Wednesday, June 30, 2010

My All-Star Ballot

It's All-Star ballot time again, as voting closes tomorrow at midnight. Here are my choices for this season's Midsummer Classic:

American League

First Base: Justin Morneau, Minnesota (.349 BA, 16 HR, 52 RBI, 1.063 OPS)
Second Base: Robinson Canó, New York (.358, 15, 53, .996)
Third Base: Adrián Beltré, Boston (.349, 12, 52, .948)
Shortstop: Derek Jeter, New York (.286, 8, 39, .762)
Catcher: Joe Mauer, Minnesota (.302, 3, 34, .809)
Outfield: Josh Hamilton, Texas (.343, 18, 58, .998); Vernon Wells, Toronto (.288, 19, 47, .912); Álex Rios, Chicago (.307, 13, 40, .891)
Designated Hitter: Vladimir Guerrero, Texas (.330, 16, 63, .923)
Starting Pitcher: David Price, Tampa Bay (11-3, 2.44 ERA)

National League

First Base: Albert Pujols, St. Louis (.310, 18, 57, .984)
Second Base: Martín Prado, Atlanta (.334, 7, 33, .859)
Third Base: David Wright, New York (.310, 14, 61, .937)
Shortstop: Hanley Ramírez, Florida (.293, 12, 50, .873)
Catcher: Miguel Olivo, Colorado (.308, 11, 38, .909)
Outfield: Manny Ramírez, Los Angeles (.322, 8, 39, .937); Jayson Werth, Philadelphia (.292, 13, 47, .927); Colby Rasmus, St. Louis (.275, 16, 40, .928)
Starting Pitcher: Ubaldo Jiménez, Colorado (14-1, 1.83)

Monday, July 27, 2009

Minaya's Media Paranoia Rears Its Ugly Head

This is not going to be a column about journalistic ethics, for two reasons. First, your humble diarist is wholly unqualified to pass judgment on that subject. And, second, whether or not Adam Rubin “lobbied” the Mets for a job is irrelevant to the dismissal of Assistant GM Tony Bernazard.

Mets GM Omar Minaya chose the press conference in which he announced Bernazard’s dismissal to set his sights on Rubin, the beat writer for the New York Daily News. Rubin had written a few stories on Bernazard’s more controversial actions, including an incident in Binghamton, where Bernazard reportedly removed his shirt and challenged the double-A players to a physical altercation.

The press conference began with the usual Minaya double-talk about Bernazard before it took a surprising, odd turn.

“Once the reports came out, you know, of course we had to expedite more the investigation,” Minaya said, rambling. “Early in the process, early in the process, when the reports came out, I had to kind of tell myself, ‘Wow, these things are coming out.’ And I say this because coming from Adam Rubin, okay, and Adam, you gotta understand this, Adam, for the past couple of years, has lobbied for a player development position. He has lobbied myself, he has lobbied Tony. So when these things came out I was kind of a little bit, I had to think about it. And I was a little bit, you know, somewhat, kind of, we gotta find out about this. We really have to do a thorough investigation of this.”

SNY, airing the press conference live, used an inset to show Rubin, who looked incredulous. Finally someone handed Rubin a microphone, leading to an equally strange interaction.

Rubin: “Is what you’re alleging that I tried to tear Tony down so I could take his job? Is that what you’re saying?”

Minaya: “No, no, I’m not saying that. All I’m saying was, that I know that when you wrote the reports, but I am saying, that in the past, you have, have lobbied for a job…”

Rubin: “If I were interested in working in player development somewhere in the major leagues at some point in my life, how did that impact this situation at all?”

Minaya: “I said, because, when the reports came out a lot of these things were cross… I said ‘Who's writing these reports?’ and… in the back of my mind, Adam, you have told me you have told other people in the front office that you want to work for player development in the front office.”

Rubin: “So what you’re alleging is that… the only conclusion I can draw from that is that you’re trying to allege that I tried to tear everyone down so that I could take their position. Is that what you’re saying?”

Minaya: “Adam…”

Rubin: “It seems pretty despicable to say that.”

