The Sosa connection, or lack thereof

Will Carroll said something really interesting about the Sosa stuff over at Prospectus last night:

I’ve always followed the steroid story as something of an epidemic. It often follows the same models, centering around hubs and nodes. The hubs are players like Jose Canseco or Bill Romanowski in the NFL who were evangelists for the substances, but the nodes are usually the drug distributors. The Bay Area had BALCO, Baltimore had their “star”, and Dallas had their Hollywood connection, while the NFL had doctors in Pittsburgh and Charlotte, among others, who were willing to supply. Chicago, however, doesn’t have this issue or at least hasn’t. Looking at the Cubs roster in 2003 and a year previous, there’s *no one* that tested positive or that has even had much speculation surrounding their production. It will be interesting to see if the 2003 list shows such a cluster existed or if Sosa was one of few singular users.

If I had to guess, I’d say that there is a Dominican Republic cluster, as by all accounts, steroids are far more readilly available down there than here. As you’ll recall, almost all of the Mitchell report users were revealed via their American dealers. It’s quite possible that there were and are many steroids users who obtained their PEDs from pharmacies in San Pedro de Macorís as opposed to the Kirk Radomski’s of the world.

Which leads to another interesting thing: the perjury angle. As you’ll recall, Sammy Sosa testified to Congress a few years ago. Today, many are wondering whether he will be subject to criminal scrutiny for saying, under oath, that he didn’t do steroids.

Except he never said that. He said “To be clear, I have never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs.” He said “I have never injected myself or had anyone inject me with anything.” He said “I have not broken the laws of the United States or the laws of the Dominican Republic. I have been tested as recently as 2004, and I am clean.” All of those statements allow for the possibility that he used substances that were legal in the Dominican Republic that would have been illegal to use in the United States.

I’ve said in the past that, contrary to the naysayings of others, Sosa was well-advised to have used an interpreter during his Congressional testimony. In light of yesterday’s news, this is even more true, because it now appears that he needed to thread a very tiny needle to keep himself out of legal jeopardy. From what I can see, he threaded it brilliantly, and as a fellow shyster, my hat is off to whoever advised Sammy back in 2005 for pulling off what I can only call a work of legal art.

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Comments

  1. Bob Tufts said...

    Of the 26 suspension since 2005, 10 have been Dominican players. It is an epidemic and an example of lifeboat ethics of survival – risk your life to sign and send $$$ home to your family on the poorest island in the hemisphere.

  2. Jack Marshall said...

    A point and a question, Craig.

    The point is that Sosa’s statement at the hearing was so obviously threading a rhetorical and legal needle that it was one of the main reasons people (like me) became convinced that Sosa was a user and a liar.  That’s legal art only if you are the kind of analyst who thinks “it depends what the meaning of ‘is’ is” is a slam-dunk rebuttal. Sure, it avoids perjury—-so does taking the 5th on the stand. But they both make you look guilty as hell. (Sosa’s statement is also deceit—-making a statement that is literally true but designed to deceive casual listeners into thinking it means something very different from what it really does mean. This is, as I’m sure you know, specifically designated as ethical misconduct for a lawyer in Rule 8.4 of the Rules of Professional Conduct if a lawyer does it personally. It is a form of dishonesty.)

    Now the question: has anyone ever explained WHY a steroid user would take that 2003 test? To find out if the test works? If that was the point, then the union was actively attempting to assist players in cheating. Maybe a player was unsure if he was using steroids? No, even Manny isn’t THAT stupid. To make sure one’s name was on a list that was sure to end up in the hands of the Feds if the union didn’t destroy it seconds after it was compiled? The fact that there were “only” 104 players who volunteered for this only indicates to me that there were 104 morons using steroids, and the non-morons had the sense to take a pass.

  3. Jeff V. said...

    “Baltimore had their “star”“

    I thought the Baltimore hub came from a trainer with one former player (Larry Bigbie)dropping a lot of names to the Mitchell report.

  4. Dan said...

    But he said “I have never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs.”  Isn’t that sentence a lie?  The statement that he hasn’t broken the laws of the US or DR may be hazy, but even if he took the drugs in the DR, he still played in the US on the substance. 

