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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 EDT

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.

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