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Cheaters and the Baseball Hall of Fame: The Hypocrisy and Arrogance of the Baseball Writers of the BBWAA

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“Cheating is baseball’s oldest profession. No other game is so rich in skullduggery, so suited to it or so proud of it.” Thomas Boswell

I love baseball. Everything about it. The good, the bad and the ugly. It is a game that to me represents the human condition better than any other game. I am amazed by the feats of ballplayers of today and yesterday. I am also a realist and know that like the rest of us, that baseball players are human. I believe that God speaks to me though baseball and there is no other place in the world that I feel more at peace than watching a ballgame in a ballpark. It is an elixir for my soul.

However baseball, despite its perfection as a game is a game played by, written about and watched by a very imperfect cast. Including me. I know a lot of ball players, men who have played in the Majors and Minors and I admire them. I admire their dedication and the sacrifices that they make to be the best. I admire the fact that many toil in the obscurity of the Minor Leagues for years before even getting a chance to play “in the show.” Not many actually get careers in the Majors, and a decided minority have the lifetime performance to even merit being honored in the Hall of Fame.

The Baseball Writers who decide on the election of baseball players into the Baseball Hall of Fame decided that this year, that no players should be inducted into the Hall of Fame. It was due in part to their interpretation of the rules that allow for the writers to consider issues of character can be considered in the voting process. It was the first time in four decades that no players were elected to the hall.

The vote was seen as the writers judgement on the players of the steroid era, an era that until it became unpopular was heralded by many of the same writers as a time of revival in the sport. The same writers that reveled in the domination of Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling on the pitchers mound, the great home run race between Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa, the massive home runs of Barry Bonds or the stellar performances of so many other players of the era. The cheerleaders became the morality police. Not that the use of PEDs was right by any means but the moral indignation of the writers that chose to use their vote or lack of a vote as a means of punishment seems to me to ooze hypocrisy.

I am sure that is the case.

Not that I am in favor of cheating or cheaters. However that being said, the bar that these players are being held to is higher than that of baseball cheaters of previous generations, of which some are honored in the same Hall of Fame that the writers exclude those of the steroid era. It seems to me to me that the writers are being just a bit hypocritical and cynical concerning the history of the game and the Hall of Fame.

That is easy for them to do because we Americans, possibly more than any other people love to tear down our heroes and those that excel at what they do. We are one of the most moralistic peoples on the face of the earth, and nowhere more does that moralistic tenor show up than in baseball. Football and basketball, cheating is not so bad, but cheating in baseball that is somehow a greater sin than almost anything in our society. Tax cheats, adulterers, academic cheats and plagiarists as well murderers and other stellar members of society, including lawyers and politicians find it easy to damn baseball players for cheating.

However, the Hall of Fame membership includes many of the best in baseball as well as some pretty lousy human beings who just happened to be great baseball players. It is a place of history where the disgraced members of the 1919 Chicago White Sox have a place, though not as members. It is a place that has enshrined admitted cheaters of previous eras. It is a place that has enshrined racists, bullies, wife beaters drunks philanderers adulterers and even an accused murderer.

It is also an institution that for decades excluded some of the best ballplayers who ever played the game because they were black and had to play in the segregated Negro Leagues. It’s greatest snub was to the legendary Negro League, player manager and later Major League Coach and scout Buck O’Neil, who it never admitted.

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Buck O’Neil Out, Ty Cobb in

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Ty Cobb was a violent man and as racist as they come. He once assaulted a fan, a fan with no arms for jeering him. He attacked a black groundskeeper for attempting to shake his hand and then attempted to strangle the man’s wife when she came to his aid. Babe Ruth would show up drunk for games and slept around with any attractive woman of the female persuasion. There are a host of unsavory characters in the Hall of Fame besides the admitted cheaters and suspected cheaters of bygone times. Hell, Hank Aaron and admitted to using amphetamines what were then known as “Greenies” and players testified under oath that Willie Stargell, another first ballot Hall of Famer not only took amphetamines but dispensed them to team mates. They used them to perform better and they were not alone. Thus to me the self-righteous indignation of the writers against the players of the Steroid Era and that of some fans is just that.

The cheaters didn’t just include drug users although the fact that players have been juiced for decades was known in early 1970s. The Mitchell Report on the use of performance enhancing drugs made this comment:

“In 1973, a Congressional subcommittee announced that its staff had completed an “in depth study into the use of illegal and dangerous drugs in sports” including professional baseball. The subcommittee concluded that “the degree of improper drug use – primarily amphetamines and anabolic steroids – can only be described as alarming.”

That was 1973. But cheating hasn’t been limited to performance enhancing drugs. The were men who threw illegal pitches or altered baseballs. Managers and organizations that specialized in stealing the signs of opposing teams, corking bats and many other tricks and sleights of hand designed to help them win games.

When Sammy Sosa was exposed for his use of a corked bat then Chicago Cubs General Manager Andy McPhail said: “There is a culture of deception in this game. It’s been in this game for 100 years. I do not look at this in terms of ethics. It’s the culture of the game.”

