Category Archives: Baseball

Writers Got It Wrong

hi-res-98022862_crop_exactBaseball’s writers got it wrong. And now maybe it’s time to bench them, as well.

We just learned that baseball’s 2013 Hall of Fame Class will include….no one. (Except for three members posthumously elected by the Who-Were-These-Guys? Veterans’ Committee)

For the first time in 16 years, none of the eligible players were named on 75 percent of ballots submitted by voters from the esteemed Baseball Writers Association of America (BWAA), the Hall’s sole gate-keepers.

Among the 37 players in the mix were at least whom I believe should be posing with their busts at the July 28 induction event: Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Craig Biggio, Jack Morris, Curt Schilling and perhaps even Jeff Bagwell.

And many (if not all) of them eventually will.

That’s what makes this vote so absurd.

Of course we knew this would happen. Many of the 600 or so voters have long since held their noses at this class–especially the first-time eligibles, whom they say are tainted by the use, or alleged use, of performance enhancing drugs.

How sanctimonious of them.

And maybe hypocritical, since many of them were as blind to the pervasive use of PEDs during that era as game’s executives and, yes, fans.

We all were. And it’s time we face up to the fact that the era, as is said, was what it was.

Thanks to the Mitchell Report, we now now that from about 1990 through, oh, maybe the arrival of the Bryce Harper Era, Major League Baseball was a juice-lovin’ laboratory of rats trying to hit baseballs where no men had hit them before.

We don’t know all the Who’s and the Hows, but we have suspicions. And when it comes to many of the players who were shunned today, that’s pretty much all we have.

It’s been mentioned by many, and I think it’s spot on, that perhaps the Hall should create a separate wing for those inductees who are ultimately admitted during baseball’s Steroid Era. At minimum it should be acknowledged on their plaques.

But to exclude them is ludicrous.

The writers typically vote for players based on two primary factors: how they stack against the greatest players ever; and whether they dominated their era.

By those measures, there should be several Baseball Hall of Fame inductees.

Instead, there are none because too many baseball writers decided to be judge and jury–hard, irrefutable evidence be damned! And it seems he most stubborn among them will continue to do so until the ballot is pulled from their cold dead fingers.

Maybe we shouldn’t wait that long. Maybe inclusion into baseball’s Hall should not be left to the writers done.

It’s time for former players (especially HOFers), managers and executives to be included in the voting, as well. Their presence might balance some of the obvious prejudices held by some of the current voters.

Or it might not.

There is no perfect system. And perhaps the outcome of today’s voting would be the same–even if the voting pool was different.

But this pool is now tainted, and it needs to be drained.

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Hey, Oil Can: Jackie Didn’t Kill the Negro Leagues, “Integration” Did–Along with Much of Black America

Dennis (Oil Can) Boyd always had balls. Even when he wasn’t on crack. The former Boston Red Sox pitcher was one of the game’s most “colorful” figures–and that was before he revealed in his new book that he smoked cocaine before games and once ran “right down the street to the crack house” upon hearing that he would not be starting in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series.

Today, Boyd is sober but still throwing ’em high and hard. His latest brushback, revealed today in the Boston Globe, is aimed at American icon Jackie Robinson. Boyd essentially blames Robinson for the demise of the Negro Leagues, which Boyd laments.

Asked by ESPN’s Buster Olney what he might say to Jackie Robinson if he were to meet him in the afterlife, Boyd kicked high and let it fly. “I’m not real thankful to Jackie at all because I’m me – my style of baseball, the way I played it in the major league transpired from the Negro leagues,” he said. “So that’s why people found that I was a hot dog or I was flamboyant.”

Interesting thought. And in truth, this is not the first time I heard it expressed–although others don’t single out Jackie. Many owners and players and others led to the “demise” of the Negro Leagues, which ultimately fell as Major League Baseball, which had barred black players, began signing the most talented Negro players, one-by-one, team-by-team.

Negro America cheered the most. Finally!, we roared (or our parents, did.) Indeed the Brooklyn (soon to be Los Angeles) Dodgers, which signed Robinson, became Negro America’s team. My folks almost disowned me when I chose the St. Louis Cardinals as my team of choice–in large part because of its three Negro stars, Curt Flood, Lou Brock and Bob Gibson.

