Bagwell: III

Because my take clearly isn’t very popular here, I’ve invited one of the dissenters, Gregg Ferrara, to offer his counter. Gregg is a good guy, and I appreciate him taking the time …

After a few emails back and forth today with Jeff, he asked me to say a few words on here. I am the furthest thing in the world from a writer, I am in the IT field by trade, but I will take a stab at it. Prefaced, I am sick of the steroid talk, I think the effects on the game are unproven, and I think blaming the athletes of the past 20 years is extremely shortsighted, considering steroids have been in baseball since the late 1960’s.

When evaluating athletes, especially when we are evaluating their Hall of Fame credentials, the best thing to do in the “Steroid Era” is to compare them to their peers. Jeff Bagwell, who never failed a drug test, was implicated on any list, or had his name mentioned by a former team mate, clearly fits the bill as a Hall of Fame player. Pearlman makes the point that we have to use our own eyes. This opens a can of worms that we should leave alone. I think Joe Posnanski (in my opinion the slam dunk greatest sports columnist in the country today) said it best, “I’d rather a hundred steroid users were mistakenly voted into the Hall of Fame over keeping one non-user out.”

Just from an ethical standpoint, this is extremely dangerous on many levels. Firstly, the obvious is that Bagwell became bigger as his career progressed. This could be from steroids, or it could be from better weight training and eating. We just don’t know, and until a failed Bagwell test is dug up, we should take him at his word. We do have that little innocent until proven guilty thing in America. Before the 90’s were ushered in, weight training was not something ball clubs embraced. How many clubs had personal trainers, chefs, nutritionists, or even in house gyms?

Secondly, and the more important point is why should we even care if Bagwell took PED’s? Jose Canseco, who still has not told a proven lie, believed that 80% of MLB players were on some PED. If Bagwell was taking steroids, but facing a pitcher who was taking steroids, wouldn’t the playing field be level? We look at the game today, 10 of the last 16 players busted for PED’s have been pitchers.
I think as the years go on, the stance on Steroids will soften. Take the words from Jeff Bagwell himself regarding Andy Pettitte. “Andy came out and said, ‘Listen, my elbow was killing me. I was making $12-13 million a year, and they told me it was going to help me and all I wanted to do was pitch.’ I mean, how can you even argue that? That’s not a performance enhancer. That’s just a guy who wanted to get healthy. How do you separate ‘I want to get healthy’ from ‘I’m trying to get better because I don’t feel like I’m the same player I used to be’?”

The question I have, obviously, is how this is any different from a cortisone shot? I am guessing that the vast, vast majority of people have no idea that a cortisone shot is a fancy word for steroids. Human growth hormones, or HGH, have been proven time and time again not to help athletic performance or increase muscle mass (ie to hit home runs or throw a ball harder).

Jeff asked me, would I vote for Barry Bonds? I find it funny that the question needs to be even asked. If we are to believe all of the “facts” presented in the Game of Shadows, Bonds didn’t start taking steroids until after the 1998 season. If you threw out all seasons after ’98, Bonds is still one of the 25 or greatest players of all time. He was a superior player to Griffey Jr, and arguably the greatest player of his generation. So we can compare Barry clean, and he was the best of his peers. Supposedly on PED’s, he was elevated back to being the best amongst his peers. Wouldn’t you say the playing field was level? Do you believe Bonds was hitting those 70 HR’s off clean pitchers? Or was Canseco right, 80% of players were using, and just as many if not more pitchers were dirty.

There is too much information out there that makes you wonder just how much of the offensive explosion was steroids anyway. When you take into account expansion, new smaller stadiums, better bats, or the most interesting is changes to the ball (I implore you to take the time to read this). From 2003 – 2009, why didn’t runs and home runs fall off of a cliff? Why did it take until 2010? How did Alex Rodriguez have a career year in 2007, hitting 54 home runs in a ball park that kills righties, considering he was being tested more than normal players due to his failed test in ’03? Right, it was HGH and the lingering effects from steroids 4 years later. 🙂

I say this to Jeff all of the time, if you want to persecute Bonds and Bagwell, you better be prepared to persecute guys like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. Hank Aaron has admitted in his own autobiography to using amphetamines (later saying it was only once, which is as believable as Ron Washington using coke once). Read the link in the opening paragraph, from Tom House explaining in detail how many baseball players used steroids in the 60’ and 70’s. The simple difference was that they didn’t have the proper nutrition and weight training information, but the intent was still there. Since the dawn of professional sports, athletes have used whatever they could get their hands on to gain an edge. I don’t blame the Bonds or A-Rod’s for one second; I would have done the same thing in a heartbeat. The game goes on, and performance enhancing drugs go on.

