Monday, February 09, 2009

To paraphrase the late, great Roy Scheider: You're gonna need a bigger asterisk.

So. With the current all-time home run king under indictment for offenses related to steroid use, and the crown prince today having admitted it (after being outed by SI)...what does baseball do now?

Understand what is happening here. Look at the names on the list of those who've either fessed up to juicing or are strongly suspected of it. McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, Rodriguez (A-Rod and Pudge), Canseco, Giambi, Pettitte, Clemens, Tejada, Palmeiro.
It's the A-list, now including the A-player. Think of all the eyebrows that raised, all the indignant denials that spewed forth from clubhouses (and law offices) everywhere, in 2005 when Canseco was promoting his book and alleged that up to 85 percent of all MLB stars were juicers. The eyebrows don't shoot up quite as high these days, do they.

For a while, fans have been saying offhandedly that the steroid mess wipes out an entire era of baseball; just makes it hollow and meaningless, its stats unworthy of being counted. Regardless of whether you agree or disagree
I'm still on the fencethe idea doesn't sound nearly as offhanded anymore. It sounds more like a suggestion: Let's just wipe out all those stats. Let's say it never happened. The news about A-Rod changes things somehow. It's one thing to reflect on that whole 1998 pas-de-deux between McGwire and Sosa and think it now seems more like some crazy circus act than the miracle season that "saved baseball." But when you're talking about an active player, a guy who's just halfway through his career and is fully expected to own the most prestigious record in all of sports by the time he's finished... I repeat: What do we do now?

By the way
to give you some idea of where iconic sports stars rank in this cultureA-Rod's admission to ESPN is the lead story on Google News, before the fate of the stimulus package and the tragic Australian wildfires. It is also the first thing out of Charlie Gibson's mouth on ABC's World News Tonight.

=================================

Scheider famously spoke the line in Jaws.

39 comments:

Your PR Guy said...

I'm not a big baseball fan, but players juicing shouldn't be the lead in for national news. Where are our priorities?

Admittedly, juicing is bad. So, those in power would want us to believe. If an athlete is stupid enough to juice, let'em. I would go so far as to say, let's make another league. The Major League Juiced and the Major League (Un)Juiced. Sorry I'm being glib.

Steve Salerno said...

And, of course, if you watched tonight's presidential, I-can-answer-any-question-in-20-minutes-or-less press conference, you know that Obama actually fielded a question on A-Rod--and gave a serious-minded and, I thought, quite socially relevant answer. An answer that suggested he thought it was as important a topic as any of the other 12 topics that came up.

At least he did a helluva job of faking it.

P.S. to Helen Thomas: "so-called" terrorists? I can see a possible rationale for it...but I keep wondering what she meant by it.

Cal said...

Maybe we should focus on the more estoric baseball stats that can really help tell how good a player is: getting a bunt down, moving a runner from 2nd to 3rd with no outs via a ground ball to the right side of the infield, hitting the cut-off man, fielding range, a pitcher holding a lead in the 7th and 8th innings, etc. This is instead of the headline grabbing stats, which tend to make a player more money but not necessarily help a team. A player may hit a bunch of home runs, but do they help the team win if 70% are with no-one on base. Is a relief pitcher really great if many of their saves are done with them coming on in the 9th inning, no one on base, and a three-run lead?

Steven Sashen said...

If you haven't yet, see "Bigger, Stronger, Faster," an brilliant and incredibly entertaining documentary about steroid use (non-spoiler alert: it's neither pro nor con on the issue and will definitely leave you scratching your head).

BTW, it's available on DVD and can be viewed instantly on Netflix.

Elizabeth said...

I'm with PR Guy on this -- why is this national news? Why is this news at all? My earnest take on it is, who cares? No, really. Is this such an important issue? And if it is indeed important, should it really be so?

Let's try a devil's(?) advocacy here: why exactly is juicing among players bad? Why not just let them all do it within safe parameters? Who is going to suffer? This is a victimless "crime," if one can call it a crime at all.

