"In the 1970s, half of the guys in the big leagues were taking greenies, and if we had steroids, we would have taken those, too."
These are the words of former Yankees pitcher Jim Bouton, whose 1970 classic "Ball Four" blew the lid off many of the locker-room secrets of Major League Baseball, and not only the Yankees. From drugs, to sex, to booze, Bouton’s tale made then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn apoplectic, while offering a 200+ pages of material that, if released today, would fill sports sections, talk radio and ESPN for weeks.
Mickey Mantle, for example, wasn’t just an alcoholic – which everyone knows by now. He also popped amphetamines like they were Pez, looking for that added – as irony would have it – juice. "What?" you ask. "Impossible." I guess we need to tear down Mantle’s legendary status. After all, greenies were certainly performance-enhancers, otherwise there would have been no need to take them.
But Mantle isn’t the only legend to have used drugs to enhance performance. Former Met John "The Hammer" Milner testified during the Pittsburgh drug trials in the early 1980s that Willie Mays introduced him to a liquid amphetamine known as "the red juice." "Say Hey?" Or "Say High." ****…another legend down the tubes.
In Mike Schmidt’s 2006 book Clearing the Bases, he acknowledges that amphetamines "have been around the game forever."
"In my day," he says, they "were widely available in major league clubhouses."
Well, Schmidt’s "day" covers 1973-1989. So between Mantle, Mays, Schmidt, Canseco, Bonds and Clemens (among others), we’ve placed drugs as rampant in baseball from 1962 (Bouton’s rookie year, when he first met Mantle) to the present.
Former pitcher and pitching coach Tom House – who was drafted by the Braves in 1967 and played 8 seasons – corroborates the rampant use of amphetamines. But, he also says growth hormone and steroids were available, and that he used them. He didn’t finger others on the latter two enhancements, but if they were available to a generally average middle reliever such as House, why wouldn’t they be available to stars of the era?
My point here is not to absolve those proven (of course, your definition of proven may vary) of recent steroid use. My point is simply that, if we’re looking at not only blindly accusing everyone in the "steroids era" of cheating, but shredding apart their accomplishments, then don’t we need to do that to all marks accomplished – and the players who accomplished them – for as long as performance enhancers have been in the game?
We’re barreling down a slippery slope with reckless abandon by painting with such a broad brush here. In my last blog entry, I noted the idiocy of saying "everyone is suspect." Where do you draw the line? Jon Heyman and Mike Francessa both fingered Morgan Ensberg because he had one big year…the same has been done to Brady Anderson, for having seasons way outside the norm. What happened? It must have been fraudulent.
Well, if we’re going to accuse anyone who had a career season of wrongdoing, don’t we need to carry that through to completion? After all, we must slay all the villains, right? Davey Johnson’s 40-homer season (he never hit more than 18 in any other year)? Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA in 1968 (more than a run better than any other ERA he posted in his career)?
So now that we’re all on that page, consider this:
Prior to joining the New York Yankees in 1960, Roger Maris had never hit more than 28 homers. The preceding year, he hit 16 and slugged .464.
Then he met Mantle.
He then hit 39, slugging .581. Then came 1961…and 61 homers. He would never again hit as many as 40, and after 33 in 1962, would never hit more than 26 again. Why? How did this guy hit 61 and never hit more than 39 in any other season?
This isn’t about tearing down Maris, or any heroes of baseball’s past. In fact, it’s exactly the opposite, because Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is not – or should not – be the means by which we as fans, journalists or fellow players, shred our game’s history to pieces.
Decide your own home run king, your own legends. This is all subjective. But let us all be consistent in our thinking here.
Unfortunately, that’s the best we can do.
I’ve been wondering what exactly to write about the steroids issue. Does it bother me? Sure. Do I consider it cheating? Absolutely. Does it mute the records and accomplishments achieved during the "steroids era." Yes (but note the quotes…I’ll get back to this). Do I want to see those who’ve done steroids punished? Yes, within reason.
But my own reaction to the issue has been muted by the positively asinine reactions, attitudes and misconceptions thrown around from outside the white lines. I think I finally had enough when the following irresponsible exchange happened between WFAN numbskulls Chris Russo and Mike Francessa and the station’s beat reporter (and sometimes radio announcer) Ed Coleman.
Coleman: [Sanchez] has looked terrific. He’s ahead of pretty much everybody else down here because he’s been here so long, he’s throw BP a couple of times and I think that’s a big key, having him here having him healthy and knowing that they have a stronger rotation, if he can fit into the mix of the bullpen that gives them a big leg up.
Francessa: Sanchez last pitched at 232 and is now 205.
Coleman: It’s amazing how much weight he’s lost, he looks terrific.
Russo: Do we think that might be, I hate to say it Eddie, but when a guy drops that much weight, what do I think there?
Francessa: Is he a steroid guy, is that what you’re saying?
Russo: I’m not sure, I’m just asking, that’s a lot of weight to drop.
Coleman: Everyone’s suspect these days, there’s no question about that…
OK, now stop right there. Coleman’s the least idiotic of this trio, but the "Everyone’s suspect" nonsense is so far beyond irresponsible it’s impossible to pinpoint a fitting term. But Russo and Francessa (who led the conversation down this path and then jumped off once Russo took hold of it in truly cowardly fashion) are supposed to be journalists. If they had bothered to do even a little bit of research, they would remember that Sanchez was reamed by Randolph and Minaya and sent away from the team last year because he wasn’t keeping himself in shape, and, as Coleman would point out later in the interview, the guy has been down at the St. Lucie complex with the strength trainer since Thanksgiving. The guy last pitched in a game on July 28, 2006. He has had 19 months to lose 27 pounds. While that may be half Russo’s body weight (or, for that matter, the weight of Francessa’s overinflated head), that is not a large amount of weight. ****, it’s not even a half a pound a week.
If you want to hear this whole stupid exchange, go
and look for Ed Coleman on Feb. 19. And, for added idiocy, listen to the John Heyman interview from the same day, where, while talking about former Astro and recent Yankees signing Morgan Ensberg, he dubs Houston "steroid central" – without even a hint of evidence as to what makes him say this – after Francessa suggests Ensberg having been "a steroid guy, which is a big possibility, I’m sure."
But Heyman continues, saying Ensberg was "never a huge guy, he wasn’t built like Caminiti, or another two guys over there who will go nameless right now." Oh, come on. First off, if you want to go down that road, grow a set and name the guys you’re talking about. Unless, of course, you’re afraid of a slander suit. Secondly, shame on Fatso and Froot Loops for not calling Heyman on it. Of course, how could they, since they practice the same sort of hack journalism.
Which brings me to my main point: Everyone is overstepping their bounds when it comes to this. Be it congress (which has zero business getting involved in this…why weren’t they calling Alex Sanchez or F.P. Santangelo?), or mediots like Heyman, Francessa and Russo, who not only throw allegations around with reckless abandon, but make the perpetual uneducated claim that performance-enhancing drugs are a new thing in baseball.
They aren’t, and in my next post, I’ll put to nonsensical "steroid era" bull to rest.