January 08, 2015

Cooperstown, PEDs, greenies and narratives

Trust me, I'm going to bring this all together, as I do with other blog posts with headlines of strings of individual words.

It all centers on this year's Baseball Hall of Fame elections, with Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Craig Biggio and John Smoltz elected, while believed users of performance-enhancing drugs Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds continue to tread water in the voting and other known or suspected PEDers like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa slip further backward. And, as people like Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell continue to struggle to overcome the ugly stains of innuendo.

Many people who seemingly want to excuse the 1990s era of PEDing as no worse than in the past bring up the line of "it's the same as greenies" in some way shape or form.

Erm, no. I've dealt with that before, but I'm going to take a different angle this time.

Much of my focus starts with this piece, which I've referenced before.

Point 1: Due to the same reason that amphetamines are normally likely to be more dangerous, even much more dangerous, than steroids (not that steroids are harm-free) amphetamines are not likely to be a good performance enhancer.

First, take a bit too much, and you're jittery, not focused. If you're a batter, you've got the equivalent of a golfer's putting yips. And, if you don't like that exact analogy, sorry, but amphetamine jitters happen. Use another word or analogy if you want, but they sill happen.

Second, they cause tolerance to develop, which usually leads to addiction. Especially after that point, as with other addictive drugs, the effect from a given dose can become variable.

Point 1A: Because there was no "science" in the 1950s, 60s, and 70s dugouts, we have no idea what those "greenies" were, if they were taken with any precision, or anything else.

So, per that IIATMS link, we should take with a grain of salt or two the claims of Jim Bouton and others that "greenies" were gobbled like candy, as well as naming specific players like Willie Mays, and also ask just what "greenies" mean to Bouton and others talking about those days.

Point 2: While steroids aren't new, the modern steroids era arguably is. Just like the people who say the modern era is no worse, I know that steroids were around before they technically became baseball-illegal way back in 1971 (yes, click that link), or became non-prescription illegal to the general public back in 1991 (again, click that link). I also know about injecting goat glands back in the early 1900s.

Point 3: Yes, speed can give you an immediate advantage that doesn't require work. But, that advantage is short term. You then have to take more, and eventually face the issue of tolerance and even full-blown addiction. Steroids don't have that.

However, before Big Mac's time, managers generally discouraged players from weight lifting or weight training. Thus, unlike the NFL, where steroids started catching on in the 1960s, before McGwire, baseball players had little incentive to use steroids. But, then came him and Jose Canseco as the Bash Brothers. Offense shot up, helped by AL expansion in 1978, NL expansion in 1993, and AL expansion in 1998 (No, I don't think roids caused all the power outburst from the early 1990s for the next 15 years, and I've written about that before, too.)

To the degree roids, hand in hand with weight training to make them more effective, were part of the game, it was different than greenies. First, Bonds' and Clemens' increased muscle mass showed that steroids, at least, worked. (How much human growth hormone helps muscle mass, or healing, are both more questionable; and, thus, my focus is on steroids.)

Second, Bonds for sure, and at least somewhat, other players, brought a scientific, empirical approach to steroid use. Look at the detailed logs of Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, that he refused to "translate" in Bonds' trial. Look at Victor Conte talk about his work with BALCO. Remember that many a steroid enabler is NOT Tony Bosch.

Also note that, given Anderson's detailed, if cryptic notes, and knowing that then, and today, steroids are just as illegal as amphetamines, "big guns" went for roids, not greenies.

That's the bottom line. Somebody else can claim "I know which one I'd use."

Well, we know which one Barry Bonds used, and it wasn't greenies. (And, as hard as Jeff Novitsky went after him, if there were a scintilla of evidence Bonds DID use greenies, it would have come up in trial. Nor has he ever been mentioned as having an ADD exemption to use stuff legally.)

So, from the mid-1980s on:
1. Baseball became conducive to the benefits of steroids taking effect, via weights work
2. People were "pushing" steroids
3. We've seen their effects
4. They were used, in at least some cases, with some degree of precision.

All of this sets them apart from "greenies" of stereotypes And, from earlier knowledge about steroids, too, at least within baseball. Again, this is about baseball, not pro sports in general.

Modern Adderall? Yes, I know it increases focus, and is used in baseball and other sports. And probably abused.

First, is "focus" a significant improvement? Dunno. We could compare before-and-afters of players who have gotten MLB exceptions to be on it. That itself would still have a fair amount of guesswork. And, while the linked article raises some good questions about safety, other than mentioning "performance enhancers," it doesn't raise any of them about how we know how much enhancement they deliver.

Second, the likes of Bouton weren't talking about Adderall, nor about using other amphetamines for that precise of a reason. It was as a general fatigue fighter, like soldiers, sailors and airmen in World War II, where greenies first became popular.

Do amphetamines fight fatigue? Hellz yes, until the "crash and burn." Do they improve performance? I think the jury's out on that. More out than it is on steroids, if taken under similar, controlled conditions. That would be like comparing Bonds' regimen to an MLB-exempt player taking scheduled Adderall. Not, say, Jhonny Peralta's PED use.

