Jeff Pearlman Hates Baseball

Is your Friday evening feeling empty without World Series baseball? Turn that frown upside down — have I got the cure for you!

No, but seriously, this article by SI.com‘s Jeff Pearlman really needs a good FJM’ing. Since those guys are off being all successful and stuff, someone else has to do it. Loyal readers of the blog, at this point, are slapping their forehead and groaning.

Back in 1961, when a relatively obscure New York Yankee outfielder named Roger Maris was chasing Babe Ruth’s single-season home run mark, the pressure was unbearable. Commissioner Ford Frick desperately wanted the Bambino’s record to stand. Yankee fans hoped Mickey Mantle, their beloved homegrown star, would set the new standard. The New York media did its all to paint Maris as an ungrateful outsider — sullen and surly and ultimately unworthy.

Funny that Pearlman uses this example in an article in which he will bash one of the Bash Brothers, Mark McGwire.

Guy chases icon’s record. Public, for various reasons, likes icon more than guy, media and fans turn on guy. Media goes to great lengths to alter public perception of guy.

How is that different from what is occurring with McGwire?

When we think about Roger Maris, we don’t think about an easy-to-hate character, but he was when he was chasing Ruth. That’s what’s occurring now with the steroid era sluggers. Right now, we perceive the issue of performance-enhancing drugs to be a huge issue and anyone who uses PED’s is worthy of criticism and exile. In 30 years, we will look back and say, “We really made a mountain out of a molehill,” just like the Maris situation.

As I sit here at my computer, dumbfounded by the St. Louis Cardinals’ numbingly inane decision to hire McGwire as the team’s new hitting coach

Career .982 OPS, ranks 12th all-time with a 162 career OPS+, drew over 1,100 unintentional walks over 15 full seasons. Sounds like a decent candidate for a hitting coach, no? Or is McGwire merely David Ecksteinian without his STEROIDS and his HUMAN GROWTH HORMONE and his ANDRO.

(By the way, the only substance we know Big Mac’s used is androstenedione, which was legal at the time it was found in his locker.)

As we all now know (Admittedly, I’m technically supposed to include the word “allegedly” in here somewhere. But I can’t. And won’t. Because, without question, McGwire used performance-enhancers.)

See above.

McGwire was a fraud.

Fraud: intentional deception.

McGwire used: androstenedione.

Androstenedione was: legal at the time he used it.

Level of deception: none.

One can assume that he used steroids, sure, but there’s no hard evidence. That’s why you have to throw in that “allegedly” Jeff, no matter how much your righteous indignation may struggle with it.

His amazing feat wasn’t nearly so amazing.

What is amazing is, of course, a subjective judgment. Some people are wowed by fireworks on the Fourth of July. Me, not so much — I don’t find them too thrilling.

Many of us, at the time, found McGwire’s run to 70 home runs amazing because it was something we had never seen before. A Google search for “Mark McGwire” and the adjective “amazing” yields about 60,000 results. Clearly, I’m not the only one who thought McGwire was something special in 1998 (and I still do).

The point is that you the individual choose for yourself what is and what is not amazing. Mark McGwire’s job is to perform as best as he can from Game 1 of the regular season to Game 162, and the post-season if he found himself in such a fortunate situation (which he did in six different seasons).

As his statistics show, McGwire is one of the best hitters to ever play the game. If that doesn’t amaze you, then neither should Stan Musial (159 OPS+), Hank Greenberg (158), or Albert Pujols (172).

That Pearlman is letting a manufactured PED judgment get in the way of respecting one of the greatest pure sluggers of all time, well, that’s his problem. To slight McGwire on a personal judgment such as that he wasn’t “so amazing” is a weak criticism at best.

His courage and strength were mirages.

Very few athletes should find their names hand-in-hand with the word “courage”. Muhammad Ali is one of those few, for example.

Brett Favre does not have courage because he doesn’t miss games due to injury. Chase Utley is not courageous because he isn’t afraid to get hit by a 97-MPH fastball. There is nothing courageous about playing the game of baseball. To exalt baseball players with machinated concepts such as courage is as misguided as thinking that using steroids will turn a David Eckstein into a Mark McGwire.

Baseball players, like any other athletes, are entertainers. They are not heroes or warriors nor do they have any such mythical characteristics as honor and courage.

Pearlman goes on to say that Big Mac’s strength is a mirage. In other words, Pearlman is saying that McGwire misrepresented his strength by taking androstenedione (which was legal at the time). By this logic, any athlete who has ever taken a substance that was legal at the time and later banned is as guilty as Big Mac for deceiving us. And that would be a lot of baseball players to malign.

You have to be consistent, Mr. Pearlman.

His greatness, well, very artificial.

In the same sense that numbers put up prior to segregation are artificial. In the same sense that Babe Ruth’s greatness is artificial because he toyed around with an illegally-laminated bat and drank alcohol during Prohibition. In the same sense that Gaylord Perry’s greatness is artificial because he slathered Vaseline on the baseball when he pitched.

