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January 18, 2010

You Could Look It Up


by Steven Goldman

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In the aftermath of Mark McGwire’s confession, one of the more dubious reactions came, as you might expect, from the MLB Network’s own Harold Reynolds. Reynolds said (I paraphrase) that even if you accepted McGwire’s explanation that he received no performance benefit from his usage of so-called performance-enhancing drugs, but rather was doing so to thwart his own physical frailty, then McGwire still did something wrong, because the marathon baseball season requires stamina. If you resort to taking a drug to stay on the field, you’ve cheated your way to overcoming a basic requirement of the sport.

As I’ve pointed out over at the Pinstriped Bible, anything a player might use to get through the drag of the season, from a cortisone shot (a legal use of steroids) to the ubiquitous greenies of the 1970s, to Joe DiMaggio’s black coffee and cigarettes, is taking a drug to stay on the field. No player, whether he takes an aspirin to overcome a blinding headache or undergoes Tommy John surgery, depends only on his own internal powers of recuperation. Putting aside the question of whether McGwire did or did not see his level of production increase due to his usage, saying that his taking a particular substance to promote healing was wrong, when there are so many other substances and procedures available to players for the same purpose, is just drawing a boundary that arbitrarily and hypocritically separates one medicine or therapy from another. And before you reply, as some of my readers did, "Yes, but steroids have nasty side effects, so that’s why they’re bad," every drug has side effects, and most of them come along whether you’ve used them properly or not. There is a reason that drug commercials come with disclaimers like, "If you experience sudden death while using AsthmaMax, consult a medical professional immediately."

Try to imagine a world in which players could not take any action to accelerate their recovery from injury or fatigue. The disabled lists would swell; rosters would have to double in size to account for all of the wounded, and many would never come back. Of course, it never has been this way. Players have always had some medical recourse for most injuries, however limited, except in one area: psychological illness. Antidepressants weren’t widespread until relatively recently and, if a player had problems with depression or anxiety, his options were to deal with it somehow or to go find another line of work. Those that would condemn McGwire for pursuing a pharmaceutical solution to his injury problems would, of course, have it no other way, even if it would cost us the pleasure of watching a Hall of Fame career unfold. This has, in fact, happened.

After Ernie Banks, Charlie Hollocher was the greatest all-around shortstop in the history of the Chicago Cubs. Born in St. Louis in 1896, as an amateur Hollocher looked like a classic good-field/no-hit type, as a result of which both the local Cardinals and Browns organizations declined to sign him. Turning pro with Keokuk of the Central League in 1915, he began to work his way upward, reaching Portland of the Pacific Coast League in 1917. Along the way, he fulfilled the expectations of the St. Louis scouts, fielding well but not hitting with any particular impact. The PCL played a very long schedule thanks to the long western summer, so in 1917 Hollocher, played in 200 games and hit .276 and slugged .342, hitting 33 doubles, nine triples, and one home run in 813 at-bats.

The Cubs bought him for $7,500 anyway, as they had had a very difficult time finding a solid shortstop since they had traded Joe Tinker to the Reds after the 1912 season:

Does a Bear Boot Grounders in the Woods? Cubs Shortstops, 1913-1917
Year  Player           G      AVG     OBP     SLG     EqA    FRAA
1913  Al Bridwell     136    .240    .358    .316    .253      0
1914  Red Corriden    107    .230    .323    .318    .253     -7
      Claud Derrick    28    .219    .257    .271    .197      0
1915  Bob Fisher      147    .287    .326    .370    .260     -5
1916  Chuck Wortman    69    .201    .258    .261    .192     -9
      Eddie Mulligan   58    .153    .200    .212    .129     -7
1917  Chuck Wortman    75    .174    .245    .205    .174    -10
      Pete Killduff    56    .277    .324    .371    .265    -10

Hollocher would likely have been another infielder through the revolving door, but something changed when he reached the majors. According to SABR’s Arthur Ahrens, who wrote one of the only full-length articles on Hollocher, "Realizing that his survival depended on his hitting ability as well as his glove work, Hollocher altered his batting stance." Whether this came as a result of Hollocher’s own insight, good coaching at the major-league level, or simple maturation on the part of the then-22-year-old Hollocher, he was suddenly a completely new player.

The 1918 season was truncated due to the war—the government had issued a "Work or Fight" order to all able-bodied young men, and told baseball to wrap up its season. Hollocher made the most of it, playing in a league-leading 131 games, hitting .316/.379/.397 (.293 EqA) as the Cubs’ second-place hitter and leading the league in hits (161). "For a youngster playing his first season in the major leagues he has done better than surprisingly well and he is without a doubt the greatest young infielder the Cub machine has unearthed in years," the Sporting News gushed. "Throughout the league he is spoken of as the successor to Joe Tinker and Hans Wagner because his fielding has been brilliant his hitting the same." With Hollocher on hand, the Cubs improved from 74-80 and a fifth-place finish to 84-45 and the pennant.

