You could look it up: Steven Goldman's going to hang around and chat about baseball, the game's history, and more, so tune in and tickle your curiosity bone.
Steven Goldman: Good afternoon, pilgrims. Steven Goldman here to take you through part of the afternoon here at Baseball Prospectus. There's a new YCLIU up on the main page (Manny Ramirez vs. Paul Waner, sort of), a new installment of the PB shortly up at YES (five days a week we love you, as the Beatles didn't sing), and so, so much to discuss on this pleasant spring day. I'm just short of perfection here because I'm waiting for my Girl Friday to return with a cup of Joe, but I think we can muddle through until then...
BL (Bozeman): Fantastic essay on Paul Waner... how many players have you come across from the Pre-WW II era that could be considered highly-functioning alcoholics, using booze as a 'PAD' (performance altering drug)?
Steven Goldman: Thanks! Alcoholism was epidemic in baseball at least into the early 1960s, and it almost certainly hurt far more players than it helped. Probably the most famous example of a career destroyed by demon rum is that of Hack Wilson, but there are dozens and dozens more. The weird dichotomy is, and I was a bit uncomfortable telling some of the Waner/drinking stories because of this, that even though guys were killing themselves, this was often a source of fun, at least for baseball writers. You read a lot of stories about Bugs Raymond, the 1910s pitcher for the Giants who used to trade balls from the bullpen for beers, but John McGraw found him too often soused to be usable, cut him, and he had his head stomped in in a bar fight the next year. There's more of that then the "fun and successful drunk," but we hear a lot more about the latter.
BL (Bozeman): With Dom DiMaggio's recent passing, could you please put his career into historical perspective? How about some sort of "Joe-Independent Career Analysis"?
Steven Goldman: I had to read this three times before I realized you meant DiMaggio-Independent and not Sheehan; I didn't remember Joe writing anything about the Little Professor. Dom was a great ballplayer in his own right, not just because he was Joe's little brother. Writing the day after his death, I said he was like Brett Butler but with more walks and a bit more pop, though it's hard to separate his production from Fenway Park, which was oh so friendly in those days. He was probably a better fielder than Joe--so was older brother Vince, an underrated player for various reasons--but they were all very good outfielders. Some like to see Dom as a Hall of Famer, especially if you give him credit for his missed WW II years, but I don't quite see it that way. It wasn't just the war that shortened his career--he quit when Lou Boudreau decided to bench him in 1953, there's the park factor... I mean, if Phil Rizzuto is in, I guess he could be in, as he performed a similar role--leadoff hitter, defensive centerpiece of a very good team. Then again, Rizzuto had 93 rings and Dom's Red Sox had just the one pennant, and it's kind of a reductionist argument. Anyway, he was a very good player, regardless of his surname.
Kevin (Texas): Hi Steven. Do you think the Yankees should trade or release Veras and Ramirez?
Steven Goldman: My coffee finally arrived... It's easy to get frustrated with Veras and Ramirez, particularly the latter because he's so vulnerable to the home run. He's been a mess this year, with more walks than he can sustain, more than anyone this side of Nolan Ryan could sustain, and the longball rate is insane. He shouldn't be released, nor should Veras, but there's certainly an argument to be made for sending him down given that he's done just about nothing right so far. The question is, who do you replace him with? The Yankees have already sorted through Mark Melancon and Dave Robertson and are now looking at Brett Tomko for goshsakes. Steve Jackson sat in the pen for two weeks without being tried like he had been blacklisted or something... Veras's problem has always been control, and it's probably worth giving him more time to get it locked down again. Unlike Ramirez, he's not a gimmick pitcher.
ndubby (sfo): Is Wholesome Reading on hiatus during the baseball season? Or are you that comfortable with the direction country?
Steven Goldman: Thanks for asking. It's been more of a time-management problem for me and a push to focus my energies onto some other projects. I think about it daily and I promise, swear, cross my heart, that I will get it up again shortly. I wasn't sure if anyone really missed it.
bartleby (Chicago): Have you read Allen Barra's new book about Yogi. How does the book fit with your knowledge of Casey Stengal and his relationship with Yogi?
Steven Goldman: I've read about three-quarters of it now. Since my book on Casey (and discussions with me) were among Allen's sources for the book, it's safe to say we're on the same page. It's a very entertaining read, by the way, but I'm obviously biased.
HuffWade (Chicago): Historically, do good players on bad teams tend to get overvalued by the home fans, since they are the best player on the team, or undervalued, since the team as a whole is still middling and not competitive?