    Separate thought.  Sosa is probably the best example of a player benefiting from PEDs.  Came up a scrawny base stealer.  Had 32 steals in his first full season and then had 3 60+ home run seasons with ridiculous RBI totals.  But the thing I can’t get past is the guy also used a corked bat!  I mean how many ways is a guy going to cheat?  To me the corked bat on top of the PEDs puts Sosa in a league of his own.  Yet no one brings up that incident.  It’s weird.

  5. lar said...

    Jack,

    Those 104 positives from 2003 represented somewhere between 7-10% of the actual tests administered (I’ve seen different numbers in different places). If you extrapolate that, then at least 1,000 players were tested. Given that there were only 750 players on the active 25-man rosters at the time (and 1,200 players on the 40-man rosters), then it seems pretty clear that they tested alll of MLB. Now, maybe the test also included low-minor league players – I don’t recall. Still, it’s pretty unlikely that these were just naive or pompous steroid users volunteering to take a test that they knew would catch them.

  6. Bob Tufts said...

    Corked bats do not help….physics with Dr. Adair

    http://www.slate.com/id/2083972/

    “The theoretical edge seems infinitesimal. Assume a corker reduces his bat’s weight by 1.5 ounces. An average major league pitch travels from the pitcher’s hand to the plate in a hair under half a second. The corked bat will give the hitter an additional five-thousandths of a second to see the pitch, judge it, and get the bat head moving through the strike zone.

    A quicker bat may help a struggling hitter catch up with pitches, but it actually reduces his ability to smack long drives. The primary equation that determines a batted ball’s distance is p = mv, where “p” is momentum, “m” is mass, and “v” is velocity. Though a corked bat will travel at a greater velocity, the tail-off in weight lessens the mass.

    As a result, sluggers like Sosa will actually see the length of their moon shots decrease. In his book The Physics of Baseball, Yale physicist Robert K. Adair estimated that a corked bat will shave about a yard off a 400-foot tater.

    More likely to benefit, then, are slap hitters who specialize in singles.

  7. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Jack:  I’ll get to your comments when I have a little more time this morning (I’m slammed with some things right now, and your comment is going to take some time to unpack)

    Jeff: I think Carroll is being sarcastic here, calling Bigbie a “star”;

    Dan: A lot depends on when Sosa took them.  He was never asked, though, and no one ever followed up by asking him what he meant by “illegal.”  It may have been deceptive to some degree (I’ll get to this in my response to Jack), but it’s not the sort of thing that could make a viable perjury case.

    This, I’ll add, is one of the problems with those kinds of congressional hearings. Even if you grant their importance and appropriateness (which I don’t), they’re not even all that useful for the purposes of pinning anything down.  Everyone wanted their photo up with the evil ‘roiding ballplayers.  No one bothered to engage in rigorous questioning.  Why bother, then?

  8. Hollywood Joe said...

    Bob
    I think if the question is intent rather than effect, there can be no difference between corking a bat and corking your body

    If the question is effect only – I think there are questions of extent of effectiveness for both

    I am neither shocked nor outraged, if I could muster even an ounce of outrage it would be for those monkeys in Congress who grandstanded this issue for a constituency that largely does not care.  Fools!

  9. Jack Marshall said...

    Lar—-I think I recall that, but I’m still puzzled. (I’m slow.) These 2003 tests have always been described as “voluntary.” I still don’t see why a non-moron steroid-user would voluntarily take an anonymous drug test except to 1) see if the test works or 2) find out if someone has been slipping him steroids. I can see a non-user saying, “Screw this, I know I’m clean,’ and a user saying, “No way I’m getting a test to create evidence I broke the rules/law.” So the excercise couldn’t even have been a reliable way to measure the extent of the problem. What good was it?

  10. lar said...

    Good point, Jack. If that’s truly the case, then I don’t understand it either. All I can figure is that it was a good faith effort by the union to start moving past this. It’s a shame, then, that someone screwed it up so royally.

  11. Dan said...

    Bob, regardless of what we know now about corked bats, Sosa clearly thought that the (illegal) corkage would give him an edge.  It may not have helped, but it certainly gave him a mental advantage and in any sports a mental advantage helps.

