04 April 2005

Alex Sanchez: Scapegoat or Closet Body-Builder?

The first casualty of the new MLB drug-testing policy was felled yesterday. Tampa Bay outfielder Alex Sanchez, an otherwise largely unremarkable player, now has a place in the record books. That is, besides being perhaps the only player ever to play on a 106-loss team and then get traded to an even worse one the folowing year. How's that for being born under a bad sign?

Actually, Sanchez was born under the Communist regime that rules Cuba, and having escaped from there in 1994, Sanchez now works in the Communist regime known as Major League Baseball. Well, Commissioner Bud Selig would like it to be Communist, or at least he'd like you to believe that it needs to be Communist in order to survive. But enough about politics.

Sanchez' suspension is not, to return to the battlefield metaphors, the slaying of Goliath by David. (Goliath was placed on the DL by, ironically enough, the Giants.) If anything, this is Goliath (MLB) stringing up David (Alex) by his thumbs for the rest of the Israelites to see as an example. This is the Philistine army taking a squire, nay, a waterboy, and having him dragged around the field by his ankles, except of course without all the glorious history that Hector had before Achilles so shamed him. Sanchez is nothing more than a display, a warning to the rest of the players, that they too could be so shamed.

But is Sanchez more than that? The suspension of Sanchez makes for headlines only for headlines' sake. He's not a star. Heck, he's barely even employed. Despite having hit .322 last season and stealing 19 bases, Sanchez was released by the Tigers this spring, and was competing for a spot with the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, a team so bad that they set a franchise record last season by winning 70 games.

The reason for this is that while he did hit .322, he did so in only 79 games, and his measly seven (7!) walks gave him a .335 on-base percentage, good for 176th in the majors among the 276 players who got at least 300 plate appearances. As a leadoff hitter, Sanchez' OBP ranked 22nd out of 26 major leaguers with at least 300 plate appearances in that role. And he more than engulfed those 19 successful steals with 13 unsuccessful ones, costing his team more runs than he produced in doing so. Even the Tigers can do better than that, they hope.

The Devil Rays, who never met a toolsy, impatient outfielder they didn't like, snatched him up to fill that role for them, at least while toolsy, impatient Rocco Baldelli is busy knee-habbing. D-Rays manager Lou Piniella complained about having to make a lineup change the day before the season began, saying, "Sanchez had come in here and hit the ball. Now we've just got to make adjustments, and we will." The Tampa Bay front office did not comment, at least not to me.

Generally speaking, I'm usually one of the first people to try to shoot down a conspiracy theory. The more people involved in an alleged conspiracy, the less likely that the conspiracy actually exists, as radio host and monthly conspiracy theory killer Michael Medved often explains. But this one has potential. Lemme 'splain:

MLB has a new drug testing policy. Lots of new substances banned, year-round, random testing, blah, blah, blah. You know this. Someone has to be the first person suspended. There are about 1200 players on the 30 teams' 40-man rosters, plus maybe another 300 or so on the DL or being shuttled back and forth between AAA and the majors. That's 1200 players, or an average of 100 or so being tested per month. We know that in 2003, with a much weaker testing policy, somewhere between 5% and 7% of the random tests came up positive, triggering the completely inneffective 2004 policy, probably because a player knew that once he'd been tested, he was in no danger of being tested again, making it much easier to avoid detection.

Even if only 5% of players are currently using banned substances, and I don't think any reasonable observer believes that the number is actually that low, we should be seeing an average of approximately five players suspended every month. Sanchez makes one. Where are the other four, or ten, or even one?

Are you going to try to convince us that Alex Sanchez, generously described as "5'10", 180-lbs", with 4 career home runs, is the only player among the 100+ players tested last month who came up positive? Such an assessment would be doubtful at best, downright preposterous and deceitful at worst. The management of MLB never ceases to amaze me in their underestimation of the intelligence of its own fanbase.

I expect that in actuality, Bud Selig had in his posession something like 6-10 or more "positive" test results, and wanted to set off this timebomb with as little "ka-boom" as possible. Let's see...suspend Bobby Superstar? Bad. Hmmm...Alex Sanchez? Who's he? Nobody. Expendable. A simple casualty of war. Good!

Better yet, perhaps a scapegoat, so the commissioner's office can say they're doing their jobs, suspending players who test positive, and prompting figures like Joe Torre to say stuff like,

"The fact that the testing evidently worked, that's what we want to find out. We want to get the fans' trust back, and that's the only way it's going to happen. This is a good sign - not for Sanchez - but it gives credibility to the way they are testing."

Actually, Joe, the fact that you seem to think it's working lends more credibility to the process than the suspension of some pip-squeak nobody on a team that will contend only for last place in the standings and in attendance.

And no kidding, "not for Sanchez". Alex has had a roller coaster of a month. He saw his mother and brother, recently escaped from Cuban opression themselves, for the first time in 11 years in mid-March. Then, two days later, after having hit OK but apparently playing lackluster defense for the Tigers, he was released. Picked up by a team with even worse prospects than Detroit, he hit extremely well and won a starting job, only to find out that he had become an unwilling pawn in the chess game between the MLB Players' Association and the Commissioner's office. Sanchez was sacrificed to appease the gods, or more precisely, the beat writers and by extension, the fans, that all is well with MLB and its shiny, new drug testing policy.

For his part, Sanchez contends that he's never taken steroids "or anything else like that", and it's hard not to believe him when he looks like that. But he apparently took something, and he and his colleagues ought to be a bit more careful about what they ingest from here on out, because now that this scapegoat has been loosed into the woods, there's nothing keeping El Bud from naming more positive test result victims. And the next set of names will probably be a bit more familiar to us, and not so easily forgettable as Alex, um...Alex..., er..something.

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31 March 2005

The Walking Wounded - National League

Spanning the globe, to give you a constant variety of...actually, not much. This is Boy of Summer. We do baseball here. If you want Variety, go buy a magazine.

Continuing my two-part series on Important Injury Issues, let's look at the Senior Circuit.

Arizona Diamondbads

Diamondbacks. Sorry, force of habit. Actually, Arizona's not in terrible shape injury-wise. Two potential closers in Jose Valverde and Greg Aquino are dealing with shoulder and elbow troubles, respectively, with the former recently placed on the 15-day DL.

Alex Cintron's nursing a hamstring pull, which might not be so bad for the D-Backs, as his 665 OPS was better than only Craig Counsell among qualified the 21 MLB shortstops who got more than 502 plate appearances last year. What's that? You say Counsell is Cintron's replacement? No, the Diamondbacks couldn't be that stupid, could they?

Atlanta Braves

Newly-aquired OF Raul Mondesi is day-to-day nursing a hammy, and probably won't be very good even with two halthy wheels. Far be it from me to argue with something that John Schuerholz and/or Bobby Cox dreamed up, since they've been right about almost everything for nearly a decade and a half, but isn't relying on Raul Mondesi to supply offense a little like relying on Venezuela to supply oil? I mean, it's great when you can get it, but the situation is so unstable that only a fool would bank on it long-term. Tune in this October when Mondesi wins the "Comeback Player of the Year" Award and Travis wins another "Would You Like Some Fries With Those Words?" Award.

Chicago Cubs

Pick your poison. You want a former NL Rookie of the Year who led the majors in strikeouts in 2003 with shoulder problems? Meet Kerry Wood, who should start Opening Day, but who knows when thereafter. You want a perennial Cy Young candidate with elbow problems? Meet Mark Prior, who will pitch for the first time in nearly a month this Saturday, albeit against minor-leaguers. A closer hit in the hand with a line drive? Joe Borowski is expected to miss six weeks with a broken bone in that hand. Speaking of closers and former Rookies of the Year, Scott Williamson's elbow troubles continue to haunt him and the fans of whichever team he's playing for. This team's hopes hinge on its pitching staff, especially Wood and Prior, and thisngs aren't exactly starting out well.

Cincinnati Reds

The Reds don't have any big injuries currently, but it's early yet, and Ken Griffey's still on the roster.

Colorado Rockies

The Rockies/Rookies aren't expected to do much this year. Shawn Chacon is apparently coming back from a hamstring injury and pitched well in an exhibition game last week, although you would almost think that the fact that he pitched well is an indication that he's still not healthy. Chacon provided the ultimate proof of how silly the save rule is, racking up 35 "Show Up In the 9th"s while going 1-9 with an ERA of 7.11. Thank you, come again! As long as him hamstring heals properly, Chacon will return to surrendering game-winning homers as a starter rather than a reliever.

Florida Marlins

Florida's offense depends on Juan Pierre, and Juan Pierre depends on his speed, which could be severely compromised if his calf strain turns out to be any kind of long-term concern. He's day-to-day.

Thankfully, Florida's pitching does not depend on Ismael Valdez, who is a (very distant) 5th starter on this team, and therefore will have a few weeks to get over some kind of virus that kept him on the sidelines at the start of spring training.

Houston Astros

Lance Berkman tore his ACL playing flag football this winter, but should be back in mid to late April. Jeff Bagwell's shoulder still isn't right, requiring a cortisone shot last week. It probably will plague him, and the 'Stros' playoff hopes, for most of the season. Roger Clemens may be the best pitcher of his generation, but the dude is 42 years old, and 42-year old hamstrings don't usually heal very quickly. This team is getting old and injury-prone quickly, and I haven't even mentioned Andy Pettitte's perpetually gimpy left elbow.

Los Angeles Dodgers

Pitching has typically been the Dodgers' bread and butter, and their notable injuries are naturally mostly to pitchers. Odalis Perez is making progress with his tendinitis, as is swingman Wilson Alvarez*. Brad Penny, with his own biceps injury, is somewhat farther behind in his progress, but is headed in the right direction. Scott Erickson, who has less cartilige in his pitching elbow than I have in my coffee cup right now (I hope), has won the 5th starter's job, but don't expect that to last long. Erickson hasn't pitched a full, healthy season since 1999.

