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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From North Dallas Forty To Biogenesis

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Major League Baseball’s ham-handed investigation into the Biogenesis Clinic and the players who might have been involved in PEDs after being named as clinic clients is an attempt to appear as if they’re on top of the situation done in a way similar to how the National Football League would’ve done it. Except the way in which MLB is handling it is the way the NFL would’ve handled it in 1970, not 2013.

The tour-de-force account of how the NFL operated back then was the 1979 film North Dallas Forty as the protagonist, Phil Elliot is struggling through injuries and the refusal to “play the game” and the “game” isn’t football—it’s going along to get along, taking shots of painkillers, playing injured (different from playing hurt), being used and willing to be used to fill the masochistic need to play the actual on-field sport.

In the movie, the North Dallas Bulls with their megalomaniacal and exceedingly wealthy owner, iconic and cold-blooded coach, and hard-partying teammates (*wink wink* at the “similarities” to the Dallas Cowboys) prepare for the next week’s game. Early in the film, Elliot experiences a break-in at his home and catches the perpetrator in the act who threatens Elliot with a gun and flees. In the penultimate scene, the break-in was revealed to have actually executed by a private eye who had been hired by the club to get dirt on Elliot with the complicity of the league to catch disposable, independent-minded players like him smoking pot and using an excess of painkillers in order to exploit the violation of league rules not to pay their salaries when they’re dumped as Elliot eventually was. Left out of the equation was that Elliott was smoking pot with the team’s star quarterback, but the club couldn’t very well function without the star quarterback and cutting Elliott filled the dual function of sending a message to the rest of the team that they’d better behave or suffer the same fate of not only being cut, but also having their reputation sullied throughout the league and face a suspension for drug use if they didn’t do as they’re told.

Elliott’s quote regarding his marijuana use, “If you nailed every guy in the league who smoked grass, you wouldn’t have enough players left to field the punt return team,” still resonates today in every sport and with every drug—performance enhancing and otherwise.

MLB is trying the same type of thing sans the illegalities (that we know of) with the Biogenesis case in their over-the-top show of trying to extract information from the head of the clinic Anthony Bosch to the degree that they’re paying him and, according to other potential witnesses, “bullying” with threats and empty promises of help in a legal case if they cooperate. The problem for MLB is this when thinking about the tactics similar to those used in North Dallas Forty: the movie was from 34 years ago and it was adapted from a book published 40 years ago about the way the game was run in the 1960s.

And that’s what MLB is doing. They’re using methods from the 1960s to garner information in 2013.

The problems with the way in which MLB is reportedly running this investigation is manifold and goes far beyond the Cold War-era strategies. Let’s just say, hypothetically, that this Biogenesis clinic was used by players in today’s NFL and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell who was at the top of the hill in this new scandal instead of MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. Would the entire structure be handled differently? Better? More competently?

Selig is essentially seen as a doddering figurehead whose main job descriptions is that of a functionary. It’s not far from the truth. His performance as commissioner has been a byproduct of what is good for the owners’ pockets rather than what is promoted as good for the game. While the PEDs were rampant throughout baseball and were used with the tacit approval of everyone in an effort to draw fans, restore the game’s popularity following the 1994 strike, and accrue money for the owners and players alike, there was Selig with a faraway gaze either clueless as to the reality or willfully ignoring it. Perhaps it was a combination of the two.

Selig’s performance in front of Congress along with the players who showed up that fateful day was humiliating in a myriad of ways. From Rafael Palmeiro’s finger-wagging lies; to Sammy Sosa’s “me no speaka the Inglés”; to Mark McGwire not being there to talk about the past; to Curt Schilling clamming up after his yapping for days before and after the fact, baseball has never acquitted itself well when self-preservation came to the forefront at the expense of stating the facts.

Has baseball improved since then? Has Selig gotten the message? Let’s just compare Selig with his NFL counterpart Goodell. Only people inside baseball’s front office know how alert Selig is to the Biogenesis investigation or anything else. Perhaps it’s a matter of, “Don’t tell me what I don’t want to know so I don’t have to lie about it later.” But this is an indicator that MLB should’ve tossed someone overboard when the entire PED scandal initially broke to send the message that a new sheriff was in town and things weren’t going to be done the old way. And I use old in every conceivable context of the word when discussing Selig. That would’ve meant that Selig had to go a decade ago, and he probably should’ve.

