Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Palmeiro Implosions

You may have seen this stat, but did you know...

That only 4 guys in the history of baseball have ever had 3,000+ hits AND 500+ HRs?

They are...

1. Hank Aaron (who had 3,771 hits; I had no idea; that's a TRUCKLOAD of hits, third only to Rose and Cobb);

2. Willie Mays (who, in my opinion, may still be the greatest baseball player who ever donned a uniform);

3. Eddie Murray (longevity and the designated hitter helped him out); and

4. Rafael Palmeiro!!

So we've got this huge controversy swirling around this guy, and by any statistical accounting, he's a god. How, I wonder, could anyone so quietly go about amassing those stats? I guess playing on mediocre teams in Texas and Baltimore will do that. Imagine if Palmeiro had played on the Yankees...

Anyway, this steroid stuff is a yucky thing. How do we view this guy's career? After seeing him hit a grand slam for the Cubs early in his career, I always thought he was a huge talent. Yet another player the Cubs let get away. (Greg Maddux would follow a few years shortly thereafter.) And sure enough, Palmeiro HAS to be considered a major talent. But like many sports fans, I'm wrestling with this steroid thing.

Palmeiro returns to the Orioles on Thursday August 11, after serving his 10-day suspension for testing positive for use of the steroid stanozolol, which is commonly known by the brand name Winstrol. This steroid is a classic of its kind. It's a synthetic derivative of testosterone, and hence a muscle builder. It's the kind those greasy-looking guys on the cover of body-building magazines would use. It's got weird and potentially really harmful side effects as well, some related to liver damage, hair loss, change in sex drive, shrinking of the testes, loss of menses and clitoral enlargement (for women), and a range of other problematic effects. For a full profile of stanozolol, go here:

From this link, I've extracted the following section on the prescribed use of stanozolol, an anabolic steroid:

4.1.2 Description

The only legitimate therapeutic indications for
anabolic steroids are:

(a) replacement of male sex steroids in men who have
androgen deficiency, for example as a result of loss
of both testes

(b) the treatment of certain rare forms of aplastic
anaemia which are or may be responsive to anabolic

(ABPI Data Sheet Compendium, 1993)

(c) the drugs have been used in certain countries to
counteract catabolic states, for example after major

For more quick overviews on stanozolol, you can visit these other sites:

Now, unless the drug test that cornered Palmeiro is in error, the facts would indicate that he's a classic doper. Stanozolol has its therapeutic uses, and is a drug prescribed appropriately. Palmeiro has been using it to supplement his muscles, providing himself with harder bulk and quicker recovery time from muscular trauma, which, in his case, could be anything from a minor muscle pull to whatever effects the aging process might have on his body.

I admire Palmeiro's native ability. But I admire Willie Mays and Hank Aaron, too. And without steroids, Mays and Aaron hit more homers and had more total hits than Palmeiro ever will (unless the miracle drugs keep Palmeiro in the game five more years or so).

I don't imagine Palmeiro's the only guy on the juice. But the fact that we know he is one of them taints his achievements. I've tried to see it another way, but I simply can't. He has gotten to where he is without undergoing the normal aging process that befalls all athletes. The challenge of age is often what separates the very good from the great. Ted Williams once was asked how he managed to continue playing at a high level up to the age of 42. "Making adjustments," he responded. Williams had a huge gift as a hitter, but he was human. He must have noticed changes in his body through the course of his career. The 23-year-old Williams who hit .406 in 1941 certainly wasn't the 41-year-old who hit .254 in 1959. Williams knew he was tempting fate when he suited up once more for the 1960 season. It was probably even a little scary for him, given his pride and his legend status. But he came back to hit .316 with 29 homers his final year, proving that '59 was indeed a fluke, and then retiring with the knowledge that "adjustments" work.

Steroids are adjustments too. But they're drugs. They're artificial adjustments. If you could prove to me that Mays, Aaron, Williams, Clemente, Kaline, etc., were using 'em, then I'd say the playing field was level. But they didn't.

I don't mean to sound like a prig, but Palmeiro's stats are a troubling thing. He might have amassed them even without stanozolol, but we'll never know that, will we? When it comes to baseball, I'm on the side of historical greatness. It might be tough luck, but Palmeiro got caught. If he's ever to make the Hall of Fame, electors must factor in his misstep.

On a related note, here's something to ponder: Frank Robinson, steroid-free, amassed 2,943 hits and 586 HRs on his way to the Hall of Fame. Just think: 57 hits shy of 3,000. It must've killed the guy to see his 21-year career coming to an end in 1976—when he hit 3 HRs and batted .224 for the Cleveland Indians—and him knowing that that magic number would elude him. Robinson had a full-blown career, for sure, but beginning in 1967 he started to struggle with a few nagging injuries that cost him about 30 games a year from then on. An occasional regimen of stanozolol, and who knows...Robby'd probably be up there with the "big boys." Robinson was a great player, but he gets overlooked because he was a contemporary of Mays and Aaron. His Hall of Fame credentials are impeccable, and he represented the game at its finest. At the very least, the Palmeiro thing mocks careers like Robinson's, which might be reason enough to bar Palmeiro from the Hall.

Frank Robinson turns 70 on August 31. He's the manager of the Washington Nationals, a ragtag team that is still, at this writing, contending for the National League playoffs. Go get 'em, Frank!

Meanwhile, up the road, Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo is welcoming Palmeiro back into his lineup. It's underwhelming news.

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