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Archive for January, 2005


…. Family Matters

My brother Michael took the time to comment on my football post, (football is a much bigger deal to him). Anyway, I’m so excited, I thought I’d give him some publicity:

Congrats “Bag of Donuts”. I enjoyed your commentary on football. How about some more insight on the horrible play of the Falcons, including Vick who looked like a high school player again.

In addition, no one is talking about the kicking and field position in that game. The Falcons punter is deplorable. In the first half he had two punts less than 20 yards and booted another into the end-zone from the Eagle’s 35 yard-line. Not only did the Eagles dominate the game, they also controlled field position thanks to their kickers and thanks to the Falcon’s kickers. McNabb worked with a short field all day! Oh yeah, how over-rated was the Steelers defense. You are right, how did the Jets only manage 3 points from their offense when they played the Steelers?

Cool. BTW, many of my friends call me Johnny Bag o’ Donuts, especially my poker playing friends.



…. How the mighty have fallen

I am perplexed by the reports coming out that Sammy Sosa is being traded to the Orioles. If these reports are to be believed, the seventh-most prolific home run hiter in baseball history is being traded for Jerry Hairston and a bag of baseballs, and the Cubs are paying most of his salary for next season.

I mean, are you telling me the Giants couldn’t figure out a way to give the Cubs one or two of our prospects and, say, Edgardo Alfonzo, and come out ahead in the deal. If I’m a GM and I read these reports, I would immediately call up the Cubs and offer something better than what the Orioles are. I don’t get it. Sure, Sosa’s had a pretty bad couple of seasons, but he still hit 35 home runs in 120 games last season. Wouldn’t you think the guy deserves a chance to rebound?

For crying out loud, the Giants are paying Moises Alou $7 million per, and his best year is essentially Sammy’s worst. Isn’t it worth a shot to try and land him if the Cubs are giving him away, and paying him to boot! Everyone was all over the Dodgers earlier this off-season, as they were making some pretty strange moves. Doesn’t paying somebody to take Sosa off your hands count as a strange move?

Buster Olney doesn’t seem to think Sammy has any upside at all. As far as Olney’s concerned, Sosa has essentially no chance to rebound. How can that be? How can somebody fall that far, that fast? I don’t see it. I can easily see Sosa hit 45 home runs for the Orioles, in that park, with all he has to prove. I think this is a move that will haunt the Cubs, and every other team that took a pass at taking Sosa off their hands.



…. Odds & Ends

Back in action after a two week hiatus. Super Bowl and some odds and ends in baseball. Carlos Delgado is not a Met. Giants are still old. I am busy. Writing to come soon.



…. Keep it continuous

I have been a bit busy (OK, very busy), with little time to write, but David Pinto keeps on bringing up some very good points on the subject of the new drug testing agreement. So, stick with David for the time being, and I’ll get back on the stick in a little while.

Update:

Baseball Prospectus has two articles on the subject of the new testing agreement. Both are Premium content (get it here if you don’t have it already), one by Joe Sheehan, and one by the venerable Will Carroll. Both men are even-handed in their look at the testing agreement, noting that it is more of a public-relations ploy than an actual dramatic step forward.

I’ll just throw my two cents out there again, and say what I’ve been saying all along. Steroid use in baseball is nowhere near as prevalent as some of the major media outlets have been saying. If it were, there wouldn’t have been a revised agreement. That said, the pressure to avoid being the first player to fail a drug test, (and then be publicly exposed) will work fantastically. Few players would trade places with Jason Giambi right now, even with $86 million dollars left on his contract.

As for the agreement, without testing for (or even addressing) amphetamines at all, MLB and the Players Association underlined my point perfectly; their concern is directed at the ongoing media frenzy, and not at either the integrity of competition or the health of the players. Fine. The players, ignorantly, in my opinion, allowed themselves to put themselves in such a difficult situation. That’s their perogative. I wouldn’t have, but then again, who am I, anyway? ;-D

Update, Part II:

Tom Verducci and I are in agreement? Amazing, but true. Here’s Verducci’s take on the new agreement. On the issue of amphetamines, he’s not as off-base as I’ve accused him of being in the past, although he does continue to lay it on a bit thick when he rants on and on about how many players he thinks use steroids. In today’s piece, he rebuts some of the nonsense out there, and then wraps it up with a strong case against ignoring speed.

PS…. Only Baseball Matters surpassed 300,000 hits sometime yesterday. Thanks to all of my readers, who have made this site one of the top baseball sites in the world, and thanks to all of my fellow writers, (especially David Pinto), who have supported, plugged, and promoted my work. I love doing this, and couldn’t be happier.



