Monday, January 16, 2012
PED injustice and the HallPosted by Mat Kovach
Hall of Fame vote is frustrating. Something is wrong with either the procedure or the people involved in the voting. This became clear when Barry Larkin’s deserving, and late, induction became a second tier story to who did not make it and the ongoing assault about the role of steroids or PEDs*.
* For the remainder, I’ll refer to PEDs to include steroids, HGH, etc.—anything that has been considered Performance Enhancing Drugs. It will also refer only to those performance enhancing drugs that are banned and/or tested for.
The leaking of Ryan Braun’s positive drug test, currently in appeal means at some point we’ll be forced to hear the opinion of members of the Baseball Writesr Association of America (who do the Hall voting) on the validity of numbers, the historical content of PEDs, and the presentation of evidence about PED usage by players. Even if Braun’s appeal is successful, we’ll hear writers' opinion about what should have been done if Braun was actually suspended.
There has to be more reason for this constant discussion than what is presented on the surface.
There are writers who say using drugs is illegal and people using PEDs* are therefore breaking the law which lacks integrity as well as specific rules of baseball. Despite that writers will vote for players, and support active players, even when they break the rules of baseball or demonstrate a lack of integrity.
* When I use the term "‘using PEDs" or "PED user" i am talking about people who have admitted to using PEDs and those who are simply suspected of using PEDs. It is impossible to tell if the writers are concerned if there is a difference. Given that I’ll group the convicted and suspected together for my discussion about writers.
The Hall of Fame includes admitted spitballer Gaylord Perry. Whitey Ford's plaque stands in the Hall despite his admission to throwing doctored baseballs, including in the 1962 All-Star game to strike out Willie Mays. Writers use the cheaters excuse inconsistently, so when they do trot it out, safely dismiss it.
A standard is set. Writers often use the statistical standard of the players in the Hall in arguments for or against players. They will use bad behavior only as a reason to not vote for somebody, ignoring substantial information that cheaters and other bad people are already in.
So writers will set various levels of badness to rules, allowing some to be broken without incurring penalty. Given the example of Perry and Ford, I have never heard of a writer who voted them into the Hall advocating allow the spitball to be part of the game. If one argument is that cheaters should not be in the Hall, how can the next argument be that people who didn’t cheat that badly can still be considered. Logically this does not sense.
When Derek Jeter feigned being hit by a pitch, even to the point of allowing the trainer to inspect him for injuries, writers, fans, and even the manager on the opposing team thought it was a good baseball move. Willfully lying to the umpire, a lie that because of the nature of the play could not visually determine if the ball hit Jeter, is good? I wonder if this commercial played during that game. Jeter’s action did the exact opposite of what we teach about integrity. This was not attempting to deceive another player or team but the people you want to make the right call on the field. If this lack of integrity is a good baseball move, then how can you argue that integrity is needed for be eligible for an award or getting into the Hall of Fame. People will point to Jeter's fake injury as a reason that he deserves to be in the Hall.
Writers' claims of PED users as cheaters lacking integrity still have not given a reason why they won’t vote for a PED user. They have a different agenda when they ostracize PED users.
Let’s remember PED users took advantage of a tool that allowed them to train better. The increased training made them better athletes, allowing them to improve their baseball skills. They used something that baseball, their own union, and the players themselves did not feel strongly enough about to eliminate by testing the players.
PEDs are no magic pill; you have to work hard to get any advantage from them. A number of players who used PEDs achieved little of note in baseball. At the very least, players who used PEDs and are in consideration of seasonal or lifetime awards worked very hard to get there. The reason they are in consideration is because of the hard work. You may feel the PEDs increased their numbers* but ignoring those numbers is ludicrous.
* This is questioned by many sources. If the effects of PEDs were well known it would be easy to regress players' numbers. Without solid evidence on the effects of PEDs one can’t unauthenticate the statistics except arbitrarily. But arbitrary denouncements are what we are trying to avoid.
The underlying issue seems almost personal. That underlying issue is so important that writers, seemingly, want to rewrite history.
So where do we look for an underlying issue.
The Twilight Zone.
Based on a 1950 short story by Damon Knight, Rod Serling’s teleplay of To Serve Man described how Michael Chambers happened to be on a spaceship. Told in flashback form, the cryptographer talks about Kanamits' visit to Earth. To Serve Man models a history of writers and PEDs.
