Just Manny being Barry?

a-rod-and-mannyNEW YORK – I had planned a whole thing on the brand-new Citi Field and the Phillies’ first visit to the new digs in Queens, but Manny Ramirez kind of ruined that. Besides, at this point when new ballparks are popping up every season, including two of them in New York City, the shine is off the penny a bit.

So think about this – would there have been more fawning over places like Citi Field or the new Yankee Stadium if they were built 5-to-10 years ago? It’s been nearly 20 years since Camden Yards kicked off the whole retro-ballpark craze and now it appears as if every city that wants one has either built it or is set to begin construction.

Heck, even the Marlins are getting a new park for their six fans.

Here are a couple more things to ponder… are we going to be back replacing all these new ballparks in another 30 years like we were with the multi-purpose parks of the late 1960s and early ‘70s?

And if we keep shelling out the cash to build all these stadiums, are city skylines only going to hold the light fixtures and facades of ballparks? It seems like the only public funding put to the vote are to build stadiums… you know, screw bridges and roads.

Anyway, the Phillies and manager Charlie Manuel – a former mentor to Ramirez – were about as excited to talk about the latest drug suspension as they were the new ballpark. The most interesting part was while expressing sadness over the situation and fear over the harm the drug issues could cause to the sport, players generally indicate that players tied to performance-enhancing drug use have not had their accomplishments diminished.

They also don’t believe the game has suffered despite saying they want it cleaned up.

Meanwhile, baseball’s revenues and attendance has never been higher (excluding New York City, of course, where sellouts only occurred at the old ballparks), which seems to say that the fans don’t really give a damn about baseball’s issues.

Anyway, we’re not going to add to the pile of reflexive commentating regarding Ramirez and his positive test/50-game suspension since the finger waging appears to be taking care of itself. However, it is worth noting that the three top hitters of this era have all been tied/admitted/suspended for performance-enhancing drug use. In fact, one of the three has been indicted for perjury for his grand jury testimony about his alleged drug use.

Barry, Manny and A-Rod is hardly this era’s Willie, Mickey, and The Duke, huh?

Since baseball is a numbers game, let’s look at a few. For instance, nine of the top 20 home run hitters of all-time have played this decade, and six of those nine have been tied to PED use. The three who have not are Jim Thome, Frank Thomas and Ken Griffey Jr.

What do you think of that trio’s careers now?

How about this set of numbers – 22 players who have been on teams managed by Joe Torre have been associated with PEDs. Joe’s 22 are:

Manny Ramirez, Alex Rodriguez, Jose Canseco, Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Gary Sheffield, Mike Stanton, Dan Naulty, Darren Holmes, Jason Grimsley, Chuck Knoblauch, Glenallen Hill, Matt Lawton, Denny Neagle, David Bell, Kevin Brown, Jason Giambi, Randy Velarde, Ron Villone, Ricky Bones, Rondell White and David Justice.

Can’t wait to dive into Tony LaRussa’s list…

Just a slight delay for Lance

Lance Armstrong flew back to the United States on Tuesday morning. After a stopover in New York, the seven-time Tour de France champion made home to Austin, Tx. in time for an appointment with his doctor.

It was during that visit with his doctor that Armstrong learned his “clean” clavicle break wasn’t so clean after all. As of 8:20 p.m. eastern time on Tuesday, the great bike rider was getting a CT scan after learning about the not-so clean break.

“Bummer,” he tweeted on his Twitter feed.

Meanwhile, while the health and pending comeback of Lance Armstrong was all being documented in real time via “new media” (and the death of the “old media” had a bit more dirt shoveled on it with each tweet), somewhere near Paris tired old men waited anxiously for the next update.

Yes, when Armstrong “tweets” folks take notice. And no, it’s not just the fans, either. Take those tired old men in France for instance. When they read that the collarbone might be a little more damaged than expected, those “nefarious Frenchmen” might just have been moved to “twirl their moustaches and laugh heartily at his plight,” as the great Bob Ford once wrote about Lance’s ex-teammate, Floyd Landis, a few years back.

Yes, the cycling bureaucrats are feeling pretty good about themselves lately. When Lance hopped on that plane to go home, it meant there was an entire ocean between him and the nexus of the cycling universe. CT scans and doctor’s visits that elicit tweets that read, “bummer” gets that twirling in full flight. The next one might even be enough to cause a World Series-style victory celebration full of champagne spray and maybe even some high-fives. Why not? They already made him cut his hair for DNA-style drug tests.

