Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The (PED) future of baseball

Performance enhancing drugs and sports have a long history together, but now, PEDs are a factor in other facets of life. Jay, over at Fack Youk, wrote an interesting post about students using Adderall to do better on tests and how that compares with the PED issues that surround sports in general and baseball in particular. Bill James had a brilliant essay about steroids and the Hall of Fame*. Before he gets to the subject of the HoF, James talks about how the future of PEDs are going to affect the society at large and therefore will change the moral outlook of people on the use of PEDs in sports. This has been my take as long as there's been a PED controversy. This is science; and the evolution of pharmaceuticals is going from that of cure to prevention to enhancement.

*Where was I when this came out? I don't remember being in a coma (although people probably don't actually remember being in a coma, do they?) nor do I leave the country often or for an extended period of time. I had no idea he wrote this until I was giving my opinion on PEDs to someone and they pointed out that Bill James had written a very similar stance on the subject. Did I miss the media coverage of this? A quick google search tells me that most of the coverage came from blogs. Or, maybe I did just miss it and there was a lot of coverage. I really don't know.

So, we know that PEDs are not some 1990's magic potion that can be just stamped out. Only, Major League Baseball does think that, don't they. The current testing system is in place with the goal that all professional baseball players will be pure, unadulterated, clean, drug free... etc for as long as MLB is in existence. As far as I know they didn't include any out clause that says "Once PEDs are safe, reliable, and equally available to all humans, we will revisit our stance on whether or not these PEDs can be used in MLB.

The future is almost here. The advantages of using steroids and HGH are well documented, but there are other medical breakthroughs that may be just around the corner. Current medical research on replacing old tissue and organs by restoring cell structure could lead to longevity only rivaled by Methusaleh, himself. I believe it. It's not science fiction, it's scientific progress. If MLB stays the course on denying players access to medical breakthoughs that will have the side effect of what they would consider performance enhancing, could we see the following scenario some day?

Donnie McLovin, a 99 year old middle aged man with his two sons, Robinson, age 79 and Jeter, age 77, watch as 27 year old Barak Boone, a sixth generation player, pitches for the Mexico City Llankees.

"It's amazing the sacrifice these players make to play baseball," remarks Donnie.
"To think, Boone has given up the possibility to live 100 years longer just so he can continue to play baseball."
"And look how puny he is, I could pick him up and throw him across the plate myself," notes Robinson.
"I'd like to see that Robby, but unfortunately they installed that sonic fence that only pitchers can go through since they wrote out all those unwritten rules," reminds Jeter.

Far-fetched? Totally. But if scientific progress stays the course and baseball achieves its stated purpose, what I have written is merely a logic extrapolation of what could be.

What is obviously more likely is that, eventually, MLB will have to concede that life enhancing pharmaceuticals, once they are safe and readily available to all, can be used by players. And because these new drugs or supplements will have the side effect of enhancing performance, players will be stronger, have shorter injury recovery times, and receive all the other benefits that the now banned substances provide. Plus, who knows what else will be enhanced.

Will Mark McGwire then be shown to be telling the truth? That is, the skills that it takes to produce on the baseball field are not made easier with the use of PEDs? Or will the common perception prevail with a majority of players hitting 50 plus homers? Maybe a new age of pitcher domination?

What if changes to integral parts of the game need to be made? How would you feel about 500 feet to the left and right field corners necessitating a fourth outfielder or 115 foot base paths to curb hitting. Maybe 4 strike Ks and 3 ball walks, or a level (or concave!) pitching mound to give batters a chance?

Nah. I believe, even when all players are using PEDs, an equilibrium of sorts will be reached. I think the muscle memory that it takes to swing a bat at the precise time at a precise location, or the exact timing it takes to actually have command of your pitches will not be helped by this first round of PEDs that are aimed at longer life and better physical condition. That's not to say that those that are already good ball players won't be great and great ball players won't become Barry Bonds, I think that will still be the case.

Barry Bonds hit some monster home runs, but isn't Mickey Mantle still credited with the longest ever? There are a few pitchers throwing 100mph these days, but wasn't Nolan Ryan doing that in the 60's, and anecdotally Bob Feller, Lefty Grove and Walter Johnson in years gone by? Until there is actual human evolution that affects bone, tendon and ligament strength I think there will still be limits to what we can do physically. But then again, maybe I'm wrong and there will be PEDs in the near future that will change the entire structure of the human body. Who knows what will be possible.