Outfielder Jayson Werth had a broken wrist but is getting back to hitting and should be back soon after Opening Day.

Milwaukee Brewers

No major injuries, just day-to-day bumps and bruises for Junior Spivey and Dan=main Miller.

New York Mets

Pedro martinez may be a future Cooperstown enshrinee, but he's also the riskiest $54 million spent this winter. No other player has as much upside or as much downside associated with his contract, and Pedro's lower back strain this spring may be a harbinger of disaster for the Mets and their new management team. The ill-advised aquisition of Victor Zambrano continues to haunt this team as well, though Zambrano did OK last week in an intrasquad game. Now if he can just keep from walking 6 batters per game in the regular season...

Philadelphia Phillies

The Phils phace a touph phight with a pitching staph that's not phrequently both phit and ephective. OK, enouph with that.

Vicente Padilla's on the DL with tendinitis in his pitching triceps, which currently stands as Philadelphia's biggest injury concern. Both center field candidates, Kenny Lofton and Marlon Byrd, are dealing with minor leg injuries, and 1B Jim Thome has a sometimes stiff back, which would quickly become the team's greatest concern if it turns out to be more phrequent. Sorry, frequent.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates had a stroke of luck getting Jason Bay and his sweet stroke from the Padres for Brian Giles, providing them their first Rookie of the Year ever. Bay hurt his wrist this winter, but seems to be returning from that injury fine. Relief man Salomon Torres has some neck issues, but unlike Ryan Vogelsong, it's not whiplash from watching all those home runs he surrenders.

San Diego Padres

The Fathers hope to show the rest of the NL who it's Daddy is this year, but they need centerfielder and leadoff man Dave Roberts to be healthy. To that end, they'll let him start the season on the DL to rehab his groin injury and make sure he can run full speed upon his return. Roberts' only asset is his speed, so it's best for all involved to make sure he has it when he returns. They have a name for .250 hitters with no power and no speed: Coach.

San Francisco Giants

You know about Barry Bonds and his third knee surgery. (That must be a side effect of steroids, as most people I know only have two knees...) Bonds may be out a month, or two, of three, or all season, or he may be done entirely. In all likelihood, he'll be back by the end of May at the latest. If he takes any longer than that, the Giants have no chance in the NL West.

Leadoff man and 2B Ray Durham is also returning from a groin injury (What is it with NL leadoff men and their groins?), but should be OK, having gotten back into the lineup this week.

St. Louis Cardinals

Matt Morris anchored perhaps the least spectacular starting rotation ever for a team that won 105 games last year, but if his sore shoulder doesn't heal soon, his consistency will be missed. With Mulder, Suppan, Carpenter and Marquis, Morris will have a few weeks before they need a 5th starter.

Washington Nationals

For a guy who's only 26, it sure seems like Tony Armas has been injured a long time, doesn't it? He hasn't ever pitched 200 innings in a season, and he hasn't qualified for and ERA title (162 IP) since 2002, and just barely at that. A groin injury this spring has him back on the DL, suggesting that 2005 will not be the year he snaps out of that funk.

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29 March 2005

The Walking Wounded - American League

Spring is in the air.

Unfortunately, so are rumours of steroid use, allegations of falsehood and conspiracy, and bitterness from players, fans, writers and administrators alike. At a time when we should be hearing the relative merits of players and teams entering a new season, all anyone can talk about is Congressional hearings. We should be arguing about whether or not Tony Womack (TONY WOMACK!?)will actually hit .490 this year, or if Eric Bedard will actually put up a 2.11 ERA in the 2005 regular season, but instead all we can do is debate the month in which Barry Bonds might return, and the over/under on how many more times he might drag his family down with him in press conferences. (My money's on eleventeen.)

So, as Easter approaches, and Resurrection is perhaps on some of our minds, let me make an effort to resurrect baseball discussions. That is, discussions about baseball players and what we might get to see on the field this year. One of the saddest aspects of these distractions has been the other news lost in the noise of the steroid scandal. Did you know that there are a lot of big-name players dealing with potentially serious injuries this spring? One day last week, three of the best closers in baseball were all in the non-steroid headlines for the injuries they were dealing with, and I almost missed it. So, in my continuing quest to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go...wait a minute...that's Captain Kirk's quest. Sorry.

Mine is to be a public servant, to provide information and commentary on baseball for my fans. All three of you. So without further delay, herer are the most significant injury concerns for each team heading into the 2005 season.

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Man, that's a stupid name. All other things being equal, the injury to the franchise with that name change might have been the biggest blow to this team's chances in 2005, but then what should we expect from a team that once listed "periwinkle" amongst its seven (7!) official team colors. In the non-PR department, the Angels' biggest concern is obviously that reigning AL MVP Vladimir Guerrero's gimpy back will flare up, as it already has this spring, but perhaps more serious is the apparent back stiffness and/or herniated disk that rookie 3B Dallas MacPherson suffers from. The Angels allowed Troy Glaus to leave thinking that MacPherson would be ready to take over the 3B job this year, and if he's not healthy, they'll be forced to play Chone Figgins and/or Robb Quinlan at the hot corner, neither of whom has MacPherson's talent.

Baltimore Orioles

While not your classic injury, Sidney Ponson took a page out of the David Wells Guide to Off-Season Public Relations Strategies by getting into a bar fight and wrote his own Appendix to the tome by assaulting a judge, although not in that order. If the judge ever lets him out, his hand apparently won't hinder his pitching, as no broken bones were detected. If the Orioles are to have any hope at all, and frankly, there wasn't much to begin with, Ponson must get his act together. At least he's not blaming the media or using his children as a shield.

Boston Red Sox

Perhaps the most famous red sock (as opposed to Red Sock) in history, Curt Schilling, isn't quite ready for the regular season, though it's possible that his ankle could be fully healed by mid-April, in time to start at Fenway against the Yankees. Wade Miller could be out much longer, and could effect a more forceful blow to Boston's hopes for success this year.

Chicago White Sox

The collective gasp you heard coming from the South Side of Chicago last week was not surprise that Billy McCoy killed Leroy Brown, but rather the fear that Pale Hose ace mark Buehrle might miss significant time this year with a "Stress reaction" in his leg, whatever that means. Thankfully, it now seems likely that he'll be ready for opening day. Frank Thomas, however, is still big hurtin', unable to run (a relative term, I suppose) and therefore unable to play. He hopes to be back in mid-April, but may take longer. The Sox will need both of them healthy and strong for most of the season if they are to wrest the division from the hands of the Twins.

Cleveland Indians

Tribe ace C.C. Sabathia has a strained oblique muscle and is currently rehabbing, having not yet thrown a live pitch this spring. Sabathia is yet another player on whom his team's hopes ride if they are to succeed in 2005. C.C. has missed some playing time pretty regularly over the past two years with minor injuries, including a strained hamstring, strained biceps, a sore shoulder and an elbow injury. Though he's only 24 and has made at least 30 starts in every season of his 4-year career, he's pitched over 200 innings only once (2002). Listed at 6'7" and 290 lbs, he would do well to slim down a bit and take better care of his body, his meal ticket.

Detroit Tigers

The Tigers don't have anyone of real consequence experiencing serious injury problems right now, which is more a testament to the lack of name-brand talent on the roster than it is to any real ability on the part of the team's stars to stay healthy. Outfielder Craig Monroe, who's probably more famous for shoplifting a $30 belt last December than for anything he did from April to September, has a strained shoulder. No big deal.

Kansas City Royals

The Royals have several minor, day-to-day injuries on their staff, but nobody expected to miss serious time at this point. On the other hand, if you have to be worried about whether or not 79-year old Kevin Appier is going to make the rotation, your team has bigger concerns.

Minnesota Twins

The #1 pick of the 2001 draft, Joe Mauer, was expected to contribute at the major league level last year, but got hurt in the second game of the season and hasn't quite been the same since. Mauer hit well in the approximately 100 at-bats he got upon his return, but the knee still isn't 100%, and the Twins' backups aren't going to push a team towards a division championship if pressed into daily service. This is one of the few teams that has enough supporting offense and pitching that they can get by with a catcher who hits .250/.320/.400 for half a season, but it sure would be nice to see Mauer's .300/.370/.550 instead.

New York Yankees

With Derek Jeter having returned from his bruised foot, and Bernie Williams effectively rehabbing his back, the Yankees' biggest injury concern isn't Steve "Recunstructive Surgery" Karsay, or even Randy Johnson. No, the Yankee's biggest injury concern is Tony Womack. Womack isn't injured, and that's the problem, because he's had an unbelieveable spring, is coming off a career year, and is 35 years old, which means that there's nowhere to go but down from here, and down he'll go. Baseball Prospectus projects Womack to "hit" .261/.303/.353 this year, and frankly I'll be surprised if he does that well. The best thing that can happen to the team is for Womack to sustain some kind of non-life threatening injury and miss most of the year, making the decision to play Andy Phillips at the keystone easy for Joe Torre.

Oakland Athletics

The A's apparently don't have any big injury issues, possibly becaus ethey're all so, well, athletic.

Seattle Mariners

Erstwhile "Everyday" Eddie Guardado hasn't pitched in the majors on any day starting in August of 2004, but expects to be ready to start the 2005 season with the team. An effective closer was one of the lowest concerns for a team that lost 99 games last season, but the mariners expect bigger things this year after spending eleventy million dollars on Adrian Beltre and Richie Sexson, himself a perpetual injury concern. Nobody on the staff who pitched more than 140 innings had an ERA lower than Joel Piniero's 4.67, and Piniero may not be either healthy or good if his shoulder isn't as healed as he says it is. Even with a healthy Piniero and Guardado, Seattle's climb back to competitive respectability in the AL West will be all uphill. Like Mount Ranier.

