Archive for April, 2005

…. Over the top

The Giants climbed back over .500 with their fourth straight win, holding on for a 7-6 victory over the Pirates. Before we pop the champagne, let’s keep in mind how tough it is for this team to get a win.

Simply put, this team cannot string together shutout innings over any stretch. There is no pitcher not plagued by unbelievable inconsistency right now, and the end result is an almost endless parade of leadoff walks, hits, two-out rallies, and home runs by essentially anybody who can swing a bat. Even when they win, they are giving up an astounding number of baserunners.

Something’s gotta happen. Without Benitez, this is the same horrible bullpen they had last season, and with Lowry still trying to find his groove, Schmidt struggling, Williams demoted and Reuter on fire, this team is in desperate need of some good luck and some good pitching. Frankly, I don’t see a light at the end of the tunnel.

Sabean better hope somebody from the minors starts blowing people away, because there’s no help outside the organization.

…. Ancient history

Many moons ago, Steve Bonner, who runs The Midnight Hour, took the time to respond to a critique I posted of his comments on steroids, and he was a) hysterical, and b) dead on:

…. Look, being that this Only Baseball Matters dude is obviously a Giants fan and obviously a Barry fan I guess his defensiveness is totally expected. He covers all the bases. Basically Perricone contends that,

1) Barry never took roids

2) If he did it doesn’t matter because there is nothing wrong with roids

3) People who complain about roids messing up the sanctity of the game are wackos.

Steve goes on to note that I had, (and still do) offer contradictory statements about the issue. He’s right. Hey, it’s a complex issue, and I find myself all over the place at times. Sorry. ;-)

Anyway, I’d somehow lost Bonner’s site, and found it again. It’s good stuff, so he’s back at the top of More Baseball. I hope he and I have some more to talk about. I’m gonna send him an email and see what he has to say about baseball’s and my latest on the subject.

…. Breaking News

Commissioner Bud Selig has asked the Players Association to re-open the subject of drug testing a second time, (the first time was already completely unprecendented), according to this ESPN report:

Baseball commissioner Bud Selig asked players to agree to a 50-game suspension for first-time steroid offenders and a lifetime ban for a third violation under what he called a “three strikes and you are out approach” to doping.

In a letter sent this week to union head Donald Fehr, Selig proposed a 100-game ban for a second offense. He also asked the union to ban amphetamines, to have more frequent random tests and to appoint an independent person to administer the major league drug-testing program.

“Third offenders should be banned permanently. I recognize the need for progressive discipline, but a third-time offender has no place in the game,” Selig wrote to Fehr. “Steroid users cheat the game. After three offenses, they have no place in it.”

This is obviously directed at preventing Congress from interfering in baseball’s ability to police itself. As such, it is a terrific first-strike. A 50-game penalty for a first offense is even more severe than the NFL’s 4-game suspension, and a three strikes, lifetime ban is perhaps the most significant step towards dealing with the pressure the House Committee has kept baseball under.

That said, it is still up to the Players Association to say yes or no, and I’d bet that even if they are amenable to another renogiation, they will most likely submit to Selig a revision that reduces the first and second failure penalties, I’d guess something lin the 30-40 game for a first offense, and a half season for the second. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Selig and Fehr have already (privately) discussed exactly how this will play out in the media, and are already on board for just this sort of public negotiation.

An end result of a forty-game suspension for a first offense, a half-season for a second, and a lifetime ban for a third would be very, very substantial, and would almost certainly put an end to the BS these House Committe stooges have been spewing left and right. Kudos to Selig and Fehr if this is such a coordinated effort.

But let’s not forget something. I am not alone in questioning whether steroid use is, in fact, cheating. Baseball may be putting public relations ahead of true awareness and possibly shooting itself in the foot here. What’s going to happen if baseball goes ahead with this program, does an in-depth, comprehensive study on the use of steroids for strength training and and an athlete’s ability to withstand the rigors of their sport, and determines that they are benificial under proper medical supervision? Is that so far-fetched? I am certain that it is not. I am certain that a careful study of the benefits of steroidal supplements would reveal that there is a threshold of use that carries very little long-term health risks, and tremendous advantages for the modern athlete.

