By Ashley Dunkak
DETROIT (COMERICA PARK) – For people who love baseball, what’s more fun than arguing about which players are the best, both in the game today and across the history of the sport?
Who was the greatest player in the history of the game? Who was the best pure hitter? Who was the most dominant pitcher? What team was the strongest ever? Accounting for different tweaks in the game, how do players from different eras stack up? What statistical categories mean the most?
You can find numbers to back up many different positions on any of these questions, so there is very rarely one right answer in a baseball discussion. That is what makes baseball conversations so engaging. See 97.1 The Ticket’s Jeff Riger’s opposing viewpoint HERE.
One of the best aspects of baseball is its long history. Changes have been made – instant replay, designated hitters, playoffs, etc. – but the game is largely the same. That symmetry makes it possible to compare players across generations, and for a culture in which the oldest among us and the youngest among us seem to be communicating less and less, that is pretty cool.
The use of steroids throws a big wrench in this system.
Take a look at articles being written and tweets being sent out about guys like the Detroit Tigers’ Miguel Cabrera and the Baltimore Orioles’ Chris Davis, the first ever players to have at least 30 home runs and at least 90 RBIs before the All-Star break. How do they quantify how well those players are hitting? They compare them to the all-time greats, guys like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Hank Aaron.
More recent comparisons would be to players like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire.
Here is where steroids cause a problem. They take the validity out of the game. So what if Cabrera and Davis are approaching or surpassing marks of Bonds, Sosa, McGwire? Those guys were juicing, so their numbers are no good – or, at minimum, it is hard to know how credible they are. Moreover, the extension of that train of thought is that if Cabrera and Davis are nearing statistics that those guys achieved, maybe they are using PEDs just like their home run-blasting predecessors.
Think about it. Davis’ 37-homer first half, an incredible feat, has been greeted with skepticism. Because of steroids’ presence in the sport, it is hard to enjoy and get swept up in that kind of accomplishment. What if it is not legitimate? The justified suspicion really cheapens the whole sport.
Maybe most people do not care whether players use or not, whether they cheat, whether their numbers have been earned honestly. For me, though, and I believe for others as well, it is less fun, less inspiring to watch a game in which everyone is suspected of taking shortcuts.
MLB will not ever be able to clean up the game, not using a top-down, overarching approach. Like in any situation, change has to come from the people on the ground – managers, coaches, trainers and most importantly the players themselves. When those groups decide not to tolerate PEDs, the game will get clean, and baseball will be a better game when that happens.