Jeff Pearlman

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Bagwell: IV (Why we’re here)

So I’ve obviously received a lot of comments about this whole Bagwell thing—95 percent of them, ahem, not exactly on my side. And while I don’t love being referred to as an “ass-dripping mongoloid” (especially anonymously–but isn’t that always the case?), I do relish the chance to hear other opinions and takes. I try and be as open-minded as possible, believe it or not. Oftentimes I post something, only to later think, “Man, was I off.” It happens quite often.

But not this time.

The point many people have made is a strong one: How can you damn someone who was never proven guilty?

It’s an excellent question, especially considering I’m a far-, far-, far-, far-left liberal who thinks the death penalty is evil in all cases, because one never knows for absolute certainty.

But here’s the thing: This whole argument is Major League Baseball’s self-generated Catch-22. Back in the day, the union and the owners did everything in their power to keep the usage of PED on the downest of lows. There was, initially, no testing, then for the longest time predictable, easy-to-manipulate testing. Even now, the system is flawed—though much improved. The union, the owners, the players—they were well aware of what they were doing; what they were concealing. PED were terrific for the game, especially coming off of the 1997 strike. McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, Canseco—they brought life back into the game. Power. POWer! POWER!

Because of this—because, specifically, PED were not tested for, then not properly tested for—nobody was proven guilty. Not Bonds, not Sosa, not Canseco. Nobody. It was impossible to come up positive, because there was no such thing as positive. The union didn’t allow it. Testing? We don’t need no stinking testing.

So here we are, at the end of 2010, and people can rightly say, “Look, there’s no proof! [Fill in a name] never failed a drug test! Not once!” Which is 100% correct. [Fill in a name] never failed a drug test—because the union and the owners made certain for that to be impossible. Let me say it again: Impossible.

That’s why, in this case, I believe in the power of observation and, to a certain degree, speculation. Am I happy about it? No. Is it a remotely, remotely, remotely perfect ideal? Not even close. Every person on this site who posted some variation of “So are you not gonna vote for Derek Jeter and Ichiro?” is 100 percent correct. Were I to have a vote, I would probably vote for Derek Jeter. And for Ichiro. For all we know, they used. Again—you’re right.

But this is what baseball has given us—an awkward, imperfect, pathetic, sad, whatever case of “What do we do about these guys?”-itis. Maybe the readers who say, “Forget PED and go by the stats” are correct. Maybe it’s the only way. But I just don’t think it’s right, rewarding guys who blatantly cheated (again, I consider PED blatant cheating) for their bullshit accomplishments.

I’ve referenced this before, but one of my good friends is Sal Fasano, the journeyman catcher who now manages in Toronto’s system. I know Sal and his family very well. I know of his highs, his lows, his struggles, etc. We’ve spoken at length about PED, and I believe strongly he never used (To the reader who says, “Yeah, but how do you know?” I say—fair point. One never knows 100 percent). Sal bounced up and down and all around; was slumming in the minors while Mitchell Report guys like Todd Pratt and Gregg Zaun were taking up major league roster spots. And it infuriates me. People argue, “Hey, it was the era. Everyone used.” Well, not everyone used. Even if 99 of 100 did, there remains the one. To reward and praise those who cheated to reach a certain status demeans those like Sal who did it honestly.

I don’t know the answer here. Polygraphs? Truth serum? Water boarding? I get why many of you think I’m, again, an “ass-dripping mongoloid.” I love baseball. Maybe not as much as Joe does. But quite a bit, nonetheless.

Thanks.

PS: An important point I’d like to make: A couple of posters have suggested, “If you had any guts, you’d go on so-and-so site and defend yourself.” Blah, blah, blah. I understand, in 2010, this is the way some think. But to me, a writer writes, then lets others have their take. It’s not a writer’s job to engage in debate, go on radio or TV shows, etc.

  • Nik

    How does one drip ass? And a mongoloid to boot?

    Why would you vote for Alomar? I noticed he has more home runs than any other second baseman except for 9 others. His single season home run totals went up in his early 30′s before he crashed and burned in his mid to late 30′s? Just askin’.

  • jmw

    I pretty much agree with you on this.
    I quite paying much attention to Baseball because I knew so many were cheating but the Union was against testing.

    My real question is on another tangent, sorry to go off base.

    You said:
    “…I’m a far-, far-, far-, far-left liberal who thinks the death penalty is evil in all cases, because one never knows for absolute certainty.”

