Thursday, October 28, 2010

Will the Steroid Debate Ever Go Away?

ESPN New York columnist Ian O’Conner approves of the Mets hiring of Sandy Alderson as their General Manager under one caveat—he apologize for his role in the steroid era:

“Who would dare reject that resume? Alderson sounds more like a commissioner of a first-rate sport than a general manager of a second-rate team. In fact, maybe a quick fix of the Mets puts him in line to succeed Bud Selig.

Don't get us wrong: Sandy Alderson has a resume perfect for the Mets' GM job. But his role as an enabler in baseball's Steroid Era can't be ignored.

But when he steps to the microphone as Omar Minaya's replacement, Alderson should take the time of offer an apology. He should say he's sorry for being an enabler at a time when baseball desperately needed a whistle-blower and a leader.

He should say he's sorry for allowing the monstrous steroid culture to grow fangs on his watch.”

Alright!  Please spare me.  I’ve had enough of the sanctimonious garbage.  It’s time to move on from the steroid discussion.  The sooner we move on, the sooner we can put the era into perspective and begin to heal from an era that apparently has caused people so much pain.  Frankly, though, I don’t get it.  I loved the steroid era.  It was fun and exciting.  Home run balls were flying out of the park at an alarming rate.  Records, once unattainable, were being broken.  We all loved it.  Then, we found it out it wasn’t real, and our memories were cheapened.  Or at least, we think it wasn’t real.*  And our memories were cheapened.  We just chose to feel that way. 

*I have read a few studies that pose a very convincing argument that steroids were not the cause of the jump in home runs.  Instead, the baseball itself was fitted with a livelier core composition and wound tighter, thus creating an increase in home runs. This was done in an effort to draw fans back to the game after the lengthy 1994-1995 strike.   After the fan, media, and government outrage over steroid usage in baseball became overwhelming, MLB, knowing they had to do something, changed the composition of the ball around the same time league-wide steroid testing commenced.  This has led to a gradual decline in home runs since 2005.  While this argument may seem far fetched, it is certainly plausible; especially when you consider MLB’s obsession with public image. 

Furthermore, several studies have questioned the effect additional upper body muscle mass has on an individual player’s ability to hit home runs.  Steroids build muscle mass in the upper body, while most of a player’s power ability is derived from the lower body.  Additional upper body mass restricts flexibility, thereby making it tougher for a player to maintain bat speed.  Out of the studies I’ve read, analysts have estimated that players who used steroids were able to hit a fly ball an additional 3-5 farther than comparable players who do not use steroids.  While that will certainly account for a part of the jump in home runs, it does not account for the bulk of the increase.

We can’t change the record books.  Steroids or not, these records fell.  We can’t create an alternative record holder just because we feel like it.  We can’t go back in time to stop these things from happening, so the best thing to do is accept it for what it is.  We need to appropriately adjust these statistics in comparison to other eras in order to make sense of what we experienced.  Depending on the year, a 50 home run season has different values.  For instance, a 50 home run season in 1968 (the Year of the Pitcher) would be far more valuable than a 50 home run season in 1930 or 2000 (peak offensive years). 

Back to Alderson, though.  What does he really have to apologize for?  Yes, he was the GM of the Oakland A’s when Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire were bashing their way to three consecutive AL pennants and a World Series championship.  Yes, he had suspicions about Canseco.  But so did a lot of people.  Owners, fans, players, baseball writers, and outside observers all had these suspicions, and no one really did anything about it until it blew up in our faces.  Did Ian O’Conner have suspicions?  I don’t know. As someone close to the game, I suspect he may have.  If he did have suspicions, there is no evidence that he did anything with that information to bring it to light.  I’m not going to pass judgment though.  I’m not going to claim to know what he did or did not know.  That’s neither my job, nor is it his.  To make a claim that Alderson not only knew, but was also complicit (or worse, encouraging) in the steroid era, is borderline reckless.  To claim that he owes everyone an apology for his supposed role is nothing short of arrogant.

No comments:

Post a Comment