The NLCS: Just Manny being useless

Easily one of the smartest reactions to the ending of the classic Game 4 came from our boy Meech over at The Fightins. Here, take a look:

I’m upset that I didn’t come up with it first. It pains my heart.

Along those lines, it’s being reported that the city of Philadelphia is greasing up the utility poles in case the Phillies win tonight in Game 5. This makes sense because when I was a kid and my team won the big game, the first thing I did was shimmy up a utility pole.

Needless to say, I was a crazy sumbitch on the ropes in gym class.

Speaking of crazy, I had a chance to talk to the great T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times and laud the man for his work. And yes, I’m being serious. The guy can flat write and the way he does it, he is literally walking on a tight rope. If he misses, it’s going to be ugly. Unfortunately for a lot of his targets, he doesn’t miss all that much.

Here’s what I like about T.J. the most (aside from the fact that he can write and he has cojones the size of watermelons) — he gets it. Sports are supposed to be fun. When we watch a game it’s not like we’re watching a scientist in the lab splitting an atom or attempting to mix compounds to find that elusive cure for cancer. No, it’s fun and T.J. has fun. He’s a writer making wise cracks… what’s not to like about that?

Better yet, he can take it. He knows that when he dishes it out, he’s ready for what comes back. Plus, he has to be doing something right in order to get people to react the way they do. I’m not saying it’s the lowest common dominator routine placating to fans and insulting their intelligence. That’s what other mediums in the sports realm do. That’s not fun—it’s mean.

Here’s the thing about T.J. that left me in awe and made me ask others, “No he didn’t… did he? Seriously, he did that?

whiffFollowing the Phillies victory in Game 3 where the fans at CBP serenaded Manny Ramirez with chants of, “You did steroids!” T.J. marched over to the Dodgers’ clubhouse and asked the Dodgers’ slugger about the fans’ little sing-song tribute.

“Where did they get this crazy idea you took steroids?” T.J. asked Ramirez.

Needless to say, Manny was not amused. Then again, his teammates shouldn’t be amused by Manny’s most recent behavior as well as his play since he returned from his 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance.

Before his suspension, Ramirez was killing the ball. He had six homers and 20 RBIs in 27 games to go with a .348 batting average and an OPS into the stratosphere.

But after his suspension he hasn’t been as good. He had just 13 homers and 43 RBIs in 77 games with a .269 average. Considering that Ramirez never hit below .292 when he played a full season, .269 is quite a drop off. More notable, though, he really faltered down the stretch. In September and October, Ramirez hit just .218 with 14 RBIs in 25 games.

During the postseason Ramirez is hitting the quietest .276 ever. Sure, he homered in the fifth inning of Game 1 against Cole Hamels to bring the Dodgers into the game, but since then he’s managed just three singles in 13 at-bats with four strikeouts.

Manny has been marginalized.

That’s when he’s not taking a shower in the middle of the ninth inning of a one-run game in which his team could have tied the series at 2 and forced a trip back to Los Angeles. Conversely, starting pitcher Randy Wolf did not leave the dugout after he was removed from the game with one out in the sixth inning. Why would he? He wanted to help cheer on his teammates.

But not Ramirez. He needed to get clean, which is apt when one considers that he was termed “a pig” by a baseball executive. Nope, Manny is for Manny and since there are no pay checks handed out during the playoffs, why should he care?

Last month I trotted out the story about Manny being alerted to the arrival of Jim Thome to the Dodgers and responding that he never heard of anyone by that name.

To wit:

This comes from a guy we know who works in the Dodgers organization. He wrote us an e-mail because he thought the story would please us. He was right.

Hey fellas,
Hope all is well. Had a story for you that you might find kind of funny and that might go well on your site. Just leave my name out of it. So here goes: Alright so we all know that Jim Thome was traded to the Dodgers at the end of August, reuniting him with Ramirez after all those years in Cleveland. That’s all fine and dandy and all, but get this….. hours before the trade is made official news to the media one of the clubhouse coaches goes over to Manny and says “hey we’re bringing Jim Thome back here to play with you”. Ramirez looks at him, stares off into the distance for a few minutes. Our coach starts to realize that either Manny isn’t happy or he’s got no [bleeping] clue what is going on. Our coach couldn’t believe it was that though, since they played together for almost 10 years in Cleveland. Finally our coach says “Manny aren’t you happy about Jim coming to LA?”Ramirez looks him dead in the eye and says “I’ve never played with anyone named Jim.” Gets up, and walks away. No [bleep]. Our coach left it at that.

So why wouldn’t Manny be in the shower as his teammates were suffering through the worst defeat of the season or maybe even some of their careers. Heck, just add this to the absent-minded legend that is Manny Ramirez. You know, the guy who came back from a drug suspension only to post ordinary hitting statistics.

Total recall

eric_davisDuring the winter meetings in Las Vegas last December, I had the pleasure to be introduced to Eric Davis, the ex-ballplayer who very well might have had a Hall-of-Fame career nicked up by injuries and a bout with colon cancer. Nevertheless, as a high school kid I remember when Davis put together a hot start to the 1989 season where he mashed a career-high 34 homers.

It was during the late ‘80s where Davis was billed as the second-coming of Willie Mays

The next season Davis helped the Reds win the World Series, which he was famously remembered for diving to make a catch in the clinching Game 4 only to be carried off the field with a lacerated kidney. That injury kind of explains the tough luck Davis had during his career. One minute he’s an All-Star and helping his team win the World Series and the next he’s being left in Oakland with a lacerated kidney, having surgery AND THEN being diagnosed with cancer a handful of years later.

Anyway, Davis was at the winter meetings with the Reds where he serves as a special assistant to general manager Walt Jocketty. It was at the Bellagio one evening when we were introduced and I immediately started in on the guy.

“I remember a game when you were with the Tigers in Baltimore where you hit a ball so hard that it was on the way up when it hit the batters’ eye,” I told Davis while shaking his hand. “You really smacked the bleep out of that one.”

Davis barely paused and said, “Arthur Rhodes. It was a slider. Two-two pitch.”

Honestly, he was like the Rainman. I looked it up and he was exactly correct on the pitcher and the count, though there was no way to prove that it was a slider that Rhodes served up that September night in 1993. Either way, it was an impressive display from Davis, who based on that meeting proved to be a worthy winner of the Roberto Clemente Award during his playing days.

Now here’s the point – ballplayers remember. Oh sure, there are some details that get lost in the thousands of games that they play, but it’s hard to forget the really cool things. Hell, there aren’t too many moments of my little league, high school or wiffle ball career that I can’t retell in intricate detail. Sometimes I can remember exactly the way the grass felt or the air smelled on a day I might have gone deep at May Field or Bernhardt’s backyard.

Based on the conversations with Davis (oh, we were like a pair of savants talking about old ballgames from an era-and-a-half ago) I’m pretty sure ballplayers are able to recall all sorts of intricate details of old games. Actually, in some way that’s kind of the job of a ballplayer. The good ones like Davis – who had the quick, whip-like swing where he kept his hands way down low and seemed to wait almost until the pitch was in the catcher’s glove before he sprayed line drives all over the place – have to remember everything. It’s like poker in that a hitter has to be aware of a pitchers’ patterns, tells and repertoire. It works the other way around, too, with pitchers.

The reason I got to thinking about Davis and that trip to Las Vegas was because I read an interview with Roger Clemens where he says he’s considering whether to write a book. Clemens, of course, testified before House Oversight and Government Reform Committee that several of his alleged compatriots in illicit performance-enhancing drug use.

According to Clemens’ testimony, his buddy Andy Pettitte “misremembered” a bunch of stuff. Hell, when asked Clemens didn’t even know what a vegan was and proved further vapidity by being unaware that his own wife had been injected with HGH by his own personal trainer.

Seriously, if the dude (a ballplayer at that) can’t remember that his wife was juicing, how can we trust him with a book? Besides, Clemens was a good pitcher known for his intricate preparation and fine attention to detail. Yet when Congressional committees come calling and grand juries convene, things get “misremembered.”

And this is a guy “thinking” about writing a book? What’s going to be in it…

Misrememories?

Say it ain’t Sosa… no really, say it

mac_samMy friend Mike was working on some formulas and quantum physics things that could, if the math is right, add more hours to the day. The month of February might be a casualty in all of this, but the other months will be symmetrical and we very well could end up with some extra time.

It should be noted that Mike is working on this in his free time, which kind of shoots his theory in the ass a bit, but otherwise, this is groundbreaking stuff. If anything it will give the baseball writer-types the much-needed time to watch things like the Joe Buck Live so we can ponder the host’s second favorite web site.

After the five minutes passes that it takes to understand the significance of the sports announcer’s show and the unnatural disaster named Artie Lange[1], we can take a nap with the report on Sammy Sosa and his alleged positive test acting as an organic Ambien.

I almost read the report in The New York Times about Sammy Sosa’s alleged positive test from 2003. I should say that I actually dialed it up on the Internets, looked at the picture of Sammy and Big Mark McGwire smiling together during that summer of 1998, and tried to get through the lede graf.

But then I couldn’t stop yawning. Not enough oxygen to my head, I guess. But the yawns came so frequently that it seemed like a good idea to get up and walk around a bit. Maybe grab a drink with a little caffeine to shake loose the cob webs. Then I could go back and sit down and get through the story.

Only when I tried again I dozed off. The weird thing about this was that I was sitting in the press box at the Phillies-Jays game. There were more than 45,000 people hovering about and there I was drooling on the keys of my laptop. I may have even sprayed Gonzo or Crasnick who usually sit next to me at the ballgames.