The real, hard truth is the Negro Leagues befell the same fate as many other black institutions from America’s era of segregation–from major insurance corporations to local black-owned grocery stores, restaurants and movie theaters. Many slowly disappeared as integration began to unfold, as barriers fell in schools, on buses, in restaurants, in department stores.

My hometown, Tulsa, Okla., is known as the place where “Black Wall Street” thrived throughout much of the 20th Century. It was a bastion of Negro commerce (we even owned the bus system) with nearly 200 Negro-owned businesses, including by dad’s store, Kyle’s Sundry.

It was created because whites in the area when the railroad was being built erroneously believed land hard by the tracks wouldn’t be very valuable, so they forced blacks to stay “on the other side” of the tracks. Greenwood Avenue, the 125th Street of “Black Wall Street,” ended to the south at the tracks and was the primary thoroughfare for the myriad Negro enterprises that sprang forth.

When I was a young child, Negros were not allowed to cross the tracks without good reason. Yeah, they could shop at some of the major department stores, but I distinctly remember my mother being forced to put tissues in a hat before trying it on–something white shoppers did not have to do.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964, the culmination of an effort to end segregation nationwide, led by Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, essentially spelled the death knell for “Black Wall Street” and other Negro institutions.

Instead of going to Betty’s Chat & Chew for Sunday dinner, we went to the Piccadilly cafeteria downtown.

Instead of going to a movie at the Rex Theater, we went to theater that had once been “whites only.”

And we cheered for Negro players across baseball’s major leagues.

Jackie Robinson didn’t kill the Negro Leagues any more than Martin Luther King, Jr. killed “Black Wall Street.”

But still, it’s sad that they are gone.

The Feds’ $6 Million (Didn’t Get Their) Man

Barry Bonds was grounded today–sort of.

That’s essentially the penalty handed down today by U.S. District Judge Susan Illston in the seemingly never-ending perjury case against baseball’s home run king.

Bonds was the last man standing in drama that unfolded in 2003 when a grand jury was called to build a case against the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative, the place that was the ultimate drive-through for many elite athletes seeking PEDs–including, allegedly (wink), Bonds.

During his testimony, Bonds said he didn’t “knowingly” take any ‘roids. Yet he hemmed and hawed about it so much that a) the Feds thought he was lying but b) they couldn’t prove it.

Ultimately, he was convicted of obstruction of justice in that he gave “misleading” testimony to the grand jury.

Six million dollars later (according to Sports Illustrated) Bonds was sentenced to 30 house arrest in his stupid-palacial 15,000-sq-foot home (above).

He was also sentenced to two years probation and 250 hours of “community service.”

And even that was put on hold while Bonds appeals his conviction, which will take years.

I am not happy.

Like many people, I thought what began as a justifiable effort to ferret out drugs from the elite level of sports disintegrated into a witch-hunt after Bonds.

What cost them most was that their most critical witness–Bonds’ former trainer, Greg Anderson– refused to testify. Flat out, said no. In fact, Anderson (the ultimate BFF) went to jail four times on contempt charges rather than be a government witness.

Without him, the Feds had nothing.

And they’ve had nothing for years–at least about $5 million ago.

Can we all sue for restitution?

Blame the Joba Rules

Joba is on his way to the showers--a long one.

Injuries happen. And most often no one is to blame.
But when the Yankees announced to day that Joba Chamberlain had a torn ligament in his right elbow and would likely miss the rest of the season, I couldn’t but wonder: What if there’d never been no Joba Rules?
More specifically, what if there’d been no need for them?
When Chamberlain first showed up at Yankee Stadium in 2007, a big corn-fed Nebraskan, I thought he had Next Great Yankee Closer stitched across his broad chest.
He had power, and he had attitude. Yeah, he was a bit wild. But back then, Mariano Rivera was, well, only 37 years old. There was time to mold and shape Joba, allow him to mature.
But no. The Yankees had to try to make him a starter. They wanted as much as Joba as possible and the best way to do that was to put him out there every few days and let ‘er rip.
I saw Rivera 2.0, they saw Nolan Ryan.
In 2008 and 2009, Chamberlain made 43 starts and pitched 257.2 innings. Sometimes he was strong but he was mostly erratic and frustrated.
The Yankees tried to minimize his workload with a plan known as The Joba Rules. It was noble, and I’m sure based on some semi-scientific theory on the amount a work a young arm can handle.
Well, scrap it.
Actually, the Yankees did it themselves. This season, Joba was back where he should have been–in the bullpen.
But now I’m wondering if the move came too late.
What if he’d been there all along.

