Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A few words about baseball's new HR king.

As even most non-baseball fans must know by now—the buzz has been unavoidable this morning—very late on Tuesday in San Francisco, Barry Bonds took possession of baseball's most cherished record when he passed Henry Aaron as the sport's all-time homerun king.* The 756th long-ball of Bonds' 21-year career took a majestic trajectory into the right-center stands, instantly giving New Yorker Matt Murphy, who emerged with the ball after a bloody scrum, a pretty fair net worth for a 22-year-old—though probably not buying Murphy entree to the same country club frequented by fans who caught previous milestone baseballs. Experts were quick to predict that Murphy's souvenir will fetch just a fraction of the $3 million paid for Mark McGwire's 70th homerun in 1998. Me, I'm not so sure. I have a feeling that once the bidding starts in earnest, the ball might prove to be a hotter commodity than some cynics expect. I guess we'll see.

More to the point, these questions about the value of the ball arise because of the questions in most people's minds about the guy who hit it. Barry Bonds has become the poster boy for baseball's so-called "steroid era."

Last April I wrote an impassioned defense of Bonds for the Los Angeles Times that ended up getting reprinted in a dozen other major newspapers, and overflowed my inbox to a degree rarely seen following a single short opinion piece. Very few people agreed with me. Still, I stand by what I wrote then. And since I've linked the article above, which is the Chicago Sun-Times version, I won't repeat it point-by-point here. However, I would add the following:

1. If we're actually calling it "the steroid era"—which people are—that must mean that lots of guys injected. Why penalize Bonds simply for being the best of them? You think it's so easy to hit a homerun even with steroids? Try it. Better still, run down to your local gym, grab a few of the barbell-heads you find there, take them out to Yankee Stadium and give 'em a few swings apiece against, say, Roger Clemens. I'm not talking about batting-practice swings, now; I'm talking about facing the Rocket under game conditions, where he's using his full arsenal, and also throwing under your chin now and then just to keep you loose. See how many homeruns those guys hit. See how many pitches they even touch. It takes a remarkable degree of skill to be a successful Major League hitter ("the hardest thing to do in all of sports," as Ted Williams, no slouch himself, famously put it). Barry was always among the creme-de-la-creme, even when he was an underfed rookie.

2. People use the transformation of Barry's body as proof-positive that he "used," and that his achievements are therefore tainted. OK, we'll concede the point, for now. But have those people ever taken a glance at before-and-after pictures of Mark McGwire? Big Mac in 1998 became America's Everyman-Hero—he was hailed by some as the savior of the game itself, which then lagged well behind football and basketball in the hearts and minds of U.S. sports fansdespite his obvious metamorphosis from a lanky, freckle-faced kid to a latter-day Hercules. Even baseball commissioner Bud Selig was all atwitter when McGwire and Sammy Sosa were completing their long-ball pas-de-deux. Where was the outcry then? Gee, I wonder: Could the difference have anything to do with the fact that McGwire was a fresh-faced white guy? (Selig, by the way, instead of attending Tuesday's historic game, spent the day huddling with George Mitchell, the former senator who's overseeing baseball's investigation of the steroid mess. How's that for a slap in the face?) Speaking of which...

3. Like many cool-headed observers, I find it tragicomic that so many people suddenly are arguing for the "sanctity" of Aaron's record. Where were these good folks in the 1970s, when Hammerin' Hank was getting letters addressing him as "Dear Nigger," from men who vowed to smuggle guns into the ballpark and "see you dead!" before he could break Ruth's record? Could it be that Aaron only looks good to such fans in retrospect? Could it be that—forced to choose between black men—some fans would rather have a humble, docile one like Aaron than a cocky, contentious one like Bonds? (Can you even imagine if a dude like Gary Sheffield were poised to break the record? The Aryan Nation would have snipers positioned on the roof of Comerica Park.)

Anyway, those are just some thoughts on this historic day. As always, I welcome dissenting opinions. My inbox awaits....

NOTE: My internet access may be sporadic over the next few days, but by all means send your comments through, and I'll get to them as I'm able. Thank you!

* Though Aaron's record stood for 31 years, Bonds probably will surrender the crown to Alex Rodriguez within five or six years, assuming A-Rod remains healthy. Last week the Yankee slugger became the youngest player ever to reach 500 homeruns.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

Jeez Steve,

How does today's post follows this:

"My father was a good man. He did the right things for the right reasons, hewing to traditional notions of right and wrong as he understood them. Those notions are far murkier today, having been redefined (if not obliterated) by such open-minded, ego-stroking concepts as "personal growth," "codependency" and, of course, that old standby, "situational ethics." Many of us, myself included, would be better off, I think, had those redefinitions never occurred. In any case, ethics were not situational to Dad. Ethics were ethics. And my father lived a life of great self-sacrifice and self-denial (in more ways that I have room to recount on this blog) in order to live up to his standards in such areas."

