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Monday, August 11, 2014

Matinale: Nolan Ryan, power pitcher into his 40s. Did he use steroids?

As lefty Zangara once said: “You is Kruk man too!”

John Kruk said Nolan Ryan was the fastest pitcher he faced.  Faster than Rob Dibble and Dwight Gooden, whom Kruk also named.  But Kruk was emphatic when asked: Nolan he replied multiple times.  This was during the ESPN Sunday night game in Boston between the Yankees and Red Sox Aug. 3, 2014.

I wasn’t sure when Kruk would have faced Ryan so I looked it up: 1986, 1987, 1988.  But here’s the thing.  Nolan Ryan was born January 31, 1947 in Refugio, TX.  So in those seasons Ryan was 39, 40, 41.  Those seasons were Kruk’s first three in the majors (ages 25, 26, 27), playing for San Diego against Ryan who was in his final three seasons with Houston before switching to the Texas Rangers 1989 through 1993, ages 42 through 46.

Maybe Kruk was overly impressed by Ryan’s reputation and attributes more speed than acumen to Ryan’s performance.  Kruk’s 21 plate appearances against Ryan are here:

Two singles and one home run in 18 at bats, plus three walks; OPS .619.

...The problem with the control theory is that Ryan’s control improved in 1979 at age 32.  Why did his SO improve at age 40?  The changeup?  That must have been one whale of a changeup.

Every season Ryan led a league in strike outs (SO) he also led in SO per nine innings pitched (SO9).  In 1991 at age 44 Ryan led in SO9 but not in SO (203).  Since he pitched in both leagues, one with a DH, one without, it makes sense to look at his SO9 compared to the league average.  His first season of 1966 is omitted because he pitched only three innings.  Numbers with only one decimal place were copied from baseball-reference.com so the result may be slightly less accurate than it could be but should not reduce the overall understanding.  Data for graph below is in this link; also below the graph.

Repoz Posted: August 11, 2014 at 08:22 AM | 94 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
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   1. Ulysses S. Fairsmith Posted: August 11, 2014 at 08:58 AM (#4768371)
Everyone knows that steroids only help sluggers and Roger Clemens. Therefore, Ryan did not use steroids.
   2. AROM Posted: August 11, 2014 at 09:02 AM (#4768373)
Rarely did you see radar gun readings back then, and when you did you never knew if it was a fast or slow gun. I don't know if Ryan was still hitting triple digits in his final seasons with the Astros.

I do remember watching a Ranger game a few years later and the announcers said that Ryan was only the third hardest thrower on the team, after Kevin Brown and Jeff Russell.
   3. BDC Posted: August 11, 2014 at 10:09 AM (#4768419)
Ryan was only the third hardest thrower on the team, after Kevin Brown and Jeff Russell

It's possible (though I seem to remember Ryan hitting 100 MPH on the guns of the early '90s). Brown threw a very heavy and rapid sinker, of course, which may have been fairly invisible to a lot of hitters. Russell threw very hard, for sure.

In his Ranger days, Ryan had a heartbreaking curve ball and a silly changeup to go with the extreme heat, and had much better control than early in his career. I say this in every Nolan Ryan thread, but man, was he a complete pitcher at that point.

Steroids, who knows. Coupla Advil, we know that. Basically any player might have used steroids, but like Bonds, if Ryan did use them, he was also an extreme physical specimen.
   4. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: August 11, 2014 at 10:17 AM (#4768426)
I saw Ryan pitch from about 10 rows behind home plate in Three Rivers 1987. Definitely threw high 90s, though I doubt 100. Curve was, as BDC said, filthy. I had similar seats in RFK for an AJ Burnett start in 2005 and he clearly didn't throw as hard as Ryan.
   5. Yoenis Cespedes, Baseball Savant Posted: August 11, 2014 at 10:22 AM (#4768430)
Bill James wrote something (maybe in The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers?) about the challenges of identifying the fastest pitcher ever. When you ask players that question, they tend to name pitchers they faced early in their careers. James theorized this happens because the named pitcher was the first 80 grade fastball the hitter faced in the big leagues. The hitter has no frame of reference for it. Later fastballs of similar speed don't stand out to the hitter because they have accumulated experience facing them.
   6. The Good Face Posted: August 11, 2014 at 10:26 AM (#4768433)
It's possible (though I seem to remember Ryan hitting 100 MPH on the guns of the early '90s). Brown threw a very heavy and rapid sinker, of course, which may have been fairly invisible to a lot of hitters. Russell threw very hard, for sure.


I remember the Texas Rangers era Ryan working at around 93-94 in games, sometimes ramping things up to 96 or so. VERY fast for the late 80s, early 90s, but I'm pretty sure his 100 MPH heat was behind him at that point unless he was on a extremely generous gun.
   7. Accent Shallow Posted: August 11, 2014 at 10:28 AM (#4768434)
Bill James wrote something (maybe in The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers?) about the challenges of identifying the fastest pitcher ever. When you ask players that question, they tend to name pitchers they faced early in their careers. James theorized this happens because the named pitcher was the first 80 grade fastball the hitter faced in the big leagues. The hitter has no frame of reference for it. Later fastballs of similar speed don't stand out to the hitter because they have accumulated experience facing them.

This is a great point, although it would be interesting to fact check that.
   8. Ron J2 Posted: August 11, 2014 at 10:30 AM (#4768436)
#3 We don't have pitch counts for much of Ryan's career, but pitch count estimators work pretty well. From what I can tell Ryan averaged just over 140 pitches per start in 1977 and just under 140 in 1974. Bob Feller is the only pitcher I can find who was likely close to that -- around 135 at his peak.