Only in this case it might be real champagne instead of the sparkling wine those gauche Americans like.

Sacrebleu!

Continue reading this story …

Back to earth

andrew_toneyLANCASTER, Pa. – Going to Spring Training to write about baseball is a lot like walking into a hermetically-sealed cocoon. Nothing pierces this bubble, which is more roach motel than a simple picket fence.

Ideas from the outside check in, and then they die.

So the first order of business since checking out of Camp Big Britches in Clearwater was to reconnect with reality. Or at least some facsimile thereof. And a quick look back at my version of reality shows that I missed some pretty cool stuff back here in Philly.

Lancaster? Not so much.

Anyway, here’s what happened:

• Apparently there is a basketball tournament going on. Villanova is in it, though it must be pointed out that the current version of the team is only slightly less evil than the older versions. Yeah, those fans/alums are still as arrogant as can be, but Jay Wright makes it all a bit more tolerable.

gonzo_gonzoMore interesting, Villanova plays Duke in the regional semifinal in Boston this Thursday. In the old days rational folks would have rooted for both teams to get lost on the way to the arena. Baring that, some discomfort or at least a few flat tires were in order. These days, anytime the li’l general at Duke gets beat is pretty sweet.

Hey, I’m not one of those hater guys (at least I hope not), so I guess it’s not fair to pick on Coach K because he has a really, really important job coaching basketball. He’s very important. Just ask him.

• The biggest whiff was skipping out before the Sixers played one last game at the Spectrum. No, not for the sentiment of playing a game in an old building because overwrought pining for things seems kind of silly. Besides, as Joe Strummer said, if you think too much about the past it will drag you down.

Joe… Joe was the greatest.

Sentiment and nostalgia are hard things to ignore. It’s the emotion of it, probably. Life can be difficult if you’re one to wade in past the shallow end, so comfortable memories of old times can be soothing on occasion. So for a lot of us – especially pre-teens who hawked the team during training camp at F&M – that ’83 Sixers club would have conjured up some fun memories.

If, of course, I had been at the Spectrum instead of sunny Florida.

Regardless, does it really count if Andrew Toney wasn’t there?

Sure, the Sixers undoubtedly did a wonderful job putting together a memorable event for the fans and the players, but Andrew Toney was such an important player of that era that it actually belied mere statistics and wins and losses. The truth is Andrew Toney changed everything in the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference.

It’s possible Toney was the most important player in the game for a few years.

Here’s why:

If the Celtics had anyone remotely capable of guarding Toney, they would not have traded to get Dennis Johnson. And without Johnson, the Celtics are just a very good team, but not that much different from the rest of the very good teams.

So without Toney, the Celtics dynasty might have just been a blip in time and the Sixers might have snuck out of the East another time or two.

• Elsewhere, before Lance Armstrong broke his collarbone and possibly lost his shot at returning to the Tour de France, he had to submit some of his hair for DNA drug testing. Yep, athletes in sports outside of the big three, are submitting to DNA drug testing.

Meanwhile, baseball’s drug problem gets sillier and sillier by the day.

• Finally, speaking of drug-testing, maybe A-Rod should have been forced to offer a hair/urine sample after posing for this picture:

awhat

Seriously, I’m all for defying the conventional wisdom, but what is he doing? That’s something some dudes do when there is no one else at home and they don’t have to worry about being caught acting like a goof. But not A-Rod. He invites a photog and goes all out.

So when he puts on his Sunday best, grabs his parasol and sashays through the town square, don’t be surprised.

Good idea, bad execution

Punto!Ed. note: This post was supposed to be a little ol’ post here, but it turned into something bigger over at the CSN site. It’s not all that different, just longer.

The second biannual World Baseball Classic is in full swing, and already the disinterest and speculation over its relevance is palpable.

Or maybe not. I have yet to hear anyone say, “Hey, did you see that big play in the Mexico vs. South Africa game at the WBC?” In fact, I haven’t heard anyone talk about the World Baseball Classic at all. I haven’t read it in the blogs, either. It just doesn’t seem to be gaining a foothold.

Certainly that’s no knock on the WBC. After all, there is a veritable media saturation of sports, leagues, players and everything else that goes with it. Adding one more event into an already stuffed buffet is probably not the greatest of marketing plans.

