There’s not a lot about how baseball goes about its business that makes sense to me. Their blackout policies might make sense on some level most of us couldn’t possibly see, but it leads to terrible press, and there just has to be a way to make more games available to more people for the same (or more) money. The policy prohibiting the free publicity for their product that comes from unofficial videos on YouTube makes much less sense than that. A more thorough, efficient instant replay system is years overdue.

Even more than those things, though, I find myself confused by the issues MLB, and the people covering it, decides to emphasize (or not). It reminds me a bit of the American news media, and its habit of sensationalizing and harping on certain stories — many of which don’t amount to anything — while largely ignoring other, more important ones. Here’s a bit about the former that’s kind of like the latter:

The media and fans still completely lose their minds over the whole PED thing, which, a few years down the road, might look awfully silly. Remember when we all freaked out over computer systems not reflecting the date properly when the year 2000 rolled around? It seems a bit like that.

Remember what a huge freaking deal the media made out of the “Y2K virus,” or the “Year 2000 bug,” or some combination of those words? Older computer systems  (and still older, non-computerized data-keeping systems) weren’t built with any thought that they might still be around in in the year 2000, so they used two digits to indicate the year, and there was a real, legitimate fear that a lot of them might reset to 1900 when the new year rolled around, wreaking havoc on the world’s financial institutions, among other things. Companies spent millions on Y2K preparation, though, and whether because of the preparation or because the whole problem was wildly overblown (very likely both, I’d think), while there may have been some real problems caused by Y2K, very few were reported, and none were catastrophic. At least from the outside, the “Y2K bug” ended up looking like a phony scare, invented (or at least seriously exaggerated) by a sensationalist media.

Years after baseball finally acknowledged the steroids “issue” and took steps to curtail it, it remains probably the biggest single story in the game — at least among casual fans and non-fans — and continues to be widely viewed as a giant black mark on the game. Still, there remains no evidence that drugs exist that can actually enhance a baseball player’s performance. We have no idea what, if anything, these drugs do for a player. There’s plenty of evidence that offense jumped up in 1993/94 and then climbed slowly through the early 2000s, of course, but that’s a different thing, and the math just doesn’t add up. To ascribe those changes solely or even primarily to the effects of steroids, you’d have to argue that everyone juiced up all at once in about 1993 (which we know isn’t true; PED use was rampant by the mid-to-late 1980s, and had been available for years before then), and then got off the juice just before 2010, years after Selig supposedly cleaned up the game and instituted serious testing. Or: you can acknowledge that there were probably a large number of other factors driving scoring up in those years — just like in the 1930s, and the 1950s — and that PEDs had very little, if anything,  to do with it. And while you’re at it, you can acknowledge that even if they did have some effect, there’s no way of knowing who was “clean” and who was “dirty” — that’s all based on narrative and misconceptions regarding the physical effects of PEDs — and there’s no sense in punishing guys who were either (a) bad at not getting caught or (b) better than everybody else at hitting baseballs, when the whole sport was essentially “dirty.”

It’s all just right there staring us in the face, and I think people have to realize it eventually. One of these days, people will start to come around to the fact that PEDs in baseball were essentially a non-issue, and that we’ve all been exceptionally silly about all this, like the people who hid in their basements on New Year’s 2000 and waited for the end of the world.

(If this all sounds a little too familiar to you, you’ve probably been paying a bit too much attention to me: I used the Y2K comparison in a somewhat similar (but different) context in January. I can’t stay away, apparently.)

This issue with Ubaldo Jimenez and the Rockies is a bad, ugly deal, but I wonder if people aren’t jumping to conclusions and overreacting just a little bit. Which reminds me a little of the time some terrorists got their hands on some white powder and made us all terrified of our mailboxes…

If you remember Y2K, you certainly also remember the anthrax scare in the aftermath of 9/11. Starting about a week after that tragedy, political figures and media offices started receiving letters containing anthrax spores, contact with which ultimately killed five people and injured seventeen others. And, look — that’s a big deal. If you’d been one of the five or one of their family members, it’d be about as big a deal as there can be. But that handful of letters, for a period of several weeks, had almost all of the US literally terrified. It was like people really thought that because it had apparently happened to NBC News, they’d show up at their factory jobs in Cleveland and open a piece of mail and boom, anthrax. There were only ever a handful of confirmed anthrax letters, but the fear they caused set off dozens, or hundreds, of hoaxes, any kind of innocuous white powder you can name tossed in an envelope to ruin some organization’s day. It’s the same kind of mental paralysis and overreaction that some might argue led to everything from the drastically increased security at airports to the PATRIOT Act to the war in Iraq. Anthrax is a legitimately really scary thing, and those incidents that did occur were terrible, but in retrospect, the media’s handling of it and the way we all sat on the edge of our seats was probably a bit overboard. We weren’t thinking clearly, didn’t have all the information, and probably overreacted.