Hollocher would disabuse some of those Wagnerian notions when he batted just .190 in the six-game World Series loss to the Red Sox, and again in 1919, when he sophomore-slumped to .270/.347/.347 (.265 EqA). He did have a reasonable excuse, as the deadly Spanish Influenza pandemic had caught him up during the offseason. He was limited to only 115 games, which must have seemed like a transient thing at the time but proved to be an omen.

In 1920, just as the lively ball was souping up offense throughout baseball, Hollocher first developed the stomach problems that would trouble him throughout the remainder of his life. He was in and out of the lineup starting in June. At the end of July, he was hospitalized for causes that were not publically specified, although it is likely the stomach was to blame, as it would be on subsequent occasions. He never returned to the lineup, missing just over half the season, though he hit well when he played, batting .319/.406/.389 (.290 EqA).

Strangely, over the next couple of seasons, things settled down for Hollocher. Though he broke his nose in June of 1921 when a bad-hop grounder hit him in the face, he played in 140 games and hit .289/.342/.384 (.238 EqA). Despite what was a slow season (Hollocher was roughly a league-average hitter that year in terms of raw rates, but in a hitter’s park), sportswriter John B. Sheridan, who had been a booster of Hollocher’s since the latter was a kid playing on St. Louis sandlots, wrote in 1921, "I think Hollocher was the best and most valuable player in the National League." Others held differing opinions, noting that Hollocher, by now the Cubs’ team captain, "seemed rather lackadaisical."

Even if that had truly been the case in 1921, no one could argue with Hollocher’s 1922 season. Though he contracted tonsillitis in spring training, the 26-year-old shortstop played in 152 games and batted .340/.403/.444 (.265 EqA). It was an offensive-minded season in baseball, and Hollocher’s batting average was good only for eighth in the league, his OBP ranked only sixth, and his 201 hits were just the seventh-most. The only category in which he led the league was caught stealing. Still, it was an unusual season by the standards of his position: in all the years of modern baseball, there have been just 22 seasons of a .340 or better batting average in a 400-plate appearance season by shortstops, six of them by Honus Wagner, six in the years since 1995. Holly’s 1922 season legitimately was record-setting, however. He came to bat 692 times (592 at-bats) and struck out five times. His 118.4 at-bats per strikeout remains the modern National League single-season record, and his career rate of 31.2 at-bats per strikeout ranks 15th among modern players. Charlie Grimm later recalled that Hollocher hit Dazzy Vance, the premiere strikeout pitcher in baseball at that time, "like he owned him."

Hollocher, listed at 5-foot-7 and 154 pounds, was also highly regarded defensively. His fielding percentage was the second-best in the National League from 1918-1924, trailing future Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville .955-.954. He also participated in two triple plays. In 1922 he led the National League in fielding percentage (.965) and was +8 runs according to FRAA.

And there Hollocher stopped—well, there was more, but only a little. He reported late in 1923, in poor shape supposedly due to suffering from a cold or the flu, and was quickly sent home due to "illness," not playing until May. Hollocher’s "forced departure was no surprise to those who watched him in the Cubs’ camp," the Sporting News reported. "When he reached camp he appeared to be under weight, was lacking in color, and his usual smile was not much in evidence… He hadn’t been at work more than a week before he was forced to ease up. His ailment was a form of stomach trouble, probably brought on by not giving the effects of the flu sufficient time to work out of his system."

Time did not heal whatever was ailing the shortstop, and in May the Cubs sent him to a specialist who determined through X-rays that there was nothing physically wrong with his stomach. Hollocher returned to the Cubs, but with the assurance that he could take a day off when he felt he needed it. He would play one day, then ask out of the lineup the next, saying, "I feel as if I was going to collapse." Despite the clean bill of health, the stomach drove him back to the bench for good in July. Shortly thereafter, he jumped the club and went home, leaving a note for manager Bill Killefer:

Dear Bill:

Tried to see you at the clubhouse this afternoon but guess I missed you. Feeling pretty rotten so made up my mind to go home and take a rest and forget baseball for the rest of the year. No hard feelings, just didn't feel like playing anymore. Good luck,

As Ever,


In late July, John Heydler, the president of the National League, went to St. Louis to try to persuade Hollocher to return to the club. The shortstop demurred. In the end, he played in only 66 games, batting .342/.410/.423 (.272 EqA).