What are you going to do? If a Sammy Sosa getting popped for PEDs can’t hold one’s attention, what chance do innocent bystanders have?

Yet refreshed and rested, I forged on. Only instead of reading up on Sammy, I learned that Senator Barbara Boxer from California really has “a thing” about highly decorated military men calling her, “senator” as opposed to “ma’am,” or even, “Babs.”

The distinguished senator from California claims she worked hard for her title, which means she raised a helluva lot of money. In fact, Babs raised so much money that the great state of California has tax rates that make even ballplayers complain. Oh sure, those guys complain about anything dealing with taxes and money and government. It’s like one of those minutemen brigades or something, only the fortified bunkers are loaded with therapeutic tubs and pools, a training staff and all the maple bats a guy could ever want. In the case of the Phillies, sometimes the common area of the bunker (aka, The Clubhouse) has an actual team of ballplayers in it after games, but most of the time the jocks are out-numbered by PR staff members by a rate of 5-to-1.

Anyway, take a look at ol’ Babs giving Gomer Pyle the business:

Oh, but there was one thing that had me rapt for approximately 10 whole minutes. In fact, I was actually excited to lounge on the couch and read the Sports Illustrated send-up on Charlie Manuel.

Sure, there weren’t too many new stories in the piece, and, in fact, I recall hearing one of them a few weeks ago. In the story Charlie even points out that he told the story a few days prior. Well, he told them to us in the dugout during the early afternoon meet-and-greet he does with the local writing press. The truth is, the guy loves to tell stories about Billy Martin and Japan, and frankly, we like to hear them as many times as he wants to tell them.

chuckCharlie has a few other doozies that likely won’t see print any time soon and haven’t made it into the Sports Illustrated or HBO features. Actually, that raises a pretty interesting premise and that is Charlie likes to talk to the big-time national press.

Bryant Gumble, Frank DeFord and HBO? Sure, send ‘em over. Sports Illustrated? No problem – where is the fitting for the tux? A speaking gig warming up for Colin Powell, Rudy Giuliani and Donovan McNabb? No problem, just get ready for the folksy charm.

So here’s the issue… is Charlie spreading himself too thin? Are the Phillies playing so poorly at home because of all the demands on their time from winning the World Series? Undoubtedly, Charlie and the rest of the Phillies will answer with a resounding, “No!” But think about it – how many national TV commercial ads were Phillies players starring in before they won the World Series? Before Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard and Cole Hamels became pitchmen, was there anyone else other than Mike Schmidt an Pete Rose?

It’s a wonderful thing winning the World Series, but damn if it ain’t time consuming.


[1] Just gonna say it: would anyone give a flying fig about the Joe Buck Live if Artie Lange had not been on it? If the answer is anything other than, “No,” you don’t get it.

What’s eating Raul?

raulNEW YORK – The word came from the Phillies public relations staff that Raul Ibanez wanted to know if any of the regular scribes covering the team were interested in chatting with the slugging outfielder regarding the speculation of his performance-enhancing drug use. It was a curious thing considering Ibanez is always affable and willing to talk about nearly any topic.

That is, of course, if one can locate Ibanez. A tireless worker, Ibanez is always in the middle of doing something baseball-related, be it studying film, taking extra batting practice, stretching or getting a chiropractic adjustment. So to hear that one of baseball’s truly good guys offered, pre-emptively, to discuss something that was never an issue until a relatively anonymous blog post from a blogger with no access or credibility suggested that Ibanez’s hot start to the 2009 season could be chemically enhanced, was noteworthy.

But there were no takers. No, it wasn’t because no one wanted to talk to Ibanez. It was because no one wanted to talk to Ibanez about something that was never a story in the first place. Had folks in Philadelphia treated something called, “Midwestern Sports Fans” like they always did (you know… as if it never existed), perhaps Ibanez wouldn’t have offered to alter his pre-game preparations to talk about something that no one was even thinking about.

Yet since ESPN picked it up on Ibanez’s comments to the Philadelphia Inquirer on Wednesday, there was a low murmur around Citi Field about the “issue.”

“To be honest, I don’t want to talk about it,” manager Charlie Manuel said.

But even Manuel couldn’t resist.

“It upsets me,” he said. “I think if you’re going to put that out there he ought to have proof.”

Shane Victorino was less diplomatic, jokingly (maybe?) attacking the Internet and the advances in technology. The Phils’ outfielder pointed out that there are at least a dozen accounts on Facebook and Twitter in his name, but, “I never started one of them.”

That can lead to confusion, Victorino says, when family and friends see his name in places and want to connect with him. However, the biggest issue is the lack of accountability with some blogs. Because the blogger at the “Midwestern Sports Fans,” going by the handle, “JRod” never actually has to face any of his subjects nor ever sees how athletes like Ibanez go about their work, he has very little understanding of what damage his words can cause.

“It can ruin a guy’s life,” Victorino claimed.

It won’t get that far with Ibanez. Yes, he and the Philadelphia media understand how suspicion has invaded baseball. That’s the reality. But it also seems as if Ibanez was thinking about what some guy named “JRod” wrote before Wednesday’s game at Citi Field when he should have been thinking about facing the Mets.

Hittin’ weather

Raul IbanezCrazy day at the old ballyard yesterday. So crazy that I had four different stories written during the game based on the outcome only to scrap them all when Raul Ibanez smacked his grand slam and when we learned Brad Lidge had an MRI, a cortisone shot AND was taking anti-inflammatory medication.

So yeah, crazy day at the ol’ ballpark.

“Good ol’ slugfest,” Charlie Manuel said.

Charlie calls these early hot days “hittin’ weather.” He’s certainly right about that considering the ball seems to travel a little bit longer when the winds are calm and the temperatures higher at Citizens Bank Park. Ibanez says he noticed the ball carrying well during batting practice earlier on Monday afternoon. But even Ibanez or Manuel would have had difficulty predicting the long shots belted by the Nationals and Phillies.

Not only did two shots clear the center field fence and strike the batter’s eye (Ryan Zimmerman and Ryan Howard), but the Nats clubbed two upper deck shots – one to left by Zimmerman and one to right by Nick Johnson – and blasted one onto Ashburn Alley by Elijah Dukes.

Clearly the Nats gained more yards in the air than the Washington football team did all of last season.

Though the Phillies offense seems to be clicking after the two losses to the Brewers late last week and the first part of the Marlins games, Manuel is clearly concerned about the team’s pitching. The staff’s ERA is far and away the worst in the National League and only the Rangers and Yankees have a worse mark in the Majors.

“Looks to me like they are leaving pitches out over the good part of the plate,” Manuel said when asked about his staff’s troubles.

And by good he meant from a hitter’s perspective.

At this point it seems as if the manager has little flexibility in regard to his staff. J.C. Romero is still serving his suspension (he has 32 games to go), Lidge might have a DL stint coming and the starters aren’t giving the relievers too many breaks. So far the Phillies are fifth in the league for innings by relievers and 14th in innings pitched by starters.

Unlike with hitters, Manuel can’t sit pitchers when they struggle. In fact, it might be the exact opposite – if a pitcher is struggling the manager might opt to get him more work.

You know, depending on the circumstance.

Surely the pitching will be a topic to rear its head again soon…

*
Not messing around…
Speaking of J.C. Romero, the suspended reliever is not messing around with his law suit against the makers of the supplement 6-OXO Extreme as well as the retailers that sell the product. How so? Consider that he has Howard Jacobs as one of his attorneys.

Yes, that Howard Jacobs.

For anyone who follows cycling, track or doping cases, Howard Jacobs is the go-to name in law. It seems as if he has represented everyone from Tyler Hamilton to Floyd Landis to Marian Jones. If there is one lawyer who knows about the ins and outs of doping tests and drugs in sports, it’s Jacobs.

Better yet, Jacobs was a competitive triathlete so he understands all of the aspects of doping and athlete’s rights.

The presence of Jacobs on Romero’s legal team as well as thoughts from several attorneys weighing in on the case indicates that the pitcher has a strong case.

Still, one lawyer said if the supplement company advertised its product as something that complies with the MLB testing regimen, then yeah, Romero has a case. Otherwise, he might be losing even more cash.

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 …

Taking our medicine

Your pop caught you smoking and he said, “No way!”
That hypocrite smokes two packs a day

—  “Fight for your Right (to Party),” The Beastie Boys

Yankees Rodriguez BaseballSo Alex Rodriguez is back in the news. But then again, that’s pretty much how it’s going to be for a long, long time. If Rodriguez flexes a muscle someone is going to be there with a camera phone and a Twitter account to get the “news” out there.

Life in the digital age… Sigh!

Nevertheless, Rodriguez worked out with the Yankees on Tuesday morning and then had the displeasure of sitting in front of a firing squad known as the U.S. sporting press. There, the star-crossed third baseman answered question after question (no follow-ups, please) regarding his ambiguous experimentation with performance-enhancing drugs obtained by a “cousin” in the Dominican Republic.

Yeah, it was a scene, man.

Though Rodriguez’s story and answers had more holes than an old sweater, he sat there and took “his medicine,” as he said without irony on Tuesday afternoon.

“It was really amateur hour. I mean, it was two guys,” Rodriguez said. “We couldn’t ask anyone. We didn’t want to ask anyone.”

But…

“I knew we weren’t taking Tic Tacs.”

Continue reading 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…

Catching up with PEDs

Rafael PalmeiroIt’s been a long time since I wrote about drugs here so I thought I’d start out with a “told you so.” What is this time, you ask. Well, hold on… let me tell you.