The Kanamits, nine-foot aliens that communicate telepathically, visit the Earth uninvited. They use the United Nations to assure that they come with good intentions. To prove this the Kanamits help end world hunger, provide a cheap energy source, render nuclear weapons harmless, help cure diseases, and help to bring world peace.
The Kanamits* did leave a book at the U.N., but given the difference in languages, only the title had been determined, To Serve Man. Despite government and military insistence to decrypt the entire book to find out the true intention of the aliens, many people including Chambers assume that Kanamits have the best moral intentions and soon start signing up to visit the Kanamits' home planet, touted as a paradise. People assumed that To Serve Man was a message about how they wished to serve mankind.
* Fun note: Richard Kiel played the Kanamit. Also Jaws in several James Bond films.
Only, when Chambers is boarding the spaceship to travel to the Kanamits’ home planet is it revealed that To Serve Man is a cookbook. By then, it is too late for Chambers, and he is soon forced to accept his fate of becoming an alien dinner.
Many quality points to learn from the story. I am going to focus on Chambers as today’s baseball writers who were writing during the PEDs era of baseball. Kanamits are home runs and fans are the masses of people either traveling unknowingly to become a Kanamitian dinner or left to face the future on Earth.
Michael Chambers had a simple, yet important job; using his cryptology skill to decipher To Serve Man. However, failing to question the actions of the Kanamits, he assumed their motives were good. They must be moral and humane, they want to serve mankind. Those who did question their motives were trivialized. Chambers went along for the ride. In the end his lack of critical thinking and questioning the motives affected not only him but all of mankind.
This is the situation with PEDs. We expected the writers to turn their critical eye to the game of baseball. The home runs were the Kanamits. We, as fans, expected the writers to let us know if something was wrong. If the reporters, in the clubhouse, were not questioning things, why should we? Writers treated the offensive explosion just as Chambers viewed his encrypted cookbook, with complacency.
- It is easy, in retrospect, to see the questions Chambers should have asked himself to motive himself to crack the book.
- How can we put human values on aliens, including ones that communicate in a completely different way then we do?
- The Kanamits went to great lengths to make sure that mankind was fed, healthy, and not killing each other. Why did we just assume that they had our best interest when they clearly went out of their way to visit us?
- Why in the heck were they so concerned about the weight of people when they were loading the spaceship? Given the advanced language and technology they surely did not need this information for a technical reason.
Clearly Chambers fell down on his job. When we comeback from the flashback we see the Kanamits encouraging him to eat, so we doesn’t lose weight, and Chambers slowly is resigned to his fate and eats.
Baseball writers, as the offense numbers started to rise, stopped critical thinking and went along for the ride. They lost the ability or desire to look for the reason behind the increase in offensive numbers. They were, quite simply, acting like Michael Chambers looking forward to a pleasant trip with the Kanamits to the benefit of themselves. They were not thinking that they were being misled when their job is, specifically, is not to be misled. The fans were falling in love with the home run and they went along with the ride.
It didn't end until Jose Canseco starting running around saying, ‘To Serve Man’ is a cookbook.
The writers are now Chambers sitting on a spaceship left to think about their own inaction each time a vote comes around. Instead of accepting their fate, as Chambers does when he starts to eat, they are insisting on blaming others. They blame the home runs and the players who hit them.
The Kanamits didn’t do anything but benefit from Chambers, and others, basically assuming that the Kanamits wanted to server mankind. PED users got by only because the writers lacked common sense. The Kanamits provided things which we can compare to the statistics generated during the PED era. Eliminating them is an attempt to retroactively change history to an image we desire.
The reporters need to follow Chambers' lead and resign themselves to a history they enabled. Not taking into account the relative value of the players in relation to the era they played in continues to harm the history of the game. This point is curiously ironic. Reporters will argue that Jack Morris belongs in the Hall of Fame since we was the best pitcher in the '80s. His numbers are lacking compared to pitchers who have been elected but he is worthy despite, well, being worthy.
If Jack Morris can be worthy despite his lack of credentials, how can other players with credentials be seen as unworthy because somebody cheated when they played*.
* Which should not be referred to as "The Jeff Bagwell" voter effect.
Most importantly, the writers will continue to discredit players like Barry Larkin by relegating their stories behind the controversy. That is just another shame they need to learn to deal with and correct.
Indians fan, member of the Duane Kuiper Fan Club, Spitball Researcher, Contact me on twitter, @siddfinch, via email or avian carrier