December 2007

Imperfect stars for an imperfect world…

It is rare that any sense of immediacy is involved when declaring an era in any sport.  After Thursday’s release of the Mitchell Report, the "Steroid Era" has certainly been marked clearly and permanently in baseball’s history books.

What has been an on-going debacle for nearly a decade may have finally seen its first significant step towards beginning the reclamation of Major League Baseball’s good name, so to speak. And mind you, that is not because the Mitchell Report is the foremost word on what did and did not go on, but more simply it will be the impetus for our first look at the widespread manner in which steroids, HGH and other performance enhancing drugs soaked their way deep into the fabric of America’s pastime.

There will be a clarity that will only come in time, as those involved will more than likely be rooted out by personal admission or have it done for them by a supplier, trainer or one-time friend. But what is to become of these troubled souls who did, in the eyes of most, defame the level playing field and forever alter a history that stands firmly on numbers that signify greatness?

Baseball’s all-time home run king has been indicted and faces legal ramifications that could land him in jail before all is said and done. Once the lightning rod of the entire steroid equation, Bonds now has company – elite company at that. The greatest pitcher of his era, Roger Clemens, now faces the landslide of scrutiny at the hands of media skeptics, cynics, fans and those who solely thirst to get back to what was good about the grand old game.

Many are passionate that those involved with this performance enhanced scandal are now and will forever be known as cheaters. And perhaps, in the simplest form, that is true. But with the list of those involved having grown exponentially on Thursday, we no longer have the comfort of sitting back and casting all the blame squarely on the short list headed by Bonds. He, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire and that grinning loon Jose Canseco were merely the first big names to be tied squarely to allegations of doping.

So, we have a nice tidy list of names boiled down on most sports sites and publications following a cursory first look at the Mitchell document. What has begun to resonate with me, from my inner fan to the years of my adult life spent working in and around the game, is that fact that the line between objective reporting and opinion oriented ranting has become incredibly blurred.

Don’t get me wrong, I have spent enough time on the internet to border on becoming socially dependent and I love sports talk radio, but the fact is that more and more people are becoming dependent upon these outlets to tell them how to feel about this topic.

Deep down we know that cheating is wrong. We were taught that as kids. Some of us have chosen to stick to mom and dad’s advice and live as closely to the words as possible.

I seriously doubt the tenacity of each individual who will pass judgment on those involved (those named in this report) to actually read the full report to properly put everything in context. The power of words and the ease in which they multiply in the internet age will easily sway the voice of public opinion. That doesn’t apply solely to sports. That is becoming a fact of life.

I’ve never been in the position to make millions of dollars, based mostly on my athletic ability to perform a task. I’m not much of a grand-scale entertainer. And for the most part, I still have age on my side. The future is still largely ahead of me. There is no medical shortcut that will take me to the places that I want to go as fast as I can physically get there. Sometimes I wish it was that easy.

I think the part that really stirs up the anger in most is that these athletes have already been gifted to a measure that many of us will never know and have never experienced. Why would their talent not be enough to satisfy them as professional athletes? We in the general public have followed the same model. You play until somebody says you aren’t good enough to proceed to the next level. Or simply, life happens. You lose interest, get hurt, or simply get over the desire to continue.

So getting back to the whole question of why a baseball player would want to enhance his performance on the field, I think it goes beyond simply wanting to have the edge. It goes beyond simple on-field performance. It’s been said by some, but not as many, that in some cases these are guys who are simply trying to put themselves in the position to maximize their earning potential.

As much as we would like to be able to point the finger of blame squarely at the men named in this report, I feel we should at least think about what any one of us would have done in what seemingly appeared to be a vacuum of look-the-other-way apathy that coated baseball throughout the 90s. No one had any reason to worry about getting caught, because no one in charge really seemed to care about addressing steroids. Baseball’s dirty little secret.

I shudder to think what would happen if an average American office was supplied with a supposed wonder drug that would increase the rate in which any one of us could climb the ladder and start earning the big money and leading the good life. How many average Joe’s do you think would take short cut? Even if they were told, ‘Hey this might shave a few years off your life,’ it wouldn’t stop many.

The funny thing about this whole hypothetical scenario is that it will never happen. Caffeine is the drug that permeates the office-place. That certainly won’t make you CEO. But I think we should take a look inside to see if no one was really checking, would we take the easy way? I’d like to say I wouldn’t… but the temptation would be hard not to succumb to.

We all have strong feelings about the many facets of the game. We love hustle, the diving catch, going first to third and a good hard slide. But somewhere between Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds our love of the home run may be the very thing that became too much for us to live without. The stolen base all but vanished as a high art and middle infielders started cranking 30+ homers on a yearly basis. How did it happen? I’ll leave that for you to ponder.

Are these guys villains? No. Are they performers? Yes. Are they always virtuous role models that we would like kids to be just like? No. Are they human beings born into the same set of flaws that we all have to live with? Yes. They just do it on national television. You invite them into your home with every game that is broadcast. And I guess, in the end, we expect our guests to follow the rules. Even if we do not.

Till next time,

G-Mc

Winter Meetings – Day 3

Well the official close of the winter meetings is on Thursday with the Rule 5 draft looming, but Wednesday had plenty of big news afterall.