Why is it so important that players do not use performance enhancing drugs? That is, apart from the unfair advantage aspect, which would be removed, or at least minimized if we legalized the behavior. (And let's not go into "But it's for the children's sake!" arguments here. [LOL] Our children are taking various enhancement drugs en masse and many are better off for it.)

C'mon, we all do it -- OK, at least many of us do; for example, men nowadays use Viagra in the bedroom and are much happier for it (or so I hear). Granted, they do not have to compete with rivals on the field in the process (or do they...?;), but, overall, it's not that much different, this kind of "juicing," is it.

Adults who engage in intellectual work also use various performance enhancing drugs, some legal, others less so. For the writers among us, who has sat down in front of an empty page and refused that cup of coffee (or whatever our drug of choice may be), thinking it's unethical to resort to such an artificial enhancement of our productivity and/or skill?

And are we not going to like, say, a brilliant novel written by a writer who drinks or uses other forms of "enhancement"? Will we not admire and/or take advantage of an invention created by a scientist on Ritalin? Are we not going to enjoy a great concert knowing that the musicians are using some kind of performance enhancing substances? Do we even have to know -- and if so, why would it bother us? No, really?

As hard as I try, I cannot find a reasonable (to my mind) explanation for 1. the categorical prohibition of juicing and 2. making the juicing scandals such a national affair. Methinks the real artificial enhancement here is in creating a big hoopla over a non-issue. Or something that should be a non-issue if we put it in a proper perspective.

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz: Should anyone care? I don't know. That's a value judgment. But does anyone care? You betcha, as Sarah might've put it.

Your devil's advocacy about steroid use echoes many of my own thoughts, expressed in formal writing as well as here on this blog. Surely to some degree, enhancement is enhancement; it's something we all try to do, and if that weren't the case, there'd be no self-help movement (and thus no SHAMBlog). But when it comes to juicing, you run into a lot of rage over the illegality, cheating, and the whole "role model" thing (which was Obama's point last night). Also realize that in baseball in particular, fans take their stats very seriously; there are certain numbers that may mean nothing to you, but are iconic if not transcendent to baseball fans: .406; 60 and 61 (and definitely not 73); 56; 2130 and 2632; etc. And among all of the sundry stats, the all-time home run crown is the most hallowed.

I've also noticed that one of the headlines on AOL this morning is, "A-Rod Comes Clean on Steroid Use," which was the tone of much of the discussion last night on ESPN and the new MLB network.

My question: How do we know this? How do we know that his admissions about 2001-2003 are the whole story? Even his former owner in Texas, Tom Hicks, who signed A-Rod to his $252 salary* and served as something of a father figure to him, voiced skepticism about whether there was still more for A-Rod to tell. The vague allegations, after all, go all the way back to A-Rod's time in high school ball.

* and was still paying a portion of it until A-Rod renegotiated his Yankee deal in 2007.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Elizabeth and some of the others. This is a grown-up version of Little League we're talking about. Who gives a damn? I thought the fact that it actually came up during the first Obama press conference, with the nation going down the tubes in the background, was so ridiculous that I still can't believe it. If we're trying to rehabilitate our image as a serious nation in the eyes of the rest of the world, we didn't do ourselves any good yesterday and last night.

Anonymous said...

Throw out the stats in baseball? Steve - do you need to be drug tested?

Baseball is all about statistics - it's how our generation of boys learned how to do math. In my neighborhood, if you couldn't fill out a scorecard properly by second grade, you ranked with the bedwetters-and-training-wheel crowd.

Baseball without statistics is just cricket with chewing tobacco - and who wants to watch that?

Another comment like that, Mr. Salerno, and Ken Burns will come by and dope-slap you!

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 7:18: Please see my comment of 6:50, wherein I explain the importance of stats to a fellow contributor.

Elizabeth said...

when it comes to juicing, you run into a lot of rage over the illegality, cheating, and the whole "role model" thing (which was Obama's point last night).

Steve, those would not be such issues if we legalized the behavior, obviously. As to the role model thing, again, is a (hypothetical so far) scientist who finds a cure for cancer less of an admirable role model because she has been on Ritalin? This is a serious question. Personally, I do not find drug use for widely understood performance enhancement questionable at all (when done safely).