That’s what I think is true about this situation with Ubaldo Jimenez plunking his former teammate, Troy Tulowitzki. I’m about as firmly opposed as anyone you might find to the phony baseball honor culture of threatening or causing serious physical harm to a fellow professional athlete as recompense for some real or imagined slight, and if we knew for a fact that that’s what Jimenez was doing, I’d argue his five-game suspension is much too light. But we don’t know that. While the narrative certainly fits, the umpire on the field didn’t see or hear enough to eject Jimenez, who noted that he had been having issues with his command in that game — and I’d do him one better and point out that his command has kind of been coming and going at will since early 2011. And Jimenez almost immediately started yelling at and challenging Tulowitzki…but not until after Tulowitzki had already yelled at him first, and who knows what Tulo had to say? It certainly could be that the HBP was unintentional, and that whatever Tulo said to Jimenez (along with his own struggles) set him off. That seems to be how the presiding ump saw it, and I doubt anyone was in a better position to judge than he was.

It’s not by any means something that should be ignored — this practice of sending messages by intentionally hitting batters was silly and antiquated decades ago, and whatever can reasonably be done to make that nonsense die a quick death would be welcomed by me. But I’m seeing a lot of harsh criticism of Ubaldo that I don’t think is necessarily justified. You can’t just assume the worst and jump to conclusions, because that’s what gave us the anthrax scare, and that sucked hard.

While baseball worries about stuff like the above, players keep getting drunk and getting behind the wheels of cars, and nobody in a position of power seems to notice or care. That’s kind of like how everyone ignored the lead-up to the banking crisis of 2008. 

On the opposite end of the spectrum from those huge overblown stories was the way, in the mid-2000s, that banks kept giving loans to anyone who asked (or suggested or looked at them funny or sneezed), and were a mess of regulations-ignoring and conflicts of interest, and nobody noticed. Then of course everything blew up, and it set off a global recession. Innocent people out of jobs, innocent people out of their homes, all that stuff.

Nothing in baseball is as serious as the economic crisis that has been so damaging to so many lives (or, for that matter, the anthrax scare, or what could have happened in the Y2K scare). But the one story that I think is the ugliest and most legitimately worrisome in or around baseball is the DUI epidemic among players (and sometimes managers). This spring alone, five players have been charged with driving under the influence  (see a list going back to 2004 here, and add Braves reliever Christhian Martinez from just yesterday). On one hand, of course, an employer can’t control what its employees do at all hours of the day. On the other hand, it’s become enough of a recurring issue that it seems fair to wonder whether something in clubhouse culture is encouraging it. And if not, the league and teams seem perfectly happy to tell players how to behave on their own time in other contexts — on social media, for instance — so why stay silent on this issue? It’s not baseball’s legal responsibility to do anything about it unless it actually happens on their watch or they do something to facilitate or encourage it (and, in fact, failing that, they might be severely limited in what they can legally do about it), but they sure as hell ought to take a stand against it.

A guy who shoots himself with a steroid breaks a law, and might arguably make himself a bit better at baseball than the unknown others who decide not  to shoot themselves with similar substances. On the other hand, a guy who gets hammered and climbs behind the wheel puts real human lives at risk, including but obviously not limited to his own. This is, or ought to be, a lot more embarrassing to the sport than the whole PED nonsense, and baseball has ignored it almost completely. They’re refusing to address the real-world problem, much the same way we all ignored the excesses and recklessness of lenders. The fallout won’t be nearly the same for MLB as it was for our global economy, but it sure is starting to get ugly.

Comments (36)

  1. ” this practice of sending messages by intentionally hitting batters was silly and antiquated decades ago”

    You’ve obviously have never played the game.

    • I have….and throwing at people is idiotic.

    • I played through high school (and was team captain senior year!), for what it’s worth. Which, in this case, I think is nothing. There are many things that having played the game might help one understand, but the fact that endangering another player to make a(n often imaginary) point is foolish and kind of barbaric isn’t one of those things.

      • I realize it appears to be barbaric and didn’t understand the reasoning behind the move( it seemed counter productive) until I had it explained to me.
        But until spiking,intentionally trying to dislodge balls from catchers and other harmful plays are punished in baseball,there is no other recourse for the opposing team.
        I don’t want to turn this into a 3,000 word explanation,just wished to disagree with your sentiments.
        There are plenty of unwritten rules on the field.The intent of hitting an opposing player is not to injure but to send a message,Which is why it’s always a fastball in the ribs.
        Not my rules,it’s just the way it is.

        • There’s no reasoning there, though. “It’s just the way it is” is the opposite of reasoning. There are probably lots of excuses for intentionally endangering another player, but I doubt there are any good or reasonable ones.

          • I don’t understand why as a writer you pick the last line and comment on it and ignore the rest of what’s written.
            When players have reached a certain level (men),it becomes competitive and agressive.We all applaud playing hard this way.But sometimes players cross the line such as
            Spiking a player on a slide
            Bowling over a catcher to score
            Trying to knock the ball out of the glove
            etc.
            These are agressive,potentially injurious plays.
            Aside from physical retaliation at that moment,the only accepted recourse is to plunk the opposing team’s player in the ribs,when they come to bat.