It wasn’t too long ago – August of 2005 – when I wrote about how the well-publicized pharmaceutical Viagra was a performance-enhancing drug. And no, that wasn’t meant as a joke.

Actually, most people think I’m being ironic when I say or write that Viagra can heighten the athletic prowess of an athlete, but, please, take the statements at face value. Nevertheless, what piqued my interest in Viagra was the positive drug test from ex-Orioles and Rangers slugger Rafael Palmeiro.

Palmeiro, of course, was suspended by baseball for 10 games for testing positive for the anabolic steroid Winstrol, which reportedly was the drug of choice for shamed sprinter Ben Johnson and stakes horse, Big Brown. But Palmeiro was even better known for his use of Viagra. In fact, Palmeiro famously appeared as a spokesman for the impotency drug and starred in national TV commercials that hit the airwaves in heavy rotation.

So while everyone was trying to figure out if Palmeiro was taking shots of horse steroids in his rear, I dug into what Viagra was doing for him other than what was being explained in the TV commercial.

Viagra, not unlike EPO, I wrote, could increase the level of oxygen sent to an athletes’ muscles. The more oxygen in a muscle, the less tired it gets so it could be said that Palmeiro’s muscles not only were recovering and growing quicker thanks to the horse ‘roids, but also they were getting much more oxygen from his little blue pills. Pretty much any athlete who participates in a sport that involves running or endurance might be able to benefit from taking Viagra.

But Viagra is also used to counteract potential impotence, which can be a side-effect of testosterone injections. At least that’s what we learned from a story in the New York Daily News this week. The crux of the story:

Roger Clemens allegedly kept Viagra in a GNC vitamin bottle in his locker at Yankee Stadium. Already under investigation for alleged performance-enhancing drug use during his playing days, Clemens, sensationally, was allegedly one of many athletes taking “Vitamin V.” according to the story, Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and Marian Jones were regular users of the drug. What’s more, pro cyclist Andrea Moletta was suspended from the prestigious Giro d’Italia when police found 82 Viagra pills and a syringe in his father’s car.

Sports regulation groups, including the federally-funded United States Anti-Doping Agency, are investigating whether or not Viagra could become a banned substance for athletes. According to drugs expert Don Catlin, “It’s a complicated drug. If you go through the basic pharmacology and stretch your imagination, you could end up saying, ‘Yeah, maybe it could be useful for athletes who are competing in endurance sports at high altitude.'”

But – pardon the pun – Viagra is in bed with Major League Baseball. A long-time corporate sponsor of MLB, it seems as if baseball could find itself in an odd spot. How would it look if MLB came under the drug-testing auspices of the USADA and had to ban a product of one of its major sponsors?

Regardless, will Major league Baseball really test anyone for anything? According to a story in The New York Times, MLB may have suspended drug testing during the 2004 season. Better yet, if the league didn’t suspend testing, the story reads, MLB alerted players when tests would be.The reason why that’s such big news is that the league failed to mention any of this during the infamous testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform in March of 2005.

It was during those hearings where Palmeiro wagged his finger at the lawmakers and told them he never used steroids.

Instead, MLB the MLBPA testified in those hearings that test results in 2004 showed a significant drop in positives, which may have stopped Congress from interceding in MLB’s drug testing processes.

In other words, players weren’t testing positive because they weren’t being tested… allegedly.

Harry Waxman, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, issued a statement in which he says the information he received from MLB and MLBPA was wrong, though he isn’t sure if either group was deliberately supplying the wrong information.

Says Waxman:

It’s clear that some of the information Major League Baseball and the players union gave the committee in 2005 was inaccurate. It isn’t clear whether this was intentional or just reflects confusion over the testing program for 2003 and 2004. In any case, the misinformation is unacceptable.

Because of the sports fans’ drug fatigue, it doesn’t seem as if the new revelations will resonate. However, it doesn’t mean it won’t be a problem for MLB. When the Olympic sports routinely test for performance-enhancing drugs and just as routinely suspend athletes – sometimes without the benefit of due process – baseball looks conspicuous by its absence. No, this doesn’t mean baseball should start some of the Draconian methods used by the World Anti-Doping Agency and its brethren, but it’s remarkable to think about what is banned by other sports but is perfectly legal in baseball.

Including that little blue pill.

Absolute control?

RomonowskiWhen it comes to experts in the performance-enhancing drugs topic, there are very few people who know more about the subject than Dr. Charles Yesalis of Penn State University. The truth is it’s difficult to have a meaningful conversation about the topic without at least some input from Dr. Yesalis.

Meanwhile, reporters Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada have done some of the most groundbreaking work on the subject. Reporting for the San Francisco Chronicle, Williams and Fainaru-Wada helped break the BALCO case wide open and their book Game of Shadows is packed with information that has not been refuted. Actually, the news regarding the Marion Jones and Barry Bonds cases that are just being reported now were detailed with much precision by Williams and Fainaru-Wada a long time ago.

In other words, if Yesalis, Williams and Fainaru-Wada are in the same room talking about the topic of performance-enhancing drugs, it’s a good idea to listen. Chances are you might learn something.

Better yet, chances are you might hear something that feels like a jolt to the solar plexus.

Actually, it wasn’t quite as significant as all of that, but when noting a report on the stellar web site, Steroid Nation, yesterday, I felt like I was making the noise heard from one of those cartoon characters that had just been smashed in the face with a frying pan and was waiting for its original shape to reappear.

Wha, wha what!

At a Penn State roundtable last week entitled, “Steroids and baseball: Where is the public interest?” Yesalis shared the dais with Williams and Fainaru-Wada where they spoke of a societal split on the issues concerning performance-enhancing drugs in the national pastime as well as other sports. The issue, however, wasn’t that steroids or HGH, etc. was cheating because that’s hard to refute, said Fainaru-Wada.

“They are banned for a reason. They work,” Fainaru-Wada said.

The main issue was that there appears to be a backlash from a certain demographic – those under the age of 40 – of the sports fandom that doesn’t really see drug use as a big issue. Yeah, sure, using PEDs are cheating, but so what. Sports and the games are nothing more than entertainment, the sentiment goes. The difference between going to the movies, a concert or a ballgame is barely palpable so if it’s OK for Hollywood actors or pop stars to use HGH or testosterone why can’t a baseball player?

“I’ve seen numerous fans say, ‘I don’t care. I just want to be entertained,'” Yesalis said. “I’ve talked to a lot of young people. They aren’t bent out of shape about this…

“I think in the under-40 crowd, it’s strictly entertainment, and if they use drugs to make it more entertaining, whatever.”

Whatever, indeed, unless, of course, an accused drug cheat just so happens to be a local star. In that regard, the fans just don’t want to hear it. Actually, sometimes it seems as if the leagues don’t want to hear it either.

“There’s tremendous fan resistance to hearing your local star player is a drug cheat,” Williams said.

The celebrity culture appears to have co-opted the sports world. Blame certain blogs that focus on everything except the finer details and nuance of the actual game or blame the jocks for buying into the notion that they are celebrities in a jersey. Either way, it’s clear that the red carpet extends beyond the front door of the multiplex.

For better or worse.

The trio also discussed drug testing and how the leagues tout the programs as proof that it has rid the scourge of drug use from its games, but in reality, Yesalis said, “If you’re really stupid, you’ll flunk. Those people who are not really stupid, don’t.”

But while baseball is at “peril” with its drug problem, the problem in the NFL is nearly complete. Actually, said Fainaru-Wada, fans believe that it’s just a few athletes getting away with it while the rest of the league is clean – a few doped apples spoiling the bunch. The truth is much more sobering, they said.

“You look at these guys, these are not the normal human beings that we all coexist with. Some 300-pound guy running a 4.4 in the 40 is not normal,” Fainaru-Wada said.

“There’s a societal sort of acceptance that the NFL is a different animal and there’s not as much of a push on that.”

Yesalis said estimates that 90-to-95 percent of NFL players are using human growth hormone.

Repeat that…

It’s 90-to-95 percent of NFL players are using human growth hormone.

That claim is just kind of out there without much behind it. Is it speculation or does Yesalis have proof? But, no matter what, the statistic is quite staggering. Especially if Yesalis is in the ballpark… 90-to-95 percent?

Wow.

More: Steroid Nation – Yesalis, Williams and Fainaru-Wada on steroid panel at Penn State: 95% of NFL players use HGH

Wyoming, Texas and everywhere else

Dick CheneyThere are a lot of stories to react to today and none of them involve the Phillies at all. But then again, why would they? Why do people think that writing about and watching the Phillies is vital to our national discourse and sovereignty? Because you know what – I’ve been around and I know for a fact that most people don’t care.

How? Well, grab a seat…

Not too long ago my wife, then two-year old son and I drove from Estes Park, Colorado to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Along the way we stopped at a handful of roadside stands in the Big Thompson Canyon, where I remember buying some wild chokecherry jelly. Apparently it was native to that small, specific region of Colorado where the altitude and elements affected the chokecherries just so.

Plus, it was kind of cool stopping at a roadside stand outside of Lancaster County outposts like Blue Ball or Intercourse where they don’t have things like chokecherries. Apparently, the chokecherry can kill a horse even though it makes a helluva jelly.

Anyway, we drove to Wyoming where we saw nothing and realized that something called Major League Baseball was just something else other people did.

