Monday, June 28, 2010

McCrystal/Bonds??? I Don't Think So

Can't save this one for Friday...minimal political content, though, but a bit about the press, I guess.

Andrew Sullivan posts a comment from a reader who compares the McCrystal episode to the Barry Bonds story:
Bonds spent years cheating but very few sports reporters would report the truth because they feared losing their access to the locker room. Bonds would quite bluntly threaten that access, as I remember. His hitting performance, due to the cheating, was making him a big draw for reporters. But if they asked about the cheating, they lost access.  Eventually it took two investigative reporters from SF to expose the cheating. Those reporters, who were not covering sports, did not value access to the locker room, so could not be manipulated by Bonds.  
The point about reporters in general may or may not be correct, but it has nothing whatsoever to do with the Barry Bonds story.  Reporters never liked Bonds, and never hesitated to report anything negative they came up with on him (and, as far as I can tell, Bonds never liked reporters and generally treated them like dirt -- I believe that it goes back to the treatment he believed his dad, the great Bobby Bonds, received from the press).    When Bonds began his amazing late-career surge, it took approximately no time at all for steroids accusations to start.  What the "two investigative reporters" uncovered was testimony from the grand jury investigating the steroids lab that (allegedly) supplied Bonds and others -- which was, I suppose, good reporting, but I don't think it constitutes "expose the cheating."   What it did expose was the court proceedings, which I continue to believe have been mainly a farce.

Moreover, while it's very likely (but still, at this late date, not really proven) that Bonds used steroids, the other stuff is not as clear.  Since steroids were not banned within baseball when Bonds (presumably) used them, it's not clear why that was "cheating" -- and if it was, then (1) dozens, and perhaps hundreds, of others were cheating in similar ways, and (2) virtually everyone with the likely exception of, oh, Dale Murphy had been cheating by using amphetamines for decades.  Including such "clean" players as Henry Aaron, Willie Mays, and...well, pretty much everyone.  Pete Rose, to name someone who actually broke baseball rules.  As far as I'm concerned, I don't think there's been very much definitive evidence on a lot of this.  We know for sure that a lot of players used things that now are banned.  We know that some of those things almost certainly helped players bulk up...but we also know that a far bigger factor was the end of the old superstitions about conditioning and baseball (it was long believed that "musclebound" players were at a disadvantage.  No, really; Brian Downing, who played in the 1970s and 1980s, was considered something of a freak because he did weight training. There are a number of players who have claimed they used steroids; I believe them.  Beyond that, it's all speculation, for Bonds and everyone else.. 

As for far as I'm concerned, Barry Bonds could have never used anything now banned and gained all his late-career bulk from his fanatical workout regime; he could have used steroids without realizing what they were; or, for all I know, he may have used steroids throughout his career.  I'm sure he drank the special coffee his entire career, and that was (as far as I'm concerned) absolutely no different, so in my book he's equally "guilty" of whatever he's guilty of regardless of the details surrounding his late-career surge.  But as far as that goes, if the story that Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams is correct, then we still have pretty much no idea how much (if at all) the steroids contributed to his record seasons, how much (if at all) his (well-documented) fanatical new workout regime contributed, how much changes in technique that had nothing to do with physical changes contributed, and how much those factors interacted.  Nor do we know how many pitchers that Bonds faced were aided by various now-banned stuff (and if so how much it helped him), nor about most of the other hitters from his era.

Barry Bonds wasn't protected by the press.  Barry Bonds, almost certainly because he didn't cooperate with the press, was singled out by the press and turned into a symbol for all that ails baseball.  Given that by all accounts his trouble with reporters was at least in large part his own fault -- and that he was well-paid, to say the least, for the stuff he had to put up with, I don't particularly feel bad for him (except for the legal stuff, which is outrageous).  But as a baseball fan, I feel bad for myself and other fans because we have to read about this stuff, instead of, you know, baseball.  Not to mention that we were robbed of the declining year or two of the greatest player alive when he was hounded out of the game.  That's a shame, and something that no one involved -- not the press, not the prosecutors, and not the embarrassment of a commissioner of baseball -- has any right to be proud of themselves for.


  1. It really is an inane comparison.

    It should be noted that a reporter who publishes an article saying "Bonds did roids" as though it were fact could be sued for libel if reckless disregard for the truth is proven. if there's no definitive proof, it is very dangerous to publish things like that.

    Furthermore, I'm pretty sure that access to the locker room would not have unveiled whatever secrets Bonds was keeping. I doubt he would have injected (or however else one consumes steroids) in front of a gaggle of reporters.