Would Goodell be so disengaged to not know every aspect of what’s going on with an investigation of this magnitude? Would he not take steps to control the message and how it’s framed as politicians—like Goodell and Goodell’s father Charles, a former United States Senator from New York—do and did? This is the fundamental difference between MLB and the NFL. Goodell is smooth, smart, and cagey. He’s available yet insulated; touchable but unknowable; protected and in command. Selig on the other hand is cadaverous and scripted, but unable to follow the script; he’s anything but smooth and the disheveled clothes, $10 haircut and bewildered countenance that was once somewhat charming lost its luster as he had to get to work to restore the game’s validity. What makes it worse when having a figurehead as commissioner is that baseball doesn’t appear to have taken steps to place competent people behind the scenes to pull the levers to keep the machine greased and running well. It’s people charging headlong into each other and having the bruises to prove it.

If Goodell makes the implication that the witnesses will be assisted in a criminal investigation as was alluded to in the ESPN piece linked above, you can bet that the NFL and Goodell himself will have the connections to follow through on the promise.

MLB? What are they going to do about it? Are they even capable of helping anyone? Would they know who to call and would that person even take the call as he would if he heard, “Roger Goodell is on the phone,” instead of “Bud Selig is on the phone,”?

Not much thought was put into any of this going back to allowing of players to get away with PED use and then the about-face due to public outcry, the banning of substances and the potential fallout of doing so. They want to clean up the game, but keep it entertaining to the fans. Did it ever occur to them that the reason that so many man games are being lost due to injury stems from the tendons and ligaments becoming weakened from carrying the extra muscle built through chemical means? That players can’t play 150 games and toss 225 innings and maintain performance without chemicals? That they aren’t going to be able to beat out a dribbler on the infield in August by chugging cups of coffee and cans of Red Bull as they would from their trusted amphetamines (greenies)? That the risk/reward for players like Alex Rodriguez, Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera and anyone else whose name was caught up in Biogenesis was such that there was no reason not to do it?

What’s 100 games in comparison to the half a billion dollars in contracts—just for playing baseball alone and not counting endorsements—A-Rod will have made once his career is over? What’s 100 games in exchange for Braun’s MVP and the minute risk (Braun’s just unlucky, arrogant and somewhat stupid) of getting caught? What’s 100 games in exchange for a slightly above-average talent like Cabrera being given a contract for $16 million almost immediately after his humiliating suspension and public lambasting?

Until MLB does something about the laughable penalties, players will keep trying to navigate their way around the tests and punishments because it’s worth it for them to do it given the likelihood that they’ll get away with it.

Attendance and TV ratings are down all around baseball. In large part it’s because the fans who jumped on the bandwagon at the excitement of the home runs have little interest in watching Joe Maddon outmaneuver Joe Girardi with tactical skill. They want homers and if they’re not getting them, they won’t bother to watch. This new “get tough” policy is falling flat not just because of the maladroit manner in which it’s being implemented, but because there’s no integrity behind it. The owners are interested in one thing: the bottom line. Many are as blind as Selig was to the PED use and only came around when the evidence was plunked on their desks with the widespread demand to “do something” about it to “save the game.”

Using the 1960s as a guideline for running the Biogenesis investigation in 2013 forgets that back then, there wasn’t the constant flow of available information with real time stories, opinions and criticisms appearing immediately and going viral. Back then, MLB would’ve been able to get in front of the story using friendly, like-minded reporters who were willing to do the Max Mercy thing from The Natural and “protect” the game. In other words, they would protect the people who owned the game against the ephemeral presence of the players who come and go and who were using drugs to undeservedly place themselves in the stratosphere of legends that was once rightfully limited to Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays and Bob Feller. Now there are bloggers, reporters and networks gathering information as it comes in. It can’t be controlled.

For MLB to put forth the pretense of being all-in for the Biogenesis investigation is the epitome of wasteful hypocrisy. They can pound on doors, stand on rooftops and proclaim their commitment to stopping PED use. They can threaten, cajole, demand and make empty promises, but that’s not going to alter the reality that the changes to the game have to be foundational and not a self-serving attempt to clean up a game that has been infested from the top to the bottom due in large part to the inaction of MLB itself.

