« The PitBull Paradox | Main | Forensic analysis redux »

Comments

Overworm

I have two problems with your proposal. First, as mentioned by other posters, for most of the years in question, most of the drugs in question were not deemed illegal by MLB.

Secondly, American society and western civilization as a whole is predicated on cheating. Some measure of cheating exists in nearly every facet of society.

http://www.webster.com/cgi-bin/dictionary?sourceid=Mozilla-search&va=cheating
The Meriam-Webster online dictionary defines "cheating" as using deceit and/or fraud to obtain something valuable, to lead, or to elude or thwart. Further definitions include "to violate rules dishonestly."

It has been well documented how many students cheat on tests and assignments. Corporations and individuals routinely "fudge" the numbers when it comes to filing taxes. It is common knowledge that police patrolmen working overnight 12-hour shift often find quiet, out-of-the-way places to catch a few z's in their cars.

What salesperson does not obfuscate the truth and bend the rules? It's the rare stockbroker who has not used deceit and/or trickery to generate trading volume. Heck, even movie reporters deceive their constituency; what other explanation can there be for the glowing reviews given to "Revenge of the Sith"? And speaking of constituency, do we even need to broach the entwined subject of politician and chicanery?

It's natural that the trend of cheating or "bending the rules" continues in sports. In Nascar, it's almost an unwritten rule that drivers and teams will do everything possible to skirt the rules. Hockey players routinely utilize illegal gear. Football players used stick-um when its use was prohibited, and baseball pitchers once "altered the condition of the ball" with regularity.

So now we learn that quite a few baseball players have shortened their lifespans and eliminated the possibility of fathering more children in the chase for stats, notariety, and big money. And this news is so important that it dominates sports media and has insinuated itself into the greater non-sports media? Thousands of articles and numerous books have been written on the subject.

Some people are livid. In my humble opinion, anyone who is truly upset about this needs to take a closer look at the real world. Before leading a campaign to ban a baseball player from a "Hall of Fame", maybe these people should work to eliminate cheating in the parts society that truly affect humanity.

I am so sick and tired of this topic. C'mon, Gladwell, let's get back to something that really matters. The NBA diversion was interesting in the way you discussed how limited subject knowledge might actually be better than greater subject knowledge. Reviewing statistical trends to out cheating players seems oh so trivial.

Cheers,
Overworm

Overworm

P.S. - The Cheating Culture
http://www.cheatingculture.com/

JohnMcG

As Gladwell mentions applying forensic economics to athletic records would involve a subjective element so that the Bob Beamon babies don't get thrown out with the FloJo bathwater.

But by introducing the subjective element, we would risk desimissing records by players we don't like (e.g. Bonds), and keeping ones form people we do (or did) like (e.g. McGwire).

I'm not quite ready to loose the forensic econmists just yet...

Jamie

Bonds has yet to produce a positive steroid test, correct?

We can speculate all we want, but until a positive test result is announced, we're still dealing in hearsay and conjecture.

eric

i think Indurain used performance enhancing substances. He's too much of a spanish icon for this to come out, but he personally has refused to talk about this in interviews, fudging his answers.

sklein11

Not quite on point, but this sentence is not quite right: "No one—no one—turns himself into one of the greatest hitters of all time in his late 30’s." Bonds was already one of the greatest hitters of all time before he ever saw a needle. It is true that no one raises and sustains an already extraordinary level of performance in his late 30's.

Peter

Lost in all the hysteria over Bonds' alleged steroid use is careful consideration of exactly what steroids _do_. They're pretty much limited to increasing one's strength, which is fine in a sport like powerlifting that is basically a test of raw strength with just a small amount of technique, but less useful with respect to hitting home runs. Home-run hitting requires ample speed and coordination, among other things, and steroids are no help whatsoever in those respects. I for one find it difficult to believe that the extra strength boost produced by steroids would have been enough to cause Bonds' three superb late-career seasons. Which isn't to say that they wouldn't have helped, but they cannot be the whole story.
On a different note, using steroids will not cause one's muscles to grow by magic. It is still necessary to engage in hard weight training. The argument can be made that today's baseball players, even without any steroid use, have an advantage over their predecessors simply because the science of weight training is more advanced today. Do we throw out their records?
So far, Art DeVany's is about the only voice of sanity in this debate.

Jonathan Miller

Its funny because Armstrong lost weight after his cancer treatments and that was one of the reasons he became a better time trialist and climber. The weight loss translated into something like a 5+ minute reduction in time converted from energy saved for the reduced weight over a 3 week race. I know there are many other drugs connected with pro cycling than steroids but its hard to imagine Lance winning the tour bulked up like Bonds, let alone fitting a helmet on his head.