We also don't have an official pitch count for his June 14, 1974 start (though I've seen 243 quoted more than once). The pitch count estimators come up with a little over 250. ( 13 innings. 8 hits, 10 walks and 19 Ks. 58 batters faced. Not a complete game. The wimp)

And followed this up with 6 innings of shutout ball (3 hits, 3 walks and 7 Ks) on 3 days rest. Followed by 3 straight complete games (including a 1 hitter with 1 walk)

In fact he completed 6 of his next 10 starts *and* threw in a bad relief appearance two days after his second straight complete game.

Roughly 99.9% of pitchers end up on the DL just reading about that kind of workload. Ryan had an arm that normal rules just didn't apply.

And later in his career he was one of the pirst pitchers that I'm aware of to be put on some kind of informal pitch count. Probably didn't hurt his velocity to know that he probably wasn't going to be asked for more than 120 pitches.
   9. AROM Posted: August 11, 2014 at 10:46 AM (#4768446)
And later in his career he was one of the pirst pitchers that I'm aware of to be put on some kind of informal pitch count. Probably didn't hurt his velocity to know that he probably wasn't going to be asked for more than 120 pitches.


Later in his career Ryan had at least a partial tear of his UCL. A mortal pitcher would have had the surgery and missed a year. Ryan just pitched through it.
   10. Rennie's Tenet Posted: August 11, 2014 at 10:50 AM (#4768448)
If Ryan had arrived today, how would his career have gone? He must have had many games where he would have had early exits due to game or inning pitch counts today.
   11. Ron J2 Posted: August 11, 2014 at 10:57 AM (#4768457)
#10 He'd have probably ended up in the bullpen and we'd never have known about his incredible endurance.
   12. AROM Posted: August 11, 2014 at 11:14 AM (#4768477)
Sadly, that is almost certainly true. He'd probably have the kind of career Aroldis Chapman is having.
   13. My name is Votto, and I love to get blotto Posted: August 11, 2014 at 11:22 AM (#4768491)
He's in the HOF, so I'm going to answer "no".
   14. BDC Posted: August 11, 2014 at 11:24 AM (#4768496)
pretty sure his 100 MPH heat was behind him at that point unless he was on a extremely generous gun

Quite possible, Face. Rhetoric in those days was often skewed to put the best possible spin on Ryan, not that he needed much.
   15. Ray (RDP) Posted: August 11, 2014 at 01:20 PM (#4768615)
If Ryan had arrived today, how would his career have gone?


Closer.
   16. Ron J2 Posted: August 11, 2014 at 01:28 PM (#4768622)
Also wouldn't have had the National Guard time. So raw and talented. Pretty sure he'd have been a major league regular at 20, and with no need to pace himself he'd have been striking out about 5 guys an inning.
   17. pikepredator Posted: August 11, 2014 at 01:42 PM (#4768630)
I was 13 in 1988. Canseco's use was out in the open, Ban Johnson happened, and steroid use was widely covered in other sports. I automatically assumed players like Nolan Ryan and Cal Ripken were using steroids at least here and there and it didn't bother teen-age me any more than it bothers 40-year old me (that is, not at all). Ryan's career arc is quite similar to Bonds, even if Bonds didn't have quite the same trough before the late resurgence (which wasn't quite as late as Ryan's).

Truly dedicated athletes will do anything to stay on the field and produce at the highest level, even if it means risking their health. I guess I thought it was so obvious back in the late 80's/early 90's that looking back now, I can't figure out what people are trying to figure out. Perhaps my 13-year old self was simplifying the situation?

That said I do understand the concern over people like Braun, Raffy, etc. now that there are testing/rules/penalties in place, it's different.
   18. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: August 11, 2014 at 01:47 PM (#4768634)
Nolan Ryan is the most obvious steroid user that has ever played the game. But most people want to believe differently, so its never discussed.
   19. Ziggy Posted: August 11, 2014 at 02:00 PM (#4768645)
That Ryan would have been a closer seems pretty certain to me. In fact, the Mets even used him as a relief pitcher for a while. Thankfully closers didn't exist yet. Imagine what we're missing out on, putting Chapman, Kimbrel, et al., in the pen.
   20. AROM Posted: August 11, 2014 at 02:20 PM (#4768661)
For the current crop of 14 K/9 relievers:

99% of them, if given the Ryan workload, would blow out their arms. The 1% would be pretty amazing. But at this point we don't know how to identify them.
   21. AROM Posted: August 11, 2014 at 02:24 PM (#4768665)
The game is moving too fast for me, I offhandedly said 14 k/9 as an impressive barrier.

Around that figure you'll find Greg Holland, Wade Davis, Dave Robertson, Kenley Jansen, Brad Boxberger, and Andrew Miller.

Then you've got Kimbrel at 15.1, and Aroldis at 17.6!
   22. Cargo Cultist Posted: August 11, 2014 at 03:03 PM (#4768699)
There is zero evidence that Nolan Ryan ever used steroids. Suggesting that he did is really reaching at straws.

I agree, though, that in today's game he would be a lights out closer. And that would be a terrible waste.
   23. Ziggy Posted: August 11, 2014 at 03:10 PM (#4768708)
99% of starters would blow out their arm given Ryan's workload. We're missing out on what elite pitchers could do, even if they were only given normal (starting pitcher) workloads. There's a lot of talent that's being wasted 60 innings at a time.
   24. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: August 11, 2014 at 03:13 PM (#4768713)
There is zero evidence that Nolan Ryan ever used steroids. Suggesting that he did is really reaching at straws.

He fits every steroid user profile that has been used to condemn many people. Pitched well into his 40s. Mysteriously healthy, despite pitching a million pitches. Some of his best seasons occurred in his 40s, leading the league in strikeouts in his age 40, 41, 42 AND 43 seasons.

He took time out of his HOF induction speech to say this about infamous early steroid fanatic Tom House:

"And while I was there, I was very fortunate to have a pitching coach by the name of Tom House. And Tom and I are the same age and Tom is a coach that is always on the cutting edge and I really enjoyed our association together. He would always come up with new training techniques that we would try and see how they would work into my routine. And because of our friendship and Tom pushing me, I think that I got into the best shape of my life during the years that I was with the Rangers. And Tom, I really miss those days that we spent in the weight room and out on the field working together. And that last year that you weren't there, I can really say, buddy, that I missed you. Thank you for being here today.""

