We don’t go easy on ballplayers who use PEDs because they’re “our heroes.” Quite the opposite

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I linked to Jeff Pearlman’s radio interview and post about how he feels Mark McGwire should be banned from baseball because he took PEDs back in the 90s and early 2000s when he was playing. There has been considerable reaction to his thoughts on that, mostly negative.

Pearlman responds to that at his blog. He’s quite upset that people aren’t as upset about it. And he thinks he knows why: fans worship athletes and let them get away with murder.

He says that McGwire and Bonds unconscionably destroyed records but “[t]o the athlete worshiper, none of that matters.” He goes on to say that even though sports is a fun diversion, “kids are watching” and “accountability means something” and for that reason “heroes can be called out, even if it hurts.”

I disagree with the very premise. As I said the other day, the idea that athletes are or should be heroes is simply foreign to me. Thus the notion that I and those who think like me go easy on PED users because we’re star struck or because we worship athletes is totally wrong. I get less outraged than most on the topic specifically because they are not heroes. Because they are ordinary people with ordinary human flaws.

This does not excuse them. If there are punishments rightfully due to them, they should receive them. But it does render moral outrage at their failings to be inapt, to say the least.

About those punishments and sanctions: Pearlman says this:

Stephen Glass never worked in journalism again. Myriad accountants and lawyers and doctors—once found guilty of violating serious professional bylaws—are done. Yet, in sports, coaches always say, “In America, we give second chances.” Yeah, if you hit home runs.

Yes. But that’s because The New Republic and journalism as a whole was very clear to Mr. Glass before he started working that plagiarism and fabrication was a fireable and, essentially, banishable offense. Lawyers and doctors have specifically set-out bylaws that detail the rules to be followed and the punishment to which they will be subject if they do not. It’s very, very clear.

Pearlman, on the other hand, would banish McGwire for conforming to norms of his profession at the time. Norms that, however odious they may seem to us now, existed and were strongly reinforced by the system in which he played when he did so. And even now, when those norms no longer apply, there are specifically set-out penalties for violating the rules. They do not include banishment for life unless someone has three offenses and they in no way apply retroactively. His comparison, then, is totally out to lunch.

But back to McGwire: No matter how angry he makes some people, he does not mean anything more to me than any other entertainer or celebrity does. The home run record is a statistic, not a sacred thing. Others may disagree with that, which is their right, but that’s on them. For my part, my lack of outrage on the subject is not because I believe them to be special or untouchable. It’s quite the opposite.

In the playoffs, the Yankees’ weakness has become their strength

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Two weeks ago, when the playoffs began, the idea of “bullpenning” once again surfaced, this time with the Yankees as a focus. Because their starting pitching was believed to be a weakness — they had no obvious ace like a Dallas Keuchel or Corey Kluber — and their bullpen was a major strength, the idea of chaining relievers together starting from the first inning gained traction. The likes of Luis Severino, who struggled mightily in the AL Wild Card game, or Masahiro Tanaka (4.79 regular season ERA) couldn’t be relied upon in the postseason, the thought went.

That idea is no longer necessary for the Yankees because the starting rotation has become the club’s greatest strength. Tanaka fired seven shutout innings to help push the Yankees ahead of the Astros in the ALCS, three games to two. They are now one win away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 2009.

It hasn’t just been Tanaka. Since Game 3 of the ALDS, Yankees pitchers have made eight starts spanning 46 1/3 innings. They have allowed 10 runs (nine earned) on 25 hits and 12 walks with 45 strikeouts. That’s a 1.75 ERA with an 8.74 K/9 and 2.33 BB/9. In five of those eight starts, the starter went at least six innings, which has helped preserve the freshness and longevity of the bullpen.

Here’s the full list of performances for Yankee starters this postseason:

Game Starter IP H R ER BB SO HR
AL WC Luis Severino 1/3 4 3 3 1 0 2
ALDS 1 Sonny Gray 3 1/3 3 3 3 4 2 1
ALDS 2 CC Sabathia 5 1/3 3 4 2 3 5 0
ALDS 3 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 7 0
ALDS 4 Luis Severino 7 4 3 3 1 9 2
ALDS 5 CC Sabathia 4 1/3 5 2 2 0 9 0
ALCS 1 Masahiro Tanaka 6 4 2 2 1 3 0
ALCS 2 Luis Severino 4 2 1 1 2 0 1
ALCS 3 CC Sabathia 6 3 0 0 4 5 0
ALCS 4 Sonny Gray 5 1 2 1 2 4 0
ALCS 5 Masahiro Tanaka 7 3 0 0 1 8 0
TOTAL 55 1/3 35 20 17 20 52 6

In particular, if you hone in on the ALCS starts specifically, Yankee starters have pitched 28 innings, allowing five runs (four earned) on 13 hits and 10 walks with 20 strikeouts. That’s a 1.61 ERA.

While the Yankees’ biggest weakness has become a strength, the Astros’ biggest weakness — the bullpen — has become an even bigger weakness. This is why the Yankees, who won 10 fewer games than the Astros during the regular season, are one win away from reaching the World Series and the Astros are not.