Is It Time to Throw Mickey Mantle Out of Cooperstown?

What a scandalous headline! Let me explain myself before the death threats. Yeah, I’m talking to you, Bill Crystal. In the current climate where if you ever used steroids you cannot make the Hall of Fame, let me offer up my contrarian view. My standards are to reward players who did everything they could to become a better player. Sure these players cut corners to possibly become more accomplished at their craft, but think about the sacrifice they made to be the best they could be.

And then there was Mickey Mantle. As physically talented of a player that has ever stepped on the diamond, Mantle seemed destined to be the greatest to ever put on a uniform. While it is obvious that injuries derailed some of his physical talents, who knows how much drinking played a part in him not reaching the levels that an Aaron or Mays reached. The legendary drinking stories reached mythic proportions, as Mickey was the ultimate leader of the boozing and carousing pinstripers of the 50’s and 60’s.

I realize that this is a major contrarian view, but ethically I believe it is a more moral stance to do everything it takes to be better, even if you are taking an illegal drug than to overuse a legal one that impacts on the field performance in a negative way. Sure Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are disagreeable men, with a spotty record in dealing with the public and the press. Well I can guarantee that Mantle would’ve stood no chance surviving the New York sports piranhas (writers) glare, if he would have played in current times. Deadspin would probably have to have its own satellite site just focused on the Mick. If you thought ARod having a fling in Toronto was news, do some research on Mantle’s off the field exploits. It makes ARod look like A.C. Green.

One of the most difficult challenges one could ask for would be to debate Bob Costas on the subject of baseball. I would love to discuss this particular topic with him, though, as Costas has been such a severe critic of steroids, while joining in the hero-worship business of the Mick. Despite Mantle trying to sabotage his natural ability, he still ended up with first ballot Hall of Fame numbers. My bigger point is that the steroids era is lot more complicated than what the general public believes which is a few players obtained great benefits by using PED’s, while most of the players were clean.

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On a similarly related topic, Don Hooton is all over the TV pushing the story about how steroid use by pro athletes will lead to death for many high schoolers who emulate them. I’ve never used steroids and wouldn’t recommend them to anyone, let alone someone who is under 18, but the incidents of steroids killing kids is really small. Now if you want to look at a set of troubling stats, look at alcohol related deaths for the under 18 set. Alcohol-related advertising is a key component of what you see at the game or on TV. I cannot imagine how devastating the loss of a child is and my hearts aches for Mr. Hooton, but let’s have some perspective here. While steroids use is a problem for young people, there are far more serious issues that we should be focusing our attention on.

13 thoughts on “Is It Time to Throw Mickey Mantle Out of Cooperstown?

  1. 1.  Or, how about players who used a not merely illegal substance, but an unconstitutional one? Yep, I’m talking about all those who drank during Prohibition. Especially the Babe.

    (And yes, I’m a die hard Yankees fan & I’m not suggesting they be thrown out.)

  2. 2.  Great point! This covers the argument of people who take the “steroids might not have been tested, but they were against the law.”

    Since I have a libertarian view on drugs like steroids, I rate their use as being about on the level of going more than 10 miles above the speed limit. It probably is worse, as you are risking other people’s lives. If you are an adult and used drugs, buyer beware.

  3. 3.  So guys today are just more moral than they were in the 50’s? I don’t think so. The reason they aren’t well-known alcoholics is because they know the media would never let them go. I’m pretty sure that if The Mick lived today, he’d be a different person. But he lived in an era where the press had his back and didn’t report everything he did. I’d bet good money that current athletes would have taken advantage of that as well.

  4. 4.  Off-topic, or slant-topic: Can you think of a better candidate from history for benefitting from the wonders of steroids than the Mick? His injury history (which as I understand it had far more to do with curtailing his numbers than his boozing did) makes me think of pre-roid McGwire. On the juice maybe he would have stayed healthy and hit 800 dingers (plus predated Canseco’s attainment of the 40-40 record by a quarter-century).

  5. 5.  I can’t help but agree with you Scott, I mean seriously, alcohol is the BIGGER EVIL here killing & damaging house holds across the U.S.A let alone the globe. Steriods is a huge issue as well (don’t get me wrong) but alcohol, that’s gotta stop!!

  6. 6.  5 I’d be in favor of banning alcohol, but in all practicality it is impossible. The prohibition era showed us that alcohol is very easy to make at home and it will be distributed. I go to a public univdersity and I know plenty of students sub-21 who get drunk and it is of no benefit to them but age laws aren’t really enforced except for the purchase of the alcohol itself. Seriously, you expect law enforment to regulate every party. The only thing you can do is choose not to drink yourself and perhaps encourage others to do likewise (but don’t actually expect anybody to listen).

    Ephesians 5:18 ftw!!