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Rogers Hornsby, the amazing Second Baseman of the St Louis Cardinals who batted over .400 three times in his career said “I’ve been in pro baseball since 1914 and I’ve cheated, or watched someone on my team cheat, in practically every game. You’ve got to cheat.”

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Pitcher Gaylord Perry wrote in his autobiography before he was elected to the Hall of Fame “I’d always have it (grease) in at least two places, in case the umpires would ask me to wipe one off. I never wanted to be caught out there with anything though, it wouldn’t be professional.” Mind you that the “spitball or grease ball” had been illegal for decades when he made his admission.

Yankees great Whitey Ford admitted his cheating. “I didn’t begin cheating until late in my career, when I needed something to help me survive. I didn’t cheat when I won the twenty-five games in 1961. I don’t want anybody to get any ideas and take my Cy Young Award away. And I didn’t cheat in 1963 when I won twenty-four games. Well, maybe a little.”

Hank Greenberg, one of the premier power hitters of his day discussed how the stealing of signs helped him. “I loved that. I was the greatest hitter in the world when I knew what kind of pitch was coming up.”

Hall of Fame managers like Leo Durocher and Earl Weaver, have been quoted, even if they meant it in jest, advocating cheating. Durocher said “Win any way you can as long as you can get away with it.” and Weaver reported told a pitcher “If you know how to cheat, start now.”

To me election to the Hall of Fame should be a place of history where the greatest performers in the game should be enshrined. It should not be a place where writers, many of whom no longer actively cover the game sit as modern Pharisees pointing out the grain of sand in the eye of the accused players while ignoring the logs in their own eyes.

The use of the drugs probably has harmed the health of those that used them. The records set in the era will be debated. But there are so many other things that affect records. The 154 game versus the 162 game season, the Dead Ball Era, the segregated era, the war years where greats like Ted Williams missed their best years because they were serving in the military all affected the game and influenced who was inducted and who was not inducted into the Hall of Fame.

In baseball records are also kind of fuzzy because of changes in the game. Additionally characteristics as innocuous as the differences in baseball stadiums, their dimensions, geography, turf and weather conditions on hitting and pitching play a huge part in any players career.

Baseball fans and players will make their own judgements about the character of individual players as well as the historical significance of the Steroid Era. The era was not good for baseball despite the records set because it brought to light a culture that existed for at least a century. A culture that is not just a baseball culture but part of the American culture, a culture that honors liars and cheaters in politics, law, banking and a host of other professions including religion.

Well that is enough for tonight. Let him who is without sin throw out the first ball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Quiet Achievement: Jim Thome Hammers Two Home Runs to join Elite 600 Home Run Club

Jim Thome Hits Number 600 (AP Photo)

“Not only is he a great player, but he’s a great individual… I think he was a little apprehensive about passing me up. I said, ‘Jim, I passed a lot of guys up myself along the way. I hope you hit 100 more.'”  Harmon Killebrew on Jim Thome passing him on the home run list with 574 Home Runs in 2010.

There was little build up or fanfare leading up to the Twins and Tigers game tonight. There should have been as one of baseball’s “good guys” did something that only 7 other Major leaguers had ever done, hit 600 home runs.  Maybe it is because he now plays for the Minnesota Twins who are in the midst of one of their worst seasons in recent memory.  Minneapolis is not exactly the center of the sports media universe like New Yorkwhere almost every at bat of Derek Jeter was covered in his quest to reach the 3000 hit mark.  However to me it doesn’t matter. I have been a Jime Thome fan for a long time and while I may be in North Carolina I was watching live when ESPN switched from the Giants-Braves game to the Twins-Tigers game to cover Thome’s at bat in the 7th inning.

A Smile and a Handshake (Getty Images)

Thome came to the plate after hitting home run 599 a two run shot off of Rick Porcello during his previous at bat in the 6th inning.  He was facing Tigers pitcher Daniel Schlereth and with a 2-1 count and two runners on base Thome hit Schlereth’s pitch over the Left Field fence for number 600.  He rounded the bases at Comerica Park in Detroit to a standing ovation given by the Tiger fans as well as his teammates and his family who were also in attendance who also greeted him on the field. On the scoreboard the home team congratulated Thome’s achievement;Detroit does recognize great baseball achievement’s even when it comes at the bat of an opponent.

It was a special moment that all baseball fans should celebrate and that non baseball fans should also take note of because Thome accomplished this huge feat, a feat even great than Jeter reaching 3000 hits Out of the 17,000 plus players that have played in the Majors only 8 have hit 600 or more home runs while 28 players have over 3000 hits.

Thome Honored by Teammates and Opposing Fans

Thome has struggled with injury this year and has not had his best year. He is beginning to show his 40 years the oldest player to reach the 600 mark, the previous being the then 38 year old Sammy Sosa in 2007.  Despite this he was the second fastest player to reach 600 home runs reaching it in at bat 8137 games as opposed to Babe Ruth who by far reached it faster than anyone else needing only 6921 at bats to reach 600 on his way to 714.  In reaching the 600 mark Thome joins Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., Alex Rodriguez and Sammy Sosa in the 600 club.

