Made to look a fool

As the Cardinals head to San Fran to take on Barry Bonds and the Giants at ROBBING YOU BLIND AND HANDING OVER YOUR PHONE RECORDS TO THE GOVERNMENT PARK, I'm ready to watch three nights of baseball with the TV on mute. It's to the point where the discussion revolving around Bonds has stolen the spotlight from worthy stories around the league, not to mention worthy stories on Bonds' own team. Even on days when his teammates deserve to be the entire story (which if you've been watching the Giants this year is most days), Bonds is still the focus. For example, yesterday, Giants pitching phenom Matt Cain threw a one-hitter against the A's, yet a lot of the post-game coverage focused on Bonds (he had two hits in the game, but no homers) and his upcoming series against Pujols and the Cardinals. Cain has underperformed this year to say the least, and this should have been a wonderful coming-out party for him. Instead, he became an asterisk to Bonds. Figures. I went through this all with McGwire in '98; I hated it then, and I hate it still today.

Anyway, I strongly dislike Bonds, partly because he's become a media whore for all the wrong reasons, and party because he zapped what remaining innocence baseball possessed for me by proving steroids to be true. As a writer for my college paper in 1998, I did a column defending Mark McGwire's andro usage, stating that the steroid-like drug may have helped to keep McGwire healthy (which it certainly did), but it didn't help him hit hanging breaking balls 450 feet (which it certainly did). I was naive to just how serious a drug problem baseball had, and I was protective of my bulky, broad-shouldered, red-headed basher of baseballs. In retrospect, drugs (steroids or otherwise; legal or illegal) certainly saved McGwire's career. After near career-ending injuries sidelined McGwire for the majority of three seasons -- 1993-95 -- he came back with a vengeance in 1996, hitting 52 homers in 130 games. We all know what happened after that: 193 home runs in just three seasons. That rebound wasn't simply a broken man putting the pieces back together, it was a broken man magically putting the pieces back together to resurface better than ever. It's true that McGwire learned a lot while on the DL all that time -- like how to be mentally prepared (thanks in part to counseling he received for a divorce), and how to use video tape to his advantage -- but that can't solely account for his bizarre upswing in overall production. The muscle helped him hit almost as many homers in three seasons as he did in his first six.

McGwire's denial of wrongdoing -- or simply a refusal to admit -- will probably keep him on the fence with voters come next year's Hall of Fame voting. (It's McGwire's first year on the ballot, with two clean-bill-of-health sure-things in Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken working against him.) But as far as I'm concerned, by not being man enough to say something -- anything -- definitive when it counted, Mark is a loser. He's tainted the '98 season for me, and considering that I was there for his 62nd, 69th, and 70th home runs that year (as well as a few earlier ones), I feel a bit ashamed that I once held those ticket stubs in reverence. I feel ashamed for being made a fool.

All this is just an admission on my behalf. Feels good to get it out in the open. And it feels even better that I've now got a new hometown hero to root for in Albert Pujols, a guy that's as straight as an arrow. When it comes to hand-to-eye coordination, bat speed, the brains to go with the brawn, and the perfect swing, I'll stand by Pujols on his quest to become the greatest hitter of the past 50 years. He's well on his way.


After receiving some challenging comments from Listmaker on this post, I'm going to take a stab at visually defending Al Pujols re: steroids. Granted, I'm no expert, and I don't claim that you can tell with certainty just by looking that someone is on the juice. That said, Pujols has remained consistent in his body type and size throughout his pro career. Here's the visual proof. First, we start with a given. This is what a steroid user looks like (click on image for close up):

Note the biceps and shoulders. Man, that is one ugly dude.

Okay no here's Pujols in 2000, playing in the minor leagues.

And here's a good shot of him in spring training 2004, prior to the start of the season. Note the arms. They don't look particularly toned, nor do his shoulders. Plus, he doesn't look any larger than he did in 2000.

Finally, here's Al during the 2005 playoffs, holding his son. Again, he looks the same as he did two seasons prior. And again, he doesn't look chiseled in the least, except for those stunning forearms. (But hey, I hear you get those from swinging a bat.)

So, what say you now?


Listmaker said...

not to cast any stones, but how do we know that pujols is clean?

thenoiseboy said...

From someone who has watched probably 500 of his games, I have noticed no change in his physical appearance. I have seen him shirtless or sleeveless often (I actually thought about posting one of those photos), and it's clear that he's not very toned. He's just a big kid. Note the lack of definition to his shoulders and neck.

Also, he's been hitting the ball with the same ruthless abandon since junior college. It's not like he's had any spike in his abilities that would make you suspicious. He's been consistently great throughout his pro career.

The only thing we have to be suspicious of with Pujols is his age. He claims that he's 26, and I believe him. Unlike other Latin players who forge their age when being scouted, Pujols came to America in his mid-teens, then went to high school and junior college. That was where he was discovered. I find those circumstances much more believable than with a Latin player who is signed as a 17 year-old from his homeland.

So, in short, we don't know for certain that he's clean. But he doesn't show any of the signs that McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, et al have displayed.

Listmaker said...

if he doesn't look toned, so be it.
but the only thing you've proven to me is that maybe he's been on the juice his entire career!
i hope he's clean but it is the era we live in where no player goes without suspicion.

thenoiseboy said...

I'm not saying you can't judge a roid user simply with the naked eye. But Pujols just doesn't have any of the characteristics of a roid user. No sudden bulk up -- hell, there's no bulk. Couple that with the fact that he's always been a hell of a hitter, going back to his first full season in the minors in single-A. He's killed at every level. No spike in performance coupled with no obvious shift in appearance...that's your evidence. You can suspect if you want, but considering Pujols' insane work ethic and devotion to video (a la Tony Gwynn if you will), there's plenty of evidence pointing to the fact that he's just naturally a gifted hitter. Maybe I'll post a Pujols' photo later...

hungrygirl said...

Isn't it also relevant that Pujols has willingly submitted to random drug tests for the last two years? I know, I know, many of the most cutting edge designer drugs are undetectable. But still...in an age of heightened scrutiny, Albert doesn't seem to have anything to hide. There's not much more a fan can ask for.

thenoiseboy said...

Well technically, all MLBers have to submit to random drug tests. But yes, he has been very open in saying he'll take a test any day of the week. (Of course, Sosa said the same thing.)

Listmaker said...

ok, ok, he's flabby!

all i'm saying though is that maybe he's been roiding for his entire professional career! it would be like if bonds' career had started in '99, it would look like he's always been so big.

amy l. said...

You should REALLY read that freaking Barry Bonds book DH, because a lot of the cow estrogen and insulin and other shit they were puttin' in their bodies had nothing to do with making them huge. Hand-eye coordination. Improved eyesight. Energy. So on and so forth. Not necessarily muscles. Perhaps Pujols is on the cow estrogen?? Ha. I'm like 90% with you. I kind of want to believe otherwise, but I think he's a natural, and he's very noble to boot. Not as noble as Michael Barrett, but noble nonetheless.

thenoiseboy said...

Okay, so I haven't read the book and I don't know the first thing about cow testicles. I can't disprove that there's a possibility that he's on something. However, I'll take my chances with my "evidence". I feel good about this one, and I'm not just saying that because I root for his team.