When people talk about the steroids era in baseball, a lot of blame and questions go around.
Why didn't the players and managers do more? How could it go on so long, and how could so few seem to know what was up? Or, the biggest question: Couldn't everybody see that all those sluggers were suddenly getting a lot bigger and a lot beefier?
With Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon being suspended in the last week on performance-enhancing drugs rulings, the questions have surfaced again. Wednesday afternoon, they were directed at Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine, who was asked to give his take on the issue.
Valentine answered the cursory questions of drug use and managerial responsibility, but he also shared an anecdote that helps show why some people missed the boat as steroids made their way into the game.
In 1985, when Valentine was managing the Texas Rangers, he said he remembered walking past a small, closet-like space in Oakland and seeing then-A's star Reggie Jackson. He said Jackson quickly told him to shut the door. Valentine realized Jackson had been lifting weights inside the small room, which was close to the visitors' clubhouse. Jackson didn't want anyone to know what he had been doing.
Valentine shrugged and laughed when remembering the exchange, saying that players in those years looked down on weightlifting. It was taboo and cheap — something you didn't do if you were a baseball player.
When that sentiment changed in following years, Valentine said, and players started getting bigger and stronger, there was no reason to raise an eyebrow. No one had lifted weights before — if players were starting to, of course they were going to add some bulk.
"Now, if you don't do it, you get released," Valentine said of modern training regimens.
Valentine, who managed overseas and was in and out of the broadcast booth during stretches of the steroids era and its aftermath, also offered what has been the common rebuttal of steroids questions in baseball: Sometimes, you just don't know, and you can't know to ask everyone about everything.
"I don't think we [managers] can be responsible for what guys are doing personally," Valentine said. "It's tough. I think it's very tough. We try to get people to know the difference between right and wrong. We try to surround ourselves with people who do that. After that, I think it's difficult to try to police it."
Valentine said he thinks MLB testing has come a long way. He compared it to International Olympics Committee testing, which regularly catches dopers.
"It seems that whatever we're doing, we're doing properly," he said.
Valentine did want one thing back, though — the Red Sox' loss to Colon from earlier this season. But Valentine wouldn't join the likes of Kirk Gibson, who has called for teams' records to be reassessed in playoff races if their players have been suspended due to drug use.
Valentine also said he wouldn't consider the National League West title to be tainted if the San Francisco Giants took it after their star, Cabrera, was suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs.
If someone was caught in the AL East? Valentine was magnanimous, but here's guessing he won't chalk it up to weightlifting in that case.