Because I have to post something today

Yesterday, there were two different and, I think, kind of crazy, posts on the Hall of Fame and steroids made by two very different people. (If it hasn’t come through yet, I’m in the stop-moralizing-and-put-them-all-in camp, and I’m sure there will be a day to discuss that, but today is not that day.)

First: Jeff Pearlman puts out this one. It’s almost a caricature of the typical indignant whine: “But they cheated! What’s happening to this country? Think of the children! Integrity! Sportsmanship! Character!” Which is certainly not surprising coming from him, but nonetheless disappointing, since I’ve been reading his blog for a couple months now and find that I really enjoy almost everything he writes about any topic other than baseball. People just have blind spots, I guess.

Consider this, though: “As soon as they chose to cheat—to violate the law of the United States in an effort to enhance their careers—they deemed themselves ineligible.”

One day earlier: Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Come on, man. At least be consistent with the reasons behind your crazy.

Second: Meanwhile, Bill James comes out with his thoughts on the topic, which would be a big deal except that link is subscription-only (though it’s only a very-worth-it three bucks a month) and has been read by a grand total of 200 people so far.

It should come as no surprise that I like Bill James. A lot. “Revere” probably isn’t too strong of a word. “Worship”? Debatable. I’ve read unauthorized biographies (okay, biography) of Bill James. I have friends that call me Bill James. There are, finally, a few really extreme numbers people who are starting to resist this notion, since he’s kind of softened his stances in the last few years, but I maintain that everything good that happens in baseball these days goes back to Bill James at some level.

But this article? Kind of crazy.

Okay, only one part of it. The first part, where he says that all the steroid users will go into the Hall eventually because “steroids keep you young” and eventually “every citizen will routinely take” steroids (which he then calls “anti-aging pills”) “every day.” Now, I’m fully prepared to accept that Bill knows a lot more than I do about everything there is to know in the world (the law, my own personal life, you name it), but that seems really out there to me. I’m hoping it’s satire and I’m just missing the joke…but I don’t get that sense from reading it at all.

Most of the rest of the article is great, actually. James argues that (2) the moral high ground will vanish once someone who used PEDs gets in (and they will, even if it takes someone about whom the news doesn’t leak until they’re already in); (3) “History is forgiving[, and] statistics endure,” something I’ve been saying since this whole mess started; and (4) old teammates advocating for their PED-using brethren will help get them in (not sure how I feel about this, but it’s not crazy).

And fifth, James puts forward the best pro-inclusion argument I know of in the most eloquent way I’ve ever seen it put. Just trying to take the very best bits while hopefully still respecting Bill’s proprietary rights:

It seems to me that, at some point, this becomes an impossible argument to sustain—that all of these players were “cheating”, in a climate in which most everybody was doing the same things, and in which there was either no rule against doing these things or zero enforcement of those rules. If one player is using a corked bat, like Babe Ruth, clearly, he’s cheating. But if 80% of the players are using corked bats and no one is enforcing any rules against it, are they all cheating?

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.

I would encourage you to subscribe, to read the whole article, and to soak up everything else on his site as thoroughly as you can. But anyway, I’d have to say that fifth argument absolves him of all the crazy of his first argument. Pretty solid stuff there.

Feel free to discuss/berate/question in the comments.

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4 Responses to “Because I have to post something today”

  1. jweb271 Says:

    I've been enjoying your blog, which I sound my way to from Jeff Pearlman's. It's interesting that Bill James argument is so sound to you, because it does absolutely nothing for me. And while I'm opinionated, I'm not one who refuses to be swayed by a sound argument.

    Given that I will weep if Bonds gets in the Hall and you will cheer, I think it's interesting that James' argument seems to be one of those that makes so much damn sense to those who agree and influences nothing in those who don't. As if we're speaking opposite languages. Like ninety-nine percent of public policital discourse.

  2. Bill Says:

    Thanks for reading and commenting, jweb.

    Where's the unsoundness in that argument? It's fine to say "it does absolutely nothing for me," but I've never heard anybody who can actually refute the logic of it.

    You'll weep, really? I won't cheer; I'll just stop being quite so angry at all the writers' phony self-righteousness.

  3. jweb271 Says:

    To begin with the end. Yes, the writer's phony self-righteousness is annoying. Yes, they were in the tank for Big Mac and company during the era. But my interest in baseball and the Hall of Fame only edges up next to theirs. I have little use for the ESPN thing, and am more than happy reading box scores and blogs. So my sense of these guy's not deserving to be in has nothing to do with whether or not it allows some blowhards to be hypocrites.

    Okay, I won't weep. That's an exagerration. Let's just say I'm idealistic about very few things, but the Hall of Fame is one of them.

    I think Bill James just finished watching "Bigger, Stronger, Faster," a doc about steroids that is very persuasive and probably informed the earlier parts of his argument that you cited as strange (and they do sound strange). But about the latter part of the argument, I find myself willing to argue every single contention. For instance, the corked bat analogy isn't a great one, because corked bat is illegal like a spitball. Different argument. Different exceptions, etc.

    But let's say a player got special shoes, alien shoes that caused them to steal crazy bases. And someone said, hey those shoes are crazy, where'd you get those? Would the player say "An alien gave them to me, here's a photo" OR would they say, "I don't remember." They would say "I don't remember" because they would know that what they were doing was wrong! And what if the law of the land was that alien shoes are illegal (even though MLB doesn't have the same law, but doesn't say otherwise either), the player would be doubly reticent about revealing their advantage, and doubly aware of their criminality (judicial and statistical). Because the player knows he's cheating. And, if 80 percent of the players did that, then 80 percent of them would be cheating. I'm not sure that cheating becomes less wrong if more people do it. Not in marriages anyway.

    Okay, that's pretty screwball granted. But I mostly want to say that while you find the analogies and logic perfectly reasonable, I read the arguments and want to argue with even their basic foundations. I just think it's interesting how two smart people (if you'll allow me) can see the same thing completely differently, and I thought this was an example that was worth pointing out. Because so often the argument is simply about Hall or Not, and rarely do we see that the differences are wedged much deeper than that.

    Lastly, I'm sure you were hoping I would engage more with James thesis, but that would just go 'round and 'round; I profoundly disagree with his whole take, including his opinion on how history will see this era. (I think the aberration will be even clearer and more profoundly ugly in hindsight.)

    Too long, sorry. Keep up the good work.

  4. Bill Says:

    Thanks. That's interesting, and you make some good points. About the way people think, not about the steroids thing. 😉

    But if 80% of the players were using special alien shoes, and the media surrounding them either knows or actively chooses not to know about the special alien shoes, and virtually everyone in the front offices and coaching ranks knows they're using special alien shoes but either ignores or tacitly encourages it because it's helping promote the game and make them money, then is it cheating?

    I guess my argument would be yes, it is, and it should absolutely be stopped going forward, but that it makes no sense at all to retroactively punish the one segment of the whole mess that is in some ways the least culpable, or at the very least would be individually the least capable of putting an end to it. That is to say, who had more power to stop the steroid thing: Rafael Palmeiro or Bud Selig? If Selig, why is all the blame, or the lion's share of it, falling on the folks in Raffy's position?

    Anyway. Thanks for the comments. Good to have you around.

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