Hollocher felt better in the spring of 1924 and, arguing with the Cubs about both how much of his salary he should have been paid while disabled and how much he should get to play, held out. He and the Cubs couldn’t come to an agreement until May. "Holly" played well at first once he did get on the field in the middle of the month, hitting an inside-the-park home run in his first plate appearance (the ball rolled under the stands). Ominously, he missed his third game back so he could get a stomach X-ray. Shortly thereafter, he stopped hitting. In August, the Cubs sent him home, saying it was for his own good. He had hit .245/.292/.336.

There would be no return, though from time to time Hollocher would report he was feeling somewhat better. It was reported that the chief obstacle to his return was hotel food. On another occasion, Hollocher said that he had been advised by doctors not to play at all in 1923 and had permanently ruined his healthy by giving in to the Cubs and rejoining the club. "I miss baseball," he said in 1933, by then 36 years old. "When I quit, some writers hindered that there must have been other reasons besides my health. One story was that I had trouble with other players, another that I had made and invested enough money to enable me to retire. All of which is the bunk. If I had my health I would be playing baseball even if I had a million dollars. I love the game."

What he didn’t love was going through life with the intense stomach pain that had destroyed his career, pain that no one, in fact, believed existed. On August 14, 1940, Hollocher got into his car, aimed a shotgun at his throat, and pulled the trigger.

Would Hollocher have made the Hall of Fame had he been healthy? Obviously there is no way of knowing for sure, but he retired a .304/.370/.392 hitter (.264 EqA). Among contemporary shortstops, only Joe Sewell out-hit him by a large margin, and he was roughly comparable with future NL Hall of Famers Maranville and Dave Bancroft during the time that the three were in the league—and neither of them hit .340. He was also five years younger than each, meaning he would have had more prime seasons in the lively ball era than either of them. Further, of the 10 retired shortstops who did hit .340 or better in a season, seven of them are in the Hall of Fame. The only exceptions are Cecil Travis, who very likely would have gone in had World War II not cut his career off in its prime, Alan Trammell, who has been inexplicably snubbed, and Hollocher himself (the Hall of Famers are Luke Appling, Lou Boudreau, Joe Cronin, Joe Sewell, Arky Vaughan, and Honus Wagner).

Unfortunately, baseball at the time was limited in what it could offer Hollocher to keep him on the field. Doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with his stomach, but there was clearly something happening. Whether or not pain is physically or psychologically inspired, it feels real. His treatment at a dead end, a player in Hollocher’s position could either attempt to soldier on or go home. He went home. Today, a player like Joey Votto who develops depression or anxiety can get appropriate treatment, which may include medication, and can return to the field.

Votto, a career .310/.388/.536 hitter at 25, might or might not make the Hall of Fame one day. Thanks to his being born at the right time, if he does not make it, it probably will be because his career did not deserve it on its merits, rather than because he was forced into an early decline or retirement because his brain chemistry betrayed him. Those that would condemn a player for resorting to a medical solution to stay on the field would plainly rather have it the other way—Hollocher’s way.

Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Steven's other articles. You can contact Steven by clicking here

52 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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"saying that his taking a particular substance to promote healing was wrong, when there are so many other substances and procedures available to players for the same purpose, is just drawing a boundary that arbitrarily and hypocritically separates one medicine or therapy from another"...except that NSAIDS, aspirin, cortisone shots, TJ sugery are LEGAL and established medicines/procedures
to treat medical problems. if studies show that hGh, used at appropriate doses under the guidance of a licensed MD was safe and effective and available to all players openly, then most people would have no problem with it. i'm under no delusion that athletes in all sports take legal meds to help with minor aches/ailments to get through long seasons, but to say it's an arbitrary distinction is a bit strong.

Jan 18, 2010 10:32 AM
rating: 5

It's not only 'strong' it's wrong. Choosing legal versus illegal as a distinction is not arbitrary. In fact, it's the very opposite. From reference.dictionary.com:

1. subject to individual will or judgment without restriction; contingent solely upon one's discretion: an arbitrary decision.

Jan 18, 2010 11:00 AM
rating: 0

The only thing that is needed for the use of steroids and HGH to be "LEGAL" is a prescription, which would be an easy matter for athletes to get. These are not illegal substances like cocaine or crystal meth. They are legally used by many citizens of this country and across the world.

The arbitrary distinction is the one made by MLB to ban the use of these substances.

Jan 18, 2010 11:18 AM
rating: 2

I have a hard time believing that there was any possible way that McGwire could have gotten a prescription for steroids, even given his health issues. The only "easy" way to get these prescriptions would seem to be from doctors with dubious ethics.