  2. Well argued! I agree with every word. I'm no Barry Bonds fan (but I was a huuuuuge fan of his father, and of Brian Downing for that matter.)

    I've never really understood this political vendetta about steroids. The big Congressional hearings that kicked this off was McCain's doing. I remember wondering at the time WTF? I mean, one doesn't normally think of the purity of baseball as one of McCain's fields of interest or expertise. My guess is he picked the issue to get back in the limelight in front of his new run for President. No Congressman in his right mind would take the other side, so it was a golden moment for everyone concerned to huff and puff in moral outrage and gain lots of TV facetime, without political cost.

    Cynical political opportunism, pure and simple.

    Okay, sure, it purportedly puts a player at an "unnatural" advantage and it certainly has negative health consequences for the user, but most of the time they were using it, it wasn't banned! Yet their careers were ruined and their accomplishments, and the game of baseball, diminished irreparably.

  3. Thank you for this. I like Andrew Sullivan's blog, but yelled at my computer when I read what his reader posted. "Magic pills" don't exist and the argument was a terrible one.


  4. Thank you for calling into question the distinction -- sometimes unwitting, often deliberate -- drawn between amphetamine use and "PED" use in baseball. For all the debate about Mark McGwire getting into the hall, nobody ever mentions the fact that such stalwart legends as Mike Schmidt have admitted to career-long amphetamine use. With the day-to-day fatigue of the 162 grind being arguably the most difficult aspect of major league ball, considering amphetamine use to be a "lesser" form of cheating is ridiculous.

    One quick note though: steroids certainly were banned during the Bonds late-career home run surge; way back in 1991 Fay Vincent issued a statement saying "The possession, sale or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by Major League players or personnel is strictly prohibited ... This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs ... including steroids."

    So, while there was no testing or formal disciplinary policy until very recently, steroids have been against the rules in baseball for the entirety of the "steroid era", and then some.

  5. I think there was a distinction between how the local SF press treated Bonds and how the national press treated Bonds. Aside from the Chronicle guys who got the legal info from the lawyers and blew open the story, the locals were successfully cowed by Bonds. They needed the crumbs of access he offered and a local SF fan could believe Bonds was "clean" based on their reporting if desiring to do so.

    The national baseball press was much more willing to hammer the guy.

    Agree with you about the hypocrisy of the whole thing.

  6. Rhayader, the famous 1991 Vincent memo didn't apply to the players, as Vincent himself has since admitted. One of the legacies of the 80s cocaine trials and attempts at unilateral punishment by the then-commissioner was a court ruling that ANY punishment of players for drug use, recreational or performance-enhancing, had to be collectively bargained between ownership and the players' union. When it came to both amphetamines and steroids, that wasn't done until '04.

  7. I with janinsanfran and would add that my fellow Giants fans were huge enablers, myself included. We more or less didn't care so long as the balls left the park. It was short-sided; if we'd kept Jeff Kent and traded Barry's ass, we would have had a team that won a World Series. But I draw the line at notions Barry was singled out or that scrutiny over steroids was hypocrisy.

  8. @Anonymous: That's all relating to testing and discipline though.

    Before that, steroids were still against the rules -- just as corking a bat is against the rules, even though there is no established policy for testing for corked bats, and no standardized punishment for players caught corking their bats.

    It was a toothless, unenforced "ban" to be sure. But to claim that steroid users prior to 2004 were "not breaking the rules" or that steroids "were not banned in baseball" is not accurate.

  9. Bonds is a bad comparison. The true comparisons are Sosa and McGwire. Many baseball writers knew or suspected that Sosa and McGwire used steroids, but didn't write a story or pursue their suspicions because they like the players and because exposing them would be "bad for the game."

    In fact, when a sportswriter DID notice a jar on andro in McGwire's locker and DID write a story about it, he was treated with contempt by his peers and ostracized.

  10. performance enhancers (Bonds most likely used HGH [Human Growth Hormone] than steroids because he didn't want to work out as hard) were banned in baseball, they just weren't tested for. Much like the regulations on banks and oil companies they were unenforced and lead to a horrible situation that could have been prevented if someone stood up to powerful interests. God this country is it's own worst enemy.

  11. Rhayader,

    It wasn't an unenforced ban; it was a dead letter. The commissioner can say whatever he wants, but he has exactly as much power to declare something cheating as you or I do. Anon 1:30 is exactly right here. Bottom line, I don't really see any difference in status between steroids and greenies prior to the negotiated ban. I'm fine with saying that they're both cheating, I'm fine with saying that neither is cheating.