    This is what bothers me about the far, far, left.
    They will stand to support endangered species. Even the most insignificant.
    They oppose the death penalty.

    Then they support the right to kill an unborn child.
    In my mind that is just plain twisted around.
    …because one never knows for absolute certainty – whether that tiny life can feel, or know what is happening.

  • jmw

    Sorry Jeff I should have added I don’t know where you stand on this.
    It is just an observation I have made with 99.999999999145% of the Far Left.

  • Mark

    Ok, I lied when I said I was done. I still disagree with you, but I appreciate you taking the time to rework your point of view to address of the response you received. Your initial reaction seemed a shoot-from-the-hip personal judgment of a player, without a clear basis. It’s more apparent now that you’ve put some real thought into this, fitting into a larger picture, so I can’t justifiably be as irked as I initially was.

    I will say this much: I think it would do some good for your outlook on the game to reexamine some of

    Is speculation really appropriate?
    Does it really solve anything to try and determine a ‘cheater’/'non-cheater’ caste system, especially when there is so little in the way of the concrete to base it on?
    For that matter, is the ‘cheater’ label applicable when the cheat in question is not so different from other acceptable methods and techniques, and was implicitly encouraged by those policing the game?

    Are steroid users’ accomplishments really bullshit? How much of their success is attributable to the substances they took? Is it possible to know, and if not, what good is done by punishing them to a degree that might be unfair? What good is done if a player is wrongfully accused?

    I had some more questions to raise but it’s been a long day and I’d like to avoid shooting myself in the foot by making easily refutable points due to exhaustion!

    Give Sal the internet’s regards; his story of working to maintain health insurance for his family is one of the most woefully overlooked in recent MLB history. And being an NH native, I’m pulling for him in his job with the Fisher Cats :)

  • Mark

    Whoops, there we go. “I think it would do some good for your outlook on the game to reexamine some of the more reactionary, emotional points you base your argument on.”

    @jmw, this is a terrible place for a political argument, but strictly speaking, within (I believe) the first trimester, the fetus has not developed a functioning nervous system, and so would not be able to feel any physical pain. There’s also a philosophical argument to be made about whether it is yet a separate life if it can’t sustain itself outside of the womb, blah blah blah, but this again is not a very appropriate place to debate the issue.

  • jmw

    Mark
    Jeff uses the argument, “a far-, far-, far-, far-left liberal who thinks the death penalty is evil in all cases, because one never knows for absolute certainty.”

    That viewpoint should speak to protecting the unborn.
    Instead the a far-, far-, far-, far-left liberals think that it is certain the unborn isn’t aware and can’t feel pain.
    Certainly there are individuals executed that there is no real doubt of guilt.
    Yet Jeff, and the far-, far-, far-, far-left liberals are concerned there could be doubt.
    Been somewhat wordy but…
    * Therefore there should be concern that the unborn is possibly aware and feeling.

  • Joe

    “Far, far, far left liberal?”

    You’ve got to be kidding, right?
    These players were not guilty of anything under the rules that existed at the time. Why make an ex post facto issue about it now?
    If you don’t know for certain if someone cheated, why accuse them of it? Especially in a scenario where no one is made whole by such an accusation. It was a victimless crime.
    Some liberal.

  • jmw

    Mark
    While I do have a viewpoint on the issues I am not trying to discuss whether the death penalty or abortion is right or wrong.

    I am only wondering how the Far left can take such a contradictory stand.

  • Dan

    “But here’s the thing: This whole argument is Major League Baseball’s self-generated Catch-22. Back in the day, the union and the owners did everything in their power to keep the usage of PED on the downest of lows. There was, initially, no testing, then for the longest time predictable, easy-to-manipulate testing. Even now, the system is flawed—though much improved. The union, the owners, the players—they were well aware of what they were doing; what they were concealing. PED were terrific for the game, especially coming off of the 1997 strike. McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, Canseco—they brought life back into the game. Power. POWer! POWER!”

    Isn’t the HOF a part of, and a reflection of, baseball? We already know the HOF is no sanctuary of baseball purity. There are racists like Ty Cobb (baseball was awfully racist). There are people who used amphetamines (a lot of baseball players used amphetamines), and there are full on cheaters (man, Gaylord perry threw a lot of spitballs). Operating within the environment that existed, players like Bagwell, Bonds and Clemens thrived well above and beyond the average player, and many average players were juicing. It only seems right and fair to include these players.