Here’s what I wrote after having lunch at the train depot at the end of Capitol Street in Cheyenne:

I don’t know how many of you folks out there have ever been to Wyoming, but there is nothing there. And when I say “there is nothing there,” I don’t mean, “We went to Wyoming and all they had was a freaking Wal-Mart and a bunch of rednecks hanging out at the mall…” There was no mall. There was no Wal-Mart either. In fact, the reason we met the Governor was because we walked into the state house thinking there would be some sort of historical tour or something (there wasn’t). Instead, we marched right up the front steps, entered the building without going through any security clearance, and then made a hard right into the Governor’s office. Yeah, that’s right — the Governor of the entire state was sitting about 25 yards from where some sporadic midday traffic was halfheartedly whizzing by.

Crazy, huh? Think Ed Rendell would get his ample ass up from behind his desk for anything less than a 6-foot hoagie? No, me either.

There was a lot I learned about Wyoming and Cheyenne that I’m saving for a more ambitious project and won’t bore anyone with the details here. I’m sure no one wants to hear about the finer details of the drive from Estes Park, Colo. through Northern Colorado and into Wyoming. I have pages on that. Nor do I think anyone is too interested in how Wyoming was the first state to allow women to vote — they have a big statue for Esther Hobart in front of the capitol. She led the suffrage movement.

Sure, Dick Cheney is from Wyoming, but so is Jackson Pollock and Nellie Taylor Ross, the first woman governor of any state in the union.

Forget all of that, but remember this: according to the 2000 census, the population of Cheyenne is 52, 011. That makes it the largest city in the state. It also is quite a bit less than Lancaster, Pa., and Lancaster has a whole bunch of things Cheyenne doesn’t — a few Wal-Marts, Taco-Bells… you know, suburban sprawl. Wyoming has none of that. From my experience, the nine miles from the Wyoming state line to Cheyenne makes the Pennsylvania Dutch Country look like Manhattan.

Or how about this: Nobody in Cheyenne gives a [bleep] about the Phillies, nor has anyone ever heard of Bill Conlin. Of course, we didn’t get a chance to talk to everyone, but we got a good start in a walk up and down Capitol Street and into a Western clothier called “The Wrangler,” where they have all the gear stocked up in anticipation for this weekend’s Frontier Days, which, if my rudimentary knowledge of professional rodeo is on the money, is akin to the U.S. Open in golf.

So, nope, most people don’t care about the Phillies, which is kind of a roundabout way of getting to the interesting things I read over the past 24 hours.

***
Sly StalloneJack McCallum of Sports Illustrated led a series of stories about performance-enhancing drugs and how they have a grip in American society beyond the sporting world. Actually, look no further than the entertainment industry for a good primer as to how the steroid culture pervades public life.

In fact, during last week’s Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame inductions, little Justin Timberlake and Madonna spoke quite cavalierly from the stage about injections of B-12 and even described the 49-year old pop star’s travel kit with her supplements of shots… you know, because everyone walks around with needles and doses of B-12.

From McCollum:

Few segments of society depend as heavily on physical appearance as Hollywood, and it turns out that Sylvester Stallone, who may one day give us Rambo: The Assisted-Living Years, needed more than one-handed pushups and raw eggs at dawn to stay cut. Last May in Australia the 61-year-old Stallone paid $10,600 to settle a charge of criminal drug possession after he was found to have 48 vials of HGH and several vials of testosterone. Stallone has since acknowledged that he takes HGH and testosterone regularly, and legally. “Everyone over 40 years old would be wise to investigate it [HGH and testosterone use] because it increases the quality of your life,” Stallone told Time last month.

Adds a prominent Hollywood plastic surgeon, who requested anonymity because he has many clients in the industry, “If you’re an actor in Hollywood and you’re over 40, you are doing HGH. Period. Why wouldn’t you? It makes your skin look better, your hair, your fingernails, everything.”

Chuck Zito — former Hells Angel, former bodyguard to the stars, former Hollywood stuntman and beefcake extra, former sinister presence on HBO’s Oz — was an enthusiastic steroid and HGH user for three years during his acting days earlier this decade. “It’s just something everybody did,” says Zito, “and they’re still doing it. It’s ridiculous that we only talk about it in sports. You think these actors who suddenly get big for a movie, then go back to normal get like that by accident? You put 30 pounds of muscle on and you expect everybody to believe that just happened?”

Isn’t just like people to look for shortcuts? That’s especially the case when staying fit and looking “healthy” takes nothing more than a little bit of work and discipline… but who has time to eat properly, exercise well and get the correct amount of sleep?

A good work ethic is just too old-fashioned.

***
Because I have ties to the sports world and academia, I often hear about parents that push their kids into athletics with the hope of the kid getting a college scholarship. Sometimes the parents spend tens of thousands of dollars a year for special camps and private coaching with the hope of making Little Jimmy the next great Big Man on Campus.

Certainly such sentiment is a sea change from how things were in my day when we were told very early on (like in sixth grade) that we wouldn’t be good enough.

And it was true. The high school I attended was (and is) widely regarded as the area’s best school for athletics. Through many different eras the track and basketball teams have been more than dominant – they’ve been unbeatable. During my senior year the golf, track and cross country teams won 70-plus league meets without a loss. Meanwhile, the football and basketball teams tore through league play and into the district title matchups.

And we weren’t that good.

Yet throughout the school’s 70-year history of owning the area’s top athletic programs, there have been just three alums to make it to the Major Leagues and two others to get to the NFL. Of those five, three of them are currently active.

What this means is that it’s a long way to the top if you want to rock ‘n roll.

But what The New York Times offered in a three-day series chronicling the stories of scholarship athletes and the coaches at Villanova and Delaware is that it might be easier to go from college to the pros than it is to get a full ride for even the best high school athletes.

Excluding the glamour sports of football and basketball, the average N.C.A.A. athletic scholarship is nowhere near a full ride, amounting to $8,707. In sports like baseball or track and field, the number is routinely as low as $2,000. Even when football and basketball are included, the average is $10,409. Tuition and room and board for N.C.A.A. institutions often cost between $20,000 and $50,000 a year.

“People run themselves ragged to play on three teams at once so they could always reach the next level,” said Margaret Barry of Laurel, Md., whose daughter is a scholarship swimmer at the University of Delaware. “They’re going to be disappointed when they learn that if they’re very lucky, they will get a scholarship worth 15 percent of the $40,000 college bill. What’s that? $6,000?”

Within the N.C.A.A. data, last collected in 2003-4 and based on N.C.A.A. calculations from an internal study, are other statistical insights about the distribution of money for the 138,216 athletes who received athletic aid in Division I and Division II.

¶Men received 57 percent of all scholarship money, but in 11 of the 14 sports with men’s and women’s teams, the women’s teams averaged higher amounts per athlete.

¶On average, the best-paying sport was neither football nor men’s or women’s basketball. It was men’s ice hockey, at $21,755. Next was women’s ice hockey ($20,540).

¶The lowest overall average scholarship total was in men’s riflery ($3,608), and the lowest for women was in bowling ($4,899). Baseball was the second-lowest men’s sport ($5,806).

Interestingly, NCAA president Myles Brand pointed out in one of the stories that if kids are really hell bent on getting free money for college, they are better off applying themselves in academics than in sports.

“The real opportunity is taking advantage of how eager institutions are to reward good students,” he said. “In America’s colleges, there is a system of discounting for academic achievement. Most people with good academic records aren’t paying full sticker price. We don’t want people to stop playing sports; it’s good for them. But the best opportunity available is to try to improve one’s academic qualifications.”

***
Lou ReedFinally, there was an interesting story on the South by Southwest festival in The Wall Street Journal on how the Austin, Texas-based fest organizers are trying to keep “the suits” out.

To that we say, “Good for them.”

Also at SXSW, the legendary Lou Reed was a keynote speaker and was feted in a tribute concert in which piles of bands played his songs. I bet it was kind of cool, though some old dude writing for Austin’s newspaper though the Reed-fest was a little much.

The old dude named Corcoran wrote:

SXSW keynoter Lou Reed played the “Lou Reed Tribute” Thursday evening at the Levi’s/Fader Fort. He performed “Walk On the Wild Side” with Moby, not really an adventurous choice. The songs I heard for two hours, many of them sounding alike, kinda rat out Reed as an overrated songwriter in the right place, right time. Where’s his “I Say a Little Prayer?.” What’s the great song he’s written in the past 30 years?

OK, where do we start… look, it’s fine – and maybe even correct – to write that Reed might be a little overrated. Frankly, who isn’t a little overrated these days. But that last sentence, What’s the great song he’s written in the past 30 years? … oh my.

Talk about a pile of crap.

First, Reed, as a schoolboy at Syracuse, had a direct link (through poet Delmore Schwartz) to T.S. Eliot, William Carlos Williams, Ezra Pound and Vlad Nabokov. But then again, why would something as heady as that matter to a newspaper writer?

But I just can’t get past that line — What’s the great song he’s written in the past 30 years? Really, is Corcoran that dim? Reed’s album Magic & Loss, released in 1991, is one that I have owned since it came out but have only been able to listen to one time because it’s just way too real and I’m not enough of an adult to deal with it. It’s as much of a bleeping knockout punch as it is haunting.

In 1990 Reed teamed with old Velvet Underground mate John Cale for the romantic Songs for Drella, which is an elegant, funny, sweet, trenchant and unflinching tribute to Andy Warhol as could ever be produced.

In 1989 Reed released the epic New York not only led the back-to-basics movement that spawned the so-called grunge sound a half decade later, but as rated 19th best album of the 1980s by Rolling Stone it is criminally underrated.

