Friday, August 10, 2007

Continuing the Conversation

Did you drink coffee this morning?

Yeah

Well then, you're guilty of using a performance enhancing drug! All your accomplishments are now suspect!

Cute.

Let me know how many people go to an early grave from caffeine usage.

Well, it's probably also true that a lot of the pitchers Bonds faced were using PED's, so it all washes out.

Ah, the two wrongs make a right argument.

I don't like it that pitchers are using either. But I haven't been ordered to stand and applaud for any pitchers for whom there is a similar chain of evidence as there is for Bonds. Any pitchers hit their peak after 35? Any pitchers transform from all-around good pitchers to strikeout specialists in late career? Any pitchers the subject of grand jury testimony?

Two names remotely qualify that I can think of -- Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens. Schilling peaked late, and Clemens has had unprecedented longevity. I suspect most of the pitchers who were using fall into the category of guys barely hanging on. My impression is that most effective pitchers walk a very fine line, and wouldn't want to mess it up.

In any instance, if we stipulate that Bonds used, we have two scenarios:

  1. Almost everyone, including pitchers used
  2. Bonds is one of the few players that used.

In the first case, baseball becomes a sport I don't care as much about in general, and am this less inclined to celebrate Bonds's achievement. In the second case, that would be a reason to discount his record.

To summarize, either Bonds was successful in a game that I find much less appealing, or he had an unfair advantage.

I still think you're a racist for celebrating McGwire and Sosa but not Bonds

Tough.

Or let me put it another way -- are you saying we were wrong to celebrate McGwire and Sosa or wrong the not celebrate Bonds?

If the former, well then maybe we're a little bit smarter now. A lot more news about PED's has come out in the last nine years that we didn't have in 1998.

Should we pretend we don't know that in order to remain "consistent?"

And this type of argument is especially annoying coming from places like Baseball Prospectus. They would be the first to castigate others for ignoring evidence in order to hold on to some sentimental position -- be it the existence of clutch hitting, the myth of The Closer, the importance of hustle, etc. But for Bonds, only smoking-gun proof will do. To fail to avoid the obvious conclusion is to rush to judgment motivated by racism. No, it's using the brain God gave me.

I am quite sure that if Ken Griffey and Barry Bonds's fates were reversed -- if Bonds has suffered through numerous injuries that last five years while Griffey closed in on the record, we would be celebrating Griffey right now. The rejection of Bonds is about Bonds, not about race.

----

Which brings me to what I think PED did for Barry -- basically it was a fountain of youth for him. What happened to Griffey is what happens to most players as they get older -- their bodies start to break down, and they can't be as effective.

They say that youth is wasted on the young. Bonds changed that equation. As his career progressed, he became smarter and smarter about hitting and the strike zone. Couple that with a body that was not deteriorating, perhaps even getting stronger, and you've got a pretty powerful force. In essence Bonds got the benefit of increased wisdom but still has a 27-year old body to execute his new knowledge.

I never said that Bonds owes all his success to pharmaceuticals. What he has done requires a great deal of dedication to his craft and hard work.

I wish we could have seen what he would have done without the help.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Conversations with a strawman -- Barry Bonds

First of an occasional series in which I'll engage in a "dialogue" with someone taking the opposite position. Since I'm writing this, I will ultimately win the debate.

The title is a bit of a joke, since I will try to have my strawman present arguments that are being advanced in the debate, rather than things nobody believes.


So I notice you didn't make a big deal about Barry Bonds breaking sports' best known record.
That's right.

Is it because of the steroids thing?
Yeah, partly.

But there's no proof that Barry Bonds ever used steroids! And even if they were, MLB didn't have a policy in place! This is so unfair!

I'm not looking to throw Bonds in jail; I'm just choosing not to go nuts celebrating this accomplishment. Evidence and my own common sense leads me to believe that Bonds's late career surge was chemically assisted. Conviction may require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but my own approval does not. Nor is my approval coniditioned on what Major League rules or enforcement policies. I am less impressed with Bonds's accomplishments than I would be if he were not assisted.

What do you care what Barry Bonds does to his own body?

I don't. But I care about the players at the margins, those who are, to paraphrase Crash Davis, an extra hit a week away from Yankee Stadium.

If we say that chemically assisted performance is just as valid as non-assisted performance, that will remove a reason for players at every level to resist the temptation to juice themselves to the next level. And those players won't have access to the resources someone like Bonds does, and could end up hurting himself.

But they're adults who make their own decisions. Are you going to nanny everybody?

Youth sports are increasingly competitive. It does not seem unreasonable that high school or even little league athletes would reach for an edge, even if it comes from a bottle.

More ominously, coaches eager to make a name for themselves could explicitly or implicitly encourage young athletes to improve themselves this way.

Well, that's their problem. Why should Bonds suffer because some other people might do stupid or unethical things? It's not like he's forcing anybody to take drugs.

Bonds is not bigger than the game. The only reason enyone cares about Barry Bonds is that people care about baseball. If Bonds's actions damage the sport and cause people to care less about baseball, he should take a hit for that. Live by the sword, die by the sword.

And I challenge the notion that my withholding my adulation from Bonds is making him "suffer."

But didn't you celebrate Mark McGwire's home run exploits? Doesn't that make you a racist hypocrite?