Tampa Bay Devil Rays

Not that they're expected to do much, but the Devil Rays will miss Rocco Baldelli, currently on knee-hab and not expected back until mid-season. The D-Rays set franchise records last year in wins and division place finishing in 2004, but as they were only 70 wins and 4th place, I wouldn't get too excited yet.

Texas Rangers

Texas relies on its offense to succeed, and would like to rely on 2B Alfonso Soriano to leadoff that attack, his poor strike zone judgment notwithstanding, but his strained hamstring makes his one asset as a leadoff hitter, his speed, a non-entity. Closer Francisco Cordero is nursing a shoulder injury, but is making progress in his return, facing minor leaguers without pain. Relief pitcher Frank Francisco's sore elbow has him on the 15-day DL, but he should be able to throw folding chairs off flat ground in the next twoo weeks, and if that goes well, he's expected to start throwing chairs from a mound shortly thereafter.

Toronto Blue Jays

Perpetually gimpy Ted Lilly is making progress returning from his most recent shoulder injury, and should be back to facing major league hitters soon. Newly aquired 3B Corey Koskie is nursing his groin strain, which is not as much fun as it sounds. The Blue Jays' main concern is not finishing behind the Devil Rays again, which seems a pretty likely fate as long as Roy Halladay is healthy this year.

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17 March 2005

"Et tu, Bud?"

With the Ides of March still closer than they appear in the rear-view mirror of news days, yet another instance of Major League Baseball stabbing its fans in the back has been revealed.

"We had a problem, and we dealt with the problem. I regarded this as not only a health issue, but certainly you could say it was an integrity issue in this sport. We're acting today to help restore the confidence of our fans."

- Bud Selig, 13 January 2005

"Actually, we talked about it and decided that we don't really care about our fans. Or integrity."

- Bud Selig, yesterday (sort of)

Congress had subpoenaed documents from MLB about the new drug testing policy, then made their findings known a few days later. On the eve of Congressional hearings about steroid use in Major League Baseball, it was learned that the supposedly, newly improved agreement between the MLB Players Association and MLB does not quite have the "teeth" it was alleged to have had upon its initial announcement in January. One major item is the fact that testing positive for any of the 45 substances banned by MLB can result in a suspension OR a fine, and not just for the first offense, but also for the second, third and even fourth positive test. It had been widely reported in January, based on announcements from MLB and the MLBPA, that punishments would take the form of suspensions without pay, with increased length for each subsequent offense. No mention was made of the alternative fines.

Even more astonishing is that these alternate fines do not even amount to the de facto fines a player would pay if he were suspended without pay for the time consummate with the number of the offense. A player making only $500,000/year still earns over $3000/game if he is on the roster all year. Getting suspended for 10 days during a stretch with no off-days would cost him almost $31,000 in forfeit pay at that rate, not a paltry $10K. Heck, even if he got paid evenly throughout the year, missing ten days would still cost almost $14,000, and that's for the 25th man on the roster, a scrub making close to the minimum.

What if Barry Bonds tested positive? A 10-day suspension would cost him between $494,000 and $1.1 million in surrendered pay, depending on how paydays are calculated. Would a player be required to surrender the amount of pay he would have lost if he'd been suspended instead of fined? Ten grand is pocket change for someone like him, but ten games, at some point, might mean the difference between 756 homers and 754.

MLB executive Robert Manfred maintains that there is no intent to use the fines, only to suspend players who test positive:

"All players with positive test results unequivocally will be suspended without pay and their names announced. The players' association was aware of our intention to suspend across the board for positives."

This of course begs the question, "Why bother to include such a clause if there is no intent to use it?" Most old billionaires who marry young trophy wives will tell you that they signed a prenuptial agreement, but "have no intention of using it" as well. But old billionaires don't get to be old billionaires by being stupid, as Jesse Ventura has so kindly pointed out. Whether they're marrying themselves to some bimbo with numbers like 36-26-36, or to some ballplayer with .300-30-100 measurements, they know enough to stack the deck in their favor whenever possible.

Manfred also said,

"In all but the most extraordinary of circumstances the suspension would be automatic."

Hmmm...what might "the most extraordinary of circumstances" be? I can envision several scenarios, most of which involve a star player on a team fighting for a playoff spot randomly testing positive in mid-September. Remember, this agreement supposedly includes random, unannounced, year-round testing, right? So it would not be unfathomable to think that Barry Bonds might pee into a cup, test positive for some banned substance, and thereby piss away his team's playoff hopes by missing the next ten games.

Had this happened on September 24th last year, with the Giants trailing Los Angeles by only 1.5 games, Bonds would have missed the rest of the season, including the team's playoff run. Granted, the Giants missed the playoffs last year anyway, but they certainly had a better shot at catching the Dodgers with him than without him. And you can bet your last nickel that Giants' management would cry foul and probably take legal action if El Bud opted for the ten game suspension instead of the fine in that situation this year, as would any team in such a predicament.

Another issue omitted from the initial announcements about the new drug-testing policy is that testing "shall be suspended immediately upon the parties' learning of a governmental investigation." I don't know about you, but it seems to me that these Congressional hearings probably qualify as a "governmental investigation", which should mean that testing has already ceased, at least for now. The players may not know when testing will happen, but they certainly know at least one time when it won't: Now.

It's possible that I'm wrong about this and that a "governmental investigation" means the FBI looking into allegations that a particular player was using or distributing steroids, because there are reported caveats about suspending testing if a favorable appeal is set aside, as well as essentially scrapping the whole agreement if for some reason testing has to be halted for an entire year.

This part of the information makes the least sense to me at this point, as I understand neither what is meant by a "governmental investigation" nor why MLB would want to halt testing just because they discovered that one was occurring. Isn't the government always investigating something? It's what they do. As far as I know, the Feds don't put a freeze on Mafia arrests just because they're investigating someone else in the Mafia, do they? As I said, I could be wrong about this, but since that's never happened before, it's a pretty remote possibility.

Arizona Senator, war hero and baseball fan John McCain said,

"I can reach no conclusion, but that the league and the players union have misrepresented to me and to the American public the substance of MLB's new steroid policy,"

I'll be one of the first to tell you that generally I don't think investigating what baseball players are injecting into their butts is the best use of Congress' time, but McCain's right about this. Sure, what Congress is doing amounts to little more than grandstanding, a dog-and-pony show by a bunch of overgrown kids who all should have something better to do. But if not for this investigation, we might not have found out about these things until it was too late. Good to know that Congress occasionally does something useful, even if it is only by accident.

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07 March 2005

Book Review: Juiced by Jose Canseco

Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big
by Jose Canseco

Juiced Posted by Hello

It's been said that one should not judge a book by its cover, though if one is to judge anything of an author by his book's cover, Jose Canseco is pretty impressed with himself. The cover of Juiced: Wild Times, Rampant 'Roids, Smash Hits and How Baseball Got Big, (Regan Books, $24.95, though you should never pay that much) besides somehow managing to fit the longest baseball title since "The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars and Motor Kings," also includes not one, but two pictures of Canseco, his #33, his position (RF/DH) and his career statistics, and that's just on the front. The back cover has yet another picture of the author, a beefcake shot of him flexing his bicep while holding a bat, with the title "The Chemist" above it, and a self-quote below. Not bad, if he does say so himself, and he does. Several times.

One of the first things I discovered as I read Jose Canseco's new book was that most of the reviews I had seen had not done the book justice. For one thing, 90% of the quotes they used had come right out of the introduction. I doubt most reviewers had read much farther. Another problem was that the articles I had seen about the book had seemed to discuss only the steroid-related topics in the book, whereas I found the book to be much more comprehensive than that. I hope that this thorough review will offer you a much clearer picture of Canseco and his book.

Don't get me wrong: Juiced is about steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs. It's got that title for a reason. But the story doesn't start there, and Canseco knew enough as he wrote the book to know that he couldn't keep most sports fans interested for almost 300 pages if all he discussed were drugs, dosages and dropped names. Canseco spends several chapters discussing his family history and upbringing, breaking into the big leagues, and becoming an MVP. He also spends a chapter on women (plus an entire chapter on his relationship with Madonna...hint: it was pretty tame), a chapter on cars, one on dealing with the press, fatherhood, the 1994 strike, and several chapters on the twilight of his career.

I should say, "Jose's perceived reasons for the extended twilight and premature end of his career", but that comes later. The book starts with his parents' reasonably successful life in Cuba, and their flight to Miami upon Fidel Castro's takeover. Jose and his siblings grew up in Miami, and Jose maintains that he was something of a runt as a youngster. He and his twin brother Ozzie learned to play from thier father when they were little, though his father wasn't always as encouraging as he would have liked.

Much of what Canseco writes must be taken with a grain of salt, in my opinion, as the book is clearly written with an agenda in mind, namely to prove that Jose Canseco's career as a professional baseball player is almost entirely due to his usage of anabolic steroids and human growth hormone. "I was always a scrawny kid, not very athletic, and in my wildest dreams I couldn't see myself playing at the major league level," he tells you, and then he tries to play down the fact that he was the MVP of both his JV and Varsity baseball teams in high school.

Harrumph, I say. There aren't that many kids drafted out of high school by Major League Baseball teams, fewer still as low as the 15th round. The dude must have had some talent, right? He might not have had such a prolific and prolonged career without the aid of steroids, but he certainly could have been a major leaguer for some time. His brother Ozzie had essentially the same genes, and he made it to the majors, albeit briefly, without much help from steroids, though Jose attests that his twin dabbled a little in the juice as well.

Other names he mentions in the book, besides the big names like Mark McGwire, Juan Gonzales, Rafael Palmiero and Ivan Rodriguez, include Wilson Alvarez, Dave Martinez and Tony Saunders. For all of these players he purports to know first-hand of their steroid use. Canseco also discusses his suspicions about Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Brady Anderson, Bret Boone and Roger Clemens (though he does say that the Rocket never "touched down" in any woman's bed besides his wife's, as far as Jose knew).

