Monday, July 27, 2009

Cooperstown, Steroids and Bill James

Baseball stats entrepreneur Bill James, famous for his invention of new statistics and his ability to judge player ability based on those stats, has at long last commented on how steroids in baseball relates to the Hall of Fame. Read the four page .pdf file here. He believes that as we progress into the future, steroids will become a non-issue with respect to the Hall of Fame. He makes five basic arguments, in essence:

  1. Steroids essentially keep us young. Many people outside of sports are taking these, and most people in the future will be doing so as well as life-lengthening drugs evolve. With society using them, they will look back on our time and wonder what the fuss was all about. The steroids users of today will be looked at as pioneers of a better life.
  2. Some players who used steroids will make the Hall. Once these are discovered, an argument will arise to let the others in as well who were shunned.
  3. History is forgiving, and statistics endure. He uses arguments from other players' faults and how they are viewed over time.
  4. Old players play a large part in the Hall of Fame debate. They will not likely divide their ex-teammates into "users" and "non-users."
  5. For the longest time there were no baseball rules against steroids, if there were they weren't enforced, and with a majority of players using them, was it really "cheating"? How then could players be kept out? And a great quote: "With the passage of time, more people will come to understand that the commissioner’s periodic spasms of self-righteousness do not constitute baseball law."
I agree with his assessment and have held many of these sentiments for a while now. James doesn't say all of these things by moral conviction, necessarily, but by how the future will shape the argument as time passes.

In addition to what James contends about baseball's Hall of Fame, I think the same thing will occur with respect to the use of these types of drugs, whether by athletes or not, and the decriminalization of drugs will follow.

Another thing I think should be debated. If a majority of players were taking steroids, who had any advantage over who? Who had the advantage when Bonds went to bat against Clemens? If pitchers were using steroids to be better pitchers, why did offensive statistics increase during the "steroids era?" Could the statistical change be due to other factors? With the Manny Ramirez issue, it is clear that performance enhancing drugs are still widespread, especially the ones undetectable by currently enforced urine tests.

Give the article a read. I think James has enough influence on baseball that the debate will change as a result.

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