Everyone Will Be Doing It

Bill James has posted his intended-to-be-definitive take on steroids and the Hall (warning: link opens a PDF). You may or may not agree with it all – I can’t say I agree with everything he says – but as always, James is wise, witty and thinking outside the box. Here’s James in full futurist mode, on why the stigma attached to steroids is likely to fade with advances in technology:

If we look into the future, then, we can reliably foresee a time in which everybody is going to be using steroids or their pharmaceutical descendants. We will learn to control the health risks of these drugs, or we will develop alternatives to them. Once that happens, people will start living to age 200 or 300 or 1,000, and doctors will begin routinely prescribing drugs to help you live to be 200 or 300 or 1,000. If you look into the future 40 or 50 years, I think it is quite likely that every citizen will routinely take anti-aging pills every day.

And here is his take on how the explosion of sex on television illustrates the dynamic that drives the gradual erosion of standards:

[T]his happened without the consent and without the approval of most of the American public. It was never true that most people wanted to see more sex on TV. Probably it was generally true that most Americans disliked what they regarded as the erosion of standards of decency. But it was always true that some people wanted to see more sex on TV, and that was all that mattered, because that created a market for shows that pushed the envelope, and thus eroded the barriers. It was like a battle line that disintegrated once the firing started. The importance of holding the battle line, in old-style military conflict, was that once the line was breached, there was no longer an organized point of resistance. Once the consensus against any sexual references on TV was gone, there was no longer any consensus about what the standards should be – thus, a constant moving of the standards.

His point about the forgiving nature of history is also an excellent one, as is his view that there was never, in practical terms, a real rule against steroids in the game, in any sense that we understand the concept of rules and law:

It seems to me that, with the passage of time, more people will come to understand that the commissioner’s periodic spasms of self-righteousness do not constitute baseball law. It seems to me that the argument that it is cheating must ultimately collapse under the weight of carrying this great contradiction – that 80% of the players are cheating against the other 20% by violating some “rule” to which they never consented, which was never included in the rule books, and which for which there was no enforcement procedure. History is simply not going to see it that way.

(The absence of consent isn’t as big a deal to me as it is to people with more emotional attachment to the players’ union and the collective bargaining process, but James is right that the absence of collective bargaining gave the players good reason to believe there wasn’t really any sort of enforceable rule).
Anyway, read the whole thing, as the excerpts cannot do it justice. My own view remains that, aside from the extreme Joe Jackson case of people trying to lose ballgames or conspiring with those who do, the Hall should not judge people who got away with things that were fairly widespread to win baseball games – the Hall has always honored the true ethos of professional sports, which is that it ain’t cheating if you don’t get caught, and it’s 70-odd years too late to change that. And, more fundamentally, the Hall isn’t for the players as much as it is for the fans, and a Hall without the likes of Bonds and Clemens (and Pete Rose) ceases to be a Hall worth taking seriously. Put them in, and let the arguments themselves be immortal.

25 thoughts on “Everyone Will Be Doing It”

  1. No Pete Rose. He bet on baseball. So often that he was addicted to it. That is Black Sox territory. It is the one absolute that can never be waived. If Pete Rose gets in the hall, I’ll never take my children there.

  2. I covered this argument nearly a decade ago.
    John McGraw bet on baseball, too – he had money on the Giants to win the 1905 World Series (I only just learned this from reading Cait Murphy’s book on the 1908 pennant races).

  3. When John McGraw did it, no players had ever been banned from the game, the rules hadn’t been established, and there were no signs in every clubhouse making clear that gambling is, for baseball players and managers, the unforgivable sin. In other words, what John McGraw did or did not do in 1905 is not relevant to what Pete Rose in 1985.
    I won’t be quite as dogmatic about it as Stan, but I absolutely agree that Rose should not get in.

  4. I agree that Pete Rose should not be in the Hall of Fame… as a manager.
    I agree that gambling on baseball, even on your own team, is the unforgivable sin. As a manager, you have to look out for your team’s long term interests. If your closer’s pitched 3 nights in a row, but you’ve got $1000 on tonight’s game, you’ve got a conflict of interest.
    But, I have a problem with the idea that a Hall of Fame player can disqualify himself through his actions as a manager. Pete Rose, the player, should absolutely be in the Hall of Fame.

  5. When John McGraw did it, no players had ever been banned from the game, the rules hadn’t been established, and there were no signs in every clubhouse making clear that gambling is, for baseball players and managers, the unforgivable sin.
    Unless I’m mistaken (mea culpa if I am), but when the 8 members of the Black Sox did it, no players had ever been banned from the game, the rules hadn’t been established, and there were no signs in every clubhouse making clear that gambling is, for baseball players and managers, the unforgivable sin.

  6. I was really intrigued by James’ point about how we will eventually live longer lives, and stay young a lot longer.
    I wonder how it will change baseball when you can count on your star player to hang around for 100 years at peak talent?
    Between that and the use of chemicals to enhance talent, we may very well enter the world foreseen in the old All Sport commercials. Did they ever do one for baseball?