Steven Goldman: Bill James made the argument for undervalued, prompted, IIRC, on the Yankees dumping Mike Easler after the 1986 season (which turned out to be much ado about nothing). I think he was right -- just look at the Reds and Adam Dunn and their focus on everything he couldn't do while missing the things he did better than most players. Look at Dick Allen and the Phillies. Ralph Kiner and the Pirates. Maybe the right answer is that they become undervalued by their organizations in the "We could have finished last without you" sense. You never can tell who the fans will fall in love with -- as I've remarked here many times, my friends used to drive me almost to the point of violence with their affection for "fan favorite" Alvaro Espinoza.
Charlie (Bethesda, MD): I read the Pinstriped Bible today, and I gotta ask: Are you implying that Adam Dunn uses steroids?
Steven Goldman: Not even slightly.
BL (Bozeman): Along the 'sportswriters covering for ballplayers' line, what are the most interesting euphamisms you've come across for 'too drunk to play' in the old sports pages?
Steven Goldman: The great Yankees manager Joe McCarthy went on periodic drinking binges. It always seemed incongruous to me given what a hyper-organized guy he was, as well as the fact that he lived to be 90. Sometimes he couldn't be pried out of the bottle and would miss a game or two. The writers knew but would cover for him by writing that he had stomach problems or "exhaustion."
HonusCobb (Hopedale, IL): I'm not a Yankees fan, but I am a Joe Gordon fan. I was wondering what you think about him getting into the Hall of Fame?
Steven Goldman: I thought it was way overdue. His was another shortened, WW II-affected career, but you don't have to make too many allowances for that given an MVP award, nine All-Star games, a bunch of pennants with two organizations, a top-flight defensive rep, and 253 home runs at second base (despite his playing in a park that killed right-handed hitters). He would have been a favorite of mine had I been around, and he's kind of a favorite anyway.
Pete (Bronx): Do you buy into Melky and Cano's increased patience at the plate so far this year, or is it just a small sample size? Particularly in Melky's case, is it enough to save his job in CF?
Steven Goldman: I suspect it has earned him a long stay, especially given how Brett Gardner lapsed into his old flailing habits once spring training was over. His change has been really dramatic, as he's seeing 4.1 pitches per PA after being stuck at about 3.65 for the previous three years, and his line drive rate is way, way up. I really didn't think he had it in him to adjust this way, and he didn't seem to care enough, but maybe last season's demotion really got through to him. We'll see if he reverts -- after all, he fooled us last April as well. Cano, I think, has already reverted, but he'll always just be a series of hot and cold streaks. I wonder if the Yankees would do better with a less spectacular but more consistent player. I haven't fully explored the ramifications of that thought, just throwing it out there.
rich (nj): In this age of pitch counts, bloated bull-pens, managers changing pitchers every 3 minutes, thin benches, few off days, day/night double-headers, and chemistry-free (maybe) players starting to drag by mid-May, why has MLB not adopted a 30-man roster limit?
Steven Goldman: $Dough. That's a bunch more salaries. The Union would no doubt be all for it. I would be for a slightly increased roster, maybe to 26, if that roster spot was reserved for a position player. It's apparently too much to hope that major league managers will ever outgrow their counterproductive LaRussa-ism, so let's bring back the platoon player or whatever. I wish the powers-that-be in baseball realized just how boring this version of the game is, and how much it cripples strategic possibilities instead of expanding it.
tim (jersey city, nj): I seem to remember a spirited debate taking place a few years ago over whether Melky Cabrera was a better prospect than Nick Markakis, with more than a few people taking up Melky's case. Was there ever a legitimate reason for differing opinions? Yankees fans have been known to overvalue their players from time to time...
Steven Goldman: No, it was never legitimate. That was me looking at some early statistical similarities when they first came up, but their paths quickly diverged. It was my way of rooting for Melky to be more than what he was in a kind of tongue in cheek way.
Paul (DC): Rookie Atlanta CF-er Jordan Schafer has 23 walks and 43 Ks in 108 ABs, while hitting .217BA/.357OBP/.340SLG. He needs more A) time against MLB pitching; or, B) seasoning in AAA in order to straighten out his swing?
Steven Goldman: The thing I wonder about is his playing with an injured wrist. If that's holding him back, above and beyond any adjustment problems he might be having, it's not in anyone's interest to let him continue.
Tony (Brooklyn, NY): Is your "Hulk at Bay" write-up for Jason Bay a few annuals ago the one you're most proud of?
Steven Goldman: How did you know that was me? Okay, it was me. Sometimes you just have to share the little demonic ideas that get wedged into your head or you'll burst. "The Hulk at Bay" is also something I just find hilarious. He's at the edge of a body of water! Get it? Get it? Huh? Huh?
...Why isn't anyone else laughing?
Jake (Chicago): All talk of MLB crippling strategic possibilities should begin with the DH...I could maage in the AL.
