The preeminent baseball thinker of his generation, the voluble Bill James, has never been known for his rapidity. He concocts his arguments, seeds through data, massaging the numbers until he can articulate the who-what-whys of the game of baseball. He is methodical, almost prudish, unwilling to compromise until he’s waited and tested and seen just how his argument holds up.
Thus, leave it to James to wait out the decade to opine on steroids, letting all the barking dogs settle before entering the discussion on the greatest scandal in nearly a century. Almost a decade after Sports Illustrated first aired the game’s dirty laundry, James has finally made his opinion known.
Surely, one would assume, James would renounce the needle-pricked players who turned a once-clean game into Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. Surely, as the harbinger of baseball’s numbers, James would swat down the insolence with which Bonds, McGwire, and Sosa bludgeoned the record books. Surely, these were cheats, and they deserved every ounce of scorn James deigned to heap upon them.
In his recent essay, “Cooperstown and the ‘Roids,” James delineates his thoughts on the staginess of these drug users. More precisely, he informs the readers why, and how, every tainted member of the Steroid Era will soon find themselves cakewalking through the halls of Cooperstown. Not Jim Parque, mind you, but those whose numbers were enough to merit consideration.
James lays out his case in a simple format, with five points on his Pentagon of Perfidy. All of these points, which are easily (and necessarily) rebutted, stem from James’s haunting, all-too-true claim that “steroids keep you young.”
Granted, you’d be hard-pressed to find an argument otherwise: With muscled bodies lasting well past their expiration dates, primes are extended. Youth is the golden calf of life – everyone is trying to reverse the steady brunt of time. It’s a natural human condition, and people will go to all ends to replenish the empty cup of their youth.
Even, James claims, if your tendons shred and muscles wither. And especially if it can be accomplished with drugs.
In a turn that would make H.G. Wells proud, James’s essay describes a sci-fi future, one we can “reliably” anticipate. Soon “everybody is going to be using steroids” (his italics), a fact that could turn Manny into Methuselah: once everyone is on steroids, “people will start living to age 200 or 300 or 1,000, and doctors will begin routinely prescribing drugs to help you live to 200 or 300 or 1,000.” All farcical science aside — and forgetting the fact that James seems to overlook anyone who would want to live an alternative, “normal” lifestyle — James’s utopia heralds the current crop of baseball cheats not as abjured scum, but as “pioneers.”