…. Steel Curtain

I know that only baseball matters, but I just watched the NY Jets lose to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a game in which they had not one, but two attempts at a game-winning field goal inside the two-minute warning. In both instances, the Jets made, at best, a half-hearted effort whatsoever at improving their field position once they made a first down inside the 30-yard line of the Steelers. In both instances, they asked their field goal kicker to make a long field goal, on the road, on real grass, with a frozen ball, in perhaps the most pressure filled circumstances he will ever face in his life.

The first attempt came after the Jets had a first down at the Pittsburgh 37-yard line. After a 4 yard pickup by Curtis Martin, the Jets gained a yard, and then, facing a third and 5, threw incomplete, on a pass that had no chance at all. In fact, the Jets finished the game just 3 for 11 on third down, as they apparently had no idea how to draw up a play that could fool the Steelers even once. Kicker Doug Brien missed the 47-yarder that would have given them the lead inside the two -minute warning.

Ben Rothlisberger then threw his second interception, giving the ball right back to the Jets at the Pitsburgh 36-yard line. The Jets made a first down at the 26-yard line, and then proceeded to run out the clock by running right into the stacked line two times in a row. Then, with 6 seconds left, Pennington inexplicably took a snap and moved the ball back a yard, and left Brien with a 40-yard attempt.

Just last week, in San Diego, Jets head coach Herm Edwards watched as the Chargers faced almost the exact same situation against them. In overtime, with a first down deep into Jets territory, and the Jets defense completely overmatched and exhausted, Chargers head coach Marty Schottenheimer played not to lose, instead of trying to win. Making no effort to improve his field position, or God forbid, actually score a touchdown, he left his kicker with a precarious 40-yard field goal under the most pressure-filled of circumstances.

Anyway, I just wanted to point out that, contrary to what you will read and hear over the next couple of days about how the Jets lost a tough game because their kicker missed the big one, or how the Steelers were more resilient, or because the Jets were tired from playing three consecutive overtime road games; that’s not what happened. The Jet lost this game because their offensive coordinator and their head coach had no faith in their quarterback, and no creativity or ability to figure out how to gain five yards with the season on the line.

Oh, and by the way, after reading all week long about how important it was to get “game-breaking” running back Lamont Jordan into the flow of the game, Jordan finished with 5 carries and 1 catch for a total of 36 yards.

To me, it’s been clear for weeks that the Jets are a predictable, and quite frankly, poor offensive team. Offensive Coordinator Paul Hackett has been under fire for most of the last two seasons, and I don’t see how he survives this debacle. 277 yards of offense, 3 for 11 on third down, no touchdowns scored in the two games played in Pittsburgh. I’ll throw something else out there. In two games against the best team in the AFC, the Jets didn’t even try to throw the ball in the end zone from inside the 30-yard line. Not one time in, almost 9 quarters of football, did they even try to score a touchdown!

Did the better team win today? Absolutely. The Steelers are way better than the Jets. Should the Jets have won the game anyway? Absolutely. They lost, even though they were the beneficiaries of a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown, an 86-yard interception return for a touchdown, and three turnovers. They lost because Herm Edwards lost his nerve with the game on the line. They lost because they failed to put together a coherent game-plan to utilize their most explosive players, Jordan and Santana Moss, who combined for just 10 offensive touches and just 68 yards. They lost because their offensive line found itself over-matched and overwhelmed all day long by the Steelers front seven. They lost because they were unable to figure out how to score.

They lost a game they should have won, one week after winning a game they should have lost.



… Still not convinced?

Daid Pinto points out what all of the major media outlets have conviently forgotten: Drug testing is an inexact science.

…. Let’s take testosterone as an example. It’s a banned substance under the CBA (see page 160 of the CBA, page 171 of the PDF). Here’s a research paper on the subject of developing a new way of testing for exogenous testosterone use. You see, you can’t test for testosterone (T) directly, because we all make testosterone naturally. The standard test looks at the ratio of testosterone to epitestosterone (E). The ratio (T/E) should be about 1.0. The IOC used a cut off of 6.0 for the Los Angeles Olympic games. But, as the paper reports:

The overall incidence of urinary T/E in the general population of healthy males not abusing steroids is <0.8%

In other words, .8% is the upper bound of how many people are going to test positive for testosterone abuse falsely. In other words, if you test 1000 baseball players using this criteria, 8 may come up positive, even if no one is using steroids!

And then what’s gonna happen? Which sportswriter will defend a player who claims he is clean? How will any player who tests positive ever clear his name? Think about this for a second.

