If you judge a players’ character, you have to acknowledge the forces which shaped his choices

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Tom Verducci has a major piece on PEDs and baseball today, all of which serves as a preface to his Hall of Fame choices.

Obviously he and I disagree on the issue, but his take is cogent, well-reasoned and strong. Which makes sense given that Verducci was way, way ahead of all of his media brethren when it came to reporting on steroids and has thought about the matter more than just once a year when his Hall of Fame ballot shows up.  If you consider PED use to be a disqualifier for the Hall of Fame, you basically have to follow Verducci’s lead here: presume innocence, then act on actual information or evidence rather than playing parlor games.

But I do take issue with Verducci when he takes the exceptions to his position one-by-one.  He does an acceptable job explaining his differences with the “it wasn’t against the rules,” “everybody did it” and “the Hall of Fame already has bad apples” arguments.  Again, I disagree as a matter of opinion on some of these points, but I think his position is a coherent one based on the opinion he holds.

I think he errs, however, by portraying baseball players as having made the free, moral choice to either take drugs or not take drugs, consulting only their conscience and a syringe. That’s because steroids in baseball was never just about players’ choices, but the knowing acquiescence of clubs and the league as well, and that necessarily impacted players’ choices, no doubt forcing many of them to make bad choices.

Indeed, the Mitchell Report detailed instances of clubs being well-aware of players’ steroid use, but only caring about it insofar as the player going off the juice may hurt his production. Managers, coaches and front office players knew or should have known about it and did nothing. Well, they profited from them of course, but they never, to my knowledge, punished a single player for violating the rules Verducci so clearly explains everyone was well aware of.

I don’t offer this as just another excuse — “hey, no one else cared, so why should we?”  To the contrary, this is important specifically to those who do care. People like Verducci, in fact. Because if you take seriously the ethical and moral choices players made, you have to appreciate the context in which those choices were made. Yes, some players probably sat back and said “hell, I wanna hit more homers.” But many more likely felt the pressure to take steroids to save their jobs or solidify their careers with the full knowledge that their clubs would reward the performers and punish the non-performers, with no questions asked about the provenance of that performance whatsoever.

I don’t think we should be judging players’ character in the first place, but if you do judge one’s character, I don’t see how the prisoners’ dilemma into which many players were thrust can’t change the calculus for you to some degree.

John Lackey stole the first base of his career

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Cubs starter John Lackey stole the first base of his 15-year career on Wednesday against the Reds. Of course, he spent the first 11 and a half years of his career in the American League, where opportunities to bat, let alone attempt to steal a base, were rare. Lackey entered Wednesday having taken 250 plate appearances, reaching base just 31 times on 17 singles, seven doubles, and seven walks for a .134 on-base percentage. One can imagine the 38-year-old is not exactly the swiftest base runner.

Still, Lackey managed to swipe a bag in the fourth inning. He singled with two outs against Homer Bailey. Then, with an 0-1 count on Ben Zobrist, Lackey broke for second even before Bailey began his windup. Tucker Barnhart stood up to alert Bailey that Lackey was running, so Bailey wheeled around and threw to second base, but Lackey slid into the bag easily safe. It wasn’t a pretty slide, but it did the job.

Lackey, however, was picked off of second base by Barnhart later that inning. Bailey threw a 3-2 fastball wide of the strike zone, walking Zobrist. Lackey had wandered too far off of second base, so Barnhart threw behind Lackey and the tag was applied by Zack Cozart. Lackey was called safe initially. The play was reviewed and the ruling on the field was overturned, ending the fourth inning.

Base Ba’al giveth and Base Ba’al taketh away.

Video: Aaron Judge sends a baseball into the upper deck at Citi Field

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Yankees outfielder Aaron Judge hit another jaw-dropping home run, victimizing Mets starter Robert Gsellman in the top of the fourth game of Wednesday night’s game at Citi Field. Left fielder Yoenis Cespedes didn’t even move. The ball traveled 457 feet and was hit 117 MPH off the bat, according to Katie Sharp of River Ave Blues.

The home run moved Judge’s AL-best total to 37, putting him two ahead of the Royals’ Mike Moustakas. Along with the prodigious dinger total, he has 80 RBI, 90 runs scored, and a .291/.421/.616 triple-slash line in 499 plate appearances. Judge is on pace for 50 dingers. If it holds, that would give him the rookie record for home runs in a season. Mark McGwire currently holds the record, having hit 49 for the Athletics in 1987.