwire, also used steroids. McGwire entered the major leagues as a tall and well built first baseman but left it looking like Mr Incredible. When called to testify before a Senate Committe on steroid use last year his tearful non-denial denial made it clear to everybody he'd been using roids. His reputation, sadly, was ruined.

"Mr. Inc-roid-able", Mark McGwire, Relaxes Off the Field

Like Rose, Bonds has repeatedly lied. But unlike Rose he has never fessed up and taken responsibility.

My favorite Barry Bonds spin? He told the San Francisco Chronicle a couple of years ago that he never realized he was taking steroids. He thought his trainers were giving him flax seed oil and arthritis cream, not the steroids in liquid and cream form he was actually using.

Guess he thought the "flaxseed oil" got him higher quality bm's and the "arthritis cream" (wink wink, nudge nudge) helped him get those creaky knees loose for an early afternoon game :^) You know, the kinds of things a guy over 40 worries about. Funny man.

One of the many steroids and human growth enhancers Bonds apparently used was trenbolone, a steroid used to increase muscle tone in cattle. If Bonds ends up playing this year for the Giants, I'm hoping some Dodgers fan will show up at Dodger Stadium with a sign that reads, "Bonds, It's What's for Dinner."

The main difference between Rose and Bonds?

Rose got his stats legitimately.

Bonds didn’t.

If they’re going to keep Rose out of the Hall they should keep Bonds out too. And while they're at it, I'd love to see his numbers and records carry an asterisk so future fans will understand they aren't legit.


Blogger jon said...

I agree with the idea that Rose should be in the hall. Although it's certainly a problem of his own making - if he'd admitted everything in the beginning, he would likely have been let in years ago.

Personally, I don't want steroid users in the Hall of Fame, and I don't want their numbers to count for anything. But practically, the case gets hard. MLB never caught Bonds or McGwire using steroids. Nor did they catch the dozens (lets be realistic - hundreds) of other people who used steroids. Ken Caminiti even admitted that he got his MVP with steroids, and I don't think that has an asterisk in the record books yet.

I'm also a big fan of all pre-integration records being less than valid as well.

5:39 PM  
Anonymous Alex said...

If Rose bet on baseball, and I believe there is considerable evidence that he did, then he should absolutely be banned for life. The problem for me is that once he admits to the gambling, there is no way to adequately discern whether or not those bets had any influence on baseball games. Even if he didn't actually throw any games, how can we be confident that his decision-making wasn't influenced? There are so many pre-game/in-game/post-game decisions that a manager has to make that I don't believe we can ever be sure what effects Rose's gambling had on the games in which he was a manager. I think for instance of subtle decisions about when and when not to use a certain relief pitcher, or to play for a tie versus a win, etc. And the consequences start to ramify. The rules against betting in baseball were instituted because the game was almost torpedoed by the Black Sox scandal and as far as I'm concerned, Pete Rose gets what he deserves for breaking the rules. We send people to jail for insider trading (when we catch them) and Rose got caught.

Now as far as Bonds is concerned, I agree that his integrity along with the integrity of the game has been compromised. But I'm not sure I blame Bonds for this as much as I blame Major League Baseball. What he was doing wasn't "illegal" according to the rules of baseball and I think everybody (other players, team management, ownership, Bud Selig) knew what was going on but turned a blind eye to it because all the home runs were "saving the game" after the stike in '94.

I would submit that it isn't just bonds that's dirty - I think they all are. Why isn't anybody talking about the other "freaks of nature" out there? Randy Johnson and Roger Clemens throwing 96 mph fastballs in their early 40's? Please. Ricky Henderson stealing bases. I think they were all doing it, from the best players all the way down to the average ones.

And let's be honest, if I was in AA ball in Wichita hitting .235 with 10 HR and I could bulk up on steroids and hit .260 with 25 HR and make 5 million dollars in the major leagues, I think I would be tempted to do it, especially if there wasn't a testing regimen in place.

So as far as I'm concerned, the whole decade of the 90's ought to have an asterisk by it - but at the same time, if I'm honest, I have to admit that I liked watching all those home runs. And if everybody else was on steriods too, Bonds is still the best player of his generation and deserves to be in the Hall.

7:18 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Interesting comments guys.

Rose and Bonds are both unpleasant and disreputable people by all accounts. Great skills never made anybody a good person.

I'm not sure Rose would have gotten in years ago if he had admitted his betting, Jon.

Baseball has its own Pharisees and the Black Sox scandal of 1919 (almost 90 years ago) created the kind of weird backlash "sabbath" regulation that got Jesus so angry.

Why is gambling on games after your obviously Hall of Fame playing career is over worse than taking steroids which actually effect your performance as a player? I'd be interested in your ideas, Alex. I'm not following your thinking though I appreciate your committment to the sanctity of the game.

You speculate on the effect Rose's gambling may have had when he was a manager (but not a player). There is no need to speculate on the unfair effect steroids had on Bond's performance. To me we're comparing apples and oranges.

I agree that the steroid era of the 90's deserves an asterisk. The records during that period are mostly phony.

