Baseball and morality

Have you ever considered the fact that, during a baseball game, the average spectator in the stadium expends way more energy than the average player on the field? Since the essence of athletics from my point of view is bodies in motion, baseball has never been a sport that attracts me. But baseball does give me a question for you all, and maybe you can get your answers back to me this weekend, when I won’t be able to do much blogging.

Barry Bonds hit his 750th home run last night. The crowd went wild, screaming its delight that Barry hit another run. I found this disturbing. I consider it a 99% certainty that Barry Bonds’ home run record is tied directing to his use of steroids. To me, this fact cancels out entirely the merits of his record — he did it by cheating.

Someone with whom I spoke was much less disapproving. He said “there’s no rule in the League against players using steroids (or at least there wasn’t when Bonds took them),” as if that settled the matter. He was taken aback when I reminded him that steroids are illegal, and that it’s probably unnecessary for the baseball rules to state explicitly that players can’t take any illegal substance. It’s sufficient that our criminal statute books make that a rule.

As it is, can you imagine students at a school screaming hysterical praise for the class valedictorian, if they knew that the valedictorian’s top grades were solely because she stole copies of exams before each test? As she walked to the podium, would people be hurling foul epithets at her or would they be hollering her name with approval? I can guarantee you it would be the former, and it would be because the gal had stolen something in which the other students had a vested interest: the coveted top spot. Here, Bonds didn’t steal anything from the fans — he merely stole from the other players and the other teams. The fans are happily complicit in his theft, since it doesn’t threaten them, but redounds to their benefit.

Anyway, as someone who doesn’t get baseball at all, that’s my perception, that we have one cheater who not only prospered, but who prospered despite the fact that his cheating is an open secret. What do all of you think?

UPDATE:  Turns out that others who care about all this more than I do, and are more active about protesting, are being silenced.


19 Responses

  1. In fact steroids were banned in baseball as early as 1991.

  2. BTW, good analogy above with the high school scenario.


  3. I agree with you – if the Lords of Baseball allow Mr. Bonds anywhere near the record books, they will be advertising both themselves and their sport as mostly a joke.

    It amuses me that they refuse to allow Pete Rose anywhere near the Hall of Fame, because he bet on games. He’d be in the Hall for hitting the ball more often in a career than anyone else ever did – an accomplishment to which betting contributed nothing. Bonds, on the other hand, they evidently plan to welcome in, when throughout his career he used an illegal substance that very directly affected his on-field performance. Am I the only one to whom this is weird?

    By the way, if baseball bores you, try watching a football game with a stopwatch – and run it only when there’s actual action on the field. (As opposed to standing around talking about it, picking yourself up, walking to and fro the huddle, running on and off the field, spitting, scratching, etc. etc.) You’ll be amazed to discover that the game you just devoted three hours to watching actually involved about nine minutes of playing time.

  4. The fans are happily complicit in his theft, since it doesn’t threaten them, but redounds to their benefit.

    Anyway, as someone who doesn’t get baseball at all, that’s my perception, that we have one cheater who not only prospered, but who prospered despite the fact that his cheating is an open secret. What do all of you think?

    I think your first sentence was a great insight into human nature and behavior.

    In human affairs, and I speak on a general historical level, people usually react to events based upon its importance to them personally. If a person acquires wealth and victory, then it usually does not matter that the wealth involves exploitation or that the victory involves unethical actions. All you need is a hierarchy that rewards the bad and punishes the good, and instantly bad and good becomes inverted according to the new rules. This is a sociological phenomenon, based upon human group dynamics.

    As for baseball, it is in fact more like naval warfare than tactical land wars. In baseball there is plenty of time to think and strategize and make decisions that have far reaching consequences. In quicker games that rely more on speed and reactions, like basketball, strategic calculations are far less useful.

