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The War On (Some Athletes Who Use Some) Drugs: A Thing That Should Not Be A Political Priority

[ 136 ] February 13, 2013 |

The single conviction from the ludicrous prosecution of Barry Bonds will finally be facing the scrutiny of an appellate court. And while I wouldn’t say I have a great deal of faith in the American legal system, in this case I’m pretty confident that the total number of convictions from the Bonds and Clemens lighting of the moneys on fire prosecutions will ultimately be “none.”

On a related note, I evidently found a great deal to disagree with in Bill Simmons’s drug warrior manifesto, but I’ll focus on this:

You’re on the list because your players union negotiated ironclad drug-testing rules, ostensibly to protect your rights, but really to protect your right to cheat without being judged. You’re on the list because our President claims to be a big sports fan but refuses to get involved, and apparently would rather see every sport go to hell over risking political capital and doing something about it.

Leaving aside that a lack of testing certainly hasn’t prevented players from that era from being judged (and how!), I find this blithe dismissal of privacy rights baffling and disturbing. I think it’s great that professional athletes (unlike so many American workers) have representation that prevents them from being subjected to testing without their consent. The fact that ordinary retail workers frequently have to undergo drug testing without any individualized suspicion should be seen as absolutely outrageous.  We should be leveling up, not down.  If the arguments that PEDs damage a player’s health are convincing enough that players want to collectively bargain a testing regime, fine with me. If they don’t, also fine with me. And as for the idea that this would violate the “sacred trust” of baseball records that are comparable throughout the eras, this has never actually been true. Babe Ruth was a remarkable talent, but he was able to dominate his league the way he did in part because baseball in the 1920s was far, far less efficient at getting the best talent into the majors — not just the color line but the lack of systematic scouting and farm systems. The Hall of Fame is teeming with merely good players whose stats were compiled during the high-offense twenties and thirties. And while Roger Maris’s record was not established in a high-offense era, it was still the product of many contingencies — an expansion year, a ballpark that made the record possible (which it would not have been for a right-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium or any hitter in Griffith Stadium), having a better hitter behind him to increase the number of ABs in which he could homer. The idea that baseball stats before 1995 were easily comparable across eras is very wrong.

Then, there’s the idea that Barack Obama should be using his “political capital” to “do something” about PEDs. First of all, this implies a political risk that isn’t there; grandstanding about drugs, while it has had catastrophic public policy effects, certainly isn’t politically risky or unpopular (hence, for example, not only the silly congressional hearings but the farcical Clemens and Bonds prosecutions.) But secondly…I suppose it’s not literally true that “athletes are using performance enhancing drugs that threaten sacred records that were never in fact sacred” should be the lowest priority issue for today’s executives and legislators. But close enough. And if the justification for political intervention is the public health effects of PEDs, well, I’d love to hear a public health justification for putting high priority on reducing the use of  PEDs that wouldn’t logically require tackle football to be immediately banned for anyone under 18 and at a minimum stringently regulated for adults.  If Barack Obama is going to invest his “political capital” in a sports issue, how about dealing with the scandal that is NCAA football instead?

Comments (136)

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  1. sharculese says:

    What world does Bill Simmons live in where he thinks the President has so little demand on his time that he can spend it Restoring the (mythological) Purity of Sports?

    • njorl says:

      I agree. Baseball is a lucrative business that can employ its own resources to solve its problems. I don’t see why my government should divert resources from more serious issues in order to aid this one industry which should not need any help.

    • Cody says:

      He lives in a world of Sports…

      The guy spend like every waking moment relating to sports. It’s his job, hobby, and love. Obviously that’s a silly statement to make about the President, but I can’t blame him. I have zero expectations of his political sense.

  2. mpowell says:

    I read the same Simmons article. I agree with him that it should be okay to talk about the likelihood of whether a player is using PEDs (like Ray Lewis in this case), just because sportsheads talk about everything and it is probably more likely than not that he was using. What I don’t agree with is that it should be a dark stain on the person you’re discussing. The atheletes/owners decide what the sport is. The fans get to watch. If the atheletes feel that invasive testing is not worth reducing the incidence of PED use and forces many of them to partake to remain competitive, the fans can stuff it. It’s not like they’ll stop watching. Or that they really care about player health. Or that the long term stability of certain hitting statistics in baseball is anything more than a fluke anyways. Pitching statistics haven’t been stable at all. And it’s not as if Simmons is going to stop watching the NBA because it is trivially easy for a player to use PEDs after his 4th test in any given NBA season. I’d bet you dollars to donuts that a guy like Simmons actually prefers the results of the status quo where players can rehab from injury faster – few people like it when a teams playoff chances turn on things like injuries.

    A lot of the people complaining about PED use just haven’t thought the issue through enough or are just responding emotionally. I think that things will eventually settle down once the major sports have all been running their minimally invasive testing programs long enough, with people getting caught now and then, that people accept the new status quo. The current environment is driven by two things: 1) the crazy epidemic of PED use in track and bicycling and 2) the HR record saga, first with Sammy and McGwire making sportswriters feel dumb, and then with Bonds making them vengeful. Once that fades, this issue fades.

  3. c u n d gulag says:

    Scott, to be fair, while it’s 100% true that Ruth dominated a sport that didn’t allow any Black, and most Hispanic, players from playing, it’s also true that most of the best athletes of that time period went into either baseball or boxing, because the other professional sports were pretty much non-existent – with the exception of the NFL which was formed during the Babe’s greatest year, 1920, and the NHL which was a couple of years old, but mostly populated by Canadian players.

    The only sports that paid, unless you were a jockey, were baseball and boxing.
    Pretty much everything else was for amateurs (even golf and tennis – ESPECIALLY golf and tennis!). Ok, maybe professional wrestling – if it existed. But even if it was around, I’m pretty sure most of those were staged matches even back then.

    By the mid-50s’, superior athletes of all races had a variety of other professional sports besides baseball and boxing to go into for a “career:” the NFL, the young NBA, the NHL.
    And later, golf, tennis, and even the Olympics – among other sports that became ‘major’ due to TV’s need to fill time.
    Anyone remember Rollerball?

    And while it’s more than fair to criticize the Babe and baseball for the outrageous and criminal lack of integrated competition at that time, baseball had the cream of the white athletic world playing – except for those who’d rather duck punches, intead of a pitchers “duster.”

    So, when we compare the stats of baseball players then, I think it’s fair to say that the competition, while not being quite equal to after Jackie Robinson broke the color line, it wasn’t THAT inferior, either.

    Athletes of all races today, sans PED’s and regardless of sport, are better than they were a few decades ago, and especially when compared to nearly a century ago. Compare Olympic men’s swimming champions to today’s women – today’s women would lap most of the fastest men from the LA Olympics.
    aAdvances in training, nutrition, technique, and equipment have been a large part of the huge difference.
    But so is the fact that sports as a profession is more widely available and realistic.
    How many Ruths and Johnsons back then stayed home and tended bar, or to their farms?

    Records are a statistic of a sport as it was played in that game, that year, and that era.
    Comparisons from game to game, and even year to adjacent year, make sense. To try to factor in all of the variables from era to era, is, while an intersting excercise, not really going to be anywhere near totally accurate.