Rubin said later he had approached Mets COO Jeff Wilpon and asked for advice about getting a job in baseball, but not specifically with the Mets.

Minaya tried to walk back his comments in a hastily-arranged press conference with Wilpon about three hours later, but he stood by his basic allegation that Rubin had campaigned for a position with the Mets while working for the Daily News.

“That was not a proper forum for me to raise those issues,” Minaya conceded.

The larger point, however, is why Minaya chose to raise those issues at all.

Either he was insinuating that Rubin fabricated all or part of the Bernazard story, or he and the Daily News chose to devote an inappropriate amount of attention on the story, because Rubin felt spurned by the Mets organization.

But Minaya never denied the Bernazard-in-Binghamton story, and Minaya is in no position to question the zeal with which the Daily News covered the story. It’s completely irrelevant to the story, and any mention of it on Minaya’s part reveals bitterness and/or paranoia.

Obviously, there is a he said, he said element to this story regarding whether Rubin lobbied the Mets for a job. Notably, Wilpon seemed to support Rubin’s statement that he was only seeking “career advice.”

But Minaya held to his claim that Rubin wanted a job with the Mets. If that is true, it definitely approaches an ethical gray area. But, again, it’s completely irrelevant to Bernazard’s firing and only serves to harm what little credibility Minaya may have had left.

Rubin said this afternoon that today’s events make it impossible for him to cover the ballclub. “I don’t know how I’m going to cover the team now,” Rubin said. “I’m absolutely floored. I asked, ‘How do you get a job in baseball?’ That's it.”

The Daily News, to their credit, is standing by Rubin. “This was a well-reported, well-researched, exclusive story,” said the News’ editor-in-chief Martin Dunn, “and it’s a shame that the Mets deemed fit to cast aspersions on our reporter instead of dealing with the issues at hand.”

“We stand by Adam 1,000 percent,” his statement said.

Today offered Minaya one more chance, an opportunity to shed some of the negativity in Flushing. Instead, today was yet another bizarre moment in a season full of bizarre moments – a season increasingly likely to cost Minaya his job.

Friday, July 03, 2009

My All-Star Ballot

All-Star voting concluded last night, and the teams are set to be announced Sunday afternoon. As I do each season, I waited until the very last minute to vote. Here is my completed ballot, with starting pitchers added:

National League

Catcher: Brian McCann, Braves (.309 average, 8 home runs, 33 runs batted in, .898 OPS)
First Base: Albert Pujols, Cardinals (.335, 30 HR, 77 RBI, 1.200 OPS)
Second Base: Chase Utley, Phillies (.300, 17 HR, 52 RBI, .982 OPS)
Third Base: David Wright, Mets (.338, 5 HR, 42 RBI, .913 OPS)
Shortstop: Hanley Ramírez, Marlins (.348, 13 HR, 58 RBI, .985 OPS)
Outfield: Ryan Braun, Brewers (.328, 16 HR, 58 RBI, .981 OPS)
Outfield: Brad Hawpe, Rockies (.333, 13 HR, 56 RBI, 1.008 OPS)
Outfield: Raúl Ibañez, Phillies (.312, 22 HR, 59 RBI, 1.027 OPS)
Starting Pitcher: Dan Haren, Diamondbacks (7-5, 2.19 earned-run average, 0.81 WHIP)

American League

Catcher: Joe Mauer, Twins (.392, 14 HR, 44 RBI, 1.134 OPS)
First Base: Justin Morneau, Twins (.309, 19 HR, 64 RBI, .963 OPS)
Second Base: Aaron Hill, Blue Jays (.301, 19 HR, 56 RBI, .845 OPS)
Third Base: Evan Longoria, Rays (.297, 16 HR, 63 RBI, .935 OPS)
Shortstop: Derek Jeter, Yankees (.307, 9 HR, 32 RBI, .828 OPS)
Outfield: Carl Crawford, Rays (.320, 8 HR, 38 RBI, 40 SB, .838 OPS)
Outfield: Torii Hunter, Angels (.304, 17 HR, 59 RBI, .952 OPS)
Outfield: Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners (.370, 6 HR, 20 RBI, .903 OPS)
Starting Pitcher: Zach Greinke, Royals, (10-3, 1.95, 1.02 WHIP)

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Caked in Brown Mud at the Black


Roses have thorns, and silver fountains mud;
Clouds and eclipses stain both moon and sun,
And loathsome canker lies in sweetest bud.
All men make faults...
-- William Shakespeare

For about 45 minutes this morning here at Bethpage State Park, the sun made a cameo appearance in the Long Island sky, and the Black Course was basked in its warmth and glory.