  12. John_Michaek said...

    RE: Bob Tufts

    While I am certainly not an expert in physics, I think the benefit to corking a bat has more to the with the density of the wood.

    A 35”/33oz bat will be more dense than a 35”/31oz bat.  By removing part of the core of the 35”/33oz bat, and replacing it with a lighter substance, you can achieve a higher bat speed (as you mentioned) without sacrificing bat density.

    The p=mv equation doesn’t address the compression that a bat experiences when impacted by the ball.  A bat with a higher wood density will compress less, therefore transferring more energy to the ball.  Whether this results in a longer ball flight…well, that’s out of my realm of expertise.

  13. Jack Marshall said...

    The argument over whether corked bats “work” is akin to those who defend steroid users by saying that “they can’t help you hit a curve ball.” What I always found significant about the Sosa corked bat incident is thatit was prima facie evidence that he would cheat…that is, break the Rules and use forbidden methods that other players were not in order to get a competitive edge, real or imagined. Despite the rampant MLB player profiling, character is a factor in all this, and not every player will chuck his principles for better stats. Sosa would, and we knew that before his test results came out.

  14. Matt A. said...

    “It may not have helped, but it certainly gave him a mental advantage and in any sports a mental advantage helps”

    My god, get rid of those rally caps!!!  Yunel Escobar, no more jumping in the on deck circle!!!  Nomar, cease and desist your wrist band and glove fixing!!!  Dude who brushed his teeth between innings, stop now!!!!

  15. Bob Tufts said...

    Corking a bat has only a placebo effect. You can get the same results by actually chocking up on a slightly larger bat according to Adair. And according to another study, maple bats are in the same category.

    http://sports.yahoo.com/mlb/news?slug=jp-maplebats050808&prov=yhoo&type=lgns

    In 2005, alarmed by the increasing number of broken bats, baseball gave $109,000 to a man named Jim Sherwood and asked him to compare maple bats with the ash ones that used to be the norm. Sherwood runs the Baseball Research Center at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, and the conclusion of the study did not jibe with the hundreds of players who swear maple leads to better performance.

    “We found that the batted-ball speeds were essentially the same for the two woods,” Sherwood said. “Maple has no advantage in getting a longer hit over an ash bat.”

  16. David said...

    EDIT:  Welcome back, David. It’s been a while. You’ll find your unacceptable, off topic post in the trash can I have specially reserved for you.

    Very truly yours,

    Craig

  17. Jeff V. said...

    Got it.  I just never thought of Bigbie as being a “hub”, just a slightly dim baseball player that made some unfortunate choices.

  18. Dan said...

    Matt A:  A quote from Ken Caminiti about his steroid use.  “I think it was more of an attitude.  There is a mental edge that comes with the injections. And it’s definitely something that gets you more intense.”

    I think that speaks for itself, but nice try Matt A.  Your attempt at humor was also undermined by the examples you made up.  Would have been funny if maybe you said, like David Cone masturbating in the bullpen before a start.

  19. David said...

    Ahhhh.  I feel so vindicated when I get censored.

    Basically, I was just making fun of how ESPN and the MLB Network both air commercials for legalized steroids while simultaneously exploiting black athletes’ steroid use to engender fake outrage from impotent Republicans.

    Don’t know exactly why I got censored, but I suppose it
    might’ve been when I said that the people on the steroid witch hunt are “latent homosexuals with the mechanical aptitude of Liza Minelli.”

    Ah, who cares.

  20. Ben said...

    Craig,

    Can you put your response to Jack’s comment in a separate post, so we don’t have to keep wading through the comments to see it? Thanks, and keep up the good work.

    Ben

  21. Tim Kelly said...

    Craig,

    If I recall correctly, the 2003 survey testing was conducted for all players in MLB.  The exercise was intended as a test to see if a 5% threshold had been met, thereby kicking in the mandatory testing that we see today.  Back in that time (as a resident of Chicago) I seem to remember stories about the White Sox players hinting that they may decline to take the test as a way to ensure the 5% threshold was met and to ensure mandatory testing would commence. 

