9.23.2005

Post on another blog about Yahoo columnist calling Giants fans "naive bumpkins"

I was going to send the following to the Yahoo columnist (Wetzel) who called Giants fans "naive bumpkins" but then figured that he would selectively quote me and try to make me look foolish; they've done that enough times to Bonds. So I'll post here and you all can make me look foolish. :^) Go Giants!

I understand why you wrote the column you did and I understand why people place Bonds under strong suspicion for taking steroids. I don't blame them for taking that position, there is plenty to be suspicious of.

But I don't look myopically at only all the bad stuff. I also understand that Bonds has passed all his tests for steroids, despite examples like Mike Morse who is still testing positive after around 1.5-2 years of last taking it, which shows that usage lingers. I also understand that his hitting thus far, while a small sample, is not unlike what he hit the past 5 seasons, now "free" of the steroids that have been "helping" him.

And he never admitted to taking substances, only stuff that appear to be illegal in hindsight. It is possible that Anderson didn't use the illegal stuff with Bonds - why should he? Bonds was already going good. But for those who don't have Bonds genes, he can say "Bonds takes this and look at him. And he says good stuff about us, why don't you use our stuff." And his performance, while appearing to be an outlier, have other explanations as well.

If you examine his pre- and post- ASG stats from 1993-2004, you can see that his HR/AB rate is pretty consistent with what he claims: that after his injury he realized that his career wouldn't last forever.

It is not like he never had Ruthian power - in his leaner years he had a number of seasons where he hit so many homers that the newspapers tracked his rate against Maris and Ruth. And if you examine his record, he normally hit at a higher HR rate in the second half, which I think is when his superior in-season conditioning pays off. {I posted these stats on my site if anyone are interested, on my last post on Bonds and steroids}

It appears that what he did after his injury in 1999 was to start preparing himself to be ready for the baseball season from the first pitch of the season, instead of rounding into shape the first part of the season and then kicking it into a second gear in the second half. And he also boosted his performance by being able to do this all season long, instead of being inconsistent during the season. In addition, players like Aaron and Williams also experienced jumps in HR/AB rates in their late 30's, probably from the added weight that comes with age, so that also contributed to Bonds' improvement. Add all these together and you get a big jump.

If you don't believe the "naive bumpkins" in SF, why don't you read the column of your fellow Yahoo columnist, Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg? "He has completely perfected the swing from the left side. He has the quickest bat that I've ever seen and he has more plate coverage than anyone in the history of the game. His eye is better than anyone ever, too. Barry is still one of the top-five players ever to pick up a bat." And he doesn't caveat the quickness by saying anything like "much quicker than when he was younger" or anything like that. And I haven't see anywhere that says steroids helps the eyes.

He has actually played with him and observed him from the beginning of his career. And he has no ulterior motive to his opinion, unlike Andy Van Slyke, who has had personal problems with Bonds previously. Bob Walk and his former manager Jim Leyland still think that he didn't take steroids, Walk being more credible because he is more of a neutral observer, like Sandberg, with no axe to grind like Slyke or friendship like Leyland.

You can also explain Bonds emergence by using Ted Williams' techniques from his book on batting. If you focus your swings only on the pitch locations that maximizes your hitting, you not only improve your batting average and power but also get a lot more walks along the way. And you can see the benefits of this hitting technique with the Splendid Splinter. In fact, Bonds hitting has drawn comparison with Teddyball's most frequently as a similar hitter.

Bonds has clearly become more selective with his swinging in recent years, just look at his strikeout rates, his batting average improvement came with his dramatic reduction in his strikeout rate in 2002, whereas his K rate was within career norms during his purported "steroid period" starting in 2000.

So how does steroids explain that? Taking it should have helped with that starting in 2000, shouldn't it, pushing up batting average and improving his strikeout rate at the same time as increasing his homer power? That's what happened with that Houston player, Caminiti, got power and improved batting average at the same time. But his improvement in hitting came later, once he adjusted his hitting discipline, as shown by his career stats. Else his hitting would have improved earlier if he were taking stuff.

But if you are going to condemn the records of people who have been medically enhanced to produce records un-medically enhanced, then you are thinking too small, you pretty much will have to take away all the records produced since probably around WW II, when the soldiers came home with the knowledge of the use of amphetamines.

From my understanding, the use of such drugs are rampant in baseball, that players would revolt if that were taken away. And unlike steroids, which has no studies proving what the exact effects on a human is, there is a lot of evidence on the clear benefits of uppers: they allow humans to perform normally when they are tired.

That gives them a huge advantage over players who don't or won't take them to "give them a pick me up." Based on that, I would say that any season and career record over the past 60 years could have been tainted greatly by the use of amphetamines, which allows players to play normally, and not as the tired human beings that they are.

Without such help, pitchers would not be as strong at the end of the year and give up more runs as they would make more mistakes on location of their pitches and not throw as fast. And the batters would swing and miss more often because their bat speed would be slowed. The ones with superior conditioning and genetics will pummel the ones who don't have them by the end of the season. That improves not only players' stats over a season, but over a long career.

The way I see it, you cannot separate the wheat from the chaff with any of the records. Despite all the strong suspicions, Bonds hasn't been tested positive even though testing has been going on for a few years now. And just because public opinion condemns Bonds doesn't mean they are right. I think the Salem witch trials, American's struggles with racism, and McCarthyism proved that.

And that's just with the illegal stuff with suspicion abounding but hard evidence relatively lacking. What about the lack of non-white players pre-Jackie Robinson (besides the rare token Jim Thorpe)? How about the change from using balls until the cover comes off to bringing in a new ball when the ball shows enough wear and tear?

