No shortcuts

While he’s not as over-the-top as Rick Reilly about it, SI’s Tom Verducci likewise pretends to know who has and who hasn’t done steroids. My favorite part:

He is right about the guessing game. It is laughable how people want to draw simplistic conclusions about steroids and home runs. Take Rodriguez, for instance. People want to explain his home runs in Texas via steroids, ignoring the ballpark effects and the youthful prime of his career. Similarly, it is naïve to put those three years in their own lockbox, which would be, for one, to believe a highly suspect person at face value that somehow he did not use before or since, and secondly, to ignore the physiological benefits even from those three years.

This after Veducci himself has (1) played the guessing game by assuming that Carlos Delgado has never done steroids;* (2) drawn simplistic conclusions about steroids and home runs by assuming home run totals say something instructive about steroid use; and (3) put the years 1996-2003 in a lockbox, calling them the height of the steroid era and assuming that there was not substantial and significant use before or since.

Look, I appreciate what Veducci is trying to do here. He, like so many of us, wants to bring some kind of certainty to bear on steroids’ impact on baseball. He wants to draw a line around certain players and statistics so we can at least have some kind of a foothold for assessing the era in which we find ourselves. The fact of the matter, however, is that no analysis, such as it is, like this one going to achieve that certainty or allow us to separate the wheat from the chaff. Rather, it’s going to take a lot of time and a lot of reporting and scholarship. In the meantime, we’re just going to have to live with our vague senses about this stuff and have some faith that the enduring nature of the game — and the work of history — will sort all of this stuff out for us.

*I’ll grant that it’s very possible — likely even — that Delgado didn’t use steroids. His denials sound impassioned and genuine. But if we’ve learned anything in recent years, it’s that we cannot rely on a player’s word about this subject. Perhaps that’s unfair to Delgado, but if it is, he should take the matter up with Messers. Palmiero, Clemens, Rodriguez, and others.

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  1. Aaron Moreno said...

    I think it’s natural for people to come to a conclusion, even based off of minimal evidence. Sometimes, we just need to say, “I don’t know what happened” and leave it at that until we get more information. But that doesn’t make good copy.

  2. Ron said...

    I like the way he referred to the alleged steroied users as ‘dirty’.

    Now, personally, that’s a word I would reserve for murderers, terrorists, rapists and child molesters.

    But I see my priorities have been skewed. I’m just glad we have people like this to be our moral compass.

  3. J. McCann said...

    I can give Delgado the benefit of the doubt, since he seems to have a strong moral code, and because he is from Puerto Rico.  I would not believe anybody from the Dominican Republic, sorry.

    But, in the end we’ll have to honor the best players from this era just like any other era, and not admire someone just because he had a 50 HR season in the 90’s.  Maybe we give extra credit to hitters who didn’t hit a lot of HR’s.

  4. Chipmaker said...

    Offered as support that steroids may, indeed, have no affect on hitting homers:

    Clemens has been a 6’4” ox since college, and he has NEVER hit one.

    I’m surprised Rusty Hardin hasn’t used this factoid yet.

  5. Pete Toms said...

    I got into this debate with a fellow member of the Shyster flock earlier this week. I know most of you think it is too simplistic to equate the increased number of HRs with steroid use, but I don’t.  I understand there are other factors, the baseball, bats and smaller ballparks but I think you’re making this more complicated than it is.  Steroids contributed greatly to the HR era.  Why have HRs declined the past few (handful?) of seasons?  Are the bats softer?  Has the ball been changed (plausible) again?  I don’t think enough new ballparks have come on line to make a significant impact….how about PED testing?

    Ok, go ahead now and tell me I’m dumb.

    I do agree though that to make the assumption that anybody played dirty (sorry Ron, that doesn’t offend me) or clean is a waste of time.  We will NEVER know if the vast majority of players used or didn’t.  HGH is only one reason why.

  6. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Pete—I won’t call you dumb.  When I said it was simplistic to say that home runs say anything about steroid use, I don’t mean that steroids don’t lead to more home runs.  I’m sure they do, even if people may disagree about the directness of the relationship.

    My point is that you can’t name users simply by looking at home run totals because (a) with the possible exception of Bonds’ 73, there are numerous historic precedents for 50-60 home run seasons; and (b) there are numerous named and/or admitted steroid users who didn’t experience home run spikes for whatever reason.  Indeed, many named in the MR went down in power when they used, presumably because they were using to try and hold on longer during their declines than they were trying to raise their peaks even higher.

    Either way it was cheating, and it would do a great disservice to everyone involved if we simply assumed that the power hitters and the fireballers were the only ones using.

  7. obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

    The Baseball Economist has already reported that HGH does not help a baseball player play better baseball and has horrible side effects (internal organs grow large and push out of your belly area).

    High Boskage House (Eric Walker of A’s and “Sinister Firstbaseman” fame) has found that the surge of HR since 1993 is most probably due to a juiced ball plus has his own take on steroids and PEDS:

    He also explained the “lack” of HR in the past couple of seasons, if I remember right.

  8. haje16 said...

    currently reading the torre book -good stuff by the way. how though did rick helling get up and announce that the game was rife with steroids every year for four years and not one journalist took up the cause? I get that the players union and the rest of baseball turned a blind eye to the charge but arent journalists supposed to root this shite out? are they supposed to chase a story to its conculsion rather than just ignore it as the ramblings of a fool -which Helling clearly wasnt.

  9. Scott said...

    Like Aaron said above, I don’t have enough evidence to make a meaningful conclusion. But why should I let that stop me?

    I’m going to stick with my assertion that they’re all “dirty”. Every player, coach, executive and reporter who plied their trade during the steroid era. Even if they never stuck themselves with a needle, took an inappropriate pill or rubbed on a suspicious ointment. They all reaped the benefits. For that matter, we reaped the benefits too. So Tom, since we all abused PEDs, can we drop the teary-eyed innocence and take a substantive look at the era?

    I’ve seen some great suggestions for meaningful articles about PEDs and baseball. Personally, I want to know about the drugs themselves. What were the benefits? Were they real? What were the risks? What are their legitimate uses? Shyster had a boatload of great suggestions a couple days ago here: and I’m sure there dozens of other interesting and informative ways to examine the drug culture of the steroids era.

    This gossip-column stuff is something I can do with my friends. I’m hoping our professional journalists can do better than that.

  10. Pete Toms said...

    Craig, agreed that PED use was ubiquitous, not contained to HR hitters and hard throwers.

    haje16, yes, I’ve ranted here about the incompetence of the beat reporters.

    Scott, yes again.  Everybody accepted the obvious, that the game was juiced, including us fans.

    The best question is the philosophical one.  Do we care?  Should we care?  Neyer this week linked to an SI article from 69 detailing PED use in elite sports.  Its not going away, because the rewards are so great and the athletes so competitive.  The more things change…

  11. Scott said...


    Sure we juiced a long with the rest of them. But it sure was fun, wasn’t it? I learned to love baseball during the steroid era. Even with all of the side effects, I’m going to treasure those memories.

  12. William Jameson said...

    Obsessive: I don’t find your man’s claims convincing at all re: “Steroids have a markedly greater effect on upper-body strength than on lower-body strength”. He’s extrapolating from studies on rodents. If you don’t think steroids markedly improve lower body strength go to a powerlifting competition and watch 250lb men squatting more than half a ton. Yes, it’s anecdotal evidence but there is an absolutely overwhelming amount of it.

    And here we get to one of the real problems: there aren’t all that many reputable clinical studies measuring the effects of steroids on human beings. The ethical problems of any such research are too big to get these sorts of studies past institutional review boards. In this particular time and place anyway.

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