Tagged: PEDs

Baseball Cop

Baseball has warts. Imperfect people create a flawed baseball system. We love the game, but some things need to change. Many of the warts are off the field and behind the scenes. They often impact vulnerable players progressing through the Minor Leagues. Some warts become public with dramatic headlines and scandals, but they often exist out of sight to most fans. Removing the warts is painful, but necessary. People like Eddie Dominguez work to clean up baseball every day.

In the aftermath of the Mitchell Report, Major League Baseball created the Department of Investigations (DOI). Baseball’s own investigators assigned to root out problems surrounding the game. Eddie Dominguez was an original member of the DOI. He previously worked with MLB and the Red Sox while with the Boston Police Department. Dominguez recounts his work with the DOI in Baseball Cop: The Dark Side of America’s National Pastime.

Eddie Dominguez’s work with MLB and the DOI is a gripping story. Multiple scandals played out in public, while others stayed in the shadows. Dominguez translates the DOI’s work, steering away from a police story designed only for those well versed in law enforcement. There is a need to police baseball and the world revolving around the game. When money can be made, people can show their worst side. The most vulnerable within the game need protecting.

Baseball Cop is an engaging book that follows baseball’s recent dark history. Baseball Cop: The Dark Side of America’s National Pastime by Eddie Dominguez hits a solid Triple (7) in our score book.

Spoilers if you continue reading beyond this point. You have been warned.

Baseball Cop
Baseball Cop is worth your time to learn about the ugly side of baseball. (Hachette Books)

Baseball produces many positives, however there are negatives. The DOI is tasked with investigating and stopping those harming people and the game. Human traffickers control the futures of players, particularly those defecting from Cuba. The traffickers harass, intimidate, and extort players after they arrive in the United States and sign professional contracts. Living their baseball dreams can turn a player’s life into a nightmare.

The abuse of players can start the moment their professional career begins. Coaches and advisers skim part or all of a player’s signing bonus. Signing a professional contract changes the lives of many players and their family, especially those from Latin America. Skimming the signing bonus perpetuates the poverty players are trying to escape.   

Beyond the abuse of players, baseball’s concern focuses on what players put in their bodies. The Mitchell Report was an embarrassment, and MLB has sought, at least publicly, to clean itself up. Cracking down on Performance-Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) was top priority for then Commissioner Bud Selig. Baseball instituted harsher penalties for failed drug tests and began investigating the sources of the PEDs. The DOI focused on a Florida health clinic, Biogenesis, run by Tony Bosch. Their investigation connected several players to the clinic and its PEDs. The most prominent player associated with Biogenesis, and Bosch, was Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez eventually received the longest suspension in baseball history for his involvement. 

The investigation into Biogenesis exposed cracks between the DOI and MLB. The investigation included the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). Baseball did not want another public embarrassment like the Mitchell Report. MLB wanted the Biogenesis case handled in house. The clash between the DOI and MLB played out alongside the investigation. 

There are limits to baseball’s willingness to clean itself up. Baseball Cop exposes the good and the bad within baseball. Hopefully the good has a winning record.

DJ

2017 Baseball Hall of Fame Ballot

The Winning Run will be turning five years old this year, which means we should technically be halfway to receiving an official Hall of Fame vote from the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BBWAA). Instead of waiting until we are voting for real, why not get some Hall of Fame voting practice in to work out the bugs.

There are 34 former players listed on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot this year. 15 players are returning to the ballot after receiving at least 5% of the vote during last year’s balloting. There are 19 new players appearing for the first time. Trimming the vote down from 34 players to no more than 10 is not an easy task. Some players are easier to exclude than other but there are about 15 players who demand a hard look and who are not easily removed.

lee-smith-2016-hall-of-fame-ballot
Will Lee Smith finally be elected in his final year on the ballot? (www.si.com)

As I have stated previously, I despise the use of PEDs in baseball and all other sports. Players, like Manny Ramirez, who have tested positive for these banned substances made my job a little easier to cull the list to just 10 players. On my ballot you are removed from consideration when you are suspended. Players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were also quickly removed from my list due to their own PED connections. Yes neither player ever failed a test, but the evidence of their use of PEDs is too great for me to consider their candidacy.

The process of reaching my list of ten players meant looking at players who sustained greatness. Having a few great seasons and a decade of mediocre seasons does not mean you get into Cooperstown. Players also had to have an impact on the game, such as redefining a position or raising a team’s profile. The National Baseball Hall of Fame should only enshrine the best of the best.

X

Jeff Bagwell Jeff Kent

X

Ivan Rodriguez
Casey Blake Derrek Lee Freddy Sanchez
Barry Bonds

X

Edgar Martinez Curt Schilling
Pat Burrell

X

Fred McGriff Gary Sheffield
Orlando Cabrera Melvin Mora

X

Lee Smith
Mike Cameron

X

Mike Mussina Sammy Sosa
Roger Clemens Magglio Ordonez Matt Stairs
J.D. Drew Jorge Posada Jason Varitek

X

Vladimir Guerrero

X

Tim Raines Billy Wagner
Carlos Guillen Manny Ramirez Tim Wakefield

X

Trevor Hoffman Edgar Renteria

X

Larry Walker
Arthur Rhodes

Tim Wakefield would receive an honorary vote this year because we love the knuckleball, the longevity of his career, and he was the topic of the first ever article on The Winning Run.

mlb_g_mcgriff_576
Will Fred McGriff and his 493 home runs make it to Cooperstown? (www.espn.com)

Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are the saddest cases concerning Hall of Fame voting and the steroid era. Both players had the talent and skill to be Hall of Famers without the chemical assistance of PEDs. Bonds is truly one of the greatest hitters to ever step into a batter’s box and Clemens is arguably one of the greatest pitchers ever, often compared to Walter Johnson. They would undoubtedly be in Cooperstown now if they had chosen to stay clear of PEDs. They were able to sustain their peaks and lengthen their careers through unnatural means, but at what cost? Players like Sammy Sosa, also on the ballot this year, did not have the talent to ascend to the Hall of Fame without PEDs.

Voting for the Hall of Fame, even if unofficially, is a difficult process. Many players deserve consideration for enshrinement in Cooperstown through their accomplishments on the diamond. The cases for enshrining many players who are not in the Hall of Fame are valid. However, the case that a player elected to the Hall of Fame is undeserving means the bar for gaining election to Cooperstown must remain high. Many players come close, but only the best earn admission into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

DJ

The Glorious Future

So much time and energy is spent talking about the mistakes teams make when drafting with the first overall pick in sports. The players who never turn into the superstars that many envisioned. The bulk of the time is spent in commiserating about such mistakes because it is rare for teams to use the top pick to select the best player in the draft when all is said and done. The Seattle Mariners with Ken Griffey Jr. and Atlanta Braves with Chipper Jones built a franchise around their top picks. The Houston Astros are doing the same with multiple top picks. The Washington Nationals had the first overall pick twice and have been successful both times with drafting Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. No team will feel sorry for the Nationals’ success. However Washington is quickly approaching the difficult part of drafting well, paying to retain the talent.

Bryce Harper has found a spot few athletes find, people either love him or hate him. There are few people who feel ambivalent about him. Harper’s intensity on the field, chasing every ball hit to him in the outfield, crashing into walls, diving to make a catch, crushing home runs is the textbook definition of playing the game hard and, for many, the right way. That intensity seems to laugh at the notion of getting injured, Harper just wants to win and will do anything to help his team do it. What fan or team would not want a player who brings this sort of intensity to the game, along with elite skills? However, despite his great play on the field, plenty of people do not love Harper. He rubs people the wrong way. Harper brings his own flair to the game and the national media loves him. He has not been bashful in talking about the need for baseball to reenergize, nor is he afraid to tell reporters that their question is “a clown question bro.” The most recent incident was his ejection for arguing balls and strikes from the dugout. He then ran back on the field to celebrate a Nationals walk off victory. Simply coming back onto the field after his ejection was a violation of the rules, which got him a one game suspension and a fine. Yet Harper went even further by getting the umpire’s attention by yelling, “HEY, DUCK YOU!” (edited for the family audience). Every player, coach, announcer, umpire, and fan knows you cannot argue balls and strikes. Regardless whether the umpire was right or wrong, Harper knew arguing would get him ejected. Plenty of players and coaches are ejected for arguing, but once the argument is over, it is over. There is no reason to continue the argument. The umpire was not even paying attention to Harper when he ran back out on to the field, rather it was Harper who got the attention of the umpire to continue the argument. There is plenty to love and hate about Bryce Harper.

Stephen Strasburg
The Nationals paid Stephen Strasburg, which sets the table for Washington to pay Bryce Harper. (www.washingtonpost.com)

Clearly the Nationals and Washington fans love Bryce Harper. The franchise wants to keep him in Washington for as long as they can. Harper does not reach free agency until 2019. This gives the Nationals a little time to figure out how they will retain his services for what will be a mammoth contract. Harper’s current contract runs through 2017, and is for two years, $7.5 million; clearly a bargain for his skills. Entering the 2016 season Bryce Harper is 23 years old, yet this is his 5th season in the Majors. In his first four seasons, Harper has been impressive. Offensively his stats look like this:

G
PA
AB
R
H
2B
3B
HR
RBI
SB
BB
SO
BA
OBP
SLG
OPS
510
2143
1830
328
528
98
15
97
248
37
279
449
.289
.384
.517
.902

Defensively, Harper has a career .976 Fielding %, with 39 Assists, and 24 Errors in 1,039 chances. He is not a one trick pony, he is an all-around great player.

His skills on the diamond and the stats he has amassed during his young career have garnered Bryce Harper plenty of accolades. He is a three time All-Star (2012, 2013, 2015), the 2012 National League Rookie of the Year, the 2015 National League Hank Aaron Award winner, he won a Silver Slugger in 2015, and was voted the 2015 National League MVP. Not bad for the first four years of a career, regardless of age.

Bryce Harper Blood
Bryce Harper’s desire to win can lead to him injuring himself, but even then Harper will not let up his intensity on the field. (www.nydailynews.com)

The sky seems to be the limit for Bryce Harper on the diamond. His name is already being compared to some of the greatest players who have ever played the game: Frank Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, among others. A player like Harper does not come around often, but the Washington Nationals now have the daunting task of outbidding the rest of Major League Baseball to retain his services. The Nationals put major money down on Stephen Strasburg with his seven year, $175 million contract, the highest ever for a pitcher who has undergone Tommy John surgery. Scott Boras, agent for both Strasburg and Harper, does not give discounts and will potentially use the Strasburg negotiations as a warm up for the Harper negotiations.

Bryce Harper and the Washington Nationals have roughly six options as Harper approaches and reaches free agency in 2019. Two of these possible options can be tossed out without much discussion: the Nationals allowing allow Harper to simply walk away as a free agent or signing Harper to a two or three year contract. Allowing Harper to walk away without getting anything in return will not happen for obvious reasons, he is the most valuable commodity in baseball, the Front Office’s’ job is to get a return on its investment. Second, the Nationals will also not sign Harper to a short term deal, because they do not want to simply kick the can down the road a few years into Harper’s prime, ultimately costing themselves even more money. The third option is to trade Harper. This is unlikely but injuries, internal issues between Harper and the organization, and/or a decline in production could see Harper traded away for multiple players in return. The Nationals could also trade Harper if they realize they will not be able to re-sign him. If the latter happens, Washington can almost name its price for Harper.

Mike Trout Smile
Mike Trout is poised to become a free agent in his prime, that contract could make anyone smile. (www.usatoday.com)

The final three options are the most likely. Bryce Harper could sign a contract similar to Mike Trout, Giancarlo Stanton, or Alex Rodriguez. The Angels signed Mike Trout to a six year, $144.5 million contract; averaging $24 million per season. Trout will be 28 years old when the contract ends, meaning he will hit free agency in his prime. This medium length contract gives Trout the assurance that he is not stuck with the Angels if they continue to not progress towards winning a World Series. It also gives Trout another opportunity to sign a huge contract as the value of contracts continue to grow, hard to blame a player for making as much money as they can during their playing career.

The second type of contract Harper could sign would be similar to Giancarlo Stanton’s contract with the Marlins. Stanton signed for 13 years and $325 million. However, Stanton has a player opt out clause after year six (2020) that could make him a free agent entering his age 31 season. This style of contract gives Stanton, or Harper, the security of a long term contract regardless of production or injury, yet also allows them to reenter the free agent market should they believe their skills are or soon will be under paid. This also keeps teams accountable to continue building a contender, one that is competing for a World Series. The Marlins are not known for building and maintaining a winning team, if Miami goes through yet another fire sale and only Stanton is left he has the ability get out of town instead of spending his best years on a team perpetually rebuilding.

Giancarlo Stanton
Giamcarlo Stanton gives the Marlins a foundation to build around, but he can leave Miami if  the team is not winning. (www.bleacherreport.com)

The final option for the Nationals is to sign Harper to a contract similar to the contract Alex Rodriguez signed with both the Texas Rangers and New York Yankees; specifically Rodriguez’s contract for 10 years, $252.87 million with the Yankees. The contract was for the peak of Rodriguez’s career and guaranteed him a long career regardless of injury, lack of production, or in Rodriguez’s case PED suspension. The Yankees were never going to tear the team down and rebuild, it is not how they do baseball in the Bronx, instead they went after big free agents. However nearly every other team does or will rebuild at some point, signing a long contract can tie a player to a team for the peak years of their careers will no options for getting away from a team going nowhere.

Currently the best contract for Bryce Harper to sign would be one similar to Giancarlo Stanton. It protects Harper should he injure himself, such as Alex Rodriguez and his hips, or his production flames out for some non-injury reason. The contract would also enable Harper to pressure the Nationals to build and maintain a World Series contending team. No player, especially one as fiery as Harper wants to spend their career continually coming into Spring Training knowing that their team has no chance to make the playoffs, much less win a World Series. Ensuring there is an opt out clause in the contract would mean hitting free agency in his prime, and netting Harper yet another monster contract; if he so chooses.  

ARod
Alex Rodriguez and the Yankees have seen the good times and bad together. (www.newyork.cbslocal.com)

We can only speculate what the money will be for Harper and who will be paying him. The Strasburg contract signals to Harper that Washington is serious about winning and retaining homegrown talent. While the Nationals probably overpaid for Strasburg, primarily due to injury concerns, it shows the team is willing to pay for what it wants. The Nationals’ current front office is not the Yankees of George Steinbrenner or the Dodgers of a few years ago, they do not have an endless supply of money. Paying Harper will require the team to reallocate money from expiring contracts to pay Harper what will most likely be the largest contract in history both in terms of pay per season and overall. Harper signing a Giancarlo Stanton-like contract in 2019, or slightly before, will raise the bar for the second contract that he could sign if he opts out in his prime. It’s hard to conceive a situation where he doesn’t. If Harper were to sign a 10 year, $400 million contract in 2019 when he is 26 years old and then opt out after five or six seasons, he would return to the free agent market at 31 or 32 years old. This dramatically increases the importance of the first contract Harper signs because it will set the table for the second. There would be teams willing to give a 31 year old a long-term deal. Josh Hamilton, with all his personal struggles got five years, $114 million at 32 years old. Albert Pujols got 10 years, $240 million at 32 years old. Robinson Cano also got 10 years, $240 million at 31 years old. Harper should easily be able to sign a new contract for another 10 years and $400 million, if not more money. While Hamilton, Pujols, and Cano all signed with American League teams, thus enabling them to DH later in their careers, Harper could choose to remain in the National League and not use the DH like Barry Bonds, minus the PEDs. The competitor in Harper would most likely want to see if he could beat the legends of the game like Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Ted Williams using the same rules they played under; not padding his stats as a DH late in his career.

Assuming Harper wants to stay in Washington, how would the Nationals afford to pay Harper the largest contract in baseball history? The money would come from three current Nationals players who will reach free agency before Harper: Jayson Werth, Daniel Murphy, and Gio Gonzalez. Jayson Werth’s seven year, $126 million contract with the Nationals ends after 2017. Werth will be paid $21 million per year in the final three seasons of the deal. He will be a free agent entering his age 39 season, doubtful Werth will see another large contract. Daniel Murphy will reach free agency at the end of the 2018 season. There is usually not a ton of demand for a 34 year old second basemen, especially one making $17.5 million in the final year of his contract. The Nationals should be able to develop a respectable outfielder and second basemen between now and 2019. Gio Gonzalez will enter free agency after the 2018 season, when he is 32 years old. Gonzalez could be the price Washington has to pay to re-sign Harper. He is an excellent pitcher, but a player like Harper is a rarity and a team ought to do everything it can to retain such a special player. $12 million a year will be a discount for a pitcher like Gonzalez, who can get more as a free agent assuming he is healthy.

Bryce Harper Catch
Bryce Harper will run through a wall if it means helping his team win. (www.si.com)

The Nationals can lay the foundation for a deal with Harper by simply shifting the $21 million from Werth, $17.5 million from Murphy, and $12 million from Gonzalez to pay Harper. Letting two aging players go in Werth and Murphy would free up $38.5 million a season. The increasing salaries could make the $38.5 million a season within a reasonable jump in pay for an elite player. The Scott Boras factor could require a little more money, thus forcing the Nationals to choose between Harper and Gio Gonzalez, which should not be difficult. $50.5 million per season should be plenty for Washington to retain Bryce Harper, if Harper wants to remain with the Nationals.

$40 million per season ought to entice Harper, and any other baseball player, to remain in Washington. The Nationals would give up three players for one, which would be the smart move for the franchise. The Nationals will also be paying Harper somewhere between $5 and $10 million in his final season before free agency. Washington should be able to develop at least one of the three pieces it will lose to sign Harper. A young outfielder or a young starting pitcher or second baseman should develop in their farm system. The homegrown player should cost no more than $3 million per season, and even this is at the extreme. This would leave between $14 and $19 million for the Nationals to go out and sign a free agent starting pitcher and position player, both of which are possible.

The money will follow Harper wherever he chooses to continue his career once he reaches free agency. Despite all the things so many people hate about Harper, the Nationals love him and want to keep him in Washington at least through the peak of his career. Few players are compared to Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey Jr., and a slew of other Hall of Fame players at any point in their careers. Harper is 23 years old and is entering his fifth season in the Majors. He is truly a special player, one that the Nationals should do everything within their power to re-sign as he approaches free agency.

DJ

Hall of Fame Class of 2016

Congratulations to Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza on their election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Both players are deserving of this, the greatest honor that a baseball player can have bestowed upon them. While the destination was the same, the path to Cooperstown could not have been more different.

Ken Griffey Jr. is the son of three-time All Star, Ken Griffey Sr.  He was drafted first overall in the 1987 MLB Amateur Draft. Griffey reached the Majors on April 3, 1989, less than two seasons removed from playing in high school. Griffey’s swing was beautiful, pure grace, often imitated but never duplicated. His combination of speed and power seemed to be effortless. The smile of Griffey’s face never waned. Ken Griffey Jr. was the face of baseball for a generation.  He was cool, and he brought swagger to the batter’s box. His love for the game made him loved by his fans and respected by his rivals. Ken Griffey Jr. will be the first player selected with the first pick in the Draft and inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Griffey was an almost perfect baseball player, and his 99.3% of votes (the highest of all time) means he was almost the perfect candidate to be enshrined in Cooperstown.

Seattle Mariners

Ken Griffey Jr. was nearly the perfect baseball player, his spot in Cooperstown is deserved. (Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Mike Piazza was and is tough. No player has ever made it to Cooperstown without being tough, but Piazza practically wrote the book on being the toughest. Piazza was drafted in the 62nd round (1,390th overall) of the 1988 MLB Amateur Draft. The Dodgers selected Piazza only after Mike’s father asked his childhood friend Tommy Lasorda to draft Mike as a personal favor. Piazza finally made it to the Majors on September 1, 1992. During his career, Piazza displayed his toughness by catching 1,630 games (13,555 innings); there is nothing easy about playing catcher in the Major Leagues. Piazza had power. His swing was muscle-driven and unique yet it could send a baseball into orbit. He was unwilling to back down from anyone. Even when Roger Clemens sawed Piazza’s bat off then threw the barrel of the bat back by him. The whispers about PEDs use have remained that, just whispers. The moment Piazza stepped on a Major League diamond, he proved that he belonged. For me, that goes a long way towards silencing those whispers. Mike Piazza seized the opportunity to play professional baseball through toughness and hard work. He went from being a draft pick the Dodgers took only to fulfill a personal favor to a Baseball Hall of Famer.

Mike Piazza Swing

Mike Piazza’s toughness took him from the 62nd Round to the way to Cooperstown. (www.espn.go.com)

The National Baseball Hall of Fame will welcome two new members in the summer of 2016.  Their paths to Cooperstown could not be more different, but that is what makes baseball so wonderful. A player whom everyone believed in and a player whom no one believed in can both forge careers then deservingly be enshrined among the greatest players to ever play the game.

Congratulations Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza! Thank you for everything you did on the diamond. Welcome to Cooperstown.

DJ

The Sad End of a Sorry Episode

I took a few days to think about Pete Rose and his quest to have his lifetime ban from baseball lifted. Reflecting on what I think about the man and his situation, I feel sorry for Pete Rose. I have softened my view of Pete Rose. The All-Time Hit King’s lifetime ban from the game of baseball may have truly become written in stone.

Commissioner Rob Manfred announced that he was not reinstating Pete Rose from the permanently ineligible list. This now makes three Commissioners of Baseball that have denied Rose his reinstatement after Bart Giamatti banned him in 1989. Commissioner Manfred and Rose met to discuss his petition. I believe Commissioner Manfred did the proper thing in meeting with Rose and listening to him. There is nothing wrong with listening to Rose. Having served over 25 years in exile, it is only fair to listen to the man and see if he has reconfigured his life as Commissioner Giamatti urged.  Pete Rose admitted he continues to gamble on sports, including baseball. This sort of honesty is 25 years too late, but it is never too late to start telling the truth. Telling the truth is a small step towards reconfiguring his life, however Rose has not moved away from the gambling. His continued gambling on baseball does not instill faith into Commissioner Manfred, or anyone else, that Pete Rose has changed his ways.

Pete Rose Swing

Pete Rose is the Hit King, but his gambling on baseball has meant he has never enjoyed the spotlight that cames with his accomplishments on the field. (www.cbsnews.com)

I am not sad that Pete Rose is banned from baseball. Personally, I believe it is justified based upon his now admitted gambling on baseball games he was involved in. I am sad that a 74-year-old man has not been able to face the truth and change. Major League Baseball may now be completely finished with ever entertaining the reinstatement of Rose. The reality is that Rose may never have the opportunity to present his case for reinstatement to another Commissioner. The impact Rose could have had on the game and its players will never be known, as the man could not conduct himself within the rules of the game.

Major League Baseball does not control the National Baseball Hall of Fame and its voting process. In theory, Pete Rose could appear on the Hall of Fame ballot, while remaining permanently ineligible for reinstatement to baseball. Rose’s support seems to have waned in recent months after ESPN reported that Rose had bet on games while he was playing and managing. This evidence further highlighted the half-truths and blatant lies Rose has been telling since the investigation into his gambling began in 1989. The Hall of Fame voters have been tough on alleged PED users such as Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza, Jeff Bagwell, and many others. It is doubtful that these same voters would show kindness and mercy to Rose.

I feel sorry for Pete Rose because he will never have his day in the sun as a Major League manager and as a newly inducted member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. His accomplishments as a player made him a legitimate first ballot Hall of Famer. Is there any baseball fan who would try arguing against this? What is so unfortunate is that the gambling and his banishment from baseball will forever overshadow Rose’s accomplishments and the honors he should have received. No one, except for Rose can say with certainty why he has literally gambled away his opportunity to return to baseball. The wreckage that has become his baseball life is solely his responsibility. Yes, he has begun working with Fox during their baseball broadcasts, but this is as close to reinstatement as he will get.

Bart Giamatti

Commissioner Bart Giamatti was given the sad task of banning Pete Rose from baseball for life. (www.beforeitwasnews.com)

On August 24, 1989, Commissioner Bart Giamatti summed up the investigation and banishment of Pete Rose due to his gambling activities with the following:

“The banishment for life of Pete Rose from baseball is the sad end of a sorry episode. One of the game’s greatest players has engaged in a variety of acts which have stained the game, and he must now live with the consequences of those acts. By choosing not to come to a hearing before me, and by choosing not to proffer any testimony or evidence contrary to the evidence and information contained in the report of the special counsel…Mr. Rose has accepted baseball’s ultimate sanction, lifetime ineligibility.”

Commissioner Giamatti understood the sad duty he had to carry out. The lifetime ban of Pete Rose had stained the game of baseball and brought doubt upon active players and managers about gambling on games. Even in the face of a potential lifetime ban, Rose was defiant. Rose would continue his defiant stance for over two decades before his stance began to weaken. A little at a time the truth seems to be emerging about Rose and his gambling. On the day he was banned from baseball, a reporter asked Rose if he would seek help for his gambling. His response was quintessential Pete Rose,

“No, because I don’t think I have a gambling problem. As a consequence, I will not seek help at this time.”

Giamatti had no choice but to issue baseball’s harshest punishment in order to protect the game. Pete Rose willingly accepted the lifetime ban. Bear in mind that it was not a punishment simply levied on him in response to a discovery of rules being broken. Rose signed an agreement that he would accept a lifetime ban from the game if Major League Baseball would halt their investigation into his gambling. Rose chose to deal with the devil he knew, a lifetime ban from the game, instead of the devil he did not know, the exposure of all his gambling activities and associates. Rose was compelled to make a decision for his best interest. He could either accept the lifetime ban or deal with the United States government and his gambling associates. Rose chose the lifetime ban.

Pete Rose Autograph

Pete Rose makes his living signing autographs instead of working in Major League Baseball. (www.wsj.com)

I have softened on Pete Rose because we never want to see our sports heroes suffering from human foibles. The childhood of millions of Americans forever changed when Mickey Mantle spoke about his life shortly before his death in 1995. The regrets Mantle had about his life during his press conference at Baylor University Medical Center humanized Mantle like never before. Mantle became real and frail, no longer the perfect ball player but the imperfect man. Pete Rose has likewise become human. He was a gritty ball player who has continually shown he is an imperfect and stubborn man. Thousands of kids in Cincinnati and elsewhere looked up to Rose. Charlie Hustle gave everything he could on the baseball diamond. He truly was the best baseball player he could be, and that is something for which he should be admired. I have little doubt that Rose bet on the Reds to win every time he gambled on them as a manager and a player. His desire to win, seemingly at all costs and reflected in the way he played the game, would not allow him to purposely lose. Even if this is true, it does not make it better. Playing and managing to win the game, even when the game is well out of hand can have an impact on the following day’s game. While not purposely throwing games, this can change the perception of whether the game is played fairly. The loss of confidence by fans in this notion can irreparably harm the game, such as it has in Taiwan. There is nothing wrong with being imperfect; we all have our faults. Rose, however, has never been able to admit he has these faults, and this is what makes his story so awful. The pride of the man will not allow him to accept what he has done and work to make amends.

Hall of Fame Wing

Odds are Pete Rose will never have his plaque hung in Cooperstown. (The Winning Run)

The sadness comes from a man who should command so much respect, yet has thrown it all away because he could not fully admit he made a mistake. Rose would have been better served if he had spoken honestly about his mistakes and actively worked to remove all gambling from his life. Pete Rose does not seem to understand that he is the master of his own destiny. He could not persuade Commissioners Fay Vincent and Bud Selig, nor can he persuade Commissioner Manfred to lift his ban. If he had actively worked to reconfigure his life, he would have not only shown these Commissioners that he had changed, but it would have also increased the support for his reinstatement. There are no guarantees in life, but it is better to strive for greatness and fall short than to never try. Major League Baseball has done what is necessary to protect itself from the potential damage Rose could have inflicted upon the game if he had continued playing and gambling. I wish Pete Rose could enjoy the honors his playing career earned him. However, Pete Rose has chosen not to allow baseball to reexamine his banishment due to his ongoing behavior and refusal to reconfigure his life. Pete Rose cannot get the last 25 years back. He has made his own decisions, and will continue to live with the consequences of those decisions. Everyone loses in the end. No one can truly claim there is any victory in any of this. Commissioner Bart Giamatti summed it all up perfectly in 1989 and it still holds true today, this is “the sad end of a sorry episode”.

DJ

Down and Dirty

The “slide” by the Dodgers Chase Utley into second base was horrific.  No one but Utley can say with certainty what his intentions were, but from what we saw Utley went in either with cruel intentions or forgot how to slide into second base.  Whatever his intentions were Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada now has a fractured right fibula.

Chase Utley has played 13 seasons in the Majors, he has played 12, 954 ⅔ innings at second base, and turned 902 double plays.  He is not a starry eyed rookie, Utley knows howto play the game.  He knows how a player should and should not try to break up a double play.  What was on display at Dodger Stadium in Game 2 of the National League Divisional Series was grotesque.  Utley knows better, but he injured another player because he did not play the game they way it should be played.   The play was dirty, plain and simple, but why when Chase Utley is generally not seen a dirty player?

Ruben Tejada paid a painful price for Chase Utley's stupidity. (PAUL RODRIGUEZ, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER - Dodgers vs. Mets in game two of the NLDS.)

Ruben Tejada paid a painful price for Chase Utley’s stupidity. (PAUL RODRIGUEZ, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER – Dodgers vs. Mets in game two of the NLDS.)

People are going to argue that the play was not dirty, just Utley playing hard like they use to play.  First, it was a dirty play. Second, just because that is how they use to play the game does not mean it is the right way to play.  Utley was on top of second base when he began his“slide”.  Tejada was doing everything he could to protect himself by being behind the bag.  Turning a double play is dangerous for the shortstop or second baseman that has to make the turn.  Tejada used the bag as best he could to shield himself from a clean, hard slide, which was justified.  However, this is not happened.  Tejada had to have his back to Utley to receive the ball from Daniel Murphy, this places him in a compromised position.  As Utley is going in to break up the double play he begins his slide so late that he does not make contact with the ground as part of his slide  until he is past second base.  Beginning his slide so late meant Utley’s body was still high up, potentially too high for Tejada to avoid.  It looks almost like a football player being tackled after an unsuccessful attempt to hurdle the defender.  This is far too late for the play to be safe but hard.  Utley sliding in late with Tejada’s back to him as he begins to turn places the responsibility on Utley to not do anything stupid or dirty so that both players do not get hurt.  Apparently this was too much to ask of Chase Utley as he sees the play developing and goes into second base hard, late, and high.  Utley also goes in with his body wide.  Yes it does appear that he is trying to make contact with the base, in accordance with the rules.  However, “sliding” in wide, late, and high with Tejada’s back to him in this case meant the contact was guaranteed.  This is where a play turns both dirty and dangerous.  The best case scenario for Tejada to be violently flipped by Utley, and even then the play would have been dirty.  The reality though is much worse.  Tejada was defenseless and paid the price for Utley’s inability to understand that his attempt to break up the double play in this manner was foolish and dangerous.  Utley’s stupidity, regardless of intent, has resulted in Tejada having a broken leg and Utley receiving a knee to the head, likely a mild concussion or at least having his bell rung.  The Mets lose their starting shortstop and the Dodgers might lose a backup second baseman.  There was no need for Utley to take out Tejada.  It was a stupid play.

After the game ended with the Dodgers evening up the NLDS at one game each, MLB Network begins breaking down the game as a whole and debating whether the play was dirty or not.  Eric Byrnes adamantly argued that the play was hard, but not dirty, and that this is how players use to break up double plays.  (Brynes has since changed his opinion after seeing the replay more and doing further analysis, which I respect him for doing).  Brynes was a fun player to watch because he brought intensity, grit, and passion to the game everyday.  However, his initial reaction to this situation was wrong.  Just because something has always been done a certain way does not mean that it should continue to be done that way.  (Again Brynes has changed his opinion from his initial reaction, but that initial reaction is held by some people).  Plays like the one Tejada and Utley were involved in have the potential to end careers; severe concussions, destroyed knees, shattered legs.

A play like Ruben Tejada canot be much more defenseles than at this moment as Chase Utley begins is "slide". (www.businessinsider.com)

A play like Ruben Tejada canot be much more defenseles than at this moment as Chase Utley begins is “slide”. (www.businessinsider.com)

Change has never come easy to baseball.  Purist usually argue that changing the game in any way will negatively impact the game as a whole.  Slowly but surely baseball has changed, and usually for the better.  Baseball had always allowed for home plate collisions.  Talk to Buster Posey about his lost season or Ray Fosse about how his career was never the same.  Baseball had allowed the spitball.  Talk to Ray Chapman’s family and see how they felt about it after he was killed by the pitch.  Talk to the countless African-American players who were denied the ability to play in the Majors simply because of their skin color.  Baseball had not drug tested for steroids and other PEDs.  Talk to the families of Taylor Hooton and Rob Garibaldi who testified before Congress in the same hearing with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro, Roger Clemens, and Jose Canseco.  Taylor was 17 and Rob was 24 when they committed suicide due to their steroid use.  Baseball is continuously changing.  Obviously some of the changes it has undergone are far more important and far reaching than others.  However, the notion that continuing to do something simply because it is the way it has always been done is absurd, especially if there is a different way to achieve the same end goal while reducing the danger to the players, to individuals who look up to the players, or to end injustice.

Chase Utley is not who usually comes to mind as being a dirty player, but what he did in Game 2 was a dirty play.  Trying to break up a double play during a playoff game is good, hard baseball.  However, what Utley did with his extremely late “slide” was to unnecessarily injure an opposing player and change the series.  There are only two times in baseball that it should ever look like one player is tackling another: when a fight has broken out and players are trying to restrain one another and when a team is celebrating a win and the team is chasing the player who got the game winning hit.  That is it.  Chase Utley took out Ruben Tejada on a dirty “slide”.

Baseball changed its rules about spitballs and making the ball dirty after Ray Chapman was killed after being hit with a pitch. Some injuries can and should be avoided. (www.didthetribewinlastnight.com)

Baseball changed its rules about spitballs and making the ball dirty after Ray Chapman was killed after being hit with a pitch. Some injuries can and should be avoided. (www.didthetribewinlastnight.com)

If people who want to defend what Chase Utley want to talk about how his play is just how baseball is and should be played, then they also need to talk about something else.  Regardless if it is in the NLDS or next season there will be a purpose pitch delivered.  That is just how baseball is.  It could this year before Utley’s appeal is heard.  It could come next year when the two teams play each other.  Somewhere down the line a purpose pitch will be delivered by the Mets to the Dodgers expressing their anger at this dirty “slide” by Chase Utley.  Hopefully the batter on the receiving end of that pitch will be Utley himself and not one of his teammates.  Noone should not have to get hit by a pitch for this.  It was Utley’s stupidity, he should have to answer for it.  Baseball players have always dealt with this sort of thing themselves, and in this case Eric Brynes and others are correct that some things in baseball do not need to change.  This is how baseball has always policed itself, and this is how baseball should generally continue to police itself.  A player does something stupid, let him take the punishment for it.

Major League Baseball acted quickly to suspend Utley.  Too bad the suspension is not long enough.  He should be suspended for more than just two game, conveniently he would have missed the games in New York had he not appealed.  Two games is what you should get suspended for arguing for too long with an umpire about a bad call, not for taking out an opposing player.  Utley and the Dodgers should feel the pain he inflicted on the Mets.  Appealing his suspension is Utley’s right, but it would be shameful if it were to be reduced.  Those on Utley’s side are arguing that he has gone in to break up double plays like this before without receiving a suspension.  While this is true, it does not make it right.  Fortunately, Utley has not injured anyone seriously before.  Even Tejada has been on the receiving end of one of Utley’s “slides”, and he was able to walk away.  The “slide” during Game 2 was the most egregious of Utley’s questionable slides, and it clearly went from trying to break up the double play to taking out an opposing player.  Again we will never know what Utley’s intentions were when he went into second, but ultimately his intentions do not matter.  Utley made a boneheaded and dirty play.

At come pint Chase Utley will have to face the truth about what he has done, and it is going to be painful. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

At come pint Chase Utley will have to face the truth about what he has done, and it is going to be painful. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson)

There is nothing wrong with playing hard and trying to break up a double play, especially in the playoffs.  There is however a line between playing baseball hard and playing dirty.  Chase Utley flew over that line when he took out Ruben Tejada with his absurdly late slide during Game 2.  Go in hard, make the middle infielder jump to avoid you, make the throw to first a little more difficult and take some of the juice off the throw.  There is nothing wrong with this.  What is wrong is when you slide in late, wide, and high against a middle infielder who has his back turned toward you.  Ruben Tejada was trying to make a play.  He used second base to protect himself, but Chase Utley took him out with simply a dirty “slide” that resulted in a broken leg and the Mets losing Tejada for the rest of the playoffs.

The NLDS has been changed, and not for the better.  Instead of talking about the series being tied at a game each, all the talk is about the injury to Tejada and whether the analysis think the play was dirty.  This is not good for baseball.  Instead of celebrating the game and the playoffs we are arguing whether the play was dirty.  What a shame that a fairly ordinary play has turned into a season ending injury for one player and a debate about whether the play and player are dirty.  You were better than this Chase Utley, what changed?

DJ

Fantasy Creates More Reality

One of the biggest issues facing Major League Baseball is the regionalization of the sport.  Yankee fans watch Yankee games, Rockie fans watch Rockie games, and Twin fans what Twin games.  Fans tend to watch the game their team is playing.  This could be partly due to local television deals, which make it difficult to watch out of market games.  It could also be due to the nature of the sport.  Teams play almost every day during the season so keeping up with multiple teams at once can be daunting and time consuming.  I have my teams who I root for, my one primary team and a few backups who I cheer for unless they are playing my main team.  I keep an eye on the standings and can tell you which teams are good and which teams are starting their vacations early this year.  However I cannot tell you about every player and how good or bad they are playing this season or during their careers.  The sheer volume of games, combined with the regionalization of the sport, and the finite amount of time I have to spend looking at the sport each day prevents this from happening.

Despite all the forces working against me, there is something, which has expanded my view of the day-to-day happenings from around Major League Baseball.  Playing Fantasy Baseball has taught me a lot about daily baseball in a short amount of time.  The Fantasy Baseball League I play in, Infield Lies, makes you set a line up every day.  You start understanding how great a player is after you look every day to see how they did the previous day.  The competition of the league drives me to continually look for someone who is hot and can help me win the week or the season.  You start looking around and you see these phenomenal players who do not get national press on a regular basis, or at all.  These are not the Mike Trout’s or Andrew McCutchen’s of the world.  These are the versatile players like Martin Prado who can essentially play everywhere on the diamond.  You lock on to Prado, also known as Nitram Odarp, because he can fill so many gaps for you on your roster.  Then you start seeing his ability with his bat show up on the daily stat line, and then you start watching a few minutes of the game he is playing in with the Diamondbacks and now the Yankees.  Despite his not being on my fantasy team this year, I still follow him and will continue to do so because I “discovered” such a great player that I might otherwise have never known about.

Martin Prado can play everywhere on the field and has a good bat too. Teammates and fans love him for it. (www.onlineathens.com)

Martin Prado can play everywhere on the field and has a good bat too. Teammates and fans love him for it. (www.onlineathens.com)

Every year I hope to make the rest of the people who are in my league upset by finding that player who come out of nowhere to have a career year or to be a breakout star.  I am not always successful in this mission, but it does not mean that players other league members “discovered” do not interest me.  Trying to have more steals each week meant the “discovery” of the Dodgers’ Dee Gordon.  Prior to 2014, Gordon had average 60 games, 223 plate appearances, 27 runs scored, 22 stolen bases, 6 doubles, 2 triples, 12 walks, 11 RBI, a .256 batting average, a .301 On-base Percentage in parts of three seasons with Los Angeles.  In 2014, Gordon has his break out year.  He played in 148 games, had 650 plate appearances, scored 92 runs, stole 64 bases, had 24 doubles, 12 triples, walked 31 times, had 34 RBI, a .289 batting average, and a .326 On-Base Percentage.  Aside from the triples and stolen bases, which led all of baseball, Gordon could have gone unnoticed unless you are a fan of the Dodgers.

Looking to find the reliever that could put his team over the top in 2013, Jesse picked up Jason Grilli of the Pittsburgh Pirates after his hot start.  Prior to the 2013 season, Grilli had collected five saves, a 4.34 ERA, 1.413 WHIP, and a 1.96 Strikeout to Walk Ratio in 10 seasons.  The Pirates returned to the playoffs for the first time since 1992 and having a shutdown closer like Grilli helped them secure the Wild Card.  Grilli had an All Star season with 33 saves, a 2.40 ERA, 1.040 WHIP, and 5.69 Strikeout to Walk Ratio.  “Discovering” Grilli during his best season has led Jesse, John, and me to follow his career as it has moved forward.  I hope that Grilli has a few more good seasons, but if not we were able to appreciate his greatest season while it was in progress.

Charlie Blackmon, the local kid who we "discovered" when he got to the Major Leagues. (www.houston.cbslocal.com)

Charlie Blackmon, the local kid who we “discovered” when he got to the Major Leagues. (www.houston.cbslocal.com)

After learning that Charlie Blackmon went to one of the local high schools near his house, John did the dutiful thing and picked him up.  The 2014 season was Blackmon’s first full season in the Majors and it turned out an All Star year.  He hit .288, with 19 homeruns, 72 RBI, 28 steals, 82 runs scored, 27 doubles, 31 walks, and an On-Base Percentage of .335.  Not much in his stat line leaps out at you except for the steals.  However, digging a little deeper and you see that Blackmon had 171 hits in 648 plate appearances.  His batting average can be a bit deceptive, as it masks the success Blackmon had at the plate.  The simple connection that occurs, like growing up in the same area, can help you “discover” players that you might otherwise overlook.

I generally cheer for all players; if they make a great play it does not dissuade my excitement even if they are playing against my team.  There are exceptions though, mainly Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun both for their PED use and their lies about their PED usage.  I was at the game in Yankee Stadium against the San Francisco Giants when Rodriguez broke Lou Gehrig’s career Grand Slam record.  The entire stadium went nuts because it was a big home run in a big moment, but I knew what it meant and I just could not bring myself to cheer.  I felt the pit in my stomach, which only sadness can bring.  People did not understand the moment; they focused only on that single game.  This singular focus on winning also seems to exist within fantasy sports in general.  You are trying to win this week, so you are not so much concerned about next week or next year.  People who become overly obsessed with their fantasy sports begin to root against their team, because someone on the opposing team in on their fantasy team.  I have personally seen this and heard stories of this, which boggled my mind.  I root for my teams and this will not change.  I want the players to do well, but if I have to choose, I want the team I cheer for the win more than my fantasy team.

Rick Ankiel reached the top of the mountain twice. His journey is part of what makes baseball so great. (www.sports.yahoo.com)

Rick Ankiel reached the top of the mountain twice. His journey is part of what makes baseball so great. (www.sports.yahoo.com)

I understand that ultimately this allegiance to real life teams and players is in its own way a fantasy.  However, it is a fantasy that does not continuously change.  Once I begin cheering for a team or player, they have to do something terrible for me to stop, and I do not mean wins and losses.  My dislike for Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun is because they both cheated and then lied about cheating multiple times, not the uniform they wear.  Honesty goes a long way for me.  Even if a player like a Rick Ankiel, when he was still a pitcher, clearly can no longer play at a Major League level, I will not stop rooting for them so long as they are honest and give it their best effort.  Ultimately, every player deserves to be treated as a person, so why would I boo someone who is struggling, yet trying their best?

Fantasy Baseball has expanded the sport for me.  It has exposed me to a slew of great players, who I may otherwise have never seen or noticed.  Some see fantasy as a way to ruin the game, but for me Fantasy Baseball has made me a better fan of the entire game.  The improvements of teams like the Mets the past few years or a player like Casey McGehee, and his career year last season, allow me to love baseball more and to be a true fan of the game, not just or a few teams.  Fantasy Baseball is what you allow it to be, and for me it has allowed me to look into the game of baseball like never before.

D