Thursday, January 09, 2014

SPORTS: And HOPEFULLY My Final Word on PEDs

[Do NOT click on ANY LINK found in the comment section of this blog. No matter how innocuous the link MIGHT appear to be, it is MOST LIKELY SPAM or a link to MALWARE. I am disheartened by the need to do this, which accounts for the sparsity of posts this year.]

We are in that period of time called Navel Gazing. It is the time of year when baseball fans and baseball writers gather together to torture themselves about how to acquit themselves in the serious business of electing Baseball Hall of Fame members. It's no longer a case of whether so and so had a Hall of Fame career. But did he do it cleanly? That's the question, frequently without legal affirmation, that causes all the Navel Gazing.

The Hall of Fame will not be inducing Jack Morris next summer. He'll have to wait (probably) three more years to gain the honour when the Vets Committee will correct the (incomprehensible to me) the decision by the Baseball Writers Association of America to exclude him. The issue with some of these over-seers is a reliance on some hoary old statistics, most specifically his ERA. ERA is one of those easy to figure out numbers that SORT of correlate to what the eye sees. And Jack's ERA was too high for the doyens to avoid sniffing. The nose over-ruled the eyes, which saw a dominant career with a never-to-forget cap in a World Series. So he's out until the guys that played the game can put him in.

Another reason Jack didn't make the Hall, indeed he had an unprecedented DROP in support in this, his final year of BBWAA determined eligibility, was that the field had been fractured over the last few years by whether the individual voters would vote in suspected (and/or proven) PED users or not. This brought a well-head together this year of players with Hall of Fame numbers and brand new eligible players who also had the same. By one count, there were 17 players with Hall of Fame playing credentials on the ballot.

With a limit of 10 names per ballot.

Some players would HAVE to be left off. To some, the sheer need to continue backing their particular point of view required them to continue voting their own ethical agenda. Which, in some cases, let Morris acquire votes, as he had been steadily doing over the last few years. In the reverse, it left no room for Morris because newly eligible candidates did have more Hall-worthy careers than Morris, as did many of the suspected PED users. There is no reason to romanticize Morris' career and fluff it up here. He was a dominant pitcher for a decade and a highlight World Series video. But he wasn't as good as Greg Maddux. There is no shame in admitting that.

Bryan Curtis has written a marvelous and thorough piece at Grantland detailing the history of the PED era as it pertains to the writers chronicling it. It's must read journalism for baseball fans, journalists and the guys who study ethics all their lives at university. It names names, gives credit, shows the inertia of an entire industry to clean up its own backyard and allows some writers to plead mea culpa. In some cases, when given the opportunity, the writer plows on ahead and denies any responsibility. Won't read some writer's work any more, after reading the piece.

Which brings me to stating my opinion.

Willie Mays was my favourite baseball player. He used amphetamines. Most everybody did during the latter stages of his career. Bowls of bennies like candy were to be found around many a professional sports locker room in those days. And Mays, reportedly, was amongst the users. It pains me to write that. I know the Say Hey Kid was mortal, had weaknesses. It's dinged up that statue on the big pedestal that I placed him on. A little. Not enough to knock him off. But I can see the cracks. It hurts. Understand that.

Having said that, I am in the camp that would keep the SOB's who cheated with PEDs out of the Hall of Fame. I have no problem keeping them in the company of Pete Rose. I still feel Shoeless Joe Jackson was a different case, but that's a different blog completely. Rose broke the rules. No, Rose broke THE rule in baseball. Willfully and without apparent remorse. Repeatedly. He deserves to be banned.

Here's where I walk the fine line between allowing Willie Mays into the Hall of Fame and keeping his god-son Barry Bonds out. The amphetamines were available to all, in their time as the drug of choice. It was a time when clubs aided and abetted their use. No player was given undue advantage OR UNDUE DISADVANTAGE because of them. The bennies were used to help a player through the drudgery of a 154-game season, of having to perform at a high level for six months with barely 24 days of supposed rest and vacation during that time. Now, whether you think the drudgery excuse stands up the first week of the season (it doesn't) or not, is not germane. it was a level playing field.

What the Spotlight Five did was hare off to bathroom stalls and hotel rooms to do their drug work. By doing so, they were doing what the others of their ilk did. Hide their drug use. They were ashamed to admit to doing it, by doing it out in the open. And as such, I will accept their behaviour as their personal statement of their career. This is a Hall of Fame, not a Hall of Shame.

So keep the PED SOB's out.

Now, that allows me to smile while personally off-putting personalities like Bonds and Clemens are denied the ultimate reward for their sport. But it pains me when a generally good guy like Mark McGwire is hoisted on the same petard. He's also somebody who I don't believe actually DID have a Hall of Fame career. Not if Roger Maris didn't. Not if Paul Henderson hasn't made the Hockey Hall of Fame. One game, one year, does not a Hall of Fame career make. And McGwire didn't have Hall of Fame stats, when you discount the then Bombs record. But a helluva guy. I dismiss Sosa as a steroid-created candidate and Palmiero probably wasn't as heavily involved as others, but he'll never live down the shame of lying before Congress. Stupidity has a price.

I've heard many others opine that you must treat the PED era as a measuring stick for the PED players. That too many players were also using and, as such, you compare Clemens and Bonds to those players, rather than to the players down through history. It's a logical fallacy, Just as I ASSUME from reports that certain players were drug-fuelled, so do the supporters of this notion ASSUME Jose Canseco was right and that 80 percent of players were using during that time. Well, Canseco has occasionally puffed up his reputation (not to mention his body) and I'd call that number into dispute. But EVEN if that number was right, the players were cheating the game, themselves, the fans ... and AT LEAST 20 percent of their peers. Curtis' piece makes no bones of how frustrated some of the clean players were with their drugged up teammates and opponents.

And finally, the reason  the PED Five should be kept out. By using and succeeding, they forced their peers to make a decision. To risk health and maybe even sanity, to level out the playing field by adopting the drug regimes. Mark McGwire's success in transforming his body during Tony LaRussa's See-No-Evil regime in Oakland certainly had SOMETHING to do with Ken Caminiti's decision to hulk out later. That would be the LATE Ken Caminiti.

Oh, final reason part two. Jack Morris wasn't elected.

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