Albert Pujols – Then and Now

The Albert Pujols – Jack Clark story continues to get bigger here in St. Louis and the sporting world. One thing I see from a lot of people making comments is the difference in Albert’s body and head since he was younger. I found a picture of him when he was playing baseball as a younger man and a recent picture taken from about the same angle at the same distance.

What do you think?
2/21/13: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim player headshot Young Albert

Jack Clark Accuses Albert Pujols of Steroid Use

Clark PujolsI’m from St. Louis, Missouri and a huge sports fan. Yes, that means I barrack (Australian for root) for the Cardinals. There is a moderately big story in Cardinal-land today.

Jack Clark recently mentioned on his radio show that Albert Pujols used steroids. Clark claims he knows this because Pujols trainer told him so thirteen years ago. The trainer denies this conversation took place.

Clark is a former player who came to the Cardinals late in his career and helped the team to two World Series appearances in 1985 and 1987. He retired in 1992. Pujols was the star player for the Cardinals from 2001 to 2011 after which he signed a large contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

I’ve mentioned my belief that most players are using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) in a number of blogs. I would not be at all surprised to find that Pujols was among those doing so.

That being said, Clark’s story raises a number of red flags in my mind. Clark claims Pujols’ trainer, Chris Mihlfeld, and he worked together in 2000 and that Mihlfeld asked Clark if he wanted to use steroids. According to Clark, Mihlfeld at that time told him that Pujols was using them.

My first red-flag is that Clark had been retired for eight years and was forty-four years old at that time. It’s certainly possible Mihlfeld was just looking for a new customer but it seems odd to ask a player retired that long if they wanted to use steroids. Pujols was a minor league player that year.

My second red-flag is that Clark waited for thirteen years to reveal this information. He says, “I really never thought too much about it because steroids were really not on my radar screen at that time.” Possibly true, but five years later in 2005 Jose Canseco wrote his tell-all book, Juiced. Pretty much from that moment forward PEDs have been on everyone’s radar. For the last eight years Clark has been keeping this conversation secret. That just seems very odd to me. Particular so because in 2010 Clark had strong words for Mark McGwire, Alex Rodriguez, Rafael Palmiero, Roger Clemons, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa. Not a word about Pujols, the reigning MVP in the National League.

My third red-flag is that Clark recently became host of his own radio talk show and when it comes to radio talk shows; outrageous statements that get you noticed are almost a requirement for success.

My fourth red-flag is that Clark also accused pitcher Jason Verlander of PED use based on the “evidence” that Verlander lost velocity on his fastball after signing a big contract.

On the other side, Mihlfeld did work with a pitcher named Jason Grimley who admitted to steroid use. Mihlfeld was thought to be part of that case and but this proved to be false.

As to Clark’s character there isn’t a lot good to say. He said some awful things about Tony Gwynn in 1990. He likewise said terrible things about San Diego Padre manager Greg Riddoch.

I’m certainly not saying Pujols didn’t use steroids, I’m just saying Clark is not a trustworthy source of information. As much as I think most of the players are using PEDs; I don’t think it’s right to call them guilty without evidence. To let hearsay destroy a career.

To my mind, there is no way Clark could have gone thirteen years without mentioning this to people. PEDs have been big news for a long time. I’d like to see if anyone comes forward confirm that Clark has told this story before. If not, I think it’s pretty scummy of Clark to make such an accusation to promote his radio show.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water
Upcoming Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Ryan Braun's So-Called Mistake

Ryan BraunThe big news in sports this morning is Ryan Braun’s suspension for PED use. The reason it is such big news is that Braun tested positive for PED use over a year ago and defended himself with strong words. I want to examine two things: the so-called rage of fans and the idea that he made a mistake.

First a quick look at why everyone is so upset by this particular suspension. Braun was exonerated in another case thanks to the fact that the sample was not mailed immediately to Major League Baseball because it was collected on a Sunday. This was a technical violation of the rules for storing samples. It was never disputed that the sample showed PED use.

There is a lot of hate for Braun this morning because previously he lied and blamed other people for his predicament; even now he tells us how difficult the situation has been for he and his family. It is quite similar to the Lance Armstrong story. It’s a combination of PED use and lies told with absolute conviction.

First to my complaint with Braun has nothing to do with his PED use or even the lies he told. This was his statement late yesterday after the suspension was announced:

As I have acknowledged in the past, I am not perfect. I realize now that I have made some mistakes. I am willing to accept the consequences of those actions.

