MLB’s Expanded Replay—Did They Miss Another Call?

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Baseball’s incurable habit for getting things wrong has grown so common that even when they get something right, they can’t win. In cases like the performance enhancing drug investigation, their crackdown is almost a doubling-down on the wrong to trample on players’ rights and the collective bargaining agreement. The players brought much of it on themselves, but from the time the 2003 PED test results were leaked, there’s been a concerted effort on the part of baseball to “get” the players who are using PEDs even if that means trusting someone so furtive and lacking in credibility as Anthony Boesch. That’s not a defense of Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez or any other player who went to Biogenesis, just an analysis that MLB’s methods weren’t exactly clean themselves. They got down in the dirt to get the dirty, exhibiting audacious hypocricy for cracking down on a culture that they cultivated themselves. Now they’re dirty—well, dirtier—too. They’ve gotten their results, but it comes at an obvious cost that’s yet to be determined.

As the fallout from the Biogenesis suspensions continues to be felt with A-Rod’s continuing soap opera, MLB finally got something right on the money with their expansion of instant replay. The details of what they’re doing can be found here, but the gist is:

  • Managers will be given one challenge for the first six innings of the game and two from the seventh inning on.
  • There will be no challenges on judgment calls such as balls and strikes, check swings and hit by pitches.
  • The plan was created with significant guidance from Joe Torre, Tony LaRussa and John Schuerholz.
  • The players, owners and umpires still have to approve it.

I think this is as close as MLB or any sports organizing body can come to getting it right. The arguments that have been presented against it are selfish and weak. Mike Francesa had callers complaining about it yesterday.

One said that he didn’t want to have to wait for a challenge to be upheld or rejected before celebrating if Derek Jeter hits a game-winning single to win game seven of the World Series. I don’t think he’s got anything to worry about regarding the scenario he presented considering that the Yankees aren’t making the playoffs and Jeter is building a lavish home on the disabled list. As far as the spontaneity, it’s far better than the umpire getting the call wrong and having a respectable career sullied for it as Don Denkinger did for his gaffe in the 1985 World Series between the Cardinals and Royals with the Cardinals losing their chance to win a title.

Another caller complained that the manager-umpire arguments wouldn’t be as prevalent or intense. I don’t think there will be that great a decrease in the number of ejections and probably slightly fewer arguments. If you watched Bobby Cox for his entire managerial career, you’ll know that the vast majority of his record number of ejections came as a result of arguing ball and strike calls. That’s not reviewable and will still be fodder for great debate until MLB takes the next logical step and implements a universal strike zone and forces the umpires to adhere to it. The human element will still be in baseball, but it won’t result in calls so badly blown that teams wind up losing because of them. The number of managers who put on a great show as Lou Piniella, Earl Weaver and Billy Martin used to are gone. And trust me, there will still be enough mistakes made that arguments will happen.

This system won’t take a lot of time, it won’t interfere with the game, and it will make the calls more accurate. It’s not 1960, 1980 or even 2000. Baseball was so resistant to the implementation of a logical replay system that they did nothing to contradict the reputation of the game as stuck in a different century—the 19th. The bottom line is that no matter what they did, there would be a percentage of people who would complain about it for its own sake. They’ve made the game better with this decision. That’s all that counts.

Now, to do something about getting the DH put into the National League. Then we’ll be in business.

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Mike Trout Declares A Hardline Punishment For PEDs

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How many 22-year-old sports commissioners are you aware of? Judges? Lawmakers? Political pundits? Editorialists?

None. That’s how many. This is the inherent problem with giving weight to Angels’ star Mike Trout’s opinion as to what should happen to players who use performance enhancing drugs in baseball. He thinks they should be banned for life. Trout shared his views with Boomer Esiason and Craig Carton yesterday and it made moderate headlines because of his status as the new face of baseball and his emerging greatness. Without Trout being such a huge star, no one would pay attention to what he says. They definitely wouldn’t listen to him if he was just a run-of-the-mill 22-year-old making an uninformed statement without having the education or life experience to back them up.

