Jun 22

Mets Against Yankees, Interleague As A Whole Ran Its Course

What does interleague play and Roger Clemens have in common?

Both were products of a time when baseball’s management was at war with its players. Management, and that includes commissioner Bud Selig, were so adamant against player salaries rising and free agency, that they were willing to kill the 1994 World Series.

When play stopped late in the summer of 1994 – the Yankees and Montreal Expos were the elite of each league – the gap was so wide that no resolution could be reached and Selig eventually killed the World Series.

It would continue to the spring of 1995 and Selig’s brain-dead proposal of replacement players. Several times the owners were found guilty of collusion and dealing in bad faith by the courts. But, those facts didn’t matter. Baseball was in another work stoppage and the public didn’t care about the wars between millionaires and billionaires, and was rightfully turned off.

Baseball, in dire need of getting back the public, and in turn the taxpayer support to continue building new stadiums across the country was desperate. With the tradition of the World Series already trashed, let’s go the whole route and kill the concept of the leagues, the foundation for nearly a century. That brought us the gimmick of interleague play.

From there, major league baseball and the commissioner stuck their heads in the sand when the balls started flying at record paces in 1998. The home run duel between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa captivated baseball fans, and even brought us the heart warming moment of McGwire embracing Roger Maris’ son the night he broke the single season home run record.

It was steroids that fueled McGwire and Sosa, and other sluggers as well. Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro, Ivan Rodriguez and Luis Gonzalez. There have even been whispers about Mike Piazza.

Only, when prying eyes of the media and Congress questioned the pinball scores in the major leagues were steroids seriously discussed. It also took a high school kid dying to fuel the investigations.

Of course, pitchers weren’t immune, and that brings us to Clemens. The sport knew something was going on, but as long as there wasn’t anything in the books, the balls kept flying and people kept filling the seats. MLB didn’t care because it was making back the millions in losses from the strike of 1994.

Interleague play was a gimmick that briefly sparked attendance in some parks, but has waned. During this last week of games, attendance was below its capacity everywhere. The only time this week capacity was reached was in Philadelphia, but that was for a National League game against the Rockies.

The Yankees didn’t sell out for the Mets, the White Sox didn’t sell out for the Cubs, and the Mets haven’t sold out this weekend. Things have run its course.

As for the steroids, that has run its course for several years. The gimmicks and fast fixes are being rejected.

Maybe the commissioner will notice.

 

 

Jan 10

Larkin one of the last non-controversial inductees?

Cincinnati shortstop Barry Larkin could be one of the last non-controversial Hall of Fame inductees. With 85 percent of the vote, he entered without the shadow of PEDs. For the near future, those on the ballot will have been linked to PEDs, or might have their induction chances enhanced because they will be going up against the scorned.

Larkin had a stellar career, one without suspicion. He was deserving in every sense.

In Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro, we have our test cases for those linked to steroids for the Hall voters, of which I am one. If a player tests positive for steroids or other PEDs, or has been linked to the drugs, he won’t get my vote.

My thinking for guys under suspicion is to withhold my vote until there is more information. Is it fair? No, but I’d rather hold the vote and give it to the player later because once the vote is cast and he’s inducted it can’t be rescinded.

Next year’s ballot is disturbingly loaded with those accused of steroid use or suspected. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza among them.

For Bonds, Clemens and Piazza, it is argued they compiled Hall of Fame numbers before being linked to steroids. For Sosa, it is suggested the stretch of his career where his noteworthy stats were compiled was all steroid related. In addition, not only did Sosa cheat with drugs, but also used a corked bat.

The simple take on steroids is it enables a hitter to hit the ball further. In reality, the issue isn’t whether PEDs add an additional 50 feet to a fly ball, but the extra five that enables it to clear the wall.

Steroids enable the user to continue training during the long, hot days of summer when he otherwise might not. This continued training didn’t make the hitter stronger as much as it increases his bat speed, and this is what generates the power.

Some argue the player still has to hit the ball, which is true, but increased bat speed can turn a normal fly ball into one that barely clears the wall. It is an unfair advantage. It is cheating.

Some apologists for the steroid user claim baseball didn’t have a defined anti-drug policy until recently. While this is true, use without a doctor’s prescription is against the law. It doesn’t matter MLB didn’t have a policy in place at the time Bonds was torching National League pitching.

With the holdovers from this year’s ballot, coupled with those next year who are clean, the pickings are slim, both in terms of PEDs and career numbers, of those qualified who’ll get in as did Larkin.

