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If you judge a players’ character, you have to acknowledge the forces which shaped his choices

Jan 8, 2013, 4:26 PM EST

Ken Caminiti

Tom Verducci has a major piece on PEDs and baseball today, all of which serves as a preface to his Hall of Fame choices.

Obviously he and I disagree on the issue, but his take is cogent, well-reasoned and strong. Which makes sense given that Verducci was way, way ahead of all of his media brethren when it came to reporting on steroids and has thought about the matter more than just once a year when his Hall of Fame ballot shows up.  If you consider PED use to be a disqualifier for the Hall of Fame, you basically have to follow Verducci’s lead here: presume innocence, then act on actual information or evidence rather than playing parlor games.

But I do take issue with Verducci when he takes the exceptions to his position one-by-one.  He does an acceptable job explaining his differences with the “it wasn’t against the rules,” “everybody did it” and “the Hall of Fame already has bad apples” arguments.  Again, I disagree as a matter of opinion on some of these points, but I think his position is a coherent one based on the opinion he holds.

I think he errs, however, by portraying baseball players as having made the free, moral choice to either take drugs or not take drugs, consulting only their conscience and a syringe. That’s because steroids in baseball was never just about players’ choices, but the knowing acquiescence of clubs and the league as well, and that necessarily impacted players’ choices, no doubt forcing many of them to make bad choices.

Indeed, the Mitchell Report detailed instances of clubs being well-aware of players’ steroid use, but only caring about it insofar as the player going off the juice may hurt his production. Managers, coaches and front office players knew or should have known about it and did nothing. Well, they profited from them of course, but they never, to my knowledge, punished a single player for violating the rules Verducci so clearly explains everyone was well aware of.

I don’t offer this as just another excuse — “hey, no one else cared, so why should we?”  To the contrary, this is important specifically to those who do care. People like Verducci, in fact. Because if you take seriously the ethical and moral choices players made, you have to appreciate the context in which those choices were made. Yes, some players probably sat back and said “hell, I wanna hit more homers.” But many more likely felt the pressure to take steroids to save their jobs or solidify their careers with the full knowledge that their clubs would reward the performers and punish the non-performers, with no questions asked about the provenance of that performance whatsoever.

I don’t think we should be judging players’ character in the first place, but if you do judge one’s character, I don’t see how the prisoners’ dilemma into which many players were thrust can’t change the calculus for you to some degree.

  1. DelawarePhilliesFan - Jan 8, 2013 at 4:45 PM

    “But many more likely felt the pressure to take steroids to save their jobs or solidify their careers with the full knowledge that their clubs would reward the performers and punish the non-performers, with no questions asked about the provenance of that performance whatsoever.”

    So actually, it’s the clubs fault that guys juiced. Thanks for clarifying

    P.S. – I broke into your house and stole your TV set – do you have any idea the pressure I am under to have a better TV set?

    • cur68 - Jan 8, 2013 at 4:48 PM

      If that TV set in Craig’s cat-guarded home was worth millions, you and everyone else were encouraged to go for it by every authority figure you knew, and the law around TV set theft wasn’t being enforced? You’d be at the back of a pack of thousands of people trying to steal Craig’s TV.

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Jan 8, 2013 at 4:58 PM

        Wow, encouraged by every authority figure?

      • cur68 - Jan 8, 2013 at 5:01 PM

        You overstate, I overstate. Quid pro quo.

      • alang3131982 - Jan 8, 2013 at 5:14 PM

        I think the point is that — there was absolutely no one saying the choice was wrong. Inherent to drugs/illegal substances is obviously that it is wrong, but it seems like clubs, the media, trainers, fans, etc. treated the use of PEDs as underage drinking of perhaps smoking pot — a lot of people dont really see that as an immoral act, which makes it easier for individuals inclined to do those activities to do so. Basically, where was the moral police when this was happening?

      • sabatimus - Jan 8, 2013 at 6:26 PM

        Yes: Quid pro quo, Doctor.

      • cur68 - Jan 8, 2013 at 8:06 PM

        Hands off my liver.

      • raysfan1 - Jan 8, 2013 at 8:55 PM

        But you signed a liver donor card.

