Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » March 2005 » Gem o'the Day:

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03/31/2005: Gem o'the Day:

I'm ecstatic to see that Will Leitch's annual baseball season preview has just been posted over at The Black Table. Just like Every Other Baseball Writer, Leitch feels the need to address the latest MLB crisis du jour (steroids, in case you've been in exile on the island of Fernando Poo for the last several weeks). Unlike Evey Other Baseball Writer, Leitch uses some logic and dispenses Some Good Advice, instead of just blowing moral indignation out his ass like certain other sports writers I won't name (mostly because the list is so long you'd never bother to read this post):

It is important to note that what we think of steroids will be irrelevant and prehistoric in five years, if it isn't already.

In 20 years, this era will not be looked at with the scorn of "the Steroid Era." It will be looked at with amusement, back when "performance enhancers" were so crude, detectable and bad for you. Whether or not it's "good" that it's a natural evolution of the game is behind the point: It simply
is. Mark McGwire should be in the Hall of Fame, and so should Barry Bonds (obviously). The recent hullabaloo is simply because a bunch of middle-aged sportswriters are cranky because "baseball isn't like it was when I was a kid." Yeah. And there are Wal-Marts everywhere now, too. Deal with it.

As in any endeavor, baseball players will take whatever they can to allow them to become better players and prolong their careers. Can we agree, really, that the only real issue with "steroids" is they are bad for you? (Put this way: Isn't a cortisone shot to relieve shoulder pain a "performance enhancer?") In 10 years, or even now, they will have make "performance enhancers" that have no side effects. They will make the muscles stronger, make it easier for players to rebound for workouts, might even, lo, increase their hand-eye coordination. If there are no long-term effects from the drug -- which will surely be taken orally, rather than via those nasty syringes everyone is so scared of -- and they only benefit the player... how are they any different from a cortisone shot?

Every era has its scandals and players with unfair advantages. This is called "sport." Babe Ruth didn't face black pitchers. Mickey Mantle didn't have to deal with the Internet. Henry Aaron didn't face pitchers who worked out year-round. This is how it works. We are fooling ourselves if we believe one can legitimately compare different eras in baseball. You can do it better than you can in football or basketball, sure. But you still can't do it very well.

Baseball will always be changing. People throw their hands in the air about "steroid" abuse because sometime down the line, they convinced themselves that, if they'd only caught a break,
they could have played in the major leagues. It's the "normal people" game. But it isn't. Baseball is naturally evolving toward a model that only those in the prime physical condition for the game will succeed, and working toward that condition will involve more than just drinking Ovaltine before the game and a Scotch and soda afterwards. This is fine. There is nothing wrong with this.

In other words... we'd all be a lot better off if we just shut up about steroids already, because none of us has any idea what we're talking about. So that's what we're gonna do.
UPDATE: If Will hadn't published his season preview (one of the high points of the preseason every year for me), I'd have probably chosen an excerpt from this excellent column by Dave Hyde of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel: McGwire backlash is hogwash
Everyone knows you can't let McGwire and Bonds slink into the Hall of Fame on the flimsy excuse that steroids weren't banned by baseball during their seasons under question.

That'd be same low-down way Pro Football Hall of Fame voters said there was no morals clause and admitted Paul Hornung even though he gambled on games and was suspended a season.

College Football Hall of Fame voters just side-stepped an eligibility clause involving post-collegiate actions in admitting Alex Karras, who had been suspended by the NFL with Hornung.

That's why I'm delighted McGwire and Bonds will be held to the iron-clad eligibility requirements of the Hall of Fame's infamous Clause 5. Just like every elected member is. The clause stipulates:

"Voting shall be based up on the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played."

That means McGwire and Bonds must meet the high bar of Clause-5 "integrity" that infamous racist and alleged gambler Ty Cobb did.

And the "character" of pitcher John Clarkson, who slashed his wife with a razor.

And the "sportsmanship" of manager Leo Durocher, who gave $100 rewards for pitchers to throw at opposing batter's heads. Or that of Rogers Hornsby, who wrote in his autobiography:

"I've cheated or watched someone else on my team cheat in practically every game. When I played second base, I used to trip, kick, elbow or spike anybody I could. If a big league ballplayer doesn't like cutting the corners or playing with 'cheaters,' then he's as much out of place as a missionary in Russia."

Len on 03.31.05 @ 07:10 AM CST

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