Aug 06

Legacies Of Alex Rodriguez And Bud Selig Permanently Linked

As we sift through the rubble of Major League Baseball’s Biogenesis scandal, we will find many things, including the tortured legacies of the New York Yankees’ Alex Rodriguez and Commissioner Bud Selig.

Supremely gifted and talented, Rodriguez garnered three of the sport’s biggest contracts. The first was from the Texas Rangers, which was supposed to raise that franchise to prominence, but instead choked them to the point of having to trade him to the Yankees.

SELIG: Not smiling before Congress.

SELIG: Not smiling before Congress.

Rodriguez received two lucrative deals from the Yankees – the latter against the wishes of general manager Brian Cashman – for the intent of driving the club’s network YES with a record home run assault that could have shown us 800.

But, that was George Steinbrenner, whose high-rolling actions to get Rodriguez simply defined his place in baseball lore.

By his own admission, Rodriguez said he used steroids, but was accused of much more by Selig. Of what, we’ll know exactly in the coming months.

One thing he was accused of was attempting to purchase Biogenesis’ records. A despicable act if he had, but seemingly not so when done by MLB.

Rodriguez won’t get his 700 or 800 home runs. He will not break the career mark held by Hank Aaron. Barry Bonds does not hold the record for home runs, but for hitting balls over the fence. Real baseball fans know the difference.

Rodriguez’s memorabilia might see Cooperstown, but there won’t be a plaque of him, just as there won’t be one of Bonds, of Mark McGwire, of Rafael Palmeiro, of Sammy Sosa and Roger Clemens. We will see their bats and gloves, just not their faces in bronze.

RODRIGUEZ: Not smiling either.

RODRIGUEZ: Not smiling either.

The Baseball Writers Association of America has taken some heat for its awards decisions, but should be proud of its current stand on players in the Steroids Era, the one ushered in by Selig.

Selig should be having mixed feelings today. He has to be happy with nailing 13 of 14 players, but privately must fear what will come down with Rodriguez’s appeal.

Then, he should feel angst because much of this was brought on by Selig, who as commissioner represents the owners more than he does the game.

It was Selig’s decision to play hardball with the Players Association in 1994 by demanding a salary cap and revenue sharing that forced the strike, and with it the cancellation of the World Series and advent of replacement players the following spring.

It must be remembered during this period the owners were found guilty of dealing in bad faith in court.

The sport took a severe financial hit, which it attempted to heal with the entry fees of the Tampa Rays and Arizona Diamondbacks in 1997. Attendance was down, but revived in 1998 with Cal Ripken’s honest pursuit of Lou Gehrig’s record; a dominating year by the Yankees; and, of course, the pursuit of McGwire and Sosa on Roger Maris’ honest record.

After nearly 40 years, both broke 61. Sosa did it three times. McGwire hit 70, but Bonds had 73. None of those numbers were achieved honestly, but with the tacit approval of Selig and the owners who looked the other way because the stands and their coffers were being filled again.

Selig is taking bows because baseball has sports’ toughest drug policy, but it was forced on him by Congress and the shame of the dishonest home run.

It is too much for me to expect Selig and the owners to admit their involvement, but if nothing else, I want to see a damn asterisk designating the Steroid Era.

Do that, and then take a bow.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jul 23

Has The Players Association Lost Its Teeth?

Is the Baseball Players Association, usually regarded as professional sports’ most powerful union, no more? Perhaps not as toothless as the impotent unions representing players in football, basketball and hockey, but in light of the Biogenesis disgrace that’s the impression.

Director Michael Weiner’s recent comments the MLBPA would not stand in the way of Biogenesis suspensions – with Ryan Braun’s for the remainder of the 2013 season the first – is not representative of a vibrant union.

The union’s rap was it would defend an ax murderer, but there is a minimum understanding in the reasoning for such a reputation. The union’s job is to not only enhance its members’ financial position, but also defend them against often overzealous owners.

While it is understandable and admirable of Commissioner Bud Selig for wanting to eradicate performance-enhancing drugs from the sport, the terms of Major League Baseball’s drug policy was defined by collective bargaining.

