As I've probably mentioned before, Eric Byrnes' baseball commentary reminds me of Eric Byrnes playing baseball: creative and skillful and all over the place. I suppose that I (and his managers) would prefer slightly more skill and slightly less all over the place, but we're lucky to have him. Byrnes might not always be right, but he's almost always interesting.
Which came to mind again today when I read his new column about steroids and the like. Here's the passage that's going to get the most attention:
Disturbingly, not long ago I was having dinner with a former long time Major League player that spoke about the steroid use of a prominent Hall of Famer that played the majority of his career in the 70′s and 80′s… Ha! Not like I was shocked but damn… So many members of the Hall of Fame, including this character, have recently spoken out and condemned guys who have had ties to performance enhancing drugs, saying there is no place for "cheaters" in the HOF… I just wonder how many of the other guys in the "Hall" were actually cheaters themselves?
Depends on your definition of cheating… I can guarantee you just about all of them at one point either stole signs, doctored a baseball, used a corked bat or loaded up on some sort of amphetamine… Steroids, because of the adverse health effects, public perception and terrible message it sends to our youth about what it takes to succeed, has always been looked at differently, and I believe it should be.
See what I mean? All over the place. Like Nuke LaLoosh's pitching (and his other stuff). But interesting! This is just a snippet, though. To get the full effect, you really need to read the whole thing, as Byrnes skitters about the subject like a waterbug in a cauldron filled with boiling water.
I especially like those six words: Depends on your definition of cheating. I also especially like that Byrnes mentions amphetamines, since we know that many of the players -- hell, perhaps most of the Hall of Famers -- of the 1970s and '80s were routinely on amphetamines, illegally.
Of course, the excuses for those guys generally fall under two headings:
1. Amphetamines weren't performance-enhancing!
2. Amphetamines weren't against baseball's rules!
To the first of those, I say, "Yeah? Prove it!"
And to the second, I say, "Okay, be that way. But be consistent about it."
What Mark McGwire did was not against baseball's (collectively bargained) rules. There were no (collectively bargained, and thus meaningful) rules about performance-enhancing drugs until 2006, which means the vast majority of Barry Bonds' career fell without the jurisdiction of the Joint Drug Agreement. Ditto for Roger Clemens.
I've never had a problem with writers who want to hold players accountable for using drugs to play sports better. My problem is with the writers who haven't come up with a fundamentally consistent and informed approach to the question. Which is nearly all of them. And a good place to start would be an open-minded discussion with someone like Eric Byrnes.