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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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The Hall of Fame of Apathy

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It’s a byproduct of the times we live in that not only does the vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame have to be counted, but we have to endure the detailing of the vote like the slaughtering and cleaning of a chicken before it winds up on our plate, grilled and placed over salad with a nice vinaigrette.

Or like a sausage. Sausage is a good analogy. The Hall of Fame voting exemplifies why, prior to choosing to eat it, we don’t want to see how sausage is made because if we did, we wouldn’t be able to take a bite. But combine the sausagemaker and the chef being careless about hygiene—disgusting even—and showing the world step-by-step why and how they’re coming to the conclusion that being filthy is the logical progression and for the diner, the response degenerates into an immense powerlessness and disinterest that, in the final analysis, will make us sick.

The noxious process of voting for the Hall of Fame might always have been as it is now, but we didn’t get to watch it and hear it ad nauseam until reaching this inevitable end.

I used to care about the Hall of Fame. As a kid, I wanted Phil Rizzuto to be inducted. It was mostly because others told me he should be inducted without providing viable reasons for this position, but what was the difference? Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese were contemporaries and inter-city rivals of New York, it suited the narrative if they went into the Hall together. They didn’t and that served the clashing of civilizations even more. Ted Williams supported Rizzuto’s candidacy. Writers didn’t. Eventually, the Rizzuto supporters—many of them friends on the Veterans Committee—let him in. Whether or not he “belongs” became irrelevant. Today would either Rizzuto or Reese have a chance of getting into the Hall? No. But that argument was part of what once made the debate interesting. It’s no longer so.

The dirtiest aspect of a conspiracy are those who are left to take the punishment after the fact while others walk away and join the chorus to punish the “guilty” for acts they made possible and participated in by direct involvement or by looking the other way. There are the disposable minions whose job it was to run interference for their charges (Greg Anderson for Barry Bonds; Brian McNamee for Roger Clemens) and take the legal consequences while the people they worked for walk away free.

And there are the players. The players who allegedly used the drugs or are suspected of using the drugs are serving the sentences for the people who were running baseball, allowed and cultivated the performance enhancing drug culture in the interests of making themselves more money and reviving a game that was on life-support after the canceled World Series of 1994 and evident avarice that led to that cancelation.

The media voting for the potential inductees? They’re showing a combination of righteous indignation and contemptuous dismissal of dissent that can only stem from an out-of-control egomania. As self-appointing “protectors” of the game, there’s an unstated similarity to what Max Mercy said in The Natural that his job as a reporter is not to tell the story of the game, but by creating an image that he—in an unabashed treatise of omnipotence—deems as proper and salable. We’re now getting a Hunter S. Thompson, “gonzo” voting bloc. Every reporter feels as though he not only has has to cast his ballot, but get in on the action and make public his choices, explaining why he did or didn’t select a certain player.

Mike Piazza didn’t get votes not because he was caught in a PED drug test in any context other than rumor, but because of the era in which he played and that he had acne on his back. This is presented as a reason. Not “feeling” that Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer, or that Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio don’t pass the smell test as PED suspects (Bagwell) and stat-compilers (Biggio) is equated as an excuse of why they’re not garnering support.

There’s no more conversation. No altering of hearts and minds. Perhaps there never was. But today, there are battle-lines and no hope for settlement, so the fight rages on without end in an immovable object vs. irresistible force aura of uselessness.

Like a Tim Tebow pro-life ad, each side sees it their way and takes it as a worthwhile cause to promote or an infringement on the liberty of others to behave in accordance to the laws of the land. Rather than accept it for what it actually is, a commercial, and understand that because Tebow took part in the ad and it was shown during a football game that it’s not an insult to the beliefs nor a threat to the freedoms of those who disagree, there’s a lunatic stimulus reaction. All this while no one says a word if they don’t have the money or the inclination to run out and purchase a Lexus when those commercials run non-stop during the NFL playoffs. There’s truly no difference.