Selig’s heart is in the right place in wanting to clean his sport, despite that he and the owners initially looked the other way during the height of the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa steroid-fueled home run chase in 1998, and subsequent shameful acceptance of Barry Bonds’ assault on Hank Aaron’s true home run record.

The policy has checks and balances and an appeals process, one Braun utilized and skated on a technicality. Braun beat the suspension because a MLB handler made a mistake. The process was in place to enable Braun to walk.

It is a process designed to avoid a witch-hunt and unfair prosecution of a player. I have no sympathy for a cheater and as a Hall of Fame voter will not vote for player linked to steroids. I want steroids gone from the sport, but want them eliminated the right way.

The Biogenesis case has been ugly from the start, with the evidence more than circumstantial against Braun, Alex Rodriguez and others. However, MLB did not have subpoena powers to obtain records from Biogenesis owner Tony Bosch, who for a price, since went to bed with Selig against the players.

That’s distasteful and creates the impression of Selig being vindictive against Braun for beating the first suspension. It was undoubtedly embarrassing for Selig and MLB to lose that case, but it was a sign the drug policy was working.

For MLB’s drug policy to continue to work it must have an appeals process and the players can’t be denied due process. Weiner should not accept MLB’s case against the Biogenesis players without question and simply taking Selig’s word, especially with him having to purchase the evidence against players from Bosch, whose reputation is certainly not above reproach.

There have been eight work stoppages in baseball, the last one the 1994 strike forced on the players by the owners for their refusal to bargain in good faith on the issues of revenue sharing and a salary cap. This one bled into two seasons and forced Selig to sack the World Series. After that, it was hoped the two sides learned something as to never have another stoppage, and after a near miss in 2002, that turned out to be the case.

However, did peace come at the price of the MLBPA selling out to Selig and the owners? For all practical purposes, Selig has his salary cap. And, if the MLBPA gives in without a hint of due process, in what other areas will the union capitulate?

And, how healthy is that to baseball’s growth?

ON DECK: About Last Night: Not liking Bobby Parnell’s response.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jul 04

All-Star Game Has Lost Its Way; From Voting Process On Down

Jonathan Papelbon’s dissing the notion of Dodgers outfielder Yasiel Puig’s being named to the National League All-Star team initially brought a reaction of agreement.

A month in the major leagues, regardless of how spectacular it might be, is not a large enough window.

“The guy’s got a month,’’ Papelbon said. “Just comparing him to this and that, and saying he’s going to make the All-Star team, that’s a joke to me.’’

PUIG: Let him play. (LA Times)

PUIG: Let him play. (LA Times)

Then, the more I thought about it, nearly everything connected with the All-Star Game is a joke, and pretty much has been since interleague play.

The luster from the All-Star Game has gradually worn off because there’s no edge to the rivalry of the leagues. The home run derby was once a novelty, but has gotten boring in much the way the NBA slam-dunk turned on the yawn machine.

Bud Selig’s decision to have the All-Star Game winner determine home field advantage of the World Series was gimmick. Selig knew the game was missing something, so he added that condiment. Kind of like putting ketchup on a piece of meat.

A century of tradition was brushed away by the gimmick of interleague play.

Also falling into the category of gimmickry is the voting process. When the voting was returned to the fans, which violated the privilege by stuffing the ballot box, it was initially as a reward to fans that paid their way into the park.

Ironically, now Major League Baseball encourages fans to stuff the box, but to its credit does observe limitations – you’re now only allowed to cast 35 votes. David Wright deserves to be on the team, but the trumping for his was shameless. There’s a logo in the dirt behind home plate telling fans to vote.  Imagine how tasteless it would have been had they gone through with the link to the dating website. It’s that way in all cities.

Also puzzling is adding a serious tone to the game by having it determine home field in the World Series, yet having each team represented, even if it means adding a player not worthy, which is to not field the best team.

The only team mandated to have a representative should be the host team. After that, there should be no push. If a team doesn’t have a worthy player, why should a deserving player be deprived?

