Congratulations Ichiro On Hit Number 4,000!! (Make Sure You Purchase Your Commemorative T-Shirt On The Grand Concourse)

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Just remember one thing when quantifying Ichiro Suzuki’s 4,000 combined hits in Japan and North America: Kei Igawa was considered a “star” pitcher in Japan with these gaudy numbers before joining the Yankees. Considering the fact that he was pitching for a powerhouse Yankees team in 2007 and 2008, Igawa could have been less than mediocre and, based on his attendance record, won 12 to 15 games. Instead, in 16 games, the Yankees got an evil 6.66 ERA for their $46 million.

This is not to decry Ichiro’s accomplishment, but how can we legitimately consider this to be worthy of all the attention it’s getting as something other than an attempt on the part of the Yankees to sell some T-shirts? It may not be as silly as my snide Twitter crack that we should calculate O.J. Simpson’s accumulated yards in the white Bronco chase and add them to his NFL rushing total, but it’s in the vicinity.

Because of his contact with an agent, Reggie Bush’s USC football records were wiped out, he surrendered his Heisman Trophy and USC’s wins in 2005 were vacated. Since he was benefiting from these relationships while in college, couldn’t it be argued that he was technically receiving remuneration for his work and was therefore a professional? Shouldn’t his college rushing yards be added to his NFL totals?

You see where I’m going here.

The argument with Ichiro is that he was such an accomplished hitter in the major leagues that he would have had a vast number of hits—probably coming close to 4,000 by now—if he’d spent his entire career in North America. I don’t doubt it. But we can’t give legitimate accolades for a record of this nature based on “probably would have” vs. “would have” and “did.”

If Babe Ruth had been a hitter for his entire career rather than spending his first five seasons with the Red Sox as a pitcher, how many home runs would he have hit? If Josh Gibson or Satchel Paige had been allowed to play in the majors rather than being relegated to the Negro Leagues, what could they have done? There are no answers.

Then we get into the Japan-North America comparison. Do Randy Bass’s 202 homers in Japan get added to his nine big league homers to make 211? Does he jump ahead of Kirby Puckett (207) and Roberto Alomar (210) on the career list?

With a clear stake in the perception of being the top hit-getter in baseball history, Pete Rose diminished Ichiro’s hit total as not being equal in difficulty to his. Any comment Rose made was probably done during a break in relentlessly signing bats, balls and other memorabilia to accrue cash, but he’s not wrong in scoffing at the concept that Ichiro’s 4,000 hits are in any way equivalent to his 4,256 hits. Although he’s banned from baseball and unable to receive Hall of Fame induction, Rose is the true hit king whether Ichiro “passes” him in the next couple of years or not.

The Yankees’ celebration of the achievement was relatively muted compared to what they’ve done for such occurrences in the past. They’ve retired numbers they shouldn’t have retired (Reggie Jackson, Billy Martin, Roger Maris) and created “history” out of thin air even if it isn’t actual history in any way other than to suit the narrative. Michael Kay didn’t have a long-winded and poorly written moment-infringing speech prepared similar to the pablum he recited when Derek Jeter collected his 3,000th hit. The Yankees came out of the dugout to congratulate Ichiro and there will probably be a small ceremony at some point (to go along with the T-shirts), but Ichiro had 2,533 of his hits with the Mariners. His Yankees numbers are those of a fading veteran hanging on and collecting more numbers.

It was handled professionally and appropriately by the Yankees. The problem with this is the idea that there’s a connection between what Ichiro did in Japan and in the majors. There’s not unless you want to start going down that slide to count everything any player has ever done anywhere as part of his “professional” resume. That slide leads back to Igawa. He was a horrible pitcher for the Yankees who didn’t belong in the big leagues and was a star in Japan. For every Yu Darvish, how many pitchers are there like Igawa in Japan against whom Ichiro was getting his hits? Probably a lot. And that means the 4,000 hits is just a number that’s being lost in translation from Japanese to English. It’s an impressive number in context, but a number nonetheless.