  7. Question-was Rose ever shown to have bet when he was either a player or player/manager?

  8. “the Hall should not judge people who got away with things that were fairly widespread to win baseball games..”
    Fair point, and I agree in principle. But I have no issue judging players who cheated to get paid. And that is what I see as the primary motivation. Cheating to get paid, or in Bonds case cheating for a ego boost, is pathetic. I have no issue with the Hall or the voters dropping the hammer on these clowns. It is fitting, and there is a life lesson for everyone is shortcuts.
    On another note, good God the Mets are awful. The Wilpons truly deserve this. For all Madoff’s crimes I must thank him for busting this family, if it forces a change in control I would support an immediate pardon.

  9. 1. While I agree with the current policy of players and managers not betting on baseball ever, unless John McGraw was paying off the opposition to lose or had knowledge that the opposing team was throwing the series, his bet on his own team would be about as harmless as it possibly could be. Managers are supposed to pull all the stops to win the World Series so I don’t see how it would have any impact on John’s managing. Now if he was betting on his own team during the regular season, that would be another thing.
    2. Bill James puts forth Andy Pettitte as a future Hall of Famer that will push for Roger Clemens to be inducted. First, I really doubt Andy will get in to the HOF unless he sticks around for 300 wins or there are some Jesse Haines/Rube Marquard shenanigans going on – he is a good but not great player. Second, Andy has admitted his use of PEDs, so he would hardly be the “clean” player to vouch for anyone. I guess he is cleaner than Clemens, if that means anything.
    3. As to the Black Sox, the Eight Men Out were not banned because they were betting on baseball, but because they threw the World Series. Throwing games has a long history of resulting in lifetime banishment, going back at least to the 1877 Louisville Grays. According to Bill James, their star pitcher Jim Devlin would regularly literally beg in rags to be reinstated to no avail.
    4. As to the guys mentioned for the HOF:
    – Joe Jackson – Throwing the World Series is simply unforgivable and MLB will never let him in. If the writers try to put him in, the writers will be stripped of their voting rights immediately. He will never get in. And he never should.
    – Dick Allen – To the best of my knowledge he was not trying to lose games intentionally. I think he wanted to win but he was such a jerk he regularly sabotaged his own teams. I don’t think he belongs in the HOF for the very reasons that Bill James has detailed in the past, but it would not be the worst thing in the world if he made it.
    – Pete Rose – If he does what is required of him for reinstatement – admit he bet on baseball – and assuming that he didn’t do anything worse, he goes in the HOF. If he won’t do that, he doesn’t.
    – The PED Bunch – I have to agree with Bill on the argument that if there is no punishment, it is not cheating in any real sense of the word. Anyone who used before the crackdown will get in if they have the qualifications, with the possible exception of Palmeiro because he’s an embarrassment and his resume is borderline. For any players that come after the crackdown, I suspect they are going to have problems.

  10. I find it extremely unlikely that most people who are not professional athletes will ever have the need or occasion to take any of the substances we associate with “cheating.” For that reason, I think most people will continue to regard these substances as cheating even if the official rules of baseball do not. And if most baseball players are doing something that most people regard as cheating, those people aren’t going to have any interest in watching baseball. And that’s why I think it’s in the interest of baseball to draw the line and enforce it.
    I’m not convinced by James’s sci-fi scenario, either. If it comes to pass, we can revisit such rules whenever it makes sense to do so. More likely, by the time any of this comes to pass our descendants will have as little interest in baseball as we do in gladiator sports, so it will be a moot point.

  11. Regarding Andy Pettite, the only thing he was accused of, and he admitted to, was taking Human Growth Hormone, while injured, in an attempt to heal the injury quicker. That is a substantially different scenario than taking steroids, masking agents, etc and putting on muscle mass to get bigger and stronger.

  12. The critical takeaway from James’ article is that you can’t reasonably claim that something was “cheating” by a commissioner pounding the moral podium after the fact as opposed to explicitly making it a violation of baseball’s rules after due legal process and actually enforcing it. It’s like catchers blocking the plate or the phantom basetag by pivot men completing a double play…if everybody does it in front of your face and you dont punish it its part of the game’s rules and its permissible conduct, de facto or de jure. Moreover the marginal “gain” to be had from P.E.D.’s is utterly diminished if not eliminated by the fact that nearly everybody is taking them. If you dont like P.E.D.’s then build a consensus within the game to ban them, punish its use every time it occurs, and make it an explicit rule violation. But dont count the profits derived from the home run barrage and then claim moral outrage just because Congress is breathing down your neck about the antitrust exemption being lifted.

