John Rocker Tells A Truth No One Wants To Hear (Especially From Him)

CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MVP, Players, Politics, Prospects, Stats

There’s no difference between what John Rocker said and what baseball as a whole did regarding performance enhancing drugs. Rocker’s recent comments elicited a rehashing of his behaviors when he was playing the wrestling bad guy. The entire genesis of “Rocker is an idiot” stems from his ill-advised interview in Sports Illustrated. Because Rocker said some offensive things then doesn’t automatically make everything he says meritless. If it were a former baseball owner, a respected player, a broadcaster, an agent, or a writer who came out and said the same things Rocker said, would it be seen as blatant honesty or Ann Coulter-style, absurd over-the-top salesmanship?

Rocker said the following while appearing on Cleveland’s 92.3 The Fan:

Honestly, and this may go against what some people think from an ethical standpoint, I think it was the better game.

At the end of the day when people are paying their $80, $120, whatever it may be, to buy their ticket and come watch that game, it’s almost like the circus is in town.

They are paid to be entertained. They wanna see some clown throw a fastball 101 mph and some other guy hit it 500 feet. That’s entertainment. You’re paying to be entertained.

Was there anything more entertaining than 1998—I don’t care how each man (Sosa and McGwire) got there—was there anything more entertaining than 1998?

Nowadays Rocker’s a guest on radio shows only because they realize that whatever he says will be twisted out of proportion because of the new politically correct sensibility against PEDs. Never mind that the owners, the players, the media and the fans were all holding hands denying the reality that the home run records set by Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa and the resurgences from pitchers long past their sell-by date like Roger Clemens came about due to drug use. Since Rocker said it, it has to be treated with revulsion. The only problem is that he’s right.

After the 1994 strike that wiped out the playoffs and World Series, blew away Tony Gwynn’s last chance at hitting .400, ruined Matt Williams’s run at the home run record and essentially demolished baseball in Montreal, the sport went into overdrive to replenish fan interest. Whether or not there was a tacit decision to ignore PED use or a whisper campaign to encourage it probably depends on whom you’re talking to or about. Commissioner Bud Selig acts as if he had no clue what was going on; the players were looking to get paid; the front office people had to sign players they knew were using to keep their jobs; the owners couldn’t care less; the media turned their heads; and the fans came back to the ballpark to watch the players hit dingers and shatter records. If no one’s innocent, everyone’s guilty.

It was only when the moral outrage started based on the self-aggrandizing investigation of Jeff Novitzky that got the ball rolling on exposure of PED use in sports. By then baseball had no choice but to put up a front of ignorance and take steps to “clean up” the game. It’s still ongoing with the current Biogenesis investigation threatening to be the newest in a string of baseball’s attempts to be dictatorial against one of the most powerful and committed unions on the planet. To meet their current ends they’re willing to run the risk of another collusion verdict in the inevitable lawsuits to be filed by Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez and all the other players named in the records.

To imply that Rocker is wrong in his assertion that it was a show MLB was putting on to entertain the fans and make a lot of money is contrary to the facts. His statements were not based on wringing the last vestiges of attention from his infamy.  He was telling a truth that no one wants to hear or admit.

It’s simple to dismiss Rocker as a bitter fool by pointing to an entirely separate incident that happened over thirteen years ago. What happens when someone who’s not perceived as a bitter fool says the exact same thing? Then will it be seen as someone bringing forth contentions that all of baseball, the media and the fans loathe to admit: they got a thrill out of seeing all the records falling and balls flying out of stadiums. In their statements, baseball acts indignant at the PED use. In their actions/inactions, they were in on it and, in fact, encouraged it.

Say what you want about Rocker as a person, but his statements are dead-on. Because no one wants to hear them, especially from him, doesn’t alter their accuracy.

//

Advertisements

Francesa’s Angel Is The Centerfold

Award Winners, Ballparks, Basketball, Cy Young Award, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, Players, Playoffs, Politics, Prospects, Stats, Umpires, World Series

MattHarveypics

The ESPN Body Issue is a clever and creative response to the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue. Rather than try and create a copy as other magazines have done, ESPN went one step further using athletes naked as an “ode to exceptional athletic form.” That it’s done to spur sales and create buzz goes without mention.