Jan 18, 2010 11:36 AM
rating: 1

My mother got prescribed steroids to get over her knee injury, and the doctor seemed ethical enough to me. Clearly though you've already made up your mind, making further debate irrelevant.

Jan 18, 2010 11:57 AM
rating: 0

what kind of steroids? testosterone boosting steroids? how old was she at the time of prescription? what were the dosages like? did her usage span over an entire decade? these details matter..

clearly your mind is just as much made up.

Jan 18, 2010 12:04 PM
rating: 1

Why exactly do these details matter? People use drugs to accelerate healing. Athletes using medicine to heal their bodies is a given, and steroids and HGH are just that. When McGwire was playing, these substances weren't even explicitly banned by MLB.

It's sad to see people on their mighty moral high ground about something that was obviously happening. The decade late outrage is the real sham.

Jan 18, 2010 13:19 PM
rating: 1

>>Athletes using medicine to heal their bodies is a given, and steroids and HGH are just that.

they aren't JUST that. Do you personally know anyone who has used these substances? They are an extreme shortcut. They build lean mass and allow your muscles to repair themselves at a much faster rate. They are a completely different animal than cortisone, and all I'm saying is that they need to be treated as such.

I hope you can forgive me about my 'decade late outrage' as I was 10 at the time mcgwire hit all those home runs. But truth is, I don't think I mentioned anywhere in my comments that he is immoral or that i was outraged. but let's not pretend he is as innocent as joe dimaggio and his coffee.

Jan 18, 2010 13:34 PM
rating: 2

just because a prescription is easily attainable, doesn't make it legal. bribing/tricking/faking a doctor into giving you a prescription for a substance that is illegal without one is still illegal. unless you're saying that most athletes have a legitimate claim to such a prescription, which is clearly doubtful.

the 'anabolic steroids are no different than (coffee|cigarettes|greenies|aspirin|cortisone|anti-inflammatories|cocaine|etc)' argument is much sillier and less thought out (and "dubious") to me than Harold Reynolds'. Sure, they may be similar categorically, especially when YOU are the one ARBITRARILY categorizing them, and therefor it seems like a random line has been drawn, but this is ridiculously underestimating the effects of an anabolic steroid. I don't want to get into a tirade on these effects, but it definitely should not be stated on a reputable baseball website that steroid usage is comparable to DiMaggio's affinity for coffee and cigs.

Jan 18, 2010 11:44 AM
rating: 3

What is it that makes use of steroids legitimate or illegitimate if they are legally prescribed?

Cortisone shots are often used in sports. They are legitimately classified as STEROIDS. The only purpose of using cortisone is to get players back on the field, so if you're saying using other steroids for the same purpose is illegitimate, then why is using cortisone okay?

Jan 18, 2010 12:01 PM
rating: 1

for the same reason I can operate a motor vehicle while under the influence of advil, prozac, or most of the other drugs mentioned by mr. goldman, but not alcohol which is legitimately classified as a DRUG. I'll admit to not being a doctor, but from what I understand, cortisone is an anti-inflammatory, and not an anabolic steroid. when you classify them like that instead of the broader 'steroid', the line isn't so arbitrary after all.

Jan 18, 2010 12:13 PM
rating: 1

Since when are Prozac, Advil, and even aspirin not DRUGS? They all all DRUGS, even the ones that you can buy OTC. The base of your argument is a fallacy.

You say that it's not arbitrary because the steroids that you don't like are "anabolic". What about being anabolic makes something inherently illicit? And what about HGH which is distinctly NOT a steroid, anabolic or otherwise?

Jan 18, 2010 13:09 PM
rating: 0

they are drugs... that was my point. you can drive while taking some drugs and not others, you can play baseball while taking some steroids and not others. see what i did there? so let's stop quibbling over semantics.

My main point is simply that you can't simply cluster all drugs/steroids/whatever together and say that they are all the same and should either all be banned or all be allowed.

coffee provides a nice short term boost in energy and needs no laws regulating its usage.

the effects of anabolic steroids and hgh et al are NOT comparable to the effects of caffeine, which is what was being conferred in this article. Don't read any further into my argument than that.

Jan 18, 2010 13:26 PM
rating: 1

Information about Anabolic Steroids in Law Clearly states that anabolic steroids are illegal in the united states. Regardless if it was banned by baseball, it's been illegal since 1991.

MLB Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program Page 6. HGH banned by MLB in 2002. Regardless if it's banned in the US (it's not), it's illegal in MLB.

