Only Baseball Matters

Archive for January, 2007

…. Knowledge is power

David Pinto has a very interesting graph in this article about hit batters. The graph shows that high ERA pitchers have been facing more and more hitters, (as opposed to historical norms, in which the worst pitchers faced substantially fewer hitters than the best). Starting around 1993, the number of batters faced by low ERA pitchers and high ERA pitchers essentially converged, and stayed that way for most of the next ten years.

I found that to be striking, since my own research indicated that the real spike in offense began within a couple of years of then. The first time I looked at the issue, I picked 1995 as the cutoff; however, I may have been too hasty to forget about 1994. If you consider that in 1994, the strike year, Matt Williams had a chance to break Maris’ record, and Tony Gwynn had a shot at batting .400, I think you’d have to come to the conclusion that the offensive spike had already begun.

What’s more noteworthy, is that if you look at David’s graph full size, you can see that in 1999 and 2000, the bad pitchers faced more hitters than the good ones. So right as Bonds entered the stratosphere, the number of poor pitchers in the game skyrocketed. I’d say David may have stumbled into yet another contributing factor to the offensive onslaught that has so many people in an uproar. Which means that, even more so then when I first wrote it, it was the game that changed, not the players.

…. Batting average, on-base percentage, slugging, OPS, total hits, home runs…. offense as a whole exploded just after Bonds 30th birthday. Bonds also began his serious weight training not long after his 30th birthday as well. Could it be that the combination of the two is the real explanation for his power surge? Isn’t it at least possible?

I’ll tell you what, Bonds didn’t change, the game conditions changed. If more sportswriters took the time to write about what is really happening, as opposed to doing the same thing the casual observer does; there would be far less speculation.

The speculation hasn’t stopped, in fact, it’s increased exponentially, regardless of the fact that the more we know, the less likely it becomes that steroid and PED use were really behind the huge numbers these players were putting up, the more likely it seems that the real benefits of PED use were more subtle, enabling pitchers (relievers, primarily) to recover more quickly, and allowing position players (like, say, McGwire) to avoid those little nagging injuries, and stay in the lineup.

Which, of course, is hardly adequate cause for the outrage so common to today’s baseball writers.

In other Giants news, Bonds’ contract signing is apparently still up in the air, as the Players Association is concerned about the termination clause.

…. More more more

John Brattain has an excellent article on this year’s Hall of Fame vote, most notable is this full transcript of Mark McGwire’s statement to the Government Reform Committee:

…. What I will not do, however, is participate in naming names and implicating my friends and teammates. I retired from baseball four years ago. I live a quiet life with my wife and children. I have always been a team player. I have never been a person who spread rumors or said things about teammates that could hurt them. I do not sit in judgment of other players, whether it deals with their sexual preference, their marital problems, or other personal habits, including whether or not they use chemical substances. That has never been my style, and I do not intend to change this just because the cameras are turned on.

Nor do I intend to dignify Mr. Canseco’s book. It should be enough that you consider the source of the statements in the book, and that many inconsistencies and contradictions have already been raised.

I’ve been advised that my testimony here could be used to harm friends and respected teammates, or that some ambitious prosecutor can use convicted criminals who would do and say anything to solve their own problems and create jeopardy for my friends.

Asking me or any other player to answer questions about who took steroids in front of television cameras will not solve the problem. If a player answers no, he simply will not be believed. If he answers yes, he risks public scorn and endless government investigations. My lawyers have advised me that I cannot answer these questions without jeopardizing my friends, my family, and myself. I intend to follow their advice.

I am happy to include McGwire’s words in my permanent record.

…. More to say

Harvey Stein offers an ethicist’s view of the McGwire situation It’s worth a read:

…. I happen to have a number of sportswriter friends, and used to do a fair amount of baseball writing, but you would be hard pressed to find an unlikelier collection of moral authorities this side of Rosie and The Donald. As Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe delicately observed, he and his colleagues “are probably not a group best suited to be judging other people’s character.”

