Jim & Bob's Palatial Baseball Blog

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

What Death Said!

Death of the Goat Riders posted some great smack about Trib typist Rick Morrissey that I enthusiastically agree with. Death was reacting to Morrissey's latest screed about some football player, but the point still stands:

Rick Morrisey and his ilk have much bigger egos than we do, and they want to take some of the spotlight shining on the real story and pull it over to themselves. Tank Johnson is a criminal who's receiving special treatment? Rick Morrisey will always be there to criticise that, while - as Byron pointed out - ignoring that Tank Johnson is not alone, and other non-famous people receive "special treatment" all the time. Rex Grossman is in a big game? Rick Morrisey will be there to tell us that Rex is going to choke and is undeserving of the starting gig, not because he's right - looking at his numbers, Rex had a fine first year as a QB - but because Rick Morrisey wants the attention he gets from saying something so blatantly dumb.

It's an attention-whoring move, and I guess it worked this time since we're talking about Rick here on this blog. Were he to read this post - and I'm betting he will - Rick would be like a pig in shit, because I keep saying his name.

Anyway, there's nothing wrong with criticising, if the criticism is warranted. But people like Rick Morrisey are dishonest. People like Rick don't criticize because they strongly believe in what they are saying. They write their stories because they want to get attention.

Of course, this criticism can be levelled at a lot more sports journamalists. Must be an oocupational hazard...

One more thing -- Death includes a great bit of photo-shopped art. Especially if you're familiar with the source photo. Now that's comedy!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Direct Deposit

It appears that some people have their undies in a twist that DirecTV is now the exclusive distributor of MLB's Extra Innings package.

So basically these people are shocked that MLB, when given the choice of making things easier for their fans or taking the money and running, opted to take the money and run.

Who'da thunk it?

Slow News Week

Great googaly moogaly, I can't wait for the Super Bowl to be over!

Not because I'm a football fan. I care about football about as far as I could comfortably spit a rat.

No, I want the Super Bowl over so that we can see some real baseball news. 'Cause no one in baseball wants to put out any news now, knowing it will get steamrolled by the eleventy bajillion hours of Super Bowl pre-game coverage (and that doesn't include the hype over the commercials).

So we're left with "news" like this:

** Todd Helton might be traded to the Red Sox! Or maybe not! (Query -- would it be news if some team other than the Red Sox were involved?)

** Curt Schilling isn't going to retire!

** The Rangers will announce that they've signed Sammy Sosa to a minor league deal that they agreed to today. But even though they've said they've signed Sosa today, that's not the announcement. The announcement will be tomorrow. So don't get excited until then.

** And finally, in a story that's about as unexpected as the sun rising in the east, Roger Clemens still hasn't decided if he's pitching next year. I give that a "Wow."

On the bright side, it's about three weeks until training camp opens. Huzzah!

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

They Can't Be Serious

Just listened to Cliff Floyd's conference call over at the Cubs' web site. I guess Floyd will be a useful part -- for the fifty games he's healthy in 2007...

At any rate, it was most instructive to listen in on the press call. It's rare for fans to get a glimpse of our press corps in action.

The lowlight of the call came with Bruce Levine, a reporter for the ESPN radio station in Chicago, asked Floyd his opinion on why the Cubs have gone nearly one hundred years without a World Series Championship.

Great googaly moogaly! Floyd did the best he could with the feeble question, answering that he only saw what the fans saw, but he's optimistic for this year, blah blah blah.

What else could Floyd do? Did Levine really expect any kind of substantive answer to that question? Did he expect Floyd to take a couple swings at the team that just gave him a job?

Or was he just hoping Floyd would say something stupid, thus making his job easier?

If I hadn't heard Devine ask the question, I wouldn't have thought it possible. I swear, if our baseball press corps weren't real, you couldn't make them up. No sane people would believe that anyone could be that dumb...

Sunday, January 21, 2007

How'd That Work Out?

