Wednesday, January 16, 2008

We May Be Missing Something

Like many in the sports blogosphere, I've been struggling to figure out why, exactly, Congress decided it wanted to wade into the steroid stuff, especially given how little their obvious outrage (feigned or otherwise) seems to have trickled down to the public at large. No one cares, I have assumed, so why does Congress? Because of this, my initial assumption was that the grandstanding we're seeing is essentially ineffective grandstanding, because the public just isn't all that exercised about PEDs in baseball.

Diesel, of the increasingly inaccurately-named Two Guys Who, Like, Never Agree, has what I must concede to be a more astute take:

It's facile to say that politicians simply enjoy grandstanding, though that not to say it isn't true. However, politicians often act in accordance with maximum utility in mind; they rarely continue doing things that don't play well with constituents (at least not publicly), because nothing is more important than the next election for most career politicians . . .

. . . The interweb cognoscenti has thrown up its hands and said that we're all tired of it, but obviously has miscalculated exactly who the "royal we" in this case represents. Leeches don't affix themselves to corpses, only bodies that still pump blood; the fact that the U.S. Congress is still involved indicates that the heart of the steroid issue is still pumping. Now, it's just a matter of figuring out why, and perhaps in the process discovering if maybe we're the ones who are missing something.

I suppose it's possible that it's only Henry Waxman who thinks this is important, but Diesel makes a good point in noting that almost all Congressional action is calculated, and someone in Washington has calculated that PEDs still has some legs.


Anonymous said...

I think there is a significant misperception here that is leading into a vicious circle. The average fan does not care about steriods (because deep down they know that they can cast aspersions in the direction of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, but then when this witchhunt expands to catch a player on their favorite team...), but the average columnist does. So ESPN, sports talk radio, and newspaper columnists continue to hammer away at this "issue", which creates the impression that more people do care than is actually the case. That is what Congress sees.

By the way, maybe you can answer a question for me Shyster that no one else has yet to address. If steriods are so awful because they are cheating (i.e. using an illegal chemical product to get an edge) and we should certainly keep McGwire, Bonds, Clemens, etc. out of the HOF for the use of such substances, why was it ok for decades of greenie use in baseball (i.e. an illegal chemical product used to get an edge). With the standards being used by people today when examining Bonds' and Clemens' numbers, shouldn't every hit, HR, K, or win of Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Joe Morgan, Bob Gibson, Sandy Koufax, and so on, be considered suspect until they prove they didn't ever play a game after taking a greenie?

Shyster said...

anon -- point taken re: the vicious circle.

The different view of greenies, I think, has a couple of sources, neither of them particularly rational. First, the public (or the columnists) tend to ascribe supernatural powers to steroids while viewing greenies as merely strong cups of coffee. This is wrong of course, but that's the perception. The upshot is that while both steroids and greenies serve to enhance preparedness and performance (i.e. alertness and muscle reflexes for greenies, potentially faster healing and muscle strength for the steroids) people tend to view steroids as somehow more unnatural and altering, regardless of the facts.

More fundamentally, I think we're simply witnessing the all too common phenomenon of people viewing the past with a more forgiving eye than we do the present. To use the exact sort of terrible analogy I criticized this morning, Billy the Kid killed a lot of people, yet no one gets too worked up about it because it was so long ago and we didn't see it. OJ killed two and he's satan.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reply. I also think that if sportswriters and columnists were to take a consistent stance on the two (which are far more similar than people will admit), they'd have to drop their heroes a peg or two.

This is also why HOF ballots should be open to the public, so anyone not voting for McGwire, for example, that did vote for Gaylord Perry would have to explain why some people who only succeeded through blatant cheating are punished and others are voted in with a smile and a chuckle.

Diesel said...

In re: The Greenie Double-Standard (careful before ABC makes that into the title of another horrible game show starring Mike Greenberg):

Shyster's point is well taken w/r/t the perceived effects of uppers versus juice, but I think that's only half of it. The other half is that sports writers have a vested interest in downplaying the use of greenies. I don't want to comment-section-jack, so I'm going to leave the explanation to my blog.

hermit said...

We were at a Cubs spring training game three years ago and close enough to overhear an interview by Kevin Kennedy with Ryne Sandburg. Sandburg kept hammering the point that not only did pitchers gain an equal advantage with steroids, a point mostly neglected until the Clemens brouhahah erupted, but the physics of bats hitting balls pitched at a steriod enhanced 95 miles as opposed to ball pitched at 88-90 miles an hour, is a huge increase in home runs. All the talk about greenies vs. steroids, timely as it is, should mostly illustrate the point that we can only evaluate baseball perfomance in the context of the era when the guy played. As far as anyone knows Mark McGwire played by the rules in effect at the time. Denying him a place in the hall of fame because he "cheated" is more ludicrous than kicking Mickey Mantle out of the Hall of Fame for sucking illegal greenies like they were M & Ms. A very deserving Bob Gibson went to the Hall with statistics inflated by the height of the mounds he pitched from and the huge strike zone of the era. Do we kick him out?

TGB said...

In addition to being a baseball nerd, I'm also a CSPAN nerd. My two cents on why Congress cares: the Oversight and Government Reform Committee's interest in the steroid topic started with former Chairman Tom Davis (R-Va), now ranking member on the Committee. Rep. Davis is a passionate baseball fan. It's my opinion, that when Juiced came out, Rep. Davis used the opportunity to get some face time with some of his sports heros. This may seem silly, but Congressmen have hobbies. Congressmen also know that eventhough they are one of 435 members in one of two legislative bodies for the most powerful nation in the world today, it's often pretty difficult to get an autograph, especially since new laws prohibit lobbyists from giving them those choice front row seats to Nats games. But I digress... When then Chairman Davis called the Juiced Hearing, he committed the Committee to follow up on the steriod issue as it progressed. These recent hearings are a continuace of that obligation. I'm guessing that Rep. Davis, and problably the other members of the Committee, are really looking forward to talking with the players next time around instead of Bud, etc.

Voros McCracken said...

I think the correct explanation is that while most of the people don't care, those group of people won't be affected regardless of what congress does or does not do.

Then when you factor in the smaller pool of people who do care, congress would be gaining support with their current grandstanding. IOW, it's like a voting block. It may not constitute a majority or even close, but if you can get them all without damaging yourself with the rest of the electorate too much, that's a positive net.