    In baseball you have a sort of mind game going on with coach vs other coach, umpire vs hitter, pitcher vs hitter. Meaning in the sense that the pitcher can throw 3 ballz just to attempt to demoralize the hitter and make him less certain of the right course of action. A pitcher with 2 strikes and no ballz, can still throw 3 ballz into areas the hitter would have great difficulty hitting. This creates psychological pressure on the hitter because he is never sure what the pitcher is going to do, yet the hitter’s next action can strike him out if he swings at a ball or if he doesn’t swing and the ball was thrown in the strike out zone.

  5. There is little question Bonds is a cheater and that he benefitted from cheating. The fan reaction you saw is unique to San Francisco; he gets booed everywhere else. As you say, most of this is because his cheating benefits the Giants and their fans. The Bay Area’s proud acceptance of illegal drug use generally probably helps, too.

    Let me suggest a few points in mitigation, though. First, many of those Bonds played against, including many of the pitchers he faced, were on steroids as well. Second, baseball has a long tradition of using uppers and other drugs to enhance performance. This history substantially predates the steroid use. Third, cheating is accepted in baseball. The sport has a long and proud history of doctoring the baseball, stealing signs and the like. Baseball doesn’t mind the cheating so much as the getting caught. And Bonds has done a marvelous job of not getting caught, despite overwhelming circumstantial evidence against him.

    All in all, the reaction isn’t very surprising.

  6. Warren Goldstein, chairman of the history department at the University of Hartford, wrote a fascinating article in the Chronicle of Higher Education recently. It’s not available on the Web, but I’ll send a copy to BW – perhaps she’ll send copies to those who are interested…. Here are a few paragraphs:

    “It turns out, however, that all fans are not equal on the subject of Bonds. Sixty years after Jackie Robinson’s Dodgers debut, black and white fans live in separate but unequal lands. Consider the results of a recent ESPN/ABC News poll indicating black fans are two-and-a-half times more likely than white fans (74 percent to 29 percent) to want Bonds to break Aaron’s record; and three times as many white as black fans (60 percent to 18 percent) want Bonds to fall short. Looked at another way, three-quarters of black fans want Bonds to break the record, while three-fifths of white fans want him to fail….

    “Second, many black folks are reluctant to believe that Bonds knowingly used steroids. African-American fans, in fact, divide pretty evenly over whether they think Bonds used the juice: 37 percent to 36 percent, with 26 percent having no opinion. Could it be that they are responding to the willingness of the white establishment to believe that a haughty, self-absorbed black man took steroids? Or is it simply that African-Americans root for their own, cutting black ballplayers a little more slack than white people do…?

    “And that’s what brings us back to Bonds. By definition we tend not to be aware of our unconscious biases. I would entreat my white colleagues to at least consider the possibility that when you think “Bonds is an asshole,” or “he cheated,” you might remember that there are a lot of cheaters in the Hall of Fame (sure, not Pete Rose, holder of most lifetime hits in baseball, but he broke baseball’s ur-taboo of betting on a game). The pitcher Gaylord Perry’s 1974 book is titled Me and the Spitter: An Autobiographical Confession. Spitballs were illegal for Perry’s entire career, as they were for that of Whitey Ford, who also liked to throw a wet one. Mike (King) Kelly, who played in the 19th century, liked to cut from first to third base — across the diamond — if the umpire was distracted. And what about the racist Adrian (Cap) Anson, who publicly announced in 1883 that he would not play with a black player? All were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

    “So, consider whether you are thinking more than you realize.

    “I know that the steroid question is bigger than Bonds. But Bonds isn’t only about steroids. The vitriol directed toward him has less to do with “protecting the game” than with yet another in-your-face, immensely talented African-American athlete challenging a mostly white establishment — and watching the goal posts move….”

  7. I’m not as against steroids as many others. Someone taking steroids doesn’t automatically grow larger muscles, he still needs to work out. It just makes growing those muscles easier, provided he works out.

    So the question is if a player taking them benefits and it doesn’t harm anyone else should they be outlawed? From a libertarian standpoint it doesn’t seem reasonable to ban them. (OK if they’re not prescribed they’re illegal to take.)

