On Monday, former all-star pitcher Jim Bouton, the author of the controversial book Ball Four, came to Cornell for a talk at the Alice Cook House entitled “Life in Baseball.” Before the talk, The Sun sat down with Bouton to discuss the current state of baseball, including the steroid issue, which is a topic he has been outspoken about recently.
The Sun: When you were researching for and writing Ball Four, did you think it would be considered so controversial to so many people?
Jim Bouton: No, I didn’t think it would be as controversial as it was, and it didn’t think it would have the life that it’s had. I just thought I was sharing some fun that I was having in baseball that year.
The Sun: In Ball Four, you exposed to the world the widespread use of “greenies,” an amphetamine used to improve focus, by your teammates and other players around the league. Before this season, Major League Baseball decided that greenies would be added to the list of banned substances. What effect do you think this will have on the players?
Jim Bouton: It’s going to be psychological, if anything. They didn’t do that much for you. They were pet pills, like NoDoz or caffeine [pills]. I tried it one time, and I was so jumpy and jangled and on edge that I couldn’t stand it. I wasn’t able to focus; I wasn’t able to concentrate. I didn’t like the effect at all. I was already up for the game; I didn’t need a pet pill – and those were the days that pitchers pitched every four days.
The Sun: Obviously steroids are a big issue in baseball today, but were they around or even an option for you during your playing days?
Jim Bouton: We never even heard the word. But I said in Ball Four, that if there was a pill that would guarantee a pitcher would win 20 games but it would take five years off of his life, we’d all be taking them. Athletes – professional athletes and Olympic athletes – need to be protected against their competitive instincts, so that’s why there needs to be very tough rules so that the players aren’t tempted to try to get an advantage by taking amphetamines or performance enhancers. They should have had tough laws against them a long time ago.
The Sun: How much does it bother you to see players who have been linked to steroid use – like Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire – breaking the records of players from your generation?
Jim Bouton: I don’t think the records today are legitimate, and I don’t know how illegitimate they are or how much of them are through the steroids. And that’s one of the things that baseball has to do. They have to take time out and take about a year or two with a blue-ribbon panel that involves statisticians, doctors, trainers, coaches, players and find what kind of impact steroids has on performance. It may be different for batters; it may be different for pitchers. Also, find out what period of time steroid use covers. Was it 1998? Was it earlier than that? When did it stop? And then a formula has to be devised, that I call a “steroid-adjusted number” that gets applied to all the statistics that would be impacted by steroid use. This would be a panel of very well respected people that baseball fans could believe and respect and accept. Then, all the records that are deemed to have been impacted by this panel would have a number in parentheses next to the actual number of home runs. For example, Barry Bonds’s 73 home runs – if it turns out that steroids have a 25 percent impact on [home run] hitting, then in parentheses to the right of the 73 home runs, it would say 55, and then the parentheses would just sit there. And history will determine which one of the two numbers is the valid number. … I think [this is] fair because otherwise it’s not fair to the old players that had their records broken by guys that were cheating, and it’s not going to be fair to future players who are going to have to break these records without steroids or performance-enhancing drugs.
The Sun: What are your feelings about Congress getting involved in the steroid issue?
Jim Bouton: I’m glad they did it, because they really brought attention to it. But these guys looked so stupid. “We’re going to educate the public,” they said. Who are you guys kidding? Every high school kid in the country knows about steroids. You want to educate the public? How about educating yourself? Go to any high school in the country, and the kids will tell you about steroids. So you’re not bringing anything to the public’s attention; all you’re doing is embarrassing Major League Baseball into doing something [about] steroids, and that’s fine. But, be honest about it.
The Sun: How do you feel about Jose Canseco’s book Juiced and the new book Game of Shadows by two reporters from the San Francisco Chronicle (Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams)?
Jim Bouton: I don’t respect Jose Canseco as a writer because, if he was a real writer, he would have written about it while he was playing, he would have kept notes. So he has no documentation; it’s just Jose Canseco’s memory. Unfortunately for baseball, they have to accept his findings because they didn’t have any drug testing, so none of the players could defend themselves. And it turns out that Canseco was telling the truth, that there was rampant steroid use, so he gets credit for that. [Game of Shadows] is different because those guys are investigative journalists, and everything is documented. This is really chapter in verse, which is why baseball is now forced to do something. They weren’t forced to do something under Canseco, they could just blow him off as a nut.
Archived article by Chris Mascaro
Sun Senior Writer