The game has changed, and not for the competitive better. How can there be when Barry Bonds hoists Torii Hunter on his shoulder after robbing him of a homer in Milwaukee? You see that and think of Pete Rose plowing Ray Fosse at the plate and wonder what is wrong with that picture.

Two plays in two eras showing two ranges of emotion.

Starting pitchers would work up to three innings, with no limits when the game went to extra innings. In 1967, in Anaheim, which went 16 innings, Catfish Hunter pitched five innings. Starters such as Brooks Robinson, Tony Conigliaro, Harmon Killebrew and Roberto Clemente had six at-bats.

No longer.

If you weren’t paying attention, then the 2002 game in Milwaukee should have sealed it for you. That was the game called a tie after 11 innings because both teams ran out of pitchers. Also, part of Selig’s legacy.

The teams ran out of pitchers because nobody worked more than two innings.

That was also the year, you might recall, when Sammy Sosa put on a sweat-pouring, steroid-fueled display during the home run derby, then took a limo back to Chicago after he was removed from the game.

Aaah, such memories.

The bottom line is the All-Star Game has long lost its spice and its spot in baseball lore. It doesn’t have that special feel to it any longer. So, if Major League Baseball wants to continue making it a gimmick and surrounding the event with celebrities and novelties, then who why should anybody care if Puig is named.

The only reason Papelbon cares is because he has an old school mentality with a passion about his sport, something the keepers of the game have long since abandoned.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

Jun 06

Major League Baseball’s Case Against Rodriguez And Braun Not Ironclad

What I want to see is the Mets play as compelling and emotional game as the Boston Bruins played last night. However, as it is with the Mets’ luck, it isn’t surprising that the Major League Baseball war against PED users in the Biogenesis case is set to explode at the All-Star Game.

It will be interesting to see how Major League Baseball spins off the Home Run Derby as its lawyers are running to court and back.

It is admirable Bud Selig wants to clean up the sport he allowed to get sullied by looking at steroid usage in the first place; how he tried to buy back the good will of the fans he alienated by killing off the 1994 World Series in the owner-initiated work stoppage with the chemically-enhanced Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa home run chase.

Caving under the pressure of attendance drops coupled by the criticism from the not-knowing that the game is too boring, Selig sold out for the quick fix of the home run.

That decision, along with the interleague play gimmick – also in the wake of the work stoppage – will forever be Selig’s legacy as commissioner.

Now, add the Biogenesis case.

Major League Baseball is seeking to suspend 20 players for connection to Biogenesis founder Tony Bosch, but its primary guns are aimed at Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun, who have made a mockery of the sport’s drug policy.

Rodriguez, who admitted using steroids for only a three-year period while with Texas and not with the Yankees, has repeatedly denied using again. Braun tested positive after his MVP season, but escaped punishment on a technicality.

Major League Baseball has been fuming since and this is coming off as the vendetta it is rather than a simple cleansing act.

While the picture looks bleak for Rodriguez and Braun, Major League Baseball shouldn’t celebrate too soon, as a sharp lawyer will attempt to turn this around.

Bosch initially refuted MLB’s request to turn over his records – he had no legal obligation to do so – and only is cooperating with Selig dropping the lawsuit against him. It was a lawsuit Bosch arguably could have won if he was able to afford to go against Major League Baseball’s deep pockets.

Bosch’s decision to go to bed with MLB came after Rodriguez refused to give him financial support, one of the few smart things the troubled Yankees’ third baseman has done in recent years.

It looks as if Bosch is turning on Rodriguez because he is, and that appearance doesn’t look good for Major League Baseball, which, when it comes to PEDs, has looked bad before Congress, and couldn’t put away Roger Clemens or Barry Bonds.

The technicality in which Braun escaped might be valid, but the sport comes off as a sore loser in not winning in arbitration.

If Selig wants to play hardball against PED users, that’s great, but there are other ways, and he will need the backing of the Players Association, which can’t be happy about this case. Instead, Major League Baseball is putting all its eggs in the Bosch basket, and he hasn’t been reputable from the start.

