Results tagged ‘ Steroids ’

Nobody Elected to HOF: We Deserve It (Revised)

Well, this is it. Kindly pay your piper. Welcome those chickens coming home to roost. Please enjoy your Hall of Fame Day of Reckoning.

The anecdotal accounts – and an invaluable “exit poll” – foresaw that the Baseball Writers Association of America would elect nobody as part of the class of 2013, and though I grieve for Dale Murphy and Craig Biggio and several others, there is a certain poetic justice to it.

We all knew. The players who used, the players who didn’t, the owners who enabled it, we reporters who covered it, we fans who bought tickets and cheered anyway. Some of us didn’t want to admit we knew until they went after Bonds and Clemens, or until Canseco’s book, or until McGwire’s temporal displacement in front of Congress, or until that container of Andro showed up in his locker in ’98.

But we knew.

We saw utility infielders popping opposite field home runs and part time guys slapping 20 homers and superstars hitting drives that would have set distance records in golf. We saw before and after photos of the Cansecos and the Bondses and we suspended our disbelief.

We all deserve nobody going into the Hall this year save for Hank O’Day and Jake Ruppert and Deacon White. Only O’Day – in his post-pitching career as an umpire – and the bespectacled White were ever accused even of myopia, let alone actual PED-use.

I am not casting stones from inside the glass house. I’m guilty, too. It was the day they gave the 1986 A.L. Rookie of the Year award to Canseco (whose moral standing in this mess has gradually gone from last place to about 4th from the top because he alone was utterly, if mercenarily, honest). One of the runners-up told me off-the-record “you do know that Canseco uses those drugs they give to the East German Women Swimmers, right?”

He didn’t even know they were called steroids.

I did what digging I could, and kept an ear to the ground, but how many sources were enough to tell that story?But in 1988, just after Ben Johnson was thrown out of the Seoul Olympics for a positive steroid test, I got a series of four sources – including some of her opponents – who told me that Florence Griffith-Joyner was just as steeped in scandal as was Johnson. I promptly went out and butchered the story. I was trying to write a revelation that should have sounded like “other Olympic runners say this” and included a recitation of the math that she was now breaking records so profoundly and so quickly that if the pace continued, by the year 2188, a runner would actually finish a race before she started it. Instead, I turned it into something that sounded like “I think she’s on them drug things.” She and her crew threatened suit, I retracted the story, and not long after Thomas Boswell of The Washington Post had the same experience with his “Canseco Cocktail” story. As well-meaning as we each were in trying to expose the putrid mess, we both set back its revelation by some (presumably small) degree. I’m sorry.

About two months after she got back from Seoul, Flo-Jo, who had promised to sue me and CBS and Carl Lewis (who had made the same charge at a speech at the University of Pennsylvania, on videotape, and then claimed it was off the record), and who had promised to keep running until she won Gold in her “home” Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, abruptly retired. We never heard from their lawyers again. She died in 1998, more than a year shy of her 40th birthday. For the record, I think she too either didn’t know – or willingly disbelieved – that there was anything more than perseverance to her unprecedented series of record-breaking performances. I think she suddenly found out, which is where the retirement – and the legal silence – came in. But it’s just a guess.

In any event, the next time I tripped over something substantial, I kept it to myself.  A pro sports team orthopedist remarked on the sudden devastating, nearly career-ending, bizarre injury to a star baseball player. He said that there were only three ways to accomplish what the guy had done to himself: a hereditary circulatory problem or the repeated injection of anabolic steroids into the same place in the body or a horrific car accident (“By that I mean,” he told me, “having a car dropped on top of you from about 25 feet.”) Having burned myself on the Flo-Jo thing I was not prepared to repeat the process. And now I knew that there was one baseball star on steroids and maybe another one had just had his career virtually ended by steroids and there were not enough sources to mine and certainly nobody to pool notes with.

And then the bottle of “andro” showed up in McGwire’s locker. I can remember that week hearing the late baseball writer Leonard Koppett tell me on my show that nobody cared, that it wasn’t cheating, that it was nothing worse than vitamins or maybe, maybe, “greenies.” To his eternal credit, the author and former pitcher Jim Bouton not only disagreed, but got it exactly right. Some day, he says in the interview, baseball will have to reckon with years and years of records that will be artificially inflated, distorted beyond all measure, by the effects of a drug that lets you keep working out when the guys next to you – or before you, chronologically – have to drop the barbell. It was Bouton, after all, who had written in the eternal Ball Four that if a pitcher could take a pill that guaranteed him a) 20 wins and b) that he’d die five years sooner, he would’ve swallowed it before you finished that “b)” part.

