PED Puritanism: The Haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be juicing

Debby Wong-USA TODAY Sports

With apologies to H.L. Mencken, but not to Rick Reilly. Those who would portray themselves as guardians of the game are really out to destroy it by undermining faith in its integrity.

Earlier today, we published a piece by Mike Bates responding to Rick Reilly's column on Orioles first baseman Chris Davis and the great season he's been having. While getting together with other writers and forming a circular firing squad is a traditional form of Internet fun, it's something that I generally prefer to avoid -- I'd rather we develop our own take on the news and change minds through the persuasiveness of our arguments alone rather than by demolishing that of others (as well as a possibly-misplaced sense of professional courtesy). That said, sometimes a piece is too wrongheaded to ignore, especially when it is emblematic of a cancer that has seemingly metastasized in mainstream baseball coverage, the unfounded belief that seemingly everyone is on performance-enhancing drugs.

In the March 4, 1960 episode of "The Twilight Zone," author Rod Serling unveiled a classic science fiction parable of paranoia, "The Monsters are Due on Maple Street." A quiet suburban street experiences a sudden power outage. A young boy says he knows the reason -- aliens with a human appearance have slipped in among them. At first he's not taken seriously, but as inexplicable event piles on inexplicable event, suspicion gives way to accusations and violence. Serling's parting words:

The tools of conquest do not necessarily come with bombs and explosions and fallout. There are weapons that are simply thoughts, attitudes, prejudices -- to be found only in the minds of men. For the record, prejudices can kill and suspicion can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all its own -- for the children, and the children yet unborn. And the pity of it is that these things cannot be confined to the Twilight Zone.

As with all the best stories, Serling's teleplay operates on a number of levels. It can be as specific as a commentary on McCarthyism or as general as a plea for tolerance. Regardless, the moral is clear: This way lies madness. Pay too much heed to the suspicious little voices in your head and your inner compass will cease to function. This applies to baseball. Consider this progression of seasons, pulled from the back of a prominent player's baseball card:

G

PA

HR

1

148

643

11

2

160

719

19

3

151

668

14

4

151

646

15

5

133

571

20

6

160

680

16

7

161

680

44

8

157

664

23


Alert the media: Carl Yastrzemski must have been juicing in 1967. Better get up a petition to withdraw his MVP award and Hall of Fame plaque. But don't call the cops yet -- we're not done uncovering the chemical conspiracy at the heart of baseball:

G

PA

HR

1

113

397

12

2

136

550

8

3

134

572

25

4

154

607

13

5

135

549

16

6

149

629

40


Someone tell the Reds to pull Ted Kluszewski's number 18 off the wall; he got it illicitly. Cripes, the guy's biceps were so big he had to tear the sleeves off of his uniform -- he must have been getting his power out of a can. Let's not stop with the 50s and 60s, though, not when we can keep marching through to the present day, rooting out corruption as we go. Somehow this obvious rules-breaker is still playing:

G

PA

HR

1

131

554

9

2

140

608

13

3

109

471

7

4

146

633

9

5

138

606

28

6

137

584

9


Joe Mauer, please report to the commissioner's office at once.

We could keep pulling examples like this forever. I would like to submit one-off 40-home runs seasons by Cy Williams, Dave Kingman, Ben Oglivie, Jesse Barfield, George Bell, Andre Dawson to the jury. Darrell Evans' jump from 19 to 41 home runs from 1972 to 1973, and the 12-season gap until his next 40 home run season should undergo scrutiny as well. These are clear cases of intermittent juicing. Wally Moses hit 25 home runs in 1937, but failed to hit as many as 10 in any of his 16 other seasons. Walt Dropo won the Rookie of the Year award with the 1950 Red Sox after putting together a .322-34-144 season. He never came close to those numbers again. Guilty of being an enhanced rookie.

Mel Ott was only 5'9" but hit 511 home runs. They say he did it with the benefit of a friendly home park and an exaggerated leg kick, but I don't believe them. On May 5, 1925, Ty Cobb told reporters, "I'll show you something today. I'm going for home runs for the first time in my career." That afternoon he went 6-for-6 with a double and three home runs. Given that Cobb played hit only 117 home runs in his career, do you realize how unlikely that was? He hit two percent of his career home run total in one game -- that's comparable to Babe Ruth hitting 18 home runs in one game. Clearly Cobb was juicing on that day only.

No discussion of questionable home run totals Mets and Red Sox great Felix Mantilla. In eight seasons prior to 1964, Mantilla hit 35 home runs total in 1762 plate appearances. He hit 30 in 1964 alone, then dropped to 18 in 1965, six and out of baseball in 1966. Did he merely figure out how to yank the ball over the Green Monster, or was something far more sinister at work?

And why are we limiting ourselves to home runs? One obscurity unearthed by Yasiel Puig's incredible start has been Roy Weatherly, a 1936 rookie who hit .392 in his first 40 games. He never hit higher than .310 again. Juicing, but just in that first year. Ted Williams only hit .400 that one time. Clearly he was fueled by something more powerful than Bosco Milk Amplifier. George Brett hit .390 in 1980, never hit more than .335 in any other season: Another one-year juicer. James Loney has been terrible for five years, but this year he's been great: Guilty.

Let's not be naïve: Players are cheating. They have always cheated and always will. If Babe Ruth used a corked bat then no one is innocent. However, sudden changes in player performance have always been regular occurrences as well, and to question every one of them, to look for some basic, simplistic answer in a bottle for each of those changes would be to destroy the game via the same route that the self-appointed guardians of baseball would say they are trying to prevent: the destruction of its integrity via suspicion and disbelief. Remember, you don't need actual wrongdoing, just the suspicion of it, to destroy someone's reputation.

As Paul Simon sang in 1975, "Paranoia strikes deep in the heartland... they're just out to capture my dime." Indeed, there's a profit motive in all of this, not just to take your money but to capture your respect by getting out in front of a story. However, if the only way of doing so is to impugn someone's reputation before the fact, a look in the mirror is called for. Such an approach is paranoid at best, irresponsible, self-aggrandizing demagoguery at worst. Either way, better to holster your pen and let events play out. If someone fails a test, you can always say, "I had suspected [player], but decency prevented me from saying anything until a concrete reason to do so was provided."

Until then, accept that the testing regime is largely working, that players are changeable for better and for worse, that the ongoing success of players like Bartolo Colon and the ongoing failure of a whole horde of minor leaguers to benefit from chemical abuse suggests that there isn't that much to it in the first place, that you will never have a completely clean game and that even if you could, besmirching even one innocent player is too high a price to pay to get there.

More from SB Nation:

Rick Reilly basically accuses Chris Davis of PEDs

MLB forgives, forgets, puts Colon on All-Star team

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