I think the best thing about the steroid revelations is that every time some new user is outed, some old timer goes absolutely nuts. Yesterday it was Carlton Fisk’s turn. There’s so much gold there that, rather than quote it line by line, it’s better that you just read it all. First, though, I will quote something that was in the story when it was first posted yesterday, but was mysteriously missing when I woke up this morning:
“But this is the point I want to make: When you talk about steroids and
you talk about what it means to the game, the three greatest home run
hitters of all time–Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays, right? When
they were 39 years old, how many home runs do you think they averaged?
The three greatest home run hitters of all time averaged 18 home runs
at age 39. Now, how many home runs did Barry Bonds hit when he was 39?
He hit 73!”
I read it in the Tribune last night, and Joe Posnanski* blockquotes it from this story in his latest post, so I didn’t make it up, but for some reason it has been scrubbed from the article today. My guess is that it was cut as a favor to Fisk because, as Posnanski points out, it’s seven kinds of wrong. Babe Ruth hit 22 home runs at age 39, Willie Mays hit 28 and Hank Aaron hit 40. Barry Bonds’ 73 homers came when he was 36. We see what you’re trying to say, Carlton, but you’re distorting things pretty severely here.
But flyspecking Fisk’s mysteriously disappearing quote is not what’s important. What’s important is to appreciate how insane it is that Carlton Fisk is the one taking people to task for late-career surges and calling their accomplishments “crocks,” as he repeatedly does in both the original and edited version of the story.
Carlton Fisk hit 37 home runs when he was 37 years old. Then, after what can only be described as a horrible year when he was 38, Fisk found the fountain of youth and proceeded to put up five outstanding seasons between the ages of 39 and 43. He displayed excellent power and no small amount of durability during those years, made all the more amazing by the fact that he was a catcher and by all logic should have broken down long before then. Indeed, given his position and his performance, Carlton Fisk had perhaps the most productive late-career of any player in baseball history.
Taking him at his word, he did it cleanly. By definition, that means that it’s entirely possible for amazing late-career numbers to occur naturally. Why then, we are to assume that everything steroid users like Bonds, McGwire, Clemens and the rest accomplished late in their careers is 100% bogus is beyond me.
Inflated? Sure, I’ll grant you that. But as both Fisk’s example and Posnanski’s masterful analysis of all of the factors that have gone into the home run surge of the past 15-20 years makes plain, steroids is not the only reason — and probably isn’t even the most significant reason — for the kids of performances we’ve seen in the era.
These players took steroids. These players are also otherworldly talents. To brush them off as mere pharmaceutical inventions is simply wrong. To do so in as ignorant a fashion as Carlton Fisk did yesterday is wrong and stupid.
*As was the case with Jered Weaver’s arbitration status yesterday, the Germans should probably come up with a word that perfectly captures the concept of “I went to bed at 11 last night knowing that I was going to write a piece about Carlton Fisk’s insane quotes, and then woke up at 5:30 AM only to find out that Joe Posnanski did a much better job of it.” It happens a lot actually (though not always with Carlton Fisk quotes). Posnanski is like the 6’5″ kid in the junior high basketball league. The parents should really get together and ban him, because it’s totally not fair that we have to compete against that.