So I pushed the Andro story – wrote a piece for Playboy in 1999 in which I picked up both Bouton’s point and the fact that baseball was going to lose the breathless charm of “chasing the home run record.” I pushed that story and every little hint of the truth dropped over the years, by the late Ken Caminiti, by Canseco, by Curt Schilling. But by then, almost nobody cared. I stood atop the right field corner at Fenway at the Home Run Hitting Contest the night before the 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway and ooed and ahhed with the rest of you as McGwire hit 650-foot blasts beyond the wall at the other side of the ballpark. And I knew it was mostly the drugs and while I could still preserve enough of my own disbelief to know it wasn’t real, I could see how the results of the PEDs could be as addictive to the fans and the owners’ bottom lines, as the drugs themselves could be the players.

By 2002 I was carrying a printed list of the players I had been told by various sources were “using.” Printed out and folded up inside my scorebook. I’d show it to colleagues and team executives and even other players and get confirmations or denials or additions. But I never even emailed it to, nor copied it for, anybody. With delicious irony, the legal rules protected the rule-breakers.

My conscience is relatively clean. I’ve been yelling about the Emporers’ Clothes for more than fourteen years. Yet it literally still keeps me up at night. Did so last night before today’s announcement. Biggio will probably get in later, and I think the Veterans’ Committee will soon note that Dale Murphy has the same OPS+ as Jim Rice, and was at worst the second or third best hitter of the era that matched his days as a starting player, and the collateral damage to them and the other deserving clean players will be transient. I do think there’s something delicious about the fact that the Baseball Writers have never even been consistent about what merits election to Cooperstown, and this time they all had to figure it out at the most complex moment in voting history, and that because none of them was likely to reach the same conclusion, for everybody who voted Bagwell but not Bonds, there was somebody who voted Bonds but not Bagwell, and none of them got in.

But they all deserve that kind of self-abnegating communal shame. As do we. They did it. We watched it. Those of us who didn’t care, and those of us who cared but couldn’t reveal or stop it, deserve similar if not identical fates.

The path to Steroid Hell was indeed paved with good intentions. And Jim Bouton’s pills. And the drugs that he didn’t know the name of that the guy told me about 26 years ago that they also gave the East German Women Swimmers. And the stuff we saw with our lying eyes and just pretended wasn’t real.

1983

1983

1988

1988

The Real Test Is Of The Union

In a second chance to make a first impression, MLB is set to implement blood testing for Human Growth Hormone in the minors later this year – according to sources quoted by the estimable Michael Schmidt of The New York Times.


Schmidt says MLB’s decision comes on the heels of the first positive test for HGH, that of a British Rugby player.
The science is still behind the curve on this, but even the possibility of a breakthrough makes it incumbent upon the Major League Baseball Players Association to act, and act quickly. Executive Director Don Fehr has long said that when a reliable test was available, the union would have to look at it. That the process is not perfected is no excuse; Fehr needs to sign on to some sort of exploratory testing program on the big league level, if not this season, then for 2011.
Mark McGwire and the friends were hardly the only ones to be damaged by the Steroid Era. The owners have, at best, looked like hypocritical enablers, and, at worst, like passive-aggressive pushers. The lethargic pace of steroid testing, and the nonsensical, train wreck that is welcoming McGwire back to uniform this spring, has given the union the opportunity to look like the guys who are truly interested in preserving the integrity of the game, even at the partial expense of membership.
Rightly or wrongly (wrongly, I think; the owners probably had more knowledge than union non-player leadership, at least early on) the MLBPA draws the bulk of the public’s blame for the steroid test foot-dragging through the ’90s and ’00s. This – and I write this as one who has supported the union’s moves, stances and purposes, almost uniformly, since the ’70s – is the players’ chance to erase much of the perception in the fans’ minds that they care only for their wallets, and not for the sport itself.
Just come out and say you’re for HGH testing, in the majors, as soon as it is practical. 
Do it now.

