February 08, 2013

Bad Medicine

Like most everyone else, I got a flu shot last year.  That’s all you hear these days.  You gotta get the flu shot, you gotta get that shot.  Well, I didn’t get the flu, I got pneumonia.  And the only other time I got the flu shot, I got the flu anyway and it was one of the sickest I’ve ever been.  I’m not saying don’t get the flu shot, but I’m never getting it again.  Anyway, when I got pneumonia last December, the doctor mercifully gave me a steroid injection.  WOW!  In about 4 hours, I went from feeling 20% to feeling 75-80% of my non-pneumonia self.  If I hadn’t gotten that shot, I would have most likely missed some work, had to bail on things I promised I’d do for people, put more workload on my family and STILL felt like garbage for another week at minimum.  But I got it, felt better and got back in the game.  I thought of all this as the news about the Biogenesis Clinic in Florida broke and the players linked to it.  I’m not sure how much I really care about players using PEDs.  When I thought about the issue on a macro level, I’m pretty sure I don’t.

First let me say that I’m not endorsing cheating.  On a base level, I’d hate to know that I worked really hard and someone else cheated their way to the same result or better than I achieved.  But I know that it happens more frequently than we’d like to acknowledge (I play golf…with men…so I see cheating all the time).  Charles Barkley changed my view of athletes when he said “I am not a role model”.  He’s right.  We didn’t chastise Kurt Cobain for not being a better role model for our kids.  We don’t criticize Alec Baldwin for being a jerk because he’s influencing a future generation of adults.  Hell, we don’t even care when politicians, our “leaders”, get caught in scandal.  So why do we care about people who participate in a glorified “Punt, Pass and Kick” competitions?

NBA players are notorious for smoking weed (for you older readers, weed is another term for marijuana cigarettes).  Should any player found to have “burned tree” be thrown off their team for good?  Should their achievements be wiped off the record books?  Look at the NFL and players like Lawrence Taylor.  He ADMITED to doing cocaine while he was a player…during the season (He’s also human trash IMO).  The national sports writers refer to him as a tortured soul with demons he just couldn’t control.  But they NEVER talk about keeping him out of the Hall of Fame.  Or wiping clean the record books of his achievements.  What if that coke helped him physically? Somehow helped him deal with pain, clear his mind or perform better?  How is that any different than Jose Canseco getting shot in the rear end with an injection?  Cocaine, Marijuana, Meth are all illegal just like PEDs.  So where’s the outrage?

What about something like Calais?  It’s a drug that helps erectile dysfunction (and evidently magically produces a waterfall and two bathtubs in your kitchen).  But I wonder if it helps performance?  I mean I KNOW it helps “performance”…well, not firsthand…I have this friend who….ANYWAY.  I wonder if it would help an athlete on the field in any tangible way.  What about 5-Hour Energy drink?  I know it would help me sky dive or help me produce “My debut album”.  But does it help players hit home runs, run faster or jump higher?  Pre game meals?  Some players will NOT switch what they eat before a game because they think it helps them perform better.  Some wear the same shirt under their uniform.  Players like Nomar Garciaparra do a silly pre-batter’s box ritual with their gloves, helmet, uniform, etc  EVERY time before they step to the plate.  Do we outlaw that?  If it gives him an edge, why should we let him do it? I know.  It’s a stretch from a chicken parm pre-game meal to a steroid injection, but it’s a way to illustrate, regardless how poorly, the question, “is all of this PED use really that bad?”

I think the reason people make such a big deal about abuses in Baseball but not other sports is because of the numbers.  Not just numbers, but THE NUMBERS.  715, 2632, 56, .406, 1.12, 4256 and alike.  If we’re not sure how true those numbers are, then how can we compare players?  Eras? Teams?  SABR nerds love the numbers.  And if the numbers aren’t totally valid, the analysis of said numbers means less.  Which means the foundation of their pastime religion is fundamentally flawed.  That’s why they don’t believe in things like “being clutch” or “team chemistry”.  They can’t be measured, so they can’t be true.  Just like loving your mother.  Since you can’t quantify how much you love your mom, you don’t really love her, right?  How silly.

