Only Baseball Matters

Archive for May, 2007

…. Pitching makes it better, Part II

So maybe this kid can pitch? Seriously, that’s a hell of a pitcher we’ve got. He’s got it all, composure, big big fastball, curve, change…. I mean, damn. His 4-2 win puts the Giants above .500. And as good as Lincecum was, he had help. Pedro Feliz made more than a few plays, including a two-run double -that ended up being the game-winner- and the final out on a tough dig and smoking throw.

It looks easy when your starters run out three games in a row like this, so let’s cross our fingers and hope our $126 million dollar man can get his act together and keep it going.

…. Pitching makes it better

Always. Lowry followed Morris’ gem with a gem of his own, and suddenly the team looks like a contender again. Winn pushed his hitting streak to 20 games, the infield made play after play, Klesko threw one into McCovey Cove for the first time, oh, and Molina continues to amaze with two out hits:

…. The hit gave Molina 24 RBIs, matching Ray Durham for the team lead. It also was his ninth hit in 17 at-bats (.529) with runners in scoring position and two outs.

ESPN’s stats page has him 9 for 18, in a tie for sixth with, along with several players, including A-Rod, and Sammy Sosa. Of course, Jeter’s leading the league, having gone 13 for 20 so far this year.

Nonetheless, everyday Molina’s looking more and more like the NL’s All Star catcher, don’t you think?

Today, it’s the phenom against his mirror, as Lincecum goes against Oswalt. Must-see TV indeed.

…. The future

Tim Lincecum threw a stellar game last night, and the Giants suddenly dormant offense lucked out a 12-inning, 2-1 win. Lincecum’s line looked Fresno-esque, 7 innings, 10 strikeouts, 2 hits and an unearned run. The 10 strikeouts represent the first time a Giants starter has reached double digits this season, and, as great as that is for the kid, it makes me worry for the team. The pitching has been solid to (occasionally) terrific, but making hitters miss is the key to long-term success, and we’re not doing that as well as I’d like.

I know it sounds like bitching for the sake of bitching, but I don’t see how this team is gonna stay in contention with so many players performing like this. Sure, they’re only a couple of games back, but their stats scream 10-game losing streak on the way. I’ve come up with a few ideas for trades, but I doubt anything significant is in the works. It’s still early enough that any team could roll off an eight-game winning streak and be right back in it. So, this is it for a while.

If Fred Lewis is the real deal, then we just need to figure out what to do about the infield. Sabean has assembled a solid defensive infield, but one that has virtually no offense, and there’s just too many holes. Between Aurilia, Klesko, Sweeney and Vizquel, Bochy’s hamstrung. At least Feliz is hitting some home runs, because his .297 on-base percentage is atrocious. As well as Bonds and Winn have been hitting so far this season -Winn is easily the best offensive player on the team besides Superman- the rest of the team is just horrible. Winn’s on-base percentage (.356), is far and away the best on the team (again, other than Bonds), I mean, half the team’s below .300. You want talk about double plays? Durham’s already grounded into seven, Klesko’s had five (in just 82 plate appearances!), Aurilia’s got five, Molina’s had four…. as a team, the Giants have grounded into 34 DP’s, just four fewer than the league-worst Rockies.

I know the Giants have scored 181 runs, which is middle of the pack, but they’ve scored 80 of those in 9 games (7-2). Take away those 9 games, and we’re at 101 runs in 30 games, 3.3 per. That’s inconsistent, anemic, whatever you want to call it. If you run a Pythagorean projected winning percentage with a 3.3 runs scored and 3.8 runs allowed, you can see why the Giants are 13-18 in those thirty games.

The Mets, who’ve scored a league leading 211 runs, have 10 games in which they posted 93 runs (10-0), but that still leaves them with 111 runs for their other 30 games (3.7 runs per game), which is almost a half run per game more than the Giants. (Not to mention, the Mets are also leading the league in ERA at 3.32, so they would project out to be something like 17-13 for those thirty games, which is right about where they are.

…. Wasted days and wasted nights

Armando Benitez came to San Francisco on the heels of an almost perfect 2004 season. 47 saves, a 1.29 ERA, 69 inning spitched, just 36 hits allowed, 62 strikeouts, 21 walks, with just 4 blown saves in 64 appearances. All in all, about as good a season a closer can have. After two seasons without Robb Nen, Brian Sabean recognized the need for a dominant, established closer, and he went out and got the best one out there. $24 million dollars for three seasons, it seemed a lot at the time, but now would easily be considered a bargain if he had kept up anywhere near that level of dominance. He hasn’t. Since he became a Giant, he’s been…. well, he’s been nowhere near as dominant. In fact, let’s do a chart:

Marlins ’04 69 IP 36 H 11 R 6 HR 62 K 21 BB 1.29 ERA 47 SV 4 BLSV
SF ’05,6,7 81 IP 76 H 37 R 13 HR 44 BB 68 K 3.90 ERA 43 SV 13 BLSV

I know he suffered a devastating injury, and I know he’s making a rack of cash, but he’s just not the same pitcher anymore; and the team cannot afford to just keep trotting him out there to destroy the season. The time has come for the Giants braintrust to come to their senses, and make a move.

Somebody else needs to be the closer. I don’t want to hear about how Benitez needs more consistent use, or how he needs to be used several days in a row, or he needs rest, or anything else. The only question that needs to be asked is how many seasons we’re gonna flush down the toilet while our ninth inning situation is so combustible? Since the end of ’03, our bullpen has blown an astounding 82 saves, (the Yankees have 55 blown saves over the same span, the Dodgers 49). The Giants blew the third most saves in 2004 (28), the most in 2005 (28), the 8th most in 2006 (22), and are now on pace for another 28 or so this year.

It’s debatable as to what Benitez’s role might become, but that’s not Sabean’s problem, not now, not when the season’s in jeopardy. One can hardly overstate how hard it is to have to bounce back from the kind of devastating losses that the Giants have become accustomed to.

Is Lincecum the answer? Cain? It hardly matters anymore. Anybody on our current roster deserves as much of a shot at the ninth as Benitez.

…. Blow it out your ass

Seriously. First off, what in the hell is Benitez doing in the game in the eighth inning with a two-run lead? When did he suddenly become Mariano Rivera? And second, WHAT IN GOD’S NAME IS BENITEZ DOING TO HOLD ON TO HIS JOB AS THE CLOSER!!!??? Coming into tonight, 11 innings, 11 hits, 6 walks…. in what sense of the word is he a closer? Closer? He has no composure, no control, no ability to inspire confidence in his teammates, and no ability to generate any fear in his opponents.

Watch Bochy let him come back out for the ninth and lose the game completely.

That’s back to back blown wins for Morris, to match the consecutive blown wins that Cain suffered through earlier this season.

36 games into the season, four blown saves, two blown ties, ummmm, yeah; that’s pretty much the difference between where we are now and first place. Benitez just shit all over any chance for some momentum, as he sucked the wind and the excitement out of a team that had just come back from a three-run deficit, on the road, and only needed six outs for an inspiring win. Instead, we can go back to sucking the pipe.

Here’s an idea: Blame the manager. Correia could’ve pitched two innings. Taschner could’ve faced more than two batters. You don’t HAVE to change pitchers every single batter. You can actually leave a reliever in for, oh, I don’t know, A WHOLE GODDAM INNING!!!!!

UPDATE: Well, that was simply disgusting.

…. A call to the young

It’s great to see a couple of young Giants players making a splash, even if over the long haul these guys struggle. Frandsen, who was being touted by El Lefty Malo and his readers a few weeks ago, seems to have a live bat, Ortmeier has had a decent start, and Lewis, well; when the Elias Sports Bureau is investigating whether your cycle was the earliest in a major-leaguers career (16 games), you’d have to say a player can’t be much splashier than that:

…. According to baseball researcher Bill Arnold, since 1957 (when such stats become more reliable), only one player hit for the cycle faster than Lewis when measured by games played. Lewis’ came in his 16th big-league game. The Twins’ Gary Ward did it in his 14th game in 1980.

Interestingly, when Ward hit for the cycle in 1980, he was also 26 years old. You could say that he went on to have a nice little career. Once he established himself as a major-leaguer, Ward had a run in which he pounded out around 70 extra-base hits a year, and was in the .280/.330/.475 range for about five years.

The Giants would be ecstatic if Lewis can do anything like that.

Tonight, Morris goes for his 5th win at high-scoring Minute Maid park. I’m less than confident in his ability to continue to pitch effectively allowing this many baserunners, but I am hopeful that he will. The team is still hovering around .500 on the strength of that one 8-game winning streak. It’s time to go on another one.

UPDATE: I’ve added a fantasy baseball section, right sidebar just below my Sponsors section. If you have a fantasy site and want me to add it, send me an email.

…. Keep it continous

Before I talk about the Giants, let’s take note of the latest on George Mitchell’s farce:

…. Possibly fearing another leak of confidential medical records to the government, Major League Baseball players have decided not to allow former Sen. George Mitchell’s staff access to anonymous records for his steroids probe, according to several lawyers familiar with the negotiations.

Oh, you mean, like when the players agreed to the anonymous survey tests that are now the subject of a lawsuit because the government has seized them in an effort to find out who tested positive? You mean, like that kind of confidential breach of trust?


On to the Giants….

The Rockies beat them 5-3. Noah Lowry pitched well enough to win, but the bullpen (again) and his defense (again) failed him. That’s becoming a common refrain, something Sabean and Bochy must be worrying about. Add in the 3-for-13 with runners in scoring position, as Ray Durham continues to struggle behind Bonds, and you’re gonna get your third straight loss.

Durham’s the main reason the Giants are having such a hard time scoring. By hitting behind Bonds, he’s coming up with a lot of baserunners; so it’s his at-bats that mean the most. He’s currently running out there with a .273/.336/.388 line, which is just not gonna get it done. He’s had 63 at-bats with runners on, and he’s gotten 18 hits, with just one home run. With runners on 1st and 2nd, and 1st and 3rd, he’s managed just 5 hits in 22 at-bats. He simply needs to do much better. He is the rally maker (or killer), now that Bonds’ walks are starting to pile up.

And last night, in the sixth, Kelsko walked, and was promptly thrown out in a botched hit and run. Now, I understand that Klesko’s fast for a guy his size, but he’s not fast. Bochy has got to stop running us out of innings. The next two guys reached, and we would have had a tie game if Klesko would have just sat there at first. I’ll say it again, THE GIANTS ARE OLD AND SLOW. Running like this is costing us runs, and wins. It has to stop. The Giants are 15 for 26 stealing. That’s 58%. Add in the 30 double plays we’ve grounded into, and that’s 41 lost baserunners, which is more than one per game, for you mathematically challenged fans. We don’t have the hitters to make up for that.

On the injury front, Dave Roberts (.216/.283/.371) will have arthroscopic surgery on his elbow, and head to the DL, for something like four to six weeks. This hurts the Giants defensively, but Roberts has done little to dispel my concern that he’s just not an everyday player. He’s been just slightly better than Linden and/or Neikro, who just finished playing their way out of the organization. Sure he’s 6 for 7 stealing, but the guy’s been on base only 30 times in 35 games, and he’s on pace to score about 70 runs, which is horrific.

He’s led off an inning 46 times, and reached base just 12 times, a .260 OBP. That’s really really bad, like Neifi Perez-bad, but, really, WHAT DID SABEAN EXPECT? He’s never scored 100 runs in a season, never mind that; his career-high is 80! His career OBP is just .342, which, for a leadoff man is completely inadequate. Of the 16 everyday leadoff hitters in the NL, Roberts is dead last in essentially every category, walks, runs, hits, OBP, average, you name it.

He’s a good defensive centerfielder, maybe even very good; but he’s a #8 hitter, not a leadoff man; but that’s hardly the only issue with the offense. Even if we figured out who to leadoff, we still need another power hitter to hit behind Bonds. Not to mention, Vizquel seems like he might have hit the wall, age-wise, so we need to figure out who’s gonna hit in the #2 slot. I guess Aurilia would be OK there, and maybe we could put Durham back in the leadoff slot, (maybe that’ll get him going again, I don’t know); but your best hitter’s supposed to bat third, and right now we’ve got Aurilia there, (.267/.315/.400) WHICH IS ABSURD.

The entire lineup needs to be reworked, but we have about six guys who should bat 6th, 7th or 8th, and essentially no one to go 1, 2, 3. We’re scoring 4.3 runs a game, which isn’t gonna get it done. No team is gonna run out an ERA much below 4 for a whole season, I mean, if we can finish the year anywhere around 4 we’re doing a great job. That means we’ve gotta find another run per game. Can we get Miguel Cabrera? Can we get a real leadoff hitter, a guy with a nice .400 OBP? Something’s gotta change.

Oh, and I guess I may as well tell you now. The Giants run of good pitching can’t continue like this. The recent trend of giving up 6 runs a game is a portend of things to come. We’re in the bottom five in strikeouts, and the top five in walks allowed, which is a devastatingly bad combination. In my opinion, it’s Rags, and the way he’s got these pitchers approaching the hitters; but I’m not opposed to the idea that some of these relievers are the problem, too. Benitez has been erratic all season, but he’s not alone. As a team, the Giants have only 8 saves, and according to ESPN’s stats, just 3 blown saves, but I can remember at least that many off the top of my head, (let me check).

Actually, we’ve blown a late-inning lead three times, twice the lead was 3 or more runs, and we’ve been tied going into the 8th twice and lost, so it seems worse than it is, I guess. Nonetheless, unless the pitchers quit nibbling and start going after guys, the team ERA is gonna keep going up.

UPDATE: El Lefty Malo noticed that, due to the season-ending surgery that BJ Ryan just underwent, the Blue Jays need a closer. I think we should do what Malo suggested, and see if they would like to get their hands on Benitez. Maybe we could swap Benitez for Vernon Wells…..


Sorry, couldn’t help myself. Seriously, the Jays have no outfielder worth trading for other than Wells, so any deal would have to be a multi-team trade. Alex also says the Tigers need a set-up man, so how about the Tigers? Not really. Both teams have good outfielders, but no one they could afford to give up. Who does? How about seeing if we could pull off a three-team deal with the Blue Jays or the Tigers? Well, Minnesota seems to facing the very real possibility that Torii Hunter is leaving at the end of the season. Well, Benitez is a free agent at the end of the season, too; and the only way Sabean signs him to an extension is if I can’t get my hands on a sniper rifle.

All that’s left is to see what the Tigers or the Jays could bring to the table for the Twins. What do the Twins need? Oh boy….. The Twins have one second basemen one the DL, and the other is listed as day to day, (not to mention both are horrible). So the Twins need a second baseman. Meanwhile, the Tigers have two, Omar Infante and Placido Planco. Infante is putting up a .333/.333/.424 line, while Polanco is running out at a sterling .348/.386/.415. Infante’s the backup, but he’s younger and cheaper, so both players have selling points.

Memo to Brian Sabean:

Armando Benitez to the Detroit Tigers for either Infante or Polanco, (whichever one you can get the Tigers to give up and the Twins to want), and then trade the second basemen for Hunter. Don’t worry about sending me a finders fee or anything like that. Just MAKE IT HAPPEN!! If Hunter loves it here, you can decide if you want to resign him at the end of the year. Meanwhile, Hunter immediately becomes our second best player, and solves our outfield worries with Robers gone for some six weeks. A projected lineup could look something like this:


…. Bullpen woes

The Giants blew a game they had won, losing 5-3 after leading 3-2 in the 8th inning. Brad Hennessey was the victim of some unusually poor defense, which allowed Carlos Beltran to score the tying run on what should have been a single by Carlos Delgado. But Roberts was playing Delgado to pull, leaving a huge hole behind short, and when Delgado lined the ball past Vizquel, there was no one there. The Mets have speed to burn, something the Giants don’t, (well, the Mets have a lot of things the Giants don’t, actually), and Beltran raced around from first to score the tying run and deny Morris his 5th win.

Blowing a one-run lead isn’t so bad, but the bullpen has blown several larger leads, which is; and it makes losing a game like this feel worse than it is. The starters struggled in several games on this homestand, and the relievers did, and so, a ton of runs were wasted as the team staggered to a 5-5 homestand that could have and should have been better. Starting with the first game of the home stand, the Giants scored 9,7,5,7,6,9,5,9,1,3 runs. That’s 61 runs in 10 games, which, given the team’s sterling pitching stats coming into the home stand, should have resulted in at least 7 wins, and easily could have been 8. Instead, they simply ran in place, and wasted an opportunity to close the gap with the Dodgers.

We can’t forget that this team is winning, (and losing), on the margins of success. Regardless of the recent spike in offense, or the earlier stretch of outstanding pitching, as constituted, this is a .500 ballclub; which is pretty much where they are. Molina’s not likely to hit like this all season, and Winn’s not gonna bat .400 for much longer. You can already see Aurilia coming back to earth, Vizquel is having a tough start to the season, Klesko has yet to come through in a big spot…. Again, with all of these “veterans,” there is no real upside.

And I think it’s time to ask about the approach that Righetti uses. Why are our pitchers allowing so many walks? 127 walks in 33 games is a ton, I mean, that’s almost 4 per game. It’s team-wide, too. Every pitcher has allowed quite a few walks, which means we’re talking about approach, philosophy; not ability, and I think it’s because of the waste pitches that Rags is so fond of. The minute the Giants get two strikes on a hitter, they start nibbling. Watching the game, I hear Krukow, again and again, congratulate one of the Giants pitchers for a waste pitch. Cain does it all the time, and it’s clear that it’s the game calling that has him doing it.

If we’re gonna have a young staff that has so many guys who need to watch their pitch count, we need to go after hitters when we get them down in the count. It comes back to the same thing I wrote about Bochy and the platoon switching he does with his relievers; ass-covering. If we go after hitters and give up a big hit, then the cather looks bad, the pitching coach looks bad; the “approach” of the pitcher is a problem. Walks are less noticably bad, because there’s no excitement, but walks are killing these pitchers right now. Walks are killing Cain, walks are killing Benitez, walks killed Lincecum (although it’s possible that his walks were just part of his debut jitters). Walks are killing us, and in my opinion, they are leading to the incorrect belief that the early season success of the pitchers is real. It’s not.

Eventually, these guys are gonna have to start throwing the ball over the plate. You can’t allow four extra baserunners a game, 16 extra pitches a game, game after game, without it starting to really cause problems. As more and more teams follow the Yankee approach to hitting, take take take take, two things are gonna keep happening. First, our starters are gonna go fewer and fewer innings, which means are relievers are gonna go more and more innings. And teams are gonna start to pound the ball all over the place, like the Phillies did. Our pitchers go from 0-2 to 3-2 more than any team I’ve ever seen. Finish a guy off, for crying out loud.

One more thing: Linden is not a major league hitter, and he never will be. 10 hits (9 singles and a double) in 55 at-bats, with 23 strikeouts? Right now he’s a wasted roster spot on a team that can’t afford to be wasteful.

…. Big Mouth

What an asshole Curt Schilling must be:

…. He [Bonds] admitted he used steroids. There’s no gray area. He [Bonds] admitted cheating on his wife, cheating on taxes and cheating on the game. Hank Aaron not being there, the commissioner [Bud Selig] not knowing where he’s going to be, it’s sad. I don’t care if he’s black, green, purple or yellow or whatever. It’s just unfortunate there’s good people and bad people.

Yeah, thanks for being one more mis-informed jerkoff with a pulpit. Schilling would know about PED’s since he would have never been able to perform his Game Six heroics against the Yankees without massive amounts of painkilling injections and pills. Apparently, the only time Schilling knows about steroids is when he’s in front of the media, ’cause he sure clammed up in front of Congress.

I’d be interested to know what David Ortiz thinks about his teammate’s absurd statements, since he just came out and said that he thinks Bonds has gotten a raw deal:

…. He deserves respect. People are not going to give it to him because of all the bad things running around, this and that, but people need to realize. I’ve heard a lot of different things about Barry Bonds, but people should just admit it – this guy’s a bad motherfucker. To hit the frickin’ ball, the guy makes it look easy, but it ain’t. I don’t know how you can have that swing, consistently. I don’t know how steroids can do that. There are supposed to be guys using steroids in the game, and there’s nobody close to Barry Bonds. What’s that mean? He was using the best shit? Know what I’m saying?

I don’t look at it like that. I look at it hitting-wise, because I don’t know what steroids can do to you as a baseball player. You’ve still got to swing the bat, man. If I ever use steroids, and then I know what the difference can be and I’m using them, I’ll tell you, ‘Yeah, whatever,’ but I don’t know what the feelings are when you use the steroids. But I can tell you how it feels to pull yourself together to swing the bat.

(Selig)’s just making things worse. He’s the commissioner, there’s nothing you can do about it. You can’t be saying that. What are people going to think about the game? They’ll be like, ‘This game is a joke.’ He should come, even if he doesn’t want to.

Have they proved he used steroids? But it was a cream or something he was using. He wasn’t injecting anything, right? People come to me, talking about Barry Bonds using steroids and I’m like, ‘He’s the only one, or are people focused on him because of what he’s doing?’ So I don’t go there, I don’t even think about it. I think about how he can be that perfect at the plate because I don’t think that steroids mentally get you perfect. If you go to the hitters, and ask them, ‘a), What do you think about 744 home runs?’ and b), ‘You know how hard it is to hit a baseball. What do you think about that?’ The bottom line is, I don’t care what people say.

In other words, since the only proof there is that Bonds did steroids is his testimony, and in his testimony he denied using them about twenty times, Ortiz is willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. Isn’t it easy to see why Ortiz is such a beloved teammate?

Meanwhile, in the world of facts and actual failed drug tests, another marginal pitcher got the first 100 game suspension, which is, of course more fuel for the fire. The overwhelming majority of failed tests have come for pitchers, most of them struggling to make it to, or stay in the bigs, many of them marginal prospects. Now that the feds have wasted something like $25 milliion dollars, they tell us that Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro are linked to the ex-Mets clubhouse dealer. Wow, really? Sosa and Palmeiro? That’s some top-notch investigating going on there.

At least the feds are getting something done. Now we hear that Mitchell thinks that if he asks nicely, players will give him their confidential medical records and implicate themselves. Wow, that’s some approach. Imagine yourself in the players position. Say you were being audited by the IRS, and you knew that you had fudged some of your returns. You know that you risk huge fines, back taxes and possibly even jail time if they find out. As you’re sitting there with the auditor, he asks you to provide him with documents that you know will reveal this information, and if you don’t, you’ll probably be in the clear. How many people would go get the folder and hand it over? How many congressmen, or sportswriters, or even IRS agents would? You think Lupica would?

Here’s an idea for Senator Mitchell; finish your charade, tell us that it’s clear that an unknown number of players availed themselves of the best modern science could offer in their efforts to be and stay the best that they could, and put it behind us. Remind everyone that the new testing program is nailing drug users, and that as newer and more effective tests become available, baseball will start using them. Stop beating the dead horse, stop the veiled threats, stop feeding these bullshit, innuendo-filled rumors and slanderous “insider information” tips to the media, and get over it.

You’ll never stop the players from using anything they can get away with to excel; it is an impossible task. Stop branding anyone who does a cheat, a scumbag, a scourge. They’re just human beings. Stop the hypocrisy. Stop fanning the flames. If the reporters and media gurus insist on saying over and over that Bonds is cheating, DEFEND HIM! Take a fucking stand, you spineless jellyfish. Stand there like a man, and take the heat. Bonds has never failed a drug test, and if he did, in fact, use PED’s prior to the drug testing amendment, it’s over, it’s history, it’s too late to do anything about it.

Tell the truth, that baseball has always looked the other way, whether it was racism, amphetamines, painkillers, cheating on wives, doctoring baseballs, alcoholics, whatever, JUST LIKE EVERYBODY, EVERYWHERE. That’s life, complicated, messy, and filled with problems. TELL THE TRUTH. You’re worried about baseball’s image? STAND UP AND TAKE THE HEAT. Tell the reporters who want to insist over and over that baseball is suffering, that the fans are all upset and disillusioned and the integrity of the game is being destroyed that THEY ARE WRONG!!!!!

Attendance is at an all-time high, baseball’s popularity, revenue, television audience, merchandising…. by every measure, baseball has never had it better. Fans love the game, and show it by coming out to the ballparks, across the country, in numbers never seen before. Fans love home runs, too, by the way; and they loved, absolutely LOVED the McGwire/Sosa showdown. Be a man, and say that, out loud, over and over. It was awesome, something to cherish, to remember, to be celebrated. Stop hiding. It’s time to get over it. It’s time to stop agreeing with Tom Verducci and Mike Lupica and the rest of these Chicken Little’s They’re wrong. They’ve been wrong from the start, from the first, “Everyone is using steroids” article to the disgusting and sensationalistic, “Steroids are killing kids” bullshit.

…. some perspective is needed here. While Rep. Tom Davis (R., Va.) claims that currently “over a half a million youth are using steroids,” the NY Times notes that, in addition to (the late) Efrain Marrero, only “two previous suicides had been attributed by parents to steroid use by young athletes.”With steroid use in high schools dating back to the 1950s, the suicide rate — even if Marrero’s death were actually linked to steroids and not other factors — seems negligible compared to a male suicide rate for 15-to-24 year-olds averaging more than 20 per 100,000 over the last 30 years.

Even more startling is how the young male suicide rate has fallen over the last decade while steroid use has grown. On Meet the Press, Rep. Henry Waxman (D., Calif.) claimed that, over the last decade, steroid use had risen from one out of every 45 kids to one out of 16, while the young male suicide rate has gone down from 26 to 20 per 100,000.

To lose one’s child seems unimaginable, and the desire to explain it is understandable. Perhaps the parents are right in these cases, but congressional hearings should focus on the real risks endangering children’s lives. Considering that 397 teenagers die per year from drowning, 77 from bicycling, 504 from poisonings, and 91 from just simple falls, it is difficult to understand the hysteria over steroids.

The risks seem pretty mild for professional players. A Baseball players’ union representative, Gene Orza, claimed that steroids are “not worse than cigarettes.” With over 4,000 people playing major-league baseball over the last decade and claims that 40 percent or 50 percent of players are using some form of anabolic steroids, what is striking is how rare baseball deaths are and that these are not really related to “performance-enhancing” drugs. Take the last two years:

~ In October 2004, 41-year-old retired baseball star Ken Caminiti’s death from a heart attack caused a stir — but it proved a false alarm. The medical examiner ruled that the death was due to an overdose of cocaine and opiates.

~ In 2003, the Baltimore Orioles’s Steve Bechler died during spring training while taking a diet aid, ephedra (a stimulant). Sen. Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) quickly rushed forward with legislation to require stricter standards. It only became clear later that the death likely had another cause: Bechler had a history of heart problems, came to camp out of shape and way overweight, and was playing while dehydrated and not eating.

Scott Gottlieb, a former senior policy adviser to the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, notes: “There are plenty of people with [multiple sclerosis], Crohn’s and colitis, and rheumatoid arthritis and lupus and other diseases, who are on much higher doses of chronic steroids. Certainly, they have a lot of side effects, but they don’t drop dead of [heart attacks] so easily.”

With Congress grossly exaggerating the “public health crisis” from suicides to justify their involvement, it is hard to believe that their motives are based on little more than grabbing attention. Congress has already intervened too much with threats and ought to leave baseball alone and let them work out their own problems. Baseball has already made changes, but those changes have not been given any time to see if they work. If this is a continuing problem, the fans will speak loudly and clearly, letting a private company know exactly what the customer wants.

Exactly. The game of baseball is big enough to handle the fact that some players will go to the furthest extremes to be baseball players, and to excel at the highest levels. It always has been, and it always will be. Seilg, as commissioner, needs to be big too. It’s time.

Since backtalk is disabled, you can send them directly to my email.

UPDATE: Reader Frank offers his two cents, or should I say, two thousand dollars:

…. 330 years ago, when this country was being formed, was a real watershed in human history, out of which arose the various ideas that coalesced into the Constitution. That was a time when honest and educated men could and would debate. Of course, by and large, it was also a time when citizens cared, participated, and informed themselves.

These are the times of the red herring, of fear, of simple explanations. Steroids is perfect for politicians and media types alike. Very difficult to defend, easy to attack. I don’t know why, exactly, maybe it’s just too much work; but discourse is rather rare, out of fashion even. Today, demagoguery is what works in the public marketplace. From Condy Rice and Dick ‘Oilman’ Cheney talking about mushroom clouds in order to stampede a populace into going to war; to Tom Verducci, it is clear that setting up a straw man and then attacking so ferociously and repetitively that no time is left for question or debate is effective.

It is not clear to me why dissent, questions, and debate are no longer valid. It is clear that the populace like simple, often moralistic, explanations. And, it seems, if one hungers for ‘success,’ providing them is a boulevard to get there.

So, I appreciate your voice, pissing in the wind as it is.

Well, yummy. That is some serious, thoughtful, work. Thanks, Frank.

…. About time?

I’m a little skeptical of Murray Chass’s change of heart:

…. Putting steroids in perspective, since the Balco investigation began four years ago, 1.6 million people have died from smoking-related causes (400,000 a year, the United States surgeon general says) and about 150,000 (nearly half in traffic accidents) have died from alcohol-related causes.

How comforting it is to know that some people care more about baseball’s career home run record than the lives of hundreds of thousands of human beings.

Chass has often written scathing words about the dangers of steroids, ignoring that said dangers are exxagerated while more important issues are swept under the rug. He hardly could consider himself a reasonable man on the subject. Here at OBM, however, you have read, countless times, how few real scientific accounts of serious problems with steroids there actually are. I guess I should be glad that somebody’s talking smart about it for a change.

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