    Let Bonds and Clemens and all of the rest of the ‘usual suspects’ be compared to their own era, and how they did in it.
    We can’t be sure who did what when – or even if they did or didn’t.

    • Sherm says:

      Off topic — But Ruth’s dominance was both talent and luck. The talent is obvious from his statistical excellence. But he was lucky in that he never received any formal coaching as a hitter during the dead ball are when hitters were taught to avoid hitting flyballs because they were easy outs. His switch from pitcher to outfielder coincided with the introduction of a live ball and the partial banning of the spitball and thus a new offensive era when homeruns were possible. At the beginning of this new live ball era, Ruth’s contemporaries were still playing deadball baseball, trying to hit only groundballs and line drives, while Ruth was swinging away like a modern day player. His luck in having no coaches fucking with his swing during the deadball era explains why he was hitting as many homers some years as entire teams.

      • eponymous says:

        My understanding was that the spitball/scuffing the ball were banned, but that several pitchers were allowed to continue using it. I also remember reading somewhere that the fence dimensions in many stadiums were much shorter down the lines than what they eventually became (I believe MLB established minimum guidelines for dimensions much later). I remember seeing old diagrams of the Polo Grounds of the early 1900′s and the distances down the lines to the fence were in the 250-280 ft range. I wouldn’t be surprised if the distances were comparable in old Highlander Stadium/Yankee Stadium (especially left-field) when Ruth’s homerun output exploded.

      • c u n d gulag says:

        I know how that feels.

        I moved Upstate NY when I was 11, and after years of playing stickball and wiffleball, completely uncoached, had a pretty pronounced hitch in my lefty swing. But I could hit the ball farther than anybody else.

        Well, I tried out for Little League when I was 12 (we got here too late for me to try-out my first year), and at the tryout was one of a very few to put the ball over the fence more than once.

        I was a quick pick, and of course, my first coach worked on getting rid of that hitch.
        He succeeded. And I never got that power back that I had before – but was a pretty good in-the-alley doubles hitter.

        After organized ball, all I played was slow-pitch softball, and I could return to using my hitch, since my coaches weren’t always all yelling at me to stop doing that.

        I hit some titanic blasts when I played in NY City leagues. Chase Manhattan even offered me a job based on the display I put up against their best team.

        The bar I worked at joined a fast-pitch softball league, and it took me awhile to catch-up to the ball – I went something like 1-20. But when I did, hitch and all, I hit around 500.
        I hit one shot against the Hells Angel’s team, out of the park over centerfield on the Lower East Side, across the road, and over the fence into the Con Ed parking facility.

        The Angel’s, and my team, just stood and watched.
        One Angel came up to me after the game, and said he’d been playing in that league for over 15 years, and had never seen a ball hit that hard or that far.

        So, yeah – I know that coaching can f*ck a player, as much as help.
        Too bad I didn’t ignore the guys trying to be helpful, and kept my hitch. Maybe those doubles would have been HR’s – not that it would have led to anything. I knew plenty of guys we all played with and against, whoe we all thought were going to the Big’s as either pitchers or hitters.

        It ended up, I only knew of only two who did:
        A lefty named something like Whitey Toulasch who I caught warming up one time, and had a cup of coffee with a MLB team – I tried to find him in the almanac, but I forgot I gave that to my nephew years ago, and I must be mispelling his name, because I can’t find him – and FSM knows where my HS yearbooks are.

        And a Lefty named Ricky Horton, who struck me out when he was a Junior in HS, on a first-pitch curve that whistled past my ear and was a ball, and then three fastballs down the middle. I was a lefty hitter, and let me tell you, I saw from that curve and the 3 heaters that he had more stuff than anyone I’d ever seen before.
        He has a pretty decent career as a middle-reliever, and appeared in the WS’s a few time.

        Ah, memories….

      • H-Bob says:

        Don’t forget that Babe Ruth was also using illegal drugs (alcohol)!

    • Green Caboose says:

      Well there is truth that there wasn’t much competition for professional athletes then from other sports, there were also quite a few other factors than you mention that gave baseball a much lower talent density.

      Foremost is medical. Between polio and childhood diseases that didn’t yet have cures probably half or more of the potential great athletes never had the chance. Of those who did make it many had careers cut short by injuries that today are routinely overcome. Others continued to play, but were hobbled by mysterious injuries like “sore arm” or “trick knee” that again are routinely addressed today.

      Next on the list is that the pay wasn’t that great. Except for the biggest stars they money was such that players all worked winter jobs back home to survive. Given the low pay, and the fact that few struck it rich, a lot of players chose to stick to recreational leagues and not spending years trying to work through the farm system. Those who had any sort of opportunity at a non-baseball well-paying career would generally take that and keep baseball as a hobby. Another place for a lot of talented players was the West Coast – remember MLB was limited to the geography between St Louis and Boston by the limits of train travel and the taboo against having a major league team from the Confederacy. West coast locals could stay near home and in many cases make nearly as much.

      But we don’t have to just speculate, you can see the difference in the much larger variation in the player statistics then versus now. Any time you’re drawing from a smaller pool of talent you’ll see much higher highs and lower lows in all categories. When you’re taking the creme de la creme of the talent pool the individual stats will be much closer – and that’s what we’ve seen happen over the decades since the 20s.

      • c u n d gulag says:

        Good points all!

        Bill James wrote about the extremes gradually adjusting more narrowly as a sport evolves in one of his great “Baseball Abstracts.”

        Mario Mendoza might have been the equal of Rabbit Maranville in length of career, and career value, in the ’10′s.
        In his time, he was… Well, he was Mario Mendoza…

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        Well there is truth that there wasn’t much competition for professional athletes then from other sports

        I’ve said this before, but I think this is really overrated. In high school, it’s common for players to be the best at multiple sports, but at the professional level each sport requires relatively unique and highly refined skills beyond pure athleticism. (Bo Jackson was barely a passable major league player, and Michael Jordan would never have been remotely close to a major league player.) I don’t think the number of players who could be elite in multiple pro sports is actually very large.

        • elm says:

          And I’ve responded before that it’s not necessarily the elite players in one sport who could have been elite in others, it’s the players who try to be elite in one sport who might have been elite in another if that’s what they had focused on. (Unless we believe high school athletes are able to perfectly predict their future earnings potential across multiple sports.)

          We also don’t know how Jackson, Jordan, and Sanders would have done at baseball if they had devoted their entire lives to it. What if Jordan had started playing minor league ball after high school? Could he have learned to hit a curve? That he failed when he tried to be a baseball player when he was already in his 30s doesn’t mean he couldn’t have done it if that’s what he started out as.

  4. djw says:

    If the arguments that PEDs damage a player’s health are convincing enough that players want to collectively bargain a testing regime, fine with me. If they don’t, also fine with me.

    This is the beginning and the end of it for me. The players are stakeholders, as are the owners. Sportswriters and fans aren’t, and to assume otherwise is an exercise self-important delusional grandiosity.

    • Dilan Esper says:

      This is actually the only point Scott is wrong on. I don’t have any objection to players doping, but I also don’t think there is any evidence that players’ unions will collectively bargain a rule that strikes the proper balance, any more than MLBPA’s support for the DH means that rule is good for baseball. Players unions tend to be a lot better at protecting the salaries of stars than they are at protecting collective safety.