            That is unless you’d allow the other team to continue to spike your player or to have a fist fight on the field.

        • “But until spiking,intentionally trying to dislodge balls from catchers and other harmful plays are punished in baseball”

          The difference between throwing at someone and those types of plays is there is a legitimate reason for those plays, i.e. break up double play or score a run.

          • Tell that to the second baseman who’s leg is bleeding or the catcher who’s ankle gets busted or the firstbase man who’s gotta sprained thumb from a tag play.
            I ‘ve seen it all, it ain’t pretty.
            So let the other team beat up on your team mates and let them continue while the rest of your team gets hurt.

  2. @Radar– I dunno, I struck out for seven seasons of Little League, and I’m with Bill on this one. There are much better sides to baseball strategy than intentionally drilling a batter.

    • @ Graham
      No pitcher under the age of 15 should be throwing at a batter.Especially a house league player,they just don’t have the control and the message gets lost anyway.

  3. DO NOT FEED THE TROLL.

  4. I’m still struggling to understand how I can agree on so many points with everyone who writes here, but disagree so vehemently with their views on PEDs.

    “The media and fans still completely lose their minds over the whole PED thing, which, a few years down the road, might look awfully silly.”

    I can’t see how this issue will ever look silly. I accept baseball is just entertainment, but it is a form of entertainment that I only enjoy because it is a sport. For me, PED use diminishes the sport and I therefore would not choose to watch it if PEDs were allowed or ignored.

    “Still, there remains no evidence that drugs exist that can actually enhance a baseball player’s performance.”

    There is plenty of evidence that drugs can enhance a baseball player’s performance, from increased muscle mass caused by a combination of steroids and exercise, improved recovery times from the use of HGH and improved aerobic power from EPO.

    I presume that you mean that there is no clinical evidence that drugs enhance a baseball player’s performance. The absence of this evidence should not make you assume that performance improvement does not occur. Instead, you should realise that the standard of evidence you expect is unrealistic. Clinical studies of high performance athletes do not exist. It is incredibly hard to perform any study of this sort which would give satisfactory results due to ethical rules which apply to clinical studies.

    Given that this type of evidence is unavailable, all we have to go in is lesser forms of evidence. This certainly means that we should be more sceptical, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t strive for an informed opinion. There is a huge amount of anecdotal evidence from a wide variety of sports that performance can be improved through the use of drugs, not least baseball where a cursory glance at Bonds and McGwire’s ISO graphs should throw up obvious signs of performance enhancement to anyone familiar with baseball statistics. http://www.fangraphs.com/comparison.aspx?playerid=1109&position=OF&page=6&players=1008559

    “To ascribe those changes solely or even primarily to the effects of steroids, you’d have to argue that everyone juiced up all at once in about 1993″.

    This sentence directly contradicts your previous sentence: “There’s plenty of evidence that offense jumped up in 1993/94 and then climbed slowly through the early 2000s, of course, but that’s a different thing, and the math just doesn’t add up.”

    The slow climb in offense from 1993/94 to the early 2000s suggests that PED use rose from a low level in the early 90s and continued to increase into the early 2000s, which is largely corroborated by the Mitchell Report.

    “which we know isn’t true; PED use was rampant by the mid-to-late 1980s, and had been available for years before then”

    I don’t believe there is much evidence for rampant use in the mid-to-late 1980s.

    “and there’s no sense in punishing guys who were either (a) bad at not getting caught or (b) better than everybody else at hitting baseballs, when the whole sport was essentially “dirty.””

    You talk about the issue as if PED use is a victimless activity. I suppose it would be if the whole sport was dirty. However, it is very unlikely that the whole sport was dirty. Instead, the victims were the players who refused to take PEDs, both in a sporting and financial sense.

  5. “I’m still struggling to understand how I can agree on so many points with everyone who writes here, but disagree so vehemently with their views on PEDs.”

    Simple enough: you’re wrong on PEDs. :)

    No, I don’t mean clinical evidence, I mean any meaningful evidence at all that goes beyond an observation that, at a time when offense was going up everywhere, some guys got better more than others did. Virtually everyone who has seriously tried to go any deeper than you just did with those graphs has come away concluding that they can’t show what the effect is, or that there hasn’t really been an effect at all. (See e.g. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2011/fantasy/10/06/statistics-steroids/index.html.)

    “This sentence directly contradicts your previous sentence…The slow climb in offense from 1993/94 to the early 2000s suggests that PED use rose from a low level in the early 90s and continued to increase into the early 2000s, which is largely corroborated by the Mitchell Report.”

