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Shaughnessy compares steroids to Hitler. I think.

Jan 13, 2010, 8:50 AM EST

Shaughnessy1.jpgThank God we finally have Dan “the voice of reason” Shaughnessy’s take on the McGwire business.  Take it away, Dan:

Why wouldn’t a guy cheat? Steroids made McGwire rich and famous. The
performance-enhancing drugs probably will cost him Cooperstown, but
‘roids got McGwire where he wanted to go. Is there a Triple A
ballplayer who’d say no to artificial help if it would elevate him to
the big leagues? Is there a fringe big leaguer who’d resist an
opportunity to become a full-blown star with a long-term contract?

See, Shaugnessy is dead-on with this. There were clear, rational incentives to take steroids. Ask yourself: if you thought taking steroids would make the difference between an $80 million net worth at age 40 and selling cars for a living at age 40, wouldn’t you do it? If you said no, you’re either in an infinitesimally small minority or you’re lying.

Yet despite being perfectly able to grok the incentives in play, Shaugnessy (and many others) still paint steroids users as heartless cheaters and fraudsters, not just in the effect of their actions, but in their very intent. How someone can acknowledge that taking steroids was a perfectly rational thing to do on the one hand, but call them monsters on the other is puzzling to me.

Start with Big Mac. Does anyone believe him when he says he did not do
this to gain strength? Does he expect us to nod and agree when he says
that he would have been just as good without the stuff? Sorry. The “I
just did it to get back on the field” defense is the juicer’s version
of “the dog ate my homework.” Nobody is buying.

As I asked yesterday, why do you have to buy? Who cares?  And if Shaughnessy doesn’t agree with my take on this, the least he could do is to read his SI colleague Posnaski’s take on what forgiveness really means (note: it’s way less significant a thing than Shaugnessy makes it out to be). It’s frankly brilliant.

If this junk didn’t help McGwire hit 70 home runs in 1998, why was he
compelled to apologize to members of the Maris family Monday?

I would bet the lives of my children that Shaughnessy would have raked McGwire over the coals if he hadn’t apologized to the Maris family, so seeing him use that as sword against him now is rich.

Please, let’s have no more baseball players telling us that steroids
don’t help with hand-eye coordination. That’s not the point.
Professional hitters are able to square up the baseball.

Wait, I thought “professional hitters” were mediocre journeyman who hit the ball the other way in a manner that makes the color commentator say “that’s a nice piece of hitting right there.”  I’m so confused!

We all cringe when Bud Selig says that the steroid era “is clearly a thing of the past.” Bud sounds like Neville Chamberlain before World War II.

Ooh! Analogies! I aced this part of the LSAT. Let’s play:  Selig is to Neville Chamberlain as ballplayers who take steroids are to (a) kittens; (b) rainbows; (c) hugs; or (d) Adolf Hitler at Munich. So glad to see Shaughnessy is keeping things in perspective here.

Tony La Russa needs to stop enabling McGwire. Barrister Tony is simply
too smart to believe the things that come out of his own mouth. Tony
helps no one when he says he didn’t know anything about this until
Monday.

As was the case with Canseco, I can’t help but agree with Shaughnessy here.  Of course, if you combine this observation with his earlier acknowledgment of the incentives in play, and marry it up with the fact that baseball knew that McGwire was taking steroids as early as 1993, you would think that the rhetoric would be less weighted against the players.  It was a big systemic problem and very few people’s hands were clean. Let’s level out the criticism a bit, then, shall we?

He has been held out of the Hall because of steroids and that’s not
likely to change. So what happens when Bonds’s name appears on the
ballot? A-Rod? Clemens? Sosa? Are they all out, or will the voting
membership eventually bend on cheaters because there are so many of
them and, well, it was “the Steroid Era”?

I still don’t get how, on the one hand, someone can say that the whole era is tainted and that no player is beyond suspicion — Shaughnessy says “they’re all dirty!” — yet can’t acknowledge that some players were still head and shoulders above everyone else.  Sure, McGwire and Bonds and their fellow travelers had help, but so too did Larry Bigbie and David Segui.  Is it that hard to acknowledge comparative greatness, steroid use notwithstanding? Maybe McGwire and Palmiero are tough cases — who knows what they would have done without steroids — but does it really take a leap of faith and a denial of your morality to say, hey, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and A-Rod are Hall of Famers?

Dock them slightly for character issues if you must, but in this I’m of the same mind as Rob Neyer, who notes that if, 20 or 30 years from now we have a Hall of Fame that doesn’t include the undeniably best players of their time, you have a pretty useless and irrelevant Hall of Fame.

OK, that’s all the Shaughnessy I can stomach for one morning.