He played and associated with many known steroid users such as Canseco, Rafael Palmeiro, Brian Downing, IRod, etc.

He even had roid rage in his 40s, attacking young players like Robin Ventura for no reason.

There isn't any direct evidence against him, but for the masses that use circumstantial evidence, he has it in spades.
   25. Ray (RDP) Posted: August 11, 2014 at 03:15 PM (#4768714)
To me the eyebrow-raising part of the Ryan-steroids question is his comment some years ago about "If we'd had them when I played..." That to me smacks of disingenuousness, because there is no way that a guy who worked out and paid so much attention to fitness and training from the late 60s to the early 90s and was around MLB clubhouses didn't know at some point in that run that steroids were available. Because it is simply not plausible that he either wasn't aware of steroids or nobody during the 30 years came up to him and said hey, you know what you should try...

I mean, for the vast majority of his career steroids were legal in the US, and if you don't buy into what Tom House was saying then certainly by the time the late 80s rolled around steroids had reached MLB clubhouses in earnest.
   26. Moeball Posted: August 11, 2014 at 03:17 PM (#4768716)
That Ryan would have been a closer seems pretty certain to me. In fact, the Mets even used him as a relief pitcher for a while.


When Ryan retired, many people assumed that for all the glory his career had brought upon him, it was sad he had no ringzzz to go with it, since most people associate him with pitching for the Angels, Astros and Rangers.

But, in fact, he not only got a ring for being on the 1969 Mets, he got a save in the World Series in this game.
   27. valuearbitrageur Posted: August 11, 2014 at 03:24 PM (#4768721)
He even had roid rage in his 40s, attacking young players like Robin Ventura for no reason.


I was totally with you until this line. Anyone here who hasn't at least once felt a sudden urge to punch Robin Ventura is a better man than me, and I like Robin Ventura.
   28. AROM Posted: August 11, 2014 at 03:27 PM (#4768725)
To me the eyebrow-raising part of the Ryan-steroids question is his comment some years ago about "If we'd had them when I played..." That to me smacks of disingenuousness, because there is no way that a guy who worked out and paid so much attention to fitness and training from the late 60s to the early 90s and was around MLB clubhouses didn't know at some point in that run that steroids were available. Because it is simply not plausible that he either wasn't aware of steroids or nobody during the 30 years came up to him and said hey, you know what you should try...


True. Canseco came up at the end of 1985. Roided to the gills. Ryan had almost a full decade of pitching left at that point. Anybody who played a game after 1985 does not get to claim steroids weren't around in their day.

1985 at a minimum, I do realize steroids were around before then. But Canseco's a good line to draw for when it became obvious to anyone paying attention.
   29. The elusive Robert Denby Posted: August 11, 2014 at 03:37 PM (#4768733)
I was totally with you until this line. Anyone here who hasn't at least once felt a sudden urge to punch Robin Ventura is a better man than me, and I like Robin Ventura.

As a Royals fan, I hope Robin Ventura manages the Sox for fifty years.
   30. cardsfanboy Posted: August 11, 2014 at 03:48 PM (#4768751)
There is zero evidence that Nolan Ryan ever used steroids. Suggesting that he did is really reaching at straws.


There is more evidence that Ryan used steroids than there is that Sammy Sosa or Mike Piazza used, yet it never stops anyone from mentioning them as roid users or keeping them out.

Nolan Ryan is the most obvious roid user in the world. (as post 18 said). It doesn't mean he didn't use, but by the standards that is applied to players today, he would need to prove himself innocent, as he sure as heck looks guilty. Post 24 nails a lot of it.

   31. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: August 11, 2014 at 04:00 PM (#4768772)
1985 at a minimum, I do realize steroids were around before then. But Canseco's a good line to draw for when it became obvious to anyone paying attention.

The 1983 and 1984 Nebraska football teams are the Ground Zero of the modern era of steroids in sports. Canseco was a very early non-football adherent. By '88-'89, you had Canseco, Ben Johnson and the other Olympians (*), and Mr. Bacne himself, Tony Mandarich.

(*) And the accompanying SNL "All Drug Olympics" skit in October 1988 where Phil Hartman tries to clean and jerk like 1,000 pounds, only to see his arms sever at the elbows.
   32. Ray (RDP) Posted: August 11, 2014 at 04:06 PM (#4768777)
There is zero evidence that Nolan Ryan ever used steroids. Suggesting that he did is really reaching at straws.


You're making the same mistake Andy and the other anti-steroids crusaders make, by claiming that the mere suggestion that one of your sainted alleged non-users was actually a user is untoward.

Let alone when some of the commonly pointed to factors are present, as with Ryan.

These are plausible suggestions. It is plausible to believe that any MLB player who played from 1985 on (*) at some point used steroids.

(*) And I would argue that from 1960 or so on the suggestion is not out of bounds, but we don't need to have that fight w/r/t Ryan.
   33. The Id of SugarBear Blanks Posted: August 11, 2014 at 04:12 PM (#4768785)
You're making the same mistake Andy and the other anti-steroids crusaders make, by claiming that the mere suggestion that one of your sainted alleged non-users was actually a user is untoward.

The problem with this is that the anti-antis never let this be the standard in the early and mid-00s. Only when the evidence against people like Bonds became overwhelming, and the anti-antis went nihilist, did this become the standard.