Which brings us back to the Griffey/Bonds debate I framed earlier this month: If you were an owner or a GM of a team, and you could choose between having the longevity, production and health of your best players be the kind of production the Giants have gotten from Bonds (a bargain as one of the highest paid players in the game for going on ten years now) or like Griffey (an absolute disaster for the finances of his team almost from the minute he signed his contract); there can be no question which choice you would make, barring the question of how these results were obtained. If steroid use can be shown to be no more risky than, say, the kind of treatments already common to the modern athlete, (pain-killers, corti-steroids, cortisone injections, reconstructive surgeries, eye surgeries, etc.), and steroids are legal if obtained by a prescription; this response essentially guarantees baseball will not be able to utilize this information for a very long time.

But of course, this was never possible in today’s hyper-vigilant, anti-drug, right-wing controlled political climate. So, this is what we’ve got. Well, if you’re gonna do it, you might as well do it right.

Update: David Pinto feels that the chance of a false positive makes this first offense penalty too severe. He’s right that there is a chance for false positives, albeit a small one. And under the type of appeal process Olympic athletes have, the burden of proof seems to be on the athlete proving their innocence, rather than the organization proving the validity of the test. Maybe the details of this renegotiation will cover this concern. Maybe not.

That is part of the reasoning behind my belief that there is a real possibility that Fehr and Selig have already discussed this “letter” that the Commissioner sent to the PA, and there is already an understanding that a lesser penalty structure would be part of the union’s willingness to negotiate this subject again. The other part is that in negotiations, each party has to set their positions on the far side of the debate; Selig says 50, Fehr says 20, Selig says 40 and Fehr says, OK, 30. Deal.

I don’t know that this is where they’re headed, I’m just saying, the union almost certainly won’t just agree to this, public relations ploy or political pressure or whatever. The best Selig can hope for here is a counter-offer, and he’s (smartly) set the bar high enough that whatever the union suggests, it’s going to have to be a significant jump from the current 10-game suspension. David Pinto is also worried that, by taking the high road and putting the union in a no-win situation, the Commissioner risks ruining all of the good will that has begun to develop between ownership and the players:

…. Selig is blowing a chance to extend the cooperation between players and management. This is clearly a ploy to make the players look like the bad guys if they refuse the deal. It’s too bad. I thought some trust had been developed between the parties. This has (the) potential to drive a wedge between the two sides once again.

Perhaps, but remember, Selig and Fehr have had meetings on the subject just this past week. Selig would have to be as stupid as I have ever accused him of being and then some to hang Fehr completely out to dry here. I could see him telling Fehr that his political allies have let him know that baseball was gonna get it’s lunch handed to it if things didn’t change. That’s a far cry from I’m gonna ask you to renegotiate again, and I’m gonna make it look like you and your members are committed to drug use and cheating if you don’t.

…. Bounce

Meanwhile, the Giants won their third in a row, behind Brett Tomko’s best effort of the year, (by a mile), a complete game four-hitter.

Early indications are pointing towards a two-headed closer, with Herges and Fassero sharing the workload. Of all the possible options, including my own badly received suggestion to use Jason Christiansen, the decision to use a 42-year old specialist and a head case who failed so spectacularly last season would lead me to believe that whoever lands that Giants fantasy GM job has a real opportunity to unseat the real one.

Seriously, how in the hell could Sabean and Alou and the rest of these guys think that Herges has overcome his multiple personality disorder? How could anyone come to the conclusion that Fassero has any chance at all of being able to go more than two times a week? For crying out loud, use Eyre! Use Reuter! Herges?! Doesn’t Sabean remember the season that almost was in 2004?

…. News & Notes

Let’s see…..

The boys at Baseball Tonight have started their own blog, it’s called Yard Work. I’ve added them to my National Coverage slot, although I’m sure they don’t need the publicity. I read their stuff, and the best so far is Larry Bowa, who curses and rails like a sailor while doing email responses. Truly very funny.

Another newbie is over in More Sports, called . A whole lotta writers, writing a whole lotta stuff about a whole lotta sports. What more could you ask for.

And finally, I’ve been invited to the Opening of Up for Grabs, the story of the fight for Bonds’ 73rd home run ball. Amazingly, even though I’ve been here in NY for an extra month doing essentially nothing, the film’s press screening occurs exactly two days before I am scheduled to leave, so I’ll be able to attend. I’m also hoping to get an interview with the film’s head honcho, before I go, so look for more between now and Wednesday.