But then, the clouds rolled back over the Island, and the rain began to fall again, ultimately scuttling play on this Saturday only slightly over an hour into the third round of the United States Open.

For all the storylines going into this tournament – Tiger Woods trying to repeat both in this tournament and at this venue, Phil Mickelson’s last tournament before his wife begins cancer treatment, the raucous and often well-lubricated New York fans – through the first three days here, the weather has stolen the show. It has now rained over Bethpage for 18 of the last 21 days, and this weekend’s bad weather seems likely to cause this Open to be the third Open decided on a Monday as a result of poor conditions. Puddles formed on greens and in fairways, and the galleries, caked in mud, looked like something out of Woodstock.

While the rain has been the main topic of conversation here this weekend, the golf has not been overshadowed completely. Woods, naturally, still commands a great deal of attention from the gallery, which built steadily after he began his second round today on the back nine shortly after 10 a.m. Mickelson saw smaller crowds, resuming his second round at 7:30 this morning and wrapping up by about 9:30 – after a dramatic birdie on the 17th hole. He didn’t take the course for his third round until some nine hours after fetching his ball from the hole on 18.

That’s because the inclement weather here on Thursday prevented a half the field from even starting their first round. The players who did wrapped things up earlier Friday, but those who had not yet started later Friday, when dry skies and soft conditions led to bountiful scoring opportunities.

Those golfers who began their rounds on Thursday averaged first-round scores that were 1.9 strokes higher than those who didn’t. Underscoring that point – while half the field began their rounds on Thursday, of the top 11 players on the leaderboard following the conclusion of the second round today, only one (Lee Westwood) saw the course on Thursday.

Woods (+3 after two rounds) was one of the unlucky ones who played Thursday. Mickelson (-1) was fortunate not to play on the rain-shortened first day. But both are looking up at Ricky Barnes (-8), Lucas Glover (-7) and Mike Weir (-6). Of that group, only Weir has the kind of experience that would portend success here. Barnes, a past U.S. Amateur champion, has never even finished in the top-ten in a P.G.A. Tour event; Glover is the 71st-ranked player in the world.

Last year’s epic Open at Torrey Pines featured a relative unknown, too, as Rocco Mediate went toe-to-toe with Tiger on a Monday playoff. While the U.S.G.A. should be commended for the way they have handled the adverse conditions, but one can’t help but wonder if the most-remembered thing from this Open will be the rain, and not what the players do inside the ropes.

Friday, May 29, 2009

For the Orioles and Their Rookie Catcher, Great Expectations

BALTIMORE – Matt Wieters didn’t get a chance to ease into his major-league debut.

The Baltimore Orioles’ prized, 23-year-old catching prospect crouched down behind the plate and gave pitcher Brad Bergesen the sign for the game’s first pitch. Detroit Tigers leadoff hitter Josh Anderson attempted a bunt. Wieters sprang to his feet, pounced on the ball and fired a strike to first baseman Aubrey Huff. One pitch, one out in the major-league career of last year’s minor-league player of the year.

Embraced by Birds fans as a savior, Wieters went 0-for-4 at the plate tonight in a 7-2 romp by the Orioles. But neither the 0-for nor a thunderstorm that delayed the start of the game by 26 minutes dampened the enthusiasm amongst the 42,704 people here at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles said they sold roughly 15,000 tickets after general manager Andy MacPhail announced Tuesday that Wieters would make his debut tonight, and the crowd cheered each of his at-bats.

Wieters is the most prominent member of an impressive array of young talent the O’s have assembled. Adam Jones and Nick Markakis anchor an outstanding outfield. The pitching will take a few more years, with the likes of Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and David Hernandez—who made his debut Thursday night—in the Baltimore system.