Steven Goldman: I don't agree with that. Strategy with the pitcher hitting is pretty rote and kind of boring... Lots of PAs wasted on sac bunts and easy strikeouts, not to mention that the short benches we were just discussing make the whole idea of pinch-hitting dicey. Finally, you could manage in the NL too, Jake -- the double-switch ain't brain surgery.
jromero (Seattle): It's totally unfair, but the impression that many fans now have is that any player with a late-career power surge may be on the juice. Johnny Damon, are you next?
Steven Goldman: I'm sure someone has asked the question, and it's unfair to Damon but, unfortunately, not unfair to the class of ballplayers as a whole. What we need to get over is the idea that it matters all that much. Damon, btw, has largely been a Yankee Stadium II (or III, depending on how you want to count things) effect, his home runs at Camden Yards this weekend notwithstanding. It's still very good and a lot of fun to watch. He's playing for a contract and could possibly extend his career long enough to make the Hall of Fame. He'll need 3,000 hits, but he just might get there.
ashitaka (long beach, ca): Interesting you mention Manny Ramirez and the Beatles in the same sentence. Does the performance enhancement of other entertainers color your view of PED use in sports?
Steven Goldman: That's a really, really difficult question, if I even understand it. Does that mean, do I think less of John Lennon because songs like "I Am the Walrus," "She Said, She Said," and "Across the Universe" were written under the influence of LSD? I'm always disappointed when my heroes are not as perfect as I want them to be (as perfect as I am! Ha!), and since I strongly disapprove of drug use, I always hate to learn that a favorite artist is a user. Still, the art is the art is the art and we should evaluate it based on what it is, I guess, and not where it came from. I guess it's a little different in sports because we want our athletes to be on a level playing field, however mythical the concept, whereas there's no level playing field in creativity... I feel like I could toy with this forever and still be as incoherent as I have been to this point, so I'm going to just move on.
Mark (Milwaukee): For the record, I enjoy Wholesome Reading as well...
I think the wife swaping story of Mike Kekich and Fritz Peterson has to be the single biggest "holy crap, that really happened" story that no one knows about. Agree? How many Americans out of 100 have even heard about it? Maybe 5 would be my guess. Can you imagine the hysteria if that happened now? It was (slightly) before my time but do you have any insight about the reaction then?
Steven Goldman: Thank you on WR, Mark. You guys always inspire me. I don't think anyone handled Kekich and Peterson was handled particularly well, the Yankees reaction being to get rid of Kekich. What I'm not clear on is why they felt obligated to tell the public. Seems to me the same thing could have happened and no one needed to have talked about it. There have been similarly complicated stories in baseball (the breakup of Dennis Eckersley's marriage, for example) that didn't become public scandals... I've always thought that the Peterson/Kekich story might make for an interesting film.
BL (Bozeman): Who would you say is the best manager never to win a pennant?
Steven Goldman: I suppose a lot of people would say Gene Mauch, but I feel like he was overrated. Somehow all his near misses were never his fault... I haven't made a study of Jimmy Dykes' managerial career, but he managed 20 seasons without coming particularly close. It would be interesting to see what he brought to the job that kept going, other than inertia on the part of the Chicago White Sox organization.
Eric (Manorville): Is Phil Hughes staying or going?
Steven Goldman: Bunch of questions about Phil Hughes, though it's possible they're all from the same fellow under multiple aliases. Mom, is that you? Actually, I doubt my mom thinks about Phil Hughes much. She might think about Mickey Mantle sometimes... I think he should stay, and the Yankees will get their reward for putting up with the inconsistency -- ultimately, he'll break through. Now that's what I think, not necessarily what they'll do when/as/if Wang looks ready and Hughes hasn't made a stronger impression, and maybe you can't argue about it if they're still competitive at that point. If they're just string along as they are currently, maybe it's a different matter.
...I should have mentioned Paul Richards before in that manager question. Before my time, but he seemingly had a lot on the ball. In a minor key way, I've also wondered why Jim LeFebrve didn't get more respect given what he accomplished with the M's and the Cubs.
...And why isn't Whitey Herzog in the HOF?
Wayt A. Minit (AL_NL_comp): Sure, navigating the double switch is rote tactics now, but NL mgrs do face a tougher decision than AL mgrs on a regular basis.
Namely, should you pinch hit for a pitcher late in a tie game when he's tossing a gem?
This type of call heightens the role of the skipper in the NL, whereas his AL counterpart will never have to make this call, interleague and WS excepted.
Steven Goldman: And how often does that really come up in an era of heavy bullpen use? I'd bet it's far fewer times than you'd imagine. The manager is going to the LOOGY next inning. The fact that the pitcher is due up third in this inning is an enabler that gives him the cover to do it.
Frank (Waterbury): How can a team that has both Tomko and Berroa on its 25-man roster be serious about winning?
