Getting where Frank Thomas is coming from

Getting where Frank Thomas is coming from
However, there's just no knowing where Thomas' shirts come from // Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

Generally when the topic of steroid use in baseball comes up on a sports talk show, it’s an invitation to begin eye-rolling.

It’s a noble effort for baseball to regulate what could otherwise be a wild arms race of experimentation in performance supplements in their sport, but the mass effort to extract a penance from the “steroid era” of players is so uneven and lacking in any kind of due process, that it is more of a forum to play favorites while slandering others than any earnest attempt to make things “right.”

I mean, what’s more infuriating, that Jeff Bagwell’s Hall of Fame candidacy is submarined purely by association with an unfavorable era where everyone is apparently a suspect, or the mass dismissal of “steroid-fueled” accomplishments that fails to recognize that a player such as Bagwell, was still 49% better than the average hitter for his career despite playing when everyone was allegedly a super-mutant?

Always eager to step into the fray is Frank Thomas.  If Frank ever used steroids, he’s the best bluffer alive, because he’s been railing against the stuff and demanding testing and more rigorous punishment since the mid-90’s.  Keenly aware of his legacy, Thomas sees an era where offensive production exploded alongside the usage of performance-enhancing supplements the he abstained from, and can’t help but think that he was screwed out of greater recognition for his transcendent work.  He clearly still seethes from his 2nd place finish in the 2000 AL MVP vote to admitted-juicer Jason Giambi, and now sees a compatriot in Matt Kemp, who just lost the NL MVP vote to Ryan Braun.

Frank’s just as easy at it gets when it comes to examples to point to for those who want to justify the active purging of all the suspicious characters, a true great wronged by the crimes that failed to be prosecuted.

But looking at baseball in late 80’s and the 90’s with the need to settle a grudge isn’t a particularly helpful approach when trying to rationalize the era, or appreciate and honor its exceptional players.  Hell, the very same scorched-Earth policy that Frank advocates will probably turn up misguided suspicions of his own career when it’s time to consider his Hall of Fame candidacy, and it will be based on the same weak circumstantial crap about “increase in body mass over his career” or “unnatural aging curve” that others are being taken down with.

And yet, I can’t help but appreciate Thomas’ steadfastness.  As much as I feel that a player being a steroid user at the height of the era of supplementation without regulation shouldn’t be an instant disavowal of their accomplishments, it’s awfully nice and convenient to never have to make that rationalization about Thomas and his career.  I’d much rather stand in awe of it, and it’s twinkling superlativeness, than reason through what percentage of its merits are retained when placing it in the context of its era.  Having Frank to cling to as a White Sox fan probably makes dealing with this all of this a lot easier, and listening to him be an unforgiving stickler on the issue seems like a fair trade.

Other notes:

– OH THANK GOD A TRADE RUMOR: The Blue Jays are said to be perusing the trade market again in the wake of losing out on the Yu Darvish, which includes ringing up their old friend Kenny Williams about Quentin and Danks.  I think I’ve gotten over my fear of Williams going head-to-head with Alex Anthopoulos.  First, it’s good just that someone is calling, but also the Blue Jays have an excellent system that Assistant to the GM Marco Paddy knows well.  There’s as good of an opportunity for the Sox to be keenly aware of what they’re getting from Toronto as anywhere else.

The White Sox held a private workout for Yoenis Cespedes.  Sigh, they are just never going to give De Aza a starting gig, are they?  Er, uh, I mean, GREAT!  New talent!  A possibly elite player!  A reason to get up in the morning!

The Royals signed Yuniesky Betancourt to a 1-year deal, where he’ll likely serve as a utility infielder.




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  • " First, it's good just that someone is calling". It's funny, most people on the messageboards/blogs are saying the same thing. People are assuming KW isn't having conversations when in reality he probably has 4-5 offers for Danks on the table, it's just that the press doesn't know about them. After all, no one caught wind of the Santos trade until it was done.

  • In reply to fanexchange:

    I'm sure you're right. I should have couched more as, it's good to hear rumors again, because waiting it out and playing this "will they or won't they?" game in my head is agonizing.

  • I tend to believe that the scope and scale of PED usage in MLB is so beyond mainstream media discourse on the subject that most of the commentary is naive and irrelevant. It makes sense to a cynic like me that, with millions of dollars at stake, when presented with the opportunity most players took drugs to make themselves stronger when MLB was not testing for them, and now take other undetectable drugs that help them recover and effectively train during a rigorous 162 game season (plus an increasing number of playoff games and shorter offseasons over the last few decades).

    Considering that players taking these drugs really aren't hurting anyone (it's highly debatable whether they are even hurting themselves long term), and larger injustices in the world today, it doesn't even bother me. The game of baseball is a beautiful thing with or without drugs that help entertainers play the game longer and better.

    I'd be shocked to find out for certain that Frank never juiced. Especially at the end of his career, perhaps beginning around 2001-3, after Giambi denied him the MVP and Frank needed to recover from his triceps tear, when his skills were diminishing and he felt he had to get to 500 HRs to get into the Hall.

    But like the rest of the players of Thomas' era, we can only speculate. What we can know for certain, as James points out using Bagwell as an example, is how player performances compared to others in the same era; by this standard Frank is a Hall of Famer with or without performance enhancing drugs.