Came across this nugget of joy while perusing the Palatial Archives. Courtesy of Dr. Phil, in the 7 December 1999 Chicago Tribune:

Instead of a new address, a new era might b just what the Montreal Expos need. Major League orders’ approval of the transfer of the team to Jeffrey Loria signals a fresh start for the floundering franchise.

With Loria and his partners bringing much-needed funding, the Expos are headed to the winter meetings looking to make a statement as much as a trade or two. And for a change, they won’t be dumping their best players because they can’t afford them.

“We’re going to hold on to the players we have, and we’ll be able to improve the team,” minority owner Raymand Bachand said. “It’s very exciting.”...

Loria, who has remained in the background, will be introduced to Montreal fans at a news conference this week. In addition to the names of other members in his group, he also is expected to provide concrete plans for an open-air, 37,000 seat ballpark to be built in downtown Montreal. The Quebec government apparently has agreed to provide interest-free loans to induce the team to stop listening to overtures from cities such as Washington and Charlotte.

“Any decision to move or sell the team depends on the vast majority of partners, it’s not one person who will make a decision to move the team,” Bachand said. “The financial structure, including the government loans, are an incentive to stay here for the long term, and I have no concerns whatsoever about that.”

Saturday, January 20, 2007

The Glass Is Half-Baked...

Hey, if the Cubs can claim it, why not the Royals?

The Kansas City Royals will not just be better in 2007, David Glass said at the team's annual forecast luncheon -- they'll be contenders in the AL Central.

"I think all of us can look forward to a competitive team this year," Glass said. "We've not had good teams in recent years, but the fans have hung in there. All we want is to have a competitive team, where every time we go out to the park we feel we have a chance to win. And I think that's what we've got this year."

Friday, January 19, 2007

He's a Witch -- Burn Him!

Found Baseball's Steroid Era the other day while searching for answers. I haven't looked at it too closely, but it seems to have all the latest steroid news and a handy list of players who have doped. Even if there's no real evidence that they have doped. Just the thing if you're planning a weekend witch hunt...

Angry Guy

The Mark McGwire Hall of Fame vote brought the steroids controversy to a head this month. While it is truly a sad state of affairs, but is it worth the anger that some fans are broadcasting over it?

Case in point: I got into a brief discussion of the topic with a casual acquaintance the other day. His take: all MLB players are steroid-taking cheaters, except for the handful that I deem clean.

I replied that I could understand his position, but couldn't agree with it. And then I went into my bit (which I have posted about here) that no one gave a rat's ass about steroids in real time, and now it's a big deal. All of us (fans, media, MLBPA, MLB) are complicit in creating the climate that made it OK to juice, yadda yadda yadda.

That's when Angry Guy came out. AG came back and said that steroids weren't a big deal back then because no one knew how much of an effect they would have. At the time, we all thought steroids let a 20 HR guy hit 25 HR. Now we know that steroids lets undeserving 30 HR hitters destroy our hallowed home run records!

And on the grand scale of cheating, that's just unacceptable.

I let his bit about cheating go (I mean, if we're all so bloody concerned about the sanctity of the home run records, it should be just as big a deal to gain an extra five dingers by cheating as thirty, right?) and asked how do we "know" that steroids lets these undeserving bums hit 70 homers a year. And then I rattled off a list of guys like Alex Sanchez and Calvin Murray who doped and didn't come close.

Irrelevant trivia, thundered Angry Guy. I'm not sure why -- after all, he was the one who brought up stats in the first place. But I foolishly soldiered on and said that there's no we way can "know" with any certainty what effect steroids has on players, at least not without some sort of study.

Wrong! screamed Angry Guy. You can't know -- but I can!

That should have been my cue to leave, but I hung about for a few more minutes while he ranted about how I was a "steroid apologist" and my irrelevant observations and basically just really, really stupid for having the audacity to not agree with him completely.

I let Angry Guy have his angry say. Then I wished him well and went on my merry way. I imagine he's off somewhere, confident that he's somehow won this "argument" (I was rather hoping for a conversation, actually...). Alas, he is mistaken. To paraphrase the great Jane Austen, I did not think he "deserved the compliment of rational opposition."