Steven Goldman: They think they're serious. The Yankees just have a dearth of resources in certain areas. I sort of understand the Tomko thing as an attempt to catch lightning in a bottle ("The scouting reports say he's developed a new pitch, the 'dipsy-doodle chicken-ball' and he's a whole new guy!") that can be tried and quickly dispensed with. Berroa I don't get. Not that Shelley Duncan is Babe Ruth, but he's hitting like him at the moment, and you'd think that his odd home run off the bench (or Juan Miranda's, as mediocre as I think he is) would be more valuable than anything Berroa might do, especially when the team could PH for the catcher in the eighth inning of every game as long as Posada is out.
Jon (SF): Have you seen Leonard Cohen on his tour? Amazing.
Steven Goldman: You know, I'm not a totally committed Cohen fan. I like what I've heard, but I guess I'm more familiar with a lot of songs through covers... I think about his songs for "McCabe and Mrs. Miller" a lot for some reason. I'm sure I'll become a big fan just in time for me to regret not catching him when I could. That always seems to happen.
Peeig13 (The Second City): Can you point us to a place where we can read about the Eck's failed marriage? How about the Tommy Herr/Pedro Guerrero situation? Or Ryne Sandberg's messy 1st marriage?
Steven Goldman: I mentioned the Eck situation here back in 2007: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=6832.
brian (Brooklyn NY): Would you consider the Johnny Damon signing a "good signing" for the Yankees? At the time of the deal everyone thought 4 years was too long but he has had a pretty good run with the Yankees...
Steven Goldman: I guess overall you can't argue with it. They've gotten .288/.363/.459 in 462 games to date and Damon has been durable but for that one DL stay last year. The real problem with it is that they signed Damon after passing on Carlos Beltran the year before, one of the more inexplicable non-moves in team history.
Now, even if Damon slugs .610 for the rest of the season, I don't think there's a good argument for re-signing him to anything more than a one-year deal, in the same way that they held the line on Bobby Abreu. And if he doesn't slug .610 the rest of the year, we'd have to revisit the one-year part. What you don't want to wind up with is Damon '07 in a corner.
LindInMoskva (DC): Won't Paul Richards always be remembered as the guy that tried to turn Goose Gossage into a starter?
Steven Goldman: I figured someone would bring that up. That came at the last moment of Richards' career, after 15 years spent in front offices instead of on the field. He was almost 70 years old and his thinking about the value of relievers had become antiquated. I don'[t think his whole career should be judged on the basis of that one bad decision -- which is not to say that he didn't have others -- but we have to take people on balance.
Isaac's Dad (North Carolina): Even assuming that the DH's detractors are right, insofar as the NL is a more "tactical" league, who really wants managers to play a larger role in the outcome of ballgames?
Steven Goldman: Good point, that. The in-game stuff really comes second to roster construction and writing lineups. Managers assign playing time. John McGraw is dead, and so is inside baseball.
Bill (New Mexico): So to follow up BL's question: having looked at alcohol as a PED, when are you going to give tobacco, particularly chewing tobacco, the same treatment?
Steven Goldman: Man, I wouldn't even know where to begin, though I have sometimes joked that cigarettes played an instrumental role in DiMaggio's 1941 hitting streak -- he would puff away in the dugout between ABs to calm his nerves.
Wayt A. Minit (AL_NL_comp): Ok so the question of when to pinch hit for a pitcher who's dealing may not be as common as once a week (or however frequent you think I think it is), but even if it's 5-10 times a year, that's enough to make or break somebody's season, no?
Steven Goldman: Potentially, but assuming a halfway competent manager, he should be able to make a reasonably informed decision most of the time. I don't think there's a magical skill at work there, just input and a whole lotta luck. If you have a good bullpen, maybe you pull the trigger, if you don't, you gamble. If the pitcher says he can keep going, you lean one way. If the catcher says he's gassed, you lean another. And in every case, the outcome happens and we can second-guess, but we'll never know whether the alternative would have played out differently. There is no wrong answer, you know, only an outcome that is more/less optimal.
It's an unfair @$#$#$ universe.
mattymatty (Philly): Have we seen the last of Big Papi?
Steven Goldman: Got a few of these Papi questions in the queue here. When we talk about players with "old player skills" that means we don't foresee a long career, not that they'll be snapped off like an AM radio. The results have been a bit better in the last week or so, but of course until you see some home runs you're not going to exhale. My question is the same as everyone else's -- what's the state of that wrist, really?
brian (Brooklyn NY): "Someone give him some milk to calm him down from all of those Red Bulls" - Keith Hernandez last night referring to Jeff Francour
Steven Goldman: When I wrote about Paul Waner in today's YCLIU, I was writing about a guy whose physical tools might not have been the greatest, but his approach to hitting was very, very smart. Francoeur is the mirror image, a guy with all the tools but none of the brain cells.
...There are things Waner did that I've never seen done. Knowing a certain pitcher liked to pitch him inside, he would crowd the plate on the first pitch, and that pitch would be called a strike. Then he'd back off a bit, the pitcher would come inside again, but now that pitch was a ball, and the pitcher wouldn't even know why.
