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Roids, Noids, and Baseball Awoids

I don’t know when I lost my verve for postseason baseball awards—you know, malady cialis MVP, mind viagra Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Gold Gloves, even the Rolaids Relief Man!\n\nMaybe it was when I discovered that there were other things in life besides baseball.  I took some years to explore theses things, to decide if they might be better things.  Tests were run, volumes studied, alchemy practiced—and no, they are not.  Baseball is best.  It used to be a gut feeling, now I can say it with empirical certainty.\n\nStill, I can’t regain the enthusiasm for postseason awards that I had as pimple-faced squirt.  They’re not even among the things I pretend to care about, like football.\n\nMaybe that’s because now the idea of handing out awards to professional baseball players seems childishly naive, like giving a “gold star” to a two hundred million dollar athlete.\n\nBut it’s more than that.\n\nFor one thing, the guy who gets the hardware isn’t always the right choice.  This used to be more of a subjective thing, an argument between friends slumped on barstools.  But now it involves advanced statistical analysis and takes place in cyberspace.\n\nBill James was the first nerd to descend on baseball, and many have followed since.  Nerds challenged the logic of baseball’s old guard—institutionalized scouts, managers, and sportswriters.  To assess a player’s value, old methods relied on stats like pitcher “Wins” and hitter “RBI,” which depend heavily on the quality of one’s teammates.\n\nNerds pointed out these flaws and invented statistics of their own.  They emphasized the importance of hitters getting on base (via base hit and base on balls), a hitter’s isolated power, a pitcher’s ability to generate swings-and-misses and to induce ground balls.  They categorized player “luck” by accounting for percentages of balls in play that went for hits.  And on and on.  All of this was made possible by computer-driven analysis and complex equations.\n\nWith their big brains brimming with baseball data, bulging out ahead of the curve, nerds began landing jobs in team front offices.  Jonah Hill played one in the Moneyball movie.  He was a composite character (or one nerd representing many nerds) but still, that was real!\n\nAdvanced statistics aren’t perfect for measuring player ability (they are constantly being improved upon) but they’re better.  Yet the writers who vote for the awards have been slow to adapt.  Often, they honor the wrong guy.  For example, last year Miguel Cabrera was baseball’s first Triple Crown winner in more than four decades, but Mike Trout was a superior all-around baseball player by sabermetric (i.e. nerd) standards.  Still, the baseball writers awarded Cabrera the American League MVP.\n\nSabermetrics has undermined the legitimacy of writers’ awards but baseball has itself to blame for undermining their integrity.  Yeah, I’m talking about PEDs here.\n\nWho can say how many MLB players are altering their body chemistries in ways that the league does not or cannot adequately test for (and there are lots of ways out there)?  Jaded logic suggests most players.  And the game’s top performers, its award winners, certainly are not exceptions.\n\nThe list of National League MVP winners over the last twenty years could be used for roll call of the league’s allegedly doped-up and definitely defamed—Ken Caminiti, Jeff Bagwell, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, and Ryan Braun have won 14 of the last 23 trophies (prior to this week’s MVP announcement).  The American League MVP and Cy Young lists are sprinkled with PED-associated players as well, like Ivan Rodriguez, Juan Gonzalez, Jason Giambi, Miguel Tejada, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, and Bartolo Colon.\n\nThere’s no reason to think there won’t be more.\n\nBeing a suspected, even admitted PED user doesn’t necessarily make me think less of a player’s ability or accomplishments (like I said, I think everybody’s juicin’) but how these stories play out just makes me feel icky.  Reputations (and subsequently money) are at stake, and so players and league officials scramble for higher moral ground, talking as if the issue is black and white when it’s a sea of grey.\n\nAnd so a forthright discussion about PED use in baseball is usurped by a troubling mélange of player witch hunts, false denials and half-hearted apologies by athletes, breaches of the bargaining agreement by the commissioner, lawsuits against MLB, wasteful congressional hearings, and costly government investigations and perjury trials.\n\nIn the wake of all this is hardware being doled out by writers and a growing list of award winners absent from the Hall of Fame, serving as another reminder that professional baseball—the collective body made up of players, owners, media, and fans—hasn’t been able to honestly access and appropriately address training supplements in the game today.\n\nSo I just can’t get into the awards.  All apologies to pimple-faced squirts.\n\nThis post also appears at The Third City.

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