So what great song has Reed written in the past 30 years? I don’t know, are three great albums that aren’t bound by such trite media notions as time or era enough?

If you don’t have anything nice to say…

Ryan Howard… get a blog. Or better yet, just invite the writing media over to the locker to chat instead of those pesky TV folks with their makeup and those white, hot lights and cameras. Besides, talking to actual humans instead of inanimate objects like cameras and TV reporters is much more revealing anyway. Sure, the fans might like tuning in from so far away to watch a guy talk with those lights and the microphones bearing down, but come on… no one really enjoys it.

At least that’s the way it was for Ryan Howard in Clearwater today. Rather than do the whole big ballyhoo and faux production of a made-for-TV inquiry about his contract and whether or not animosity has festered like a bad blister because the Phillies only want to pay him $7 million for 2008 instead of $10 million just chatted up a few scribes and some inanimate objects in the clubhouse.

It made for a more contemplative, more intimate, more revealing and perhaps even a more trenchant conversation. That’s the key word there – conversation. Look, when dealing with athletes, pro writers are dealing with a short deck mostly because they don’t know a damn thing about exercise or fitness or training or anything. But that’s beside the point. When the glare and scrutiny beats on a guy, it gets hard to explain things, so everyone loses.

Or something like that. Who knows. I’m just making this all up as I go along and I’m sure that five minutes from now I’ll have no idea what I wrote. But don’t let that stop anyone from acknowledging that sooner or later Ryan Howard will have to answer questions about his contract. What, do you think the writing press is a bunch of shrinking violets? Hey, they might not know the ins and outs of exercise or physiology, but that’s not going to stop them from using clichés oh so cavalierly.

You know, whatever.

***
Here’s a question: is it worse that someone made a typographical error in typing up a document filed yesterday in the Barry Bonds perjury case that erroneously stated the player tested positive for steroids in November of 2001, or is it worse that so many media outlets blindly jumped on the story without checking it out first.

Look, people trust the wire services and the big names in the media business without giving it much thought. But even the tiniest bit of research over the false Bonds report should have had folks scratching their heads a bit with wonderment over why the star-crossed slugger would have taken a drugs test in 2001.

Plus, knowing that there are no more secrets anywhere and that the truth always rears its troll-like face, the notion of a failed drugs test by Bonds in November of 2001 should have had the fact-checkers scrambling.

Alas…

Nevertheless, the underlying problem was evident: Media types are too worried about being first instead of being right.

***
Pedro Finally, my favorite story of the day comes out of the Mets’ camp in Port Saint Lucie where Pedro Martinez rightfully claimed that he stared down the so-called Steroid Era and plunked it on its ass.

According to Pedro, “I dominated that era and I did it clean.

“I have a small frame and when I hurt all I could do was take a couple of Aleve or Advil, a cup of coffee and a little mango and an egg – and let it go!”

It sounds like Pedro (and Cole Hamels) are wannabe marathon runners who wake up every morning with everything hurting, shuffle stiff-legged downstairs for some coffee, a vitamin, maybe a Clif Bar or even an ibuprofen with the thought of visiting the chiro for some Active Release Technique therapy before heading out the door for the first of two brutal workouts.

Drugs tests? Where the cup…

“I wish that they would check every day,” Pedro said. “That’s how bad I want the game to be clean. I would rather go home (than) taint the game.”

Here’s a theory: the pitching during the so-called “Steroid Era” wasn’t so bad. Oh sure, certain media types — blabbermouths on certain radio stations in particular — are quick to point out how today’s pitchers can’t throw strikes, won’t work deep into games and how some of them shouldn’t be in the big leagues. Expansion, they say, has watered down the game.

Maybe so. But try this out: in facing hitters with baseballs that are wound tighter and who are using harder bats made of harder wood against a tinier strike zone in ball parks that are smaller still, pitchers have to add guile to the repertoire. And we didn’t even get into the performance-enhancing drugs part yet. Nonetheless, pitchers just can’t lean back and huck it up there as fast as they can — pitchers have had to pitch in the post-modern era of baseball.

***
Jamie MoyerSpeaking of doing it the right way for a long time, Sully Salisbury turned in a great story on the meritorious Jamie Moyer, who is heading into his 22nd big league season.

A few minutes in the presence of Moyer makes it easy to believe that you never, ever have to get old. You never have to burn out, get tired, act old, compromise, get mediocre or slow down. Moyer turned 45 last November and be sure that there are players on the Phillies who are “older” than he is – they’ve stopped being engaged, they know what they know and they don’t want to be exposed to anything new. They are already completely formed and they might only be 23 years old.

Not Moyer, though. In a conversation last October, the pitcher says one of the best parts about playing for so long has been the exposure to new people and ideas.

“A lot of times, I just focus on the simplicity of things, and not be the focus of what should be going on here, and just keep things simple. I call it the K.I.S.S. factor — keep it simple, stupid,” he said last October. “I look back on instances in my career like that — good and bad – but things that I’ve learned from, and try to re-educate myself and rethink things, and reinforce what I already know. A lot of times, we can overlook things and forget, and after the fact, after the mistake is made, you’re like, ‘Oh, I knew that. Why did I do that?’ You can’t catch everything. But if you can catch some of it, hopefully, it’ll work out. What’s been fun is being around this group of guys and the energy they bring.”

As Moyer told Sailisbury yesterday:

“I’m not as proud of the age thing as I am of the ups and downs I’ve overcome to create some longevity,” Moyer said after yesterday’s workout. “I’ve enjoyed that part. I can smile and say I’m doing what I want to do.”

To tell the truth: The Clemens, McNamee edition

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) just gaveled closed the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee’s hearing on steroids and baseball. It came a few seconds after he pounded his gavel onto his podium and told Roger Clemens to shut up.

That little moment were just the sprinkles atop of the sundae during the four-plus hours that Roger Clemens and his ex-trainer Brian McNamee met with the Congressional Committee to discuss the Mitchell Report’s investigation in illicit performance-enhancing substance abuse in baseball. Most of the testimony and questions were quite testy and went so far as for several U.S. Representatives to call McNamee a “liar” and a “drug dealer.”

Aside from the final gavel down from Waxman, Clemens was treated much more respectfully than McNamee than members of Congress, though the questions were hardly deferential and the responses were greeted with loads of skepticism.

So after four hours of accusations, anger and the threat of further hearings, here’s what I learned from watching Clemens, McNamee and Congress joust for the better part of the afternoon:

• Andy Pettitte is a problem for Clemens. Actually, it seems almost Shakespearean in that Clemens’ best friend in baseball could be the one guy to bring him down.

• Whether he is telling the truth or not, Brian McNamee did not come out of the hearings looking very good.

• Whether he is telling the truth or not, Roger Clemens does not look good for hiring a trainer/body man like Brian McNamee.

• Athletes like Roger Clemens continue to perpetuate the notion that they do not know what they are taking or have taken. Just the thought of such a thing is such a load of bull—-. Every elite-level athlete knows very well what they take and they sweat over the details. Those who don’t pay attention to such things don’t last very long. So for someone like Roger Clemens to say he was not aware or was duped by a trainer, nutritionist or doctor… well, perhaps they aren’t exercising the best candor.

• Most importantly, Roger Clemens is not a vegetarian. When asked if he was a vegan, Clemens looked confused and said: “I don’t know what that is. I’m sorry.”

So if Clemens is neither a vegetarian nor a vegan, we should assume that he has ingested steroids… sorry, there I go again.

Anyway, the question remains – what was accomplished with having Clemens and McNamee in front of the committee.

“Not as much as we would have liked,” Rep. Mark Souder (R-Ind.) told ESPN, who also chastised Major League Baseball and its players for its “code of silence” in regards to its drug problems.

“I found Clemens almost as believable as Rafael Palmeiro,” Rep. Souder told ESPN.

The problem is that McNamee came off just as believable in a circus of events in which it seems as if the man who was not present came out with his reputation intact. That’s the curious part, especially considering that several Congressman wondered aloud about why Andy Pettitte was not taking questions, too.

Where was he?

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.

He yam what he yam

PopeyePoor Roger Clemens. After decades of making baseball fans and the baseball media believe the unbelievable, things have changed. It seems as if people have stopped buying what he’s been selling despite years and years of turning a blind eye and swallowing it whole.

So yeah, poor Roger Clemens.

Clemens, of course, made a much heralded appearance with company man Mike Wallace on “60 Minutes” last night. It was on that show where Clemens admitted that he injected B-12 and lidocaine. He also told Wallace that he would submit to a lie-detector test because we all know that just like a negative drug test, a polygraph reveals everything.

But where Clemens made his mistake isn’t from admitting that he injected B-12 and lidocaine with the help of his ex-trainer turned George Mitchell’s rat, Brian McNamee. He made his mistake by thinking that sporting press was still largely ignorant about performance-enhancing drugs, injections and vitamins. Hey, he figured he had them believing everything he threw out there to begin with, especially the part about how “intense” his workout regime was[1], why not trot out the B-12 line?

Certainly what Clemens didn’t think was going to happen was that there would be a backlash about his revelation. Really, B-12? Was he anemic? If so, why didn’t he eat some spinach? You don’t see Popeye injecting B-12 into his ass, do you?

Look, athletes – especially endurance athletes – get anemia. I would go so far as to call it a common malady for runners and cyclists. In fact, amongst the elite American runners out there working today I can name a bunch who struggled with bouts of anemia. Of the few of those runners that I have talked to about their iron deficiency, not one said anything about getting injections of B-12. Instead, they told me they took multi-vitamins and ate more vegetables.