Also realize that in baseball in particular, fans take their stats very seriously

I hear you, but isn't it really a quaint attachment to arbitrary (and perhaps obsolete, or at least changeable) standards? In car racing, for example, we do not insist that we stick only to records obtained with older and less efficient car models from before we started to add rocket fuel (so I hear) to enhance their performance. Why insist on that purity (if that's what it is) in baseball? Is there anything more than a sentimental value behind it? (Not that a sentimental value would not matter, of course.:)

My question: How do we know this? How do we know that his admissions about 2001-2003 are the whole story?

We don't and we won't -- no? But, again, why get so wrapped up in it that we turn it into a national obsession?

OK, devil out.

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz: I hope you won't feel that I'm not acknowledging or validating you by saying this, but again, you're making the same points I made when all this first became big news. See, for example, this:

http://tiny.cc/4kNFm

Also, I've addressed the topic on SHAMblog--in terms of "what makes the Self the Self, anyway?"--a number of times.

No offense? :)

Elizabeth said...

Steve, I remember your "what makes the self" posts, but I also remember (correctly, I think) that your general tone was anti-artificial enhancements (or at least that was your position "for the public consumption," so to speak).

No offense at all, BTW. I'm just genuinely puzzled over how big a hoopla this thing has become. It would make a perfect subject for SNL Seth Meyers' "Really?!" segment. :)

Elizabeth said...

Oh, OK. Just read "Let Barry be." Point taken. (LOL)

Steve Salerno said...

Eliz: I forget who said it--I'm thinking Calvin Coolidge?*--but whoever it was was a president, and the quote goes, more or less, "You cannot understand America without understanding baseball."

* I'm sure someone will check.

Elizabeth said...

Steve, yes, that much is apparent. :)

Anonymous said...

To quote Elizabeth "Let's try a devil's(?) advocacy here: why exactly is juicing among players bad? Why not just let them all do it within safe parameters? Who is going to suffer? This is a victimless "crime," if one can call it a crime at all."

You completely overlook the fact that there are thousands of actual victims here. What about the players stuck in the minors who stayed clean. Many saw their chance to fulfill life-long dreams (not to mention potentially lost wages) to play in the “The Show” disappear no fault of their own. What about the college players who were denied the opportunity to play professionally because masses of big leaguers in their mid to late 30’s suddenly found the fountain of youth, thereby creating a backlog of players that extended all the down to the amateur ranks?

Elizabeth then stated “As hard as I try, I cannot find a reasonable (to my mind) explanation for 1. the categorical prohibition of juicing…”

Are you serious? Steroids have documented detrimental effects on the human body. I played college baseball at a Big Ten university and witnessed firsthand the side effects of performance enhancers. A teammate of mine (who later admitted to using steroids) once woke up in the middle of the night experiencing what could be best described as his heart beating so hard it felt like it was trying to jump out of his chest. To a bystander it appeared that he was having a heart attack.

Elizabeth contended “For the writers among us, who has sat down in front of an empty page and refused that cup of coffee…”

Wow…please tell me you aren't comparing steroids to coffee. The worst consequence of using coffee is maybe a downer after the caffeine kicks out or a headache. Your opinion in this matter is worthless because you have no clue about the subject.

Elizabeth said...

You completely overlook the fact that there are thousands of actual victims here. What about the players stuck in the minors who stayed clean.

Anon, I agree that this is one of the most bothersome aspects of the problem as it exists now. But, as I said before, likely this would not be such an issue if performance enhancing drugs were legal across the board and their use medically supervised.

Steroids have documented detrimental effects on the human body.

Don't forget that steroids are used as a treatment of choice in many debilitating diseases. Steroids, like all drugs, have both positive (therapeutic) and negative effects on our bodies. That's why, as I said in my previous posts, they should be used "within safe parameters" (i.e., with medical guidelines and supervision).

Wow…please tell me you aren't comparing steroids to coffee. The worst consequence of using coffee is maybe a downer after the caffeine kicks out or a headache.

