Frank Deford, the journalist who is concerned that the hard-hitting, fact-based investigative journalism of his day is going to disappear because lazy, fact-free assertions are rewarded on the Internet, made some lazy, fact-free assertions in his latest weekly NPR rant:
I’ve been surprised to learn that some baseball writers have declared that they’ll vote for Bonds and Clemens because they were the best players in an era when drug use was widespread — ergo if there’s a lot of guilt going around, then nobody should be assigned guilt.
Of course, we do not know how many baseball players took steroids, but it certainly never involved more than a small percentage. It was never, for example, like the Tour de France where drugs were as common as toothpaste. But what the baseball writers must not forget is that the dopers did not just pad their own statistics. They keep score in games; by definition, sports are zero sum. By taking unfair advantage, the druggies hurt the players who played fair.
This is my favorite bit from the sanctimonious Hall of Fame Protection Force. They’ll slam an entire era of baseball as illegitimate due to a distortion of the game by players who were gobbling up ‘roids like candy in one argument, and then in the next they’ll claim that the superstars were the bad seeds because they were screwing all of those clean players — in DeFord’s case here, the vast majority — from their proper due.
I do not doubt for a second that there were clean players who were hurt by the Steroid Era. But these guys were not going to be taking Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens’ place. They were hurt because other 20-25th men on the roster were taking things, keeping them out of jobs.
Yes, you can extend that and say that the superstars doing what they did caused it all to trickle down, making those 20-25th men do it too, but you can’t then also say that “a small percentage” of players were doing it. It was very likely widespread, and in no case was confined to the Hall of Fame-threatening superstars, no matter what DeFord’s convenient (for today) assumptions happen to be.
Also: DeFord’s headline was stolen from Neil Young and that makes me mad.
In Major League Baseball, players are routinely pressured to play through injury and pain. Sometimes it’s just a minor ache, and sometimes it’s a very serious injury. The pressure comes from everywhere: the players themselves, their peers, coaches, front offices, media, and fans. Players who develop a reputation for landing on the disabled list are described as “soft” and “fragile.” Players who battle through the pain get talked about as “gritty” and “dedicated.”
Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that the Cardinals are trying to encourage their players to be more honest about their health. The culture surrounding this is tough to change, but manager Mike Matheny wants his players to come to him if “anything that is off.” As Goold notes, Alex Reyes and Matt Bowman revealed they were, in Bowman’s words, not “entirely forthcoming.” Carlos Martinez said he pitched tentatively because he was “scared” of re-injuring himself. Matheny also called pitcher Michael Wacha “a great liar” when talking about his arm health.
Matt Carpenter has also played through injury and takes pride in it. He’s an example of the old mentality the club is trying to pierce through. Caarpenter said, “I’m a believer in if you’re getting paid to do a job and you’re capable of doing the job — even if it’s 85 percent of your best — I feel you have the obligation to be out there. That is the mentality I’ve always used. I could have very easily, at times last year, sat on the [disabled list], but I felt like I could still go out and do my job.”
Goold points out that players approach dealing with health issues differently depending on where they’re at in their careers. A young player who just got called up has pressure to stay in the big leagues and appear in games, so he may not want to address a health issue. A player who has already secured a multi-year contract may have less pressure on him and thus may be more willing to come to the trainer’s room.
I’ve long believed that player health will be the next arena in which front offices will separate themselves from the pack. Analytics had been that battleground for a while, but with every club now having an analytics department in some capacity, front offices will have to find value in new ways. Limiting the amount of time that players miss due to injury would be a significant boost for a team and it will start with players being forthcoming about what’s bothering them rather than trying to fight through pain.