Wednesday, November 28, 2012

The Hall of Shame: Marvin Miller and Barry Bonds

I just had to get this out there.  As a big cosmic intersecting synchronicity, Marvin Miller, the famed, long-time union leader for the MLBPA passed away, just days away from Hall of Fame announcement of who got in this year, with Barry Bonds being one of the big steroid question marks on the ballot, along with Clemens and Sosa as well.

ogc thoughts

Marvin Miller Should Have Been in the Hall of Fame While Alive

It just makes a big joke of the Baseball Hall of Fame that Marvin Miller is not in there.  Whether you like the results that he brought into the game or not, he was a huge figure in the middle of the breakthrough years for the players association where they broke out from the yoke of slavery to the MLB, then turned it all around with arbitration and free agency.  That is everlasting fame that the Hall of Fame should not and cannot deny.  Shame on the Hall of Fame for not putting him in while he was alive, he lived to 95 for gosh's sake and he battle liver cancer the past few years as well, so it wasn't like people didn't know it wasn't coming, if not just for the age, but the disease.  That he died without getting in - in fact, he was bitter about this and said in recent years that he would turn down the honor if it were to finally be given to him - is a blot on anyone who had a hand in keeping him out.

Barry Bonds Should Be Voted In First Ballot

Bonds could be the next embarrassment for the Hall and the baseball writers.  McGwire has already gone through the gauntlet and survived enough to stay on the ballot.  But he really was more like Dave Kingman than he was an Hall of Famer, in my mind, so he was not a real test of the fervor of the writers about steroids, as even without that stain, given the boost in homers in that era, he should have been borderline anyway.

Two things make Bonds a different case.   First and most of all, he already had a no-doubt Hall of Fame career when he was suspected to start taking steroids.  Whether he willingly took the drug or was tricked into it by his friend/trainer, I don't think we'll ever know the full story, but either way it looks pretty sure that he took the stuff.  However, most agree that he already had Hall of Fame career stats when he reportedly started taking.  So a non-vote for him represents punishment by those writers for him taking the drug, in spite of his achievements prior to using.

Second of all, it is still not all that publicly clear what taking steroids does for a baseball player.  Many claims are being made by writers and fans.  Plus, baseball is a different sport, where finesse and form is more important than physical strength, though strength helps if you already have the skills.

But the evidence, as gathered by famed sabermetrician Eric Walker, of The Sinister Firstbaseman fame and the A's internal Bible fame, suggests that it was a juiced ball, not juiced humans, that powered the Homer era of 1993-2008, and on top of that, his research shows that steroids does not do anything to help improve performance in baseball.  Assuming this is true - I have not had the time to exhaustively read all the citations, but I have read through the website -  I will quote one of his ending statements:
There seems little point in "punishment" for an effect-less "crime".
To me, it seems like the writers want to do this to absolve themselves of the fact that they did NOTHING all those years to investigate when it was so obviously happening.  And I'm throwing into this their shame for letting amphetamines stay in the game for over 50 years when it was happening all over the clubhouse, in fact, Krukow said in his morning KNBR show today that the team's trainer was OPENLY HANDING THEM OUT when he came up to the majors in the mid-70's.  In any case, in my mind, steroids does not help a player hit better, muscle power is not how homers are hit, for if it were, skinny Hank Aaron (when he started) would have never gotten the career record.

The Hall of Shame

The Hall of Fame is not supposed to be used as a form of punishment.  But that is what happened to Marvin Miller, making him bitter about it in his last days.  It could and probably will happen to Barry Bonds, as well as Clemens, who is also clearly a Hall of Famer (Sosa, I can go either way, but he was also caught corking too, I would note, and he was another one-note freak like Dave Kingman;  I would have to look at his career with more detail).

Which is all the shame because the writers do not know beyond a shadow of a doubt that steroids helped players.  If they would just, you know, maybe be a journalist, research the topic, starting with Walker's great website, they might realize that there was a lot of hand waving and sermonizing (and demonizing) happening with regards to steroids.

What if Bonds usage was more akin to placebo using than performance enhancing?  For if they think that they got egg on their face for not facing the steroid era head-on, from the moment that stuff was found in McGwire's locker for all to see (really, not one enterprising reporter thought to follow-up and investigate that one?  Gary Hart would sure would have had a different career in that case), imagine how bad it will look if they held out Bonds on high moral grounds that proved to be quicksand?  If all Walker presents is true, then Bonds is guilty of taking snake oil medicine or leeches, neither of which helps a player avoid a strikeout (which he did to great extremes) or hit a baseball well.

I have placed these Walker links in various places in the cyberspace, particularly websites that is known to draw a lot of readers, like The Hardball Times and Fangraphs.  I would frankly be very surprised if at least one reporter has not see the links before, not that I'm that full of ego, but I cannot imagine that the journalism profession has degenerated down so much that they do not even read baseball websites like these.  And I don't think that it is a coincidence that after years of me putting my performance box on the side, showing the team's record when a certain number of runs are scored or given up, I have started seeing this type of stat noted in the press as well.  Reporters do read websites.

So why isn't the press showing the other side of this issue?  Why not expose the demagoguery around this topic?  Maybe Walker got it wrong, but why not at least tackle the issue since people are making so many decisions and judgments based on possibly false "facts"?  And if he is correct, then it would be a huge scoop on their fellow sports writers, that person would gain a lot of fame for exposing the Emperor's New Clothes regarding steroids and bringing it to the public.  Yet nothing so far.

Amphetamines Was the True Difference Maker

To me, if anything, amphetamines was a bigger blot on baseball records than steroids.  It allowed players to play at their standard level of play, instead of being too tired to perform at that level.  That greatly affected all career records set in the last 60 years or so, since World War II brought that drug into common usage.  It is like caffeine (a legalized form of stimulant, I would add, so nobody is clean in my mind if you drink coffee or any cola drink), only better.  Where is the outrage for that?  Particularly since a number of players were exposed to have used the drug as far back as the 1960's, when Jim Bouton's book, Ball Four, came out and talked about the Yankee's drug use.

And sportswriters must have known about it.  Again, Bouton's book exposed it and yet no enterprising journalist thought to investigate this illegal drug use (perhaps because many of them were using themselves).   And reporters probably took them too when they were in the field reporting on World War II, someone somewhere must have known that usage would have gotten into baseball as well, tie the links.

