Meet me in St. Louis?

Pete RoseI like to tell this story, which is about to become obsolete this week. In all of these years of covering and writing about sports, I have been to exactly two All-Star Games. One was the 2002 NBA All-Star Game at the Wachovia Center. As I recall, I watched the first quarter of the game, saw Michael Jordan miss a dunk and Ali and Joe Frazier sit together at courtside, and took off.

That was enough.

The other All-Star Game was the eighth grade CYO spectacular where our Sacred Heart squad turned out a 2009 Phillies-esque representation at the game. This one I stuck around to the end, started the game and had a game-high 12 points.

But this year I could avoid the Major League All-Star Game no more. After years of watching – dating back to the 1978 game – I’m actual going to witness this made-for-TV event. Call it a behind-the-scenes look at the bastardization and corporatization of our beloved game.

You know, all the things that everyone loves.

As such, certainly the big guns in baseball will be in St. Louis this week. We’ll have the self-important national media types as and league officials as well as a cadre of Hall of Famers and celebrities like Rollie Fingers and Alyssa Milano.

See, who would want to miss that.

Of course Ryan Howard will be in the worst of all made-for-TV travesties called the Home Run Derby where ESPN is required to show 35 commercials for every meatball of a pitch thrown and offer Chris Berman at his most nauseating.

Listening to Chris Berman is a lot like trying to put your entire fist into your mouth. Not only is it difficult and a tremendous waste of time, but if you succeed and get those knuckles past an incisor and/or molar and actually get your fist in your mouth, you know… then what?

All you are is some jackass sitting there in front of the TV with your fist in your mouth… how are you going to get it out?

My advice? Don’t listen to Berman — turn down the sound if you must. And please, for the love of all that’s holy, do not put your fist in your mouth.

Regardless, watching this show from inside of the ballpark-turned-TV studio will be a hoot. Veteran ball scribes say the Monday before the All-Star Game is the longest work day ever. It’s even longer than busy days at the winter meetings, which just so happens to be every day at the winter meetings.

But since I write sentences about baseball for a living, the work doesn’t bother me. It gets busy and the days long, but so what. Baseball writers that complain about the work and the writing should go dig ditches or get a job as a stagehand for Chris Berman.

bud-seligAnyway, as a veteran observer of the All-Star Game, here are some of the most memorable moments I have seen either with my eyes or through osmosis.

• Bo Jackson’s leadoff homer in 1989
Who didn’t love Bo Jackson?

• That pre-game Ted Williams thing at Fenway in 1999

A couple of years later they cut off Ted’s head and froze it. They even named the MVP Award after Williams which is apt. Williams was the personification of the selfish ballplayer whose greatest on-the-field glory came in the All-Star Game. It certainly wasn’t the only World Series he played in.

• The crazy 1987 All-Star Game in Oakland

Tim Raines won this won for the NL with a two-run triple in the 13th – the only runs of the game. The American League almost won the game in the ninth when Phillie Steve Bedrosian nailed Dave Winfield attempting to score from second on a botched double play.

• Brad Lidge throwing 100 pitches in the bullpen
According to Charlie Manuel the first rule of the All-Star Game is to return players back to their teams healthy. Maybe K-Rod ought to get his right arm limber for all those times he is going to warm up on Tuesday night.

• Pete Rose decking Ray Fosse
Arguably the most famous play in All-Star Game history. This is the one where Rose bowled over Fosse in order to score the winning run in the 1970 game and separated the catcher’s shoulder. The thing about the play was Fosse never had the ball. He also spent the night before the game having dinner with Rose.

• Commissioner Bud Selig flapping his arms during extra innings of the 2002 game
According to Charlie Manuel the first rule of the All-Star Game is to return players back to their teams healthy. Therefore, managers Joe Torre and Bob Brenly didn’t want to continue the game past the 11th inning when both teams ran out of pitchers. Forced with making a spontaneous decision in Milwaukee’s Miller Park, Selig freaked and flapped his arms like a pigeon attempting to leap over a mud puddle.

Aside from cancelling the 1994 season, the arm flapping was Selig’s most memorable moment.

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…

Manny of the people

mannyGood for Manny Ramirez. Good for him for standing up to the power structure in Major League Baseball and telling them, “You think you can buy me with $25 million? Ha!”

“Ha!” he says.

So yes, kudos to Manny Ramirez for not allowing the Los Angeles Dodgers to reduce him to a dollar sign. There’s more to Manny than the money, like… well… he’s good at hitting a baseball and he has a unique hair style. Yeah. Not everyone can hit a baseball or grow interesting hair, so Manny has that going for him.

Which is nice.

