Ryan Braun made his return to the Milwaukee Brewers yesterday, and was greeted by fans at Miller Park with a standing ovation.
Then I threw up in my mouth.
A standing ovation? Are you kidding me? A standing fucking ovation? Not ironically, this took place on the same day the Pittsburgh Pirates welcomes back Barry Bonds, who came to PNC Park and presented Andrew McCutchen with his MVP award. He, too, was greeted with loud cheers—even though he spent the years after he left bashing the organization and the city, loading up on drugs, cheating to erase Hank Aaron from the record book.
Hey, all’s good, bro …
I’m starting to think that baseball fans—as a whole—are quite dumb. Or, perhaps, entering Major Le ague stadiums renders people a rare and perplexing strain of Alzheimers. I mean no offense, but how in the world are we forgiving men like Braun and Bonds; men who did their best to ruin the game for their own benefits? Hell, Braun didn’t merely do his best to ruin the game. He actually went out of his way to discredit and smear Dino Laurenzi, the drug test sample collector who deserved no such awfulness. Let’s flash back to February, 2012, when Braun held a press conference to say “a lot of things we learned” about Laurzeni, and that the collecting process, “made us very concerned and suspicious about what could have actually happened.” As the Washington Post wrote: “Citing conversations with ‘biochemists and scientists,’ Braun said he was told that if anyone with access to the sample was ‘motivated’, tampering ‘would be extremely easy.'”
Oh, wait. He was lying. Never mind.
Braun cheated. He literally took drugs that ballplayers are not allowed to take; too drugs that give you an advantage over other players. I’ve written on this many times, but somewhere on the Brewers roster, or in the minor league system, are 100-percent clean players fighting for a shot. Guys who are deserve enormous apologies from scumbags like Braun.
Bonds, meanwhile, well … where to begin? When the Giants invited him back to Spring Training as an instructor, i thought it was ludicrous. Why not just ask a rattlesnake to babysit your mice? But at least Bonds brought the Giants fame, fortune, a new stadium, a World Series appearance. What, exactly, did Barry Bonds give Pittsburgh? He was mean, rude, snide, dickish, awful to pretty much everyone (not named Bobby Bonilla) in the organization. I date back to my research of Love Me, Hate Me, and an interview I did with Pete Diana, the team’s official photographer. I asked Pete what he thought of the slugger, and his response was jarring: “I hope Barry Bonds dies.” He meant it—Bonds had been cruel to so many, for so long, that Diana had no morsels of goodness left to muster. He told me how, a few years earlier, a couple of low-level Pirate employees had died in a stadium accident, and the team kicked off a fundraiser. When opposing teams came to town, star players would be asked to sign bats, balls, jerseys to be raffled off for the cause. Everyone happily participated—except Bonds. He refused—meanly.
But, hey, it’s a new day. It’s 2014. Forgive! Forget! Move forward!
During last year’s baseball season, I had a long talk with a Major League scout for a piece I was working on. We chatted about this and that, that and this. Toward the end he said, “You’re gonna see a lot of changes in 2013.”
I asked what he meant by that. The Astros switching leagues? The Mets losing even more games? The Angels relocating the press box into a bathroom?
He told me that, in his opinion, as many ballplayers were using forms of PED now as they had been in the late 1990s and early 2000s. “However,” he said, “everyone knows there’s probably going to be improved testing next year. So a lot of guys are going for that last big contract. Then, once they sign … they’ll change.”
A couple of hours ago, while watching the MLB Network, I learned that Josh Hamilton, the Angels’ new slugger, reported to camp weighing 20-to-30 pounds less than normal. Let me repeat that: Twenty to thirty pounds. Upon using the ol’ Google, I found this piece from Jeff Fletcher of the Orange County Register. It talks about Hamilton giving up bread, discovering juice and fruits and vegetables. “I figure I can come in at a weight I feel good at maintain that all year,” Hamilton said. “Last year and the years before you lose so much weight and you get tired. You battle it all year. Hopefully now I don’t have to battle it. I want to get my weight settled and stay there.”