At the end of the day, cheating and/or trying to get and edge, stay healthy or keep the mind focused is something every person will do to make sure they can continue to do what they do.  I guess cheating is like lying.  There are different levels.  And your outrage is based on where you draw the line.  Sports, like most entertainment, are my getaway from reality.  So I assume that things may not always be what they seem.  I guess I’ve seen enough to know that everyone is imperfect.  I’ve also seen enough to know I’m never getting the flu shot again.

For more of my shenanigans, follow me on Twitter at @YourDailyVinnie.  Thanks!



4 Responses to “Bad Medicine”

  1. 1
    Shaun Says:

    Good stuff, Vinny. Great points. Where do we draw the line? I know there is a line. I don’t want to pretend that we should have a free-for-all and let players destroy themselves for our enjoyment. But players get cortisone injections to help with an injury. I would think players take cold medicine or Advil when they are ill during the season. Is it the end of the world if they take well-regulated hormones to keep them feeling well over the grind of a 162 games? Ideally every player would take in only the healthiest foods and the game would be completely pure. But the game has never been ideal.

    And not to turn this too much in to a defense of SABR nerds but I think “SABR nerds” generally care less about THE NUMBERS (and more about just *the numbers*) than many of the anti-SABR nerds. The SABR nerds realize the game has never been pure and that numbers always need adjustment and context whether that’s a formulaic adjustment or just an adjustment in our heads via thinking about the context in which players put up certain numbers. We understand that it’s tough to claim Hank Aaron was any better a homerun hitter or slugger than Babe Ruth just because of A NUMBER. I think that’s why generally SABR geeks are less concerned about being outraged by steroid use. They generally know their history, that the game and its stats have never been pure, and they know that all statistics need adjustment and context.

    Oh, and as someone who is sympathetic to SABR geekdom, I believe in “being clutch.” I just think that for the most part all players capable of reaching the big leagues are clutch. It’s sort of a prerequisite for reaching the big leagues, to a large degree.

    Team chemistry on the other hand…it’s not that it doesn’t exist. It’s that it doesn’t matter that much, because major league players are so focused and so skilled. A shortstop and a secondbaseman are going to still turn remarkable double plays, at the big league level, even if they hate each other. Plenty of great teams have had issues in the clubhouse.

  2. 2
    Shaun Says:

    Sorry. That’s Vinnie.

  3. 3
    Vinnie Says:

    Thanks, Shaun. Don’t take my ribbing of SABR nerds personally. I’ve heard you’re the “Brad Pit” of SABR! Seriously, though…I agree somewhat. Playing the % is always a smart move. But I believe that over thinking can be a detriment. Also, I just have a hard time believing Chemistry isn’t real. I’m sure players can be great in spite of teammates. But good teammates HAVE to be better to play with, right? Everyone else I know in life that has a bad co-worker talks of how it effects their job in some way. I have hard time believing a baseball player is more “professional” than a teacher, banker or nurse.

  4. 4
    Shaun Says:

    Vinnie, there probably is a little something to chemistry and clubhouse atmosphere. But I’m just skeptical that it’s a significant factor at the major league level (or in other top pro sports leagues/organizations).

    I don’t think we can apply normal occupations to how things work in the realm of high-level professional athletics. We are talking the world’s best baseball players. They get to that level by being extremely talented and with some level of hard work and extreme focus.

    If one doesn’t have the focus and talent to overcome teammates being a complete jerks or distractions off the field, he probably doesn’t have what it takes to play in the majors or to be given consistent opportunities in the majors.

    This is why I don’t think it works to make the argument, “well, if you played the game at any level, you would see that chemistry and clutch are real factors.” Well, I played the game at *some* level and that makes me believe even more that the higher you go in level, the less things like this are a factor. Based on my experience, I suspect that a person absolutely must have a great deal of focus and ability to overcome the pressure of certain situations in order to become a major league caliber player. So basically all major league players are clutch because they couldn’t make it if they weren’t. And all major leaguers can more or less deal with poor chemistry because they couldn’t make it if they couldn’t deal with it.

    This has very little to do with quantifying things and more to do with reasoning through the whole clutch and chemistry issues. But to bring it back to quantifying things, when folks have looked in to it, it seems that pretty much all players, given enough opportunities, will more or less perform as expected (based on their career numbers) in any specific situation.

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