The 2001 spring training conversation he "recalls" with Boone has already been debunked by ESPN.com's Jeff Merron here, along with a few other of Jose's fuzzy recollections. Some of these are details, like whether he pinch hit for David Cone in Game 4 or Game 6 of the 2000 World Series. Others are pretty substantial mistakes, like his account of a monster home run he hit off Walt Terrell in Detroit in 1986, which was actually hit in 1987. By Mark McGwire. Small detail.

Here's one that Merron didn't discuss: In Chapter 19, "The Godfather of Steroids", The Don discusses a home run derby in which he participated in February of 2000, along with other sluggers like McGuire, Palmiero, and Bonds. He says that Bonds was amazed by his physique, as well as the fact that he won the contest, hitting at least one blast that landed "maybe 550 or 600 feet from home plate."

"So what did Barry Bonds do that next off-season? He showed up in spring 2001 with forty pounds of added muscle. As soon as he set foot on a field in Scottsdale that spring, he was all anyone could talk about."

Well, the evidence does not support Canseco's inference that this experience led Bonds to steroid use. Bonds had missed a third of the 1999 season with injuries, but managed to hit 34 homers in 355 at-bats despite that, and was in fact, invited with other elite sluggers to the aforementioned home run derby. Bonds bounced back nicely from those injuriesin 2000, though, hitting .306, tying his career high with 129 runs scored (in 143 games) and setting new personal bests with 49 homers and a .688 slugging percentage, all at age 35. It seems more likely that Bonds' steroid use was a response to the 1999 injuries he suffered, and that the wheels were in motion well before he traveled to Las Vegas that February.

Canseco's opinions on his status as a Latino, and the influence it had on his young career, is also a bit suspect. While I don't doubt that racism existed at that time in MLB organizations, and that it still does in some forms, I don't see how the major leagues were as "closed" as he contends. In 1985 alone over 100 players, nearly 10% of all major leaguers, hailed from a predominantly Spanish-speaking country, according to Baseball-Reference.com.

Latinos had played and played well in the majors for decades before Canseco came along, with MVP winners such as Roberto Clemente, Orlando Cepeda, and Willie Hernandez, as well as fellow Cuban Zoilo Versailles. Hernandez and another Cuban, Mike Cuellar, hasd also won Cy Young Awards, and practically countless Latinos had won Gold Gloves, Silver Slugges, and other acclaim in major league baseball. A few narrow-minded hicks who happened to manage minor league franchises may have been rotten, especially towards someone they perceived as a "hot dog" or a "goof-off" like Jose. That, however, hardly spoils the whole bunch of major league owner-apples, and is far from the pervasive conspiracy to keep the Latinos down that Canseco describes.

Sketchy recollections and thinly-veiled agendas aside, the book isn't bad. Canseco's smart enough to know that someone else should write his books for them, and Steve Kettmann, his ghost writer, does a good job of putting Jose's words into, well, Jose's words. It's not eloquent or elaborate, but it's not Hemingway either. It's just plain talk, easy to read (unlike some of my stuff) and reasonably interesting. It's part revisionist history, part biased biography, and part "how To" guid, both for how to become a major leaguer (HINT: there are needles involved) and how to act when you get there (HINT: Don't date Madonna; DO be nice to the Press).

Despite my criticisms, I actually do recommend reading this book. Just try to do it with some access to the record books nearby, just in case. For all its flaws, Juiced really was interesting. Imperfect, with some big holes and lots of unanswered questions, but a fun ride nonetheless.

Kind of like it's author.

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04 March 2005

Infielder Fantasy Picks for 2005

Those of us who serve as columnists on 360thePitch.com were asked to discuss infielders for the upcoming Fantasy Baseball season, so I did. But please note that the following is nothing more than my (slightly) educated opinion on these matters, and is not necessarily the opinion of 360thePitch.com or its affiliates, General Electric, Disney, CBS or the Pentavaret, who control everything in the world, including the Newspapers, and who meet tri-annually at a secret country mansion in Colorado known as "The Meadows".

Also, before I give you my Fantasy Baseball picks for Infielders, or anything at all for that matter, you should understand two things:

1) I didn't finish higher than 8th in any of the three leagues I played in last year.
B) I've never had to do a live draft or bid for players in a Roto league.

Therefore, I take absolutely no responsibility for any money you lose basing your Fantasy picks on my writing. But if you win, I want a cut.

With that said...

First Class:
You know the big names: Javy Lopez (34), Ivan Rodriguez (33), Jorge Posada (33), Mike Piazza (36), Jason Varitek (32). All would be solid picks, but all are on the wrong side of 30, and catchers tend not to age well. Piazza may again be an elite catcher though, as the Mets are reportedly planning to let him be the regular backstop, and not without cause: he hit .331/.419/.552 as a catcher, 0.223/.326/.372 elsewhere.

Victor Martinez, at 26, should continue to build on his impressive 2004 numbers, and should be even better as he and his teammates mature. I'd take Martinez over any of the others, except maybe Piazza. Maybe.

Mike Lieberthal and Jason Kendall remain solid picks. Lieberthal has lots of protection in that Phillies lineup, and Kendall could thrive with an Oakland team that values OBP, but don't expect many steals. Both are in this class only if your league penalizes you for strikeouts. Otherwise they drop to...

Business Class
More than likely, half of the names above will end up down here as their ages catch up with them, especially Posada. A.J. Pierzynski could put up better numbers than 2004, as he's going from a severe pitcher's park back to a hitter's park in Chicago, and is still in his prime at only 28. Look for Michael Barrett and Johnny Estrada to take a step back from last season's career year numbers, though Estrada should still be decent. Joe Mauer is a solid hitter all around, but is still young, and doesn't have a lot of power. Rockies backstop J.D. Closser could be a bargain simply on the merits of Coors Field. The Royals' John Buck is also on the way up, and should be helped by the fact that Kauffman Stadium has been playing like Coors Lite, except without the nasty aftertaste.

Economy Class
There are probably a dozen guys who will hit something like .250 with 12-15 homers. If you have to get stuck with one of them, the key is to know which ones will be cheap and which won't. Little known Dave Ross of the Dodgers and Guillermo Quiroz of the Blue Jays could put up solid, cheap power numbers, but their averages won't impress. Rod Barajas will probably put up numbers comparable to Ramon Hernandez, Benito Santiago, Jason LaRue and Miguel Olivo, but he hits in a better lineup and doesn't have the name recognition of some other players, so he could come cheap.

Stay away from anyone over 35, and anyone named "Brad", "Paul" or "Molina."

First Base:

First Class: Offense is cheap at 1B, but Albert Pujols is practically in a class by himself, followed closely by Todd Helton and not closely by Jim Thome, Mark Teixeira, and Justin Morneau, who hit 41 homers between AAA and the majors last season. David Ortiz, Travis Hafner and Aubrey Huff are also very good, though they'll see more time at OF or DH in 2005 than as a 1B. Carlos Delgado, Paul Konerko, Sean Casey and Derek Lee are just a step below.

Business Class
Look for Richie Sexton to make a nice comeback from his injury, but his numbers will be hurt a little by Safeco Field. Jeff Bagwell is getting old, but is still productive. Lyle Overbay and Craig Wilson are not likely to repeat their 2004 performances, but should still be decent picks if you don't get one of the big guys. Phil Nevin, Hee Seop Choi, Kevin Millar and Ben Broussard are all solid picks, and at 27, Carlos Pena could break out and finally come through on the hype we heard when he came up through the Oakland organization. Nick Johnson could impress if he can stay healthy all season, which is about as likely as Nick Nolte staying out of jail all season. Casey Kotchman could impress if Darin Erstad gets hurt and misses significant time, which I think is due for this year, no? A healthy Jason Giambi could make a nice comeback to his pre-tumor, pre-parasite, pre-steroid controversy performance.

Economy Class Ken Harvey, Scott Hatteberg, Tino Martinez, Adam LaRoche and Jay Gibbons won't kill you at 1B, but they're close. Stay away from Doug Mientkiewicz, Travis Lee, J.T. Snow and Erstad.

Second Base:

First Class:
Look for Alfonso Soriano to bounce back from a slightly down year and rejoin the 30-30 club. Jeff Kent's power numbers might be hurt a little by Dodger Stadium, but he's still one of the better second sackers out there. A full, healthy year from 27-year old Marcus Giles should be one of the three or four best 2Bs in baseball. Ray Durham and Brian Roberts are both solid picks, but Roberts only has value at the keystone, not in the outfield.

Business Class
Luis Castillo has no power, but he gets on base, and if he starts stealing again, he's a solid second-tier pick at second base. Bret Boone and Mark Bellhorn will give you 20-25 homers, but they'll have trouble hitting .260. Take Bellhorn if your league values OBP. D'Angelo Jimenez, Aaron Miles and Kazuo Matsui will give you a little pop and a little speed without killing your batting average. New White Sox import Tadahito Iguchi
should do the same, but may come cheaper as an unknown. Chase Utley could hit 25 homers if he gets to play every day, and Jose Vidro may reverse his slide and hit .300 with 20+ homers again.

Economy Class
Look for Mark Loretta, Tony Womack and Ron Belliard to take a big step backward after their 2004 career years. Belliard may be all but worthless. Kieth Ginter could hit 20 homers but won't do much else. Junior Spivey, if healthy, is worht a look. If not, rookie Rickie Weeks could impress, but probably needs more time in the minors. Mark Grudzielanek isn't the worst option around, but he's close. Stay away from Craig Counsell, Luis (Oh-for-Th)Rivas and future Hall of Famer Roberto Alomar.