Until a Hall of Fame voter has the supposed epiphany that George A. King of the New York Post claims to have had when he decided that Pedro Martinez wasn’t a worthy candidate for MVP in 1999 and hears from “people he respects” justifying the exclusion with the argument that pitchers have their award and the MVP should go to an everyday player, this will not stop. And that’s the point. As much as we can argue that King, as a Yankees beat writer and resident apologist, was simply punishing a reviled member of the arch-rival Red Sox, nothing can stop it from happening. The votes are what they are; the voters are who they are.

There’s not going to be a Skull and Bones society of enlightened and objective stat people with impressive degrees from Ivy League Universities, meeting in far off lands to determine the fate of the baseball universe, deciding that the logic of keeping Bonds, Clemens, Sammy Sosa and anyone else from the Hall of Fame is a travesty considering who’s in the Hall of Fame and what they did to get there. Nor will there be a return to the old-school and how things were before Twitter, Facebook, blogging, glory-hunting, attention-seeking, and making a name for oneself by being outrageous as per the mandate like Rob Parker did with Robert Griffin III and lost his job at ESPN because of it.

There’s no going back.

Gaylord Perry cheated and everyone knew he was cheating. He admitted it. He wallowed in it. As a journeyman whose stuff wasn’t quite good enough, he extended his career by 20 years because of it. He’s in the Hall of Fame and there’s a smirk, wink and nod as to how he accomplished the feat of gaining enshrinement. There are drunks, recreational drug users and wife-beaters in the Hall of Fame. There are racists, gamblers and individuals who would accurately be described as sociopaths in the Hall of Fame.

None of that waned my interest in the proceedings as much as having to view the sausage being made; to endure the media throwing themselves into the fray as if they were just as important to the process as the process itself.

I paid attention to the election results in a vacuum of neutrality. That is not attached to an affiliation or deep-seated belief as to whether the players should or shouldn’t be elected, but because of pure apathy that has accumulated over a number of years as a side effect of the arrogance inherent with the doling, reporting and counting of the Hall of Fame vote. It grows exponentially with each writer who not only feels he has to vote, but feels the need to explain the vote as he makes it in the me-me-me self-involvement that’s become prevalent. It spreads with every player whose public agenda and lies insult my intelligence; with every owner or baseball official who crusades against that which they allowed and encouraged to happen.

No one was voted into the Hall of Fame for 2013. And I just don’t care.

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Meet the New Bonds, Same As the Old Bonds

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There’s a combination of childlike innocence and institutionalized lack of empathy with Barry Bonds whenever he speaks publicly. This is not a criticism or an indictment, it just is. Like an earthquake or a hurricane, it’s not an entity that should know better. There’s no changing it nor truly understanding it.

As Bonds is facing the likelihood of his deserved Hall of Fame accomplishments being superseded by the belief that he took performance enhancing drugs to fuel his late-career explosion of exponential production that dwarfed what he did in his clean, younger days as the underappreciated best player in baseball.

One of the reasons Bonds speaks in such reverential tones of Jim Leyland is because Leyland was one of the few people who didn’t want anything from Bonds other than what was precisely on the table: a good performance and professional behavior. Leyland didn’t let Bonds get away with the things that were allowed to pass from the time he was a child and through his big league career because he was the son of Bobby Bonds; how talented he was; his draft status; his MVPs, Gold Gloves, and all-around play. As a result, Leyland is one of the few people who have passed through Bonds’s life for whom he has any respect.

Able to put up that front of behaving as a normal person, Bonds is clearly incapable of comprehending the why behind the actions of others. Like the decision upon the propriety of a handshake/hug/kiss hello and goodbye for an acquaintance or distant family member, Bonds just doesn’t know how to act. It’s an understandable perspective when Bonds was treated as something wholly other because of his name and skills on the baseball field. This was not evident in a contemporary, Ken Griffey Jr., who is seen as the white hat to Bonds’s black hat because Griffey wasn’t placed in that same bubble with a contentious relationship with Ken Griffey Sr. as Bonds had with his father. In later years, there was the pretense of a close relationship. Barry would demand that Bobby be a coach on the Giants’ staff; when Bobby died, Barry claimed he’d “lost his coach.” But it again reverts to the perception designed to be salable to a society that never lived the way Bonds did and has no clue as to why he’s the way he is.