For now, Wieters carries the hopes and dreams of a last-place team’s proud fanbase. But the Orioles play in the ultra-competitive American League East, and their pockets aren’t nearly as deep as the Yankees or Red Sox. They are trying to follow the Tampa Bay model, and Wieters is their Evan Longoria.

Welcome to the bigs, hon. No pressure – even after the 0-for-4. “Hopefully,” Wieters told the Baltimore Sun after the game, “they’ll keep cheering me for a few more games.”

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

N.C.A.A. Tournament Viewers Guide

It’s N.C.A.A. Tournament Time; your humble diarist knows this because his employer sent out an e-mail reminding everyone that using up loads of bandwidth to watch basketball over the internet is a violation of company policy.

My response: Come and get me.

Anyway, the first round of the Tournament is annually the greatest two days in sports, so let’s break down what the viewer can expect, by time-slot. Let’s first start with announcer pairings, by site:

Greensboro, N.C.: Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg
Kansas City: Tim Brando, Mike Gminski
Philadelphia: Carter Blackburn/Dick Enberg, Jay Bilas
Portland, Ore.: Kevin Harlan, Dan Bonner
Miami: Ian Eagle, Jim Spanarkel
Dayton, Ohio: Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
Minneapolis: Gus Johnson, Len Elmore
Boise: Craig Bolerjack, Bob Wenzel

Now that we’ve got the voices set, let’s get to the games, starting with Thursday. All times E.D.T.:

12:20 p.m. – South Region (Greensboro, N.C.): No. 9 Butler vs. No. 8 Louisiana State (-2.5)
12:25 p.m. – West Region (Kansas City): No. 15 California State-Northridge vs. No. 2 Memphis (-19.5)
12:30 p.m. – West Region (Philadelphia): No. 9 Texas A&M vs. No. 8 Brigham Young (-2)

Like the 9s here. Though they’re not very significant, we can hope for a couple of close games to tip off the Tourney.

2:30 p.m. – West Region (Portland, Ore.): No. 12 Northern Iowa vs. No. 5 Purdue (-8)
(approx.) 2:50 p.m. – South Region (Greensboro, N.C.): No. 16 Radford vs. No. 1 North Carolina (-26)
(approx.) 2:55 p.m. – West Region (Kansas City): No. 10 Maryland vs. No. 7 California (-1)
(approx.) 3 p.m. – West Region (Philadelphia): No. 16 Tennessee-Chattanooga vs. No. 1 Connecticut (-20.5)

I don’t believe in the Big Ten. That being said, Northern Iowa is even less athletic. The game of the slot here is Cal and U-Md. If the good Greivis Vasquez shows up, the Terps should win.

(approx.) 4:55 p.m. – West Region (Portland, Ore.): No. 13 Mississippi State vs. No. 4 Washington (-5)

Ah, the Slot of Death, while CBS affiliates east of the Rockies are showing local news – though credit CBS for putting this game on CBS College Sports network. Good thing; this could be a good one.

7:10 p.m. – East Region (Greensboro, N.C.): No. 10 Minnesota vs. No. 7 Texas (-4)
7:10 p.m. – South Region (Kansas City): No. 10 Michigan vs. No. 7 Clemson (-5)
7:20 p.m. – East Region (Philadelphia): No. 14 American vs. No. 3 Villanova (-16.5)
(approx.) 7:25 p.m. – South Region (Portland, Ore.): No. 13 Akron vs. No. 4 Gonzaga (-12.5)

Welcome to the Big Ten Bloodbath. Honestly, I don’t see any of these games being particularly close, though at least one undoubtedly will.

(approx.) 9:40 p.m. – East Region (Greensboro, N.C.): No. 15 Binghamton vs. No. 2 Duke (-21.5)
(approx.) 9:40 p.m. – South Region (Kansas City): No. 15 Morgan State vs. No. 2 Oklahoma (-16.5)
(approx.) 9:50 p.m. – East Region (Philadelphia): No. 11 Virginia Commonwealth vs. No. 6 California-Los Angeles (-7)
(approx.) 9:55 p.m. – South Region (Portland, Ore.) No. 12 Western Kentucky vs. No. 5 Illinois (-4.5)

So U.C.L.A. has to come all the way across the country to play V.C.U.? I’m taking the points.