      I think leagues should be able to set any rule they want and test as they choose. Most anti doping protocols in sports around the world are not collectively bargained. If doping star players want to quit and form a league that permits doping, they can. But then everyone will know that they doped. I see no reason to support a regime where players get to falsely deny doping just because it is collectively bargained.

      • djw says:

        I also don’t think there is any evidence that players’ unions will collectively bargain a rule that strikes the proper balance,

        This assumes there is some platonic “proper balance” above and beyond what the players (and to a lesser extent the owners) want. This is nonsense. The “proper balance” is dependent on how players evaluate possible threats to the health from PED use/harm to their careers from others’ PED use on the one hand, and the harm of invasions of their privacy on the other. Whatever you or I think is the “proper balance” between these concerns isn’t relevant.

        • H-Bob says:

          While I generally agree that the players, through their union, should collectively bargain about the terms and conditions of their employment. My concern is that the players don’t have the medical training and knowledge about the health effects of PEDs and will discount the potential for long-term harm (see, e.g., tobacco users). Their usage of any medicines, including PEDs, should be under medical supervision by a physician chosen by the player.

      • Scott Lemieux says:

        proper balance

        This is what is known as “begging the question.”

        If doping star players want to quit and form a league that permits doping, they can.

        “Look, if our cashiers don’t want to be subject to humiliating suspicionless drug tests, they can just quit.” It’s amazing how steroids can make even progressives easily slide into the most egregious reactionary horseshit they would presumably reject in a any other context.

        • djw says:

          Right. He just assumes “I’m curious about other people’s drug use” should overwhelm other’s privacy rights and collective bargaining rights. Because that would be “proper.”

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            Exactly like Simmons article. Drug warriors just assume that their strange obsession with PEDs is so self-evidently right they can just take for granted that constraining PEDs should override any other consideration without the bother of making an argument or anything.

      • mpowell says:

        What the hell is the difference between the players quitting and forming their own league and the union collectively forcing the owners to run the currently existing league according to their liking? I think the only difference is that the latter is actually feasible and you don’t get the outcome you prefer. I would agree that, in general, player’s unions tend to do a poor job of protecting the average player at the expense of stars, but salarly protection helps the average player just as much as the stars, afaict.

        • Scott Lemieux says:

          I think the only difference is that the latter is actually feasible and you don’t get the outcome you prefer.

          Exactly. The problem is that labor rights might interfere with the “proper” drug warrior outcomes, so out labor rights have to go.

  5. janastas359 says:

    I’m glad someone talked about this article – I’ve been reading Simmons for 8ish years and this is one of the worst he’s written, right up there with his hacktakular article about sports unions. My favorite part was when he and his friend claimed that comparing pictures of player head shots for signs of PED use was a commonplace thing.

    My second favorite part was when he basically admitted that his personal admiration for a player determined whether or not he believes they use PEDs (He likes Peterson, therefore Peterson is clean; he dislikes Ray Lewis, therefore Ray Lewis is a cheater). If PEDs really is a stain on sports, Bill, then you need stricter standards then that.

    My third favorite part was when he committed the common fallacy of assuming that all PED use is equal and all PEDs have an equal effect on increasing performance, when the reality is that we’re still not sure which PEDs work best, or if some substances defined as PEDs really help at all.

    The move to Grantland has really hurt Simmon’s work. He used to be okay with his persona as an everyman sports fan who liked to talk about pop culture. Now that he’s at Grantland, it seems like he feels the need to tackle more “serious” ideas, when he really has no idea what he’s talking about much of the time.

    • janastas359 says:

      As an addendum:

      You’re on the list because our President claims to be a big sports fan but refuses to get involved, and apparently would rather see every sport go to hell over risking political capital and doing something about it.

      How supremely arrogant is that line? Imagine for a moment that the President had the power to do this, of all of the problems facing the US and the world, for that matter of all of the problems facing the sports world, this is really the thing he should be focusing on, Bill? Improving your sense of purity?

      I think you underplayed that line Scott; I am getting legitimately angry reading this line.

      • sharculese says:

        It’s a terrible line but it doesn’t make me angry so much as shake my head at the level of privilege on display. Simmons is a white dude with a job that pays very well for not particularly demanding work. He basically has no concerns or needs, and can’t fathom why people aren’t upset about the things he’s upset about.

    • witless chum says:

      They talked about the Deer Antler spray moron on a recent Skeptics Guide to the Unvierse. (He also sells magic stickers that he justifies with mumbo jumbo about energy fields. And asserts in the SI story that the NFL is in league with big pharma)

      The active ingredient in the spray, while apparently banned by the NCAA and NFL, hasn’t been shown to actually have any sort of benefit for anything. It seems pretty likely that Ray Lewis bought a bunch of banned snake oil and received no competitive advantage from said snake oil.

      This was the interesting bit to me, which should have been obvious in retrospect, that NFL players must constantly being getting hit up by alternative medicine con artists like the deer antler crook. They’re rich and the nature of the pro football, which is in a lot of ways an injury lottery, and just the way the game works probably encourages magic thinking about health.

    • mpowell says:

      One of Simmons problems is that he thinks he is approaching the game ‘like a fan’, but most fans have other jobs. Simmons spends far too much time paying attention to the sports for his experience to be remotely similar to the average fans’. So he gets obsessed with details most fans would never bother with.

    • Cody says:

      My second favorite part was when he basically admitted that his personal admiration for a player determined whether or not he believes they use PEDs

      I thought this was a great line. Isn’t it true? Aren’t we all biased?

      I’m certainly more likely to think Tom Brady is doping than Peyton Manning – because I like Peyton Manning much more. It’s just an obvious bias, and Simmons is admitting to it.

      • janastas359 says:

        I actually agree with that part of it – I personally can’t stand Ray Lewis and I have no trouble believing the worst about him. My problem is combining that with the idea of bringing drug suspicions out into the open. When my wife and I talk about football, it’s one thing. When Bill Simmons uses his national platform to speculate about Ray Lewis based largely on his personal feelings about Lewis, that’s totally different.

  6. Murc says:

    You know, for me, the big thing isn’t the use of PEDs. I’m concerned about it, kind of, but mainly it’s the dishonesty involved.

    Basically, I think sports should have rules, and those rules should be followed. If your league has decided you shouldn’t be doing certain things, you either don’t do them, or you openly say “No, fuck YOU” and make your case openly.

    I think very little of leagues that come up with a set of rules and then deliberately construct an environment which encourages breaking those rules. Either enforce them, or don’t have them. Otherwise it’s unfair to everybody; it’s unfair to the people who have to tip-toe around using banned substances because they feel they have to in order to compete, it’s unfair to the random people who get caught doing that while other players march to fame and glory doing the same thing, AND it’s unfair to the players who decide to follow the rules and thus end up at a disadvantage.

    And, of course, the owners skate on this, because they don’t actually have to break any rules themselves, just turn a blind eye.