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The Mick and the Corked Bat

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The corked bat that was allegedly used by Mickey Mantle and was set to be sold at auction is no longer available after Mantle’s family hired attorneys to prevent the item’s sale. This entire episode tears another scab off the sordid nature of sports memorabilia.

Ironically in the past week the industry was in the news in a more serious court case as O.J. Simpson’s appeal of his kidnapping and armed robbery conviction was being heard in Las Vegas. Simpson was involved with memorabilia dealers and claims he was trying to reclaim his property and it expanded into guns, shady characters and a conviction. Simpson says it was an innocent misunderstanding. Sort of similar to going to the home of his ex-wife, just happening to be wearing the outfit of an inept burglar and carrying a knife, and proclaiming his purity when she and her friend wound up dead, bathed in pools of their own blood. It started so innocently with the best of intentions.

I don’t understand the memorabilia industry from the perspective of people who buy this stuff for their own enjoyment. The players themselves—including Mantle—thought it was a ludicrous endeavor, but went along because it was making him a lot of money with little effort and after his career was over, he didn’t have much money until the industry blew up. I get people buying it as an investment, but that goes back to the circle of preying on the childhood memories of others for profit. For those who think that having a “piece of history” in their homes are going to impress anyone when there’s no truly flawless method to verify the piece’s authenticity, it’s a momentary and mostly insincere “wow.” How much time can they spend staring at an old jersey? An old hat? An old glove? A bat that was supposedly laced with cork to lighten it, increase the hitter’s bat speed, and add a substance that may or may not add distance to the ball’s travels? And nobody can say whether or not the bat was actually used by Mantle.

Was it?

Based on Mantle’s style, he might have just used it as a joke once or twice just to see what happened. He wasn’t one to look before he leaped and did things because he could do them or because he thought it might be a kick. That didn’t extend to a long series of off-field incidents due to his drinking and womanizing as it would today because the writers were protective of players’ off-field lives during Mantle’s day, but if he was playing today you can bet there would be DUI incidents, an array of barroom brawls, and other stories of his exploits popping out all over.

For all of Mike Francesa’s bluster about the “reality” of sports, it takes little prompting for him to revert to the adolescent Mantle idol-worshipper when anyone dare question his hero and all-knowing, ignoring other factors statement that Mantle didn’t need to use a corked bat, therefore it is proven that he didn’t use one.

Mantle’s family stated that he never used a corked bat. How they would know this is not stated.

Did Mantle “need” to use a corked bat? Of course not. Did he use one a few times? Possibly. Does it tarnish his legacy? Not if his 535th career homer off Denny McLain in which McLain tossed a tailor made batting practice fastball specifically for Mantle to hit out the park didn’t tarnish his legacy and ruin the aesthetic for Francesa and the aging men who treat Mantle as their ideal.

Mantle was a “Yeah, what the hell?” guy and that might have extended to him trying a corked bat a few times. But with no one to guarantee that it’s legitimate or that Mantle hit with it to the degree that it truly affected his results and career numbers, a chunk of people only care because they want to shield their bubble of beliefs; the others seek to maintain the profits they can make from “real” Mantle memorabilia. I understand why they’re doing it, but I’ll never understand why people would pay money for that stuff to begin with.

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The Invisible Rose

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As ridiculous as it sounds for Pete Rose’s name to have been expunged from mere mention on Topps Baseball Cards as baseball’s career hits leader, what were they supposed to do and why is it even a story?

All the context provided makes perfect sense. PED users such as Alex Rodriguez, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro haven’t been banished as Rose has. Accused, suspected and prosecuted for perjury, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds are still listed on all records. No one has ever sought to remove O.J. Simpson from any of the NFL record books. Did Rose, as a player, do worse things that these people?

