The bigger they are… they bigger a villain they become


I began writing this story when Mark McGwire did his wonderful interview and admitted to using performance enhancing drugs.

It’s not done yet.

It’s a complex situation. Not because it involves McGwire, but rather because I still think so much is out there. Media reporting with temper tantrums and ignorance instead of research… a sport that simply put, is still not clean… and other factors beyond the illegal and questionable activities that cast all sorts of doubts on what should be done with the accomplishments of a supposedly dirty point in time (when history shows that the game has always had questionable activities taking place).

And so here I am… left with a written, but unfinished essay in dire need of editing and the removal of about 400 words. But in order to do the true re-write, it could be weeks before I get done with it.

So I’m going to post it. As is. Get the material out there. And hopefully, inside all of the mess and rough tangents, there’s a point or two that comes through.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Where do you want me to start?

Washington? How about Washington?

Rafael Palmeiro was at that table. Didn’t even take a year for him to test positive after saying shame-shame to everyone on the panel.

Sammy Sosa… bat corker… difficulty with English, not when dollars for promoting something was involved, but with a sudden onset as each question was asked… another of the famous alleged test failure gang.

McGwire wasn’t the worst on that day.

He wasn’t good. But he was the home run king. The biggest of the names sitting there that day. The standard of excellence that everyone seemed to either want to rip to shreds or hear provide a say-it-ain’t-so stance with certainty and conviction.

He didn’t say-it-ain’t-so… the ripping and shredding began.

The Hall of Fame? How about the Hall of Fame?

Look… there are plenty of reasons to not vote for McGwire. For those of you that care about RBIs, would you believe that the power-hitting, so amazingly feared McGwire played part of 16 different seasons of professional baseball and yet had only 6 seasons with 100 or more RBIs? And… this is the really funny part… if you want to incorporate seasons with 90+ where he didn’t reach 100 (just see if he was close at all), he had 3 of those and 2 happened before 1990. (By the way… Palmeiro… 20 seasons in the majors… 10 with 100+ RBIs. Another comparison? Mark Teixeira… 7 seasons played… 6 seasons with 100+.)

And that’s just the start of the arguments against enshrining him. RBIs can’t be the only factor in the debate, especially since many don’t like it as a statistic. Then again, lots of people want to point at steroids and steroids alone. Perhaps… just perhaps… now that we have an admission from him, there may be some merit in that argument. Ready for this? Consider…

Basically McGwire played 11.5 seasons for Oakland and 4.5 seasons for St. Louis. (His first year… albeit 18 games worth… was in 1986. He went to St. Louis in 1997.) Now…

  • He hit 363 home runs in Oakland and 220 in St. Louis. That means he averaged 32 home runs per year in Oakland and 49 per year in St. Louis. But wait… it gets better. See… a few people might point to injuries and say he missed chunks of his final two seasons. Fair enough… but year one was only 18 games, and he was injured several times in his career. (In 1993 and 1994 combined he played 74 total games.) In other words… going by the years is a pretty good gauge. But how about if we adjust things a little bit?
  • He played 1,329 American League games to hit those 363 home runs. He played 545 National league games for the 220. He hit a home run once every 3.7 games in the American League. He hit a home run once every 2.5 games in the National league.
  • Let’s compare this to a different stat… just pure hits. 1,157 AL hits in 1,329 games. Roughly .87 hits per game in the American League. In the NL… 469 hits in 545 games. Ready? That’s .86 hits per game… meaning that while statistically a dead heat, you could successfully argue that despite an improved batting average the only true differences for McGwire was an amazingly increased ability to walk and all that additional power.

Point to those power numbers and just raise an eyebrow. Just that as support for your argument, and it’s pretty compelling stuff. We’re talking about someone that in the last third of his career averaged about 17 additional home runs per season. And a game-by-game breakdown supports the improvement in power while showing no difference in his ability to safely reach base in a game via a hit.

The thing is… numbers support alot of things. Higher batting averages and more walks can be viewed in a thousand different ways, and several of them involve McGwire actually growing and improving as a hitter. And nothing more than that.

