Saturday, December 29, 2007

Amped up…

I guess one of the biggest reasons I’m not a ‘punish with extreme prejudice’ those who have used steroids by expunging, asterisking or altering their stats is that the record book has been tainted by illegal drugs for quite some time now.

A quick caveat: there is a large difference between what amphetamines will do for an athlete’s performance as opposed to anabolic steroids. Regardless, both have had an impact on baseball’s ledgers. Steroids allow a player to exceed his normal output by increasing his ability to perform. While debate rages regarding amphetamines’ effect on performance there is no debate that they do have one undeniable function—they get a player into the lineup when they otherwise may have been unable to play.

For example, since 1950 (an arbitrary cutoff but adequate enough to make the point) there are 11 players no higher than 150 hits north of 3000. There are 10 batters no higher than 50 HR beyond the 500-level. Finally, there are six pitchers 25 wins (but no higher) above 300 wins—all since 1950.

It takes about a season’s worth of at bats to garner 150 hits and a season-and-a-half for 50 HR (and 25 wins). Don’t forget, we’re talking elite talent here. Stiffs do not get close to these milestones. The thing is, players that are in this neighbourhood have careers in the 20-season range.

Over the course of 20 years of 154-162 game seasons--how many times do you think players required ‘a little help’ to get into the lineup? Let’s focus on position players for a moment. Suppose they ‘need a boost’ 35 times a year because of travel, partying, illness etc.—how many games does that translate into over a 20 season career? Even a conservative estimate as this translates into 700 games that might otherwise have not been played or played at a sub-optimal level.

Seven hundred games are well over four ‘iron man’ seasons (played in every game) assuming a 162 game schedule. A pitcher amped up five times per season would translate into 100 starts in a 20-year career.

How many extra hits, home runs, or wins could be attributed to the restorative effects of amphetamines that allowed players to get into games or play them at close to their rested level? There is more than enough to put a significant dent in the 3000 hit club, the 500 HR club, and the 300 win club—generally considered to be Cooperstown territory.

I think it’s safe to assume that absent amphetamines both the record book and the Hall of Fame would look quite a bit different than it does today. So, for those that wish to make a notation in the records that these milestones were due to anabolic steroids then it’s only fair to do likewise for players linked with amphetamines. Their effect is not as dramatic as those created by steroids, but it is there—a few hits here, a couple of wins there, and a handful of home runs smattered throughout add up over a career in the two decades range.

Off the top of my head…

For the poor souls who regularly read my stream-of-consciousness meanderings know I have devoted a lot of bandwidth dissecting the issue of steroids in baseball. The thing is, athletes keep getting larger and larger (especially in the NFL) and most folks don’t even bat an eye.

Athletes are regarded to a degree as heroes, a level above the everyday person. For those wishing to discount that claim think back to your high school days. How many pep rallies and kudos by their peers did the scholastic achievers ever receive? Who were “A”-list, the cool kids--the jocks or the brains?

‘nuff said.

If you look at the evolution of comic book superheroes from the 1940’s until today you notice they progressively become bigger, more muscular and far more ripped. In the last 2-3 decades they no longer look human. They are literally anatomical impossibilities in that no frame could handle the stress of that many muscles upon them.

A lot of us have grown up with that as our perception of what physical ‘heroes’ are supposed to look like. By the time we reach young adulthood we become so accustomed to looking at physical freaks that the 300 lb linemen with legs for arms and tree trunks for legs do not shock us. We do not question their appearance, heck—they’re not even as buff as Captain America, Batman or the Green Lantern.

We’ve become desensitized to the appearance of freakish muscles on those who can perform physical feats that we cannot. It explains the disconnect we have between our criticism of those who use steroids and our continued financial support to the sports we follow and the athletes who play on our team.

It’s one thing to be critical of steroid users when sitting in a bar, quite another when we’re at the park watching those very muscles helping our team win games. For the most part, a lot of our vitriol regarding steroid users stems from the cues we receive from the media. Here’s a clip from a THT column discussing this phenomena as it applies to that hottest of hot buttons—Barry Bonds:

Here’s why they hoot and hiss. They read things about Bonds that state:

“…the only thing that seems to bring him joy is his contempt for the vast majority of humans. He greets the world with a sneer ... Yet no great player has been more consistently unpleasant than Barry Bonds, and not only with professional snoops, but teammates, too.” -- (Don't put too much stock in Bonds' tactful concern)

He smiled and laughed, exuding all the charm of a mobster posing for pictures with kids. This was Barry Bonds' good side, the one we supposedly never see. But the man who would be (home run) king has stopped snarling at the world ... He's laughing all right--at Bud Selig, Hank Aaron, the feds, the fans, you and me.”--(Nobody can stop Barry Bonds)

It's why most people who know Bonds wouldn't spit on him even if he was on fire ... Nobody questions his talent. It's his failure as a human being that is at issue.”--(Bonds in the showcase game? It just doesn't add up)

These are comments that have little to with Bonds' PED usage. We’ve read columns for 15 years now about what an unpleasant sort Barry Bonds is, and now are folks saying that if he never used steroids the public would now be embracing him and his assault on history?

At any rate, if history is any indicator, this era will go down as other era have—one where he have to adjust the totals to account for the circumstances of the time.

Best Regards


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