I can understand Angry Guy's (and many other fans') anger over the situation. What I can't fathom is why he got so bent at me for asking a few questions. I willingly admit my thinking on the subject isn't water-tight. That's why I'm asking questions.

And by answering questions we can have a meaningful dialogue and promote greater understanding of the issues. Conversely, we can put our hands over our ears and holler "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!" and neither gain nor impart knowledge.

Perhaps that's the crux of the matter. When you're emotionally invested in a particular point of view, it's difficult to hear the other side. I know, 'cause I've been there (as anyone who's heard Jim and me go off on our Twain v. Fitzgerald debate knows...).

The sad thing is that I don't really disagree with his take that steroids are a problem in MLB. But I don't believe that steroids magically turns lousy players into megastars. And by asking uncomfortable questions about why we never noticed what was going on under our noses back in 1998, I was threatening his status quo that players are evil cheating bastards.

Oh, well. I haven't a clue if my half-baked ideas are near being right. But being angry won't make me any more (or less) right...

Monday, January 15, 2007

Stark on Bonds

Stark's gonna get kicked out of the Cool Kids Club if he keeps this up...

You wouldn't think this guy would need one more newspaper story linking him to another delicacy from the pharmacy to help him figure out he's the biggest target in sports.

But the New York Daily News reminded him of that anyway Thursday, by reporting Bonds had failed an amphetamines test last season.

We don't know exactly how many other players failed one of those tests last year. But let's put it this way: Barry Bonds wasn't the only one.

Just the only one who, by some astonishing coincidence, had the news of his positive test leaked to a reporter.

Clearly, there were enough players screwing up and testing positive last year that one baseball man said Thursday: "This wouldn't be a big deal -- if it were anyone else in the game."

But it isn't anyone else in the game. It's the one player in the game that the people who run this sport wish would just disappear from the game.

So it doesn't seem to matter what rules, regulations or federal laws exist that ban the leaking of positive drug tests, grand-jury testimony or even private phone conversations.

If leaking any of that might embarrass Bonds or -- even better -- convict him one more time in the court of public opinion, someone in baseball or law enforcement finds a way to get it out there. Funny how that works, isn't it?

"I know one thing," said a baseball executive who has had his share of dealings with Bonds. "A lot of people want to bring this guy down."

Caple on McGwire

What has happened between when Time Magazine named you a Hero of the Year in 1998 and now? Time excused your use of andro because it protected you from muscle tears, praised you for not stopping "to rip off the head of the reporter who had gone peeking into your locker" and dismissed the whole controversy by writing:

"…whatever else it does, it can't help a player's timing, his hand-eye coordination, his ability to discern a slider from a splitter. But even if andro improved his power by an unlikely, oh, five percent, then instead of 70 home runs, McGwire this year would have hit … maybe 67."

How can writers who credited you then with saving the game now refuse to vote you into the Hall of Fame? How could fans who cheered your long home runs and lavished praise on your broad shoulders and powerful biceps now pretend that they honestly didn't suspect what was going on then? Were they really that naive then or are they just hypocritical now?

The answer is “yes…”

Those Were the Days

So yesterday I’ve got some free time. With nothing better to do, I go through the Palatial Video Archives and pull out the tape of the 1989 Cubs-Expos tilt that clinched the championship of the old National League Eastern Division for my heroes.

And for those of you rolling your eyes – I already said I had nothing better to do! So lay off…

Anyway, not a lot has changed in the 17-odd years since my mother taped the game (and the attending post-game hoopla) for me. But while the events are familiar, the benefit of hindsight helped me notice a few morsels I missed the first fifty or sixty times I’ve watched this tape:

** Dennis “El Presidente” Martinez started the game for the Expos. As the game proceeded into seventh inning, Harry Caray was amazed that Martinez was still out there. “He’s only got four complete games this year!” said the flabbergasted Hall of Fame broadcaster.

