v. Ullrich(ed) - to wrongfully deny based on unsubstantiated suspicion
Steroids and baseball are comparable to cooking Mac-N-Cheese on the stove. You bring the water to a slight boil, dump in the macaroni... which calms the water, but soon it's boiling again, and then the white foamy bubbles start lifting the lid off the saucepan. So you take the lid off and the bubbles disappear, but the water keeps boiling. That's the way it's going to be for Major League Baseball. (My feel is that the white foamy bubbles are nearly to the top of the saucepan and within a month or two, we may have a full blown kitchen catastrophe.)
Aside: On the steroids docket in the next few months: Hall of Fame debate over Mark McGwire, Mitchell Investigation findings, BALCO indictments possibly on Bonds, Bonds possibly surpassing Hank Aaron, Bonds possibly being blackballed by teams so that he doesn't pass Aaron, fallout from the Jason Grimsley investigation, more players who test positive in Spring Training... etc. End Aside
For Major League Baseball, the steroids scandal was first placed on the burner in 1988 when Jose Canseco, muscles bulging in places that have no business bulging, racked up the first ever 40-40 season. As a kid in the early '90s, naive to all but the most blatant of baseball scandals, even I had heard the rumors that Canseco used steroids. No one could prove it, but I never thought of Canseco all that highly.
Through the rest of the '90s, when guys like Ken Caminiti had sudden offensive surges, and Juan Gonzalez (he of the perfectly V-shaped torso) threatened RBI marks from sixty years earlier, and the number of 50 home run seasons surpassed all precedent - Baseball ignored it's growing steroid issue. The water would bubble occasionally, but no one wanted to admit that placing your hand near the game gave off a bit more heat than expected.
In 1998, some reporter dug Andro out of Mark McGwire's locker... and the world took note that the heat was on under the saucepan. We weren't sure what was cooking... and we were too busy watching Sammy and Mark go yard to ask what was on the stovetop... but everyone knew dinner was being made.
As 60 home run seasons became the norm and late 30's power-hitters became impossibly productive, we whistled merrily... knowing what was going on, but refusing to admit it to ourselves. Sure, in the 97 years of modern baseball before 1998, only two guys ever managed to hit sixty homeruns... but in the four years from '98-'01, it made perfect sense that we would have six sixty-plus home run seasons and two members of the 70 HR club. It couldn't possibly be... you mean it wasn't "watered down pitching?" Seriously, we knew, we just didn't want to believe it. We lied to ourselves. Had we peeked under the lid, we would have found the macaroni was already in the water.
Of course, there was then the whole BALCO thing, and then Jose Canseco's tell-all book, the Congressional hearing, the Jason Grimsley sting... and we were forced to address the issue again and again. Yes, Baseball players used steroids. Yes, they enhanced their performance, often at the detriment to their own health... and yes, we baseball fans found the new game absolutely entertaining, while villifying the players who had performed most brightly.
For a while, it was en vogue to turn your back on childhood heroes for their sins. In Chicago, we ran Sammy out of town because of mere suspicions that he used steroids. Leaving early on the last day of the season? Come on, stop lying to yourself. We were mad that he'd cheated... and that we had embraced him so wholeheartedly... and that he'd stopped producing at such insane levels. We're still mad. We even left him off our home-town heroes ballot just to stick it to him.
Turning Point But then a curious thing happened this summer that has me re-evaluating my reaction to the steroid scandals. In Cylcing, with Lance Armstrong retired, the Tour De France looked like it would be a hotly contested race. There were a half dozen teams that thought they could get their guy into the maillot jeune, and it looked like cycling would shake off it's sense of fait accompli that Lance had saddled the sport with for the last five years of his amazing seven race dominance.
And then, two days before the race, Spanish officials released a list of riders who had contact with a suspected steroid dealing spanish doctor. Overnight, almost every single contender was either fired from his team, banned from the race, or "asked" to drop out. The Tour officials wanted so badly to be above reproach that on the flimsiest of evidence, they purged their most marketable and recognizable riders to ensure that the winner would be clean.
For a while, it looked like the Tour would be rewarded. The race was anything but a foregone conclusion. The yellow jersey traded hands on almost a daily basis. After a late race collapse of epic proportions, Floyd Landis pulled off one of the most incredible days of racing in the history of the tour. He'd recaptured the lead and Cycling had a new hero... and then news came that Landis failed a drug test.
Months later, we're still unsure of who the 2006 Tour winner is. Worse yet, several riders who were asked not to compete in this years race have since been cleared by the Spanish authorities. I feel bad for Jan Ullrich, 2006 was his year to win, and then they told him to get lost... and he was probably cleaner than half the shmucks who tilted back the bubbly as they coasted down the Champs-Elysees.
Back to Baseball Yesterday, the Hall of Fame ballots were released for 2007, and people are starting to debate Mark McGwire's worthiness. He has 583 home runs! And yet, he's not expected to be inducted this year. Why? Because he bulked up and hit a ton of dingers and then got dragged in front of Congress and performed about as well as you or I would have if we had a hundred cameras in our face and half of the country asking us what we did or did not do.
Well, no, not really... remember we're being honest with ourselves. It's not that he was a one dimensional player, it's certainly not his career numbers. No, he's going to miss the Hall because most voters suspect he used steroids to hit many of those home runs. They have no proof mind you... but they suspect.
Of course, this line of thinking doesn't even stand up to a gentle breeze. For instance, most of Europe thinks Lance Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs. So, should we keep him out of the Cycling Hall of Fame just because he is suspected?
The Tour de France officials suspected that Jan Ullrich was dirty because he knew a guy that knew a guy whose wife once baked cookies for the nephew of a doctor who perhaps dealt steroids to another rider (yes, I exagerate). So, they suspected and disqualified the favored rider... and completely forgot to disinvite the eventual positive-testing "winner" of the race. Oops?
Who are we to be judges and jury? Who are the Hall of Fame voters for that matter. Should they deny Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa because they suspect these guys did steroids? What if all Mark used was Andro... and Sammy really only popped the (Cubby) blue Fred Flintstones? Who is to say that these guys aren't being Ullriched?
Conversely, how do we know that Cal Ripken or Tony Gwynn are saints? Floyd Landis doesn't seem to be a bad guy. People were genuinely surprised that he tested positive. That Cal Ripken guy was awfully durable, maybe he popped an occasional greeny for those tough day games after a night game matchups. You see what I just did there? I suspected. Sure, I don't have any evidence, but thats what most normal people would have to do to keep a consecutive games played streak intact.
Who is to say he did, and who is to say he didn't? Are steroids and muscle builders the only kind of "bad" performance enhancing drugs? It seems to me as likely that Ripken needed an extra boost some days to keep his unprecedented playing streak alive as it is that Big Mac needed a boost to hit his unprecedented 70 homers.
So, I'm just asking that as fans and media and commenters, we all remember that just because you suspect a player of using performance enhancers, don't think you're judgment is infallible. You're as likely to Ullrich a player as you are to let a Floyd Landis slip by. Don't keep lieing to yourselves. Your fish net isn't fine enough to filter out the all the Floyd Landises out there, so don't delude yourself into thinking that you're keeping the Hall of Fame "pure" by keeping out the guys you suspect without having proof.