Mike Francesa sounded like he was about to burst into a teary rendition of Centerfold by the J. Geils Band when discussing Matt Harvey’s participation. It’s no secret that Francesa has developed a borderline disturbing man-crush on Harvey. One can only wonder whether Andy Pettitte feels like a member of the first wives’ club as Francesa is throwing him over for the younger, stronger Harvey.

Francesa couldn’t hide his disappointment in Harvey taking part in the ESPN Magazine Body Issue going so far as to say that Harvey’s demeanor had been Derek Jeter-like in not making any stupid and embarrassing mistakes in his young career. Harvey’s rise has been meteoric, but is this as much of a misstep as Francesa implies?

Much like it’s preferable for a young pitcher like Zack Wheeler to come to the big leagues and scuffle rather than dominate making the game look easy only to be jolted later on, it’s also preferable for Harvey to be the person he is rather than transform himself into the mythic idol that Jeter has become. For Jeter, his position as the ideal for so many has resulted in a level of expectation that no one could match. He’s almost been deified to the degree that when something, anything happens that could possibly tarnish that image, it evolves into a giant story where, if it were another player, it would either be shrugged off or ignored.

In short, the Jeter image has shunned any pretense of reality. When he first started in the majors, Jeter had the guidance from his parents as well as baseball people Don Zimmer, Joe Torre and Buck Showalter. It also helped Jeter that, as a rookie, he was surrounded by players like Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden from whom he could learn and ask questions of what precisely not to do. His supposed playboy lifestyle with one starlet after another is winked and nodded at because he’s Derek Jeter. That it’s more of a show than anything else is beside the point.

With Jeter there has never been a public paternity question; never been a DUI; never been a bar fight or incident captured on cellphone camera of Jeter acting the fool. He’s guarded and careful with that image. In some instances it has turned into ridiculous expectations such as when he feigned being hit by a pitch against the Rays and took first base even though he hadn’t been hit. Parents were wondering how they could explain to their children how Derek Jeter could be so cavalier about fair play. This isn’t a carefully camouflaged, Christianity-tinged commercial from The Foundation for a Better Life in which the high school basketball player admits he touched the ball before it went out of bounds as a show of sportsmanship and Jeter was under no obligation to say he wasn’t hit when the ump told him to go to first base. The idea that he was “supposed” to do that because it was the “right” thing is ludicrous.

The one play that helped launch Jeter occurred in the 1996 ALCS against the Orioles when his deep fly ball was ably assisted out of the park by young fan Jeffrey Maier. It would not have gone out of the park if not for Maier and the Yankees might not have won that ALCS. Who knows how history would have been altered had they not won that first championship in 1996? Would Jeter turn the homer down in the interest of “fair play”? Of course not.

Jeter’s legend has grown to the level where it’s gone from he won’t take a misstep to he can’t take a misstep. That’s not an easy way to live. Harvey has the supermodel girlfriend and appears to be enjoying his success. He did the ESPN shoot and doesn’t need to explain nor apologize for it. Perhaps it would’ve helped Jeter if he’d pulled a Charles Barkley at some point and gone into an “I am not a role model” rant. Harvey probably wasn’t thinking that the appearance in the ESPN photo shoot would take a hammer to this image that the likes of Francesa were thrusting upon him, but it will have that affect. In the long run it’s a good thing.

There’s no question that Jeter is a player to emulate. For young stars including Harvey, he’s someone whose lead to follow, but that doesn’t mean the self should be superseded toward that end especially to live up to the dreamy expectations of someone like Mike Francesa.

//

MLB PED Suspensions and Collateral Attacks

Award Winners, CBA, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, History, Management, Media, PEDs, Players

The ESPN.com report saying that Ryan Braun refused to answer questions from Major League Baseball regarding Biogenesis is a non-story as far as I’m concerned. Was anyone expecting Braun or any other player to fall at the feet of the investigators and beg for mercy? This is especially true with a player like Braun, who embarrassed MLB by winning his appeal from his failed test in 2011 and then took the step of maligning the tester and accusing baseball of pursuing him unjustly. With Braun, this the equivalent of the government not being able to get Al Capone for his business practices, but getting him for tax evasion. A sufficiently motivated authority is going to find a way.

