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Carlton Fisk goes off on McGwire

Jan 20, 2010, 7:55 AM EDT

Fisk White Sox.jpgI think the best thing about the steroid revelations is that every time some new user is outed, some old timer goes absolutely nuts.  Yesterday it was Carlton Fisk’s turn.  There’s so much gold there that, rather than quote it line by line, it’s better that you just read it all.  First, though, I will quote something that was in the story when it was first posted yesterday, but was mysteriously missing when I woke up this morning:

“But this is the point I want to make: When you talk about steroids and
you talk about what it means to the game, the three greatest home run
hitters of all time–Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Willie Mays, right? When
they were 39 years old, how many home runs do you think they averaged?
The three greatest home run hitters of all time averaged 18 home runs
at age 39. Now, how many home runs did Barry Bonds hit when he was 39?
He hit 73!”

I read it in the Tribune last night, and Joe Posnanski* blockquotes it from this story in his latest post, so I didn’t make it up, but for some reason it has been scrubbed from the article today.  My guess is that it was cut as a favor to Fisk because, as Posnanski points out, it’s seven kinds of wrong. Babe Ruth hit 22 home runs at age 39, Willie Mays hit 28 and Hank Aaron hit 40.  Barry Bonds’  73 homers came when he was 36.  We see what you’re trying to say, Carlton, but you’re distorting things pretty severely here.

But flyspecking Fisk’s mysteriously disappearing quote is not what’s important. What’s important is to appreciate how insane it is that Carlton Fisk is the one taking people to task for late-career surges and calling their accomplishments “crocks,” as he repeatedly does in both the original and edited version of the story.

Carlton Fisk hit 37 home runs when he was 37 years old.  Then, after what can only be described as a horrible year when he was 38, Fisk found the fountain of youth and proceeded to put up five outstanding seasons between the ages of 39 and 43. He displayed excellent power and no small amount of durability during those years, made all the more amazing by the fact that he was a catcher and by all logic should have broken down long before then. Indeed, given his position and his performance, Carlton Fisk had perhaps the most productive late-career of any player in baseball history.

Taking him at his word, he did it cleanly. By definition, that means that it’s entirely possible for amazing late-career numbers to occur naturally.  Why then, we are to assume that everything steroid users like Bonds, McGwire, Clemens and the rest accomplished late in their careers is 100% bogus is beyond me.

Inflated? Sure, I’ll grant you that. But as both Fisk’s example and Posnanski’s masterful analysis of all of the factors that have gone into the home run surge of the past 15-20 years makes plain, steroids is not the only reason — and probably isn’t even the most significant reason — for the kids of performances we’ve seen in the era.

These players took steroids. These players are also otherworldly talents. To brush them off as mere pharmaceutical inventions is simply wrong. To do so in as ignorant a fashion as Carlton Fisk did yesterday is wrong and stupid. 

*As was the case with Jered Weaver’s arbitration status yesterday, the Germans should probably come up with a word that perfectly captures the concept of “I went to bed at 11 last night knowing that I was going to write a piece about Carlton Fisk’s insane quotes, and then woke up at 5:30 AM only to find out that Joe Posnanski did a much better job of it.”  It happens a lot actually (though not always with Carlton Fisk quotes). Posnanski is like the 6’5″ kid in the junior high basketball league. The parents should really get together and ban him, because it’s totally not fair that we have to compete against that.

  1. Motherscratcher - Jan 20, 2010 at 3:28 PM

    How come if I’m not lining up to hang McGwire in public square for the sake of the poor children then that means I’m “content to let the ‘roid-bots be the ‘roid-bots because it makes the game more exciting…”?

  2. TimberLee - Jan 20, 2010 at 3:30 PM

    What is the point of trying to deal with comments like those from Fisk by spouting logic and sense?

  3. Rays fan - Jan 20, 2010 at 4:42 PM

    Distribution of steroids became a felony in 1990 under the Controlled Substances Act. Possession’s a misdemeanor; distribution’s a felony.

  4. Malcohm McGregor - Jan 20, 2010 at 4:43 PM

    Didn’t like the way you spun the story. You came very close to saying Fisk must have been on steriods in order to have produced great numbers when he was in his 40’s. At the very least you stongly implied that he did. Why do you want to protect someone who has admitted using steriods during his baseball career? Maybe you don’t have an appriciation for the game as you should have. I along with thousands of other baseball fans are purists when it comes to baseball. Why do you want to help degrade the game?

  5. Rays fan - Jan 20, 2010 at 4:52 PM

    HGH is also covered under the Controlled Substances Act as of 1990–same as steroids are. Blood doping’s harder. Nonprescription use of erythropoetin would be illegal as it too is a scheduled drug. However, I know of no laws governing taking your own blood, storing it, and then having it transfused back into your own body. This is a banned practice in the Olympics though and is tested by checking blood counts–levels that are too high only naturally occur in relatively rare diseases (polycythemia & hemosiderosis, if you want to look the terms up) & not in healthy athletes.

  6. MarkM - Jan 20, 2010 at 6:00 PM

    True, True. Balls flew out of parks in Atlanta and Denver and probably some other parks before adjustments were made. Some parks are better to hit in and some parks are better to pitch in. It is good to have discussions about these things and get them out in the open. There is very little openess about steroid use for good reason. Those that do confess to using are pratically hung up by their cojones. However, it is my belief that many PED users had a tremendously unfair advantage over those that didn’t use. And as I stated previously, homerun totals are dropping and will continue to drop due to our “Otherworldly Talents” coming back down to Earth. As these “Talents” deflate, so will their homerun totals.