That’s not a defense of the mostly dark side of Barry being Barry. It’s reality.

So when saying to Bonds that he ruined his legacy by choosing to allegedly take PEDs, he has neither the analytical ability to examine the circumstances from the position of anyone other than himself. It made perfect sense to him to use the drugs as well given that he, as the unacknowledged best player in baseball who had an all-world season in 1998, found himself largely ignored in favor of two players—Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa—who were using PEDs and became a worldwide phenomenon while having a fraction of the ability of Bonds. In Bonds’s view, he was playing baseball and they were playing home run derby; they were getting all the accolades, and he was shoved to the side.

In a sense, Bonds was right and proved his point by being better than most every player in baseball clean, then being better than most everyone in baseball when the playing field was again leveled because he was using the same drugs they were. His results were better in both instances because he was better. It’s why he received all those privileges growing up; why he was able to get away with anti-social behaviors; and why he was validated to act as he did: as long as he hit and performed, he could do what he wanted.

Now Bonds is trying a different tack of the regular guy who wants his due, but is doing so in the same vacuum in which he existed as a player and person. He claims he cares about his Hall of Fame prospects and his legacy. No longer are we seeing the arrogant and bullying Bonds; this new Bonds is trying to refurbish his image with such acts of kindness as paying for the college education of Giants’ fan and Dodger Stadium beating victim Bryan Stow’s children (truly a nice thing to do) and is expressing his bewilderment at the seeming blackballing of him out of the game. Bonds claims he wants to be a hitting coach. He would truly be a great one. In comparison to Bonds, few hitters understood what pitchers were trying to do; had that unyielding vision of the strike zone; a natural genius for the game in all its aspects; and the ability to explain complex concepts in terms that would be easily grasped and applicable. It’s not an exercise in “look how much I know” by regurgitating hitting terminology to intimidate, it’s unpretentious knowledge to teach.

He’s not going to get that chance to be a hitting coach because of the memories of Bonds’s behavior. McGwire’s a hitting coach because people like him. Bonds won’t because people didn’t like him; they tolerated him because they had little choice.

Hall of Fame voters are using the PED allegations as a way to keep Bonds out when, had he been a clean Jim Rice type of player on the borderline, his attitude and that he wasn’t nice to them would be the real reason for keeping him out as it was with Rice. They can’t deny him due to questionable credentials, so he’ll be denied because of PEDs. It’s partial dogmatism; partial hardline response to the apparent drug use via punitive measures; partial vindictiveness.

My criteria for a Hall of Fame yay or nay with the PED era is whether the player was a Hall of Famer before he is accused of having used the drugs. McGwire, Sosa and others weren’t. Bonds and Roger Clemens were. Therefore they should be elected.

That’s not going to sway a vast number of the voters, though. They’ll keep him out because they want to keep him out, and the Bonds PR blitz isn’t going to swing them in his favor because they don’t believe he’s changed from what they thought he was. Probably because he hasn’t. Probably because he can’t.

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Reggie And SI Get What They Want

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I’m sure that a vast number of people reacting to the Hall of Fame yays or nays from Reggie Jackson in this Sports Illustrated profile won’t bother to read the entire piece, but if they do they’ll see that the Hall of Fame worthy/unworthy discussion is inserted into the middle of the article in what appears to be a blatant attempt to get people to websearch—not necessarily read—the rest of it.

He talks of religion; his baseball relationships from the past and present; and who he is as a person.

His Hall of Fame assessments don’t come from the extreme wings of the Hall of Fame camps with the stat people on one end and the old-school, “I know a Hall of Famer when I see one” on the other. It’s Reggie saying stuff—stuff that could change if you ask him again next week. Of course it’s capricious to say that Andy Pettitte’s PED use isn’t relevant while it is in the cases of players like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez. Conveniently (or not) their unnaturally gained home run prowess negated some of his accomplishments.

There’s going to be head shaking and questioning of his motives when he says Jim Rice and Bert Blyleven aren’t worthy, but Jack Morris is. And there will be others who suggest that his ego is so enormous that he not only wants a museum dedicated to him and him alone, but it would have to have as few members as possible to fit the “magnitude of me” self-aggrandizement that he exemplifies.