This has nothing to do with age discrimination, but these are the kinds of things young people say from a position of self-anointed knowledge based on a misplaced, inexperienced view of life. Whether it’s due to the safety of not having many responsibilities; because the bulk of one’s life is still in front of him or her; or having been asked a question that was probably not appropriate to be answered by someone so young, the reply has to be put into the context of the person who’s giving it. Trout is not in a position that other people would be in when coming to a determination of an appropriate punishment.

When a player is this talented, he has a tunneled view of life in how it relates to him. It’s the conceit of youth. Trout was in the majors at 19, an MVP candidate at 20 and a superstar at 21. He seems to think that everyone should do it clean because he’s doing it clean. Life doesn’t work that way though. What Trout is saying that any player who is trying to keep his career, earn a paycheck and do what many others are doing to keep his job should be banished for life. It’s akin to chopping off a thief’s hand for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his family. The punishment doesn’t fit the crime. Players have failed tests due to over-the-counter supplements that they didn’t realize had banned substances in their ingredients. Should they be banned forever? What about a 15-year-old kid from the Dominican Republic who grew up without shoes and used a milk carton as a glove taking a pill not knowing what it is, going only on the advice of a middle-aged white guy telling him that it’ll send him to the big leagues in half the time? Does he get suspended for life?

When Trout is 30, then maybe he’ll understand that he’s not going to have all the energy in the world to play 162 games, run hard on every play and do things that most players only dream about and still be able to live the off-field life of a guy just out of his teens. Perhaps he’ll have an injury someday—someday soon—that makes him realize that his gifts are extremely fragile and they can be taken away in an instant. Then he might be willing to do whatever is necessary to get back on the field and perform.

Trout is still waiting for his mega contract. He’s making $510,000 this season. It’s a lot of money for anyone, especially a guy who’s 22. As far as athletes go, it’s not a lot of money. When factoring in his production, it’s nothing. As long as he stays healthy, he’ll get a $250-300 million contract when his free agency comes up. Trout received a significant bonus of $1.215 million when he was drafted by the Angels. Not every player can say that. Not every player has Trout’s abilities. It’s not a simplistic situation where there should be an across the line penalty regardless of the circumstances and that penalty certainly shouldn’t be decided upon by a guy who’s in his second full year in the big leagues, no matter how great he is.

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Jack Clark’s Albert Pujols PED Accusation

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Jack Clark’s accusations about Albert Pujols being a PED user were based on third-hand evidence from a source that has vehemently denied Clark’s claims. Clark was fired from his radio gig amid the backlash.

The baseline points between Clark’s allegations and the lack of evidence need to be separated. Clark shouldn’t have gone on the air and come up with these unfounded declarations of Pujols’s guilt, but would anyone be shocked if it came out tomorrow that Pujols is a PED user who patronized a more discreet clinic than Biogenesis? Or if he was smart enough to go to the Dominican Republic to get his boosters while paying in cash so there’s no paper trail?

Pujols went from a nondescript 13th round draft pick of the Cardinals to this era’s Joe DiMaggio. Today’s public, jaded by the continued lies and betrayals of the game’s stars, would not be surprised in the least if Pujols was outed tomorrow with legitimate proof of his guilt.

As far as we know, Pujols has never failed a test nor been caught with evidence of having cheated to achieve his greatness. Because he was drafted late and turned into an all-time great isn’t a reason to accuse him. It is suspicious, however, that Pujols was a skinny kid, roundly ignored coming out of the draft and blossomed into the best hitter of this generation. There have always been questions surrounding Pujols’s stated age of 33. Is it out of the question that he was a PED user, lied about his age and is better at covering it up than anyone else?

The above-linked piece from HardballTalk calls Pujols’s denial “forceful,” “specific,” and “different” from those that usually come from athletes. Pujols threatened to sue Clark. Are the denials more forceful, specific and different than Rafael Palmeiro jabbing his finger in front of congress? Than Alex Rodriguez? Than Ryan Braun? I don’t think so.