The Tigers stole most of the attention when their contingent arrived to announce the trade for Miguel Cabrera and Dontrell Willis was now official. A press conference allowed manager Jim Leyland to discuss his newly revamped team. Tigers fans should certainly be in high hopes come this spring.

Otherwise, it was a slow day in the lobby. Several teams packed up early and were gone by late afternoon. Braves GM Frank Wren spent some time this afternoon discussing the state of the union but there was really nothing further to report.

The day ended with a somewhat familiar bang though. Reports have surfaced now that Andruw Jones has agreed to a 2-year $36 million deal with the LA Dodgers. San Diego and Kansas City may have shown the most interest other than the Dodgers, who will plug Jones into center for the next two seasons. Juan Pierre will likely slide to left and Matt Kemp will more than likely be given the right field job.

Jones stays in the NL and embarks on a new chapter in his career, one that will include the familiar face of former teammate Rafael Furcal. The Braves will not recieve compensation for Jones new LA contract because the team did not offer him salary arbitration. The deal could be announced as early as tomorrow, but nothing is certain.

More on that and the final day of the meetings tomorrow.

Till then,

G-Mc

Winter Meetings: Day 2

Well for your money’s worth, it doesn’t get much bigger than the trade that went down on Tuesday between the Detroit Tigers and Florida Marlins. When you think of the term "blockbuster" this deal surely qualifies.

Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis head to Detroit in exchange for top prospects, namely starter Andrew Miller and outfielder Cameron Maybin. Florida will also recieve catcher Mike Rabelo and pitchers Eulogio De la Cruz, Dallas Trahern and Burke Badenhop (according to ESPN’s Peter Gammons).

Detroit has paid a big price in prospects this off-season, having already sent two more of their top prospects (Jair Jurrjens and Gorkys Hernandez) to Atlanta in exchange for Edgar Renteria on the day after the World Series.

There is no question that these deals have given Detroit a serious head of steam in the American League Central race. Cleveland will have their hands full as Jim Leyland’s club brings a powerful line-up and a strong rotation to the battlefield next summer.

Atlanta was busy on Tuesday, beginning with a mid-morning swap of players with the Chicago Cubs. Frank Wren sent righty Jose Ascanio to the Cubs in exchange for infielder/outfielder Omar Infante and lefty Will Ohman. The move satisfies the Braves hunt for both a back-up shorstop and another left-hander for the bullpen, but by no means does it mean that Wren is finished with his shopping here in Nashville.

Ohman, 30, had all kinds of trouble pitching in Wrigley Field (where he posted an ERA of 8.66 in 27 games) but was quite the opposite on the road (1.45 ERA in 29 games). Due to the fact that the Cubs play half of their games at Wrigley, Ohman would definitely benefit from a change of scenery.

Chicago had just acquired Infante in exchange for Jacque Jones in mid-November. Infante, 25, is under control of Atlanta for three more seasons and should provide both versatility and some power off the bench.

Wren seems to have more on his agenda for the meetings. The Braves will be working to sign or trade for a back-up catcher. Damian Miller was rumored earlier in the day but, as always, Wren was tight-lipped about the possibilities that the Braves are persuing.

More tomorrow,

G-Mc

Winter Meetings: Day 1

A smattering of minor deals took place as the Major League Baseball Winter Meetings got underway in Nashville, TN on Monday. Clubs have begun the process of assessing needs and floating names around in the veritable think-tank that is the Opryland Hotel.

Everyone is talking about Johan Santana, who has generated a not-so-quiet interest among the mainstream coverage. Rumor has the Red Sox stepping up an offer that would include both Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester, while the Yankees have set an expiration date on their offer of Melky Cabrera, Philip Hughes and another minor leaguer as yet unnamed. Most experts and executives seem to feel Santana will moved during the meetings. Don’t count out the Los Angeles Dodgers as a dark horse candidate to take home the flame-throwing lefty.

The Braves have been quietly going about their business on Monday. No major moves are projected but an inside source confirmed the team does "have a couple of irons in the fire." Nothing too heavy just pieces that could help round out the club in 2008.

If Washington is particularly interested in Andruw Jones, they have yet to make a formal offer as of Monday afternoon. In fact, the Nationals have been dealing for younger and less expensive outfielder over the past few days. Lastings Milledge joined the club last week and the Nats added troubled Tampa Bay outfielder Elijah Dukes for a player-to-be-named Monday afternoon. Dukes seems to be excited about a fresh start and Washington must feel confident in their abilities to curb the off-field problems Duke has experienced.

Rumors have the Dodgers offering Jones a 2-year deal to become their center fielder. After Torii Hunter’s contract last week, Jones’s agent Scott Boras is still believed to be confident that Jones will command a five-year deal from his next employer.

Andy Pettitte surprised few by accepting his $16 million option to pitch for the Yankees next season. The value of Pettitte in the rotation certainly would be even higher should New York acquire Santana. The Yankees went into the off-season with a great deal of doubt surrounding their immediate future, but Alex Rodriguez, Jorge Posada, Mariano Rivera and now Pettitte have all chosen to return to the Bronx next season.

More later if something arises. So check back frequently,

G-Mc