After much deliberation (5 minutes at least), I have determined the best approach to evaluating players from the so-called “steroid era” is to put world renowned sleuth Encyclopedia Brown on the case. That’s right. It’s time to set aside innuendo and double-talk and get to the heart of the matter. No more Congressional hearings or waterboarding (not that any of that actually happened in the steroid investigations, even though Canseco’s hair seems to indicate otherwise). Let’s put an end to the verbal sidestepping and ask the tough questions and demand some decent answers for once. It’s time for America to learn the truth, and we need none other than the detective from Idaville to give it to us straight.
What’s baseball’s version of a “B12 shot”, and why does it turn people into human bobbleheads? Does it genetically alter the human genome? Is the unintended consequence of the “hardball B12 shot” a really bad 70’s mustache? (Looking at you Rafael Palmeiro)
Let’s start with the obvious and go from there. The “I thought I was being injected with <insert random vitamin or supplement name here> by a trusted teammate who wouldn’t do me wrong or lie to me.” argument just doesn’t fly. When someone other than a trained medical professional is sticking a needle into your tush on a regular basis in a locker room, you are completely responsible for what is in that syringe. If you need B12 that badly, then I suggest you try something a little more reliable……like Flintstone chewables. I understand that they now have gummies (not that I’ve bought them or anything – I just heard from someone who knows).
The “plausible deniability” issue is ridiculous, and I think that Congress has actually muddied the waters and made things worse rather than better. Perjury is a bad, bad thing. Jail is an even worse thing. Why not offer a really big Snuggie-type blanket of immunity for all to share, and get the truth? Make it a one-time offer. Come one, come all. Consider it open-mic night at the Congressional improv. Fly your happy, albeit slightly bobbleheaded selves to D.C. and stand before the CSPAN cameras and admit to all your PED wrongdoings. In return, you will no longer be persecuted by at least one really snarky person who suspects that you injected the “B12 Bobblehead” shot or something akin to it. I’ll remain on my soapbox long enough to give you an effusive, metaphorical pat on the acne-scarred back. After that’s done, I’ll step down.
See, I don’t have some real big moral compass that gives me guidance on the issue of performance enhancing drugs in baseball. I don’t want them in baseball, and I’m all for stringent testing policies. It’s just that I drank the Kool-Aid just as most people did during the steroid era, and I didn’t just sip from the chalice, either. I chugged from the Kool-Aid home run bong of power, because I enjoyed every long blast from Sosa and McGwire in 1998. I’m not ashamed to admit that as a Cardinals fan I rooted for McGwire the entire way and didn’t think twice about dedicating the last 3 days of the regular season to preventing my coach from floating to the ceiling. (By the way, I succeeded in preventing that from happening, although I’m sure that gravity deserves some of the credit.)
McGwire and Sammy Sosa absolutely became must-see tv during the summer of 1998, and many watchers believe that they helped save baseball from itself in the process. I’m not completely on board with the notion that they saved baseball argument, but I’ll let it slide for now. The 1994 World Series was canceled on September 14, 1994 due to a strike by the Major League Baseball Players Association that started August 12th. As far as I’m concerned, baseball was back the moment someone uttered the magical phrase “play ball”, but it started really roaring for me about the time that the All-Star break in 1998 rolled around. The rest is history. Sosa and McGwire went after Roger Maris‘ single season record, and the final series of the season concluded with an absolute show by McGwire. I enjoyed every single home run hit by both Sosa and McGwire, and I wasn’t all that concerned with rumors and innuendo. It wasn’t that I had no appreciation for the record that Maris had set. It wasn’t that at all. If anything, the home run chase gave me an even greater appreciation for both Roger Maris and the record. It’s just that baseball was really fun to watch, and there was something to look forward to almost every single day, even though that Cardinals team was mediocre at best. When Mark McGwire hit 66, 67, 68, 69, and finally 70, I experienced something close to baseball euphoria that’s normally reserved for your favorite team winning the World Series. Hallowed records aren’t broken very often. The World Series is won by a team almost every year, so in a warped way that makes the breaking of a hallowed record even more special.
Fast forward to the All-Star break in 1999. The first round of the home run derby at Fenway was an absolute marvel. I drank the Kool-Aid again. McGwire stepped to the plate and blasted one ball after another over the Green Monster. He didn’t just hit it over the wall, either. His shots cleared the netting above the wall. He hit 13 home runs in the 1st round. Each one seemed to be bigger than the previous one.
Full disclosure: I’ve been to Fenway Park. That wall is huge. It’s ginormous. It’s a bunch of other made-up words. Technically, it’s 37’3″ tall and about 310′-315′ from home plate according to the guy I talked to at Fenway. It’s a solid pitching wedge for most weekend golfers, although I don’t think the grounds crew will let you try. For the record, they should let people try for like $10a shot, because they could make a mint doing so. If they ever set up a driving range at Fenway during the off-season, remember that you heard it hear first (at least it’s possible that you heard it hear first).
Even knowing what I know now about McGwire, androstenedione, and “talking about the past” doesn’t diminish those memories I have of 1998 or the home run derby. In the end, I don’t really care that much about the single season home run record or the all-time home record. Instead, I’ve chosen to take with me the fond memories of those wonderful moments and not allow them to be tainted by anything else. The memories are pure, even if the people who helped create them were not.
Now, back to the future…or the present. It’s time to put Encyclopedia Brown on the case. Congress should know where to find him. He works out of his family’s garage, and they live on Rover Avenue in Idaville. He only charges $.25 per day plus expenses. Heck, even the Pirates can afford that.
TIDBIT: In my blog piece on the BBA ballot, I voted for Rafael Palmeiro and Jeff Bagwell, but I didn’t give the nod to McGwire. I didn’t distinguish any of the 3 based on PED use or suspicion of use. I based my judgment solely on the way I viewed their careers. Palmeiro (66.0 WAR) has a career line is .288/.371/.515/.885 with 1835 rbi, 569 hr, and 3020 hits in 20 seasons. Bagwell (79.9 WAR) went for .297/.408/.540/.948 with 1529 rbi, 449 hr, and 2314 hits in 15 seasons. In 16 seasons, McGwire (63.1 WAR) was good for .263/.394/.588/.982 with 1414 rbi, 583 hr, and 1626 hits. Bagwell was by far the most productive of the 3, so I’m putting him ahead of both Palmeiro and McGwire. So, why Palmeiro and not McGwire? That’s a really good question that begs an answer. Perhaps I’ve always given Palmeiro too much credit for getting to 3000 hits, and I’ve always slighted McGwire for some unknown reason. Maybe I’ll break the numbers down by plate appearances before I fill out my mock ballot for next year and McGwire will make the cut then.
MORE BITS OF TID: If you aren’t familiar with the Encyclopedia Brown series of books, then I highly recommend them for kids. I grew up reading the series, and I consider them a staple of my childhood right along with Peanuts, The Hardy Boys, and Sesame Street. If you want to learn more about Encyclopedia Brown, check out the Wiki page here.