Mike Piazza released an autobiography this week, and there wasn't anything especially shocking or revelatory about it. Wait, that's not entirely true. It's kind of shocking and revelatory that anyone was expecting something shocking and revelatory. People were hoping for this:
So Rickey and I were on our way to have a gay tryst with Mr. Met, when I realized I was out of steroids, gin, and Professor Flummox (a cocktail of steroids and cocaine that my agent concocted for me at the request of Steve Phillips), so I made a quick U-turn. That's when we hit the lady pushing the stroller across the crosswalk. Now, I had my pet alligator in the back, and ...
Instead, we got stuff like this:
The Mets released Rickey in May 2000, which meant that he helped us to the playoffs in his only full season with the ball club. He was instrumental in not only getting us there, but in how the playoff shares—the bonuses earned from MLB for each postseason series—were divided. The shares meeting is always an interesting exercise in human dynamics, sort of a microcosm of democracy. Rickey was the most generous guy I ever played with, and whenever the discussion came around to what we should give one of the fringe people—whether it was a minor leaguer who came up for a few days or the parking lot attendant—Rickey would shout out, 'Full share!' We'd argue for a while and he'd say, 'Fuck that! You can change somebody's life!' I admired Rickey's heart, but I usually came down somewhere in the middle."
Man, that's a great story. But it's not as sexy as a steroids admission, which some people were expecting for some reason. Over at Murray Chass's blog, there's a predictable reaction. See, Chass has long maintained that Piazza is dirty because of back acne. It's a symptom of steroids. Piazza had it, and then it went away. The headline on Chass's blog post is "GUILTY IN COURT OF CIRCUMSTANTIAL EVIDENCE", and if that doesn't save you some time, I don't know what will.
(Okay, fine, here's a real link.)
I'll skip to the end because it crystallizes what bothers me the most about the PEDamentalists.
If you want to ignore the acne and make excuses for it and invent reasons for its sudden disappearance, please feel free to engage in any fantasy you desire.
If you want to invent reasons why the acne disappeared, go ahead.
There was acne, but it left. If you can provide one alternative explanation for why acne can come and go, well, you're living in Candyland, Lord Licorice.
Acne pops up, acne clears up. You can't explain that.
"I have opinions on acne and its causes," said the baseball writer.
Finally, finally, finally I have a quote that is the perfect example of what bothers me about a great majority of the circumstantial-evidence-loving anti-PED crusade. It reminds me of this:
That's someone's attempt to prove that fire isn't hot enough to melt steel, therefore the collapse of the World Trade Center was an inside job. Now, this isn't an attempt to equate Truthers with people who think Mike Piazza did steroids. Two wildly different subjects make for a horrible direct comparison. Just think about the idea behind that picture, though.
"I need to prove something. I'm not an expert. How can I do it?"
Takes something commonly understood, then extrapolate. "Fire burns and melts things. I can make a fire. I have chicken wire made out of steel. I can figure this out." What that ignores is the additional context that could explain why the chicken wire didn't melt. The mountains of additional context. The kind of context that physicists might provide because they've spent decades studying physics, and fire science.
"I've seen acne on Mike Piazza's back. I know that back acne is a common side effect of steroids. I can figure this out." What that ignores is the additional context that could explain why Mike Piazza had back acne. The mountains of additional context. The kind of context that dermatologists might provide because they've spent decades studying human skin.
At this point, I should mention that I absolutely have suspicions about Mike Piazza. And if I were to see him with an acne-covered back, I would chuckle a bit because I knew it was a symptom of PED use. That's natural. I don't even think it would be unethical to write, "Look, I saw back acne. That's a symptom. I can't prove anything, though, so draw your own conclusions."
But to be so sure, so convinced, so dogmatic is just weird. And it's not just Chass. This goes for the Hall of Fame voters who think Jeff Bagwell's muscles are different from Craig Biggio's muscles because, well, you know. This goes for the Hall of Fame voters who know Frank Thomas, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Chipper Jones didn't mess around with the stuff because, well, you know.
Suspicions are natural. Dogma is weird. You can assume that Funky Winkerbean is thinking about chocolate because he has zits, but it probably isn't worth it to spend a portion of your life to use Funky Winkerbean's zits as ironclad proof that he was thinking about chocolate, especially if he's unambiguously denying it.
I get that this isn't a court of law, and that circumstantial evidence isn't something we have to throw out. But that doesn't mean it's ever a smart idea to wrap yourself in a cloak of circumstantial evidence and pretend it's something else.