I used caffeine purposely as an example of the most common and seemingly un-objectionable artificial performance enhancer to drive the point across on the popularity of this behavior (i.e., using enhancing substances). But, since you mention it, caffeine use and abuse can have much more serious consequences than a "downer" or just headache. Not as crippling as steroids, but serious enough (potentially life-threatening) not to take caffeine abuse lightly.

Your opinion in this matter is worthless because you have no clue about the subject.

You are right, I have no clue -- about baseball. I readily admit that. And you, as a baseball player, certainly have an advantage here. But I do have both a clue about and experience with performance enhancing substances and their effect on their bodies. That's beside the point, however -- I would think -- since, IMO, one does not have to be an expert on a subject to offer an opinion, especially on a blog (and one dedicated to "the scams, shams, and shames of modern life" :). But that's JMHO.

Elizabeth said...

P.S. I should have said,

But I do have both a clue about and experience with performance enhancing substances and their effect on our bodies.

Duh.

Elizabeth said...

Tangentially related: Brain-Enhancing Drugs: Legalize 'Em, Scientists Say.

Anonymous said...

Elizabth, this shows the dangers of swimming in waters where you're out of your depth. I don't mean to sound harsh but we have a tendency in our culture to say everything is entitled to an opinion on everything and I feel strongly that is not so. You ought to have done some background research or accumulated some experience before you're allowed into the debate. You should no more be lecturing about steroids or making your offhand analogies than I should be examing people for mental disease and rendering my armchair diagnosis in a court of law.

Steve Salerno said...

Notwithstanding the typos in the foregoing (Anon 1:24)--at least I sure hope they're typos--that is an interesting point: Is everybody entitled to an opinion on everything? Or are there, indeed, "entrance requirements"?

Anonymous said...

Entrance requirements? Then what's the point of blogs? Their beauty is in allowing us all voice our opinions. If you look for researched lectures on a subject, steer away from blogs!

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 1:41: I'm not necessarily disagreeing with you. That is the beauty (as well as the ugliness) of blogs. But then--to take this a step further--isn't there something just slightly silly and self-important about venturing all sorts of opinions on subjects we know nothing about? Why? Just to hear ourselves talk?

Anonymous said...

Steve,
are you saying that we, your blog visitors, are silly and write in just to hear ourselves talk? I didn't know you had such a low opinion about your commenters...If I were to comment only on subjects I'm an expert in, I'd never write to your blog. And it seems to me that if expertise was required to open one's mouth, you would have to slash your own blog posts by at least a third.

Btw, what's more self-important than having one's own blog and expecting others to read it,? How silly is that? Or, even sillier, expecting people to take their time out of their day to write in their comments and risk being labeled silly for doing that?

Dimension Skipper said...

Elizabeth, If anybody's brain could use some serious boosting it's... mine. [Wait... Who did you think I was going to say? :-)] But I don't know that I'd be so quick (speaking only for myself) to jump on the bandwagon going the drug route (or advocating it for others and I realize that's NOT necessarily what you're doing either given the way you brought it up).

I actually remember seeing that Wired article (or one extremely similar) back in December among my selected iGoogle science feeds. I found it of interest.

It hasn't got any heft or details to it, but I offer this very short piece from a couple days ago...

Mouse brains suggest Ritalin is addictive
February 8 at NewScientist

I have two obvious questions, the first of which applies to the NewScientist piece and the second to the Wired article:

1) Is "addictive" necessarily bad if there's obvious benefit and no real drawback (aside from the addiction itself) to continued use?

2) How safe is safe and who determines it?

Cal said...

My ancillary question, why is there what I call "selective outrage" about baseball players and other athletes who use steroids?

1) How many of our so-called actors, singers, and stars in many other occupations use drugs to sustain performance? I remember someone I was talking to years ago told me these singers have to use drugs to perform the same songs every night for God knows how long when they go on tour. Many actors have extremely long days sometimes when they make films. You probably have to use something to tape the same scene over and over again to get it right. And people trip all over themselves to see certain groups like the Rolling Stones whenever they go out on tour. But no one wants to strip them of all their awards or their place in the Rock-n-Roll Hall of Fame, when they are all well-know drug users. Shouldn't there be mandatory drug tests for actors and singers if we are now going to vilify athletes?