Pete Rose Should Be In Too

And, in any case, the Hall of Fame does not exist to punish people, it is to honor the accomplishments that a person has made that made baseball what it is today.  That is why I think Shoeless Joe and Pete Rose should belong in the Hall too, especially Mr. Hustle, he may have gambled but the proof is only when he was a manager, and I also can't imagine that he would ever bet against himself or his team if he had done it as a player (and there appears evidence that Shoeless Joe was just a witless participant, particularly given that he hit .375/.394/.563/.956 in that series that he supposedly "threw").

Nobody drives themselves relentlessly, particularly without much pure baseball talent - Rose was a mostly modestly skilled player - and then throw a game.  He didn't achieve greatness throwing games, I think that would be impossible to do, a guy like him don't do that on a part-time basis, either you believe or you don't, and he believed in himself and pushed himself to greatness.  You can't do that part-time.

And even if he could, he's still the LEADER IN HITS ALL-TIME.  How do you keep that out of the Hall, even if he did do the unthinkable and bet against himself like a psycho, he still had more hits than anybody else in baseball history.  It is not a real Hall of Fame if the hit leader is not in there.  Instead, it is a Hall of Shame for all and any participants in the decision to keep Marvin Miller out, Pete Rose out, and, most probably, Barry Bonds out.  If ethics were so important, then they should retroactively throw out all the racists and other person with vices that is not palatable now, that is how the Olympics does it when they re-award competitions.  It would be hypocrisy not to.


  1. Good, thought provoking column, OGC. I would add a couple of points:
    1. We know steroids help muscle recovery time. This is undisputed. My brother-in-law is an eye surgeon of some repute (did Steve Holcomb's surgery) and he assures me that he prescribes steroids to recovering patients to help the eye regenerate. Thus, steroids are an advantage and definitely performance enhancing, especially for hitters who rely on hand/eye coordination so heavily.
    2. I don't think any of the suspected/confirmed PED users should be disqualified for use. Baseball turned a blind eye to this with a "memorandum" in the 90s which advised players not to use, but failed to negotiate testing until the mid 00's. That's tacit admission that such use was not outside the rules.
    3. Pete Rose should not be allowed in the Hall. There were clear rules prohibiting gambling at the time he did it. He violated the rules and that's that. It's not akin to racism, or debauchery, or even domestic violence. It's the very integrity of the game at stake. He bet on Reds games while a manager and it doesn't matter that he never bet AGAINST the Reds. Simply by NOT betting on the Reds he sent a signal to bookies that his team wasn't, in Rose's opinion, bet worthy. That's tantamount to betting against his team in my opinion. The conflict of interest is too large to ignore; Rose is out.

    Those points aside, great blog, and thanks for raising the issues. I completely agree that steroid advantage is under-researched and that the media (along with MLB and the MLBPA) abdicated responsibility to look into PED use in great detail in the 90s. Barry will likely get screwed and it's not right.

    1. 1. I'm not sure how this applies. Did Bonds have eye problems I'm not aware of?

    2. 2. That's not quite right, in my mind. I don't know how much the MLB tried to get more stricter penalties in place, but I would put the blame on the Players Association for any delays in getting testing and penalties in place. This history of the MLBPA is to prevent the players from being suspended and kept from work, that is why Steve Howe got to come back from cocaine addiction 6-7 times (lost track, it happened so many times).

      Also, since I believe that the MLB juiced the balls, I think that they were happy to let steroids be the fall-guy for the boost in offense, as the public and reporters did not seem to care that there might be something hinky about the boost, and based on the response of the public, they loved the extra offense, that restarted America's love affair with baseball after several disastrous strikes (I was pretty much done with baseball after the strike costed Matt Williams a chance to reach 60 homers).

    3. 3. Ah, that angle, forgot to cover it. Fine, as manager, he can be kept out of the Hall, but as a player, he should be in.

      I'm fine with keeping him out of baseball, if that is what people want regarding the gambling, but you can't have the Hall of Fame be worth the honor if the guy with the most hits is kept out of it.

      I guess I'm also more tolerant of gambling. This is not 1919, when the integrity of baseball was at stake. That is over 100 years ago. Also, I feel that gambling is an addiction, and he got it bad, so I can forgive him that. I'm fine with keeping him out of most baseball operations jobs, but he would make a fine ambassador for baseball and again, any Hall without the guy with the most of a key stat is lacking and not a Hall of Fame in my eyes.

    4. 1. The steroids that are used to treat eye diseases are not anabolic steriods. They are corticosteriods that are anti-inflammatory.

      2. Just because steroids might help heal eye diseases or injury does not mean they would improve the function of normal eyes. I am aware of no such use.

      3. Barry Bonds should be in the HOF. There is no point in delaying his entry just to punish him. If you leave him out forever, you have to pretty much write off an entire generation of players for HOF consideration which, of course, would be a travesty.

      4. Pete Rose should be in the HOF for his performance and contributions to the game. He should not be allowed employment in MLB because he has proven himself to be untrustworthy for any such position. He cannot harm baseball by induction into the HOF. He could hurt baseball by his actions as a MLB employee.

  2. I concur. Baseball hall of fame is absolutely hollow without Miller, Bonds, Rose and Shoeless Joe. And Clemens. I also am more tolerant of gambling, and it is an addiction, and he has paid a very high price for it. These are human beings, and they are flawed. Their flawed stories are far more interesting than some sanitized version, and should be told in full. In the hall. But Miller being left out is an absolute crime. We'll see how Barry goes, I'm not holding my breath.

  3. 1. Sorry, I didn't connect all the dots. Steroids pretty much work the same on eyes irrespective of whether they are anabolic or not. They help with recovery time and degeneration. I think it's safe to say that any player is going to suffer from some ocular degeneration toward the end of the year, given the grind of a baseball season. In addition, players suffer from overall muscular degeneration which is mitigated by steroid use. I'm not a doctor, but I think this is fairly uncontroversial. If a player used steroids, he got a benefit non-users did not. I'm not sure of the magnitude of the benefit, and as OGC points out there is a ton of research to be done on that. But to toss steroid use aside as a "placebo effect" seems pretty silly.

    2. Irrespective of which entity you want to place the "blame" on, the fact is that steroid use was NOT against the rules of baseball until the mid 00s, and thus no user was "cheating" until testing was in place. That was my point.