That’s it.

Unless Clemens was using the B-12 shots for something else, such as masking a urine test, it doesn’t sound like he is being completely forthcoming.

As far as lidocaine goes, a non-anabolic steroid and anti-itch agent, couldn’t Clemens just roll around in some aloe leafs?

Hey, maybe Clemens is telling the truth. Why shouldn’t he? Maybe he learned how to pitch as he entered the “twilight of his career.” It’s not out of the ordinary for a pitcher… come on, it’s not like he re-wrote the record books as came into his late-30s. Greg Maddux is still a standout pitcher in his early 40s. For the Phillies, 45-year old Jamie Moyer is just as good now as he was a decade ago. Tom Glavine shows no signs of slowing down, either. And like Clemens, Maddux, Moyer and Glavine have kept away from injuries by staying fit. The key to consistency, oddly enough, is being consistent.

So now Clemens enters into the always murky waters of public opinion, which always matters more than what a guy can prove. 


[1] Yeah, I remember a time when a few sportswriters were discussing a story about Clemens in Sports Illustrated that detailed his out-of-season and in-season workouts with a curious Phillie. The part that had me on the ground laughing was when a scribe said, “He does a whole bunch of weights stuff and then he runs five miles!”

For your reading pleasure

The Mitchell Report (pdf)

Oh, I’m sorry… you just want the names. Here they are:

New names
Chad Allen
Mike Bell
Gary Bennett
Larry Bigbie
Kevin Brown
Alex Cabrera
Mark Carreon
Jason Christiansen
Howie Clark
Roger Clemens
Jack Cust
Brendan Donnelly
Chris Donnels
Matt Franco
Eric Gagne
Matt Herges
Phil Hiatt
Glenallen Hill
Todd Hundley
Mike Judd
David Justice
Chuck Knoblauch
Tim Laker
Mike Lansing
Paul Lo Duca
Nook Logan
Josias Manzanillo
Cody McKay
Kent Mercker
Bart Miadich
Hal Morris
Daniel Naulty
Denny Neagle
Jim Parque
Andy Pettitte
Adam Piatt
Todd Pratt
Stephen Randolph
Adam Riggs
Armando Rios
Brian Roberts
F.P. Santangelo
Mike Stanton
Ricky Stone
Miguel Tejada
Ismael Valdez
Mo Vaughn
Ron Villone
Fernando Vina
Rondell White
Jeff Williams
Todd Williams
Steve Woodard
Kevin Young
Gregg Zaun

Previously mentioned
Manny Alexander
Rick Ankiel
David Bell
Marvin Benard
Barry Bonds
Ricky Bones
Paul Byrd
Jose Canseco
Paxton Crawford
Lenny Dykstra
Bobby Estalella
Ryan Franklin
Jason Giambi
Jeremy Giambi
Jay Gibbons
Troy Glaus
Juan Gonzalez
Jason Grimsley
Jose Guillen
Jerry Hairston Jr.
Darren Holmes
Ryan Jorgensen
Gary Matthews Jr.
Rafael Palmeiro
John Rocker
Benito Santiago
Scott Schoeneweis
David Segui
Gary Sheffield
Randy Velarde
Matt Williams

Tune in at 6 p.m. when the MLBPA fires back.

Guessing game

DougAs everyone (or at least baseball fans and media types with no lives) try to play the guessing game over which players and ex-players will be on The Mitchell Report, a handful of names are beginning to leak out.

According to a report on ESPN, Yankees Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte are reportedly on Mitchell’s list. Yet as the dangerous game of implicating people without any acknowledgment of the league’s collective bargaining agreement or due process continues, the speculation runs rampant.

That’s human nature, we suppose.

Around these parts folks are wondering which Phillies (or ex-Phillies) will be on Mitchell’s Report. We can’t get into that, but we know for a FACT that all-time favorite Phillie, Doug Glanville, WILL NOT be implicated on the Mitchell Report.

Mitchell Report timeline (sort of)

Sam ElliottFormer Senator George Mitchell will release his long-awaited report on his investigation into baseball’s alleged performance-enhancing drugs problem. Senator Mitchell will make an announcement at 2:30 p.m. in press conference from New York City.

At 2:32 p.m. tumbleweed will blow across Mitchell’s podium and one lone cricket will chirp. At 2:34 p.m. Major League Baseball will go back to business as usual.

By 2:40 p.m. all of the sports media and a few selected congressional-type bureaucrats will pontificate about something or other, and by 3 p.m. it will all be over.

However, at 4:30 p.m. at a seperate press conference, commissioner Bud Selig will announce that he is shocked — shocked! — at the Mitchell Report’s findings.

Then he will fly back to Milwaukee and have a hot dog and a coke at Gilles Frozen Custard stand.

Do you think that maybe they can get Sam Elliott to narrate the thing just to liven it up a bit?

Read all about it

Is everyone ready for The Mitchell Report? Oh, I’m sure it will make all the papers. If not, here’s what to expect.

According to a story in The New York Times, approximately 50 players will be named in the report. That number jibes with the report from last year that at least two players from each team tested positive for performance-enhancing substances.

Will (or which) Phillies will be named in the report?

Chicks dig the long ball

Mark McGwireThe overwhelming reaction to the story in The New York Times yesterday that Major League Baseball clubs are tipped off when the “random” and “unannounced” drugs tests are supposed to occur was laughter. Maybe there were a few rolled eyes and feigned indifference, but for the most part, the news was good for a few yucks.

It wasn’t that deeply thought out laughter either. You know, the kind saved for Woody Allen movies, puns or when your boss makes another bad joke. This was derisive laughter saved for politicians who are caught breaking the law in such a manner that they should have just gone to the National Archives, removed the Constitution from behind the glass, and then slipped it into a paper shredder.

We save that type of laughter for arrogant types who we all know will never serve a second of time in the Richard M. Nixon wing of the Lompoc Federal Prison.

But here’s the really funny part about the revelation that Major Leaguers were tipped off about the drugs tests up to two days in advance: No one is surprised.

Seriously, did anyone really believe that baseball was conducting tests with teeth? Does anyone believe that MLB wants to find out if anyone is still using the caveman-type steroids that Rafael Palmeiro reportedly tested positive for? Does anyone think they are excited to hear another name tied to that Florida outfit that reportedly has supplied members of the MLBPA with growth hormone?

I think we all know the answer to that one.

You know what would really be funny? If MLB hired the French Lab (Laboratoire National de Dépistage du Dopage) the Tour de France uses to make sure that all samples come back dirty.

Oh, but it’s not that the story didn’t have its humorous points. For instance, how funny is it that the screeners for the unannounced and random drug tests call the teams a couple of days ahead of time to request free parking passes? That’s a knee-slapper if there ever was one. Way not to be conspicuous, Sherlock!

Better yet, if the rest of the teams in baseball are like the Phillies, two things will happen. First, they will get the runaround and condescension for even suggesting they receive a parking pass in the first place. Then, after finally figuring out where they can park and how/when/where they will get the physical pass (because you need that), the testers will be forced to park a metric mile away from the actual stadium.

In other words, not only will everyone know the testers are coming, but they also will see them coming, too.

Forget the fact that the supposed performance-enhancing drug of choice these days is completely undetectable…

There is probably a serious point somewhere in all of the laughter about Major League Baseball’s “drug-testing program.” Amidst all of the Congressional committee hearings, investigations headed by former senators, and bluster from the commissioner, the real point is that most people – those associated with MLB, too – like things the way they are.

Or…

And it’s funny because it’s true…

Spread around the dirt

It’s hard to explain “real” athletics to the mainstream sporting media and fans, and by “real athletics” I mean sports that take athleticism like running, cycling (you thought I’d say golf) and basketball. Athletes often chide media types because “they don’t play” or “they never played…” and to a large degree they are correct.

When it comes to really knowing sports and what it takes to be an athlete, sportswriters and fans know nothing.

That’s especially the case when it comes to cycling. The conventional appraoch by well-known columnists and sports media is to simply put the sport off by saying, “Well, cycling is dirty and no one can take it seriously…”

Yes, cycling appears to be dirty. But to say cycling is more dirty than football or baseball is just plain stupid. Actually, it’s really, really stupid and the people who write and spew that crap should know better.

The problem cycling writers are having right now is the same one baseball writers had five to 10 years ago when the sport was at the apex of its so-called “Steroid Era,” which is “how could we not know.” Baseball writers really dropped the ball and now writers covering other sports are repeating those mistakes.

Joe Lindsay, in his Boulder Report blog, nails it much better than I ever could. For people interested in sizing up the true sports landscape and the media’s place in it, Lindsay post is as right on as there is…

Perhaps some day it will all be about the game and/or race again.

More: Looking for the exit.

Dope redux

The other day in the press box we had a conversation where I boldly stated that every big newspaper’s sports section should have someone covering the “Dope Beat.” No one disagreed with me. In fact, the consensus was that every paper should have a drug beat and it should happen soon.

The reasons why papers don’t have a drugs in sports guy is too myriad to get into now, though some of it has to do with sports editors, some writers and readers not truly understanding the issues… or the fact that the performance-enhancing drugs issue is the most important sports story happening now and for the extended future. Some day maybe the editors and the readers will catch up.

Why it’s such a big issue is too involved, as well, but the very legitimacy of the sports are in danger. No one really know whether they are watching honest professional sports or pro wrestling any more — then there is the whole issue of privacy, drug testing and the role of sports in society.

Actually, it’s too big for even a really long book.