    There’s a famous pitcher in the Hall of Fame who was known for doctoring the ball. Everyone knew he did it, but he was rarely caught. That, to me, anyway, was a worse infraction as it took little effort. Bonds still has to work to keep his body in shape.

  8. Warren Goldstein is an idiot. Why would whites be opposed to a black man breaking a black man’s record? This argument made sense 30 years ago when it was Aaron chasing a white man’s record. Nearly everyone who dislikes Bonds dislikes him because of his surly demeanor, and the universal belief that he is a cheater of the first order. He took the tremendous ability that God gave him and amplified it artificially.

    I am a Cubs fan. I have always liked Sammy Sosa, and I still like him, despite the overwhelming circumstantial evidence that he himself is a cheater (steroids, not the corked bat). This would seem to validate ymarsakr’s argument that the fans approve of behavior that benefits their team, and therefore themselves. And, oops, he’s black, so I guess I’m not the bigot that Mr. Goldstein would seem to think I am.

    The opportunity to check pitchers for doctoring the ball comes every game. Gaylord Perry used intimidation more than actual spit to gain an advantage. As long as the hitter thinks that the ball is doctored, Gaylord didn’t need to load it up. He would only have to actually cheat very rarely.

  9. Sports, like a lot of human social activities, divides into tribal mechanics at the bottom. Meaning, racism exploits the divide between “our team” and “their team” in order to create violence, oppression, and injustice. Sports just exploits it for ratings, cheer, victory, money, etc.

    There is really nothing that can stop mob mentality. Everyone knows, or should know, that with each additional member to a group beyond a specific limit (determined by the group members and dyanmics), the average IQ and judgement ability of each individual starts going down. At a million or so, the judgement is basically that of a gnat. A stadium of 100,000 divided into 30,000 camps has the intelligence of a …. hrm a dog yes.

    When I say intelligence, I mean local independent ability to make long term decisions that are in the individual’s best interests. You see, when an individual becomes part of a team/tribe, certain hardwired instincts kick in to force that person to do what is good for the tribe. That’s why people on a team tend to cheer for their team members and want their team to do “well”. This is the same for war, btw, although… well there has been some slight changes in social dynamics which makes Iraq an interesting case study in itself.

    Much of the guilt the hollywood elite, and Gore, feels is related to the fact that they think they are exploiting the group. In the olden days, having more to eat personally usually meant the future gen and the women of the tribe starved. It literally was Zero Sum in our caveman days, people. The hardwired “guilt” reflex for taking more than is your fair share from the communal troth is pretty… hard to resist.

    In a way, human beings are actually designed to be dumber and less independent in a group. Individual decision making is replaced by hierarchical decision making for the good of the group/team/tribe. It has helped our species survive, after all. But Nature is rather brutal, as we all know, it cares nothing for justice, reason, or much of anything else except results. You survive or you don’t, Nature perhaps is only pissed at the length of time it takes to evolve a replacement species (for Dinosaurs for example).

    In our day and age, we don’t need to cheat to survive. And actually, too much cheating will destroy our civilization. But the individual making that decision as part of his tribe, doesn’t really see that far, you know.

    The Founding Fathers, even without the technology of the net, turned it upside down in a way. They said that there was an actual way to govern a set of inter-connected tribes by modifying the hierarchy in such a way that people at the bottom, the followers, become the leaders and can influence the leaders without undermining the leader’s strength. (too much anyways)

    America is quite a sociological experiment all in all. The fact that it has been successful, probably has shocked nature itself.

    But that’s drifting from baseball, obviously. Tribes usually have an optimum number at which it works at. Meaning, the number at which the human mind can visualize as people and folks they know. I.E. Small town community of a thousand or a few thousand. Preferably smaller than that, a hundred or so.