So why is the fearsome right-handed hitter trivialized with dollar signs? Why do they insist on turning the great game of baseball like it’s some sort of business?

Manny is an artist and he’s above such trite things like contacts and millions and millions of dollars. He just wants to play the game and show off his skills. He wants to entertain and dazzle us with his pure swing.

Twenty-five million dollars? Who has time to be bothered by such trivial non-sense?

Manny’s agent Scott Boras knows this. It’s a good thing the hitter has someone like Boras on his side looking out for his best interests, too. After all, could Manny fend off those jackals in those sharp suits and sensible shoes working for the Dodgers who want to give him $25 million to play baseball in 2009? Probably not. The way those guys throw around money and push and bully hardworking folks like Manny around, it’s a wonder he doesn’t wake up next to a horse head.

So when the Dodgers came calling with the contract and a Brinks truck, Boras just laughed. Maybe he chuckled. He definitely guffawed. Later, he smirked just thinking about the nerve of those suit-wearing folks in the executive offices in Chavez Ravine. C’mon, $25 million? If Boras was getting a 10 percent cut of his client’s cash, that left a mere $2.5 million.

Really…the nerve!

But let’s try this one out for size – maybe Manny is a revolutionary. Maybe he is looking out for the proletariat. You know, the hard-working, lunch-pail middle American. And so to show solidarity with the backbone of America, Manny, a son of immigrants who grew up in Manhattan’s hard-scrabble Washington Heights section, proves he can’t be bought.

Twenty-five million dollars? Go fly a kite.

Boras, in a conversation with the LA Times, called the $25 million offer a, “Suggestion.” In fact, it was an even bigger slap in the face than the two-year, $45 million offer the Dodgers sent to Manny in November.

It’s as if the Dodgers and the rest of the franchises in Major League Baseball are trying to tell Manny something. At least that’s what his pal Albert Pujols said during a press conference last week.

“I speak with Manny every three days and he tells me, ‘Man, no one wants to sign me,’ Pujols said. “I’m not an agent or general manager, but I can’t understand how Manny has not signed.”

Boras says he expects to have a deal in place by the time spring training camps open on Feb. 14, which will further stoke the speculation. Will the Mets wade into the fray despite the fact that the team’s brass say publically that they aren’t interested? Hey, why not? Manny is from New York so it could be a sweet little homecoming for him. Better yet, Newsday’s Wallace Matthews suggested that the Mets could take the cash from CitiBank earmarked for the new stadium-naming rights and just hand it over to Manny. Since CitiBank is suckling at the ample bosom of the federal government for a fat, $300 billion bailout from you, me and every other taxpayer, it’s nice that we can help a fella down on his luck find a job.

Hey, times are hard. The U.S. lost 522,000 more private-sector jobs in January, which is down slightly from the 659,000 jobs that were lost during December of 2008. Oddly enough, some of the numbers figured into the December total come from, coincidentally enough, Major League Baseball. You see, MLB decided to start a new television network on Jan. 1, 2009 so had to trim a little fat. As such, 30 or so folks who were working on the MLB web site were sent packing because, according to one report, they were making too much money.

You know, like $50,000 to $60,000 per year.

So in order to launch the network and to sign big-name stars like Bob Costas to wax philosophic, a dude writing stories for the web had to go. MLB gets its talking heads and Costas and whacks Ken Mandel.

Talk about a steal.

But wait, here’s the good part… not only did MLB have to make those jobs cuts to restore order to its bottom line, it also had to make sure commissioner Bud Selig got his. Like we said before, times are hard. MLB only had $6.5 billion in revenues last year and not a dime came from taxpayer bailouts. Plus, Selig was paid $18.5 million in salary last year and not one single person ever went to the ballpark to see him.

Not one person ever.

So let’s call Manny a Robin Hood in reverse. If the Mets swoop in to sign him with CitiBank bailout cash, it would be like stealing from the poor to give to the rich. You know, Reaganomics.

But Selig and MLB are bracing for the tough times and the rocky economic road ahead. With soaring ticket prices in places like the new stadium in New York coupled with the new network and a potential big check to be cut for Manny, Selig’s company might slump to an even $6 billion in 2009.

“We’re living in unprecedented economic times,” Selig said at last month’s owners’ meetings. “We’re trying to understand what it means.”

To be fair, it won’t take John Maynard Keynes to figure out this economic riddle. For as long as possible the pigs will feed whenever they want, for as long as they want.

So yeah, why shouldn’t Manny turn up his nose at $25 million even in a time when jobs are being shed like hair on Telly Savalas’ head? If Selig is stealing getting $18.5 million, maybe it’s right that the economy should collapse.

