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ARod gets his ring

At some point in the next few days Alex Rodriguez is going to step to the plate and launch a pitch into the stratosphere.  As it lands in the stands, as he rounds the bases, and as the fans cheer he will become only the seventh human being in the baseball history to have hit 600 home runs.  And as that happens writers everywhere will fire up their computers and manufacture outrage about steroids, about tainted and illegitimate records, and about how it’s a three-horse race between LeBron, Tiger and ARod for “most hated athlete on the planet” title.  It will be very tiring.

It will be tiring because they will continue to attempt to define Alex Rodriguez for the fans, for the game of baseball and for its history and they will attempt to define him as the villain.  They will define him as STEROIDS!   They’re already doing it.  A month ago, Mark Feinsand of the New York Daily News wrote a piece in which he argued that the pursuit of 600 “lacked buzz”.  It lacked buzz, he asserted, not because several players have reached the same milestone in recent history (as Craig Calcaterra argued quite well), not because Alex Rodriguez has plenty of runway left in his career and should break 700 with relative ease, not because his breaking the record was over a month away from actually happening, but because of steroids:

So why does it seem like nobody cares?  The 156 home runs he hit during his three years in Texas may as well be placed on a separate list stamped with a giant asterisk.  If and when A-Rod hits No. 763 to move past Barry Bonds – and based on the nagging injuries and lack of home run power he’s shown for most of this season, that can no longer be considered a lock – it may very well conclude the most joyless pursuit of a major milestone in sports history.

Not content to let Feinsand corner the market on unscientific analysis and fuzzy math, Tim Dahlberg fired up the indignation machine on Wednesday.  His words need no introduction:

Forgive me, though, if I don’t stand up and cheer. Because we’ve all seen this act before. A magical mark. A tainted player.  Another entry into the record books we can’t believe.  About the only thing missing is an immense, shaven head and the traveling circus that always seemed to surround it. Say what you will about Barry Bonds, he always made for good entertainment.  There’s nothing terribly entertaining about A-Rod reaching 600. It’s a joyless occasion for all but the most blinded Yankee fans.

Is there anyone left who seriously wonders why newspapers are failing?  To Mr. Feinsand, Mr. Dahlberg and every other writer, pundit and hack out there who will over the next few days feel compelled to contextualize this home run in the conversation of steroids, asterisks, illegitimacy and Barry Bonds: kindly be quiet.

I don’t care what you think about Alex Rodriguez, and I don’t care that Alex Rodriguez took steroids.  It doesn’t shake my world.  Baseball has been a part of my life since I could think thoughts.  I used to read box scores in the newspaper on my way to first grade and Alex Rodriguez taking “boli” in the Dominican Republic doesn’t make me question the purity of my childhood in the least bit.  No one can quantify how much it helped him, not Mark Feinsand or Tim Dahlberg, and not even people with opinions actually worth reading, like Will Carroll, Nate Silver or Tom Tango.  Similarly, no one can quantify just how many people used steroids, including the pitchers off whom Rodriguez homered.  No one can tell me why Rodriguez’s crime is so much worse than every player in the 1970s that was hopped up on amphetamines or cocaine.  No one can explain why the line that Major League Baseball draws between what is allowable and what is not constitutes some sort of sacrosanct arbiter of morality.  No one can tell me, no one at all, just how many fewer home runs Alex would have hit had he pumping himself full of creatine instead of boli.

But we know this already.  We know that talking about steroids is a cottage industry for writers without creative ideas or the ability to adjust to an ever-changing way that we understand and discuss the game of baseball.  We also know that steroids has become a convenient excuse to vent pre-existing hatred for Alex Rodriguez.  But I’m not going to let people who talk about Alex Rodriguez as if he were responsible for worldwide hunger and the BP oil spill tell me how to think about him and his accomplishments.  Yes, he took steroids.  He may have taken them for longer than he admitted.  He may be taking them right now (note: this would be awesome).   But guys like Feinsand and Dahlberg don’t get to define what Alex Rodriguez means to me.  He’s one of the greatest players of all time, and last October he gave us a few of the best moments in Yankee postseason play in the past decade.  Then he hoisted the World Series trophy above his head.  I’m an Alex Rodriguez fan, and I’m not going to apologize when I cheer him on to 600 and beyond.  If that makes me one of “the most blinded Yankee fans” on the planet, so be it.