  1. NYsportsGUY - Jan 13, 2010 at 9:04 AM

    All I had to do was look at the picture of him and I was already empathetic with what you were saying

  2. Phil - Jan 13, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    Thank you, Craig. It seems you and JoPo are the only voices of reason in this artificial maelstrom. Sadder still, you both seem to be the only ones writing that seem to grasp the concept of human frailty.

  3. Lawrence A. Herman - Jan 13, 2010 at 9:18 AM

    Craig, do you excuse anything a person does that means the difference between being a multimillionaire and being poor? Say, selling cocaine or heroin? Being a hitman?
    If not, then realize it’s not that humans are frail that make you sympathize with steroid users. It’s that you don’t consider steroid using to be a big deal. Shaughnessy does. Subtract out his blowhard attitude, and your attitude, too, and it’s a legitimate difference of opinion, and worthy of discussion.
    I think you make some good points when you calm down and discuss the issues, but Shaughnessy’s horse isn’t so much higher than yours.

  4. Matt M - Jan 13, 2010 at 9:22 AM

    Well put. Personally, unlike JoPo, I don’t forgive Mac. Not because I’m mad at him or anything, but because he never did anything to injure me personally.
    I think I remember the 1998 season, and, as I recall, we all kinda liked it. Everybody I knew understood that Mac was on something, but we didn’t care. If you praised him then, it’s pretty hypocritical to crucify him now. My guess, though, is that’s not true of CHB. Without doing any research, I doubt highly that he ever wrote anything nice about anyone. So that’s one thing he’s got.

  5. Craig Calcaterra - Jan 13, 2010 at 9:23 AM

    I don’t think I have the market cornered on morality, but I’m willing to stake the claim that steroid use by an athlete is something far less severe than selling hard drugs and killing people. I’d hope I’m not in the minority on that, but you never know.
    But yes, you’re right: this is about the difference between what I think is a big deal and what Shaughnessy and others think is a big deal. But I can’t subtract out his blowhard attitude here, because his blowhard attitude is what drives his very opinion.

  6. Simon DelMonte - Jan 13, 2010 at 9:24 AM

    Don’t forget Neyer.

  7. GBSimons - Jan 13, 2010 at 9:25 AM

    I have to agree with Shaughnessy on at least one point. When he says, “Please, let’s have no more baseball players telling us that steroids don’t help with hand-eye coordination. That’s not the point. Professional hitters are able to square up the baseball.”
    I believe you’re being snarky, Craig (color me shocked!), but I don’t think he means the cliched “professional hitters” who do the little things, but MLB-quality batters in general.
    Saying steroids don’t help you square up on a ball is a distraction. They help you hit the ball harder and farther, enhancing one’s ability to put bat to ball successfully.
    And – maybe inconsequentially, maybe not – I seem to recall reading a couple things about studies showing certain steroids can improve vision slightly.

  8. Simon DelMonte - Jan 13, 2010 at 9:25 AM

    I keep waiting for some sportswriter to say “that’s it, I’ve had it. They’re all frauds and hypocrites, and I quit.”
    I am going to wait a long time.

  9. Charles Gates - Jan 13, 2010 at 9:33 AM

    selling cocaine or heroin? Being a hitman?
    These are not good examples because the seller/hitter has a direct, negative impact on the other person. With steroids, perhaps you can argue that Big Mac’s usage kept him in the league a bit longer which took a roster spot away from a fringe player, costing him salary, but that’s indirect causation.
    .
    McGwire’s steroid usage came with a cost/benefit where the costs were purely personal and the benefits were astronomical. Add in the era’s contextual overtones, and his choice to use is easier to understand –not agree with, mind you.

  10. Phil - Jan 13, 2010 at 9:38 AM

    I like Rob’s writing a lot, but on rare occasion there is an whiff of moral absolutism that leaves me uncomfortable. That element is absent from Craig and Joe’s writing.

  11. Howie B. - Jan 13, 2010 at 9:59 AM

    Players took/used PEDs for many reasons, but all you have to do is look at someone like David Segui to see the true incentives in full force. He is linked pretty clearly to PED use (I don’t recall whether he admitted or was outed).
    Through his age 27 season (1994), he was a career .257/.324/.367 hitter for an 81 OPS+.
    He was no superstar, but *somehow* he was able to hang on for a 15 year career – in fact, he was on this year’s HOF ballot – and was able to earn – get this – $41.8 million dollars.
    Yes, that’s right – David Segui earned $41.8 million dollars. Say it again – $41.8 million dollars.
    20+ HRs – once. 100+ RBI – once. 100+ runs – never. Career OPS+ – 110. You take away PEDs – whether they helped him just stay healthy or actually improved his performance – and he maybe earns one-tenth of that money over his career. So instead of being out of baseball in his early thirties, with maybe enough money to retire comfortably, he’s instead set up his children, and their children, for life.
    That right there is all the incentive anyone would ever need to use PEDs.