It makes no sense at all - to me anyway. Bonds is a cheater. Your dad would not have approved.

What happened?

Sam

Citizen Deux said...

Steve,

I don't understand the outcry over Bonds' record. Aaron breaking Ruth is really equally incomparable as the natur eof the game had changed substantially, as it has now. What I think most people decry is the lauding of Bonds as a hero when he (and most all other professional sports) use chemical enhancements while silumtaneously prhobiting them. Would Ruth have taken steroids had they been available? He certainly used chemicals to alter himself off the field.

Professional sports should either admit the usage of steroids and manage it or make an earnest effort to enforce their own rules. I suspect both are unlikely and we will continue to have this wishy-washy world in which our "heroes" increasingly operate under their own set of rules. More to the point, the use by adolescents of steroids is a seriously dangerous event. A colleague of mine lost his oldest son at 17 to a suicide related to "natural enahncers" usage to boost his swimming performance.

Not an example I want for my boys.

Cal said...

Steve,

It's weird because I agree with your premises but I don't agree with the conclusion.

The United States definitely does not like a person who is loud and black. That is one reason to me why Martin Luther King Jr. is now a hero and the Black Panthers aren't. But yet when the U.S. wants to impose their will on another country, we either use or threaten violence. But I don't agree that Hank Aaron was docile. I just think he knew he couldn't say what he wanted to at that time. Unlike Barry Bonds, Hank was not set financially for life because of baseball. There are many books out now about Jackie Robinson. One thing I didn't know was he basically told Eisenhower to shove it when Dwight D. told him to be patient on civil rights. Yet the media portrayed him as some genuflecting Negro.

I do agree it would totally be different if Sheffield or Albert Belle (who I believe would also have been chasing the record if he didn't have a career ending injury but was also a recalcitrant black man) were breaking the record.

I agree with your other points too. But I think using steroids is cheating. Why? Like the Supreme Court justice Potter Stewart said about pornography, "I can't define it, but I know it when I see it."

Steve Salerno said...

Sam, I think we may be mixing applies and oranges (and baseballs here), but I understand your point, and I can certainly see how you'd think you'd found a major incongruity. After several days away, I just arrived home to a daunting pile of emails and other communications that require action, but if the time makes itself available, I'll try to answer you in a more meaningful fashion.

And again, thanks to all of you for keeping me on my toes--here, and in all posts dealing with complex/multi-dimensional subjects.

Anonymous said...

Totally off the topic Steve.....


but you should have a look at the NY times best seller 4 hour work week by Tim Ferriss....this is self-help for generation Y.

Of course no self respecting youngster would pick up a self help book, so this is called 'lifestyle design'. Our guru is a twentysomething dude who trots around the world (tango dancing in South America, riding motorbikes through China), and works less than four hours - while making tens of thousands a month from his internet business (which you can do too!).

He has set himself up as the Tony Robbins of Gen Y. Hell, he even has Jack Canfield as his mentor!

Who says Gen Y is a cynical generation?

RevRon's Rants said...

All this outcry over a professional athlete who uses technology to improve his performance at his game. Where's the outcry when a woman wins Playmate of the Month with a body that is at least partially comprised of silicone polymers & enhanced by assorted surgical sculpting procedures?

We can bitch all we want about our role models' shortcomings; they'll still be held up for their image of achievement by a culture hungry for icons. We'd be better off looking at how well we discriminate in our choices for role models.

I worry infinitely more about our collective willingness to overlook the lies told by our elected officials, while conferring upon those officials a mantle of integrity wholly undeserved. At least Bonds' steroids and Miss August's rubber funbags don't get thousands of people killed or prevent the distribution of lifesaving - but unprofitable - medications.

But then again, I lost interest in baseball when the Colt '45s were dropped, and the Astros came along with their sports mall.

Steve Salerno said...

And a few more words about Bonds, etc.