  7. Amol - Jan 20, 2010 at 6:26 PM

    Craig, I can’t believe that you, Posnanski and everyone else is missing the undeniable truth of Fisk’s statement. When Fisk talks about PED’s letting people hit more than 18 home runs when they’re 39 years old, it’s obvious that he’s subconsciously trying to confess to his own steroid use.

  8. hop2171 - Jan 20, 2010 at 9:01 PM

    Fisk should shut the hell up, there is no proof out there that lets him off the steroid hook and i wouldnt be the least bit surprised if he took as well.

  9. Jason - Jan 20, 2010 at 9:32 PM

    The more these old-timers speak, the more bitterness I hear. There’s NO way to know what a lot of these guys would have done had they played in the ‘Steroid Era’, so it’s easy for them to cry foul about it–because that stuff wasn’t as readily available to them.
    Doesn’t everyone realize how big of a role amphetamines played in the 60s or cocaine played in the 70s and 80s? They all provided a pick-me-up to keep the guys from crashing and burning by game # 150. Thinking objectively about that question, wouldn’t that be considered a ‘performance-enhancing drug by its very nature?

  10. Mr. Jotzin - Jan 20, 2010 at 9:39 PM

    The steroid argument has brought many, if not all, to take sides but the discussions regarding home run records revolve around the lack of PEDs for the old timers. As such, steroid users have had an unfair advantage by comparison. What I have not heard or read is any discussion regarding some of the more recent medical marvels that are performed on professional athletes in the modern time. Certainly Tommy John surgery provides a significant advantage for pitchers. Even if they do not appear to increase their performance currently their careers are extended as the procedure turns back the clock; therefore, allowing them to compile better or at least more stats. As I have discovered, not only pitchers but other position players have had this very same surgery performed. Should we not question their inclusion in the record books. I believe the hall of famer Paul Molitor had this procedure performed! What are your thoughts?

  11. TC - Jan 20, 2010 at 9:52 PM

    I believe Mike Schmidt has said things along those lines.

  12. MarkM - Jan 20, 2010 at 11:14 PM

    I’m glad you caught that. I looked her up on Wikipedia before I wrote that post. Marion Jones is obviously being punished much more severly than any baseball player ever will be. I don’t recommend punishment for any of them, but I would like to know the truth; even if it’s about my favorite players. Maybe it’s best for them to keep their mouths shut, considering the reactions to those who do come clean. But if I am not mistaken, there have been several players lie about PED use; some under oath and some not.

  13. Joey B - Jan 22, 2010 at 9:07 AM

    “Are you suggesting that Barry Bonds is not a ridiculously talented baseball player?”
    Bonds is extremely talented. In the days before he started cheating, I heard people say he was the best player of their lifetime. And while I think both Bench and Schmidt were better, mostly because of the positions they played, I still think Bonds is clearly a 1st ballot HOF before the cheating. And just the type of player I like, someone with 30+ HR power, can run, throw, steal bases, every bit the 5-tool player.
    Having said that, he also cheated. In his first 14 seasons, he hit between 25-37 HRs 9 times, with two outliers of 16 & 19, and three outliers of 46, 42 & 40, with an overall average of ~32 HRs. Then he averaged 52 over the next four seasons.
    All in, he’s probably about 200 HRs over what he should’ve had. You can still be a Bonds fan, and consider him the player of your generation, and still admit he was really only a 500/500 player.

  14. one tree hill - Feb 6, 2010 at 2:56 PM


  15. Kim Car - Feb 11, 2010 at 3:28 PM

    ohh…nice post but really?/? 😛

  16. Vito Reon - Feb 11, 2010 at 6:50 PM

    Hello. Great job. I did not expect this on a Wednesday. This is a great story. Thanks!

  17. cheaters justice - Feb 12, 2010 at 11:01 PM

    That’s the wholw thing about steroids and CHEATING. The credibility factor.
    But using steroids in particular is sort of like contaminating or corrupting a scientific experiment that involves working out and diet for overall fitness at middle age. It also brings into question did a player learn to make adjustments in their later years-use their experience to their advantage. Did their working out and diet allow them to prolong their skill or improve on it? Did the simple fact that were they in good shape allow them to tire as easily and add an extra couple miles an hour of speed to make the difference between the wall or the stands.
    More disturbing is anyone seeing players perform on steroids will assume the steroids did it and will not work out at all thus loosing any possible benefits. Steroids can actually act an deterent to those seeking true fitness or making gains and benefit seem unattainable by those who need fitness the most.

  18. cheaters justice - Feb 13, 2010 at 11:08 AM

    “…allow them to tire…” should read “…allow them not to tire…”

  19. mnwild - Feb 16, 2010 at 4:56 PM

    In 20 years the public will have their eyes open to the benefits of hormone replacement and 90% of men over 50 will have prescriptions from the anti-aging clinic for these dangerous and evil steeeriods.
    Honestly some of these posters should go ahead and actually learn about the body, hormone levels, fast twitch muscles etc. before polluting the web with their drivel.
    Bottom line baseball is a skill sport and the effect of additional body mass is very small and not always positive. I will say steroids help keep our aging (although any age could benefit) stars on the field and our butts in the seats watching them play at a high level.

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