'Performance enhancing' drugs?

Why are baseball players so revered? Try hitting a round ball with a round bat -- squarely. Now, throw in the element of the game situation. Who's on what base? How many outs? What inning is it? What's the pitch-count?

From the moment the ball leaves a (professional) pitcher's fingertips until it reaches the plate, you've got less than half-a-second to pinpoint pitch-location, track ball-movement and speed, decide whether or not to swing at that particular pitch (is it inside or outside the invisible 'strike zone'?), just to try making contact.

To actually get a hit involves moving your hands, hips and feet in one fluid motion, while keeping your head down and your eyes focused like a laser-beam on the ball.

I'm no neuroscientist, but imagine the hand-eye coordination it takes to do that. Against average pitchers, to say nothing of the Jonathan Paplebon's and the JJ Putz's of the world. (JJ's gotta be the world's highest paid Putz).

As players and observers noted long before I ever picked up a bat, hitting is so difficult that you're considered an elite player if you can consistently hit your way on-base only three out of every 10 at-bats.

What do you call a basketball player who only hits three out of ten shots? Benched or cut is what you call'em. What about a quarterback who only completes 33 percent of his passes? That's called Ryan Leif. And what's he doing? I don't know. But he ain't playing football anymore. I can tell you that.

Yes, all professional sports require an incredible level of athletic skill (and aesthetic acumen) most human beings on the planet simply do not possess, which would explain the huge salaries of pro athletes and the gi-normous sums of money raked in by team owners.

But, getting a hit, in a game situation, on a semi-consistent basis, against a professional pitcher is, hands-down, the single most difficult basic athletic skill in any pro sport.

And that's why -- love him or hate him -- sports fans ought to give Barry Bonds his props.

I know. Steroids, cheating etc. Not to shirk those serious health and ethical concerns, but let's get real here folks. If this all about the purity of the game, where's the national hue and cry for the erasing or asterick-sizing Mark McGwire's single season home run record?

Now, as lifelong Oakland A's fan, I have nothin' but love for McGwire. But, we're not talking about a player's personality, star-power or off-the-field attributes. We're talking about on-the-field accomplishments. Or are we?

The steroids/cheating argument is simply overblown because there's no conclusive evidence that shows steroid-use actually improves a baseball players' game. Steroids may keep a players body from breaking down in the short term, or perhaps help them recover from injuries faster, but that doesn't necessarily translate into success on the field.

Steroids may enable a player to hit a 500-foot home run instead of 450-foot home run but short of any real evidence showing that steroids significantly improves hand-eye-coordination needed for hitting, why is it assumed that juiced-up baseball players are using a "performance-enhancing" drug?

Doing drugs is bad, OK. But "performance enhancing?" In more physical sports like football, yes. But baseball?

Of course, it could be argued that while 'roids may not make baseball players better, using them taints the purity of the game.

Agreed. But, as comedian Chris Rock told HBO sports analyst Bob Costas last week, if Barry's career is tainted, then so are the records of all those who played before 1947 -- before blacks were allowed to play; especially considering that the first black players to cross MLB's colorline are universally recognized as being among the greatest players of all time. And they weren't even the best players from the Negro League!

If the accomplishment of players in the so-called steroid era are being questioned, shouldn't we also question the accomplishments of segregation-era players because they didn't compete against the best?


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