Amphetamines ban leads to decreased offense? That's wrong in all kinds of ways


According to Bill Madden in the New York Daily News, there has been a “resurgence of pitching and decrease of offense” this year because baseball is getting tougher on amphetamines.  Which would be great if it weren’t for the fact that (a) there is no compelling evidence that offense is down; and (b) even if there were there is no reason to believe that a drug crackdown is the cause.

Madden cites the fact that there have been 3* perfect games this year to support his claim. But that’s not, in and of itself, evidence of offense being down let alone offense being down due to a decrease in amphetamines being used.  A much more compelling reason for the perfect games can be seen over at Sabernomics, where J.C. Bradbury charts both improved defensive numbers and perfect games and finds something quite satisfying. Another compelling explanation: dumb stinkin’ luck.

It’s also worth noting that the Madden column compares last year’s total offensive numbers to the first two months of the 2010 season’s numbers in a manner which should be an insult to apples and oranges the world over.  Offense always increases as the weather gets hotter, and it’s just now getting hotter. Call me in October and use apples-apples data before making any grand proclamations, please.

Not that such a request will be heeded. It seems like we read one of these “offensive numbers are down” stories every year, and never have they convinced me. If you go season by season, runs per game have held pretty steady since the early 90s. Sure, there have been blips — 1999 and 2000 were high (5.08 r/g and 5.14 r/g) — but there’s surprisingly little variation otherwise. More runs were scored per game in 2009 than 2005 and 2002. More were scored in 2007 than 1998.  Many things might explain year-to-year variations, but the advent of drug testing certainly doesn’t cover it.  If you ask me, I’d say ballpark dimensions and expansin explains a lot more of it, seeing as everything exploded around the time Camden Yards and its followers came online and the Feesh and the Rockies showed up in 1992-93. 

But let’s leave that for another day. Let’s get back to Madden’s point: that runs are down this year due to baseball getting tough on amphetamines. Which still makes no sense to me. Drug testing has been in place for six seasons with 50-game
suspensions for five of those seasons. What is this amphetamines crackdown his sources speak of? How is last year different than this year? Maybe they’ve added a few more amphetamines to the banned substances list, but there certainly hasn’t been radical change in this regard.

And even if there has been some kind of change, it’s likely been offset a great deal by the massive increase in players who have been granted therapeutic use exemptions for stimulants like Ritalin. In fact the use of such drugs is at a level in baseball right now that is something like ten times the level of the general population.  Players may not be doing straight speed anymore, but to suggest that the use of mind-focusing drugs is gone from the scene.

Madden’s whole story is based on unnamed baseball officials.  I have this feeling that they’re far more interested in pushing a talking point — baseball is way tougher on amphetamines than it used to be — than they are in explaining anything about what’s actually happening on the field. 

The Days of Chief Wahoo are numbered

Fox Entertainment

One of the more common responses to what I’ve posted about Chief Wahoo lately is “it’s just a cartoon character! Nobody cares!”

Well, looking at that guy in the photo above and many others dressed like him at Progressive Field the past two days is evidence that it is not just a cartoon character. A certain swath of Indians fans think that, because of their team’s name and mascot, it’s totally acceptable to show up in public looking like this. Wahoo as an official trademark of a Major League Baseball club gives people license to dress up in redface — or in this case, red and blackface — with headdresses on, turning a real people and a real culture into a degrading caricature. It’s not just a cartoon character by a long shot. To many it’s a get-out-being-called-a-racist-free card.

As for “nobody cares,” well, yes, someone does. Go read this from Sterling HolyWhiteMountain over at ESPN, talking about both Chief Wahoo as a symbol and America’s treatment and conception of Native Americans as a whole. It’s moving stuff that puts lie to the idea that “nobody cares.” It likewise puts lie to the false choice so many Chief Wahoo defenders reference in which they argue that people should care more about actual injustices visited upon Native Americans and not mascots. One can and should care about those injustices. And one can do that while simultaneously finding Chief Wahoo to be an odious symbol that serves to dehumanize people. Once people are dehumanized, it’s far easier to treat them as something less-than-human, of course.

