The Baseball Desert

Friday, April 01, 2005

A whiter shade of gray

ESPN is running a great piece by Alan Schwarz on just how difficult it is going to be to untangle the many threads of the steroid accusations and revelations. His specific take is on how what appear to be steroid-inflated records will stand against the 'pure' records of the past. Except that, as he points out, almost every baseball record is in some way a product of its particular age and should be viewed in that context and some Hall of Fame careers - Schwarz mentions Gaylord Perry - have been built on bending, if not breaking, the rules.

Schwarz's mention of Perry is echoed by another ESPN piece, this time by Jayson Stark, who asks himself the tough question of whether, in the light of the loaded non-confessions and refusals to talk about the past during the Congressional hearings earlier this month, he would still be willing to cast a Hall of Fame vote for Mark McGwire. Stark is very clear on Perry's transgressions:
Gaylord Perry was allowed to cheat, wrote a book about cheating, even made a video about cheating. And people not only looked the other way, but thought it was hilarious. So all we could do, when he appeared on our ballot, was vote on what he did on the field -- which was have a Hall of Fame career.
(Even the Hall itself couldn't ignore Perry's violations of the rules - his plaque in Cooperstown all but gives you a nudge and a wink as you read it: PLAYING MIND GAMES WITH HITTERS THROUGH ARRAY OF RITUALS ON MOUND WAS PART OF HIS ARSENAL.)

With McGwire and others, there may be the same kind of suspicion, but Schwarz says that it will be very hard for us to get real proof of anything:

There's no deciding yet how to decipher the mess steroids appear to have made of all the numbers now before us. Too little information is available, and too much might become so in the future. And hard as this might be, every player, regardless of accusation or innuendo, deserves the benefit of the doubt until actual facts are learned, because we would all want that for ourselves.

Nothing is quite as clear-cut as we would like it to be, and it is possible that the whole truth about who was taking what will never come out. In the meantime, we actually have to take to heart what Mark McGwire repeated at least a dozen times during the hearings: in a sense, we're not here to talk about the past. Oh, we will talk about it, but when we do, when we bring up the golden age of the home run - those ten years when records seemed to fall with a mere flick of the wrist - some names will always have a dark cloud hanging over them. The loyal, respectful part of us will want to give players the benefit of the doubt, but it will take a lot of self-restraint to keep from assigning those "mental asterisks" that Schwarz writes about.

Once again it seems that Joe Q. Fan has been led a merry dance and has had his / her heart broken by those that play and run the game of baseball. All that we can do is pick up the pieces and continue to hope that better days lie ahead. I'm with Terence Mann on this one:
This field, this game: it's a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again.
3 days, 1 hour and 49 minutes to Opening Day. Bring it on...