Anders

"It is true that no one raises and sustains an already extraordinary level of performance in his late 30's."

While this infrequent, it has/does happen. I'm not sure what method Malcolm was using to count great hitting seasons, but if Barry Bonds had number 2, according to Bill James (who knows a bit about baseball) Honus Wagner had the greatest season ever at age 34, and was even better during the second half of his career. Many players, even superstars, have been able to sustain a fantastic career well into their late 30's - Willie Mays, Ted Williams, Cy Young, Roger Clemens, and Randy Johnson, just to name a couple of the top of my head.

There are many underlying problems with this methodology, not the least of which is how do you establish what is abnormal with guys who start off on the juice? Albert Pujols has had 4 MVP type seasons to start off his career. If he keeps up his pace, there wont be any question as to who the greatest player of all time is when he's done. How do we know whether he is guilty or not? While improbable, what he's done is not impossible.

Adrian Rice

I know nothing about medical requirements for testing, however I've always thought that any professional sportsman should have their sample archived. Reason being, that performance enhancement industry will be always ahead of the policing in the same way that antidote is made after the poison is first diagnosed. After 2,5 or 10 years, the samples could be re-tested with the knowledge of new investigative techniques.

To my way of thinking, this would completely change the steroid game. Users would be haunted by the spectre scientific advancements. One could never be assured of out running the clean police.

Lester Spence

There is a serious problem here, one that no one has brought up.

You cannot use statistical inferences to say anything about the behavior of a given individual in a specific circumstance. We can take cheating data (if accurate) and say that most likely out of 100 games, five of them probably involve point-shaving. But we can't use that data--which involves aggregate level analysis--to say ANYTHING about the UNLV-Duke game.

Jim Caserta

I would not count Flo-jo as "marginally world-class" nor would Bonds have been described as a "marginal" power hitter. He hit 46 HR, to tie for the MLB lead, in 1993, when no one would say he was juiced. Who he tied with - Juan Gonzalez, who could have been juiced that season.

One of the biggest reasons for Bonds's dominance is his eye and knowledge of the strike zone. You will almost never see an umpire call a pitch a strike if Bonds takes it, his eye is that good. He forces pitchers to throw to such a small area to get him out. That comes from experience, not steroids.

In 2001, Bonds's 73 HR season, had he not been juiced, he probably would have hit at least 50 HR, maybe more, as he was one of 7 players to hit 49+ HRs. #2 that year was Sosa - want to give him a clean slate?

Bonds would be remembered as one of the best all around players, had he not given in to the allure of steroids. He could hit for power and steal bases, had a great eye, and played a solid LF. To a degree MLB has to shoulder some of the blame for Bonds, as he was doing what everyone else was, and what he thought he needed to do to compete.

If Bonds would relinquish the single-season HR record, would it revert to, cough, Mark McGwire?

PBatter

It seems that a lot of the negative comments aren't familiar with the type of analysis discussed here.

Another interesting element is that looking into the future, if this type of analysis is used, what about those that try to game this system by performing to the upper limits of what is considered plausible.

And then there are questions of supplements and diets. The root of this goes back to why ban steroids at all? I think it comes to a philosophical look at sport in general. Sport, at its best, is the limit of human performance. But it also is the height of performance of the species. In general, training techniques and processes that are against evolution (in that they prevent you from a long life and procreation) are frowned upon (to varying degrees depending on the underlying motivation for the contest).

So why sports at all? It comes in very handy to answer this question for your self and the look at the question of records again.

There are definitely elements of the proposal that are hard to stomach. There are also elements of the current landscape that are untenable.

And then there are questions of supplements and diets. The root of this goes back to why ban steroids at all? I think it comes to a philosophical look at sport in general. Sport, at its best, is the limit of human performance. But it also is the hieght of performance of the species. In general, training techniques and processes that are against evolution (in that they prevent you from a long life and procreation) are frowned upon (to varying degrees depending on the underlying motivation for the contest).

So why sports at all? It comes in very handy to answer this question for your self and the look at the question of records again.

There are definitely elements of the proposal that are hard to stomach. There are also elements of the current landscape that are untennable.

Jason

Does anyone know if Bonds's improvement can be linked to his choking-up on the bat? I don't see anyone else in the game that chokes-up like he does. And he does have the best eye in the game. It's funny, no one mentioned Blink!

