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Archive for the 'Baseball Books' Category


…. Perfection

Dan Lependorf, over the Hardball Times, puts together a graph detailing how impressive Matt Cain’s Perfecto really was:

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blockquote>…. If a pitcher strikes out 14 batters in a single game, it’ll be the lead story on every sports news program of the night. After all, it’s only happened a few hundred times in baseball history. If a pitcher throws a perfect game, it’s one of those landmark events that’ll be sold on DVD in the MLB.com store. And people will buy it, because hey, it’s a perfect game. Only 22 of those.

But both of them at the same time? Congratulations, Matt Cain. You just had one of the best nights from any pitcher in the history of Major League Baseball.

But then Bill James –who Lependorf cites in his article– writes (subscription required) that Cain’s game, while very impressive, isn’t even close to being the best pitched game of all-time:

…. The Game Score for Joe Oeschger, when he pitched 26 innings one afternoon, was 153, a feat beyond the understanding of modern fans. But in the last 60 years, Dean Chance against the Yankees on June 6, 1964, had the highest Game Score on record—116. 14 innings, 3 hits, 12 strikeouts, no runs.

James then goes on to chart the best games, seasons and careers using his Game Score method. It’s a great read, and well worth the $3 bucks a month you have to pay for access to Bill James Online.



…. Knowledge is power

Bill James is still the best. He has a new article up on his site (It’s a pay site, $3 bucks a month, and you should be going there), it’s not about baseball, per se, it’s sort of about himself, and his relationship to statistics. In fact, it’s the text of a speech he made to a group of statisticians. In the piece, he writes something that should be mailed to Brian Sabean:

…. Baseball teams play 162 games a year. I just realized last week that, sometime in the last 20 years, baseball experts have fallen into the habit of saying that a baseball team has about 50 games a year that you are just going to lose no matter what, 50 games a year that you’re going to win, and it is the other 62 games that determine what kind of season you’re going to have. This is not ancient knowledge; this is a fairly new one. A more inane analysis would be difficult to conceive of. First of all, baseball teams do not play one hundred non-competitive games a year, or anything remotely like that. Baseball teams play about forty non-competitive games in a season, more or less; I would be surprised if any team in the history of major league baseball ever had a hundred games in the season that were just wins or losses, and which the losing team never had a chance to win after the fourth or fifth inning. The outcome of most baseball games could be reversed by changing a very small number of events within the game.

But setting that aside, this relatively new cliché assumes that it is the outcome of the most competitive games that decides whether a team has a great season or a poor season. In reality, the opposite is true. The more competitive a game is, the more likely it is that the game will be won by the weaker team. If the Royals play the Yankees and the score of the game is 12 to 1, it is extremely likely that the Yankees won. If the score is 4 to 3, it’s pretty much a tossup. The reasons why this is true will be intuitively obvious to those of you who work with statistics for a living. It is the non-competitive games—the blowouts—that play the largest role in determining what kind of season a team has. Misinformation about baseball continues to propagate, and will continue to propagate forever more, without regard to the fact that there is now a community of researchers that studies these things.

In reference to the Giants, this Giants team, the pitching-dependent, offensively challenged team we’ve been ranting and raving about for the last two and a half seasons, these paragraphs explain what we’ve been experiencing. It’s like a light in a dark closet.

Of course we’re frustrated, being in nail-biters game after game, week after week. It’s because we can sense that something’s not right. There’s something about a team that wins by being perfect that fails to inspire confidence. Of course it doesn’t. As James explains so clearly, it shouldn’t. Winning teams dominate. Winning teams consistently win big. Winning teams are not built upon winning one-run games. Winning teams don’t win because they always win the close ones. They win because they blow teams out. Close games are far too often decided by one single mistake, on missed play, one error, one walk, just like Monday’s game. Teams dancing along that fine line are simply far too dependent upon luck to win enough of the time to be a real contender. And we can see that, even though the Giants are winning right now, they are not really a contending team.

“The more competitive a game is, the more likely it is that the game will be won by the weaker team.”

Great teams blow you out, and it’s the games in which they don’t that you have a chance against them. The Giants are not a great team. They have great pitching. They are one dimensional. They rely on making your offense look as bad on this day as theirs is regularly. That is no way to win a championship. It simply isn’t. You cannot bet on being able to hold down a great offensive team game after game after game. Eventually, a great offense is gonna get you, and if that great offense has some pitching, well, then you’re in real trouble.

Look at these eight games with the Padres. These two teams are exactly the same. So you get eight games of one-run baseball, each team doing everything it can to prevent the other team from running away with the game, tons of bunts, lots of runners left in scoring position. Eight games of let’s see who blinks first. Each team is playing the same way, so, on the surface, the games seem exciting.

But, in fact, they are anything but. They are frustrating. They are exasperating. They are, to me, anyway. Going back and forth between the Giants/Padres and the Yankees/Red Sox games is illuminating. Those Yankee games are exciting. Those games feature game-winning home runs, (something so rare as to have become pretty much a once a year event in San Francisco) and when a pitcher strikes out a guy with men on base, it’s an actual accomplishment. When you watch the Giants bat with men on, the exact opposite is true, it’s an accomplishment when the Giants get the runner home.

Don’t be fooled. Look closely at what’s happening with this team. They are gonna tease you all season long, but, in the end, it will take a miracle for them to make the playoffs. They simply do not have enough hitting to get it done, no matter how many shutouts they throw.

UPDATE: Really!?! 32 total bases, 6 home runs, and 8 walks allowed? Wow.



…. Old news

I was browsing through the Baseball Analyst’s Bill James Baseball Abstracts pages, and came up with a couple of interesting tidbits from James:

1978

“When you acquire any player over 28, you are getting about 40% of a career–and that on the downhill slide. You can do that, perhaps, to fill a hole. But what happens when you try to build a whole team that way? Your replacement-rate goes out of sight. If you’ve got eight players on a downhill slide, two of them are going to slip and fall–either that, or you’re defying the law of averages.”

This is your San Francisco Giants. Run with a game plan that was known to be flawed over 30 years ago.

1983

A lot of the public, I think, has the idea that arbitration hearings are sort of bullshit sessions in which the agent tried to convince the arbitrator that Joaquin Andujar is Steve Carlton’s brother, and the club tries to convince him that he is Juan Berenguer’s niece. It’s not really like that. The first and foremost rule of an arbitration proceeding is that you never, ever, say anything which can be shown to be false.

The second rule of an arbitration case is that you don’t start any arguments that you can’t win. . .Stick to the facts. . .Tell the truth. It’s the only chance you’ve got.

How many of you think the Giants will be able to handle this situation with the delicacy and foresight needed to avoid getting their dicks caught in the zipper?

Additionally, I’d like to point out the flat-out absurdity of all of these articles and op-ed pieces talking about how the Giants are worried about signing Lincecum to along-term deal because of concerns about his long-term health. This is a lie, an absurdity, a ruse, a smoke screen. If the team is spreading crap like this, it is just one more indication of how unprofessional and poorly run it really is. If it’s not, Sabean should come right out and deny it.

It is ridiculous to suggest that it’s Lincecum that the team has to worry about. RIDICULOUS!!

Sabean wasn’t worried about being upside down on any of these old, broken down mediocrities he keeps shoveling money at? Sabean wasn’t worried about the possibility that he might be paying the 36-year old Dave Roberts to watch TV? He wasn’t worried about the two-year deal he gave to 35-year old Bengie Molina in 2007? Wasn’t concerned at all about the possibility that the 40-year old Omar Vizquel might not be able to live up to his contract? Not worried about the 34-year old Aubrey Huff, coming off an injury-plagued 2009 season? Really?

Nothing to see here when Sabean signs an already injured, 32-year old Freddie Sanchez to a contract extension he’s not even up for? No concerns at all about throwing $55 million dollars at He-Who-Runs-Into-Walls? No issue whatsoever at giving a declining Barry Zito the biggest contract in baseball history?

No, the player Sabean is gonna hold the line for is Tim Lincecum. REALLY!?!

This is where you’re gonna draw the line on cover-your-eyes bad contracts?! Tim Lincecum? TIM LINCECUM!?! He’s the guy the team is worried about? The 25-year old, two-time Cy Young Award winning, once in a generation pitcher, the ace of your staff? That’s the guy who’s gonna break the bank? After all these horrible fucking contracts, after all the money Sabean has literally THROWN ON THE GROUND!!!!! It’s Lincecum they have to worry about? ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME!!!! What a joke. What a bad, stupid joke.

The fact that the sportswriters who cover this team have the gall to parrot this absurdity is bad enough, but even decent bloggers are buying into the line. This would be laughable if it weren’t so sad.

Let me be the one to say what everyone should already know:

IF YOU ARE GOING TO GO BANKRUPT BECAUSE OF A BAD CONTRACT, LINCECUM IS THE GUY TO DO IT WITH

It is the equivalent of going all-in with pocket aces. If you’re gonna lose with aces, so be it.

1984

In Logic and Methods in Baseball Analysis, James states axioms, corollaries, and the known principles of sabermetrics in the following order:

Axiom I: A ballplayer’s purpose in playing ball is to do those things which create wins for his team, while avoiding those things which create losses for his team.

Axiom II: Wins result from runs scored. Losses result from runs allowed.

First Corollary to Axiom II: An offensive player’s job is to create runs for his team.

The Known Principles of Sabermetrics. Item 1: There are two essential elements of an offense: its ability to get people on base and its ability to advance runners.

Axiom III: All offense and all defense occurs within a context of outs.

The Known Principles of Sabermetrics. Item 2: Batting and pitching statistics never represent pure accomplishments, but are heavily colored by all kinds of illusions and extraneous effects. One of the most important of these is park effects.

The Known Principles of Sabermetrics. Item 3: There is a predictable relationship between the number of runs a team scores, the number they allow, and the number of games that they will win.

Ok, so here’s my two cents. Brian Sabean has no knowledge of these concepts. He can’t. Either he’s read Bill James and thinks he knows better, or he’s never read him. Either way, he’s obviously completely out if his mind.

He has been trying to build a team with old, soon to be out of baseball players, which is why, of course, the Giants never have any money for real players, because –as James illustrated 30 years ago– your replacement costs are gonna be sky-high, and you’re gonna be facing those costs every year.

And if you build an offense that consists of players who don’t get on base, and don’t have any power, you sure as hell will not be able to seriously compete, even if you have one of the most dominant pitching staffs of the last twenty years.

It just hurts my head to realize that I read this stuff 30 years ago, and the team I root for operates as if these simple concepts are still waiting to be discovered.



…. Backtalk

Over at the Sports Law Blog, they have posted a guest piece by Aaron Zelinsky and Benjamin Johnson of Yale Law School. Here’s a taste:

…. A-Rod’s comeback needs three things: First, he has to become the public face of baseball purists.

…. Second, A-Rod must devote himself to cleaning up baseball.

…. Finally, A-Rod needs to stay healthy and play as long as he can play well. He must put up Hall of Fame numbers for the next five years to make the case that he is a Hall of Famer without the juice.

Well, that’s an interesting take, but I like Mark DeVincentis’ backtalk even better:

…. I’m not upset with ARod or any of the PED users. I’m more upset about the way it is handled by the government, media, baseball, and the public at large. The hyperbole in the media that fuels the attitude that baseball is somehow in trouble because of steroids stems from a lack of understanding of baseball history.

…. As long as baseball has been played, players have turned to artificial means to enhance their performance.

…. I don’t think that steroids don’t matter, or that efforts should not be made to weed them out of the game, but they should be placed in their proper context. Few things grate on me worse than media sensationalism and playing down to the lowest common denominator… and this whole steroids thing that has been going on for the last 5 or so years is full of both.

Hear, hear! Echoing many of the sentiments that I have been screaming into a closet for those five years, Mark hits the nail on the head. A-Rod shouldn’t have to pander to the BBWAA, nor should Mark McGwire, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Barry Bonds or, for that matter, Pete Rose. Few players can claim to have given more to the game than these superstars. Few players have been more dedicated to being the absolute best that they can be, few have worked harder, or brought more excitement and excellence to the national pastime.

I’ll say it again, if the BBWAA continues to hold these players hostage, if the list of players that they decide to exclude from the Hall of Fame continues to grow, then it won’t be a Hall of Fame anymore. It’ll be a place where baseball writers can celebrate their righteousness and hypocrisy.

Voting shall be based upon the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

italics, mine

Let’s not forget that the decision to consider more than just raw statistics or having played for a long time wasn’t happenstance, the idea that integrity and character mattered didn’t occur in a vacuum. At the time of the Hall’s creation, baseball was awash in crooked players, the scandals were what eventually led to the creation of a commissioner’s office, and Kennesaw Mountain Landis. The players who were caught, or just rumored to be involved, (a group that included Tris Speaker and Ty Cobb, by the way), were threatening the game’s integrity, in that the fans would wonder if the results of the game were true. The issue was whether a players or players on one team were in cahoots with the other team to throw the game for betting purposes.

Bill James wrote about baseball in the 1910′s in the New Baseball Historical Abstract:

…. baseball in the teens was collapsing, leaving the players and the owners fighting over the pieces of a shrinking pie. It was bound to get ugly, and it did. The third major story of the decade was a product of the unhappy marriage of the first two. The players started selling games.

It is not my intention to make apologies for the dishonest players. But you have to know two things to understand what happened. Number on, there was a generation of players to whom baseball made a lot o promises which it didn’t keep. And number two, every baseball headline in the decade had a dollar sign attached to it.

…. It is a hard thing to know that another man is making money off your labor, and has no intention of dealing fairly with you.

…. (Charlie) Comiskey held all the power in the relationship between owner and players, and he had to rub their noses in it

Commiskey wasn’t alone in being a miserly owner. By keeping the lion’s share of the profits from the game, the owners were, in effect, forcing the players to choose between being completely taken advantage of, or bend and break the rules of the game to find their own ways to profit on their abilities. (A situation, by the way, in which the owners controlled the game ruthlessly, profiting from the players skill and efforts while the players –even the stars– were forced to work during the off-season, which continued all the way until the end of the reserve clause, and into the birth of true free agency)

The integrity and character clauses were included in response to these conditions, conditions in which the number of players who were rumored or known to have been involved in throwing games was substantial, including stars and even icons.

For at least the last four decades, the majority –if not all– of the “cheating” in baseball has been directed towards winning. The mantra of winning at all costs has been etched into the consciousness of even the youngest baseball players. Defending the game from “cheaters” has nowhere near the same importance in the face of a culture that has consistently looked the other way at bending the rules in an effort to win. Spitballs, scuffed balls, amphetamines, painkillers, and performance enhancers have been used and abused during this time, right in front of the baseball sportswriters, who did and said and wrote nothing about it at all.

Until Mark McGwire, and Barry Bonds. Until steroids, and huge, muscled-up players began breaking records. Only when steroids became the PED of choice, and the records started to fall did the writers get themselves all up in arms. Why is that? Why did decades of uppers and downers mean nothing to the writers, but steroids and HGH meant everything? Lack of understanding, fear, and more importantly, nostalgia.

These writers are victims of their own nostalgia. They remember Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, and some of them even saw Joe DiMaggio and Yogi Berra and Sandy Koufax play, and nobody was breaking their records on speed. Nobody was hitting more home runs than Babe Ruth on speed. Nobody was winning six Cy Young Awards on speed. Nobody was winning seven(!) MVP Awards on speed.

These writers are defending their childhood memories, and poorly at that. They are, in effect, saying that these players aren’t as good as their heroes were, therefore, they are cheating. Never mind that some of their heroes were drunk on the field, or abused speed, or used cocaine during games. Never mind that many of the records they were seeing fall were destined to fall for reasons far more obvious than the simple choice of strength training enhancers.

Their youth was being debased, and for that, these “cheaters” must pay. Remember this when you read Tom Verducci, or Mike Lupica, and remember that these self-proclaimed experts have forgotten baseball history, if they ever knew it at all.



…. An Interview with Jeff Pearlman

Hank Waddles, aka, the Broken Cowboy, has interviewed writer Jeff Pearlman. I have just finished reading Jeff’s book, Love me Hate me, (subject, Barry Bonds), and thought it would be a good segue into Hank’s interview. My review of his book is short and sweet:

It is a detailed, concise, and throroughly depressing view of a man who seems gifted in only one way, as an athlete. Bonds’ inability to interact well with other human beings is legendary; but Pearlman’s book paints a picture of him that borders on sociopath. Bonds apparently has no idea of how to be thoughtful, or kind, or forgiving. He insults and demeans everyone around him, almost from birth. In his book, Pearlman says he interviewed over 500 people in an effort to create the most accurate and compelling portrait of Barry. As far as that goes; Bonds comes across as the biggest asshole in history.

It’s not a book that compells me to read it more than once, but it is a must-read for a true Giants fan.

And now, here’s Hank’s interview:

…. A few weeks ago Jeff Pearlman was kind enough to spend part of his day talking to me about his recent Barry Bonds biography, Love Me, Hate Me. Following the themes addressed in the book (review forthcoming), our conversation focused on Bonds the person as well as the baseball player, and we also talked about steroids for a while. Enjoy…

BrokenCowboy:
I think Im almost as interested in the process as in the resulting book. In your acknowledgment section you spoke a little bit about it — the 524 people you interviewed, the investigators you hired, etc. — what was this whole experience like? When you did you first get the idea to write about Bonds, and how long did the research portion of the project take?

Jeff Pearlman:
It took about two years overall. I started the whole thing about two years ago. I got into it with the idea that Id interview everybody. I didnt know what everybody meant, but I wanted to interview everybody — anyone who had interaction with Bonds, the people who knew Bonds best. I didnt even think about interviewing Bonds himself, because I knew he probably wouldnt talk, but I wanted to interview everybody who knew him. And the truth of the matter is, when you write a biography interviewing the main subject doesnt matter that much, because people have skewed visions of themselves. You really learn more about someone by talking to the people who know them well and interact with them. So that was my goal. The best thing for someone in my position is word of mouth, and you just start. Who knows Barry Bonds? You talk to his first grade teacher, you say, do you know any other teachers? You talk to the Cub Scout den mother, oh, do you know any of the other kids? One name usually begat five others, and five begat ten, and I ended up with 524, which is a pretty good number.

BC:
Yeah. I obviously havent written a biography, but that seems like a really big number. Based on what youve heard, or what you know about, did you go above and beyond, or is this kind of par for the course?

JP:
Its probably above and beyond, but Im not sure. My first book, I wrote a book about the Mets, and I interviewed about 150 people. I probably shouldve done more, looking back, but I dont know. The thing is this. A friend of mine is Leigh Montville, who has a Babe Ruth book coming out. Babe Ruth is dead, so thats more of a historical analysis. Youre not gonna get a million new stories about Babe Ruth now because his contemporaries are dead, but Barry Bonds, his contemporaries are all still alive. I know that sounds real simplistic, but it makes you interview more people than a biography of someone whos been dead for a long time.

BC:
That makes sense. Something thats always intrigued me about professional athletes, especially the great ones, is that they mustve been insanely dominant as kids when they were playing against people who grew up to be teachers, say, instead of linebackers. What kind of an athlete was Bonds back when he was just Bobby Bondss kid?

JP:
Oh, he was great. Great. He was only Bobby Bondss kid for a very short time because he was such a good athlete that he kind of jumped off the page at you. He was four years old, actually two and a half years old when he shattered his first window. His mom used to go down to the window pane store all the time because he was breaking so many windows with a wiffle ball off of a bat. He went to a school called the Kerry School, which was his elementary-slash-middle school. He was the catcher in baseball, he was a great catcher, strong arm. He was the star forward in baseball. He was above and beyond, Im not doing it justice. He was the fastest kid, he was the strongest kid, he was the biggest kid, he was the quickest kid. Across the board, he was he best athlete. Nobody you talk to is really surprized that he is a major league ballplayer. It would be hard to expect 700 home runs, but he was just so advanced, so beyond everybody else, he was legit. He was the kid. You know how every school, or every school district has that kid? He was the kid, times a thousand.

BC:
Growing up like that, not only as the greatest athlete anyone had ever seen, but also as the privileged son of a major league all-star, it almost seems like the end result is obvious. Again, Im not talking about the seven hundred home runs, but it might have been something of an upset if Bonds had turned out to be polite, well-adjusted, and compassionate. How did his experiences as a player at Serra High School and Arizona State affect the man he would become?

JP:
I think the first place you have to look for him is his dad and his godfather, too, Willie Mays. He was watching these two guys who were just adored by the public, these two guys who were worshipped by people. When you see that great athleticism equals worship and adulation, that registers with that eight-year-old kid. So he learned from a very, very early age that if you perform athletically, everything will be taken care of for you. When he was at Serra High School, he was the kid who during batting practice would be napping in the outfield. He was the kid who wore his dads jerseys during practices, who would expect that his glove would be run out to him into the outfield…

BC:
He was a major leaguer already…

JP:
He the major league attitude at fourteen that takes others at least another ten years to get. You learn from an early age that if you walk the walk, people will treat you a certain way. Its hard to blame him. I always say its kind of hard to blame him for being who he is. Hes easy to dislike, because he is dislikable, but its hard to blame him because this is what he was raised to be, essentially.

BC:
I think thats my feeling as well. There are a lot of great guys, Im sure, but its almost expected that hed turn out this way.

JP:
Like David Bell, as an example, was raised in a major league clubhouse, and hes a great guy. Aaron Boone is a real good guy. So its not that its hopeless, but I think your odds of becoming normal… I would be interested to see what Celene Dions kids are gonna be like one day, you know? Its not a normal way of growing up. You dont learn to interact with people normally, you dont see your parents coming home from a nine to five job exhausted and cooking dinner. It doesnt work that way. You have your dinners made for you. Barry Bonds signed his first autograph when he was, like, ten. Just for being the son of.

BC:
Wow. I have to admit that there were times when I cringed when reading something Bonds had said or done. Before reading this book, to be honest, I would sometimes dismiss some of the stories youd hear about Bonds. You mentioned the incident reported in Ron Kittles book, about Bonds saying he wouldnt sign autographs for white people.

JP:
Right.

BC:
When I first heard that reported in the press, it didnt even occur to me that it might be true, because I couldnt imagine anyone actually saying something like that.

JP:
Its so funny you say that, because as soon as I heard that, I knew it was true.

BC:
Really? I was gonna ask you that, because my perspective is obviously different from yours, so I was wondering — what was your response to all this? Were you shocked by anything you heard, or was this, based on your different experiences and perceptions, was this what you expected to find out?

JP:
Good question. I didnt expect the depth of bad behavior, I would say. You hear a guy is a bad guy, you hear hes difficult, and you see instances… Like for example, the one thing that blows my mind in the book, two grounds keepers for the Pirates die… did you read the whole book?

BC:
Oh, yeah, I loved it.

JP:
Thanks. Two grounds keepers from the Pirates die, and they hold this auction and Bonds refuses to sign autographs. Brian Fishers son has cystic fibrosis and theres a fundraiser…

BC:
This is what Im talking about.

JP:
Right.

BC:
I cant imagine a human being reacting that way.

JP:
I know, its hard to believe a human being that big of an asshole.

BC:
What about the good things he did? Sometimes it seemed like he could actually go out of his way to do the right thing. Was that what was surprizing to you? Were you surprized by those things?

JP:
No, because I think everybody has humanity in them, you know? I was more surprized… you hear the story about the grounds keepers, and you think, god, thats a crappy thing to do. And then you hear the thing about Brian Fisher, and you realize the guys done it more than once! Thats whats surprizing sometimes. I can understand you being a jerk to someone, but he really can totally emotionally distance himself from situations and detach himself, not just distance himself, but detach himself from the feelings of other people and not read the feelings of other people. And the depth of that, his ability to do that, Ive never come across anybody like that. Weve all met jerks in our life, and Im not even saying he is a jerk… Well, its unbelievable to me.

BC:
I think what surprized me is that, kind of like how we were talking about his upbringing, I can completely understand that there can be an athlete or an entertainer or whoever, when you have microphones in your face every day, and people questioning you every single day, I can understand how you could become a jerk. You could get tired of that, and you could — to the press — really be a jackass. But in these situations where its someone he knows coming to him saying people have died, can you help us out? And he responds that way. Theres something deeper going on.

JP:
I agree with you. I agree with you a hundred percent. If you ask me what surprized me, that did surprize me. You hear one story, and you think maybe its an isolated incident. You hear two, and you think, well maybe hes had two bad days. Then you hear seventeen of them, and you think, man, this is a different kind of guy. He just handles things in a different way, sees things in a different light, doesnt have the emotional maturity. You can only hear, Oh, nobody knows what its like to walk in my shoes how many times before you realize that, if I was walking in your shoes, I still wouldnt handle that situation that way. There could be a million people asking me for my autograph when I find out that some grounds keeper died and he didnt have health insurance and all I have to do is sign three baseballs to make his life a little easier, I have to question the person that doesnt make that move.

BC:
Another thing about his personality, I think people generally feel a need to make connections, you know, when youre talking to somebody new. For instance, you mentioned that you became friends with Brian Johnson?

JP:
Right.

BC:
Immediately I want to tell you that, hey I once played basketball against Brian Johnson. With Bonds, though, it seems the opposite — he even denies connections that actually exist. Is this just a superstar trying to maintain distance from his fans, or do you feel like theres something — I know Im asking you to kind of psychoanalyze a little bit — but do you feel like theres something more going on with Bonds?

JP:
I do. Yes, theres a distance thing. One thing that really interested me in the book, and I almost wish I had gotten more into, is how when guys are traded all of the sudden he opens up to them. Darryl Hamilton spends two years as a Giant, they barely talk, and then he gets traded and Barry says, I love you, man, and gives him a hug.

BC:
Its like he doesnt have to worry that now theres a friendship.

JP:
Right, but I also think theres an element to Bonds that hes always thinking in his head, What is a superstar? How is a superstar supposed to be perceived? How is a superstar supposed to handle this situation? When Richard Hoffer of Sports Illustrated in 1993 comes to do a profile of Bonds and Bonds blows him off for eight days in a row. Now, thats not just him being too busy, because if he was too busy he was busy picking scabs and watching Growing Pains or whatever on TV. He wanted to give this impression that I am haughtier than you are, I am higher than you, youre gonna have to wait for me, and I know youre gonna wait for me. Its not that he wants to be guarded, he wants to give a certain impression to people. Bonds tries to tell people that he doesnt care what people think. To me, its just the opposite. He cares tremendously what people think, and hes working hard to show that he doesnt care. Its almost like hes doing reverse psychology on himself.

BC:
Yeah, I thought it was interesting — there was a point in the book where you talk about when players were leaving from the hotel to the bus to get to the game on the road, talking about how all the players would just kind of hole up in the hotel to avoid the crowds, and Bonds would stand on the sidewalk just so that he could wait for the crowds and then tell them to get the hell out of his face.

JP:
Vintage Bonds. Vintage.

BC:
I think you did a great job in the book of really driving home the fact that Barry Bonds was a phenomenal player long before he became the Bonds we now know. What was he like as Pirate, during those days before he was chasing history as he is now?

JP:
Do you mean personality-wise, or playing-wise?

BC:
Just as a player, just on the playing field.

JP:
Oh, unbelievable. Absolutely unbelievable. Thats the thing. To me, he was a better player as a Pirate than he has been as a Giant, because he was so multi-facetted. The only thing he didnt have for him was an arm. Even the guys who hated him — Van Slyke, R.J. Reynolds to some degree — nobody denies the fact that he was ungodly as a baseball player. The saddest thing to me about the steroid thing isnt, oh, the youth of America, which sucks, or other areas that are terrible about it. Whats saddest to me is he was just driven by greed. If he had just never touched the steroids, he still couldve been one the ten best baseball players of all time. And that whole legacy, those Pittsburgh years are now just totally forgotten. They arent even a factor anymore, and thats sad, because he could do everything when he was a Pirate. Absolutely everything as a Pirate. When he came up with the Pirates, he was a terrible, indifferent outfielder, and pitchers hated having that guy playing center field behind him. When he moved to left, and he started feeling a little jealous over Andy Van Slykes defense, he became the best left fielder in the game. He went from being a horrible outfielder, to the best left fielder in baseball, and probably one of the ten best left fielders ever in baseball, defensively.

BC:
That, of course, brings us to San Francisco and everything that he has become. I dont think you can look at Barry Bonds without thinking of three things, all addressed significantly in your book. First, his personality; second, his greatness as a player; and finally, the steroids. You can make this answer as long or as short as you like. How sure are you that Bonds took performance-enhancing drugs?

JP:
A hundred percent. A hundred percent.

BC:
There are two issues I wanted to talk to you about concerning steroids, both of which you addressed in the book. First, and I loved that you had this in there, about the role of the press. For the last year or so, reporters have been like rabid dogs pursuing this story, but where were they in 1998? Do you think they were in denial?

JP:
Well, first I have to say they includes me, so I cant bash the media and not include myself. I was not there either. I was a baseball writer at the time, too. I think there are a few things I have to say. One of the guys I interviewed is a great writer, great guy, Jeff Bradley from ESPN the Magazine. Jeff was saying that when he would be in these meetings in 98 — and Jeff Bradleys brother, Scott, played with the Mariners as a catcher — and Jeff Bradley would be in these magazines at ESPN the Magazine saying, This is all bullshit. Maybe we should do something about this. And I gotta say, at [Sports Illustrated], there were times when I brought up, or [Tom] Verducci would bring up, or different people would bring up steroids, and dont you think we should be looking into this more? And there wasnt that much interest. I think a lot of writers were beginning to be skeptical of it, but I dont know, there was this big love train going on with McGwire and Sosa, do you remember it? It was almost like we all drank the Kool-Aid. It was just happy-happy time.

BC:
For me, definitely, Ive been a huge baseball fan all my life, and during those times when youd hear people talk about steroids, I just didnt want to believe it. Even though Im 35, theres still a part of me that looks at these baseball players, even still today, the same way I did when I was ten. Thats from a fans perspective, so I wonder: is there some of that still with reporters?

JP:
I will say this. I dont know if the fan thing is so much. Bill Madden, a guy who writes for the Daily News, I think I quote him in the book. He said something thats stuck with me which was, nobody who covers baseball is happy covering this stuff.

BC:
Yeah, you did mention that.

JP:
Right. Nobody wants this stuff to happen. A lot of these guys it tears apart, myself in a lot of ways. It hurts you in a lot of ways, because this is a game you love. When baseball players act like were outsiders, you know, what are we doing in the clubhouse? Were not outsiders. Were as much insiders as they are cause we freakin love this game, too. Nobody wants this stuff to happening to baseball. It tears them up. So I dont think writers were ignoring it. I think part of it was ignorance; I just dont think we knew a hundred percent what was going on. And I also think we just got caught up in it all, you know? The game was sinking, McGwire and Sosa come along, they go crazy… Yeah, Sosa used to be a pretzel and now he was the Incredible Hulk, but he was hitting home runs, and I dont know, it just wasnt there. People werent talking about it. I dont know.

BC:
Second, tell me what you think about this argument. Ive speculated that it might be a bit hypocritical to criticize Bonds and others for taking steroids. Being a professional athlete is nothing but performance enhancement. Were talking about a sport in which pitchers have tendons from cadavers sewn into their elbows and batters have surgery to improve their vision beyond 20/20. Whats your response to this slippery slope argument? Im not looking for you to say, yes, steroids are okay, but where does it fit in that spectrum?

JP:
The number one thing for me, is steroids without a prescription are illegal, factually illegal. So youre talking about breaking the law. They say in Christianity that all sins are the same, so whether you rape a kid or you steal a gumdrop, its the same thing. But to me in baseball — Im not a religious guy, by the way, I just use that example — to me in baseball, its not all the same. Gaylord Perry…

BC:
I like that you added that. I agree completely with that whole thing. Im sorry to step on you but…

JP:
No, no. Gaylord Perry is totally different to me. He didnt break the law. Thats the thing that bothers me, the argument where people say steroids werent illegal in baseball. Yeah, they werent illegal in baseball, they were illegal in the United States of America. You can go anywhere in America, play a pickup game of baseball and use pine tar on your bat, and they cant arrest you for it. But anywhere in America, when you use steroids without a prescription, you will get arrested for it. The laws of the United States umbrella major league baseball, not vice versa.

BC:
I found it interesting that in the midst of your talk about the steroid issue, you were still able to step back from it and discuss the historical numbers Bonds was putting up at the time. Five or ten years from now, do you think well be able to make that division between what Bonds did on the field and what hes alleged to have done to get there?

JP:
No, its hard for me to make the division. I did it because I didnt really know another way to go about it. No matter what happens, the asterisk is there. No matter what happens, hell be known as a steroid guy. If he gets into the Hall of Fame, it has to be on his plaque in Cooperstown. Maybe it wont be, but it should be. Its him. Barry Bonds and steroids now are linked like anything else.

BC:
Baseballs clearly struggling with that issue also. He hit his 711th home run the other night, and its a matter of time until he passes Babe Ruth. Just today I saw that Selig says there will be no celebration, and his argument is that hes not setting a record, but its not like hes passing Harmon Killebrew or something. My guess is that if there were no suspicion, this would be a huge love fest going on.

JP:
Definitely, definitely.

BC:
So what do you think baseball should be doing? Whether its Ruth, or if he hangs on and next year hes chasing Aaron?

JP:
Very, very, very, very tough. Selig pretty much dug his own grave here by just ignoring the problem for too long. Its funny, when he held the press conference when he named George Mitchell, he started the press conference and I was convinced that he was gonna start the press conference by saying, Im gonna be honest here. Weve screwed this up, we have not done a good job here, and thats why were taking action. Instead he does the exact opposite. He opens up by listing his accomplishments on steroids, which is just laughable. What can they do now? I dont know what they can do now. If I am Selig, this is what I do. Number one, I dont count Bondss record because we just know for a fact that he cheated to do it. Factually, he cheated to do it. I dont count the McGwire/Sosa records, because we didnt know. Its like track and field. They dont go by blood tests anymore. They dont need a steroid test anymore to ban you from competition because some things are just so crystal clear obvious. You have an appeals committee where you let the guy appeal a suspension or whatever. [In baseball], youre just bastardizing the record book. Thats all theyre doing. The record book is a joke now. And it kills me, guys like Griffey, McGriff, even a guy like Shawn Green, guys who have had very good careers who didnt use — Frank Thomas — and are now just like afterthoughts in the whole baseball thing. Thats very upsetting. I dont know what he can do, but if its me? I dont count the records.

BC:
Finally, two questions. Will he catch Aaron?

JP:
I dont think so. I just think hes too banged up more than anything. I think he even knows thats a can of worms. I think Bonds knows thats a can of worms he does not want to open.

BC:
Last one. You addressed this a little bit in the book. If you had a Hall of Fame ballot, whether its today or, if he retires and its five years from now, would Bonds get your vote?

JP:
No.

BC:
No?

JP:
He would not. Theres a clause people dont always mention in the criteria for Hall of Fame voting, basically a morality clause, a good of the game clause — which was used against Pete Rose — and to me what Bonds has done to the record book… You know, Im still amazed, I still dont understand, and this book is not a slam Bonds book, you read it, its not a kill Bonds book…

BC:
Yeah, I described it someone yesterday. Someone asked me, Was it a hatchet job? And I said, well, yes it was, but I dont think thats how it started. I dont feel like there was an agenda, it was only a hatchet job because that was the only way that it couldve turned out. That was my feeling.

JP:
Right, thats his life. Right. I just dont know how hes able to look Hank Aaron in the eye, or Willie Mays in the eye, or Willie McCovey in the eye, or any of these guys. I just dont know how you do it. Its the same thing with McGwire. How did McGwire, how did he go up to Mariss family, after all Maris went through to break that record? Its just amazing how completely devoid of compassion these guys are, and morality.

BC:
I feel like theres something about being an athlete, and Im certainly, certainly not speaking from experience, but if youre an elite athlete, and your whole life has been driven towards being the best you can possibly be, I bet that deep down these guys believe that theyre not doing anything different than twenty years ago when guys started to work out for the first time. Maybe thats nave to think, and Im not making excuses for them, but I think thats how McGwire looks the Maris family in the eye. Hes being the best that he can be, even if hes getting help from a bottle.

JP:
You just summed up why I am happy my daughter has no athleticism.

BC:
I think it would be kind of scary. For instance if youre an Olympic sprinter, and your whole life is based on ten seconds four years from now, I guess Im glad I never had to make those decisions.

JP:
I guess, I dont know. This is weak, but I ran cross country and track in college, and I feel very confident in saying that if someone came along and said heres a drug thatll make you faster. Itll make your testicles shrink, itll put acne on your back, itll increase your head size, and its illegal, but itll make you faster, Im pretty certain I… You know I actually get made when people make the argument, Well, what about if youre a low level minor leaguer, and youre not good enough to make it and then this steroid comes along. Whatre you gonna do? Ill tell you what can do. You go to freakin college and you get a job in another field. If youre not good enough, youre not good enough. Ive wanted to write for GQ. I never got asked to write for GQ. Im not gonna cheat or find some way to write for them. Its a bad example, but you dont have to cheat. Some things in life are not meant to be. Id love to have a great physique. I dont have a great physique. Some things you just dont do. You just dont do it. Its wrong. Some things are WRONG. Thats what bothers me about this. We have lost our compass of right and wrong, a lot of people have. People make the argument that steroids werent banned by baseball, but theyre still wrong. Is that how lost we are, that its not obvious, completely obvious that they are wrong? And if they werent wrong, wouldnt you be bragging that you were taking steroids, not trying to hide it from everybody?

BC:
I agree, thats a good point.

JP:
It pisses me off, makes me mad. I feel like this isnt the kind of stuff that Im trying to raise my daughter in where right and wrong is just whether you get caught or not, essentially.



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