I have not, and will not vote for a player connected to PEDs. It is cheating and I don’t believe that should be rewarded. Fans should watch games confident in the knowledge what they are seeing to real, but that isn’t the case with drugs.

Not only won’t they get my vote, but I believe their statistics should come with an asterisk they were compiled under suspicion of PED use. This should also be noted on their plaque if they get the necessary votes.

Under the present voting guidelines, I can’t see it any other way.

 

 

 

 

Jan 11

Jan. 11.10: McGwire comes clean.

McGWIRE: More than milk gave him that body.

McGWIRE: More than milk gave him that body.

Saying he knew this day would eventually come, Mark McGwire released a statement today to the AP admitting his use of steroids. McGwire hit 583 career homers in 16 seasons, and before the steroid era he would have been a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame.

McGwire has been barely a blip of the Hall of Fame radar screen since his retirement. Many writers, myself included, said they wouldn’t vote for McGwire or any other player linked to steroids. His admission will cause for some soul searching from those writers, myself included, as to their stance now.

Honestly, an admission doesn’t alter the fact he cheated, but it’s a way of being honest to the fans and to the game. For that, whatever McGwire’s motivation, deserves some consideration. I’ve always been a believer in second chances so I might be leaning in that direction. So, in that respect, personally I’m glad he did this as it will erase the cloud hovering over him.

In the Never-say-Never Department, McGwire, now a hitting instructor with the Cardinals, could be activated says manager Tony La Russa. Should that happen, the clock would go back and wouldn’t start ticking until he retires for good. It would be interesting to see the reaction McGwire would receive, but it would be more interesting to see if he has anything left for real.

McGWIRE: Whiffs in front of Congress.

McGWIRE: Whiffs in front of Congress.


Some excerpts to his release:

* “I wish I had never touched steroids. It was foolish and it was a mistake. I truly apologize. Looking back, I wish I had never played during the steroid era.”

• “I never knew when, but I always knew this day would come. It’s time for me to talk about the past and to confirm what people have suspected.”

• “I’m sure people will wonder if I could have hit all those home runs had I never taken steroids. I had good years when I didn’t take any, and I had bad years when I didn’t take any. I had good years when I took steroids, and I had bad years when I took steroids. But no matter what, I shouldn’t have done it and for that I’m truly sorry.”

Technically, McGwire never lied to Congress, he just looked weak saying he wasn’t there to talk about the past. Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield and Rafael Palmeiro – all with 500 career homers – have been linked, or suspected of using steriods.

Do you feel better about McGwire now, or didn’t it matter either way?

Sep 23

This Day in Baseball History ….

Looking back

Looking back

Do you remember Armando Benitez?

Of course you do. How could anybody forget the pitcher with the million dollar arm and ten cent heart and brain? A nickel for both.

On this day in 2001, Benitez, pitching for the Mets, gave up three runs to the Braves in the ninth inning, with two coming of Brian Jordan homer. Jordan would later homer in the 11th inning as Atlanta won, 5-4.

I had pleasure of covering Benitez twice, first with the Orioles and then with the Yankees.

BENITEZ: Heat, but no fire.

BENITEZ: Heat, but no fire.


Was talking to one of the Oriole catchers one day about Benitez, and he told me he didn’t think he’d ever become a great closer because, “he doesn’t really want the ball.” When things were well, Benitez was dominant, but he would unravel at the slightest thing, whether it be bloop hit, an error or not getting an ump’s call.

Sure enough, once Benitez would blow a save, two or three more would follow.

My favorite Benitez story isn’t from 1998 when he plunked Tino Martinez after giving up a homer to incite a brawl, but several years earlier and it wasn’t even game related.

The Orioles were in Milwaukee at the end of the season and this was the rookie hazing day when the veterans would take their clothes and make them wear things from consignment and thrift shops. Could be women’s clothes. Could be anything.

It is supposed to be a bonding gesture, kind of like in a fraternity.

Benitez was having none if it and held up the Orioles team bus for 45 minutes. It got to where Rafael Palmeiro had to get off the bus and persuade him to get with the program. Benitez wouldn’t and ended up wearing his uniform pants with his dress shirt.

The next day, we were talking about it with manager Ray Miller, who gave us this song-and-dance about Benitez being so sensitive because he was a Latin player. Miller then asked me what I would have done. I told him, “Benitez has a credit card and I would have left without him and told him to make his own way to the next city.”