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Friday, March 31, 2006

Senator Mitchell's steroid probe

Steve Finley, outfielder, does not care for major league baseball's latest plan to investigate alleged steroid use over the past few seasons:
"It seems if you write a book about something, there's going to be an investigation," Finley said. "It seems that has followed the publishing of the book. I don't think that's right. You didn't hear anything about this until the book was written."

[Baseball Commissioner Bud] Selig said during the World Baseball Classic earlier this month he would wait to respond to the book until he had all the information and a chance to read it.

The commissioner appointed former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, currently a director of the Boston Red Sox, to lead the investigation. For now, it will be limited to events after September 2002, when the sport banned performance-enhancing drugs - though Mitchell could expand the probe.

"If there was not a rule, how can you go back and punish people for that?" said the 41-year-old Finley, entering his 18th major league season.
The AP story emphasizes that Finley is a new teammate of Barry Bonds, and is thus defending his fellow player. However, shortstop and fellow Giant Omar Vizquel offers another take:
"If you have a player who doesn't hit home runs, like me, and all of a sudden he has a monster year and hits 40 home runs, and the next year hits 50, and the next year hits 40, you start to wonder," Giants shortstop Omar Vizquel said.
Why is this so interesting?

Well, Hank Aaron himself hit homers at a pretty good pace late in his career. In a Knight Ridder story, Vizquel declared:
"There is so much stuff in baseball that you don't know about players or about pitchers or about anybody," Vizquel said. "Who knows what Hank Aaron was taking."
This may sound farfetched, but a former teammate of Aaron's says that players had access to steroids in the earlier era.

More eyebrow-raising, at least to me: Steve Finley hit only 2 home runs at age 24 playing for Baltimore. Granted, that was in only about 235 plate appearances. Since that year, however, Finley has always had at least 400 plate appearances (typically 500 to 600 or more). Finley went from hitting a few homers in his 20s to becoming a serious power threat in his 30s:

HR Age
03 25
08 26 Houston (Astrodome tough hitter's park)
05 27 Age 27 is often seen as a peak.
08 28
11 29
10 30 San Diego: Never before slugged > .434
30 31 Slugged .531
28 32
14 33 Hit 15 extra doubles/triples.
34 34 Moved to Arizona. Good hitting conditions.
35 35 Slugged .544
14 36
25 37
22 38
36 39 Spent one-third of year for LA Dodgers.
12 40 Angels. Injured much of the season.
?? 41 New SF Giant.
I'm not accusing Finley of using steroids, but he is one of those players that no one ever talks about.

Which is stranger? Steve Finley went from 11 to 36 HRs, ages 29 to 39. That's an increase of 25 dingers, and 227%!

Bonds went from 46 at age 28 (near peak) to 73 at 36. That's an increase of 27, but only 59%.

Incidentally, I never replied to Avery's discussion of the ethics of athletes using steroids, which he posted on the Cardinal Philosophy blog. Essentially, Avery equates steroid use to other costly measures athletes take to improve their game, like weight-training or lots of practice.


But, I will make this point -- steroids have been a controlled substance in the US since 1990. If Jose Canseco and teammates used these drugs to create the Oakland dynasty of the late 1980s, Avery's argument carries a great deal of weight. Non-US athletes (Dominican players, for example) who use steroids at home in the off-season may also be acting perfectly legally (though now against the rules of baseball).

But if sluggers of the 1990s were using steroids, they were violating US law and that seems different to me than just weight-training or extra practice.

Finley, I would note, is certainly on Avery's side:
"They're [players are] the ones that risk their health," he said. "This is not just about baseball. This is about long-term. This is about your life after baseball. Your baseball life is very short."
Finley doesn't reflect on the evidence that steroid use may shorten one's life.

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