And now, onto Friday:

12:15 p.m. – South Region (Miami): No. 14 Stephen F. Austin vs. No. 3 Syracuse (-12)
12:25 p.m. – East Region (Dayton, Ohio): No. 9 Tennessee vs. No. 8 Oklahoma State (+2)
12:30 p.m. – West Region (Boise): No. 11 Utah State vs. No. 6 Marquette (-4.5)
12:30 p.m. – Midwest Region (Minneapolis): No. 14 North Dakota State vs. No. 3 Kansas (-10)

As much as I’d love to see North Dakota State give the Jayhawks a game, I don’t see it. Everyone and their mother are picking Utah State. I am, too.

(approx.) 2:45 p.m. – South Region (Miami): No. 11 Temple vs. No. 6 Arizona State (-4.5)
(approx.) 2:55 p.m. – East Region (Dayton, Ohio): No. 16 East Tennessee State vs. No. 1 Pittsburgh (-19.5)
(approx.) 3 p.m. – West Region (Boise): No. 14 Cornell vs. No. 3 Missouri (-13)
(approx.) 3 p.m. – Midwest Region (Minneapolis): No. 11 Dayton vs. No. 6 West Virginia (-8.5)

Temple can pull the upset only if Dionte Christmas goes off. I can’t wait for Sen. Claire McCaskill’s (D-Mo.) tweets during the Mizzou game.

7:10 p.m. – Midwest Region (Miami): No. 12 Arizona vs. No. 5 Utah (pick ‘em)
7:10 p.m. – Midwest Region (Dayton, Ohio): No. 16 Morehead State vs. No. 1 Louisville (-21)
7:20 p.m. – Midwest Region (Minneapolis): No. 10 Southern California vs. No. 7 Boston College (+2)
7:25 p.m. – East Region (Boise): No. 13 Portland State vs. No. 4 Xavier (-10.5)

No respect for B.C. or Utah here. Probably for good reason; those should both be tight games.

(approx.) 9:40 p.m. – Midwest Region (Miami): No. 13 Cleveland State vs. No. 4 Wake Forest (-7.5)
(approx.) 9:40 p.m. – Midwest Region (Dayton, Ohio): No. 9 Siena vs. No. 8 Ohio State (-3)
(approx.) 9:50 p.m. – Midwest Region (Minneapolis): No. 15 Robert Morris vs. No. 2 Michigan State (-16.5)
(approx.) 9:55 p.m. – East Region (Boise): No. 12 Wisconsin vs. No. 5 Florida State (-2.5)

I really like the Seminoles here giving just 2.5. Also, Ohio State would lose to Siena if the game wasn’t at UD Arena.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Candor of Brandon Dubinsky

Following yet another listless performance last night in Buffalo, the New York Rangers’ young Alaskan center, Brandon Dubinsky, managed to articulate the root causes behind his club’s recent struggles that now find the Blueshirts clinging to the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

Following last night’s 4-2 loss to the Sabres, Dubinsky spoke to the New York Post’s Larry Brooks:

This was not even close to a 60-minute effort; hell no. We played 30 hard minutes, the first 10 and the last 20, and there isn’t any excuse for it.

We’ve got to be more accountable. We have to be more accountable to each other. It starts with each individual. I’m not excusing myself. There’s a responsibility we all have to ourselves and the organization.

There’s a reason each one of us is here. There’s a role each one of us has to fill. Whatever that role is, each player has to be his very best at it. We have to be tougher on each other; we have to make sure we hold each other accountable for getting the job done.

You know, we have a great group of guys, but maybe because we’re all such good friends, we don’t get on each other enough. Maybe we’re too willing to just go along with it and when that happens, it becomes contagious.

Your humble diarist can think of one good way to make the Rangers a little less comfortable in the clubhouse, and he’s in Hartford playing with the A.H.L.’s Wolf Pack.