    I’m sort of leery about PEDs because in sports, anything that isn’t forbidden is required, and I’m really unsure that anyone who wants to compete should be forced to be a walking chemical plant, which is precisely what would happen in an ‘any substance not banned by law is legal for use’ environment. But, you know, let’s have THAT debate. The current one is total bullshit.

    • djw says:

      But, you know, let’s have THAT debate.

      Or, better yet, let the players have it amongst themselves (since it’s their bodies being potentially harmed vs. their privacy being violated) and with the owners (since employee health is a legitimate concern, as is PR when you’re selling a product to many people who suffer under the delusion that other people’s drug use is their business).

      • Murc says:

        I dunno. I sort of feel like the people being asked to bankroll the sport (i.e, the fans) should have a voice in that debate as well.

        It works both ways. Players have a right to not be jerked around by hypocritical people who are using them, but they also should be somewhat responsive to the concerns of the people consuming the entertainment that they, as professional entertainers, provide.

        It is of course possible for said consumers to be wrong. At one point, interacial teams were something many of them were strongly against. But it doesn’t mean that their opinion is either illegitimate or something that doesn’t have a proper place in the debate.

        • djw says:

          I sort of feel like the people being asked to bankroll the sport (i.e, the fans) should have a voice in that debate as well.

          I don’t get it this at all. I became much less of a fan of the NBA when I perceived the officiating practices held star players to a demonstrably different standard. But it never occurred to me that I had some sort of right to demand otherwise. Similarly, if I find a movie to be entertaining, but dislike the lack of verisimilitude caused by the use of stunt actors, that doesn’t grant me a any say in whether an actor should be asked/allowed/required to do his own stunts.

          It’s placing your tastes and preferences in entertainment on the level of other people’s rights (privacy and collective bargaining). I continue to await an argument for why they belong there.

          • AAB says:

            The issue is that pretty much every major sport markets itself as if fans are part of the game (the whole 12th man concept in football, students rushing the court, etc.) They do so because (a) people are probably more likely to buy tickets if they think they’re a part of the team, and (b) home-court advantage is a real thing. But given the way that sports are discussed and marketed, I don’t think it’s shocking that fans feel (probably wrongly), that they should have input into the sport. It’s like how lots of fans use “we” when talking about a team’s win, but it would be insane for someone to use “we” when talking about a movie’s box office gross.

          • Murc says:

            I don’t get it this at all. I became much less of a fan of the NBA when I perceived the officiating practices held star players to a demonstrably different standard. But it never occurred to me that I had some sort of right to demand otherwise.

            See, I don’t get how it WOULDN’T occur to you.

            The NBA is asking you to consume its product, and to profit thereby. It is perfectly legitimate for you to respond to this request on their part by saying “I will consume your product if it satisfies my requirements, which I will now enumerate.”

            It is also legitimate to say “I find the practices you engage in to be morally problematic to the point I think the state should constrain you in your ability to preform them.” You might be WRONG about this, though.

            • djw says:

              See, I don’t get how it WOULDN’T occur to you.

              The NBA is asking you to consume its product, and to profit thereby.

              Yes, but the normal thing to do when a product I’m not interested in purchasing is for sale is to not buy it. The NBA caters to lots of people, not just me. I assumed, correctly I think, that they made the choice to cater to a category of fan whose interests in basketball are different than mine. So I started watching fewer NBA games and more college basketball games.

              • gmack says:

                I agree with this, but I think you seriously misunderstand the way many (most?) fans feel about their teams and their sports. They do not see themselves as consumers of an entertainment product; they identify with the team (i.e., they treat the team and its fans as a collective identity of which they are a part). Indeed, this is often explicit, as fans pretty frequently slip into the plural first person when talking about their teams. This is not just a shorthand; in many cases, I really believe that fans consider themselves as part of the team and that they therefore have some kind of standing to make claims about how the team (or the sport in which it is participating) ought to operate. I suppose there are many people who do not feel this way, but it seems to me that one can’t really understand contemporary sports fandom without keeping it in mind.

                • djw says:

                  Of course, and I’m entirely capable of being caught up in this. And this comment makes it seem as though I made a decision to stop consuming brand A and start consuming brand B, whereas it was actually a slow, unconscious shift in viewing habits I was hardly even aware of at the time. (And, even when I’d stopped watching the NBA entirely and found it boring and unwatchable, I’d still pay attention at least a little bit if Sonics were doing well.)

                • gmack says:

                  Interestingly, I think this might be one of those areas where we are better off taking a more “consumer” orientation toward things. That is, my intuition tells me that one contributing factor to people’s interest in things like drug testing (or in criticizing players for being too greedy) is this process of identification. If I identify with a team, then it becomes my business whether a player is using a PED or is trying to get paid more money.

                • djw says:

                  I think that’s exactly right. The process of identification is unavoidable, and part of the experience of being a fan for many, perhaps most, fans. Indulging it to a degree isn’t particularly problematic, but once it leads you to argue the privacy or collective bargaining rights of others should be sacrificed to indulge that sense of identification, its obviously gone too far.

          • elm says:

            Exit, voice, and loyalty, djw. You’re assuming your only options are exit and loyalty. You can use voice (and customers do all the time, with comment cards, talking to managers, etc.) to try to get change. It’s no less legitimate for a customer of a sports franchise to use this option as it is for a customer at fast food franchise.

        • djw says:

          To put it another way, this:

          they also should be somewhat responsive to the concerns of the people consuming the entertainment that they, as professional entertainers, provide.

          Is a reasonable thing for players to consider when weighing their options. I can plausibly accept the “should” in a prudential sense (although I’m skeptical on the empirical claim about how much fans actually care about this). I can’t accept it at all as a moral imperative, because I reject any moral obligation to sacrifice privacy rights to satisfy anyone else’s curiosity, even if they are paying customers. How it should be weighted against other factors is entirely up to them.

          • Murc says:

            I reject any moral obligation to sacrifice privacy rights to satisfy anyone else’s curiosity, even if they are paying customers.

            This is something I absolutely disagree with in a general sense.

            Asking people to hand over money damn well does impose on someone a moral obligation to surrender certain privacy rights. Not all of them, but some. If someone wants to sell me something I want to know certain things about their finances, for example, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

            • djw says:

              Asking people to hand over money damn well does impose on someone a moral obligation to surrender certain privacy rights.

              I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and assume you haven’t fully thought this through. You certainly haven’t given any reasons why this should be the case, nor have you given any sense of how we figure out which privacy rights should be protected against the demands of the nosy consumer. It’s got some pretty insane and reactionary consequences. But if you actually mean this, you’re essentially saying that anyone who has the misfortune of having to work for a living is entitled to no privacy protections whatsoever.

              Contemplate the following: “Manager, I think my waiter tonight was stoned, which would explain the somewhat slow service. Please make him piss in a cup. I’m a paying customer, after all.” In both this case and yours, we have a nosy consumer worried about employee drug use, and the effect that might be having on the quality of the product they are consuming. And the privacy violation would be identical.

              To address one possible point of confusion: there’s a difference between past and future status here. Your past attendance and financial support obviously entitles you to no say in how that enterprise is run in the future (although if your preferences are widely shared amongst consumers, attending to them may be the prudent thing to do). As to the future, though, you are of course entitled to make any future support conditional on any and all demands you wish to make, no matter how eccentric and unreasonable they might be, up to and including only patronizing restaurants that drug test their employees. But that doesn’t make you a stakeholder, and your demands should carry no moral weight.