Nevertheless, there are ways to spice up the WBC. For instance, it seems as if one’s country of nationality is no deterrent for which team(s) a guy can play for. Look at Alex Rodriguez – he was born in New York, raised in Florida and was playing for the Dominican Republic. Nick Punto was born in San Diego, raised in Mission Viejo and is playing for Italy in the WBC.

In fact, Hawaiian Shane Victorino was approached to play for Italy before the first WBC in 2007. The odd thing about that is Victorino isn’t Italian. He’s Portugese, Asian and Polynesian. In other words, American. He was asked to play for Italy simply because his surname sounded Italian.

So that gives me an idea…

If A-Rod can play for the Dominican Republic and Punto for Italy, why not just hold a draft. Open it up for all the nations kind of like that sketch from “The Chappelle Show” and let the players join the team that claims them. Let David Ortiz play for Italy or David Wright for China.

Since players can seemingly play for any nation even if they aren’t a citizen, just go ahead and make it All-Star tourney. Hey, if they are going to make a joke of the borders and citizenship, why not make a joke of the entire thing?

Better yet, why not just have trades? Say Mexico needs a left-handed bat at the top of the order – why can’t they trade for Ichiro? Hey, if Nick Punto can play for Italy, Ichiro ought to be able to play for Mexico.

Right?

Perhaps the best reason why the WBC is just plain silly comes from one of this site’s favorite topics, Curt Schilling. As jingoistic an American as there is, Schilling says he would turn down an invitation to play for the U.S. (or maybe Norway, too) in the WBC because it’s not fair to the pitchers. In fact, Schilling wrote in his blog, “38 Pitches,” that if he were a big-league GM he would not allow any pitchers on the 40-man roster to participate.

Schilling wrote:

… you just can’t ‘be ready’ for until you are truly ‘ready’. Until you’ve worked your pitch counts up, had a tough outing or two in the spring, stepping into a ML stadium full of fans ramps it to a whole new level.

If I were, and I know I am not, a GM I would have some sort of protection in contracts prohibiting any pitchers on my 40 man roster from participating.

I can’t speak to position players because their lives and their preparation are so vastly different than pitchers, but I can tell you as a pitcher that the last thing on this planet I would want to do would be to be asked to go ‘full tilt’ (and make no mistake about it, what you are seeing from them is everything they have at that point) at this incredibly early time in the season.

So is the solution batting tees or batting practice pitchers? Should the WBC become just a glorified home run derby kind of like the one they have at the All-Star Game?

Maybe if they did it that way people would talk about it.

Nevertheless, the WBC seems to be one of those “good in theory, bad in execution” deals. Like Marxism.wa

I have no clever title for this one

Barkley Jail BasketballI certainly have been bragging enough about it the past few days, but, yes, I got to stand on the roof of the Spectrum to watch the Harlem Globetrotters play the Washington Generals on Thursday afternoon.

Apparently, it made the papers and everything.

Nevertheless, since a blog is supposed to be like the director’s cut of the DVD (at least that’s what I say it’s supposed to be), I figured to fill in the blanks from the published version(s) of the Globetrotters outing.

Firstly, it was clear this wasn’t the typical pro sporting event. Yeah, there was the whole roof bit and climbing out onto a catwalk before traversing a narrow ladder through an open hatch to get on top of the building, but I have never been asked to carry in part of the equipment for a Phillies, Eagles or Sixers game before. This time, as I was working my way up to the hatch, I was handed the net.

“Here’s the net,” someone said as I climbed. “Don’t lose it.”

The net? Yep, it was the net that had to be laced into the portable hoops already standing at either end of the roof.

A couple minutes later while just standing around and taking in the view before “Sweet Georgia Brown” started playing and all the capering began, Globie, the Globetrotters’ mascot, chucked a snowball at me.

Seriously! The damn mascot!

Worse, it wasn’t even a proper snowball… it was an ice ball. And, I bet the Globe-headed freak loaded it up with rocks before he threw it.

Needless to say, that mascot got his when he slipped and fell off an exhaust out-cropping aside of the court. The Globe Head went down like he was shot by a sniper, too. Serves him right.

Otherwise, Gonz pretty much nailed it, though there was one moment where I was laughing that obnoxious laugh of mine during the game and one of the Globetrotters looked at out of the corner of his eye with that, “What’s with this dude?” look.

