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April 4, 2008 at 8:13 am ET
23 Comments
Bill James thinks steroids fueled the Twins’ two championships

Does James know what killed Kirby Puckett? Last night I was reading The Bill James Gold Mine 2008 , enjoying the section on Atypical Seasons, which of course talked in great detail about Norm Cash (1961) and Darin Erstad (2000), who overachieved more than anyone relative to their career numbers. The essay also discussed classic cases of under- achievement and cited Ozzie Smith’s 1979 season, when he managed to get on base 49 fewer times than his lifetime average.

The piece was also filled with engrossing tidbits about other ultra-aberrants, including Miguel Dilone, George Brett, Luis Gonzalez, Brady Anderson and (of course) Barry Lamar Bonds, whose entire career was basically atypical.

James, to his credit, largely demurred about Bonds.

"Everything’s been said about Barry Bonds, so I’m just going to skip that. Other things you might want to know about the study:

#8) The greatest under-achievement in OPS which wasn’t Bonds or the early 1890s was Mark McGwire in 1991 (-157 bases).

#10) The greatest home run over-production in a season that wasn’t Bonds was Gonzalez the same season (+33), followed by Brady Anderson, (Roger) Maris, Davey Johnson, Hack Wilson in ’30, Tilly Walker in ’22, Adrian Beltre in 2004, Sammy Sosa in 2001, Hank Greenberg in 1938, Jay Bell in 1999, and Carl Yastrzemski in 1967."

And finally, item 12, which concludes the essay about Atypical Seasons: "Two of the greatest home run under-producers of all time were teammates: Kirby Puckett and Gary Gaetti in 1984. Puckett hit no home runs (-16), Gaetti hit only 5 (-19). Suggesting the possibility that the Twins’ two World Championships may have been aided by their team being among the first to discover…well, I’d better not go there. Nor will I point out that Gaetti was bald and had acne and Puckett died young."

Maybe I’ve been on Mars, but I’ve never heard Puckett’s name mentioned in the conversation about performance-enhancing drugs. He’s become an easy target after his death, especially in light of the unflattering revelations about his personal life, e.g., he was arrested for groping a woman in the ladies’ room of a Minnesota restaurant, but was acquitted at trial. Puckett might have had his cheerful veneer pulled back after his playing days were over, but saying a guy died early because he was using PEDs? I mean, this isn’t Ken Caminiti, who was an admitted steroid user. It’s Kirby Puckett, a Hall of Famer. Who else does James think is in Cooperstown via the aid of performance-enhancing drugs? (Bolivian marching powder doesn’t count, so Molitor gets a pass.)

It’s one thing to have personal opinions which never see the light of day, but publishing these things about Gaetti and Puckett — without concrete evidence, i.e., more than the citation of statistical anomalies — is irresponsible, especially since Puckett can’t rise to his own defense (unless he’s hanging out with Ted Williams; in that case, he might be able to rise in about 50 years).

I’ve always enjoyed James’s writing because he’s willing to hazard guesses (usually about statistics, not causes of death) and he’s man enough to admit when he’s wrong — as he does in every Bill James Handbook , when he revisits his projections from the previous year. But intimating — nay, flat out saying — that Kirby Puckett’s stroke was the result of PED use, not the weight gain/hypertension cited by doctors after his death, is incendiary stuff.

Meanwhile, his jab at Gaetti is based on…baldness and acne? Sure, Gaetti’s home-run total in 1984 (5) was 19 below his lifetime average. But 1984 wasn’t his rookie year (like it was for Puckett). Gaetti came up in 1982 and hit 25 home runs that year, followed by 21 in 1983. After his one-year power shortage in ’84, he hit 20, 34, 32, 28, 19, 16, 18, 12, 14, 12, 35, 23, 17, 19, 9 and then 0. So what happened? Did Gaetti decide to stop doing ‘roids for the ’84 season, and then, unhappy with the results, decide to resume use in ’85? Who knows, I’m not getting into that guessing game, and James shouldn’t have either. If he was wise enough to not talk ad nauseum about Barry Bonds, he should have been wise enough to not throw out flimsy statements about Kirby Puckett, Gary Gaetti and the Twins’ 1987 and 1991 World Championships. Baseless, prejudiced statements are my bag, Bill. You’re better than that.

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23 Responses to “Bill James thinks steroids fueled the Twins’ two championships”
  1. travisbickle says:

    Never a mention of big popi. The bust in Minnesota who amazingly transforms into this great hitter. No but James can tarnish the names of a dead guy. What a jerk.

  2. JAlper says:

    Great post. The temerity of James to make that claim is beyond the pale when he’s built his whole career and reputation on objective analysis of statistics.

  3. twoeightnine says:

    Fuck, I better not go bald or James will think I’m on the juice.

