Hitting a baseball is hard, but hitting a baseball hard is harder. Much harder. I have heard a lot of excuses (or reasons, if you are of the other mindset) of why players who took steroids should still be in the Hall of Fame, or should still be celebrated as great players, and I have a new, most annoying excuse, “They still had to hit a baseball.” Whenever I hear this, my first assumption is that the person saying it on the steroid user’s behalf, has never played baseball. Or, if they did, they clearly couldn’t hit a baseball, nor did they play with anyone else who did.
Hitting a baseball is hard. I know as well as anyone. Back in the day, I was a pretty good player. Sure, it was just through high school, but even at the high school level you start seeing what separates the decent from the good, the good from the great, and the great from the future pros. I’ll let you in on a little secret – it’s not about whether someone can hit the ball. Making contact is just half the battle, and it’s the easy half. The hard part is getting the ball past the infield, over the outfield, out of the park. And that’s where steroids sure are helpful.
Baseball is not like most other professional sports. It’s easy to forget sometimes when you watch a game on TV, or you’re watching highlights on ESPN, that the majors are just a very small portion of the players out there making a living playing professional baseball. There are four (at least) levels of minors below the guys you see on TV. Four! These are all players that with a few more hits, a few more home runs, a few extra stolen bases, a few more miles per hour on their fastball, could take that next step and be the next major league star. And if you think I’m exaggerating, go check out a double or triple A game and see for yourself. Baseball is extremely competitive, and the separation being a major league player and his understudy on the team and in the minors below is often a fine line. It can be easy to assume that line is bolder because we, as fans, have an affinity for the players in the majors. They are who we root for, they are the best of the best. But hitting .300 versus hitting .250 is an extra 25 hits over 500 at bats. Now 25 hits is no small feat, but rarely is it because the person that hits .250 strikes out 25 times more than the player above them. In fact, I would guess that the player that hits .250 may even strike out less. Therefore, hitting the baseball isn’t the problem. Hitting the baseball hard is. The guy with the .300 average, with the exception of Ichiro (not to say he can’t drive the ball, but his legs are what make him exceptional), is driving the ball faster and farther than the guy below him. He is the greater threat. And what is it that steroids can give a player again? Oh yeah, strength.