STEROIDS VS. SMALLBALL

One of my fans suggested I apply the logic of my condemnation of the Long Putter, to the issue of Hall-of-Fame standards for baseball players.  Glad to oblige.

To re-cap, there are 3 categories of performance-enhancers for sports:  (i) those that permanently cure a disability and thereby raise the competitor to the level of his peers – e.g., Tommy John surgery; (ii) those that temporarily raise the competitor to the level of his peers – e.g., meds for bi-polar disorder, prostheses like Oscar Pistorius’s metal feet; and (iii) those that temporarily or permanently make someone better than his peers – such as  Beta blockers (meds that reduce nervousness – “choking”), long putters (devices that reduce the effects of nervousness), and steroids.  Performance-enhancers in the first two categories are fine, as they do not alter the sport; those in the third category are not.  ‘Roids, BBs, and anchored putters are not-fine, because they can make everyone better, which ends up leading most competitors to use them, which ends up where no one gets an advantage but the sport suffers.  The sport suffers because the enhancer reduces competition (it reduces the differences between the ordinary and the exceptional athlete) and it makes the game easier – and thus less interesting.

The cases of McGuire, Bonds, and Sosa are instructive, especially now that each has failed dismally in his first Hall-of-Fame election.  McGuire and Bonds were so good before they stooped to using steroids that they probably would have made the HOF easily, first ballot, had they never used them.  Sosa was OK but not great, certainly not HOF material.  So, steroids ultimately hurt McGuire and Bonds and did nothing for Sosa.  There were lots of other Sosa-like cases, like Brady Anderson:  72 career home runs until, at age 32, he suddenly hit 50 in a single season!  The thing about third-category enhancements is, once the first few people score big with them, everyone else has to use them, just to keep up.

The game of baseball was very popular before the steroids era, got more popular during the peak of the chemical home-run, and has now dropped a bit; hard to make big-picture analysis, given the ups and downs of the national economy during the overall time-period.  But there are many who argue that baseball was more attractive and popular during the longball era (steroids) and is now less exciting and more of an elitist attraction during the smallball era.

I am not going to argue that smallball is a better game than bigball.  If in fact “chicks dig the long ball,” how can one plead for the hit-and-run, the drag bunt, hitting to right to protect the runner, making contact, etc., especially in an era in which pedophilia, misogyny, bestiality, schoolyard murders, and the most nauseatingly cruel and graphic depictions of violence toward one’s fellow humans and other creatures play so central a part in our nation’s entertainment.   It would appear that we prefer the violent or crude to the refined or subtle, and that we prefer fake sensations provided by fake humans with fake muscles, just as so many of us prefer electronic versions of so many aspects of reality.  If we are what we eat, we certainly are what we watch.  Maybe we deserve a Sammy Sosa or a Brady Anderson in our Hall of Fame.

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