So on this issue, you guys are like what Frank Lopez called Tony Montana: a real haza -- a pig who don't fly straight.
   34. Ray (RDP) Posted: August 11, 2014 at 04:20 PM (#4768798)
#33, at the start of this "we" claimed that the class of MLB players as a whole shouldn't be deemed users in vast numbers (e.g., 40% or 50% or whatever) without evidence that the league was using at those rates. Then when we had solid evidence "we" concluded that a large percentage of the league was in fact using. (Funny how that works. With evidence one forms a conclusion.) And then "we" concluded that therefore it was plausible to believe that ANY player of that period was using -- not that he was in fact using without direct evidence but that the suggestion was plausible -- and so "we" felt that the anti-steroids crusaders getting their claws out at the mere suggestion that a saint like Rivera or Jeter had used was very silly. I really don't see any inconsistency there.

(Ok, by "we" I mean me. And it seems some others.)

Let's also keep in mind what's happened here: the anti-steroids crusaders who just Know that a player like Sosa used or who who want to smear tainted players as cheaters and deny HOF entry to them also are certain that they just "know" that someone like Jeter never used. It's more silliness than the Surgeon General recommends.
   35. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: August 11, 2014 at 04:37 PM (#4768819)
I was totally with you until this line. Anyone here who hasn't at least once felt a sudden urge to punch Robin Ventura is a better man than me, and I like Robin Ventura.

That line was for comedy relief, but I'm glad someone read that far.

And I realize that Downing and IRod are not "known" users. Both suspected. With about as much reason as Ryan would be suspected.

   36. Jeff R., P***y Mainlander Posted: August 11, 2014 at 05:00 PM (#4768837)
I do remember watching a Ranger game a few years later and the announcers said that Ryan was only the third hardest thrower on the team, after Kevin Brown and Jeff Russell.


Bobby Witt may have thrown faster at times, even if he didn't know where it was going.
   37. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: August 11, 2014 at 05:07 PM (#4768843)
(*) And the accompanying SNL "All Drug Olympics" skit in October 1988 where Phil Hartman tries to clean and jerk like 1,000 pounds, only to see his arms sever at the elbows.

Fran Tarkenton did a sketch selling a breakfast cereal called "Sugar-Coated Anabolic Steroids" when he hosted 'Saturday Night Live' in January 1977.

http://snltranscripts.jt.org/76/pics/76msteroids1.jpg
   38. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: August 11, 2014 at 05:41 PM (#4768872)
Ok, by "we" I mean me.

Well, it was certainly a discussion going on entirely in your own mind, without taking in anything anybody else was saying. So at least you have that part accurate.
   39. Bourbon Samurai in Asia Posted: August 11, 2014 at 05:46 PM (#4768875)
Man bobby Witt sure could wing that ball. He was exciting to watch
   40. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 11, 2014 at 06:02 PM (#4768889)
Let's also keep in mind what's happened here: the anti-steroids crusaders who just Know that a player like Sosa used or who who want to smear tainted players as cheaters and deny HOF entry to them also are certain that they just "know" that someone like Jeter never used. It's more silliness than the Surgeon General recommends.

It's so much easier if you just wait for any convincing evidence to surface about Sosa or Nolan Ryan or Jeter before starting to speculate about any of them. Presumption of innocence isn't really that radical a thought, is it?
   41. dlf Posted: August 11, 2014 at 06:20 PM (#4768901)
It's so much easier if you just wait for any convincing evidence to surface about Sosa or Nolan Ryan or Jeter before starting to speculate about any of them. Presumption of innocence isn't really that radical a thought, is it?


Acknowledging that you have used this POV to support the HOF candidacies of Sosa, Bagwell, and Clemens ... it seems that the presumption of guilt started long ago with the anti crowd who are your fellow travelers and has been overwhelmingly sufficient to deny Cooperstown for whom the evidence is circumstantial and very limited.
   42. greenback calls it soccer Posted: August 11, 2014 at 06:54 PM (#4768930)
Pete Rose seems more obvious than Ryan to me, if for no other reason, that Rose lived with a steroids dealer.
   43. Pirate Joe Posted: August 11, 2014 at 07:36 PM (#4768953)
The 1983 and 1984 Nebraska football teams are the Ground Zero of the modern era of steroids in sports.



Those Nebraska teams only got into steroids the way that they did because it was such a proven winner in the NFL in the 70s with teams like the Steelers and the Raiders.

The ground zero of the modern era of steroids in sports started no later than the mid-70s, and it started in the NFL.


   44. pikepredator Posted: August 11, 2014 at 08:11 PM (#4768972)
Presumption of innocence isn't really that radical a thought, is it?


depends on the "crime". if someone tells me they have driven on the interstate for at least a few hundred miles, I will *presume* they have exceeded the speed limit. however I will not *judge* them for it - it's the judging part that I dislike, not the presumption of guilt/innocence.
   45. dr. scott Posted: August 11, 2014 at 08:16 PM (#4768975)
yea steroids were big at San Jose state in the late 70's (fiend of mine was a user), so i assume they must have been everywhere in football by then.
   46. JE (Jason) Posted: August 12, 2014 at 09:34 AM (#4769202)
So on this issue, you guys are like what Frank Lopez called Tony Montana: a real haza -- a pig who don't fly straight.

Nitpick alert, SBB: A chazzer is merely a pig. It makes no difference how he/she flies. Lopez was referring to a gangster who doesn't obey the rules set down by the boss.
   47. John Northey Posted: August 12, 2014 at 10:20 AM (#4769250)
Well, steroids were very big in the Olympics early on - East German female swimmers who no longer looked female being the most famous example. The records were released when the two Germany's merged in 1990 and showed steroids were being used in an intense program from 1971 onward.

