Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Fool's errand: Separating clean from dirty

Talk about a fool's errand, trying to read skull growth, acne, bicep size and temprament to ascertain who was "clean" and who wasn't during the Steroid Era is nearly impossible. We know of many, many names. Some obvious, most less so.

I didn't give Rick Reilly's crapfest of a "let's give Pujols 5 MVP's" article any pub because it's silly and based upon a house of cards worth of logic (I'm not even linking to it). So when I read Tom Verducci (a writer who I really think very highly of) discuss the stature of Carlos Delgado, I thought it was worth pointing out. Verducci ran the list of HR hitters from 1996-2003 (graphic below).

So I ran the numbers for the greatest home run hitters of the heart of the Steroid Era to find the lost slugger. This list is a terribly sad one, because it is a veritable rogues gallery. It is likely that anywhere from nine to 11 of these top 14 home run hitters from 1996 through 2003 were dirty -- at best, a crime rate of about two-thirds.

When I ran down the list, Mets first baseman Carlos Delgado stood out as the guy most pushed into the shadows. This season, be it anything close to ordinary for him, Delgado will become only the 11th player in baseball history with 500 home runs, 500 doubles and 1,500 RBIs. It is a club with no back door. The others: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray, Griffey, Ramirez, Palmeiro and Bonds. And yet Delgado never is talked about as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and is rarely discussed as a Hall of Famer at all. He started only one All-Star game (and made only one other, while a juiced Giambi started three), never won an MVP award (he was robbed of one by a juiced Rodriguez) and never won a home-run title (he once finished second to a juiced Rodriguez), even though he hit between 38 and 44 home runs seven times.
I am firmly in the guilty party who have never been a huge Delgado supporter. Maybe it's because he's too quiet. Maybe for his silent objection to standing for the singing of "God Bless America". Maybe because he's pretty vanilla and not exciting. Maybe I need to re-evaluate the way I look at players.

Reading Delgado's comments below, I just want to believe him. I almost NEED to believe him. But can I, without a shadow of a doubt, believe him? No. Sadly.
"Health, No. 1," he said. "And No. 2, it's cheating. I take a lot of pride in my preparation and my ability to understand the game and try to get any edge by watching the game or taking advantage of what's in my head.

"I guess, if by doing the right thing, should you get extra points for it? I guess so. In this society, all the bad things, the controversial things, get most of the exposure, and I kind of understand how the system works in that way. It's not news that some guy did it the right way."

Bonus related reading: Shysterball's take on this.

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