Anyway, another big star reportedly tested positive — this time it is apparently EPO, an enhancer popular with endurance athletes. According to a story by Amy Shipley of The Washington Post, 2000 Olympic darling Marian Jones tested positive last June at the U.S. national championships in Indianapolis. That’s apparently where 100-meter world-record holder Justin Gatlin failed his drug test, too.

Nonetheless, these stories are going to keep coming. Whether or not it will affect the numbers of people coming through the turnstiles remains to be seen.

More dope

The following received post of the week honors on Letsrun.com, a web site devoted to distance running, track and field, etc. We’ll let readers make their own conclusions on the research.

The post:

A list of T&F, XC and USATF Road-Race athletes who have been caught using illegal performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) and sanctioned by the US Anti-Doping Agency (USADA) over the past six years can be found at
http://www.usantidoping.org/what/management/sanctions.aspx

To this list I added the athlete’s event, coach, sponsor and agent (see list below).

Since 2003, 20 athletes have received severe sanctions by USADA. 17 received 2-year suspensions, Michelle Collins & Regina Jacobs received 4-year suspensions and Jerome Young a lifetime suspension. Another 10 athletes received less severe sanctions (9 got warnings and Rickey Harris a 1-year suspension).

LIFETIME BANS:
Despite all the talk about “lifetime bans”, since 2000, the USADA has issued lifetime bans for only three athletes across all sports. They are Jerome Young (T&F/400m, 2004), Tammy Thomas (Cycling, 2002) and Tony Dees (T&F/110mH, 2001).

DEMOGRAPHICS OF THOSE RECEIVING SEVERE BANS (2+ YEARS):
GENDER: 60% male / 40% female
RACE: 70% black / 30% white
EVENT: 60% sprints / 20% throws / 15% distance / 5% jumps
SPONSOR: 60% Nike / 15% Adidas / 15% all other sponsors / 10% no sponsor
COACH: 30% Trevor Graham(Sprint Capital) / 15% John Smith(HS Intl) / 10% Remi Korchemmy(ZMA)
45% 9 other coaches (1 athlete each)
AGENT: 15% Emanuel Hudson / 15% Renaldo Nehemiah / 10% Charlie Wells / 60% 12 agents (1 each)

OBSERVATIONS:
– Distance events and the jumps appear to be fairly clean – or their athletes are smarter about not getting caught.

– 60% of those who caught doping were sponsored by Nike. But this is roughly in line with the percentage of all pro T&F athletes sponsored by Nike. I counted all the Nike sponsored athletes who participated in the 2006 USATF Outdoor Championships, and then counted the athletes sponsored by all the other shoe companies. Of the “shoe company” sponsored athletes at this meet, 60% were sponsored by Nike. Nike sponsored 70% of the shoe-company sponsored sprinters, 46% of the distance runners, 78% in the throw events, and 72% in the jump events. So it appears that Nike sponsored athletes are no more or less likely to dope than athletes sponsored by other shoe companies.

– The athletes of just 3 coaches (Trevor Graham, Remi Korchemmy, John Smith) account for 55% of all serious doping offensives since 2003. I’ve heard that Korchemmy (age 73) may yet be banned for life due to his involvement with BALCO (or at least retire). Graham is currently under investigation and could end up receiving a long or even lifetime ban. And there have been serious allegations linking John Smith to BALCO (http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/5-23-2004-54595.asp).
– Three agents also account for 45% of the serious doping offensives since 2003. Like coaches, agents can be enablers, finding drug suppliers and doctors for athletes who decide to dope. A 2-year/lifetime ban on coaches, agents and doctors is something that I believe needs to be considered. Doping can end up financially rewarding for the coach, doctor, and agent — not just the athlete who today assumes nearly all the risk. There needs to be a risk of severe financial loss for coaches, agents and doctors, if T&F’s doping problem is to be solved.

– If I included in my analysis the 10 doping athletes who received less severe sanctions, the demographics of this larger group of 30 dopers would be: 70% male, 80% black, (66% sprints, 13% throws, 10% distance, 10% jumps) and (69% Nike, 10% Adidas, 10% other sponsors, 10% no sponsor).

DOPING LIST [Athlete (event) — Coach & Sponsor – Agent]

2006 SUSPENSIONS (2+ yrs)
Justin Gatlin (100m, 200m) – Trevor Graham & Nike – Renaldo Nehemiah
John Capel (100m. 200m) – Mike Holloway & Adidas – Self
Serene Ross (Javelin) – John Zera & Unattached – Self

2005 SUSPENSIONS (2+yrs)
Tim Montgomery (100m) – Trevor Graham & Nike – Charlie Wells
Chryste Gaines (100m, 200m) – Remi Korchemmy & Nike – Renaldo Nehemiah
Larry Wade (110mH) – John Smith & Nike – Emanuel Hudson
Deeja Youngquist (marathon) – Teddy Mitchell & Saucony – agent?
Erick Walder (LJ, TJ) – Dick Booth & Adidas – Bob Pelletier

2004 SUSPENSIONS (2+ yrs)
Michelle Collins (200m, 400m) – Trevor Graham & Nike – Jos Hermens
Jerome Young (400m) – Trevor Graham & Adidas – Charlie Wells
Calvin Harrison (400m) – Trevor Graham & Nike – Karen Locke
Alvin Harrison (400m) – Trevor Graham & Nike – Renaldo Nehemiah
Regina Jacobs (1500m thru 5000m) – Tom Craig & Nike – Emanuel Hudson
Kelli White (100m, 200m) – Remi Korchemmy & Nike – Robert Wagner
Torri Edwards (100m, 200m) – John Smith & Nike – Emanuel Hudson
Mickey Grimes (100m, 200m) – John Smith & Nike – Kermit Foster
Eddy Hellebuyck (Marathon) –Self & New Balance – Shawn Hellebuyck
Kevin Toth (Shot Put) – Kent Pagel & Nike – John Nubani
John McEwen (Hammer) –coach? & NYAC – agent?
Melissa Price (Hammer) – Mark Colligan & Unattached — self

2004 to 2006 WARNINGS
Leo Bookman (200m) – coach? & Nike – agent?
LaMark Carter (LJ, TJ) – Dean Johnson & Nike – Cubie Seegobin
Chris Phillips (100mH) – Tim McCrary & Nike – Robert Wagner
Bernard Williams (100m, 200m) – Mike Holloway & Nike – Kimberly Holland
Rae Monzavous Edwards (100m) – coach? & sponsor? – agent?
Tim Rusan (TJ) – Dick Booth & Nike – John Nebani
Sandra Glover (400mH) – Don Glover & Nike – Renaldo Nehemiah
Chris Phillips (100mH) – coach? & Nike – agent?
Eric Thomas (400mH) – Kim Wrinkle & Nike – Caroline Feith
Rickey Harris (400mH) – coach? & Unattached – agent? (Harris got a 1 year suspension)

King Kong, the second baseman and the big ‘clean up’

While cleaning out a closet that had become nothing more than a container for junk that I had refused to throw away for “sentimental” reasons, I came across some old baseball cards I’d saved from the 1980s. Rather than pitch them into the trash pile, or placing them up for sale on eBay (I’m saving them for my son because they’ll be valuable one day, right?), I decided to sit down and look at them.

You know, a little stroll down amnesia lane.

As I thumbed through all of the old names – George Hendrick, Frank Tanana, Tippy Martinez, Chet Lemon, Ron Cey, etc., etc. – it felt like it was 1985 again and there was nothing to worry about.

But there were two things that were particularly revealing about those old cards. Firstly, let’s hope that there is never a ’80s retro trend. For anyone who survived the style trends of this particular era of our culture, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

For those of you still hanging on with the hope that parachute pants make a stylish comeback, God bless you.

Secondly, and more importantly, the most fascinating part about looking at those baseball cards was how skinny the players looked. It wasn’t an unhealthy skinny where it appeared as if the ballplayers needed to chow down on a few more carbohydrate-heavy dinners, but it was a fit skinny.

Though dressed in those crazy uniforms for the bright colors zooming at you from all angles, the players looked athletic – like a college miler or someone who spends three-quarters of their time at the gym on cardio instead of the weights.

It’s a look that is nearly non-existent amongst the current crop of ballplayers, and, certainly, no explanation is needed.

With the curious case of one-time Phillie Jason Grimsley suddenly dominating all the seedy chatter about baseball these days, as the Steroid Era finally enters into the darker, uglier Human-Growth Hormone Era, it was striking to see the 20-year old images of sluggers Dave Kingman and Jack Clark.

Kingman and Clark, as followers of baseball remember, were two of the most-feared home run hitters of their era. At 6-foot-6 and a wispy 200 pounds, Kingman was known as “King Kong” for routinely bashing 30-plus homers per season and for smacking the ball a long way.

In 1985, Clark was slugger and catalyst for the St. Louis Cardinals and such a power threat that he often walked more times during a season than he reached base on a hit. But during that ’85 season in which Clark struck a menacing fear into all pitchers, he hit just 22 home runs, and during his 18-year career Clark hit more than 30 homers just once.

In 24 combined big league seasons, Clark and Kingman reached the 40-homer plateau just once.

These were your sluggers, folks.

And yes, both players were blade thin. In fact, Clark and Kingman had the same type of physique as second baseman Chase Utley, a strong hitter who smacked 28 homers a season ago and is on the way to duplicating that total this season.

Those are definitely strong statistics, but how many people would consider Chase Utley a home run hitter?

Right. Not many.