With some the “Reggie” designation would be placed in quotes because it’s a persona and not a person. With this Reggie? It’s all him.

Here are the facts about Reggie Jackson: he was a Hall of Fame player; he knows how to irritate people; and that ability garners attention for himself. In the case of the article in Sports Illustrated, it looks to be a mutually advantageous exchange. He will make provocative statements to drum up webhits and conversation; SI will put the other aspects about him into the article that will get him back into the public consciousness if anyone actually reads it.

He was always a supreme marketer of his favorite subject—himself. At age 66, that hasn’t changed. Except now there are no teammates to anger and no media contingent following him around waiting for him to say something to continue the circle of Reggie-media-teammates-owner-fans-Reggie-media-teammates-owner-fans.

He wanted attention and he’s getting it.

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No Connection Between Baseball and the Clemens Verdict

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You can read the news details here on NYTimes.com.

For our purposes, let’s look at the Roger Clemens trial and its aftermath.

Not guilty doesn’t mean innocent.

If Clemens or his defenders are going to take the not guilty verdict as a proof of innocence of having used performance enhancing drugs, they’d better think again. The standard of proof in a criminal trial has to be beyond a reasonable doubt. This case was shaky from the start relying on testimony from a witness, Brian McNamee, who didn’t have the greatest credibility and, if the allegations were true, was a participant in the use of the drugs by Clemens. When McNamee’s own ex-wife contradicted his testimony and Andy Pettitte backtracked on having knowledge of Clemens’s drug use, the case was doomed.

Did Clemens lie under oath in front of congress? Of course.

Did the government prove that case? Did they ever have a chance at convicting him? And was it worth it to spend the amount of money, time and other resources they did for a case that wasn’t likely to result in any significant jail time—if he had to serve time at all?

No.

In a strange way justice was done in the court of reality.

Does Clemens deserve to get into the Hall of Fame? Will he?

It’s obvious that Clemens did use PEDs to rejuvenate his career. But anecdotal evidence and the leaked findings of the Mitchell Report don’t constitute enough to warrant his exclusion from the Hall of Fame. The writers—many of whom have their own biases and look for reasons to keep players out—could keep any player from Babe Ruth onward out of the Hall of Fame.

Because there are no ironclad rules for induction based on statistics or anything else, there are no rules for exclusion either. We can debate it, but when egos and self-important gatekeeping is involved, few minds will be swayed.

Roger Clemens belongs in the Hall of Fame because he was not a creation of PEDs as certain players like Rafael Palmeiro were. Clemens was a Hall of Famer before he was accused, therefore he’s a Hall of Famer after he was accused.

It’s too soon to say whether or not he’ll get in. I don’t think it’s as easy to determine one way or the other until there’s a vote. For a player like Mark McGwire, he was a creation of the drugs. The same goes for Sammy Sosa. They’re not getting in.

For players like Clemens and Barry Bonds, they were great without the PEDs and they used them to lengthen their careers or maintain competitiveness by doing something that the majority of baseball was doing with the tacit approval of baseball itself.

If the drugs weren’t banned, how can they be punished for doing something they weren’t officially caught doing and that no one said they shouldn’t have done until after the fact?

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Hamilton’s Poised For A Run At The Home Run Record, But Which One?

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Josh Hamilton‘s home run binge is making a run at the major league record a legitimate possibility.

The question is, which record? Is it 61 or 73?

Given the retrospective knowledge that Mark McGwire was using steroids as he achieved his massive power display that led to him hitting 70 home runs in 1998 and the allegations that have followed Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds as they hit 66 and 73 respectively, is Hamilton going to be after Bonds’s record? Or will he be judged as the “clean” home run king if he beats Roger Maris’s 61?

It’s ironic that someone with Hamilton’s history of substance abuse has the word “clean” next to him in a context other than recreational drugs and alcohol. There have never been any performance enhancing drug allegations levied against Hamilton. He’s a supremely talented and streaky individual who’s playing his home games in a hitter’s heaven. He’s not someone who would need PEDs to achieve those heights, validating a home run chase even more.

