Appreciating Carlos Delgado (cont.)
He is right about the guessing game. It is laughable how people want to draw simplistic conclusions about steroids and home runs. Take Rodriguez, for instance. People want to explain his home runs in Texas via steroids, ignoring the ballpark effects and the youthful prime of his career. Similarly, it is na´ve to put those three years in their own lockbox, which would be, for one, to believe a highly suspect person at face value that somehow he did not use before or since, and secondly, to ignore the physiological benefits even from those three years. A former Primobolan user said that ballplayers retain 80 percent of the muscular and strength benefits even when they stop using. Three years of injections created an unnatural baseline of strength that would continue to provide benefits, especially if supplemented by worry-free offseason injections.
Another former player told the story of juiced teammates putting themselves through ridiculously strenuous weight training morning workouts that normally would require a body two days of recovery. On steroids, however, those jacked ballplayers were back in the weight room that same afternoon. There are anecdotal stories from players, too, about improved eyesight. There are common stories about players on steroids feeling fresh all year long, never feeling sluggish or swinging a slower bat over what for everyone else is a debilitating six-month grind. Caminiti told me that on steroids he felt "like Superman."
Rodriguez and everybody else who took steroids took them because they work. To think they worked in exactly the same way for everyone is silly. It would depend on drug, dosage, cycles, age, training, baseline ability ... there is no steroid conversion formula for statistics, no iPhone app for that translation. Even in such fog of the Steroid Era, what is clear is that steroid users gained an edge over the players who were competing clean. Delgado refused to hold that ill-gained advantage against the unclean.
"I made decisions that I thought were right at the time and I can live with it," Delgado said. "For the guys who did it, I'm not going to say, 'It's bull---.' It is what it is. It's not up to me to say that about somebody else. You do whatever you think is right."
There was one more thing I had to ask him. If he personally regarded steroid use as cheating, why didn't he say anything back in those dirty years when the competition, the record book and the awards were compromised? Why did he, like almost all of his disadvantaged colleagues who played clean, choose silence over reform, or at least public dialogue?
"You couldn't prove it," he said. "You couldn't come out and say, 'A lot of people are doing this,' because then you are asked, 'Well, how do you know?' Well, nothing. That's why you didn't say. Unless you know absolutely for sure, you don't know. You heard guys talking about it, but to this day you still don't know who.
"I hear [David] Ortiz talking about stiffer penalties. It's not going to stop people. Fifty games, a hundred games ... why do people still do it? Because they think they can beat the system. That's the way I look at it. If someone comes to you and they tell you they have this stuff they can't test for it ... some people will always think they can beat the system. Otherwise people wouldn't get caught. People think they are going to be young and healthy forever, and that's not the case."
Delgado has maintained a very reasoned position on what happened in the best years of his career. He doesn't want a do-over on the MVP award he didn't win. He is a happy man, content with his family, his decisions and his career. If he retired today, he would rank among the top 30 hitters all time in home runs, slugging, at-bats per home run and intentional walks. But he has plenty of baseball left in him. Last year, while turning 36, he played in 159 games, smashed 38 homers and racked up 310 total bases, his most since 2003. How much longer will he play?
"For sure, this year and another year," he said. "Then after that, I'll see where I am at. Then figure out what you want to do and take it from there."
He would like 1,700 RBIs, which would move him into the top 25. Already, he stands 50th on the RBI list. Already, he has Hall of Fame numbers.
"It would be a great honor," he said of enshrinement. "It would be flattering. It would be great recognition. But I catch myself if I start to think about it, because I can't control it and it's so far down the road. You start forcing yourself into doing this and that, instead of just going out and playing. At the end, somebody is going to decide anyway. I have no say. You just play the game, finish up strong, go home and hope five years later some people say, 'Hey, this guy has pretty good numbers.' "
The more we find out about the heart of the Steroid Era, the more polish accrues to the career of Delgado, a man who, so far, has not been connected, even on the clubhouse rumor network, to illegal drugs, a ballplayer not afraid to call steroid use "cheating."
Of course, the standard disclaimer of skepticism applies, thanks to people such as Bonds and Palmeiro and Rodriguez, who injected us with a megadose of distrust. I will not, however, let them take away my belief that many players played the game the right way. I would rather be fooled again by a rogue player in sheep's clothing than indict them all and forfeit optimism, which should remain an essential nutrient of the human condition.
Delgado's numbers that we missed back then seem bigger over time. I regard my Hall of Fame vote as the personal endorsement of the entirety of a playing career, not a guesswork parsing of "clean" and "dirty" periods, as if that era of enablement needed yet another layer of lazy compliance, and for posterity, no less. I respect the opinion of voters who bring a different take to their ballot; there is no right or wrong position. But from any vantage point, the lost slugger deserves a better look.