FanPost

The Bagwell Thing (Response to James K's "Niceties" Post)


I penned a reply to James' brilliant post that just got too long. Then, of course in transferring it over I friggin' lost it. (Grrr...)

I am in total agreement with the thrust of the post, but wanted to offer a different take on the actions of Pearlman, Graziano, et al.

Think sociologically about the steroid era, and the role of baseball writers specifically (and other related media). In other words, rather than focus on the personal shortcomings of a few writers put the general thrust of their actions in context. I think what we see is the exercise of power in their actions more than personal sanctimony.

At the risk of sounding conspiratorial, the steroid era was a godsend to the baseball writers. Consider what had happened to them during baseball's 1990s resurgence. Newspapers were dying a (not so) slow, painful death. Baseball teams were hiring writers for their own websites. Nerds in their mothers' basements who had once created a baseball version of Dungeons & Dragons, consequently began to re-write time-tested, tried-and-true baseball narratives that valorized power, grit, and hard noses. Baseball writers teetered on the brink of obsolescence; their sycophancy no longer a distinctive trait in a wired world where team owners no longer needed newspapers to deliver daily box scores and analysis. The baseball writers no longer had the sole power to create narrative. But now a new narrative, a new role, and with it new power, fell into their laps. The BALCO case, as much as anything, signified a completed transformation. The former sycophants were now the star witness, prosecutor, judge, jury, and executioner in a full-on scandal. (And really, what greater gift is there for a writer than scandal?)

Because this particular scandal transcended the boundaries of sport, baseball writers have been afforded a peculiar and impressive sort of power. They have been granted--for reasons I don't entirely get--almost complete control over the steroids narrative. Consider that few other national narratives remain so ill-informed by relevant professional expertise for so long.  Exercise physiologists have studied performance enhancers for decades. Yet, their expertise is rarely part of the steroids narrative you read in the papers. That narrative, which has remained unchanged since its earliest days, is little more than a chorus of "Cheater, Cheater Pumpkin-Eater!" and "Will someone please think of the children!?" It's quite likely that medical professionals would add considerably more complexity to the narrative. So, the doctors have been kept out of the medical discussion. Now that's power. Consider the prospect of a decade-long discussion about the economy with no economists.

I don't know if baseball writers' power to set this narrative is unprecedented. I just know that it is as close to complete as you will generally see. But alas, narratives have life cycles just like everything else. The "Cheater, Cheater Pumpkin-Eater!" narrative may be starting to run out of steam. We are seeing the emergence of apostates among baseball writers themselves, like Posnanski, Calcaterra, and others. Also, many fans are just raged out on steroids. Until the recent downturn, baseball was seeing record attendance and was flush with internet cash. For all the hype, the fan base wasn't nearly as outraged as many in the media wanted them to be.

That brings us back to Bagwell. I think his HOF case is something of a "heat check," to borrow a basketball phrase, for the steroids narrative. It is a test of the remaining power of the narrative, which has no doubt been weakened. Whether Pearlman, Graziano, or others believes Bagwell did steroids is kinda beside the point. The question is whether the gatekeepers can keep a no-doubt-about-it candidate out of the Hall lacking even a credible allegation simply by screaming, "Steroids!" As a former professor of mine used to say, "The power of the gatekeeper is not in enforcing rules. It's in granting exceptions." In other words, gatekeepers can only really express their power by--at least occasionally--being arbitrary and capricious.

Bags is such an interesting case because he was a bona fide masher that was never the object of even a sustained steroids whisper campaign. Yet, the steroids narrative demands that he be deemed suspect because of his power and physique and because his reputation was never unassailable like Ken Griffey, Jr's.

So there it is. Your classic power struggle. What makes the Bags case compelling though, is that the argument against him is particularly weak and contradictory. Usually in these power struggles if all you're armed with is reason and logic you're already outgunned. In Bagwell's case though, because Bags was never a serious target of steroid era hysteria keeping him out now is a real stretch. Like a heat check in basketball, it's a bad shot. And it may represent a real chance to kill the steroid narrative once and for all*, either through Bagwell's election or through backlash following his exclusion.

*For the record, I think there is an intelligent discussion to be had about PEDs in baseball. We just haven't had it yet. The writers were complicit in the use of PEDs, and now in the aftermath they've hijacked the conversation about for their own selfish purposes.

This FanPost was contributed by a member of the community and was not subject to any vetting or approval process. It does not necessarily reflect the opinions, reasoning skills, or attention to grammar and usage rules held by the editors of this site.

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