Degrees of Scum

Will Carroll, whose analysis of the baseball steroid issue is second to none, makes a great point.

One final note: While I agree with Sen. Mitchell’s call for a blanket amnesty for all users, named and not named, prior to the testing agreement in 2004, I have a problem with several of the players in the report acting as salesmen and distributors for Radomski. Drug use is wrong, but drug trafficking is a far larger issue and one that I feel calls for not only suspensions, but the consideration of larger penalties.

To me, this should be where our thinking is. The thinking of our self-important self-righteous SMTs when it comes to future HOF voting seems to fall into three camps:

1) Ban any players who might have done steroids, possibly even refusing to vote for anyone from the steroid era. This is ridiculously puritanical. The HOF is filled with segregationists, spit-ballers, sign stealers, mugs, thugs and pugs. We have never held baseball players to a terribly ethical standard. So why start now?

Well, the reason to start now is because a lot of the SMTs are feeling guilty because the knew what was going on and said nothing. And the reason to start now is because the SMTs feel stupid because they lavished praise on Bonds and Clemens and McGwire only to look dumb later on. And so, in their anger and arrogance, they throw the blame squarely on the players. Jason Stark is the only writer I’ve heard even start to take some of the blame for the steroid era.

It reminds me of the Pete Rose business. The press spent decades telling us how wonderful he was. And then when it turned out he was a corrupt asshole, they turned on him like a pack of wolves.

Never forget the first rule of the SMT: we were always right.

Moreover, as Carroll points out, banning players from the HOF is ex post facto punishment. Steroids were illegal before testing, but they were not banned by the league (similar to the way sunday games used to be illegal but not banned). The most fascinating part of the Mitchell report is the internal e-mails of the Red Sox, who clearly knew who was using. Everyone in baseball management knew this was going on but no one did anything until the outcry. And to turn around and punish only the players because they took advantage of the league’s tacit tolerance of the juice is unfair.

Finally, there is not enough evidence that steroids really make a ballplayer better to exclude everyone. I have no problem with a slightly tougher standard, but this extremism is silly.

2) Only exclude players on whom we have good evidence. This is fairer but puts in a “don’t get caught” morality into the league. And again, show me the proof that steroids make ballplayers better.

The only scientific study to date — that of Baseball Prospectus — showed little effect. Yes, two of the best players of all time did them. So did many guys who flopped right out of the league. And the latter outnumber the former.

3) Only exclude guys we don’t like. I suspect this is the way it will go down. Because that’s the way it’s going now. Guys who suck up to the media and appear contrite (Betancourt, Giambi) are forgiven; those who obfuscate (Bonds, Clemens, McGwire, Palmiero) are pilloried. In that sense, Andy Pettite is the smartest guy in the room. He immediately confessed. By opening day, he’ll be getting cheered again.

I don’t think we should play these games. We can apply a tougher standard on HOF considerations, we can drop guys from the era a little bit in compilations of “best ever”. But we don’t get up on a high horse (option 1), we don’t play witch hunt (option 2) and we certainly don’t play favorites (option 3).

But Carroll makes another good point. The only players I would seriously punish are those who were spreading the gospel. It is clear that several players were spreading steroids like a virus, aiding and encouraging their use.

The worst was that scumbag Canseco, who is currently being lauded by the media because, of the hundreds of names he threw out, one or two stuck. Has anyone read Canseco’s book? Because my understanding is that he talks about how great steroids are.

Oh, he’s a whistleblower. Bullshit. He’s a media whore. Ken Caminiti was the first player to go public on steroids. Canseco took advantage of the scandal to cash in on his own scumbaggery. That ain’t a hero.

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3 Responses to “Degrees of Scum”

  1. Harley says:

    in 10 15 years this will all be moot.
    Players will be REQUIRED, or at lest encouraged to us prefomance enhancers.

    I op for them all being on LSD while on the field. THAT would make it more interesting. LOL.

  2. owlcroft says:

    Re: “there is not enough evidence that steroids really make a ballplayer better”. There is, in fact, a mass of evidence that steroids have little or no effect on performance, especially batting performance. There are at least four studies, three published and my own close to it:

    Professor Arthus DeVany: “Steroids, Home Runs and the Law of Genius”

    Nate Silver (2005): Steroids

    Nate Silver (2006 – different approach): “What Do Statistics Tell Us About Steroids?”

    When my own is finished, it will be at http://highboskage.com/steroids.shtml; I have the analysis done, but am now developing comments on the Mitchell Report, which is a lawyerly mess.

    Oh, who am I? The guy George F. Will referred to in The new York Times as “the most important baseball thinker you have never heard of.” I’m not trying to brag, just to give some credibility to the idea of my having done a relevant study.

  3. Mike says:

    Great contribution! I’ll be sure to reference it in future posts!