Gregg can be reached at greggferrara@gmail.com.

18 thoughts on “Bagwell: III”

  1. Good post. What bothers me about Jeff’s latest couple of blogs isn’t that he is against steroids (anyone who has read his blog knows it’s one of his pet causes). It’s that he is so willing to accuse someone of taking steroids despite no evidence that his person ever did illegal drugs. No failed tests. No public outings. No mention in any legal document, court case or government hearing.

    For someone who claims to be a liberal, he seems not to have any problem ignoring the long held liberal belief that someone is innocent until proven guilty.

    1. Stringer, I get it. But, again, the players association set you, me, us up in this argument. You know why there’s no “proof”? Because there was no rightful testing. You know why there was no rightful testing? Because the union wouldn’t allow it, the players and owners didn’t want it. Of course there’s no “proof”—how could there be.

      So we choose to reward the system that made certain there’d be no proof, instead of being rightfully suspicious. I beg of you—ask people who worked in baseball/worked with the Astros/covered the Astros about Bagwell.

  2. Last post from me, Jeff, I promise 🙂

    I have to say I greatly appreciate you publishing an opposing side; I may disagree with your view and (particularly) your method of reasoning on this particular subject, but it’s an increasingly rare sports writer that not only acknowledges ‘the other side,’ but allows an opposing viewpoint to be published on their site. So I thank you for that.

    Gregg: I’m guessing you have a file somewhere full of notes you’ve accrued over many arguments against a “steroids ruined baseball” proponent 🙂 I think you’ve nailed just about every possible point that you could nail; what a cathartic joy to read all of these in one place. I’m glad people like you, Joe Pos, and Craig Calcaterra are around to spread reason and sensibility much more eloquently than I possibly could!

  3. First, I want to commend Gregg and Jeff on a really smart, thoughtful debate. It’s been fun to read. Here are a few points I’d humbly throw out there:

    The principle that one is presumed innocent until proven guilty only applies to accused criminals. That’s it. All of us regularly make important decisions about people without having proof of their guilt. If a few of your neighbors tell you that your kid’s babysitter acted too rough with their children, you’re going to fire that baby sitter. Even if you don’t have proof. Being left out of the Hall of Fame is not the equivalent of going to prison. So I think it’s ok to presume someone’s guilt in these cases. The stakes are not life or death.

    We probably need to know more about steroids and their effect on the human body–but we know some things: We know that they completely transform your physique. Amphetamines don’t do that. I find it impossible to believe that steroids had no effect on players when players were regularly hitting more than 50 homers a year during the steroid era. That rarely happened before or since.

    Regarding your A-Rod argument, it’s quite possible that he didn’t need steroids at all and that he was naturally great. But it’s also possible that his regular use of steroids transformed his body to the point where he didn’t have to do much to maintain his physique. To put it another way, imagine you just got yourself in shape to run a good marathon. You did that by running an average of 10 miles a day, six days a week. Once you achieve a certain level of fitness from training that regularly, you can back off and run about half that much and still keep all of your speed and endurance.

    One last thing: IF I were an HOF voter, a somewhat laughable scenario but bear with me, I’d like to wait a few more years on Bagwell. Time has a way of sorting things out.

  4. Here’s the problem with the Pettite argument. If you’re looking for sympathy for a guy trying to extend his career, ok, to a point. But we’re talking about the Hall of Fame.

    Let’s pretend that Pettite has the raw stats to merit HoF consideration (which he doesn’t, but pretend). Would his “I just wanted to pitch!” steroid years affect his HoF push? You bet your bippy it will.

