Tuesday, December 07, 2004

A Fine Mess

Well, the genie is officially out of the bottle. The can of worms has been opened. What has long been suspected is now a reality. Some of baseball’s best are juicing. I’d like to preface this with a disclaimer--there are no heroes here. For all of his indignation, Bud Selig is a raging hypocrite. Let’s not forget this one fact: Bud Selig, George Steinbrenner et al were all too happy to cash the checks that fans wrote to watch players like Giambi, Bonds, McGwire, Sosa etc work their 500 ft. pharmacological magic. Any protestations about the scandal they utter only highlights their stunning resemblance to a constipated bovine.

Geez, so much to cover and no idea where to start. I guess point one is what to make of Barry Bonds achievements? Are his totals tainted?

Sure--but nowhere near the extent that some claim. Tom Boswell opined:

Let Bonds keep his 411 homers and three MVPs before he linked his fate to Anderson in '98, though we can't be sure what he might have used to aid his play before that. At least we now know what he's willing to use: anything that's put into his hands.

To completely discount almost 300 HR is to say that Bonds wouldn’t have hit a single dinger after 1998 is, to put it simply, absurd. Obviously his totals are skewered and I’m guessing that Boz’ is engaging in a little good old fashioned hyberbole. It also assumes that if you were to put Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, Carlos Beltran, or Vladmir Guerrero on Bonds’ program, they too could go five seasons averaging .339/.530/.781 with 123 runs scored and 109 RBI while blasting 258 HR from their 35th birthday. They can’t produce a 1.100 OPS in their primes (Pujols did reach 1.106 in 2003) so what makes us think they could post a 1.421 OPS when they’re 39-40 regardless of what they put into their bodies? Steroids won’t turn a bum into a Hall-of-Famer any more than they could turn Neifi Perez into Alex Rodriguez. Bonds’ achievements are due to a convergence of several circumstances: an extremely gifted (and slightly freakish genetically) athlete, an otherworldly nutrition and fitness program, an era geared to offense, and performance enhancing drugs. For laughs, let’s deduct 30% of Bonds’ totals since he turned 35: that makes him a .237 hitter, but his OBP is still a healthy .371 and his SLG is an excellent .547 and he hits not 258, but 181 HR giving him a career total of 626 dingers. What kind of player posts an aggregate OPS of .918 and blasts 181 HR for five seasons after his 35th birthday?

One of the best ever.

Yes, mentally put an asterisk beside Bonds’ totals but don’t forget that he’s still on the short list of all time greats.

I know the Yankees are working hard to rid themselves of Jason Giambi (or more pointedly their financial obligations to Jason Giambi). Now I believe cheaters should have to pay a penalty, but in l’affaire Giambi, I don’t think the Yankees should be allowed to divest themselves of all of Giambi’s remaining millions for several reasons above and beyond what’s written in the collective bargaining agreement and Giambi’s contract. First: the Yankees must have known--or at least had strong suspicions--that Giambi was chemically enhanced. To state otherwise would’ve been about as credible as Bill Clinton saying: “I thought I had a growth on my groin, I had no idea it was an intern.” They signed the deal knowing (and hoping) to get seven years of steroid-aided production from first base. They’re in no position to call foul now. Second: .208/.342/.379/$82M--.290/.393/.534/$26M. These numbers represent the production and money owed of both Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield. Both have been implicated in the BALCO scandal, the Yankees are trying to get rid of one--but not both--of these players. What are the odds that production and money owed are factoring more into this decision than the amount of besmirching to the pinstripes each has done? If Giambi were still performing at his 2000-2002 levels, the Yankees would be doing some tut-tutting but that would be it. It’s easy to find religion when you’re standing on the trap door with a noose about your neck and it’s easy for the Yankees to find morality and ethics when there’s an $82M sunk cost staring you in the face.

I’ve read a lot of vitriol in the press about this. Yes, this is a scandal. Yes, it gives baseball a black eye, but the apocalyptic rantings are a bit over the top. The fans are outraged. These are the same fans who have suspected steroid use for years yet still enable--via their wallets--the sport of baseball to continue it’s chemically aided course. Until there is a financial disincentive for using performance enhancing substances the problem will continue unabated as more sophisticated ways of beating drug tests are developed. The fans have the greatest control over this: letters to the editors, protests, resolutions, jeers, and taunts will have no effect as long as tickets are being bought. When owners and players realize drugs are hurting their bottom lines then there will be meaningful reform. This will not be the end of baseball, nor its doom. We love it too much. The only thing that will truly be learned in all this is that the maxim is indeed true: If you can hit the curveball you can get away with murder steroids.

Just ask Barry Bonds….or Jason Giambi.

Best Regards