Why is some performance enhancement OK but not others?

80 Comments

Dan LeBatard offers the most intelligent and mature take on PEDs in sports I’ve seen in ages. He asks us to take a step back and ask ourselves why it is we are so hung up on a certain, narrow kind of performance enhancement in sports when we never question it — indeed, we openly praise it — when athletes do insane things to their bodies, all in the name of staying on the field? Often things that could cause massive harm.

Stuff like Ronnie Lott cutting his finger off. Lomas Brown playing with a catheter. Players having ligaments taken from cadavers and inserted into their own bodies. Drug therapies and medical procedures that are wholly unnecessary for a normal quality of life but are accepted in the name of athletic performance. We are totally fine with these. We are not totally fine with others:

We are OK with Kirk Gibson hitting one of the most famous home runs ever on one steroid (cortisone), but we slam the Hall of Fame door on the face of everybody else who might have used the anabolic kind. Granted, cortisone is not a banned performance enhancer, but it certainly enhanced Gibson’s performance, which wouldn’t have been possible without it. Lost in the shouting of “Cheater!” and “Fraud!” from a pill-popping America is how often athletes have to go through the pharmacy for the healing properties of hormones — not just to hit home runs but because what they do for a daily living really hurts.

It is not enough to draw some line and say “well, [drug/procedure X] is banned and [drug/procedure Y] is not banned.” It makes people who like to pour crap on banned PED users feel better, but it’s a most pedantic distinction. Why are some procedures and drugs banned and others not? Why do we allow some sorts of performance enhancement or enabling but not others? If it’s OK for Kirk Gibson to take a drug that allowed him to take the field when he otherwise could not have, why do we not allow other players to take other drugs that allow them to take the field when they otherwise can’t?

More broadly, as fans and observers, why do we seem to care so much and get so annoyed at certain sorts of seemingly unnatural acts undertaken by athletes but don’t care a bit — or, alternatively, fully expect — so many others?

Giants remove pitching coach Dave Righetti

Getty Images
Leave a comment

After 18 years, 12 winning seasons, seven postseason runs and three World Championships, Dave Righetti is no longer a pitching coach for the Giants. He was removed from his post on Saturday, when the team announced a few reassignments as they shake up their coaching staff. Heading into the 2018 season, Righetti will serve as special assistant to general manager Bobby Evans, former bullpen coach Mark Gardner will step into a similar special assistant role to “assist in pitching evaluations,” and former assistant hitting coach Steve Decker will take a special assistant role in baseball operations.

According to MLB.com’s Chris Haft, Righetti was the longest-tenured pitching coach in the big leagues. He helped shape the careers of notable Giants’ aces like Madison Bumgarner, Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain — all Cy Young contenders (and, in Lincecum’s case, a two-time winner) at various points in their careers. He was there to assist Ryan Vogelsong during his stunning mid-career comeback in San Francisco. He helped newcomers like Chris Stratton and Ty Blach flourish even as the team stumbled to the bottom of the division. He was there to take the credit when a sterling rotation clinched the Giants’ 56-year, drought-snapping championship title in 2010 — and, when things went so horribly south in 2017, he took the blame as well.

Hardly anything went right for the Giants’ pitching staff in 2017. Madison Bumgarner was shelved after sustaining a serious shoulder injury in a dirt bike accident, Johnny Cueto couldn’t shake a cluster of blisters on his right hand and Mark Melancon found it difficult to justify a $62 million paycheck after pitching through an arm injury to four blown losses/saves and a 4.50 ERA. It would be a lot for any pitching coach to stay on top of, and given the team’s rapid descent from 2016 postseason contenders to last-place finishers in 2017, it’s not surprising that Evans felt the need to switch things up.

Successors have yet to be named for Righetti, Gardner or Decker, though Murray hears that the Giants could have interest in former major league pitching coach Jim Hickey. NBC Bay Area’s Alex Pavlovic adds that Evans is searching for someone to “put a new voice” on the pitching staff and will likely target someone who, like Righetti, brings considerable experience to the role.