    3. Rose suffered from a timing issue. Had he not gambled/been caught for five years after he stopped playing, he'd have been in the HOF on the first ballot. He screwed up before his induction class came up. His bad. Doesn't matter to me if he's an addict or simply stupid -- the conflict of interest alone is enough to compromise his participation in anything MLB related for the rest of his life. It's a harsh penalty, but a necessary one.

    Aside: not all gambling is addiction. I've no idea if Rose is or isn't a gambling addict. But that would be like concluding that anyone who drinks is an alcoholic -- I'm pretty sure that's not anyone's stance, but you guys wrote it that way.

    I think we all agree that Marvin Miller should have been inducted many years ago.

    1. 1. Read the link to Walker's research on steroids, that is what I'm basing my opinions on. I might have been pushing too far calling it a placebo effect (I admit it has been a number of years since I read Walker to quote exactly, especially after my accident), but basically his research on baseball shows no real effect on scoring in a way that can be described as steroids related.

      We all know that the A's were using in the late 1980's, yet there was nothing in the runs scored data that suggests anything was happening. The run environment data suggests that in a 1-2 year period, most of baseball suddenly started using steroids on a regular basis and continued doing that until 2008 or 2009, where it tapered off -significantly - again.

      One would think that there would be a ramp up plus a ramp down, over a number of years, not over a 1-2 year period, and starting in the 80's. The data does not support that.

      But I can't do Walker's research justice here, please read his research then come back and tell me that calling it a placebo effect is silly.

      Not that steroid use could not be helpful in the ways you describe. Just that the help it provided was not great enough to justify all the sturm und drang that has been generated over its use.

      Yes, it is bad they were using illegal substances, just like it was when a lot of players were using cocaine, just like it was when they were using mary jane, just like it was for OVER 50 years that they were using amphetamines, which is a much more understandable boost, in my opinion. But if you can't see the effects?

      2. Cool, now I understand your point. My point is that you said it was baseball's (MLB's fault) and my take on that (and I admit my opinion) is that the MLBPA is the one that effectively kept it out of the rules, despite MLB's attempts to try to do something about it (and it could very well be that the MLB did not put up much fight either, but in my mind, I put the blame on the MLBPA ultimately).

      3. I've read that Rose's gambling is out of control. I consider that a sign of addiction. That's why I wrote it that way, I just assumed everyone by now knows this.

      Timing should not matter. Hall of Fame recognizes achievement of certain status in the game. He attained that. The rules of baseball prevents him from participating in baseball activities, and I'm OK with that, though as I note, he should not be kept from baseball ambassador duties. I think this punishment is enough to keep people from doing this conflict of interest, as many players rely on their former teams for post-career job opportunities.

      From what I understand, the Hall of Fame is not even controlled by the MLB. It is a separate organization set up to recognize MLB baseball achievements. Rose had a lot of achievements.

      Again, it is the Hall of Shame as far as I'm concerned as long as he is out, Miller too.

  4. There is a certain mounting foolishness/hypocrisy as to who is allowed in the Hall and who is not. "The state of the game as it was played" should be the standard, else you have to throw half the hall out. Nobody would stomach that. That tells you all you need to know about self-righteous moral crusades in the media.

    You have to exclude anyone with Tommy John surgery. Very clearly that is an "unnatural medical advantage unavailable in the past". Having $$ enough to hire an expensive trainer and use state-of-the-art equipment - as opposed to working at a car dealership in the offseason - is an "unfair advantage compare to the past". Stadium lighting. Field conditions.

    Okay, so steroids for "healing" are a bad thing? Since when is ensuring that players are not in the best of health a positive? I find the "oh, but they would have been tired" argument very silly. Coffee is a drug. Good nutrition helps performance. Antibiotics for godsakes. Ty Cobb didn't have no stinking antibiotics.

    None of this was against the rules. Everybody from the clubhouse boy to the commissioner knew about it, and thus tacitly approved. It was the game. If someone trumpets that that's no excuse, then you have to throw out everyone pre-1947. This gets dismissed as hyperbole, but it's not only not different, it's far worse.

    Nothing at all has proved that steroids "created" Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Clemens, Bagwell. Can't people get over the fact that every era produces great players? Did they really think that home run records would stand literally forever? That there would never again be a great pitcher? Really? Is your build at 20 the same as at 40? Anybody? "Coz dey had muskels!" is as silly as "they aren't tired".

    That seems to be the actual argument - broke a record = must have been because of effective cheating. Therefore since steroids were being used when records were being broken they must be effective in breaking records. That's a circular argument.

    1. More importantly, the players Ty Cobb spiked had no antibiotics. :^)

      Thanks for the great comment. Basically agree with everything. I would add Lasix in there too, plus any surgery that repairs players today that wasn't available long ago.

      And especially good is the feeling that anybody doing great in today's baseball must have been cheating, that there was a purity before that doesn't exist today. Baseball has been dirty in more ways than one for a long time, starting with racism as the big one, but amphetamines has been around for much of the live ball era as well.

      A lot of great players came up in the 50's and 60's and 70's but nobody questioned that they were breaking old established records when at least since Bouton's book, clearly players have been using greenies forever, and that clearly helps players compile better seasons, for a longer career than they might if the drug was not available. That linkage to improved performance is unquestioned, unlike steroids.

  5. Thank you. And right - nobody cared re: Bouton's book. It wasn't like the public was surprised. Or about Mantle creeping around on rooftops. The baseball establishment cared in a harumphing sort of way, but nothing changed.

    It's, oddly, a bit like believing in some weird hocus-pocus. You would think that "we" would be more rational in 2012. But no, Bonds went to visit the alchemist for a magic elixir. I don't understand why people don't comprehend that that's just weird.

    You write something very perceptive in this regard above. Is it so hard to see McGwire as a Dave Kingman-type and get on with our lives? Clemens is a type of which there have been many - big hardthrowing workhorse. Sosa was an extremely gifted player with no personal discipline, worked hard to get some and realized his potential, but in the end had gotten on the learning curve too late and once he got older and couldn't catch up to a good fastball he was finished. Nothing to do with steroids in being "finished."

