Thursday, February 26, 2009

Zen Dayley: Carlos and the Bagman

It's been around the blogosphere and back, but a pre-eminent baseball writer batting out a column calling ex-Jay Carlos Delgado "the lost slugger of the Steroid Era" demands a response, especially when you totally called this spin:
"It's been hard, as a Jays fan, to shake the idea that Carlos Delgado's reputation might improve even though there's no way to presume anyone was clean as a bean."
-- Feb. 10, 2009
Discretion seemed like the better part of beating the Delgado drum two weeks ago.

It is zero-sum to play the guessing game of who was clean and who was juicing in baseball in the 1990s and 2000s. Tom Verducci, though, makes six figures writing about baseball (oh, the envy is just dripping off the computer screen), so maybe he can feel a little safer stepping out on to that ledge. The rest of us, who don't have editors and advertisers to answer to so much, can, as Jason at It Is About The Money, Stupid did, call this a "fool's errand." There is no way of knowing, so you can't turn Delgado into this smiling, ebullient bald-headed beacon.

It is also curious, mildly, whom Verducci doesn't seize upon as the Lost Slugger as he did his tour of spring training camps, carrying a lantern in the daytime. Delgado hit the ninth-most home runs in baseball from 1996 to 2003, which is taken to be the full run of the Steroid Era, to which Jules in Superbad would say, "Wow, that's a bit of an oversimplication there." Another first baseman of that period, Jeff Bagwell, is tied for sixth on the list (with Mark McGwire, who actually didn't play in two of those seasons).

Bagwell was not forgotten. He was simply underrated. He is also retired as a player, plus there was a New York Daily News report last spring that a trainer supplied drugs to him, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte when all three played in Houston. It didn't have much of stickiness factor, perhaps since "the rules of American sports journalism prohibit steroid allegations from being directed at average-sized Caucasian ballplayers on teams based in Red States." (OOLF, Dec. 15, 2006.)

Point being, Jeff Bagwell is not as good a literary device as Delgado. He's also not as a big skin to hang on the wall compared to Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa or Clemens and Mark McGwire. Being underrated and playing your whole career in a football state has its perks. (As an aside, someone claimed the spike in Bagwell's home-run rates was fishy, failing to point out he hit only four homers in his Double-A season in 1990 because he played in an extremely pitcher-friendly league; no one on his team hit more than five homers, and Bagwell led the league in doubles, which is an indicator of a burgeoning home-run stroke.)

Getting back to Delgado, it's easy to see why he would put on such a pedestal. He plays for the other New York ballclub and he could soon be in rare company when it comes to his counting stats.
"This season, be it anything close to ordinary for him, Delgado will become only the 11th player in baseball history with 500 home runs, 500 doubles and 1,500 RBIs. It is a club with no back door. The others: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Frank Robinson, Eddie Murray, (Ken) Griffey, (Manny) Ramirez, (Rafael) Palmeiro and (Barry) Bonds. And yet Delgado never is talked about as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and is rarely discussed as a Hall of Famer at all."
It's a fun thought, although piling up the big career hit, home run and RBI totals is somewhat a combination of longevity and the era where someone played. The first five names on that list are all-time greats beyond that doubt. The next five involve a guy who played forever and four who had the benefit of playing in the ArenaBall era, including two whom most people would call drug cheats.

Delgado should not be turned into a hero after the fact. He was a terrific hitter in Toronto. The vibe with him was the same as it has been with Roy Halladay since the start of the 2005 through on or around July 31, 2009,. He made it feel like the Blue Jays would always have some hope as long as he was as around. Perhaps Hall of Fame voters, who tend to give a lot of credence to someone having won a MVP award or Cy Young Award, will consider looking at it as if he won in 2003, when he was edged by Alex Rodriguez.

The bottom line, as ShysterBall noted, it's really hard to except people to believe who was clean and who was dirty.
"Look, I appreciate what Verducci is trying to do here. He, like so many of us, wants to bring some kind of certainty to bear on steroids' impact on baseball. He wants to draw a line around certain players and statistics so we can at least have some kind of a foothold for assessing the era in which we find ourselves. The fact of the matter, however, is that no analysis, such as it is, like this one going to achieve that certainty or allow us to separate the wheat from the chaff. Rather, it's going to take a lot of time and a lot of reporting and scholarship. In the meantime, we're just going to have to live with our vague senses about this stuff and have some faith that the enduring nature of the game -- and the work of history -- will sort all of this stuff out for us."
In the meantime, Carlos Delgado is 31 homers from 500. He'll probably achieve the milestone in September. Sure, it would have been great if he could have done it in a Blue Jays uniform.

Bloggers can't be choosers, though. Only Sports Illustrated gets make such choices.

Appreciating Carlos Delgado, the lost slugger of the Steroid Era (Tom Verducci,

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