  13. Lyford – That’s a fair point about McGraw, but it’s equally true of the modern roid users.
    dch – (1) Yes, nobody now denies that Rose bet on baseball. (2) What Pettitte did is just a little different, but it’s not much different. Recovery from injury is a core part of why these guys do stuff, why McGwire did, why so many middle relievers do.
    I should be clear that I’m not saying what these guys did should be free of moral sanction. Wrong is wrong, and public condemnation is appropriate. I just think it misconstrues the purpose of the Hall to start wholesale leaving out people who played their way in, no matter what they did to get there.

  14. I always suspected in the back of my mind that future generations might forgive the steroid users and view them as a product of their time. If Bill James says this, then it will carry a lot of weight. Bill is the king of logical thinking, in many ways. That’s what impressed me about his Abstracts – logical thinking.
    And remember, Gaylord Perry is in the Hall of Fame.

  15. It is not logical to think that doing something that is against the rules of the country you are living and performing in is not against the rules.
    Just because a mistake was made with the election in of one player does not mean that the mistake should be compounded by voting in others.
    Albert Bell is not in the hall of fame, yet I hear no outcry for him. Why not? His performance was outstanding, much more so than Sosa’s.

  16. Maybe I should rephrase my question-Rose definitely bet on baseball while manager for the Reds. My question- is there any proof he bet on baseball when he was just a player or player/manager or did he start doing that after he retired as a player. My point being that if the betting came after he played there is less of a nexus than if it occured while he played

  17. By the way, I am curious how much blame we should lay on Rose for placing his own glory ahead of his team’s best interests while a player-manager? The last two years of his career, he was a below average hitter for a 1B — a singles hitter with zero power while his team finished in 2d place. His quest for Cobb’s record clearly cost the Reds.
    I realize that Marge Schott probably wanted him to boost attendance, but I always discount records which come at the expense of the team. You play as long as you help the team win. When you don’t deserve to be out there and are only playing for a record, you stain the game.

  18. Rose was terrible in 1986, and eventually stopped playing himself. But in 1985, he had a .395 OBP, which was more than enough to justify a lineup spot in those days even with zero power, plus he was platooned with Tony Perez who also had a good year at age 43.
    Then again, if they’d played Nick Esasky at 1B, they could have found some playing time in the OF for Eric Davis and Paul O’Neill. But the real culprits there were the playing time Rose gave to Eddie Milner and Cesar Cedeno.

  19. I think Selig would be right to reinstate Rose, as long as he’s prohibited from managing again (not that he’d get the chance). He’s been suspended for twenty years, which is a substantial penalty, and if steroid guys are allowed on the Hall ballot, he should be too. Since Rose is no longer eligible for the writers’ ballot, he’d have to be elected by the Veterans Committee, and I suspect that would never happen while he’s alive, but at least he could appear at Reds team events and go to spring training if he wanted to.

  20. I always had the impression that the big argument against PEDs was that they were unsafe, however, James seems to imply they are perfectly safe. If the drugs in question are safe to use, then what’s the problem? One wonders how The Hall voters will react if PED using players start dying from obscure medical conditions which may be perceived, but may or may not be caused by PED use?

  21. Equating PED usage with gambling on baseball as an active manager is quite the stretch. And I think the Vets committee would vote him in faster that the BWA.

  22. If the drugs in question are safe to use, then what’s the problem?
    Having a competition between individuals who are clean and who are cheating isn’t an optimum competition.
    BTW, taking hormones en masse isn’t safe. Example; side effect of PROPERLY taking androstenedionne (what Mcgwire was taking) AS DIRECTED: man boobs. An argument over “does it kill you” can be made, but that’s an aside (overuse of alcohol can kill your liver): a competition between a user and a clean athlete isn’t a proper competition & not one I’d want to pay to see.
    After all, natural C’s are better on a fit 20 year old than some silicon implants, aren’t they? 🙂

  23. Re RW: Thanks for the comment. FWIW, I am in your corner and in agreement with you, but I see PEDs as another step in the evolution of athlete training. Is a player that takes two hours of batting practice compared to a player who takes 10 minutes cheating? Is a player that lifts weights and engages in a conditioning program cheating when compared to one who doesn’t? There are financial incentives for both the players and the teams for using PEDs. Players make more money if they perform better and by extension teams improve as well. Do I like it? No, but then I never liked the leagues being divided into divisions, artificial turf, the DH or interleague play and they all came to pass. All of those things affect the fairness of the game as well, but they were considered sound business decisions and baseball is a business.

  24. For a decade and a half, sportwriters have pushed the meme that a substance can allow players to exceed the limits of the talent God gave them, without offering a shred of proof. There is no evidence that eyesight, hand-eye coordination, bat speed or any other physical talent can be enhanced with chemicals, just sportswriters’ opinions.
    What the sportwriters have done is prove that the big lie technique still works. Most people actually believe that substance users (ANY substance) get some performance enhancement and are “cheaters”. I’ll wait for the physiologists, biochemists and other medical professionals to weigh in with valid studies. I expect the steroid era to be viewed in retrospect as the manufactured witch hunt hysteria it really is.

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