Has Pedro Gone Fishin’?

The last pitch for one of the most-vital Mets ever?

The last pitch for one of the most-vital Mets ever?

It’s a bit sad when the great ones fade away, in any sport. Very few know when to call it quits, and allow us to give them a proper gushy, appreciative good-bye. Typically, with a rocking chair and another Hummer.

Most athletes keep playing until someone pries the ball from their cold, wrinkled fingers.

Pedro Martinez, a sure Hall of Famer, was hoping to be the New York Mets‘ fifth starter this season. He’ll be 38 years old in the fall and, after a shoulder injury, pitched just 137 innings in the last two years. A free agent, he appeared to be reasonably healthy in the recent World Baseball Classic, giving up only one hit in six innings for the Dominican Republic

But he was said to be demanding an AIG-sized bonus – $5 million for one year. Certainly not the kind of $1 million offer that was rumored for him. He said he’d rather retire to his fishing boat. “I’m not going to let anybody disrespect my abilities or the way I am,” he told the New York Daily News. “I wouldn’t say I would want to pitch that bad.”

The Mets, like the rest of us in this dog of an economy, weren’t looking to go lavish. So on Monday, manager Jerry Manual announced that Livan Hernandez was starter No. 5.

It’s business. I’m not mad at the Mets. It’s too bad, however. Martinez, like a few others, deserves a grander exit. He deserves it because the Mets may not be perennial World Series contenders today had he not signed the four-year, $53 million deal that brought him to the Mets in 2005.

In fact, behind Tom Seaver, Pedro Martinez may be the second most vital Met ever.

He was the magnet that drew a swarm of Latin talent, and brought the kind of buzz back to Shea that, in part, allowed the new edifice known as Citi Field to be constructed.

He should be able to pitch there. Instead, looks like he’s going fishing.

Adios, Pedro.

Lenny Dykstra Must’ve Been Some Kinda Teammate

Derek Jeter. Chris Paul. Tiger Woods. Danica Patrick.

To most of us, the people mentioned represent elite athletes at (or near) the top of their respective sports. Even more, they’re quality people who represent their teams, their sport and their families with class.

To Lenny Dykstra, they’re apparently “three darkies and a bitch.” Jeter, Paul and Woods, all black men, are also “spearchuckers.”

That’s based on a conversation – rapt, is more like it – the former Mets centerfielder, car wash mogul, financial guru and failed entrepreneur had with Kevin Coughlin, a former employee at Dykstra’s doomed Players Club magazine, who dishes like Maytag about his ex-boss from hell in this month’s GQ.

Yes, Coughlin was fired by Dystra, which gives him more than ample incentive to lay out his former boss the way Dykstra crushed catchers at home plate.

Here’s the exact excerpt:

…On another occasion, I field a call from Lenny about potential cover subjects while I’m at home; Lenny’s on speaker when he proudly states, for both my wife and me, that “nobody can all me a racist — I put three darkies and a bitch on my first four covers.”

The first four Players Club covers featured Derek Jeter, Chris Paul, Tiger Woods and Danica Patrick.

“What was that Lenny?” I ask.

“I said I put three spearchuckers on the cover!” he replies.

To say Dykstra is a racist is like calling Bernie Madoff a thief — the term just doesn’t seem to do justice.

Frankly, though, I wasn’t all that shocked when I read those terms allegedly spewed from Dykstra chaw-stained lips. Maybe because I’m of a certain generation just young enough to remember segregation, just young enough to recall a time when every white person you passed on the street saw N—– first and a human being second, I’m just not all that surprised when someone spews this kind of filth.

It’s actually more surprising that he was able to keep it inside while still trying to leverage them for his own gain. In some circles, that’s called “pimping.”

