Janesville33.8°

Yount’s view on steroids opens eyes to reality

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January 26, 2010
— Before I interviewed Robin Yount last week about steroid use in baseball, I was fairly black-and-white on the issue.

Cheating is cheating, even if the game’s predominant culture has been one of cheating since the time pitchers first started cutting and applying foreign substances to baseballs and bench jockeys began to learn how to steal signs.


And even if steroids had not been banned from baseball and there was no testing, possession of steroids without a prescription was breaking the law. And that doesn’t even get into the side effects.


Moreover, a competitive advantage was a competitive advantage, no matter the rationalization.


Yount didn’t completely change my mind, but with his stark honesty and articulate overview of the Steroid Era, he blended some shades of gray into the conversation.


Where other Hall of Famers have brought vitriolic heat since Mark McGwire’s weak confession, Yount pitched perspective.


He didn’t make McGwire a sympathetic character nor did he try, but Yount did explain with eloquent reason why players of the Steroid Era were put in a very difficult situation.


They were still wrong and they were still cheaters because other players stood up to the pressure and rejected the needle. But until you’ve actually played the game and understood what it was like to see a competitor gain an advantage, you cannot know.


As far as I know, Yount is the first Hall of Famer to freely admit what others would say if they had the courage, that, yes, he would’ve been tempted to use steroids had they been readily available during his career.


“I’ll be very honest,” Yount said in comments published last Friday. “In the fact that there was no testing and if there were benefits from it, it would have been very difficult. Without testing in place, you would’ve almost been forced to do it to keep up.”


“I’m glad that I didn’t have to make that call because it would have been a very difficult decision to decide whether to do it or not.”


Speaking for a very good early ’80s Brewers clubhouse, Yount said, “It wouldn’t have been an easy decision. Or maybe it would’ve been an easy decision, for that matter. You just would’ve had to do it to keep up.”


Most of the e-mail I’ve received has been supportive of Yount for his honesty, but then again, he is an iconic figure around here. Some of the feedback was less sympathetic over the misconception that Yount directly compared the Steroid Era to the dead-ball era or those times when the pitching mound was lowered and raised. If you carefully read his comments, he made no such claims.


All he said was that history will judge the Steroid Era accordingly. Just as stats were skewed during those periods, historians will understand why the numbers were inflated during the last two decades.


One of the best things Yount said was how baseball dragged its feet in banning or even testing for steroids. In an indictment of the players, the union, the owners, the commissioner’s office and the media, that was, at least to me, the biggest crime.


To save itself and line its pockets, baseball averted its gaze while celebrating the fraudulent McGwire-Sammy Sosa home-run race. It finally took the Barry Bonds publicity for the game to amend its ways.


If not for his refreshing honesty and perspectives, Yount might be a spokesman for Major League Baseball. And that would be a very good thing.


As someone who didn’t play the game, I’m still closer to Carlton Fisk’s point of view on the Steroid Era. But Yount softened some of the edges. What he said didn’t make it altogether right, but he was spot-on about the way it was.



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