Orioles first baseman Chris Davis has 33 home runs so far this year. The power surge has prompted many to seriously link Davis to former Oriole Brady Anderson, who after hitting between 12-21 home runs in the previous four years smacked 50 home runs in 1996. Others have been more explicit with their suspicions of Davis using performance-enhancing drugs. This happens every time a player unexpectedly puts himself on the map; Jose Bautista experienced the skepticism several years ago. Because players figuring it out simply never happens, right?
From a personal standpoint, I think those who choose to preoccupy them with baseball’s war on performance-enhancing drugs are robbing themselves of enjoyment of the great game of baseball. I can’t imagine devoting hours every day to following a sport that leaves me scowling and shaking my fist.
Objectively, default skepticism of a player’s achievements on the field diminishes the work of every single professional who dons a uniform and minimizes the difficulty of the sport. I imagine most people reading this have, at one point or another, played baseball or softball at some level. Some parts of it, like catching fly balls, are easy. Others, like squatting behind home plate for 150 pitches per game, are very difficult and taxing.
Hitting is one of those difficult tasks, To properly hit a baseball, one must have his upper and lower body working in rhythm and almost everyone who has ever played baseball fails to do this adequately enough to keep up with the competition. Furthermore, one must possess the requisite amount of strength to apply power to the baseball. At the professional level, one must also have great knowledge of the game, and dedication to researching the opposition, to be able to predict and identify the pitch being thrown. Finally, the hitter must have the hand-eye coordination to put all of that together into a properly-executed swing. Those who do that consistently well enough to make it to the Majors are in the upper 99.9999th percentile of the human population at hitting baseballs.
Hitting is so difficult that some players have completely given up that aspect of the game in order to provide value in other ways (see: Jack Wilson). To say that the success Chris Davis has enjoyed since September last year, or Jose Bautista since September 2009, is simply due to performance-enhancing drug use is insulting to anyone who has ever attempted to play baseball. If it was just as easy as covertly using drugs, everybody would be doing it. And since Major League Baseball has stringent drug testing policies in place, Davis would have to have some very scientifically-adept friends to have passed every drug test he has taken.
Crediting a player’s newfound success to PED use simplifies the game of baseball so much as to call into question one’s basic understanding of it. So my advice to all is to sit back relax and enjoy the ride that Chris Davis is taking you on.
“The Freak” Tim Klonica