Thome reached the mark without a lot of fanfare or for that matter controversy. He was never tainted by the steroid controversy and is one of the nicest people in baseball, not hesitating to talk to children that come up to him in public or people that knew him in his early days.  His teammate Michael Cuddyer said “He is the nicest, gentlest, kindest guy you will ever meet … When he walks in a room, everyone watches everything he does. It’s the way he treats people, it’s the way he respects the game….”

His manager Ron Gardenhire said “He’s like Babe Ruth around here…The fans here get all mad at me for not playing him every day.”

Thome is known around the league for his work ethic and will to win.  He worked hard at his craft initially beginning as an outfielder before being converted to Third Base.  Unassuming he once said “I always had to work to be good, because I never was very good. I mean, I always had to work to get where I wanted to be. It was never easy. It still isn’t. It still isn’t.” He is called by some today’s Harmon Killebrew, a complement by any standard of measurement.  I’m sure that Harmon is looking on now cheering and probably telling Saint Pete stories about just how big of an achievement that Thome’s feat is because Thome won’t do it when he meets Saint Pete.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Cheating in Baseball: The Case of Barry Bonds and it’s Relationship to Modern America

Barry Bonds was convicted of one count of Obstruction of Justice in his trial on perjury charges. The obstruction count came as a result of Bonds’ 2003 Grand Jury testimony.  The three perjury charges were deadlocked and the judge has the option of retrying them.  Bonds’ defense team asked for the verdict to be set aside and the judge did not immediately rule on the request.  The Bonds legal saga is not over as a decision to retry the deadlocked perjury charges, the judge acting on the defense motion to set aside the guilty verdict and the outcome sentencing and any appeals are still to come.

Meanwhile the steroids era just will not go away as Roger Clemons is soon to stand trial for lying to Congress about his alleged steroid use and Manny Ramirez ended his already tarnished career with yet another positive steroid sample.  Ramirez should have known better. He was on the list of 103 players that tested positive in 2003 and he was suspended for 50 games last year for a positive test while playing on the Los Angeles Dodgers.  The fact that he was caught once again suggests that he was either incredibly arrogant or stupid or possibly both.

Unfortunately they are not alone. In fact 6 of the top 14 home run leaders (in italics) of all time are tainted by steroids only one of whom is still active.  Jim Thome who is also active has not been implicated in the steroids scandals but will still likely be scrutinized simply because he hit a lot of home runs during the era.  The sad thing is that the use of steroids according to some was so prevalent that almost anyone who set records during the era tainted or not will be viewed with suspicion.  As for Bonds people made up their minds about him years ago and there is little middle ground when it comes to him. The only thing now is how baseball will deal with the records of Bonds and the other players of the steroid era and admit him or any of them into the Hall of Fame.

1              Barry Bonds           762

2              Hank Aaron            755

3              Babe Ruth               714

4              Willie Mays             660

5              Ken Griffey, Jr.      630

6              Alex Rodriguez      617

7              Sammy Sosa          609

8              Jim Thome              590

9              Frank Robinson     586

10           Mark McGwire      583

11           Harmon Killebrew 573

12           Rafael Palmeiro                    569

13           Reggie Jackson      563

14           Manny Ramírez                    555

Now some like Palmeiro went and shook their fingers at Congress and then popped positive, not smart but so many others could very well have done steroids that have not been caught that we will never know.  There are numerous reports which implicate others most of whom will never be prosecuted or banned from baseball.  But thanks to IRS Special Agent Jeff Novitsky who transferred to the FDA to pursue elite athletes Bonds, Clemons and other legends of various sports have been singled out for prosecution in what amounts to a witch hunt designed to bring down the biggest names in sports.  In the case of Bonds this has cost the taxpayer over 50 million dollars.  In an era of massive deficits is this a good way to spend our money to get a guilty verdict on just one charge after almost 8 years of work?  To me it seems that Novitsky and his team have made a special effort including violating court prescribed limitations of search and seizure at the BALCO labs and to ensure that the case was tried in the media before Bonds ever went to court.  Do the math: 1 player, 8 years, 50 million dollars and 1 guilty verdict on one count of 5 that went to trial and 4 that went to the jury.

That being said I believe that Bonds knowingly took steroids as did so many of the players of his era and though Bonds has not admitted anything I imagine that he started to take steroids because of the wild success of those that were taking such as Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa neither of who had all of the natural talent and ability of Bonds who was on course to be a Hall of Famer before he started using.  I wish that he had admitted that he did back in 2003 it probably would have done much to help end the era as well as put others on notice and it is likely that instead of being ever in our face the Steroid era would be in the past.  The conviction even on the one count of obstruction says much in how he is perceived in court and in public. While Bonds has many supporters he also has many detractors.