Update: It’s been called to my attention that the Yard Work site is a spoof that has nothing to do with Baseball Tonight or ESPN. A closer look confirms that a) I didn’t look closely enough the first time to see that, and b) it is very well-done and very funny. I am removing from my National Coverage section, and will figure out where to put it later.

…. Bullpen sans bullets

For the last two seasons, the Giants have spent roughly $9 million each year for a closer who was unable to pitch. Now that Armando Benitez is out for at least four months, the team will spend about $8 million dollars for him to not pitch. That is some debilitating injury-related expenses.

To what angry God must the Giants send a sacrfice to overcome the horrific injury bug that has plagued their most important cog in the bullpen, the closer?

Really, what are the Giants gonna do about this? Closer by committee? I’m sorry, that is not going to work. Look, there was already a huge problem in getting to Benitez. Now the Giants basically have no one at all to turn to when they need a big out, regardless of the inning. And for the most part, they don’t have a group of starters that are going to get very deep into the game.

Out of every reliever they have, I’m gonna suggest a guy that no one else will. He’s the only one who could possibly bloom in the role of closer, and he is one of the Lunatic Fringe’s most hated and confusing pitchers, Jason Christiansen. He is a lefty, has decent velocity, and since he hasn’t done well in any other role the Giants have used him in, in my opinion, they might as well give him a shot at being the closer. Sure, his splits this year are eye-popping, lefties are 0 for 14 against him, and righties are 7 for 16, I mean, those are splits.

Over the last three seasons, however, his splits aren’t nearly so dramatic:

Right 133 AB 37 H 21 BB 20 SO .278/.378/.466 .844 OPS
Left 125 AB 28 H 18 BB 25 SO .224/.333/.320 .653 OPS

I’m not arguing that he is the answer, I’m saying he might as well be the first sacrifice. You never know how a guy’s gonna respond to the pressure of the ninth. Christiansen just might thrive under the gun. Anyway, it’s not like there’s a better option in uniform right now.

…. Scary Spice

What constitutes a crisis? What makes one situation a scandal, while another is ignored? How is it that Mark McGwire taking the Fifth is front page, headline news, while Congress announcing it’s intention to enact a law requiring all the major professional sports leagues to submit to a drug testing program is essentially ignored but for a few articles here and there? After months of hysteria and hyperbole, ESPN and Sports Illustrated have no (zero) articles today mentioning the announcement made yesterday by the members of the House Committee investigating steroid use in sports. Why is that? Has the issue suddenly gone away? Have the efforts of Bud Selig and the other commissioners of their respective sports convinced the sports media complex that the bad times are behind us?

Hardly. In this situation, ESPN and SI have acted like a sort of Claude Lemieux, instigating a fight that they will now watch from the sidelines. Now that they have fanned the flames of hysteria for going on three years, they will stand and watch as Congress, wasting more money than you or I will make in our lifetimes, will now force their way into a scandal that doesn’t exist, moving towards a bill to solve a problem that isn’t there, will force all professional athletes to submit to year-round, random drug tests, with suspensions strong enough to essentially end their career should they fail. Out of touch with reality? You bet. Wrong-headed? Oh yeah. Waste of time and taxpayers money? Absolutely. Not needed? Who cares.

I know that Rep. Waxman wants you to believe that he knows what us fans want, or maybe it’s Rep. Christopher Shays who knows that fans want their athletes to pee in a cup, come out clean, and save the children. These guys know that fans want their athletes to stop using steroids, and they know that we won’t put up with it, and they know that we think it’s wrong and bad and against the American way. They know this, and they’re not interested in what you or I have to say about it, because they know!

So the fact that baseball has seen record attendance the last three seasons, the three seasons during which the ‘scandal’ of steroids has been front-page news the entire time, this fact is conveniently ignored. Barry Bonds and Sammy Sosa and Jason Giambi are all the villians of our time, these guys know this too, the standing ovations these players have recieved by their home fans; well, I guess the fans these guys are talking about aren’t those fans. Yeah, it must be some other fans who are going to the Super Bowl, or to every sold-out NFL stadium. Must be some other fans that ESPN is paying billions of dollars to broadcast baseball and football to, because the fans Waxman is talking about don’t watch sports anymore and definitely are not going to watch these players who are cheating them out of their hard-earned entertainment dollars. Must be for the other fans, the long-term fans, the ones who will be watching in a couple of years, after Waxman and his buddies clean up the OK Corral.

