Finally coming clean

Lance_floyd NEW YORK — Let’s just get it out of the way at the top… Lance Armstrong is going down and he is going down hard. It’s not unreasonable to believe that jail time could be involved for the seven-time Tour de France champion when the government concludes its investigation.

See, the United States federal government does not like it when a person lies to them. It is quirky that way.

But the thing the government dislikes the most is when it doesn’t get a cut of what it believes it has coming. You know, it wants to wet its beak with a tiny bit of the proceeds as tribute for signing off on that whole Bill of Rights thing. Freedom isn’t free, as they say. It costs a mandated percentage of your yearly income unless you make so much money that you can pay an accountant to talk them down.

Think about it… when Michael Vick went to jail for nearly two years it wasn’t so much as for the dog fighting ring he was operating as it was because he didn’t pay a royalty. He served 21 months in prison for felony conspiracy in interstate commerce, which is a fancy way of saying he didn’t cut the government a slice.

What does this have to do with Lance Armstrong? Well, everything, of course. If the guy was riding for a team sponsored by the United States Postal Service, a government agency, and used the equipment supplied to him to sell for performance-enhancing drugs, well, that’s trouble. In fact, it was alleged last year by his former wing man, Floyd Landis, that Team USPS funded its drug habit by selling its equipment. This was realized, according to the accusations, when Landis wanted a training bike and couldn’t get one.

That training bike was injected as EPO.

Regardless, that’s not what this is all about. When word came out that Armstrong’s closest teammates, George Hincappie and Tyler Hamilton, testified for the federal grand jury it was pretty damning. It meant that the United States feels it had been defrauded.

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Filling in

When Tadahito Iguchi arrived in Philadelphia in time for Saturday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, the Phillies’ new second baseman brought with him a lot more than just a suitcase full of clothes and personal items and an equipment bag with his baseball gear.

Better yet, Iguchi brought with him an entire entourage.

Fresh from being traded from the Chicago White Sox to the Phillies on Friday afternoon, Iguchi pulled on his new red-and-white pinstriped uniform, exchanged greetings with Ryan Howard, a friend from last winter’s MLB All-Star tour of Japan, as well as Aaron Rowand, his teammate from the World Champion White Sox team during the 2005 season before taking in his new surroundings.

He even chatted with his manager Charlie Manuel, who like Iguchi was a star in Japan’s Pacific League. Manuel still speaks some Japanese, an ancillary benefit from his six years playing ball as a gai-jin in the Far East, which should help the Phillies’ first Japanese player make an easier transition to his new surroundings.

“He’s got me,” Manuel smiled. “I’ll be his interpreter. I can talk to him.”

First things first, though. Iguchi’s first order of business was to find the lineup card where he located his name in the No. 7 hole at second base, and then greeted the media horde that follows him wherever he goes. Though Iguchi isn’t a well known player to the casual American baseball fan, he was quite popular on the Southside of Chicago and remains one of dozen or so Japanese ballplayers to make the jump to the Major Leagues.

Because of that, Iguchi travels with a translator (David Yamamoto, who also wears a uniform because he sits in the dugout during the game) and does pre and post-game interviews with the Japanese media after every single game. It doesn’t matter if Iguchi goes 0-for-4 with three strikeouts, goes 4-for-4 with a pair of home runs, or simply sits on the bench without seeing a lick of action on the diamond. The 32-year old infielder discusses his day with the roughly half dozen or so media members that chronicle his every move.

“They even have the cameras rolling on him when he walks through the parking lot to his car,” a media member and witness to the Japanese media’s insatiable thirst to cover their stars in the minutest detail.

In nearly three seasons in the Major Leagues, following eight seasons with the Fukuoka Daiei Hawks of Japan’s Pacific League, Iguchi has a .273 batting average, 39 homers and 169 RBIs in 363 games for the ChiSox. This season, he is hitting .251 with 17 doubles, four triples, six home runs and 31 RBIs in 90 games, and hit .281 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI in 138 games last season. During the White Sox championship run Iguchi had a .278 average with 15 home runs and 15 stolen bases. In the 2005 ALDS, he hit a go-ahead three-run home run in Game 2 against David Wells to turn the tables against the Boston Red Sox.

White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said Iguchi was the team’s most valuable player during the World Series run.

“He had a lot to do with the rings that we have right now,” Guillen told Chicago’s Daily Southtown. “He was great for us every day.”

Someone who can attest to that is Rowand, who remembered bantering back and forth with Iguchi through an interpreter during the ’05 season. Rowand said Iguchi’s English improved as the year went on, but he was able to communicate and have fun with his teammates. Interestingly, Rowand pointed out that the team enjoyed talking about baseball with Iguchi.