For the most famous you get 1988 with Ben Johnson shattering the 100 meter world record then being caught. Find it bizarre how that drug helped run which was viewed as being at an inhuman speed has now been reached 33 times with the current world record being a full 2 10ths of a second faster. But of course, none of those guys did drugs right? :P

Odds are very, very high that Ryan would've used any drugs available back then. He had the coach, the teammates, and the incentive to do so with no penalty for doing so at the time. Heck, anyone from that era who didn't probably should be looked at as 'why not'? Other HOF'ers who I'd put on the 'hmmm' list would include Paul Molitor (injured like mad in his 20's and early 30's then suddenly healthy for the tail end of his career) and Kirby Puckett (massive jump from 0 HR to 20+). I'm sure with a tiny bit of thought it wouldn't be hard to come up with a batch of them though.
   48. tfbg9 Posted: August 12, 2014 at 10:34 AM (#4769280)
I have read that the SD Chargers circa 1963 would hand-out 'roids and amps to their players. As to the veracity of this, I dunno.
   49. Matt Welch Posted: August 12, 2014 at 11:09 AM (#4769323)
Mysteriously healthy, despite pitching a million pitches.

Beginning early in his stay in Anaheim, Ryan was a pioneer in leg-training for pitchers. His workouts, and work ethic, were legendary. While you could argue that *everything* in his career is "mysterious," if by that word we mean freakishly unusual, it is not beyond the realm of understanding that an early fitness buff lasted longer than most. His performance as an outlier was already well established by 1972, a time when I don't think steroids were very common.

He was also, FWIW, a big-time moralist about putting stuff in your body, and was always on Tanana's case for not being sufficiently dedicated.
   50. Rennie's Tenet Posted: August 12, 2014 at 11:27 AM (#4769333)
Heck, anyone from that era who didn't probably should be looked at as 'why not'?


Such a bizarre attitude to me. I was no great shakes as an athlete, but I went to a competitive school where people were doing stuff to keep awake and alert. I didn't do any of that stuff, and the people around me didn't, and there wasn't any "why not."
   51. Ray (RDP) Posted: August 12, 2014 at 12:00 PM (#4769363)
Odds are very, very high that Ryan would've used any drugs available back then. He had the coach, the teammates, and the incentive to do so with no penalty for doing so at the time. Heck, anyone from that era who didn't probably should be looked at as 'why not'?


The other thing is that steroids weren't stigmatized back then in the way that they are now.
   52. Jolly Old St. Nick Is A Jolly Old St. Crip Posted: August 12, 2014 at 12:06 PM (#4769365)
It's so much easier if you just wait for any convincing evidence to surface about Sosa or Nolan Ryan or Jeter before starting to speculate about any of them. Presumption of innocence isn't really that radical a thought, is it?

Acknowledging that you have used this POV to support the HOF candidacies of Sosa, Bagwell, and Clemens ... it seems that the presumption of guilt started long ago with the anti crowd who are your fellow travelers and has been overwhelmingly sufficient to deny Cooperstown for whom the evidence is circumstantial and very limited.


I can't deny that, which is why on the steroids question I'm usually at war with just about everyone around here. (smile)
   53. Matt Welch Posted: August 12, 2014 at 12:11 PM (#4769371)
Is it equally "obvious" that Bob Boone -- another early fitness nut, who was a fine catcher at ages 40-41 -- was on steroids? Or his batterymate Steve Carlton, another fitness freak who was dominant at age 37?
   54. pikepredator Posted: August 12, 2014 at 01:32 PM (#4769466)
re: Boone/carlton (let's add Fisk in there too) I don't care if they did or not, but to answer your question I'd say "Maybe/probably" to all of three and many more. My attitude is that they did what they had to do to stay on the field and be productive, which makes for a good teammate. I'm not judging or punishing anyone for it.

After all, it is fitness freaks who would be most likely to benefit *and* most likely to be in an environment where it would be discussed and available. I was a music major on a DIII crew team in the mid 90's and getting some helpers for a race was as easy and casual as getting pot.

I simply accept steroids as part of the game's history (just like gambling, racism, and greenies were for each prior generation) and have moved on so I can enjoy watching the royals catch the tigers! I don't judge Cobb for being a racist any more than I judged my grandparents for it before they passed on.

Others are welcome to the belief that only a small subset of players used, and that subset needs to be identified and punished/scorned/fill-in-your-own word. It's just not for me.

   55. Booey Posted: August 12, 2014 at 01:58 PM (#4769517)
pike #54 - That mindset is waaaay too reasonable. There's no place for that kind of thinking in today's society.
   56. Matt Welch Posted: August 12, 2014 at 02:00 PM (#4769520)
#54 -- I agree that fitness enthusiasts are more likely to be into steroids than non-fitness enthusiasts, and I share your basic lack of caring whether people did (especially back when it wasn't expressly prohibited).

What I disagree with is the assumption that late-career excellence makes for "obvious" steroids cases among late-20th century ballplayers. Nolan Ryan peaked from 25-30, and had the same number of 5 WAR seasons after age 35 as Warren Spahn, Jamie Moyer, and Jack Quinn. He's 12th in career WAR after 35, between Moyer and Dennis Martinez. He was basically the same pitcher in his 40s as Randy Johnson (minus the Unit's age-40 dominance), which feels plausible. Some pitchers had unusually strong late-career numbers long before Ryan, and I feel like it's too reductive just to yell "steroids!" every time we see an outlier.

Now, there are certain players who were mediocre forever, then bulked up really quick, became world-beaters, then just as quickly faded away ... those are the people I think it makes more logical sense to suspect.
   57. Rusty Priske Posted: August 12, 2014 at 02:15 PM (#4769543)
Q: Did {insert virtually any player} use steroids?

A: was he ever injured? If so, then of course he did.
   58. toratoratora Posted: August 12, 2014 at 02:23 PM (#4769555)
The ground zero of the modern era of steroids in sports started no later than the mid-70s, and it started in the NFL.

Members of the early AFL Chargers have talked pretty openly about their extensive steroid use. They were doing roids en masse in the early 60's.
The other thing is that steroids weren't stigmatized back then in the way that they are now.

