Shaughnessy compares steroids to Hitler. I think.

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Shaughnessy1.jpgThank God we finally have Dan “the voice of reason” Shaughnessy’s take on the McGwire business.  Take it away, Dan:

Why wouldn’t a guy cheat? Steroids made McGwire rich and famous. The
performance-enhancing drugs probably will cost him Cooperstown, but
‘roids got McGwire where he wanted to go. Is there a Triple A
ballplayer who’d say no to artificial help if it would elevate him to
the big leagues? Is there a fringe big leaguer who’d resist an
opportunity to become a full-blown star with a long-term contract?

See, Shaugnessy is dead-on with this. There were clear, rational incentives to take steroids. Ask yourself: if you thought taking steroids would make the difference between an $80 million net worth at age 40 and selling cars for a living at age 40, wouldn’t you do it? If you said no, you’re either in an infinitesimally small minority or you’re lying.

Yet despite being perfectly able to grok the incentives in play, Shaugnessy (and many others) still paint steroids users as heartless cheaters and fraudsters, not just in the effect of their actions, but in their very intent. How someone can acknowledge that taking steroids was a perfectly rational thing to do on the one hand, but call them monsters on the other is puzzling to me.

Start with Big Mac. Does anyone believe him when he says he did not do
this to gain strength? Does he expect us to nod and agree when he says
that he would have been just as good without the stuff? Sorry. The “I
just did it to get back on the field” defense is the juicer’s version
of “the dog ate my homework.” Nobody is buying.

As I asked yesterday, why do you have to buy? Who cares?  And if Shaughnessy doesn’t agree with my take on this, the least he could do is to read his SI colleague Posnaski’s take on what forgiveness really means (note: it’s way less significant a thing than Shaugnessy makes it out to be). It’s frankly brilliant.

If this junk didn’t help McGwire hit 70 home runs in 1998, why was he
compelled to apologize to members of the Maris family Monday?

I would bet the lives of my children that Shaughnessy would have raked McGwire over the coals if he hadn’t apologized to the Maris family, so seeing him use that as sword against him now is rich.

Please, let’s have no more baseball players telling us that steroids
don’t help with hand-eye coordination. That’s not the point.
Professional hitters are able to square up the baseball.

Wait, I thought “professional hitters” were mediocre journeyman who hit the ball the other way in a manner that makes the color commentator say “that’s a nice piece of hitting right there.”  I’m so confused!

We all cringe when Bud Selig says that the steroid era “is clearly a thing of the past.” Bud sounds like Neville Chamberlain before World War II.

Ooh! Analogies! I aced this part of the LSAT. Let’s play:  Selig is to Neville Chamberlain as ballplayers who take steroids are to (a) kittens; (b) rainbows; (c) hugs; or (d) Adolf Hitler at Munich. So glad to see Shaughnessy is keeping things in perspective here.

Tony La Russa needs to stop enabling McGwire. Barrister Tony is simply
too smart to believe the things that come out of his own mouth. Tony
helps no one when he says he didn’t know anything about this until
Monday.

As was the case with Canseco, I can’t help but agree with Shaughnessy here.  Of course, if you combine this observation with his earlier acknowledgment of the incentives in play, and marry it up with the fact that baseball knew that McGwire was taking steroids as early as 1993, you would think that the rhetoric would be less weighted against the players.  It was a big systemic problem and very few people’s hands were clean. Let’s level out the criticism a bit, then, shall we?

He has been held out of the Hall because of steroids and that’s not
likely to change. So what happens when Bonds’s name appears on the
ballot? A-Rod? Clemens? Sosa? Are they all out, or will the voting
membership eventually bend on cheaters because there are so many of
them and, well, it was “the Steroid Era”?

I still don’t get how, on the one hand, someone can say that the whole era is tainted and that no player is beyond suspicion — Shaughnessy says “they’re all dirty!” — yet can’t acknowledge that some players were still head and shoulders above everyone else.  Sure, McGwire and Bonds and their fellow travelers had help, but so too did Larry Bigbie and David Segui.  Is it that hard to acknowledge comparative greatness, steroid use notwithstanding? Maybe McGwire and Palmiero are tough cases — who knows what they would have done without steroids — but does it really take a leap of faith and a denial of your morality to say, hey, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and A-Rod are Hall of Famers?

Dock them slightly for character issues if you must, but in this I’m of the same mind as Rob Neyer, who notes that if, 20 or 30 years from now we have a Hall of Fame that doesn’t include the undeniably best players of their time, you have a pretty useless and irrelevant Hall of Fame.