    Anon 1:48,

    I'll have to say that I think your analysis of what would have been good or bad for the Giants is not supported by the evidence. Generally, having the best player in baseball on your team is a Very Good Thing. Beyond that, I'll leave it to a Friday Baseball Post some time.

  12. @Jonathan: So the commissioner cannot make any rules about the game? It seems to me that there are plenty of rules -- like the corked bat example -- that were not collectively bargained. What's the difference between the two cases? From everything I have read, the player's union objected to testing and to disciplinary measures -- was there ever an arbitration decision vacating the steroids "ban" itself, or just testing and discipline?

    Plus, how does that square with a long history of commissioner decisions, from Kennesaw Landis and the Chicago Black Sox to Bart Giamatti and Pete Rose? I'm just wondering out loud here; if there's some key distinction I'm missing please enlighten me.

  13. I'm with you as far as your characterization of the media's attitude toward Bonds goes -- they disliked him and he disliked them -- but you lose me when you broaden the argument to how much steroids (may have) helped Bonds. It seems like you're kicking up a lot of dirt to obscure the fact that banned substances likely fueled the home run binge of the late 90s/early 00s. Yes, a lot of players probably are guilty, but not _all_ of them, and not all to the same degree. Yes, pitchers may have used, too, but not _all_ of them. And yes, players used amphetamines going way back, but amphetamines are not HGH or anabolic steroids. It's not a dichotomy between cheating/non-cheating, it's a matter of scale, ranging from cheating that has a small effect (amphetamines) to cheating that has a massive, career-altering, record-shattering effect (HGH and steroids). There are players who didn't use whose careers were altered for the worse by this, and players who did use who became world famous and made hundreds of millions of dollars. That may seem like a small injustice in the grand scheme of things, but it kind of rankles.

    Plus, "Barry Bonds could have never used anything now banned and gained all his late-career bulk from his fanatical workout regime..." Really? Really?


  14. I dug up an ESPN quickie about the "ban" that had been instituted by Fay Vincent in 1991:

    Reading through this, I think characterizing it as an "unenforced ban" is actually pretty accurate.

  15. I don't believe the local newspapers ever had a cozy relationship with Bonds. He walked up to the reporter I had assigned to his divorce trial in the mid-'90s and just about spat at him. Unsavory details (like when he told his white mistress he had to marry a black woman to satisfy his family, which disliked his prior marriage to a white woman) were always coming out. It's KNBR, the Giants radio station, that was always making excuses for him.

  16. The thing that has always rankled me about the Bonds saga was the ridiculous idea that he somehow "cheated" when steroids were not specifically banned when he allegedly used them; they were merely illegal by federal law. That use of an illegal (but not banned) substance has been the hook his detractors have hung their cheating charges upon.

    Yet, not one of them is prepared to call baseball's most reknowned home run king for the exact same thing. Babe Ruth used an illegal substance that was not banned by baseball - booze. The bulk of his career was played during prohibition and he not only drank, he drank excessively, and flaunted the fact.

    The irony seems entirely lost on all those who have actively sought the destruction of Bonds and any of his achievements.

  17. That Bonds "cheated" is something which'll have us all arguing forever, fair? Please prove to me with any (ANY) scientific study that HGH (let alone the ill-defined "steroids") actually produced X, Y, and Z... Bonds is and always was an outlier, like Ted Williams, like Babe Ruth, like Roger Clemes, like Nolan Ryan. He didn't just "start hitting home runs" when he took on legal (and likely illegal) supplements. Just look at his baseball record! I get that people loathe him and so desperately "want" to label him as a cheater to dimish when he did, but it's not so easy. Anyone here study baseball? The game's filled with crazy stuff, from the Dead Ball era to the crazy batting averages of the 1930s to the mound being raised to the 90s. You get the idea. There is no one answer, but many: 365 strength training, video technology, smaller stadiums, expansions (which was probably a net neutral, but exploited by the great pitches and hitters to inflate their numbers), supplements of all types, juiced balls, lighter bats, players trying to hit home runs vs. hits, and on and on and on.


  18. I'm with jamerchant, "Plus, "Barry Bonds could have never used anything now banned and gained all his late-career bulk from his fanatical workout regime..." Really? Really?"

    Exactly... working out can make your head grow a full cap size, your feet and hands grow full sizes as well when your over 30??? Give me a friggin break on that one. And comparing Amphetamines to HGH or Roid use in terms of performance enhancement is ridiculous as a poster said above. Without a doubt HGH/Roids can turn the doubles/triples off the walls that Bonds used to get in his younger days into HRs by adding distance thats a no brainer... and the stats bear it out. Have you seen pics of him from his ASU days? Give me a break.

