Javy Lopez on steroids: "I'd be stupid enough not to use 'nitro' too"

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Javy Lopez.jpgThe AJC’s Dave O’Brien points us to an extended podcast interview of Former Braves catcher Javy Lopez on Atlanta Baseball Talk last weekend, in which the topic turned to steroids. While the hosts did not explicitly ask Lopez if he personally did steroids, he was pretty candid all the same:

“Well, everybody seen players getting big, hitting the ball harder,
home runs and stuff. All of a sudden – boom — they got the big contract
and everybody’s like, ‘You know what, did that, it worked for him, why
not do it?’ . . . I mean, how can I explain this? It’s like if you’re going to race cars,
if you’re going to race a car and some people are using nitro in the
fuel [Lopez laughed], and you see them winning all the time, and you’re
using regular gas – you know what? If they’re using nitro and they’ve
been winning, well, I’d be stupid enough not to use nitro, too.”

If Lopez’s .328/.378/.687, 43 home run season during a contract year at age 32 in 2003 hadn’t already raised several red flags — and believe me, for most Braves fans it and Javy’s newly-buffed physique did, even at the time — this interview seems to put the matter to rest. But of course Javy Lopez never broke any big records and isn’t in the Hall of Fame discussion, so people won’t go crazy about it.

But I kind of wish they would go a little crazy. Not because I want to see Lopez burned at the stake — as with everyone else I take the “man, I wish he hadn’t done that, but I’m not going to lose sleep over it” approach — but because here he has has put forth the cost/benefit analysis players made regarding steroids in clearer terms than anyone else has to date.  The guys who were trying to beat you and/or take your job were doing it. The powers-that-be didn’t care. The difference between taking the “nitro” or not could be the difference between being unemployed or signing, say, a three-year, $22.5 million contract with Baltimore.

This crystal clear dynamic is why I get so aggravated when the steroid discussion, as it almost always does, revolves around the record book or the fans’ perception that they were cheated or betrayed.  Who cares about the record book or the fans’ subjective, retrospective experience? A system was in place which strongly incentivized players to take potentially harmful substances without a prescription.  Some players — think a borderline major leaguer — no doubt felt that they had to “take the nitro” or lose their jobs.

Players took the steroids, but baseball looked the other way, as did the union and the media, allowing an environment which left many feeling that they had no choice but to juice to grow and persist. Yet it’s the players who take all the heat? Madness.

Max Muncy and Matt Beaty step on Rhys Hoskins’ ankle on consecutive plays

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In the 10th inning of Game 4 of the NLCS last year, infielder Manny Machado — then with the Dodgers — stepped on the foot of Brewers first baseman Jesús Aguilar. Aguilar, understandably, wasn’t happy about that and both teams’ benches spilled onto the field. It was a continuation of a tumultuous series for Machado, who was also vilified for not hustling and sliding hard into Orlando Arcia twice. The Machado-Aguilar dust-up served as a referendum on Machado’s character until he finally signed a 10-year, $300 million contract with the Padres.

Recently, Machado criticized the analysts on MLB Network for holding double standards. Dan Plesac and Eric Byrnes argued with Greg Amsinger about the Jake Marisnick collision at home plate with catcher Jonathan Lucroy. Amsinger felt Marisnick was in the wrong; Plesac and Byrnes defended Marisnick. On Instagram, Machado said if he had been the one who bulldozed Lucroy, Plesac and Byrnes wouldn’t have defended him, in part because he is Latino. Diamondbacks outfielder Adam Jones said earlier this year that Machado would “one hundred percent” be treated differently if he were white.

With that context in mind, something interesting happened in the fourth inning of Thursday afternoon’s game between the Dodgers and Phillies. Leading off the top of the fourth inning against Aaron Nola, Max Muncy grounded out to shortstop Jean Segura. As Muncy crossed the first base bag, he stepped on first baseman Rhys Hoskins‘ ankle. On the next play, Matt Beaty beat out an infield single hit to third baseman Maikel Franco, shifted up the middle. As Beaty crossed the first base bag ahead of the throw, he tripped over Hoskins’ ankle. MLB.com hasn’t posted video of the incidents yet, but here’s a look at both plays from @jomboy_ on Twitter:

We rarely see runners tripping over the feet of first basemen, but here we have it happening on back-to-back plays. Hoskins’ footwork around the bag was textbook given the situations. The commentators on the exclusive YouTube broadcast gave the runners the benefit of the doubt. Other than that, there has surprisingly been little discussion of these plays. A July 18 game isn’t exactly Game 4 of the NLCS, but look at how much conversation the Marisnick-Lucroy play generated and that was less than two weeks ago. These plays deserve a “Was it dirty?” conversation.

One wonders what the conversation would have looked like if it had been black or Latino runners stepping on Hoskins’ ankle on back-to-back plays. Would they have gotten the immediate benefit of the doubt like Muncy and Beaty? Would malicious intent have been ascribed to them instead? That, really, is Machado’s point about the double-standard applied to non-white players. It doesn’t excuse any of his obviously terrible behavior, but if we’re going to criticize players for bad behavior, we should do so evenly and fairly. Muncy and Beaty deserve criticism for their poor, sloppy, dangerous base running. Frankly, Major League Baseball should consider fines and/or suspensions. Machado was fined for stepping on Aguilar.