    Only if you completely ignore the sudden jump in 1993 and ’94 and the almost imperceptible climb thereafter. Runs per game league-wide shot up 12% from 1992 to ’93, then another 7% from ’93 to ’94. Then it’s:
    down 1.4% in ’95
    up 2.4% from the 1994 high in ’96
    down 5.4% in ’97-’98
    back up to ’96 levels in ’99
    up 1.1% from there in 2000
    back down to ’97-’98 levels in 2001
    down another 3.3%, back to ’93 levels, in 2002
    up 2.4% in 2003 (still below ’94 levels)
    up 1.7% in 2004 (STILL below ’94 levels)
    down 4.6% in 2005
    up 8.1% (!) in 2006
    down 1.2% in 2007
    down 3.1% in 2008-’09
    down 5.0% in 2010
    down 2.3% in 2011

    Hard to draw anything from that, but if you could do it on a line graph, there’d be a huge jump up from 1992 to ’93, a slightly less huge jump up to ’94, and then basically a straight line from there through 2001, with slight spikes in ’96, ’99 and ’00. Then it’d be back down to the 1993 level for most of 2002-2009 (with a huge, random jump up in 2006), falling back off toward (but still not quite to) the pre-’93 level over just the last two years.

    So I wasn’t accurate to say it was a slow climb. After that big jump in ’94, it wasn’t really a climb at all, just some fluctuation.

    And the thing about this is, none of it lines up with the steroid narrative at all. We know for a fact that steroids were common in the 80s and even earlier — go ahead and do your own research on that one. Either way, we know it DOESN’T make sense that everybody juiced up all at once in 1993 and ’94, which is when the great bulk of the jump in offense took place. And for the steroid explanation to hold water, everyone would have had to continue using the stuff until coming off of it en masse in 2010 and 2011, despite the fact that the tests that were supposed to clean up the game were implemented years earlier. The current policy we have in place (50 games for the first offense) was agreed to and came into play for the 2006 season, which ended up being the highest-scoring season since 2000.

    So, as I said, it just doesn’t add up. The changes align much more closely with other changes, like the 1993 expansion, and the introduction of new, hitter-friendlier ballparks (and the changes back downward align perfectly with the introduction of new, less-hitter-friendly parks). It’s certainly possible that “PE”Ds help you play baseball, to some extent, but the sum total of all available evidence suggests they were a relatively (very) minor factor in what happened from 1993-2009.

    • I’m with you when you say the steroids issue was well overblown in baseball, especially in comparison to offences like drunken driving.

      But I can’t help but think that you’re looking in the wrong places for evidence. I wouldn’t necessarily expect the league-wide offence to be determinative. But when you look at the career profiles of Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds (among countless others), I have a hard time not smirking when you write that PEDs are a relatively minor factor in performance.

      • Thanks for the lengthy reply Bill (and Nes). I do enjoy discussing the issue.

        I’ve only been able to look at your response quickly and have to go out shortly, but I’ll hopefully manage to reply properly later.

        Quick thoughts: I realise that in your article you talked about offense increasing. I used ISO in my initial response because I think it’s probably the best statistic to detect the use of specifically steroids. In my opinion the average ISO time series does support the historical record of steroid usage.

        The research that I have done on PEDs in the 80s is that there was very limited usage in baseball. Some PED deniers seem to have mistaken the relatively high usage of cocaine as high usage of PEDs.

        How would you explain the Bonds and McGwire’s ISO graph?

        • I think you’ll have to tell me what you think the ISO graph says before I try to explain it. McGwire’s doesn’t seem to have anything unusual about it at all, other than that he was really, really good. Bonds’ obviously peaked later in his career than most hitters do, but, I mean…is that it? Seems like kind of a flimsy case.

          • It’s interesting that you cited Aaron as a player who had career years at ages 37 and 39. Look at the ISO graph of Bonds, McGwire and Aaron: http://www.fangraphs.com/comparison.aspx?playerid=1109&position=OF&page=6&players=1008559,1000001

            You are right that Aaron did have an unusual ageing curve (in that it wasn’t a curve at all)! However, the ISO chart above really highlights the difference between being an outlier and being superhuman. (NB. I’m not arguing that PEDs will turn anyone into a baseball star. Instead, they are likely to improve the performance of most, if not all, professional players significantly; this might still mean that they aren’t good enough to make the Majors.)

            Bill: When you link to sources, you might want to check that they actually support your argument :)

            The SI piece by Dan Wade highlights a couple of points about steroid research. Firstly, it is often carelessly conducted. Secondly, the conclusions are often not justified by the data. The article contains a table with 25 batters and 19 pitchers, not 26 batters and 20 pitchers as is reported by Wade (unless Joe Average managed to slip through Fangraphs database). The table contains at least two further errors, as Jose Guillen has never hit 21 or 25 HRs in a year and Manny Ramirez has never hit 24 or 16 HRs in a year. In the former case, it appears that Mike Cameron’s record has accidentally been copied into the line below. I don’t know what happened with Manny Ramirez’s data entry.