  • I did enjoy McGwire's 1998 season, thought I wasn't falling all over myself. Despite living in St. Louis, I missed both home run #61 and #62.
  • We probably should have looked at their accomplishments more critically, but the evidence against McGwire and Sosa at the time was not nearly as overwhelming as the evidence against Bonds is now. For one, McGwire's improvement was incremental, rather than a quantum leap. McGwire always was a power hitter; he became a better power hitter. Bonds was a great all around player with good power; he became the greatest power hitter of all time.
  • McGwire is paying for his suspicions now, as wintnessed by being passed over for the Hall of Fame.
  • The way McGwire carried himself during his home run drive made him easier to cheer for than Bonds. Sorry, but it's simply true.


    So are you going to wipe Bonds's name out of the record book? What about all the spitballers? What about the sign stealers? What about guys who used corked bats or too much pine tar? Do they get asterisks, too?

    I'm not looking to wipe anyone's name out of the record book. I'm just not going to jump up and down celebrating this accomplishment.

    Nevertheless, I think it's worth pointing out that these methods of cheating have no consequences outside of the field of play, whereas steroids use does. Pushing the boundaries of the rules is a part of every game, and nobody's gone to an early grave from using a corked bat.

    If a football offensive line cheats by jumping the snap count, that's one thing. If they "cheat" by doing blocking schemes that have been banned because they are dangerous, that's quite different. I can chuckle about how the first group was clever in working around the rules. But I would have a hard time cheering for the second group.

    Sin steroids use only directly hurts the user, it probably falls somewhere between the two.

    But Barry Bonds isn't the first baseball star who was a jerk. Ty Cobb was a vicous racist. Babe Ruth was a womanizing glutton. Ted Williams...

    Yes, but their flaws were not directly connected to the on field performance that makes them great.

    But steroids don't let Barry Bonds hit a baseball.

    I will acknowledge that Barry Bonds is the greatest player of his generation. He was before his late career power surge, and his home run power requires skills that can't be found in any bottle. He'd be on every Hall Of Fame ballot of mine for which he's eligible.

    But that wasn't enough for him. He wanted to be the greatest ever, and cheated to do it. I'm not doing him a great injustice by refusing to consider him that.

    Say what you want, but Bonds does have the highest home run total, and you owe it to him to respect that.

    Here's the bottom line -- I don't owe Barry Bonds shit. And I'm quite sure he'd be the first to say that he doesn't owe me shit.

    I follow sports for my own enjoyment, not in order to dispense athletes respect and adulation that they or the experts think they're due.

    I don't really enjoy watching Barry Bonds rewrite the home run record book with apparent chamical assistance. Telling me to eat my spinach and give him his due isn't going to change that.
  • Wednesday, August 01, 2007

    Anna "Macho Man" Quindlen


    There's an old heel wrestling trick, that I best remember being practiced by Randy "Macho Man" Savage. When the babyface, say Ricky Steamboat, started gaining momentum, and is about to stat puttin' a hurtin' on the Macho Man, savage would grab his beautiful valet, Miss Elizabeth, and put her between himself and his charging attacker as if to say, "you wouldn't hurt a girl, would you?" to buy himself some time.

    Anna Quindlen is playing a similar game with her "How much jail time?" Newsweek column challenging pro-lifers to name an appropriate criminal penalty for a woman who procures an abortion.

    To its credit, National Review Onlline posted a symposium of good responses to Quindlen's challenge.

    I'd like to focus on something else -- this is yet another illustration of how anti-woman the pro-choice movement is.

    They recognize their on the ropes. Scientific advances are making it increasingly difficult to maintain that the object of abortion is not a human life. The Democratic party is taking steps to not be perceived as stridently in favor of unrestricted abortion. The balance of power in the Supreme Court has shifted.

    So how does the abortion lobby respond? By challenging us to throw women in jail instead of abortionists, hoping that'll put the pro-lifers on the defensive long enough for them to think of another strategy.

    The abortion lobby will go to great lengths to defend the right of physicians to make money by removing unwanted fetuses. And don't call them "abortion doctors," either.

    But women? They're bargaining tools. In spite of the fact that none of the abortion laws that Roe v. Wade invalidated mandated a punishment for a woman who procured abortion, and pro-life people have literally not even considered punishing them, the abortion lobby wants to start a conversation about how much jail time they should do if they continue to lose ground. Isn't that sweet?

    But Quindlen and her friends take it a step further: if they lose, the other side must punish women who procure abortions. If they're going to lose, they're taking American women down with them. With friends like these...

    When you watched the Mach Man, you always wondered why Miss Elizabeth stayed with a man who treated her so crappily. Perhaps American women should ask the same question of themselves and the abortion lobby.

    ----

    Throughout the piece, Quindlen says that to illegalize abortion but not punish women would be to accept an infantilized vision of women as helpless victims without a concept of responsibility or morality.

    If this is the case, then the abortion lobby has done more to create this vision than anyone else. The narrative of the poor helpless woman who "finds herself pregnant." That it's unreasonable to expect them to make a link between sex and pregnancy. That anyone who says that people need to take care of the children they conceive are Puritanical brutes.

    ----

    In any case, I don't think that raising this question will have the results Quindlen thinks it will. Sure, she may have fun seeing dumbfounded looks on pro-lifers' faces, but it also undermines the narrative they want to create about pro-lifers -- that we're out to punish women. That we haven't considered that criminal punishment reveals that -- surprise! -- we're more about protecting unborn life than we are about punishing women.

    So go ahead -- keep asking that question, and keep smugly chuckling as pro-lifers struggle with the question. But don't think you're making your cause look more appealing to women, or the pro-life position less appealing.