The public is quick to accept any player’s guilt with PED use because it’s become standard operating procedure to lie, lie, lie and hope it goes away only to be found guilty and issue a terse statement of admission with faux contrition. Fans and media are inherently skeptical of the achievements of any player. When one has the first pick of the first round draft pick bona fides like A-Rod, it’s more likely that that level of player will achieve A-Rod’s heights without drugs. Except he didn’t. For Pujols, the disbelief is more stark because of the transformation he underwent physically, analytically and in his performance. He was skinny and became huge. He wasn’t a prospect as an amateur and every team passed him by for thirteen rounds. He became a future Hall of Famer with video game statistics. Considering the number of players who’ve been caught, questioning Pujols is perfectly reasonable.

Clark was wrong for saying it the way he said it, but that doesn’t mean he’s completely wrong that Pujols used PEDs. He might have. We don’t know.

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Randy Levine Is Not George Steinbrenner

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George Steinbrenner is dead. Hank Steinbrenner has been muzzled like one of the Steinbrenners’ prize horses. Hal Steinbrenner is almost Derek Jeter-like in his ability to speak and say nothing at the same time. That leaves team president Randy Levine as the team spokesman with whom the media feels it can light a fuse and ignite an explosion.

The fact remains that Randy Levine is not George Steinbrenner. Whether or not this is a good or bad thing is in the eyes of the beholder. It’s a natural occurrence for memories to focus on the positive after someone is dead and gone. The truth is that George spent a lot of money, fired a lot of managers and had long stretches of dysfunction and embarrassment surrounding his organization. That’s before getting into his two suspensions. The Yankees rebuilt with George suspended for the Howie Spira affair and it’s unlikely that the young players who were part of the Yankees five championships over the past 18 years would have been allowed to develop as Yankees had he been around amid all his impatient bluster. He would have traded them. Through fortuitous circumstances, he returned to a team on the cusp of a championship and his public profile grew from a raving dictator who’d ruined a once-proud franchise into the generous general who led the club and gave his employees everything they needed to be successful.

The Yankee fans who started rooting for the team, conveniently, when they won their first championship of the era in 1996, only remember the “good” George. He was irreplaceable in a multitude of ways, positively and negatively. Writers miss him because their newspapers and websites would be filled with threats, missives, irrational screaming sessions that could just as easily have come from the pages of Mein Kampf, and demands that the team play better with no excuses. The fans miss him—with some justification—because if he were around, there wouldn’t be an $189 million limit on the 2014 payroll and they wouldn’t be trotting the array of cheap and limited no-names at catcher, at third base, at first base and in the outfield as they have so far this season.

But he’s gone. Now there’s a college of cardinals in his place with an interest in making money above winning. They don’t have the passion for the game and competition that the father had. Perhaps it was inevitable that once he was gone the edge would be gone too. The fear that accompanied working for the Yankees has degenerated into a corporate comfortableness. The sense of urgency has disappeared and there’s no one to replicate it.

In this ESPN piece, Wallace Matthews tried to get some answers from Levine and walked away with nothing. Levine has been under fire in recent days because of his comment that the team has the talent to contend. Whether or not he really believes that is known only to him. He’s not a baseball guy, but the Yankees’ baseball guys haven’t done a particularly good job either and that’s something that George would’ve latched onto and, also with some justification, gone into a raving rant wondering why the young players that were supposed to be the cornerstones to the future have, by and large, faltered. If it was George, he’s openly ask why the Rays, A’s, Pirates and others are able to win without a $200 million payroll and his team can’t. It’s obvious, from Hal’s statements, that he too is wondering the same thing. The difference between him and his father is that he’s acting on it by slashing payroll. Levine is the front man, nothing more. He’s not able to do the George thing and cause earthquakes with his bellowing. People sort or roll their eyes at him and/or ignore him.