Yes, back in the day, a pitcher with only four complete games on the year was a girly-man. Nowadays, a pitcher with four complete games is considered the second coming of Joe McGinnity (unless he pitches for the Cubs, of course – then there’s wailing and gnashing of teeth about pitcher abuse…).

** During the post-game clubhouse celebration, our baseball media once again showed why they’re the best in the business as they found a dozen ways to ask both manager Don Zimmer and GM Jim Frey how a team they (i.e., the media) ridiculed as a last-place club managed to take the division.

Both Zimmer and Frey offered the platitudes we’ve come to expect from managers and executives. But they also both mentioned how they discussed the roster of the 1988 club and decided to jettison some players who they termed “too negative.”

Frey’s biggest trade in the 1988 off season was the deal the sent Rafael Palmeiro, Jamie Moyer, and some magic beans to Texas for Mitch Williams and a bunch of flotsam. OK, OK – it sent Palmeiro and Moyer to Texas for an assload of flotsam.

Knowing what we know now about Palmeiro, do you think it is possible that old-school fave Don Zimmer had an inkling that young Rafael was a potential juicer?

Let me be absolutely clear that this is the merest of speculation, and I’m most likely reading way too much into it, and there is nary a shred of evidence involved in it.

But still, one wonders…

** Finally, a local Chicago newscast took a few minutes out of its Cubs coverage that night to look in on the White Sox. When asked what would make the team better, one anonymous woman grumpily answered, “If they played on the North Side, people would think they’re better.”

Some things never change…

Thursday, January 11, 2007

You Had Me Then You Lost Me

Dr. Phil came so close…and then blew it in the end:

To be honest, there’s not much difference between the 537 votes that [Cal] Ripken received and the 532 for [Tony] Gwynn. But the five ballots that included votes for Baltimore’s Ironman and not votes for the San Diego Slasher make me wonder if some people don’t have to be hit over the head to appreciate talent…

Think about how many players have come along since Teddy Ballgame [i.e., Ted Williams], and Gwynn outhit every one of them. How could he not have been a unanimous choice? How could anyone, including Ripken, receive more votes? But compared with my outrage at the treatment of Andre Dawson, that’s a tiny mystery.

God help me.

First off, Dr. Phil is right – how can you rationalize not voting for Gwynn or Ripken? As Jim so eloquently put it, duh. These guys were no-brainers.

But consider that no one in the history of the Hall has been a unanimous choice. Babe Ruth, Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Christy Matthewson, Tom Seaver, Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, Mickey Mantle – none of that lot scored 100% of the vote.

So that tells us the BBWAA are experts on no-brainers, I guess…

But then Dr. Phil blows it by whining about Andre Dawson. Dawson was a good player, and a great guy, and I’m glad I got to see him in Cub uniform. But he wasn’t a great player.

Why the constant harping for Dawson? A clue comes in Dr. Phil’s lead paragraphs, which gives us a disturbing glimpse into the mind of our baseball puniditocracy:

There are a lot of distractions in a baseball press box. There’s the Internet, hot dogs, cell phones, nachos, fantasy football, popcorn, office politics, hamburgers, loud music on the stadium sound system, and pretty people kissing on the Jumbotron. Oh, yeah, French fries, too.

We’re only human up there.

How can we book tee times, argue with editors, study our stock portfolios, get someone younger to explain how to do a Sudoku, make pro bono appearances on talk radio, and watch the game?

Dr. Phil claims he can. But the real answer is no one can. And if Dr. Phil really could block out the distractions and free food and pay attention to the game, he’d understand that while Dawson was a very good player, he wasn’t good enough to be a Hall of Famer. No matter how good an interview he was.

Soapbox Derby

Will the self-serving whining of our press corps ever cease?