Third Base:
First Class:
Alex Rodriguez, after a year of adjusting, should return to MVP form in 2005.
Expect the law of averages and the law of Safeco Field to bring Adrian Beltre back to earth, where he'll still be one of the best half dozen or so thirdbasemen around. Scott Rolen isn't likely to repeat last year's performance either, but he's still an elite player at the Hot Corner. If Troy Glaus can stay healthy, going from a moderate pitchers' park to a severe hitters' park could help him hit 40 homers again. Melvin Mora probably won't hit .340 again, but he should still be a good bet for a .290 average and 25 homers. Eric Chavez led the AL in walks in 2004, and should be coming into his prime as a hitter, at age 27, as is Aramis Ramirez, though he doesn't have Chavez' patience. Hank Blalock is only 24 and gets better every day.

Business Class
A healthy Chipper Jones could hit .290 with 30 homers and jump up to First Class, but .270 with 25 is more likely. Look for Mike Lowell and Corey Koskie in the same range of performance. Angels' rookie Dallas McPherson was probably ready for a job in the majors two years ago, but with Glaus gone, the 3B job in Anaheim (or wherever the hell it is they play with that stupid name) is hit to lose, which he won't. Aaron Boone and David Wright are among the few third-sackers who steal a few bases, giving them a little more value than a .275 average with 20 homers usually buys you at this position. Wright could be even better.

Economy Class
Michael Cuddyer and Morgan Ensberg could come cheap, and might only need an everyday job to show what they can do, namely hit .290 with power and patience. Joe Crede's 27, and could bounce back to have a nice year, something like .270 with 25 homers. David Bell should not be expected to repeat his 2004 numbers, and would probably best serve both the Phillies and you if his spring injury turns out to be serious, as no one will be inappropriately waiting on him to produce.

If someone could find a way to clone Sean Burroughs' ability to hit for average and Jose Valentin's ability to hit for power into one player, there might be a useful National League thirdbaseman in southern California, but in this reality, there isn't. Stay away from both, as well as Alex Gonzales, Vinny Castilla and Edgardo Alfonso. Don't bother with Bill Mueller, Joe Randa or Royals' rookie Mark Teahen, who isn't ready yet and might never be.


First Class:
Edgar Renteria and Derek Jeter are the best of a suddenly weak group, though Nomar Garciaparra could return to his formerly impressive self if he can keep from being hit by a...OUCH! There goes one now!. Well, don't hold your breath.

Jimmy Rollins could break out with some guidance from a real leadoff hitter like Kenny Lofton, Miguel Tejada has the most power of any shortstop in baseball right now, and hits in the middle of a good lineup, so he's up here as well. Rafael Furcal is in his prime, and makes up in speed and patience what he lacks in power.
Business Class
Mike Young isn't likely to hit .313 again, but should still be a solid SS with a .290 average and 15-20 homers. 2004 AL Rookie of the Year Bobby Crosby should gain a little batting average as he matures, and may steal more bases as well. Orlando Cabrera can't possibly be as bad as he was last year, and Carlos Guillen probably isn't as good. Look for them to meet somewhere in the middle, though Guillen should still be better. Jose Reyes could impress if he can stay healthy. Look for 30 steals if he gets 600 at bats.

Economy Class
Adam Everett, Angel Berroa and Clint Barnes will give you a little power, and little speed, a little average, but not a lot of anything. Juan Uribe was the rarest of birds last season: someone who hits better after leaving Colorado. Don't expect it to continue. Khalil Green was decent last year before he got hurt, but might be worth a look. Expect Jack Wilson to return to earth (AKA .270 with ~10 homers) after hitting .308 last year. Stay away from Royce Clayton, Christian Guzman, Julio Lugo and especially Omar Vizquel. Even if being 38 doesn't kill his stats, SBC Park will.


Want a second opinion? Go check out my colleagues at 360thePitch.com...

...and you're ugly, too!

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23 February 2005

Barry Bonds Presses Back in Press Conference

As a baseball fan, and by some accounts, a baseball writer, I have an obligation not to just sit by and allow the biggest stories of the year to simply elude me, for any reason. I cannot allow the fact that a story might not pertain to my favorite team to prevent me from writing. I cannot allow, worse yet, the fact that a story may reflect badly on a players from my favorite team to keep me from writing. I cannot even allow, and you may find this hard to believe but stick with me here, the fact that I have absolutely nothing unique or interesting to say on the matter to prevent me from commenting on a story.

And why? Is it because you, my reader(s?), have come to expect hard-hitting, tough-nosed reporting from Boy of Summer? Is it because you expect insightful commentary and a singular perspective from Boy of Summer? Is it because I'm bigger than you and I might beat you up?

No. It's because if I don't write on some kind of regular basis, I only get about eleven lousy hits on this website in a day. And half of those are from me, checking to see if anyone else has been reading.

And so, despite the fact that a nasty case of bronchitis still has me a little closer to Death's Door than I am comfortable with, I will take some time to do what I (apparently) do best: Wise crack about the news.

Barry Bonds Spring Training Press Conference

Q. Can you explain over the last four or five years your amazing production, your tremendous growth in muscle strength getting stronger as you get older? Can you finally put to rest --

BARRY BONDS: Can I? Hard work that's about it. Now it's to rest.

Q. That's it?

BARRY BONDS: That's it.

TMN: Wow! And I thought it was all those milk shakes, or his spiffy, new Nike cleats.

What Barry should have said was that he couldn't answer this question becasue it pertains to the BALCO case, which would have allowed him to answer the question honestly (for once) without actually answering it. He could have simultaneously been both more honest and more elusive than Jason Giambi was in his press conference last week! Now that's one for the record books!

Q. What was the bigger off-season distraction, dealing with the steroid issue or the knee problem?

BARRY BONDS: [...] You know, I know that I'm older now. I put my body through a lot in 147 games last year. I played more games than anyone on my team, and the oldest and I'm still trying to recover from that.

But the most part is just my knees. I have to be able to play at a level that I want to play at, and, you know, right now, I'm having a little bit more difficulties with this right one than I did with the left one.

TMN: Hey, Barry, you should try steroids. I've heard that they can help with healing from injuries, especially as you get older...

Q. Jose Canseco singled you out, I want to know what your reaction is to that, and also, what he said about Mark McGwire, do you believe what he said?

BARRY BONDS: [...] But I don't know Jose. I was better than Jose now and I've been better than Jose his whole career. So I don't have anything to talk about Jose. If he wants to go make money, go make money. You had the Bash Boys, you had one of the best lineups in baseball that's second to some of the Yankees lineups or you can go on. For somebody that brags about what he did, I don't see any of your records.

TMN: Technically, Barry, you weren't better than him "then" depending on when "then" is. You and Canseco are nearly the same age, born in the same month in 1964, and you came up around the same time. Canseco was apparently better than you in High School, since he got drafted then and you didn't. He was better than you in 1985 as he plowed his way through two minor league levels and the majors, hitting .328 with 41 homers and 140 RBI, as you spent the season hitting .299 in the Carolina League. He was better than you in 1986, winning AL Rookie of the Year Honors with 33 homers and 117 RBI, as you played 44 games in the Pacific Coast League and hit only .223 for the Pirates in 113 National League games.

You and Canseco were roughly comparable in 1987, him with more power, you with more patience and speed.

But Canseco easily outpaced you in 1988, hitting .307 with 42 homers, 40 steals, 120 runs and 124 RBI to win AL MVP honors easily, as you hit .283 with decent power, but only 17 steals in 28 attempts. He was better than you in 1989, despite an injury that linited him to 65 major league games, and 1990 and 1991 were again roughly comparable years for the two of you, each with your own strengths and weaknesses (his power, your speed and batting eye). It was't until 1992, when you started winning MVP awards, and Jose started getting injured and/or playing for Texas, that it could be said that you were clearly "better than him." Just so we're clear on that.

And besides, where does it say that talent and credibility go hand-in-hand? I didn't realize that lawyers select witnesses based upon their career accomplishments, but then, I'm not a lawyer.

Q. Jose maintains that he did take steroids -- inaudible -- Mike Greenwell feels he should get the MVP because Canseco admitted that he used steroids. What's your opinion on that? And people who achieve awards, should there be an asterisk or maybe it taken back?

BARRY BONDS: You know, I feel that baseball -- I commend Bud Selig and the Players Union and all of the players for trying to put together a testing program that supposed to satisfy everyone. I cannot say enough for what Bud has come out and stated. The Union and the players -- I mean, you can't -- you guys are like rerun stories. This is just -- this is old stuff. I mean, it's like watching Sanford and Son, you know, you just, rerun after rerun after rerun.

You guys, it's like, what, I mean, you can't -- it's almost comical, basically. I mean, we've got alcohol that's the No. 1 killer in America and we legalize that to buy in the store. You've got, you know, you've got tobacco number two, three killer in America, we legalize that. There's other issues. You guys are going to be the same people next week as some tragedy happened, how we need to save our children and everything else and next week, you're the same people sitting there coming, how we should be doing this and how we're evil people, or, you know, you guys, it's one thing after another. You know, pick one side or the other. Are y'all going to be good people or are you all going to be who you are and make the game or sports what it is? It's become "Hard Copy" all day long. Are you guys jealous? Upset? Disappointed? What?

TMN: Does anyone know if any research has been done to correlate steroid use with an inability to form complete sentences?

And someone should point out to Barry that the next column Tom Boswell or Murray Chass writes about alcoholism or tobacco addiction will be their first. They cover baseball, and as long as steroids is germane to baseball, they'll keep covering it. Does Barry think that the press should have stopped writing stories about gambling in baseball once Ring Lardner had published his first column on the 1919 World Series, just because he'd done it once?

Q. As you approach Babe Ruth on the home run charts, is it troubling to you that people are scrutinizing your achievements, particularly home runs?

BARRY BONDS: No, you guys don't bother me. You're professional at what you do. That doesn't bother me. That's part of the game. That's part of sports, it always has been.

