Cheating? Maybe, But Baseball is Still a Great Game

Perry ArnoldSenior Analyst IFebruary 11, 2009

Hitters of the last 15 years have hit more home runs and hit those home runs farther; they have to be juiced.

Pitchers of the last 15 years have thrown harder and have become dominant; they have to be juiced.

Barry Bonds' head got bigger; he had to be cheating.

No way players can bulk up that much that fast; they had to be using 'roids.

The mound is lower, therefore the hitters have an advantage.

The ball is wound tighter, so the ball leaves the bat at a greater speed, leading to longer home runs.

Bats are made of wood that is seasoned differently resulting in greater co-efficient of restitution leading to longer home runs.

Bats are lighter thereby increasing bat speed significantly.

Weight training, bio-metrics, isometrics, better stretching methods have all increased the ability of hitters and pitchers to improve their games. Players now work out all year long and stay in better shape in the off season so they are more ready when the season begins to hit and pitch better.

Nutrition and knowledge of nutrition is so much better in the past 15 years that players are healthier.

All Americans now eat a healthier diet and people in our country are bigger than they used to be and live longer than ever.

Stadiums are smaller than they used to be and baseball is being played in locations where the ball travels farther than it ever did before.

In the old days games were only played in the daytime therefore hitting stats were higher because players didn't have to hit under the lights.

In the old days pitchers started every third or fourth day and were expected to pitch the entire game and therefore had an opportunity to have more wins than pitchers in today's game.

Pitchers in the old days were allowed to scuff the ball, cut the ball, throw a spit ball, and for all those reasons pitchers had an advantage.

Balls were not tossed out every time they hit the dirt as they are now and one ball was used continuously until it was lost in the stands. This gave pitchers an advantage because they were throwing a dirty, misshapen baseball that was hard for hitters to pick up and follow as it came to the plate.

The old parks were much larger with more outfield ground to cover thereby giving hitters an advantage. There is much less foul ground in modern parks therefore pop-ups that would have been outs in the old days are now safely in the stands giving the hitters another chance.

Every single statement written above has been used in one way or another to justify why modern players have an advantage or why players in the days gone by had an advantage.

It is now being argued that all statistics from the steroid era should be thrown out, that no-one should be given credit for breaking any records in the past 15 years, because of the impact of steroids.

But what about pitching records when the mound was lower.

What about records that were set when the mound was lower.

How can one explain Mickey Mantles 1956 season when he won the Triple Crown for both leagues hitting in Yankee Stadium which at that time was a mammoth field?

How can one explain Babe Ruth suddenly coming out of nowhere and hitting 54 home runs in 1921 in the Polo Grounds when it resembled Yellowstone Park more than modern baseball fields?

How can one compare numbers that A-Rod put up in Texas for three years when everyone hits more home runs there? How can one compare the home runs hit in Colorado where they have to keep the balls in a humidor?

The point of all of this is all baseball fans revel in statistics. We love to look back and marvel at how Cy Young could have won 511 games when no pitcher in the past 40 years even had that many appearances.

We love to speculate as to how Lou Gehrig could have driven in 175 runs in 1927 when Babe Ruth was batting in front of him and cleared the bases 60 times before Lou came to the plate.

We love to speculate on why Sandy Koufax suddenly became the most dominant pitcher in the history of baseball for a few brief seasons when he had shown almost no promise in the minor leagues and why he abruptly quit the game at age 32.

We cannot get over the incredible feat of Cal Ripken, Jr. playing so many games in a row when other players are oft injured and take themselves out of games with a sore thumb.

It is the essence of baseball to compare these statistics. We know the historic marks.

We know what 755 home runs meant when Aaron held the record. And now we debate whether Bonds' mark really means anything if his head got bigger while he was doing it.

We knew what 60 home runs in one year meant until Maris broke the record in 1961. And then the American League President told us it wasn't fair to the Babe because the Rajah had taken eight more game to set the new mark.

We think about all the strikeouts 17 year old Bobby Feller had when he first came up to Cleveland, before he had to go back to his high school graduation and attribute his skill to hard work on the Iowa farm and constant throwing at a target on the barn.

But when Roger Clemens threw so hard and struck out so many, we now wonder if he was juiced.

There will never be an ultimate fairness in comparing one era in baseball to another. In football, every field is the same size and the field is always flat.

In basketball the court is always 94 feet long and the goals are always 10 feet from the floor and 15 feet from the free-throw line.

In tennis, every net is the same height and every base line is the same distance from the net.

But in baseball every field is unique and there have been so many fields through the ages that they cannot be compared. Modern statisticians have tried to come up with stats to measure performance in individual parks, but it is somewhat subjective at best.

The height of fences, the amount of foul territory, the angle of the outfield walls, whether there is a slope in deep center field, whether there are three monuments and a flag pole in the field of play, all make baseball unique.

And ultimately in baseball, there is nobody to block for you or to set a screen. It is you against the pitcher or it is you against the hitter. When the ball is hit in the gap it is you the center fielder who is all alone to make the race and intercept the flight of the ball, because your aging teammate in left field just can't get there anymore.

And what is truly remarkable is that this quirky, unique, individual game is the sport that places the most emphasis on statistics. Only in baseball do the numbers mean so much.

And it so unfair to judge any of our heroes, our gods with clay feet, just by the numbers.

The argument will continue as to whether the "Steroid Era" is forever tainted. The debate will continue as to whether every player of the "Steroid Era" should be banned from the Hall of Fame.

But this one fan remains unconvinced that any advantage gained by the using of the so called performance enhancing drugs should automatically and forever shroud the players who happened to come to our game at this time.

We need to give ourselves an opportunity to take a break from this, to realize that tomorrow pitchers and catchers report to those sunny fields in Florida and Arizona where all of us have dreamed of being.

We need to pause to remember that despite our beloved game having been long ago turned into a business and an entertainment, it is still our game. We need to maintain our skepticism. We need perhaps to keep our shield ready to deflect what will come next to tar our sacred game.

But we need to celebrate what a great game it is and the wonder it still provides to all of us.