In yesterday’s Tribune, columnist Rick Morrissey calls the waaaaah-mbulance because “many” readers disagreed with his anti-McGwire take:

McGwire fell far short Tuesday of being elected to the Hall of Fame because many of the voters were uncomfortable with honoring a man who might have used performance-enhancing drugs during his career. I didn’t have a vote this year, but I will next year and I won’t vote for McGwire until there is conclusive evidence he didn’t use steroids. Most of the available clues suggest he did.

Too flimsy for you? Well, we all bring different ideas and prejudices into the voting booth. It’s called being human…

What I’m saying about McGwire is that I think I know, but I don’t know for sure. Because of it, I can’t in good conscience put him in the Hall.

Many of you apparently are just fine with the possibility of a chemically enhanced, pumped-up power hitter getting inducted. I’m not. Many of you would rather see McGwire in Cooperstown until it’s proven he doesn’t belong there. I wouldn’t.

A columnist at ESPN.com believes the backlash against McGwire has been too harsh and too personal. Wrong. What was too personal was watching baseball turned into a muscle-man’s farce for about 20 years. A beautiful game had morphed in a basher’s ball by some players who thought they were above everything.

Utterly hilarious. Morrissey defends his opinion on the basis that it’s “human.” And I’m all for that. For once, I agree with him completely. We all have our points of view, and we can’t expect to agree all the time.

But while we have no right to crack on Morrissey for his opinion, he’s certainly ready to crack on us for disagreeing. Those of us who disagree with Morrissey are “just fine” having that big cheater McGwire, the guy who helped turn beautiful, pastoral, idyllic baseball into a farce, in the Hall of Fame.

Morrissey is “not” fine with that. And the tone of his piece is that he’s better than us because of that.

You know what? I’m fine with Morrissey not wanting McGwire in the Hall. I’m fine with anyone holding that opinion. I don’t agree with it, but I’m fine with it.

But I’m not fine with the pompous sermonizing that many people on the anti-McGwire side have subjected me to.

You can say, “I think there is enough evidence to convince me that McGwire has used steroids. I think that is cheating, and therefore I will not vote to induct him into the Hall of Fame.” That’s the starting point for a rational debate.

Or you can do what Morrissey does in this column, and say, “McGwire is a bad, bad person who ruined the game of baseball – and if you think a cheater like him is a Hall of Famer you must be fine with the idea of baseball being ruined by cheaters.” I don’t know what comes out of that, but I’m pretty sure it’s not rational.

Being irrational is part of being human, too. Unfortunately, we won’t resolve this issue until both sides get off their soapboxes and have a rational discussion…

Another Precinct Heard From

As noted in the above post, Trib scribe Rick Morrissey is getting a Hall of Fame ballot next year.

Swell. Just what the BBWAA needs – another guy who spends more time writing about football, basketball, and golf more than baseball.

Open the Pod Bay Doors, Hal

Great googaly moogaly! A member of the baseball punditocracy actually admits that he and his cohort were asleep at the switch during that magical summer of ’98!

Here’s Hal McCoy in the Dayton Daily News:

Should the baseball writers have been more vigilant at the time? Probably. But how? Unless one catches a player in the act, where's the proof? Major League Baseball's hands were tied, as far as testing, by the Players Association.

Notice how McCoy constructs his admission. By golly, any weasel would have been proud to have written that!

Yes, he says, we “probably” should have been more vigilant. But there was no proof! And it’s all the fault of those evil bastards at the MLBPA!

The writers glossed over the ugly steroids story in ’98, Hal admits – but it wasn’t their fault! There was no proof! You can’t blame the writers if there was no testing back then to catch players in the act!

Of course, we still haven’t found a way to retroactively test players in 1998, so there’s no more “proof” that McGwire juiced now than there was back then. So how in God’s name can McCoy (and the rest of his crew in the baseball punditocracy) rationalize tarring and feathering McGwire now, after snoozing through 1998 because there wasn’t enough “proof?”

No worries – Hal’s got it covered:

After [Jose] Canseco's book, Juiced, stood the game on its sometimes-flat head, the steroid issue emerged from the dark corners of the clubhouses. Like him or not for his motives, Canseco's book opened eyes and was believable.