How about the juiced ball that was introduced in the 20's? Many of the players who played pre-1920's felt that the "new" records being set were as bogus as people think today's records are.

Pre-spit ball and post? How about Gaylord Perry's records, because he admitted to doing illegal things publicly in a book? He was put in the Hall of Fame without question.

I think you have to leave the numbers alone or you go back and adjust everyone's, that's the only fair way, the only logical way or else everything may as well get asterisked too. However, baseball writers can have a say in history's judgment of players like Bonds and Palmeiro by not voting for them when it is time for them to get into the Hall of Fame.

I think Palmeiro shouldn't get in but I don't see why Bonds shouldn't. There is simply no proof yet, just hearsay and innuendo. I need more evidence than a reporter's obviously slanted bent against Bonds.

If this was something important, then maybe we need to observe the smoking gun stuff, but this is just the Baseball Hall of Fame and frankly, even if you took out his disputed numbers of recent years, he already had a Hall of Fame career. Hang the ones who have been caught, not the ones suspected but not proven. I'm willing to change my opinion once there is proof, then I'm all for it, but until then I need proof.

Addendum/epilogue: Thinking more about this, I guess I just feel greatly offended by the article. My eyes are not closed, I do not have blinders on, and I am not naive. I know that if I wasn't a Giants fan, I would probably be part of the lynch mob wanting to hang Bonds from his toes.

But I don't because I am a Giants fan and I've been following Barry's career since it began in Pittsburgh because I was mad that the Giants lost him in the draft because of a measly $5-10,000 difference in bonus money. So I read all the articles I could on him. I listen to all the interviews that I can. I've read in-depth interviews with him.

And I know that those bits of information doesn't necessarily allow me to know Barry Bonds or how he ticks. But from what I do know, it doesn't make sense that Barry took any drugs, at least knowingly. He seems too smart for that. Just because he can be incredibly rude to people, journalists in particular, does not mean that he takes steroids.

And he doesn't exhibit the psychology of someone who would take a short-cut like steroids to get better. Why ask David Eckstein's brother while on tour in Japan for a batting tip? Why wake up during the off-season earlier than people who actually have jobs, force yourself to mercilessly exercise your body, all before 7 AM? No, he would be like Canseco, uncaring about his defense or his hitting, it was all about the HOMER for him.

And especially after Bonds got his $90M contract, he could have just coasted after that, it was a career ending contract, he would be 42 years old at the end of the contract. But he didn't settle.

He could have just took it easy this year and not come back at all, no one would have blamed him, what with all the expected boos and jeers and taunts expected from fans. In fact some of his critics would have been happy if he stayed away, because he brought the "stench" of Balco with him and sullies the good name of Major League Baseball with his presence.

I lost some respect for a columnist for the Merc, Tim Kawakami, when he insinuated that Bonds waited until the Giants homestand to rejoin the team in order to avoid the road crowds. Why did he bother working out to get himself back here just to wait to avoid the road? He eventually had to go on the road anyway. And if he could face playing baseball while his dad laid dying in the hospital and still performing at top form before and afterward, that's more pain than anything a crowd can throw at him.

And look at him. He is not the picture of health. He has to leave games early. He can't move as well as he used to. He didn't need to come back at all. The Giants season was essentially toast by that point anywhere, with only a slight chance. It hasn't gotten much better, it is probably worse now, so he could have just mailed it in after the last homestand and say, "screw this, my leg don't feel good, I am calling it a season, I got a couple of homers under my belt so I'm satisfied, now I'll just rehab and get ready for 2006, good luck guys."

And people like to take vague things like head-size as "proof" that he took steroids but people's head get bigger as they get older, it can happen. And they point out the 73 homers, but that's one peak year in his career, there are so many players who just have one of those years, Darrell Evans being one of them. And there are players who suddenly start hitting more homers in their late 30's, again Darrell Evans being one of them, but also Ted Williams and Hank Aaron - they just walked more so it didn't show up as heightened production, like it did with Barry with his 2001 - if he didn't have that year, his end of his career progression would be very similar to Aaron's and Williams'.

So I do only what I can do: try to divine from the baseball stats evidence either way, whether he did or not. Taking it should show up in the stats, that is the whole point. And he didn't look like a user at the start of his career, so there should be a point in his stats that just SCREAMS "steroids now being taken." And from what I know, and what I have dug up so far, I still don't see it. It is not clearly in the numbers, not like Rafael Palmeiro's jump in production in the first full season right after Canseco joins the Rangers.

I've looked at career peaks. True, one of the higher ones in history, but I don't think outrageously so. I've looked at aging patterns. Aaron and Williams had a peak OPS late in their careers, Williams when he was 40.

Now I've looked at half year homerun rates just the other day. That showed that his outrageous homer rate didn't start until 2001, after the accepted start of his usage, prior to the 2000 season, that 2000's results could be explained by his half year rates not being that far off and indeed within the bounds of his career up to that point, only he was able to start the year on fire, instead of waiting until sometime after the All-Star Game.

And today I looked at his strikeout rate relative to his hitting. That I explained above but the gist again is that his batting average did not start rising until he stopped swinging at so many bad pitches, once he became more selective at the plate and swinging only at those pitches that he could handle, did his batting average go up.

Given the accepted start of his usage, being 2000, I don't see anything in his HR rate or strikeout rate that suggests anything other than self-improvement. If someone can show me proof that he took something to improve himself chemically, then I would not be the "naive bumpkin" as the columnist accused and condemn him as well.


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