  7. 7.  I can’t imagine you actually feel this way, but, If you use alcohol to make your point, it’s kind of lame. Alcohol, despite whatever horrors – health and otherwise – it contributes to, is not illegal. Therefore, you are simply yanking something out of the ether to make a point that what you FEEL is wrong should be as bad as what IS (legally) wrong. Which is just illogical. Driving your car is probably way more dangerous than drinking, so, er, get rid of all the drivers in the hall of fame? (I don’t drink, by the way)

    And the “see how ridiculous this sounds, therefore, the steroid thing is ridiculous too” is pretty tired and a very weak argument, too. No one ever said that alcohol was a benefit to playing performance. Despite the fact that no one has proven steroids to be any kind of help, that’s why they are taking them, because they certainly might be. No one ever drank alcohol to play better. So again, what’s the point of this comparison? That the media today is more intense and unforgiving? Whoa. Really?

    Do you seriously believe this, or are you just using it to point a finger at the poor hawkish steroid arguments? There are definitely stronger arguments. Maddux and Boggs’ lasik surgery, that the good players were just greedy and wanted to be BETTER players, that the majority of steroid users were grasping just to MAKE it (I mean, look at some of those names – F.P. Santangelo?), and it doesn’t really affect the records of folks like Mays and Frank Thomas and Hank Aaron.

    I mean, if you really think this, more power to you. But if it’s a debate tactic, meh.

    Matthew Bellamy would not be impressed. 😉

  8. 8.  Two points here:

    4 Josh, steroids did nothing to help Jose Canseco stay on the field (I believe he had maybe one 150 game season in his career); the unlearned lesson regarding PED’s is that they do different things for different people. Paul Byrd certainly doesn’t look like the Hulk to me.

    Secondly,
    6 I’m in favor of banning bans, but that ain’t gonna happen. Alcohol isn’t a problem so much as alcohol abuse is. Two tylenol might help your headache but 62 pills—well, not so much.

    Ok, and thirdly, I’ve held the believe for years now that the ‘steroid’ issue is just another example of the historical impulse for former players (and the kiss-asses that love them—I’m talking to you Costas) to slag the guys who currently play the game. Cobb ripped Ruth. Dimaggio ripped Mantle. Jim Bunning rips everyone.

    These haters of baseball focus exclusively on the problems of today while glossing over the problems of their favorite era. Pretending to be ‘guardians of the game’ these killjoys like Costas don’t even like baseball, they like an idolized version of baseball that never really existed.

    Bastards.

  9. 9.  My point re: alcohol was that it was really illegal for a time, so saying “these players are bad because they used an illegal substance” is opening a can of worms. I’m not talking about performance enhancing ones. Though apparently a number of relievers would drink lots of coffee (maybe laced with speed) to get amped up for their inning or two. PE, but legal. What about the spitball, toss Gaylord Perry from the Hall?

    Now, I am in favor of legalization, but think that any pro sport could (& should) ban steroids, HGH, and probably other things. I’d like to be able to compare players across the years without having to factor in yet another variable — PEDs.

    I just don’t like all the holier-than-thou moralizing coming from some quarters. (I don’t even want to think about a Bill Plaschke column)

  10. 10.  5 6 No offense, but that’s one of the dumbest things I’ve heard in at least a week. Alcohol is not the problem, the abuse of it is. I’ve never been drunk, but do on rare occasions enjoy a beer with my dinner. Is what I’m doing evil? The alcohol is not the issue, it’s the morons who drink too much and do stupid things that are. If you go out, get drunk, and beat you’re wife, you are at fault, not the beverage you chose to drink. As far as Scott’s point, I can’t say I agree or disagree. Dude made stupid choices but was a great ball player.

  11. 11.  The question I’m raising here is “can it be more moral for a player to use PED’s than abuse alcohol?” My thought is that a player who took steroids was trying to do everything to be a better player and help his team. A player who goes out boozing every night and showing up hungover the next day is less likely to give his best to the team.

    The other element of why I brought up alcohol is the moralizing that is going on about “saving the kids”, when all major sports are completely tied into beer distributors. It isn’t called BALCO Field, it’s called Busch Stadium. Alcohol is the drug that impacts underage kids lives to a mammoth degree compared to steroids. I drank plenty before I was 21 and even though I knew where steroids could be found, I didn’t take them because it was a lot easier to go down to the corner store to get my liquid buzz on.

    I am not discussing prohibition here, I’m just trying to point out a rationale counter-argument to what is being disseminated all across the airwaves, internet, and fishwraps.

    Now that the curtain has been pulled open and we can begin to see the diverse collection of players who were using, fans need to contemplate more than just what they hear from the hysterical moralizers.

  12. 13.  Kyle. I use the hyperbolic title for this piece to help raise the question of was what Mantle did any better/worse than what the steroids users did? I’m a numbers guy to a certain extent. The hall is filled with good guys and a fair share of bad guys. As long as the MLB didn’t test for the steroids is enough for me not to put a lifetime ban on their enshrinement. Same goes for Mantle, though I do think I would have withheld my vote for the first year to make a point about his dismal behavior.

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