Eric (Manorville): Steve, I've read some of the stuff you've written on PED's and you seem to be of the school that there is no hard evidence the PED's actually help you hit or throw a baseball better, am I correct?
Steven Goldman: You are correct.
rich (nj): Because his untimely demise tends to obliterate any objectivity on the part of most Yankee fans, what is your assessment of Thurman Munson's career. Over-rated? Under-rated? To what present-day player would you compare the former captain/catcher?
Steven Goldman: He was obviously a very good player, and his numbers are clipped a bit--not because of his untimely demise, but because of the era in which he played. His home run numbers were also held down by Yankee Stadium, which hadn't had its left field liposuction done yet. He homered once every 60.5 ABs at home, once every 39.5 on the road. As long as he hit .300 he wasn't overrated. His defense was also very good... up to a point, and that point was roughly when he died. Munson played a lot because the Yankees could never conjure up a decent backup, and he was wearing down physically. When the .300 averages went away and the defense slipped, you were left with a singles hitter who didn't walk. Barring an unlikely rejuvenation, had Munson lived he probably would have finished with a .282 average, 2000 hits, and a slugging percentage under .400, and his HOF case would have faded with time. There wouldn't have been anymore pennants coming to help his case, either.
Mike (St. Petersburg): I don't understand how you can say PED's don't help. I am not saying that they will turn a quad-A player into an all-star or even that they help most players, but there are definitely some cases where PED's made a huge difference. e.g. Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Brady Anderson
Steven Goldman: What percentage of what they did do you want to assign to PEDs? The blanket argument doesn't help.
Tim (Tampa, FL): Are you in the camp of "Make Joba a reliever" or "Keep him as a starter"? It seems that right now, he's just not making it through five innings with out a lot of unnecessary difficulty.
Steven Goldman: Then again, he's leading Yankees starters in ERA. There is some difficulty right now, but until he shows he can't worth through it, he's a starter. Besides, with Hughes in the majors, Wang wounded, and Ian Kennedy having an aneurysm cut out of his armpit, who should take over for Joba? Red Ruffing?
Sometimes, just to tease me, when I say to my wife, "Matt Scherzer had a good start tonight" or Rick Porcello, or Chad Billingsley, she'll say, "But he'd be more valuable in the bullpen." I have a great wife. Only people who truly love you care enough to give you that kind of grief.
Mike (NJ): Austin Jackson, is he the type of player that we can count on to make an appearance this season?
Steven Goldman: He's played well enough that he should be on the short list as soon as there's another injury to an outfield. Actually, there is no short list. He IS the list. It would be nice if he hit a HR or two, but he hasn't done anything to hurt his cause that I can see.
bowie (cal): you want someone to calculate a "percentage" to represent the effect of steroids?
Steven -- don't be disingenuous.
Can you calculate a percentage effect that LSD had pop music in 1967?
Steven Goldman: I don't mean it literally, Bowie, that we should calculate a percentage for all the young dudes, but that you can't just account for everything they did by saying it was attributable to the drugs. They were power hitters before they ever started with the spinach. It's not Billy Batson saying "Shazam!"--if there is a mark-up, it's incremental. There is no evidence for the other perception. Even the cycling and track and field guys, who are doing something much simpler from a skills point of view, change their performances by fractions of a second -- they don't accelerate to light speed. So I want to know, once you account for a post-expansion period, possible changes to the ball, weather conditions, park effects, and specific batter-pitcher matchups, how much is left for us to credit to the drugs. If you're going to make the case that their best work was enabled by these things, you have to f-----g prove it, not just present an inference as a fact.
bigotis49 (Arlington, VA): No more pennants coming for Thurman? You're saying he couldn't have done what Cerone did in 1980 or 1981?
Steven Goldman: What Cerone did in 1981, maybe, but that's setting a low bar. Given that Thurman hit .203/.335/.373 with nine home runs in 1978-1979 and was having increasing physical problems (the Yankees parked him in RF for 13 games in '78 to give his body a rest) I'm not so sure about 1980. But we'll never know.
shamah (NYC): Don't forget changing bat technologies. Bats are much lighter now, with whip-thin handles, and with much bigger sweet spots. The end result is batters swinging the bat harder and having more territory on the bat that could result in a hardhit ball. It's just too hard in this day and age to assume everyone's home run spike is attributable to PED's.
Except David Ortiz. That guy totally juiced.
Steven Goldman: One thing I didn't get to mention in today's Waner article is that he used a 38- or 40-ounce bat, and after his career when asked about the biggest changes in the game since his career (he lived until 1965) he talked about the changes in bat weight, and how he regretted dragging that giant war club around when he might have been whipping the bat through the strike zone... Like I said, there are a lot of factors to account for as well as PEDs.
