Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Great words from Thomas Jefferson about Government

From Thomas Jefferson's First Inaugural Address.

Recently quoted by Governor McDonnell, newly elected Governor of Virginia.

"Still one thing more, fellow-citizens—a wise and frugal Government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government, and this is necessary to close the circle of our felicities."

Sounds good to me.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The MLB Sterioids Era - Mark McGwire

Normally I keep my blogging to the financial world. But I am a lover of all things Baseball. So
I will comment on some baseball stuff.

So, as everyone who pays attention to sports has heard and seen, Mark McGwire has finally admitted to using performance enhancing drugs. What a surprise!?

Here is what I think. It was pretty obvious that McGwire was doing 'something' to his body. Whether it was only andro or steroids or some other substance. I think people suspected that in
that infamous 1998 season. People probably suspected it before that season. Just look at a rookie picture of McGwire and one from 1998 and he is almost double the size (though he hit a lot of home runs in his rookie season too).

No one really talked much about steroids during that pivotal year for baseball (1998). Let's remember that the 1994 Strike was disastrous to baseball. It lost probably millions of fans as players and owners squabbled over money. Some people could not forgive the forfeiture of a season and the cancellation of the World Series itself. By 1998 Baseball was far from its glory days. As McGwire and Sosa hit dozens of home runs before the All-Star break, people began to get excited. Everyone watched in anticipation of the unthinkable; breaking both Babe Ruth's former record and Roger Maris' then current record. Hit has not been done in over 40 years. No one thought anyone would come close again, and now two athletes were going for it in the same season. The friendship that developed between McGwire and Sosa added to the hype and legend of the 1998 season. As McGwire approached the Babe's and Maris' records we all watched as he smashed one more home run after one more home run.

At that time no one was crying foul, that they were juicing. Baseball fans and MLB were loving it. The publicity was great, adding to the resurgence of baseball and its popularity. The MLB has reaped the benefits of that season and subsequent season such as Bond's record breaking season in 2002. But now MLB is vilifying the very people who brought baseball back.

No one says anything about how MLB and the public turned a blind eye to what was obviously going on. As long as the home runs were being hit, ticket sales were up, and no one was getting hurt, who cares, right? Then as steroids began to become common place in high school and college sports people started to get worried. A few kids died. Now, the professional players have to be punished.

Is something not wrong with this scenario? Don't get me wrong. I am not in favor of steroid use. It is wrong and it is cheating. I wish no baseball player had ever taken them, and I wish the records they broke could be widely accepted. But, let's not vilify all of them. Remember, most of it was not 'illegal' (such as the andro that McGwire used and HGH that Pettite used). Also, people knew and did nothing then, and only now that the fun is over is anyone attacking the players.

The burning question is how to take this Steroids Era in comparison to the history of baseball through the century plus years. Let's remember that the rules have changed from year to year and decade to decade. How can we really compare statistics anyways?

Before Babe Ruth, what we call ground rule doubles were home runs, and if a home run bounced out of the bleachers it was still in play.

The spit ball used to be legal. How many more hits and home runs would have been hit if it were always illegal?

How many home runs would the Babe hit if he had to face pitchers today, throwing 95 mph fastballs, 88 mph sliders, 90 mph splitters, and 80 mph change ups?

Players today play more games in a season then they did in previous Eras.

The mound height changed, the balls changed, the bats changed. All of this affects performance.

We play in different ball parks. None are larger than the Polo Grounds but many of our current parks are quite a bit bigger than older ones.

Today the players travel to more places and further away. No one had to travel from New York to Los Angeles to Florida in a 7 day period in Babe Ruth's time.

The specialization of pitchers is something new. No one before the 80s or 90s had to face a 7th inning specialist, 8th inning set up man, and 9th inning closer, with one or two lefty specialists thrown in the mix. How would Babe Ruth fair if he had to face a left handed specialist, followed by a set up man, then Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman?

My point here is that each Era has offered its own set of rules, traditions, and difficulties. It is hard to compare statistics. Was Sandy Koufax better than Pedro Martinez? Was Ted Williams better than Ichiro or Albert Pujols? No one is going to beat Cy Young's records because he played a different game. No one pitches both games of a double header and pitches all 18 innings for 2 complete games in a day. We have 5 man rotations, and back in the day it was 2 or 3 pitchers, and sometimes the starters came in as a relief pitcher despite pitching the day before.

The Steroids Era will be a controversial one forever, no doubt. But, it is hard to say how it compares. If Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire were facing Roger Clemens and they hit a home run, does that one count? Does it count if they hit it off Andy Pettite when he was on HGH, but does not count when he was clean? We are not sure how many people were using some form of performance enhancing substance. Steroids, I believe, must be considered part of this Era, just like the spit ball was once part of another era. Gaylord Perry used Vaseline to rub up the ball, and he is in the Hall of Fame. Sand paper, corked bats, stealing signs, etc. All sorts of ways people have cheated for decades. There are, no doubt, other players who cheated who are in the Hall. Where do we draw the line? Is Pettite eligible because he admitted using HGH only once, to return to the field quicker? How about Clemens? Did he use only when he got too old, or how long did he use it for? We have no idea or proof. Same with McGwire and Bonds. Which home runs or wins are tainted?

To determine Hall eligibility, it needs to be defined what the Hall of Fame is. Is it a gentleman's club or is it a place to enshrine the greatest players who played the game. The greatest players in their era. If it is a gentleman's club then Ty Cobb and Barry Bonds are definitely out. If it is for the greatest players to play the game, in their respective eras, then Shoeless Joe Jackson, Pete Rose, Barry Bonds, and Mark McGwire should all be in. It should also include Roger Maris and Dale Murphy, by the way.

Lastly, there are hundreds of minor leaguers and lower end major leaguers who used HGH, Steroids, and other performance enhancing drugs. They never made it. Maybe the only reason they got as far as they did was because of the performance enhancers. Maybe it had nothing to do with it and they just were not good enough with or without drugs. It is hard to tell since it still takes talent, drugs or no drugs, to hit a ball that is traveling at a variable high speed, react in 0.4 seconds, know whether it is a curve ball, fastball, or change up, decide to swing or not, hit the ball on the sweet spot of the bat with enough bat speed and angle, to hit the ball 350 ft - 400 ft. Baseball is a hard sport to succeed in, even with performance enhancing drugs.

It is a true shame that players such as McGwire, Bonds, and Alex Rodriguez would have been great without the drugs, in fact they were great before being tainted by the drugs. Their reputations will never recover, which is good punishment indeed.

This is what I think, for what it's worth.