I think as does Bob Costas that Bonds should be elected to the Hall of Fame, not on the first ballot for sure because unlike McGuire and Sosa he was heading to hall of fame well before his numbers became inflated after the 1997 season.  Despite the fact that steroids undoubtedly had some impact there were many others that took steroids and still couldn’t hit, many that couldn’t get out of the minor leagues. To quote Minnesota Twins outfielder Shannon Stewart who was interviewed by Minneapolis Star Tribune sports writer Paul Reusse:

“The truth is, there were so many guys taking steroids for a few years, and they couldn’t hit like Barry Bonds. In my opinion, a guy hitting with a corked bat is taking a bigger advantage than someone who was on steroids….If Bonds was doing all of this … you still have to hit the ball. He still was going to hit 40 or 50 (each season), with or without steroids.”

Zach Moore compiled an interesting and enlightening portrait of Bonds’ performance before he began allegedly using steroids in 1998. I post it here with the link because with or without steroids Bonds would have made the Hall of Fame based on his pre-1998 statistics.  True he may not have topped Aaron or Ruth in Home Runs but the numbers and the company they put him in are impressive.

“Bonds’ stats prior to the 1998 season include a .288 batting average, a .408 on-base percentage, and a .551 slugging percentage. He had 1,750 hits, which included 321 doubles, 56 triples, and 374 round trippers. He drove in 1,094 runs, while crossing the plate 1,244 times himself.

He did all that while also walking 1,227 times. Bonds was not only a threat at the plate, but once he got on base, he stole 417 times. He did all this while only striking out 958 times.

In The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, which was written just before the 2001 season during which Bonds hit 73 home runs, he calls Bonds “the most un-appreciated superstar of his lifetime.” That is one reason for Bonds’ desire to use steroids, according to Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams in Game of Shadows.

In the section of the Abstract where James ranks his 100 best players at each position of all time, James ranks Bonds the third best left fielder ever, only behind Ted Williams and Stan Musial.

James also calls Bonds “probably the second- or third-best hitter among the 100 listed left fielders (behind Williams and perhaps Musial), probably the third-best baserunner (behind Henderson and Raines), probably the best defensive left fielder. Griffey has always been more popular, but Bonds has been a far, far greater player.”

The astounding part about this is that James wrote this before Ken Griffey Jr. started getting hurt, so he could still vividly remember Griffey gliding around centerfield, robbing home runs, stealing bases, and that beautiful swing.

On the next page, James then went on to list his 10 best players of the 1990s; Bonds leads that list, with Craig Biggio of the Houston Astros coming in second, the 10th player on that list is Greg Maddux. I say this because James goes on to say, “the No. 2 man, Biggio, is closer in value to the No. 10 man than he is to Bonds.”

We tend to forget how good Bonds was, even before he went on this steroid-aided home run tear of recent years sometimes.

I can’t compare his 12-year career statistics with any one player because his ability to do everything does not allow that. Instead, I’ll use a few different Hall of Famers to nail home the point.

His .288 average is higher than both Rickey Henderson’s .282 and Carl Yastrzemski’s .285.

He hit 101 fewer home runs then Stan Musial in about eight less seasons and also hit 13 more home runs than Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio.

His on-base percentage was one point lower then Manny Ramirez’s current .409 career mark, and it tied Jackie Robinson’s career OBP.

Listen carefully to this next statistic, with his 12-year all-natural career, Bonds’ career slugging percentage of .551 would be eight points lower than Musial’s, six points lower than his godfather Willie Mays’, five points lower than Mickey Mantle’s, and only three points lower than Hammerin’ Hank Aaron’s.

Bonds had 15 less career runs scored than HOF centerfielder Duke Snider.

He finished with 29 less hits than HOF infielder Lou Boudreau.

Kirby Puckett’s 1,085 RBIs were nine less than Bonds’ sum. His 321 doubles tied Yogi Berra’s.

Bonds’ 1,227 base on balls are still more than future Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr., Chipper Jones, and Manny Ramirez’s current totals. He even had more than walk machine Jason Giambi, and he did it in only 12 seasons.

Bonds’ 417 stolen bases put him in the top 65 all-time.

Another testament to his incredible combination of speed and power is that he is one of only four players in the 40/40 Club (home runs and steals). He actually did it during 1996 when he was clean.

The other three members of that club are fellow abuser Jose Canseco who did it in 1988, Alex Rodriguez who did it in 1998 when he was still with the Mariners, and Alfonso Soriano who did it in 2006.

