Thursday, January 21, 2010

Doug Glanville Explains the Steroid Era

You will not find anything more eloquent than this:
At Busch Stadium in St. Louis, there was a section deep beyond left centerfield with the retired numbers from Cardinals history on waving flags. Now, I am not sure how far away from home plate those flags were, but they were nowhere near reachable off any bat I have ever seen swung. Yet McGwire would hit them like he was playing rocket golf, or some twisted form of croquet.

I knew that what I was seeing was impossible. When you play the game long enough, you develop a sixth sense for the realm of the possible. You learn your body’s limitations (and your opponents’ bodies) in short order, because knowing is integral to your longevity. Sure, limits are pushed, but it doesn’t happen overnight. I played centerfield and had to know that when Chad Kreuter or Todd Zeile hit a ball, there was a good chance it would come off their bats with no spin, making it dance unpredictably while I was trying to catch it in the outfield. I could tell from the angle of Vladimir Guerrero’s bat and the location of the pitch when the ball was going to slice away from me. From bat-ball contact I could tell to a fine degree where a ball would end up long before I got there. As the Phillies announcers always used to say to me, “I knew right away when you had the ball in your sights, and then you would just be there.”

That’s because it was my job to be there — to know the field, the wind, the conditions so well that I could take the ball out of the equation after contact, and get to where it was supposed to be. I had all the data I needed without relying on my eyes exclusively. I could run to the spot and wait for the ball while getting into position to throw to the next base (should a runner be on base).

The first time I questioned those instincts was during a game against the Kinston Indians and Manny Ramirez in 1992. It was my first full minor league season with the Winston-Salem Spirits of the famed Carolina League. I was in centerfield and Manny hit a line drive into the gap in right-center. No problem, I thought. I’ll run at an angle and cut the ball off near the warning track. Even if can’t quite get there to catch it, maybe I can hold him to a double.

Well, the ball hit part-way up the light tower, well over the fence for a home run. I could not believe my eyes. Up until that moment, I’d never seen anyone who could hit a home run to the opposite field, let alone a missile like that. It was stunning. As far as I knew, this was pure hitting ability. Ability that none of my college opponents had possessed.

Fast forward to my major league career, by which time I was a science student of the game. Ballistics, anticipation, planning — all were part of it.

Then I saw Mark McGwire and I had to adjust my eyes once again.

As before, I chalked it up at first to the evolution of baseball, even as I wondered about its legitimacy. But enhanced or not, it was happening, and I still had to figure out a way to compete. My sixth sense had tapped me on the shoulder and said, “This is not right.” But that was not evidence in a court of law. It is sort of like finding out a co-worker might be doing something shady, yet knowing that you still have to do your job. And, in the outfield, I had to do mine.

Glanville's piece is from the opinion section of the New York Times. Everyone should read it and reflect on it. The steroid era is, I hope, over. The players, the statistics, and the game itself are all tainted.

Throw out the numbers. Roger Maris, you're still the single season home run king.

No comments:

Post a Comment