    Whether the White Sox players actually went through with this plan is not the point.  The fact that a refusal to take the survey test in ‘03 would show up as a *positive* test result is important. 

    If some clean players in ‘03 decided to refuse the test as a way to inflate the results above the 5% threshold, then wouldn’t their names be on this list of 104 players?  If the list is leaked, isn’t it possible that some players will be named in public for being a PED-user when they in fact were trying to take a (silent) moral stand?

    What do you think?

    (BTW, I don’t mean this comment as a defense of Sosa, I’m sure he’s not in this theoretical group)

  22. Craig Calcaterra said...

    Tim—I don’t know for sure, but I presume that the namee (actually numbers, which correspond to names) are tied to specific test results, and that there would not be some coding for a non-test-taker.  It would simply be a matter of figuring out the difference between eligible takers and actual takers, and then just tacking that sum onto the positive pile.

    And for what it’s worth, I don’t think the White Sox or anyone else actually went through with the non-testing.

  23. The Common Man said...

    So, Tim, according to your recollection, any player who didn’t take the test (for which they were assured that the results would be completely anonymous and discarded), would be automatically counted as a “positive.”  Like if someone pulled over for DUI refuses to take a breathalizer.  Therefore, it would make no real sense for users not to take the test, since their no-show would still be counted in the final tally, and perhaps their refusal to take the test would become public knowledge.  So perhaps they were optional in a literal sense (as you always have a choice to act or not, regardless of what the outcome of that choice is), but practically meant nothing.  Just spitballin’ here.

  24. Jason said...

    “What I always found significant about the Sosa corked bat incident is that it was prima facie evidence that he would cheat…that is, break the Rules and use forbidden methods that other players were not in order to get a competitive edge, real or imagined. Despite the rampant MLB player profiling, character is a factor in all this, and not every player will chuck his principles for better stats. Sosa would, and we knew that before his test results came out.”

    I think Sheehan said it best:

    “Some people continue to be surprised that highly competitive young men fighting for fame, honor, and a cut of $6 billion would do everything they could to beat the guy next to them, which is a pretty good way to make the Olympic team in Naive”

    http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=8487

  25. Jack Marshall said...

    Jason: Not being surprised that people who can benefit from cheating will cheat, and assuming that all such people DO cheat and WILL cheat are two completely different things. One is reasonable, and the other isn’t. What I see is an awful lot of people who should know better leaping from one proposition to the other.

  26. Travis M. Nelson said...

    To respond more to Will Carroll than to you, there certainly were some players on the 2002-03 Cubs whose performances raise some questions about PEDs. 

    Mario Encarnacion, who played sparingly for the Cubs in 2001 and 2002, was suspended for steroids while playing in China in 2005 and later died from a heart attach at the age of 30. 

    Todd Hundley was named as a Kirk Radomski customer in the Mitchell Report.  He never hit more than 16 homers in a season at any level of his career before he hit 41 in 1996 with the Mets, and then 30 a year later, and then he too got hurt and disappeared.

    Fred McGriff had what appeared to be a normal career decline in production (as measured by OPS+) from his late 20’s til his mid 30’s but then had a “spike” from ages 35-38, part of which was with the Cubs, and all of which occurred at the height of the “steroid era”. 

    Mark Bellhorn was a decent hitter in the minors who never did much in Oakland, but who hit 27 homers with the Cubs in 2002, and then promptly fell off the planet. 

    Moises Alou showed huge fluctuations in his power numbers and batting average throughout his career, set a career high in homers at age 37 (Just like Raul Ibanez!), suffered from lots of nagging injuries, but was still hitting well into the .300’s when he was 40 years old.  And look how he yelled at Steve Bartman! That’s ‘roid rage if I ever saw it! 

    Kyle Farnsworth has those huge shoulders, used to play football, and once beat the crap out of the opposing pitcher (Paul Wilson) after he had hit Wilson with a pitch.  He also tackled Jeremy Affelt after an on-field brawl had apparently been stopped.  There’s some ‘roid rage for ya! 

    Obviouslyu some of this is tongue in cheek, but really, there’s stuff to question there if you just look for it.

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