CHICAGO, Ill -- When Alex Rodriguez acknowledged that he used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) while playing for the Texas Rangers from 2001 to 2003, it cast doubt on more than his own prodigious accomplishments; it cast further doubt on the stats compiled during an entire era, sparking intense debate as to how these stats are to be handled and viewed in the context of the game's hallowed history.
Next Monday, two professors from the University of Chicago will hold a press conference to announce an explosive new paper that argues for a new way of assessing and providing historical context to baseball statistics. Professors Walt Ossenheimer, a renowned economist, and Arnold Pinkerton, a statistician known for his trailblazing work on latent space approaches to dynamic embedding of co-occurrence data, purport to have established a new mathematical model for aligning historical baseball statistics with those compiled during the so-called "steroids" era, seasons roughly spanning 1995-2004.
"There are some things we will never know, i.e., did Oswald act alone, did we actually land men on the moon, did Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, A-Rod, et al actually use performance enhancers in producing circus-freak numbers that defy biology and historical trends?" rhetorically asked Professor Ossenheimer. "Well, ok, we pretty much can conclude they did, there's no way of getting around it, just as there's no real way of ignoring the numbers they recorded without rewriting history. So the question becomes: since you can't just dismiss these numbers, how do you honor the actual achievements that have come before, milestones that define the sport of baseball?"
The soon-to-be published paper advances a model that goes by the euphonious acronym "SAFPES," which stands for "statistics adjusted for performance enhancement substances." The SAFPES model is akin to the models economists devise that adjust numbers for inflation. The professors studied the career patterns of over 350 major league players whose numbers experienced aberrational spikes during the 10 year "steroids era." They then arrived at a formula that determines--within a 15-20% margin of error--the number of home runs, hits and the types of hits that can be traceable to steroids use.
"I really don't want to go into specifics before our press conference next Monday--as soon as we do some clown from the University of Stuttgart who doesn't know baseball from a beer stein will claim to have devised a formula with a 3% margin of error," said Ossenheimer. "But suffice it to say, when we apply the formula to players before the advent of steroids, 163 players have 600 homers, while the Babe clocks in at an eye-popping 1,030 dingers. Whereas major league baseball officially acknowledges six 60 home run seasons - three by Sammy Sosa himself--our formula produces 71 such seasons. Two hundred and seventeen join the 3,000 hit club. So on and so forth."
Many who've seen abstracts of the study in advance of Monday's conference are eager to embrace the new approach, as it would seem to restore the achievements of baseball's past to its rightful place. However, there are those who find the new model problematic. Count Harvard paleontologist and baseball fanatic Dr. Saul Rubin among the doubters.
"While there's something to be said for adjusting historical numbers for steroids, it doesn't account for the way players back in the day trained and prepared," argues Rubin "Steroids don't by themselves bulk you up; they give you the ability to work out harder and longer. Look, the Babe takes a hormone shot in the ass, the last place you're going to find him is in Gold's gym working on his abs and his lats. If anything, he's washing it down with a six pack and a half dozen dogs...maybe it buys him more time at the park since he won't be spending as much time in the sack, what, with the erectile problems that can result. If anything, steroids cuts his homer total by 10% and his testicle size by 25%. For god sakes man, just do the math."