“We’ve had some good times with the language barrier, but he’s one heck of a player,” Rowand pointed out. “He’s really smooth in the field. He’ll add to the team and make it a lot easier with Chase being out.”

Ah yes, the real reason why Iguchi has landed in Philadelphia. With Chase Utley likely out for the next month with a broken hand suffered when he was hit by a pitch in Thursday afternoon’s loss to the Washington Nationals. Though he had surgery to insert a pin into the damaged area on Friday and the team revealed that they did not think the injury was as bad as it could have been, Utley will likely miss a minimum of 20 games. With 60 games remaining in the season and the Phillies doing all they can to remain in the playoff chase despite a plethora of injuries, it appears as if Utley will miss a third of the remaining games.

Enter Iguchi.

“I was able to play with Mr. Utley in the Japan series after the season and I’m very, very aware of how great a player he is,” Iguchi said. “I have tremendous respect for Mr. Utley and I just hope that I can fill in and [and contribute to the team] anywhere near Mr. Utley.”

The Phillies put the deal together with the White Sox rather quickly, announcing it just as they reported on Utley’s surgery.

“We wanted to do something and we wanted to move quickly,” assistant general manager Mike Arbuckle said. “Obviously, you don’t replace Chase Utley, but we wanted the guys in the clubhouse to understand that we wanted to step up and come up with a suitable replacement to help us stay competitive.”

For the short term Iguchi seems to be a good answer to a very difficult problem. The second baseman is signed for $3.25 million this season, and turned down a contract extension to stay with the White Sox during the winter despite saying he wanted to continue his career in Chicago.

“I’m very surprised by the trade,” Yamamoto said for Iguchi. “I was notified about it yesterday and I really didn’t have any notification, so yes, I was really surprised. But I’m really excited to join the Phillies and I’m starting to like my new, red uniform.”

However, Iguchi has a clause in his contract that will allow him to become a free agent at the end of the season if the ChiSox – now Phillies – don’t sign him to an extension by the end of the season.

With Utley expected to make a full recovery, it doesn’t seem as if Iguchi will figure into the Phillies’ plans beyond this season.

Unless he can play third base?

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For a brief moment at the Tour de France, all of the events of last week were forgotten. The scandals, the doping and all of the bluster were replaced by an actual competition where there was a lot on the line.

Montanan Levi Leipheimer had the time trial of his life, squeezing to within 31 seconds of the leader and his Discovery Channel teammate, Alberto Contador. He did it with his teams’ part-owner Lance Armstrong trailing in the team car, shouting instruction and encouragement as he all but assured himself a spot on the podium in Paris.

With one more stage to go into Paris tomorrow, Leipheimer is eight seconds behind second place Cadel Evans in one of the closest finishes in Tour de France history.

And yet it still hard to think about what might have been…

Certainly it doesn’t seem as if ousted leader Michael Rasmussen would have been able to hang in Saturday’s time trial. Nor did it seem like Alexandre Vinokourov wold have been able to chip away enough to be a threat had he not been bounced from the race. Could Andreas Klöden been right there had his team not been thrown out?

How much fun would it have been to see all of those guys competing all the way through the Tour, especially in such a dramatic time trial?

But despite the good day of competition the newspapers and magazines are littered with stories about controversy, doping and lawyers.

* Is the 24-year old wunderkind Contador doping and is he really linked to Operacion Puerto?

* Vinokourov has hooked up with Floyd Landis’ legal team to fight his doping charges.

* The delusional and notorious windbag Greg LeMond is opening his big fat mouth… again. Does that guy ever shut up and why does he always come off like a bitter old fighter still hanging around the gym?

Here’s something I found interesting about today’s time trial: In praising Leipheimer’s speedy ride, announcer Phil Liggett compared the American to LeMond, noting that his ride to capture the victory in the stage was “almost as fast as Greg LeMond…”

Hmmmm… almost as fast as LeMond, huh? [Insert sarcasm font] Gee, I wonder what he was taking?

Here’s the thing that bothers me the most about Greg LeMond aside from his ego, his arrogance, his bitterness and his personality. LeMond (correct me if I’m wrong) is just like those old-time baseball players who missed out on the big paydays that today’s players get so they try to ciphen all they can from the sport by selling out anything they can. LeMond, it seems, still makes his money from cycling, but what does he really give back?

That’s why his bitterness toward Lance Armstrong seemed like nothing more than a small man with a big case of douchebaggery. LeMond won the Tour three times, had a horrible accident and then got old, yet seems to believe that something was taken from him. Conversely, Armstrong missed a couple of years from his career because he nearly died from cancer, yet rebounded to win the Tour de France seven years in a row.