Still, in a time as devoid of standards as this one, we will take our ethicists where we can get them, even if it is on the fly. The fact is, a survey of the commentary on McGwire and the Hall of Fame vote reveals a general moral seriousness and no-holds-barred candor that we could probably stand more of elsewhere in the newspaper.

I lack the ability to put together anything worthwhile right now, so I’ll leave this one alone.

…. What a guy

Is it possible for Barry Bonds to have sunk even lower? Can a man who is the face of baseball’s steroids “scandal” manage to fall even farther from grace? Yep. It is. Finding out that Bonds not only failed a drug test for using amphetamines is bad enough, but how we found out is positively laughable. (I’m not linking to every article, here’s the Chron’s Sports Page if you’re dying to hear what Gwen Knapp thinks)

Bonds has done the impossible, he’s made himself irrelevant. No one cares anymore. We don’t care if he breaks the record. We don’t care if Selig or Aaron is there when he does it. We don’t care if MLB honors his acheivement. We don’t care if he used steroids. We don’t care if he gets hurt, we don’t care if he doesn’t. We don’t really care about him at all. He’s going to break the most hallowed record in American sports, and he’s pretty much gonna do it all by himself, in a vaccum.

That’s what you get when you spend your entire adult life pushing people away.

Nobody loves me, everybody hates me, I’m gonna go eat worms.

…. Travesty?

…. Did the writers get it right? It’s hard to say at this point, given what little is known about the Steroids Era and McGwire’s particular role in it. But you have to give this to the voters; at least they didn’t get it wrong. Voting a player in only to discover later that he used performance-enhancing drugs to pad his statistics and pump up his paycheck would be a travesty.

That’s SI’s John Donovan. It would be a travesty. A travesty? So, Donovan, what should we do about the players from the ’60′s, ’70′s and 80′s who are now enshrined in Cooperstown? You’re not too keen on answering that question, are you? Then your campaigning for Jim Rice and whoever else you grew up watching would seem, well, a bit disingenuous, wouldn’t it?

I’ll tell you what’s a travesty; this sham of a voting process, this “shame on you” dog and pony show, this, “why doesn’t he tell us what he did?” horseshit. There’s your fucking travesty. DISGRACEFUL. DISHONEST. SANCTIMONIOUS. POMPOUS. Pick your adjective Between assholes saying they wouldn’t vote for Gwynn or Ripken because they wanted to make sure no one ever gets elected unanimously, (yeah, there’s a well-though out criteria for making your decision), and those who won’t let Big Mac in because they “know” he cheated…. If ever there was a reason for the Hall of Fame voting to be taken from the BBWAA, this year’s caricature of a process sure seems to be it. Oh, and one more word for your thinking pleasure…

EMBARASSMENT. That’s a word the editor of Sports Illustrated should get used to, because that’s what he should be filled with, after his decision to run with this.

UPDATE: Nothing like having some bonehead tell you how to live your life.

…. A confession would help. A confession would liberate Mark McGwire, increasing his chances of redemption by an ever-forgiving public, not to mention the 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America who vote for the Hall of Fame

A confession would end the talk that McGwire is hiding something, forcing voters to view him for what he is — a product of his era, the Steroid Era, and hardly the only star player suspected of using illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

Yeah, thanks for the tip, Ken. I’m sure Pete Rose feels the same way. Just tell us what we want to hear, and everything’ll be fine, it’ll all be back to normal.

Isn’t that what the villains always say to Ethan in Tom Cruise’s Mission Impossible movies? Just tell us what we want to know, we’ll let you live, we’ll let your wife go, we’ll forgive you for killing our friends and allies….