MLB must feel sufficiently comfortable with their freedom in the Basic Agreement to suspend players for performance enhancing drug use without a failed test as evidence to move forward and worry about any consequences later. Safe in the knowledge that there might be collateral benefits for the greater good (as they see it), they’ll risk it. While the players will have lawyers and multiple prongs of defense strategies planned, perhaps MLB is willing to gamble on losing a long court battle to have the hammer hanging over other players’ heads saying that even if they don’t fail a test, their associations can lead to them being suspended. That might function as a deterrent.

What has to be answered, however, is if there is a true decision on the part of everyone in positions of power in baseball to stop PED use. MLB can issue suspensions and put forth the pretense of a hardline on drug use, but until teams stop paying players who are caught having used PEDs, these players will still try to circumnavigate the rules to improve their performance and paychecks. If, for example, MLB clubs manage to put it into player contracts that the agreement will be voided if there’s a PED suspension, there might be some movement on player PED use.

The key question will be if players like Braun, Alex Rodriguez, Bartolo Colon and anyone else on the list would accomplish what they did without the drugs. The argument could be made that the drugs were the impetus to them being paid and if the drugs weren’t used, then their performance and paycheck wouldn’t be what they are. Braun’s and A-Rod’s contracts are so massive that a suspension and potential for voiding that contract would stand a greater chance of precluding the drug use than the mere threat of getting caught, negligible suspensions and short-term public floggings they’d take. In the players’ minds, at worst they might not play up to the levels they did with drugs, but at least they’d get paid. The suspensions don’t matter all that much, but the money does. With the money in jeopardy, players will be reluctant to go the PED route.

It may be that MLB is trying to tear at the root of PED use with these suspensions while simultaneously ignoring that it was MLB itself that helped plant it to begin with. They’re trying to cage the monster they created and with the clever manipulation of the rules, they might just do it.

//

Yaisel Puig and the All-Star Game

All Star Game, Games, Management, Media, Players, World Series

Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game has forever suffered from a lack of definition. With mixed signals coming from teams, players, fans and baseball’s front office, the failure to come to a clear-cut determination as to the game’s import or lack thereof has fostered a sense of stuffing everything into one package.

Is it a competitive game? If so, then why have rules that every team is represented?

Do players want to play in it? Some do, some don’t. Many would like the honor of being named without having to actually go. Even players with All-Star bonuses in their contracts aren’t bothered one way or the other. $50,000 might seem like a lot to you and me, but if a player such as Josh Hamilton doesn’t make it the loss of a $50,000 bonus isn’t much when he’s making $15 million this season.

There have been All-Star moments of competitiveness that made it seem like a real game. Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star game has been brandished as evidence for Rose’s never-ending competitiveness. It has also been a question as to whether Rose did it not just to try and score the run but, in the same vein as his occasionally unnecessary headfirst slides, to get his name and face in the newspapers to make more money for himself. Fosse’s career was severely damaged by the separated shoulder he sustained on the play.

There have also been instances that were entertaining and light-hearted. Barry Bonds lifting Torii Hunter on his shoulder after Hunter robbed Bonds of a homer; John Kruk feigning heart palpitations when Randy Johnson threw a ball over his head; lefty-swinging Larry Walker batting right-handed mid at-bat against the same Johnson; Cal Ripken being pushed to shortstop from third base by Alex Rodriguez at the behest of American League manager Joe Torre in Ripken’s last All-Star Game—we see clips of these moments all the time along with a clip of Rose running into Fosse. The ambiguity lays the foundation for it not being a game-game, but a game that is sort of a game simultaneous to being an exhibition.

If MLB decided to make the contest a true barometer over which league is supposedly “better,” they’d have more than one game, build teams that are constructed to compete with the other league, and play the starters for nine innings. The pitchers would be used for more than a limited number of innings and pitches. Strategy would be seriously employed rather than ensuring that as many players get into the game as possible.

With inter-league play, the frequency of movement of players from team-to-team, and the fans’ ability to watch games from other cities that they didn’t have access to in years past, there’s no novelty in seeing Miguel Cabrera, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. The decision to make the game “count” by awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the winning league was a slapdash, knee-jerk reaction to the criticism of MLB after the tie game in 2002. It was a silly idea, but this decision was no more silly than MLB’s former method of alternating the AL and NL home field advantage on a yearly basis. This isn’t football and home field doesn’t matter all that much. In addition, many players on the All-Star rosters know their clubs have a slim-to-none chance of playing in the World Series anyway, so what do they care?