People, I honestly don't know what "cheating" means, anymore, in the context of the way sports are played today. In my main post on the topic, I referred readers to my article about Bonds, which, I think, makes most of the points that need making. But let me just throw a few questions out there:

1. If pitchers have an "artificial" way of not only extending their careers by x-number of years, but also enabling themselves to actually throw harder than they were able to throw in their pre-enhanced state--why isn't that "cheating"? I refer, of course, to Tommy John surgery. Sure, TJS is an "accepted medical procedure," whereas steroids are an underground form of self-medication--but really what's the difference, as far as the record books are concerned? Isn't that a rather arbitrary distinction to make? What about Lasik, which enables any athlete to approximate the visual acuity that helped make Ted Williams such an extraordinary hitter? What about Brian Roberts' red contacts, which, he says, help him better identify the spin of the incoming baseball? What about the video machines in the clubhouse, that enable today's hitters and pitchers to study each other's habits and reactions to the Nth degree? Was that available to Ruth or Aaron? I could go on and on. The game has simply changed, folks.

2. "Steroids are illegal." So what? Maybe they shouldn't be. Maybe Tommy John surgery should be illegal, at least for professional ballplayers.

3. Bonds may be a bad dude, but that should have absolutely nothing to do with how one appraises his standing in the game, or whether he's "deserving" of being the all-time HR king. We tend to forget that Ty Cobb was pretty much an all-around creep, too. You don't hear people saying he was "bad for baseball." Ruth, by all accounts, was a boozer and womanizer. And we won't even get into Mantle. Athletics is much like the ad campaign for Vegas: What happens on the field, stays on the field. Even if a guy is raping women and torturing animals in his spare time, that shouldn't affect the way we assess his on-field performance. In my view. I'm dubious about that whole role-model argument. They're there to play baseball (or football, or what-have you). If they break the law in their off-hours, then arrest them, prosecute them and put them in jail. But why penalize them, additionally, within the sport itself?

Again, I welcome dissent.

Steve Salerno said...

I also second Ron's point: Why all this hand-wringing over athletes--who, after all, are supposed to vanquish one another (isn't that what we root for them to do?)--when there are so many bigger fish to fry?

Mary Anne said...

Hey Steve,

I hope you address the Tim Ferris book, because I just got back from his "freebie" seminar. I am now waiting for Tinkerbell to come and pour fairy dust on me so I can work four hours a week. Talk about a snake oil sales man! Ferris never addresses the issue of how one gets the money to start the Internet business that will support the lifestyle he is promoting. Last time I checked it cost some cash to learn to tango in South America. Of course he gives bits of wisdom to sell his snake oil though. He talks about the quality of life and how one should balance personal and work lives, blah, blah, blah. Just show me the bank who will lend me this money with no job or collateral to start my outsourced Internet company so I can learn to tango too!

Steve Salerno said...

Mary Anne, people keep mentioning this to me, and I guess at some point I'm going to have to devote a bit of time to it. I am aware, of course, of the phenomenon that Ferriss has become--but rather than just give it the usual satirical treatment, I think I'd prefer in this case to do a bit of digging and see what I can come up with. That takes time. So...I'll see what I can do. And if you don't hear anything from me on it in a while, by all means remind me!

Just out of curiosity, Mary Anne, did you attend the seminar "for real"? Or were you doing it as more of what we used to call a "goof"?

Mary Anne said...

If you mean was I physically at the seminar, yes I was. If you mean was I going to buy the book, the coaching, the DVD, the podcast, and God knows what else, no I was not. I promised the person who took me that I would not ask any "embarrassing questions" or show my "pessimistic outlook" at the seminar. I could not believe I was in a hotel conference room with so many supposedly educated people who were buying Ferris' bull without asking ANY questions. Gee Steve, how come you haven't outsourced yourself to India? Don't you want to learn how to cage fight with sharks and speak Mandarin fluently? You could have a SHAM II if you checked out Ferris.

Anonymous said...

Mary Anne, I completely agree with your comments.

Steve, of course there are many SHAM artists who deserve your attention. However - Tim Ferriss is
targeting younger people, who (generally) already have high credit cards and don't need to go deeper in debt for this clown.

Mary Anne, I'd be interested to here what Tim was selling? I assume it's the standard Dan Kennedy info marketing bag of tricks - which goes something like this:

Write a bestselling book - this is your funnel. Then provide a ladder - maybe a home study course, an overpriced bootcamp, and then coaching.

Steve - young people are getting conned. As a loyal reader of your blog and book, I implore you to investigate this.

Cosmic Connie said...

The Tim Ferriss example does prove (to those who had any doubt) that SHAM/New-Wage stuff is not the sole province of baby boomers.