I am surprised he spewed it so freely, and that he said it to someone who was not wearing a hood.

It reminded me of an adage widely held among many African Americans — both pre and since the miracle of last November — that no matter how successful, not matter how rich, not matter how much respect and acclaim a black person earns, to some he’ll always be just a N—–.

To Dykstra, Jeter, Paul, Woods and Patrick were good enough to sell magazines. But to him they were still just three darkies and a bitch.

If Dykstra holds these views, you have to wonder what he thought of some of the men who helped him in the 1986 World Series with the Mets. What did he think of George Foster, Darryl Strawberry, Kevin Mitchell, Dwight Gooden and Mookie Wilson, the African Americans on that team? What was he thinking as he traveled and showered when them day after day. As he hugged them with joy on the night they won the Series?

And what must the ’86 Mets of Latin descent — Keith Hernandez, Jesse Orosco, Rafael Santana, Bobby Ojeda,Sid Fernandez and Rick Aguilera — have thought when they read those words attributed to their former teammate?

Chances are, they weren’t surprised, either.

Not surprisingly, Dykstra spewed back at Coughlin, calling the story “all lies.”

“I lived with [Darryl] Strawberry and [Dwight] Gooden,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

And I’m sure they were some of his best friends, too.

Photo: Newsday

Sports Needs an Economic Attitude Adjustment

Great coach. But maybe a bit out of touch.

Great coach. But maybe a bit out of touch.

It’s getting ugly out there.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell says he’ll slash his pay package by as much as 25 percent in order to save a few jobs. However, he can’t save them all. Anonymous team employees throughout sports are being sliced with the same sickle that has eliminated millions of jobs across America since last fall. NBA owners are divvying up $200 million in loans to cover millions in shortfalls due to diminishing ticket buyers and vanishing sponsors.

Every sport, maybe for the first time ever, is feeling the same economic pinch as the fans.

Pretty soon, NASCAR teams may consider carpooling.

And yet: Albert Haynesworth gets $100 million from Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, Manny Ramirez snub $45 million like it’s s stick insult before coming to his senses this week – and Jim Calhoun (pictured) just doesn’t get it.

Ugly.

The relationship between sports and fans has long been tenuous – not coincidentally, as salaries have risen to Wall Street CEOesque levels. That’s especially true among fans of a generation when their own paychecks carried pretty much the same digits as the men (and, yes, they were mostly men then, too) they cheered. Superstars always made superstar money, but there was a time when the working-stiff jock actually made near working-stiff wages.

So did most coaches – guys who chose the profession for the love of their sport more than the love of money.

Not anymore. Sports has created a new, young class of fast-twitch millionaires: guys who won the gene pool lottery and, in most instances, applied diligence, discipline and plain old hard work to their physical gifts and reached the highest level of their sport. And on the sidelines, pro coaches can afford to live next door to their superstars. In college, many make more than all but their elite players ever will.

I don’t begrudge any of them. I’ve always chuckled at the petty grumblings of folks who rail against them for one sin (“They’re not as good as their predecessors.”) or another (“They don’t hustle.”) when what they really mean is: They make too much damn money.

I typically chalk up their rants to ignorance and jealousy, and move on.

But now it could get uglier than a few rants. As more Americans are stripped of their livelihoods each day, sports is being given less of a pass.

Calhoun was asked at a postgame press conference to comment on his $1.6 million annual base salary at UConn, which makes him one of the highest-paid state employees at a time when Connecticut is facing a reported $944 million budget deficit that is projected to be $8 billion in two years.

His snippy response – “My advice to you is, shut up,” followed by a rift on how much money the Huskies generate for the university – has been polarizing. Governor M. Jodi Rell called it “embarrassing,” and the leaders of the state’s General Assembly want Calhoun to be reprimanded by the university. Conversely, many have defended the coach’s reaction, saying his success through the years more than justifies his compensation – even in these trying times.

Calhoun could have been more mature in his response, even if he has the data to back his argument. As it stands, he’s come off as the newest poster boy for the excesses of sports and showed how out of touch he is with Joe Taxpayer.

And it’s more than an isolated tempest. Attendance will likely be unaffected in Storrs, but loyal ticket-buyers elsewhere are deciding they can no longer afford to see their favorite team live or buy that $100 jersey; or they simply no longer have the desire to go see athletes and coaches who don’t seem to feel their pain.