This is why the debate over Yasiel Puig’s candidacy to be an All-Star is relatively meaningless. There are factional disputes as to its rightness or wrongness, but if the game is of fluctuating rules and viability, then how can there be a series of ironclad mandates as to who’s allowed to participate?

Until MLB decides to make the All-Star Game into either a full-blown exhibition with no pretense of competitiveness or an all-out battle for supremacy there will be these debates that, in the cosmic scheme of things, don’t make a difference one way or the other.

//

Bryce Harper’s Textgate With Davey Johnson

Ballparks, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, Politics, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

Bryce Harper sent a text message to Nationals manager Davey Johnson with the ultimatum, “Play me or trade me.” The implication of this is that the 20-year-old was telling his veteran manager that he didn’t want to sit on the bench under any circumstances and that if Johnson knew what was good for him and the Nats, he’d write Harper’s name in the lineup. Or else. The reality of the situation is that Harper was being held out due to the lingering concerns over a knee injury that placed him on the disabled list and an ongoing slump. Johnson wanted to give him a few days off, but Harper wanted to play and said so. Johnson put him back in the lineup.

The media sought to make it into a big deal with a flashy headline, speculation and faux investigation into whether there’s any tension brewing between Harper, Johnson and the Nats where none appears to be in evidence. Johnson has never shied away from confrontation. As a player for the Braves, he got into a fistfight with manager Eddie Mathews. Mathews happened to be one of the toughest customers in baseball who simply liked to fight. Johnson blackened Mathews’s eye and the two made peace over drinks after airing their grievances with their fists. As a manager, Johnson had multiple altercations with Darryl Strawberry, fought with Kevin Mitchell, and nearly fought with Bobby Bonilla. It’s not as if he picked the lightweights. Those who have followed Johnson’s career know that even at age 70, he wouldn’t hesitate to take on the 6’2”, 230 pound 20-year-old Harper if it were necessary, but that’s not what this was. Not even close.

Harper has gotten a bad rap due to the perception that he was anointed at such a young age. He and support staff—family, representatives—are partly at fault for it by putting out preposterous stories of his exploits (he passed the GED without studying), his favorite players (Mickey Mantle and Pete Rose whose careers ended years and decades before his birth), and his own silly minor league behaviors (war paint and tantrums with umpires). There’s a pretentiousness in Harper’s biography that has not been consistent with his actions on the field.

He’s done some stupid things like smashing his bat against the runway wall in Cincinnati and nearly pulling a Ralphie from A Christmas Story (You’ll whack your eye out!), and plays the game with zero concern for his physical well-being. He goes all-out, doesn’t act like a spoiled brat on the field as shown with his mature and classic response to Cole Hamels intentionally hitting him as he humiliated Hamels by stealing home, and wants to play every day. His text message to Johnson may have sounded like a pampered would-be megastar making untoward demands upon his manager with implied threats knowing the club had little choice but to cave, but that’s just the way it’s being framed by the media and fans looking to find more reasons to knock Harper down a few pegs. In an age in which many players want to coast, Harper wants to play and there’s nothing wrong with that. In fact, it’s refreshing.

//

Phun With The Phillies

Award Winners, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Todd Zolecki’s piece on MLB.com about the Phillies’ drama sums the situation up perfectly at the end when he writes:

But simply, this is a meeting that never would have happened if the team was playing well. But with the season on the brink, things like this get magnified.

It is nothing a winning streak can’t fix.

Team meetings and entreaties from manager Charlie Manuel and general manager Ruben Amaro, Jr. for the club to act professionally won’t go very far. The Phillies’ fortunes will be decided on the field. With a veteran team that has had success for the majority of the past seven years and with players who are earning significant guaranteed paychecks, what precisely can the manager and GM do to get them to “behave” anyway?

Cliff Lee’s reaction to the meeting and scolding was indicative of the attitude that has gotten Lee traded so frequently and placed his name out there as a negotiable commodity again. He can be a moody, petulant brat who is tolerated when the team is going well and he’s performing as one of the best pitchers in baseball, but his act wears thin when the club fortunes are not heading in a positive direction and his attitude grows darker and more sullen. Teams will continue to want him as a true ace at the top of a rotation, but they’ll also be willing to deal him when it gets to be too much. Lee’s pitching great and the team is staggering, placing the depth charges for an explosion like we saw the beginning of over the weekend. When a player moves around as much as Lee does, there’s a reason for it and there seem to be a vast subsection of baseball people who tire of his act. If the Phillies fade out and do trade Lee, it will be to get his salary off the books, to bring back some prospects and to get him out of the clubhouse, not necessarily in that order.