They weren't stigmatized to quite the same extent but they were clearly seen as wrong. When I grew up it was assumed most eastern bloc athletes cheated in the Olympics and they were viewed through that lens. But then again, everyone knew that the Godless commies had to cheat to win.
It was a pretty big deal though, when the Western athletes started showing up dirty. We were supposed to win "right.". Ben Johnson is a good example of this. I can still remember the front page headlines when he got his medal stripped.
That was a big deal indeed.
   59. Booey Posted: August 12, 2014 at 02:34 PM (#4769564)
It was a pretty big deal though, when the Western athletes started showing up dirty. We were supposed to win "right.". Ben Johnson is a good example of this. I can still remember the front page headlines when he got his medal stripped.
That was a big deal indeed.


Didn't the Olympics have pretty clear anti-doping rules even back then though? That's a big difference from the environment MLB players were competing in even 10-15 years later. The fact that the Olympics were even trying to catch players like Johnson puts the athletes under a whole different set of standards. Johnson is comparable to Palmeiro or Manny or Braun, not Bonds, Clemens, or McGwire.
   60. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: August 12, 2014 at 02:42 PM (#4769573)
Didn't the Olympics have pretty clear anti-doping rules even back then though? That's a big difference from the environment MLB players were competing in even 10-15 years later. The fact that the Olympics were even trying to catch players like Johnson puts the athletes under a whole different set of standards. Johnson is comparable to Palmeiro or Manny or Braun, not Bonds, Clemens, or McGwire.


Yes, and it's the perfect reason why we shouldn't look at Bonds, CLemens, McGwire the way we look at Palmeiro or Manny (or Ben Johnson). And it's certainly why the BBWAA shouldn't treat their actions the same.

However, whether MLB had a specific policy against steroids doesn't change the fact that steroids were already stigmatized in other sports, notably football, cycling and all Olympic competitions. The baseball players juicing would have had to be really, really ignorant to not know what the general sporting attitude toward steroids was in the 1980s.

And they did know.


   61. Gonfalon Bubble Posted: August 12, 2014 at 03:07 PM (#4769594)
This article quotes several 1963 Chargers on the team's systematic steroid program.

Terry Bradshaw has talked about using steroids in the 1970s, as have many others on and off the Steelers.
   62. Booey Posted: August 12, 2014 at 03:07 PM (#4769595)
And they did know.


As did the fans, writers, managers, the commissioner, and everyone else who just sat back and enjoyed the homerun ride back in the 90's. And nobody cared.

However, whether MLB had a specific policy against steroids doesn't change the fact that steroids were already stigmatized in other sports, notably football, cycling and all Olympic competitions.


Steroids STILL aren't really stigmatized in football. I'd bet lots of money that the current NFL - even with the increased attention on PED's over the last decade - is still more saturated with juicers than MLB ever was, even at the height of the sillyball era. Football fans just don't seem to care, just like baseball fans didn't care until everyone started making a big deal of it.
   63. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: August 12, 2014 at 03:21 PM (#4769609)
As did the fans, writers, managers, the commissioner, and everyone else who just sat back and enjoyed the homerun ride back in the 90's. And nobody cared.


Too simplistic, but obviously there's a lot of truth to that. Still doesn't change the fact that the guys using knew how steroids were viewed in other sports, and to an extent, acted accordingly.

Steroids STILL aren't really stigmatized in football. I'd bet lots of money that the current NFL - even with the increased attention on PED's over the last decade - is still more saturated with juicers than MLB ever was, even at the height of the sillyball era.


Of course they are. That many, many football players, just as virtually every cyclist, has determined that steroids are necessary to competing doesn't change that the use is not considered legitimate, and has been for a long time. Is the stigma as strong as the one hanging over baseball? Nope, I don't think so, for a great many reasons that go beyond HR records and the other simple solutions offered here.

   64. Booey Posted: August 12, 2014 at 03:40 PM (#4769635)
Still doesn't change the fact that the guys using knew how steroids were viewed in other sports, and to an extent, acted accordingly.


People hide illegal activities. That's not unique to sports and isn't evidence that the players thought it was cheating. Did players really act any differently in regard to cocaine or any other recreational drug use?

   65. SoSHially Unacceptable Posted: August 12, 2014 at 03:48 PM (#4769644)
People hide illegal activities. That's not unique to sports and isn't evidence that the players thought it was cheating.


Whether they would have specifically labeled it cheating (it was, as was amp usage even if the ballplayers themselves saw them in a slightly different light), they knew how it was viewed in the larger sports world and that it was, at best, damn close to the line. They weren't stupid.
   66. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: August 12, 2014 at 04:07 PM (#4769657)
He was also, FWIW, a big-time moralist about putting stuff in your body, and was always on Tanana's case for not being sufficiently dedicated.

Did he wag his finger at congress while proclaiming his morality?
   67. Barry`s_Lazy_Boy Posted: August 12, 2014 at 04:09 PM (#4769660)
Now, there are certain players who were mediocre forever, then bulked up really quick, became world-beaters, then just as quickly faded away ... those are the people I think it makes more logical sense to suspect.

Can you post this list?
   68. Mirabelli Dictu (Chris McClinch) Posted: August 12, 2014 at 04:18 PM (#4769666)
Ryan's always been on my "Eh, probably" list. Ditto Ripken. Don't really care one way or another on either; I view the establishment of testing and penalties as a bright, shining line, with steroid or amphetamine use pre-testing as equivalent to Burleigh Grimes's spitball: legal then, not now.
   69. Matt Welch Posted: August 12, 2014 at 04:59 PM (#4769705)
Can you post this list?

I'm not very interested in pointing accusatory fingers. Bret Boone's career certainly has one of the odder shapes.
   70. toratoratora Posted: August 12, 2014 at 05:43 PM (#4769747)
Ryan's always been on my "Eh, probably" list.