So your argument isn't really relevant. Prozac, Advil, Asprin are not banned by the US government OR by MLB. Throw alcohol, caffeine, whatever you want into the argument, the same thing applies.

If it is against the law of America, it is against the rules. If it is against the law of MLB, it is against the rules. There's really no gray area.

Jan 18, 2010 13:29 PM
rating: 5
keyser soze

"Those that would condemn a player for resorting to a medical solution to stay on the field would plainly rather have it the other way—Hollocher’s way."

Seriously? If you disapprove of McGuire's use, you'd plainly rather have him be so unhappy as to kill himself?

To coin a Uecker-ism, "juuuuust a bit over the top", don't ya think?

Jan 18, 2010 11:51 AM
rating: 5

That wasn't what he was implying, don't be ridiculous. The suicide was the sad end result of Hollocher's life, and is the rest of the story, but it was not the POINT of the article.

I feel like you intentionally jumped to that conclusion ("Seriously? If you disapprove of McGuire's use, you'd plainly rather have him be so unhappy as to kill himself?") just to be difficult. Is that necessary?

If you really did read all of the article and really did completely miss Stephen's point, it was this:

Every (clean) player in MLB history finds a way to deal with the grind of a baseball season/career. Either they are blessed with good health, or they pursue legal medical means to heal their injured and tired bodies, or they accept that their body is unable to handle the load and fade out or retire (like Hollocher did).

The point wasn't that Hollocher killed himself. The point was that many players do not have the gift of stamina to make it through a baseball career, and that using illegal or unnatural methods to do something that you otherwise wouldn't be able to do is cheating those players who TRIED and failed to do it the right/natural way.

P.S. To forestall the predictable comments...legal medical procedures and treatments to recover from injuries are NOT the same thing as pursuing illegal or unnatural methods, no matter how you try to compare them to taking female fertility drugs, horse steroids, and human growth hormone years after your body stops producing it naturally.

Jan 18, 2010 13:01 PM
rating: 1

I'm pretty sure that "using illehal or unnatural methods to do something that you otherwise wouldn't be able to do is cheating..." is not at all Stephen's point. Perhaps the exact opposite of Stephen's point.

His point, as best I understood it, is that plenty of players, before and after steroids were invented, have used plenty of different means to stay on the field. If we eliminated all these "unnatural" means, we would have more stories like Hollocher. But the distinction between which means are acceptable (e.g., corticosteroids) and which aren't (anabolic steroids) is arbitrary.

I don't know how much I agree with his point (as a debating tool against Reynold's moronic assertion that any drug taken to stay on the field is evil I think he's clearly right, but I don't know how easy it is to dismiss the legal/illegal distinction, though this doesn't absolve greenie users, or the potential performance enhancing issues), but it is decidely not the point you think Stephen's making.

Jan 18, 2010 13:15 PM
rating: 1

It's fun that we're all getting something different from this article, but could you safely agree that the POINT was not that Hollocher killed himself, and therefore McGuire should have also? Because that is what keyser soze implies.

Can't believe I got minused for that. My feelings are hurt.

Jan 18, 2010 13:34 PM
rating: 0
keyser soze

Heck, I'll concede myself that it wasn't the point of the article. I just thought that it was a cheap conclusion to an otherwise very interesting take on a volatile subject. But to suggest that if you're opposed to steroids, then you must wish things were still the way they were back in Hollecher's day, is absurd.

Jan 18, 2010 13:55 PM
rating: 5

Point taken, but I hope that wasn't what he meant to say. Deodorant wasn't widely-used in those days either.

Jan 18, 2010 14:27 PM
rating: 1
keyser soze

I did read the entire article, found it interesting but very sad, and enjoyed it very much, right up until its last sentence, which struck me as out place and, to use your word, ridiculous.

Jan 18, 2010 13:21 PM
rating: 3

Or as Dan Bern said:

"If Barry bonds is really taking something
To make him hit more homers than before
They gotta throw him out of the game, sir
They gotta throw him out the door

"Then burn the porn films with all the girls with implants
Burn the poetry by men who took lithium as boys
Your erection compliments of Levitra
Is hereby rendered null and soft and void

"Then rip the contact lenses from your eyes, sir
You’re not really supposed to see naturally that well
No more flu shots or antibiotics
You’re supposed to still be sick my friend..."


Jan 18, 2010 12:28 PM
rating: 5

Just wanted to chime in to say thanks, Steven. "Performance enhancing" covers a lot of territory. I won't condone those who employed illegal means in the quest, but I can't get all bent out of shape about the resulting performance when a significant segment of the opposition was seemingly using the same means. I'm pretty sure that Greenies were illegal without a prescription in the 60's & '70's, too.

