On the Hall of Fame, and Why Juicing is Kind of a Good Thing

Goose Gossage was elected to the Hall of Fame two winters ago. The man had a really solid career in relief, and I’m not here to slight his candidacy (not only would it be just a little poorly timed, it’d be totally irrelevant).

The real issue with Goose and the Hall of Fame is a quote from the mustachioed reliever that came out in reference to the recent brouhaha involving Mark McGwire’s admission of PED use.

“I definitely think that they cheated. And what does the Hall consist of? Integrity. Cheating is not part of integrity.”

The “they” Goosage is referring to is players of the “Steroid Era” in the 90s and early 2000s. They part that’s missing from inclusion in “they” are the players who are already in the Hall that are known cheaters.

There seems to be some blissful ignorance that comes upon baseball players and media when it comes to the Hall of Fame. Its image is that of a pristine palace, adorned with gold-crusted plaques mounted on altars in the Holy Land of upstate New York.

There’s a great to-do about the “integrity” of the Hall, as Gossage puts things. People think that anyone with a scrap of personal trouble or ties to PED use automatically merits disqualification from Hall consideration. Ironic, then, that one particular Hall of Famer comes to mind who has been known to have bent – and broken – the rules, and yet receives absolutely no attention and achieves no mention when this issue arises whenever someone feels like leaking a name connected to the drugs.

Pud Galvin.

Pud Himself

Pud Galvin pitched 15 seasons in professional baseball, starting in 1875 when he was 18, and ending in 1892 with a four-year break in the beginning. Among his career highlights, Galvin started 75 games in one season (amassing 656 innings pitched in the process), struck out 1,800 batters and was given a 364-310 career record with a sub-three ERA. Even given the era, those are very good numbers and, in my opinion, probably Hall of Fame-worthy.

What you won’t see on Galvin’s Baseball-reference page is this nifty little tidbit:

In 1889, a Pittsburgh pitcher named Jim “Pud” Galvin became the first baseball player to be widely known for using a performance enhancer. (He was nicknamed “Pud” because his pitching supposedly turned opposing batters into “pudding”…) Before pitching a game against Boston, Pud used something called the elixir of Brown-Sequard… essentially testosterone drained from the gonads of an animal. And, low and behold, the juiced-up Galvin won.

Prepared from the gonads of monkeys, dogs and guinea pigs, to be precise. One hundred ten years before Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa essentially saved baseball with their home run chase, Pud Galvin was beefing up with animal man-juice. Yet, there he sits enshrined in Cooperstown, with nary a whisper of his name over the last decade-plus. Why? Brown-Sequard posited that his “elixir” would help prolong life. Isn’t that essentially what we’re dealing with with current steroid use? How does a man get away with this 120 years ago, but not today?

The easy answer, of course, was that it wasn’t illegal back then, and there’s no tangible proof to show just what kind of enhancement the mixture provided. Isn’t that the same set of circumstances we see surrounding Mark McGwire today? McGwire admitted to taking androstenedione in 1998, among other times in his career. Known as andro for short, the chemical is said to enhance production of testosterone, the male sex hormone. This, in turn, would perhaps aid in recovery and perhaps add a bit of extra strength.

(It’s worth noting, as an aside, that McGwire’s brother Jay claims Mark only took Nandrolone, a substance that was neither scheduled or illegal under MLB rules)

The key here is that none of this has been proven or exhibited quantifiably in a baseball environment. Only speculation exists as to whether andro – or any steroid/PED, for that matter – is the magic pixie dust that can turn David Eckstein into Ryan Braun. People think it can provide extra muscle to add a few home runs throughout the course of a season. Who’s to say if that’s a certainty?

Now, I’m not going to try and say steroids offer no benefit whatsoever; so many ballplayers wouldn’t have taken some form if they didn’t. It’s just that the benefits lie in other facets of the game, namely in regard to a speedy recovery. The argument against steroid users then shifts form: the drugs keep the player on the field, and they can definitely add to their home runs totals that way.

That’s a true point, but what, then, are we to make of advanced surgeries? Tommy John surgery is a literal ligament replacement, meant to vastly accelerate recovery from an elbow injury. Why is that procedure considered legal and not cheating, while taking a chemical to achieve the same result – albeit on a different area of the body – is flogged chronically for days after every mention of a player’s use, ultimately hurting a player’s chances at entering the Hall of Fame? Well, those are just the rules. That’s what’s put in place for players to abide by.