B. Dole (New Jersey): I tuned into a baseball game on ESPN a couple of weeks ago and instantaneously heard a commentator say "...can't win by just waiting around for three run homeruns..." and so I turned off the television with a sigh of frustration.
This week I tried watching another baseball game on ESPN, and I swear within 5 minutes I heard a commentator say "You can't win by waiting around for three-run homeruns." So I turned off the TV again.
Steve, why do so many people hate 3-run homeruns?
Also, why do they ignore 2-run homeruns or grandslams with this sort of lazy thinking? Why do they only villify 3-run homeruns???
Just for the record, I think 3-run homeruns are pretty awesome.
Steven Goldman: Because the press has never accepted what I said before: John McGraw is dead. The utility of "inside baseball" has been limited since 1920, but the idea of baseball as a chess match rather than a power game has died hard. Actually, we shouldn't generalize. It really depends on the team and the specific game and the situation and a million other factors. Also, who the f really "sits around" waiting for three-run home runs? Not even Cito Gaston, I would think. It's just a useless cliche, a time-filler meant to make the commentator sound smarter than he is. Do what I do, and watch with the sound off.
Mike K (Athens, GA): "If you're going to make the case that their best work was enabled by these things, you have to f-----g prove it, not just present an inference as a fact." Thank you. I keep getting sucked into this argument with friends. This boils it down to one sentence quite nicely.
Steven Goldman: It always sounds naive when you say, "prove it," because the cause and effect seems so damned obvious, but the fact is, we're talking about people's reputations and our understanding of the record books and the results of the last several years. We should get it right, and I'm sorry if that takes a little diligence. I'm not dismissive of there being a possible effect, but I want to know what it is to a reasonable degree of certainty.
rawagman (Toronto): SG - recently read your Stengel book, and loved it! I was expecting to be re-reading Yankees lore, but was pleasantly surprised to get the story behind (or before) the story. Well played, sir. In other news, can I get BP's permission to be truly excited about the Blue Jays yet? How about if they win tonight? I'd go, but I have tickets to see the Tragically Hip - it's a Canadian thing... Thanks for keeping history happening
Steven Goldman: Thank you so much, rawagman. Here's the thing on the Jays. They've played 20 games against the AL C and just three against the East prior to tonight. By the time we get into mid-July, just after the All-Star break, they'll have played quite a few games against the Rays, Yankees, and Red Sox and I'll feel a lot more comfortable evaluating them... Canadian thing I wish you were going to see: Moxy Fruvous. I got into them just as they disappeared forever.
ccweinmann (seattle): "If you're going to make the case that their best work was enabled by these things, you have to f-----g prove it, not just present an inference as a fact."
I'm not a guy who is really bothered by steroids. I'm glad MLB is trying to root them out, but I don't really hold it against the guys who took them. I might have, too, in their shoes. But it's the strange requirement for "proof" that bugs me. You can convict someone of murder with circumstantial evidence in this country. How much more circumstantial evidence do you need than that a man will put a needle into his butt repeatedly, watch his testicles shrink before his eyes so that he has to stick more needles into his butt full of testosterone to fix his shrunken balls, all in order to gain the benefit of PEDs? Do think it's a placebo effect?
Steven Goldman: I'm glad they're rooting it out, too, because the game should be as clean as it can be, but that's different from accepting the Stan Lee science perception of these drugs. The "proof" is not about denying that a "crime" happened, but about understanding what the crime was. As for the players' willingness to put this stuff in their bodies, I don't think it's proof of anything. There are people on this planet snorting dried tiger penis for its fertility value. People will take anything if they perceive value in it.
drmboat (Fremont, CA): Or...we could go through the record books, and any spike in performance year-over-year of say 30% gets an asterisk next to it. That's much easier than figuring out the effect of steroids, and it levels the playing field across history.
" *-unexplained statistical variation"
Steven Goldman: And as Nate showed in our Baseball Between the Numbers, unexplained statistical variation is actually the rule, not the exception.
brian (Brooklyn NY): You have now mentioned "inside baseball" 2 or 3 tiems this chat. What exactly is that?
Steven Goldman: That's what they used to call the Deadball Era game, the game of the well-timed bunt, the hit and run, the steal. Paul Dickson has a wonderful quote about it in his Baseball Dictionary, written by a John B. Foster in 1908: "A much abused expression to denote clear team work much of which is the result of a vivid imagination."
Lincoln (Dallas): One of the things about the whole steroid issue that bugs me is that baseball is a game of skill, not just shear athletic ability. It isn't the biggest/strongest guy who pitches the best or hits the best, it's about timing and technique and hand/eye coordination and flexibility. You don't see major league scouts out at bodybuilding competitions.
Steven Goldman: As Will Carroll said to me recently, if it was just about strength, Hulk Hogan would be in the majors.