Levine also failed to give votes of confidence to general manager Brian Cashman and manager Joe Girardi. Was that by design? If it had been George in his heyday, both would be in serious jeopardy. The ground under Cashman’s feet should be teetering regardless of whether it was George, the Steinbrenner kids or Levine making the decision; Girardi deserves a better fate and if they fire him, he’ll have his choice of about four to six jobs almost immediately, some very tempting like the Nationals, Angels and his hometown White Sox. Dismissing Girardi would speed the team’s downfall. Dismissing Cashman would probably be a positive given the team’s new financial circumstances and the GM’s clear inability to function under this template.

Levine sounded as if he was trying to be positive and not be controversial. Because he’s not George and because the media and fans are looking for fire and brimstone, they’re clutching at what Levine said, as innocuous as it was, and what he didn’t say. That makes it a no-win, meaningless situation. Nobody really cares what Levine says because he doesn’t have the surrounding lunacy that was a George hallmark. There’s no George Steinbrenner anymore. He’s not coming back. And as things stand now, neither are the Yankees that George’s money built.

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A-Rod’s Reputation Contributed To The Harshness Of His Penalty

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If Alex Rodriguez had an off-field reputation like Joe Mauer, would he be suspended for such a draconian amount of time? There’s a sense of, “because it’s A-Rod” surrounding the 211 game suspension that Major League Baseball has handed down on him that it begs the question of whether it would have happened in a similar way if it was someone else.

This is the equivalent of the Rockefeller Drug Law in its undue and selective harshness. As many times as he’s been “caught,” A-Rod technically didn’t get caught by MLB prior to this and is being treated as if he did. He admitted his use, lied about his use, made a fool of baseball, embarrassed the Yankees and has repeatedly flouted any attempts to clean up the game, but the genesis of this suspension is to punish him and use him as an example. Essentially they’re saying to other, lesser players, “We’ll do this to the biggest names in the game, so we’ll definitely do it to you as well. Lay off the drugs.” It’s also a message to the fans, media, politicians and everyone else that MLB is “serious” about a cleanup even if it’s mostly for appearances.

A-Rod’s somewhat like a criminal mastermind to whom nothing would stick and the circle has closed in on him through design that MLB eventually “got” him by careful manipulation of the system to achieve that end. It was either talk and agree to a plea deal or get the toughest punishment MLB can muster and still get through the legal process without an overturn and extended period of time in court. MLB can use semantics such as “best interest of the game” and reference A-Rod stonewalling, lying, vacillating and refusing to cooperate to justify the eventual decision to toss the book at him, but they still have to look in the mirror and share a large segment of the blame for PED use.

If Bud Selig played ignorant to steroids from the time he became commissioner to the day he was humiliated and looked like a doddering figurehead in front of congress, it’s in the same semantics-laden ballpark as A-Rod’s logical defense. I’m hard-pressed to believe the Selig is anything more than a rubber stamp commissioner and just as clueless as to the actual goings on in the game even though he’s spearheading the “get tough” attitude on a culture whose proliferation he turned a blind eye to and even went so far as to tacitly encourage it until it no longer suited him and his bosses—the owners.

The argument could be made that Ryan Braun has been far more damaging to the game’s reputation than A-Rod. It was Braun who behaved as the innocent victim when A-Rod acted like A-Rod. Yet it’s Braun who gets the light sentence due to a plea agreement and A-Rod who’s refusing to back down and getting suspended for an entire season-plus.

211 games is a ridiculously long sentence and if there is still room for an agreement while winding through the appeals process, A-Rod should request something akin to a yearlong suspension that would put him out from now through next year’s All-Star break. He’d be eligible to return in July, get half his 2014 salary and the episode would be over. Regardless of any agreement or legal fight, A-Rod’s next few days as a Yankee are likely to another sordid chapter in the shotgun marriage that hit the rocks midway through and stayed there.