The days of players having to listen to management have been over for almost two decades. The players know they’re going to outlast the manager and GM and if they don’t, they’re going to get paid anyway. Rookies who are hungering to stay in the big leagues and get big contracts of their own are more likely to listen to what they’re told. In certain instances there are the rookies who don’t adhere to the hierarchy and clubs exercise the option to demote them or get rid of them as the Diamondbacks did with Trevor Bauer last winter. That was a form of cutting losses, something the Phillies must consider now.

With the Phillies, what can Manuel or Amaro say to Lee or anyone else who they feel needs to set an example and take things a bit more seriously especially when the team is getting blown out and the players are acting as if they don’t care? “Please stop”? Of course it looked bad to have the Phillies goofing around in the middle of the game, but they don’t want to hear that and won’t listen to it. A manager today can’t be a taskmaster and disciplinarian unless he has a young team that doesn’t have any choice but to listen. A club like the Phillies that has veterans with long-term contracts and has been with the same manager for nearly a decade is going to tune him out when he tries to pull in the reins. It’s just the way the game is today.

What is seen as a laxity of discipline for a team that’s losing is seen as looseness for a team that’s winning. If the Phillies were 20 games over .500 and heading toward the playoffs, joking around even during a blowout would be seen as shrugging off a bad day. As they’re under .500 and debating whether or not to start dealing veterans like Chase Utley, Jonathan Papelbon and Lee, it’s seen as complacency or out-and-out not caring.

The Phillies’ problem isn’t their behavior or their perception. It’s that they don’t have the players to compete with the younger, stronger and better teams in the National League, their farm system is dilapidated at best, and with their contracts a full-blown rebuild is out of the question. They’re in a vacancy. Whether the players sit in the dugout with their hands folded in their laps, cheer on their teammates like it’s high school, or behave in such a way that it spurs the manager and GM to take action to quell it doesn’t make a difference unless they play better and that’s something they do not appear to have the capability to do.

//

Mets Fans’ Logic, Self-Loathing And Ike Davis

Ballparks, Books, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, History, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MVP, PEDs, Players, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

Now Mets fans are having their newest irrational love affair with Josh Satin.

The response to last night’s news that the Mets had decided to recall regular first baseman Ike Davis was somewhere between a groan and outright rage that Satin’s “job” was being usurped by Davis. There’s a tendency in the Mets fanbase to turn their emotions to the underdog type player from whom nothing is expected vs. the former first round draft pick whose career has come undone to the degree that he needed to be sent to the minor leagues three months into the 2013 season after he’d hit 32 homers in 2012.

It’s happened before with an unsung player catching the fancy of the fans. Remember Jason Phillips? He had a surprisingly good rookie season in 2003 as a surprise starter in a position (ironically, first base) that was a switch from his normal one at catcher. Phillips posted a .298/.373/.442 slash line with 25 doubles and 11 homers. In the aftermath of the Moneyball “revolution” the Mets had a Scott Hatteberg of their very own. Except it didn’t last. In 2004, Phillips began the season as the starting first baseman and fell to earth with a thud batting .218. Right before the 2005 season he was traded to the Dodgers, then bounced around for a few more years with nary a flicker of the same success he’d enjoyed as a rookie. Eventually he regressed. While he was posting those numbers, no one wanted to hear that he had a hitch in his swing that was ripe for exploitation or that he had put up decent minor league numbers but nothing resembling what he did in the majors in 2003. He was a homegrown Met from whom nothing was expected, therefore, through some bizarre self-loathing cognitive association, Mets fans took to him. The difference between now and then is that the front office was willing to listen to the fans and media and do what the endlessly destructive “they” wanted. This front office doesn’t do that.

It must also be remembered that this from the same fanbase that booed Mike Piazza in 1998, almost causing him to leave as a free agent.

Why?

