Friday, February 8, 2008

Extended Network

I’m surprised to find myself plugging Slate for the second time in as many days, but: I somehow missed this back in December, but given Roger Clemens’ recent return to the headlines, it remains relevant. The good folks at Slate took information on who was using and distributing steroids in baseball, and arranged them into a social network. Pretty interesting.

They refer to arms of the network as “crews” (like this is The Sopranos or something), but they correlate pretty directly to clubhouses, with the Yankees, Orioles, Dodgers and Rockies locker rooms being the chief hotbeds in the network.

The Mitchell Report isn’t comprehensive by any stretch, but notice that many of the clubhouses that were infested with juice were for some of the worst teams in baseball. Also notice that a good number of the players involved were mediocre with or without the roids. This suggests to me a couple of things:

1. A good deal of the motivation for these guys wasn’t competitive edge, it was desperation. A close look at the report shows a lot of players struggling to make it to the majors, struggling to stay in the majors, or trying to recover from injury. Doesn’t make it right, but most of these guys weren’t Barry Bonds, using for money and ego.

2. The benefit of using performance enhancing substances is hit or miss. For Bonds, Giambi, McGwire and perhaps Clemens, the effect was pretty clear, but for a lot of the guys on this list they might as well have been injecting salt water for all the good it did them. Again, not an excuse, but something contrary to popular perception that’s worth mentioning.

I’ll save the moralizing and outrage for another time, except for this: I hear a lot of whining, especially from the Clemens people about how unfair it is for innocent players to be accused. I’m calling bullshit. The Mitchell and Balco investigations prove that the steroids culture was pervasive and players were well aware of what was going on. I don’t recall a single whistle blower when the problem as at its height. Players who kept the wall of silence aren’t as guilty as the guys who used, but I think that present suspicion is the price that they pay for looking the other way the whole time. In the specific case of Clemens, at the very least you have to think that he knew his besteest buddy Andy Petite was using and chose not to tell anyone about it. Even if Roger never put a needle in his body, his silence helped to earn the speculation that now surrounds him.

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