And it's not just Tim Ferriss; many of Joe Vitale's followers are young up-and-coming hustledorks -- and the same goes for many motivational "leaders" and pop-spirituality gurus.

Once again, the people who are really making money are those who are telling others how they, too, can make money. Some of the information they sell is useful, but they are, for the most part, peddling false hope.

Young people *are* getting conned, as are the not-so-young. But it's their own narcissism and greed that make them vulnerable to this stuff. And there's also the desperation factor, as more people (particularly baby-boomer and older) get laid off from their jobs way before they're ready to retire. With no job security, the idea of a steady stream of passive income is very appealing.

In any case, the hucksters -- whether they're baby boomers, Gen-X, or Gen-Y -- know their targets' weaknesses, and play to them.

I would love to bring the discussion back to Barry Bonds and steroids, the original topic of this post, but I have no intelligent opinion one way or the other. (Not much of a sports fan.) :-)

a/good/lysstener said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Mary Anne said...

Hey Steve,

Sorry to hijack your Barry Bonds blog with Ferriss, but he is a "hot topic." I do live in San Francisco, which connects me somewhat with Bonds.

My experience at the Ferriss "freebie" seminar consisted of a day of telling me how I was missing out on my life by working. I was told that I could do "so much more" with my life if I worked less. I was told that I could take a cruise that was normally $5,000, but for that day only, was $1,500 to learn the secrets of working less. I would also need additional coaching to help me excel at this process. If I signed up for the cruise or the coaching package, the book was thrown in for free. There were smaller "packages" offered the rest of the day.

I went on this seminar with a friend who is trying to cozy up to Ferris. I was offered a free meal in exchange for my company at the seminar. I did point out to my said friend that I use to do what Ferris is preaching, but people called me a bum and still do occasionally.

Steve Salerno said...

No problem, this thread could use some hijacking. Bonds is just Bonds, in the end, but the activities of people like Ferriss have implications for us all, I would think. I'm hoping to look more deeply into that whole scene, when I get a chance.

Anonymous said...

From wikipedia:

Criticism

On pg 284 of The 4-Hour Workweek book, Ferriss shared with his readers a poem he claimed to have received from a terminally-ill girl. The poem, titled "Slow Dance", was discovered by one of Ferriss' readers to have originated from a hoax email chain letter that was circulated on the Internet in 1999[3][4][5][6]. Upon notification of this error, Ferriss said he updated his book to credit the true author of the poem, David L. Weatherford (an adult male child psychologist)[7].

Ferriss makes a number of claims on his blog[8] and in his book, including:

* That he is the "First American in history to hold a Guinness World Record in tango" (substantiated)[9][10].

* That he is a Princeton University guest lecturer in High-Tech Entrepreneurship and Electrical Engineering (substantiated)[citation needed].

* That he is "Advisor to more than 30 world record holders in professional and Olympic sports" (not substantiated)[citation needed].

* That he has been a "Cage fighter in Japan, vanquisher of four world champions (MMA)" and a "National Chinese kickboxing champion" (not substantiated)[11] [12].

* That he created a chain of gyms in China before being forced to close them down by local gangsters (not substantiated)[citation needed].

* That he was an actor on a hit TV series in mainland China and Hong Kong (not substantiated)[citation needed].

* In an article on his blog[13], Ferriss claims to have gained 34lbs of muscle in 4 weeks, with a total gym time of just 4 hours (not substantiated)[14][15][16][17][18].

Ferriss has yet to substantiate many of his claimed achievements with independent proof or testimonials. Critics have voiced concerns about Ferriss' credibility, comparing him to infamous Yale University student Aleksey Vayner[19].

Jeff

Steve Salerno said...

Jeff, I'm always wary of allowing material that represents a second-hand quote from a (potentially) second- or third-hand source--e.g. Wikipedia. (I frequently link to Wikipedia myself in my posts, but only when I'm using it as innocuous background--like, if I make reference, say, to Bosnia, and I want readers to have a convenient place to go for general info.) You don't usually want to use such sources in proving a case that has sensitive overtones--like somebody's credentials or integrity. Especially in a case where so many of the items are listed as "unsubstantiated." It's always hard to know what to conclude from that. Does it mean there IS no evidence? Or we just haven't found it yet? Or neither of the above?

I allowed it in this case simply because it's been up on Wikipedia for a while (I've seen the page myself), and all of the critiques are pretty much everywhere on the Web. I'm going to try to do some additional firsthand digging, and then we'll revisit the topic of Tim Ferriss and his 4-hour workweek.

I hope you'll come back for that.