  4. TheSlav says:

    This from the same scumbag who said of, I believe it was Rick Cerone, the Yankee catcher who replaced the recently deceased Thurman Munson, “Cerone is to catching what Munson is to aviation”. Once a douchebag, always a douchebag.

  5. He should stick to his stat predicitng which he sucks at…

  6. ed says:

    Wow, you guys really missed the joke, huh?

  7. studes says:

    He didn’t “say” they took steroids. He raised the specter of steroids. I took this remark to be ironic, and poking fun at those who see steroids in every quirky year, big head or case of acne.

    This is a very irresponsible headline and post.

  8. kh says:

    Sabermatrecians are all mostly arrogant blow hards and Bill James is more arrogant then most. If it was a joke by James it was in very poor taste.

  9. studes says:

    If it was a joke by James it was in very poor taste.

    Irony isn’t a joke. It’s a literary device used to make a point. Maybe this was in bad taste–I don’t see how, but maybe–but the headline is still misconstruing what he said. What would you call that?

  10. James point, I think pretty clearly, is that a sudden change in performance and throwing in a few random and vague physical traits of the player does not constitute “evidence” of taking steroids. It’s not evidence for Puckett and Gaetti, but then it’s not “evidence” for Sammy Sosa either.

  11. Matthew J says:

    Bill James has a beard, so he must be in Al Qaeda.

  12. njstone says:

    don’t you see that James is MOCKING those who see every variation in performance as evidence of PED ?
    notice he is “claiming” that a down season is suspicious .
    puckett died of a stoke . gaetti was neither bald nor is there any evidence of acne-
    this is called sarcasm.
    Bill James is the most open-minded guy out there
    the problem is you, not him .

  13. derek says:

    I don’t know if I’ve ever seen someone make themselves look so ridiculous before, by completely missing the point. Did you not take any high school English courses? There’s this new thing called irony. You know, it’s sort of about the free play between signs and signifiers.

  14. Michael Webb says:

    David Ortiz was not a bust. Look at his numbers. The Twins were convinced he couldn’t hit lefties, so they gave up on him.

    Read what James wrote again. He’s not saying anything. He’s using irony and sarcasm to point out that not every dip or rise in performance is PED related.

    In addition, he has said about the book again and again that it is raw data, not polished conclusions. Don’t get your underwear in a bunch over a throwaway line.

  15. BahstonSux says:

    Of course, the rest of the world also thinks that the Red Sox TWO championships were ALSO won with the use of steroids.

    Bill must be in cahoots with Red Sox director George Snitchell….who both subscribe to the theory, “If you can’t beat them, just smear their accomplishments!”

  16. SBG says:

    I won’t mention that Gaetti didn’t play for the Twins in 1991.

  17. Eric says:

    dear Bahston,

    Actually, no one thinks that.

    E

  18. brent says:

    Gary Gaetti was an Angel in 1991.

  19. Travis says:

    Dear Bugs & Cranks,

    Please review (with your audience — they need help as well) several basic concepts integral to understanding, like context, irony, and basic logic. The irony part has been covered, but if you had actually followed James’ logic (“Two of the greatest home run under-producers of all time were teammates: Kirby Puckett and Gary Gaetti in 1984. Puckett hit no home runs (-16), Gaetti hit only 5 (-19)”), you would realize he was pointing out how they hit FEWER homers than they should, a sign of not taking steroids.

    Secondly, he proceeds to suggest that these guys have circumstantial evidence pointing to them that has been used to convict other offenders (baldness, early death).

    Anyway, calm down, reread the James article, write an apology. Because the whole of the internets is laughing at you (this is getting some good coverage over on Posnanski’s blog)

    ED NOTE: Thanks, Travis. But the Internet laughs at us all the time.

  20. Actually... says:

    Travis – for someone who thinks they’re so smart, you sure are dumb!

    “(“Two of the greatest home run under-producers of all time were teammates: Kirby Puckett and Gary Gaetti in 1984. Puckett hit no home runs (-16), Gaetti hit only 5 (-19)”), you would realize he was pointing out how they hit FEWER homers than they should, a sign of not taking steroids.”

    James is pointing out that their homerun totals varied widely from 1984 to the World Series years of ’87 and ’91. Depending on perspective, one could say that they underachieved in 1984 or overachieved in ’87 and/or ’91. But certainly, James is using the underachieving year of ’84 to implicate possible steroid usage.

  21. Drake33 says:

    I’m not sure if Actually… is deadly serious or another layer of sarcasm on top of sarcasm!?

    Who is being truthful and who is being SARCASTIC ANYMORE!!! IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO TELL!!!

    [head explodes]

  22. Triton says:

    Puck started using PED’s his first year at Triton Junior College. BTW, he never went to class, yet was able to get the grades needed to play baseball.

  23. Triton says:

    Just for the record Puck was an awesome human being in every respect. I know him as a gentleman and an over all good person. Just because Puck was using really doesn’t matter so where many players.

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