This is what I mean when I say juicing is “kind of” a good thing. You can see plainly from the results of the 1998 season that baseball was almost single-handedly saved by steroids. Steroids that, at the time, were not considered illegal until MLB’s rules. Later, after these chemicals became outlawed, players continued to use them at great peril: suspensions and public de-lousing were in order upon revelation of every name tied to steroid use. These players put their bodies, careers and lives at risk to benefit their careers and, by proxy, benefit the teams they played on.

The angry mob rioters who surface every time a story likes this breaks claim hurt feelings and ravaged memories, when they’ve worked up entirely too much care-emotion and are misdirecting it at canonizing the game and history of baseball, thereby scrutinizing players under some illusory “context,” a context that Tommy Craggs debunks over at Deadspin in a piece published as I write this very one.

What context is that, exactly? Does it include those eight guys who dumped a World Series for Arnold Rothstein? All those fellows in the ’70s popping greenies like Chiclets? Gaylord Perry? The guy holding the telescope in the Giants’ clubhouse in 1951? Whitey Ford and Elston Howard doctoring a ball until it looked like something coughed up by a very large cat? There are no saints on baseball’s stained glass. And there is certainly no era of the game in which a sizable percentage of the participants didn’t try to score an advantage somewhere just the other side of the rulebook (and occasionally the law). That’s the most American thing about baseball, and, sometimes it’s the only thing that saves it from all the embroidered American values nonsense that George Will and Ken Burns and this crazy lady drape over the sport like a hideous doily.

People crying foul are fighting a misguided cause and stirring up undue angst among people who just plain don’t know better. Steroids help teams. They help keep players on the field and, heaven forbid, they make games entertaining. This is what thou wrought, Allan Selig, and now you wish to demonize it as if it were never your intention in the first place.

Is steroid use dangerous and partially stupid? Sure. The health risks are ominous. But it’s borderline admirable to me that these professional athletes put their bodies at such great risks in order to help their team win. Is it unfair? Well, if every single player isn’t doing it, sure, but competition is about getting a leg up and finding ways to win.

If something was available that a player on your favorite team could use to help him stay healthier longer and maybe even perform a fraction of a bit better, you’d want them to try, wouldn’t you? I would, whether it’s Tommy John surgery or a rounded pill, I would.

I don’t root for this, of course. In baseball today, being linked to steroids is instant political death. I want players on my team to be the best, but getting caught means a suspension and expulsion from serious Hall of Fame consideration. I think these steroids are certainly not the demons they’ve been made out to be, and it’s entirely possible that the general public’s perception of them has been irrevocably wrought akimbo by pervasive cries of excommunication from people with a position of power and an influential voice.

The Hall of Fame is no Hall of Saints, Goose. People across all eras have tried to get a leg up. They’ve tried to be better than the rest, both for the betterment of their career and of their teams. If we wanted to be selective in this department now, we had better rent a dumpster for Cooperstown.

Rethink things before you file an insurance claim for your wrecked childhood memories and jump on the bandwagon of indignation; maybe we’ve been going about this all wrong.

“A Different Kind of Performance Enhancer” – NPR

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3 Comments

Filed under General Bull

3 responses to “On the Hall of Fame, and Why Juicing is Kind of a Good Thing

  1. ash

    I loves me some NPR. Thank you for finally spelling out why it is you boys don’t go nuts when we hear about ‘roids. Definitely shines a different light on the subject, and I can certainly take that side into consideration before damning the roiders.

  2. One of my least favorite things about baseball is how fans lionize their favorite players. Athletes aren’t heroes, or role models, or exemplary citizens, and they never really have been. Babe Ruth was a fat glutton who drank too much booze and slept with prostitutes (while married). Ty Cobb and a myriad of players of his era were virulent racists. Honestly, anyone who judges players as men and not just as athletes are fools, because being a model citizen isn’t part of a baseball player’s job description.

  3. SteveW

    Uh, not illegal? Not illegal by baseball’s rules or not illegal to possess according to the laws of most states? Or not illegal if taken under a doctor’s supervision?

    Cheaters should be banned from baseball, including the Hall of Fame AND returning to your old team as a hitting instructor.

    The shame is that many of the drugs banned are modern miracles that could really help injured players come back quicker. If I had knee surgery and my doctor felt that steroids would help me recover, I could get a precription. But because CHEATERS abuse the system, these are now banned for professional athletes.

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