Peter Bean

The most important question, in my mind, is whether or not it makes sense to go down the proposed road of cherry-picking records. It's the most slippery of slopes, if you take the argument to its logical conclusion. At what point are you not setting yourself up for stripping the Oakland A's of their 1989 world championship, because Jose Canseco, a confessed steroid user, "tainted" the results of that season?

The Steroid Era should be viewed in its proper context, but before we make the drastic measure of deciding which records do and don't count, we need some perspective. I'm always weary of making decisions in the heat of the moment; this strikes me as something that we'll need some time to look back and reflect further on.

Moreover, cheating in baseball is as old as the game itself; this is just the latest episode. Further reason why we need to think carefully before we take any drastic measures.

Ahsan

Classic case of an academician sticking (or wanting to) his nose where it doesn't belong. Statistical anomaly is why people love sport. There's the chance of the truly miraculous happening. Leave the slide rules on the sideline when you step in between the lines.

Before all you hyenas start in on me, I in no way condone what Barry Bonds allegedly did. BUT the media has latched onto him because 1) he's a boor and 2) he's the best player of this era, cheater or no. His (balloon) head has the highest bounty on it right now and it continues the cynical American tradition of building up our heroes and tearing them down as fast.

Also, no one suggests wiping out the McGwire/ Sosa/ Palmeiro/ Caminiti/ Canseco/ Giambi stats while that select group is made up of avowed, admitted or assumed juice users. People hate Barry Bonds. Fine. But until you can pin something on him besides hearsay and "his-head's-bigger-hence-he's-doping" rants from Rick Reilly, leave the man and his records alone.

Quaker in a Basement

Is Bonds on the juice?

I have no way to know. However, I do know this: the man can hit a baseball.

I was in the second row at Mile High Stadium one night in 1993 (or was it '94?) and saw Bonds launch two screaming rockets over the right field fence. The right field fence was 370 feet at the foul pole, so the homers were both over 400 feet.

The ball flew so low, it looked like he hit 'em with a 2-wood.

Nicholas Broughton

What makes this difficult is another cold hard fact: The season in which Roger Maris his 61 home runs is perhaps the most statistically implausible event in baseball's history when compared to the rest of his career.

Beerzie Boy

An interesting notion, Malcom, but you have whiffed on this one. I would like to make the following points (and I am speaking primarily of baseball here):

* Record Obsession -- I know baseball is statistics-crazed, but the whole records/statistics obsession is wildly overblown. Baseball is a team sport, and the emphasis on personal records has gone way too far. (I know this goes back to Maris and even further, but it is still too much.) Media focus on records may put asses in the seats and cause people to tune into games, but I would like to see more focus put on the games. As a baseball fan (a Giants fan at that) my fondest memories are the last few seasons' palyoff and World Series, not the individual achievements of any one player.

* How many championships have steroids won? Hmm. In baseball, the only team I can think of that may have truly benefitted from steroid-fueled meatheads are the Canseco/McGwire A's. Most of these steroid badboys post great personal numbers, but rarely win the big one. (Hello, Barry and Jason.)

* What is the scope of this? Does MLB review the statistics of all these steroid-using assclowns, even the marginal players? To what end? Let's draw a line in the sand and be done with it. History will judge these fools, and mother nature -- see Ken Caminiti -- will have the last call.

Alex

I definitely agree with your statements. In fact, I blogged about this back when it initially came out. You can read the post here:

http://the-intellect.blogspot.com/2006/03/barry-bonds.html

I never doubted that Bonds was using steroids, when, having never been mentioned as one of the top 50 players in major league baseball history, was all of a sudden being called the best player that ever lived, based on insane career highs starting after the age of 36. Do I think there should be an asterik? No. Do I think he doesn't deserve the hall of fame? No. I think Pete Rose belongs too. Unfortunately, that's the breaks. The fact is, it's impossible to tell how many stats have been affected by the steroids era, and it's not fair to punish only Bonds. I think that it's just a situation of "jokes on us". Not much we can do about it now but be smarter in the future.

