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Willie Mays: serial cheater

Mar 1, 2010, 2:20 PM EST

Joe Posnanski got off the phone with the Royals’ ticket office and banged out a hell of an essay this morning on Willie Mays, greenies and cheating that flows quite nicely with what some of us were discussing in the Hall of Fame thread this morning:

Baseball in Willie Mays time, like baseball in every time, was rife
with cheating and racism and alcoholism and small-mindedness. You know,
people love to talk about the players of the steroid era cheating the
game. But did anyone in baseball history more willfully and brashly
cheat the game than Leo Durocher and the 1951 Giants, who rigged an
elaborate sign-stealing system that undoubtedly helped the Giants catch
the Dodgers and win the pennant, win the pennant, win the pennant.

There’s much more to it than that — amphetamines mostly — and it’s worth a full read.  After doing so, I would ask that someone please explain to me the basis for withholding a Hall of Fame vote from, say, Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens.

  1. Roger Moore - Mar 1, 2010 at 5:29 PM

    Basically, we’re not upset because they’re illegal, we’re upset because they screwed up our appreciation of records, which we’re into. You ask why we’re not upset about amphetamines, and the answer is because they didn’t have the same effect, and becase we didn’t know about them.
    They didn’t have the same effect, but they probably had some effect. After all, one of the things that we care about the steroid generation is that they’re breaking the records set by the amphetamine generation. Did Hank Aaron owe his career HR record to greenies? Did Roger Maris owe his single season HR record to them? Did Maury Wills and Lou Brock owe their stolen base records to them? Would there have been so many 300 game winners in the 1970s and 80s without greenies?
    I’ve phrased those as questions because I honestly don’t have the answers. But it seems to me that hardly anyone is even bothering to ask. You’re free to think that greenies didn’t have a big impact on the records you grew up caring about because nobody has dug down and printed the facts. But somehow people have the idea that it’s a good idea to expose every single steroid user, but that there’s something deeply wrong with doing the same thing to amphetamine users.

  2. Evan - Hartford - Mar 1, 2010 at 6:39 PM

    YAY! Yet another Craig Calcaterra Steroid Apologist Thread.
    .
    Lets join together and tear down every baseball legend we can! This will justify the actions of the of all the current cheaters and make us all like them again.
    .
    The problem is perception. No matter what Craig or any of the other steroid apologists say, the people have made their decision. You don’t get a second change on a first impression. Digging up dirt on Willie Mays ain’t gonna change what the casual baseball fan thinks about Barry Bonds. To them, Bonds is a cheater. To them, Mays is a hero. That’s how it is and how it will remain (barring Mays being accused of molestation).
    .
    And then comes the justification. Because cheating has been around all along, we should just ignore it and stop caring about it. If Barry Bonds did an interview and said, “Cheating has been in the game since day 1. I cheated, but so did so many other current Hall of Famers. Because they got in (or got off), I should get in.” That’s like having a murderer stand up in a court room and claim he should be let go because 1 in 2 murderers get away with it.
    .
    I’ll hand it to McGwire. He’s trying. He’s trying to make people reshape his image. The confession was a great start. Coaching will help as well. You can’t just disappear and hope people will forget about you. There isn’t a litmus test to get in the hall. Besides the numbers, it comes down to what people think about you. If you’re a major prick (like Bonds) and your guilty of cheating, you’re not getting in.

  3. Craig Calcaterra - Mar 1, 2010 at 6:55 PM

    “The problem is perception. No matter what Craig or any of the other
    steroid apologists say, the people have made their decision. You don’t get a second change on a first impression. Digging up dirt on Willie Mays ain’t gonna change what the casual baseball fan thinks about Barry Bonds. To them, Bonds is a cheater. To them, Mays is a hero. That’s how it is and how it will remain (barring Mays being accused of molestation).”
    This might be the stupidest comment in the history of this blog.
    Whether someone cheated is a matter of opinion now? Facts don’t matter?
    Steroids are the moral equivalent of molestation?
    You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression? Mark McGwire was always a loathsome cheater? What were you, born in 2004?
    But you did succeed at one thing: confirming that to you all the PED business is about is your personal perception of the players involved and not that much about what they did and how much it helped them. So bravo.

  4. DP - Mar 1, 2010 at 6:55 PM

    Pud Galvin who was the first guy to throw a no hitter and is in the hall of fame while ranking 2nd only to CY Young with 6,003 innings pitched and 646 complete games. He was the first baseball player to be widely known for using PEDs. In 1889 over 100 years before the current steroid controversy in Major League Baseball Galvin openly used the Brown sequard elixir which contained monkey testosterone.
    Baseball has always had guys looking for an edge and the golden clean era is a myth.
    If an aging America ever begins to lose its short-term memory, it will really be in trouble – because that’s the only kind of memory this country seems to have. There’s a perpetual tendency to believe that whatever is going on at this particular moment is absolutely unique in human history, but will, paradoxically, continue now into the indefinite future. Both assumptions are certain to be wrong, but meanwhile they have sent a passel of chickens scuttling hysterically around the U.S. barnyard. — Louis Rukeyser