            Reviewing this data, Wade states, “At first glance, this confirms what many people suspected and feared: that hitters performed better, on average, when they were using steroids than in the year after they stopped using, seen largely in a 32-point increase in slugging percentage and 2.5 HR increase.”

            This is all Wade should have written. A 2.5 HR reduction (average HRs hit by 25 players in steroid year: 14.28; average HRs hit by 25 players in non-steroid year: 11.8) in his sample of 25 players is plenty to indicate that the performance of the post-steroid players diminished. Instead, he introduces a red-herring by comparing the variability in a single player’s HR rate with the variability he has shown in his 25 player sample.

            Once we fix the data errors which I pointed out above we find that the number of HRs fell by an average of 3.04 (not 2.48 as reported by Wade) in the year steroid use supposedly stopped. This is a reduction of more than 20%.

      • Fair enough, though you’ve also got your Alex Sanchezes and Matt Lawtons and JC Romeros, and Dan Wade’s research above showing that by and large, guys who are known to have used PEDs didn’t really improve once they started using. McGwire’s and Sosa’s careers actually follow pretty normal aging curves, and while Bonds’ is, of course, unique, Hank Aaron had arguably the two greatest years of his career at ages 37 and 39, and Carlton Fisk crushed his career high for HR at age 37 and had his best stretch in OPS+ terms from ages 40 to 42.

        I also think you’re blowing smoke with “countless others.” There are a lot of guys in that period who were power hitters, and who put up ridiculous numbers, because it was an era during which ridiculous numbers were being put up. It’s really hard to find a guy whose career really holds up as one that was a creation of steroids.

        • The failure of some doesn’t indict the success of others in using PEDs. Part of the failure may very well have to do with lack of sustained use by many players (those that used it a handful of times, but didn’t follow Canseco’s regular prescription). Part of the failure may also simply be a failure to work out at the level of other athletes. I don’t think steroids would help Adam Lind too much given his laziness in the gym.

          In terms of countless others, I was probably blowing a bit of smoke, but off the top of my head here are guys I think all benefited from steroid use in one way or another:

          Sosa
          McGwire
          Bonds
          Canseco
          Palmeiro
          Pudge Rodriguez
          Jason Giambi
          Caminiti
          Clemens
          Gagne
          A-Rod
          Sheffield
          Tejada

          Feel free to add others I’ve missed. Zaun? Ha.

          • But that’s just a list of good players who have also been linked to steroids. None of them, except arguably Bonds, had careers wildly outside the norm by other, variously comparable good-to-great players from prior eras. Correlation does not imply causation and all that.

        • Agreed. Yet so many of those players performed at a high level in their mid 30s. I have a hard time believing steroids weren’t part of their longevity.

          Again, I accept your point that the situation is overblown from the perspective of most baseball writers and the general public (not to mention Congress). But I just can’t believe that steroids fail to increase athletic performance, including baseball performance. It really just seems too obvious.

  6. Just out of curiosity, can you list the players that have been injured by intentionally thrown baseballs?

    I understand the idea that pitchers throw hard and that players can get hurt. And I understand that it seems a bit thuggish to throw at someone similar to enforcers fighting in hockey. The difference seems to be that players actually get hurt in hockey due to physical violence. If not from fighting, at least from nasty hits etc. I really don’t know what players have been hurt in baseball as a consequence of intentionally malicious pitches.

    Assuming injuries do occur, I think those drawbacks still need to be weighed against the merits of the action. There is etiquette in baseball. For instance, it is a breach of etiquette to throw at guys for no reason. It is also a breach of etiquette to steal bases when you’re up by 10 plus runs. In either of those situations, throwing at the next player is a means of enforcing the game’s etiquette. I think there’s a good argument that the drawbacks (to the extent injuries are real here) outweigh whatever merits the action may have, but there is still some merit to the idea I think.

    “My own little rule was two for one. If one of my teammates got knocked down, then I knocked down two on the other team.”
    - Don Drysdale

  7. I don’t have a clue (though Tulo was kind of touch-and-go there for a day or two), but if no one had ever been injured by a ball intentionally thrown at them, I wouldn’t feel any differently. We know that guys are injured by being hit by pitches quite often, and sometimes seriously, and we know that few pitchers have the ability to put the ball exactly where they want it at any given time, so we know that if they’re throwing at a guy intentionally, they’re creating a risk of injury that isn’t inherent to the way the game is played.

    I just don’t see any benefit at all to “enforcing the game’s etiquette.” I think that’s a bunch of phony-macho nonsense whose time has long been up; it was silly when Drysdale said that, and it’s downright stupid now. For one thing, those etiquette rules often exist only in a player’s head, to serve his own purposes (think of the Dallas Braden/A-Rod thing a couple years ago, or half the nonsense Curt Schilling has ever said). For another, I for one would really just like to see players trying to win every game, all the time; if your win expectancy is 99.7%, go for 99.8%. If I’m wrong, and most people don’t want to see stolen base attempts when you’re up by 10, then hell, make a rule banning them. There’s just no reason to let pitchers enforce those kinds of “rules” by throwing at a guy.