Yeah, until then, I guess baseball and football will have to just play their games in empty stadiums and ballparks, because the Amrican people have spoken, and they won’t put up with it.

See, whenever the guys who were voted in to make sure that the trains run on time, and the water comes out of the faucet, and the criminals aren’t running wild through the streets, when those guys start sticking their noses into places where they just aren’t needed or wanted; it’s time for your and I to start worrying. Because the things that need attention, you know, Enron-type corporate scandals, or environmental issues, or, I don’t know, government corruption worries; these things are being ignored, pushed aside, forgotten about; while these corporate whores are running around insisting that they know what you and I want; regardless of the evidence to the contrary.

And they’re gonna pass laws. Scary? You betcha.

Interestingly, the one constituent we have yet to hear from are the owners. The owners, see, are the ones who reap the biggest rewards from steroid use. The owners see the sold-out ballparks, the millions of dollars in concessions, merchandising, television and radio deals, luxury boxes, and all of the publicity a championship team garners; and they know that, contrary to what Congress would like you to believe, they will do anything to win a title. From there, from an ownership that tells it’s fans that they are committed to winning, at all costs, you have a management team that is committed to winning, at all costs. And coaches, committed to winning, at all costs. And finally, players, committed to winning, at all costs. Are the owners going to stand by and watch a superstar player whom they have invested millions and millions of dollars in get banned from his sport? Say, Derek Jeter fails a drug test, (whether it’s accidental or he’s really using, Waxman doesn’t care), and he’s forced to miss two years, what do you think Steinbrenner will have to say about that?

Do you see where we’re headed? If a star like Jeter, that everyone loves and admires, fails his test, and has to miss two years, what’s gonna happen then? A team leader, a superstar, one who makes millions of dollars a year, banned for two seasons? How do the owners allow something like that to happen? How can baseball, or any sport, demand unflinching committment to winning it all, and then throw the players out who actually will do anything to win?

How can Congress think it has the pulse of the people, the will of the people, behind it when it moves in this direction? How can the men who run these sports not be able to manage this situation as well as the men who run corporate America? In many cases, they’re the same guys. What are they doing about this? I’d say it’s a farce, except that Big Brother just might get his way, even though this is all unneccessary.

Baseball has done two years of testing, and something less than 5% of the players tested have failed their tests. Football, running their drug testing program for almost two decades, has had similarly low percentages of failures. If so few players are failing the tests, wouldn’t you think that the problem isn’t as bad as everyone says it is? No, say the experts, only a few players are failing because the tests can be beat. Well, if the tests can be beat so easily, why the hell have the tests?!

It’s a never-ending circle of insanity here. First, we have the ridiculous assertions that as many as . We need testing to stop the madness. OK, tests are done, and between 5 and 7 % of the players fail the tests. Well, that’s because there’s not enough tests. So, more tests are done, and the numbers keep going down. Well, that’s because the tests can be beat. So, the answer to that problem is even more testing and tougher penalties?! Where’s the logic in that? If the tests can be beat, why do more of them? And I haven’t even mentioned that the tests are fallible. Yes, that’s right, the tests are done in the real world, you know, where mistakes happen. Yeah, and under the governments idea of a testing program, the mistakes will be tough titties for whoever they happen to. That’s right, boys and girls, in the Olympic testing program, if you think you are clean and the test says you’re not, you sit out while you fight to clear your name.

The world we live in is complicated, filled with grey areas and uncertainties. Harsh, draconian measures fare poorly in our complex lives. Sadly, the hope that the men in charge of these decisions realize this before it’s too late is fading fast.

Update: Greg Skidmore chimes in with his two cents:

…. The thought of an independent testing group coming in and suspending a few superstars for two years will cause considerable nervousness in league headquarters. Leagues are fine suspending a few role players to make an example and show they are in compliance with the policy, but does anyone really believe that no superstar athletes have taken performance-enhancing drugs? Don’t think the NFL or Major League Baseball is going to give up this control without a considerable fight.

Update, Part II: Will Carroll directs us to Splendid Specimens, the History of Nutrition in Bodybuilding, a must-read for the fan who wants to discuss the issue intelligently. The writer, Randy Roach, already has his spot in my Steroids & Baseball Section.