  5. DP - Mar 1, 2010 at 7:01 PM

    Pud Galvin who was the first guy to throw a no hitter and is in the hall of fame while ranking 2nd only to CY Young with 6,003 innings pitched and 646 complete games. He was the first baseball player to be widely known for using PEDs. In 1889 over 100 years before the current steroid controversy in Major League Baseball Galvin openly used the Brown Sequard elixir which contained monkey testosterone.
    Baseball has always had guys looking for an edge and the golden clean era is a myth.
    If an aging America ever begins to lose its short-term memory, it will really be in trouble – because that’s the only kind of memory this country seems to have. There’s a perpetual tendency to believe that whatever is going on at this particular moment is absolutely unique in human history, but will, paradoxically, continue now into the indefinite future. Both assumptions are certain to be wrong, but meanwhile they have sent a passel of chickens scuttling hysterically around the U.S. barnyard. — Louis Rukeyser

  6. Larry - Mar 1, 2010 at 7:20 PM

    You were clearly too young or asleep when McGuire was a 220 lb rookie and hit 49 HRS in one of the toughest parks to hit HRs in Oakland. It’s still a rookie home run record. The PEDs clearly weren’t the reason for most of his HRs. perhaps some of the ones he hit went farther. All I can tell you is Soas was a 15-20 HR guy before he used juice and the same with Palmiero. Go look up their numbers before and during 1996-2004 Palmero was basically a singles and doubles hitter as a Cub in short Wrigley Field. McGuire already had shown he was a bonsfied HR hitter before taking steroids which is why I think he used them as he said to heal and stay healthy.
    Of course my thinking says that that also is illegal too if not perscribed by a physician.

  7. Munson - Mar 1, 2010 at 7:36 PM

    Steroids where around and used in the 60′s and 70′s. Russia gave them to their athletes in the 60′s which also happens to be the first case of doping. Terry Bradshaw and Lyle Alzado admitted to using them in the 70′s. Why is there no question about those athletes. I will put money on it that no record has been broken without some form of cheating. A lot of players took steroids. More than we will ever know. The widespread use makes the playing field more level then if it was just 4 or 5 guys which are being singled out. Pitchers were stronger along with hitters.

  8. DP - Mar 1, 2010 at 7:48 PM

    Cortisone is a steroid banned by the WADA and the Olympics but baseball players take injections like they are Tylenol and thats ok because the press has not turned that drug into a monster…but it certainly enhances performance seeing as you could not raise your arm before taking the shot or a similar type injury.

  9. Charles Gates - Mar 1, 2010 at 8:21 PM

    This might be the stupidest comment in the history of this blog.
    I so dearly hope you actually keep track of stuff like that and have a Top (or Bottom…) 10 list stashed away somewhere.

  10. Jack Meoffer - Mar 1, 2010 at 8:24 PM

    And Ruth was playing in Yankee Stadium when the leftfield foul pole was less than 300 feet. All eras had their advantage. Even Aaron played in the “launcing pad” of Folton County Stadium. You really cannot complare players of different eras because the settings were not exactly the same. Be it steroids, greenies, fences so close you can throw a ball over with your none throwing hand etc…It’s a game and we should take it for what it’s worth. It’s not life. Life goes on without baseball. It did during the last strike, and it will again during the next one.

  11. lemonella - Mar 1, 2010 at 8:55 PM

    Who is responsible for digging up this crap. Is this yet another tactic to smear someone’s name mr. calcaterra. One seriously doubts that greenies can make one a better hitter, catcher or even runner as all drugs effect each individual differently. Please pick on the current generation of players and let all the old dudes get on with the rest of their lives (those who might still be living). Give it a rest dog. Leave Willie Mays alone. Besides is taking greenies any worse than being an alcoholic??? Any one remember the revered Mickey Mantle and on and on ad infinitum.

  12. Teddy Remele - Mar 1, 2010 at 10:40 PM

    Great information in your blogpost, I saw this report on the tv the other day about this same thing and since I am getting married a few weeks from now and the timing could not have been better! thanks for the ideas!, I have bookmarked, thanks Teddy Remele

  13. Jack Marshall - Mar 1, 2010 at 11:59 PM

    I have to say that I’m pretty sick of Posnanski’s rationalizations for steroid cheats. Were there any clubhouses with bowl of steroids out to be used by everyone, openly? No, because steroid use is different in kind. Even Posnanski can’t define or describe a single example where we have any sense that greenie use contributed to a record. Is he saying Durocher’s conduct was acceptable? That it justifies other cheating? I know he’s, like, a god and all, but that’s an ethically and intellectually lazy essay if I ever read one.

  14. RC - Mar 2, 2010 at 12:04 AM

    Let’s all be honest with each other. Throughout the history of every sport, whatever anyone could do to give themselves an edge or to make them play better, they did. It’s business and they do it to make money.
    You don’t think players popped speed in the past to play a double header?
    Can we get over it?