    • I think your position is fairly reasonable, though I tend to view the matter as a balance. I do think there are merits to enforcing the etiquette of the game, and having played throughout highschool, university, and still playing for another university squad, I think more players agree with the etiquette than your “it’s in a player’s head” line acknowledges.

      Still, the merit to the enforcement argument is thin. If we can point to players getting hurt, then the balance is easily tipped in favour of avoiding injury. If we can’t point to any such players, or the players are few and far between, then I lean the other way.

      And it’s not about most people wanting to see stolen bases when the team is up by 10. It’s about respect on the field as between players. If you don’t show respect, you are penalized accordingly.

  8. You’re really doubting the efficacy of steroid use on major league stats? That’s crazy.

    You don’t think it’s unusual that offense shot up at or very nearabouts the same time as PED’s became rampant? And then went down again as soon as real testing was put into place?

    I understand PED’s were used in the 80′s, but first of all, they were almost certainly not done in the open, and in that environment, it’s entirely likely for it to take several years for the use to “percolate” around the league, as more and more guys became aware of it. They certainly weren’t “rampant” like they were in the 90′s. Also, the term “steroids” is a pretty blanket term that really doesn’t mean anything. There are dozens, maybe hundreds, of different compounds that fall under the “steroids” umbrella, and many of them do completely different things. Most of the most potent and anabolic steroids out now only were synthesized in the 90′s. What was available in the 80′s wasn’t as strong as what was available in the late 90′s.

    How do you explain the Aaron Boone’s or the Brady Anderson’s of the world? How do you explain a home run record that stood for 37 years broken 6 times during a 3 year stretch?

    Surely you’re familiar with the concept of Occam’s Razor? It states that, all else being equal, the simple answer is almost always the correct one. So, what makes more sense? That offensive numbers that rose around the time we know steroids became rampant (and then fell around the time that strict rules were put in place) was in fact caused by said steroid use? Or that was merey a coincidence and it is caused by some other, yet unknown, mysterious reason that nobody can hazard a guess? This at a time when baseball went through no major rule changes or adjustments to the playing surfaces that would help offense. My guess is, it was the steroid’s.

    I mean, we know for a fact that steroids increase muscle mass, size, and strength. And we know the formula for hitting baseball, in which the two biggest factors to hit the ball far are the mass of the bat, as well as bat speed. And it goes without saying that stronger players can swing a bat faster. So doesn’t it stand to reason that when we know PED’s=stronger players, and stronger players=faster bat speeds that PED=higher offensive numbers?

    I would be very interested to see a chart of average offensive production going back 100 years. As you say, there have been times of increased offensive production, when it was “different’ then the norm. However, all of those “eras” have a clear and identifiable reason: There was the Deadball Era, Lively Ball Era, Post WWII Era, Big Strike Zone Era, DH Era, and “Power” Era (obvously a euphemism for steroid era) . Unlike all the other era in which offensive output was significantly different then the time before it, the “power” era has absolutely no reason for it to have happened if you remove the effect’s of steroids from the equation.

    This is seriously bordering on flat earth society dude.

    • This is funny, because you’re attributing to me a series of logical errors that you yourself are making. For one thing, yes, I’m familiar with Occam’s Razor, a principle whose only real use in these sorts of discussions is to assure oneself of the rightness of something that he’s already 100% convinced himself is right. You’re talking about a magic drug that was easily obtainable by anyone, and that turns ordinary humans into superhuman baseball-hitting machines, and that makes them immune to injury (except when it makes them MORE susceptible to injury, as the narrative calls for it). The only universe in which THAT is “the simple answer” is one in which you’ve already been assuming, for however many years, that it’s the correct one. If you look at the myriad other possible explanations, that’s very, very far from the “simple” one.

      And yeah, contrary to your entertaining assertion at the end there, there are other explanations. The biggest ones have already been mentioned in this thread. The early nineties started a rash of new parks, the majority of which were considerably smaller and friendlier than the ones they replaced. The league expanded by two teams in 1993, which brought in Mile High Stadium and then Coors Field, and a lot of terrible pitching. (IIRC, there was also a rumor that MLB had been tinkering with the baseball, and some evidence that they had, but don’t quote me on that.) There was also an emphasis placed on hitting for power (think Moneyball), and a corresponding deemphasis (is that a word?) of speed and defense.

      Then we saw Safeco at the end of the explosion and PetCo in 2004, and as offense really started winding down in 2009 or 2010 (long AFTER the testing procedures were put into place), we saw Citi Field, and Target Field, much bigger, more pitcher-friendly parks, and teams started emphasizing defense again. It’s just plain ridiculous to say there’s NO reason for it to have happened apart from steroids, and in fact, as I laid out above, the other factors line up much better with the changes we actually saw than any steroids-based explanation does. It’s just dishonest to look at the timeline I laid out above and say “offense shot up at or very nearabouts the same time as PED’s became rampant,” and “then went down again as soon as real testing was put into place.” That clearly didn’t happen.

