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Posted by Charles P. Pierce  April 1, 2010 02:45 PM

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Brother Grossfeld does a great job tracking down Bernie Carbo in today's paper and giving due justice to Carbo's signifying home run in Game Six of the 1975 World Series, the home run that made possible Carlton Fisk's everlasting fame and a really weird scene in Good Will Hunting in which Robin Williams pronounces "foul pole" as "foul pole." Carbo also mentions fouling off the previous pitch, which is overstating it just a tad. Carbo got fooled and responded with the worst swing in baseball history.

(And, in a weird echo 11 years later, Dave Henderson waved almost as futilely at a pitch right before taking the late Donnie Moore over the wall in Game Five in Anaheim against the Angels. You could, as they say, look it up.)

However, this is the most interesting part of the piece.

“When I came to the big leagues in 1970 with the Big Red Machine, the trainer told me, ‘You need to take these vitamins,’ ’’ Carbo said.

OK, can we all stop talking about steroids now?

Seriously, illegal amphetamines were being handed out by untrained team staff, without the faintest notion of informed consent, to rookies on behalf of the clubs themselves. Major-league baseball was pushing speed, and lying to the people to whom it was pushing it. This is precisely the way the dealers in the early years got the crack epidemic up and running. No wonder Carbo got hooked.

(And don't even start with the argument about what "performance-enhancing" really means. Giving you speed while telling you that it was vitamin pills, and doing so clearly in the hope of making you play better, means that the trainer -- and through him, the club -- is trying to enhance your performance. Period.  Unless words mean nothing at all, the debate is all useless semantics, except that I suspect more of the guys who juiced in the 1990's benefitted from better medical advice than did the guys in the 1970's who were gobbling speed like it was Jujubes.)

What do we do now? Take these guys out of the Hall of Fame? Obliterate them from the record books? Show up at Old Timer's Days and boo them?  ("AND WHAT ABOUT THE CHILDREN???????????") Treat, say, Mike Schmidt like Barry Bonds? These guys all took illegal drugs and did so to play better. Unless you define your morality by what sounds best during your spot on Around The Horn, there is no moral difference in the two cases worthy of discussion.

But here's what I think the distinction is, and it's the one that baseball management will draw, sub rosa, when it doesn't think anyone's listening. The speed was handed out to players by the clubs themselves, so that's OK. But players went out and did steroids on their own, and that was wrong -- even though, as I said, it's likely the latter were better informed about what they were ingesting than the former were. To get back to Carbo, he could tweak his brains out and nobody cared, but, once they caught him blowing weed -- i.e. doing an illegal drug he bought and used on his own -- he was cast out immediately. So this is really all about control, which is all that most drug frenzies are ever about.

But, as I said, it was nice to hear from Bernie Carbo again, and I still thrill to that home run, every time I see it. God bless you, man.

UPDATE: I am not happy that commenter Avattoir beat me to the phrase, "hopped on bennies." Dammit, you'd think I never watched Dragnet in my life.
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