As they grow weary of the kind of “not-my-economic problem” attitude displayed by Calhoun, Ramirez and others, sports may lose its status as The Great Escape. More fans may no longer see sports as a respite from the woes of their lives.

If sports can no longer serve that purpose, then what’s its purpose?

That’s a question no one wants to answer.

Reuters photograph

A-Rod’s Road to Redemption: Step Two

You listening?

You listening?

Redemption is a long, treacherous road. And Alex Rodriquez is barely out of the driveway.

It will take every one of the 10 to 15 years remaining of his baseball career to fix his tainted rep, and he still may not. Along the way he’ll hit potholes, crash and he’ll even occasionally lose his way.

But he has to something, and on Monday A-Rod made a decent start by admitting to being a steroid user (although he never actually said the word) during his years with the Texas Rangers, after being outed by Sports Illustrated.

Now what?

Sure he has to show up at spring training and undergo rigorous question. He’ll have to admit and apologize and explain over and over and over again. But there are other actions he should take, actions that would help demonstrate the level of his remorse.

Call them Step Two in A-Rod’s own 12(at least)-step Program for Redemption:

* First, Rodriguez should immediately renounce his 2003 AL MVP Award.

A-Rod was very specific about the period of his drug use – during the 2001-2003 seasons that coincided with with Texas, with him he signed a $252 million contract. All three seasons were staggering statistically. he averaged 52 home runs, .305 batting average and 131 RBIs. The 2003 season, when he was voted MVP, was not his best – by the numbers – but he was a clear winner over Carlos Delgado.

Not so, we know now. Rodriguez should return the trophy to MLB and ask that it be awarded to Delgado. He should have his name purged from the voting and donate any performance bonus he may have received for the award to a baseball-related charity designated by the Rangers.

Yes, it could be easily dismissed by some as empty symbolism. But I would accept it as an acknowledgement of ill-gotten gains and certainly less symbolic than even his admission because it produce tangible effects.

* Then, he should publicly apologize to Rangers owner Tom Hicks.

Rodriguez may have done so privately already. At least I hope he has. If not, then Boras should be fired again and A-Rod shall repeat “naive” and “stupid” over and again. For his millions, for his providing Rodriguez with the platform to showcase his considerable talents and prove he’s the best player in the game, Hicks was duped. (Family version.) And he’s rightly angry.

This isn’t about the money (although in this economy even multi-millionaires are welcoming economic relief), but about betrayal. As much as he needed to publicly admit to steroid use, A-Rod must publicly and privately (face-to-face) express his contrition to Hicks, the man who essentially provided for him for life.

* Finally, he should use a significant portion of monies earned during his Texas tenure to do a great good.

Sixty-six million dollars. That’s what Rodriguez earned during his three seasons in Texas, according to reports. Who knows whether money is banked or spent, but perhaps the biggest statement A-Rod could make today is that he take, say, $35 million (I’m giving him a break for taxes), and establishing a fund to support programs across the nation to combat drug use among children.

In Internet search for “Alex Rodriguez Foundation” turns up something called the A-Rod Family Foundation, which describes itself as a charity “dedicated to positively impacting families in distress by supporting programs focusing on improved quality of life, education and mental health.” The site is peppered with cutesy pics of Alex and his ex-wife Cynthia at various events.

Uh, if the lack of attention to updating the site is any indication of Rodriguez’s commitment to the charity’s noble cause, well, there are a heck of a lot of distressed, less-educated, mentally unhealthy families out there waiting still.

Demonstrating a real and visible commitment to taking this screw-up and making it a transformational positive for kids – in the U.S. and in the Dominican Republic – would show not only a true understanding of the magnitude of his transgression but also the depth of his resolve to make it right, if it can be.

Rodriguez should announce these moves now. His next public appearance should not be about talking more talk (although he does indeed have more explaining to do) but walking the walk towards redemption. Or better yet, downshifting and trying to get there as fast as he can.