      • cur68 - Jan 8, 2013 at 9:08 PM

        I’m using it, eh?

      • nbjays - Jan 9, 2013 at 8:40 AM

        And if you know ANYTHING about us Canadians, you know we use (and abuse) our livers more than any other internal organ we own.

    • Matt Hunter - Jan 8, 2013 at 4:50 PM

      Nice strawman. He’s not saying it’s all the club’s fault or all the player’s fault, but that it’s a complex situation, one in which many factors have to be taken into consideration. You can’t just isolate the action from the context. You can never just isolate the action from the context.

      • Chris Fiorentino - Jan 8, 2013 at 5:00 PM

        “Those sons a bitches McGwire and Sosa getting all that fame for their steroid-tainted home runs!!!! BULLS**T!!! I’m going to show those M****R F*****S what steroids can do!!!!!” – Barry Bonds in his living room watching Cubs-Cardinals September 8th, 1998.

      • DelawarePhilliesFan - Jan 8, 2013 at 5:00 PM

        You’re right – Craig never sticks up for the juicers, or looks to assign blame elsewhere.

    • Chris Fiorentino - Jan 8, 2013 at 4:53 PM

      “That’s because steroids in baseball was never just about players’ choices”

      I kinda disagree here Craig. It was always about the players choices. Some may have felt they had no choice. But are you trying to say all players did steroids or some type of PED? If not, and if you believe that some/many/most players did NOT do PEDs, then basically the ones that did had a choice. And they chose poorly.

      • tigerprez - Jan 8, 2013 at 6:07 PM

        Good point. There were doubtlessly some guys who fizzled out at Triple A because they chose not to roid up. Of course, it’s not difficult to understand why someone would choose to use PEDs when they stood to make millions of dollars and gain fame and respect — especially given what then seemed like a total lack of possible repurcussions. But it’s one thing to understand the context of using PEDs and another to celebrate and absolve those who did them because of that context. Would you apply that kind of reasoning to the guys on Wall Street who caused the financial meltdown through their reckless behavior? Everyone was doing it, right? It was encouraged and they were rewarded for it.

  2. Matt Hunter - Jan 8, 2013 at 4:47 PM

    “If you take seriously the ethical and moral choices players made, you have to appreciate the context in which those choices were made.”

    This sentence is almost too perfect. Thank you, Craig.

    • bigsuede - Jan 9, 2013 at 1:35 AM

      Yea- the context in which the players who were doing the steriods went WAAAAAAAY out of their way to make sure no one knew about it. These players didn’t openly take these drugs- they knew it was wrong- they knew it was cheating.

      And it is complete BS that the teams knew and were encouraging it. I am an A’s fan- I knew some that worked in the low levels of the front office. No one thought back in the 90’s that people were using steriods because everyone thought it didnt help- it didnt occur to anyone.

      Finally- if you let steriod users in- you diminish Frank Thomas. Frank Thomas should have been WORSHIPPED by the whole country- in the context of the history of baseball- he was really impressive- but with steriods he was never in conversations about the best in baseball.

      I think too many people here dont like the thought that what they watched for 10-15 years was all a lie. I understand that the A’s championship in 1990 is meaningless- that my heroes of McGwire and Canseco were nothing but frauds. Others here should learn to deal with it- instead of trying to rationalize celebrating cheating

      • abaird2012 - Jan 9, 2013 at 10:00 AM

        Good pont in there — I remember when it became apparent that steroids were rampant in the NFL, that the narrative for baseball was, “nah, they wouldn’t do you any good because you don’t wanna get all musclebound — gotta stay loose!”

        Up until 1998 or so, anyway …

  3. kirkvanhouten - Jan 8, 2013 at 4:49 PM

    Two points on steroids and the hall.

    1. It is argued that anyone who did steroids is not worthy of the Hall of Fame. MLB itself does not levy this as a punishment and advised against retro-actively punishing offenders. If players within this organization are the ones we are honoring, why are we ignoring the advice of the organization itself?