…. Joy and pain, continued

Well, same song, different radio station. The Giants pounded out a 10-3 win today, to take the series from the never say die Padres. In the meantime, Armando Benitez landed on the 15-day DL, with trainer Stan Conte worrying that 15 days might turn out to be a break for the orange and black:

…. Trainer Stan Conte said Benitez will be out 2-6 weeks, with the time frame depending whether the MRI results show damage to the muscle.

“What’s the extent? What’s the prognosis? We don’t know,” Conte said. “The worse-case scenario we have a Garciaparra situation. I’m 99.9 percent sure we don’t have that.”

Update: Well, so much for Conte’s predictive abilities. Benitez is expected to miss at least four months, as he will have to undergo wurgery to re-attach two of the three tendons in his right hamstring, according to this report:

…. “This is a shock,” said Giants general manager Brian Sabean, who was also on the conference call. “It hasn’t really sunk in yet. We didn’t have our heads in the sand [Tuesday] night when this happened. But we didn’t expect this to be the outcome, either.”

…. Conte said that there are three tendons attaching the hamstring to the bone and that Benitez had torn two of them. The surgery would involve drilling screws into the bone and reattaching the tendon, he said, adding that he expected the 32-year-old Benitez to fully recover.

The injury and surgery is similar to what Cincinnati’s Ken Griffey Jr. experienced last season.

There are essentially no available closers via trade, so the Giants will have to rely on their horrific collection of relievers to pick up the slack. This injury, coupled with Bonds missing most of the first two moths (at best guess), almost cetainly means the Giants will be looking to next year barring a miracle of some sorts.

The best possibility for said miracle would have to be one of the so-called “untouchable” prospects to come out of the blue and channel Vida Blue or Dennis Eckersley.

…. Steroids Investigation Coverage

Congress is apparently intent on forcing the major sports leagues to allow one drug testing organization to oversee all of their efforts:

House lawmakers introduced a bill Tuesday that would create a national standard for steroids testing for all professional sports and require a two-year suspension for a first positive test and a lifetime ban for a second offense.

Under the bill, athletes in baseball, football, basketball, hockey and other pro sports in the United States caught using performance-enhancing substances would face the same stringent penalties as Olympic athletes.

I don’t understand how this would be legal, let alone anything more than grandstanding. I’ve got a couple of emails out to some of the legal beagles out there in the blogosphere, and will follow up asap.

In the meantime, next up in their theatre of the absurd is the NFL, according to this NY Daily News article. The NFL’s testing policy, long held up as the gold standard for professional sports, (by esentially all the major news media outlets, print, radio and television), has recently been exposed as full of the same flaws any collectively bargained drug testing program would be. NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue has quickly responded to the rash of bad publicity by working with NFLPA head Gene Upshaw to enact a more stringent testing policy, but since the Congressional leaders running this investigation have no idea what they are doing or talking about, it probably won’t make a difference.

The idea of a single testing program for all the professional sports isn’t neccessarily the worst idea I’ve ever heard, but the fact that the sports have a different number of games, different length of seasons, different numbers of players, different histories of drug use, and different banned drugs makes for some serious, well, differences.

Add in the ridiculous insistence that professional athletes be held to the only zero tolerance penalty system in the free world is the real reason Congress is in for a tough time. Here’s a suggestion for our fearless leaders:

When you knuckleheads (as in, the US Government) are held to a zero tolerance penalty system for all of the things that are against your rules, athletes should be too.

I mean, if the most powerful leaders in our country aren’t role models, who is? Until then, give it a rest. Nobody in their right mind thinks that Northwestern defensive tackle Luis Castillo should be banned from the NFL for life for taking Andro, and neither should you. It’s an absurd position, one that is virtually indefensible; and by insisting that it be a part of the program, you are adding an unneccessary and illogical barrier to achieving your goal.

…. Big Time

Alex Rodriguez blasted his way into Yankee legend last night, with the kind of game few players have ever experienced. Three home runs and ten runs batted in in one night will do that for you. In just two NY papers, the Times and the News, I found one, two, three, four, five, and six articles on his accomplishment, and they’re all saying the same thing; Now, he’s a Yankee.

It’s funny how a guy can go 175 games of Gold Glove defense at a new position, be just about as good a hitter as there is at his position, and it’s only after he has a 3 HR, 10 RBI night that he’s arrived. New York, just like I pictured it.

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All commentary is the opinion of John J Perricone unless otherwise noted.
None of the opinions expressed should be construed as being endorsed by the
San Francisco Giants, Major League Baseball, or any other organization mentioned herein.

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