    In point of fact, the military is an example of the extreme to which you can actually push tribal and teamwork. The US military has almost pushed it to the farthest limits that humanity has allowed them, without severe modification of basic physical types and mental states. But my point is that tribal relationships doesn’t really work at the 1 million tribe level, and it really doesn’t work at the 300 million in America level. It is impossible to get one person to see everybody in America as part of their team. Can’t be done, but a shortcut was found, the ideal of “nationalism”. A sort of shortcut utilizing the human imagination and ability to think in abstract, by paralleing family bonds to national bonds, through using the nation’s power to protect an individual’s family. This seals the loyalty so to speak, allowing a person to be as loyal to his nation as he is loyal to his family. This all depends upon everyone playing by the rules, however, law and order and all that crazy. It also depends upon trust of the government, to the certain extent that you can trust the government to protect you and your family from foreign threats, without becoming a threat to you and yours by itself.

    Much of the tyrannies of the past have been failed experiments in how to control human sociology and group dynamics. Since there are thousands or even millions of groups around (Think ACLU, 101st Airborne, 1st Marine Expeditionary, Navy, Combat Pilots, Republicans, Democrats, Bookworms, Neo-Neocons, Leftist Revolutionaries), it is very very hard to correlate all their actions at the same time and control them. Totalitarianism fails for perhaps the simplest fact in the realm of human affairs; it fails due to the fact that it is not omniscient nor omnipotent. It cannot both know all the factors to change and have the power to change all the factors required for true human group control. True Mind control would change that, as well as 100% loyalty indoctrination programs, but still.

    The best the Left can hope to accomplish is vote buying and welfare indoctrination, cementing the loyalty of people to the Left because the Left provides food to the family members. Oh wait… did I say the Left? I meant the Totalitarian cliques Hamas and Hizbollah of course. Obviously the Left would not be so similar to such totalitarian control mechanisms as to bribe their adherents with food, threat of assassination, and welfare money.

    The American experiment is rather peculiar. Unlike most human sociological groups, the American experiment focuses on controlled chaos; meaning allowing a person to become all he can be without controlling his fate or end result. This chaos of allowing everyone to choose their own life and beliefs, rubs a lot of people the wrong way. On a primal level, it scares people because people are hardwired to follow hierarchies and be part of a group. People need a sense of belonging, and the idea that you belong to nobody but yourself is… pretty scary all together.

    On a political level, you just can’t be having people critique the Don Hugos of the world like that. You can’t have people stepping out of line, out of their station in life, to standing up to the true elite and aristocrats meant to rule as Nancy PillowC was meant to rule. That would mean the leadership has lost control, and a leadership without control is not much of a leadership at all in the minds of Saddam, Hugo, and Amanie.

    The Soviets were always gobsmacked at how the Americans could really run a strong leadership clique that could defend the nation with all this yapping and complaining from the followers. They never could really figure it out, which probably contributed to their eternal belief that they would outlast the Ameris. With the bickering they saw in the Americas, obviously the US should have shattered LONG before the Soviets. Yet… didn’t happen. Ah, now we come to a little bit of Chaos Theory so to speak. Down to a fundamental level, Chaos itself has an order to it. Shocking yes, but what we see as chaotic may indeed be following an orderly precession. Such is the same with America’s group behaviors.

  10. On the other hand, a large number (the majority) of Bond’s record has no steroid use associated with it. Some portion of his record is valid…how much? Some cheating (of nature, anyway) is clearly allowed: players allowed to compensate for weak eyes by wearing glasses or contact lenses. If Bonds used steroids (and I suspect he did), it was wrong because it was against the rules. But he still had to connect the bat with the ball.

  11. DRaftervoi’s is close to my take. If the standard is beyond a reasonable doubt, he’s guilty. Unfortunatley the de facto standard is certainty. It’s the dishonesty that is abhorrent to me. It’s a shame that we will never know how much the illegal substance enhanced his performance, but it’s really a shame that he will break Hank Aaron’s record.

    Both men had to hit the ball, but Hammerin’ Hank did it in an era with a larger strike zone and when players generally did not keep themselves in great physical shape all year round. Bonds may have broken the record eventually by moving on to the American League and not playing in the field… but we’ll never know. Clearly he cheated, and just as clearly he will break the record. I don’t like it, but it doesn’t matter whether I like it or not.