But it’s not just Native Americans or anti-Wahoo folks like me who care. While I have been critical of Major League Baseball for not taking its own stand against Wahoo publicly, it seems pretty clear at this point that the league is weary of Wahoo and is looking to pressure the Indians to eliminate it. Last night, at the Hank Aaron Award ceremony, Manfred spoke more expansively about Wahoo than he did the day before. Manfred is a lawyer and he does not choose his words carelessly. Read this and parse it carefully:

“I know that that particular logo is offensive to some people, and all of us at Major League Baseball understand why. Logos are, however, primarily a local matter. The local club makes decisions about its logos. Fans get attached to logos. They become part of a team’s history. So it’s not easy as coming to the conclusion and realizing that the logo is offensive to some segment.

“I’ve talked to Mr. [Indians owner and CEO Paul] Dolan about this issue. We’ve agreed away from the World Series at an appropriate time we will have a conversation about this. I want to understand fully what his view is, and we’ll go from there. At this point in this context, I’m just not prepared to say more.”

Yes, he’s still trying to be diplomatic, but note how he (a) acknowledges that Wahoo is offensive to some people; (b) that “all of us at Major League Baseball understand why” and (c) does not validate the views of those who do not find it offensive. He acknowledges that they feel that way due to history, but he does not say, as I inferred from his previous comments the day before, that both sides have merit. Indeed, he says he’d like to hear Paul Dolan’s side, suggesting that while he’ll listen to argument, he doesn’t buy the argument as it has yet to be put.

I still wish that MLB would come out hard and strong against Wahoo publicly, but the more I listen to Manfred on this and read between the lines, the more I suspect that Major League Baseball is finally fed up with Wahoo and that it wants to do something to get rid of it. That it’s not just the hobby horse of pinko liberals like me. I believe Manfred realizes that, in 2016, Chief Wahoo is an embarrassment to an organization like Major League Baseball. Maybe, because of p.r. and political considerations, he doesn’t want to stand on a soapbox about it at the World Series, but I believe he wants to put an end to it all the same.

You can call me names for being against Wahoo all you want. But you can’t say it’s a non-issue. You can’t say that it’s just a cartoon character and you can’t say that nobody cares. To do that is an exercise in denial. I have come to believe that Major League Baseball cares and that it’s going to push hard to make the 2016 World Series the last time it is embarrassed by anachronistic racism on its biggest stage ever again.

Game 2 is going to be the poster child for pace of play arguments this winter

CLEVELAND, OH - OCTOBER 26:  Zach McAllister #34 of the Cleveland Indians is relieved by manager Terry Francona during the fifth inning against the Chicago Cubs in Game Two of the 2016 World Series at Progressive Field on October 26, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Getty Images

In August, it was reported that Major League Baseball Commissioner Rob Manfred would like to implement pitch clocks, like those in use in the minor leagues for the past two seasons, to improve the pace-of-play at the major league level. You can bet that last night’s Game 2 will be the lead argument he uses against those who would oppose the move.

The game was moved up an hour in order to get it in before an impending storm. By the time the rain finally started falling the game had been going on for three hours and thirty-three minutes. It should’ve been over before the first drop fell, but in all it lasted four hours and four minutes. It ended in, thankfully, only a light rain. The longest nine-inning game in postseason history happened a mere two weeks ago, when the Dodgers and Nationals played for four hours and thirty two minutes. There thirteen pitchers were used. Last night ten pitchers were used. Either way, the postseason games are dragging on even for those of us who don’t mind devoting four+ hours of our night to baseball. It is likely putting off more casual fans just tuning in for the Fall Classic.

It’s not all just dawdling, however. Yes, the pitchers worked slowly and a lot of pitching changes took place, but strikeouts, walks and the lack of balls in play contribute to longer games as well. We saw this both last night and in Game 1, which was no brisk affair despite each starting pitcher looking sharp and not working terribly slowly. Twenty-four strikeouts on Tuesday night had a lot to do with that. Last night featured 20 strikeouts and thirteen — thirteen! — walks. It’s not just that the games are taking forever; the very thing causing them to drag feature baseball’s least-kinetic forms of excitement.

But no matter what the cause for the slower play was — and here it was a combination of laboring pitchers, the lack of balls in play and, of course, the longer commercial breaks in the World Series — Manfred is likely to hold Game 2 up as Exhibit A in his efforts to push through some rules changes to improve game pace and game time. So far, the centerpiece of those efforts is the pitch clock, which has proven to be successful and pretty non-controversial in the minor leagues. It would not surprise me one bit if, at this year’s Winter Meetings in Washington, a rule change in that regard is widely discussed.