In the end, I think baseball will survive, and maybe even be better, when players are playing to the best of their (enhanced) abilities.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Booing shows what type of person you really are

Javier Vazquez got booed during his 2nd start against the Angels. A blogger I read and enjoy, Craig Calcaterra, called those that booed "classless and ignorant". Not only is he right, I think he didn't go far enough. By the way, I was born a New Yorker, and I've been a Yankee fan since the early 1970's.

Let's start with a few "reasons" given by some that say it was okay to boo Javy Vazquez.

"He is performing badly, I should get to boo him!!"
At the time of the first boos, Vazquez had pitched a total of one game this year. Should someone really be judged/booed after one game? The boos continued after coming out of the game giving up 3 runs in 5+ innings (yes, 4 after all, but the fourth came after Al Aceves came in to relieve). So 3 runs in 5 innings is boo-worthy to some?
Ignorant Yankee fans 1, informed Yankee fans 0.

"He performed badly in the 2004 ALCS!"
Really? You think it's ok to boo someone who did something 6 years ago? Especially when I could name at least 10 players who had more to do with the collapse than Vazquez?
Ignorant Yankee fans 2, informed Yankee fans 0.

"I pay a lot for these tickets, it's my right to boo!"
Okay, Let's take something that is considered "classy," the opera. In New York, you can go see Der Fliegende Hollander at the Met. According to an online ticket site you can get tickets for somewhere between 42 and 595 dollars. Maybe it's not 1000s of dollars to sit behind the dugout in Yankee stadium, but $595 is not chump change. If the person playing the role of Senta, Doland's daughter (soprano), is off key a few times, how many opera goers are going to boo her? Zero, because they have class.
How about the Symphony. the NY Philharmonic is playing at Avery Fisher Hall, ticket prices up to about $200. If the trombone player, Joseph Alessi, gets out of time with the others for a few beats, will the audience boo him? No.
Classless Yankee fans 1, Classy Yankee fans 0.

"These athletes make a bajillion dollars, the deserve to be booed when they don't perform like I think they should!"
When Frank Sinatra performed live (how much was he making per year?), if he coughed during the singing of "New York New York" would a classy listener boo? No.
When David Copperfield performs in NY, he screws up a couple tricks, would a classy audience boo? No.
Classless Yankee Fans 2, Classy Yankee fans 0.

Lets go a little further. If you went to the premier of Rocky V and Sylvester Stallone was in the audience, at the end of the movie would you have gone up to him and booed him to his face? No.
Cowardly Yankee fans 1, sane Yankee fans 0.

If you had a VIP pass to be in the dugout during the game when Vazquez pitched, would you have booed him as he walked back to the dugout? No.
Cowardly Yankee fans 2, sane Yankee fans 0.

So, the totals here are :
Ignorant, classless, cowardly Yankee fans 6, informed, classy, sane Yankee fans 0.

I don't boo. The only time I would consider booing is if I know someone I paid money to see was not putting forth his/her best effort. I can't read people's minds nor know there current condition, so there's no way for me to know if a player is not putting out his/her best effort given his/her current physical or mental status. Therefore, I don't boo.

And really, what do people that boo, get out of booing? Vazquez gets pulled out of the game, he's walking to the dugout, you stand tall, boo your loudest, then sit down. Was it worth it? Do you feel better about yourself? Did you really "give it to him"? In the end, you sit back down, and the Yankees are still down 3 to 1. You've changed nothing. You said to him, behind the blanket of others booing (because you are a coward), "you have displeased me" or "you suck!!" or "I hate you even though you probably did your best, but you let me down because you didn't live up to my standards that (not all but you because of something that happen 6 years ago) have to throw a no-hitter each time out and then, maybe I'll cheer for you".

Wait, you will cheer for him once he starts performing better??? Well then, I think we can add one more thing to the list:

Hypocritical Yankee fan 1, knowledgeable Yankee fan 0.

There's a reason people don't throw rotten vegetables at actors in theaters any more. It's because those that go to the theater are no longer ignorant, classless, cowardly, hypocritical jackasses.

It's time to evolve.