First, to be clear: I don’t know if Josh Hamilton used PEDs. I’d long assumed he hadn’t, because the idea of an ex-drug addict taking, well, drugs didn’t make much sense to me. The fight to remain clean is a brutal one, and I know Hamilton confronts it with great seriousness. He is one of the nicest guys I’ve ever dealt with. I’ve never doubted his sincerity or his decency.
And yet … in the modern era of baseball, with all we know and all we’ve seen and all the recent news concerning Alex Rodriguez and Gio Gonzalez and Ryan Braun and numerous others, well … I’m just not so sure we can continue to take reports like this at face value. I remember, back in the day, covering spring training and watching with silent confusion as Seattle second baseman Bret Boone arrived at camp packing 30 pounds of extra muscle; as Detroit catcher Pudge Rodriguez arrived minus 20. They always gave these “interesting” explanations—I spent so much time in the weight room; a needed more flexibility. One of my great regrets is never openly questioning it; never saying, “Wait a second. You were tiny, now you have no neck. That doesn’t seem possible, sir.”
Again, I don’t know if Hamilton’s using. I really don’t. But one must be skeptical.
Here’s what I do know: Asking the hard questions can be difficult and awkward and cumbersome. The men and women assigned to cover the Angels have 162-plus games to spend with Hamilton and Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson and the rest of the gang. You need stars to talk to you; need access; need help. Beginning a relationship with, “Thirty pounds … really?” isn’t a winner.
In my continuing effort to bring myriad voices to jeffpearlman.com, I invited Andrew Deshaies, Astros fan/Astros Tweeter/Astros blogger to come here and state his case from Jeff Bagwell in the Hall of Fame. As many know, I have no doubt Bagwell was a typical steroid era PEDer, and don’t have much interest in his candidacy. Andrew disagrees—and eloquently states his side here …
Jeff Pearlman would have had an extremely difficult time finding a worse person to defend Jeff Bagwell. First off, I’m not a writer and I have a very difficult time putting my thoughts into words without employing a barrage of obscenities or insults. I lack a degree of eloquence and the ability to have a disagreement without shattering a vase or slamming a door shut. Secondly, I’m a diehard Astros fan. And, as a result, I’m a diehard Jeff Bagwell fan. Jeff Bagwell’s rookie season coincided with my “baseball awakening.” Bagwell played a huge role in my becoming a baseball fan—and, more important, an Astros fan. In Little League, much to my father’s chagrin, I (regrettably) imitated Bagwell’s awkward batting stance and tucked my pant legs into my high top Nike cleats.
Jeff Pearlman is aware that I am an Astros fan. He’s aware that I’m a Jeff Bagwell fan. He’s aware that I think Bagwell was clean. So, yeah, full disclosure: I have a dog in the fight.
But Jeff Pearlman still invited me to contribute without condition.
So, here I am (On a side note, I would like to express my gratitude to Jeff Pearlman for this forum to express my thoughts. Although I vehemently disagree with Pearlman on Bagwell, I appreciate the opportunity that he afforded me to allow me post my opinions here).
On statistics alone, we should all agree that there is absolutely no reasonable argument that can be made denying Bagwell’s entry into the Hall of Fame. That’s a given. Love him or hate him, his statistics prove that he was one of the premier first basemen during his era and one of the best first basemen of all time—but we’re not debating his eligibility based on his statistics. What has kept Jeff Bagwell out of the Hall of Fame is a growing suspicion that his herculean numbers are a direct result of steroid use.
Steroids? I’m not buying it.
To date, I cannot recall any evidence being presented suggesting Jeff Bagwell took steroids. I cannot recall a single person coming forward to out Jeff Bagwell. I haven’t heard of any dirty needles that were located. I haven’t seen any copies of checks or receipts of purchase. I didn’t even see Jeff Bagwell’s name on the Mitchell Report.
Despite two decades of opportunity, there has been no legitimate or credible substantiation of allegations of PED use by Jeff Bagwell.