As much of a problem as A-Rod has been, his acts don’t warrant a suspension four times as long as most others are getting. The biggest star with the largest salary gets the worst punishment and had A-Rod acted like a classy professional throughout his career and not an ongoing freakshow, the penalties might have been more in line with the misdeeds. It’s only because it’s A-Rod that the penalties are so crushing and he should fight them because as much as he’s brought it on himself, he doesn’t deserve this devastating a penalty for doing something that a vast number of athletes have been doing under wink-and-nod approval from the game itself.

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Matt Garza’s Tweets As A Cause Célèbre For Sports Feminism And Its Poseurs

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Your word of the day is misogynist.

I didn’t realize that Matt Garza’s statements were so important that when he says something that is viewed as offensive to women it elicits the strong response and bandwagon jumping we’re seeing from those who are acting angry or trying to make themselves sound progressive.

Rangers’ righty Garza created a controversy when he responded to Athletics’ infielder Eric Sogard executing a squeeze bunt by jawing at Sogard and then going after Sogard and his wife on Twitter. You can read about the exchange here. Baseball’s true tough guys, long since retired (Dave Parker, Ray Knight, Kevin Mitchell), are all asking in unison: “What the hell is Twitter?”

What was a silly Twitter fight turned into a flag-waving cause for those who are either declaring themselves hard-core feminists and seeing gender-based conspiracies detracting from their sports knowledge or a sycophantic agree-fest for those who don’t want to anger the aforementioned feminists. This piece on CBS Sports was emblematic of a distancing from male-female chasm. The editorial-like conclusion was as follows:

Garza needs to grow up and accept the fact he got beat on the field fair and square.

It’s a unique skill to combine elementary school simplicity with parental scolding and self-indulgent solidarity. All that’s missing is a “Nyah, nyah, nyah” at the end.

What you have is women clutching at this like the newest-latest of reasons why they’re disrespected and men who try to make sure they’re onboard and won’t be the next target of the angered masses.The race/gender card is so cheap and easy to use that few even dare to use it anymore unless they have nothing else to say or are desperately seeking attention and approval. If a person’s gender or sexual orientation is used as a reason to denigrate their opinion, it’s a pretty good bet that the person doing the denigrating isn’t all that bright to begin with. So why the over-the-top reaction?

In and of itself, this “story” is ridiculous. Garza should probably have thought twice before choosing to engage in this kind of diatribe, but he’s right in his last tweet of the day when he basically told people if they don’t like him, don’t follow. It’s that simple…unless there’s an ulterior motive. And in this case and any case in which there’s a perceived or crafted offense against a gender or group, there’s a clear ulterior motive of individuals drawing attention to themselves by latching onto this silliness to further their own ends and taking off with it like Usain Bolt at a track meet.

What we see from women who are mock-offended by Garza is another opportunity to express how unenlightened some men are as to the battle of the sexes and that statements such as those made by Garza are “hindering” their cause. Except it’s not hindering their cause. Much like Keith Hernandez’s rant about the Padres’ female trainer being in uniform in the dugout and Rob Dibble’s sexist comments in the broadcast booth, these are not men in a position of power where it matters what they say. Self-righteous political correctness is exponentially worse than political correctness. If it were a GM or an owner who said something like this, then it’s a reason to reply with a level of force. It’s Matt Garza. Unless there’s an agenda, who cares what he says?

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Francesa, A-Rod and Dr. Gross

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Mike Francesa spent his entire show today referencing Alex Rodriguez’s second opinion on his injured quadriceps and essentially accusing the Yankees of intentionally keeping A-Rod out of the lineup. A multitude of reasons were presented for this decision the most prominent being that the Yankees don’t want to pay A-Rod. As much as Francesa attempted to chastise the organization, painted them into a corner to let A-Rod play and boosted A-Rod as a potential cure to the Yankees offensive ills, let’s not make A-Rod into a victim here. Here’s all you need to know:

  • The Yankees don’t want to pay A-Rod.
  • The Yankees are hoping that the Biogenesis suspension of A-Rod comes sooner rather than later so they don’t have to answer questions about him.
  • A-Rod wants to get back on the field to get his money.