  15. nixonsmith - Mar 2, 2010 at 12:19 AM

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  16. Lawrence From P)lattekill - Mar 2, 2010 at 6:40 AM

    I don’t really follow this. I probably respect the 56-game streak a little more than I would a 55-game streak and not quite as much as a 57-game streak, and yes, I would respect it less than if I found out he was cheating in away that made it easier for him, and I’d respect it less or more depending on what kind of cheating it was.
    And yes, it is nice to have an actual discussion, rather than an interchange of, as Cragi puts it, trafficking in outrage.

  17. Lawrence From Plattekill - Mar 2, 2010 at 6:46 AM

    Yeah, there are people, like Pete Hamil, who don’t want to drag out atuff about their favorites. I’[m in favor of finding out all we can about everyone. Although, I think we can cut a lot of the moralizing, and try to stay sane.
    Besides, Willie Mays wouldn’t sign an autograph for me when I was a kid, so the heck with him!

  18. Evan - Hartford - Mar 2, 2010 at 8:37 AM

    Craig, you need to take a step back and remind yourself that of all baseball fans, maybe 15% are as hardcore as you. The other 85% are casual fans that MIGHT be able to name 3 players on their favorite team and only know athletes by their smiles and last season’s stats. Once you do that, you realize that most people didn’t know McGwire. They might have seen him hoisting his son up after beating one of the holiest of records. Besides that, the first time they REALLY heard him speak was before Congress.
    .
    Think about that. You break one of the most important records of all time, receive unbelievable acclaim and later it’s discovered that you cheated. The vast majority of people would find that INSULTING at the very least.
    .
    Craig, lets not resort to petty insults. If you ask 1000 baseball fans what they think about Willie Mays, I’m betting the vast majority will have nothing but praise for him. You do the same for Bonds and you’ll have a STARKLY different result. That doesn’t mean that Mays didn’t cheat. Heck, even if you told them that Mays PROBABLY cheated, you’re not going to change a lot of minds. They won’t believe it because they don’t want to believe it. That’s perception my friend. Thats why people love Bill Clinton and hate Tiger Woods. Welcome to America.
    .
    I never said that steroids are the moral equivalent of molestation. That’s bad reading comprehension on your part. I’m saying that telling people that Mays stole signs is pretty damn weak at this point. People have made up their minds and that’s not going to change how they perceive him. It would take something radical to change that. Like if it came out that Mays molested kids or murdered someone or something.
    .
    Craig, this isn’t about me. As you know, this is about baseball writers and fans. I bet I speak for most of them.

  19. Craig Calcaterra - Mar 2, 2010 at 8:45 AM

    I know what people think, Evan. What I want to know is why facts (i.e. about PED use) changed people’s opinion of Mark McGwire but Willie Mays is not only immune from factual reassessment, but those who bring up facts about him are shot down with much hostility.
    Saying “you’re probably not going to change a lot of minds” may be factual. But it also proves that people aren’t interested in facts, they’re interested in biases and nostalgia and all of that stuff. I understand that. People are entitled to be as subjective about such things as they want to be.
    But I’m not content to allow baseball history to reflect those biases any more than I’m content to allow political or social history reflect such biases. To do so is to surrender to ignorance and prejudice and such a thing is anathema to me, even in the relatively unimportant world of baseball.

  20. Joey B - Mar 2, 2010 at 9:27 AM

    “I know what people think, Evan. What I want to know is why facts (i.e. about PED use) changed people’s opinion of Mark McGwire but Willie Mays is not only immune from factual reassessment, but those who bring up facts about him are shot down with much hostility.”
    1-People are mad at McGwire because he broke one of BB’s most revered records. Even more aggravating is the way he paraded his son around. If I were going to cheat on my taxes, which I won’t, I certainly wouldn’t call my kids over to say ‘watch daddy cheat on his taxes’.
    2-The ‘facts’, as you refer to them, in regard to Mays, are nothing but rumors and/or lies.
    3-The continuing defense of Mac by comparing him to someone who threw a spitball, or a batter glancing back occasionally for location, or a batter erasing the back line, is inane. Again, you’re equivocating someone driving 57 with one beer with a guy doing 120 with 10 beers, after all, both were speeding and drinking.

  21. The Common Man - Mar 2, 2010 at 10:45 AM

    Preach it, Howard Zinn!

  22. The Common Man - Mar 2, 2010 at 10:46 AM

    Thanks, Teddy. I hope the amphetamines and PEDs you use to get ready for your wedding night work wonders.

  23. The Common Man - Mar 2, 2010 at 10:55 AM

    “I am trying to read a your wonderfull story about the topic which you provide in this site and now i am satisfied which you this compliment comment.”
    Seriously, it’s like the bots aren’t even trying anymore.

  24. Luis - Mar 2, 2010 at 11:10 AM

    That last sentence was beautiful.
    .
    Also, I’m all for petty insults. Especially on the internet. Especially when they’re called for by a flagrant display of willful ignorance.

  25. William Bergmann - Mar 2, 2010 at 6:18 PM

    Everyone “cheats” in baseball, it’s part of the game. Steroid use is “overcheating.” That’s why the get the hook.
    This problem would disappear if Vin Scully was made Commissioner!

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