Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The issue of Steroid stats

What to do with steroid stats? That's a very good question. Like most sports related questions, there isn't a right or wrong solution. Nationals manager and baseball legend, Frank Robinson thinks they should be wiped out all together which would mean Rafael Palmeiro's career stats would be the same as my career stats. Even though we should all embrace the chance to have similar stats as Raffy, I don't necessarily think it's the solution that makes the most sense. I was as disappointed as anyone when we found out that Mark McGwire took steroids. The steroid issue poses a huge problem in terms of how the inflated stats should be counted. Ken Griffey Jr. had one of the greatest four-year stretches in baseball history between 1996-99. By all accounts, he did this without the use of steroids. However, with the ridiculous home run totals that have been put up recently by Big Mac, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa, Griffey is just an afterthought. Griffey certainly deserves better. The steroid era will kill the legacy of players like Ken Griffey Jr. Unfortunately, I don't see how eliminating Rafael Palmeiro or Jason Giambi's career numbers will make a difference. Baseball has rarely had a level playing field over the last 100 years. Yet, everyone is grouped together in the same record book.

From 1904 to 1960, the MLB schedule consisted of a 154 game schedule. In 1961, the schedule was lengthened to 162 games. This clearly provided an advantage to players that played after 1961 in terms of single-season stats and career stats. For instance, a player that played a 20 year career after 1961 would play 160 more games than a player who played a 20 year career before 1961. This is why there was ever a home run record controversy with Roger Maris in the first place. Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in 154 games. Roger Maris hit 61 home runs in 162 games. It doesn't take a math major to know that Ruth probably would've hit at least one more home run with eight extra games. Was it fair for Maris to be recognized as the single-season home run king when he was aided by eight extra games? I'm sure opinions differ widely on this issue. At the very least I think Babe Ruth should've been recognized as the 154 game home run king. As every knows, Roger Maris was regarded as the single-season home run king until Big Mac broke the record in 1998. Despite having the advantage of eight more games, Maris' record stood and Ruth was #2.

Similarly, as a result of the wild card, the playoff record book is littered with players currently in the majors. Older players like Babe Ruth are all but disappearing from the playoff record books all together. Bernie Williams, Paul O'Neil, Dave Justice and Derek Jeter are all at the top of the postseason statistics. I personally don't think this is fair to Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson among others. MLB hasn't addressed this issue and they probably won't. However, it would seem fair to me that MLB not include first round playoff stats in the record books. I love the addition of the Wild Card but it has erased all perspective in the playoff record books. The playoff record books aren't worth the paper they're printed on without separating the Wild Card stats from playoff stats.

Hall of Fame pitchers Gaylord Perry, Whitey Ford, and Don Sutton all admitted to using a spit ball or doctoring the ball during their careers. Perry even wrote a book about the details of the spit ball. Ford admitted to "scuffing" the ball with a belt buckle and his wedding ring to get extra movement. Sutton was caught on videotape "scuffing" the ball with sandpaper. Never mind that the spit ball was banned in 1920 or that scuffing the ball is against the rules. All of these players made the Hall of Fame without issue.

In the 100+ years of the major leagues, MLB has never once acknowledged an advantage. They've never acknowledged a conditions advantage, nor have they acknowledged a games played advantage. Baseball needed to set a precedent a long time ago and it failed to do that. If big league pitchers were able to cheat their way to favorable career numbers without incident, then it really makes no sense to do anything about the steroid-aided stats. Baseball should've done this along time ago. It's too late now.

Another factor that needs to be addressed is the fact that we don't know who took steroids. We know Jason Giambi and Rafael Palmeiro did. However, the players that benefited most, Bonds, McGwire and maybe Sammy Sosa, have never failed a drug test. If MLB is going to eliminate records that were aided by steroids, it would be a shame if Bonds and McGwire's numbers were safe due to a lack of evidence. Dropping the hammer on Raffy and Giambi won't make amends for the steroid era. There were many, many players that benefited far more than those two did that will never be outed because MLB had a deplorable drug testing policy.

I'm definitely bothered by the steroid use and even more so by the fraudulent denials, but MLB has only itself to blame. It allowed an atmosphere that was conducive to steroid use. It took MLB five years to even realize there was a problem. It never limited records in the past that were achieved by illegal means. If baseball were to erase Raffy's records, then it would have to make an adjustment for all advantages throughout the history of MLB. This would include crowning Babe Ruth the co-home run king for the 154 game season. It would have to erase Gaylord Perry, Whitey Ford, and Don Sutton's career records. Wild Card stats would need to be eliminated from the playoff records. And even after all that, the steroid era would still dominate the record books since Bonds and Sosa will never test positive for steroids.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I find your last paragraph to be very telling and Frank Robinson's feelings on the matter to be a tad hypocritical. Everyone decided to turn a blind eye to the steroid problem. The fans loved it because they love their dingers. The team and league loved the fans flocking back to the ballparks in droves after the 1994 work stoppage. The media loved it because they had something to talk about and something "historic" to trip over themselves to cover.

I feel no remorse for any fan that feels "cheated" or "betrayed" over this. Every deaf, dumb and blind baseball fan, and those that were just casual observers, knew that these guys were juiced up. There's no other explanation. They chose to take a route, while somewhat unethical, was completely legal according to baseball bylaws at the time. How that was able to exist is a harsh indictment on the running of MLB for years.

I say keep the stats. To say that everything a player has done should be wiped is ex post facto by it's very definition. Raffy's stats from 1990 should go because of a rule put in place in 2005? For the sake of argument, say Honus Wagner used a corked bat. Say it was legal at the time. Later, after his career was done, it's no longer legal. Do you look at his stats and put an * by it? I don't think you do. Pete Rose's stats, a man banned from the game for gambling, are still recognized by baseball. Why should his stats stay in and a steroid user's, whom no one has said should be banned in a rational discussion, be left out?

This is the bed that baseball has made for themselves, and to paraphrase Todd Rundgren, all for the want of a dinger.


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