After only 12 seasons in the Major Leagues, Barry Bonds was unquestionably a first-ballot Hall of Famer.”  http://bleacherreport.com/articles/40505-were-barry-bonds-and-roger-clemens-hall-of-famers-before-steroids

Additionally Bonds before 1998 was a 7 time Gold Glove winner, 3 time MVP and 6 time Silver Slugger Award winner. For a complete list of Bonds accolades see the Baseball Almanac page at http://www.baseball-almanac.com/players/awards.php?p=bondsba01  Even after he was alleged to use steroids he won the 2004 Hank Aaron Award, the 2004 Most Valuable Player Award, 2004 Players Choice Outstanding Player of the Year Award, 2004 Players Choice Player of the Year Award, 2004 National League Silver Slugger Award and 2004 Sporting News Major League Player of the Year Award.  In a sense despite a widespread suspicion that he was using steroids the players and media recognized him as the best in the game. Then they didn’t seem very concerned about the possibility that he might have cheated. Now many in the media who made their money promoting Bonds condemn him as do many fans that have since abandoned him.  To me it is hypocritical.  Yes I think that he cheated but that takes little away from his pre-steroid accomplishments.

Because of the alleged steroid use and the subsequent investigation, trial and conviction he will be remembered as a cheater. However morally he is no different than all the players of the Steroid eras who abused PEDs but who were nowhere close to his skills and performance.  Bonds was certainly was an amazing player. His overall numbers would very well be lower without steroids especially the home runs, but he very well may have been the greatest overall player since his Godfather Willie Mays even without them.  Not many players can say that.

Bonds biggest problem was that he displayed a sense of arrogance toward the game and the law, the same arrogance that made him such a fearsome hitter even before steroids. The same is true with Roger Clemons, quite probably the greatest pitcher of the modern era. Like Bonds before him Clemons’ refusal to deal with the issue of his alleged steroid use forthrightly before Congress; will likely end in some kind of criminal conviction and Clemons in his first 14 seasons was certainly a Hall of Famer. I won’t go into his statistics here but they are also covered in Zack Moore’s article.

Are there men that cheated in the Hall of Fame? Yes one of the most flagrant being Gaylord Perry who admitted after his retirement and before his election to the Hall of Fame that he threw the “spit ball” which was illegal his entire career.  Players who “corked” bats were common but most were never caught because unlike today their bats were never inspected.  Pitchers used the spit ball, emery boards, diamond rings and sandpaper to alter the baseball to give it extra movement.  Since all ballplayers are human beings I have no doubt that had the technology to produce PEDs been available between the end of the Dead Ball era in 1919 and the late 1980s when they arrived on the scene that players would have abused them in order to increase their performance, win games and extend their careers.  Likewise they would have been cheered as much as the home run leaders of the 1990s were until they were exposed.  All one has to do is take a look at those who are known to have cheated as documented in this ESPN article http://espn.go.com/page2/s/list/cheaters/ballplayers.html  a number of whom are in the Hall of Fame.

My contention in this article is not that Bonds did not cheat the evidence certainly looks like he used steroids which were banned when he allegedly started using. Instead I would say that Bonds has been unfairly singled out by people in the government, the media and even in the game that would rather tear down a man than to place his actions in the broader context of the game, the era, human nature and history.  This will happens to Clemons too but not many others.

Meanwhile the government bails out financial institutions and industries that have defrauded the American public and helped impoverish the nation. We excuse the illegal and unethical lives of politicians and Presidential Candidates so long as they our on our side of the politic spectrum or failing that against the party that we oppose and we give churches and clergy who harm innocents a pass and say that the accusers are persecuting the Church. We worship celebrity and idolize people with talent or looks but not much else but we will do our best to destroy athletes who break the rules of their game.  Isn’t that somewhat hypocritical.

To put things in context I am 51 years old and coming up on 30 years in the military between the Army and Navy. In order to get the highest category of score on my Physical Fitness Test I have to perform at almost the same level as I did as a young Army enlisted man, ROTC Cadet and Officer. Likewise I have to meet almost identical height, weight and body fat standards.  On the physical side I can still outperform many young men 20-30 years younger than me. I deal with nagging injuries to my knees, shoulders and have a very fragile ankle that I have sprained or broken so many times that it is not even funny.  I suffer chronic pain. If someone had a way other than Icy Hot and 800mg Motrin to ease the pain and help my performance I cannot say that I wouldn’t take it, I probably wouldn’t break the law if it was illegal to use but if it wasn’t illegal but merely questionable I might use it.  I have another 5-7 years left before I expect to retire and like Mickey Mantle said “I always loved the game, but when my legs weren’t hurting it was a lot easier to love.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Mark McGuire, Tony LaRussa and the Dirty Secret of the Steroid Era

Mark McGuire’s Admission of Steroid Use Has Provoked More Debate About the Steroid Era

Mark McGuire admitted that he used steroids in the 1990s during his electric home run barrage that for a time anyway gave him the single season home run title.  The summer of 1998 was one that captivated baseball fans and America as McGuire and Sammy Sosa slugged their way to what many would think would be baseball immortality.