  19. Is one of the commenters seriously trying to claim that liquor is a performance-enhancing drug? Do they really, actually, honestly think that Babe Ruth hit better when he'd had a few? Because if so, I'm definitely going to lobby for breathalyzer tests in Major League baseball. After all, who knows how well Joe Mauer could hit after a few shots of Wild Turkey?

  20. John Seavey,

    I agree with you on the Ruth/booze point.

    Jamerchant and Anon 7:24,

    Yes, really. I'm not saying that Bonds didn't use anything, but yes, it is certainly possible to bulk up w/out steroids. There really is pretty good evidence that his workout regime was intense (really -- is it likely that Sheffield and Rice would have lied about that?). Of course, it could have been...probably was...aided by some form of PEDs.

    And as for "a lot of players probably are guilty, but not _all_ of them, and not all to the same degree," I agree -- and we have no idea where Bonds is on that spectrum! He's almost certainly guilty of the funny coffee (and again -- I really do think "not _all_ of them" is likely probably works out to "everyone but Dale Murphy"), and he's very likely to have used other stuff. But we don't know how much, and we don't know who else did what.

    Last thing...on the commissioners. Landis *did* have extraordinary powers that Selig doesn't have; things changed after the union. Giamatti, BTW, merely enforce a long-standing rule. To say that there was an unenforced ban misses the point that it couldn't be enforced; it wasn't a legal (w/in baseball) order. It's as if Obama issued an exec order setting the speed limit in Maine to 50 MPH. People driving 60 wouldn't be outlaws, because Obama doesn't have the power to do that. If, four years later, the Maine legislature passed a 50 MPH limit properly, that still wouldn't mean that everyone had been breaking the law because of Obama's edict.

  21. Last thing...on the commissioners. Landis *did* have extraordinary powers that Selig doesn't have; things changed after the union. Giamatti, BTW, merely enforce a long-standing rule.

    Yeah, both good points. And I suppose your analogy is suitable, although it feels a bit forced to me. I don't think Vincent was "out of his jurisdiction" when banning steroids -- he just didn't have the authority to institute testing. In the speed limit example, the federal government actually does lack any jurisdiction whatsoever, which is why they've resorted to holding the purse strings to enforce traffic policy.

    Anyway. The difference between an "unenforced ban" and a ban that "couldn't be enforced" is vanishingly small, and I won't even waste anyone's time with it. Big picture, your points in the OP about common misconceptions regarding "cheating" and "performance enhancement" in baseball are valuable indeed.

  22. Sorry, you still haven't addressed how Bond's work out regimen could make his head, hands and feet grow sizes. That's physically impossible as far as I know from working out and I've been working out for 20 years. Good luck trying to explain that one because you can't it's fantasy. Only HGH or another external substance can account for that.

    From the book Game of Shadows:

    Barry Bonds' cleat size has grown 2 1/2 sizes since he joined the team prior to the 1993 season, according to new material in the paperback edition of "Game of Shadows," to be released this week, Sports Illustrated said.

    Authors Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada write about the massive growth in Bonds' jersey size (42 to 52), cleat size (10 1/2 to 13) and cap size (7 1/8 to 7 1/4) — even though he is shaving his head bald now.

    Refute that... good luck

  23. Game of Shadows does not equal evidence of anything. Those two clowns wrote a crappy book --yes I've read it-- and then cashed in. The answer is pretty simple: WE DON'T KNOW or we do know that baseball stats of every era are affected by a host of factors. Claiming that some drug(s) that apparently only affected Bonds (and Sosa and McGwire)--or affected them to heights that nobody else could touch--and produced X stat changes is something that is absolutely unproveable.

    In fact, there HAVE been studies that take on the widespread belief about the "Steroid Era" producing such inflated numbers. (Want ïnflated" how the hell did Roger Maris do what he did?) Enjoy the game for crying out loud and appreciate the nuance of its history and its numbers. Cheating? Whatever. Exactly what world are those who think athletes (or most people for that matter) don't "cheat" living in?

    I'll end with asking again for anyone here to find me a study that concludes that HGH produces specifically positive results in baseball players? Or, even steroids for that matter? Many "think"these substances do because they want to and because they eliminate evidence to the contrary to look at home run figures by certain players. That's too damn simple.

  24. ^ you still can't address significant size growth of Head, Feet and Hands that's impossible just from working out and those are pure facts not something the authors made up.


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