  12. PalookaJoe - Jan 13, 2010 at 10:05 AM

    Points to Shaughnessy for a remarkably subtle Godwin. I wonder if he was saving it up for a special occasion, or if he was inspired by the situation. Either way, the mixture of absurdity wrapped in subtlety was tasty, like cheap bacon coated in high-grade maple syrup.

    Once we remove all the hyperbole from Shaughnessy’s article, there’s not a lot left. And, strangely enough, a lot of it argues against his own premise. Like Joe Posnanski said in that wonderful link, so many of these “anti-steroids” articles are practically advertisements for PEDs. By focusing on the benefits without exploring the dangers, they read like those “Who do you think you are, Hertz!?!” commercials I see on TV (the ones where a hapless competitor resentfully praises the company, then does a pratfall in the last few seconds, like jumping out of a moving car or running into a lamp post).

    Instead of taking the easy path to a “successful” article, (isn’t that exactly what infuriates him about McGuire?), I would love to see Shaughnessy perform a little research and actually talk about steroids themselves. He’s almost halfway there already, when he talks about things like hand-eye coordination and returning quickly from injury. But there’s still a long way to go. What about the side effects? What about the dangers of misusing the drugs without a doctor’s supervision? Or the danger of ordering drugs through an illegitimate channel? And what about the legitimate medical uses? An article like that would be powerful and informative, although there wouldn’t be much room for delicious, self-indulgent rage.

  13. Charles Gates - Jan 13, 2010 at 10:06 AM

    But according to Lawrence A. Herman, he had to become Marlo Stanfield in order to do it. At least he wore the crown.

  14. Zonebrick - Jan 13, 2010 at 10:06 AM

    Glad to see I’m not the only person who can’t stand Dan Shaughnessy!

  15. PalookaJoe - Jan 13, 2010 at 10:10 AM

    Apologies for jumping off-track, but this has bothered me every time I’ve posted a comment here. GBSimmons, how do you get those beautiful spaces between your paragraphs? I’ve tried using HTML paragraph tags, but they just vanish when I post. The result is a wall of text with with no visible breaks. Help me please! My comments are hard enough to read, even without the awful formatting.

  16. PalookaJoe - Jan 13, 2010 at 10:12 AM

    That sounds like one o’ them good problems.

  17. Charles Gates - Jan 13, 2010 at 10:16 AM

    I don’t know. I cheat and use periods.

  18. Lawrence From Plattekill - Jan 13, 2010 at 10:22 AM

    (I’m LAH–typed in my name instead of my usual nickname before)
    Of course, I don’t think steroid use is in the same league. I agree with what you say, and I think it’s a good argument. My point, in fact, is that your argument is the one that should be used–steroids aren’t such a big deal–instead of the argument that players shouldn’t be criticized for using them because it made them millions and therefore you can see why they did it.
    My answer to that argument, by the way (and I’m not hard line on it, just thinking things through), is that yes, steroid use isn’t such a big deal, but then the Hall of Fame isn’t such a big deal, either, in societal terms, and so the punishment fits the crime. I don’t hear Shaughnessy arguing that McGwire should be forced to give his money back. (Of course, it wouldn’t surprise me if he did.)

  19. Charles Gates - Jan 13, 2010 at 10:30 AM

    As it stands, we’ve come to an accord.

  20. Bruce - Jan 13, 2010 at 10:36 AM

    Craig,
    As usual, you are right on! Future ballots for the HOF will be contested until Yankee darlings reach eligbility….Unforntunalty,
    Sport writers unlike yourself, will be more concerned about about TMZ stories than the game…….The men played in this era with different expectations. Guity until proven guilty has become, you increased your power, your a cheater…Lets be done with this…When do pitchers and catchers report?

  21. Phil - Jan 13, 2010 at 10:51 AM

    There may be another way, but I hit twice (when I remember to, that is).

  22. Phil - Jan 13, 2010 at 10:56 AM

    Well, I think I just answered my HTML tag question while trying to respond to PalookaJoe. The missing word in that response is return in angle brackets.
    So why ismthere not a preview function for this board? ;-)

  23. Steve - Jan 13, 2010 at 11:43 AM

    I don’t think I’d bet my kids on anything – esp. this stuff.

  24. PalookaJoe - Jan 13, 2010 at 11:50 AM

    Thanks all!
    Woohoo!

  25. Jonah Falcon - Jan 13, 2010 at 12:01 PM

    Dan Shaughnessy: Ever heard of Godwin’s Law? Look it up.

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