Every generation has social taboos, and some of those taboos disappear with time. Rather than repeat the mistakes of the past, we should learn from those mistakes and vow not to repeat them. So let’s not defame McGwire over a manufactured taboo with PED’s.

Worst of all, however, McGwire was a baseball thief. At the very moment his 341-foot home run landed behind the outfield fence, he robbed Roger Maris of the most important record in professional sports.

Importance, also subjective. I don’t consider the home run record important. Perhaps an appeal to the populace would be defensible here — I would buy that.

Regardless, and to reiterate, McGwire — as far as we know — did not use any illegal substances during his career. Androstenedione was legal at the time McGwire used it. I repeat: Androstenedione was legal at the time McGwire used it. Again: Androstenedione was legal at the time McGwire used it. Therefore, any records McGwire holds (humoring this silly argument) are rightfully his.

He robbed the Maris family of future income from 61-related merchandising and events.

That income from merchandising and events is tied to the home run record. A record is a factual account of events that happened. We do not go back into the historical records and erase who we don’t like and underline who we like. What if most Americans now are not fans of Norman Schwarzkopf — can I rewrite history and turn him into a villain? Of course not.

We leave our judgments out of history and save it for the Op-Ed section of the newspaper.

McGwire didn’t rob anyone of anything.

He robbed the Hall of Fame — which swooped up McGwire memorabilia as if it were free Twinkies — of its credibility, he robbed those fans who spent hundreds of dollars for a ticket in order to witness history and he robbed thousands upon thousands of kids of a seemingly genuine role model.

About the Hall of Fame: mostly historical. At any rate, that’s the risk the Hall of Fame takes by purchasing memorabilia.

About the fans: Did tickets really cost “hundreds of dollars” or is Pearlman once again being dishonest?

About the role models: Ask Charles Barkley. Listen, if your kids get out of line because of an athlete, you’re not doing a very good job of parenting.

If the baseball record book is the sport’s Holy Bible

Difference between baseball’s “record book” and the Bible: one is an accurate recollection of events; the other may be (and in this author’s estimation is not) an accurate recollection of events.

then McGwire is a 3-year old armed with a permanent marker.

No, actually — that would be the revisionists who want to turn Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, and Roger Clemens into baseball’s versions of Hitler, Pol Pot, and Stalin.

They were just baseball players doing what they thought they needed to do to succeed in the game. If there’s anyone to blame for PED use in baseball, it’s the media and the fans, who are always demanding the moon from athletes.

The damage is not merely done — it is un-erasable.

“Damage”?

Enough with the histrionics, Jeff.

And now, because Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa [...] has a soft spot for [McGwire] [...] McGwire is back in the baseball fold; back to teach today’s ballplayers how to (egad) succeed the same way he did

Pearlman is delegitimizing McGwire in the same way the birthers were delegitimizing President Obama by claiming he was not a natural-born citizen with no proof of birth. It is appalling the lengths people will go to to tear down a person they do not like.

To imply that the only reason McGwire succeeded was because of some chemicals he put in his body (legal androstenedione, in case you forgot) is intellectually dishonest to the umpteenth level. Does Pearlman really think that McGwire was nothing but an Eckstein without his SUPER STEROIDS? Let us not forget that it takes incredible hand-eye coordination to hit a baseball at the Major League level. It requires intelligence to play mental chess against the opposing pitcher, catcher, and coaching staff.

If baseball is such an easy sport that all one needs to do is use steroids, then we would not see the flameouts we saw in Alex Sanchez and Jorge Piedra and the plethora of other mediocre Major Leaguers who got caught red-handed.

Just in case you still had a shred of respect for Bud Selig — the man whose sport has yet to fully overcome the McGwire-Sosa nightmare

Actually, the 1998 season was a boon to Major League Baseball as it renewed interest in the sport mere years removed from the strike-shortened 1994 season. Would baseball have recovered otherwise? Probably, but the McGwire-Sosa “nightmare” actually was one of the best things that could have happened to baseball, and if it was not for that “nightmare”, Pearlman is probably working high school field hockey games instead of writing for Sports Illustrated.

I, for one, am angry.

Of course you are. It’s your job as a journalist to go ballistic at the most meaningless events so that you may draw attention to yourself and traffic to your columns.

In the course of researching and writing two books that dealt with steroids

Interesting. Two books and he never found out that McGwire was using a legal substance at the time.

Within the game, however, McGwire is still lauded as an all-time great. He is to be admired and worshiped and embraced.

I would be in complete agreement if this sentence was not written sarcastically.

Hair clumps be damned.

Yes, indeed. Let those Maris hair clumps remind you that social mores change. We hate the guy now but may love him later when we realize we acted out of line.

Does the phrase “don’t hate the player; hate the game” ring a bell? Maybe instead of assassinating Mark McGwire’s reputation (which is more morally reprehensible from any philosophical standpoint than McGwire allegedly using PED’s), we simply address the so-called issue?

Let’s talk about how we can build the sport up instead of cutting others down. Let’s look forward and not behind. Cliche, but true nonetheless.