I’m tired of people claiming they made mistakes only after they are caught. They calculated the various advantages of action A and action B and willfully chose one or the other. This is not a mistake. This so-called mistake has served him very well. He signed a contract extension worth $105 million over the next five years. If he hadn’t taken PEDs and allowed players of lesser talent to have better statistics than him he would not make nearly this amount.

He won the Most Valuable Player award in 2011 and the Rookie of the Year award in 2007. He won these in part thanks to PEDs. His choice to use PEDs was anything but a mistake. That choice gained him adulation and riches.

This is the choice almost all athletes in the sporting world today face. One of the most decorated young players in the NFL, Von Miller of the Denver Broncos, faces a four-day suspension for his first PED violation, which means his third positive test.

If the modern athlete does not take PEDs they fall behind players who do use them. Players without as much talent. The masking agents make it extremely difficult to be caught using PEDs. The doctors and masking agents are far ahead of the detection techniques. Braun was caught not by a failed test but by notes taken at the laboratory where he received his treatments. Many baseball players are facing suspension from these notes made at a company called Biogenesis.

The fans of Braun, Armstrong, Miller and others are actually thrilled by the so-called mistake these players make. They love the performance. Well, that performance is brought to you by PEDs. If you’re mad at Ryan Braun, if you somehow pretend that Braun’s lies fooled you, frankly, you’re stupid. He was clearly guilty the first time and you wanted to believe his lies.

If you choose to believe obvious lies then I have as much time for your so-called outrage as I do for Braun’s so-called mistake.

If Adam Wainwright and Yadier Molina test positive for PEDs next week I won’t be surprised. I won’t be outraged. It’s the culture that we the fans have helped create.

Ryan Braun can claim that his choice to use PEDs was a mistake but I, for one, know better. Fans can scream, shout, and pretend outrage but they are doing the same thing Braun did. They were caught in a lie and are now feigning outrage to cover their culpability.

They knew Braun was guilty and willfully chose to believe him despite all evidence to the contrary.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 buy it today!)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

The Case for Ken Griffey Jr

Ken Griffey Jr.A recent spat of stories about the daughter of former major league baseball player Ken Griffey Jr. reminded me of what a player he was. More importantly, what a player he was compared to his peers. Most importantly, what a player he was without using Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs).

In an era when PEDs were becoming prominent Griffey didn’t use them. The reason I come to this conclusion is that as the years went on his performance declined and his injuries increased. That’s the opposite pattern of players who in advancing years see increases in their performance and recover more quickly from injuries. That pattern of improvement in later years is by far, in my opinion, the strongest indicator of PED use.

Griffey was truly great and had he not suffered a series of injuries or had he chosen to take PEDs he would probably be considered one of the best baseball players of all time along with Babe Ruth and Willie Mays. He was much like Mays with power (630 home runs), speed, and defensive greatness (10 gold gloves). In his first eleven seasons he produced 1,752 hits, 398 home runs, 1,152 RBI, and 167 stolen bases.

The important point for me is that Griffey played in an era when PEDs were being used and, I think, he chose not to use them. When Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, great players both, decided to become even greater they needed to use PEDs, Griffey Jr. chose to play without them.

When many of his peers were using steroids and other PEDs he gritted his teeth, went out there, and played with whatever his body had left. I think it’s difficult for everyday fans to understand the pressure a professional athlete faces in regards to performance. Imagine if tens of thousands of people watched you do your job every day. Imagine if younger, healthier workers came to your office every spring with the stated intention of taking your job, your livelihood. For a star, for a superstar, for a player just trying to make the team, the temptation to do anything to win, is strong. Especially if you know your main competitors are doing it.

I’m convinced that Barry Bonds turned to human growth hormone (HGH) only when he saw lesser peers exceeding his achievements. Can you imagine watching someone cheat away and get praised for it? Cheat away and make more money than you? Cheat away and maybe take your job?

Head on over to the Baseball Almanac and take a few turns around the hitting categories. See how Griffey Jr. compares to the all time greats and then start removing the PED abusers from the list.

I was lucky enough to be in the park the day he hit homer 500 on Father’s day with his dad there. Here’s to you Junior! From a National League St. Louis Cardinals fan. Thank you for the great memories.

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water ($2.99 for 300 pages of rip-roaring sword and sorcery excitement)
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Lance Armstrong – Hero or Villain?