I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve watched almost every episode of Rumpole of the Bailey. Based on this experience, I’ve come to the conclusion that if the prosecution is touting Jose Canseco as its more believable witness, its case might be a wee bit shaky.

McCoy admits that McGwire was not “caught in the act.” In 1998, the only “proof” that McGwire doped were rumors and innuendo. In 2007, the nature of the “proof” hasn’t changed – except that it’s getting more play in the newspapers and on the air. Just because people are yelling about it now doesn’t make the “proof” any more (or less) true.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

It's Hard to Argue With Logic Like This

Shorter Dr. Phil: The media's spent a hell of a lot of time taking about McGwire. I wish we could talk more about Cal and Tony. But it's all McGwire's fault. If he didn't juice, we wouldn't be talking about him instead of the real Hall of Famers...

Monday, January 08, 2007

I'd Not Submit A Blank Ballot, If Only I Was Allowed One To Submit

Unlike Paul Ladewski, I found some retired baseball players worth casting a Hall of Fame vote for this year. My list looks pretty much like Bob's, with one favorite son vote added.

We've covered most of this ground in the past, so there isn't much need to again talk about why I'm not voting for Jim Rice or Andre Dawson or Albert Belle or Dave Parker or Saint Don Mattingly. To sum it up briefly, I'm not voting for them because, while outstanding players every one, I don't consider any of them to be among the very best ever. If you want to discuss any of them at greater length, please post a reply, and we'll commence to the arguin'.

I would vote for:
Mark McGuire (take that, Phil Hersh)
Cal Ripken (duh!)
Tony Gwynn (also, duh!)
Goose Gossage (I mean, come on...his not being in has gone beyond the ridiculous)
Bert Blyleven (not responsible for the fact that his teammates stunk)
Alan Trammel (I know I'm shouting into the wind here, but Trammel was a great player)
Harold Baines (ok, don't even start. I know that Harold isn't a HOF player, and won't ever get in, but, I'll be perfectly honest, he was an outstanding player, and MY favorite player, and if I only get one chance to vote for him for the HOF, I'm gonna do it. So there)

As Bob said, let us know what you think.

The Big Ladewski

I'm relieved that the new year has brought us a new staunch defender of all that is good and decent in this world. Paul Ladewski, columnist for something called The Daily Southtown in Chicago, and, apparently a member in good standing of the Baseball Reporters Association of America, sent in a blank Hall of Fame ballot. His reasoning? "The steroid era (considered by noted medical expert Paul Ladsewski to be 1993-2004) is not worthy of my vote. Anyone who played in that era makes me reluctant to jump on bandwagons."

This should be the last ballot Paul Ladewski is ever allowed to submit to the BBWAA. This is akin to my going to the polling place last November, going into the booth, filling in none of the boxes, and turning in an empty ballot, on the grounds that no one who was a member of the 109th Congress in worthy of my vote.

Ladewski offers this pearl of wisdom: "I refuse to vote for any veteran who played in that period, even if he was not a suspected user. In my opinion, any such player had an obligation to blow the whistle in the best interests of the game, even if he did it anonymously."

I couldn't find Ladewski's bio, but I'm pretty sure that he was working as a sportswriter during at least part of that era. Didn't he have an obligation to blow the whistle in the best interests of the game (and in the highest standards of journalism)? Didn't all of his colleagues? Maybe we should go with Ladewski's thinking here, and strip all BBWAA members who were covering baseball during the 1993-2004 era of their votes. After all, as Ladewski himself said, "I understand this is an unusually hard-line approach, but I believe it's my responsibility to uphold the Hall of Fame standards in whatever way necessary."