Indeed, general manager Glen Sather’s decisions to cast away Sean Avery, Jaromir Jagr and Brendan Shanahan seem to have deprived the Rangers of the edge it takes to win in the N.H.L. Putting the club in the hands of Chris Drury, Scott Gomez and Markus Naslund has been an abject failure, a fact that has become clearer as the games have become more important down the stretch. When the going gets tough, the meek cower in the corner.

Bringing back Avery prior to the March 4 deadline may be too little, too late to help the Rangers stay in the playoff picture. Currently the occupants of the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference (and sliding fast), the Blueshirts hold a slim, three-point lead over ninth-place Carolina, with tenth-place Pittsburgh only a point behind the ‘Canes.

Avery was dismissed by the Dallas Stars—who still retain his rights—in December after only 23 games following his crude and misogynistic comments directed towards Calgary defenseman Dion Phaneuf and Avery’s ex-girlfriend, the actress Elisha Cuthbert. In order to join the Rangers, all teams with a higher waiver priority would have to pass on him. The Rangers, however, are reported to be the only team interested in claiming their erstwhile instigator.

Even if Avery’s presence isn’t enough to lift the team to the playoffs this season, it should signal an important change on Seventh Avenue: The clubhouse needs a shake-up. It shouldn’t just bother the Rangers’ players that their team is not winning. It should bother them that their teammates are not performing.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Bud Selig's Short Memory

Somehow, through one embarrassing episode after another—José Canseco, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodríguez, etc.—Bud Selig continues to defend Major League Baseball's response to rampant steroid use during his tenure. Somehow, he continues to be as delusional and out of touch as the cheating athletes he protected.

On the same day Rodríguez tried to explain away his steroid use as a case of curiosity and naïveté, Selig in an interview with Newsday’s Wally Matthews vehemently disputed that he was in any way complicit in the proliferation of steroids in his sport during the past 15 years.

“I don’t want to hear the commissioner turned a blind eye to this or he didn’t care about it,” Selig told Matthews. “That annoys the you-know-what out of me. You bet I’m sensitive to the criticism. The reason I’m so frustrated is, if you look at our whole body of work, I think we’ve come farther than anyone ever dreamed possible.”

According to Matthews, “Selig pointed to the reduction in the number of positive steroid tests among major- and minor-league players during the past three years, as well as the institution of amphetamine testing as evidence that baseball's 2005 drug policy is working.”

But the premier ballplayers listed above—and the others busted in former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell’s (D-Maine) 2007 report and elsewhere—were using performance-enhancing drugs well before 2005. Selig claims that it was just too difficult to negotiate for any kind of drug-testing policy prior to 2002 as a result of the players’ association’s obstinacy.

“Starting in 1995, I tried to institute a steroid policy,” Selig said. “Needless to say, it was met with strong resistance. We were fought by the union every step of the way.”

Selig says that, following the prolonged strike that canceled the 1994 World Series, he wanted to do everything possible to avoid another work stoppage. But that’s an awfully convenient excuse when he and his fellow owners spent the mid-to-late 1990s raking in money hand-over-fist while the likes of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa used chemicals to help them launch home run after home run and shatter the kinds of long-standing records that mean so much to the game.

The union, obviously, deserves its fair share of the blame, too. And if allegations that the union’s No. 2, Gene Orza, was tipping off players before their drug tests are true, the M.L.B.P.A. will have so blatantly crossed a clear moral line that the owners would be more than justified in demanding new leadership at the union before any negotiations regarding a new collective-bargaining agreement.

But the union is supposed to look out for the players’ financial welfare; Selig is supposed to be the game’s chief protector. As rumors of drug use began to swirl in the late 90s, Selig claims he consulted with baseball men he knew and trusted, such as Diamondbacks manager Bob Melvin (then a coach with the Milwaukee Brewers), Braves president John Schuerholz and Yankees general manager Brian Cashman to gauge the extent of the problem.

“They all told me none of them ever saw it in the clubhouses and that their players never spoke about it,” Selig said. “[Padres C.E.O.] Sandy Alderson, as good a baseball man as you’ll find, was convinced it was the bat. Others were convinced it was the ball. So a lot of people didn’t know.”

