Thursday, March 04, 2004

I Say Guilty

Steroid use is the topic du jour in the baseball world, and since this is supposed to be a baseball blog, I thought I would add my two cents.

First of all, I've been hearing a lot about how players should be innocent until proven guilty. While that may be the case in a court of law, it's silly to think that should be the case in the court of public opinion. If we lived by this credo, we would certainly be a nation of fools.

But thankfully we are not. We make informed opinions about the world around us. And there is nothing wrong in coming to an informed opinion that some of our best baseball players are juiced. And it's not like there isn't evidence to support such opinions.

The most important piece of evidence is right there for everyone to see. These players look like comic book superheroes. It would be nice to believe they achieved these looks by just lifting weights (and Sammy Sosa stated this year was the first time he started lifting weights in December). But a lot of people lift weights and do not get the type of results achieved by McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, and Giambi.

I sat right behind the Cardinals dugout when they visited Comiskey in 1999, and to see McGwire in person was actually quite shocking. Television does not do justice to the size of these players. McGwire looked as is he came right from the weight room, muscles bulging from all parts of his uniform.

In 2000, Sosa showed up to spring training embarrassingly huge and looked like a caricaturehimselfslef. After his size became newsworthy it interesting to note that he has slimmed down the past few seasons, although he is still very big.

But size alone would not be enough to make believe these players were on steroids. But the sudden increase in performance is also troubling. And I would have to say it is most troubling for Bonds.

He was a great player for over a decade, in fact one of the all time greats. But then at age 36, his OPS jumps 250 points and he becomes the best hitter to ever play the game? When most players are in the declining stages of their career, Barry Bonds saw an increase in production unprecedented for someone his age.

Given the fact that Bonds trainer has been indicted and Bonds and others have been implicated, it has become very hard for me to presume his innocence. And while Sosa is not connected with the Balco case, the fact the he used a corked bat makes it not outrageous to believe he used illegal substances too.

Fame and fortune provides a powerful motive for both superstars and minor leaguers to try and game the system. Especially given the fact the health risks of controlled steroid use are usually exaggerated. And I wouldn't demonize anyone who has taken steroids. It has to be very tempting for a minor leaguer to try and improve his game when it may make a half million dollar difference in his salary.

As for the superstars, with or without steroids, they are great players. But the numbers put up by Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, and hell even Frank Thomas and Manny Ramirez, do have more significance for me than the record breaking numbers put up by Bonds, McGwire and Sosa. That's because I believe these three players are guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs, even if I can't prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.