Toward whatever end is on A-Rod’s plate at the moment, he continually draws the ire of the organization and break rules that are clear in the collective bargaining agreement. He is not supposed to go see a doctor without team approval. Dr. Gross examined an A-Rod MRI and was clearly encouraged by A-Rod to publicize his findings. But for Francesa’s bolstering of this doctor’s diagnosis because he wants A-Rod back in the Yankees lineup out of some clinging to an adolescent fantasy that they still have a chance at the playoffs this year, no one would’ve paid any attention to this whatsoever. If it’s discussed for 5 1/2 hours, everyone—including the organization—is going to notice and react.

As bad as their third basemen have been this year, A-Rod was probably as bad if not worse in the playoffs last season, so they don’t know if they’ll get much more from him than what they’ve gotten from Kevin Youkilis, David Adams, Luis Cruz, et al. For all of the vouching Francesa has done for Dr. Gross, the “right” and “wrong” here is not clear-cut. The report that Dr. Gross was reprimanded by the New Jersey State Attorney General surfaced shortly after his star-turn with Francesa. It doesn’t take a conspiracy theorist to surmise that the politically-connected Yankees made certain that this came out as a means of defending the organization from this attack.

It’s not as simplistic as Francesa’s, “He’s a good playa and da Yankees need ‘im.” This is about money, a player they would like out of their sight and off their books. It’s about A-Rod, who wants to be paid as per the terms of his contract. They both have an agenda that goes beyond Francesa again indulging in a logic that was once limited to his callers by saying that the team needs a player and should let that player play without considering the collateral implications. Francesa wagged the dog today and the dog—the Yankees—wagged back.

It will be interesting to see if this degenerates into another cold war between Francesa and a New York organization. His self-indulgent battles with the New York Jets have sabotaged any pretense of objectivity between himself and the team. The Yankees are presumably pretty angry at Francesa for causing them this aggravation and, as was shown with the speed with which this doctor’s history was laid bare for all to see, will retaliate when fired upon. They went after the doctor first. Francesa could be next.

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Ryan Braun Has Highly Offended Me

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The easiest thing to do with the latest Ryan Braun saga is to go into a logical mode and say he did something that anyone else would’ve done, got very rich and only got caught because baseball has suddenly decided to do something about an issue that they winked and nodded at less than ten years ago. Or you can go to the other side, go into the idyllic world of fantasy where all athletes are clean-living paragons of sportsmanship and act like Braun just kidnapped your children while starving your dog and committed a Bernie Madoff-level fraud.

Did he lie? No more than most any other athletes or even people you’ll run into who, when cornered, will do something similar to what Braun did. Braun passionately proclaimed his innocence and then came up with a tersely and inadequately worded statement acknowledging the all-encompassing “mistakes” that could mean anything from parking in a handicapped spot to biting the heads off live parakeets. Is this something new in sports? In the world?

It can be parsed, dissected, criticized, ridiculed and bashed, but Braun was doing something that many other players were doing or would do if they had the opportunity. He just got caught. He won an MVP while using PEDs, but other players have won awards and made a lot of money doing the exact same thing. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa put on a show for an entity in Major League Baseball that was still recovering from the 1994 strike and canceled post-season and helped the game grow stronger with the use of steroids just like bodybuilders and athletes do. Roger Clemens “defied” age. Players who couldn’t play and were organizational filler were suddenly All-Stars. Why is it now something over which Braun is being treated about as badly as Aaron Hernandez is? This groundswell and group mentality is idiotic and if you actually believed he was clean, idiotic is the operative word.

Stop listening to what ballplayers say because it’s made for public consumption or done out of blatant self-preservation. Braun tried to save himself, did for a while, then got caught again and has copped a plea. The over-the-top response is pure self-righteous garbage and it should be ignored just as fervently as the statements players like Braun make saying how “innocent” they are. Braun’s morals and life code are not a concern of mine and I’m not sure why they would be a concern of anyone else either. Then again, I don’t speak the language of “ridiculous.”

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

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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.

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Francesa’s Angel Is The Centerfold

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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.

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