Oh yeah. Had I such a list, he and Fisk would lead my parade. Rose and Reggie too, as far as HoF'ers.
   71. Zach Posted: August 12, 2014 at 07:44 PM (#4769811)
Nolan Ryan had a very lean, rawboned build through his entire career. He didn't have any unusual weight gain, puffy or bloated muscles. No hair loss, no paper-thin skin or ridiculous muscle definition. When he was 40 years old, he looked 40.

If someone finds a PED that results in builds similar to Ryan's, I for one would be interested to hear about it.
   72. bobm Posted: August 12, 2014 at 08:03 PM (#4769821)
For the current crop of 14 K/9 relievers:

99% of them, if given the Ryan workload, would blow out their arms. The 1% would be pretty amazing. But at this point we don't know how to identify them.


Sure we do. Give them the Ryan workload :)
   73. Mirabelli Dictu (Chris McClinch) Posted: August 12, 2014 at 08:08 PM (#4769824)
He didn't have any unusual weight gain, puffy or bloated muscles. No hair loss, no paper-thin skin or ridiculous muscle definition. When he was 40 years old, he looked 40.


Isn't all this basically true of Clemens as well?
   74. cardsfanboy Posted: August 12, 2014 at 08:18 PM (#4769828)
Isn't all this basically true of Clemens as well?


Basically it's true for anyone that the person wants to argue it's true for. I mean everyone wants to point to Bonds hat size increase yet ignore Hank Aarons, everyone points to Canseco's guns, but ignores Ted Kluszewski. They want to point to Brady Anderson great homerun season, and ignore George Fosters. Point to injury prone players that they suspect while ignoring other injury prone players etc.

Obviously it's only a fun game to speculate, and only really stupid people(I.E. Sports writers/personalities) argue that the speculation should be used instead of evidence. The problem is that it's ridiculous to think only elite batters used(which was the way it was presented originally) then only batters, then pitchers, then only most recent players etc. There is absolutely no reason to think Piazza is more likely to have used than Nolan Ryan. That Sosa used more likely than Mantle or that Manny more likely used than Brian Downing.
   75. Zach Posted: August 12, 2014 at 08:25 PM (#4769833)
Clemens had a big, beefy physique. He had a round face and puffy musculature (one of the side effects of steroids is that muscles retain a lot of water, and are much more rounded than before).
   76. Mirabelli Dictu (Chris McClinch) Posted: August 12, 2014 at 08:27 PM (#4769834)
I'm okay with saying that Manny was using; he was popped for a female fertility hormone that's used as post-cycle therapy. Unless we've got a smoking gun on Brian Downing, it's more likely that Manny used. I agree with everything else you said here, though.
   77. Mirabelli Dictu (Chris McClinch) Posted: August 12, 2014 at 08:29 PM (#4769835)
Clemens had a big, beefy physique. He had a round face and puffy musculature (one of the side effects of steroids is that muscles retain a lot of water, and are much more rounded than before).


Clemens had all these things in 1986. When do you suppose he started using?
   78. cardsfanboy Posted: August 12, 2014 at 08:33 PM (#4769839)
I'm okay with saying that Manny was using; he was popped for a female fertility hormone that's used as post-cycle therapy. Unless we've got a smoking gun on Brian Downing, it's more likely that Manny used. I agree with everything else you said here, though.


Sorry. I forgot he actually did get caught...replace Manny with Bagwell.
   79. Mirabelli Dictu (Chris McClinch) Posted: August 12, 2014 at 08:46 PM (#4769845)
Yeah, I'm 100% on board with your point; just being pedantic. Isn't that what BBTF is for?
   80. cardsfanboy Posted: August 12, 2014 at 08:50 PM (#4769848)
Yeah, I'm 100% on board with your point; just being pedantic. Isn't that what BBTF is for?


I had no problem with the comment, I just had to figure out another name.

But yes BBTF is for pedanticness, it's fun(except the grammar police... although I will support their work when they go after people using of instead of 've)
   81. greenback calls it soccer Posted: August 12, 2014 at 09:19 PM (#4769861)
They want to point to Brady Anderson great homerun season, and ignore George Fosters.

I'm old enough to remember people thinking that George Foster corked his bat. His bat was famously black (that's, er, not a euphemism), which was unusual enough at the time that suspicions were aroused when he had his big home run season.
   82. Booey Posted: August 13, 2014 at 01:00 AM (#4769941)
Ooh! My turn to be pedantic!

I agree with everything CFB said in #74, except that Fosters big season wasn't really that comparable to Andersons. Brady was the definition of a fluke (50 homers sandwiched between seasons of 16 and 18, and the 2nd highest total of his career was 24) - like Boggs in 1987. Foster hit 40 the following season, so his big season looks more like a career year than a full out fluke. Following a surprise 50 homer season with a 40 homer season isn't that uncommon.

Johnny Mize 1947-48: 51/40
George Foster 1977-78: 52/40
Cecil Fielder 1990-91: 51/44
Greg Vaughn 1998-99: 50/45
Andruw Jones 2005-06: 51/41
Jose Bautista 2010-11: 54/43
   83. Barnaby Jones Posted: August 13, 2014 at 02:01 AM (#4769950)
Later in his career Ryan had at least a partial tear of his UCL. A mortal pitcher would have had the surgery and missed a year. Ryan just pitched through it.


He also pretty much blew out his arm at the start of career, but managed to rehab his way back. If he came up today, he'd probably have had TJS right off the bat.
   84. AROM Posted: August 13, 2014 at 02:59 AM (#4769954)
Clemens had all these things in 1986. When do you suppose he started using?


1985? Makes perfect sense actually, since he was rehabbing a serious injury. Same reason his buddy Andy tried something many years later.
   85. Fancy Pants Handles lap changes with class Posted: August 13, 2014 at 05:13 AM (#4769964)
Nolan Ryan had a very lean, rawboned build through his entire career. He didn't have any unusual weight gain, puffy or bloated muscles. No hair loss, no paper-thin skin or ridiculous muscle definition. When he was 40 years old, he looked 40.