Only those in power can say something so obviously untrue, and get away with it. The BBWAA is misusing it’s power, it is abusing the privilidge of being the sole arbiter of Hall of Fame worthiness, as it has done many times before. The BBWAA members have voted for known cheaters, they have voted for personal favorites, they have made Pete Rose a scapegoat for betraying them, (Rose, the one player who played the game right, I believe is their little tagline)…. The BBWAA members are on dangerous ground right now. By following in the footsteps of our countries politicians, they are playing a dangerous game, one in which anyone is subject having every aspect of their lives investigated, every facet of their personality reviewed and catalogued; and any aspersion cast is treated as ABSOLUTE FACT. By doing so, these men are pushing us into a no-win situation.

Nobody is perfect. Kirby Puckett’s marginal Hall of Fame candidacy was helped along by his famous smile, his eager to please way with the media. When it came out afterwards that he wasn’t the best human being to his wife; well, it was too late. He was already in. This statement vote means that there is no turning back. If it turns out that Ripken, for instance, used steroids, even one single time, (something that you have to know is at least possible), then where are you, Mr. Rosenthal, Mr. Harper?

…. Given the opportunity to make their voice heard, voting members of the Baseball Writers Association, myself included, brought the Hall of Fame hammer down on Mark McGwire yesterday.

Label us as self-appointed judge and jury, if you must. But somebody had to do it.

Somebody had to send the message that, even if there was no drug-testing in baseball at the time, and even if everyone around the sport all but winked at it for years, players should pay a price for tainting the game by using steroids.

Hey, judge, did you happen to notice the similarity between Ripken’s statement and McGwire’s congressional testimony?

…. “When I sit and look at myself, I don’t think it’s my place to actually cast judgment, I honestly believe the truth will be known. It saddens me that baseball as a whole had to go through this process and had the integrity of the game be questioned because of steroid use.”

Wouldn’t it just break your heart to find out that the Iron Man was on the juice? Sure seems like it, sure seems like that’s just about the last thing you’d ever want to hear, because nobody’s ever even asked him, have they?

UPDATE: I guess I’m not alone:

…. You are Mark McGwire and you spent Tuesday wondering how you went from national hero to national pariah so quickly.

…. What has happened between when Time Magazine named you a Hero of the Year in 1998 and now? Time excused your use of andro because it protected you from muscle tears, praised you for not stopping “to rip off the head of the reporter who had gone peeking into your locker” and dismissed the whole controversy by writing:

“…whatever else it does, it can’t help a player’s timing, his hand-eye coordination, his ability to discern a slider from a splitter. But even if andro improved his power by an unlikely, oh, five percent, then instead of 70 home runs, McGwire this year would have hit … maybe 67.”

How can writers who credited you then with saving the game now refuse to vote you into the Hall of Fame? How could fans who cheered your long home runs and lavished praise on your broad shoulders and powerful biceps now pretend that they honestly didn’t suspect what was going on then? Were they really that naive then or are they just hypocritical now?

Hypocritical, Jim.

UPDATE: OK, now we have THE KING, the sportswriter who started it all, the whole fucking “scandal of the century”, offering up this unbelievable pile of sanctimonious horseshit:

…. Not only did Ripken and Gwynn serve only one organization with loyalty and respect, they also gave back to the game on its most important side, the amateur side, when the cheering stopped — Ripken as the conscience and hands-on guide for Cal Ripken Baseball, a division of Babe Ruth Baseball, and Gwynn as the baseball coach at San Diego State.

If you don’t like Ripken or Gwynn, you don’t like baseball. It’s that simple. I can say that because I have been fortunate to have enjoyed many conversations with these men over the years, and what always shined through was an abiding love of baseball and a natural ease and grace to share it with others.

“If you don’t like Gwynn and Ripken, you don’t like baseball.” How’s that for hyperbole? “I can say that because I have been fortunate to have enjoyed many conversations with these men over the years.” I can remember a time not that long ago when about a thousand sportswriters wrote the same thing about McGwire and Sosa. Yeah, I guess that McGwire just didn’t love the game, or the children, he must not love the children.

OK, enough already. I’ll stop reading this shit, which, in turn, will allow me to forget about how angry I am, how fed up I am, and how little respect I have for so many of the writers who inspired me to start writing in the first place.

…. Knowledge is power, keep it continuous

Here’s another example of the kind of thinking that I am arguing against:

…. Prior to 1994 – Bagwell hit an average of one HR every 31.6 AB. Suddenly in 1994 Bagwell’s slugging percentage jumps an astounding 234 points (from .516 to .750) and he suddenly hits one HR every 10.3 AB? You can’t tell me that isn’t a bit suspicious.

As I wrote, (in an article on Bonds) way back in 2004, the 1995-96 seasons were where we began to see the offensive explosion that is the reason we have this steroid “scandal” today:

…. Starting in 1996, home runs, batting average, slugging, runs scored; virtually every offensive categories begiins to rise towards historic or near-historic highs.

Virtually all of Bonds’ contemporaries will have this type of career surge in their stat lines. To look at just one player is to miss the forest for the trees; which, of course, is the mistake all of these “sportswriters” are guilty of.

…. Knowledge is power, keep it continuous

Joe Sheehan does it again, in his theoretical Hall of Fame ballot. Again, I tread lightly, as this is a Premium Content article, but it’s so damn goo-o-o-od:

…. McGwire is going to be denied election this year for one reason, and one reason only: his appearance in front of Congress in March of 2005. He didn’t grandstand the way players such as Rafael Palmeiro and Curt Schilling did. He didn’t admit guilt and beg forgiveness the way many people wish he had. He didn’t stand defiant of a Congressional committee less interested in public policy than in positive press for threatening people—major-league baseball players—who could cost it few votes and little money and who would be unlikely to publicly point out the cynicism and bullying rampant in the process.

…. He didn’t feed the beast. McGwire refused to participate in the dog-and-pony show by parroting the acceptable lines or by making himself a cautionary tale. He made perhaps the most accurate statement of the day: “Asking me or any other player to answer questions about who took steroids in front of television cameras will not solve the problem.”

Since that day, McGwire has been held in contempt by the baseball media. The numbers we’re seeing today—an ESPN poll indicates that he will receive approximately 25 percent of the vote in this year’s balloting—are the direct result of that day in Congress. The voters have decided, based on the flimsiest of evidence, that McGwire not only took steroids, but that those steroids were responsible for his achievements, and that the connection between the two voids his claim to greatness.

Will Carroll has pointed this out, but it’s worth bringing up again: how can McGwire be so vilified for steroid use that has never come close to being proven, while Shawne Merriman is perhaps the most celebrated defensive player in the NFL during the same season in which he tested positive for steroids? The hypocrisy in the coverage of steroids in sports has never been so evident as it is today, the gulf between the media’s handling of MLB and the NFL wide enough to drive the truth through.

…. The steroids-in-sports story is an embarrassment to the American sports media. The shaming of Mark McGwire is just another point of evidence that this is really about creating a story, rather than covering it.

I try and try, but never seem to put my words together with such eloquence.

…. Knowledge is power

Anyone else find this story to be interesting?

…. a diagnostic imaging company called Universal Medical Systems, with assistance from scientists from The Center for Quantitative Imaging at Penn State, had examined the ball hit by Mark McGwire for his 70th home run in 1998 via a computerized tomography (CT) scan. The scans showed that the ball contained a synthetic rubber ring around the core (or “pill”) not covered by MLB specifications. At a time when McGwire’s Hall of Fame legacy is vigorously debated because he may or may not have used steroids, UMS is charging that the ball was juiced.

So, for all of you who have come to the conclusion that a) many, many players were using steroids during the late 1990′s, and b) a number of stars were as well, notably, McGwire, Bonds, Palmeiro and Sosa; I think the time has come to realize the error of your ways. Let’s recap:

Hysterical Media Fact: Historic levels of offense, in particular, home runs, could only be explained by the rampant, widespread use of PED’s throughout baseball.

Actual fact: Historic levels of offense have been shown to be affected by the change in the dimensions of modern ballparks, changes in the strength training regimens of most modern athletes, and now, what appear to be significant changes in equipment –harder bats with thinner handles, and the most recent revelation, juiced baseballs–. Virtually no one has been able to point to any statistical aspect of offense and coherently link it to steroids and/or PED’s.

Hysterical Media Fact: PED use in baseball was, and probably still is, widespread, (the term “epidemic” has been used unchallenged for 4 years now). Sportswriters today routinely question the validity of a players accomplishments; every time Jason Giambi hits a couple of home runs, Lupica wonders how we can be sure he’s not beating the tests. HGH, being undetectable in urine tests, is commonly cited as a possible candidate for the latest abuse; even though it is monstrously expensive and difficult to obtain.

Update: Right on cue, here’s Lupica today:

…. Clemens, of course, is not younger. He is a year older than Johnson, 44 going on 45, a marvel of fitness and who knows what else.

Beautiful. More integrity from one of the leading sportswriters in the country.

Actual fact: There were less than 150 positive results in the survey testing done originally, and but a couple of dozen since then, far less than 5% of all baseball players tested have failed, including any and all disputed, or accidental positives; in fact, since baseball began it’s punitive testing cycle, there have been only 16 positive tests at the major league level. But that doesn’t matter to these saviors of our children. No, it doesn’t matter that no one’s failing the tests, because the tests don’t work! Yeah, that’s the ticket. It’s up to Lupica and Verducci to tell us who’s cheating, because they can tell with their eyes!

Hysterical Media Fact: PED use and abuse, in particular, steroid use, is a major health risk, and can be linked to multiple issues, including cancer, heart disease, liver problems, and teen suicide.

Actual fact: Go read everything in my Steroids & Baseball section, and you’ll learn the truth. There is virtually no scientific basis for these claims, as can be attested by the lack thereof at the US governments own anti-drug website (NIDA). There have been but a handful of deaths or illnesses indirectly attributed to steroid abuse, even though, by now, there have been millions of athletes who have used them for going on 5 or 6 decades. There is no epidemic of liver problems among professional bodybuilders in their forties or fifties or sixties, nor is there a simliar issue of any kind with any of these other “side effects.” It is a known medical fact that far more people have serious medical issues due to the use of aspirin, pennicillin, or dozens of other “drugs” that have subjectively chosen as “safe.”

In short, virtually all of the “facts” being bandied about to denigrate and dishonor baseball players like McGwire and Bonds fall way short of a reasonable standard of truth. Circumstantially, sure, Bonds, McGwire and Sosa sure look like they powered up like “The Govenator” and his pals did back in the ’70′s. Is that enough for the abuse these players have taken? Is that enough for the endless parade of sanctimonious piety we are having shoved down our throats by media soap-boxers like Lupica and Verducci? Is that enough for Mark McGwire to lose his legacy, his honor, and his place in the sport he loved and gave so much to? Is it? His head is bigger? Really? That’s all you’ve got? A bunch of speculation, a bottle of andro, and his head is bigger?

That’s what you’ve got. His head is bigger, and Canseco said so in his book. Don’t tell me nobody can get that big just by lifting, because you are wrong; you have NO IDEA AT ALL what you are talking about, and neither does Lupica or Verducci or whichever sportswriter you want to quote at me. Just because they write about sports doesn’t mean they are CSI:Baseball.

Bonds was involved in BALCO, and he’s an asshole, so, sure, he’s gonna get a lot more shit. I’m not defending Bonds against the accusations. I’m defending his right to be treated with some decency, I’m defending him against the “I know he did it” crew. They don’t “know he did it,” in fact, and neither do you, me or anybody, (other than, apparently, Bonds and Greg Anderson). ;-D

I’ll say it again, since nobody else seems to want to remember: Victor Conte was offered about fifty different ways to get out from under his criminal indictment if he’d only give them Bonds. Conte lost everything, and he didn’t have to. He lost everything, and he still wouldn’t give them the one guy they wanted, Bonds. They wanted Bonds so bad, they’d of let Conte walk. Conte didn’t. He told them to kiss his ass, and get on with it. In the land of circumnstantial verdicts, don’t those circumstances mean anything to anybody? Or is it only the circumstances that support your already made-up mind that count?

For crying out loud, they’re still after Bonds, three years later. And after all this time, they still can’t get him. Maybe there’s nothing there. Ever think of that? Maybe McGwire said nothing because he knew no matter what he said, he wasn’t gonna win. Maybe that’s why he clammed up. Isn’t it just a tiny bit possible?

More evidence has been uncovered since the original hysteria, (you know, evidence, it’s sort of like facts), and the more we know, the less of a big deal steroids use in baseball seems to have been.

So, next time you hear someone say they know that Bonds, (and the rest of those rich, cheating, spoiled brat ballplayers) used steroids, remember, they don’t. We know the balls were harder, the bats were harder, the ballparks were smaller, and Bonds (among many) was clearly in the best shape of his life. We know that a tiny handful of baseball players have tested positive for PED’s, in four years it’s far less than 200 positives out of thousands of urine tests. That’s what we, the fans, and just about everyone else, knows.

…. Odds & Ends

Two things to mention…. One, SI has the Zito contract details:

…. Pitcher Barry Zito will make a base salary of $10 million from the San Francisco Giants in 2007, then receive raises of $4 million in each of the next two seasons.


Two, ESPN’s Bill Simmons, just the funniest sportswriter alive, takes on the Mark McGwire/Hall of Fame hypocrisy:

…. Some writers won’t vote for McGwire because he probably used steroids — keep in mind there’s never been proof that he did, other than a visible bottle of andro and those 135 pounds of muscle he added from 1990 to 2002 — which would be fine if they weren’t so pious about it. Not content with simply dismissing McGwire’s candidacy and moving on, they need to climb on their high horses and rip the guy to shreds. Of course, many of them would appear on any radio or TV show for 50 bucks and a free sandwich. We’re supposed to believe they would refuse the chance to take a drug that would enable them to do their job twice as well and make 10 times as much money? Yeah, right.

These people have now become the self-proclaimed moral arbiters of baseball, and they need you to know that Big Mac cheated, disgraced the game, deceived the public, tainted the record books and pushed the sport into a spiritual free fall. They rush to tell you that they can’t vote for McGwire because their conscience won’t allow it. San Jose Mercury News columnist Ann Killion wrote that she can’t vote for McGwire because she wouldn’t be able to explain it to her kids.

She concluded her column with this: “All I can do is cast my own vote judiciously. And be able to look my kids in the eyes when I do it.”

Ann, I’m glad you’re such a thoughtful mom. Seriously, that’s great. But a vote for McGwire isn’t exactly an endorsement of drug use. And anyway, part of our country’s problem is the shortsighted way we “protect” our kids from life’s harsh realities.

Wait, Bill, are you saying you don’t want to save the children?


Seriously, I’d love to just cut and paste the whole thing, but there’s enough there to give you a very clear idea of where he’s coming from. And as for my readers who wonder why I spend so much time fighting for the “cheaters,” well, it’s because so few voices of reason are out here in the sportwriting world. I keep banging the drum, because so many others are playing guitar, as it were.

…. First in line?

David Pinto links to a Replacement Level Yankee post that shows the Giants looking like a real team.

…. That San Francisco projection shocked the hell out of me. They may regret that Zito signing in a few years, but for now it seems to have helped them become contenders.

The projection, based on 100 simulated seasons, shows the Giants winning 89 games, on average, to the Padres 82. Surprising, to be sure. I guess this bunch of “veterans” is a little bit better than the recent collection of stiffs.

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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