McGwire 4: The Koufax Confusion

Mark McGwire’s excuse has indeed resonated in some quarters, and I’ve already seen some claims that “Sandy Koufax took steroids – and for the same reason – for his health!”

Different stuff, known now by a different term, and administered under a doctor’s prescription and supervision. Stuff you yourself may have been given.
The origin points are a) an interview Koufax gave upon his retirement in which he references being “high” during games from all the drugs, and b) a passing reference inside Jane Leavy’s fabulous book Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy.

Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus explained it more than two years ago in a post (subscription required):

I was able to get in touch with Jane Leavy to clarify. I asked Ms. Leavy if she meant corticosteroids or if Koufax, a player of the same era that we know steroids and HGH made some small inroads into the game, now had to be lumped in with the “juicers.” Leavy states she meant corticosteroids, the same type of “cortisone injection” that we see performed so often in baseball to this day.


So, no, Sandy Koufax did not take the “steroids” Mark McGwire took, for the same reason McGwire claims he took them. He took cortisone injections (cortico-steroids; they used the back half of the word as shorthand in the ’60s; we now use its front half) for the same reason probably a quarter of major league pitchers have taken them, the same reason I took one in each of the last two years – a specialist physician determined it was safe, it would alleviate pain, and do less damage than surgery. And it broke no rule nor law.
Parenthetically, I received steroid drops for my eyes the other day. I had no idea they existed. This also provided the only laugh of the entire McGwire MLB Net interview – when he talked about how no steroid could immediately effect one’s hand-to-eye coordination. He’s literally correct (though all honing of physical strength can lead to improved coordination, too), but if he’d only known about “Eyeball Steroids” he might have dropped the subject just to avoid the confusion.

McGwire 3: The Advisor

In The New York Times, my friend Rich Sandomir has an extraordinary piece on the arranging of the Costas/McGwire interview, and the rest of yesterday’s ‘limited hang-out,’ as a component of the Mark McGwire Contrition Tour.

Sandomir doesn’t address if this was McGwire’s batcrap crazy idea, or it was designed by somebody else: that everybody will believe he took steroids, often by injection (“I preferred the orals”), solely for the purpose of healing his tortured body, just so he wouldn’t waste the gift “from the man upstairs” and to avoid the shame of hearing “teammates walking by saying, ‘he’s injured again.”
But he does reveal that there was somebody involved in this strange dance, conveniently transcripted here. McGwire has a damage control advisor, and he’s Ari Fleischer, the former Press Secretary to President Bush. I vowed long ago not to mix baseball and politics here, and I’m confident that I’d be saying the same thing if this were Robert Gibbs from the current White House: if this was Fleischer’s plan, he owes McGwire a refund. If it wasn’t, he needs to tell Mac never to suggest it again.
It will to some degree fly with a small percentage of the public, and l point to the irony of a comment yesterday by somebody posting under the name “Mantlewasarockstar.” Let’s accept McGwire’s premise – even though this took place long after the heartbreaking death of Lyle Alzado, and the sudden retirement of Florence Griffith-Joyner, and the other horror health stories of steroids abused. Last night he told Costas he had started his heaviest use of steroids in the winrer of 1993-94, to try to regain his health.
But by McGwire’s admission, he “broke down in ’94. Missed three quarters of the year. I go into ’95 and I broke down again. I could have been – but for some reason I kept doing it.”
He did it to get healthy, got less healthy, but kept doing it? From 1993 through at least 1998? This has now sunk to the level of the Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds denials: ‘I, as a top athlete dependent on my body for my multi-million-dollar income, had no idea what I was putting in my body. Coulda been dangerous pharmaceuticals. Or flaxseed oil. Or something Miguel Tejada got at a sample sale at a Dominican drug store.’
More over, if you’re buying this, Mr/Ms Mantlewasarockstar, and it really still was some kind of firm conviction this was about body repair and not artificially-increased home run power – body repair is by itself artificially-increased home run power! Consider the name under which you comment: Mickey Mantle. 
What would Mantle have been like with a miracle elixir that let him come back from injuries? What would Maris have been like (it wasn’t just the bad taste of public reaction that led him to retire seven years later – he only played two full seasons after he broke Ruth’s record)? Or Albert Belle? Or every sore-armed pitcher whom McGwire faced, or faced at less than full strength, or would never face at all?
If something improper, immoral, illegal, or unethical was used by Mark McGwire to get himself back on the field, and if it really did nothing whatsoever to add enough power to get transform just thirty of what had been his fly ball outs, into the stands each year – it, by itself, was a performance-enhancing drug. In some ways it becomes even more of a performance-enhancing drug: it didn’t just improve what he did from, say, 40 to 70.
It increased it from 0 to 70.
Plug: we’ll deconstruct parts of the MLB Network interview with McGwire, tonight on Countdown.
UPDATE: You’ll notice a comment comparing the euphoria effects of amphetamines to the hypothetical effects of steroids as McGwire misunderstands them. Clearly I wasn’t explicit enough, so consider that the sentence I wrote above, “What would Mantle have been like with a miracle elixir that let him come back from injuries?” as actually reading, “What would Mantle have been like with a miracle elixir that let him come back healthy from injuries, as opposed to a drug that temporarily left him too stoned and/or strung out to care.”
Also, “FAIL”? When did the condescending use of this word as an argument-ender jump the shark, 2006 or 2005?