For all his activities and selfishness, Rose always played the game on the up-and-up. Charlie Hustle was a hustler and a self-promoter. His headfirst slides were done to garner attention to himself even when they were totally unnecessary. The running to first base on a walk was a trademark to stand out from the crowd. He accumulated praise for maximizing limited abilities as if he couldn’t play at all and clawed his way to the top of the record books, but it’s ignored that amid all the salable perception of “Rose made it with a lack of ability,” it’s not true. He was a great player and would have been a great player even if he’d behaved as lackadaisically as Robinson Cano does.

It’s a matter floating morals. Compartmentalized into legality, illegality and semantics, Rose is off the MLB officially licensed products while players who have done far worse to the game itself are still there. MLB was complicit in the use of performance enhancers and has put up a front of trying to eradicate the sport of this type of drug use, but that front is somewhat laissez faire, knowing that for as many suspensions, tests and investigations they perform, players will still go to the Biogenesis Clinics around the world and seek a method to dance through the raindrops and beat the tests. By all reasonable accounts, Ryan Braun got away with likely PED use to win the MVP in 2011 and avoided a suspension on a technicality. Then his name was discovered in the records of Biogenesis.

The rules for inclusion are what they are and because of Rose’s lifetime banishment, he’s not permitted to be mentioned. Of course it’s silly and selective, but Rose isn’t being singled out any more than the PED users are receiving a pass. It’s just the way it is.

The only reason this is a story is because it’s made into a story and Rose has pleaded that he wants his name reinstated—probably because it can make him more money. Perhaps Topps is trying to drum up interest in the cards in the event that collectors will see the omission of Rose as a future novelty if he’s ever reinstated, posthumously or not. Who’s going to Topps for recordkeeping anyway? And who’s going to MLB for propriety and logic?

No one.

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Fred Wilpon, The Mets, “The” Truth And “A” Truth

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I’m waiting for the inevitable conspiracy theories to morph into absurd leaps of logic. How about something fictional to the tune of, “Jenrry Mejia’s actual identity is Jose Luis Madoff Alvarado and is the product of a love affair between Bernie Madoff and the daughter of a shady business associate in the Dominican Republic 28 years ago,”?

A great fake story can be crafted from Mejia’s current situation to link the ancillary and unconnected drama surrounding the Mets. Reality doesn’t enter into the equation. It’s the story that’s important. Here’s a good plotline: There’s a holdup with Mejia getting his visa to report to spring training. Other players have used fake names to get signed. The Mets were involved heavily with Bernie Madoff. Fred Wilpon is a pathological liar and/or a delusional elderly man—the pieces fit!!!

Except they don’t.

With Wilpon’s press session yesterday inviting agenda-laden questioning of his personal finances in relation to the Mets, the story has legs for a few days. Bolstered by the club’s continued lack of spending, Wilpon’s statement that the financial problems are subsiding and GM Sandy Alderson is free to spend money if he deems it appropriate is inviting eyebrow-raised glances and “yeah, buts”—NY Times Story.

Is the decision to again stay out of the free agent market linked to financial limitations or are they adhering to a plan to clear the decks of dead contracts, rebuild through the draft to put in place a strong foundation, and buy pieces to fill needs rather than create splashy headlines? Does it matter? Do we need answers?

Regardless of the “why,” this is what they’re doing. The strategy is highlighted in the aftermath of the Mets deciding not to give Michael Bourn a fifth year option while simultaneously surrendering the 11th pick in the draft to get a pretty good player and placate an angry fanbase, possibly severely hindering the future—sort of what the Mets did for years under Steve Phillips, Jim Duquette and Omar Minaya—and wallowing in the mess they were in for most of the previous decade-plus.

Signing Bourn would have been a mirror image of mortgaging the future for the present and doing so in a manner that would reverberate for years to come. Bourn was not worth the 11th pick in the draft. If Bourn were in the draft now, he wouldn’t be picked that high. When he was drafted by the Phillies in 2003, it wasn’t until the fourth round, so the Mets were supposed to willingly give up that high a pick in a spot where Andrew McCutchen and Max Scherzer were selected?