Jose Canseco’s Claims of Rampant Steroid Use in Baseball Seem to have Been Born Out

First came the allegations by Jose Canseco that he had McGuire regular shot up with steroids in the clubhouse of the Oakland A’s whose manager just happened to be Tony LaRussa. McGuire vehemently denied his former friend and teammate Canseco’s allegations in the book Juiced even last night in his interview with Bob Costas, however McGuire now suffers a credibility gap after his denials back when Canseco published his book and later.  The claim which can be boiled down to “Yeah I did steroids but not like that” doesn’t hold water to me as much as I want to believe McGuire who I really do think is a good person, fantastic ballplayer and a man who gave a lot back to baseball and his community during his career.  Canseco was heavily criticized for the tone of his book but the allegations seem to be more right than wrong.

Sammy Sosa Went From Hero to Zero After Steroids and Corked Bats

However, even as many dismissed Canseco’s charges and baseball turned its back on him others came under suspicion including Sosa and eventually Barry Bonds and pitching great Roger Clemons.  As one superstar after another either was accused, implicated or had their name come up on a list of players who had allegedly tested positive in a screening done by baseball the scandal grew in proportion to McGuire’s massive arms.  An entire era was tainted and every player even those who had not done steroids or other banned performance enhancing drugs were viewed with suspicion.

At the same time the self righteous attacks on the players by many in the media which in a sense rightly accused them of cheating missed a number of important issues.  The first in my opinion of is the responsibility of baseball’s management and ownership which had turned a blind eye to what the players were doing and the fact that these players were not the first to cheat in one way or another.  A secondary note is that for a time in the 1990s many of these substances had not been banned by the game and that some, especially HGH are legal in other countries and with the continual advances in pharmaceutical development may eventually be legal in this country.  Thus what was yesterday’s “banned substance” may end up being tomorrow’s “miracle drug” but the players who were then “criminals” or “cheaters” will still have their names sullied by a culture’s inability to keep up with technology.

Tony La Russa and Other Managers Have to Shoulder Some Responsibility for the Steroids Era

The responsibility of management is demonstrated by LaRussa who in his nearly two decade association with McGuire cannot have missed McGuire’s and others steroid use.  Baseball teams are somewhat like small elite military units, players, coaches and managers live in a very small world, a world in some sense protected by the clubhouse door.  Owners, managers, coaches and other staff in particular the physicians; trainers and strength and condition coaches know what is going on with their highly paid players. It would demonstrate the height of incompetence for a staff not to know what their players were doing.  The fact that many claim ignorance of what players tells me that they are either lying or so incredibly unaware of their surroundings that it would be impossible for them to manage at the professional level.  Add to this that LaRussa, a lawyer is no dummy; he knows people and can read what is going on and his claim that the first that he knew of McGuire’s steroids use was when McGuire called him yesterday it is hard to believe.  However, in defense of LaRussa I do believe as he told “Mike and Mike” on ESPN that he believed that he felt bound by some of the things going on in the game regarding players unions and other factors that he and others were slow to respond. Other managers, coaches and team owners, while not lawyers are certainly adept at knowing people; and could not have been unaware of the use of steroids and other banned substances by their players. Good coaches know when players are lying.

This is not just a player’s issue it extends to management and also to the players union, the media members who on a daily basis associated with players, coaches and managers and even ownership who turned a blind eye to the obvious.  If steroid abuse was a big deal that they thought was wrong they all, including the player’s union should have instituted stringent testing measures when the allegations about major stars began to surface.

Likewise there is baseball’s knowing tolerance of cheaters in the past, to include current members of the hall of fame.  It was common knowledge that in earlier times players were using amphetamines to quicken their response on the field, while others played drunk or under the influence of illegal drugs.  Then there were the players such as pitcher Gaylord Perry who in his biography after he retired from the game admitted using the “spit ball” which was never legal during his career and was still voted into the Hall of Fame.  To now throw these players under the bus while not holding ownership, management, coaching staffs, team medical staffs and even the media responsible for not policing this and nipping it in the bud is absolutely hypocritical.  If we want to apply a standard we have to be consistent in the way that we do it.  If Gaylord Perry can be in the Hall of Fame after admitting to using an illegal pitch why can’t the players who used steroids? I can see little moral difference between the two.

Now did McGuire and others actions harm the game itself?  In one sense yes, using these substances they did cheat, but they are not the first and will not be the last to do so. Likewise the fact that they used these drugs places the records that they set in the strange netherworld of trying to determine how much of their performance was effected by the use of these drugs.  Unfortunately there is no quantifiable way to do so.  McGuire says that he does not think that they did but apologized to the son of Roger Maris.  In another sense no, like the players who cheated before them and were not banned from baseball, who did not have their records questioned and who in some cases are in the Hall of Fame did no real permanent harm to the game.  Baseball still survived and maybe one day like Gaylord Perry they will be appreciated.  I doubt that will happen anytime soon but it may.