2) I remember when John Gotti beat one of his raps years ago. He was seen running from the courthouse to a waiting limousine pumping his fists, and the police had to cordon off the street because people were cheering him. This from a guy whose organization killed an unknown amount of people, made legitimate business people pay for "protection" lest something happen to them, their families, or their businesses. But Gotti is still romanticized as a great man in some quarters.

I also remember Rush Limbaugh got caught having his maid get him Oxycontin. Why didn't he get any jail time? Bernie Madoff is still under "penthouse arrest". I know anyone from a lower income background would still be in jail, either without bail or some astronomical amount they couldn't pay.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon 3:00 (and I am speaking ONLY to Anon 3:00, who has a recognizable voice and demeanor; this does not apply even by implication to anyone else): I have had it with you. Every freakin' time I throw an issue out there for discussion--which is sincerely what I'm doing--you assume that I'm trying to make some not-so-veiled nasty comment. I raised a legitimate question--whether or not someone should have some reasonable level of expertise before weighing in on a given conversation--and this is what you do with it?

Insofar as whether or not it's "silly" to maintain a blog, and jot one's thoughts, and expect others to care, I have voiced my amazement about that on any number of prior occasions, and have also thanked my contributors repeatedly for visiting and weighing in. You will also notice that if people comment by name, I welcome each and every one of them, by name.

You are hereby banned from the blog. Now go away.

Steve Salerno said...

Cal: I am remiss in failing to note that you raise a very good point about selective outrage. A very good point. In fact, there are realms where selective outrage is built into the fabric of the legal system. That's one of the points I make in my forthcoming piece for Skeptic. The example I use is one I've raised on this blog before, but I think it's valid: Why is it "hostile environment" to make a crude remark that offends one particular employee of the opposite gender--but not "hostile environment" to be the kind of boorish, ultra-demanding boss who makes life miserable for every employee, every day? In fact, bosses in the latter category are often praised for "getting the most out of their workers." (Bosses in the former category are fired.)

Jen said...

Just wanted to mention Bill McKibben's book, Enough: Staying Human in an Engineered Age, which is relevant to this conversation. (He mentions steroid use in the first few pages.)

Here's a blurb about it from his website:

Nearly fifteen years ago, in The End of Nature, Bill McKibben demonstrated that humanity had begun to irrevocably alter and endanger our environment on a global scale. Now he turns his eye to an array of technologies that could change our relationship not with the rest of nature but with ourselves. He explores the frontiers of genetic engineering, robotics, and nanotechnology—all of which we are approaching with astonishing speed—and shows that each threatens to take us past a point of no return. We now stand, in Michael Pollan's words, "on a moral and existential threshold," poised between the human past and a post-human future.

McKibben offers a celebration of what it means to be human, and a warning that we risk the loss of all meaning if we step across the threshold. Instantly acclaimed for its passion and insight, this wise and eloquent book argues that we cannot forever grow in reach and power—that we must at last learn how to say, "Enough."

Steve Salerno said...

Jen: Thanks. How did I miss that one? I'm usually in touch with books of that nature.

Jen said...

You're welcome, Steve. I knew about it because my daughter read it her junior year in high school. It was assigned to the entire class and they had an extended discussion about it.

Cal said...

Adding to Jen's comment -- Bill Joy, one of Sun Microsystems' founders (which was considered a great tech stock and company in the '90s, now you don't hear anything about them) wrote an article in April 2000 about his concerns we were going too far.

http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/8.04/joy_pr.html

sassy sasha said...

steve, mad props to you for finally bitch-slapping that anon, it was long overdue!! imo you put up with way too much childish b.s. as it is!

Jen said...

Thank you, Cal! That link didn't work for me but I found the article you mention.

Why the future doesn't need us

One of the points I had wanted to bring up (but ran out time yesterday to look it up and put it in context with what he was actually saying) is the potential for the disappearance of the "personal" in personal challenge. McKibben had been talking about running, saying how nobody really needs to run; it's "an outlet for spirit, for finding out who you are, no more mandatory than art or music." And the significance of running, he says, "depends on the limitations and wonders of our bodies as we have known them." He was actually talking about genetic engineering in this instance (not steroid use) but I think it would be appropriate to say this is true for "juiced" people, enhanced by drugs to perform better.