      And I’m so glad you brought up Brady Anderson, my favorite non-example. Brady hit 50 homers in 1996, the year BEFORE a contract year. So if you’re citing him as an example of an obvious PED case, your assumption is that he suddenly decided to juice up in 1996, that it worked beyond his wildest dreams and with no consequences or any chance of getting caught, and that he then decided to stop again prior to 1997, when he really could’ve turned all that pharmaceutical magic into a big payday.

      So. Assuming that everybody juiced up all at once in 1993-94 is silly, but the gargantuan string of crazy assumptions you have to glom on to before you get to “Brady Anderson’s 1996 was the result of steroids” is some high-level conspiracy theorist stuff, the kind of thing that cults are formed around.

      Which isn’t to say Anderson wasn’t on something, or that they didn’t help him be a better baseball player. None of us knows that. But I’m 100% positive that they didn’t suddenly transform him from a guy who hit 15-18 homers a year to a guy who hit 50, only to see him give them up and drop right back to his normal levels again. It was randomness that did that (see also Davey Johnson, 1973).

      • Yes, new stadiums were built in the 90′s, but there are also still around. If they were a factor in increased offense, then we would expect offense to have stayed elevated, and the elevated numbers to become the new norms. That obviously isn’t the case, power numbers have gone down significantly in the years following strict drug testing.

        As for the dead ball era, the dramatic increase in offense was not actually caused by the introduction of the live ball (which was done in 1910) but by several different rule changes enacted before the 1920 season, the most important of which were the outlawing of the spitball and the introduction on new baseballs all the time throughout the game.

        The Big Strike Zone Era was in the 60′s when the strike zone was redefined in 1963 to favour pitchers, and naturally offensive numbers dropped. In 1969 the zone was again redefined by owners who didn’t like the reduced production (along with the added DH rule)/

        The point is…..there are all reasons for any atypical change in offensive production. Look at this book,there’s an interesting chart on page 29

        http://books.google.ca/books?id=bmHmeWPhx9UC&pg=PA31&lpg=PA31&dq=big+strike+zone+era&source=bl&ots=1zxvyJdXIN&sig=0Nub5kY1EzgRDFXJNZJF_V6_Mdw&hl=en&sa=X&ei=06N7T7WIDcfm0QGbtbGmBg&ved=0CDcQ6AEwAw#v=onepage&q=big%20strike%20zone%20era&f=false

        Note how the average HR/player was relatively static from WWII until the early 90′s at between 11.5 and 12.5 HR/season…..and then from 1993 onward exploded to 15.4 HR/season. That’s a pretty huge and dramatic jump.

        As for the Occam’s Razor reference, I still think it’s apt. Here is what we know:

        -Steroid use causes muscle and strength increases.
        -In the early 90′s, steroid use become very common in baseball.
        -At around the same time period, offensive numbers (especially power numbers) rose dramatically.
        -in the early 2000′s strict drug testing rules were put in place
        -within a few years, offensive numbers are dramatically down across the board
        -no new rule/playing surface changes have been made that would warrant any change in numbers.

        These are all facts.

        In my opinion, the simplest and most logical conclusion is that it was in fact the steroids that increased the offensive production.

        As someone who has taken anabolic steroids myself, I can tell you that the strength and muscle gains are very real. It is absolutely no placebo effect. And stronger players will hit more home runs. These truths are self evident.

    • I guess I’d also quibble with some of your explanations of prior eras. The live ball era happened in 1919, but the real offensive explosion didn’t happen for 10 years or so after that, there’s not really any explanation I can see for the smaller explosion in the early-mid 50s, and there’s no evidence that there was ever such thing as “the Big Strike Zone Era,” or any other explanation I’m aware of for why the 1963-68 pitchers’ era came to be. These things just happen.

    • People who quote Occam’s razor and then completely disregard it while thinking they’re using it are my favorite kind of people. Occam’s razor doesn’t assume that all explanations are equally valid. Nor does it believe that a combination of factors are inherently inferior to a single unifying solution. Rather, it demands that you look for the simplest explanation or explanations that don’t make assumptions. We KNOW ballparks got smaller. We KNOW the league expanded and diluted pitching. We KNOW that sluggers became more highly prized assets. What is a textbook assumption is that steroid use = more home runs.

      I’m not willing to say that steroids didn’t help players hit more homers, but there’s far more evidence of this than there is that steroids led to the offensive gains Bill laid out above.

      Back to Philosophy 101 with you, Rob.

      • One can quibble with the use of Occam’s Razor, but Rob’s point remains: steroids increase strength, and strength increases home runs.

        http://www.rps.psu.edu/probing/steroids.html

      • I think that steroid use (which we KNOW became common in the early 90′s, and which we KNOW causes increased strength in humans) IS the simplest explanation and one which requires the least assumptions.

