Mar 03

Delcos Sunday Column: Selig The Cause And Cure For Drug Problem

Major League Baseball already has the strictest doping policies among the four major professional sports, yet commissioner Bud Selig wants them even tighter.

Even prior to the expiration of the current CBA, Selig asked his VP of labor relations, Rob Manfred, and MLB Players Association chief Michael Weiner to hammer out a new agreement.

“I’ve always wanted (fans) to understand that I’ll always regard cleaning up this situation as something I’m very proud of,’’ Selig told reporters.

Selig wants his legacy to be that he’s the commissioner that got rid performance-enhancing drugs, which sound about right because it was under his watch that the problem mushroom into its current mess.

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Feb 08

Something To Look Forward To From The Mets

As I watch the snow pile up outside my window, I am thinking of three of the best words in sports, “pitchers and catchers.’’

NIESE: Needs to take the next step.

                       NIESE: Needs to take the next step.

The official deadline for the Mets is Monday, but the lockers are already being filled in Port St. Lucie. I am hoping to get down there this spring and have already started looking at flights.

Most of the prognosticators have the Mets fighting the Marlins to stay out of the NL East. Many of them have them losing close to 100 games. I think they’ll finish ahead of Miami and I don’t see them losing that many games. I’d like to see .500, but I’m not ready to go there, yet.

For those thinking the worst, and as Mets fans I know you’ve all done it one time or another, I’d like to give you several things to watch for that could make this an interesting, if not exciting summer.

If you’re already writing off this season, here’s a few things to talk you down off the ledge.

The soundest road to contention is with young pitching. For those lamenting the lack of power and a weak outfield, just remember what the San Francisco Giants did in two of the past three years. Speaking of sparse outfields, was the Mets’ 2000 outfield all that good?

Hardly. It’s all starts with pitching and the Mets have three bright spots they are developing.

Jon Niese won a career-high 13 games last season and has the potential, if he stays healthy, to possibly win 17 or more. To reach that level he needs to win four more games in six months. That’s roughly one more every five weeks. That’s not that big a stretch with his stuff.

Niese had a nearly 3-to-1 strikeouts-to-walks ratio and 1.17 WHIP in 2012 while working 190 innings in 30 starts. If he makes four more starts over 200 innings and maybe 17 wins are possible.

The Mets jumped from habit and signed Niese to a long-term contract way before they needed to because he throws hard, is lefthanded, pitches with guile and has experienced major league success. For those reasons, any team would want him but the Mets continually say no.

Two other rising pitching stars are Matt Harvey and Zack Wheeler. The Mets have brought along Harvey at a good pace and he started ten games last year, showing overpowering stuff and more importantly, composure beyond his years. His is the type of arm franchises are built around.

While Harvey is in the Opening Day rotation, the timetable for Wheeler is later in the summer after more time in Triple A. There’s no rush to promote Wheeler early, but we’ll see him soon enough.

We should also see catching prospect Travis d’Arnaud before the year is out, and I like the idea he’ll get a lot of time with Wheeler. The key to the R.A. Dickey trade from the Mets’ perspective, d’Arnaud has power potential, but he’s also coming off knee and back injuries.

Should he pan out then the Mets can argue success in the trade of their Cy Young Award winner.

Also something to look forward to is Ike Davis’ power. Davis, skillful around the first base bag, clubbed 32 homers last year after a bad start. He’s healthy now and two good halves could make 40 homers a realistic possibility. That’s a little over one a month. He could get that, along with more walks and fewer strikeouts, with an improved plate presence.

Then there is David Wright, who played at a MVP clip in the first half before the pressures of carrying the Mets on his back became too great a burden.

I’m looking at .300, 30 and 100 from Wright, nothing less. He rarely talks about numbers, but he’d probably say the same if pressed.

No, I don’t know how the Mets will do this year. However, if these six players can play to what is expected of them, this has a chance to be an interesting summer.

Jan 27

Stan Musial And Frank Thomas Recall A Cleaner Time

Today I’d like to respond to two stories from yesterday, neither of them Mets related because, well, they haven’t done anything.

The first is Stan Musial’s funeral and the second Frank Thomas’ comments from the White Sox’s annual fan convention.

In different ways, both speak to baseball’s history in a profound light. Both return us to a cleaner, simpler time.

Let’s look at Musial first. Here was a three-time MVP and seven-time NL batting champion with 3,630 hits fr which 475 were home runs. But, numbers never gave us the true appreciation of this man.

I once saw him in the dining room at old Busch Stadium and thought of introducing myself and shaking his hand, but there was a crowd around him and I didn’t want to intrude. I told one of the Cardinals writers and he said, “You should have, Stan wouldn’t have mind.’’

Reading of his graciousness this week and the thoughtful eulogy from Bob Costas, I have little regret. I’ll always wish I saw him play. Even more, I wish I approached him that day.

One point Costas made was Musial didn’t have a singular achievement, such as Ted Williams hitting .406 and Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. Musial also didn’t have the advantage of playing in a media center sof New York such as Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and DiMaggio, or chasing a record like Hank Aaron. Timing and location mean a lot, but not everything.

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Dec 20

Casting My 2013 Hall Of Fame Ballot

piazza gfx

I am at my desk holding the official BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot. It is my reward turned responsibility for covering Major League Baseball for over 20 years.

That’s close to 2,500 games, many spent watching Mike Piazza dominate his position like no other catcher with 396 homers (427 overall). That dwarfs Hall of Famers Johnny Bench, Yogi Berra, Bill Dickey and Mickey Cochrane, all who played before steroids became part baseball’s lexicon.