              “The customer is always right” is a rule of thumb for customer service (and a pretty dubious one at that). It is most decidedly not a moral imperative, and anyone who cares even a little for the rights of workers really shouldn’t be making this mistake.

              • mpowell says:

                I’m not sure what Murc’s point is since I disagree with his perspective regarding sports, but I think it is true that certain disclosures should be mandated by the government with regards to certain kinds of transactions. Stuff along the lines of, “I’m promoting this product because I’m paid to do so”. But I don’t see how that would come anywhere near issues like drug testing for professional atheletes.

                • djw says:

                  Right, there’s a “public interest” standard we could try to apply, but he (wisely) doesn’t seem to be arguing that.

            • Murc says:

              You certainly haven’t given any reasons why this should be the case,

              … they’re not self-evident?

              If someone wants me to buy their product, I am damn well within my moral rights to demand to know, at minimum, the circumstances of its creation, and where the cash I’m spending on it will be going. That’s a complete invasion of the privacy of the person offering it for sale, and it’s also routine for reasons that should be clear. Companies have to pay accountants millions of dollars a year to justify the finances of everyone working there, which are usually available to the general public, if not the government.

              But if you actually mean this, you’re essentially saying that anyone who has the misfortune of having to work for a living is entitled to no privacy protections whatsoever.

              Um, no. I didn’t say that in any way, shape, or form, and I resent the implication. Especially since I went to the trouble of qualifying my statement. “Not all of them, but some.” were my exact words.

              Having to give my employer an address is an invasion of my privacy, but they totally have a right to ask for both of those things, as well they should.

              • djw says:

                Um, no. I didn’t say that in any way, shape, or form, and I resent the implication. Especially since I went to the trouble of qualifying my statement. “Not all of them, but some.” were my exact words.

                Fair enough, but I’m trying to imagine the limiting principle and am coming up short. In the case in question, the consumer a) suspects illicit drug use on the part of an employee, and b) suspects that the employees drug use might be effecting the quality of the product they are purchasing. If that’s sufficient to entitle the consumer of baseball games a stake to demand drug tests, how doesn’t it also apply to the consumers of restaurant meals, for example?

                You’re saying, “trust me, I’ve got a limiting principle that keeps my curiosity from overriding people’s privacy rights in most cases, but this one is special”. Well, OK: what is it?

                • Scott Lemieux says:

                  I’d also be pretty pissed off if my employer started giving out my address and social security number to any random student who might be curious, but maybe it’s me.

                • Murc says:

                  I think, in this case, we may both be mixing up the specific and the general. That’s probably my fault, as I have a history of wording things poorly.

                  To try and clarify matters: in a general sense, I think that you do in fact give up some of your privacy rights when engaging with society. I don’t think that’s controversial at all. The degree to which it happens is open to debate. For example, I agree with Scott that his employer shouldn’t be handing out his address and SSN to any student who asks. That’s a violation of his privacy that’s unacceptable.

                  But his college could, and did, require that he give them a valid address and SSN in order to be employed by them. That, also, was a violation of his privacy, and one that we as a society are pretty okay with. It’s an acceptable one.

                  That’s the general. As to the specific…

                  I’m a bit conflicted on this. I don’t like the idea that people should be subjected to arbitrary and random searches. However, I do like the idea that people should have to abide by rules and agreements that are commonly agreed upon and mostly equitable, and that upon evidence those rules are being violated, there should be an effective enforcement mechanism.

                  In the case of the hypothetical restaurant employee, I don’t find it equitable that any random customer could demand they be tested for drugs. However, I would find it equitable for the guy who owns the restaurant to say “I demand that my workplace be completely drug free. A disproportionate number of my employees have betrayed my trust in this matter. Therefore, everyone will be required to submit to this testing regimen. It will apply to everyone without favor, including me, because I also work here.”

                  (In my ideal world, these restaurant employees would be represented by a union, which would suggest alternatives and have real power to force him to treat with them equitably.)

                  As far as the baseball players go, I think I explained my position best above. To quote myself: I think very little of leagues that come up with a set of rules and then deliberately construct an environment which encourages breaking those rules. Either enforce them, or don’t have them. Otherwise it’s unfair to everybody; it’s unfair to the people who have to tip-toe around using banned substances because they feel they have to in order to compete, it’s unfair to the random people who get caught doing that while other players march to fame and glory doing the same thing, AND it’s unfair to the players who decide to follow the rules and thus end up at a disadvantage.

                • djw says:

                  However, I would find it equitable for the guy who owns the restaurant to say “I demand that my workplace be completely drug free. A disproportionate number of my employees have betrayed my trust in this matter. Therefore, everyone will be required to submit to this testing regimen. It will apply to everyone without favor, including me, because I also work here.”

                  (In my ideal world, these restaurant employees would be represented by a union, which would suggest alternatives and have real power to force him to treat with them equitably.)

                  This more or less describes the world as it is, and a decent case can be made that this is as it should be: employers have broad latitude in setting conditions for employment, especially in the absence of collective bargaining rights for employees. But this isn’t what’s at stake: you’re proposing adding a new layer, in which not just employers but consumers can reasonably demand this invasion of privacy. The two cases are radically different. Many restaurant owners would ignore a customer request for drug testing employees. They should have a right to ignore this consumer request for more or less the same reason they have a right to set up a testing regime, presumably.

                  As far as the baseball players go, I think I explained my position best above. To quote myself: I think very little of leagues that come up with a set of rules and then deliberately construct an environment which encourages breaking those rules. Either enforce them, or don’t have them. Otherwise it’s unfair to everybody; it’s unfair to the people who have to tip-toe around using banned substances because they feel they have to in order to compete, it’s unfair to the random people who get caught doing that while other players march to fame and glory doing the same thing, AND it’s unfair to the players who decide to follow the rules and thus end up at a disadvantage.

                  This doesn’t help at all. This merely lays out in detail the reasons for your distaste for a particular approach to PED rules/testing, not your stake in the matter. (I understand it perfectly well; I just don’t share your concerns, but this is a matter of taste based on prior notions of fairness and competition, on which disagreement is entirely reasonable). If I don’t like being waited on by waiters who I believe may be stoned, my remedy, I’m sure you’d agree, is to not give my business to restaurants that I suspect have stoned waiters. You seem to be arguing that sports fans who share your distaste for lightly or un-enforced rules about PEDs should be granted a special remedy, above and beyond the usual remedy for displeased consumers, which is to take their business elsewhere. Why? What is it about this case that grants you, the consumer, a special remedy, in this case but presumably no others?

                • Murc says:

                  But this isn’t what’s at stake: you’re proposing adding a new layer, in which not just employers but consumers can reasonably demand this invasion of privacy.

                  Er. I am? Because I thought I was pretty clear in the case of the hypothetical restaurant worker, it ought to be considered bullshit that a random customer can get the owner to conduct a drug test based on no evidence.

                  This merely lays out in detail the reasons for your distaste for a particular approach to PED rules/testing, not your stake in the matter.