    What is beyond me, is how this has become an issue of race. Why is there a difference in the way black and white people think about it. I’m led to believe that I am trying to keep the black man down by disliking Bonds and talking about his cheating. Funny, no one says that about my thoughts on Sosa and McGuire. I’m a Hank Aaron fan, how does that sit? It’s troubling to me that much of black America is willing to excuse the cheating simply BECAUSE he’s black.

    Maybe it’s good that we’re going through this exercise to learn something about ourselves… but I still hope there is a smoking gun someplace that either nails Bonds or exonerates him… though both are extremely unlikely. So get ready for the asterisks in the record books… at least for a generation or so.

  12. DQ – interesting viewpoint, how does that work in court?

    “Well, it’s okay that my client shot the guy, your honor, because after all he was a known mob enforcer, so that should make it perfectly acceptable.”

    I know California has some interesting ideas on jurisprudence, but I have to wonder if that would really be mitigating.

  13. Hi JJ,

    I’m not a criminal attorney, but I believe mitigation goes to sentence, not guilt. As for your example, identity of the victim does matter to the sentence. If the victim is a police officer, it can make the difference between life imprisonment and the death sentence.

    Bonds isn’t innocent, by any means, but the factors I mentioned do matter in considering, for example, whether he should enter the Hall of Fame. Also, we shouldn’t think that if we can nail Bonds we’ve fully addressed the problem. It was far wider than one man.

  14. Barry Bonds began his career as a leadoff hitter. Over the first 7-10 years of his career, Bonds established himself as one of the best hitters (and overall players) in baseball history. Throughout most of the 1990’s, Bonds was considered the best player in the game, along with Ken Griffey Jr.

    Bonds was a great hitter during this time, usually hitting a good number of homeruns, but rarely leading the league. The most impressive things were his overall baseball skills: he was very fast, being a great fielder, who hit for a high average, with many extra-base hits(doubles, triples, and HRs-including inside the park HR’s), with many stolen bases, and one who produced in high pressure situations. He was the complete package.

    During this stage of his career, Barry Bonds was a rather average looking athlete, not a real big guy compared to many others in the league, though of course he had a very athletic build. People who don’t follow baseball often think Bonds has been at his current size throughout his career. Not true at all. For that first part of his career, it does not appear that Bonds used steroids (judging by his physical prowess). I’m also pretty sure, of the details that have been released about the BALCO investigation, out of all the circumstantial and unconfirmed evidence that has come forward, there is no linking Bonds to steroids during the first 7-10 years of his career. If Bonds’ career had ended around 97-98, when he started getting so much bigger and stronger, I would bet
    Bonds would have been voted into the hall of fame based on the accomplishments of those first 10 years or so alone.

    Then came the resurgence of Mark McGwire (who was at an old age to all of a sudden be hitting so many more homeruns) along with the emergence of Sammy Sosa during the 96, 97, and 98 seasons. These two guys were hitting homeruns at a pace that had never been seen before in Baseball history. Roger Maris’s legendary record was in jeopardy for the first time since the 60’s, and Bonds was not the one threatening that record. All of a sudden, McGwire and Sosa, after breaking the record(multiple times) were being talked about as the best players in baseball, with many people saying Bonds had already peaked. Bonds, who was clearly a better natural athlete and hitter than Sosa and McGwire, as evidenced by his overall career statistics, not surprisingly was able to do more with steroids than even McGwire and Sosa were able to.

    Within a few seasons Bonds(like McGwire, at a curious age to be improving in strength, size and power) was hitting homers at a pace he had never come close to achieving before.

    It all peaked in the early to mid part of this decade when he shattered McGwire’s mark of 70 hr’s in one season.

    Looking back at it, it seems Bonds may have wanted to regain his status as the greatest player in Baseball following the Sosa-McGwire homerun chase that completely stole his thunder…and so he began using steroids sometime during the late nineties.

    He knew Sammy and Mark were using steroids during those record chasing years and, instead of being condemned by society and the media, they were considered heroes by nearly everyone, with very few questions or investigative reporting to at least answer the question of “how’d they get so big over a short period of time?”