    As a fellow liberal, it still seems weird to me that you have so much hatred for the union for not volunteering their piss to the public before anyone even thought to make a big deal out of the whole thing…

  • Sgtgaffers

    “a writer writes, then lets others have their take. It’s not a writer’s job to engage in debate, go on radio or TV shows”

    How can you make this claim after you responded several times in your Bagwell: II comment board?

    The worst thing about your argument is if you’re right, then fine, you can hold your head up high. If you’re wrong, then you dragged a person’s name through the mud for no other reason than adding content to your blog. That’s shoddy journalism.

  • Chris

    Jeff, my problem with this whole debate isn’t about whether or not Jeff Bagwell did steroids. My problem is that your logic precludes an entire generation of ballplayers under a distinctly un-American system: guilty until proven innocent. And because none can be proven innocent, all are guilty. Moreover, whatever your feelings on steroids, your refusal to admit someone based on suspicion or even knowledge of them being a user is effectively revisionism.

    Do what you have to do. Run a comparison of league-average statistics from different eras of the game; figure out what league-average was during the steroid era. Do WAR comparisons. Look at the numbers. This stuff is all readily available online, and most of it for free as I’m sure you know. Look at what Bagwell did over and above the ballplayers of his era, and use THAT to determine whether he is worthy of the Hall of Fame.

    Yes, it’s the Hall of Fame. Not the Hall of Integrity. No matter what people might say, the Hall has never been clean, and it is never going to be clean. So keeping players out on suspicion of being users is entirely unfair. Tax them all equally if you have to, but don’t reject them out of hand.

    And of course, this is only if you IGNORE the research that says that steroids are not shown to have any effect on a player’s ability to hit a baseball. It helps recover from injuries, but even if you want to cast out career totals and service time out on moral grounds, there’s still rate stats to be judged.

    You can’t throw a blanket over it, Jeff. And ultimately, it’s not your job to. It’s your job as a journalist to look at the information presented to you, research it, and come to your own conclusions. It’s not your job to impose a moral code on the rest of us.

    Vote for Bagwell because you didn’t think he was good enough, not because you think he was a user. Anything is else is just petty and irresponsible.

  • Chris

    That is to say, historical revisionism. Rather than other varieties of revisionism.

  • Geoffrey

    Wow, just wow. You stand by your previous arguument yet admit that if you had a vote you would not apply the same reasoning to Jeter and Ichiro.

    How can one admit to being a hypocrite on something and then try to stand by that argument?

    You also mention that people who blatantly cheated should not be rewarded. From this it is implied that you now no longer believe that Bagwell merely has a cloud of suspicion regarding steroid use hanging over him but, is a blatant cheater.

  • Chad

    Joe Posnanski > Jeff Pearlman > ass dripping mongoloid > far, far, far, far left liberals

  • Jim

    It’s a really hard question, and unfortunate that stuff like this cannot be discussed without resorting to name-calling.

    I disagree with Jeff only because Bagwell’s name has never been implicated, even in passing, with steroid use.

    Yes, he got bigger than he used to be, but that could be natural. The Angels’ had a catcher back in the ’80s named Brian Downing. When he came up, he was roundish, pudgy guy. But within about six years, he looked like Superman. There were no steroids then. The dude just got serious about weight training.

  • johnny

    are you retarded?

    you have to be, to keep writing this shit. opinions can’t be wrong, so you’re not. you’re just a huge gigantic gaping asshole instead. anyway, there are like 4 people on the internet who agree with you, and everyone else doesn’t agree with you. that is not going to change. I suspect you of beating your wife becaucse i don’t remember hearing you speak out against wife beating in public.

    Shut up, you’re asshole.

  • Frank D.

    Jim: Oh, yes, there certainly were steroids when Downing played. Were the in baseball? Dunno. But they were already rampant in football and various Olympic sports.

  • johnny

    steriods have been around in baseball since at leat the 70s. we know that for a fact.

  • Dan

    You are correct that you are only a writer. In your case, however, it is only in the sense that one applies the broad definitions of the word, namely that these ramblings appear to be your “occupation,” and that you put your opinions to paper.

    You certainly don’t need to engage every critic, as the internet is an oasis of people who can fairly call themselves writers, and just like you, they might not have actual BBWAA Hall of Fame ballots. However, tortured screeds like yours make me thank Sholem Aleichem that you are as impotent as any blogger, no matter how much traffic you get. In fact, you are as impotent as I. Your tortured logic will ultimately doom you to the dustbins of baseball writing.

