Skip to content

Baseball has never been "pure"

Jun 19, 2009, 9:31 AM EDT

Bill Simmons has an interesting column up:

We’re going with a one-question mailbag this week, courtesy of Phil
D. from Montclair, N.J.: “What was the purest baseball era, from a
statistical perspective?”

Honestly, Phil? That’s like asking, “Who’s the purest actress in an
X-rated movie?” Every baseball era has been tainted to some degree. But
if there is no era, maybe we can find a window. A four- or five-year
stretch will do. Two years, even. Hell, I’ll settle for an All-Star
break. Okay, let’s begin.

He dismisses the 19th century for being too primitive and the dead ball
era for much the same reasons. The interwar period and the rest of the
40s are out because of segregation and WWII. The 50s and 60s are also
eliminated due to the gradual nature of integration (a point many
neglect, but a good one all the same — the game really wasn’t fully
integrated until the 60s) and the insanely pitching-friendly
environment. The 70s and early 80s start to look better, but AstroTurf,
odd pitcher usage and cocaine kill it for him, and of course the
1993-present era is out due to steroids. That causes him to settle on
the narrow time frame of 1988-1992 as the most “statistically pure”
period in baseball history.

And he may be right, even if the definition of “pure” is a bit
unclear and maybe not that useful. What is useful, however, is Simmons’
highlighting the fact that, at just about every single point in
baseball history, there was something, be it drugs, or rules, or racist
policies or whatever, that altered the statistical and competitive
landscape. Some of them — and I’m thinking segregation here — were
borne of even more malice than the cheating of the steroids era.

Simmons’ observation puts lie to the notion, so popular in recent
years, that the steroids era’s greatest evil was that it somehow
sullied a heretofore pure record book. There was nothing pure about it,
and certainly nothing consistent about it. Lefty Grove would have been
a Hall of Famer whenever he played, but there’s no escaping the fact
that a lot of the guys he got out wouldn’t have been able to sniff the
big leagues if black players had been allowed in the game. Bob Gibson
would likewise be celebrated, but his 1.12 ERA in 1968 would never have
happened if he was pitching from a modern mound in a modern retro-park.
We talk about baseball’s wonderful continuity all of the time, but
things have changed in radical ways over the years, and no one has ever
presented any evidence to convince me that steroids impacted things any
more radically than did high pitchers’ mounds, huge strike zones,
segregation and dead balls.

So, yes, let us continue to disapprove of and sanction those who
break the PED rules, but please, let’s put an end to the talk that
baseball has been irrevocably tainted, because it quite clearly has
not.

Featured video

Angels' 2011 overhaul finally paying off?
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. G. Stanton (3998)
  2. R. Castillo (3387)
  3. A. Rizzo (2659)
  4. A. Pujols (2235)
  5. H. Ryu (2177)
  1. E. Gattis (2149)
  2. J. Hamilton (2057)
  3. M. Trout (2020)
  4. C. Davis (1982)
  5. B. Belt (1950)