Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Pulpit of the Sportswriter

Gene Wojciechowski recently issued a call for MLB to quit its hypocrisy in re-admitting Mark McGwire to the game while at the same time denying Pete Rose his re-entry. Note that Mr. McGwire was not banned from the game.

I don't know why writers so frequently fulminate on moral issues in the sports world. No doubt that sports is full of moral failures, but the writing about it so often obscures the real issues.

For example, Gene's article attempts to point out a hypocrisy in MLB's policy towards its transgressors. In this case, in his haste to take up Mr. Rose's case, he's ignored the real moral problem: MLB's nebulous and uncertain position regarding the steroid scandal of the last fifteen years or so.

Gene's article is full of the usual problems, including:

radical oversimplifications....

They both compromised the game and they both suffered irreparable harm to their reputations. But somehow Rose's baseball sins are mortal and McGwire's are venial. Doesn't make any sense.

Gene, in this case, has ignored the fact that a lot of other men have been accused, have admitted, or have been proven to have used steroids. Major League baseball has a big problem with all the steroid issues, including current players still under suspicion. Heck, it's only been six months since one of the biggest sluggers in the game was suspended.

No doubt Rose's sins were mortal, and a clear precedent was established for that. This precedent runs from the 1910s, acheived a marked peak in 1919, and through a notable suspension in 1970. McGwire's sins may indeed be mortal - but no precedent has been set, and MLB would have to establish some clear standards for an already-sticky subject.

Gene, it's just not that easy.

...misuse of rhetoric...

To McGwire's credit, at least he admitted the obvious and apologized. Still, how come Rose's gambling admission in 2004 makes no difference to MLB, but McGwire's recent admission of steroid use (nearly six years after his embarrassing congressional appearance) results in a welcome-back hug from the league office?

Well, everyone knew he had done it anyways, and Rose sure waited fourteen years for his own halfhearted admission. But Gene's main question in this paragraph is intended as a rhetorical question-slam... except that it isn't rhetorical. The league didn't have any qualms welcoming him back because... it had never kicked him out.

I bought a copy of My Prison Without Bars at the local H.E.B. grocery store for one dollar last fall. It was an entertaining read, even if the title is a bit dramatic. Still, I was pleased that the story wasn't an overt plea for sympathy.

...abuse of statistics and metaphors...

Not Rose. The all-time hits leader (his career .303 batting average is 40 points higher than McGwire's) is in a permanent holding pattern. Selig sits in MLB's control tower and refuses to let Rose land.

Rose was a good player here, but comparitive batting averages has absolutely nothing to do with this article, or the morality of the situation. Nor does the metaphor of the control tower have much luster; besides the "control" version, I don't see any particular reason to compare Pete Rose to an airplane.

...more radical oversimplifications...

This isn't about the Hall of Fame. The moment Rose made a bet on baseball is the moment he forever forfeited his bronze plaque. McGwire should be held to an identical standard. The moment he began defrauding the game, the fans and the record book with his PED-aided dingers is the moment he became persona non Cooperstown.

The trouble with this situation is - we don't know that moment, and we don't know the moment for the rest of the sluggers of the 1995-2005 era. I completely agree with Gene that such players should be treated differently with regards to involvement with the game and the HOF - but Gene can't write this article as if Mark McGwire is the only player this applies to.

and some illogical foolishness.

Rose made his major league debut in 1963, the same year McGwire was born. McGwire made his major league debut in 1986, the same year Rose played his final game. So they are linked by years, by scandals and by confessions.

This has nothing to do with their respective cases. Their respective cases have notable differences, and the odd coincedence of years doesn't link them any more than if they both publicly announce a love for cannoli or a belief in Shamanism.

No doubt that moral inconsistency exists in baseball's steroid policy, but this article skirts that issue while prattling about another. Gene's not the only one who's noting some hollowness in McGwire's return, but that doesn't have a lot to do with Pete Rose.
One sinner coming clean doesn't demand a sermon for the rest of us.


Tonus said...

