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Baseball Analysis  John Holway

Bud is light on investigations



By John B Holway

It’s been 13 months since baseball commissioner Bud Selig promised Congress he would take up steroid use “on a case by case basis.”

When does he plan to take up the first case?

The Rodriquez bombshell has flung 103 cases onto his lap, and he can no longer ignore them. He knows who they are, and it’s only a matter of time before we all know.

Could Jim Thome, David Ortiz, and Hall of Famers Tony Gwynn and Carlton Fisk be among them? I'm not saying they are guilty, but they have left footprints that Sherlock Holmes would be quick to follow. If they are innocent, they should welcome, even demand, a thorough airing to clear their names..


John B Holway is author of many books on baseball history. His latest, TED: War and Heartbreak, will be published by Scorpio Books in April.

Most users uncovered so far were good athletes in their 20s, when most athletes reach their prime years. Then their numbers declined until they suddenly found the fountain of youth and soared to records that surpassed the best that they, or anyone else, had ever achieved.

(This method doesn't catch a man who has been juicing since early in his career).

The career statistics fun question follow, along with listed weights, some of which seem 20 pounds or more below the visual evidence.

Age Thome 255 Ortiz 230 Gwynn 199
22 7 9          0.289 1
23 20 0          0.309 1
24 25 10          0.351 5
25 35 18          0.317 6
26 38 20          0.329 6
27 40 31          0.370 14
28 30 41          0.313 7
29 33 47          0.336 4
30 37 54          0.309 4
31 49 35          0.317 4
32 52 23          0.317 6
33 47          0.358 7
34 42          0.394 12
35 7          0.368 9
36 42          0.358 3
37 35          0.372 17
38 34 16
39 10
Total 573 288 132

Gwynn’s sudden resurgence coincided with Ken Caminiti’s arrival in San Diego, when, Ken said, he was introduced to steroids. I tried to warn the Hall of possible embarrassment before Gwynn’s election, but no one listened.

Fisk went from 21 homers to 35 at the age of 37. Other suspects might include Lenny Dykstra, who went from six homers to 19 at the age of 30, and Baltimore’s Brady Anderson, from 16 to 50 at the age of 32. Readers may be able to suggest others.

The fact that Gwynn and Ortiz are so popular makes Selig’s promise tough to keep. It’s one thing to crack down on Bonds, Clemens, and Mark McGwire. They were at the end of their careers and unpopular villains, whom the public enjoyed hissing.

But once a man is in the Hall of Fame, he’s virtually immune from investigation. And it would be equally dangerous to go hunting for the ebullient Big Papi with his large fan base, especially since it can have powerful implications for the pennant race.

That's probably why Selig couldn't give admitted juicer Jason Giambi even a slap on the wrist – he would have created a mob of fist-waving Yankee fans besieging his Park Avenue office with nooses in hand. Instead, Giambi was thanked profusely for helping kids’ baseball and given a love-pat on his rump.. If he had still been with Oakland, would he have been treated so gingerly?

The likable fan favorite, Sammy Sosa, was also caught in the net but was allowed to retire quietly without the humiliation of a congressional show trial.

Ironically, A-Rod doesn't look like a typical steroid user, and his numbers don’t follow the familiar pattern. If anything, the data suggest that steroids were of dubious value to him.

He says he started taking them in 2001, when he was 25. His home runs did increase that year from 41 to 52, but that could be explained by an extra 80 at bats, a new friendly park, and the fact that 25 is historically a big age for power hitters. Babe Ruth also moved to a new hitter-friendly park and jumped from 29 to 54.

The next year Babe climbed to 59, and Roger Maris zoomed from 39 to 61, so A-Rod’s 57 was not out of line. All three slipped from those peaks at 27.

The year Rodriquez says he stopped taking steroids, at age 28, was also his first in Yankee Stadium with its cavernous “Death Valley.” Predictably, he tumbled to 36 homers. If he was going to take steroids, this was surely the time to do it. The evidence suggests that he didn't.

Thus, Rodriquez’ numbers would not have attracted a sleuth’s suspicion. And his neck size did not grow noticeably bigger either. Did he throw away his chance for Cooperstown for nothing?

Of more interest is his sudden jump from 35 to 51 in 2007, followed by a drop back to 35 in ’08. Was that steroids? Not necessarily. He was 31 that year. It could have been just a statistical spike -- Ruth hit 60 at age 32. A-Rod’s drop-off the following year was partly due to 60 less at bats.

What about the other 103 players caught in the same testing net with A-Rod? Would publishing the list clear Thome and Ortiz or convict them?

Further investigation might also reveal that managers, general managers, and owners knew very well what was happening in their locker rooms. Selig, who works for them, would be understandably loathe to take the lid off that basket of cobras.

The Yanks do have a record of signing sinners – Clemens, A-Rod, Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Chuck Knobloch.

One can imagine the following scene:

Steinbrenner: I've got a chance to get Giambi. What do you think, Joe?

Torre: I dunno. Maybe he had a lucky year last year. How do we know he can still produce?

Steinbrenner: Don’t worry. I've got his medical report. (Winks)

Torre lets a faint smile flicker across his usually Buddha-like face.

This scene could have been played in almost any big league office across the country.

The Red Sox, for example, desperately bid for Rodriquez too, and Ortiz’ power numbers increased suddenly in 2003, the year he joined Boston from Minnesota.

Like Rodriquez, Big Papi experienced a dramatic power failure in ’08, from 54 to 23 in two years. Does that mean baseball has successfully cracked down on juicers?

Hardly. Gabe Schechter, research associate at the Hall of Fame, points out that, of almost 5,000 homers hit in ‘07, the total dropped by only 79 in ’08. That's almost nothing.

It suggests strongly that the scandal is still serious, and there is no effective enforcement. Either that or the juice was taken out of the players and put in the balls. At least that’s more democratic – everybody gets an equal crack at the ball.

I sympathize with the commissioner: Silence was the only viable choice he had. But the Rodriquez bombshell has taken that option away.

There are another 103 guilty players waiting nervously for the next headline to expose them. And about 650 innocent ones, who are equally but wrongly suspected. Selig owes it to the innocent to keep his promise to Congress.


Before Sports Illustrated does it for him.


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