It’s difficult to believe that steroid use could be as rampant as we now know it was, and Selig knew nothing about it. More likely, rather than make other concessions regarding salaries or risk another work stoppage, the owners chose willful blindness over their responsibilities to the game.

This isn’t a “what about the kids?” argument. Your humble diarist will save that for those who have a right to their moral indignation. This is about The Steroid Era, its players, its teams and its records. This is about Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens possibly going to jail for lying to a federal grand jury and a House committee, respectively. It is about Miguel Tejada pleading guilty to lying to congressional investigators. It is about each domino falling until an entire decade of a game so steeped in history and its records is nothing but a ten-year black mark.

Both the owners and players, under great public pressure, have done a commendable job in implementing as tough a testing regime as there is in professional sports over the past four years. But just because only eight major leaguers have tested positive for steroids since 2005 doesn’t mean either side gets a pass for the ten years that preceded that period. We’re talking about an entire era forever tainted with the stain of performance-enhancing drugs because Selig and the owners were either unwilling or unable to take a stand. It represents a complete and total failure of leadership over a ten-year period that will be remembered as long as the national pastime survives.

It was unadulterated greed on the part of the players and their union—who fought any effort to regulate drug use—that led to this. But it was also the greed of Selig and the owners he represents, who refused to draw a line in the sand in the face of all the ill-gotten profits that streamed in with the same frequency that baseballs artificially jumped out of stadiums across the game.

Selig can point to the good work he has done over the past four years to rid the game of steroids. But that doesn’t erase what happened before, particularly as we learn more and more about it with each passing day. Those stories and that era will be his true legacy.

Monday, February 09, 2009

A-Rod’s Non-Admission Admission

“You know, one thing I’m learning as I get older, and hopefully a little wiser, is that honesty, the truth will set you free.” – Alex Rodríguez, Feb. 9, 2009.

Alex Rodríguez is guilty of being stupid and naïve, he told ESPN’s Peter Gammons today.

He says he doesn’t know what, exactly, he put in his body that triggered a positive test for testosterone and the steroid Primobolan. He says he doesn’t know who gave it to him. He says he didn’t even know he failed a steroid test until Sports Illustrated’s Selena Roberts—more on her below—told him about it on Thursday.

Rodríguez said he discontinued his steroid use after suffering a severe neck injury in Spring Training in 2003, but he reportedly failed the test during the 2003 season. It was after that season that Major League Baseball began drug testing players with disciplinary ramifications.

At least Rodríguez copped to it, which is more than one can say about Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens. He could have denied the report, or he could have said that whatever triggered the positive test he took unwittingly. He took responsibility. Just not for everything.

He says he knew what he was taking was illegal—though he wouldn’t use that word, citing the “culture” in baseball at the time—but he doesn’t know what it was. That’s pretty difficult to believe.

But last offseason, Rodríguez sat down with Katie Couric on “60 Minutes.” Couric asked him a direct question: Had he ever used steroids, human-growth hormone or any other performance-enhancing drug? Rodríguez answered unequivocally: “No.”

Gammons asked him today: “You were asked if you ever used steroids, human growth hormones or other performance-enhancing substances. You said no, flat-out no. In your mind, that wasn’t a lie?”

Rodríguez’s answer revealed just how detached from reality he remains: “At the time, Peter, I wasn’t even being truthful with myself. How am I going to be truthful with Katie or CBS? Today, I’m here to tell the truth, and I feel good about that. I think my fans deserve that. I’m ready to put everything behind me and go play baseball. You know, we have a great team this year. I couldn’t be more excited about the guys that we've brought in, Mark Teixeira, A. J. Burnett and CC Sabathia. It’s an important time in my life to turn the page and focus on what’s next.”

He also, bizarrely, accused Roberts of harassing him and his family, a charge Roberts, in a statement, called “absurd.” Rodríguez said, “I mean, what makes me upset is that Sports Illustrated pays this lady, Selena Roberts, to stalk me. This lady has been thrown out of my apartment in New York City. This lady has five days ago just been thrown out of the University of Miami police for trespassing. And four days ago she tried to break into my house where my girls are up there sleeping, and got cited by the Miami Beach police. I have the paper here. This lady is coming out with all these allegations, all these lies because she's writing an article for Sports Illustrated and she's coming out with a book in May.”

