Rob Neyer on McGwire

Here’s Rob’s piece.

My opinion about PEDs has changed over the last five years or so. Some of that has been because I learned more about the PEDs, and in large part it is because I saw the way the athletes accused and convicted of PEDs use reacted. Badly, of course. The trials and investigations and testimony all helped show that the players knew where the guilt was, even when naifs like me were defending them.

So, we had our villain. Finally.

Of course, when I put it that way I start to get all wishy washy again. This really isn’t a story of villains and, presumably, heroes, but rather a story of lots of similar but not identical people undergoing pressures that are similar but not identical. Talk about the despicable union protecting the drug takers ignores the many actions over the years by the owners to control the players and limit their compensation. In this context the slow to emerge drug rules reflect ownership’s desire to get an upper hand on the players, and the players (union) protecting their privacy and civil rights.

In any case, I don’t think McGwire is the hard Hall of Fame case. Even with his spectacular power accomplishments, he’s not a clear cut Hall of Famer. Discount him for PED usage and it’s easy to keep him off any HOF list. Bonds and Clemens are the real deal, on the other hand, Hall of Famers before they took the drugs. The big question is whether their induction will open the door to the boderline cases like McGwire.

2 thoughts on “Rob Neyer on McGwire

  1. As far as the PEDs go, where Bonds and Clemens are harder cases isn’t so much because they were HOFers before they took the drugs but because it’s difficult – if not impossible – to determine how much of an impact the drugs had on their performances. It’s easy to take a cursory look at Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa’s numbers and more or less figure out when they started taking the stuff. A close look at Bonds or Clemens, though, and it’s not quite that simple.

    Bonds’ true outlier season was in 2001, the year he broke the record. While 2002-2004 certainly qualify as outliers given his age, they don’t necessarily qualify given his performance. Part of the reason these seasons are such outliers are because of the 578 walks he amassed those years…something that likely had anything to do with PEDs.

    Clemens’ case is even more complicated. His only true outlier seasons are 1997 and 2004-2005. In particular, his 1999-2003 seasons are fairly ordinary or perhaps even subpar by his career standards.

    It’s easier to look at a superb season by a previously good player and think steroids. Brady Anderson’s 1996 and Andy Pettitte’s 2005 quickly leap to mind, but there are several others. It’s more difficult when looking at a previously great player like Bonds or Clemens to automatically come to the same conclusion. Great players are outliers in the first place, and post-peak seasons that defy the odds are part of the deal with these guys in any era. That doesn’t mean that Bonds or Clemens did not do steroids, but it does make it harder to objectively look at their performances and conclude that steroids absolutely and definitely were 100% behind their performance.

  2. I think in both Bonds’ and Clemens’ cases you can see where the body is breaking down, same as McGwire only not as extreme, and then ascertain that going forward they may have had help. In both cases their historic accomplishments came after that divider, but in both cases they were pretty clearly the top hitter and pitcher of their era before the line was crossed.

    My point about McGwire is that before that point he wasn’t at all close.

    As for the effects of PEDs and cases like Brady Anderson’s, absent way more hard data so that we can compare users with non users (and users when they were not using), it seems to me like too much conjecture. We have no idea how to correct for the usage, we just know it changed things, and I think the best we can do is note that the game was different then.

    Also, the burden here isn’t to show that the drugs were 100 percent of their performance, but rather some percent. For McGwire, Clemens and Bonds it seems to me that the certain boost was being able to stay on the field. How much of the other stuff came from the drugs is hard to pin down.

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