The Mets could use Bourn, but not at that price especially with Jacoby Ellsbury set to be a free agent after the 2013 season and Shin-Soo Choo also to be available.

I’m not a defender of the Wilpons. I don’t see how it’s possible that they didn’t realize there was something fishy with the Madoff returns. If the money kept rolling in, why ask questions you don’t want the answer to? Did they suspect? They must have. Did they want to know the answer if they asked? Definitely not. But these half-baked predictions of the Wilpon demise—presented by self-styled soothsayers using partial truths hidden under the pretense of research, extrapolations and an end in mind to foresee a cloudy future—have been consistently wrong.

There wasn’t supposed to be a settlement in the Picard lawsuit. There was.

They weren’t supposed to maintain control of the team. They did.

They would be forced into bankruptcy. They weren’t.

They couldn’t afford to keep David Wright. He’s a Met for the next decade.

How many times are we going to have ironclad statements of what “will” happen be wrong before stepping back and accepting that regardless of intentional ambiguity in what’s said, the Wilpons are going nowhere and the Mets’ finances do indicate that they’ll be able to spend on players in the coming year.

This constant digging for evidence against the Wilpons is similar to rehashing the O.J. Simpson murder trial or the Kennedy assassination. It’s over. No one’s going to be prosecuted; no crime will be proved; and the investigation has ended. Independent to irrelevant facts or fiction, the Mets will have money to spend on better free agents than Bourn after this season; they’ve accumulated young pitching talent they haven’t had since the 1980s; and they’ve done precisely what Alderson set out to do in the first three years of the rebuild.

Wilpon’s meeting with the media presents an opportunity to revive a meaningless past and allows the aforementioned investigative reporters and analysts to twist what he says into a new attempt to be retrospectively “right.” But “right” is in the eye of the beholder.

Are the Mets not spending or are they not spending stupidly? There’s a fine but important line between the two. No matter how they got to this point, it was for the best. Had they stuck to the road they were on, there would be more bloated contracts for aging players, fewer prospects, and a longer and increasingly difficult path to getting younger and better—if they ever decided to do that at all. The “why” deserves a shrug as a response. Much like the media experts can subtly alter their facts to suit a designed narrative, so can Wilpon. It’s all a matter of point-of-view.

“The” truth will never be fully known. “A” truth is what we have and it varies based on who’s listening.

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Lance Armstrong’s Half-Hearted Allocution

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Lance Armstrong, as was shown during his cancer diagnosis and treatment, is capable of nobility. It also showed him to be defiant, determined and unwilling to concede any point that conflicted with his controlling nature. Somewhere the lines got crossed and by some arrogant osmosis, Armstrong’s work with his cancer charity and dogged single-minded intensity to confront any challenge with full force morphed into one another and blurred the concept of propriety. He never learned to place those character traits into a positive direction. Like his cancer, it’s a metastasizing entity. Only this one grew so large and extensive that no treatment could control it until it’s eating him alive. The bullheaded “get in my way and I’ll run over you,” is extending to his initial attempt to show contrition for the damage he’s done and it’s a first-ditch/last-ditch effort to salvage whatever he can of his name and reputation.

He doesn’t know that yet. He still thinks he can beat “it.” Whatever “it” is.

Armstrong’s interview with Oprah Winfrey was meant to be a mea culpa. Through his years and years of denials that he used performance enhancing drugs, Armstrong held to the story to a remarkable degree. The avalanche of evidence buried him and he’s no longer holding to the story, but the personality is the same. And that’s the problem. The altered perception has gone from one of admiration for his achievements to bewilderment that he’s not even trying to put forth the pretense of truly being sorry.