McGwire 2: Apology As Rationalization

The question from Bob Costas, paraphrased: Could you have had those homer-to-at bats ratios, and could you have hit 70 homers in 1998, without steroids:

“I truly believe so. I was given this gift by the man upstairs.”
Which gift was this, Mark? The gift of steroids?
Mark McGwire, who in his statement this afternoon seemed to understand something at least of the damage he had done to the game, has undone this tonight in the Costas interview on MLB Network. 
He insisted he used steroids only to restore his health after his physical trials of the early ’90s: “My track record as far as hitting home runs, the first at bat I had in Little League was a home run. They still talk about the home runs I hit in high school, they still talk about the home runs I hit in Legion – I led the nation in home runs – they still talk about the home runs I hit in the minors. I was given the gift to hit home runs.”
Seriously?
“All I’ve wanted to do was come clean. I’ve been wanting to come clean since 2005.”
Then do so. Saying you used steroids, but denying the steroids had anything to do with your ability to hit more and longer homers – and to not even connect the idea that even if it was merely for purposes of restoring physical health, that still means the steroids contributed to your ability to hit these homers – does not constitute an apology, an acknowledgment, or the truth.

THREE UPDATES (8:15 EST): Why did McGwire repeatedly insist he’d been looking for the opportunity to come clean since 2005? Why not earlier? 
Secondly, is the connection not clear in McGwire’s mind? That steroids permit the user to work out more frequently, to rebound more quickly from the wear and tear of exercise and weight-lifting? That as dedicated to the hard work in the weight room as one might be, it is the steroids that physically enable the user to increase the frequency of that hard work?
Thirdly, props to the MLB Network group: Matt Vasgersian, Tom Verducci, Ken Rosenthal, and my friends Joe Magrane, Harold Reynolds, and of course Bob Costas, for not simply rubber-stamping McGwire’s ridiculous disconnect between the steroids and the productivity.
This apology is about one percent more substantial than Jason Giambi’s. And it came five years later.

Ortiz Versus Manny

This just sums up two guys:

The New York Times outs David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez as two of the players on the 2003 Steroids survey.
Ortiz – with some help in the phrasing, but this is doubtlessly him – issues a statement of confession: 

One, I have already contacted the Players Association to confirm if this report is true. I have just been told that the report is true. Based on the way I have lived my life, I am surprised to learn I tested positive. Two, I will find out what I tested positive for. And, three, based on whatever I learn, I will share this information with my club and the public. You know me — I will not hide and I will not make excuses.”

Meanwhile MLB.Com quotes Ramirez, before the Dodgers-Cards in St. Louis: 


“If you guys want to talk about the game and what happens now, I can sit and talk for two hours. But something happened six years ago, I don’t want to talk about that. If you want more information, you have the number for the union. Call them.”


Can we talk about what has now happened twice in six years? Can we talk about what happened this spring? Can we talk about how Dodger fans can look at themselves and the standings in the mirror?

Get lost, Manny.

Now you know why you will never see Manny Ramirez in Cooperstown. Unless he’s there with Clemens, signing in front of the CVS.

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