That would be enough for most folks, but as Lance always noted, “It’s not about the bike.” With that he became the leading advocate for cancer research in the world. That was the primary goal and that’s what LeMond and the David Walsh types in the world don’t seem to understand.

So Le Mond can keep running his mouth, telling everyone how great he was and take, take taking from his sport… and he can continue to come off as a little bitch.

Again, if I’m wrong, correct me. I’m easy to find.

* Here’s what I do not like about the Tour (aside from the sideshow crap, of course): the race is practically over. Even though Evans trails Contador by 23 seconds and Leipheimer is in third at 31 seconds off, the American says Evans doesn’t have to worry about an attack in the final stage on Sunday. There is a gentleman’s agreement regarding such things, they say.

Lame.

There’s one day left and three riders are separated by 31 seconds — GO RACE!

The true sportsman that is Greg LeMond won the 1990 Tour de France on the final stage. It was a time trial, and his closest competitor had saddle sores so bad that he could barely ride his bike, but ol’ Greggy went after it. Usually the last day is largely a ceremonial ride, but 31 seconds is nothing. It should be every man for himself into the Champs-Élysées.

Anyway, sorry for coming out so strong on Le Mond, but I just don’t understand why he had to put himself in the middle of everything.

It’s not the science, it’s the circus

Most nights my ride home the ballpark can be a pain. Firstly there is the Schuylkill, which quite possibly could be the worst stretch of paved road in the world. On top of the Surekill, there is some construction linking the Expressway near Valley Forge to the Turnpike that makes the 24 Hours of Le Mans look like a Sunday drive through the country.

Finally, there’s the distance, which comes to approximately three hours round trip. Sometimes the drive can be quite taxing, but I guess it’s my fault for living out in the middle of nowhere. That said, it’s much nicer here than in any of the neighborhoods that I surely would be priced out of – it’s a little slow to adapt to modernity or new ideas out here, but at least the sprawl has been fairly well contained (in comparison) for the time being.

Anyway, the drive back to the boondocks gives me plenty of time to listen to a bunch of the podcasts I subscribe to. A favorite is a radio show based out of San Diego called The Competitors Radio Show, hosted by former world class triathletes Bob Babbitt and Paul Huddle. Needless to say the show focuses on endurance sports like triathlons, running and cycling, which for geeks like me is really fascinating. As far as I can tell, Babbitt and Huddle host the only show like The Competitors and that’s a shame.

So while driving home on Friday night I listened to a rebroadcast of an interview with Greg LeMond, the three-time champion and first American winner of the Tour de France. LeMond is the man who put cycling in the U.S. on the map. In places like Philadelphia and Lancaster, cycling (and running) are mainstream participatory sports that exploded after LeMond won his first Tour in 1986. But frankly, that’s about all I knew about LeMond. Sure, I had heard about the comments regarding Lance Armstrong and now Floyd Landis, but it really didn’t seem like much of a big deal.

Isn’t every cyclist suspected of doping these days?

Still, some had written LeMond off as a bitter jerk since his record in France had been broken. No one seemed to notice when LeMond said Armstrong’s record run was the best thing the ever happened to cycling. But in July 2004 when LeMond said that “If Armstrong’s clean, it’s the greatest comeback. And if he’s not, then it’s the greatest fraud,” well, that made all the papers.

LeMond is right, of course, but you know…

Regardless, during the interview LeMond explained he realized doping took a firm grip on cycling when guys he never heard of rode by him like he was standing still – and he was in the best shape of his life with three Tour de France titles. Listening to LeMond it sounds as if cycling and baseball hit the doping era at the same time with similar results. While no-name riders were doing wheelies by the best rider in the world, the 50-homer plateau was topped 22 times from 1996 to now. From 1977 to 1995, one player hit 50 homers. Meanwhile, from 1961, when Roger Maris beat Babe Ruth’s single-season home run record, to 1996, only three players hit 50 homers in a season.

From listening to LeMond it sounded as if all cyclists Brady Andersons were slugging 50 homers every year.

LeMond also revealed that during Floyd Landis’ ride for the Tour de France title it appeared as if the statistics were back to normal. He noted that he was withholding judgment about the defending champion (for now), and that he had a confidential conversation with Landis that he was going to keep private. This interview was originally recorded last August.

Needless to say, a lot has changed since then.

Dressed in another bold, yellow tie with a dark suit, Floyd Landis faced cross-examination on Tuesday in the USADA arbitration hearing. It is from the those hearings at Pepperdine University in Malibu, Calif. where it will be determined whether or not the Lancaster County native gets to keep his Tour de France title or becomes the first rider in the long history of the race to be stripped of his yellow clothing.