That is the dirty little secret.  I wish McGuire and all the rest of those implicated in any way with steroids had come clean years ago.  I wish that managers like LaRussa had not tolerated this or had come up and said that they did not believe it to be wrong if indeed as LaRussa says that he believes McGuire when he says that he did it because of career threatening injuries.  If that were to happen to me I am sure that I would use any means to stay in the game and I will not condemn McGuire for this.  Instead baseball ownership, management, the player’s union and the media have tried to have it both ways.  They turned a blind eye to what was happening and many are now crying crocodile tears and throwing the players who made them millions of dollars under the bus.  At least LaRussa has brought McGuire who regardless of his use of steroids is one of the greatest hitters to play the game back into the game to be a hitting coach. I commend LaRussa for doing this as it shows that men like McGuire do not need to remain outside of baseball.  I do hope that other organizations will have the decency to do the same with others of this era.

To me it matters not if any of them get in the Hall of Fame, however if they admit their use even belatedly they should be forgiven and allowed to be part of the game that for a time they were the centerpiece of its success.  Who can ever forget the magical summer of 1998 and how we all were enthralled by what took place on the diamonds that year?  Can anyone who watched the home run derby ever forget it?  I won’t and I still will never forget the day that McGuire broke the record even if the record is tainted because of his use of steroids.  The records are now tainted and nothing can change that. The reputations of McGuire, Sosa and others ruined. But for a time it was magic and it is now time to move forward as we cannot change the past but we can learn from it and make sure that it does not happen again.  Baseball means too much to America to remain stuck in an era that is now an unfortunate part of the history of the game.

By the way, only a few weeks left until spring training.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Most Exciting Play in the Game- The Electricity of the Inside the Park Home Run

three run homer by fiorentinoJeff Fiorentino Connects in July against Charlotte

There is nothing in the world like a home run.  From the crack of the bat there is a sudden silence and then, if you are the home team a deafening roar as the crowd reacts to the ball sailing over the fence.  Now home runs like this happen every day in baseball, but the “in the Park” home run is something special.  You don’t see many of them. Thus when they occur, the effect on the team and the crowd is electrifying.   I saw my first inside the park home run tonight as Jeff Fiorentino of the Norfolk Tides hit a tailing line drive to left field which eluded Syracuse Sky Chief’s Left Fielder Jorge Padilla. The ball then went to the wall where it was picked up by Padilla .  Fiorentino raced around the bases nearly overtaking Tides Second Baseman Justin Turner and easily beating the relay in to catcher Jhonatan Solano.  Fiorentino also scored a run in the first and singled in a run and later scored what turned out to be the winning run in the 8th giving him 2 hits, 4 RBIs and 3 runs scored and took his average up to .330 on the year moving into third in the International League.  The Tides won the game against the Chiefs 8-6.  The highlights of the game including Fiorentino’s home run are here:

http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/media/player/mp_tpl.jsp?w=http%3A//mfile.akamai.com/14668/wmv/mlb.download.akamai.com/14668/2009/aaa/nor/video/080109_syrnor_august1.wmv&type=v_free&_mp=1

In the park homers are rare and most of the ones hit in baseball history came during the 19th Century Era or the “Dead Ball Era” between 1901 and 1919 during which ballpark outfields were much deeper and more spacious than today’s parks meaning that if a ball got by an outfielder there was a good chance that a batter could get around the base paths and score.  In the modern era Hank Aaron had only one.  A few players have hit them, but they are so rare as to be called “the most exciting play in baseball.” Just to give an example of players in the “500 Club” who have hit inside the park homers, Babe Ruth has ten, Willie Mays six, Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey Junior three each, Sammy Sosa two while Harmon Killebrew and Hank Aaron each have one.  Other players to have hit them in recent years include Emilio Bonafacio who hit one on opening day,  Howie Kendrick of the Angels who hit one on May 9th and Carl Crawford hit one in Tampa Bay on July 20th.  Only one has been hit in an All-Star game and that by Ichiro Suzuki in 2007 at AT&T Park in San Francisco.  Roberto Clemente has the only “walk off” inside the park grand slam.  The last by a Norfolk player was in 2005 by Anderson Hernandez.

Here is a video link to Tigers Curtis Granderson’s 2005 inside the park homer against the Yankees:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TcRaYNtbANA

As I said this was the first inside the park home run that I have ever seen and it was simply an amazing thing of beauty to watch. Patently the Deity Herself ensured I got to see one of these just as I had seen a no-hitter back in 1975.  I had been up talking with Elliott the Usher about strategy, players and baseball trivia when Jeff Fiorentino came up to the plate in the bottom of the 6th.  I told Elliott that I had to go down to get a picture so I went down by my seat and crouched down in a good catchers stance to stay low and balance myself behind the screen at home plate as I always do when talking my shots.  The first pitch was a ball so I readied myself for the next. When Fiorentino hit the ball I knew it would drop for a hit, when it got by Padilla I knew that it was extra bases and when I looked up and saw how fast Jeff was running I knew this was something special.  I went back up to Elliott the Usher and we did our high five.  We had a scare in the 7th when the Sky Chiefs score two that were charged to starter David Pauley, but somehow, despite losing the lead I knew that the Tides would come back.  In the 8th they did. Blake Davis had an infield single and advanced to second on a throwing error by shortstop Ian Desmond.  He advanced to third on a passed ball.  Fiorentino came up again and singled to drive in Davis to tie the score.  With Brandon Snyder at the plate Chiefs pitcher Jack Spradlin attempted to pick off Fiorentino but threw wide of the base, Fiorentino alertly advanced all the way to third.  Snyder then doubled to score Fiorentino to give the Tides the lead.  Melvin Dorta hit a sacrifice fly to right field scoring Snyder.  Alberto Castillo came in to close the game sealing the Norfolk win.  Sunday evening Radhames Liz (0-2, 6.00) will make his first start for Norfolk since being promoted from Double-A Bowie where he had been sent down to work on control issues in June.  Liz has the distinction of being the only current Minor Leaguer to be in the Major League Baseball 100 mph club having done so when called up by the Orioles in 2008. It should be an interesting game.

