So here we are again, challenged as baseball fans to make a call we have no clue about making. We need to decide on our own, as the drug game is so often ahead of the testers, whether baseball's current home run leader Chris Davis is juicing.
How do we do it? How do we know?
We know it's possible that he is. We all went through the '98 chase and how blind most of the baseball world was to the use of performance-enhancing drugs. We've seen cyclists and track stars and athletes from other sports pass drug tests only to get busted later, once testing improves. We know Davis has already surpassed his career-high in homers and it's only mid-July.
We know it's possible.
We also know that we have no proof that he's juicing. And that he denies it. And, that record chases are -- traditionally, anyway -- one of the great joys of the game. To watch a season record be threatened over the haul of a 162-game season is often interesting if not riveting. McGwire and Sosa, Rose in '78, DiMaggio in '41 -- these record runs were the talk of the nation.
This time, if Davis keeps it up, I fear all we'll be talking about is whether to trust him.
This situation forces fans to choose between taking one of two risks:
1. We can risk the pleasure that comes with one of our game's fundamentally exciting quests and choose to doubt Davis (or whoever else may come along to challenge this record). We can take our experience from the last 15 years and conclude that 37 home runs by the All-Star break is likely to be artificial. We can turn a blind eye.
2. We can risk being totally naïve and enjoy the ride with Davis. We can give him the benefit of the doubt.
I decided last night to choose Option 2. I'll tell you why.
I predict that in the coming decades we will look back on the so-called Steroid Era as a time when the public was overly concerned with the effects these PEDs had on our athletes, and overly protective of a sanctity to these records that really never existed.
Technology and science are rapidly improving, and I predict that as bad a time as pro sports has these days keeping up with the users, in time it will get worse.
It may not be the same thing but sports has made advances over time that now seem obviously necessary but at the time were considered major adjustments. To avoid getting bogged down in this, for the article you're reading we'll limit our examples to baseball.
At one time much of baseball considered the curveball an unfair, trick pitch. The designated hitter was at first thought of as a silly fad. So was night baseball.
And then there's the matter of racial segregation.
In the area of injuries alone, there have been changes that now seem too trivial to mention.
My great uncle came up as a nice pitching prospect for the St. Louis Browns (now the Orioles) in the mid-1940s. In the fifth year of his career he suffered a damaging arm injury. His major-league career was essentially over.
These days, not only does "Tommy John surgery" suffice to prolong pitching careers, some argue that the injury improves the pitcher's effectiveness.
Is it not possible that someday young athletes will have certain procedures done, unnecessarily, to improve their durability, or their velocity? Are we going to legislate this? Is it also not possible that certain of these so-called PEDs will be safe enough to remove long-term side effects from the arguments against them? If we don't know that these substances are harmful, how much work will we put into banning them?
Are we out to protect mythical records, or the athletes?
You notice that you don't hear too much about the health risks within PEDs anymore. Surely one reason for that is that with all the new stuff we don't know as much about what the risks are. Isn't it logical to think that over time through science this aspect of things will improve?
I think in a generation or two fans will largely think it silly that we were so bothered. And someone, perhaps some old-timer like me, will say that what you have to remember is that back then people thought PEDs were really bad for you.
Just like letting black players join the whites, in a sense.
I use a form of this argument on my Saturday show, The Hobby, quite a lot. People call about their 1980s cards, and sometimes ask if Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens cards will ever be worth anything again. I say they will be. I say attitudes about PEDs will soften and Bonds and Clemens will eventually, perhaps only after their deaths, be remembered more for their greatness than their transgressions.
None of this feels that great. Bonds and Clemens soiled the game, and so too perhaps has Chris Davis. But I choose to defend him and I announce it here. Because in years to come we won't mind the users as much as we do, and because rooting for Davis is simply more fun.