The problem with me, my dad told me before he past away, he said, "The biggest problem with you, Barry is that every great athlete that has gone on for great records, everyone knows their story. People have made hundreds of millions of dollars off their stories with them and protected them. Nobody knows you and they are pissed off."


I'm an adult and I take responsibilities for what I do, but I'm not going to allow you guys to ruin my joy.

TMN: No, Barry. The problem with you is not that you don't let the public know you. The problem is that everything we do know about you seems to indicate that you're a jerk. You have a right to be a recluse. You don't have a right to be a butthead.

And while we're on the subject of "joy", you should realize that this is not simply about your joy, it's about the joy of the 40,000+ fans who come to see you everywhere you go, the joy of the millions who watch you on TV or listen to your games on the radio. It's about the joy of the fans, you self-absorbed, overpaid primadonna. You're an entertainer. You might find a little more joy in entertaining people if you would let them in a little, but if not, don't blame them for wanting to know what makes you tick (besides muscle spasms).

Q. Right or wrong, true or false, a lot of the accusations, particularly involving Canseco's book, people are saying it's damaged the game, do you agree with that? And if so, does it bother you that it's damaged the game that you play for a living?

BARRY BONDS: I don't -- I think a lot of things have damaged sports with a lot of just the whole, everything. But there's a lot worse things going on in our world, a lot more worse. You should focus on fixing those first.

TMN: Well, someone should focus on fixing those things, but I'm not sure that the baseball beat writers are necessarily the best option for that.

Q. Jason Giambi felt the need to make an apology. Is there anything that you need to apologize for?

BARRY BONDS: What did I do?

Q. Well, he talked about the grand jury testimony.

BARRY BONDS: Yeah, but what did I do? I'm just sorry that we're even going through all this rerun stuff. I'm sorry that, you know, this fictional stuff and maybe some facts, who knows, but I'm sorry that, you know -- we're all sorry about this.

None of us want to go through this. None of us want to deal with this stuff. We want to go out and do our job. But what's your purpose and what you're doing it for, rewriting it, writing it over and over and over and over again, what's your reasoning? What are you going to apologize for when you're wrong?

TMN: This is about as much as anyone was able to get out of Barry about the BALCO trial, which is not much. Bonds is still missing the point that this remains a HUGE story until it's settled, and that it's far from settled. The media don't continue to pester him about it because they're jealous or upset, they harp on the issue because it's still an issue.

We have leaked grand jury testimony indicating that Bonds did use steroids, but he continually keeps his head in the sand and refuses to acknowledge having anything to do with steroids. He purportedly can't say anything about the issue because of "legal constraints" which means essentially that he could be brought up on charges for discussing the trial while it's still going on, but witnesses are not legally under those constraints, only jurors. Am I worng here? Or is Barry just trying to save face?

Q. Can you talk about batting with Moises Alou behind you?

BARRY BONDS: I hope it's going to be fun, man, because from what I hear, they say they are going to pitch to me more, so it's going to be a lot quicker for me. (Laughing.)

But who knows. But, you know, it's going to be fun. But we're all old on our team, so it's going to be interesting. I'm going to talk with Michael Tucker a lot because I think Michael Tucker is going to play like -- we're going to go three days and then just Tucker is going to play 162 days: Left, center, right; left, center, right; left, center, right, while the rest of us take some time off.

TMN: Man, for the sake of Giants fans everywhere, I hope not. Tucker may be the youngest of the Giants' outfielders, but he's also the worst hitter, if not appreciably worse than Marquis Grissom. And at 33, Tucker isn't likely to get any better either. If Felipe Alou plans to give any significant amount of Bonds' and Moises Alou's playing time to Tucker, they might as well throw in the towel now.

Q. You mentioned a setback and what we've been told from the beginning since July 31 when you had this operation that you would be ready to play in an exhibition game around the 15th of March and there --

BARRY BONDS: Where did you hear that from?

Q. That was what was in the release, I believe that was--

BARRY BONDS: Why do you guys never give up your source? Name, name, name, please.

Q. [Giants trainer] Stan Conte.

BARRY BONDS: Stan Conte did not say that, that's a lie. I know for a fact Stan could not have said it. See, you guys...

Q. The official release --

BARRY BONDS: See, you lied, you lied. Next question. (Laughter.)

Q. Will you be ready to play by April 5th?

BARRY BONDS: April 5? Opening Day. I don't know. But you did lie.

TMN: There you go, Barry, way to endear yourself to the media. Call them liars for quoting your teams official press releases. I understand that criticizing them for the headlines on their newspaper columns is also a good way to make friends. Why don't you try prank phone calls while you're at it?

Q. Everybody in this room agrees with what you said, this is a circus --

BARRY BONDS: I like you. What's your name, man?

Q. What would be your solution to end the circus?

BARRY BONDS: I think that allow Major League Baseball, Bud Selig and the Union and its players, allow the drug testing program to work. Allow it to work. Let's go forward. I truly believe that we need to go forward. Okay, you cannot rehash the past. If that's the case, we're going to go way back into 19th, 18th centuries in rehashing the past and we'll crush a lot of things in a lot of sports if that's what you guys want. If you just want a lot of things out of the sports world, then we can go back into the 1800s and basically asterisk a lot of sports if that's what you choose and that's what you want to do. If that's going to make you happy and everything, then go right ahead, figure it out, who you want, it's going to go all the way down the line.

But, things that happen in sports, in all sorts of sports, it's time to move on. Every time there has been incident, it has been corrected and now that it's being corrected, I think we need to go forward, move forward, let it go. Y'all stop watching Red Foxx in rerun shows and let's go ahead and let the program work and allow us to do our job.

TMN: Barry's actually right about this. Obnoxious, but right.

The notion of an asterisk on anyone's records, for any reason, is just silly. People did what they did, and their accomplishments are matters of meticulously kept public record. It's up to the thinking fan to figure out what they mean. We're not diminishing Roger Maris for needing eight more games than Babe Ruth to hit 61 homers. We're not ignoring records from the 1960's because most players were high on amphetamines. We don't pretend that Cy Young and Christy Matthewson and a host of 19th century record holders didn't exist just because they pitched during the dead ball era, and we can't do it to Barry Bonds.

But like these others, we need to understand the context in which those records were set, and we can't let the issue go until we're clear on that. So get used to it, Barry.

Q. What's going to be your approach to repair it from here on out? You are you expect other people to come clean and move forward?

BARRY BONDS: We just need to go out there and do our jobs, just as you professionals do your job. All you guys lied. All of y'all and the story or whatever have lied. Should you have asterisk behind your name? All of you lied. All of you have said something wrong. All of you have dirt. All of you. When your closet's clean, then come clean somebody else's. But clean yours first, okay.

But I think right now baseball just needs to go forward and you guys need to turn the page and let's move forward. Let us play the game, and we will fix it. I think we all want to, I think we all have a desire to. I think we all are hurting, including myself.

TMN: Barry, you're not getting it. They are doing their jobs. Their jobs are to describe you and other people who do your job, and to find out, if possible, what allows you to do your job well and/or prevents the same. Their job isn't just to record the data. We have box scores for that. Their job is to get the inside information. We'll move on when the issue is put to rest.

If they've truly made erroneous reports, then that will eventually become apparent. If the San Francisco Chronicle Dan Rathered this grand jury testimony story, then they'll be called to task for it, in time. But as far as we know, none of these reporters has just made this story up, accusing you out of thin air. There's a legal document out there, albeit one we shouldn't yet know about, that says you used steroids. You've denied it in this forum, i.e. the Locker Room, but in another forum (the Courtroom) you've apparently admitted it, and the public has a right to know which of those two mutually exclusive assertions is actually true.

Q. If and when you break Hank's record, do you think fans across the country will celebrate (ph) it?

BARRY BONDS: I do. I really I do. Fans like sports. Fans love sports. Yes, I do.

TMN: I do too, or at least I hope so. Regardless of the auspices under which these records have been set, History is still History. Barry Bonds has accomplished incredible things, with or without performance enhancing substances to aid him, and if I had the opportunity to be present for #756, I surely would stand and cheer.

Q. Do you view the use of steroid as cheating?

BARRY BONDS: As cheating? I don't -- I don't know what cheating is. I don't know cheating, if steroid is going to help you in baseball. I just don't believe it. I don't believe steroids can help you, eye/hand coordination, technically hit a baseball, I just don't believe it and that's just my opinion.

TMN: Hand-eye coordination? Probably not, but then nobody ever said that was the reason for using them, did they? But muscle mass buildup? Ability to heal more quickly? Staving off the physical wear and tear of a long season? Absolutely. Hand-eye coordination is not the only thing teams look for in professional baseball players. If it were, they'd be sending their scouts to video arcades and internet gaming chatrooms. I personally have good enough hand-eye coordination and reflexes to beat Zuma, but I can barely hit a baseball 200 feet.

Q. You talked about protecting your family when your kids come home and they tell you stories of your reputation under attack, what do you say to them?

BARRY BONDS: None of your business because I wouldn't let you in my house.

TMN: Nice, Barry. An excellent way to punctuate the interview session. Too bad you couldn't have ended that sentence with a swear word. I hope your children learn their manners from your wife, because as an example of etiquette and courtesy, well, you make a great left-fielder.

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15 February 2005

Bye-Bye, Barry: Larkin's Legacy

On Monday, Cincinnati Reds shortstop Barry Larkin announced his retirement. Larkin is 40 years old and had played a full season only once since 1999, due to age and injuries. He had looked washed up after 2002, having hit only .245 with seven home runs in over 500 at-bats that season. But desiring to justify the $9 million annual salary he was given after the 2001 season, he fought his age and bounced back nicely with two solid, if truncated, seasons to end his career, posting a respectable OPS (~750) in parts of the last two seasons.