Hamilton hit 4 homers in one game against the Orioles last week and has 18 in the Rangers’ 36 games so far. The big obstacles in his path are staying healthy on and off the field and which record he’s chasing. By mid-summer, that’s going to heat up with the weather.

Hamilton has put up bigger power numbers at home than on the road. In his MVP season of 2010, he had a slash line of .390/.438/.750 at the Ballpark in Arlington with 22 homers in 69 games; on the road, it was .327/.382/.512 with 10 homers. The numbers at home and on the road were similar last season with a .912 OPS and 14 homers at home and .852 and 11 homers on the road.

So far in 2012, he has a 1.464 OPS with 11 homers on the road and a 1.159 OPS and 7 homers at home. Obviously he’s not going to keep that up, but he’s gotten off to this blazing start and is singing for his free agent supper. The injuries wouldn’t stop a team from paying Hamilton after the season; but his substance abuse problems could very well dissuade an interested team from paying him for his talent. There are real and understandable concerns that he’s a risk to return to alcohol and/or drugs if he’s lavished with a guaranteed contract of untold riches.

If he approaches or sets the record for home runs, there will be a team to pay him something close to the $214 million Prince Fielder got from the Tigers. Positives are easy to sell when signing a player. Negatives are seen as excuses to be cheap. Home runs are more entrenched in the public consciousness than his off-field woes and there will be one team to roll the dice.

Bonds, McGwire and Sosa all broke Maris’s record, but given what we know now, it’s not old-school whining to suggest that Maris is still the home run champion. There’s an argument for just that position. In the record books, Bonds is the home run king, but the fans do have a say in the matter.

Hamilton’s not hitting 74 home runs. But he might hit 62.

Which record will it be?

Let the debate begin.

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Hall of Fame 2012—Larkin and Raines and Pray for the Sane?

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Let’s talk about the Hall of Fame candidates for 2012.

I use every aspect of a player to assess his candidacy from stats; to perception; to era; to post-season performances; to contributions to the game.

Any of the above can add or subtract credentials and provide impetus to give a thumbs up/thumbs down.

Because the Lords of baseball, the owners, media and fans looked the other way or outright encouraged the drug use and performance enhancers, that doesn’t absolve the players who used the drugs and got caught.

Regarding PEDs, here’s my simple criteria based on the eventual candidacies of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds: if the players were Hall of Famers before they started using, they’re Hall of Famers; if they admitted using the drugs—for whatever reason, self-serving or not—or got caught and it’s statistically obvious how they achieved their Hall of Fame numbers, they’re not Hall of Famers.

As for stats, advanced and otherwise, it’s all part of the consideration process; certain stats and in-depth examinations make players (like Bert Blyleven) more worthy in the eyes of open-minded voters than they were before; the era and what they were asked to do (i.e. “you’re here to swing the bat and drive in runs” a la Andre Dawson and Jim Rice) fall into this category of not simply being about the bottom-line. Their career arcs; their sudden rise and fall and other factors come into the equation.

In short, this is my ballot and what I would do if I had a vote. If you disagree, we can debate it. Comment and I’ll respond.

Barry Larkin

Larkin should wait a bit longer.

He was overrated defensively and only played in more than 145 games in 7 of his 19 seasons. Larkin was a very good player who’s benefiting from certain factions promoting him as a no-doubter with the weak-minded sheep unable to formulate a case against him and joining the wave of support.

Alan Trammell is in the same boat as Larkin and is barely getting any support at all.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Yes.

Alan Trammell

Trammell was a fine fielder and an excellent hitter in the days before shortstops were expected to hit. He’s being unfairly ignored.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Maybe, but not by the writers.

Jack Morris

Morris was a durable winner who doesn’t have the statistics to get into the Hall of Fame. To be completely fair, his starts on a year-to-year basis have to be torn apart to see whether his high ERA is due to a few bad starts sprinkled in with his good ones and if he has a macro-argument for induction. It was that endeavor which convinced me of Blyleven’s suitability and I’ve yet to do it with Morris.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? His percentage has risen incrementally but with three years remaining on the ballot, he’s got a long way to go from 53.5% to 75% and probably won’t make it. The Veterans Committee is his only chance. They might vote him in.

Tim Raines

Are you going to support Kenny Lofton for the Hall of Fame?

