There are few baseball topics that actually make my blood boil. The accusatory nature in which certain members of the mainstream baseball media make assumptions about who did or did not do steroids happens to be one of them. Jeff Pearlman of Sports Illustrated is famous for his scorch the earth anti-steroid rhetoric, and he certainly didn't downplay his rhetoric with Mike Silva of New York Baseball Digest.
For the record, Pearlman reiterated his position on Jeff Bagwell saying he was “so certain he used steroids from being around that team, era, and researching his Clemens book.” He would go on to tell me that if Bagwell didn’t use then the “world is flat.” When I asked him if Craig Biggio falls into the same category as Bagwell because he played for Houston, a team that he said earlier in the show was hotbed for PED use, he said yes.Those are some pretty ballsy accusations. It would be one thing if either Bagwell or Biggio had tested positive for steroids; been implicated in the Mitchell Report; or been fingered as users by Jose Canseco or another player. They haven't. His entire argument against Bagwell is that he (a) was an avid weight lifter and therefore looked like a steroid user; (b) became a power hitter in the majors despite only hitting six home runs in 205 games in the minors; and (c) played with Clemens for three seasons. If that isn't the thinnest argument in the world, it's certainly one of them.
First of all, there are a lot of avid weight lifters around that don't use steroids. Bagwell, as a professional athlete, has the benefit of having a personal trainer, additional free time to workout, dietitians, and access to the best legal (and I stress legal) supplements where most of us non-professional athletes do not. Additionally, as a professional athlete, he likely has a genetic predisposition to be able to build muscle mass at a faster rate than the typical human. That doesn't make him a steroid user, that just makes him genetically gifted.
Secondly, despite only hitting six home runs in 205 minor league games, Bagwell still managed to hit 48 doubles and slugging .436 in 859 plate appearances. As the more knowledgeable baseball fans know, players with raw power that hit for a lot of doubles in their early-20s in the minor and major leagues, frequently develop the ability to hit for power in their mid-to-late-20s.* Not surprisingly, this is precisely what happened with Bagwell. During his age-23 through age-25 seasons he hit 15, 18, and 20 home runs. In 1994, his age-26 season, he finally harnessed his power potential by breaking out with 39 home runs. He continued to hit at an incredibly high level through the end of his prime in 2001 (his age-33 season), and held on as a better than average player for the next three before succumbing to injuries in 2005. This doesn't appear to be an irregular development and aging pattern. Each stage of career followed a pattern typical of Hall of Fame caliber player (pre-steroid era). While this doesn't mean he didn't use steroids, it certainly doesn't hurt his case.
* Power is typically the last of the five tools to develop. You would think that someone who writes about baseball for a living. I guess not.
Lastly, I'm not sure how simply playing with Clemens justifies Pearlman's accusations against either Bagwell or Biggio. I'm also not sure how the Houston Astros clubhouse could be considered a "hot bed for PED use" when only two players from the Clemens era (Clemens and Pettitte) were either named in the Mitchell Report or had credible accusations made against them. Perhaps he's going all the way back to the early to mid-1990s when Ken Caminiti manned third base for the Astros? I'm not sure. Still, it's a weak connection at best. Players like Carney Lansford, Walt Weiss, and Dave Stewart played with McGwire and Canseco during those great A's teams during the late-80s and early-90s. You don't see anyone making accusations against them just because they played with two admitted steroid users. We also don't hear accusations against Rickey Henderson who not only had an incredible physique, but also played the game at an incredibly high level for 15-20 years. I hope Rickey didn't do steroids, but there's no way to know for sure. If he did, I wouldn't think any less of him. I just wanted to point out that writers pick and choose, almost without rhyme or reason, who they feel is guilty of steroid use.
As I mentioned to Kevin (a commenter) under Corrye's piece on Jeff Bagwell's Hall of Fame predicament, the thing that bothers me most about the steroid situation is that there are far too many BBWAA members that are not only serving as the morality police, but also speculating about potential users based on anecdotal and/or circumstantial evidence. At the same time, they've created a line of distinction between two classes of drugs--steroids and amphetamines. Using one is considered acceptable by the BBWAA because it's not considered to be a PED (which it is), while using the other is considered to be a crime against humanity. Personally, I don't see a distinction. Amphetamines give players an additional boost of energy, which allows them to handle the rigors of a 162 game season. Otherwise, they would fall prey to more frequent slumps and exhaustion. If that's not performance enhancing, I'm not sure what is.
These misdirected steroid accusations are not only unproductive and reckless, but unethical. If any baseball writer (in particular Pearlman) has hard evidence proving that any player (not just Bagwell or Biggio) used performance enhancing drugs, they need to be forthcoming with that information. Withholding said information under the guise of innuendo and fear of legal action is both unacceptable and obstructive. As I've mentioned numerous times before, outside of the few players who've admitted using, I don't know who did or did not use steroids. Furthermore, I don't know what effect steroids had on each player's performance, nor do I claim to know. That's the difference between Jeff Pearlman and me--not the only difference, I hope. Whereas I prefer to wait until I have as much information as possible before making an informed, rational opinion, he'd rather make baseless claims with nothing to back it up.