I vowed not to vote for a player officially linked to steroids, whether by admission, a failed drug test, accused on the record by another player or baseball official, or mentioned in the Mitchell Report.

That meant Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro or Roger Clemens – all on this year’s ballot – won’t get in by me.

Then there is Piazza.

Piazza hasn’t been linked to performance enhancing drugs in any capacity with the exception of innuendo from writers who deemed that an acne-spotted back was as reliable as a blood test. If acne were the sole criteria, then most every teenager in this country would be suspected of being on the juice.

Like the gay rumors, it is unfair, unjust and irresponsible reporting. Yes, Piazza starred in baseball’s checkered steroid era, but I see him as a victim of circumstance, of guilt by association, of being painted with a broad brush.

Supposedly, Piazza confessed to an unnamed reporter. Unnamed reporters, like unnamed sources, raise suspicion and should be questioned with skepticism. It is why I put my name on everything I write.

If a reporter had that story, it would be a goldmine. If so, where is it written? Piazza has denied on the record any usage, and based by his name being absent on any official list, I believe him.

Despite his no-show before Congress, McGwire came clean; Palmeiro failed a test and was suspended; BALCO star Bonds admitted to using the clear and the cream but claimed he didn’t know what it was; Sosa has been blamed on the record and used corked bats twice; and Clemens’ former trainer produced physical evidence with his DNA.

I’m not buying the court decision on Clemens, as the government couldn’t get a conviction with a signed admission. Andy Pettitte’s most significant change-up of his career is what probably allowed Clemens to get off.

Then, there is Piazza who might be denied based on one newspaper account citing back acne. That reasoning is as pockmarked as Piazza’s back at the time.

Voting against Piazza is a writer’s right, but it can’t be based on his .308 career average, .377 on-base percentage, .545 slugging percentage, .922 OPS, 427 homers and 1,113 RBI, numbers that are off the charts in comparison to other catchers.

In case that’s not impressive enough, there are 12 All-Star appearances, 10 Silver Slugger Awards emblematic as the dominant offensive player at his position (and most ever by a catcher), and seven times finished in the top ten on the MVP ballot.

Piazza will get my vote, as will Craig Biggio, Edgar Martinez, Jeff Bagwell, Fred McGriff, Jack Morris, Don Mattingly and Tim Raines.

Piazza’s numbers are what the writers should be counting, not back pimples or whispers from those too gutless to put their names on the record.

Voting against Piazza is a writer’s right, but not the responsible choice. A journalist’s obligation is to be objective, fair and honest. Voting against Piazza on the strength of a rumor is none of those things.

It’s irresponsible and disgraceful.

John Delcos is a lifetime member of the Baseball Writers Association of America and has covered the sport for over 20 years. He has voted for the Hall of Fame for over a decade. You can read more of his insights at NewYorkMetsReport.com or reach him at JDelcos@yahoo.com.

 

Nov 15

Cabrera, Trout And Posey Top MVP Candidates

AL MVP CANDIDATE MIGUEL CABRERA

The Major League postseason awards conclude today with the granddaddy of them all – the Most Valuable Player Awards.

San Francisco catcher Buster Posey and Detroit third baseman Miguel Cabrera competing against the Angels’ Mike Trout are considered the frontrunners. Throw a blanket over Cabrera and Trout in the American League.

Let’s look at the American League race first because of the potential closeness of the voting.

The award has been shared before, the National League in 1979 between the Cardinals’ Keith Hernandez and the Pirates’ Willie Stargell. It is possible to have co-winners in these awards because they are done on a point system: x number of points for first place, y number of points for second place and so on.

Clearly, Trout had a MVP season, especially impressive had he not missed the first month of the season. Had he played a full season, it is possible he might have prevented Cabrera from winning the Triple Crown, one of baseball’s rarest achievements last done in 1967 by Carl Yastrzemski.

There is no criteria set by the Baseball Writers Association of America, which is why relief pitchers have won (Rollie Fingers, 1981), Willie Hernandez (1984) and Dennis Eckersley (1992). Also, players from teams with losing records (Cal Ripken, 1991) and Ernie Banks (1958-59) have been honored, as well as starting pitchers (Justin Verlander, 2011), Denny McLain and Bob Gibson (1968), and Sandy Koufax (1963).

The voting for all postseason awards must be in on the last day of the regular season, so playoff performances are not counted. However, traditionally, many of the winners – if not most – come from teams in the postseason.

The arguments for Cabrera and Trout are equally compelling, if not convincing.

Cabrera won the Triple Crown which is rare and impressive, and led the American League in OPS; his team made the playoffs and he moved to a different position. All strong arguments for Cabrera.

However, Trout led the majors in runs scored – 20 more than Cabrera; accomplished what he did in fewer games; and his team had a better record than Cabrera’s; and he might have saved at least 20 more runs with his defense. All strong arguments for Trout.

I have no complaint for either, but if forced to choose between the two I would take Cabrera because of the Triple Crown. It is such a rare achievement I can’t overlook.

The National League is easy for me. The best players are Posey, Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun, last year’s winner, St. Louis’ Carlos Beltran and Yadier Molina, and Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen.

Beltran and Molina will take votes from each other; McCutchen will be penalized by the Pirates’ late season collapse; and Braun will suffer from last year’s drug test controversy.

Posey, coming off a serious injury, hit .336 with over 100 RBI, and caught one of the game’s best staffs.