Jan 18, 2010 12:47 PM
rating: 7

This is a great article. I thought I knew baseball history but the Hollocher story was completely new to me. Thanks, Steve.

Jan 18, 2010 12:59 PM
rating: 5

Same here...never heard of him. Nice story, Steve.

Jan 18, 2010 13:22 PM
rating: 1

Are you really considering DiMaggio's cigarettes' as something he used to "enhance" his performance? Seriously?

Jan 18, 2010 13:29 PM
rating: 1

Why not? Nicotine calms the nerves, potentially allowing one to focus with more acuity on pitches, fly-balls, etc.

Jan 18, 2010 20:43 PM
rating: 4

Are steroids effectively akin to drinking lots of OJ to avoid colds? Suggesting that all drugs are equal when you're talking about 'enhancement' is taking semantics to an absurd, nonsensical level. But that seems the only way to try the case for steroids, now that the 'we have no proof' fig leaf has blown away.

Jan 19, 2010 13:23 PM
rating: -1

Can I just jump in and say I don't think Steven was equating illegal performance enhancers with coffee, cigarettes, asprin, or whatever.

He was simply illustrating that different players deal with the baseball grind in different ways. Babe Ruth used hot dogs and beer, reportedly. That's the route I'd go.

The bottom line is, some people choose methods that are A) illegal and/or B) against the rules, and some people don't, like Hollocher. There's a choice, and that's what I think the point of the article was. At least that's what I took from it. Maybe the rest of you got something else, that's cool too.

Jan 18, 2010 14:36 PM
rating: -3

...he said it was hypocritical to distinguish between the two.

Jan 18, 2010 14:43 PM
rating: 3
Nathan J. Miller

Maybe it's just me, but I think the author's attacking the premise rather than the conclusion. He's neither advocating nor rebuking steroid use. He's attacking Reynolds' premise that it is wrong to take something just to keep you on the field. If you accept that premise as true, then you also have to accept that LASIK, anti-depressants, caffeine, or ibuprofen are wrong to take *for the purpose of staying on the field.*
Not much more than that to get up in arms about.

Steroids may still be wrong, but not on the basis of that premise.

PS- NOTE: Falsifying the idea that 'it is wrong to take any substance to keep you on the field' is NOT logically equivalent to saying 'it is right to take any/all substances to keep you on the field'.

Jan 22, 2010 11:53 AM
rating: 1

Forget the cortisone argument. Greenies. Illegal,dangerous, yet, as you say, "rampant in the 70s" Where's the media outrage to get Schmidt, etc. tossed from the Hall and the Record Book?

Jan 18, 2010 14:38 PM
rating: 8

This was awful. Just awful. Not the story, which was fine. But saying Hollocher somehow shows that illegal steroids are/were OK is logically amazing, and not good amazing. And you're using this to insult Harold Reynolds?

Jan 18, 2010 14:41 PM
rating: 0

Thanks Steve. Indeed another great article.

I kind of can't believe the moralizing that this type of discussion always gets started. Anyone who didn't know about steroids 20 years ago is... I don't know. My own mother was complaining in the early 90's about Canseco & McGwire. Come on people. Why not complain about the ball in the early 30's? Does Hack Wilson's record seem tainted? Sure has stood a long time. No one seems to care that Maris hit 61 in 162 game schedule anymore. Or that it was the first expansion season in how long and pitching was, by standards, diluted. I know it drives people crazy, but Rob Neyer is right: record books RECORD what happened. Only.

And if your really worried about steroids, then don't buy factory farmed beef/pork/chicken. Or take them when prescribed by your doctor. But don't pretend that this was a group of 'bad apples'. That's the worst kind of self deception.

Jan 18, 2010 14:42 PM
rating: 9

I'm guessing you're intentionally riling people up so as to fill in for Sheehan. I think you'll find the 'how dare they make Sabean GM rather than me?!?' crowd to be alot larger than the 'I took steroids too so bring on the "just like aspirin!" arguments!!!' crowd. It's not just a matter of immense hyperbole.

Jan 18, 2010 14:49 PM
rating: -1

I still can't believe people are concerned about this.

You know why athletes took steroids? Because it makes them better and NO ONE WAS LOOKING! No tests, no punishment, nothing. Incentives existed to roid up, so people did.

This has NOTHING to do with legality. If McGwire and Bonds smoked pot and got arrested, no one would give a damn. No calls to keep them out of the HOF. It's not a legal issue (despite what some say), it never was and it never will be. People just like to think of baseball as a quaint agrarian competition of skill between gentlemen, even though it isn't.