                  I… don’t have a stake in the matter? I mean, I sort of have a general interest in the world conforming to my notions of fairness, but doesn’t everyone?

                  You seem to be arguing that sports fans who share your distaste for lightly or un-enforced rules about PEDs should be granted a special remedy, above and beyond the usual remedy for displeased consumers, which is to take their business elsewhere

                  I am unsure what you mean by special remedy. I would prefer for sports leagues to operate in a manner I find moral and equitable. I’m not sure I have proposed any method for MAKING them preform this way, such as legal coercion or suchly. (Unless ballplayers are using illegal drugs, which I don’t think they are.)

                  I am rendering moral judgments, certainly. But I’m not sure what remedy I’ve proposed. I do think the fan community has a legitimate voice in this debate, certainly.

                • “To quote myself: I think very little of leagues that come up with a set of rules and then deliberately construct an environment which encourages breaking those rules.”

                  Who is this, exactly?

                • The problem with Murc’s argument is simply the general notion that sports fandom is an ultra-special form of consumerism. Because, after all, you do have the right to make any demands of producers you want as a consume, and they have a right to tell you to go fuck yourself.If you don’t like it, you don’t buy the product. We realize this is unsatisfying for the ultra-special sports fans, so we construe it as a moral obligation to comply with the esoteric demands of fans (that won’t actually cause them to go away) so that the fan can have it every which way.

          • MikeJake says:

            I agree that morality shouldn’t play any part in it. I think there’s a lot of confusion among the fan population as to what these banned substances actually do for the players, which gets tangled up with a general anti-drug sense. Do PEDs transform a person into something physically unattainable without the PEDs, or do they simply help you train and recover more efficiently? How do we evaluate their effect on the game?

            That said, whatever the fans’ opinion of PEDs, they’re the customers and their opinion is going to hold a lot of sway. After all, the fans have no stake in what clothing the players wear on the sideline, yet the fear that the league had an image problem led to the dress code.

    • mpowell says:

      I think that the players have pretty clearly decided that they don’t want the kind of testing that would really prevent any and all PED use. I understand what you’re saying about enforcement, but really the rule is that you can’t get caught and that if you do, there is a specific reasonable penalty. There is a long and glorious history in sports of penalizing player actions where a non-negligible portion of player skill is knowing how to do the thing without getting caught very often.

      • Murc says:

        There is a long and glorious history in sports of penalizing player actions where a non-negligible portion of player skill is knowing how to do the thing without getting caught very often.

        This is my own personal life experience talking, so of course it isn’t dispositive, but I sort of view such players with contempt.

        I played hockey for a long time as a youth, and the reason I stopped is because I kept getting illegally checked (often painfully) by people who knew how to do it without getting called on it. I viewed, and continue to view, the people doing that as both dishonest, and as thugs and brutes, and “it’s part of the game” was an explanation that produced the response “your game is bad and you are also bad” in me.

        • JRoth says:

          Amen. The desire to valorize those who know how to skirt the rules is one of the worst traits in American society. Let’s throw Mitt Romney a party for evading his taxes without actually breaking any laws!

        • mpowell says:

          That’s very interesting. I can definitely appreciate where you are coming from. But then it sounds like you could probably appreciate the claim that this is not out of the norm for sports? I think hockey is unfortunate in that it’s rule breaking so typically involves physical punishment (probably to the detriment of the skill displayed on the ice), but rule breaking of this nature does not usually involve brutish behavior. I’m thinking of holding in football or strategic fouling in soccer.

          • Murc says:

            But then it sounds like you could probably appreciate the claim that this is not out of the norm for sports?

            Well, of course. It’s completely the norm.

            That doesn’t in any way, shape, or form excuse it, either on the part of the people failing to enforce the rules or the players taking advantage of it.

            I’m thinking of holding in football or strategic fouling in soccer.

            Both things I disapprove of, yes. Play the game. If you can’t do that, stop trying. If something is part of the game, it should be legal within the rules. None of this grey area, “we’ll only enforce this when we feel like it” bullshit.

            • JRoth says:

              Arbitrary enforcement of plainly impractical rules is a recipe for injustice, whether on the field or off. I can accept that some (most) rules can’t be perfectly enforced, but that’s a far cry from intentionally selective enforcement.

              Pitchers sometimes get away with doctoring the ball, but not systematically (AFAIK), and that’s fine. Whereas a rule against the cutter, randomly applied a few times a game, would be a disaster.

            • djw says:

              Part of the problem with your philosophy as applied to a number of rules in sports (certainly holding and pass interference in football; perhaps some interference rules in baseball) can’t be written in such a way in which the line between what is allowed and not allowed is fuzzy and requires a judgment call. In that circumstance, it’s near-impossible to separate good competitive play from what you want to label a form of cheating.

              Your position would also seem to hold that Greg Maddox was “cheating” (or if not actually cheating, something worthy of our moral disapproval) in some sense if he was intentionally throwing his curveball 3 inches off the outside corner, not to fool the hitter into swinging but to get that pitch called for a strike, because he knew his reputation, perhaps in conjunction with this particular umpire’s pitchcalling (based on past experience with a particular umpire, driven by his reputation for precision pitching) would help him get this wrong call. Or is the second baseman who applies the phantom-tag of second before throwing to first, knowing the umpire won’t enforce the rule (and protecting himself from possible injury, while increasing the chances of a double play) ‘cheating’? Perhaps those judgments fit with your intuition; but it seems like a tough case to make.

              • Murc says:

                Part of the problem with your philosophy as applied to a number of rules in sports (certainly holding and pass interference in football; perhaps some interference rules in baseball) can’t be written in such a way in which the line between what is allowed and not allowed is fuzzy and requires a judgment call.

                Absolutely. And that’s fine. I do feel like you should try and get as close to objective as possible; for example, I hold officialdoms refusal to embrace technological solutions in contempt. But there are gonna be judgment calls, and that’s okay.

                In that circumstance, it’s near-impossible to separate good competitive play from what you want to label a form of cheating.

                Er… I suppose, but is that actually going to come up a lot? I’m not talking about things like ‘well, that pass interference call is legitimately dodgy.’ I’m talking about ‘you can, as you are watching the game, witness officials giving preferential treatment to certain players and ignoring certain offenses in a commonly understand way.’

                Your position would also seem to hold that Greg Maddox was “cheating” (or if not actually cheating, something worthy of our moral disapproval) in some sense if he was intentionally throwing his curveball 3 inches off the outside corner, not to fool the hitter into swinging but to get that pitch called for a strike, because he knew his reputation, perhaps in conjunction with this particular umpire’s pitchcalling (based on past experience with a particular umpire, driven by his reputation for precision pitching) would help him get this wrong call. Or is the second baseman who applies the phantom-tag of second before throwing to first, knowing the umpire won’t enforce the rule (and protecting himself from possible injury, while increasing the chances of a double play) ‘cheating’? Perhaps those judgments fit with your intuition; but it seems like a tough case to make.

                As you say; I don’t know I would knee-jerk call either of those situations cheating, per se, but they are definitely things worthy of our moral disapproval, I think. In the case of the phantom tag, I would hesitate to assign blame to any individual second baseman, but rather, to the culture that allows such things to happen.