My difficulty with all of this is different though. Because while I use McGwire as an example… up until now going so far as to walk, alone, out on a very weak and shaky branch saying “but he never tested positive”… the concept still rings true. I just need a new example. For instance…

Change the names.

Ryan Howard… Prince Fielder… they haven’t tested positive. What if they cracked 50… 60… more home runs in 2010? Can you honestly tell me the game is clean today? Are you absolutely, 100% certain there is no way at all Ken Griffey used performance enhancing drugs?

Which brings me to the media… and, in a loud minority of the group, what a sniveling, gutless, chest-thumping set of members they have. That’s what most of this about for me. Not McGwire. Consistency. I want consistency from the critics, even if there is a state of constant unrest… even if situations can’t truly be compared. I want some effort.

Jon Heyman. Occassionally I’ve seen him break some important news… and I’ve heard him make some solid arguments. (Even blind squirrels can find an acorn.)

In 2006 he shared a Hall of Fame ballot with us saying that you could critique it if you wanted to, but he believed it was steroid free. (Link at Sports Illustrated no longer active.) (Steroid free? That’s what he was proud of? Come on. There’s no proof of that. Ahh… but wait… because Heyman knows of what he speaks.)

Heyman… six months later, in June of 2007 (Link at Sports Illustrated no longer active.)… about 30 months before McGwire’s admission, after he had said he would never vote for McGwire… said Sammy Sosa would be a difficult call for him. His evidence? I quote: “while Sosa grew from a skinny Rangers import into a strong man, his size never expanded beyond that of a relatively normal human. Everyone gets bigger as they get older.”

What? Did I read that correctly?

Yup… I sure did. Heyman’s evidence is that Sosa “never expanded beyond that of a relatively normal human”… which, of course, is good enough for me. How about you?

Go read the full article. Heyman repeatedly says things about Sosa like: “I know Sosa’s English is better than it seemed that day. But maybe he was nervous. Can I know for sure?” And yet… when looking at McGwire: “McGwire’s refusal to testify, and his continued stonewalling after promising to help, is tantamount to admission in my eyes, as if his behemoth body wasn’t enough evidence.”

He can’t know for sure about Sosa… admits that denials on that day in Washington are as credible as Rafael Palmeiro’s turned out to be… and yet at the very same time slams McGwire with no additional evidence, no additional research.

The bigger they are… the better the target.

I wouldn’t be mad at Heyman if he treated everyone the way he treats McGwire. Fair… consistent… that’s all I’m asking for here. (Ok... I also want some effort... but this may not be the time to look for everything...)

McGwire’s admitted it. My ability to use him as an example no longer applies. Do I need that example though? Do I need McGwire to have never tested positive when the game still has performance enhancing loopholes that you could spot from Mars with the naked eye? Do I need McGwire when the media seems bent on attacking him while not applying the same standards… the same criteria… the same research to those that played during these so-called dark, dark years?

Because my problem with steroids and everything else involved here has several levels and factors. I’ve shared many of them before. Here are two…

First, until you can show me the 100% reliable, in use test, then all of them are guilty. ALL of them. Each and every one of them. Bonds… McGwire… Rodriguez… Ortiz… Griffey… Jeter… Pedroia… Youkilis… keep going. Again… if Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder smack 65 home runs next year, is either clean? Really? Just because baseball says they test? Please… the players are using horse tranquilizers and growth supplements that were developed last week while baseball is testing for the presence of wintergreen Tic Tacs.

Second, absolutely steroids had something to do with increased numbers. But how much? When a guy hits the ball 40-feet further because of steroids, and it travels 480-feet, it still would have been gone when the walls are like 400-feet from home plate. And… McGwire played with baseball expanding (Tampa Bay, Colorado, Arizona and Florida all added during his prime years… bringing 45-50 pitchers to major league rosters that wouldn’t have been playing before the expansion)… McGwire played when Bud Selig and Rawlings were accused of juicing the balls… McGwire played with new ballpark constructions that stats say are some of the most generous to hitters that have ever been in use… and go figure, McGwire played while pitchers were taking steroids too. I ask one more time… how do we determine how much they added?

You have all of these media types claiming McGwire owes us an explanation and an apology. Sorry… I don’t buy that.

Babe Ruth didn’t apologize for Josh Gibson and Satchel Paige never playing against him in a major league game.

Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson never apologized for throwing off of elevated mounds (or benefiting from a grounds crew that personalized the home field).

I don’t believe I ever saw a quote from Yaz saying the designated hitter was embarrassing.

I’m pretty sure Nolan Ryan never gave the owners back part of the extra money he signed for when he became a million-dollar free agent.

See… if you tell me that you aren’t voting for a player because you believe he took steroids, well… I have to accept that. And as the research I did earlier in this article about the differences during McGwire’s career shows, I think you might be able to credibly give some weight to your argument. The thing is, I’m sorry to hear you won’t be voting at all. And I’m sorry that you seem to be so focused on one aspect of baseball history that you are missing the fact that there have always been problems… always been inequalities… always been an uneven playing surface in baseball.

If it’s no steroids for you, then…

You can’t vote for Alex Rodriguez. He took them. He said so.

Can’t vote for any of those players we read in the papers that are on the magic lists… and may or may not have admitted to it. Say, like Barry Bonds and the-pitcher-who-must-not-be-named. They might have taken them.

In fact, the reality is, you can’t vote for any player that has ever put on a uniform. Because you can’t prove they are absolutely clean… and therefore we must draw the conclusion that the entire game was dirty.


Of course not.

But see… that’s the problem. Because instead of actually doing some work and coming up with something better than a blanket statement, many people like Heyman take the easy way out. Would it stun you that Heyman wrote a negative column about McGwire and his admission? Didn’t stun me. Go read the two articles I linked above. And now… here’s an article from about a week ago. (Link at Sports Illustrated no longer active.)

I showed you in just a few lines that there’s a case to be made for not placing McGwire in the Hall of Fame. I showed numbers in each league that can be matched up with the vague timeframe of usage he offered. I showed his consistent lack of production in driving in runs. And that was just a thumbnail sketch of a case. There’s more if you want to take the time to look.

But I don’t have a Hall of Fame vote. It’s not my job to cast a ballot and support my vote.

All of these reporters have a job to do, especially those with votes on awards and enshrinement… and especially those that make sweeping generalizations, accusations and promises. I understand they may approach the games with a bit of a bias. Heck… I have a bias in favor of McGwire because my memories of him are largely great, emotional, and positive. So they might be kinder in thinking of players that gave them interviews when they needed them, or look unkindly at those that were tough to approach. But to give a blanket “I won’t vote for him because he took steroids” doesn’t work. It means you vote for no one. If you’re that 100% adamant about a steroid-free vote, then you can’t vote. (And even Heyman might have some redeeming qualities, since he seems to realize this causes a problem. (Link at Sports Illustrated no longer active.))

The thing is, many people have their minds made up. 100% and will never be changed. Not all reporters, but several. And the Hall of Fame stance shows it. “Well Bonds was great before he took them” I’ve heard in some fashion or another. You have too. As if that statement alone makes it different. And… (hold on, new paragraph…)

I am firmly convinced that McGwire could have dropped to his knees, clasped his hands together, offered an apology and begged for forgiveness, said he respectfully would ask for his stats to never be remembered and for no one to place any lasting vote in his favor for immortality. He could have delivered it without a return to St. Louis being involved, and with sincerity beyond doubt. And Heyman… if not him, then someone… would have said he didn’t cry. Nothing McGwire could have done would please these people… nothing… nothing… nothing at all. Whatever it was it wasn’t going to be enough. Whatever it was it was going to be wrong.

He makes an easy target. He makes a big target. Big Mac no longer playing the role of Paul Bunyan. The bigger they are, the harder they fall. There’s some truth to that one.

Steroids is a part of baseball history. And baseball history is filled with stories, raising the game’s standing at times, smudging it at others… and many of those stories are tossed to the side. Forgotten. It’s the lesson of history… fresh wounds hurt the most. Steroids, decades from now, will be a part of the history and not an immediate thought.

I happen to have good memories when it comes to McGwire. There are reasons for that. But whether or not you agree with me about him and his recent admission, understand that there are agendas at work. There are those that knew their reaction before he said a word. And there are those that don’t want to do the work to justify having an opinion. And that’s the real shame in all this.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at