As always, your comments are greatly appreciated and I will attempt to answer them. Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos

May 14

Seeking A Villain For Mets’ Hitting Woes

Another night, another ten strikeouts, another loss. Hmmm. Let’s see, whom can we blame?

I know, batting coach Dave Hudgens and his approach to work the count and be selective; get a pitch and drive it.

k_104_lgThat’s it, his approach is wrong. It is why they are striking out so many times. They are taking, taking, falling behind, and then whiffing. Damn, it’s Hudgens’ fault.

That’s the current analysis of the Mets’ offensive woes and it is nonsense.

There is nothing wrong with the approach, the game plan, if you will. It is fundamental baseball, and it only doesn’t work if you don’t have the hitters with the ability to make it work.

There is nothing wrong in working the count and taking a strike. What IS wrong, is taking that strike if it is a pitch you can drive. This is about pitch selectivity and recognition, and Mets hitters don’t have it.

Remember when Yankees-Red Sox games lasted close to four hours? The approach from both teams was to run up the count. For the Yankees, when they faced Pedro Martinez, the magic number was 100. Once Martinez reached that number he became less effective.

Surprise, surprise, it works that way with all pitchers on a consistent basis. Some games they’ll have the stuff to go long, but usually they’ll break down.

imagesIt worked because those teams had hitters capable of recognizing their pitch and reacting. Bernie Williams, Paul O’Neill and Manny Ramirez. The term used is “professional hitter.’’

Trouble is, when you look at the Mets, you don’t find many. David Wright, sure. You can even make a case for Daniel Murphy, but he’s in a dreadful slump, which happens to everybody.

We knew going in Ike Davis and Lucas Duda were strikeout machines. Looking at their roster, so is everybody else.

Of their most-used lineup, only Murphy and Ruben Tejada are projected to finish with less than 100 strikeouts, and their numbers of 93 and 79, respectively, are high for supposed “contact’’ hitters.

For all the talk of John Buck’s hot start, he has come to Earth average-wise and his power numbers have cooled. But, not his strikeouts; on pace for 162.

Here’s the projected numbers for the rest: Wright (106, which is a marked improvement from recent years), Duda (153), Rick Ankiel (154), and Marlon Byrd (139).

Even in his limited at-bats, Jordany Valdespin is on pace to whiff 65 times. Give him full time at-bats and it would be over 100, also.

images-1Given this, then why have an approach of taking pitches?

Answer: Because that gives them the best chance to succeed, if they have the ability to do so.

Early in the year we were thrilled about Duda taking walks and having a high on-base percentage. What went wrong is two-fold: 1) he fell back into bad habits and started chasing, and 2) he didn’t swing when he got his pitch.

Too often, Mets’ hitters still swing at garbage. In fact, they aren’t taking enough. Consider Davis’ last strikeout Sunday against Pittsburgh when he flailed at three pitches outside the zone, either low or away, or both.

If the Mets had a roster of guys such as Wade Boggs or Barry Bonds, who knew how to wait out a pitcher and what to do when he got his pitch, this wouldn’t be an issue.

But, they don’t. They have a roster of guys who aren’t major leaguers.

Pitchers know the Mets are taking, so they adjusted and are throwing down-the-middle strikes early and hard-to-reach strikes late in the count.

If the first pitch is there, swing at it. The approach isn’t about taking until you have two strikes. It is about driving one strike. Sometimes, that’s the only good pitch you’ll get.

Outside of Wright, who is getting better, few Mets know how to protect the plate with two strikes, which is shorten your swing, foul off pitches that are close, and go to the opposite field.

No, the problem isn’t the approach. The problem is a roster of hitters who don’t understand the fundamentals of hitting.

The problem is also general manager Sandy Alderson, who is about the funky stats of Sabremetrics, and has settled for a roster of players not able to hit.

But, the easiest thing to do is blame Hudgens, who after all, is only trying to get his hitters to understand Hitting 101.

Please follow me on Twitter @jdelcos