In case you were wondering, the debate over performance enhancing drugs, the Hall of Fame, and the steroid era’s place in history is still very much alive. While on Twitter (where else?) on Tuesday afternoon, I came upon a seemingly innocuous tweet from ESPN’s Pedro Gomez. Someone asked Gomez if he would consider voting home run king Barry Bonds into the Hall of Fame. Given Gomez’s expertise with regards to Bonds, I was rather curious to how he’d respond. Not surprisingly, Gomez shared that he wouldn’t vote for any steroid users. While I disagreed with his opinion, I had no problem with it. Provided he applied this axiom consistently across the board, I felt it was a perfectly valid opinion. To clear up any questions in my mind, I asked what he meant by “users.” Here’s the dialogue that ensued.
Me – Are we talking suspected users or those we have proof used steroids (i.e. a very small number of people)
Pedro Gomez – Proof for several of them. Otherwise, I’ll trust my eyes.
Me – So Im assuming you can tell which people are gay completely based on appearance as well. Interesting.
Me – You can’t spot a steroid user with 100% certainty anymore than u can spot a date rapist, pedophile, or serial killer.
Pedro Gomez – Really, that’s your comeback?
Me – I think its a valid comparison. Not saying certain guys didnt use, but Im not going to make circumstantial assumptions.
Pedro Gomez – Done with you.
I am Jack’s total lack of surprise. Pedro Gomez, a member of the mainstream media, gets asked pointed, rational questions about his flawed methodology in determining the steroid users from the non-users; gets angry; mocks the one questioning him; and decides to take his ball and go home. Classy.
My issue with Gomez is not his stance on known steroid users, but his stance on players suspected (but not proven) of using steroids. Despite what anyone tries to tell you, it’s impossible to determine if someone either has used or is currently using steroids purely based off of their appearance. While bulk muscle, aggressive behavior, and backne are all symptoms of steroid use, they’re not silver bullets condemning them. In fact, there are logical reasons why a player may show one or multiple symptoms while once never touching performance enhancing drugs.
Let’s go back to the example I gave to Gomez regarding one’s ability to “sense” another’s sexuality for a second. In a predetermined theoretical sample, it’s possible that I could guess the sexuality of an individual correctly in 75% of the cases basing my opinion off of stereotypical behaviors and appearances. While that’s a solid success rate, I’m still guessing incorrectly in 25% of the time. Those that are being incorrectly classified are likely heterosexuals with stereotypically homosexual qualities and homosexuals with stereotypically straight qualities. In this case, the “I’ll trust my eyes” axiom Gomez holds so dearly, fails miserably. By using his theory, I’d have to make the assumption that all gay people like fashion, musicals, and Cher. This isn’t the case. In fact, many gay people don’t like any of those things; some like baseball and drinking beer.
The same is true for steroids. We now know players like Bonds, Mark McGwire, Ken Caminiti, Rafael Palmeiro, Jose Canseco, Manny Ramirez, and Alex Rodriguez all used steroids at some point in the past through either public admissions or failed drug tests. In many of these cases, we had valid reasons to be suspicious with several of the players looking the part of a stereotypical steroid user. With guys like Manny and A-Rod though, most of us didn’t suspect usage of any kind until word was leaked disputing our long held belief. In fact, news of A-Rod’s steroid use was taken as quite a shock. For many fans and sportswriters, he was widely considered to be the man that would one day restore glory to the career home run record that Bonds had supposedly tainted. We never imagined the tall, lean A-Rod was a steroid user–and that’s precisely the point.
Since league-wide steroid testing went into effect prior to the 2005 season, players like Juan Rincon, Rafael Betancourt, Ryan Franklin, J.C. Romero, Matt Lawton, Guillermo Moto, Alex Sanchez, Mike Morse, and countless mediocre minor league players have been suspended for testing positive for steroids. Clearly, if you were going to make a list of suspected users, each of these players would make your list, right? Yeah, they wouldn’t be on my list either. So if players we never expected to use are, in fact, using steroids, isn’t it possible those we suspect of using (but lack proof) may actually be clean? If so, isn’t it incredibly dangerous and irresponsible of sportswriters like Gomez to make these assumptions? They’re destroying the reputation of potentially innocent ballplayers, while propping up the careers of those they irrationally assume to be clean. The fact he and other like-minded writers don’t see the inherent flaw in their logic is simply baffling.
I’m not sure where guys like Gomez get off playing the morality card. Most baseball writers pride themselves on being baseball insiders. They are inside the clubhouse daily. They talk to players. They control much of the information that sees the light of day. Essentially, they’re the gatekeepers (although, that’s changing) of the sport. So forgive me if I find it odd that it took so long for the steroid issue, seemingly prevalent in the sport for 20 years, to take so long to come to light. One would think that if one’s in the clubhouse daily, one would see or hear grumblings about so-and-so doing something a little shady to help his own performance. Furthermore, if one had said information, wouldn’t one dig a little deeper to expose such a major story?
Many beat writers of the era would tell you they knew of such dealings, but were afraid of the potential consequences/blackballing that may have come from exposing such a story. To me, that’s nothing more than rationalization. Do you think Bob Woodword and Carl Bernstein were concerned about being blackballed by the Nixon administration for exposing Watergate? Of course not. That’s the difference. They turned a blind eye to something they knew was wrong because they were more interested in being a part of the “in crowd” rather doing their job–investigative reporting. Now, they’re using a false moral high ground to cast judgment in hopes of deflecting light on their own wrong doings.
As for Gomez, I’m not going to assume he purposely hid information to the public. I can’t prove it. Despite what I’ve written, I respect him greatly as a reporter. (As an editorial commentator? Not so much.) He was the man when it came (and comes) to all things Barry Bonds. Still, I can’t help but notice he covered the Oakland Athletics from 1990-1997 for the San Jose Mercury News and Sacramento Bee; a time period that just happens to coincide with McGwire, Canseco, and the explosion of performance enhancing drugs in the sport. Again, one would think he might have seen or heard something about steroids while being in the clubhouse everyday. Then again, I’m not going to make assumptions. Instead, I’ll just pose the question…
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