Lance ArmstrongI’ve spoken about Performance Enhancing Drugs in a number of other posts but with Lance Armstrong apparently admitting to his own use of PEDs in an upcoming (or already passed depending on when you read this) interview, I thought I’d revisit the subject. The main focus of the post will be an assessment of his character, hero or villain.

I maintain now, and have said for years, that virtually all athletes are using or have used PEDs. The testing is, and has been, far behind the sophisticated masking techniques available to athletes in an industry that generates billions of dollars for players, coaches, owners, vendors, and countless others. The cheating likely extends down to grade-school level where students want to gain an unfair competitive advantage over their peers.

But, if everyone is cheating then does anyone have an unfair advantage? My answer is no, they don’t. I’m not going to take on the debate if all PEDs should be made legal or not. Today I want to talk about how divisive a figure Lance Armstrong has become. I’ve been listening to sports radio talk-shows in the morning and reading articles when I come home. There seem to be two vehemently opposed camps.

Armstrong is a cheater, a lair, and a scum-bag. A villain.

Armstrong raised huge amounts of money, gave hope to countless thousands, and his transgressions were minor compared to the good he has done. A hero.

My own opinion is quite simple and, for the life of me, I can’t figure out why anyone else is having trouble coming to the same conclusion.

  • Armstrong survived cancer and continued to play professional sports at the highest level.
  • Armstrong, like everyone else, used PEDs to gain an advantage.
  • Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times.
  • When people accused Armstrong of cheating he lied, he bullied, he attempted to ruin people’s reputation, and he sued for millions of dollars despite the fact that he knew he was using PEDs all along.
  • Armstrong’s foundation raised millions of dollars and helped countless thousands of people.

That’s it. Armstrong did some horrible, reprehensible things for which he should be rightly condemned. Armstrong did some astonishing, wonderful things for which he should be praised.

I think the problem is that those who put their faith in him are either horribly angry at this betrayal or in absolute denial because they don’t want to think they supported someone who could do the bad things that he has done. This is called Cognitive Dissonance and something everyone should know more about.

However, this isn’t a psychology class. Armstrong is a man who did very great things and very awful things. There is no more than that. Those who would absolve him of the evil he’s done because it was for the greater good are delusional. Those who would discount the good he’s done because of the miserable actions he took are just as deluded.

Can’t we look at facts and simply state the truth? He did awful things. He did good things. There is no balancing of one against the other. Both happened. If you choose to forgive him for the awful that’s fine, but don’t pretend it didn’t happen. That he didn’t set out to ruin the lives of those who, rightly, accused him. If you choose to hate him then don’t forget the amazing good he has done for those suffering from the awful scourge of cancer.

That is all. Have a great day!

Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
Current Release: The Sword of Water
Next Release: The Spear of the Hunt

Critical Thinking Fail – Lance Armstrong Story

Critical ThinkingA fellow by the name of Arthur Caplan wrote an opinion piece about the Lance Armstrong doping and banning situation. The article has some merit but right at the start he uses a bizarre analogy that has a meaning exactly the opposite of what he is trying to say. Very strange and fodder for today’s Critical Thinking Fail post.

Basically Mr. Caplan uses  the analogy of a female swimmer named Shirley Babashoff to try to illustrate his point that Armstrong has been convicted in the court of popular opinion without evidence. I’m actually on Mr. Caplan’s side in that stripping Armstrong of his wins and claiming he is somehow worse than his fellow competitors is a sham. However, the analogy is insane.

Babashoff was a swimmer in the 1972 and 1976 games when East German women were winning all the medals largely through the systematic use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs). She accused them of such wrongdoing and was largely ignored only later to be proven correct.

In this case it is Armstrong being accused of using PEDs so the comparison to Babashoff, the accuser, is mind-boggling. Armstrong is the equivalent of the East German swimmers in this example and Babashoff compares to his accusers.

I’m all for a critical examination of Armstrong and the fact that he didn’t do anything his fellow competitors were not doing. I’m opposed to stripping him, or any competitor of trophies and records when it’s highly likely that their opponents were doing the same thing. It’s hypocritical nonsense to do so. But, Mr. Caplan’s use of an analogy that is actually the opposite of the point he is trying to make is, in my opinion, a Critical Thinking Fail.

What do you think (not about his main point, about the Critical Thinking)?

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Tom Liberman
Sword and Sorcery fantasy with a Libertarian Twist
New Release: The Hammer of Fire