Bagwell retired in 2006 and thus became eligible for the Hall of Fame in 2011. The townspeople who are trying to burn Goody Bagwell at the stake have had ample time to present a case against Bagwell, and they’ve come up with nothing. No evidence.
How many more rocks need to be turned? How many more “look at how big he got over the years” conversations must we have? How many conversations have to start with, “I have no proof, but …”
I could understand the argument against Bagwell had someone—anyone—come forward and said they knew of Bagwell juicing. I could understand the argument if Bagwell was named in the Mitchell Report—but there’s nothing there. There isn’t any evidence.
“But, there was a huge intricate cover-up involving every single person who ever came in contact with Jeff Bagwell while he was juicing.” Let’s be realistic—we’re giving baseball players entirely too much credit. These guys aren’t exactly the Gambino crime family. I have a Twitter account, and I can come up with hundreds of examples, almost daily, of athletes blabbing information that is against their own best interests. I have a hard time believing that Jeff Bagwell took steroids and no one said a single word. …not a single word.
Players talk. We’ve had a host of do-gooder whistleblowers and a parade of unenlightened bonehead scumbags point fingers at every Tom, Dick and Harry under the sun … except no one has pointed at Jeff Bagwell.
Pearlman called the Astros clubhouse “crawling with PED”—yet, for some inexplicable reason, no one could find any evidence to nail the franchise’s most popular player. They couldn’t find an ounce of evidence to make an example out of Bagwell as none of the supposed legitimate concrete evidence ever “crawled” its way out the door. There isn’t even enough credible evidence to warrant speculation.
Actually, a former athlete has spoken up in regards to Jeff Bagwell’s supposed steroid use. In Bagwell’s defense, former teammate Morgan Ensberg Tweeted, “I think he’s clean. No one has accused him, either.” Here’s another example of Ensberg defending Bagwell.
Jeff Bagwell played his last full season of baseball in 2004. Through severe shoulder pain, Bagwell mustered up 123 plate appearances in 2005, including taking a few agonizing cuts in his only World Series appearance. He was 36 in 2005—which, by today’s standards, means he would have likely had a few more years of sticking around and earning a Big League paycheck. Instead, he officially retired in 2006. It seems to me that a ‘roiding Bagwell would have gone the Andy Pettitte route and loaded himself full of juice in hopes of healing his shoulder, prolonging his career and not having to go Ol’ Yeller on his aspirations of hitting his 500th jack.
At 36, his declined productivity and eventual retirement, is on par with many pre-steroid era Hall of Famers. It isn’t as if Bagwell was in the prime of his career as he was pushing 40.
And I’m not sure why Jeff Bagwell is under suspicion while the public allows others to slide. What exactly dictates who is and who isn’t under investigation? We let guys like Andre Dawson, Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin in, and we’re not 100 percent sure what drugs they did or didn’t take while they played. I’ll be really interested to see how this affects Derek Jeter’s candidacy once he retires and becomes Hall of Fame eligible. Derek Jeter has played with admitted users like Jason Giambi, Andy Pettitte, Roger Clemens, Jim Leyritz, Alex Rodriguez and Gary Sheffield. Jeter has played with several guys on the Mitchell Report. Jeter is 38 and coming off one of the best seasons of his career—how is he above suspicion if we’re using the same cockamamie line of reasoning to crucify Jeff Bagwell?
For the record, I don’t believe Derek Jeter, Andre Dawson, Roberto Alomar or Barry Larkin used steroids—but, if we’re convicting Bagwell without evidence, we should at least entertain the possibility that Jeter used too, right?
And what about Albert Pujols? Or John Smoltz? Or Randy Johnson? Are they guilty, too?
Without any evidence, we have to either convict them all or not convict any of them.
We cannot go around convicting folks of something without a single morsel of evidence—there isn’t even any reasonable speculation. I would rather be proven wrong by voting for Jeff Bagwell and finding out he used than not to vote for Bagwell and find out that he didn’t. Essentially, we’re left looking for evidence that we’re not sure even exists to convict someone of something we’re not even sure they did.