A Friend in Need …

Loyalty, in a suit

Loyalty, in a suit

It’s time for some dictionary revision. Next to the word “friend,” insert Greg Anderson’s mug (Not his mug shot.) Anderson is Barry Bonds’ former personal trainer and childhood friend and right now it looks like the man standing between Bonds and a Marion Jones experience is Anderson. And if history is an indicator, Bonds will remain a free man. On Thursday, just a day after unsealing 200 pages of evidence in the goverment’s perjury case against the home run king, Judge Susan Illston told prosecutors that much of it (doping calenders and positive drug tests) won’t likely be admitted for the March 2 trial if a direct link to Bonds is not provided. That link? Right now, it’s only Anderson – who already spent more than a year in jail for refusing to testify before a grand jury investigating his friend. Since being released from the Federal Correctional Institution in Dublin, Calif., in November 2007, Anderson has shown no indication that his resolve is wavering. Without Anderson linking the codes and numbers on the calendars and tests to Bonds, or saying he told Bonds he was injecting him with steroids when he needled him with the Clear in 2003, well, your tax dollars spent chasing Bonds may be ashes. The judge also asked whether the Clear, which was not classified as a steroid until 2005, was illegal when Bonds was alleged to have taken it, an indication that offers another dose of “reasonable doubt” to the proceedings. And Illston order prosecutors to turn over to the defense the findings of a secret internal investigation into the conduct of government agent Jeff Novitzky, a lead investigator throughout the pursuit. Bonds didn’t quite hit the dinger (that won’t come until the judge rules officially in a few days about the admissibility of the evidence in question), but the former slugger went appeared to go three for three. Why would Anderson flip now? Beyond demonstrating an uncanny loyalty to Bonds, the guy has lived enough drama to make the feds look like Girl Scouts selling cookies (although those tykes can be quite relentless). Anderson’s father was killed after a poker game in 1976. His girlfriend was killed while he was in college. He also previously spent three months in jail and three months on home detention for pleading guilty to steroid distribution and money laundering in the investigation of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. Even if Anderson were to change his mind and sing, one of his own attorneys, Paula Canny, has said he’d be an unreliable witness. “He’s a multi-convicted felon who’s going to be impeached for everything,” she told the New York Daily News. Fortunately for Bonds, friends don’t have to be perfect – just a true friend.

Giambi ‘fessing up was his Best Swing

You gotta love a happy ending, particularly when it involves forgiveness.

The Oakland A’s had every right to scorn their prodigal son, Jason Giambi. He won the AL MVP award with them in 2000, then bolted after the following season for pinstriped pastures. Much greener ones, too. He signed a $120 million, seven-year contract with George Steinbrenner’s Yankees.

But that wasn’t the worst of it.

Soon, he got linked to the BALCO scandal and ultimately admitted using steroids. The confession tainted every swing Giambi had ever taken.

After the Yanks refused his $22 million option this year, putting Giambi on the free-agent market, I wouldn’t have blamed the A’s one bit if they’d left him begging for coins at the foot of the Bay Bridge.

Instead, they brought the former power hitter home, signing him Wednesday for one year at $5.25 million.

It never would have happened had Giambi not ‘fessed up.

It never would have happened if instead of admitting his transgressions he’d pulled a Mark McGwire (“I’m just here to talk about baseball.”)

Or if he’d continued to deny, deny, deny like so many of Sen. George Mitchell’s new friends.

Not that his mea culpa came easily. Giambi testified before a federal grand jury in December 2003 and reportedly said he’d injected himself with human growth hormone earlier that year and used steroids for at least three seasons. He feigned a half-hearted apology for some vague commission but made no clear public admission until the summer of 2007 when the players’ union agreed to allow him to speak with Sen. Mitchell rather than have him suspended by commissioner Bud Selig.

Before speaking to Mitchell, Giambi said in a statement:  “I alone am responsible for my actions and I apologize to the commissioner, the owners and the players for any suggestion that they were responsible for my behavior. I will continue to do what I think is right and be candid about my past history regarding steroids.”

As long and tortured as it took, Giambi throwing himself on his splintered bat not only paved the way for his return to the Bay Area. It also serves as an example to those who still want to play the game but still refuse to play the game.

Baseball is slowing stepping from beneath the steroid cloud, but tainted players still must meet the sport halfway.