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Thursday, June 26, 2008

Cheating in Baseball

Even though this is not as timely as my "Big Bad Oil" dissertation it will hopefully lead to a livelier conversation. Also, it is my dream that a few of the noble Hall of Fame voters out there will take this opportunity to heed a very important opinion – mine!

Throughout the course of baseball, there have been many changes in the rules of baseball. Some have had little to do with the actual performance of a player; some had everything to do with what the player was doing to help with his execution. The changes in these rules have come about for many reasons: although there are also other reasons, safety, changes in public opinion, and a desire to increase offensive production tend to be the most common.

To compare the difference between the two, at one time, walk-off homeruns were not counted as home runs (unless they were solo shots). As soon as the winning run crossed the plate, the game was considered finished. If you were tied in the bottom of the 12th with the bases loaded and you hit a grand slam, it counted as a single, with only one run scoring. Compare that to today's rules, where a walk-off grand slam counts as a homerun with four runs scored. Other rule changes included the foul ball line. In Babe Ruth's time, if you hit the foul pole, it was not counted as a homerun, but rather a ground rule double. Additionally, if you hit a ball that cleared the foul pole, and then bent foul after, it was considered foul (today, both instances are counted as homeruns). An example of a change due to safety would be the moving of the pitcher’s mound from 50 feet to 60 feet, 6 inches. This change was brought because of the speed with which the pitchers were throwing the baseball. Steroid use would be the most effective example of a change in public opinion.

A lot of the rule changes have also tended to do have a lot to do with what players were doing to enable them to be better players. The hall of fame is ripe with players who did what today would be considered cheating their way to fantastic stats. Gaylord Perry, one of the better pitchers to ever throw a baseball, was renowned for throwing a doctored baseball. His autobiography was eventually even titled Me and the Spitter. Even after the spitball was banned, there were players that were grandfathered in they were allowed to use it until they retired.

This all encompasses the point of this article. While amphetamines, steroids, other performance enhancing drugs should absolutely be banned, and the idea of grandfathering players in (even though there is historical precedent to do so) would be completely irresponsible, the decision to view this issue against the historical performance of players is completely out of line. Back in 1998 when Mark McGuire was bashing his 70 homeruns, the androstenedione issue was never raised, even though it sitting in his locker, in plain view of reporters. Sure, there were stories about it, and even a mild controversy which contained the “Flintstone Vitamin” response from Sosa, but why, ten years latter, is the public viewing this with such a different stance? McGuire’s “Not here to talk about the past” attitude was always baseball’s attitude on any issue about gained advantage until this instance. Additionally, if this is going to be counted against McGuire, Bonds, Sosa, and others, why isn’t it being taken back further to players such as Willie Mays? John Milner, of the Pittsburgh Pirates Cocaine group, stated that early in his career, Willie Mays and Willie Stargell both handed him ‘greenies’ (amphetamines). Why are their accomplishments not tarnished, while those of Barry Bonds are?

Yes, there is a huge difference between amphetamines and steroids, but it is hard to believe that the biggest reason steroid users have received such an outpouring of hatred is because of Bonds. Had he been a player with Mays’ attitude, “happy-go-lucky and glad to be here”, this whole situation would be different. At the end of the day, a homerun is an amazing show of force, but it’s also a show of fantastic skill. While sometimes you’ll just plain luck out, to average a homerun every other game is amazing.

To quote Ted Williams, “The hardest thing to do in baseball is hit a round ball with a round bat, squarely.” The players of the “Steroid Era” should be recognized and commended for their immense skills, and we should punish those who break the new rules in the future. The American way has always been to celebrate those who managed to make themselves better while following the rules, and close as many loopholes as could be found. One of the most recognized American families is the Kennedy’s, whose fortune was made by trading in stocks and commodities on insider information (which was technically illegal, but the practice was not as regulated back them). Should the government go back to the Kennedy’s and demand restitution because of the loopholes available? No, and Bonds should not be asked to un-hit his homeruns. Bonds may be one of the most unlikable characters in the history of baseball (also see: Cobb, Ty), but he still was an amazing force to watch. And now that the loophole has been identified that allowed him to gain the muscle mass that helped push him enough to become the homerun king, applause should be given for the accomplishments achieved.

What is the next course of action? Wait for the next force to come along, who hopefully will be a lot more like Willie than Barry, and a lot more man than machine.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

good post. liked the kennedy part interesting take
Lisa

July 1, 2008 at 8:23 PM  
Anonymous Stephanie said...

"Applause should be given for accomplishments achieved" regardless of how they're achieved? That's crap. Just because this loophole existed in baseball that allowed these players to take performance enhancing drugs without being reprimanded does not change the fact that it was wrong and they knew it. Somewhere in here needs to be a discussion of morality, of right and wrong; not just of what they were able to get away with. What you leave out of this post is the fact that these players are role models and heroes for thousands of children. Regardless of the record books or baseball's previous policies, applauding achievements that were the direct result of drug abuse is sending the wrong message.

July 6, 2008 at 12:49 PM  
Blogger Ross S said...

Stephanie,
I absolutely agree that there is an issue of morality to this discussion that I intentionally avoided. However, I avoided it because of my belief that a lot of these guys are not role models. Shawn Chacon recently choke slammed his GM. Jose Canseco brags about his steroid use. Pete Rose is as unapologetic as it gets concerning his gambling issues. Josh Hamilton is a recovering coke addict. The list goes on forever. While there are some who have done a fantastic job maintaining a level of respectability (Robero Clemente, Albert Pujols, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz) and others who have tried to repair their reputations (Josh Hamilton belongs here as well for his attempt to come back, as does Mark McGwire for his charitable contributions to anti-steroid organizations), kids need to understand (and this is where parents come in!) that someone can be a great ballplayer, but not a great person. It is possible to respect the accomplishments, but not the person.

July 11, 2008 at 7:41 AM  

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