Is Bill James serving as a mouthpiece to cover for his employer?
It’s a question worth considering, though I know that apostles of the King Geek will bristle at the notion. But the timing of his dismissal of the impact of steroids on baseball players after a long time silence on the matter is very suspicious, given the fact that he draws a paycheck from the Boston Red Sox.
We didn’t hear much, if anything, from James for years about steroids and its impact on numbers and the Baseball Hall of Fame. Then, suddenly, the King Geek speaks, in an article last month on www.billjamesonline, where he scoffs at the notion that steroids users cheated the game and that we will someday just stop the hand wringing and welcome the cheaters with open arms.
“It is my opinion that in time the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs will mean virtually nothing in the debate about who gets into the Hall of fame and who does not,” James wrote. “It seems to me that the argument that it is cheating must ultimately collapse under the weight of carrying this great contradiction-that 80 percent of the players are cheating against the other 20 percent by violating some “rule” to which they never consented, which was never included in the rule books, and which for which there was no enforcement procedure,” James wrote. “History is simply not going to see it that way.
“The end of the day here is about the year 2040, perhaps 2050,” he wrote. “It will come upon us in a flash. And, at the end of the day, Mark McGwire is going to be in the Hall of Fame, and Roger Clemens, and Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro, and probably even Barry Bonds. I am not especially advocating this; I simply think that is the way it is. I only hope that, when all of these players are enshrined, they will extend a hand up to a few players from the Will Clark division of the game.”
He goes on to predict that we will be all be steroid users someday, as if he is some sort of Alvin Toffler (pretty heady company for a former Stokely Van Camp pork and beans factory security guard). It is a juvenile article — so juvenile that I have almost have a hard time believing Bill James wrote it. Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens and the rest of the oppressed class of ballplayers didn’t consent to the rule — handed down by commissioner Fay Vincent in 1991 — that banned the use of drugs that had been deemed illegal under federal law.
What an oversight. I can’t believe lawmakers didn’t consult with ballplayers before banning steroids for non-medical use. At least they could have given them a note saying they were exempt from the federal law the rest of us had to abide by.
One week later the story breaks that Red Sox icon David Ortiz and former Boston slugger Manny Ramirez — both integral parts of the club’s two World Series championships in 2004 and 2007 — tested positive for performance-enhancing substances on that infamous 2003 players list in the experimental testing that was supposed to stay confidential. The revelation certainly raised questions about, if nothing else, the romanticism of the so-called reversal of the curse.
Then this week came the report that the Red Sox fired two security workers — Jared Remy, the son of Red Sox television commentator Jerry Remy, and Nicholas Alex Cyr — last summer after an investigation found steroids in Cyr’s car just before last year’s All-Star break, and Cyr told police he had bought the drug from Remy. And so more question are raised about the presence of performance-enhancing drugs within the organization.
Bill James just happens to work for this organization as a front office advisor. And you could make the case that he has benefited financially and in other ways (reportedly receiving World Series rings from the 2004 and 2007 teams) from the use of performance-enhancing drugs by Ortiz — who James reportedly urged the Red Sox to sign as a free agent in 2003 — and Ramirez.
Did James know that this news was about to break (questions are often asked by reporters days or even longer before an article will finally appear) and finally react to the steroid controversy to diffuse the impact on his employer and the legacy of the franchise he works for? I don’t know. But it’s a far more reasonable leap of faith to believe that than to believe that if “we can look into the future we can reliably foresee a time in which everybody is going to be using steroids or their phamaceutical descendents.”
McSteroids — look for the golden syringe.
He may be right — which absolutely has nothing to do with David Ortiz or Manny Ramirez or any other ballplayer who used performance-enhancing substances and cheated during this era, despite James’ effort to lead us to believe that these embarrassments facing his employer are much ado about nothing.
Listen to myself and Kevin Sheehan every day on “The Sports Fix” from noon to 2 p.m. on ESPN 980 AM Washington and espn980.com.
For more information about Thom Loverro, go to www.thomloverro.com