Bonds was a Hall of Fame player before he started taking drugs, which is what makes the whole thing so sad. But again, there is no moral or ethical reason I can think of to distinguish him from Rose. Actually, I think any moral or ethical system I know would judge Bonds much more harshly.

His cheating actually dramatically affected his performance as a player (which is what both Bonds and Rose should be judged on vis a vis the Hall of Fame)and he's been unwilling to admit the obvious. Rose took a long time but has confessed.

Why wouldn't an everyday ethical person support a guy whose shortcomings didn't affect his playing performance and who has admitted his errors?

Why would you support a person whose shortcomings dishonestly affected his performance and who has continued to arrogantly deny the obvious?

I'd love to hear your thoughts, Alex.

9:54 PM  
Blogger jon said...

I think that Rose could have gotten in because I've heard several times that the commissioner who originally banned him (Giamatti) didn't actually feel as strongly about the "lifetime" ban as Selig did. The implication has been that if it hadn't been for Giamatti's untimely death, Rose would have eventually been reinstated. That makes me think that if Rose had told the truth from the beginning and been humble and contrite about it, he may have came out with a punishment slightly short of a lifetime banishment.

12:10 AM  
Anonymous John Teter said...

It was pathetic to follow the Pete Rose story after his confession, and whirlwind book tour to get himself out of debt. I guess the late night ball sales on the shopping network were down. It is a tough call for the commissioners. I agree with the previous posts, if he were more likable, it would be harder to ban him. Would they ban Steve Garvey - even when he had four paternity suits going in one week?

Shoeless Joe has to be out of the Hall for being part of throwing a World Series. Rose? While hurting the integrity of the game, he never bet on a in which he managed or played in. He only bet on baseball. Very different from Shoeless Joe. He was an addict who made stupid decisions. But I remember Willie Mays was employed by a casino. They never kicked him out of baseball heaven.

I personally think Rose was also a victim of circumstances surrounding Giamatti's passing. It appeared that "the Dowd report" killed Giamatti. I am not sure if it did, but how do you reinstate the man after the process kills the proceeding commissioner, especially one as reverred a Giamatti? Bummer for Pete. Bart is still sticking to him.

As for Bonds, he must be stopped, and maybe for his own good. He should retire and walk away right now. Fake an injury. Claim no hats fit any longer and the dome is swollen. In five years people might forget and he will likely get voted in on the numbers. But if he goes on, his cheating is so brazen and his attitude is so belligerent he might get hurt. Can't you imagine that when he wins the home run crown, some abortion-clinic bomber turned stadium sniper is going to take out Bonds as he is rounding second. And even then, the cattle toner won't be able to help him.

2:59 AM  
Anonymous Alex said...

For me the issue isn't gambling per se, but that Rose bet on baseball while he was still involved in the game as a manager - that's the death penalty and he knew it while he was doing it. Yes, he's an addict and so I have sympathy for him on that level, but that doesn't excuse him from the consequences of his actions. The fact that he didn't bet as a player doesn't matter to me.

Now as for Bonds, despite his protestations, I don't think there is any doubt that he used steriods and HGH, which on some metaphyiscal level obviously taints his records. (Of course as someone mentioned previously, all the pre-integration records are suspect anyway). But what Bonds was doing wasn't against the "rules," and let me repeat, everybody in baseball was doing it. How would we go about deciding who gets in and who doesn't? I don't necessarily like it, but I don't see the alternative to letting Bonds into the Hall, unless we want to exclude every player from 1980 until 2005.

Let me add one more thing - I listen to sports talk radio here in Atlanta and the local station has the only all African-American talk show in the nation in the afternoons, which has become wildly popular and even syndicated nationally. Though I'm not sure I agree, both they and the vast majority of their callers believe that race is playing a part in the whole Bonds saga. They point to what they call a concerted effort to discredit Bonds and a corresponding lack of attention to the rest of the violators in baseball and other sports (i.e. Lance Armstrong, etc.) For me, Bonds is getting all the attention because he's chasing the most visible record in sports, but it has been intersting to hear another perspective

6:23 AM  
Blogger limco said...

I'm not a follower of baseball, but I have followed this story and find it scary. It is very hard to imagine what all of these steroids have done to these athletes' bodies and brains. I would think their future concerns would not be whether they are in the Hall of Fame, but rather they don't die of some horrible disease brought on by steroid abuse. Their bodies are freakish at this point and by using the drugs I think they have cheated in terms of claiming records. Just because everyone else in the 90's cheated with them doesn't make it fair. They have all paid a very high price in order to hit a baseball. It is scary.

6:54 AM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Great comments, everybody. I see your point, Alex. From a moral point of view it's signficant when somebody violates a clear rule they are very aware of--it shows a level of contempt for the game and the institution that deserves a strong response. I just think the response has been too strong and seems hypocritical when you look at many other cases, some of which you pointed out, John.

Steroid use wasn't against the rules of baseball when Bonds was juicin', but I'd argue everyone in the mix understood they were violating a deeper ethical code and were cheating. Their denials and efforts to hide what they were doing are the smoking guns that tell us they knew what they were doing was wrong.

So I guess for me it's a letter and spirit of the law kind of deal.