Armchair psychologists, attorneys, body language experts, judges, juries, and executioners sat and watched the interview with a ready-made analysis to explain what Armstrong was really saying. Behind the words and faux tears (of which there were fewer than any of us could have expected), there was still the calculating and devious mind as to how he was going to get out of this and the egomania to think he still can.

The remorse the interview was clearly intended to convey conflicted with his beady eyes darted back and forth, the look of smug condescension and remaining sediment-filled puddle of, “I’m Lance Armstrong, I’ll figure a way out of this,” that has served him so well over the years and maintained the veneer of innocence that so many believed because they wanted to believe it. Knowing what truly occurs in the world of cycling—that it’s impossible in this day and age to win the Tour de France without using PEDs—interfered with the myth, so it was ignored out of convenience and, in the case of his advertisers and those benefiting from him, money.

The strangest part of the Oprah interview was that Armstrong didn’t even bother to try and alter his tone to suit those on the fence of how to proceed in their view of him. The people who don’t care about cycling; who understand why he did what he did; who may have made similar decisions and are willing to give him the opportunity to redeem himself; who never truly believed him in his declarations of innocence but were willing to forgive what he did in the interests of the good he spread with his charity work.

Serial killer Ted Bundy looked more sorry during his pre-execution apology for the victims he murdered than Armstrong did in that interview.

The fundamental problem isn’t any psychological block or personal failing. It’s that Armstrong’s brain doesn’t work that way. Amid all the excuses, fake humility, admissions and self-deprecating humor, it’s not registering that he’s shifted from one set of intractable principles in overcoming obstacles to another. First it was battling cancer; then it was making his comeback and winning; then it was charity work; then it was lying about his drug use; now it’s telling the truth about his drug use. There’s no comprehension or categorizing of right or wrong anywhere in that list because Armstrong is only able to conceive the right and wrong as it suits him. Right is what benefits Lance; wrong is what hurts Lance.

Lance, Lance, Lance.

He would’ve been better off having had a mirror across from him instead of Oprah. Not to denigrate the job she did because she did ask all the right questions, but she didn’t ask about inside information that a Steve Kroft-type journalist, cycling expert, doctor or attorney would. It was too comfortable a forum to get any legitimate emotion and possibly dig underneath to find out exactly what Armstrong was actually thinking. The interview was so gentle that Oprah was trying to romance the answers out of him rather than dissect him, trap him, and force him to come clean.

I was waiting for Armstrong to reference his “cousin in the D.R.” as Alex Rodriguez did. Or to come up with absurd ridiculousness as Roger Clemens did in his ill-advised publicity blitz on 60 Minutes and in front of the government panel. Maybe he should have just clammed up as Barry Bonds did or acted as if he didn’t speak English like Sammy Sosa.

Armstrong used the word “sick” when describing some of his actions and behaviors during the years of lies. It’s certainly sick. It’s sick that people can relate more to what someone like O.J. Simpson did in a fit of rage and jealousy than what Armstrong did in systematically demolishing people who simply told the truth and dared to cross him by not sticking to the rules of his world.

His world.

That’s the key to Armstrong. It’s all about him. Still clinging to that idea that everything, everywhere is linked to how it affects Lance, he sees it as unfair that he’s banned for life from competing in marathons and triathlons because it’s being done to him. “Why won’t you let me race?” This while ignoring the scores of people he maligned publicly and dragged into court for telling the truth about his drug use.

Like any dictator or self-anointed monarch, if he’d chosen to let one small incursion into his territory go by unpunished, there would be anarchy. So, as a message to those who would try and try again to bring down his empire, he destroyed them. Now he’s “apologizing,” but is not sorry and maintains the stiff-arm against the world thinking he’ll somehow win.

He won’t.

Armstrong showed nobility in his cancer fight. There’s also a nobility in unrepentance. If he’s not sorry, he shouldn’t say he’s sorry. But he did. If he was trying to alter the public perception of him with his half-hearted allocution, he succeeded. He made it worse.

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