    Obviously this stuff gets me worked up. The biggest offense is that people don't know the game or its history. What if Ruth had been allowed to run and not gotten fat? Would Bonds just be seen as a lesser version of the same player as Ruth at the end of the day? Can you take Walter Johnson, make all the changes in the game over 70 years and get Roger Clemens? The point is that these guys aren't freaks, they played baseball and were simply very good at it.

  6. My view is that PEDs do have an impact. They don't help you hit the ball, nor do they help you hit the ball in such a way as to get a home run, but they do help immensely with maintaining strength, recovering from damage, and getting stronger.

    Strength does matter. All the technique in the world is irrelevant if you just can't impact some minimum amount of home run ball energy, backspin or no. Equally endurance in the sense of playing a full season does matter. The reality of baseball is that physical fitness has a clear impact - the ability of young teams to 'surprise' at the end of the season is statistically significant. The ability of a 35 year old to hold up under the pressures of a 162 game season as well as a 28 year old is a real impact. Equally to say that pitchers don't benefit from steroids/PEDs is ridiculous as physical deterioration is a much bigger factor for pitchers than hitters.

    However, attacking individuals for real or perceived abuses which were not even explicitly banned at the time - that's just spite. Bonds - as great a player as he is - is a jerk. If he weren't, he'd be getting in so much less trouble than he has gotten into.

    There's no question in my mind that Bonds did use PEDs. I can't in the least way blame him: he is a great player - a historically great player - and a collection of much lesser players were showing him up due to their abuses. In 50 years, no one would care if Bonds was merely one of the pack for being up tight about steroids - but now he's done what no one has been able to do both career wise and single season wise.

    Pete Rose, however, is different. Let's not forget the Black Sox scandal; the prospect of ANYONE in baseball presenting a clear conflict of interest is potentially devastating. I personally have no issue whatsoever with Pete Rose being made an example of given this. It is over-reaction, but then again that's exactly what you want in order to ensure that anyone who contemplates gambling on the sport they are part of knows full well the tremendous consequences for doing so.

    If you want to pick on some subject of morality - pick on the subject of borderline hall of famers who spend all their time and/or hire agents to get them into the Hall. A HOF'er is obvious or is not obvious; spending decades and dollars to buy your way into heaven is something I consider egregious.


  7. But again, the argument is "Bonds set records, he used steroids, therefore the records were set through using steroids". There's no scientific evidence that the two are connected (see OGC's link).

    And if they do have a benefit, and pitchers benefit more (pitchers seem to think so, far more suspensions have been given to pitchers than position players), then why wasn't it a pitcher's era?

    You are quite correct that a lot of it is personality. If Bonds and Clemens were the most charming guys ever we might not be having this discussion. And in Bonds' case, if he had never hit 60 HRs or broken Aaron's record we might not be either. You might note that as it appears that ARod will not be breaking the record the steroid question has faded away quite a bit. He's hardly a lovable guy either but I doubt it will make much of an impact on his HOF chances.

    Acknowledging these things just brings clarity as opposed to begging the question to lead to a desired answer. The real issue here is, is the desired answer justified.


    1. Thank you for your comment marco, good to hear from you, Happy Holidays!

  8. Because whether the benefit is strength or the ability to play more games per year and/ or play games at a higher physical level, there is still benefit.

    As for pitchers, the individual pitchers may benefit more in terms of personal performance, but facing stronger and more experienced batters make the final outcome harder to predict. One thing I do clearly see different today vs. say 10 years ago is how much pitchers today seem to (as a group) perform visibly less well at the end of the season. Having say 5% better pitching capability isn't necessarily a net win for pitchers overall if you also end up facing 4 year more experienced batters longer and more often.

    As for the study above, I would find it more credible if some actual evidence was examined vs. Statistical analysis. Statistical analysis is abused in many ways, and in an area with no objective reference like baseball performance, any conclusions drawn must be treated with a large grain of salt. How hard would it really be to compare say a random 100 balls from the 'juiced ball' era vs. Before and vs today?

    That would be objective evidence.


    1. Are we reading the same research?

      here is something on what you are saying here:

      Steroids have a markedly greater effect on upper-body strength than on lower-body strength.

      Batting is almost exclusively powered by lower-body strength.

      Beefcake doesn't drive long balls.

      For this thought experiment, I used ratios of both 4:1 and a more moderate 3:1 upper/lower differential. I'll take the example of that 200-pound man who adds 20 extra pounds of pure muscle, a pretty substantial gain (and almost identical to that attributed to Barry Bonds).

      Skipping over the arithmetic, if the upper/lower ration is 4:1, he'll be able to drive the ball an extra 30 inches or so; if it's 3:1, that would go up to maybe 45 inches.

      Right away, we see that that's not much. And remember, too, that we have assigned all of his muscle gain to steroids, which is just silly: if he went through the same exercise regime without any steroids, he'd still gain some significant muscle. Just what does 2 to 4 extra feet mean? It's hard to say, but (and the line of thought is on the longer page) that kind of difference--that is, without the extra muscle the ball falls 2 to 4 feet short but with it it just clears the fence--might mean one extra home run a year for an average man; and, again, the purely steroidal component might not even mean that. So it's not at all surprising that the actual stats of the game show no effect from putative steroid use, bulked-up biceps or no.

    2. Here is a link to the longer research page that supports the link I provided above.

      Here is some additional studies (goto the above link to get to links to the below):

      I have sought here to present the essential information in a way simple and clear enough that even a non-expert in statistical analysis must realize that there is no denying it. I have focussed on a graphical presentation, because it is easier to see literally than to visualize from numbers, and equations are--for most people--even more discouraging. But for those who would like to see some examinations with considerably more mathematical rigor, each using a different fundamental approach, let me point you to these (all of which reach pretty much the same conclusions as the analysis here--the snow in the woods is virgin snow):

      Professor Arthur DeVany's paper"Steroids, Home Runs and the Law of Genius" (From the summary: There is no evidence that steroid use has altered home run hitting and those who argue otherwise are profoundly ignorant of the statistics of home runs, the physics of baseball, and of the physiological effects of steroids.)

      Baseball Prospectus' March 30, 2005, "Setting the Stage" column by analyst Nate Silver: Steroids: This is far from a perfect experiment. But at the very least, it is highly problematic for the Steroid Gap Theory.