Rose's infraction, to me, broke the letter of a law that seems arbitrary and an overreaction to the Black Sox scandal. His gambling did not effect his playing, and nobody was going to consider Rose for the Hall on the basis of his managing anyway. Michael Jordan gambled on virtually everything during his career--like Rose he had a gambling problem--but nobody said boo because basketball as an institution just thinks differently about gambling.

Bonds violated the spirit of the law of fairness, which to me is a much more signficant violation and threatens the game much more directly. His numbers are phony, and let's face it, it's the numbers that get you in or out of the Hall. I'm really disappointed in Selig--if baseball had its priorities straight there would have been no need for congressional hearings.

But yeah, Rose was a jerk and hasn't helped himself. I'd hardly call Bonds a well-liked figure, though. And once this book comes out, he's going to be even more reviled. So I think baseball is going to have to do something with this--fans simply aren't going to stand for a home run record set by a person who clearly cheated his way there.

And yes, limco, I worry about Bonds and these other guys too--may be a very big health price to pay in the coming years for them.

11:28 AM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:44 AM  
Anonymous Alex said...

I hear what everybody is saying and I do think that the players knew they were cheating by using steroids - but I think everybody else knew as well, i.e. managment and Selig and whoever else. In retrospect it's obvious and it isn't like steroid use was unheard of in pro sports. I think the rules against steroids have been in place in football for years. So the whole thing just stinks all the way around.

And I still haven't had anyone adequately explain to me why all the outrage over Bonds and not over anyone else, besides the fact that he's insufferable and treats the media like dirt

12:41 PM  
Blogger jon said...

I think that the way he treats the media is exactly why there's so much outcry over him. I absolutely hate the way that the media glamorizes or villifies people based on their own interactions with them. A kiss-up to the media suddenly becomes a much greater player and gets a lot more leeway than someone who won't give them the time of day.

As far as the idea that he "cheated" the game, I feel you, but I just don't see where you draw the line. Soccer players and John Stockton fake fouls all the time. Is that cheating? Lots of the old-school baseball players were famous cheaters - cutballs, spitballs, coming in high with the cleats - they'd do whatever they could to get the advantage. And as many people have said, there are so many people using banned drugs in professional sports right now it's ridiculous. Where do you draw the line?

5:30 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

Thanks for the thoughts guys.

Sounds like we all wish things were different.

Where do I draw the line? When someone is clearly a cheat and a liar and there is plenty of evidence to that effect, I guess that's where I draw the line.

I try not to speculate about how many people are cheating or how many people are lying. That's a path that can take a lot of people into cynicism and into philosophies and politics that end up doing a lot of damage.

The media isn't the issue here in my mind. Everybody treats people badly who treat them badly, with the life giving exception of rare Christians on a good day. That's just human nature and common sense.

Why has Bonds been singled out?

I'm supposed to say it's a racial thing at this point. But I just don't buy that take. Hank Aaron owns the home run record and I think most folks would like to see the record he achieved through truly heroic and honest effort preserved.

Nobody wants to see am arrogant phony celebrated, no matter what your culture or race or generation.

8:44 PM  
Blogger jon said...

I don't think that explains all of it. If the media chose to hate on Armstrong, they could make him into an arrogant phony just as easily. He is certainly arrogant, and the evidence for his drug use is as strong or stronger. (unlike Bonds, there are actual test results, not just heresay). Bonds looks more arrogant simply because the media says he's more arrogant, but Armstrong has had a tendency to say extraordinarily arrogant things himself. And Bonds looks more phony simply because people have spent more time talking about his phoniness, but Armstrong has had hero-worship built up about him instead.

9:16 PM  
Blogger Matthew Pascal said...

Is the evindence for Armstrong's drug use really all that sound and evident? He is the most highly tested athlete in the history of sports, and has never failed a drug test...

The tests that the French magazine (L'Equipe) wrote the article about are highly questionable, in most people's opinions within and outside of the sport.

However Bonds gained 40 pounds of muscle almost overnight. He doesn't need to be tested to know that he used performance enhancing drugs, whereas Armstrong has never failed a drug test that was conducted in a proper way.

9:59 PM  
Blogger Wordcat said...

I make no defense of Armstrong. I tend to think he was juicing, but at this point there is little evidence he took steroids.

He overcame cancer in a heroic way. He basically treated the press well.

No surprise he's received different treatment.

I know you believe the press is very biased against conservatives, etc, etc. But I think you're overlooking some basic human dynamics. At this point I think the American press is more balanced than it has ever been. Current conservatives treat the current press like crap. I understand why they do that because of the history. But again, in real life, when you treat people with influence with contempt you get treated with contempt in return. No mystery there. Less arrogance and more engagment would do the conservatives good.

10:53 PM  
Blogger jon said...

"He basically treated the press well.

No surprise he's received different treatment."

That's all I'm trying to say. You might call it human nature, but the press is supposedly objective. I do find them incredibly bad at being so.

As far as conservatives go, the liberal/conservative ratio among journalists is something like 11 or 12 to 1. If it's human nature to not be objective, I find it very difficult to imagine that the current state of the press could be at all fair.

6:19 PM  

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