Jan 18, 2010 15:08 PM
rating: 11

I would like to talk about the claim that the line between steroids and coffee is arbitrary. It certainly is arbitrary.

But baseball is a game. In a game, every rule is, at some level, arbitrary. Why do players run the bases counterclockwise, and not clockwise? It's arbitrary. Why is it three strikes and you're out? It's arbitrary. People could have picked any number. Three seemed right.

What ultimately matters is not what the particular rules are at any given time, only that everyone is playing by the same rules. If one guy got four strikes every time he were up, you might look askance at his OBP when comparing him to those who only were given three. And if a certain player took a drug that other players were legally forbidden from taking, you should look askance at his accomplishments as well.

That the drug is only forbidden as the result of an arbitrary rule is irrelevant to the examination of that player's actions. The rule is the rule because it's the rule, and any advantage a player gains from violating that rule is unfair, and that player's career is tarnished for that violation.

Jan 18, 2010 15:54 PM
rating: 5

Excellent point, but if a rule has no enforcement mechanism, is it still a rule? There's a punishment for running around the bases clockwise (I assume, never seen it happen). An umpire throws you out on strike three. What happened if you did steroids before 2004?

Jan 18, 2010 17:58 PM
rating: 2
BP staff member Neil deMause
BP staff

And to think that when Charlie Brown tried to hold a charity baseball game to benefit stomach aches, they laughed at him.

Jan 18, 2010 18:04 PM

thank you mark mcgwire, for having the gumption and courage to take medication/steroids/supplements that were not prescribed for you legally, in secret, so that we could have the pleasure of watching you perform feats that you would have never been able to if not for the miracles of science. you are a true american hero. while many of your other competitors chose the easy route and decided not to risk their own health, you put your body at unknown risk, solely to bring baseball back to prominence, and not for any silly awards or records. i almost feel like you took steroids for me, so that i too could revel in your accomplishments.

so the point is that if anybody has any ailment, you shouldn't judge them if they use legal or illegal means to stay healthy. really? i can't believe that i agree with harold on something. it's a moot point- just as i don't think that the greenie era should be kicked out of the hall, i don't think mcgwire should be kept out. but i do think you have to call him out for a lame explanation/excuse for why he used certain substances. he gained the advantage of health over his fellow players, and that is not fair.

Jan 18, 2010 18:18 PM
rating: 4
Nate W.

Thanks Steven, I love your articles. I learn something new every time. These stories alone are worth the cost of subscription.

Jan 18, 2010 18:37 PM
rating: 1

Thanks Steve, for both the great (and very sad) story out of the past of Charlie Hollocher, but also for putting out there a framework out of which to derive some sort of answer to the "McGwire Problem". Whether Hollocher might have remained healthy enough to play with the use of anti-depressants is unanswerable.
I am prepared to accept at face value McGwire's position that he took steroid (or steroid-like) substances to advance healing from the toll playing the game took on his body. I am also prepared to believe, as a thought experiment, that, had McGwire not suffered those health problems, his natural ability as a hitter, strength, physique and will would have yielded the same results he achieved. So one is left with the McGwire Problem- how much did steroid use contribute to ameliorating the toll on his body, and did his usage permit him to cross a threshold which his unaided, injured body would not have? I'm not sure we will ever know; I'm not sure McGwire knows. Baseball players/ writers/ fans have already, inevitably, awarded his achievements a Maris-like asterisk. We may have no choice but to leave it there. This in fundamentally unsatisfying, but I don't think it is unfair to McGwire- he knew what he was doing was not legitimate, at least in the sense that he was using a prescription pharmaceutical obtained through "informal" channels, although not then in violation of any MLB policy. The inescapable result is the present, I think prevailing view, that his achievements will forever remain questionable. This is not a moral judgment on McGwire, who I believe to be a fundamentally decent man who was just trying to stay in his profession, and keep the job with which he supported his family. In the end, I think the only person he "cheated" was himself.

Jan 18, 2010 19:58 PM
rating: 2

I have to say that I find this article's hook to be a disappointing straw man argument. The idea that people who disagree with Goldman's position on an issue would rather have players to commit suicide from pain than have a nuanced position is not only unproven but is also a conclusion unworthy of this site's focus on promulgating rational ways of understanding baseball.

Jan 19, 2010 04:23 AM
rating: 4

Yet another Roidbird apologist. Simple fact: his performance *was* enhanced, and he continues to lie about it while attempting to sweep all the record-breaking evidence under the rug. Trying to draw equivalence with steroids and coffee? Pathetic.

Jan 19, 2010 08:53 AM
rating: -3

Prove McGwire's performance was enhanced.

