Afternoon Baseball

Common-sense ruminations on baseball and culture.


The steroids business affects a lot of records, among the most notable being Barry Bonds' season and career home-run makers and Roger Clemens' seven Cy Youngs. It should also bring into question Cal Ripken's streak, but no one has the temerity (nor proof, but that hasn't stopped anyone before).

ESPN.com did something similar a few years back, but let's have at it. At first glance, it's tempting to give all the records back to Babe Ruth. The guy whored around, ate and drank to excess, smoked and didn't work out for a lot of his career. And he also hit relative to his peers like no one ever has (or likely ever will).

But he played before integration. So let's throw out everything before 1947, when Jackie Robinson came into the game. Let's toss out everything after 1985, as Jose Canseco became a full-time player in 1986.

Greenies, or amphetamines, are considered bad now. So let's toss out all the years players admitted using them, going back at least to the early 1970s and Willie Mays and what was then called "red juice." Let's say 1970.

We're left with 1947-1969. Except, wait. Players brought them back after World War II.

That's 1946. So, eliminate every year since then.

That's every year.

So, we need to make choices. Are "greenies" OK because they keep a guy in the lineup, not boosting his muscle? Or isn't that cheating, since it eliminates weeding out of the weak and unconditioned?
If steroids and greenies are both bad (MLB considers them so, since you can get hefty suspensions, though of different levels, for use of either), then there's never been an era of the game in which there's been no cheating AND no racial exclusion.

There is no saintly era of baseball, no "clean" era. Hell, even Bobby Thompson's cheat-earned "Shot Heard Round The World" has been exposed -- though that's more gamesmanship than cheating. So we'd better decide in a hurry what the degrees of wrongness are -- if everything is equally wrong, nothing's wrong. Then, Bonds and the rest are simply the guys who saw through the mirage best, and the clean players, whoever they are, are simply holier-than-thou, fools or masochists.

This'll break the hearts of the fans, I know. It's not a pleasant thought, and it actually can be avoided. We can watch the game without these issues coming up. But baseball's always been -- partly in fact, wholly in theory -- a game that transcends time. With cheating or prejudice always present, if we truly acknowledge that, it destroys much of the debate, the banter that makes baseball a conversation, not just an activity. The "who's best" debates lose much of their relevancy, because there was never an even playing field. The technology of drugs and substances tilts in favor of the most recent players.

Baseball becomes then like the NFL, or NBA or NHL. Yes, you can debate the great players of different eras, but only to a point. Then, technology, conditions, size differences and rule changes leave any true definition of the greatest to speculation. In baseball, we at least hold the hope that any player from any era would be as great somewhere else in time.

Maybe that's what we'll lose from the steroids era. Comparisons will be simply from the time the latest drug was introduced, or the latest scandal, and what happened to the numbers vis a vis those events. Yes, it'll be interesting in its own perverse way, but it'll be a sport for the cynic. No longer the dreamer.

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2 Responses to “What's the "scandal-free" era of baseball?”

  1. # Anonymous bumfromjersey

    Just a couple of points to make here. I agree with you that we should not throw out the records. Tainted or not tainted, they did happen and records are recordings of history. We should not get in the habit of ignoring our history or (as cliche as it may sound) we are doomed to repeat it. If you are the casual fan and just look at the numbers when you see a record, then you shouldn't really be too worried about if they are tainted or not since you are just in it for the stats. If you are the serious fan who knows the stories behind the records than it gives you even more to discuss about and probably gives you a better appreciation of the game.

    My second point is I disagree that the sport can't be for dreamers anymore. You brought up the questionable ethics during major portions of baseball history but that did not stop you or me from looking at the game as a magical experience when we were kids. Sure the adult will always be the cynic but as we get older we get more cynical anyway. Not just in the way we look at baseball but also politics, the idea of world peace, and even what love is all about. We grow and we become cynics, that is just the way it is. Kids though, they have not had enough experiences to become cynics yet. So kids growing up today and in the future will be dreamers and look at ball players as mythical figures even though we adults no longer think that way. Baseball will be for the cynic but it can still be for the dreamer too.  

  2. # Blogger James

    I should have left more wiggle room in for the kids to dream. Because obviously, they still will. But will there be as many fathers (or older brothers, etc.) dreaming along with their kids?
    It's not just the parents idolizing the Mick, Duke and Willie and teaching their kids to do the same, but it was that way with Willie Stargell, the Big Red Machine, Don Mattingly, Ken Griffey Jr. and others.

    Oh, there'll be kids idolizing their baseball heroes, and good for them. The game is a great stage for that. But like with Santa Claus, the fantasy may be punctured sooner by the parents. Just a theory, of course.  

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