    When people 50 years from now wonder why great players with tremendous numbers languish unrecognized by the Hall of Fame, the Ron Santo’s of the dawn of the 21st century, it will be to the crap columns of actual voters that they turn for answers, not to you. So you can stir up as much anger as you want, and it will mean nothing.

    Your Memento Mori: the person who called you an “ass-dripping mongoloid” is literally as much a writer as you are.

    Dan

  • yt

    I don’t disagree with you – I am inclined to suspect they all cheated.

    That is a position I can take as someone who was skeptical at the time when the media was cheerleading the HR race.

    I’m not familiar with your work – maybe you were banging the drum for testing 97-01? Maybe you wrote some scathing articles?

    Or are you saying that no baseball writer in the game really had an idea because it was so covert?

    In a previous post I said that I suspected Canseco and McGwire of juicing in the early 90s…obviously I wasn’t the only one, nor was I wrong (according to JC).

    What do you see as the media’s role in pro sports? I ask because I personally have no issue with you taking this stance and not casting a ballot – that’s your balliwick. I do, however, take issue with moral grandstanding.

    Any position that doesn’t begin from: I was there, I could have done this but I did not – fails, in my books. At least the MLB et al. have come out an admitted that they goofed (although have continued to reap the rewards of a renewed fanbase)…

    che vuoi?

  • Frank D.

    yt: for me, the eye-opener was Clemens.

    Being a lifelong Olympic fanatic, I was probably more aware of PED’s than people who don’t follow the Olympics closely. And that it showed up in baseball didn’t surprise me at all. I don’t remember if I suspected Canseco or McGwire, because they were already muscle-bound behemoths when I first noticed them.

    But I’m a Red Sox fan. I saw how Clemens fell completely apart (and got *fat*, not muscular) during his last 4 years with the Sox.

    And then I saw him in Toronto.

    I knew he was ‘roiding right then.

  • Andre

    Personally, I feel that there should just be a ban on anyone who played from 1990-2010 ever making the Hall of Fame. Is it unfair to those who did not take PEDs? Of course it is. At the same time, though, the Hall of Fame is a rather unimportant thing in the grand scheme of life. It’s not a big deal to me if certain clean individuals are punished in this case.

  • Drew

    eff,

    I really like your writing, I’ve been a fan for awhile now…I’m sorry to hear about the backlash you’ve received for the Bagwell article, I understand you’ve had some not-so-classy remarks directed your way.

    That said, check these photos of Willie Mays:

    http://slanchreport.com/images/stories/willie-mays-jacked.jpg

    http://i.cdn.turner.com/sivault/multimedia/photo_gallery/0905/this.day.sports.history.may11/images/willie-mays.jpg

    And this one of Griffey Jr:

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/ABPub/2009/04/02/2008974893.jpg

    No one would ever suspect Mays of PED use because…well, no one used PED’s to build large muscles back then (as far as we know). But Mays was pretty jacked. If Mays played today, would you be accusing him of PED use due to being a baseball player with large muscles?

    No one has ever accused Jr. of using PEDs because “he was skinny!” but look at that photo of him from the 90′s and he definitely had plenty of lean muscle on a skinny frame.

    Bodys are built differently, some carry muscle differently than others. It’s a pretty slippery slope to go running around accusing people of steroids because they have muscle and they play baseball.

    Anyway, keep up the good work.

    Best,

    Drew

  • http://baseballthinkfactory Evan

    First, to say that Bagwell’s name has never been associated with steroids is absurd. Rumors, whether or not they are substantiated, have been swirling around him since Caminitti started chirping. And when Biggio’s name comes up, the same holds true.

    Second, Brian Downing is a great example. He too was spoken about many times in hindsight.

    I believe Tom Boswell accused Canseco quite some time before Canseco came out and admitted his usage.

    Andre, your point works both ways. I believe PED usage was so rampant that there was, in fact, an even playing field, so they are either all in or all out.

    I don’t believe (or at least hope) that too many reasonable folks believe the HoF is a huge matter in life, but it’s a lot more fun to dwell on than real issues.

    Jeff, given the standards you hold Bagwell to, where do you stand on Piazza? I can’t imagine he would make it given your criteria.

  • yt

    I just want to add one last thing: I don’t mean to pick on you.

    If anything this series of articles raises a series of interesting debates re: the politics of the HoF.

    That said, the venom directed personally at you is unwarranted, in my books. If anything it should be directed at the inconsistency of the entire media in the “steroid era”.