    2. A number of voters keep people out due to “discounting”. IE…”but McGwire wasn’t far enough over the threshold”. This strikes me as incredibly silly. It’s an attempt to suggest *what would have happened* instead of what did. It reminds me a bit of the Mattingly logic, the “well, if he didn’t get injured”…well, he did. The fact is, McGwire hit 583 home runs, those home affected the outcome of games and pennants.

    3. You’re not so much punishing users as punishing those who got caught and rewarding those who didn’t. We all know there are almost certainly players in the hall who did steroids and almost certainly others who will get in. They are a product of their environment. Sure, it was the wrong thing to do, but it was done in an era where it was rampant with a wink from MLB. Do we just not honor anybody who played from 1993-2004? (except those we deem “clean” because we learned nothing from the Mitchell Report?)

    • rich7041 - Jan 8, 2013 at 5:21 PM

      Two points?

      “NOBODY expects the Spanish Inquisition! Our chief weapon is surprise!

      …Surprise and fear…fear and surprise…. Our two weapons are fear and surprise…and ruthless efficiency…. Our three weapons are fear, and surprise, and ruthless efficiency…and an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope…. Our four…no… “

  4. florida76 - Jan 8, 2013 at 4:51 PM

    Here’s the problem with the “outside forces” theory. You can make the same case for any illegal, or dishonest act. A thief can say they were laid off, so it was ok to rob a bank, for example. Bottom line, the guilty players ultimately must take the responsibility, they chose short term gain, and now the bill is coming home for those choices.

    • Matt Hunter - Jan 8, 2013 at 4:53 PM

      Exactly. When considering any immoral act, one must also consider any outside forces at play. Doesn’t mean you should absolve the person of responsibility, but more information can only lead to a better moral judgment.

      • sabatimus - Jan 8, 2013 at 6:31 PM

        Yes, i.e. nothing every happens in a vacuum. Except a Hoover.

      • raysfan1 - Jan 8, 2013 at 9:01 PM

        Hoover sucks

      • raysfan1 - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:26 PM

        Aw,c’mon, that was funny!

    • hsven1887 - Jan 8, 2013 at 5:12 PM

      But this isn’t about criminal acts or punishment for criminal acts, it’s just about HOF voting and how to judge a player’s character. This isn’t black/white, there are plenty of nuances in play.

      Besides, even when considering the punishment for criminal acts the situation that led to it will be considered. If there is plenty of peer pressure to break into Craig’s home and steal his TV, the guy who only tags along will get a shorter sentence than the instigator.

    • paperlions - Jan 8, 2013 at 5:49 PM

      That’s not the correct analogy. It is more akin to speeding. Everyone speeds at some time. You get where you are going quicker, you see many other people speeding, no one is getting pulled over, and you just passed a cop who didn’t pull over the people that just whipped past you….so you choose to break the law in part because many others are doing it and you just saw authority choose not to punish them.

      Players knew that people knew…hell, many (e.g. Dykstra) joked about steroid use publicly in the early 90s. Nothing happened. Players knew who was using. They knew the clubs knew. No one was being punished or questioned. So they made a choice.

      • bh192012 - Jan 8, 2013 at 7:58 PM

        So if we ever make a hall of best civilian drivers, I’ll be sure to take the alleged and proven cases of speeding appropriately. It’s one thing to speed a little (up to 3 times normal testosterone) but when your car body starts to change shape into a hot rod, cops will take notice. Then you find yourself actively avoiding the cops, and you know what you’re doing is wrong.

        For me there is an easy hard line in the sand, if you are in any way shape or form, hiding what you’re doing, you know it’s wrong (or unlawful) and worth hiding. When there is a tray of drugs next to the dugout, the speeding analogy works. Anything else is at least like a Marijuana or petty theft analogy, where the only time you get in trouble is if the authority is upset with you and has nothing better to do. However it can still screw up your record and make getting a job harder, or in this case getting into the hall.

  5. tsutor88 - Jan 8, 2013 at 4:58 PM

    You can speculate all you like about who advised the player to take the PEDs, who provided the drugs, who knew about it, covered it up etc.

    Unless there is concrete evidence…all one can do is point a finger at the player in question, for he is the ultimate authority on what he allows inside his body.

