So I was sitting here yesterday working on a piece I want to run this week when I got a text from Big Rell.
“Olbermann just talked about your Ruth/Bonds column on ESPN Radio.”
That was a shocker. I wrote that weeks ago. You can’t even get to it now without an Insider subscription.
Anyway, I asked Rell on the computer what Olbermann said. Turns out he didn’t mention my name, but he did say the idea that Ruth’s records are are illegimate as Bonds’ was “ridiculous.”
That was interesting. I actually got more of a kick out of the fact that he disagreed than if he had. When folks remember the things they disagree with, you’ve really hit them. I can dig that.
But is that premise really ridiculous, that Bonds and Ruth’s records should be viewed with equal skepticism? I don’t see how.
What Olbermann seemed to miss in that piece was my belief that the culprit in this steroids stuff is baseball. Bonds may have cheated according to commonly held notions of fairness, but he wasn’t breaking baseball rules by using steroids before 2004. They weren’t illegal at the time. So there’s really no knock there on Bonds.
It’s not his fault that the players’ union never allowed ‘roid testing.
And in the case of segregation, the culprit was baseball. Segregation was cheating according to commonly held notions of fairness, but it was the law of the land of baseball. Judge Landis and the boys kept the momentum going on the color barrier.
It’s not Ruth’s fault that blacks weren’t allowed to play.
What people haven’t considered is why steroids should have been illegal. We know that steroids have adverse health effects. And you don’t want a league where players have to endanger themselves to compete at the highest level. The problem with them is more than just performance enhancement. The regulations have to be in place to protect players from having to go to unreasonable lengths to succeed.
If you believe Jeff Pearlman’s Love Me, Hate Me–which is only my shelf but still unread by me–then you believe that Bonds started using steroids because McGwire and Sosa passed him using drugs and it killed Bonds inside to see that. So while he’s painted as the villain of this era of steroids, he could just as equally be painted as the reason why steroid testing was so necessary.
But even with that in mind, his numbers will be–and should be–viewed with a bit of skepticism. Claiming steroids were legal doesn’t change that baseball was full of funny business for a long time. That’s baseball’s fault, but that doesn’t mean the business wasn’t a little funny.
At the same time, Ruth’s records should be viewed skeptically. Not just that he was #1 when it’s possible that Josh Gibson was every bit the hitter he was, but exactly how many of his 714 home runs would have still been hit had there been tougher, deeper competition. That’s baseball’s fault, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t funny business going on.
So would someone please tell me what’s ridiculous about that? And if all you’ve got is “Ruth didn’t cheat and Bonds did,” you’re not just working on a technicality. You’re working on a fallacious technicality. Remember–steroids weren’t illegal until after the 2003 season.
Sorry Keith, but I don’t see what you’re talking about on this one. If you see what Keith was talking about, just let me know. He may be right, but someone’s going to have to explain it to me.