Steven Slywka

If barry took steroids and if you erase his records, then should you take away the giants trip to the World Series because he defenitely helped them reach it. Would you take away those MVP awards he won and give them to Pujols or Adrian Beltre. You can't. Bonds records and awards should stay, even it they are tainted, but baseball is filled with cheaters, like pitchers scuffing the ball. No one wants to take away their records. Cheating is a part of baseball, its a part of American society. Bonds took steroids, just like how Pete Rose bet on baseball, and that O.J. is a murderor. Even though there's no proof, they have destroyed their reputations.

pablo garcia

I think Pete Rose did nothing to not be allowed into the Hall of Fame for being the all time Hits leader. Betting had nothing to do with it. O.J. Being a murder had nothing to do with him being a great runner. Taking steroids had everything to do with Bonds's homerun surge in his late 30's. What i think they should do, and this is for every player, is take blood samples 3 times during the regular season and 2 times during the offseason, and store them. and if a record is ever broken they can always go back and see their blood. plus holding on to blood samples, they could easily go back once detecting mechanisms have improved. There really is no other way, and like people have said, science is always one step ahead, one one steroid is detected another is developed. this way, once they figure out how to test those, just look at their blood samples.
Cheating in baseball is and will always continue, probably 15 years from now, there wil be a new designer drug that will be discovered, just like the undetectable stuff bonds and giambi and those guys supposedly took.

Manley Miller

I don't mean to minimize the accusations against Bonds or ignore what seems to be mountains of evidence, but there are two arguments that bother me from the critics of Bonds. The first is the argument that he cannot do what he has done at his age, and the second is about the obvious weight gain over the course of his career. Compare Bonds to Tony Gwynn, who I think stands as someone with impeccable character as a former baseball professional. Gwynn's biggest year of power hitting, high number in Homeruns and 30 more RBI's than any other year came when he was 37 years old after 15 years as a professional. Bonds' number increase came when he was 36 years old. The second criticism about Bonds' obvious weight gain is just silly to me because if we took a picture of most American men (including Tony Gwynn)at the age of 22 and compared it to a picture of them at 40 then we would probably find significant weight gain for all of them as well. Just by the laws of physics weight equals a potential for more power. I am not interested in defending Bonds and admit that the amount of accusations against him seem overwhelming, but these to criticisms don't have much merit in the case against him.

james regan

And how old was Babe Ruth when he hit 60 home runs? I believe he was in his thirties. But in the age where most of us seem to put great value on statistical averages, is this something I should embrace as as well? I don't think so...

toptentwist

Having read "Game of Shadows" I am
strongly in favor of archiving blood and urine samples for future testing.

1.) This eliminates the confidence
that it is possible to stay "ahead of the curve" when it comes to new
forms of cheating.

2.) The stuff in the book about how the UCLA lab discovered "compound X" and devised a positive test for it AFTER rumours
of its use began to circulate pretty much points out how a cheater could be identified after
the fact.

3.) One key theme in the book is that cheaters always rat out other cheaters. BALCO eventually collapsed because Conte kept trying to crown a new champion leaving a trail of disgruntled old champions in his wake who were willing to talk about the process he used. If Conte had worked with ONE athlete and everyone had managed to keep his or her mouth shut, we wouldn't be having this discussion. At best, an archived blood or urine sample would eventually identify a cheater (or a group of cheaters). At worst, archived samples would provide a strong reason for potential cheaters to think
twice before they get involved with people like Conte.

4.) The alarming thing about Bonds is not only did he take chemicals that allowed him to beef up, he also took chemicals that were designed to hide other chemicals. That's basically an admission of guilt.

5.) Bonds testimony at the Grand Jury was apparently "Hey - I didnt ask questions - I just did what I was told..." Legally that would normally be enough to avoid further trouble. Where he's going to get into serious trouble (perjury) is when they produce additional witness' who testify that Barry told him r her that he knew exactly what he was doing.

6.) Bonds will eventually be convicted of perjury. And baseball at that time will remove him from consideration for the hall of fame - a la Shoeless Joe Jackson and Pete Rose. But his statistics will stand. They will never be erased or have an asterik attached to them. At least not officially. Unofficially, the asterik is already there. Here's hoping that when he does eventually pass Aaron that it happens on the road and that he is soundly BOOed for the "accomplishment". Or even better, that television refuses to even cover the event. Imagine the shame of hitting 756 and it not even being a highlight on ESPN.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo

Bio

  • I'm a writer for the New Yorker magazine, and the author of four books, "The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference", "Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking" and "Outliers: The Story of Success." My latest book, "What the Dog Saw" is a compilation of stories published in The New Yorker. I was born in England, and raised in southwestern Ontario in Canada. Now I live in New York City.

    My great claim to fame is that I'm from the town where they invented the BlackBerry. My family also believes (with some justification) that we are distantly related to Colin Powell. I invite you to look closely at the photograph above and draw your own conclusions.

My Website

Books

  • What the Dog Saw

    buy from amazon

    Outliers

    buy from amazon

    buy from amazon UK

    Blink

    buy from amazon

    buy from amazon UK

    Tipping Point

    buy from amazon

Recent Articles

Blog powered by Typepad