Buck Weaver lives!

Buck Weaver hit .324 in the 1919 World Series with five extra base hits—four doubles and a triple; he also scored four runs. He received no money from gamblers or his teammates connected to throwing the Fall Classic. He will always be remembered as one of the “Eight Men Out” and “The Black Sox” and remains permanently ineligible for the Hall of Fame or employment in baseball (although the process of decomposition and saponification renders that latter point moot).

In fact, he was not connected in any way to the fix. That being the case, why does he suffer lasting ignominy along with Chick Gandil, Swede Risberg and Eddie Cicotte?

He knew about the conspiracy to throw the World Series and said nothing.

In recent weeks, much has been written about the Mitchell report, Pete Rose, Joe Jackson and the Black Sox in discussing how the steroid era fits in among baseball’s great scandals. One question that has not been answered is this: How many Buck Weavers are there in baseball’s performance-enhancing drug chapter? How many players (not to mention coaches, trainers, managers, GMs, team executives, etc.) never injected themselves with human growth hormone, rubbed THG into their skin or popped a pill containing Stanozolol yet knew those who did but remained mute?

What about them?

Weaver was said to have “guilty knowledge” and that was enough for him to be barred from organized baseball. Many in the media (and others) have called for tough sanctions for the Winstrol versions of Gandil, Cicotte and Risberg, but have been strangely silent on the Weavers of the “Black Syringes.”

In fact, most players make it perfectly clear that they’re determined to remain tight-lipped about what they know. They were asked to come forward regarding a scandal which, as has been said repeatedly, affects the integrity of the sport but let it be known that they would not divulge their information.

To the best of our knowledge, nobody asked Buck Weaver about what he knew, but George Mitchell did ask for the modern day Weavers to step forward and none did (save Frank Thomas).

Does that make today’s code of silence surrounding steroid use more damnable than the non-disclosure of Weaver, the former star third baseman? Many wish to nail the guilty “Black Syringes” to the wall—but what about those who never used but had “guilty knowledge”?

This is why it is wrong to punish a select few by denying them entrance into Cooperstown. The era was allowed to grow and fester in part because today’s Buck Weavers refused to blow the whistle on the users. Some of these very players are potential Hall of Famers. If the original Buck Weaver received such heavy sanction, then is it right to let his modern counterparts walk away scot-free?

All I ask about this era and how history will look at it is consistency. It has been almost 90 years since Buck Weaver suffered permanent banishment. The commissioners, Judge Landis, Happy Chandler, Ford Frick, Spike Eckert, Bowie Kuhn, Peter Ueberroth, Bart Giamatti, Fay Vincent and Bud Selig, all have been aware of Buck Weaver’s circumstances and all have demonstrated by their actions (or inaction) that they think Landis’ judgement was correct.

If the “Black Syringes” —Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, etc.—are deemed unworthy of baseball’s highest honor, then let’s have the intellectual honesty to do likewise with the Buck Weavers of baseball’s steroid era.

Slammin’ Sammy

Does anybody find it odd that Sammy Sosa has yet to be linked officially with anabolic steroids? The evidence of his juicing consists of: a corked bat (which by extension makes Billy Hatcher, Graig Nettles, Wilton Guerrero, etc. juicers as well), an odd performance in front of the Senate committee where he feigned a lack of ability to speak in English (while it was lame, I would not speak in such a situation unless I could in my mother tongue, either), an affidavit describing a conversation he had regarding amphetamines, and an extremely muscular physique.

And that is it.

For the record, three 60-homer seasons and a career of 600+ round-trippers, while a unique dual accomplishment in baseball history, isn’t proof—it’s the data point that makes people suspicious.

The thing is, a while ago I wrote:

Personally, I think Sosa juiced. Having said that, it’s also a privately held opinion (not anymore I guess) … If I had a Hall of Fame vote I would be very uncomfortable casting a nay vote on the basis of steroid use with the evidence cited above. I think he used, but I’d need more proof before I’d go on the record that I think he’s guilty. It’s a paradox to be sure; my opinion and my conscience at are odds here … However my conscience wouldn’t allow me to vote guilty even though I think he is/was a user.

Now, I’m not so sure even about that.

A lot of information and allegations in recent weeks implied that proof regarding Sosa’s (alleged) steroid use was forthcoming and we’re still right where we were when I wrote the above snippet on June 22, 2007. To be sure, he had a remarkable comeback. He was coming off a season in which he didn’t play that was preceded by his worst season since he was in his early 20s. Still, he provided above-league-average offense (102 OPS+), slugged more than 20 HR and mauled left-handed pitching to the tune of .328/.410/.613.

Maybe he is legitimately that talented.

For the time being, I’m perfectly willing to state that Sosa’s four seasons averaging 61 HR and his career 609 are the genuine article. This much is certain: It was the perfect storm for such a run. Consider that the era itself was conducive to the 60-HR barrier being breached by someone (smaller parks, lighter and harder bats, livelier baseballs, better weight training and nutrition, a shrinking strike zone, and pitchers being actively discouraged from pitching inside).

In addition, Sosa’s years of 66, 63, 50 and 64 HR from 1998-2001 occurred during the four seasons he was the age a hitter’s power generally peaks (late 20s-early 30s). Further, they coincided with the seasons he garnered the most hits (198, 180, 193 and 189), AB (642, 643, 625 and 604), doubles (116), and percentage of balls in play being hits (.302 BA).

For a power hitter, getting 30-45 more hits will translate into a lot more home runs. Sosa improved both his contact and plate discipline at the same time his power spiked. If the home runs came first followed by the walks, I could see pitchers avoiding his “new-found” power. The home run spike, however, seemed to coincide with greater selectivity, much improved contact and many more opportunities while playing half his games in a good home run park.

A perfect storm.

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