OK, that’s all the Shaughnessy I can stomach for one morning.

Marlins acquire starter Dan Straily from the Reds

CINCINNATI, OH - SEPTEMBER 3: Dan Straily #58 of the Cincinnati Reds throws a pitch during the first inning of the game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park on September 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images)
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The Miami Marlins have acquired starting pitcher Dan Straily from the Cincinnati Reds. In exchange, the Reds will receive right-handed pitching prospects Luis Castillo and Austin Brice and outfield prospect Isaiah White.

For the Marlins, they get a solid starter who logged 191.1 innings of 113 ERA+ ball last year. Straily has moved around a lot in his five big league seasons — the Marlins will be his fifth club in six years — but it was something of a breakout year for him in Cincinnati. The only troubling thing: he tied for the league lead in homers allowed. Of course, pitching half of his games in Great American Ballpark didn’t help that, and Miami will be a better place for him.

Castillo is 24. He split last season between high-A and Double-A — far more of it in A-ball — posting a 2.26 ERA over 24 starts. Austin Brice is also 24. He pitched 15 games in relief for the Marlins last year at the big league level with poor results. He seemed to blossom at Triple-A, however, after the Marlins shifted him to the pen. White was a third round pick in the 2015 draft. He played low-A ball as a minor leaguer last year, hitting .214/.306/.301.

A mixed bag of young talent for the Reds, but stockpiling kids and seeing what shakes out is what a team like the Reds should be doing at the moment. For the Marlins: a solid mid-to-back end starter who may just be coming into his own.

Have Hall of Fame Voters actually made the PED thing More complicated?

Sammy Sosa
Associated Press
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The story coming out of this year’s Hall of Fame balloting is that the BBWAA voters are finally easing their antipathy toward players with performance enhancing drug associations.

Jeff Bagwell — the subject of unconfirmed PED rumors — made the Hall! Pudge Rodriguez, who was named in Jose Canseco’s book and who had a . . . curious physical transformation around the time PED testing came online, made it on the first ballot! Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, whose PED use was well-documented, saw their vote totals advance above the 50% mark, making their future elections look more likely!

It’s an interesting development, and one I’m obviously pleased with, but I wonder if the BBWAA’s new approach to PED guys, while far more forgiving than it used to be, has actually become more complicated in practice.

I ask this because I look way, way down the ballot and I still see Sammy Sosa scraping by with around 8% of the vote. I ask this because I still see Gary Sheffield at 13%. I ask this because when Mark McGwire was on the Today’s Game ballot in December, no one really stumped for him at all. I ask this because, even though Bagwell and Mike Piazza got in eventually, they still had to go through a lot of hazing first and I suspect, if they hit the ballot for the first time again tomorrow, the same arguments and delay would occur with respect to their cases.

In light of that, what I suspect has happened has not been a wholesale surrender of the anti-PED voters. Rather, I think it has been a transformation. One in which a moral test — did he use PEDs or not? — has been discarded as a threshold question and a scientific/physiological test — would he have been great even without the PEDs? — has replaced it. In essence, voters are becoming “PED discounters” in the aggregate. Making calculations as to whether a guy was, in their mind, a creation of PEDs or not.

Such an approach explains these new voting patterns as well as those in recent years.

  • Ivan Rodriguez may have been called out by Canseco and may have noticeably shrunk over an offseason, but his calling card was his defense behind the plate and voters, I suspect, have told themselves that such a thing is not PED-aided.
  • Bonds and Clemens may have been PED users, but each of them was undeniably talented and, if you discount for the PED use, hey, they’re still all-time greats.
  • Sammy Sosa’s case rests disproportionately on homers and, as everyone knows, PEDs = instant dingers, so no, he’s not gonna cut it.

And so on.

As I said, I’m glad that the strict moral test — did he use or not? — is losing its hold on Hall voters. But I do not think the “did PEDs make him who he was test?” is a good approach either. Baseball writers are in no better a position to assess the physiological and performance enhancements caused by pharmaceuticals than they are to be judges of character and morality. Given the identities of players confirmed to be PED users, the old eye test implicit in these cases is famously faulty (Neifi Perez, anyone?). The idea that PEDs only affect home run totals — and not, say, the ability for a player to take the abuse of the catcher position for 21 seasons — is crude and ignorant.

I suppose it’s naive to expect voters to completely disregard PEDs in their assessment of players. It’s a bell that cannot be unrung. But while we may, thankfully, be moving away from a moral test with respect to drugs, it’s been displaced by a scientific test that is no more reasonable in practice.