So what exactly then is the point? That strength training, nutrition, performance-enhancing drug abuse, and fashion sense has come a long way in 20 years? That baseball’s statistics are about as valuable as the paper they’re printed on? Yes, we already knew that.

But what about this: baseball, like those old cards buried in the back of a closet, is a fun diversion. A night at the ballpark or in front of the tube watching a game and talking about the strategy, the players and those forgotten heroes is a pretty good way to spend an evening. And based on attendance figures and TV ratings, a lot of other people think so, too.

Even with Congressional hearings where nothing meaningful was learned about steroid abuse other than a few ballplayers were less than honest, or an investigation and the chance that one of the game’s most prolific sluggers might have perjured himself in front of a federal grand jury, interest in the game has not waned.

Perhaps Phillies catcher Sal Fasano is correct when he says the only thing he remembers turning off the fans from the game was the strike in 1994.

“We know the substances are being used, and we know baseball is doing what it can to clean it up,” said Fasano before last Thursday’s game at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., just two miles away from where the Congress vowed to “clean up” baseball. “But do fans want to hear about it all the time? I don’t know.”

A night out, some good and affordable food and maybe even a few homers from the home team… what’s better than that? Who cares if King Kong is the same size as the second baseman?

King Kong, the second baseman and the big ‘clean up’

While cleaning out a closet that had become nothing more than a container for junk that I had refused to throw away for “sentimental” reasons, I came across some old baseball cards I’d saved from the 1980s. Rather than pitch them into the trash pile, or placing them up for sale on eBay (I’m saving them for my son because they’ll be valuable one day, right?), I decided to sit down and look at them.

You know, a little stroll down amnesia lane.

As I thumbed through all of the old names – George Hendrick, Frank Tanana, Tippy Martinez, Chet Lemon, Ron Cey, etc., etc. – it felt like it was 1985 again and there was nothing to worry about.

But there were two things that were particularly revealing about those old cards. Firstly, let’s hope that there is never a ’80s retro trend. For anyone who survived the style trends of this particular era of our culture, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

For those of you still hanging on with the hope that parachute pants make a stylish comeback, God bless you.

Secondly, and more importantly, the most fascinating part about looking at those baseball cards was how skinny the players looked. It wasn’t an unhealthy skinny where it appeared as if the ballplayers needed to chow down on a few more carbohydrate-heavy dinners, but it was a fit skinny.

Though dressed in those crazy uniforms for the bright colors zooming at you from all angles, the players looked athletic – like a college miler or someone who spends three-quarters of their time at the gym on cardio instead of the weights.

It’s a look that is nearly non-existent amongst the current crop of ballplayers, and, certainly, no explanation is needed.

With the curious case of one-time Phillie Jason Grimsley suddenly dominating all the seedy chatter about baseball these days, as the Steroid Era finally enters into the darker, uglier Human-Growth Hormone Era, it was striking to see the 20-year old images of sluggers Dave Kingman and Jack Clark.

Kingman and Clark, as followers of baseball remember, were two of the most-feared home run hitters of their era. At 6-foot-6 and a wispy 200 pounds, Kingman was known as “King Kong” for routinely bashing 30-plus homers per season and for smacking the ball a long way.

In 1985, Clark was slugger and catalyst for the St. Louis Cardinals and such a power threat that he often walked more times during a season than he reached base on a hit. But during that ’85 season in which Clark struck a menacing fear into all pitchers, he hit just 22 home runs, and during his 18-year career Clark hit more than 30 homers just once.

In 24 combined big league seasons, Clark and Kingman reached the 40-homer plateau just once.

These were your sluggers, folks.

And yes, both players were blade thin. In fact, Clark and Kingman had the same type of physique as second baseman Chase Utley, a strong hitter who smacked 28 homers a season ago and is on the way to duplicating that total this season.

Those are definitely strong statistics, but how many people would consider Chase Utley a home run hitter?

Right. Not many.

So what exactly then is the point? That strength training, nutrition, performance-enhancing drug abuse, and fashion sense has come a long way in 20 years? That baseball’s statistics are about as valuable as the paper they’re printed on? Yes, we already knew that.

But what about this: baseball, like those old cards buried in the back of a closet, is a fun diversion. A night at the ballpark or in front of the tube watching a game and talking about the strategy, the players and those forgotten heroes is a pretty good way to spend an evening. And based on attendance figures and TV ratings, a lot of other people think so, too.

Even with Congressional hearings where nothing meaningful was learned about steroid abuse other than a few ballplayers were less than honest, or an investigation and the chance that one of the game’s most prolific sluggers might have perjured himself in front of a federal grand jury, interest in the game has not waned.

Perhaps Phillies catcher Sal Fasano is correct when he says the only thing he remembers turning off the fans from the game was the strike in 1994.

“We know the substances are being used, and we know baseball is doing what it can to clean it up,” said Fasano before last Thursday’s game at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., just two miles away from where the Congress vowed to “clean up” baseball. “But do fans want to hear about it all the time? I don’t know.”

A night out, some good and affordable food and maybe even a few homers from the home team… what’s better than that? Who cares if King Kong is the same size as the second baseman?

Monday randomness

Things got pretty busy as they are wont to do during a weekend series against the Boston Red Sox, so this is my mea culpa for not offering any posts for a couple of days. I really wanted to, and certainly had plenty of stuff to write, but duty kind of called.

It happens.

So what was so interesting last weekend. Well, Tito Francona was in town, which is always a treat. If anyone deserves success in this game, Francona is up there at the top of the list. He certainly has sacrificed quite a bit during a long career as a player, coach, scout and manager.

Curt Schilling was back in town, too. He’s gone now and certainly the scribes are much happier, though the TV-types kind of like him. In case anyone hasn’t noticed, writers and TV folk are very different. One group works for a living and the other, well… they wear makeup.

Come on, it’s a joke…

Anyway, everytime I see Schilling I think back to the June, 2004 series at Fenway when I asked a former Red Sox pitcher (he’ll remain nameless, though these days he pitches for the Dodgers and had a really good 2004 post-season) if he knew where the “media-friendly” pitcher was.

“Just follow the cameras,” that former Red Sox pitcher said.

As an aside, that trip to Fenway was one of the most fun (in a baseball and work sense) ever. Any trip to Baltimore and Clearwater rates really high, too, but that particular weekend in Boston was really good.

As another aside, trips to Washington, my former hometown, are always a blast, too, though that has nothing to do with the baseball. Put it this way: it’s hard not to have fun in Washington.

Anyway, Schilling was up to his old, teasing, preening and flirtatious ways with the local TV types last weekend. He lead them on, danced around and pretended like he had soooooooo many important things to do. But in the end, did anyone really think he was going to turn away from a rolling TV camera? Curt Schilling?

Of course not.

The writers, for the most part, ignored Schilling. That story has been told too many times, thank you very much. Besides, as erstwhile scribe Dennis Deitch suggested, perhaps it was time for a statute of limitations on Schilling stories. If a player has been out of town for seven years, it’s only proper to ignore him forever. After all, that’s how the IRS works, right?

So yes, Schilling was in town.

Appropos of nothing: Does anyone out there have doubts about that bloody sock?

And David Wells was in Philadelphia, too. In fact, the always chatty and round lefty was in town long enough to kind of, sort of allude to an idea that Phillies’ pinch hitter David Dellucci had used steroids. From watching and listening to Dellucci speak about the comments, it was very obvious that he was very hurt and disappointed with what Wells had to say.

Since I wrote it late on Saturday night when most people were out and about doing stuff or inside sleeping, here’s a reprint of what went down:

Much ado about nothing?
During a pre-game conversation where he discussed everything from his upcoming minor-league rehab assignment, his age, and Barry Bonds’ 714th career home run, controversial Red Sox pitcher David Wells was his typical self. This time, though, Wells brought a former teammates and current Phillie into the mix.

While talking about baseball’s steroid controversy, Wells mentioned David Dellucci and the fact that the Phillies’ top pinch hitter has just one homer a season after stroking 29 a season ago for the Texas Rangers.

“You see a little bitty guy hitting 30 home runs, what, Dellucci, I guess?” Wells told reporters. “How many home runs did he hit last year? 29. Has he ever done that in his career? How many has he hit this year? So, the numbers have gone down tremendously since all this has come up. I know Dave, I’ve never suspected him of doing them.”

After the game, a visibly upset Dellucci cleared his name.

“I’ve been tested. I’ve been tested this offseason. I’ve been tested a number of times last year,” Dellucci said. “I leave the stadium after midnight every night because I’m working out. I do that this year, and I did that in Texas.”

What Wells failed to mention is that Dellucci hit 29 homers last season in 128 games and 516 plate appearances in the hitter-friendly American League. That comes to a home run every 15 at-bats.

This season Dellucci has appeared in 34 games for 40 plate appearances primarily as a pinch hitter. If Dellucci hits a home run in his next time up, he will be averaging one home run for every 16 at-bats.

— John R. Finger

The next day, Wells issued a kind of, sort of mea culpa through the Red Sox PR staff. Francona, in a classy move that shouldn’t surprise anyone who knows him, offered an apology in person to Dellucci. Still, Dellucci was rightly still stinging from Wells’ comment.

As far as the baseball stuff goes, this Red Sox club doesn’t appear to be as strong as the one that stormed through Philadelphia last season, which, for me, was one of the best teams I have watched during my years on the job.

The others (in no particular order):
2001 New York Yankees
2001-02 Arizona Diamondbacks
2003 Seattle Mariners
2004 St. Louis Cardinals
2005 Boston Red Sox

Finally, Kevin Roberts of the Courier Post writes my new, favorite blog.