And, at the same time, per the link above ... Adderall on a prescribed regimen doesn't have the same safety risks as straight meth. Or straight dexxies of non-prescribed dosage.

Here's where the last word comes in.

There's a "narrative" here that some people want to tell about how this wasn't as bad. Why the tellers of it want to tell and believe — and perpetuate and propagate — the narrative, I have no idea. And, having gotten in disputes about this, I'm not going further down the road. I've had too many people claim that I've said things about greenies that I haven't.

Some may be reacting to the idea that I, and people like me, are claiming "the good old days" were better, purer or whatever. (I'm not.)

Some might claim I or others are wanting to give a pass to "greenies" users. (If amphetamines did make a noticeable difference for an individual, I'm not.)

I do think that, at least for a subset of players that committed to a rigorous use of steroids, though, it IS different. And, I know I'm not alone. Both for myself, and sports figures like Bob Costas and Ken Rosenthal, I reject the "holier than thou" idea, too. I doubly reject referencing players who either saw amphetamine use (Bouton) or used roids on a regimen (Bonds) as an "appeal to authority." Don't try to insult my intelligence, which in turn leads me to get angry at you and question your intelligence even more.

Also, among the narrative tellers, I think there's an attempt to have their cake and eat it, too. Doesn't work.

The very fact that greenies are often more dangerous than steroids (which I agree, contra claims I don't) is part of what undercuts their potential effectiveness as performance enhancers. Touting the first without accepting the second is a cake having-and-eating I don't allow here.

That includes people noting that evidence of the potential benefits of amphetamines is all over the place, but still claiming their benefits are both as good as, if not better, than roiding, and more carefully controllable.

On the controllable: Really? Roids aren't addicting (as far as we know). Plus, I refer to the meticulous record keeping Greg Anderson did for Barry Bonds.

That said, should I get anybody comment here who sincerely wants to try to defend the idea that select modern roids users were no worse than others, without making false claims about my stance on amphetamines, or without trying to have your cake and eat it, fire away.

In reality, there's one thing that makes me question not immediately voting in the likes of Bonds and Clemens. And that's that other cheaters, like Gaylord Perry and Don Sutton, are already in the Hall.

That said, I too thrilled, in part as a Cards fan, at McGwire "outdueling" Sosa in 1998. (Again, let's not forget that was also the first year of baseball's last expansion.) And, to be honest, at the time, "steroids" didn't really cross my mind, though bits of talk already were in the air.

It was ... a narrative. And, one that Bud Selig was fine having us watch, and drink in as a narrative. Without asking questions.

But, it was an ultimately harmful narrative.

Physically harmful to kids like Taylor Hooton. (That's why we can't say that amphetamines are always more harmful than steroids.)

Psychologically harmful to the game of baseball, including with arguments about who "belongs" in the Hall of Fame and why. (That's setting aside the issue of the "morals clause," which does exist, even with inconsistency in its application.) It's psychological in that the "roids clause" is applied as imperfectly as the "morals clause," what with two of three of last year's inducted managers, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre, managing multiple users, and the third, Bobby Cox, managing at least one suspected user (Gary Sheffield).

It's also hypocritical, of MLB, the Hall of Fame and its board in Cooperstown, and others involved, to continue to have or let the BBWAA seemingly apply one standard to Bonds, Clemens and McGwire, among others and another to those who managed them. (Neither Dusty Baker nor Felipe Alou, Bonds' Giants managers, are serious threats to make the HOF. But, the principle applies to them, too.)

And, it's psychological in that some people want to make unwarranted comparisons. Perhaps, beyond other reasons I've mentioned, it's that their sense of and desire for nostalgia is a driving force.

So, roiding has caused harm.

And, for those of us old enough to remember the 1980s' owners' collusion, and its more limited attempts and related methods afterword, methods which eventually led to the 1994 season meltdown, these effects are ongoing.

It was 1998 that brought some of  us back. It definitely brought me back to following more. That's not to say, of course, that individual players colluded with the owners in pushing a new narrative.

No, they were just after records.

But, if those records repopularized baseball, and gave more money to owners to spend, with a new post-1994 willingness to spend, then players were along for the ride.

A sidebar or two, while I'm at it, and primarily to the "Big Hall" guys, like Buster Olney and Jayson Stark at ESPN, talking about Biggio needing three tries to get in, even with more than 3,000 hits.

Yogi Berra didn't get in on his first try. Perry, a 300-game winner, needed three tries. It took Sutton, with his 300-plus wins, more than three tries. (He's a good comp to Biggio on WAR and WAA, too.) No, today's BBWAA isn't magically more restrictive overall, though it still puzzles at times. And with not just two, but three, first-year eligibles getting in this year, some of the "backlog" is no longer a backlog. Junior Griffey is the only slam-dunk among next year's first-year eligibles, too.

I've talked in more detail in the past about the "backlog," too, including about how much we should allow those 1993 and 1998 expansions to affect our judgment of someone like Vladimir Guerrero.

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