Then prove that enhancement was greater than the enhancement other players received from Tommy John surgery, contact lenses, video replay, scouting reports, and modern training methods.

If you can't do those 2 things, quit blowing smoke.

And please don't do the tired, predictable "It's illegal" shuffle. Tobacco and alcohol destroy a million lives a year, and both are perfectly legal to possess and consume. Not all of us care to sail in circles because we set our moral compass to politically motivated definitions of right and wrong.

Jan 19, 2010 11:38 AM
rating: 5

So everything a player does to help himself on the field is 'enhancement'? Gets to sleep on time? Enhancement. Prays to Jobu? Enhancement. Gets surgery on a broken arm? Enhancement. Uses a bat he is comfortable swinging? Enhancement. Puts bandaids on cuts? Enhancement. Puts eye black on to shield his eyes from the sun? Enhancement. Drinks Gatorade during games? Enhancement.

And all somehow equivalent to using steroids? I'll give you credit if you can ever convince a judge with that kind of argument. But I don't buy it.

Jan 19, 2010 13:38 PM
rating: -3

prove that enhancement was greater than the enhancement other players received from Tommy John surgery, contact lenses AND ALSO laser eye surgery, depression drugs (these are used as painkillers or performance enhancers), beta blockers, caffeine, etc


i don't think there's ONE of us in here who's been alive long enough (or who would have the time...)to be able to ascertain the process by which any of these drugs or 'unnatural' procedures came to be viewed as 'legal' or 'illegal' - there's a long story around every one of these issues, and all anybody ever says is 'its wrong' or 'its illegal' when they haven't thought one lick about the process by which any of these determinations are made

a drug is a drug is a drug
some are more powerful than others, some the government says are OK, and some kill you (a lot of the same ones the govt says are OK)

goldman's point is that methods that we decry as 'unfair' and 'illegal' may have been viewed in a very different sense years ago and may yet be viewed in a very different sense in the future

Jan 19, 2010 18:56 PM
rating: 0

The Hollocher anecdote is interesting, but Goldman is just so egregiously wrong in his conclusion here. The argument based around the line "every drug has side effects" is the worst slippery slope I've seen on this site.

Smell test: your kid comes home and tells you he's using anabolic steroids. Are you happy or not? And do you still feel the line between drugs is arbitrary and hypocritical?

Jan 19, 2010 14:41 PM
rating: -2
BP staff member Steven Goldman
BP staff

Depends how he's using them. As I said in today's chat, look up Thalidomide. First it was a good thing to give to pregnant women. It was rapidly found to be a very bad thing to give them. Time went by. Scientists played around with it some more and found it has some useful applications. Now it's a good drug again provide it is used properly. Cyanide has clinical applications. Arsenic has clinical applications. It is almost never a black and white issue.

Jan 19, 2010 19:05 PM

taken from your chat: "At that point you're just drawing lines between different colored pills."

I'm really fighting to grasp your argument here. different colored pills can have drastically different effects, why do you insist that the effects don't matter and only the virtue of them all being pills does. why on earth does it matter if cyanide has clinical applications?? anabolic steroids have both short and long term effects that just can't sensibly be compared to getting rid of a headache before a game with an advil.

Jan 19, 2010 19:45 PM
rating: 2
J.T. Hildebrand

As someone who was medically retired from the U.S. Army due to pulmonary disease, I was very amused by your analogy to "AsthmaMax" in this article. I have taken various types of cortisteroids for years and, I assure you, have not experienced ANY athletic benefits other than being able to wake up and function on a daily basis. I really think you are reaching here and I hope you're happy that, if nothing else, you got a lot of comments. I am glad players like Votto are getting the help they need in this era; I can only imagine a friend of mine being in the same position.

Jan 19, 2010 19:15 PM
rating: 0

It's astonishing how many readers are missing the point here. Mr. Goldman is not trying to equate anabolic steroids to aspirin, nor is he wishing things were like they were in the 1920s. He's definitely not advocating suicide.

His point is that every successive generation of players has access to pharmaceutical and medical technology that previous generations couldn't even imagine, and responding to the notion that steroids are where we draw the line regarding athletic enhancement. Maybe the connection to Hollocher could have been made more clear, but the idea is that Votto (and Greinke and any number of other players) used something to stay on the field, something that wasn't available to a player during Hollocher's time. Should the rest of Votto's career have an asterisk? Should we take away the last 338 wins of Roger Clemens' career because he had shoulder surgery in 1985? Why is the line drawn at steroids? Because the federal government says so? Because we don't like how the record book looks?

Jan 20, 2010 14:32 PM
rating: 3
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