Peace, Steve+

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Perfection is a Team Effort: A Decision, a Catch and a Perfect Game

mark buehrle
Mark Buehrle Celebrates his Perfect Game

See the Video of Larry Dewayne Wise’s Catch here:

http://mlb.mlb.com/media/video.jsp?content_id=569925

Chicago White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle pitched the 18th Perfect Game in the history of Major League baseball on Thursday night at Chicago’s U.S. Cellular Field aka the New Comisky Park, on the Second City’s Southside.  This was the second no-hitter of the season and almost the second perfect game.

Perfect games are those rare instances in baseball where any true follower of the game, no matter how partisan of fan e or she may be applauds.  Since there have only been 18 in a century or half or so of play, these are occasions to really appreciate not only the feat of the pitcher in throwing the perfect game, but also the achievement of the team behind him and the manager in the dugout.  A perfect game is one of those rare intersections in life where the stars somehow align and a miracle occurs.  Thus they are to be appreciated, more so than about any other event in any sport.  This is because of the rare and nearly impossible set of circumstance that has to happen for a perfect game to occur.  First the pitcher has to be completely in the zone and in control of the game, no hits, no walks, and no hit batters.  Second the defense has to be perfect, no bobbled balls, and no throwing or fielding errors.  Third, the opposing team cannot get a break, no grounders with eyes, no bloop singles, no bunts that turn into hits and no close calls at first that might go their way.  Lastly the manager has to make the right moves at the right times to ensure the victory.  Thus the perfect game may be credited to the pitcher, but it is a team effort.  This is something that San Francisco Giants pitcher Jonathan Sanchez pitched a no hitter which should have been a perfect game until Giants Third Baseman Juan Uribe booted a ground ball in the 8th inning allowing a runner on base.  Likewise had Giants Center Fielder saved the no-hitter and shutout with one out in the 9th with a leaping catch at the wall.  Buehrle himself had found this out in his no-hitter when he gave up a walk to Sammy Sosa.

Thursday night Mark Buehrle, who pitched a no-hitter in 2007 pitched a great game and was in total control.  Yet he won the game by throwing balls that were put in play and that his defense made the put-outs.  Buehrle threw six strike outs which meant the players behind him made 21 put outs.  In the field a number of good plays were made and one line drive down the third base line by Pat Burrell landed just inches foul in the 8th.

Thus with the White Sox up 5-0 in the 9th manager Ozzie Guillen moved Scott Posednik from Center to Left and replaced him with Wise.  Wise is one of the players whose career batting average hovers near the Mendoza line (.214) (see my post at https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/07/18/crossing-the-mendoza-line-it%E2%80%99s-not-all-about-the-lifetime-batting-average/ ) who has done a commendable job for the Sox this season following the injury and recovery of Carlos Quentin went into the game for the purpose of shoring up the defense.  The Sox were ahead by a comfortable margin, but Guillen knew that history was being made and elected to put Wise in.  With one out in the top of the 9th Rays outfielder Gabe Kapler hit a deep drive to Left-center which was actually over the wall.  Wise raced from center and not having time to set up at the wall to leap for the catch, simply went full bore into the wall, making the grab of the ball on the run about  18 inches above the wall.  As he came down the ball came out of his glove and in the air on the way to crashing to the ground Wise caught the ball a second time, this time with his bare hand to secure the out.  It was simply magic, miraculous and whatever word you can say for “Wow.”  The look and smile on Buehrle’s face said it all; he knew what Wise had done.  When I saw the catch I was reminded of the movie the perfect game, where outfielder Mickey Hart played by Greer Barnes makes a leaping catch to rob a opposing player of a home run and preserve Billy Chapel’s (Kevin Costner) perfect game.

Perfect games are rare and while the pitcher’s name is the one that goes into the record book, the game is a team effort.  The life lesson for me is that no matter how well I do as an individual that there is always a team out there to help me along.  This has never been as apparent to me as since I returned from Iraq.   I guess I appreciate the perfect game even more now that I did before I went.  These things are a team effort and even if I am perfect for some part of my life, patently extremely unlikely, it is because others, who function as my team mates, manager and coaches do the right things to ensure that nothing gets by them and that they make the right moves to preserve any good work that I do.

Peace,  Steve+

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