Tuesday, January 1, 2008

'Roids in Baseball

The Mitchell Report was released a few weeks ago, immediately followed by fulminations, ruminations, excoriations, a few limited mea culpas, and then the sounds of silence.

“Roids in baseball. Who wudda thunk it? Next thing you know, they’ll tell us steroids are in football, basketball, track, the colleges, high schools, and even the Tour de France. So too with human growth hormones (HGH) and amphetamines.

The Mitchell Report identified stars and scrubs, current players and retirees, but omitted such prominent users as Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa.

McGwire, Bonds, Sosa, Clemens should not be in the Baseball Hall of fame because they cheated. What a standard! Baseball has historically condoned cheating when it added to the gate. Baseball also tolerates violence with the specific intent of injuring players. Football conversely is an inherently violent sport in which injuries are expected, albeit not inflicted intentionally.

Gaylord Perry is in the Hall. The “Ancient Mariner’s” true claim to fame is not his impressive 315 wins, but that no one, at least not an umpire, ever found spit, resin, Vaseline, tar, whatever, on his notorious spitballs. Of course, you can’t find it when you look the other way.

One of the greatest players of all time, Ty Cobb, is in the Hall even though he is also one of the nastiest, dirtiest, and most obnoxious players in baseball’s history.

Don Drysdale, the Dodgers pitcher, is in the Hall. His claim to fame was his Motto: “Batters get the outside; I get the inside.” He intentionally threw at batters crowding the plate. He set the modern National League record with 144 hit batters. He learnt his craft from a Dodger predecessor, Sal “The Barber” Maglie, so named because Sal would shave the chins of batters with his fastball.

Sliding into second with the spikes up to break up a double plate, and perhaps injure the defender, is a fundamental practice in baseball, as is sliding into home again with cleats up. First basemen, who don’t get off the bag quickly enough, risk the runner aiming for their feet with spikes down.

Pete Rose may be banned from baseball for life, and thus ineligible for membership in the Hall of Fame, for betting on baseball games, but cheating is tolerated in the game itself. In the deciding third playoff game in 1951 between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants, Bobby Thomson for the Giants hit “The Shot Heard Around the Globe;” a game winning home run. He knew what pitch was coming because the Giants stole the signals from the Dodgers. Stealing signals is an accepted practice in baseball.

If only Pete Rose had engaged in spousal abuse, then baseball would tolerate his misdeeds.

Baseball has continuously sanctioned an ethos of alcoholism by managers, coaches and players and tolerated spousal abuse by managers and players. The death of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Josh Hancock in April 2007 caused many teams to reassess their policies of alcohol in the clubhouse. Josh was speeding with a .157 blood alcohol level while talking on his cellphone when he rear ended a parked tow truck. He also wasn’t using his seat belt. Only a few months earlier Tony LaRussa, the Cardinals Manager, was found drunk slumped over his steering wheel with the engine running.

After the disastrous players strike of 1994, the owners needed for baseball to have a lift. Thus the encouragement for Cal Ripken, Jr. to break Lou Gehrig’s record of 2130 straight games played. That wasn’t enough, so baseball then touted the home run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa to break the records of Babe Ruth and Roger Maris. All sorts of theories were offered, including “Is the ball juiced?” when the answer, known to baseball, is that the players were juiced. We know this because Jose Canseco, a former teammate of McGwire, told us. The response to Canseco’s disclosures is that opposing fans would taunt him with “Roid” in the batter’s box.

Many baseball writers were not fooled, but lacked evidence to write public accusations about the players.

Jim Bouton, a pitcher, published Ball Four decades earlier in 1971, revealing the extensive use of alcohol and drugs by major leaguers. He publicly disclosed the alcoholism of the great Mickey Mantle. Baseballs’ response was to circle the wagons and turn on Bouton.

Most of us sadly gain weight as we age. It usually does not turn into muscle regardless of the workout regime. Pitching speed and bat speed do not mysteriously increase in the 30’s. And even if we can attribute increased muscle tone to rigorous fitness programs, they do not explain how a head can morph into Mr. Potato Head or veins pop to the surface. Sudden, violent mood changes are also a clue to drug usage.

Unfortunately, these chemicals will not benefit those of us, most of us, who lack athletic ability. But they do provide an edge, and may extent the careers and performances of those with outstanding athletic achievements.

The problem with the Mitchell Report is that it did not, could not, go far enough. For example, it ignored amphetamines, which are also commonly used by pros.

Players understand the risk. 300 pound football linemen understand that they risk severe heart problems in their 40’s and 50’s, including fatal heart attacks. Yet the decision is to follow Alexander the Great’s path. The Delphic Oracle told Alexander when he was 15 that he could either lead a long life full of peace or a short life full of glory. He, and many athletes, choose fame and multi-million dollar contracts.

Clearly the Players Union has been unabashedly opposed to drug testing of the players eventhough it is the non-drug using players who pay the highest price. The Union opposes blood testing for HGH, knowing that no urine test currently exists to detect HGH in the body. Invasion of privacy claims have little, if any, legal justification.

Yet, the Union is not solely at fault for there in fact has long been a conspiracy between labor and management to condone drug usage by players. Management openly looked the other way, from trainers, managers, general managers, and owners. The Three Monkeys were present in baseball. Players even received warnings days in advance of testing so that they could purge their systems. The Commissioner, Bud Selig, was amazingly blind on the issue. Only the threat of Congressional action has forced baseball to take the few steps that it has.

Baseball banned steroids in 1991, but did not require testing until 2003. HGH was banned in 2003 but no meaningful testing is allowed.

The attitude of management is shown by a simple fact. The Yankees and Dodgers were two teams with the largest numbers of drug users. Only a few days after issuance of the Mitchell report the Dodgers signed, as a backup catcher, one of those named in the report.

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