Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Big Mac and Roids - I

So he's finally admitted what has been long suspected: Mark McGwire, the hulking slugger who initially broke Roger Maris's single-season home run record in 1998, was using steroids. So how to react to the news?

  • As a practical matter, it's perfectly understandable why a ballplayer would have used steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. The benefits were obvious and the downside wasn't as obvious, especially at the time. There are always Faustian bargains available and, human nature being what it is, always takers.

  • If you watch old video of baseball games played in the 1970s and 1980s, the difference in body types is striking. I grew up a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers and they had hulking sluggers galore in that era, except that they weren't especially hulking. Other than Gorman Thomas, the rest of the key guys on that team weren't especially big. One of the best hitters was a skinny outfielder named Ben Oglivie, who probably weighed about 165-170. These days the scrawniest utility infielders are larger than that.

  • One of the arguments that McGwire apparently has made is that he regrets playing in the "Steroid Era." It's also the lamest argument he makes. While we don't have a lot of control over the world we live in, we all have free will. McGwire saw the money and the fame that was available and decided that he wanted it. There were plenty of other players who saw the same thing and resisted it.

More anon.


Night Writer said...

I remember Mr. Ogilvie. I was working the game where he hit a home run to right field that was the farthest ever hit at the Dome. It may still be.

Steroids are kind of an interesting ethics test. I don't think they were banned at the time McGwire, Canseco, Sosa et al were hitting the hypo and getting the hype, but at the same time everyone kept a low profile about using it. Why do that if you didn't think there was something wrong about it?

On the other hand, they worked. Once Lance Parrish and others came along and demonstrated that lifting weights didn't leave you muscle-bound and ineffective (the accepted baseball logic at one time) the players started lifting and saw that they got better. When 'roids started to be passed around they saw a further opportunity to improve. Few did it in order to chase an all-time homerun record; most were doing it just to make a roster or to move into a starting position.

Of course, that roster spot or starting role may have come at the expense of a player who was "clean". I wonder if someone like a Mark "Country" Davidson (just to pick a random fringe player) watched yesterday's news conference with a certain satisfaction, or if he thought "If I knew I could have gotten another 3-5 years in the league out of it, I'd have done the drugs."

Mr. D said...

You're kinda anticipating where I'm going with this, NW. It's going to take a long time to make sense of the "Steroid Era."

I'm reminded of something the noted baseball guru Bill James once wrote -- I'm paraphrasing, because I don't have it in front of me (it was in one of his books). James was discussing some other scandal and he said that most scandals aren't necessarily about the violation of existing behavioral norms, but rather the imposition of new norms. I think there's a fair amount of truth in that statement, especially concerning a substance that wasn't precisely banned during the 1990s.

And it's also worth remembering that many baseball commenters, especially the College of Cardinals that is the BBWAA, are hopeless scolds.

p.s. I believe you are right that Ben Oglivie still holds the Metrodome record, despite the repeated assaults that Jim Thome offered over the years.

Brad Carlson said...

I believe you are right that Ben Oglivie still holds the Metrodome record, despite the repeated assaults that Jim Thome offered over the years.

You are correct, 482 feet. But they don't really measure HRs anymore because it is such an inexact science. Jason Kubel hit one this past April that I'm certain traveled further than Oglivie's.

Gino said...


Gino said...

sorry, i dont know how to post a link in comments.

Mr. D said...


I remember the home run you're talking about. It was an absolute bomb. I don't think I ever saw Oglivie's shot, but it would be hard to imagine the ball went any farther than Kubel's did.


I have trouble with links sometimes in the comment section, but I would recommend that anyone interested open a new window and paste the URL. Very good post and hard to argue the point. I'm going a different direction with my argument, but your premise is sensible.

Gino said...

screw it, i'll just repost it on the current page since it is currently relevent.