      Baseball Prospectus' book Baseball Between the Numbers, with a chapter "What Do Statistics Tell Us About Steroids?", again by Nate Silver but using a different approach than the article above: By this definition, Power Spikes have been neither any more nor any less frequent in the [so-called] Juiced Era than in previous periods.

      The Juice, book by Will Carroll containing a chapter-length analysis by Jay Jaffe in which no effect is detected; the text is not available on line, but what is available are Carroll's comments: As Jay Jaffe showed in The Juice and Nate Silver showed in Baseball Between The Numbers, there's no statistical evidence that performance-enhancing drugs of any type show up in the numbers. I'm not saying there's not an effect, just that people smarter than me can't find it statistically.

      Professors Jonathan R. Cole (sociology, Columbia) and Stephen M. Stigler (statistics, University of Chicago), in an article "More Juice, Less Punch" in the December 22, 2007 Op-Ed section of The New York Times, examined before-and-after stats for identified steroid users and concluded that examination of the data on the players featured in the Mitchell report suggests that in most cases the drugs had either little or a negative effect.

    3. Stuff regarding how some think PEDs helped pitchers:

      The second point, and it is indubitable fact, is what we already saw above: the actual, real-world statistical records in the so-called "steroid era" simply do not admit of any sort of special, artificial influence. The best a steroids-corrupted-baseball advocate can do is to try the "it helped batters and pitchers equally, so the stats are a wash" approach. That has two fatal defects. First, even were it so, it still utterly wipes out the argument that "steroids have tainted records". One so arguing is in the position of saying "Uh, I'm right, so that makes me wrong." Second, it is wildly improbable: supposed improvements to batting skills, which are by their very nature not going to be much affected by steroids, somehow curiously exactly balance off supposed improvements to pitching skills. Deary me.

      In an extensive article in the April 30, 2006 Washington Post titled "Do Steroids Give A Shot in the Arm? Benefits for Pitchers Are Questionable", Amy Shipley includes comments from numerous expert sources, from Dr. Frank Jobe to Dr. Mike Marshall, who uniformly feel that steroids do not help pitchers to any material extent. Nor is there anything to make medical personnel feel that steroids have benefits other than sheer muscularity:

      Steroids have not been shown to aid in the recovery of the connective tissue that is heavily taxed during pitching. They merely allow the muscles to recover more quickly, presumably providing pitchers only a partial benefit.

      That steroids don't help pitchers any more than they do batters is an idea borne out by at least one study, "More Juice, Less Punch", Cole & Stigler, which analyzed the ERAs of 23 pitchers expressly identified by the Mitchell document as steroid users, and found that:

      For pitchers there was no net gain in performance and, indeed, some loss. Of the 23, seven showed improvement after they supposedly began taking drugs (lower E.R.A.'s), but 16 showed deterioration (higher E.R.A.'s). Over all, the E.R.A.'s rose by 0.5 earned runs per game. Roger Clemens is a case in point: a great pitcher before 1998, a great (if increasingly fragile) pitcher after he is supposed to have received treatment. But when we compared Clemens's E.R.A. through 1997 with his E.R.A. from 1998 on, it was worse by 0.32 in the later period.

    4. About health benefits:

      Augmented Playing Time

      Though this really belongs on the Medical Effects of PEDs page here, I should note that some partisans, confronted with the arguments above and seeking some validation of their cherished beliefs, argue that even if PEDs don't boost power rates, they distort power counts (that is, home-run totals, seasonal and career) by helping players to heal faster from injuries, and thus to get in more playing time than they could unaided.

      Consideration of nothing else but the numerical fact that even the best home-run hitters produce an average of one home run every three games ought to discourage this belief, but a closer examination, as presented here on a separate page, PEDs as Healing Agents, more thoroughly dispels this folly. In particular, it shows that average playing time for regulars has decreased through the so-called "steroids era", the exact reverse of what the "more playing time" argument postulates.

    5. Since you bring up healing effects:

      Medical Opinion

      It certainly isn't medical science. The closest science has come is to note that certain selected anabolic steroids appear to have some minor healing benefit in rodents. The original 1997 study (about the only one typically cited by other studies touching on the subject), "The Effect of Anabolic Steroids and Corticosteroids on Healing of Muscle Contusion Injury" [The American Journal of Sports Medicine 27:2-9 (1999)] contains the remark that anabolic steroids "may have an ethical clinical application to aid healing in severe muscle contusion injury" [emphases added], which is a very long haul from saying that they do much for naggy muscle pains on a day-to-day basis.

      Most medical references to anabolic steroids with respect to healing refer to its apparent ability to help skin cuts heal over (wound closure); that is very far from healing damages to muscles and tendons, which is the kind of "healing" that athletes would be concerned with. For example, when we read "the anabolic steroid oxandrolone significantly enhanced wound healing", we need to notice that the sub-title of the article is "Oxandrolone, an anabolic steroid, enhances the healing of a cutaneous wound in the rat" ("cutaneous" means of the skin) and that the study measured time to wound closure.

      But most of the buzz about "healing" is in reference to hGH. The source of this rumor is not hard to trace: it flows from a now-famous (or notorious) 1990 article in the New England Journal of Medicine, in which a research team led by Daniel Rudman of the Medical College of Wisconsin gave hGH regularly to a dozen elderly (60+) men, who, according to the paper, were said to have apparently undergone a reversal of "10 to 20 years of aging." Needless to say, that finding is now wildly controversial. Those who believe it pay megabucks to get jabbed in the butt daily, and those who don't find the whole apparatus of expensive clinics, physicians, and treatments to be a glorified racket.

      But, more to our point, none of that has to do with recovery from muscle or tendon injury--but the "magic" apparently spread its glamour over the vague idea of a connection between hGH and "improved health", even for those not yet geriatric.

    6. (cont.)

      So let's see what the medical profession has to say about such a connection:

      Dr. Mary Lee Vance, professor of internal medicine at the University of Virginia and author of a much-cited 2003 study of growth hormone, was interviewed by the Baltimore Sun in late 2007 about players' perceptions that hGH helps recovery: "I think the key word is perception," Vance said, "because there's no evidence at all that it helps anyone recover from injuries."

      A NIDA position paper states that Some athletes insist that these substances aid in recovery from injuries, but no hard data exists to support the claim.

