|This man is clean. We think.
The Mariners were in Jason Whitlock's town last night, and he talked to Ken Griffey, Jr. about the Manny Ramirez business:
Voting for Griffey and sending him to Cooperstown with a Ronald Reaganlike voting mandate might be a way for baseball writers to voice their opinion about the steroids era. Wednesday I asked Griffey why he never got involved with steroids, why he never felt pressure to compete with the pumped-up lesser talents who stole some of his glory. He credited his father, Ken Griffey Sr. . . .
. . . Being a Barry Bonds apologist doesn't make me incapable of appreciating Griffey Jr.'s integrity and class. Griffey Jr. took the long, slow route to immortality. Many of his peers took shortcuts. It's the old story of the tortoise and the hare. Griffey is going to beat all of his peers to Cooperstown.
OK, I'll go there: how do we know that Griffey never used?
Before you start attacking me for daring to suggest such a thing, let me say that I personally don't suspect he did. Indeed, if you held a gun to my head and demanded that I voice my opinion on the matter one way or the other, I'd say he didn't. There certainly have never been any allegations -- let alone credible ones -- that he did.
But we've said that about others before too. Alex Rodriguez and even Manny Ramirez went years as putative poster children for clean baseball living, and see where that got us.
My point here, however, isn't to go after Griffey. Rather, it's to note the problem we now have and will continue to have for some time when it comes to assessing our era and its players. Many of these guys used. Many will never be caught. The problem is, posterity demands that we do something with this era. There will be Hall of Fame votes to consider. There will be histories written. Unless we plan to simply abandon baseball -- and if you're reading this you obviously still care about baseball to some degree -- some sort of context must be imposed on the past decade or two. In order to do that, we have some choices to make.
1. We can assume that only those named in the Mitchell Report, those who fail tests now, and wild cards like Alex Rodriguez used. Of course, that would be terribly naive, wouldn't it? Because really, you can't plausibly say that only those who we've so far caught used. Yes, it's unfair to assume the guilt of anyone, but when you're making historical judgments about an era, isn't it also unfair to assume the innocence of everyone? Until yesterday morning, Manny Ramirez was considered clean, and if a Hall of Fame vote had been taken, he would have entered Cooperstown with room to spare. We feel differently about that today, and we have to assume other guys fit the same pattern.
2. We can assume that everyone used and wash our hands of the whole era, barring the Hall of Fame's doors shut to Bonds, Clemens, Ramirez, and anyone else from this era and turning them into villains in the history books yet to be written. That's ridiculous in my opinion, and if you feel that way you're better off just abandoning baseball altogether.
3. We can assume that many players used -- including many we'll never be able to identify -- punish those who are caught and, on the whole, downgrade statistical achievements the way we do with hitters' stats from the early 1930s and pitchers' stats in the 1960s. We can suspect that maybe these guys weren't quite as good as the stats indicate, and adjust a bit for context. Maybe change our assessment of the value of 500 home runs into what we used to think of 400 home runs. Acknowledge that someone who hit .340 may not have done that had things been a little different. In short, grade on a curve and refrain from throwing the baby (i.e. a decade and a half of some very enjoyable baseball) out with the bath water.
Though I choose to go with option number three, I realize none of those options are perfect. If you have another option, I'm all ears.