Let’s say, for instance, that Barry Bonds just happens to have super testosterone levels. Would you be that surpised that a super athlete has elevated levels of testosterone? I wouldn’t. How will this issue be handled? Who will have the authority to review the drug tests and decide if a player has violated the policy? What manner of controls will be used?

It is a widely-recognized fact that in international cycling, EPO (a doping agent that increases the blood’s ability to carry oxygen) is used by just about everyone, because of just this kind of problem. In this paper on the subject, the writer explains that the same type of problem exists with these tests; that there is no way to determine whether a person has higher levels of (in the case of EPO) hematocrit than the tests allow for. Consequently, most cyclists manage their hematocrit levels to keep them just below the threshold. Otherwise, they cannot compete.

Steoids are a different type of performance-enhancer, understood. But the fallibility of the tests is what we’re talking about. How will MLB handle this problem? I can almost hear Orza and Fehr telling the players, “Are you sure this is what you want? Because there ain’t no do-overs here?” If things went the way Buster Olney likes to think they did, this is one of those situations when the lawyer is over-ruled by the mis-informed client.

Slippery slope? We’re just getting started. Wait until some player Mike Lupica thinks is the epitome of class and integrity tests positive. Think along the lines of a Derek Jeter or an Alex Rdoriguez. Wait’ll something like that happens.



…. The latest craze

Now that baseball has revised their drug policy, writers far and wide have lauded the new approach, ignoring the experts in much the same way they ignored the facts during much of the year-long hysteria baseball’s been experiencing. Here’s Mike Lupica, wanting to have it both ways:

…. You get caught using steroids from now on, the Players Association can’t protect you because no one can. Your name just goes in the paper. The shameful part of this day is that it took this long….

….Should amphetamines be part of this new drug policy? Sure. You don’t get everything. Baseball got enough yesterday….

How come some performance-enhancing agents are an issue, while some aren’t? Because Lupica nows next to nothing about it, that’s why. Lupica, and all the hysterical, headline-seeking sportswriters like him, know nothing about the issue, other than the header at the top of their own columns. Steroids are a scourge, so says the Daily News. Steroids kill, says Bill Gallo. Lupica jumps right on that bandwagon, without reading one study, or book, or research article, or even bothering to go to the governments own website on steroid abuse. Because if he did, he’d have to change his tune. If he knew anything about it, if he and his newspaper were interested in writing about facts instead of making headlines; they’d actually learn about the issue that they’re writing about. Instead, we get Lupica, sanctimoniously suggesting that the men who are paid to know about these things, (Gene Orza and Donald Fehr), finally got it right. That’s funny, Lupica talking about somebody else getting it right. Lupica’s been wrong about this from day one, (and yes, we’re talking about one of my absolute favorite writers of all-time here), and he’s wrong about it now.

Bill Pennington notes that amphetamies are banned from virtually every sport in the world, and in 2003, Tony Gwynn said that amphetamine use was a far bigger problem than steroids. So there’s your brave new world. Let me put it in the simplest terms possible:

If everybody in baseball was so gung-ho to make the steroids testing policy stronger and more punitive, then almost nobody must have been using them. Because nobody wanted to get rid of “greenies,” you can bet that virtually everyone was using them.

Wrap that around your head for a while before you jump on Lupica’s bandwagon.

Harvey Araton of the NY Times, now wants us to see how Bud Selig has finally exerted his authority by “forcing” the Players Association to bend to his will.

In the oft-ridiculed reign of Bud Selig as the commissioner of Major League Baseball, there has never been a better day than yesterday. Attendance records have been set on his watch. Home run hysteria captivated the nation in 1998. But it was not until Selig announced on a conference call that Donald Fehr had finally danced to his tune on the subject of performance-enhancing drugs that Selig sounded like the true boss and leader of his sport.

Could there be a more ridiculous statement written on this subject to date? This is Selig’s doing? Please. This is public-relations, no more, no less. This is not Kennisaw Mountain Landis throwing out the Black Sox even though they were acquitted. This is not Bart Giammatti banning Pete Rose, the all-time hits leader. This is baseball and the baseball media coming up with a way to get this “scandal” off the front pages.

Let me put it another way…. When Victor Conte has the most reasonable response to the issue, you can bet that we’re in the land of the knuckleheads.

…. Conte, the indicted man at the heart of the BALCO steroids scandal, issued a statement Thursday saying the new policy was “still a joke.” Noting the absence of amphetamines on the banned list, Conte wrote, “It is like attempting to reduce crime by banning the use of handguns but still allowing criminals to use rifles.”