P Bu (St. Louis): "There are people on this planet snorting dried tiger penis for its fertility value."
Some of us just do it for the taste.
Steven Goldman: A moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips.
Ken_P (NY): I sincerely hope you got to see Moxy Fruvous live before they stopped - it was the most fun one could have at a performance.
On unexplained statistical variation, whenever I get into this argument I ask what Roger Maris was taking in '61. Those who don't stop talking to me altogether can never come up with an acceptable response.
Steven Goldman: I didn't! I have their live album and some bootleg bits I've picked up here and there, but they stopped performing roughly two minutes before I first heard of them... With Roger, I think there was a lot of nervous smoking, just like with DiMaggio. Heck, if you want, you can account for the record-breaking aspect of the season by dinging him the two home runs he hit at LA's Little Wrigley Field, not really a major league park. You do that, he's down to 59 HRs and no one is bitching about asterisks and other obscure punctuation marks.
King of Spain (Pizza Pizza): Yankees trade for a catcher? They don't just need a backup now, you figure they'll need one for, oh 130 games in 2 years or so.
This is, in my opinion, the biggest non-Jeter related question over the next few years.
Steven Goldman: Love that song... It was an issue last year and the year before and the year before that. Forever, basically. The Yankees got away with a lot because Posada was super-durable for a catcher, and they made the mistake of pretending that he would go on like that forever. They could use a viable backup NOW, because even when Posada comes off the DL, he could get hurt again, and then it's right back to Cervelli, Molina, and (choke) Kevin Cash. As nice a defender as Molina is, the Yankees even knew that they'd have to give him 200 at-bats this year at minimum because Jorge wasn't going to play 145 games, and yet they did nothing. There are some smart people at work in the Yankees front office, but I feel like they were caught sleeping this offseason when it came to this very obvious piece of insurance.
tommybones (Brooklyn): I wish we could stop having steroid debates on BP, 'cause it's so disheartening when my favorite baseball site constantly takes the steroid-apologist route. I feel like I'm hearing "we don't torture.... " Same lunacy.
Steven Goldman: It's NOT an apology. No, no, no, no, no. I condemn the attempt to cheat. I question the impact of the cheating. That's not excusing what happened, it's doing what we always do here at BP: work on facts rather than impressions. You see the difference?
bowie (cal): ok we're not that far apart. you're saying you want 'hard' evidence. I'm saying the circumstantial evidence is fairly persuasive, if imprecise.
Steven Goldman: I don't know that we'll be able to put an exact number on the effects, but I do think that people have to understand that the use of this junk in baseball is more nuanced than in cycling or track and field.
"Pin Ups," "These Foolish Things," or "Moondog Matinee?"
Chris (NY): "King of Spain (Pizza Pizza): you figure they'll need one for, oh 130 games in 2 years or so."
Romine and Montero??
Steven Goldman: Good point that, although we don't know if Montero will still be a catcher at that point. As I said initially, it's more a problem for right now than two years from now. Or it's both.
David (NJ): Steven - are you saying there is NO effect of PED's or that we don't know HOW MUCH the effect of PEDs is?
Steven Goldman: As I think I've said a few times here now, it's the latter, and I'll add in that there isn't reason to think that the effect is other than small, even when we're talking about McGwire and Bonds.
TGisriel (Baltimore): Have the various games this year between the Yankees and the Orioles given you any impression of the Orioles this year?
Steven Goldman: They're a bit more entertaining than they have been for the last few years, because they now have like four-fifths of an interesting batting order. The pitching staff remains a concept. Things are coming together so slowly, that I feel like Nick Markakis and Adam Jones will be free agent eligible before the O's manage to put a team around them... That's the one great thing about free agency - no player is condemned to be Wally Berger now, or Ralph Kiner, or Bob Johnson. If your team is unserious or incompetent, you can bail.
mattb (Tacoma): Moondog Matinee - both because you learn something about stuff you might not have ever heard (Frogman Henry!), and because you can feel how much they care.
Forget the 'roids stuff for a bit. If Griffey continues to hit like Jose Vidro, what do they do with him. Has any other team ever dealt with a similar situation of nostalgia v poor performance?
Steven Goldman: A ton of them, be it the Astros with Craig Biggio a couple of years ago, or the Brewers taking on Hank Aaron... For the M's, I suspect part of the calculus was giving the fans someone to root for while they rebuild. It's a one-year deal, so they won't dump out of it, but they can start restricting his playing time a lot more than they have.
tommybones (brooklyn): "... there isn't reason to think that the effect is other than small, even when we're talking about McGwire and Bonds."
Please explain this. It makes no sense to me at all.
Steven Goldman: Because (1) there is no evidence that PEDs inflate performance THAT much, as I said earlier, and (2) because a 10 percent mark-up on 70 home runs means that the "natural" figure was 63, and a 10 percent mark-up on 65 home runs is 58 home runs, and the external conditions were right for those kinds of totals even without the drugs.
