‘ROIDS IN VALHALLA – THE PITCHERS
By John B Holway
The Hall of Fame inductions are coming up. There are five men who won’t be there: Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Jose Canseco, and Rafael Palmeiro. All are disgraced because of steroids. Alex Rodriquez will probably follow them.
But there are seven other steroid offenders who are honored there and are probably immune from ever being kicked out.
And there are two more men, who are suspicious, and are slated to follow them on the lawn at Cooperstown this month.
Let’s discuss the Big Seven first.
Three are beloved managers – Joe Torre of the Yanks, Tony LaRussa of Oakland and St Louis, and Atlanta’s Bobby Cox. You couldn’t throw a wet towel in their locker rooms without hitting three or four men who were later seriously fingered for using ‘roids. The players are outlawed for life. But their bosses are on the walls of Cooperstown. Two more, Dusty Baker and Bruce Bochy, will probably be ushered on to the conveyor belt to Immortality when their turns come.
I once asked Yankee manager Buck Showalter if he knew of a statistic I had discovered about his pitcher, Jimmy Key. (It wasn’t related to steroids.) “It’s my job to know,” he snapped.
I heard LaRussa speak at a large auditorium when he was asked why he never suspected that McGwire and Canseco were popping when they played for him in Oakland. Tony looked us in the eyes and said he had just hired a new weight coach and figured that was the reason the boys had added tons of muscle and ton of homers!
Oh, come on, Tony.
That goes for the front office too. I can’t believe they shelled out millions of dollars without once wondering, “Hmm, I sure hope he isn’t on steroids.”
Imagine Yankee owner George Steinbrenner getting a medical report on a star he was about to pay millions for. “Tell me, Doc,” he asks anxiously, “did you find any sign of illegal drugs?”
“Well, yes, Mr Steinbrenner, we did find traces of steroids.”
“Good!” George replies. “I’ll sign him.”
The fact that the Cardinals hired McGwire as batting coach after his disgrace was almost like taking out an ad in the New York Times: “Thanks for taking one for the team, Mac. We owe you big time.”
The Bible says, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” A player’s fruits are his stats. I don’t know about your eyebrows, but some of them raise mine.
Ryan set the big league strikeout record with 383 at the age of 26, the peak of his biological powers. He averaged 10.6 K’s per nine innings that year.
As Father Time began to catch up, his K’s per game showed a normal drop-off. Then Ryan found that life begins at 40:
Age Year IP K k/9 inn
40 1987 211 270 11.5*
41 1988 220 228 9.3
42 1989 239 301 11.3*
43 1990 204 232 10.2
44 1991 173 203 10.6
*equal to or better than his record-breaking 383 season.
Nobody suspected skullduggery. First, the totals were relatively low because the innings pitched were low. Second, we hardly had heard of steroids. We wagged our fingers at those naughty East German women swimmers with their thick necks, broad shoulders, and bulging biceps. A red-white-and-blue American would never do that.
On the dais at Cooperstown, Ryan paid tribute to his close friend and pitching coach at Texas – Tom House. Tom later admitted to using just about very illegal substance ever invented – he may have invented some of them himself.
This year’s newest Immortal, Randy Johnson, was throwing K’s until he was 45. One game was a perfecto at age 41.
— Age 40, plus —
Quit Tot K K IP K/IP Wins
Randy Johnson 45 4,875 1,404 1,004 1.4 73
Nolan Ryan 46 5,714 1,437 1,231 1.2 71
Let’s check Randy’s and Nolan’s strikeouts per innings pitched before and after 40 (figures are rounded):
Randy 1.1 1.1
Nolan 1.2 1.0
It’s true that Satchel Paige was still pitching for the Browns at the age of 48. And Smoky Joe Williams was hurling in the black majors at 50. But they weren’t smashing records or throwing no-hitters.
Did Randy and Nolan benefit from better nutrition, vitamins, conditioning? That’s possible. But there are questions. And we have a right to demand answers.
What of the other two pitchers who will be honored next to Randy? Did Pedro Martinez (left) and John Smoltz earn their way into Cooperstown without any illegal help? From the evidence it appears that, yes, they did. (Well, Smoltz couldn’t have done it without Tommy John, which had not been available to the old-timers.)
Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, who were inducted last year, also seemingly earned their plaques fair and square. These four had their best seasons when nature apparently bestows them, in their ‘20s and early 30s.
Is it fair to admit men whose stats seem to have been illegally padded, alongside men who earned their way in without any help from a syringe?
The writers who did the voting without checking are equally guilty. These numbers seem to tell us that you can use steroids and get into Cooperstown if you’re a nice guy, but if you’re an es-oh-be like Clemens, forget it?
Next: Should these batters be in Valhalla?
SEE A GREAT MOVIE
After about 50 years, I just enjoyed anew a wonderful film, possibly the greatest ever made. If you have a taste for the exotic and different, go see “Pather Panchali,” an Indian classic about a young boy and his sister in a rural village. (You can skip the two sequels.) Each scene, each performer leave a rare after-taste.