As far as I know, the HOF is its own organization, separate from MLB. Any questions regarding eligibility should be taken up with the HOF and not MLB.

I guess Gene has a point. Rose's ban is based on a very clear rule regarding gambling. McGwire's case isn't (as far as I can tell) covered by any specific rule, so baseball would need to step up and tell McGwire that he's not welcome, and then possibly withstand a legal challenge.

Doing so would make it less likely that other players will step forward and admit their use. It might also hurt the game's popularity. So they're taking the easy way out, IMO. That, or they don't care, or they don't think it's as bad as gambling on the game. I doubt that you'll get a straight answer on that from Selig or anyone else at MLB.

Dylan Murphy said...

Both should be banned. McGwire cheated the record books, and Rose not only gambled on his own sport but lied about it for years. Admitting it years after the fact does not eliminate the fact that they should be banned. However, Rose's numbers cannot be denied, even if he gambled, since his gambling had no impact.

Chris W said...

@tonus: the hof could announce tomorrw that Rose will be on the ballot next year if they wanted. The proble is that their success is absolutely dependent on the MLB that they would never bite the hand that feeds them.

Let's say Roger Goodell said tomorrow the hifhlight shows shouldn't show endzone dances on their replays of the games. ESPN could very well show Ochocinco dancing if they wanted but they never would--it is in their best...or maybe even their ONLY interest to cooperate with the wishes of the league

Larry B said...

It surprises me NOT ONE FUCKING BIT that the guy who wrote the article premised on the idea that McGwire was formally kicked out, and then recently formally reinstated, is Gene Wojciechowski. Not one fucking bit. That's classic Gene. If you had given me the premise and then had me guess who wrote it, I would have nailed it on attempt #1. Please believe that.

Biggus Rickus said...

There's also the fact that gambliing is banned because players will not play their best in order to lose, while taking PEDs enhances one's performance, conceivably bringing said player to his peak abilities. Or am I alone in thinking that trying to be better at baseball is relatively good in comparison to trying to be worse at baseball?

Martin F. said...

It ain't cheatin' if it ain't against the rules. Baseball had a good decade in which to address this problem (85-95) before it got out of control, but didn't care or want to. Seriously, this all only really became an issue as I remember when a true cocknocker, Barry Bonds, hit 70+ homers while his body doubled in size. If it hadn't been all such an obvious case of steroid use, and Bonds wasn't such a disliked jackass, there still might not be any steroid policy.

What I've always found interesting is that Wojo and every writer I've read who has covered baseball from the 50's on has ignored the use of amphetemines in comparison to steroids. They all knew, not even merely suspected like with PED's, that amphetemines were used daioly by players to help them through the grind of the season. Paul LoDuca (steroid user, allegedly from Mitchell Report?) even told a story once about "caffinated" and decaf labled coffee in the clubhouse. Turns out you couldn't get "real" decaf at all, merely one regular or one spiked with speed. Somehow being extra sharp, and not being tired when playing doesn't effect the game in the eyes of Frank Robinson, Wojo, and other holier than thou types. they can take their moral superiority and shove it up their ass.

John Foley said...

Rose was banned because he broke the Big Rule in baseball. The one that every player knows will get them banned. When Pete was found out, he agreed to the ban. He knew he was guilty, yet spent years and years pleading his case. Even though we all knew that every bit of it was true. Gambling on baseball and gambling on the Reds. Two things he said he'd never do, and yet he did them. Fuck him.
Also, I'm tired of hearing people talk about Rose's greatness as a player. Yes, he was very good. But the only thing he did really well was get 200 hits a year. He didn't walk all that much and had very little power. He did a lot of things well, but nothing great. We should admire his willingness to play every day and play hard, I'll grant you that. But if you give Rose credit for that you must also dock him for penciling himself into the starting lineup for years, after he stopped being any good, just so he could get the hits record. That counts too.
Anyway. McGwire is a cheater, but he was hardly alone. And using steroids does not get you a lifetime ban from baseball. Does WoJo think it should mean that? Because if so, there won't be enough players left to field even one division.