Saturday, May 3, 2014

Bonds, Clemens, and Steroids

I’m a baseball fan, and I’m fed up with all the “cheating” accusations concerning steroids. I’d like to put a little different spin on the steroid era, especially as it concerns the Hall of Fame eligible players who apparently aren’t going to get in—especially concerning Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds. I know, I mentioned steroids and lost half my readers and then I mentioned how I support Clemens and Bonds and lost half of the rest, but at least some of you are sticking around to see if I have an original thought or two.

Let me start out by saying that Clemens has never admitted to the use of performance enhancing drugs, and Bonds has stuck to his guns about his ignorance of his own usage. Neither was found guilty in the trials they were forced to endure, which should cast some doubts for the haters, but regardless, I don’t care about Bonds’s and Clemens’s situations. I personally don’t care if they used them or not. I also need to say quite plainly that I’m no expert on the steroid era. I’m not even an expert on the two players in consideration. I’m just a fan who is using his blog to try to sound logical. My goal isn’t to convince you of anything, and it has nothing to do with the negative medical effects that steroids have on the body. It is simply to make some logical points about Clemens, Bonds, and the steroid era.

Point number one:  Clemens and Bonds were superstars. With or without performance enhancing drugs, they were unquestionably two of the best players in the game. Bonds’s great statistics were even greater while he was using his creams and such, there is no doubt, but with Clemens, I can’t tell when he supposedly used the stuff. All I know is that if any Hall of Fame voter looked at Bonds’s and Clemens’s career stats, they should be compelled to vote those two in.

Point number two: Let me define “cheating.” One definition is “a deception for profit to yourself” and another is “violating accepted standards or rules.”  Back in 1998, I watched a television interview with Mark McGwire who had a bottle of Androstenedione displayed visibly on his locker shelf. "Everything I've done is natural,” he said in a later interview. “Everybody that I know in the game of baseball uses the same stuff I use," said McGwire, who also took the popular muscle-builder Creatine, an amino acid powder. Well, if the game of baseball had no rules against it and players weren’t deceptively sneaking it into the locker room or training room, why is it called cheating? If a hockey goalie wears pads larger than the rules allow or a race car driver’s roof is too low or quarter panels are too high to make his car go faster or a golfer puts too many clubs in his bag, that is cheating. Or if Gaylord Perry, who is in the Hall of Fame, puts foreign substances on the ball, substances clearly stated as being against the rules, that is cheating. If a player uses a substance that isn’t against the rules and it’s being used by the majority of others, why is it called cheating? That leads me to…

Point number three: Star professional athletes are very proud. They have big egos. They’re usually the best not just because they have great skills but also because they work harder than everyone else. They want to be the highest paid, not because they need the money, but because they are the best. Well, when an entire league starts bulking up on steroids and growth hormones and such, and players start breaking records and winning Silver Sluggers and other awards and getting commercial deals, it makes sense that the best players wouldn’t be satisfied to fall behind. My point isn’t that Bonds and Clemens used performance enhancers, however. My point is that I don’t understand why people look to those two as their punching bags when all evidence and logic suggests that they would have been in the minority if they weren’t doing it too.

Point number four: Let’s say there is a star pitcher and he hears that half or more of the pitchers in the league are using performance enhancers and half or more of the hitters are too. I would think that the star pitcher would consider using the same things, partly to keep up with the pitchers he’s being compared to and partly to keep up with the hitters who are getting bigger and stronger. And let’s say there is a star hitter and all of a sudden his job is in jeopardy or his records are falling or his position among the top players is disappearing and he learns that not only are the majority of hitters getting a competitive advantage but he has to face pitchers who are using performance enhancers too. I would think the hitter would consider doing the same thing. Here’s my point. Why are people upset with Roger Clemens for trying to get Barry Bonds out? And why are people so upset with Barry Bonds for trying to get the most out of his at bats against Clemens? Who, pray tell, has the competitive advantage if they are both using the same thing?

Point number five: This may be my weakest argument, but does anyone think that using steroids or other performance enhancing drugs will help a hitter hit a baseball or throw more strikes? Ted Williams said the hardest thing in sports is to hit a baseball. This was before pitchers all threw fastballs in the 90’s, never had to complete a game, and relievers came in to face a single batter. Carl Yaztrzemski said this about Williams. “I'm sure not one of them [the baseball greats] could hold cards and spades to Williams in his sheer knowledge of hitting. He studied hitting the way a broker studies the stock market, and could spot at a glance mistakes that others couldn't see in a week." This is what Bonds was like. He worked hard. He studied hard. He faced pitchers on steroids who recovered faster and threw harder and were inserted into the lineup just to face him. This is what Clemens was like. He’s famous for his work ethic and intelligence. He faced juiced up hitters who hit the ball farther and harder than ever before and who weren’t dealing so heavily with the aches and pains of umpteen days straight of baseball games. Clemens and Bonds accomplished what they did in an age that they did it, however, not because they were cheating; it was because they were the best in their era. It was because they were great.

Point number six: Quite honestly, I haven’t spent hours of research on this topic, but I’ve done some. I keep reading that “everybody” was using performance enhancers or “most” were doing it or “estimates are that more than half” were using PED’s. I keep reading that as many pitchers as hitters were using them, which has proven to be pretty close to true when names are released. I also am not so naïve as to think that managers, trainers, coaches, GM’s, owners, and the commissioner didn’t know what was going on, choosing to turn their heads because the game’s popularity was skyrocketing. So in an era when many of the best players in the game probably used some sort of performance enhancers just like most of their peers—with the knowledge of the powers that be—insuring that they remained the best players in baseball, we still have a bunch of hypocritical sportswriters who have determined to keep everyone out of the Hall of Fame who produced during the steroid era. Yes, I said hypocritical sportswriters, leading to my last point.

My last point: If on the streets, sportswriters discovered an energy drink that made them more productive, many of them would use it. If it became apparent that the writers using the energy drink were getting more advancements, higher salaries, and more fame, I’d guess that eventually more would use it than not, especially if there were no office rules against consuming the drinks. It wouldn’t be cheating; it would be keeping up with their peers. Many of these sportswriters will refuse to ever vote for Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds or any other productive player from the “steroid era,” yet they will cheat at cards to win a meaningless game or they cheated in school to get a meaningless grade or they ingested something to keep them awake and alert when traveling and schedules were wearing them down so they could perform their jobs to their boss’s expectations. Imperfect people are judging athletes who weren’t breaking the rules and who were doing what the majority of their peers were doing—and the leaders in their sport were condoning. It’s time to give up on this holier-than-thou attitude and vote the best players of their era into the Hall of Fame. Bonds and Clemens deserve a place there, and so do many others.