By the same argument for Lou Brock and Raines, you have to support Lofton.

And how about Johnny Damon? And if Damon, Lofton and Raines are in, where is it going to stop?

The Hall of Fame building isn’t going to implode with Raines, but it might burst from the rest of the players who are going to have a legitimate case for entry and going by: “if <X> is in, then <Y> should be in”.

Let Raines wait.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Yes.

Jeff Bagwell

How does this work? Someone is a suspect so they receive a sentence of exclusion when nothing has ever been proven? Bagwell’s name has never been mentioned as having been involved in PEDs and the silly “he went from a skinny third baseman to a massive first baseman who could bench press 315 pounds for reps” isn’t a convincing one to keep him out.

Bagwell’s a Hall of Famer.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? No. Bagwell is going to get caught up in the onrush of allegations of wrongdoing and people will forget about him.

Mark McGwire

Under my Bonds/Clemens criteria, McGwire wasn’t a Hall of Famer without the drugs, so he’s not a Hall of Famer. McGwire admitted his steroid use and apologized as a self-serving, “yeah, y’know sorry (sob, sniff)” because he wanted to work as the Cardinals hitting coach.

An apology laden with caveats isn’t an apology. He’s sorry in context and that’s not good enough.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? No.

Juan Gonzalez

Gonzalez won two MVPs and his stats weren’t padded by playing in Rangers Ballpark to the degree that you’d think because the numbers were similar home and road; Gonzalez has a viable resume but will get caught up in the Dale Murphy category and be kept out.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? No.

Edgar Martinez

I’ve written repeatedly in response to those who say a pure DH shouldn’t get into the Hall of Fame: it would’ve been more selfish for Martinez to demand to play the field for the sake of appearance so he’d have a better chance at the Hall of Fame.

He was a great hitter without a weakness—there was nowhere to pitch him.

Martinez is a Hall of Famer.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Maybe.

Larry Walker

He batted .381 in Colorado with a .462 on base and 1.172 OPS. That’s going to hurt him badly.

But he was a Gold Glove outfielder who rarely struck out and had good but not great numbers on the road.

He was never implicated in having used PEDs.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? I don’t think so.

Rafael Palmeiro

In my book, arrogance and stupidity are perfectly good reasons to exclude someone.

Palmeiro could’ve kept his mouth shut or not even gone to speak to Congress at all—the players weren’t under any legal requirement to go. He didn’t jab his finger in the faces of the panel, he jabbed it in the faces of you, me and the world.

Then he got caught.

Then he piled sludge on top of the gunk by offering the utterly preposterous excuse that he didn’t know how he failed the test.

This is all after he began his career as a singles hitter…in Wrigley Field!!

Conveniently, he got to Texas and came under the influence of Jose Canseco to become a basher.

Don’t insult my intelligence and expect me to forget it.

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? No.

Bernie Williams

Combining his stretch of brilliance from 1995-2002 and his post-season excellence, he’s not an automatic in or out; over the long term he might garner increasing support.

He was never accused of PED use and is a well-liked person. Looking at his regular season numbers, he falls short; memorable playoff and World Series moments will help him as will his Gold Gloves (in spite of the numbers saying he wasn’t a good center fielder).

Will he be elected in 2012? No.

Will he be elected eventually? Possibly.

Larkin and Raines might get enshrined in 2012 by the “we have to have someone” contingent which pretty much proves the silliness of the way players are voted in, but it will only be those two.

Ron Santo is going in via the Veterans Committee and he’s dead; Tim McCarver is deservedly going in via the Ford C. Frick Award for broadcasting and a large crowd won’t gather to see McCarver as the only one speaking in August. So politics and finances may play a part for this class.

Raines and Larkin had better hope they get in this year because in 2013, Clemens, Bonds, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling, Sammy Sosa and Craig Biggio are on the ballot.

I’m quite curious about Sosa to the point of supporting him because: A) I’d like to see the color of his skin now after a strange Michael Jackson-like alteration from what he once was; and B) I want to know if he learned English since his own appearance (alongside Palmeiro) in front of Congress.

It’s worth the vote in a non-linear sort of way.

Apart from that, it’s 2012 or wait, wait, wait for Larkin and Raines.

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