If someone finds a PED that results in builds similar to Ryan's, I for one would be interested to hear about it.

Steroids build the results you train for. If you want the big bulky look, you need to do a #### ton of low rep, high resistance training.

If you do endurance based workouts, you will get a much skinnier look. There have been stick men marathon runners and triathletes who did steroids. Cycling, which is roided up to the gills, is filled with guys with tiny little t-rex arms. Ultimately, being able to train harder for longer, and being able to recover from muscle fatigue faster, helps. Whether you are trying to build endurance, or raw muscle mass.
   86. Dennis Eclairskey, closer Posted: August 13, 2014 at 08:30 AM (#4769979)
1985? Makes perfect sense actually, since he was rehabbing a serious injury. Same reason his buddy Andy tried something many years later.

I always saw him starting after 96 to show Duquette he made a mistake by letting him leave or maybing dabbling some in 96 before he hit free agency
   87. Ray (RDP) Posted: August 13, 2014 at 11:49 AM (#4770132)
.
   88. Ray (RDP) Posted: August 13, 2014 at 11:54 AM (#4770137)
He didn't have any unusual weight gain, puffy or bloated muscles. No hair loss, no paper-thin skin or ridiculous muscle definition. When he was 40 years old, he looked 40.


Huh? Ryan certainly had hair loss as a player.

His body type was like that of a machine: lean with long muscles. Not really so unlike that of a sprinter or cyclist. And we know that sprinters and cyclists used. People have this notion that all steroids users look like the gym rats, like Jerry Remy's good for nothing son, but that's often not the case. Particularly with professional athletes who are training to play a sport rather than to look muscular or for the Mister Universe competition.

Not sure how we can judge "paper-thin skin."

   89. Ray (RDP) Posted: August 13, 2014 at 12:02 PM (#4770148)
Clemens had a big, beefy physique. He had a round face and puffy musculature (one of the side effects of steroids is that muscles retain a lot of water, and are much more rounded than before).


Clemens had all these things in 1986. When do you suppose he started using?


No, he clearly looked thinner in 1986. But by the late 80s or certainly the early 90s he looked thicker. Not really surprising. He was a professional athlete who was putting in a lot of work -- as opposed to a college athlete -- and after a few years that's going to show whether you're using steroids or not.

The problem with the steroids charge is that the timing doesn't work. If one accepts Brian McNamee's story, Clemens first came to him in 1998 asking him about steroids, and McNamee's story is that Clemens was basically a novice about steroids then, that he knew very little. But clearly by 1996, his last year in Boston, he already looked very thick and muscular -- the papers in Boston that year were calling him fat. (I remember a cartoon in the Globe before spring training of 1996 that showed a bloated Clemens and asked if he was going to show up to camp fat.) So a roided Clemens in 1985 or 1995 or 1996 doesn't fit with McNamee's story.

People seriously float the theory that he started using in Toronto following Dan Duquette's "twilight of his career" comment -- but even that does not comport with McNamee's story since McNamee's story is that Clemens came to him in 1998; but it was 1997 that Clemens won the Cy in Toronto.

In a way, McNamee's story -- if one believes it -- is a *defense* to the idea that Clemens was using either in Boston or in his first year in Toronto.
   90. OCF Posted: August 13, 2014 at 02:30 PM (#4770284)
Ryan didn't have a heavy workload at a young age. As I recall, there were three things that held down his early workload, particularly with the Mets. (1) The Mets had a lot of other quality pitching and didn't need a heavy workload out of someone who wasn't all thaaat good. (2) He had a National Guard obligation that took him away on some weekends. (3) He suffered from blisters on his throwing fingers, and often came out of games early because of a blister. So eventually: the Angels needed him a lot more than the Mets did, the National Guard obligation ended, and he stopped getting blisters.

So he did have "paper-thin skin", but when he was in his early 20's?
   91. Dennis Eclairskey, closer Posted: August 13, 2014 at 03:29 PM (#4770347)
Someone had mentioned Ryan being on pitch counts. If I remember correctly it was around 1987 when he went 8-16, 2.76
   92. OCF Posted: August 13, 2014 at 04:13 PM (#4770405)
Yeah, at that point his arm (elbow, I think) was supposedly hanging together by a thread. And in the end, his career WAS ended by arm injury. Sure, he was 46 years old, and while I'm not sure whether his retirement at the end of the season had already been announced, it was certainly anticipated. To quote from the SABR biography:

The end came on September 22, 1993, at Seattle. In his last career start, while throwing a fastball in the first inning, Ryan tore the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. Later that night in the clubhouse, he described his final game. “I heard the ligament pop like a rubber band. There’s no way I’ll ever be able to throw again. My body is telling me it’s time to move on and do something else.”
   93. Ron J2 Posted: August 13, 2014 at 04:39 PM (#4770429)
#91 He was put on a pitch watch with the Astros. Nothing hard and fast.

One point about his record in 1987 -- most everybody knows about the terrible run support he got (2.47 runs per game), but his bullpen support was actually worse. Astro relief pitchers had an ERA of 7.46 in games he pitched(!)

Wasn't a terrible offensive team, just didn't score when Ryan started. Wasn't a terrible bullpen expect when Ryan pitched.
   94. baxter Posted: August 14, 2014 at 02:23 AM (#4770784)
Regarding pitchers and legs, 1977-78 on the Dodgers, two ballplayers would run the hills in Elsyian Park before games, fans who waited outside the ballpark gates would see them running these hills. They were both pitchers who pitched a bit in the majors, Don Sutton and Tommy John.

Before you extrapolate on Ryan, look up the articles (written at the time he pitched) as to how he worked out his legs. The commentary (at the time) was that his legs would go first.

Look at those 70's pitchers and connect it with the Pat Jordan article on the curve; perhaps today's pitchers have to rely on fastball/slider or don't learn the cruel one so they wreck their arms.

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