Is there an aversion to having stars or potential stars playing for the Mets? Does it suit the workmanlike, blue collar image that the Mets embody in comparison to the stuck-up, snotty, white collar fans and organization with the superiority complex from across town?

Satin has produced a few clutch hits in his brief opportunity to play and has a knowledge of the strike zone similar to what he’s shown in the minor leagues, but the same logic that has fans panicking over Zack Wheeler’s slow start is being exhibited on the opposite end with their newfound love for Satin. Wheeler’s been mediocre and inconsistent in his first few starts, the fans find him disappointing and want him traded for a bat; the media is scouring for analysis from anonymous scouts to validate their doomsaying columns with, “Yeah, he’s still talented but he’s either overrated or not ready for the majors.” Satin has a slash line of .353/.468/.549 slash line in 62 plate appearances. Why doesn’t the media ask a scout the odds of him maintaining that pace? Or is it too ludicrous to even consider that the 28-year-old career minor leaguer has suddenly found a method to post numbers nearly identical to those John Olerud did for the Mets in 1998 with the main difference being that Olerud did it in 160 games and Satin has done it in eighteen games.

For better or worse, Davis is currently the Mets’ best option at first base. He spent a month in the minor leagues and, for what it’s worth, hit 7 homers in 21 games with a .293 average, a .424 OBP. He hit like the player he was when he was recalled in 2010 and before he got injured in 2011. Those 32 homers last season came after a wretched start and threats to send him to the minors. The majority of his production came in the second half. The Mets were expecting him to pick up where he left off in 2013. Instead, he repeated the 2012 start only worse and they followed through on the threat to send him to the minors. All the objections from the players who love Davis and manager who believes in him couldn’t save him this time. It was the right thing to do. He’s back and he deserved to come back. The Mets intentionally brought him up as they embark on a nine game road trip so he won’t have to deal with the boos of the fans if he doesn’t hit a home run in his first at bat, but he still has to deal with an inexplicable vitriol back home from fans who acted disgusted at the mere mentioning of his name.

The Mets may be hoping that Davis hits enough to replenish his trade value to get rid of him and upgrade at first base with someone more consistent. They might still believe in Davis. Or they might feel that he’d been in Triple A long enough and there was nothing more to be gained from him staying there. One thing’s for certain: if the Mets eventually replace Davis, Satin will have to hit for a bit longer than two weeks before he’s anointed the job by the organization in the same manner as the fans have decided that he’s fit to replace a former first round draft pick who, as recently as this spring, was lauded as a possible home run champion.

//

Manny Ramirez’s Last(?) Fight

Award Winners, Ballparks, Books, CBA, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, MVP, PEDs, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Manny Ramirez will either wind up like Muhammad Ali or George Foreman. With Ali, his final comeback attempt (not counting a last-last, this is definitely the last fight in 1981 in which he lost to journeyman Trevor Berbick) came when he took a ferocious beating from a reluctant, in-his-prime heavyweight champ Larry Holmes. Ali went to great lengths to show what great shape he was in prior to the fight by getting back to the weight he fought at when he defeated Foreman in Zaire. But the fact that he was in shape didn’t matter. Holmes battered him in a perfunctory manner and, by the end, was screaming at the referee to stop the fight before he seriously injured Ali. Ali certainly didn’t need the money nor the increased number of blows to his already damaged brain, but he couldn’t stop himself from seeking the limelight and that one last shot at glory doing the one thing he truly knew how to do better than anyone else.

With Foreman, he was ridiculed when he came out of retirement and is still looked at with a jaundiced gaze by saying God told him to do it. He was overweight and old, but the laughter ended when he showed he still had the punching power and savvy to win fights. He put up a great show when losing to Evander Holyfield and eventually knocked out Michael Moorer to regain the title he’d lost twenty years earlier to Ali in 1974.

With Ramirez, he is returning after a stint hitting against, in boxing parlance, tomato cans in Taiwan. In Taiwan, they’re professionals and they’re talented, but they’re not on a level with a good Double A team in North America. While there, he was hitting subpar pitching in accumulating a .352 average, .422 OBP, and eight homers in 49 games. Abruptly leaving his Taiwanese team—the EDA Rhinos—Ramirez was rumored to be heading to Japan before deciding he’d like another shot with an MLB team. No one seemed interested until the Rangers decided to take a chance on him. The question is, can he help them?

