James Leroy Wilson's blog

Friday, May 29, 2009

What a vote for Manny means

Sometimes policies are instituted only after the unexpected happens. That's understandable; no one can foresee everything. I won't fault Major League Baseball, then, for not having a policy prohibiting players who have been suspended for much of the season from being eligible for the All-Star game.

Out of respect for the game's rules, there should be a policy preventing suspended players from being All-Stars. At the same time, it's great for the game that the policy wasn't in place this year. In fact, this omission is probably the greatest thing to happen to Baseball in the entire Steroid Era, and should be the final statement about it.

That's because the player in question, Manny Ramirez, is very close to winning a spot on the All-Star team, even though he was in violation of MLB's performance-enhancing drug policy.

Before MLB instituted drug testing, several of the game's biggest stars had been suspected of using drugs that were banned by the government, but not banned by Baseball. The level of evidence varies from case to case, but the reputations of every one is tarnished considerably.

Yet, during the Steroid Era, from the early 90's until recently:
  • the Player's Union shielded players and stonewalled any proposed drug policy
  • the owners and Commissioner looked the other way
  • the media marveled at the unprecedented feats, told the fans that steroids wouldn't be helpful for baseball players, and if anything speculated that it was the ball that was juiced.
This was before there was a steroid policy. Then revelations dropped that steroids were actually commonplace and that big stars were probably using. At the news of this, the media became angry, and began to wonder if such stars do not belong in the Hall of Fame.

But what was the opinion of the typical fan, whether casual or die-hard?

During the era, it appeared they had the same view as the Union, management, and media. At the same time, one may sympathize with fans who thought the game was on the up-and-up. I, for one, followed the 1998 home run chase with some interest. I believed what I was told about workout regimens and nutritional supplements as the source of weight gain and muscle mass. I believed it when the media said that greatly-improved strength through steroieds would hurt a pitcher's control and a hitter's swing. Steroids disrupt one's body rhythm.

Then the revelations came forth that steroid use was probably true, and my thought was, "Oh, so it was steroids. Huh. What will I have for supper today?" I couldn't work myself up to have felt cheated. I couldn't work up much disappointment in the accused players.

Also, I found it hard to even get worked up about the integrity of the record book. Rare feats, and the athletes who perform them, can only be judged relative to the era in which they were performed. Everyone knows that 1950's-60's NFL running back Jim Brown wouldn't be as dominant today, as he would have rivals just as big and fast, and the defenses he would face are much larger and more athletic. 1960's NBA Giant Wilt Chamberlain would face more big men today and better athletes overall. Wayne Gretzky's passing would be disrupted by more athletic defenders, and his shots by better goalies today than in his 1980's heyday. Their accomplishments only demonstrate how much better they were than the rest in their respective eras. But their stats, taken alone, prove nothing. That goes for baseball stats as well.

Finally, I grew disgusted by Congressional investigations. I have even defended the Steroid Era, even as I'm glad MLB is taking steps to end it.

And I think the votes Manny is getting is the final statement, the coda on the Steroid Era. The media vilifies ex-players who may have used when there wasn't even a policy. Manny admits to violating the policy that is in place, yet many fans still want him in the All-Star game.

That settles it. Perhaps the Steroid Era could have been thought of as total failure by the Union, Owners, and Media, with the fans the only victims because they were deceived by the "cheating." The votes for Manny have become the response of the fans: "It's okay. We were in on it too. Perhaps we didn't know then, perhaps we were naive, perhaps we looked the other way, but today, we don't care. The users didn't do anything we wouldn't have done in the same situation."

The fan is saying, "Let's forgive and forget. By putting Manny in the All-Star game, what we are really saying is, put the best players of the era in the Hall of Fame."

And I agree. More importantly, I insist on this:
  • If you are a baseball writer with a Hall of Fame vote, and
  • if you are are outraged about the "cheating" in the Steroid Era, and
  • if you are convinced the superstars of the era with Hall of Fame numbers were users, and
  • you refuse to elect them to the Hall of Fame, yet
  • during the Steroid Era, you never raised a peep of suspicion or mounted an investigation, then
Do the honorable thing and resign your vote!

Those who are guilty of stupidity and negligence - i.e., incompetence - do not deserve a position that decides if another person is worthy of an honor. That is, an honorable baseball writer with a Hall of Fame vote and righteous anger against Bonds, Clemens, A-Rod, or Manny, should think to himself: "Wait a minute. I suck as a baseball writer because I couldn't even see what was going on. Regardless of whether they deserve to be in the Hall of Fame, I don't deserve to have a vote!"

Instead of morally judging others, we are better off just moving on, with lessons learned but no regrets.

Maybe as a result of all this, baseball fans will learn to appreciate baseball statistics, and appreciate the great athletic feats, in the context of the era and stop comparing them to history. The Steroid Era will teach them to wake up and remember to judge a player not by history, but by his own era.

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