    The media, and baseball’s lack of questioning about whether players might be using steroids during the McGwire-Sosa HR chase gave Bonds little motivation to not “risk it” when weighing the potential advantages and disadvantages.

    Bonds, who was clearly a better natural athlete and hitter than Sosa and McGwire, as evidenced by his overall career statistics, not surprisingly was able to do more with steroids than even McGwire and Sosa were able to.

    Bonds was a great player who didn’t need steroids, but in my estimation, couldn’t handle playing 2nd fiddle to anyone.

    Whether Barry Bonds, Sosa, or McGwire should be in the hall of fame is the least of Baseball’s problems.

    But Barry Bonds is no more guilty than Bud Selig, every owner in Major League Baseball, McGwire, Giambi, Sosa, journalists, team physicians, players, coaches, and even adult fans who should have known better.

    I think BW’s post and the interesting discussion that has followed shows just how much trouble baseball has gotten itself into over this mess. By turning a blind eye when they knew steroid use was rampant, only thinking about themselves and their pocketbooks, many people associated with baseball have put the long-term popularity of the game at risk. It’s place as our past time is at risk. All to make a few extra bucks through filling seats and TV ratings.

    It reminds me of America’s standing in the world, and the war-profiteering motivated foreign policy dictated by America’s most elite just to make money for themselves in the short-run, with no regard to the big picture, long term health of the nation and the world. The owner’s, sponsors, and major movers and shakers in Major League baseball have also failed to consider the long-term health of the game America has always loved. In some ways, all those who love baseball have also contributed to the problem.

    Lastly, of my countless baseball fanatic friends, I know of very few who think steroids are good for the game, whether it benefits their favorite team or not. Home fans should root for the home team and its players, just like we should support our troops even if we believe the policy is asinine. If they don’t “root root root for the home team” the entire franchise will dissolve. Baseball can be saved just as America can. The solutions might be new ownership or management (certainly true with the Bush Administration and their failure to protect this country), DEMANDED by the fans or citizens, if need be. When you love something, you must protect it, and not let it be ruined by greed and ignorance.

  15. Hi BigAl,

    Thanks for your comments. You are wrong about Bush (the country’s been pretty well protected since 9/11 or have there been terrorist acts on U.S. soil that didn’t get reported somehow) and about McGuire (who hit 49 home runs his rookie season and was always a power hitter deluxe) but almost certainly right about Bond’s motive of wanting to recapture the limelight. And you description of the early Bonds is perfect.

  16. Bonds’ records prior to the alleged steroid use are Hall Of Fame-worthy records. While I’m pretty certain from the evidence that Bonds used steroids knowingly, there’s been no definitive proof that he did so. And there’s the testimony by somebody or other that they weren’t telling the atheletes that they were getting steroids….

  17. Don’t get me wrong DQ, the evidence against McGwire is circumstantial, the same as it is with Bonds. And there’s no question McGwire also had an amazing career even before he started to look and play as if he was “juiced”, just like Bonds. As long as you’re not trying to say that you think Bonds is guilty, and think McGwire is innocent, I am totally fine with what you’re saying. It is way too obvious that both of them are guilty in my opinion.

    I believe George W Bush and his actions and policies as President have hurt America’s security, that is also my opinion. I didn’t figure you’d agree, and that’s OK.

    Thanks for reading my comment.

  18. McGwire is probably just as guilty as Bonds is, but he didn’t have the sudden transformation from skinny leadoff hitter to power hitter Bonds did because he was a home-run hitter from the very beginning. We can agree to disagree on Bush, but the total absence of successful terrorist acts on American soil for the last 6 years kind of speaks for itself.

    Anyway, I appreciate the civil tone. Have a great 4th of July.

  19. When BA says Bush has increased the threat, I think he means Bush has increased the threat of his administration to America’s civil liberties, due to the fact that people believe Bush is simply using the threat of terrorism to increase his own power.

    It is a threat that isn’t directly connected to terrorist attacks.

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