Mike (Jax, FL): Markakis and Jones are both under team control until 2014. Surely they'll get it together by then, right?
Steven Goldman: The Jets haven't won a Superbowl since 1969... I mean, I don't know. Why does a team with its fair share of resources go into a 13-year eclipse? It shouldn't happen to begin with.
Howard (Freeport, ME): Is there a player in MLB that needs a trade more than Brandon Wood?
Steven Goldman: He has to be way up there. Clearly the Angels don't think much of him -- and they may not be wrong, because it's still not certain that Wood can post a .300 OBP in the majors. He certainly has earned the right to try.
frank (vegas): does Cashman take back the Nady trade in an eye-blink? And are there any other mid-staff pitchers the yanks can give away at this year's deadline?
Steven Goldman: It wasn't the world's greatest trade, but I doubt he loses any sleep over it at all. Calling Karstens and Ohlendorf "mid-staff" is a bit generous, and Jose Tabata had backed them up against the wall (and is presently hitting .250/.324/.297 while on the Double-A DL). That leaves McCutchen at Triple-A. Looks like he'll be decent, but we don't know that for sure.
biff (pecoroba?): No ARod/Selena Roberts questions, or are you ignoring them?
Steven Goldman: Not a one, thank goodness. I have always thought Roberts was a hack, and that was long before this book. The lowliest, most pathetic member of BP (which very well might be me), is more articulate about baseball while sleeping than she is in print.
G-MOTA (West Bumpus): Hi Mr. Goldman! Conspiracy theory: We know that A-Rod, after opting out, had meetings with a bunch of Goldman Sachs people (via Warren Buffet). At the time it was speculated that they wanted A-Rod on the Yankees because of financial ties to YES. But perhaps they were planning the A-Rod steroid disclosure in advance, timed to distract people from the bailout-cum-coup?
Steven Goldman: You know, it sounds like a parody, but what about the banking industry didn't long ago descend to the level of parody?
tommybones (brooklyn): Your answer is EXACTLY why I called you a steroid-apologist. What facts are you using? None. Instead we see you pull numbers out of thin air and use them to give the benefit of the doubt to Bonds and McGwire. You begin by stating "there's no evidence that PED's inflate performance THAT much," which then apparently gives you the freedom to ASSUME Bonds would have probably broken the all time single season record "naturally." Are you kidding?
Steven Goldman: I'm using the far more well-established impact of PEDs in sports other than baseball as the basis for that judgment. A track star takes a pile of drugs and runs his race in 40:39 instead of 40:37. that's the impact of the drugs in those sports. Yet, we're supposed to believe that the same substances granted Barry Bonds 35 home runs, or whatever number you want to assign? That seems like a real stretch. I am trying to find a reasonable point of impact. Sure, it's speculative, but it's based on history. As for assuming that the home run record was vulnerable, a great many things in baseball changed in the immediate post-strike period, many of which I listed before. They all played a part. Just to name one, there has been some very persuasive arguments made on behalf of an altered ball in that period, since baseball's error bars on ball standards are so wide as to be pointless. All of these things play a part, and they have to be accounted for. So you have guys with 45 home run ability to begin with, who pick up the benefit of a half-dozen key environmental changes, and then you give them this little nudge with drugs and they break a record. Like I said, if the Angels had played 1961 at a park other than Little Wrigley, the used for the Home Run Derby show on TV, Roger Maris probably hits 59 home runs, not 61. You're looking for your smoking gun to be a big comedy cannon instead of a little tiny derringer.
BL (Bozeman): I know you weren't talking about the Bob Johnson that the Royals got from the Mets with Amos Otis then magically turned into Freddie Patek a year later, but it sure is fun for a Royals fan to think about that trade.
Steven Goldman: Yup, I meant Indian Bob Johnson, who mostly played for the Philly A's at a time when that was a one-way ticket to not getting a postseason share. Had he been a Yankee or a Dodger he'd have a retired number and maybe a spot in Cooperstown.
Aaron (YYZ): RE: Brandon Wood, haven't we gone down this line of discussion that outstanding performances at AA/AAA really do mean something whether you "prove" it in 50 sporadic at bats in the Majors or not?
Steven Goldman: Of course they do. The translations ding him for environment and a high strikeout rate and that seems fair.
Steven Goldman: Friends, as always it has been a very pleasant 3.5 hours. They just sped by, and I regret leaving so many questions unanswered. In truth, we could spend a week talking about steroids... Or Indian Bob Johnson. I hope we can rejoin this discussion next time I get the podium here in the BP chat room. Until then, thank you for your many thoughtful questions and comments. As I always say, it's my privilege to learn from you. Thank you very much for choosing to spend part of your day with Baseball Prospectus and myself.