    It is the media that has been the most inconsistent in terms of dealing with this topic – and I for one am happy to see someone at least trying to take a stance that recognizes the quagmire that the ongoing silence of ALL parties (including the media) has had on what fans like me would like to believe was an honest game.

    Of course I wish everyone had done more – but that is hasn’t means, at least to me, either you exonerate all (including those that tested positive) or condemn all – as presumably they at least KNEW others were doping and did nothing.

    Maybe that’s not a popular stance, but that’s how I think about it.

    I’m not into thinking Griffey Jr and his ongoing injuries are beyond reproach…that’s a product of the time they played. Maybe that is still the case…I can’t say.

    All for now,
    best,
    yt.

  • Brian McDowell

    Jeff,

    Do you think Ty Cobb belongs in the Hall of Fame?
    He was undoubtably one of the greatest and most important baseball players of all time, yet he’s also a cheater, a highly public racist, possibly a murderer, and someone who, I’m sure we could all agree, was a pretty good contender for most despicable American celebrity of all time. Yet, he’s in the Hall of Fame. Do you think he should be?
    If Cobb can be in the Hall of Fame, why not Bagwell (who has never actually been officially charged or accused of anything), or even Bonds and Clemens?
    As bad as what they were accused of doing is, and as big of an asshole as they may be, surely we can agree that they’re no worse than Cobb, right?

  • jmw

    Just Eliminate the Hall of Shame.

    Means nothing anyway.

  • jmw

    Mark,

    I wondered about your first trimester development theory.

    From the Mayo Clinic:
    http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/prenatal-care/PR00112

    *The fifth week of pregnancy, or the third week after conception, marks the beginning of the embryonic period. This is when the baby’s brain, spinal cord, heart and other organs begin to form.

    *Just four weeks after conception, the neural tube along your baby’s back is closing and your baby’s heart is pumping blood.

    *Seven weeks into your pregnancy, or five weeks after conception, your baby’s brain and face are rapidly developing.

    *Eight weeks into your pregnancy, or six weeks after conception, your baby’s arms and legs are growing longer, and fingers have begun to form. The shell-shaped parts of your baby’s ears also are forming, and your baby’s eyes and nipples are visible. The upper lip and nose have formed. The trunk of your baby’s body is beginning to straighten.
    Your baby may begin to move this week, but you won’t be able to feel it yet.
    *At the beginning of the 11th week of pregnancy, or the ninth week after conception, your baby’s head still makes up about half of its length. But your baby’s body is about to catch up, growing rapidly in the coming weeks.
    Your baby is now officially described as a fetus. This week your baby’s eyes are widely separated, the eyelids fused and the ears low set. Red blood cells are beginning to form in your baby’s liver.

    *Twelve weeks into your pregnancy, or 10 weeks after conception, your baby is developing fingernails. Your baby’s face now has a human profile.

    That’s the first trimester.
    Not making a stand here, only wanted to set the record straight as to first trimester development.

    Seems very hypocritical, to me, for someone to oppose the death penalty because of possible doubt yet support abortion.

    In my mind both the Far Left & the Far Right are Equal as Hypocrites.

  • Jim K.

    Jeff,

    I’ve been out of the country the past few weeks and am just catching up to the Bagewell debate (reading all the posts & comments has taken a few hours). Fascinating stuff and highly entertaining.

    Count me in with the 95% who vehemently disagree with you, although I find it ironic that your rationale for your argument is the same as mine, but I come to the opposite conclusion. The fact that MLB did not police itself until 2005 is the reason why I would argue that players pre-2005 should not be retroactively punished for playing to the standards of that time. If the commissioner, owners and players weren’t going to do anything about steroid use, then by God you can’t blame a player for using them. Sure they were illegal, but so is using cocaine, so is driving drunk, etc.

    A more interesting argument to me is what to do about players who were tested positive AFTER testing began. I know you would never vote for Manny Ramirez, but I wonder if even the pro-steroid users in the Hall would vote for someone who clearly violated rules when they were actually being enforced.

    Anyway, thanks for sharing opposing views of friends of yours…at least it shows that you you’re willing to listen to opposing viewpoints.

  • Jim K.

    Whoops, I meant to say pro-steroid voters for the Hall, not pro-steroid users in the Hall. I really need to read my stuff before hitting ‘Submit’.

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Once again, Jeff Pearlman has produced an exhaustively researched, elegantly written book that re-creates one of the most colorful and memorable teams of the modern era. No basketball fan's bookshelf will be complete without it.

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