Say It Ain't So, Jose
The remarkable pertinence of two pre-steroid-era classics: Bull Durham and Eight Men Out.
Baseball has always been a game of inches, as Crash's sermon on the capriciousness of hitting .300 lays bare:
Of course, as we've learned since Bull Durham was released, a bit more brute strength—enough to add a few more feet to a few warning-track fly outs—can't hurt your chances either.
According to the Mitchell Report, when baseball first tested minor league players for steroids in 2001, 9 percent of the tests came back positive. Some of those players surely made it to the majors, where they encountered veteran teammates as desperate to hold onto a roster spot as the AAA guys were to seize one. Retired Phillies outfielder Doug Glanville recently wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times about "the moment when a player is faced with the choice between aging naturally or aging artificially." Glanville points to the brevity of most major league careers, combined with the relentless pressure from younger competition, to explain the temptation of steroids to veterans desperate to mitigate the physical toll of another long baseball season. Given his own career trajectory, Crash would have related to both camps: those on the verge of making it, and those trying to hang on for one more year.
It's hard to imagine Crash Davis, so testily protective of the game, resorting to steroids. But it's even harder to imagine a player in the steroid era hitting 247 home runs in the minors and never wondering what else he might do to get himself over the hump. In one of Bull Durham's most memorable scenes, Crash delivers an impassioned creed advocating, among other things, a constitutional amendment to outlaw AstroTurf and the designated hitter. A condemnation of steroids would seem a logical third tenet, but the topic doesn't come up, in his speech or anywhere else in the movie.
Had Shelton written the screenplay just a few years later, the omission might have been glaring. Instead, its absence feels refreshing, a reminder that it wasn't always normal for fans to harbor suspicions about who might have taken a shortcut on their way to the bigs. Sadly, the question that hangs over the waning days of the Steroid Era—What would have transpired in the last 20 years of baseball, if not for steroids?—will remain as unanswerable as how Shoeless Joe Jackson would have hit in the first year of the live-ball era.