Couldn't agree more, Paul. A good start would be to have a group of voters who aren't self-serving, holier-than-thou boneheads whose only qualifications are that they pay dues to the BBWAA and have stood in a circle around sweaty athletes. Let's start by revoking your membership. It's a hard-line approach, but it's our responsibility to uphold journalistic standards in whatever way necessary.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

My Hall of Fame Ballot

Not that you asked for it, but here is who I would vote for if I were one of the cool kids in the BBWAA:

Bert Blyleven
Rich Gossage
Tony Gwynn
Mark McGwire
Cal Ripken Jr.
Alan Trammell

Feel free to disagree in the comments...

Hall in a Handbasket

The Hall of Fame election returns will be announced this week. Usually, that means we’re treated to full-court presses from various pundits as they pimp their favorite candidates.

This year is different, of course. For the first time I can remember, the election has taken a negative turn, as the majority of the punditocracy (baseball and otherwise) have devoted their attention to campaigning against Mark McGwire.

Yes, the press has it in for Big Mac this year. Nowhere is this made as clear as it was in the Chicago Tribune, where figure skating expert Phil Hersh provides us this glimpse into the minds of the BBWAA:

For now, the point is to stick it to McGwire.

“Stick it,” indeed. It rather implies some desire for revenge, doesn’t it?

From my POV, revenge is the undercurrent of all the anti-McGwire screeds out there. All the high-horse moralizing about the sanctity of the home run records. All the pious mumbling over who will think of the children. All the soapbox speechifying about cheating. Just fig leaves to cover up the naked desire to “stick it” to McGwire.

Why the need to “stick it?” ESPN’s Bill Simmons sums it up neatly:

Some writers won’t vote for McGwire because he probably used steroids -- keep in mind there’s never been proof that he did, other than a visible bottle of andro and those 135 pounds of muscle he added from 1990 to 2002 -- which would be fine if they weren’t so pious about it. Not content with simply dismissing McGwire’s candidacy and moving on, they need to climb on their high horses and rip the guy to shreds...

When the painful strike cancelled the 1994 World Series and nearly killed the sport, two events got people caring again: Cal Ripken’s breaking Lou Gehrig’s consecutive-games record in 1995, and McGwire’s and Sosa’s battling for Maris’ record three years later. Watch the end of 61* sometime, or reread Mike Lupica’s gushing book Summer of ‘98. (Note: Lupica now argues that Big Mac doesn’t belong in the Hall. He never says anything about returning the profits from his book, however.) The home run chase meant something back then. And by the way, when it was going on, we all chose to overlook the fact that McGwire was a can of green paint away from being the Incredible Hulk and that Sosa looked like he was developing a second jaw. Let’s not forget that.

My old history prof had a saying he used often in his lectures: the last to know they’re in the water are the fish. We were definitely in the deep end back in 1998. And hardly anyone commented on the damp conditions.

Were we naive enough to think nothing unsavory was going on? Did we willingly turn a blind eye to the clues we had at the time? Yes on both counts. Because it was fun seeing all those home runs.

It was a great story, too. More importantly, it was an easy story -- easy to fill those column inches and radio talk shows. So our press corps went along for the ride, too. They were more worried about nasty rumors casting doubt on McGwire’s heroics, or whether or how awful it would be if more than one player broke Maris’ record.

And that’s why the media has to “stick it” to McGwire now. And why a lot fans want to “stick it” to him as well. We all cheered him on back in the day, and now we all look like chumps for doing so.

Unfortunately, we’re stuck with this issue for the next fourteen years. Don’t expect it to get any better in the near future...

By the Time I Get to Phoenix

So it looks like Randy Johnson will soon find himself back in Diamondback camp. While my first reaction to the news was that the Yankees got the short end of the stick, I soon changed my mind.

To be quite blunt about it, Johnson stunk last year. 43 year old pitchers with health issues who are coming off one of their least-productive years ever aren’t really hot commodities. Kudos to Brian Cashman for getting a useful reliever and three semi-interesting prospects in return. Perhaps these guys will turn out to be a handful of magic beans, but it’s not like he was trading in the family cow, either...

As for Arizona, they’ll get their World Series hero back for two years or so. And they’ll pay him $14 million this year, and probably $10 million next year (once the extension gets worked out).