                I would also note that those are two situations in which technological solutions are available to greatly reduce or eliminate the need for a judgment call.

      • Who the fuck is “the players?” Certainly not MLBPA.

  7. JoyfulA says:

    Keith Olbermann’s obsession with Barry Bonds’s usage drove me right out of Keith’s fan club. (I like Bonds because the sportwriters hate him.)

    • JRoth says:

      I’ve said here before – Bonds was a kiss up, kick down kind of person, a fact attested to by virtually every person who ever met him*. That’s a despicable type of person, and the fact that some of the people he kicked belong to a disliked class is not in any way exonerating.

      *I’m sure he’s had pleasant fan interactions in his life; not what I’m talking about.

      • John Protevi says:

        “Exonerating?” I was unaware we had convened a Court of Moral Judgment here.

        • JRoth says:

          What’s your basis for liking people? How many HRs they hit, or how they treat their fellow human beings?

          If JoyfulA wants to say, “I like Bonds because he’s a jerk,” s/he should say so. Hiding behind a fashionable distaste for sports writers is just weaseling.

        • JRoth says:

          I assume JoyfulA doesn’t mean that s/he took a rooting interest in Bonds for how he treated sports writers; that would be weird. I assume that “like” indicates a more personal fondness.

          Here, try this: “I like Bryan Giles because he beats women.”

          What, are you going to convene some Court of Moral Judgment here?

          God, that made-up capitalization stuff is powerful, isn’t it? I feel a positive rush.

  8. JRoth says:

    The idea that baseball stats before 1995 were easily comparable across eras is very wrong.

    This seems to be an article of faith among the saber-minded, but isn’t especially true. The first ~60 years of pro baseball saw continuous changes in rules, equipment, strategy, and technique. But by the ’30s, after teams had adjusted to the end of the deadball era, you see ~60 years in which runs per game stayed with half a run of 4.31*, which was the mean, median, and average tally over the conscious lifetime of virtually every living baseball fan in 1994. There were highs and lows, of course, but change was fairly gradual, and outliers few and far between. From 1940 through 1993, R/G topped 4.70 twice; from 1994 through 2004, that mark was topped 10 times. The average R/G in that span was 4.87, more than half a run higher than the multi-year average that anyone could remember, and in fact higher than any single season since 1938.

    Now I’m not claiming that PEDs were the only factor in this, but this is kind of like the shibboleth about how no given storm can be said to be a direct consequence of climate change. The late 90s growth in offense was something unseen since, literally, the advent of Babe Ruth (and no, the late-60s decline in offense was not a mirror image, but I admire anyone offering a “both sides do it” argument in this context). So it really shouldn’t be so shocking that people reacted strongly to it. Unless you’d been watching since the Black Sox era, it was like nothing you’d ever seen.

    *There were a couple outlier seasons in either direction, but no actual trends if you look at any kind of multiyear average; the PED era was a consistent trend

    • JRoth says:

      Dammit, “mean, median and MODE”.

      Isn’t that a weird fact?

      • mpowell says:

        Well, mean and median comes from a symmetric distribution. But all three depend largely on your choice of two points past the decimal. Since the variation was about one run, that’s about 1% of accuracy. Go to 3 digits and they probably won’t line up. Or at least it would be pretty statistically unlikely.

        • JRoth says:

          Yeah, I was wondering just how robust that would be. Regardless, just having all three within 1% is striking, given the length of time and the wide range of conditions represented by those seasons.

          That’s also part of why I’m not impressed by talk of smaller ballparks and expansion – it’s pretty hard to argue that baseball officially changed more between ’92 and ’94 (when R/G jumped by 0.8) than it had between ’46 and ’48 (+0.57), or between ’60 and ’62 (+0.15) or between ’72 and ’74 (+0.45). And, just to be clear, 1992 was by no means an outlier – between ’88 and ’92, R/G was 4.14, 4.13, 4.26, 4.31 (again!), and 4.12. ’68 to ’70 was a bigger jump than ’92 to ’94, but that’s combining both an outlier season (a quarter run lower than any other post-deadball season) and a rule change.

          I should clarify that I don’t view the jump in offense as a moral crisis like climate change; I just find the denial of the two to be strikingly similar, dependent on sophistry to pretend that something that both data and casual observation identify hasn’t, in fact, happened. The only reason I bring up that jump is that, to me, it mostly explains the arc of reaction to PEDs – to most observers, something had gone awry, since longtime norms of offense were being left behind. If the reason had been an intentionally juiced ball, people would have complained. If the reason had been a systematic effort* to build smaller parks to juice offense, people would have complained. In the event, it seemed pretty clear that PEDs were wrapped up in the offensive jump, and so people complained about them. A moral panic may have followed, but I don’t actually think that the panic came first. People were wondering loudly about all the offense before any records were broken.

          * many of the new ballparks were smaller, but, in many cases, this was clearly tied to a reaction against the impersonal vastness of the concrete donut parks. A number of the new, smaller parks are not actually offensive havens (see PNC, among others), which argues against a general intention to build small to create more HRs

          • Scott Lemieux says:

            I don’t think there’s any question that the decade after 1992 was the best era for offense since the thirties. But 1)the 20s and 30s count! That’s where the Sacred Home Run Records first came from! and 2)again, there’s no such thing as a record set in “pure” conditions. While runs for game remained relatively stable, especially if we leave out the drop in r/g from 63-8 (which of course we shouldn’t), there’s still a substantial variation based on park effects, the quality of opposing pitching, etc. which means that individual players often played in run contexts that deviated substantially from the 4.31 norm. And it’s essentially impossible for a player in a negative context to set major individual records.

            If the reason had been a systematic effort* to build smaller parks to juice offense, people would have complained.

            This is almost certainly false. Fans like offense.

            • JRoth says:

              Which is why no one ever complained about Coors Field.

              Oh wait.

              Anyway, I like how you’re pretending that events during which you and I were both adults simply didn’t happen. Are you really claiming that nobody was saying WTF? about the offensive explosion before 1998? Because I was there, and they did. They talked about all of the things people still talk about, except PEDs. And it wasn’t, “Hurray, Bandboxes!” People talked about raising the mound back up, and about raising the strike zone (there was all sorts of hype from MLB that they were going to force umpires to do this in the late 90s, and of course the last bullying by MLB against the umps was in part driven by a desire to enforce a strike zone that would depress offense). But by all means, just refute all those facts with a simple-minded bit of CW. Everybody knows that the deficit hurts the economy, you know.

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                I honestly have no idea who you’re arguing against. I agree that the 94-04ish period was a huge offensive explosion, and while smaller ballparks clearly played a role PED use almost certainly played a role. And? There’s no such thing as a “neutral” context. If Milwaukee had moved into the Astrodome rather than Fulton Country Stadium Henry Aaron wouldn’t have set the HR record that is now absolutely sacred.

            • JRoth says:

              Wait, why are you talking about dropping out ’63-’68? I sure as hell never suggested anything of the sort. In fact, that’s precisely my point – what was long viewed as a weird, outlying period (in response to which the league lopped off half the pitcher’s mound and instituted the DH, for crying out loud) was much more in line with the surrounding years/decades than the PED era.

