In a recent MLB Round table (MLB RT 16 APRIL 2014) on of the discussion points was “How should the HOF address the steroid era?” Effectively, I think the consensus opinion was that there really isn’t a whole bunch that can be done except let things play themselves out and hope for the best… After I finished my perusal of the column, I sat back and absorbed everything that was said; thought about my own answer… and, then remembered I had addressed this issue more than once in some pieces that I had written many moons gone past… okay… in, or around, 2009… which is, now that I think about it, nigh unto a half decades time gone past, so, I reckon it has been many moons after all. No?
Anyway, I searched through my computer files for stuff I had stashed away that I had written for Fannation as well a great little site… Informative Sports… that was in many respects the forerunner 7Pound for which I presently write a weekly column… and, I found two pieces I thought were very relevant and germane to the MLBRT discussion.
The first one, that I will republish, was actually the second that was written and it is … PEDs and the Record Book
“(Barry) Bonds’ records must remain part of baseball’s history. His hits happened. Erase them and there will be discrepancies in baseball’s bookkeeping about the records of the pitchers who gave them up. George Orwell said that in totalitarian societies, yesterday’s weather could be changed by decree. Baseball, indeed America, is not like that. Besides, the people who care about the record book — serious fans — will know how to read it. That may be Bonds’ biggest worry.”
Source: George Will (Journalist) via Townhall.com, May 12, 2006
I recently stumbled upon this quote while doing some research on another article and to be honest it isn’t something I had thought of … the statistics of another player and what the effect of a player who used steroids had on that players statistics… until I read George Will’s words. And I chastise myself for that because I have repeatedly accused other people in baseball for attempting to explain certain issues away independently of other facts by my saying events and people do not live in a vacuum and that all things have an inter-societal relationship. So now that the self-flogging has ceased what of George Will’s words? Because unfortunately the issue he raises is a damn good issue to raise.
If theoretically a pitcher faces Barry Bonds thirty times in his career and strikes him out ten of those times does he lose those ten strike outs from his statistical totals? Or does the pitcher keep the strike outs in the record book as a total but then loses the correlation of who the pitcher struck out? Is the answer that Bonds’ records themselves get erased, (e.g., he is no longer the career home run leader despite the fact he has more home runs than any other person in MLB history), but the actual numbers still exist in relationship to the records books total numbers for any given season and or day. But that then creates an anomaly for future generations who will peruse the record book. This then opens up the need to specify how exactly do we look at the statistics and the records in the future in relation to all of the statistics in baseball’s history because of the steroid era… and, by the way, that era may be changing due to evidence being revealed that steroids may have been in MLB much earlier than previously thought with the discoveries and the revelations of steroids being used in other pro sports in the late 60s and of the 70s, (Steelers and Chargers). Are statistics forever to be kept with two sets of books as if they were the accounting records of a shady underworld crime syndicate or irreputable business conglomerate?
The fact is that records and statistics are created within an interconnected group of players on a field of play. And no matter how much it may be desirable to rewrite history or look at history with a revisionist eye what happened did actually happen, so to ignore that history, the facts, is not an alternative and is, in fact, just plain stupid and ignorant. In baseball history we have specific instances where people were banned and yet their records remained sacrosanct and indelible in the record book. The problem arises because these players were banned not because they used performance enhancers but because of a personal flaw in their character, in the two most noted cases gambling was the flaw… the six men out in the Black Sox Scandal statistic’s, including the thrown World Series games, and Pete Rose’s numbers are real and in the record book. Pete Rose is the hits leader and whether he is eligible for the HOF has no bearing on that fact one way or the other.
So, are the statistics of Bonds and others like him… Clemens, McGwire, et al, to be listed in this manner? Is that the way it will be and should be, regardless of the fact that artificial enhancers were used to attain the statistics? If the connection is made that certain players did use performance enhancers and it is determined from that use of the PEDs the player prolonged his career or accelerated his ability to produce bigger numbers within the timeframe of his career then do we still accept these numbers as a representation of the player’s production? Common sense seems to say the records need to be erased but upon reflection, uncommon sense, or maybe a more detailed study and intelligent sense of the situation says it isn’t that simplistic.
If I erase the numbers for a certain period due to a players drug use then how do I determine when the player is clean enough to add to his statistical record or does that ever happen? Or if I erase the numbers of a player’s career or season then how does that affect another player’s statistics? Does a pitcher’s ERA change? Does another player lose runs scored or driven in? Do we need to play whole seasons over? Are the standings relevant or the playoffs significant? Do we even trust the World Series results? Or do we need to disband the Big Business/Cartel of Baseball and just start all over again? Do the clean players say, “I quit” and go off some place get some gloves, bats and balls and play ball in some sand lot or meadow somewhere and just start barnstorming around America? The real problem is, no matter what happens, whether a team won or lost games, whether players set or broke records that just using an eraser on the record book will not work because of that damn causal and relationship factor. Then what is the approach to this issue?
My answer is: I don’t know. Do we depend on “the people who care about the record book — serious fans — will know how to read it.” theory as proposed by George Will? I would rather not because most people who casually read the record book, after a period of time has gone by won’t even know that steroids was a reality and a factor in the last half of the 20th century and the early part of the 21st century. Do we make a big notation within the record book itself stating that all records from this era are circumspect? Do we state in the record book that there is the statistics and records of BS (before steroids) and AS (after steroids)? Or do we just let things stand and hope it all comes out in the wash so to speak and that as players are weaned off PEDs in baseball that the natural order takes over and that because of the advancements in physical conditioning and in nutrition and a whole host of other variables the contaminated records of the steroid era will eventually fall to the wayside to be trampled underfoot like the sad part of history that they are a part of… and that, as with all things great and small, this too shall pass…that history will take care of healing the wounds that were, and are still being, rendered to baseball.
It would be interesting though to see a panel of the so-called experts debate this issue and what their great and not so great minds would discern as a proper way to present the history of the game of baseball: the record book.
Originally submitted 2/2/9
Tomorrow I will republish… The Era of PEDs in Baseball
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