Word is that the Diamondbacks don’t need Johnson to be an overpowering ace for the trade to work out for them. The Snakes already have Brandon Webb, Doug Davis, and Livan Hernandez. Even if Johnson is only adequate, they should still contend in the NL West.

But jiminy jillikers -- $24 million over two years four your fourth starter? That’s the kind of deal you’d expect foolish, foolish Jim Hendry to make...

Kiddie Corps

Hard to believe, but Giants’ GM Brian Sabean actually acquired a player south of thirty this winter. Barry Zito is a mere 28 years old, making him one of the more junior members of the team. Compared with Steve Kline, Rich Aurilia, Ryan Klesko, and the re-signed Barry Bonds and Ray Durham, he’s practically a teenager. One can only hope his older teammates treat him better than high school upperclassmen treat incoming freshmen.

Amazingly enough, the Giants roster hasn’t gotten appreciably younger in the four years since Dusty Baker left town. You may recall that the preferred script of that day was that Dusty Hates Young Players™. Oh, who the hell am I kidding? It’s still the preferred script to this day.

At any rate, a particularly virulent Dusty hater went on and on about how Baker hamstrung the Giants all those years by not playing any of their prospects. Me, being a curious guy, actually looked back, and saw that the Giants haven’t really had a lot of good young prospects. And the GM wasn’t shy about picking up Proven Veterans™ when the opportunity arose.

When I mentioned this to the Dusty hater, his response was, “Well, the reason the Giants haven’t had many prospects is Baker’s fault. They don’t put a lot of effort into their farm system because he’s not going to play the kids anyway.”

I’ll pause a moment to let the ridiculousness of that statement sink in.

Now the Giants are four years into the post-Dusty era. The team is as old as it’s ever been. And the farm system still isn’t highly regarded by many of those in the know.

I ran into the Dusty hater at a holiday party and mentioned that, even without Baker, his team was still old and nearly prospect-less.

His response to this: “We need a veteran team because we’re trying to win now. The window of opportunity for Bonds and the other guys is closing. We can’t afford to go through rebuilding now.”

Ah, I see. It’s always fun to see how our scripts change, even when the situations remain the same...

Friday, January 05, 2007

Rubber Stamp

I'm not surprised this story didn't get more play in the media this week:

A company that uses computer imaging claims baseballs had a larger rubberized core and a synthetic rubber ring in 1998, including the ball Mark McGwire hit for his 70th homer...

Universal Medical Systems Inc. said Wednesday that with the assistance of Dr. Avrami S. Grader and Dr. Philip M. Halleck from The Center for Quantitative Imaging at Penn State, it took images of 1998 baseballs.

"Examining the CT images of Mark McGwire's 70th home run ball one can clearly see the synthetic ring around the core -- or `pill' -- of the baseball," UMS President David Zavagno said. "While Mark McGwire may or may not have used illegal steroids, the evidence shows his ball -- under the governing body of the league -- was juiced."

The rumors of juiced baseballs were floating around long before McGwire did his thing in 1998. It was quite prevalent before the andro story broke later that year.

Back in 1998, the preferred script was to sweep thoughts of performance enhancing drugs under the carpet. As I described in an earlier post, the last thing any member of our media wanted to do was entertain thoughts that McGwire (or Sosa, for that matter) was a cheater. And so any other ideas to explain the sudden home run boom were brought to bear, in the hopes that our heroes (and the media's meal tickets) would be spared any embarassing accusations.

But today it's a different story. There aren't enough soapboxes in the country for our pundit-orators to decry steroid use. And you're in denial if you don't demand that every suspected cheater be banned from the game, their names stricked from the record forever. As a result, any information that would spare our erstwhile heroes being spared embarassing accusations must be ignored.

Juiced baseballs does not preclude the possibility of juiced players (and vice versa). Any rational being understands this. But our punditocracy is anything but rational. The concept of juiced balls doesn't fit the script that all those big home run hitters are juicing. And so down the memory hole it goes...