Thursday, January 9, 2014

Baseball HOF Writer Makes it About Himself

By Kevin Beane

Two things I'm pretty sure I've entirely avoided writing about, or at least have not devoted a whole column to, in my 13 years at Sports Central, are Hall of Fame worthiness and steroids.

I haven't written about any HOF issues because they are way down my list of interesting sports matters at any given time, except for Pete Rose. In Pete Rose's case, betting on the Reds while he was managing them creates an environment where he could make managerial decisions based not on any sort of in-game logic, but on how to maximize his betting returns, and I support his exclusion from the Hall. This is an unpopular opinion and this is not the hill I want to die on, so I haven't written about it.

Steroids are a bit more of a nebulous topic for me. We don't have a clear idea of who used, who didn't use, when they started, and when they stopped. Its use in sports is cheating, and should be punished. But somehow, it feels like less of a subversion of sports than, say, having your lead-off hitter steal second in the ninth inning while up 13-0 because you bet that he would have two steals in the game, or whatever.

So I don't know what to do about guys like Bonds or McGwire, but this column is not about them; it's about Greg Maddux, who is perhaps the greatest pitcher of our time. He was elected into the Hall of Fame this week, but there were writers who did not vote for him.

One of those writers was Dodgers beat writer and moral guardian Ken Gurnick, who has pointed out both in print and on the radio that he doesn't know who did and did not use steroids during the 90s era when their use would seem to be the most rampant, so he's not going to vote for any of 'em.

This rationale makes me want to stand against a wall and slowly beat my head against it. First of all, for someone so concerned about justice and integrity, Gurnick should realize that "guilty until proven innocent" has nothing to do with either justice or integrity. In straining to not implicitly endorse steroid use, Gurnick has instead employed a sort of ethos that is actually more of a travesty to fairness than steroid use.

Secondly, although it goes without saying that Maddux has not had any credible steroid accusations leveled against him, it also wouldn't even make sense for Maddux to use them. He wasn't Nolan Ryan or Randy Johnson out there, blowing everyone away. He was a cerebral corner-painter. Of the poorly-understood side effects of steroids, "becoming smarter and more patient" is not among any that I have read. Indeed, what has been better documented is the way steroids may make you more impetuous and short-tempered, and going into the batter's box against Maddux in an impatient and short-tempered state of mind is exactly the kind of mindset Maddux's repertoire exploited.

Finally, if Gurnick is so concerned about PED users not getting any sort of recognition to the point where he'd rather spurn non-PED users rather than open himself up to the chance of accidentally honoring a PED user, then he should quit his job. Seriously. Then he can devote time to writing a sequel to Profiles in Courage about himself.

Because PEDs are still a thing that are happening, and he knows that, and his columns occasionally praise players. These players can then tape his column to the inside of their locker door and say to themselves, "Wow, I better keep using PEDs, otherwise I'm not going to get this adoration, and the press touting me really helps during contract negotiation time!"

Gurnick said he was prepared for the criticism he knew he was going to get, and here we are. Indeed, while we are throwing accusations around, is it possible he wasn't just ready for it, but looked forward to it? Has any baseball fan outside of SoCal heard of Gurnick before this? He certainly hasn't shied away from interviews. Could it be that it's not so much that he was casting a vote against Greg Maddux, but casting a vote for Ken Gurnick?

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