Tuesday, December 14, 2004
On the op-ed page: One of these days I've got to write something really silly and then get it published on the New York Times op-ed page. Today's case in point is a piece written for the page by Will Carroll, a column for Baseball Prospectus.
BASEBALL fans are understandably disturbed by the news that several top players, including Barry Bonds of the San Francisco Giants and Jason Giambi of the Yankees, may have used illegal performance-enhancing drugs. Yet we have little or no idea what these drugs accomplish. Do stronger players hit the ball farther, swing the bat quicker or throw the ball harder? Does using steroids reduce fatigue so that they can do any of those things more effectively than "clean" players?
While there is no doubt that these chemicals are effective at their stated goal, albeit with significant complications, the question of how their effects manifest themselves in a baseball game has not been answered. There are no credible studies that connect drug use to improved performance, nor any that determine what cost these athletes may be paying. In 2004, Major League Baseball financed its first research grants with the pathetic sum of $100,000. The league values science about as much as one-third of the salary of the last player on the bench
This is an interesting theory. We know what steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs do for track athletes, football players, weightlifters ... every sport except for baseball. Curious.
Now Bonds and Giambi, perhaps among the 5.2 percent of players who tested positive last year, are tainted by the label "drug user" - regardless of whether the news reports about them turn out to be true.
At this point I think it is pretty safe to say that the news reports are true, simply because neither Bonds nor Giambi have publicly denied it. After all, the rich and famous are seldom shy about enlisting the services of attorneys specializing in libel suits. Of course, in the United States, truth is a defense against libel.
Perhaps Hank Aaron said it best: "I know that you can't put something in your body to make you hit a fastball, changeup or curveball." Baseball faces the same challenges as every other sport: the pressure to perform forces some to seek any advantage, legal or illegal. There is no reason to expect more from baseball than we do from society.
I've no doubt that Aaron is right about the ability to hit a major-league pitch. But it's one thing to make contact, and another to boom 73 home runs.
As for the lame step of blaming society, it's reminiscent of Monty Python's dead bishop sketch where the "husband" admits to killing bishops and leaving them by the dustbin:
It's a fair cop, but society is to blame.
Right, we'll arrest them instead!
Come on, you! Are you in society? Are you in society?
Carroll also references Bonds stats as compared with Hank Aaron and Willie Stargell. I'll let you decide whether the trend of Bonds' statistics are out of line with other hall of famers.