So the best looking neck in sports came out of his injection-free bathroom this week when Mark McGwire admitted to using steroids. Now we get to talk about this until the NFL conference championships at the turn of the week. That is unless McGwire decides to have an extra-marital affair with Tiger Woods between now and then.
But what does the McGwire admission mean?
We are so anesthetized by the admission of a different Major League Baseball player every few months that we are not surprised by the newest tear-filled confession of sins to the television cameras. Fans, critics and baseball people alike now suspect everyone who played in this generation and had prolonged health or immense success may have done steroids. Nothing has really changed.
However, one issue will live on no matter how many sluggers come out: hall of fame balloting.
Who’s in? Who’s out? Who did steroids? Who didn’t?
These questions will be asked each year, and after each ballot, sports networks and radio personalities will break down the credentials of each player. Sooner rather than later, those credentials and stats won’t just include ERA, home run totals and career batting averages, but steroid allegations, confession dates, positive drug tests and whether or not the players on the ballot were connected to steroids.
So how do we treat this? It’s easy and I’ll lay it down for you like this: either they all get in or they all stay out. It’s as simple as that.
Every player, alleged user or not, who played in the “Steroids Era” should be considered with equal treatment. They should all be tainted or none of them should.
If the abuses of these performance enhancers are as widespread as we are to believe, then we should treat everyone as being guilty.
And if many of the accusations are allegations without proof, how do we sort out those who have legitimate complaints against their accusers from those who are guilty? There is no test to determine this. For every McGwire there are ten other players who deny using despite having been implicated. And for every one of those players, there may be ten more that used but have not been caught nor implicated.
Hypothetically, the steroid epidemic of the nineties should be considered league-wide. Despite the fact that many claim the likes of Ken Griffey, Jr. or Jim Thome never touched the stuff and should be first ballot HOFers, they too should be treated as tainted candidates for Cooperstown. Griffey and Thome are widely considered to be the golden children of the era as they have not been implicated in the use of PEDs, but wasn’t that Alex Rodriguez guy a former holder of that title?
Just like McGwire said he was unfortunate to play in the steroids era, Griffey and Thome can literally make that claim if they are kept out of the hall because they were supposedly clean players who competed in a period of time when steroids were rampant. Their case is much more convincing than Big Mac’s, especially when considering Mac made it sound like being in the steroids era forced him to partake.
That’s like someone growing up in the sixties claiming that the “era” forced him or her to smoke marijuana. Or someone from my era saying that the culture of the time forced him to get Z. Cavaricci knock-off pants and pass them off as the real thing. Picture it:
Associated Press Reporter: So, Josh is it…we have this photo here of your pants from 1988. We have enhanced them so that you can see the 2-inch long white tag on the fly. Are these your pants?
Me: Yes, sir. I believe they are.
Reporter: Now, it clearly shows that this white strip is a simple piece of fabric that you have cut and sewn to a pair of replica Z. Cavaricci pan—wait no…is that a staple holding it on?
Me: I can see that one might see it that way.
Reporter: And on this white strip, it clearly has lettering on it that someone has written “Z. Cavaricci” and spelled it wrong, with just one “C”.
Reporter: You are aware that Z. Cavariccis were very popular at this time. It should also be noted that only originals made one “cool”. Replicas were just a way of saying, “Hey! Look at me and how lame I am.” What do you have to say for yourself?
Me (through tears): I just wish I hadn’t lived in that era…Z. Cavaricci usage was so prevalent and I just wanted to be like everyone else.
I looked dang good in those pants, too. Anyway…
Baseball has gone through many “eras” that have forced hall of fame voters to cast ballots along the lines of those periods of time. The Dead Ball Era of the early 1900s saw low scoring, defensive contests with dominant pitchers like Cy Young, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson. However, hall of fame hitters like Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Nap Lajoie and many others are in Cooperstown without prodigious home run numbers.
Other factors that have defined eras of baseball include expansion, the length of seasons in terms of games and time, the distance required to hit a home run and several more that only baseball historians could hash out. Even in the 1960s, rules were changed to inject (no pun intended…okay maybe it was) more offense into the game as pitching had gained a dominant foothold on even the best of lineups.
In 1968, Carl Yastremski led the American League in batting with a .301 average, the lowest in history. In that same year, Bob Gibson finished his season with an ERA of 1.12. The following season, the strike zone was changed and the pitching mound was lowered. However, the pitching dominated era still produced its fair share of hall of famers at the plate and on the mound.
Baseball players should be judged with their contemporaries, and if you judge the generation of players from the nineties and into the next century, they should be held to the industry standard from that time period like they always have when comes to the Baseball Writers of America and their HOF voting.
Unfortunately for baseball fans, this industry standard includes the pervasive use of steroids, human growth hormone and other performance enhancing drugs. We need to face that and either let them all in or keep them all out. There cannot be qualifications that address whether someone came clean or how many times their name was leaked from a report or a lab.
The truth of it is that baseball did not test for these substances and they were the ones in many cases who turned their backs on what was going on. BUT…that was the culture of baseball and the era in which those players competed.
Every statistic, every record and every player needs to be looked upon with their contemporaries and then the decision should be clear. That’s why Babe Ruth’s tenure was so impressive and why a starting pitcher with an ERA under 2.00 in a season of today’s game is equally extraordinary. Everything is relative to what is going on around these high-priced athletes in terms of how the game is played and trends of the era.
I loathe what has happened to our game just as much as the next Barry Bonds-hating baseball fan does. But we cannot invalidate some while exalting others especially when we still know so little about what was going on during the time of bathroom injections.
Let them all in or keep them all out, but the worst thing we can do is pick and choose based on who came clean and who is suspected. The standard needs to be the same for everyone from the era because they were all affected by it…for better or for worse.
Joshua Wikler writes a column hosted on his blog, http://scoreboardwatching.wordpress.com