After writing about Jake Arrieta on Thursday, explaining why it wasn't logical to assume that every unexpected baseball superstar was roided to the gills, a muscle-truther tweeted back at me.
stats don't matter, just take the eye test. Look at his forearms and face.
OK, I'll try anything once. Arrieta's new face was covered by ... by, some manner of fuzzy hair! Could be linked to testosterone, more as this story develops. The new forearms looked bigger than mine in one picture, and the old forearms looked bigger than mine in the other picture. Of note was that the arm action was noticeably different in both, which could suggest a mechanical improvement that would complement his natural talent, but let's not quibble about the fine print.
Arrieta was a large man in both pictures, and muscle-truthers are the worst.
Twelve hours later, Dee Gordon was popped for performance-enhancing drugs.
a. This is the death of muscle-truthers. "Just look at Jeff Bagwell!" isn't a valid argument, and don't talk to me about Arrieta's forearms. Dee Gordon just got busted, fer cryin' out ... look, I know he can probably backflip over me, but we're tied in "getting that damned can of green beans down from the top shelf."
b. This is the ennnnnnd of the innocence. We don't have to point at Manny Alexander anymore as proof that PED-users come in all forms. Here is a wee man by baseball standards, slapping the ball around like Barnacles O'Mannahan in 1897, taking the advice of Wee Willie Keeler and making his fortune that way. He was a batting champion. He was an All-Star. He was tiny. He was dirty. No one is safe. Nine years after the Mitchell Report, nothing has changed. Everyone is suspect.
If Dee Gordon can get busted ...
Take it from the beginning. I'm writing this about 25 minutes after the news broke, but I will guarantee you that this quote will be in three-quarters of every Gordon take that's published on Friday. From his former and current manager, Don Mattingly, three weeks ago:
"He’s physically stronger," Mattingly said. "I think when we had him, he was 145 [pounds]. He was skinny."
The Marlins list Gordon at 170 pounds. The reigning National League batting champion is off to another hot start, going 6 for 11 in the Marlins’ first two games.
Mattingly, who was Gordon’s manager with the Dodgers from 2011-14, said "the swing was good at that point" but that he lacked size and strength.
"I didn’t see Dee all year last year," Mattingly said. "I just think Dee’s brimming with confidence and what he can do. There’s no more doubting, does he belong? I think the strength and experience came together, and all of a sudden we’re seeing this guy."
You are Dee Gordon, the son of a successful major leaguer. You are not a successful major leaguer yet, even though your entire life has revolved around baseball. Going to the clinics, doing the summer leagues, playing for a community college for a shot at the D-I, going to a NAIA D-II when that doesn't work out, proving yourself enough to get taken in the fourth round, ahead of Stanford kids, Arizona State kids who were heavily recruited out of high school. Now you're in the minors. And you've proven that you can get a bat on the ball, and you've proven beyond a doubt that you can run like hell after that.
You get to the majors, and you're first panel of a Charles Atlas ad. There's no way until you can hit at least a few doubles and do as many pushups as Omar Vizquel. Scouts kick sand in your face. You hit .234 with a .298 slugging percentage in your debut.
What do you do?
Justin Verlander knows what he would do. He would protect the sanctity of the game. If you know what you've done, just drop the fake denials and give up. Of course, he was blessed with a physique that Jack Kirby would have erased because he wanted to be realistic. Verlander was gifted with 100 mph, over and over again, until it didn't happen quite like that. Now he gets to figure out the what-next after his star fell a little, but the star was already up there. He was already the MVP. He was already the pennant-winning player with the bajillion-dollar extension.
Gordon was just a skinny kid who knew exactly how to get where he'd been training for his whole life. It was by doing this, that, skulking in the shadows, doing more this, more that. Everything else was the same.
What do you do?
It sounds like an easy decision. But let's take another case. Let's say you play for the Reds, and you coincidentally have the same name as someone who held the MLB stolen base record for 80 years. You run like screwy stop-motion animation, and you play defense like you can flit between dimensional membranes. There weren't any problems in the minor leagues, not all, and now you're in the majors.
But after 1,100 plate appearances, you're wheels deep into a career that suggests you're a role player, a freak, someone who can't start. Someone suggests that you take this, that, and the other thing to start lining balls over the heads of the middle infielders. You decline. Maybe out of honor, maybe out of fear that you'll get caught, maybe out of fear that you'll die at 45, with a heart the size of an armadillo.
What do you do when you hear about Dee Gordon's suspension? You get right pissed off, at least that's what I would do. Billy Hamilton with performance-enhancing drugs is your favorite player. He's a freaking Time Magazine cover. But he's trying the natural way, I'm guessing, based on available evidence.
Without Gordon and the dozens/scores/hundreds of players doing the PED thing, maybe Hamilton is a star. I'm not so concerned with the Sanctity of Baseball as I am concerned with sneaking into a co-worker's bunk at night and taking his scrip. Gordon was a star with the contract that someone else isn't going to get. That's screwed up.
And for us, as fans, it's impossible to figure out who the Gordons and the Hamiltons are. Joe Morgan was 2'3" and played with a mitt the size of a tea cozy, and he was one of the greatest players baseball had ever seen. Will ever see. He did it with hard work and physical gifts. Why couldn't Gordon have been that kind of story? Why did it have to be illicit?
But it was, it will be. Gordon is a reminder that the eyeball test is the worst mix of 15th-century alchemy and preconceived notions. PEDs are helpful to big sluggers and speedy middle infielders, large starting pitchers and smaller starting pitchers, closers and long relievers, established bench players and Triple-A lifers who are so very close to being established bench players.
It's understandable that players would take PEDs. It's crushing that they would go through with it and suck the opportunity away from another person who was unwilling.
Dee Gordon is dirty. Your favorite player probably isn't, but he might be! You can understand the motivation for doing it, even if you wouldn't do it, too. Except you might. But you might not. Unless that pile of millions over there isn't that tempting. Under the pile is fame and eternal glory. Don't answer now.
To repeat: Not every surprising baseball player is on steroids or PEDs. But some of them are, and they'll blow your mind. You can understand why it happens; you can understand why it doesn't happen with everyone.
Congratulations, Dee Gordon, you've screwed everything up for everyone else. Let's just pick up all these cards and start building the house again.