      A letter, published in the Wall Street Journal, cosigned by Richard Landau, M.D., Emeritus Professor, and Louis H. Philipson, M.D., Ph.D., Professor, Department of Medicine, both of The University of Chicago, stated that The view of some athletes that a few injections of the hormone might have beneficial effects on sore arms has never been rigorously tested, but is very unlikely to be effective.

      Dr. Lawrence A. Frohman, Professor Emeritus of Medicine, University of Illinois, and a spokesman for the association of doctors who treat hormone imbalances has said that the growth hormone confers no advantage in healing.

      Dr. Gary Gaffney, who maintains the "Steroid Nation" web site, states that Any physician using HGH for healing (unless it would be related to burn injuries, AIDS, and children with short stature) is practicing myth, heresy, chicanery, or quackery.

      What in all that leads us to a tentative conclusion that hGH is going to put an injured athlete back on the field ahead of his normal recovery time? Nada, zip, nil, null, nought, blank, and whatever else Mr. Roget might have for nothing.

      It should be noted that hGH, like certain steroids, does have a recognized function and value in healing skin, particularly in burn recovery; each can also be useful for people who, for one reason or another, are deficient in that substance and have serious wounds. None of that has anything to do with what athletes are imagining about it.

    7. And Eric Walker has a whole lot more info at the above links. He is obsessive compulsive about this topic to an exponential degree, and has covered most if not all of the angles that people use to say that steroids and PEDs had a great effect over the past 20 or so years.

      If you care enough to complain about it and to justify keeping players out of the Hall of Fame, then you should at least read what one person has researched and discussed and explained regarding how steroids and PEDs have not done much if any hard to the game of baseball. And most of that is not Eric's statements, he has search wide and far to find expert opinions and statements regarding the effects of PEDs. If you don't believe him, maybe the doctors and professors statements might sway your opinion.

      And ultimately, that is what is happening here, people are basing their decisions on their opinions. Too bad many journalists prefer to wear their blinders instead of checking out the facts as well as the statistics.

      I understand being upset about cheating and all that, and I agree that saying that steroids was not on the prohibited list until late is a cop out. That is a matter of ethics.

      However, the Hall of Fame is not asking if the players being entered into it are ethical people, they are asking if they were players who did things in the game which was deserving of pointing out in the Hall.

      I'm fine with plaques that note players links with steroids, as long as they are not being held out because of these links. This for me is mainly due to the lack of clarity over exactly what steroids and PEDs actually provided to players.

      Right now, I think Perry's spitball and Sutton's scuffed balls conferred greatly advantage to them than steroids.

      I think that amphetamines was a greater pox on the historical record, stretching all the way back to the 50's, so if writers are going to start excluding players today, they should retroactively go and remove players who reportedly used amphetamines as well. I think Willie Mays would be at the top of that list, but I'm sure other superstars were users too, as Krukow noted, its use was so widespread that the trainer was handing them out in the 70's, very openly.

      The way I see it, the writers are taking their anger at themselves for not doing anything in the past 20 years regarding steroids and PEDS and taking them out on the players. They will mark each players with the bright red "S" to brand them, hoping that would absolve them of their guilt in their part of this whole era of baseball.

      I think they will find that them not voting for Bonds will do nothing to assuage their guilt and that when the facts that Eric Walker has collected together comes out in public, these writers will be beset by even greater guilt that they illegitimately kept out worthy players from the Hall of Fame all because of their pride and lack of journalistic principle by not seeking the truth. Because the truth is out there, if they had bothered to look.

  9. You should note that I am not the one saying steroids, or HGH, or whatever assist with home runs due to power. What I said was that steroids can help with muscle recovery as well as bulding strength, but I also said that strength itself doesn't help you hit home runs.

    As for lower body strength, that's a truism, but if it were true, then Juan Pierre and other 'fast' and disproportionate lower body athletes should be smacking them balls out. Doesn't look that way.

    I also have all sorts of diret personal anecdote: while I never personally used steroids, I lifted weights with several people who did. The results for these people before steroids and after steroids was very, very marked. And it wasn't a motivational factor; I was sharing workouts so knew precisely what their regimes are. So, while you put your faith in some studies - which I will look closer into when I have the time, ultimately there is zero real world validation of the conclusions, and thus these must be taken with a grain of salt. As I noted, if the baseballs were juiced, that is really easy to test. Just drop them 20 feet and see how much they bounce.

    1. So I'm confused by your first paragraph: you are not saying steroids help with homeruns due to power, but it helps with muscle recovery and building strength, so what is the benefit.

      Walker pulled research by a professor where they calculated the improved strength and determined that at best, players could add maybe 2 to 4 feet to the length of his fly balls:

      So, when we consider whether a ballplayer who has added weight in the form of muscle has added to his ability to power a ball, we really can only add in, in these equations, that amount of muscle showing up in lower-body strength. While I suppose it's anatomically impossible, a batter who added, say, 5 pounds of muscle to his lower body and zero to his upper body would be just as power-ball-enhanced as a batter who added 20 pounds of total muscle of which 5 was lower body and 15 upper body.

      Thus, if we want to get a handle on potential steroid gains, we have to make some assumption about just what the growth-assisting differential ratio actually is. That, regrettably, is hard to do: such phrases as "more than", "differentially", "greater", "most marked", and the like are awfully imprecise. Let's try looking at two cases: a 4:1 ratio and a 3:1 ratio of upper-body to lower-body development. We will assume that the player in question has added a full 10% of body weight as sheer muscle--that's a 200-pound man adding 20 pounds of pure muscle. In our first case, that means he's presumably added 4 of those pounds to his lower body (which comports well with the stereotyped "triangle" body of broad shoulders with huge biceps, triceps, delts, and so on). That is an effective addition, for the batting-distance equations, of a 2% increase. From the tabled calculation results above, that would work out, roughly, to adding between 2 and 3 feet to his optimally batted ball distance (circa 2.5 feet, or 30 inches. If we assume instead a 3:1 upper/lower ratio, we have 5 extra pounds, a 2.5% increase, and the added distance becomes about 45 inches.