  6. Kevin Gillman - Jan 8, 2013 at 5:05 PM

    I’m curious here, why do baseball writers care more about PED’s than Football writers? The reason I ask is simple, it was, and still is used in sports, and if people ignore it isn’t in Football, then isn’t that as bad as not doing anything?

    • alang3131982 - Jan 8, 2013 at 5:17 PM

      Maybe fans care more? I dont think football fans care….their Hall of Fame isnt really about numbers, whereas baseball is? Baseball has more historical numbers?

  7. louhudson23 - Jan 8, 2013 at 5:24 PM

    @Kevin,the reason is that in football,there is no evidence of steroids blowing up football’s record book. However much stronger or faster that steroids make a football player,there is no explosion of 3,000 yard rushers,35 sack defensive ends or any other distortion of the game.Much like greenies in baseball,there is no discernible effect on the performance of the player,at least in terms of production and altering the way the game is played.Steroids had a direct and obvious effect on hitters production. Like they do in weightlifting and track and field. Records fall and non users are shutout.Why they effect hitters may not be exactly clear,but they most assuredly did so. The herculean feats of Bonds,Mcgwire,Sosa were the extreme,but the overall explosion of 40hr and 50 hr seasons as well as overall hr production was through the roof. They changed the way the game was played. Pitchers may have benefited from them as well,but not by 120 mph pitching staffs or proliferation of 30 win seasons. It was fake. It was wrestling. And now HR production has dropped precipitously. They still play in smaller parks,and the players are as year round fit and strong as ever(sans the juice) so where did all the HR’s go? Why is defense important again,speed a commodity once more? Because the juicer’s have become fewer and farther between….how can we know…..count the HR’s …..

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jan 8, 2013 at 6:03 PM

      There’s one giant [citation needed] for your comment. Lots of stuff is flat out wrong (the chemistry regarding amphetamines lack of effect on hitters), steroids directly affecting HR production, etc.

    • brazcubas - Jan 8, 2013 at 6:40 PM

      http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/index.php/home-runs-have-made-their-return-to-mlb/

      It’s not nearly as clear cut as you’d like it to be, the increase in strikeouts over the past decade+ has possibly contributed as much to the decline of total home runs, as improved drug testing has. If you look at rate numbers (in the above article HR/contact), instead of HR totals, the decline is not nearly as obvious.

  8. Jonny 5 - Jan 8, 2013 at 6:36 PM

    The HOF has become a sideshow thanks to many BBWA members competing for the most hits, clicks, links, and fwds. I don’t care who gets in and who doesn’t or the reasoning behind it anymore, I’m sorry but I don’t. Sure I’ll bring the kid there soon and maybe some grandchildren if I’m lucky one day, but I don’t really care who is in there and who isn’t anymore. It’s a sideshow and it doesn’t matter. I’m sure most ball players take it as an honor to be inducted and relish it, good for them, I’m glad it worked out for them.

  9. unclemosesgreen - Jan 8, 2013 at 6:51 PM

    Excellent piece – and I’d even take it a step further. There was also tremendous peer pressure to juice. I will be called a lot of names for saying this – but screw it – it’s the internet – I’ve been called a lot of names already – Guys who refused to juice were looked upon as bad teammates. Flies in the ointment. Monkeys in the wrench. Not just by authority figures, but by TEAMMATES. Viewed as loss accumulators instead of victory warriors. Thought of as soft and lacking in testicular fortitude.

  10. Nobody's Elf - Jan 8, 2013 at 7:24 PM

    Sorry, but the whole thing smacks of hypocrisy coming from Verducci or any sportswriter for that matter. They were part of the steroid problem. They knew about it well before 2000 — before Caminiti, before Clemen’s trial, before Bonds’ record, etc. They knew about it before Sosa-McGwire in 1998. They knew as far back as when McGwire hit his 49 bombs as a rookie.

    They perpetuated the era by not protesting it then. They were as complicit as the owners, players and fans in the whole deal. So who are they to moralize now and say this or that person shouldn’t make the Hall of Fame?

    Seems to me the time has come for Hall of Fame voting to get taken out of the hands of 600 well-paid hypocrites.