    For proof, we can go out of the world of PED’s. How do medical advancements affect modern players’ careers, in terms of carving out a HoF career? A whole hell of a lot. Now, the difference is that Tommy John surgery isn’t, you know, *illegal* and all. Medical advantages are legit. But guys whose careers would’ve died after 5 years because of an injury in 1960 can get surgery and pile up a HoF career nowadays.

    Jim Rice took 14 years to get into the HoF, and one of the reasons he was a marginal candidate is the relative brevity of the really effective part of his career. The guy died the last 5 years he played (trust me, I’m a Red Sox fan). Since his retirement, Jim has had some interesting comments on why that happened. According to him, his eyesight started to deteriorate, and contacts didn’t help enough. Jim has said, “If Lasik had been around in 1982, I would’ve been able to mash for another five years.” (He’s had Lasik.)

    Can Lasik help a guy get into the HoF. Absolutely. Can steroids? You tell me.

  5. I think the point everyone is missing is that steroids is a workplace related issue. More specifically a workplace saftey issue between the employees (players) and the bosses (owners). It really is nothing more than that.

  6. Frank, the point I am making with Pettitte is, if he indeed only took HGH to recover from an injury (which is a huge leap of faith, and also has no scientific proof behind it even working), how is that any different than Mark Teixeira taking cortisone shots every week done the stretch last year? Throw out the legality/rules issue, from a pure performance enhancing viewpoint, has is that different in the least?

    Matt, as someone who has been around steroids my entire life, I can ensure you that no matter how much you work out after stopping steroids, you will lose those gains rather quickly. Anyone who seen McGwire a year after he retired will remember just how much mass he lost. I do think you retain some mass, a guy who goes from 160 to 240 maybe settle back in to 180, but your losing all the performance enhancing properties, in my opinion.

    Mark, no I do not have a little notebook =). I do reference the Tom House and changes to the baseball articles fairly often on Twitter, they are tremendous pieces.

    Lastly, on the difference between greenies and steroids, I would say the difference in performance enhancing isnt quite as different as you think. But regardless of that, the single point I was making is cheating is cheating is cheating, period. If Willie Mays took an illegal federally narcotic that was banned by MLB that he received performance enhancing qualities from, how you can say that is any different from what Bonds did? Your eyes see the affects that steroids had on Bonds body, and didnt see the affects they had on Mays. But at the end of the day, both were illegal and against the rules of MLB, so how can Jeff or anyone else say Bonds can’t be in the HOF, but we have to worship Mays and Aaron? It makes zero sense to me

  7. So we choose to reward the system that made certain there’d be no proof, instead of being rightfully suspicious. I beg of you—ask people who worked in baseball/worked with the Astros/covered the Astros about Bagwell.
    *******************

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  8. Couple other things. First, cortisone is a steroid, but it is not an anabolic steroid.

    Second, there’s a distinction here to be made between a performance *enhancer* and a performance *enabler*. Cortisone is a performance enabler. As is lasik, Tommy John surgery, ibuprofen, and a host of other things. Anabolic steroids are a performance *enhancer*. Part of Pettite’s argument is that he was using a substance that had been used as an enhancer since at least the 1960s as an enabler. If you’re getting the impression I don’t buy it….:)

    Greenies are a grey area as to the enabler/enhancer distinction. To be fair, HGH might be in that grey area as well.

    As for the whole Joe Posnanski thing that started this, I so vehemently disagree with it I can’t tell you. (And I adore Joe’s writing.) Now, if Joe had said “I’d rather 100 steroid users have full careers and never get punished rather than 1 innocent man get suspended,” I’d agree with him completely. However, we’re talking about THE HALL OF FREAKIN’ FAME!!!!! There’s enough marginal “greats” in that friggin’ place already, thanks. When in doubt, keep ’em out. And that doesn’t just apply to steroids. If you have to think for more than five minutes, they ain’t a HOFer. Jack Morris in the HoF, my arse.

  9. Should Phil Niekro be taken out of the HOF because he broke the rules? Or was he trying to gain an edge? Should Gaylord Perry be taken out? Should Ty Cobb be taken out for making his spikes like razors?

