STEROIDS AND THE SPITBALL

S

This whole thing about McGwire simply permits sportswriters to imagine themselves to be Woodward and Bernstein, people who see themselves as guardians of a sacred portal, the last best hope for truth and justice and its all hogwash and baloney. – John Thorn, baseball historian

On November 26, 1961 the rules committee for Major League Baseball voted 8 to 1 against legalizing the spitball. Four months later, Gaylord Perry the most-celebrated of all spitball pitchers made his major league debut.

Irony? Coincidence? Foreshadowing?

Perry didn’t begin throwing his infamous goo ball until 1964. He had enough success and more attention, that a decade later, in 1974, Perry co-authored a book titled Me and the Spitter. The journal was in essence an autobiographical confession of breaking the long-standing baseball rule outlawing use of the spitball. On August 20, 1982, in a game against the Boston Red Sox, Perry was ejected and suspended for throwing a spitball.

There were no denials, no excuses. Catcher Gene Tenace caught Perry in 1978 and 1979 with the San Diego Padres. I can remember a couple of occasions when I couldn’t throw the ball back to him because it was so greasy that it slipped out of my hands,” he said.

In fact, just the opposite. Perry embraced the allegations, he confessed throwing a spitball and even attempted to capitalize when he allegedly approached Vaseline about an endorsement deal.

Perry pitched 22 seasons, winning 314 games. For years, Perry violated MLB pitching rule 8.02(a)(6). In short, no spitballs. No doctoring the baseball.

Perry ignored the rule, and so did the baseball writers who covered him and later voted him into the Hall of Fame. While the spitball may not be labeled a “performance-enhancing drug,” the case is clear, as Perry proved during his career, the pitch enhanced Perry’s performance. Perry cheated. He admitted he cheated. Baseball writers knew he cheated.

He should be in the Hall of Fame with a tube of K-Y Jelly attached to his plaque, said former manager Gene Mauch.

Still, in 1991, he was inducted to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In today’s game, a baseball cheat is synonymous with Steroids. That’s the overwhelming public perception anyway. The performance-enhancing drug debate has evolved to include the first generation of Hall of Fame candidates. Friday’s announcement of the 2010 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot has renewed the debate surrounding Mark McGwire.

In November 2006, the Associated Press asked members of the Baseball Writers Association of America (BWAA) if they planned to vote for McGwire, then a first-time nominee. The AP reported 125 responses; 75% of the BWAA said they would not vote for McGwire.

One month later, McGwire received 128 votes, or 23.5% of the vote, far short of the required 75% vote required for election to the Hall. Many baseball fans and media believed McGwire would get more support as the smoke cleared on the Steroid debate. Instead, support for McGwire diminished. In 2008, he received 128 votes (23.6%) and 118 votes (21.9%) in 2009.

McGwire’s testimony to Congress in 2005 and his unwillingness to publicly answer questions about steroid accusations have created suspicion. His actions have made him a media target.

All things considered the facts remain the same: McGwire admitted he used a legal dietary supplement (androstenedione). He said he stopped using the supplement in 1998. Major League Baseball did not ban the drug until 2004. His name has never been revealed as one of the 104 on MLB’s Mitchell report. Unless you believe this.

End of story.

According to the Baseball Hall of Fame web site, the only guideline provided to the voters of the BWAA states: Voting shall be based upon the players record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

Baseball writers are left to interpret the rule. Discussing “… integrity, sportsmanship, character …” has only created more controversy, none relative to Hall of Fame consideration.

I’m not voting for any of those guys – Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Palmeiro, any of them,” said Bill Madden of the New York Daily News. “I draw the line at eyeball evidence and what I personally believe.”

Eyeball evidence? Personal belief? Madden’s criteria is highly subjective and based on pure opinion. His words, not mine.

So many other guys were taking them, including pitchers,” said Bob Nightengale, baseball writer for the USA Today. “So its almost like a level playing field everybody was allowed to cheat, you still choose the best of that particular era.”

Wait. What about the hundreds of other players who played by the rules? Is there a Hall of Fame for those players?

I want to hear that he’s sorry for what he did,” Bob Rains, sports editor for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. “I still might not vote for him.

Presumptuous, no? Unless Rains has obtained some evidence the rest of the baseball world doesn’t know about!? If so, an explosive story is in the works.

Should we pardon McGwire for accusations of steroid use that he has never actually admitted and for which no evidence exists?” asked Washington Post columnist Thomas Boswell.

They knew he was doing [androstenedione] and they didn’t do anything at the time,” added Barry Bloom of MLB.com. “Regardless of what happened since, I can’t assume McGwire did anything.

There is no evidence McGwire used performance-enhancing drugs, only assumptions and a career parallel to the now infamous “Steroid Era.”

EMAIL ALERTS
I agree to have my personal information transfered to MailChimp ( more information )
Thank you for visiting my website! If you enjoyed what you've read, I hope you will consider signing up for email alerts. I will send you an email when new content is posted.
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

About the author

John Strubel

Hi. My name is John Strubel. Thanks for visiting my website. I write primarily about my passion: baseball. In addition, I occasionally publish posts and podcasts related to sports media, journalism and technology impacting the industry. You can also connect with me on social media @johnstrubel.

Add Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.