Ramirez hasn’t played with a major league team since he went 1 for 17 for the Rays in 2011 before walking away and subsequently being caught failing another PED test. Amid much fanfare in an otherwise dreary off-season for the Athletics in the winter of 2011-2012, he was signed to a minor league contract. At that point, the A’s were embarking on another rebuilding project and for half the season, played as poorly as predicted before a sudden hot streak vaulted them into the playoffs. No one knew they could achieve those heights when they signed Ramirez and they needed him to sell a few seats with the mere hint of him being in the big leagues as a sideshow. In a best case scenario, he’d attract a few fans and hit well enough for the A’s to trade him to a contender (because not even Billy Beane thought they’d contend in 2012); worst case, they’d release him. He batted .302 in 63 at bats for Triple A Sacramento with no homers. The A’s released him last June and he went to Taiwan.

Now he’s back.

Can the Rangers expect anything from him? Like the decision on the part of the A’s to sign him, this is a test case for team benefit. The Rangers are contenders and need a righty bat. The trade deadline is July 31st and the Rangers are aggressive and active in improving their team. With a month to go before the time comes when they’ll have to make an acquisition along the lines of Mike Morse to boost their righty power, it’s cheaper and zero risk to look at Ramirez and get an answer as to whether he can still hit. Like Ali’s last fight, it could be a “would you stop it already?” moment. Or it could be an out-of-shape former star who shows he can still perform as Foreman did. The odds are it’s the former and even if the evidence is clear that Ramirez needs to hang it up, he probably won’t. Either way, there’s no risk for the Rangers to have a look.

//

MLB Inches Closer Toward The Trading Of Draft Picks

Award Winners, Basketball, Books, CBA, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Football, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Management, Media, MiLB, NFL, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Stats, Trade Rumors

The trades that were completed yesterday were a distraction for a slow day. Righty pitcher Scott Feldman was traded from the Cubs along with catcher Steve Clevenger to the Orioles for righty pitchers Jake Arrieta and Pedro Strop and cash. The cash in a trade is usually to offset contracts or provide a sweetener to complete a deal, but in this case the cash is international bonus money that the Cubs will use to accrue extra wiggleroom to sign free agents. They also acquired more bonus pool money from the Astros in exchange for minor leaguer Ronald Torreyes. They traded away some of that money in sending Carlos Marmol and cash to the Dodgers for veteran reliever Matt Guerrier.

The trades are secondary to the money exchanges. You can read about the ins-and-outs of why the Cubs, Dodgers and Astros did this here and the details of trading bonus slot money here. What the shifting around of money says to me is that MLB is experimenting with the concept of trading draft picks, something I’ve long advocated. That they’re trying to implement an international draft to shackle clubs’ hands even further from spending makes the trading of draft picks more likely.

With the increased interest in the MLB draft, one of the only ways to turn it into a spectacle that will function as a moon to the NFL draft’s sun and NBA’s Earth is to allow teams to trade their picks. Because amateur baseball pales in comparison to the attention college football and college basketball receive; because the game of baseball is so fundamentally different when making the transition from the amateurs to the pros, there is a finite number of people who watch it with any vested interest and a minimum percentage of those actually know what they’re looking at with enough erudition to accurately analyze it. It’s never going to be on a level with a Mel Kiper Jr. sitting in the ESPN draft headquarters knowing every player in the college ranks and being able to rattle off positives, negatives and why the player should or shouldn’t have been drafted where he was with it having a chance to be accurate. MLB tries to do that, but it’s transparent when John Hart, Harold Reynolds and whoever else are sitting around a table in an empty studio miraculously proclaiming X player of reminds them of Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Matt Harvey, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez or Dustin Pedroia when they’ve seen (or haven’t seen) a five second clip of him; when Bud Selig takes his mummified steps to the podium to announce the names of players he couldn’t recognize if they were playing in the big leagues now. And don’t get me started on the overall ludicrousness of Keith Law.

There’s no comparison between baseball and the other sports because in baseball, there’s a climb that has to be made after becoming a professional. In football and basketball, a drafted player automatically walks into the highest possible level of competition. With a top-tier pick, the football and basketball player isn’t just a member of the club, but he’s expected to be a significant contributor to that club.