Good times.

*

Elsewhere, Charles Barkley heads off for his three-day stint in jail following a night of drinking with Steve Urkel. Isn’t that the way it always happens? … A-Rod is going to get scoped and could miss six-to-nine weeks. Start your speculation about the source of the injury now. … The new Neko Case record is very good. … Terrell Owens was sent to Buffalo to finish out his NFL career. We’ll have more on that in the latest edition of the Center City column, so get ready.

Carl Lewis is still running

Even now, with his 48th birthday quickly approaching, Carl Lewis looks like he could go 9.9 in the 100. Heck, on a good day with a nice tailwind and a fast track, Lewis looked as though he might even be able to pull off a 27-footer in the long jump.

No, he didn’t get those nine gold medals and one silver in four different Olympics by accident. Nor was it a mistake when Sports Illustrated named Lewis the greatest U.S. Olympian of the 20th Century.

Clean living
Chalk that up to clean living (Lewis is a vegan and a fitness devotee even though he retired from professional sports after the 1996 Olympics), which is a concept that doesn’t seem to jibe with modern pro sports based on the latest headlines.

Then again, Lewis is all-too familiar with the seamy side of athletics. Actually, he had a front-row seat for a few of sports’ all-time dirtiest moments. Of course none were more notorious than the September day in Seoul, Korea where Lewis ran a time good enough for a new world record in the Olympic finals of 100-meters only to watch as Canadian Ben Johnson ran away from him like he was stuck in the mud.

Three days later Johnson was disqualified when his drug test was tainted with the steroid Winstrol. Coincidentally, Winstrol is the same steroid baseball player Rafael Palmeiro tested positive for in 2005 and is also reported to have been used by Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens during their careers.

So yes, Lewis knows a thing or two about drugs in sports, and, he thinks he has some idea about when an athlete might be using it.

“The reality is that most people are clean,” Lewis, the Willingboro, N.J. native, said following his appearance on Daily News Live. “When you have two out of 100 that’s two percent, but if those two are in the finals, suddenly that’s a very high percentage. And if two win medals, that’s two out of three. That’s [67] percent. Just so quickly it, goes up.”

Continue reading the rest of this story…

As A-Rod takes it, Bud beats the heat

So the story out of New York is that A-Roid called up Sports Illustrated’s Selena Roberts to apologize for his comments during his admission that he used “banned substances” from 2001-2003. Roberts, of course, broke the story that A-Roid had tested positive in 2003 for steroids and was subsequently called “lady” and “stalker” by the Yankees’ third baseman.

Stay classy, A-Roid.

Certainly the Yanks’ third baseman will hear a bunch of questions that he will dodge on Tuesday when he reports to camp in Tampa. Some of those will likely be a little less friendly than the ones he heard during the ESPN interview where he made his admission.

Speaking of ESPN and easy questions, the ESPN ombudsman, Le Anne Schreiber, wrote in her regular opus that Hall-of-Fame baseball writer Peter Gammons didn’t quite duplicate “Frost/Nixon” in his interview with A-Roid.

Well… yeah. Think the Yankee wants to make things difficult for himself? Isn’t that why he took steroids in the first place?

But the most interesting bit of info coming out of the sports scene was that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell agreed to take a 20-25 percent pay cut this year because he believes it is necessary considering the state of the U.S. economy. If the NFL is going to continue to thrive, Goodell indicates sacrifices need to be made.

Moreover, Goodell will subject himself to a pay freeze after the pay cut to further illustrate his point. Oh sure, the NFL commissioner will be eligible for a year-end bonus, which will likely be ample, but that’s not the point. Instead, Goodell is the rare guy in sports who at least pays some semblance of lip service to the idea of sacrifice in dire times.

At the very least, Goodell’s decision paints him in a much different light than his counterpart in Major League Baseball. According to the Sports Business Journal, Goodell’s soon-to-be shrinking $11 million salary is the second-most among the commissioners in major U.S.-based pro sports. MLB’s Bud Selig is far and away the highest paid commissioner, taking home an $18.35 million yearly income.

Continue reading this story…

Who knew?

Bonds in courtGuess what? Alex Rodriguez dabbles in real estate. He’s also… what’s that term… a slumlord? Elsewhere, all-time home run king* Barry Bonds was arraigned in federal court for perjury and obstruction of justice charges stemming from his allegedly untruthful grand jury testimony in BALCO investigation.