"It's not the personal challenge that will disappear. It's the personal."

He also makes this claim: "Sport is the canary in a miner's cage." He worries that "the canary will be souped up into an ever perkier, ever tougher, ever 'better' specimen." It won't be a canary anymore but something we can only guess at, and "unable to carry the sweet tune it grew up singing."

Elizabeth said...

Dim Skip said:
I have two obvious questions, the first of which applies to the NewScientist piece and the second to the Wired article:

1) Is "addictive" necessarily bad if there's obvious benefit and no real drawback (aside from the addiction itself) to continued use?


That is an excellent question, DimSkip. Really, perhaps such an addiction, with only positive effects, is not to be condemned (and is it an addiction then? :) To add (no pun) to it, let's consider that alcohol and tobacco (as well as caffeine) are both addictive *and* harmful -- yet perfectly legal and unregulated. But we get all upset about other substances, some with quite possibly less negative impact on our health and possibly more beneficial influence on our functioning.

2) How safe is safe and who determines it?

Yeah, as above on question 1. with the apparent hypocrisy in our determination of "safety" and legality of performance enhancing substances etc. But to answer your question directly, I'd say that this determination should be made by you and your doctor. What's safe for 99% of people may not be safe for you, for various reasons. (Though quite likely, what's unsafe for 99% of people will be unsafe for you as well. :)

That piece on Ritalin being addictive in mice does not tell us much, IMO. So mice grow neuronal connections in their brains in areas associated with addictive behavior. Does it necessarily mean they develop addiction? We don't know, not from that piece.

What the authors observe is that (human) individuals with ADHD do not develop addiction to Ritalin, but those who use it "recreationally" do. So perhaps the "addictive" problem lies not in Ritalin itself, but in addictive personalities (brains) of the recreational users. Who, BTW, would and likely do get addicted to pretty much everything that brings them the "high" and instant gratification.

Ritalin is a drug with a long history of safe use and research behind it. By and large, it is safe for physically healthy individuals who suffer from ADHD. But it does have side effects -- all drugs do -- and it can be potentially life-threatening in individuals with heart problems. Recent data also show another side effect showing up in kids on Ritalin and other stimulant drugs: hallucinations and semi-psychotic episodes. For that reason, there are new warning labels put on these drugs -- and, as always, their use should be carefully evaluated in each individual case.

Speaking of brains (and I am somewhat hesitant here, but, OTOH, perhaps I should not be): I've just been diagnosed with a brain tumor, which explains lotsa different symptoms I've been experiencing lately. We (i.e., my docs) don't know yet what kind it is and what is in store for me, but it's not looking too great, according to my physician. I'm checking into a hospital tonight, if only hoping that they can do something about the paralyzing headache that's gripped me for the past week and has gotten so much worse. I'll keep you posted if I can.

Dimension Skipper said...

Elizabeth...

Yes, please DO let us know when you can what is going on. In the meantime I will do what I can to send positive thoughts in your virtual direction.

Other than that I don't know what else to say...

Elizabeth said...

Thank you, DimSkip. I'll take any and all positive thoughts sent my in direction, believe me. And don't worry, I don't know what to say myself (LOL, kinda).

cratos said...

yo speaking of Scheider
Roy Scheider Iron Cross

gonna be an awesomee movie

Elizabeth said...

ROY SCHEIDER’S FINAL FILM “IRON CROSS” – TRAILER & UPDATE MAY 2009

Calibra Pictures is pleased to announce the release of the trailer for Roy Scheider’s last film “Iron Cross”.

The revenge thriller, written and directed by Joshua Newton, will be previewed towards the end of the year in Los Angeles, following our Roy Scheider Film Week, dates and location tbc.

The trailer can be downloaded securely from the following yousendit.com link:

https://rcpt.yousendit.com/674374016/2c8d2c044adbfe73d4293fc995eca0cb

We’d be delighted to receive your comments.

Yours truly

The Iron Cross Team
ironcross@calibrapictures.com