Picking on Bud

Bud SeligIn the interest of full disclosure and with the idea that Big Brother (or at least George Mitchell) is watching or that everyone else is into that whole cleansing of the conscience thang (yes it’s a thang) after being accused of being a doper, I decided that I’m coming clean. From now on whenever I write about the Mitchell Report, USADA, WADA, Rep. Waxman, or perhaps even baseball, I am going to submit my morning performance-enhancing buffet.

Here’s what it took to get me going this morning:

  • 20 ounces of Starbucks Colombian coffee – my stash of Kind Coffee is gone
  • 1 ibuprofen tablet (my hamstrings are killing me)
  • 1 Clif Bar (crunchy peanut butter)
  • 64 ounces of Brita filtered water
  • 20 ounces of Turkey Hill diet green tea – since it tastes like it’s loaded with chemicals and has no green tea flavor whatsoever, I figure it’s on the IOC list of banned substances. While we’re at it, does anyone remember the old Turkey Hill iced tea and good it tasted? Of course that was back in the good old days when Turkey Hill was a local dairy and neighborhood “minit market” and not a soulless corporation.

I also had a banana and some pad Thai with tofu from Trader Joe’s, but tofu is hardly an enhancer.

Anyway, the point is that if a Congressional subcommittee wants to question me or pick on me for one reason or another, I’m ready. I have witnesses, too, which may or may not have been a good deal for Bud Selig, Don Fehr and Major League Baseball. You see, these days Congressional committees convene for the sake of moral proclamation – kind of like Senator Geary’s grandstanding in The Godfather when he got it on the record that America has no better friend than the Italian-American community.

And then he excused himself so his colleagues could attempt to bust up his sugar daddy.

The BizBud Selig, Don Fehr and Major League Baseball are used in the same manner by Congress. They are easy pickings – a moral carwash if you will. Whenever Congress members are feeling low or their conscience is bothering them, who better to call in than the dirtiest bunch of dudes around? Even more than Alberto Gonzalez or the current group of criminal minds in the executive branch, Bud Selig is the best verbal punching bag out there for the moral miscreants on Capitol Hill. It’s gotten to the point where Bud doesn’t even fight back any more – he just sits there as if he’s a character in a Biz Markie song and takes it.

When asked by Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind. if they were “complicit” in fostering the culture of drugs that has defined this era of Major League Baseball, Selig and Fehr shrugged the affirmative. Yes, they said, there is a lot of blame to go around. Both men accepted and conformed that their legacies will essentially be defined as the drug era – one in which the results must be set aside in order for the game to maintain its cherished historical perspective.

Speaking of perspective, the best of that lot and perhaps even the most indicting of Selig came from Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., who stated, “Fixed games played by drug users that illegitimately altered the outcome of the games. It’s my opinion we’re here in the middle of a criminal conspiracy that defrauded millions of baseball fans of billions of dollars.”

Can you say, “Class action suit?”

Better than that, McCollum asked if there really was any difference between baseball, Britney or pro wrestling? But that’s the million-dollar question isn’t it? For some reason sports fans have it buried into the locus of their minds that their form of entertainment is on a higher level than other elements of the entertainment business. It’s like they are evolved or advanced or something because the carry a stick and whack at a ball instead of watching a movie or digging the latest dish.

They can’t all be the same can they? No, of course not.

But that didn’t stop McCollum from asking:

“If baseball is simply another form of entertainment like going to a concert or attending a professional wrestling match, in which an audience attends solely for pleasure and they do not attend under the presumption of some form of fair athletic competition, then there would be no difference between Barry Bonds and Britney Spears.

“But in fact Major League Baseball is sold as a legitimate competition. … This demonstrates to me fraud to millions of baseball fans.”

Did Major League Baseball knowingly allow players using illicit substances play in games in front of paying customers? Yes. Yes they did. Is it consumer fraud? That’s for the lawyers to decide, but at the very least it’s very mean to present juiced up ballplayers as authentic and ask hard-working families to shell out big money.

It’s very mean.

And that leads us back to Bud, Don and Congress and Tuesday’s dog-and-pony show. The point is we get the point. We don’t need grandstanding or televised hearings in the place of revenue-generating TV shows to know that drugs are bad and kids copy the things that pro athletes do.

But until baseball and the players’ union decides to take the lead to develop proper testing – as opposed to more investigations and witch hunts – Congress is going to keep calling in Bud and the gang for more checkups. Yeah, there are more important things to do and sure, they can pick on someone their own size, but Congressmen and women like knocking them out of the park, too. In this case Bud and Don are throwing the meatballs to the juiced up folks in Congress.