With baseball, there’s no waste in a late-round draft pick because there’s nothing to waste. Some players are drafted to be organizational filler designed to complete the minor league rosters. If one happens to make it? Hey, look who the genius is for finding a diamond in the rough! Except it’s not true. A player from the 20th round onward (and that’s being generous) making it to the majors at all, let alone becoming a star, is a fluke. But with MLB putting such a focus on the draft, that’s the little secret they don’t want revealed to these newly minted baseball “experts” who started watching the game soon after they read Moneyball and thinks a fat kid who walks a lot for a division III college is going to be the next “star.” Trust me, the scouts saw that kid and didn’t think he could play. That’s why he was drafted late if he was drafted at all. There’s no reinventing of the wheel here in spite of Michael Lewis’s hackneyed and self-serving attempts to do so.  Yet MLB draft projecting has blossomed into a webhit accumulator and talking point. There’s a demand for it, so they’ll sell it regardless of how random and meaningless it truly is.

So what does all this have to do with the trading of the bonus slot money? MLB allowing the exchange of this money will give a gauge on the public reaction and interest level to such exchanges being made to provide market research as to the expanded reach the trading of draft picks would yield. If there’s a vast number of websearches that lead MLB to believe that it’s something that can spark fan fascination, then it’s something they can sell advertising for and make money. It’s a test case and once the results are in, you’ll see movement on the trading of draft picks. It’s a good idea no matter how it happens. Now if we can only do something to educate the masses on how little Keith Law knows, we’ll really be getting somewhere.

//

Chris Davis and PEDs

Award Winners, CBA, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Games, Hall Of Fame, Management, Media, MiLB, MVP, PEDs, Players, Politics, Prospects, Stats

The two sides regarding Orioles’ slugger Chris Davis are firmly entrenched. There are those who see his wondrous career jump and comparable players who’ve risen similarly and unexpectedly in recent years as clear-cut evidence that he’s using banned substances to facilitate his newfound stardom. The others present a combination of legalese and chastisement to the skeptics along the lines of, “not everyone is a cheater.”

I’m not accusing Davis of anything nor am I putting forth a defense, but to imply that there shouldn’t be suspicion about any player who experiences this kind of half-season after never having posted anything close to these number in his major league career is ludicrous. On the same token, just because he’s hitting home runs with this frequency doesn’t mean he’s cheating. When a player explodes like this, there will be questions asked as to how he did it and, given the era in which we live where everyone’s suspect, it’s fair for them to be asked. It happened with Jose Bautista and Raul Ibanez in recent years and neither had their names come up in a Biogenesis-type record, neither was caught with anyone who was involved in PED use, and neither failed a test. The talk died down. But realistically, is there any player—one—who would elicit shock and dismay if he was caught having used PEDs? And that includes Mariano Rivera, Derek Jeter, David Wright and Joe Mauer among the “oh, he’d never do that” brigade of players seen as aboveboard and honest.

Some might be more disappointing than others, might create a splashier headline and bigger scandal, but shock? It’s like the story that Mickey Mantle might have used a corked bat in his career: it ruins the narrative and childhood idol worship of a vast segment of the baseball-watching population and turns into anger and denials based on nothing. I don’t know whether Mantle used a corked bat and nor do you. This is identical to the response to any player being accused of having used PEDs and the public and factions in the media saying, “No way.” You don’t know.

There are reasonable, baseball-related explanations for Davis’s sudden burst into stardom. He’s locked in at the plate; John Kruk discussed his balance and timing in getting behind the ball with all his strength; he posted minor league numbers nearly identical to the ones he’s posting now; and if he was going to use PEDs, he only decided to do it for 2013? What about from between 2008 to 2011 when he showed flashes of talent but struck out so much that he looked like he was on his way to becoming Adam Dunn, wound up back in the minor leagues for long stretches, and the Rangers traded him to the Orioles?

The number of players who’ve stood in front of cameras, congress, baseball executives and law enforcement officials and lied to everyone’s faces is so vast that it is naïve to exonerate any out of hand. There’s no evidence—circumstantial or otherwise—against Davis. Accusing him with an insulting, “he must be juicing,” is wrong, but exonerating him is only slightly less wrong because neither I nor you nor anyone else other than Chris Davis knows whether his first half is due to fulfilling his talent or getting his hands on some high quality, undetectable PEDs.

//