… and nothing is uncovered.
… and time marches on.
From the sidelines, it is one cheap potshot after another. Everyone has an opinion but no one can or is willing to provide anything to back it up. It should make any reasonable person’s brain hurt.
Pearlman accused me of wearing “the blinders of fools” because I insist on Bagwell’s innocence. But if I go along with his line of reasoning, wouldn’t I be blindly following Pearlman because he hasn’t provided any legitimate evidence proving Bagwell’s guilt?
“The blinders of fools”? I’m not sure what that even means.
I will proudly wear “the blinders of fools” if that means that I don’t have to run someone’s name through the mud without having any evidence—but we have to assume that unless Pearlman is withholding “the dirty needle,” then, he too, is wearing “the blinders of fools.”
Houston is easy to pick on—I get it. We’re overlooked when it comes time for the Super Bowl, our basketball titles came in Jordan-less years and we even got passed over when the government doled out the space shuttles … even though we’re Space City. We’re used to it. As an Astros fan, my team has had two consecutive 100-loss seasons and is going through a very unpopular demotion into the junior circuit. Rival newspaper rags cleverly declare “Houston, You Have A Problem” as the losses mount. And things are looking worse for 2013. We’re used to it.
That being said, there is not a doubt in my mind that most of the suspicion surrounding Jeff Bagwell is a result of him being a member of the Houston Astros—a city and an organization that the rest of the country really doesn’t give a damn about. If Bagwell played for the Yankees, he would have already been enshrined. But Bagwell played for the Astros. Picking on Houston and picking on Jeff Bagwell is the easiest route and a lot of credible people with plenty of sway are using Bagwell and these unfounded/disrespectful steroid allegations as a platform to make themselves larger than the game they cover. They’re trying to make an example, and Jeff Bagwell is in the wrong place at the wrong time—and that is a damn shame. And, all the while, the National Baseball Hall of Fame is wrestling with its legitimacy—not because of steroids, but because of a collection of witch-hunting sportswriters who would rather see their own names in their own newspapers than perform a job they were entrusted to do.
This isn’t about selling books or keeping the newspaper industry alive—this is about writers irresponsibly wiping their holier-than-thou butts with another man’s legacy for the simple fact that they can, and no one is stopping them from doing it. They have the right and they have the platform—and our only defense is to choose not to read it.
If we find out that Bagwell is guilty and Pearlman is right, then let’s grill Bagwell’s ass. Let’s run him through town and tar and feather his ‘roiding ass. I will be the first person in line because I’ve come to his defense more times than I care to mention, and, God, I hate looking foolish.
I defend Bagwell because I believe him. And if it turns out that Bagwell is screwing me, then to hell with him.
I believe Jeff Bagwell.
I realize my arguments are stale. You can Google “Jeff Bagwell Steroids” and find 20 different articles written by twenty different authors who are making the same tired old argument that I’m making right now. This isn’t breaking news. I’m not saying anything new or enlightening—but neither is the counterargument. We’re playing tug-o-war with the truth and no one seems to want to budge. We’re at an impasse.
So it is time for those who are accusing Bagwell to step forward and reveal what they know. This has become an exercise in futility, and, as cliché as it sounds, it is time to put up or shut up. If you’re going to say that Bagwell used, you must provide evidence. M-U-S-T. Writers are making these types of accusations without stating any facts whatsoever or providing any evidence whatsoever and then rolling their eyes at the rest of us because some people choose not to take their word as gospel. These are serious allegations and no one cares to elaborate any further on “trust me, he did it.” … and I am the one wearing “the blinders of fools” because I require a little more than that? If writers are going to say something that trashes someone’s legacy, they should say what they know and stick their name to it—there isn’t any other acceptable way to do it. Period. They should attach their legacy to it. There has been plenty of time, more than enough, to develop any sort of case against Jeff Bagwell, and no one has come forward with any reasonable evidence.
And, until someone does, we have to assume that Jeff Bagwell was clean.