SI and Roberts responded quickly. Roberts, in a statement, said, “The allegations made by Alex Rodríguez are absurd. I’ve never set foot in the lobby of Alex’s New York apartment building, never spoken to the University of Miami police, and never set foot on his home property or been cited by the Miami Police for doing so.”

Forgive your humble diarist if he believes a respected former New York Times sports columnist over Rodríguez, who has every reason to lie, and everything to hide. After all, he has been hiding and lying about his steroid use from the public for at least eight years.

To be sure, Rodríguez’s admission today is a start. It’s better than most of the more narcissistic players have done. But, beyond the surface, a lot of what Rodríguez said today rings hollow.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Santana Is the Man of the Hour

FLUSHING, N.Y. – Johan Santana is a prideful man. After throwing a career-high 125 pitches Tuesday against the Cubs, he volunteered to pitch on three days’ rest for only the second time in his career today against the Marlins. With the Mets down a game to Milwaukee in the National League Wild Card, manager Jerry Manuel relented.

Next to the Mets’ lineup in the clubhouse today here at Shea Stadium was a handwritten message reading, “It’s time to be a MAN.” The signature read simply, “Johan.”

Santana then took the mound and improbably threw a three-hit shutout that required 117 pitches to complete, pacing the Mets to a 2-0 victory over the Florida Marlins before slightly less than the announced crowd of 54,920 that, combined with a Milwaukee loss to the Cubs, brought the Amazins back into the first-place tie heading to the last game of the season.

“Wow, wow, wow, wow,” Manuel told the New York Times. “I think if I had to describe that one, I’d say that was gangsta. That’s gangsta. That’s serious gangsta right there.”

If this scenario sounds familiar, well, it is. Last year, the Mets went into the last series of the season tied with Philadelphia in the N.L. East. After Friday, the Mets found themselves a game behind. That Saturday, John Maine pitched a gem, taking a no-hitter into the eighth inning against these same Marlins. Later in the afternoon, the Phillies lost to tie the race yet again. On Sunday … well, you know how that turned out.

The Mets hope that Oliver Pérez isn’t Tom Glavine, even if he has a 6.26 earned-run average this month and he is pitching on three days’ rest for only the second time in his career.

“I hope that our offense takes the game,” Manuel told the Daily News.

In five starts this year against the Marlins, Pérez is 3-0 with a 2.03 E.R.A. Hotheaded southpaw Scott Olsen takes the mound for Florida. In Milwaukee, CC Sabathia will make his third consecutive start on three days’ rest against Carlos Zambrano for the Cubs, though Cubs manager Lou Piniella has suggested that he will only use Zambrano for a couple of innings.

Today’s game, however, gave Mets fans reason to believe. Santana commanded the crowd, and the Marlins, on a cool, misty day in the penultimate regular-season game at Shea Stadium. Knowing the Mets’ bullpen troubles, it seemed like the crowd tried to coax Santana through the entire game. How many times will the crowd stand for a pitcher’s at bat in the eighth inning with no one on base?

“There’s no tomorrow, there’s no tomorrow,” Santana told the Times. “The situation that we were in, there’s no tomorrow. To me, I don’t think about tomorrow. I’ve got to do it today. That’s the way you take care of business.”

There would have been no tomorrow at Shea had the Mets lost and the Brewers won. Since the opposite occurred, there will be a tomorrow here at this old, utilitarian stadium filled with so much promise, but laden with the specter of last year’s final game, which undoubtedly weighs so heavily on everyone’s mind. There will be no cheer louder at Shea than if Pérez can successfully navigate a scoreless first inning.

If the Mets win tomorrow, and the Brewers lose, the Mets will capture the Wild Card and face the Cubs on Wednesday evening at Wrigley Field. Should the opposite occur, the Brewers will head to Philadelphia for their Division Series on Wednesday. If both teams win or lose, there will be yet another game here Monday night between New York and Milwaukee to decide the Wild Card.

But for today, the Mets are back even, thanks to their star pitcher, who was, without question, a man today.