    Thanks for another thought provoking post James.

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    I would definitely say the usage is beyond the scope where there's any purpose in holding isolated players up as examples and burning their career accomplishments in effigy.

    The part where I worry is supplement usage accelerating to the point where it's mandatory to stay competitive at youth levels, where the 'it's just adults consenting to the requirements of the profession' rationalization doesn't come into play yet. I understand that discovery and enforcement of new methods is always going to be two steps behind, with random blips like the Braun test popping up now and then, but I think it's worth it so that every 16 year-old looking to get drafted or land a scholarship doesn't need to look up synthetic testosterone on google.

    Perhaps I'm opening up a can of worms and larger questions about how private industry chooses to regulate itself, or drug usage among private citizens, but I'm ok with MLB looking upon the 90's and thinking that they would like to set some parameters on supplement usage before things get skewed too far down that path. Sure, everyone takes stuff, and what registers as "juicing" is probably a pretty arbitrary line, but go ahead and enforce it, so long as we're not going to view the two sides of it as right and wrong, or black and white. Ideally, it'd be looked at the same way we'll look at international free agents and draft spending before the new CBA. "Oh, that's how it was before the rule change."

    So what do you think of Frank then, if you believe he inevitably took something? Is he a ranting hypocrite? Is he drawing an arbitrary line at anabolic steroids and HGH like many of us are? Either way, he seems pretty dismissive of the idea of ex post facto. It definitely corresponded with aging, but it's worth noting that Frank never really was the same player after the triceps tear, and became more of a Quentin-type flyball hitter to keep his power numbers steady. Oh, that's just me clinging to my idealistic view again.

  • In reply to James Fegan:

    I love to kick back and crack open a few cans of worms during lulls in the White Sox news cycle. "Luuuullllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllz."

    Your concerns about PED policy are valid and probably justified, and I realize that mine is not the majority view (just me and Jose Canseco I think) and would require vast cultural change, but if you'll indulge me:

    I don't mean to suggest a hands off policy toward PEDs by MLB, nor officially condoning their use. I'm just saying let's (the baseball loving community) recognize PED use is now and will seemingly forever be a part of the game. I don’t mind talking about stripping one guy of his MVP award because he failed a drug test that season, but let’s not assume that the guy who finished 2nd wasn't on anything.

    When it comes to adolescent ball players, I would guess that their access to the newest drugs would be limited in comparison to well-compensated major leaguers with access to all kinds of specialists. Therefore, testing should be a more effective deterrent. But my feeling is: if they are old enough to snap off a curve ball, or to hit one, then they are probably old enough to dabble in HGH and/or other PEDs (I think most physicians in the know, speaking candidly, would agree. Consider also that many types of steroids are prescribed to kids; for growth deficiencies, skin disorders, asthma, etc.). They key is building awareness among young people, supervising, and regulating the use of PEDs. It's the abuse of the drugs that needs to be prevented.

    My opinion of Frank doesn’t really extend beyond the affection and appreciation I felt for him as a player. Hearing him talk about not taking steroids, he certainly sounds sincere. But Raphael Palmeiro sounded pretty sincere when he was waving his finger at that congressional committee.

    Assuming Frank did take something, his position could be justified (in his own mind) in a number of ways I suppose. Perhaps, as you say, he makes a distinction between HGH and anabolic steroids. Or, maybe Frank started using later in his career; after he had won MVPs, posted some sick numbers, and only when he felt forced to after Giambi MVP/triceps injury. More cynically, maybe he just wants to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer (believes he deserves it and believes it might mean some extra cake) and is exploiting the popular backlash against athletes on PEDs and his reputation as the “clean” guy in order to make that happen. If that's the case, given the bassackwardness of the HOF committee, I'm behind Frank 100 percent.

    By the way, anyone interested in this topic should see the film Bigger, Stronger, Faster (

    More unsolicited plugs on your blog, sorry James.

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    Frank's back isn't against the wall like Raffy's was though. He doesn't need to be out on TV espousing himself as an anti-PED zealot. It's a conscience choice, and one he seems to blend with a lot of personal bitterness. Bitterness that doesn't seem like it would be there if he had come to the rationalization at some point "Well, I'm old and hurt, there's no shame in getting some outside help." If he went through that process and couldn't see how someone else said "My career's on the outs, I need something", then that would make him kind of an a-hole. Which wouldn't be the worst thing in the world, but a little unfortunate. So is the scenario where he's a cynical manipulator of the media (though also kind of hilarious).

    If they're going to try to regulate while being reasonable about the level of supplements in the game, shouldn't the punishments reflect that? Why give the NL MVP to Kemp if there's no real expectation that he was at a disadvantage? Braun testing positive in the playoffs right in the midst of when he was going bananas is about as close as you can ever get to a direct benefit, but I would generally think the goal should be trying to deter and eliminate more outsized doping supplements from the environment than righting past wrongs, which seems inherently doomed.

  • In reply to James Fegan:

    I agree. And I think MLB would be better off allowing players to take HGH (not steroids) in certain doses prescribed by registered physicians. Again, this would require vast cultural change, or a change in the public perception of PEDs.

    And I take back everything I said about Frank, having just learned about all the medicinal benefits of ZizZazz:

  • In reply to Ham N Egger:

    Oh good gravy, what the hell is that?!??!

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