27 Responses to “In Praise of 600 and Alex Rodriguez”

  1. Sorry if this double posts but I think my first one got eaten.

    No one can tell me why Rodriguez’s crime is so much worse than every player in the 1970s that was hopped up on amphetamines or cocaine.

    There were also likely several of them using steroids too. Tom House said that 6-7 pitchers per team were using steroids in the 60′s and 70’s. Tom House was a teammate of Hank Aaron, who had a very unusual late career HR spike (go look at the best HR/AB ratios of his career, they came long past his “prime”). No one should be above suspicion from at least the 70’s on, if not earlier.  (Quote)

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    Stephen R. Reply:

    Very interesting point.  (Quote)

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  2. My friend from The Bat Shatters sent me the following quote, which I found interesting to say the least:

    “PEDs can affect, if anything, musculature, which in baseball translates to power. They do not, and cannot, do anything to improve hand-eye coordination, vision, ball judgement, timing, or any of the factors that go into hitting except actual power, the bat speed that determines the ball velocity and thus its travel distance.

    Examinations of the actual records of major-league baseball for over a century, with a special focus on the last 25 or so years, those now being attributed to a “steroids era”, show clearly and conclusively–by a number of independent analyses by a number of independent analysts each using a different methodology–that there simply is not any power boost needing explaining: PEDs are an “answer” lacking a pertinent question. This fact has been disguised by the analytically faulty method of counting power events instead of determining their rate of occurrence in hitting, and further confounded by changes in the baseball, notably the juicing whose effects were felt in 1994 and possibly back in 1993, when the change occurred.

    PED use, to whatever extent it may have existed, simply did not affect any of the performance records of major-league baseball.”  (Quote)

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    the other Steve S. Reply:

    I would ask your friend then how Bonds, McGwire and Sosa got tremendously better (from already good baselines) at an age when historically, performance starts to drop. Unprecedented improvement, all at the same time. To call this a coincidence or the result of improved training methods beggars the imagination. The effect of PEDs certainly cannot be quantified but no rational thinker can deny it.  (Quote)

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    Steve H Reply:

    I agree with this. Steroids make you stronger. If Bonds hits a ball 395 feet for a HR instead of 370 feet for a flyout because of increased muscle mass, steroids help. Like you said no way to quantify, but to dismiss them is wrong. And as a whole they seemed to help batters more than pitchers.  (Quote)

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    Stephen R. Reply:

    I’m not so much dismissing them as taking two similar approaches to them: apathy and agnosticism. I don’t know how much it helped, and I don’t care.  (Quote)

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    Steve H Reply:

    Agreed, I don’t care either. The playing field was level, and the numbers are no more tainted than Ruth playing against only white players, Maris hitting 61 after expansion in a longer season, and steroid/greenie use since. There is no “pure” era.  (Quote)

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    AdamK Reply:

    I’m the friend and quote is not mine. The url is here: http://steroids-and-baseball.com/ PLEASE, do your research before you point out a few outliers.Yes, Bonds, Sosa and McGwire used steroids and yes, a number of their homeruns were probably enhanced, but in the grand scheme, these players were already HR hitters (McGwire hit 49 as a rookie in 1987). What the research argues is that though these players might have hit a few more homeruns with steroids (almost statistically insignificantly more), steroids did not attribute for all their homeruns.

    No one is denying the effect of steroids (that’s not what the website argues), they’re simply saying the effect is not nearly as great as everyone wants to think it is.  (Quote)

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    the other Steve S. Reply:

    The players I mentioned did not hit statistically insignificantly more home runs during the suspect years. That is in fact the phrase that made me snort milk out my nose. 73 home runs, from Barry Bonds? Seriously? No one said steroids attributed for ALL their home runs (your words). But when you have dozens of guys hitting 50 after decades of that being an incredible rarity, it’s hard to not smell something. I don’t care to engage on the whole topic of steroids and sullied records but to dismiss the effect seems naive.  (Quote)

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    AdamK Reply:

    Read the linked website before you make comments like this…there were a number of scientific studies done (independently mind you, using varying techniques) that each suggest that steroid effects in baseball were negligible. Like I said, I’m not denying that steroids played a role in higher HR rates during the mid-to-late 90s. Like I said, please read the website, it’s insightful and you’ll probably learn something.  (Quote)

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    classicsteve Reply:

    “PLEASE, do your research before you point out a few outliers.Yes, Bonds, Sosa and McGwire used steroids and yes, a number of their homeruns were probably enhanced, but in the grand scheme, these players were already HR hitters (McGwire hit 49 as a rookie in 1987). What the research argues is that though these players might have hit a few more homeruns with steroids (almost statistically insignificantly more), steroids did not attribute for all their homeruns.”

    I’m not going to discuss the self-righteousness/morality of this issue.Baseball, except for people involved in the industry, is entertainment and how and why one enjoys it is subjective depending on the individual’s preferences.However, to say that Bonds only hit a few more homers during his period of steroid use, even accepting the fact that the ball was presumptively juiced beginning in 1993, flies in the face of objective reality.Lets’s look at the numbers for Bonds from 1993-1998 prior to his utilization of steroids subsequent to the McGwire/Sosa HR race and then from 1999- 2004 when even the dimmest would acknowledge that he was taking PEDs.

    Year HR/ABs

    1993 1/11.7
    1994 1/10.6
    1995 1/15.3
    1996 1/12.3
    1997 1/13.3
    1998 1/15.0

    1999 1/10.4
    2000 1/8.8
    2001 1/6.5
    2002 1/8.8
    2003 1/8.4
    2004 1/8.2

    Taking the composite, Bonds’ HR/AB ratio from 1999- 2004 was approximately 35% better ( ~1/8.5 Abs) than it was in the six year period from 1993- 1998( 1/13.0 ABs) when he wasn’t using steroids but the ball was equally juiced.Obviously, there is some statistical noise involved- expansion, new ballparks,etc.- but to call this increase statistically insignificant is flat out wrong

    As far as McGwire, I accept that it is impossible it is impossible to make a similar comparison because we don’t have enough statistical data during the period when the ball was juiced and he wasn’t .Based on his brother’s account, he began to do serious PEDs prior to 1995 after he missed all but [74 gaemes in 1993 and 1994 combined and his career was hanging in the balance. Prior to 1995, McGwire’s best HR/AB rates were in 1987 9 1/11.3) and 1992 ( 1/11.1).For the period from 1995- 2001, the guts of his career, his HR/AB rates were as follows:

    1995 1/8.1
    1996 1/8.0
    1997 1/9.2
    1998 1/7.3
    1999 1/8.0
    2000 1/8.9
    2001 1/10.1

    How much of this increase was due to steroids and how much was due to other factors such as the juiced ball or expansion, new ballparks,etc- I would have to dig a little deeper into how his increase compared to the overall increase of HRs throughout baseball.

    .  (Quote)

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    AdamK Reply:

    Like I said to the other guy, read the website, these aren’t my “facts.” These are the facts produced by independent research projects conducted using all sorts of statistical methods. If you read the website, you will leave, as I did, with a different perspective. Here’s the website again in case you missed it above…. http://steroids-and-baseball.com/  (Quote)

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    classicsteve Reply:

    It reads exactly the same the second time as it did the first Maybe you ought to read it again. What Walker is saying is that the spike in home runs beginning in mid-1993 is largely attributable to a livelier baseball.What I showed above is that once Bonds began juicing in between the 1998 and 1999 seasons after being an unhappy spectator to the McGwire/Sosa HR chase in 1998, his home run proficiency in terms of HR/AB from 1999-2004 exceeded his rate from 1993-1998 by approximately 35% when an equally lively ball was in play.. Walker makes no claim that a different baseball was being used beginning in 1999 so this is not the reason. At least in the case of Bonds, his HR spike beginning in 1999 cannot be attributed to a juicire baseball. These facts are incontrovertible.  (Quote)

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    bornwithpinstripes Reply:

    so make them legal..what is all the fuss about..why would they take them,just to get cancer and other illnesses. or look good in the locker room for the other guys..  (Quote)

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  3. Stephen, this was absolutely fantastic. Excellent, excellent job.  (Quote)

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    Stephen R. Reply:

    Thanks Matt. /gloveslap  (Quote)

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    Randy A. Reply:

    I agree…I’m tired of self-righetous baseball writers standing on their soap box about this issue in baseball. Just get over it. Use of steroids and all other performance enhancing drugs was widespread from the late 70′s/early 80′s until maybe even now.  (Quote)

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    Matt Imbrogno Reply:

    Yeah, and this fake sanctity of baseball thing really gets under my skin. When has baseball ever been pure? The early 1900s saw rampant gambling, along with the exclusion of black players. The middle of the 20th century saw “greenies” and the 70′s through the 21st century have seen steroids and other PEDs. Baseball has never been, nor will it ever be, pure.  (Quote)

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    Stephen R. Reply:

    Ty Cobb stabbed a guy.  (Quote)

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    Joe G Reply:

    with a trident?  (Quote)

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    Stephen R. Reply:

    Yep. He had to lay low for awhile…  (Quote)

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    bornwithpinstripes Reply:

    Hi Matt..So why do we have rules, just let everyone do what they like…for all the guys through history that played within the rules be marginalized for the guys that crossed the line..or is it they were all no good and paint baseball with a broad stroke of cheats and criminals.. most of the things players did before the roid era was to hinder their play..drinking ect. all this stuff from the 70′s on were to enhance their bodies.. over time the drugs got better and learned how to maximize their use. so guys like ted williams. ruth .dimaggio..mays.. aaron..clemente are all lumped together? If you lived by the rules in any aspect of life,and others did things out of the rules..do you really feel every one is not pure? If you say that about politicians I will line up with you.. without knowing you, i feel you love the game.. let the guys who put needles under their skin get under yours not the game and the people who resent the ones who tarnish it. Thanks Matt  (Quote)

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    bornwithpinstripes Reply:

    agreed, whom ever got away with ,count their blessings, the guys who did not …pay the price of shame..clean it up ..move on..  (Quote)

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  4. Whenever some writer kicks up the same pathos of disillusionment about homerun chases in baseball (and even Posnanski did it today), I just go back to the feeling I had when the following things happened:

    1. A Rod hit the homer against Tazawa
    2. A Rod hit the homer against Nathan
    3. A Rod hit the homer against Fuentes
    4. A Rod held the trophy at the end of the WS.

    As a Yankee fan, I loved Rodriguez long before 2009, but those moments will never go away. He’s our guy and I will enjoy his 600th just as much as I would have had I seen Ruth’s 600th. I wouldn’t want to be Brian Bannister tonight.  (Quote)

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  5. Years back, a guy called Christopher Russo when Mike was on vacation. The guy had every Barry Bonds HR distance. The average distance surged dramatically during the steroid era. The more talented a player is, with great hand-eye coordination, the bigger the boost from steroids. The Bonds numbers speak for themselves and anyone doubting those numbers is deceiving himself.

    McGwire, folks love to talk about his rookie HR numbers, but when did he do that again? What was his HR/AB ratio pre and then during the steroid era? There’s your answer.

    As for Ruth et al not playing against black players: First, this was not cheating. Second, you really don’t have a clue in that the Negro Leagues were notorious for lack of [quality] pitching.

    My opinion is that Alex used steroids more than those three years. And that Bonds started using on and off almost immediately after going to the Giants. Eventually this will all come out.  (Quote)

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    Matt Imbrogno Reply:

    I didn’t call not playing against black players cheating; it’s still, however, a stain on the game and the fact that players of the early 20th century weren’t playing against a full line of competition should make us give at least a tiny pause when reviewing that era.

    As for the HR distance data, it says something but it’s also not definitive proof. I could just as easily argue that as the 90′s and early 00′s went on, the pitching was just downright bad. So it’s not too hard to infer that poor pitching is one of the causes for long home runs. There’s also the argument that the faster a ball comes in, the faster and farther it goes out, right? Guys have thrown harder as time’s gone on, so that could be a cause. And, the Bonds numbers are also in a pure vacuum. How do we know that the average HR distance didn’t go up during that time frame? Without comparing the two–Bonds HR distances and ML HR distances–the stat becomes white noise.  (Quote)

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  6. Very well written and thought out piece. This is the reason I love this blog. Great work!!!  (Quote)

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