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Saturday, November 22, 2014

Where Tim Kurkjian Gets it Oh So Wrong on Jim Thome

Jim Thome hit two home runs Monday night to become the eighth player in MLB history to reach 600 career home runs. We’ve already gone through the myriad of reasons Thome’s accomplishment did not receive much attention. ESPN did a good job making up for a lack of a countdown with thorough coverage Monday. They led off SportsCenter with Thome’s achievement; it was the top headline on their homepage news feed; and it was the main centerpiece slide on their homepage. They also had veteran reporter/analyst Tim Kurkjian do a two-minute long feature on the man. It was in the feature where one of Kurkjian’s passages irked me.

“There have been more than 17,000 players in Major League history and this week Thome became only the eighth player to hit 600 home runs,” Kurkjian began. “In the aftermath of the steroid era, that no longer means certain induction in the Hall of Fame. But from all indications, Thome hit his 600 cleanly with no aid from performance-enhancing drugs. Instead, it was a combination of work ethic, tremendous strength, and the ability to hit home runs.”

That was said in Kurkjian’s video feature. His written column on Thome referenced steroids and PEDs more subtly. “Thome’s numbers came without flair, flash or controversy, especially involving steroids,” Kurjian wrote. He also pointed out that three other members of the 600 home run club (Bonds, Sosa, Rodriguez) were tied to PEDs.

There is a major, major fault with Kurkjian’s report that must be addressed. It’s an issue that reflects the stance of many other notable baseball writers, and one that colors the viewpoint of many fans.

Kurkjian tries to make the assertion that Jim Thome hit his 600 home runs cleanly while many other players did not. I ask one simple question: How does Kurkjian know?

Was he in the clubhouse with Thome everyday? Did he trail him home after games? Did he travel with him on the road? How would Kurkjian know if Thome did or didn’t use?

He wouldn’t know just like none of us would know. That’s where he errs.

When viewing players from the 1990s and 2000s, you have to look at them as a whole rather than individuals. That’s the only fair way to assess them.

If you get to the root of Kurkjian’s argument, it’s that we should not suspect anyone of using steroids who was not part of a controversy. That’s simply illogical because it ignores how we learned about players’ connections with steroids. People forget that the public’s limited knowledge of players using steroids comes mostly from one of four sources:

1) If Jose Canseco wrote or talked about you
2) If you had ties to BALCO
3) If you had ties to Brian McNamee
4) If you had ties to Kirk Radomski

Canseco played mostly with the A’s, Rangers, Red Sox, and Rays. It was mostly Giants players who had ties to BALCO. McNamee worked with the Yankees and Blue Jays. Radomski was a clubhouse attendant for the Mets. If you throw in the Orioles ring that was exposed through Jason Grimsley, and the Dodgers ring led by Paul LoDuca, you’re talking 10 teams. Got that? 10 teams out of 30 for which we have knowledge, yet Tim Kurkjian wants writers and fans to vote on the Baseball Hall of Fame based on (at best) 33% of the available information.

The Mitchell Report gave us a glimpse of the problem, not a comprehensive view of the entire issue. That’s because Mitchell’s discoveries were based on access to information; Radomski was his greatest source. Does that mean players connected to Radomski were the only ones using PEDs? Was Radomski the only roids resource in baseball?

Radomski didn’t have connections to the Cubs, Phillies, Cardinals, Pirates, Astros, Mariners, and countless other teams. Canseco never played for any of those squads either. Maybe that’s the reason there have been no indications about certain players using steroids.

The public not having “any indications” that a player used steroids does not mean that they did not use them. It also does not mean the player did use them. It simply means that we don’t have concrete information suggesting they did. Because of that reason, the only fair way to judge all players is by grouping them into the same category: athletes of the Steroids Era.

I’ve already wholly explained how that pertains to the Baseball Hall of Fame. As I’ve said many times before, the only proper solution to this issue is having a steroids wing where all players of the era are voted based on their on-field accomplishments. Steroid speculation must be left aside in order to evaluate all players fairly.



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