Bonds pleaded not guilty.

Meanwhile, two players (Jay Gibbons of the Orioles and Jose Guillen of the Royals) were suspended 15 days at the start of the 2008 season for being linked to the acquisition of human growth hormone.

In other words, it was just a normal day for Major League Baseball.

***
It’s good to see The Onion had something to offer on the Winter Meetings.

The price of success

RockiesHere’s a question:

Did it matter that the Rockies had eight days off before facing the Red Sox in the World Series? Did it matter a little, a lot or not at all? Oh sure, the Rockies players will say that the vacation in between the NLCS and the World Series didn’t matter because they got beat by a better team, but that doesn’t really answer the question, does it?

Did it make a bit of difference?

Rockies’ manager Clint Hurdle told the Fox sideline boy after his team was broomed out of the World Series that there was no way to quantify how an eight-day layoff affected his team and kind of threw aside the question in order to give the Red Sox credit for winning the series.

But Hurdle did not say that the layoff didn’t have an effect on his team. Why not? Because it did.

Since Cactus League games began during the end of February, the Rockies played nearly every day. In fact, the Rockies, like every other Major League team played 162 regular-season games in 180 days, plus a wild-card playoff the day after the season, plus three games of the NLDS against the Phillies with just two days off, plus four games of the NLCS with just one day off.

That’s 170 games and the longest break some of the players on the team got was the three days for the All-Star Break. Though three days doesn’t seem like much to some, that break is like an oasis in the middle of a desert to guys who are used to going to work every single day of the week. And it’s not just baseball either. Research shows that runners and endurance athletes start to lose some fitness in as little as 48 hours of inactivity.

Some rest is good to help the body recover, but imagine taking eight days off after playing every game for a month as if it were do-or-die only to be given eight days off before being told to go out there to play in the biggest set of games in your life.

Good luck.

Worse it’s kind of rude… the Rockies got all worked up and became the biggest story in baseball by winning 21 of 22 games. But then, because the Indians nor Red Sox could figure things out, Hurdle and the guys were left to wait. It was like… vasocongestion. Yeah, that’s what it was. After a heroic and historic run, the Rockies could never shake the lingering sensation of heaviness, aching, or discomfort when the Series finally came around like an old man trying to figure out what to order in a deli.

It just wasn’t fair.

With the aid of hindsight, there’s no question that the Rockies this season and the Tigers in 2006 were penalized for doing their jobs too efficiently. I’m not saying the Tigers or the Rockies would have beaten the Cardinals or the Red Sox to win the World Series, but the fact that both clubs breezed through their respective league playoffs so easily proved to be a determent while the winners of the last two World Series were aided by playing seven-game series in the league championships.

The Tigers in ’06 and the Rockies in ’07 were penalized for being too successful.

How can this be fixed? Is there anything Bud Selig and his gang can do to make it so teams that win with ease can have a fair shot in the World Series? I don’t know. It seems as if the baseball playoffs are full of imperfections and everyone seems to appreciate the quirkiness for it. In other words, the Rockies and Tigers just have to take their beatings and enjoy them.

But how about this:

In the instance where a team like the Rockies and Tigers rip through the league championship only to wait a week or more for their future opponent to take care of business, allow the team that’s waiting for it all to be sorted out to get home-field advantage in the World Series. I don’t know if it will solve anything, but it’s better than giving the home-field advantage to the league that wins a meaningless, midseason exhibition that features players that will be at a Sandals resort when the playoffs roll around.

No, having the last at-bat in the first two games of the Series won’t be significant – after all, it didn’t help the Tigers too much last year – but at least it’s a gesture or a reward. It might not be much, but if a team has to sit around like the rest of us and listen to those dudes from Fox, they ought to get something out of it.

***
The latest issue of The New Yorker features a very riveting story on Scott Boras and Alex Rodriguez. It’s written by Ben McGrath and is another sprawling, erudite pieces that the magazine always seems to run, but it’s definitely worth the time and effort.

The Extortionist: Scott Boras, the Yankees’ bête noire, has changed baseball forever.

Meanwhile, ESPN’s Peter Gammons calls out Boras and A-Rod for the timing of the announcement that they had chosen to opt out of the deal with the Yankees: