Monday, December 31, 2007

2002 called and it wants its rhetoric back

The public radio listeners among you will know that Minnesota Public Radio is outfit that puts out shows like A Prairie Home Companion and Marketplace, both of which embody a certain admirable strain of levelheaded Midwestern horse sense. What you probably didn't know is that MPR has a baseball blog too. Unfortunately, Garrison Keillor must have used up all of the horse sense budget this year, because the baseball blog hasn't a friggin' clue:

Johan Santana is still a Twin – for now. The Big Market Teams (BMT) are low-balling the Twins with offers that won’t include another star player (like Jose Reyes or Robinson Cano) or two-top shelf prospects (like Jacoby Ellsbury and Jon Lester). This is a travesty.

Imagine if this were a small-market NFL team – say the Indianapolis Colts – and they were shopping their superstar player, Peyton Mannning. Never happen, right? But if it did, you can bet it wouldn’t be just the New York and Boston teams in the bidding. With a salary cap and meaningful revenue sharing, just about every NFL team could find a place for Manning on its roster, but yet the Twins have a precious few suitors for Santana. As a result, they will get just pennies-on-the-dollar in return.

I suppose this guy and I can argue about whether some unfair dominance by the so-called "BMTs" (BMTs?) is forcing the Twins to shop Santana. It ain't, but like I said, I'd argue the point. It sure as hell isn't a "travesty," however, that the Yankees and Red Sox aren't willing to give up multiple young, valuable players whose near future they control in exchange for a pitcher who is one season away from perhaps the second largest free agent contract in baseball history.

I love the Manning example too. Of course football teams would make a Manning deal happen. That's because in the NFL contracts only entail obligations if you're a player. If you're a team, you can tear them up with near impunity if a better offer comes along. In baseball, teams have to live with their bad decisions.

Which, by the way, is exactly why the Red Sox and Yankees aren't willing to mortgage their futures for a single player.

Keith Law's Blog

We all read Keith Law over at ESPN, but for those of you who don't know, he maintains an excellent personal blog as well. At one point its mission was to provide Keith a forum for "food, literature, and other non-baseball topics," but just as Berkeley Breathed backslid into Bloom County after vowing to go in a different direction with Outland, Keith has given in and now includes a good bit of baseball on his blog as well. Given the url ( the similarities to Breathed may or may not have been intentional.

But though he has let baseball bleed into his blog, the book reviews and foodie stuff constitute its best content.

Check it out.

Please make it stop

Steroids, posing a risk to the sanctity of the game, the sanctity of one's health, and now, apparently, the sanctity of one's mortal soul. The headlines from two separate stories running today:

Bishops see human frailty in baseball's steroids scandal;


Some baseball players sold their souls to the devil.

I was about to say that we've finally reached the end of our journey in the land of hysterical metaphor, but then I remembered that no one has trotted out pedophilia yet. It will come before spring training, however. Of this I have no doubt.

The Pete Rose Bill

For those unaware, the guy behind the aborted effort to get Congress to pass a resolution calling for Pete Rose to get into the Hall of Fame was Bob Ney, the same guy who came up with the idea of "Freedom Fries." By my reckoning, the Rose thing is only slightly less ridiculous, representing an equally uncalled-for waste of Congressional resources.

Ney, whose former district is but a hop, skip, and a jump from Chez Shyster, has since moved a few miles east to less glamorous quarters due to taking bribes to advance Indian gambling interests. His advocacy of baseball gambling interests, however, seems to have been done gratis.

[psst!! Hey Rob Neyer readers! More Shyster here!]

Jose's Travels

By most accounts, it took Jonathan Swift twelve years to write his story of an enormous giant among the little people. Jose Canseco intends to turn his around in about three months:

Jose Canseco has finalized a book deal for his sequel to "Juiced" and it is expected to hit bookstores by Opening Day of the 2008 season . . .

I suppose if James Patterson can turn something around that quick, so can Canseco. I mean, it's not like either of them are aspiring to literary quality or anything.

Friday, December 28, 2007

Leyritz arrested for alleged vehicular homicide

Holy crap:

Former major league baseball player Jim Leyritz has been arrested in Broward County, Fla. on suspicion of drunken driving and vehicular homicide, WPLG-TV in Miami reported Friday. The station reported that according to Fort Lauderdale police, a car driven by Leyritz, who lives in Plantation, Fla., hit another car at Southwest 7th Avenue and Second Street early Friday morning.

According to the report, the passenger in the car that Leyritz allegedly struck was ejected from the car and died at the scene, police said.

Somehow I think that Leyritz won't be getting that coaching job he wanted.

Renaming Wrigley Would be Futile

Rick Morrissey ain't sentimental about the name of Wrigley Field, but he's right about how anyone buying the rights to slap their own name on the joint had best beware:

I have news for whoever buys the naming rights to Wrigley. You might think that because you have plunked down $100 million, the park will be called Wrigley Field at IBM Park or some other ode to capitalism you have coined. It won't be. Everybody will continue calling it Wrigley Field. Forever and ever, amen. That's the closest I'll get to sentimentality on this . . .

. . .The economists can tell you how much the Wm. Wrigley Jr. Company profits from having one of the most recognizable ballparks in America carrying its name. Naming rights to stadiums obviously wouldn't cost so much if there weren't a proven financial benefit to it. And yet, I don't hear "Wrigley Field" and immediately think "Doublemint." I hear "Wrigley Field" and immediately think "beer."

That last point is worth thinking about. Following last week's post about renaming Wrigley, a reader named Mike noted how appropriate "Old Style Park" would be for Wrigley, and I have to admit, such a move would be genius.

Cricket Cubano

Outside of what I learned in the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books, I don't know a thing about cricket. But I do know about double standards, and the folks at Dreamcricket USA have stumbled upon one in the U.S. government's refusal to allow the Cubans to participate in an American-backed cricket tournament while permitting the Cubans to play in the World Baseball Classic last year:

Playing at the Petco Park in the MLB World Classic Baseball final against Japan, the Cubans lost in front of a sold-out crowd of over 40,000 spectators. "What Cuba has shown to the world is not only that we could play up to par with other major leaguers," outfielder Frederich Cepeda said. "We don't get paid for doing this. We deserve a high place in baseball because we do this with sacrifice, with human value and courage and sportsmanship, and because we give our utmost in order to come to the field and show what good baseball is all about."

These lines about courage and sportsmanship apply to Cuban cricketers even more than Cuban baseballers. After all, Cuban cricket does not enjoy even a fraction of the popularity that baseball does.

Hysteria Watch

Clemens is now being compared to murderers and lying presidents.

O.J. Simpson got away with it. Bill Clinton got away with it, sort of. When asked whether he had sex with Monica Lewinsky, he said he never had sex with that woman. And he was impeached, not convicted. President George W. Bush told us there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq . . . but none were ever found . . .

. . . Excuse me if I've become jaded from all the statements that turned out to be false by celebrities in the past. But how could any of us not be? Denial. Denial. Denial. It's become the American way. If you say it's not true, no matter how bad the "it" may be, you have a chance of getting away with it.


Thursday, December 27, 2007

"Shyster enjoys reading the backs of baseball cards"

I've had a couple of weeks with that 1973 Topps set my brother got me for Christmas. Though it's not the most attractive set the company ever put out (one look at some of the lazy photographic choices reminds one that Topps had a monopoly on cards at the time), I find it fascinating all the same. There's a bland yet clean and strangely satisfying modernity to it, similar to what you see in schools or government buildings of the time. Aesthetic and engineering mistakes? Probably. But having grown up in the 70s and 80s, I have always found those unmistakably utilitarian boxes, with their painted cinderblock walls and speckled tile floors oddly comforting. The same goes for an otherwise unadorned baseball card whose visage says nothing more than "I am a baseball card."

Not that the set is without its charms. For one thing, the photos capture baseball's last gasping moments of resistance to the day-glow doubleknit uniforms that would come to define the era. While the A's and Padres have already embraced yellow by 1973, the Astros are still in tasteful whites and grays. Road blues, while clearly on the rise, have not yet reached their peak. The Tigers seem to perfectly symbolize the Rubicon that had not quite yet been crossed, with roughly half of the Detroit players photographed in their roadies sporting the old gray button-ups, the other half having submitted to pullover poly. In that way, the 1973 set is something of a handy time capsule.

But perhaps the best thing about the set are the cartoons on the back. Topps has run these little bio-blurbs off-and-on over the years, but the ones from the 1973 set are probably my favorite due to their random, slapdash glory. Whereas in previous years Topps editors had been content to use the cartoons to note a particular statistical achievement ("Al was baseball's youngest ever batting champ!"), by 1973 they seem to have embraced, albeit tentatively, Jim Bouton's behind-the-scenes approach. Sure, there's no explicit mention of anyone's drug use or drunken tomcatting, but the personal lives of the ballplayers are certainly more to the fore, often to hilarious and anachronistic effect.

In addition to the "it could only happen in the 70s" cartoons, fun can be found in those that celebrate players' dubious achievements, reveal the cultural divide between the college boys and the blue collar workers, and highlight just how boring ballplayers can be. Here's a smattering of some of my favorites:

The swingers:

"Fred is a bachelor" [picture of chick in miniskirt chasing a ballplayer]
"Bill's nickname is Gogo." [picture of a ballplayer dancing with a girl wearing a miniskirt]
"Dave likes to play the drums." [picture of bongo-playing ballplayer]
"Bobby's hobby is dancing." [picture of dancing ballplayer]
"Ramon has excellent control." OK, this may actually be referring to baseball.
"Jim likes jazz music." [picture of a groovin' hepcat].
"Cookie's hobby is tape recording." Honest baby, Cookie didn't mean for anyone else to see that.
"Dusty was a broad jumper in high school. Again, this may actually be referring to sports.
"Ed's nickname is 'Spanky.'" The safe-word is banana.
"Luis likes to smoke cigars."
"Tom once performed in Las Vegas." Viva-a-a-a-a Tom Hutton!
"Rennie enjoys dancing." [picture of booty-shakin' ballplayer].
"Mike has an interest in astrology." Frankly, the wife-swapping is less embarrassing.
"Johnny is one of baseball's most eligible bachelors." All bets were off when he and Fred Norman got together.
"Gene carries a very potent bat." [picture of throbbing, exceedingly phallic bat. I'm not kidding].
"Dick is part owner of a cocktail lounge." Party at Dick's place, babies!

The dubious achievement awards:

"Jim is backup 1st baseman to Hank Aaron."
"Hal suffered a broken ankle in 1968."
"Pat suffered a broken toe in 1969."
"Chuck was a college teammate of Rangers' Pete Broberg." THE Pete Broberg?
"Mike went on a diet after the 1971 season."
"Richie hit his first homer the same day man landed on the moon." So did Marilu Henner.
"Rollie suffered a fractured jaw when hit by a line drive in 1967"
"Fergie was Canada's athlete of the year in 1971."
"Rob has hurled in ten minor league cities." Hey, thanks for pointing that out, jackasses.
"Ken is allergic to wool uniforms." Some people were born into exactly the right moment in history.
"Bob has been with nine pro clubs."
"Gary is a freeswing batter." In 1973 Maddox was a Vietnam vet and was already a supernatural centerfielder, yet Topps decided to comment on his .293 rookie on-base percentage. Nice.
"Ross' nickname is 'crazy eyes.'"
"Casey is a willing worker." I suppose faint praise is better than no praise.
"Rich was ineligible for sports as a high school senior because he was married." I suppose "Rich knocked up his junior prom date" wouldn't have gotten past the editors.
"Ron loves New York for its fine knishes." First draft: "Ron is a Jew."
"Most sportswriters spell Graig's name wrong."
"J.C. set record with 33 passed balls in 1965." Wow, they're not even trying to polish that turd.
"Larry once decided to quit baseball." And thank YOU for bringing up the memory of that painful time in my life.

The boring guys:

"Sonny likes to go bowling."
"Steve enjoys stereo music." Stereo music?
"Tony enjoys going to the movies."
"Steve plays bridge in his spare time."
"Dennis enjoys attending sporting events." Given his job, I would hope so.
"Ted relaxes by watching soap operas on television."
"Lynn likes to listen to music." That's great, but is it stereo music?
"Bruce collects stamps."
"Don enjoys stereo music." Holy crap, another one!
"Wes crusades against the use of drugs." Wes Parker: Harshing Dodger buzzes since 1964!
"Harmon enjoys watching television."
"Nate enjoys playing checkers." Killebrew calls him "wild man."

Workin' stiffs

"Don is a disc jockey in the off-season."
"Milt works in the oil fields of Oklahoma in the off-season." Screw those greedy players.
"Ken works in a service station in the off-season." And people think Marvin Miller shouldn't be in the Hall of fame?
"Steve does volunteer dentistry work." You can just do that?

College Boys:

"Paul holds a bachelor's degree in business administration."
"Bill is taking graduate courses at U. of Southern Mississippi." I wonder what folks in early-70s Hattiesburg thought of the Spaceman?
"Tom received his college degree in Latin." Well la-de-frickin'-da.
"Mike is working on his PhD." Take that, Tom!
"Gail is working on his PhD in biochemistry." Take that, Mike!

There are so many more great ones. At least five other guys list "music" as their favorite past time. No less than three players are described as "skin diving" enthusiasts. Dozens are so boring that the Topps writers felt it necessary to write some variation of "Bob played baseball at a lower level before playing in the major leagues." Really? That's great.

I could probably find something fun about all 660 cards in the set, but I'll stop for now in order to keep from blowing the rest of my day.

Maddux Fantasies

Peter Gammons (Insider subscription required) writes a love note to Maddux and Glavine:

We have judged players by their appearances, and in this time have watched Maddux and Glavine go from phenoms who threw in the 90s to guys who figured out somehow, some way to beat hitters while appearing like a couple of insurance salesmen playing golf at the country club.

This passage pretty much distills why Maddux became my favorite player around 1989 or so. That was the same year, by the way, that I finally came to grips with the fact that I wasn't going to get any bigger, stronger, faster, or more agile, and that I had probably better quit playing baseball because of it. To see someone who looked more or less like I did make batters look silly felt like some sort of vindication, I suppose.

I think that's the same dynamic that leads to sportswriters getting so much more worked up over steroids in baseball as opposed to football. The goons in the helmets and shoulder pads are already freaks, they reason, so why should we care if they trick themselves out further? Ballplayers are supposed to be normal guys, and when they bulk up, the thinking goes, they are taking something away from us. Dashing our fantasies (and they are fantasies) that, if we had worked a little harder when we were 15 or 16, we could be doing what they are doing too.

Los Drug Suspensions

Maury Brown has a detailed breakdown of the suspensions doled out by MLB since drug testing began. This is fun:

The following is a list of players that have tested positive more than once:
  • Angel Rocha - 2 Minor league (PEDs)
  • Neifi Perez - 2 Major league (Stimulants)
  • Luis Ugueto - 2 Minor league (PEDs)
  • Jorge Reyes - 2 Major league (PEDs)
  • Sergio Garcia - 2 Minor league (PEDs)
  • Wilson Delgado - 2 Minor league (PEDs)
  • Ricardo Rodriguez - 2 Minor league (PEDs)
  • Ramon Castro - 2 Minor league (PEDs)
Anybody see a pattern here? Anyone want to get Ozzie Guillen's take on this?

Jim Rice

Dan Shaughnessy's reasoning as to why Jim Rice is likely to make it into the Hall of Fame this year:

Rice has three things going for him: 1. His vote total has been north of 60 percent in recent years and Sox historian Dick Bresciani has boosted Rice's candidacy with a convincing public relations campaign; 2. The more we talk about steroids, the better Rice's numbers look; 3. There are no new candidates to overwhelm the voters.

A PR campaign, the perfidies of others, and default. How inspiring a case. And you know what? Shaughnessy is probably right in thinking that those things will put Rice over the top. It's those factors, however -- the sorts of things that put the "politics" in Politics of Glory -- which keep me from caring all that much about the Hall of Fame.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

ESPN, Yahoo back up the money truck

A few weeks ago, in the post about Fainaru-Wada joining ESPN, I dropped a quick reference to that scene in Citizen Kane in which Kane is bragging about all of the journalistic all-stars he was collecting for his newspaper. Seems I was onto something:

ESPN and Yahoo Sports are on a furious hiring binge, offering reporters and columnists more than they ever imagined they could make in journalism. And ESPN, in particular, has gone after the biggest stars at newspapers and magazines, signing them for double and triple what they were earning — $150,000 to $350,000 a year for several writers, and far more for a select handful.

At first glance that's really quite astounding, but it probably shouldn't be. After all, newspapers and the editorial side of sports sites are in roughly the same business: trying to attract eyes that will read some ads after reading some content. With that in mind, look at the circulation numbers for the top papers in the country. Now consider that the top sports sites are reaching something like 20 times the number of people even the biggest papers are reaching -- and consider that given subscription services, fantasy games, and interactive features, the page-view is only the beginning of the revenue stream for the web sites -- and you realize that salary multipliers of double and triple for talent are, if anything, a bargain.

An added bonus to this? Almost everyone I've ever met knows someone who considered the idea of becoming a sports writer or reporter at one point. Hardly any of them did, however, in large part because lower paying jobs with boatloads of travel and little job security aren't exactly enticing. If what this article is describing is the new normal, we're going to see more people getting into the business, and ultimately, that should lead to higher quality writing, no?

Ringolsby on the BBWAA Fooforah

Rich Lederer at Baseball Analysts has a great interview with Tracy Ringolsby of the Rocky Mountain News regarding the Baseball Writers Association of America's decision earlier this month to admit fourteen web-based baseball writers and, more notably, exclude Rob Neyer and Keith Law, who just so happen to be two of the most prominent web-based baseball writers around.

Tensions ran high on this topic when it first appeared, and Ringolsby, by virtue of his appearance in a notable thread on the subject at BTF, was in the center of it. Here, with a greater opportunity to express the reasoning which went into the BBWAA's decision, as well as his own thoughts on the matter, Ringolsby comes off pretty damn sane on the subject.

I stand by my view that Neyer and Law were hosed but this interview reveals that it was far more complicated than many, including myself, understood it to be the day the news came out. Which, of course, is almost always the case.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas, old Building and Loan!

Unless the kids eat and play themselves into a premature coma (or unless Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds steal a convertible and go on a cross-country crime spree) your old pal Shyster is takin' today and tomorrow off.

Have a Merry Christmas if you're into that sort of thing, and a enjoy the days off all the same if you're not.

See you Wednesday.


Sunday, December 23, 2007


My brother lives in San Diego and I live in Ohio, so I maybe see him twice a year. It's been that way since he left home for the Navy the day after Thanksgiving eighteen years ago. I was sixteen then. I finished my last two years of high school, went on to college and law school, got married, had kids, and settled down in the Midwest. He spent six years on an Aegis cruiser, a couple more at Coronado, and took his discharge in 1997. Since then he has worked as a club DJ, dipped a toe in and then back out of the goth scene, spent time with a number of shady women before meeting a nice one, played Kato Kaelin to the lead singer of a notable synth-pop band, and most recently has performed, um, product preparation and distribution services for a large Irvine, California-based concern. Yeah, that's him in the picture, taken when we crashed the club level restaurant at Petco Park last summer.