    I don’t really grasp this enable/enhance argument. When your talking about Tommy John surgery, lasik surgery, contact lenses, etc that is fine. Saying one drug that is illegal and boosts your athletic performance is different than another is silly to me. I have real big hunch people feel this way because they want to idolize their childhood heroes and crush the newer guys who “cheated” in breaking their statistics. If drug A is banned by MLB and is a federally banned substance, and drug B is banned by MLB and is a federally banned substance, exactly how do you differentiate between them? Are they both not illegal in this land and banned by Major League Baseball?

    Cortisone shots are pure steroids, while something like Deca-Durabolin is an anabolic steroid designed to build muscle, I get that. They are both steroids and both used to help an athlete perform better. And as the legality stuff, cigarettes are legal and marijuana isn’t, but health wise I can tell you which one I would chose if forced to take.

  10. I don’t think we can retroactively prune the HoF, but Niekro and Perry never should’ve been there in the first place. More friggin’ stats compilers.

    If you’d rather not distinguish between greenies and ‘roids, I can understand that, though I don’t think greenies are 1/100th as performance enhancing, which is why I said they’re a grey area.

    The difference is this: performance enablers allow you to correct a physical problem in order to reach your normal natural capabilities. Performance enhancers allow you to *exceed* your normal natural capabilities.

    The reason greenies are a grey area…well, think about it this way: if MLB had a 100-game season instead of 162, would players have ever needed greenies?

    I don’t think greenies are *good* for you, btw, and I’m glad MLB banned them. But steroids they aren’t.

    Cortisone is *not* used to “help an athlete perform better”. It’s used to restore an athlete to *normal* performance. I’ve had a cortisone shot…and I’m not an athlete. (I’m a normal guy with a bad knee.)

  11. Frank D, are you kidding? A Hall of Fame without Gaylord Perry or Phil Niekro isn’t a Hall of Fame at all. They both pitched very well for a very long period of time, and you’re going to punish them for this longevity?

    Niekro had an ERA better than league average (usually significantly so) every year from 1967 until 1982. Perry had a similar run from 1966 until 1980. In addition, Perry’s 1972 is probably the most criminally underrated pitching season of all time. Also, if you care about pitcher wins (you shouldn’t, they’re a bad stat too easily affected by run support and bullpens without influence from the pitcher – see 1987 Nolan Ryan for the most famous example) they’re both 300 game winners. There is no possible metric by which neither Perry nor Niekro are Hall of Famers unless you’re a crazy insane person that believes only 8 pitchers should be in the Hall of Fame.

  12. I don’t think Perry should be in because everybody knew he was doctoring the ball. His stats aren’t overwhelming, but I’d put him in based only on stats…except for the ball doctoring thing.

    Niekro…”An ERA better than league average”???? Really? That’s your standard? He finished in the top 10 in ERA exactly 4 times in a career that was over 20 years long.

    I most emphatically do NOT care about pitcher wins…and the 300 wins is the ONLY reason Niekro’s in.

    I don’t think that there should only be 8 pitchers in the HoF, but pitching seems to be the ones where the “pitched veyr well for a very long period of time” waltz into the HoF. I don’t want “pitched very well”, I want “pitched *great*” and I don’t care about the period of time as long as you meet the minimum requirements. I will take the Haley’s Comet over the stats compiler ANY day of the week. And there are a number of pitching stats compilers in the HoF. (Niekro isn’t the most egregious example; the most egregious examples are pitchers that compiled stats on really good teams, like Catfish “Wow, of course I won lots of games” Hunter and most especially especially Don “If he’s a HoFer, I’m Bruce Springsteen” Sutton.

    Hunter, to his credit, was fairly close to dominant for a year or two. Sutton was *never* dominant. And these guys are in the HoF….and Ron Guidry never got about 10% of the vote? (And I’m a Red Sox fan!)

    My favorite HoF pitcher is Sandy Koufax. I want at least three or four years where you were in the argument for “best pitcher on the planet”. Sandy’s my guy. Until Pedro gets in. Which better be on the first ballot even if he didn’t have 300 wins.

  13. Gaylord Perry – 117 ERA+, 1.181 WHIP, 5.9 SO/9, 2.3 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9

    Steve Carlton – 115 ERA+, 1.247 WHIP, 7.1 SO/9, 3.2 BB/9, 0.7 HR/9

    Gaylord – Pretty good at baseball

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