      None of those numbers are anything like exact, and are not meant to be. What they are meant to be is a demonstration that the idea of even a man who adds hugely (and 20 pounds of sheer muscle is not small potatoes) to his musculature is not suddenly going to go from gap power to moon shots. A plausible estimate is that he can add from 2 to at most 4 feet to the average distance of his most solidly hit drives. The number of balls that a given batter hits in a season that are, say, a yard or less short of just going out is impossible for anyone other than Stats, Inc. to know with any precision. One very, very rough indicator is from their 1995 Baseball Scoreboard, in which they note that the number of "home-run-saving catches" for the prior season was 64 across all of MLB. Because many parks have fences too high to allow such catches, we can arbitrarily double that number and get 128 just-over-the-fence balls, which is roughly 4 marginal balls a season per club. Heck, double that to allow for catchable over-fence balls not gotten to. That's still around one a year per man. I grant at once that that is very far from any kind of exact number, but it does suggest--strongly, in my opinion, but you judge--that few men hit many balls a year for which an extra 30 or even 40 inches is going to make the difference between in and out of the park.

    2. About the ball being juiced (clearly you did not read through everything....):

      First, though, let's take a moment out to look more closely at those sudden jumps, here attributed to changes in the baseball itself, because they are important to our understanding. There will always be skeptics who deny, with much handwaving and little data, anything they choose not to believe. But, regrettably for their cause in this instance, there is definite, hard scientific data to prove the point. While a precis of the studies appears below, for a much richer elaboration on just what was done how, and what the results were and what they signify, visit the page here wholly dedicated to the science of the changing baseball.

      First, In 2000, scientists at the University of Rhode Island physically examined baseballs from several widely separated seasons. Their conclusions?

      [T]he researchers found that pills [ball cores] from the 1995 and 2000 balls bounced an average of 33 percent higher than their 1989, 1970 and 1963 counterparts. One of their conclusions is that Rawlings Sporting Goods Co., the maker of Major League baseballs, doesn't follow its own specifications for some of the windings used in the balls.

      "In forensic science we want to compare items that are as much alike as possible, and we know that 37 years of heat, light and moisture could affect the 1963 ball. We believe that the pill was well preserved because the windings and the cover protected it. We believe the pill is what gives the ball its resiliency."

      That last is noteworthy, because MLB's defenders routinely claim that balls from different years cannot meaningfully be compared owing to "aging effects". But, as we see, competent scientists sharply disagree. The entire article, linked above, richly repays the brief reading time required. (It also shows that the yarn in the windings is out of spec as well.)

      And that is scarcely the only scientific examination of the physical ball itself to reach the same conclusions. A CT scan of 1998 baseballs done by Pennsylvania State University in conjunction with Universal Medical Systems also found, um, interesting things about them:

      Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball from his record-breaking 1998 season contains a synthetic rubber ring or spring ("the ring") -- a material not outlined in official Major League Baseball ("the League") specifications. . . . "Examining the CT images of Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball one can clearly see the synthetic ring around the core -- or 'pill' -- of the baseball," states David Zavagno, president of Universal Medical Systems. "While Mark McGwire may or may not have used illegal steroids, the evidence shows his ball -- under the governing body of the League -- was juiced."

      The examination also looked at other baseballs from 1998, so McGwire was not getting personal favors from MLB.

  10. I would also note that whatever benefits or lack of benefits steroids, HGH, or whatever confer, they definitely have "some" effect on their users. Testicular cancer rates are markedly higher, there are physical manifestations (Barry's giant noggin), and there are effects on behavior as well.

    I can see why some doctors think steroids have little effect on certain areas, but I'll note that medicine is called practice for a reason. The amounts and types of steroids or HGH used by private unregulated individuals is very different than what any semi-ethical doctor would employ is a clinical study, equally self reporting is notoriously skewed toward lighter users.

    But I will look at the studies in question to see what the levels used were vs. What I saw actual real livge people using.

    Let's not forget there are a lot of people who stand to benefit if steroids or other PEDs are believed to have had no impact. Whenever this type of situation exists, you have to be really careful of studies coming out, just like pharma trials.


    1. So, are you saying that getting testicular cancer is a good reason for keeping Bonds out of the Hall of Fame?

      And if you want to wave away the medical evidence that Walker presented, again, see above, for the research on the balls themselves. You can't explain away 33% greater bounce of the balls.

      It may be true that many people stand to benefit if steroids are believed to have had no impact. However, Eric Walker is staking his professional reputation, reading through all this research, and presenting all of this information on his website, putting together all the pieces, answering all the angles being thrown out there. He's not even promoting his website, I'm probably the only person who have read his materials and am trying to get it out there to the general public, he's kind of like a hermit, doing his own thing.

      What does he gain in refuting steroids' effects? He is already famous, at least in sabermetric circles and inner baseball, for his "Sinister Firstbaseman" book and for writing the A's baseball bible. And as I noted, he does not really publicize or market himself, so it is not like he's doing it to get publicity. As an obsessive, what I see is a guy who decided to see for himself whether steroids helped or not, so he went out and found a lot of research regarding what the effects were and found that the science of steroids does not add up to home run hitters and that the increase in homeruns related more to juiced balls than juice humans.

    2. What I've said is: PEDs do have an effect. I can believe that strength isn't a factor in the distance any given hitter hits a ball - because a home run isn't a line drive. You have to hit the ball in such a way as to provide backspin to get maximum loft. Certainly a 12 year old isn't strong enough to hit a home run no matter what his/her skill level, but any and all professional athletes do actually hit home runs and thus do clearly have the power at least in some circumstances. A stronger hitter has more leeway to be able to hit a ball far enough for a home run: he can hit the ball less perfectly, he can hit the ball to a longer part of the field, he can hit the ball less optimally for backspin, he can hit the ball at a poorer angle, etc.

      On the other hand, strength doesn't hurt. The calculations you note above are flawed because they assume all sorts of linear effects.

      Let's look this indisputable fact: Hitters lose power as they age. Is this due to strength loss, eye-hand coordination loss, playing time loss, reaction time loss, others? almost certainly all of the above. Steroids, if they help maintain peak levels of strength longer and/or they help maintain higher playing times, would certainly make a difference. Steroids can also make a difference if they help an otherwise 250 lb bench presser - due to natural hormone levels - suddenly jump to 350 lb bench press.

      However you look at it, there is a difference.

      Let's look at other arguments: lower body strength, not upper, is the factor in home runs. For one thing, why do you think steroids only helps with upper body strength? It helps with ALL muscle development.