Still, it was clear to everyone, except perhaps Barry himself, that Larkin was not in the plans for the 2005 Reds. Larkin certainly wanted to be a contributor to Cincinnati's plans for this season, but either he was asking too much money or the Reds figured that he would be taking up space on the roster that would be better spent on, well, somebody. For something like a $500,000 contract, he could have been useful as a platoon player, but they've got three shortstops under the age of 24 on the roster, and they want to see if any of them stands a chance of being something next year, other than 25.

None of them looks like a good bet: Felipe Lopez has over 1000 major league plate appearances over parts of four seasons, and has hit .235/.309/.379 in them. His minor league record is also unimpressive, showing a (very) little power, a little speed, and almost no plate discipline at all. Ditto for Ray Olmedo, except that he's not even as good as Lopez. The third part of the trio is Anderson Machado, who is roughly the same type of player, but with more speed, more patience, and less of everything else. Unfortunately, Machado will not be part of the running, after having had knee surgery, leaving these two to compete with Rich Aurilia, who at least used to be good. As they say in France: When you've got three shortstops, you've got no shortstop. On the other hand, by signing Joe Randa to play 3B, they may get Ryan Freel more playing time at short, though the plan for the future is not yet clear. But this column isn't about the future: It's about the past. Sort of.

How sad it is that an icon like Barry Larkin should see his career end so that the Reds can waste their energies on players such as these. Thankfully, Larkin will most likely not be primarily remembered as "the Guy who Played Shortstop for the Reds Before Eddie Langenpoop". A Cincinnati native who grew up to play more games for his hometown team than all but four other players in history, Larkin was more than just an icon in Ohio. He was a baseball icon, a symbol of the American dream, fulfilling every kids fantasy, to grow up and become their own town's hero. But nostalgia alone doesn't get you into the Hall of Fame. Accomplishments do.

Barry at bat Posted by Hello

And Barry Larkin has got an accomplishment or two. He won a World Series in 1990, with his Reds sweeping the heavily-favored, heavily-medicated Oakland Athletics, the first championship for Cincinnati since 1976. He also won the 1995 NL MVP award as he helped the Reds to a division title, though they were swept by the eventual World Champion Atlanta Braves. The following year, Larkin became the first infielder to join the 30-30 Club (homers and steals), though he finished a distant 12th in the MVP voting, as the Reds' 81-81 record dragged him down. Larkin won three Gold Gloves at shortstop (1994-96) as well, and probably deserved the two that Ozzie Smith won in 1990 and 1991.

These items, while making some nice padding for his resume, are only small aspects of Larkin's career. His statistical accomplishments must also be considered, both in the context of his peers and in that of History. First, History:

Before I start this section, let me thank Lee Sinins, whose wonderful Sabermetric Baseball Encyclopedia is a tool no seamhead should be without. All of these stats were easily found with it. I used a cutoff of 5000

Career Average Rankings (5000 PA)    
12 9 10 9

These are Larkin's career rankings among shortstops with at least 5000 career plate appearances. (If we bump up the requirement to 6000 or 7000, it mostly eliminates people who are still playing, Like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. As Larkin will no doubt be compared to these players when the baseball writers are considering his candidacy for Cooperstown, I kept them in as well.) Except for Ed McKean, who played from 1887-1899, and Vern Stephens, the players ahead of Larkin on these four lists are either already in the Hall of Fame, will be elected soon (Cal Ripken) or are likely eventual Hall members still playing (Jeter and A-Rod). That's pretty good company, even though he doesn't get much above the top ten.

Compilation Stats
7 4 10 4 5 12 6

Larkin does a little better in these categories. He played for 19 seasons and therefore had plenty of time to rack up these sorts of numbers. The only significant category in which he's not in the top ten is RBI, and Larkin batted #3, #4 or #5 in the lineup for only about a third of his career, so it's hard to hold that against him. Today's dynamos notwithstanding, shortstops have traditionally been relatively light hitters. Nevertheless, Larkin was clearly among the best of these, if only due to his relative longevity. A lot of shortstops (like Ripken and A-Rod) get moved to third base or somewhere else (like Ernie Banks), whereas Larkin was able to remain at short his entire career. That's got to be worth something.

Sabermetric Stats
8 7 4 3 5 12

These stats bear some explanation:

OWP is Offensive Winning Percentage, a rough measure of a players worth that answers the question of "How much would a team of nine of these guys win, given average pitching and defense?" I know, it's kind of a dumb question, since that could never happen, but it does offer us a means of evaluating a player's hitting contributions without the effect of his actual team(s). Larkin ranks 8th all-time, behind only Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughan, Alex Rodriguez, Ernie Banks, Derek Jeter, George Davis, and Lou Boudreau. All of these are either in the Hall of Fame or probably will be, as long as they don't get hit by a bus tomorrow. Actually, maybe even if they do.

TA stands for Total Average, a measure that Total Baseball magazine came up with a few years ago, back when it still existed. This essentially tells you how likely, on average, a player was to advance a base by any possible means. It helps to compensate for players with different skill sets. Again, it's Jeter, A-Rod, and four Cooperstown Cronies in front of him.

RCAA and RCAP are Lee Sinins' own stats, Runs Created above Average and Runs Created Above Position. Honus Wagner and Arky Vaughan are ahead of him on both lists, and A-Rod is ahead of him on the RCAA but not RCAP, as the average shortstop was a better hitter during most of A-Rod's career than during the earlier part of Larkin's.

RC is just Runs Created, which gives an idea of how many runs Larkin was responsible for over the course of his career. Hall of Famers Wagner and Luke Appling, future HoF'er Cal Ripken, and Bill Dahlen, a Dead-Ball Era player who had about 1000 more career plate appearances than Larkin, are the only ones ahead of him on this list.

RC/G is Runs Created per Game, which equalizes for playing career length. Of the 11 players ahead of Larkin, six are already in the Hall, and two more probably will be (again, the left side of the Yankees' infield). Bill Dahlen, Ed McKean and Jack Glasscock are the other three, and their 19th century careers were all very good. Besides this, Larkin ranks ahead of Hall of Famers Lou Boudreau, George Davis, Travis Jackson and (eventually) Cal Ripken.

So, as you might expect, seamheads like me see a lot to like in Barry Larkin's career. Speaking of seamheads, there are two more potential stats that we should seriously consider as we examine Larkin's career: Bill James' Win Shares and Baseball Prospectus' Wins Above Replacement Player, adjusted for all-time. Let's take the second part first, like the guy in Quiz Show, except without all the lying.

Baseball Prospectus has come up with a means of evaluating how many Wins a player was worth over a replacement level player, that is, someone who might be readily available on some AAA farm team to step in and hit .260 with 17 homers and 40 walks, or something like that. "Replacement Level", of course, changes for the position. A shortstop's replacement isn't expected to hit as well as a firstbaseman, for example.

Name               WARP3 
Honus Wagner* 180.7
Cal Ripken 162.5
Robin Yount* 129.5
Ozzie Smith* 127.7
Bill Dahlen 119.0
Arky Vaughan* 118.8
Ernie Banks* 117.3
Barry Larkin 116.8
Luke Appling* 116.4
Alan Trammell 114.0
George Davis* 111.3
Bobby Wallace* 106.6
Alex Rodriguez 104.9
Joe Cronin* 104.8
Lou Boudreau* 101.4
Pee Wee Reese* 96.6
Luis Aparicio* 90.7
Rabbit Maranville* 88.7
Joe Sewell* 87.1
Omar Vizquel 81.9
Vern Stephens 78.5
Monte Ward* 78.0
Dave Bancroft* 76.6
Phil Rizutto* 73.6
Joe Tinker* 72.6
Derek Jeter 68.1
Travis Jackson* 57.1
Ed McKean 46.3

That's a pretty good list.

These are the players' career WARP3 numbers, adjusted for all-time, that is, for a 162-game schedule. The players with an asterisk (*) are not denoted in this manner because they were on the Juice, at least as far as we know. Those players are currently members of the Hall of Fame. Players in italics are not necessarily from Italy, but are either still active or recently retired and therefore not eligible for the Hall, yet.

Ripken will easily get in on the 2006 ballott, and Alex Rodriguez would get in if he retired tomorrow. Robin Yount and Ernie Banks both started their careers as shortstops but moved to another position and actually spent more time at that position throughout their careers than they did at short, so technically, they shouldn't even be a part of this study. Without them, that leaves Barry Larkin as the #5 shortstop in history, ahead of more than a dozen other shortstops already in the Hall. He's behind only Honus Wagner, Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith (whose value is comprised mostly of his defensive contributions), Arky Vaughan and Bill Dahlen. And Dahlen is probably a little underrated, since he played in the Dead Ball Era, and persistently found himself overshadowed by his future Hall of Fame teammates.

Barry Fielding Posted by Hello

The last metric, and perhaps the best, is Win Shares. This list is the top 20 players whose value was largely defined by their play as a shortstop. Again, Ripken, Yount, banks and others had significant portions of their careers as something other than a shortstop, but their greatest value was tallied at that position.

Honus Wagner     656
Cal Ripken 427
Robin Yount 420
Monte Ward 410
George Davis 398
Bill Dahlen 393
Luke Appling 376
Arky Vaughan 356
Barry Larkin 346
Bobby Wallace 345
Joe Cronin 333
Ernie Banks 332
Ozzie Smith 327
Alan Trammell 318
Pee Wee Reese 314
R. Maranville 302
Luis Aparicio 293
Alex Rodriguez 282
Lou Boudreau 277
Joe Sewell 277

I only used the top 20, which really shouldn't include Monte Ward, a 19th century player/pioneer who also pitched very well for several seasons, and therefore picks up a lot of Win Shares that way. Rodriguez, as well as Jeter and Nomar, will move up on this list, and A-Rod will certainly eclipse him with two more good seasons. Jeter currently has only 209 WS, so it will take 4-6 years for him to surpass Larkin, if he ever does. So without Ward, and for that matter without Yount, Larkin is one of the half dozen or so best shortstops ever, and is easily more valuable than a dozen or so shortstops already in the Hall.

