When I first heard a few months ago that Jose Bautista led the league in home runs, I thought one thing. ...
THIS GUY leads the league in home runs? That Orioles pitcher with the jheri curl leads the league in home runs? Where have I been? What the hell is going on?
OK, I thought that for about 30 seconds, before realizing that it was a different Jose Bautista.
My next thought was ...
THIS GUY leads the league in home runs? The guy who features a career .190 batting average with no home runs on the back of this card leads the league in home runs? Where have I been? What the hell is going on?
I thought that for another 30 seconds before the next thought came into my head ...
"People are going to say he's on PEDs."
And they have. About a bajillion times.
This is such an easy assumption. But it is the way of the world today. Many people automatically assume the worst. They assume Bautista -- now up to 40 home runs after hitting no more than 16 in a single season -- is cheating.
They cite Brady Anderson and his 1996 50-home run season as if he's a direct link, the only link, to today's player who produces an enormous spike in power.
I'm not gonna think that way. It's possible Bautista is on PEDs. It's also possible that he is playing more often than he's played in his career, that he's in a better lineup, that he's changed his approach and his stance, and that he has a better coach.
There are many, many examples of major league players enjoying one-year bumps in their statistics that happened long before steroids or other PEDs entered the equation.
There was Davey Johnson. He hit 43 home runs in 1973. That is 25 more home runs than he hit in a single season in his entire career.
Oakland shortstop Bert Campaneris hit 22 home runs in 1970. He never hit more than 8 in a single season before or after 1970.
Walker Cooper hit 35 home runs for the New York Giants in 1947. His previous best in eight years of the majors was 13. He never hit more than 20 in a season the rest of his career.
There are lots of other examples of this -- and not just for home runs or even for hitters. The Hardball Times did a detailed look at one-year statistical spikes a number of years ago.
One of the worst things that players who took PEDs did was bring down the rest of baseball with their cheating ways. They created an air of suspicion, and a whole group of people who believe, "well if this guy did it and that guy did it, then they all did it." And if someone has a season that appears unusual, then he DEFINITELY did it.
Instead of praising an athlete for their natural development, they assume it was achieved unnaturally.
But I won't let what those PED players did destroy the fan in me, prevent me from marveling over a great achievement, keep me from admiring the talent of a major league player. Do I wonder about them in the back of my mind? Sure. But unless there's proof, it's meaningless for me to say anything. It's counterproductive.
Players have unusual seasons all the time. Bob Gibson had an ERA of 1.12 in 1968. Babe Ruth hit 54 home runs in 1920. Are we going to throw every achievement under the bus?
You may point at the PED violators and say, "THEY made me think that way."
OK, maybe they did. But at a certain point you're in charge of the way you think. Do you want to rip every achievement apart from the opening sentence or do you want to look at it with a critical eye, meaning that you consider all aspects of the issue -- good and bad -- and then come up with a conclusion?
I prefer to see the good in people. That's just the way I am. It gets in the way of me being a journalist at times. But I've learned to develop a critical eye and a cynical eye to perform well in my job. "Both sides of the story" is a big deal in my profession.
And I refuse to pull every single person down. It's unhealthy for everyone.
If you got the goods on Bautista, then fine. Let's hear it. Everything you know.
Otherwise, sit down, shut up and enjoy the game.