Virtually every anti-doping expert in the world called baseball out for allowing amphetamines, a far more dangerous and well-documented performance-enhancment drug, to remain under the radar. But to most of the media, who have gotten themselves on ESPN with their heavy-handed posturing and preaching about the dangers of steroids, all that matters is that they have been proven right. As for knowledge and facts, well, we are talking about journalists, after all. Why should they care about facts?



…. Where we’re at

MLB and the Players Association have come to terms on a revised drug testing program, as reported in this SF Chronicle article. It’s important to note that amphetamines aren’t on the list of drugs being tested for; meaning that the people responsible for putting this thing together have their eye on two things, punishment for offenders stupid enough to get caught; and public relations. Murray Chass also chimes in, and this Daily News piece notes that …. World Anti-Doping Agency board member Gary Wadler called the lack of action on amphetamines, “ridiculous. The most classic of all studies ever done in doping was on amphetamines. It clearly is performance enhancing.”

Noted steroids expert Charles Yesalis had this to say about the new policy:

I’m actually bothered by this. I’m not bothered by what baseball’s doing, but by how it will be perceived. I think it could do a lot of damage, depending on how many people buy into the facade. I fear journalists will write about this as if it’s a cure-all and won’t be critical about it, and that will hurt the overall effort. If BALCO has taught anybody anything, it’s that there are huge, gaping loopholes in testing programs. People are going to think baseball’s clean again, and I think that would be utter nonsense.

Dr. Yesalis and experts like Mr. Wadler feel that the only fair way to police the sport would be to monitor the athletes 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

So that’s where we’re at. It’s not enough, again. It wasn’t enough that 80% of all players surveyed said that they wanted testing (a sure sign that the so-called rampant performance-enhancing scandal was much less of a problem then we were led to believe by noted researchers Ken Caminiti and Jose Canseco). It wasn’t enough that the union and baseball came up with a drug program that sought to handle any failed drug tests in private (an outrageous affront to sportswriters, writers who, interestingly enough, don’t have to publicize their own drug and alcohol issues). And now, it’s not enough that first-time offenders get suspensions and testing is year-round and there are more drugs on the list.

It’ll never be enough. It’ll never be enough, until every single thing ingested, drunk or inhaled is videotaped, analyzed and monitored by every single athlete in the sport, every single day they are involved with the sport. The hell with the baseball players Constitutionally guaranteed rights to privacy or to be held as innocent until proven guilty. The sport must be cleaned up! You get the torches, I’ll get the pitchforks, let’s get ‘em!

I’ll tell you what. This slippery slope involves way more than baseball players, or athletes, or sports. We, living in a country that looks at itself as the leader of the free world, seem to have lost our way. So much time and energy is wasted on finding and punishing tiny little transgressions; while so many more important problems are ignored. The War on Drugs is but one, highly publicized example, but more and more, it seems to me that it’s all a big smokescreen; that the powers that be are actively distracting us from noticing what they’re involved in, what they’re doing. We must find and punish baseball players who sacrifice and risk their lives for a sport. I mean, talk about not seeing the forest for the trees.

The notion that you can control people’s lives and decisions to that degree is absurd. You can’t, and you will never be able to unless all of us are willing to give up an enormous amount of our personal freedom. Are you ready to do that? I sure as hell aren’t.

Update: Here’s the ESPN report. It’s quite a bit more detailed. And here’s a sanctimonious and quite frankly, ridiculous column by Buster Olney, suggesting that the players deserve an apology from union leaders Gene Orza and Donald Fehr. Unbelievable.



…. Next in line?

Now that the Yankees have finally landed (I was gonna say acquiring, but I can’t remember how to spell it) Randy Johnson, I happened to read over at Baseball Musings that the Twins have begun negotiations with Johan Santana. David rightly criticizes their ridiculous initial offer, ($19 million for three seasons); for the Twins to keep the best starting pitcher in the game in Minnesota, they’ll need to do better than that.

If not, I guarantee you the Yankees will blow him out of the water, (and into pinstripes) during the next off-season. GUARANTEED. For the sake of the Twins Geek, get it done now.



…. BALCO leaks

David Pinto found this link to the Crime Prof Blog, pondering the possible sources for the innumerable, (and illegal) BALCO Grand Jury leaks. It’s and interesting examination of the issue, worth a look. I still believe, however, that the source of the leaks was the government, in particular, the agent or agents who initiated the investigation in an effort to get Barry Bonds.

It seems pretty obvious that when it became clear they weren’t going to get him legally, they decided to smear him. If I am correct, the end result of all this will probably be a plea-bargain, and/or a deal that does, in fact, result in perjury charges against Bonds; because if there is no Bonds indictment, the government has already done all it can to hurt him. In light of that, it would be time to cut their losses.

Time will tell.



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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
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