      As for strength vs. distance a ball is hit - if all other factors are equal, the difference in strength yields a difference in distance, slightly modified by friction losses. The average home run distance was 404 feet in 2011; a hitter whose fly balls average 380 feet would become an appreciably better home run hitter if his strength increased 5% (i.e. 400 feet average fly ball distance). Note in this case nothing needs to change except the power imparted to a baseball.

      Lastly Eric Walker. While I don't say he is biased, at the same time you cannot say that he has no possible stake. For one thing, he worked for the A's during the Bash Brothers era - both of whom did use steroids.

      As for 'live' balls, certainly this is possible. Baseball had a huge PR problem after the strike, and there's nothing like historic home run chases to fix that.

      The thing is, this and other theses are not mutually exclusive. There could have been a live ball AND massive steroid use. The records would still be tainted, and 'cheaters' would still have benefited even more than 'non-cheaters'.

      As for the studies - the various ball analyses are interesting but again are taking specific items out of context. A stronger pill spring could have an effect, but could be negated by a looser binding. The 'spring' noted above could have an effect, but it doesn't speak to what the overall baseball behavior is. That's why the best test is to simply see how far intact baseballs bounce.

      If in fact older baseballs bounce higher than newer ones, this clearly shows a significant difference. It doesn't quantify what that difference might be because the older balls certainly have some amount of deterioration, but at the same time they shouldn't be getting stronger!

    3. con't

      Lastly the steroid 'studies':

      Do steroids accelerate healing? I guess it depends on what you mean by healing.

      High stress muscle activity causes tears in the muscles in question. Anabolic steroids specifically stimulate muscle tissue growth. To say then that steroids don't help recovery of torn muscle tissue - highly questionable.

      If on the other hand you mean tendon, other soft tissue, bone, or other portions of the body - anabolic steroids likely don't have much effect. I'd also caution you to be clear: anabolic steroids build muscle, but catabolic steroids increase metabolism and actually break down tissue. Eye recovery steroids are catabolic.

      I'd also note that steroid use is not like a normal chronic drug use. The body stops responding to anabolic steroids after a certain amount of time - and so the user must either stop using or bridge with some other supplements.

      These many complicating factors have never been studied to a significant scientific extent, but there are lots of people out there who have performed many empirical experiments to arrive at the regimes used by steroid/PED abusers.

      A guide to anabolic steroid function:

      For the record, I don't believe Bonds or any other person should be barred from the HOF for undertaking activities not specifically banned by MLB. This is not to say, however, that I necessarily believe that his actions were pure as the driven snow. As I noted before, I can fully understand why someone like Bonds would use PEDs - but then again I can understand the roots of all sorts of other deplorable behaviors.


    4. I'm the one talking about Walker's A's connection. He barely acknowledges his past in his website, that I can recall, just a blurb in his About page. And he tries to keep a low profile for the most part, he is very eccentric, to say the least.

      But to your point, yes, that is a possible area of gain on his part and I missed that. Agreed.

      Overall, I think I'm out of things much more to say.

      What I've tried to show is that the evidence as gathered by Walker shows a probability of there being a great effect from a juiced ball - one of the things you asked me to bring forth and there was studies done showing great effect, 33% greater bounce - whereas steroids, which may have some health benefits in terms of healing and some strength, the player still needs to have the talent in the first place in order to benefit from the healing effect.

      And the website clearly detailed how much benefit that a professor calculated - and it is not like professors cannot be wrong - regarding the musculature effects of steroids, resulting in less than 1% improvement in distance per the professor's calculations, taking into effect all the ratios and whatnot that was in there (sorry, too technical for me to repeat off-hand, I've shown you the quotes, don't know what else I can do). 4 feet max was the effect that the professor found, not the 20 feet that you appear to have pulled out of the air with that 5% comment, do you have any study showing how hitters gain 5% on their distance from steroids?

      So the issue is not that there isn't an effect, I did mention that there was some effect, but the issue is that you think that it is 5% or 20 additional feet, without any explanation of how you came to that figure, and a professor calculated it taking into account a number of different factors involved with the process of hitting a baseball and came up with 2-4 feet.

      I'm going with the professor who explained a lot of his process in calculating his effect and saying, for now, that it appears that while steroids may help with healing (but I don't find that much different in outcome effect from amphetamine which allows players to play at peak performance later in the season and that's been used forever) and provides some help in distance, the 33% more bounce in the baseball core during that period was the more likely cause of the offensive era from 1993-4 to 2008-9. Though if you can bring up some good evidence, I'm willing to change my opinion.

    5. If you can provide a link to the Walker article, I'd be happy to look into that. I can't find it with a straightforward Google search.

      What I'd look for would be:

      1) What is the strength gain assumed?
      2) How is this strength gain translated into extra distance?

      If the strength gain is assumed to be 5% or greater for a 2 to 4 foot gain, the implication then is that Nelson Cruz - who averaged home runs of 418.6 feet in 2012 - is 30% stronger than the average major league home run hitter.

      Sanity tests like this are always necessary with ivory tower stat handling.


  11. I left this comment on Yahoo in response to Barry Larkin's call to keep out performance drug users from the Hall of Fame (natch, with additional comments):

    That sounds like a good idea, keeping performance drug users out of the Hall.

    However, the Hall already have a lot of drug users, it has been shown that many many players over the years used amphetamines to help them get through a season. Mays has already been tied to it, also lots of Yankees. I would bet that most veterans of WW II and Korean were probably users too, the Army used to hand those out like candy to keep the troops going during war, it would be hard to imagine that none of them returned back to baseball and not use it to get a pick-me-up. I would find it hard to believe that the stars of the 50's, 60's, 70's, and 80's were not using greenies.

    So the way I see it, any player who wants to come out and publicly say that drug users should not be in the Hall of Fame, they should also sign a binding legal agreement stating that they never used any illegal drugs during their time in major league baseball. Meanwhile, these players will also be investigated via interviews with former teammates with full immunity to see if what they legally claim is true, and if any corroborating stories are shared, they will get kicked out of the Hall for lying about using drugs. That would be part of the binding legal agreement, the tit for the tat.

    Players in glass houses should not throw stones, not that Larkin in particular cheated, but in general, if you are going to shun other players for using performance enhancing drugs, then they should be held to the same standards and kicked out if found to have not met that standard. I wonder how many players would sign such an agreement.



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