  11. simon94022 - Jan 8, 2013 at 8:57 PM

    Verducci is a fine writer. But at the end of the day he is arguing that Jack Morris is a Hall of Dame pitcher, and Roger Clemens is not.

    He also acknowledges circumstantial evidence that indicates Jeff Bagwell was likely a PED user — then votes for Bagwell anyway under the “not proven” theory. How many HOF candidates are PROVEN PED users? What is the evidence against Barry Bonds other than circumstantial? Does being named in the Mitchell report constitute “proof?” How about a positive test — will Verducci vote for Ryan Braun 10 tears from now?

    If you refuse to vote for PED users you have a choice:

    (1) reject only those “proven” by some sub-judicial standard to have used, and thereby vote for at least some likely users anyway.

    Or

    (2). Reject anybody you personally suspect of using, and thereby block the admission of worthy clean players (while still almost certainly voting for PED users you never suspected).

    This is a loser’s game, played by group-thinking writers who fail the basic tests of logical reasoning.

    • Nobody's Elf - Jan 9, 2013 at 1:38 AM

      There are layers of complexity here. Suppose Biggio or Bagwell were clean (and that’s a good assumption). They had to compete against the likes of Clemens and Bonds and a cast of thousands on the juice. Does that diminish their accomplishments…or magnify them?

      And just how far back does this go? Shouldn’t, say, Rickey Henderson, be under some kind of suspicion? Look at how chiseled that guy was. Was it natural?

      Look a Maddux. He didn’t LOOK like a steroid user. But look at HIS numbers. How were they possible?

      This is all too sticky. To be hiding behind the “moral” argument is a bit chicken.

  12. APBA Guy - Jan 9, 2013 at 4:05 AM

    It’s interesting to see the parallels in professional cycling to those in baseball. Cycling has been on a veritable crusade to go back in time and cleanse itself. And the comments above about how if you didn’t use steroids in baseball you were viewed as a bad teammate, are supported by the group dynamics in cycling. When the common ethos is cheating, if you choose not to cheat, you are an object of suspicion and therefor not one of us, not one of the team. This dynamic is well documented primarily on Armstrong’s teams, and also on other cycling teams.

    So you have to believe there were two layers at work in baseball: the individual one, ie Barry Bonds refusing to take a back seat to Sosa and McGwire. And also the team one: are you one of us, or not? This combination of forces helps explain why so many chose to juice, and why some teams, like the A’s of the late 80’s and early 90’s, had such depth of users called out by the Mitchell Report. It’s part of the context Craig talks about in his post.

  13. gabrielthursday - Jan 9, 2013 at 7:57 AM

    no doubt forcing many of them to make bad choices.

    I’m sorry, but none of the factors you point to can extinguish moral agency. Doubtless external factors and pressure can reduce one’s moral culpability, but no one forced anyone to do steroids or hgh.

  14. simon94022 - Jan 9, 2013 at 8:35 AM

    The problem is nobody knows what any player’s moral choices actually were.

    How does anyone know that Frank Thomas or Craig Biggio or Jack Morris or Cal Ripken were “clean”? This is simply an assumption.

    Verducci himself makes the case for Bagwell as a probable PED user, but then absurdly votes for him under the “not proven” theory, while refusing to vote for “known PED users.”. But other than the tiny number of players who have confessed to PED use, who has been “proven” and by what standard of evidence?

    All this talk of judging character assumes we can know who used PEDs and who didn’t. We will never know either.

  15. makeham98 - Jan 9, 2013 at 9:32 AM

    The Mitchell Report singles out players from a very narrow group of teams linked mainly by a very reliable Lite Beer expert. His “evidence”, mainly his getting po’d at Clemens, has been discredited.

    The Mitchell Report is anecdotal at best. Canseco was more reliable.

  16. thegreatstoneface - Jan 9, 2013 at 11:26 AM

    …while it’s true that context is awfully important…that doesn’t change the fact that each individual made their own choice, and are thus responsible for the choices that they made and the repurcussions that they face.

    arguing otherwise is absurdly disingenuous.

    (shrug)

    craig’s a lawyer by training, right? wud never guess…

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