That's pretty good company, and hopefully the onslaught of impressive offensive shortstops will not deter the baseball writers from recognizing Barry as a deserving member, when his time comes.

But when will Bill Dahlen get some love?

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10 February 2005

Two Wrongs Don't Make a Right

I don't believe it, but the talking heads on sports radio have found yet another excuse for putting Roger Maris in the Hall of Fame. I just dealt with this issue a week or two ago, but it's back, and, like Mike and Mike in the Morning, not better than ever.

The logic goes something like this:

1) Jose Canseco says that Mark McGuire was cheating, so maybe he was. We know Barry Bonds has cheated and it's possible that Sammy Sosa was too, though nobody has named him outright yet.

2) If those who passed Roger Maris to take the single-season home run record weren't legit, and they're going to be in the Hall of Fame, then Maris' record was all the more impressive.

3) Therefore, since Maris "earned" his record, he should be in Cooperstown.

Mike Greenberg and Steve Phillips were proposing this line of thought this morning on their show, and Mike mentioned that newsman Bob Pecose had initially brought it to his attention. Pecose, like me, was raised a Yankee fan, so you can see why he would be biased towards Maris. I, however, try to keep personal stuff like that out of the picture when thinking about things like this.

The idea was simply that Maris' record must be remembered somehow, since it's no longer the record, but it now appears that his record was more legitimate than the current ones. Putting Maris in Cooperstown, as the player who held that record the longest, would accomplish this. Greenberg contended that Maris deserves it anyway, that he was a two-time MVP, one of only two eligible players (of 20) with two or more who are not in the Hall. (The other is Dale Murphy, who has a more compelling Cooperstown case, but still doesn't belong there, in my opinion.) Maris was also supposedly a great defensive outfielder, and of course he held the single-season home run record longer than anyone else in history, 37 years, 4 more than Babe Ruth held it.

That's a pretty weak case in my book. First of all, the last of those points is just silly. Maris had no control over when he broke the record, and therefore deserves absolutely no extra credit for having his career when he had it. Earl Webb has held the single season record for doubles (67) since 1931. That no one's been able to best him doesn't make him worthy of the Hall.

Besides, Maris' record, though it is not the record any longer, had its own extenuating circumstances, as the American League added two expansion teams in 1961, adding eight additional games and increasing home runs/game by 7.4% from 1960. Take away those eight games and drop the rate by 7.4% and Maris hits only 54 homers, not 61, and Rajah is remembered only as an also-ran in the 1961 MVP race, finishing well behind Mickey Mantle. Maris may have won two MVP awards, but Mantle deserved at least one of those, if not both, in two of the closest MVP votes in history.

By my count, there are 78 players currently in Cooperstown who are listed as having been predominantly an outfielder, firstbaseman or DH, i.e. those whose offensive contributions were paramount in their careers. Maris' .260 career batting average would perhaps be the second lowest of any of these in the Hall, ahead of only Harmon Killebrew, who hit almost 300 more home runs than Maris did, while playing ten seasons more than Maris, and walking a lot more often. Maris' .345 OBP would be the 4th lowest in the Hall for OF/1B DH types. These are the three below him on that list:

Name         Years  .300+  100RBI  100Runs  All-Star   Other
Tony Perez 22 2 7 2 7 379 HR, 505 2B
George Kelly 16 7 5 0 N/A 337 2B
Lou Brock 20 8 0 7 6 938 SB
Roger Maris 12 0 3 1 4 61*

Those middle columns are the numbers of seasons that each player hit .300 or higher, had 100RBI or 100 Runs scored, All-Star Selections, and finally any other reason they might belong in the Hall. As you can see, each of these players, despite their relatively pedestrian OBP numbers, were better players than Maris in at least a couple of areas. Lou Brock was the most prolific base stealer in baseball for the better part of two decades, went to two more All-Star games than did Maris, and did his job as a leadoff man well enough to score 100+ runs seven different times, not to mention at least 92 runs in three other seasons. Tony Perez, a borderline Hall of Famer in his own right, hit over 300 more doubles than Maris, over 100 more homers, played ten more seasons, had 100 RBI seven times (and 90 or more five more times). George "Highpockets" Kelley, another borderline guy, hit .300 seven times in his 16-year career, part of which occurred during the Dead Ball Era.

*It should be noted that, other than Hall of Famers, this list also would include guys who aren't yet eligible (Bonds, Palmiero, etc.) and guys who never will be eligible, namely Joe Jackson and Pete Rose. Numerous players aren't yet retired for five years, so thay can't be in the Hall yet, though they too are much better than Roger Maris was. Also, Joe Jackson was permanently banned from baseball because of his involvement in the 1919 Black Sox Scandal. Also, if you heard any Pete Rose interviews before 2004, you know he was kicked out for football betting.

For all the talk that Maris was a great defensive outfielder, he won only one gold glove in his 12 seasons, and more modern measurements of his defensive abilities, like Bill James' defensive Win Shares or Baseball Prospectus' fielding runs, do not seem to indicate that he was even good, let alone great, in the field.

Maris didn't hustle either, and you don't have to take Jim Bouton's word for it: Despite all his power, he hit more than 21 doubles only once in his career, and remains the only player in history with more than 250 homers but fewer than 200 doubles. Loafers don't get into my Hall of Fame.

To quote Greenie, "at the end of the day" Maris was
a good but not great outfielder who had one really good season. He was in the right place at the right time, and didn't choke in the spotlight.

His record is on the wall at Cooperstown where other such records are, 7th on the single-season home run list, where it belongs. The rest of Maris' career was in no way worthy of induction in Cooperstown.

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08 February 2005

Should Canseco Confessions be Commonplace?

In light of Jose Canseco's recent statements alleging several high-profile teammates used and assisted others in using performance-enhancing drugs, the 360the Pitch.com writers weigh in on whether Canseco's actions should be standard in Major League Baseball.


Travis Nelson
Yes...with qualifications

Should players call each other out for steroid use? Yes, but not the way Jose Canseco has. Naming names in a published book, especially once your own baseball career is over, is not the best way to weed out problems like this. Players and others with this kind of inside knowledge ought to go through private channels in an attempt to remedy the situation before going public like this. Canseco's mixed motives in writing this book cannot be overlooked when considering his credibility, but they cannot make us simply discard his allegations either.

The integrity of the product that Major League Baseball puts on the field absolutely depends on players being held accountable for their actions, not only with regard to steroids and other performance-enhancing substances, but also with any form of cheating or unfair play. There is no "Right to Privacy" in the U.S. Constitution, and public figures in particular must be held to a higher standard, as they set examples for a lot of the world's youth, whether they like it or not. Performance-enhancing drugs have skewed the game of Major League Baseball unlike anything since the end of the Dead Ball Era, and it's got to stop.

As exciting as it's been watching players on the juice obliterate all kinds of records for the last half a decade, I think most of us would have preferred to let the players who actually earned those records keep them. And when I say "earned" I mean via dedication and hard work, not "better living through chemistry". The fact that we even have to call the credulity of an icon like Mark McGuire into question is an absolute shame, one that could have been avoided if the owners and the MLB Players' Union had done something about this in the late 1980's, when the issue first reared its ugly, muscle-bound head. I don't know if McGuire is guilty or not, but any rational person would have to admit that the evidence is mounting against him. I would rather that he would have restrained himself from "saving baseball" by surpassing Roger Maris in 1998 than to accomplish what he did dishonestly, if he did.

If a player becomes aware that an opposing player or even a teammate is cheating, it is his responsibility to inform the appropriate people to see that the cheating stops. Tell a coach. Tell the manager. Tell the GM or the owner. But tell somebody who has some sway over the player, to get it to stop. Canseco may only be slightly more credible than a talking mouse, but we must at least acknowledge the possibility that he's telling the truth. If the players around him had told the truth 15 years ago, or if his club and others had taken the appropriate steps to keep the game honest, this conversation wouldn't be necessary now.


See what my colleagues at 360thePitch.com have to say...

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04 February 2005

Not-a-Hero Nakamura

The Los Angeles Dodgers have signed former Kinetsu/Orix Buffaloes thirdbaseman Norihiro Nakamura to a contract. The Dodgers had to make a bid to Nakamura's Japanese team for the right to negotiate with him, and upon winning the bid, they have signed him to a contract.

The Associated Press reports that it is not yet clear whether this will be a major- or minor-league contract. Everybody get that? Not only have the Dodgers have not said that Nakamura is expected to be the starting 3B in 2005, they haven't even told us if he's going to make the major league roster. This, my dear Dodger fans, is not your savior. This is not another Hideo Nomo. This may not even be another Kazuo Matsui.

Norihiro Nakamura may have been the preeminent slugging thirdbaseman in the Japanese leagues, but that was a couple of years and a couple of injuries ago. He his .300 or better only once, in 2001, and hasn’t been the same player since. His .267/.366/.506 career averages in ten-plus seasons in Japan do not bode well for his success in the Majors. Hideki Matsui was a much better and younger player when he came over, and his .304/.413/.582 Japanese career, also in about ten seasons, has translated into only .292/.371/.477 here. Very good, but not a superstar.

Even Ichiro, as good as he’s been, has lost over 100 points of OPS after crossing the Pacific. A comparable drop for Nomura, even if he is past his injuries, would mean he’ll be about as good as, say, Jose Valentin, whom they already have on the roster. If we’ve learned anything from the influx of Japanese players into MLB, and the records that washed-up MLB players (Tuffy Rhodes, George Arias, Alex Cabrera, etc.) keep setting in the Japanese leagues, it’s that this game is still the hardest around.

Mark my words: Nakamura will not be the answer at 3B for the 2005 Dodgers. I'll be very surprised if he sees more than 200 at-bats, and even more surprised if he hits 15 homers.

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