              I cut off the ’20s and half the ’30s* for 2 reasons: A. it was clearly a period of adjustment to a completely new style of baseball, and B. more importantly, my argument is explicitly not about whether baseball (and offensive levels) has ever changed; it’s that, during the living memory of every fan at the dawn of the PED era, it really hadn’t. Nobody in 1995 thought, “At last, a return to the offensive level with which I grew up.”

              Capitalizing “sacred homerun records” doesn’t force me to treat that as my thesis. It’s not. My thesis is that, before any homerun records were challenged, people had (rightly) noticed a discontinuity in offensive levels. Your claim is that “The idea that baseball stats before 1995 were easily comparable across eras is very wrong.” Unless you go back before living memory, your statement isn’t true, because, for 60 years, virtually everything happened within half a run of 4.31/game. In the typical year of 1991, a team allowing 4.80 RA/G was just about the worst in the league (23/26); 7 years later, that was well above median (13/30). If ’98 were an outlier, like ’68 or ’87 or ’50, then it would be no big deal. But it wasn’t an outlier – it was part of an era unlike any seen in anybody’s lifetime. I mean, I suppose that if you think baseball fans are too stupid to understand that not every single year is an identical context, then you win. But a certain amount of variation has always been understood; the PED era just broke what people had come to understand over the previous 6 decades.

              *starting in 1931 doesn’t substantially change any of my numbers; I chose ’34 as a start date for an even 60 years before ’94

              • Scott Lemieux says:

                Well, yes, there was a discontinuity, but that wasn’t my argument. Indeed, you’re making my point for me. The offensive contexts for individual players varies much more than the offensive contexts as a whole, so that while fans intuitively think that records from the 60s and 70s were set in “neutral” conditions they obviously weren’t. There’s no such thing.

        • JRoth says:

          Alright, I had to check:

          AVG: 4.3119
          MED: 4.3110
          MOD: 4.3110

          Actually, I’m going from 2 decimal data, so we really shouldn’t go past 3 decimals. Anyway, pretty damn close I’d say.

          • H-Bob says:

            As Mike Piazza mentioned on the Daily Show last night, the late 1980s was also when the majority of players began serious weightlifting regimens; prior to that, weightlifting was discouraged.

            Of course, steroids amplified the results from the weightlifting regimens but the increase in offense resulted from the stronger players. The players still had to lift weights to get results from steroids.

  9. JRoth says:

    Oh, and for the record: no, federal resources should not be directed towards prosecuting athletes who’ve used PEDs. Prosecuting suppliers, maybe, on the same basis that you’d prosecute anyone illegally distributing medicine*, but it’s not a huge priority.

    *Right? We’re not OK with Dr. Feelgood selling Vicodin on the side, are we? Or are we going full metal libertarian on all controlled substances?

  10. Green Caboose says:

    And while Roger Maris’s record was not established in a high-offense era, it was still the product of many contingencies — an expansion year, a ballpark that made the record possible (which it would not have been for a right-handed hitter in Yankee Stadium or any hitter in Griffith Stadium), having a better hitter behind him to increase the number of ABs in which he could homer.

    He also had the advantage of playing on a team with outstanding pitching. This isn’t such a big deal with 15-team leagues, but when there were 8 or 10 teams each team played 22 or 18 games against each other. If one pitching staff was much better than all the others, then relative to the hitters on other teams they had 18 much easier games and should be able to beef up on their stats.

    In 1961 the Yankees pitchers were a close second to Baltimore’s and the two teams were far better than the rest of the league. No way does Maris make 61 if he had 18 games against Yankee pitchers instead of, say, 18 games against Washington (whom he hit 9 HRs against).

  11. Anonymous says:

    Or are we going full metal libertarian on all controlled substances?

    “We” are far from a unified block on this issue, and I think that’s just fine. The only position I find unreasonable is that drugs which are less dangerous than alcohol should be more restricted. That’s just senseless, vindictive prudery.

    • Loud Liberal says:

      That may be the way it’s sold to idiot conservatives. But, the tail that wags the dog is the private prison industry. I can’t think of anything less American than profiting off of the deprivation of another’s liberty. It’s despicable. It’s Medieval.

  12. Loud Liberal says:

    And while I wouldn’t say I have a great deal of faith in the American legal system, . . .

    Faith in the American legal system? Daubert and Twombly anyone?

  13. Wolf says:

    While not self-evident, PEDs are not harmless. Perhaps you could provide a reference or two telling us they are. Enough have died, others suffer the serious consequences. And America may not care, but use of PEDs is essentially fraud. But the (public)health aspects alone warrant testing, randomly and during competition.

    • Rob says:

      My guess is the health effects of throwing or attempting to throw a ball 90 mph dwarfs any health effects due to PEDs.

      • JRoth says:

        Depends on the PED. Cyclists have been known to use drugs that aren’t even approved for non-experimental use on animals, let alone humans. I doubt that those are harmless. IIRC, early Tour de France cyclists used arsenic as a PED.

        We’re starting to say that football players should be maybe less expendable than gladiators; I’m not all that comfortable with saying that only applies to head injuries, and everything else should be open season.

    • John Protevi says:

      PEDS are not harmless. Perhaps you could provide a reference or two telling us they are.

      Excuse me, Mr Wolf. A Mr Burden O’Proof is on line two and says he won’t be shifted again, and that he hopes you know what he means.

    • John Protevi says:

      Oh what the hell. This doesn’t say steroids are “harmless” but that’s a straw man. http://www.jssm.org/vol5/n2/2/v5n2-2pdf.pdf

      From the Conclusion:

      When examining the potential medical issues associated with anabolic steroid use, evidence indicates that most known side effects are transient. More so, few studies have been able to directly link anabolic steroids to many of the serious adverse effects listed. Although clinical case studies continue to link anabolic steroid administration with myocardial infarct, suicide, and cancer, the evidence to support a cause and effect relationship is lacking and it may be other contributing factors (i.e. genetic predisposition, diet, etc.) play a substantial role and potentiate the harmful effects from anabolic steroids. Consistent physician monitoring is critical to the athlete who consumes anabolic steroids. However, many athletes may not undergo extensive medical exams prior to androgen administration and few physicians may be willing to provide such monitoring.

      ©Journal of Sports Science and Medicine (2006) 5, 182-193 Review article

      MEDICAL ISSUES ASSOCIATED WITH ANABOLIC STEROID USE: ARE THEY EXAGGERATED?

      • Wolf says:

        It is not a straw man. Fraud through PEDs may be one thing (that alone should entitle proper authorities to show up and demand blood and urine samples). Even assuming (and you have to be quite ignorant to believe problems occur only with those) only contributing factors lead to adverse and irreversible effects, how do you suggest we weed out those cases?
        Scott Lemieux also criticizes the Armstrong prosecution and a number of cyclists died using the same stuff. I have read enough about steroid related cases (including deaths). Note also that the abstract says “in certain circumstances” risks “may have been somewhat exaggerated”.
        Safe circumstances do not exist in the real world. There is not way for an athlete to assess the risk/benefit. So if risks are “somewhat exaggerated” cases where the rich kid has a good doctor in Beverly Hills, the stuff is nowhere near harmless.

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