Oddly, though, a majority of the questions Landis faced were regarding LeMond and his role in a potential witness tampering, which bordered on obscene and insane. Instead of answering questions about whether he used performance-enhancing drugs during the now infamous 17th stage of last summer’s Tour de France, Landis had to explain his actions regarding Will Geoghegan, his “friend” and former representative who threatened LeMond by telephone last week by threatening to reveal that LeMond had been sexual abused of which as a child, and which only Landis knew about.

From Eddie Pells of the Associated Press:
“Would you agree, that as my mother used to say, that a person’s character is revealed more by their actions than their words?” U.S. Anti-Doping Agency attorney Matthew Barnett asked Landis.

“It sounds like a good saying,” Landis said.

Then, it got ugly, as Barnett dredged up events surrounding testimony LeMond gave last Thursday. On that day, the three-time Tour champion testified he’d received a phone call the night before from Landis’ manager, Will Geoghegan, who threatened to divulge LeMond’s secret.

USADA lawyers cross-examined Landis about everything from the color of his tie to the timing of his decision to fire his manager.

Barnett tried to portray Landis and Geoghegan as scheming together to keep LeMond from testifying, then not showing remorse until they got caught.

Landis said that although he was sitting near Geoghegan when the manager made the call last Wednesday night, he didn’t know what was going on until later.

Barnett tried to pin him down on when, exactly, he told his attorneys of the call, and why he waited to fire Geoghegan until after LeMond revealed details of the call on the witness stand.

Landis testified that he told his attorneys about the call as soon as he arrived to the hearing room Thursday, though nobody thought to fire Geoghegan until after LeMond’s testimony.

“In hindsight, I probably should have fired him immediately, but I needed someone to talk to,” Landis said.

USADA attorneys tried to portray Landis as an active participant in the LeMond plan. They pointed to his wardrobe that day — a black suit with a black tie instead of the yellow tie he’s worn every other day of the hearing — as evidence that he had it in for LeMond.

“That’s why I wore the black suit, because it was a terrible thing that happened,” Landis said. “It wasn’t a thing to celebrate by wearing a yellow tie.”

Was the black tie symbolic support for LeMond?

“No. It was a disaster. Nothing good could come out of that day,” Landis said.

Landis was also questioned about some unflattering Internet postings where he called LeMond a “pathetic human,” though didn’t seem to face much heat when it came to discussing doping.

The focus, as it appears, will be on the circus and not the science. That shouldn’t be too surprising, though. Credibility is the real issue in the arbitration hearing and to most folks it doesn’t seem as if Landis has any no matter what the science might say.

Why? Will Geoghegan, of course.

My mother used to say that a person is known by the company they keep. Or, as Rocky Balboa said in the original film, “If you have knucklehead friends, people will think you are a knucklehead.”

It’s difficult argue with that logic.

Look, we want to give Landis the benefit of the doubt and it seems like something is amiss with the tests and the ratios and everything involved in the epic ride to the Tour de France victory that should have been the best sports story of the year. But if Floyd is so willing to get down and dirty with a seemingly scorched earth attack where something as horrible as sexual abuse of a child is fair game.

Certainly Geoghegan was the one who made the calls to LeMond and Floyd said he was embarrassed by it all – but he didn’t do anything about it when it happened. To me that makes Landis complicit.

According to Lee Jenkins’ story in The New York Times:

Landis and Geoghegan were clearly close. Landis said he gave Geoghegan all of his phone numbers, including LeMond’s. And Landis told Geoghegan that LeMond had been sexually abused as a child, after LeMond shared that secret with Landis.

Landis’s choice of friends and clothes were both on trial Tuesday. Barnett asked Landis why he showed up in court for LeMond’s testimony Thursday wearing all black, when he showed up the other days in much brighter colors. Landis has an obvious preference for yellow ties, evoking the yellow jersey worn by the Tour de France leader.

Through it all, watching from the gallery were Paul and Arlene Landis, the Mennonite parents of the most notorious bike rider in history. I wonder what they were thinking?

For the best recaps of the arbitration hearing, check out Trust But Verify, Steroid Nation and ESPN’s page of stories. Better yet, check out The Competitors Radio Show interview with San Diego Times-Union writer, Mark Zeigler. Good stuff.

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Meanwhile, in baseball Jason Giambi says baseball owes the fans an apology for something and MLB wants to investigate. I guess being in baseball means you never have to apologize?

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Tomorrow: Back to Baseball.