        In fact, I don’t see any assumptions there at all. We know players started taking steroids in the early 90′s, We know steroids make you stronger, and thus able to swing a bat faster. And we know faster bat speed will result in hitting baseball further.

        As for the things you said you KNOW….they are all true, but again….all the new smaller stadiums that were built then still exist now. If offensive production went up because of them, we would expect ut to stay up, right? And yes, expansion would have diluted pitching, but it would also dilute hitting as well, and HR’s per player rose dramatically, which which would also have taken into account the extra players on the rosters of the expansion teams. Those “reasons” don’t hold up to scrutiny.

  9. “IIRC, there was also a rumor that MLB had been tinkering with the baseball, and some evidence that they had, but don’t quote me on that.”

    The main source I have seen for that rumour is this: http://steroids-and-baseball.com/

    If you manage to get through the data splicing section with a straight face, then by all means continue on to the dubious research on ball juicing. However, I would recommend ending every sentence you write after that with: “don’t quote me on that” :)

    (It seems that my longer, late response has been buried half way into our previous discussion chain.)

  10. I’m going to have to drop this discussion after this, for time and sanity reasons, but eventually plan to write a big long thing about it over at the Platoon Advantage. I appreciate all the comments. You’re all making some good points.

    Rob, I have to point out some flagrant misstatements here before I go. Yeah, the smaller stadiums still exist, but the Coors effect has been significantly curtailed, parks like Enron/Minute Maid and Fenway, for some reason, now play as much less hitter-friendly than they did in the late nineties/early 2000s, and, as I said, other old parks have been gradually replaced with bigger, more pitcher-friendly parks, which would tend to decrease scoring even though those smaller parks are still in the league.

    And you’re just taking all kinds of liberties with the approximate dates in your “Occam’s Razor” silliness. If you could narrow things down more specifically and that still held up, then sure, I might agree with you. But no: almost all the changes happened at very specific times, the explosion in 1993-94 (and we don’t have any reason to believe steroid use became rampant in those particular years, but rather, started much earlier and likely spread steadily throughout the late 80s and all of the 90s; hell, Canseco and McGwire had split up already by ’93) and the sudden drop in 2009-10, LONG after the testing procedures were put in place. You have to get very general and wishy-washy in order to connect those occurrences in any way with the steroid issue, and the only reason TO be so vague about the dates is to try to apply your version of events to them, which otherwise just doesn’t hold up at all.

    Nohd, I’m familiar with that page (though the juiced ball evidence I was referring to was contemporary). I can’t get through it because of how it’s written, but the research seems better than anything else that’s out there. And I’m not sure why you’re oversimplifying Dan’s research (which, errors and all, does support my point); it also showed that the slight downward trend in the first year, which seems to me that it’s not nearly enough to be statistically significant to begin with, tended to be a blip that corrected itself the following year.

  11. “I’m going to have to drop this discussion after this, for time and sanity reasons, but eventually plan to write a big long thing about it over at the Platoon Advantage.”

    Sounds fair; will you be able to post a linked on Getting Blanked too? Don’t worry about responding, but feel free to discuss the following in future posts.

    Here’s the best paper I’ve seen on ball juicing: http://webusers.npl.illinois.edu/~a-nathan/pob/AJP-June2011.pdf

    Apart from being the first piece I’ve seen that has been published in a peer reviewed journal, it is written so much more objectively than any other research on the topic I’ve seen. It’s conclusion is that there is no evidence of ball juicing, but with the obvious qualifications about sample size caused by the difficulty in obtaining sufficient numbers of unused official MLB balls from earlier decades.

    “And I’m not sure why you’re oversimplifying Dan’s research”

    I don’t see where I oversimplified Wade’s research.

    “it also showed that the slight downward trend in the first year, which seems to me that it’s not nearly enough to be statistically significant to begin with”

    Using Wade’s data, a paired t-test shows that the reduction in HR/PA, ISO, wOBA in the year where steroid usage stopped is significant at the 5% level. The reduction in wRC+ is significant at the 1% level. The reduction in WAR was close to 30% in Wade’s sample, using Fangraphs most recent WAR measurement (Fangraphs have revised historical WAR repeatedly, so Wade is not to blame for the changes here).

    “it also showed that the slight downward trend in the first year, which seems to me that it’s not nearly enough to be statistically significant to begin with, tended to be a blip that corrected itself the following year.”

    Wade did not demonstrate that the downward trend corrected itself in the following year. All he did was point out two players who rebounded the following year. Would the whole sample have rebounded in the following year? I don’t know, if it did he should probably have shown that. I’m not going to do it because I don’t think we can properly identify when individual players stopped and started taking PEDs.

  12. Excellent discussion guys.Kudos to all involved.

    • Thanks Radar. Will you be at Opera Bob’s tomorrow? I should be easy to spot, or hear, as I expect to be the only Scot there!

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