In terms of distance, Curt and I haven't lived within 500 miles of one another since he left home. By all other measures we haven't been in the same solar system since then. Sure, we get along, but if we weren't brothers our adult paths would never cross. We live in wildly different worlds, speak wildly different languages, and pass the time doing wildly different things. I love him unconditionally, but we tend to get on each others' nerves anymore, and neither of us understands where in the hell the other is coming from most of the time.

But it wasn't always that way. We were close as kids, with a lot of common interests, the most notable among them being baseball. We were both huge Tigers' fans (his favorite player was Lou Whitaker; mine was Alan Trammell). We played on little league teams together for a while (he being the talented but uninterested one, I the exact opposite). But more than watching or playing the game itself, it was our love of baseball cards that brought us together as kids.

It started with the cutouts on the back of Hostess boxes in 1976 or 1977, and moved on to the Kellogg's 3-D superstars a year or two later. Dad worked at the weather bureau in those days with a guy who split his time as a card dealer, and once he saw how crazy we were about the things, cards just started showing up around the house. Lloyd needed my Dad to cover a shift for him? No problem, but it was going to cost him a box of 1978 commons for the boys. You two knuckleheads want to get Jack Morris' autograph at the card show without standing on line first? You're shoveling Lloyd's driveway. Between that kind of thing and the traditional spend-every-penny-we-ever-saw-on-wax-packs approach, by the mid-80s we had tens of thousands of cards spilling out of boxes in every spare corner of the house.

As is the case with just about every kid, however, our interest in cards waned as our interest in girls waxed. Even if it hadn't, the hyper-commercialization of baseball cards in the late 80s would have done it anyway (we hoarded, sorted, traded, and oggled cards like mad, but I can't recall a single instance in which we ever sold one). By the time Curt shipped out, they had been placed in plastic sheets or monster boxes in the basement and, while not forgotten, certainly not thought about all that much. Over the years, as my parents' addresses became increasingly erratic and mine more permanent, the cards migrated to my basement where they currently sit and are rarely disturbed. In the past couple of years Curt has asked me to ship him certain cards from our communal stash as he began dabbling in hockey cards and was in need of trade bait, but other than that, I've had no cause to go through them. Hell, the last inventory of them was typed up using the Speedscript word processor on my Commodore 64.

Last week, Curt flew in from San Diego for a couple of days for his annual Christmas visit. The night before he flew back home, we exchanged Christmas gifts. We tend to be a family who doesn't go over the top with these things, so I was understandably dumbfounded when I opened my gift from him: the entire 1973 Topps set (my birth year) in plastic sheets in a notebook. With a couple of very tiny exceptions, the whole thing is in mint or near mint condition.

He didn't just go out and buy it in one shot, though, as a guy working at In-n-Out Burger tends not to have that kind of money laying around. Rather, he began picking up stuff here and there months ago (our childhood collection had almost no 1973s), trading some import records for some of this, trading vintage clothing for some of that, and only biting the bullet and straight-up buying stuff in only a handful of cases. It was truly a labor of love on his part which, given how much flak I've given him for so many things over the years -- including, ironically enough, his habit for hording, selling, and trading records and vintage clothes when he could be out doing something more productive -- was every bit as undeserved as it was unexpected.

As I sit here this evening poring over the notebook full of '73s -- highlights of which, at the risk of invading Josh Wilker's turf, I plan to blog in the next couple of days -- I'm wondering why someone from whom I've grown so far apart over the years would make such a thoughtful and touching gesture, especially given how hard I've been on him. But I suppose that's Christmas. I suppose that's family. I suppose, most of all, that's Curt.

Thanks, bro.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Weeghman Park to be Renamed Once Again

Those accursed plutocrats! Some four score years after defiling the North Side's beloved Weeghman Park with a base, corporate name, plans are afoot to do so once again!

Tribune Co.'s new CEO Sam Zell said the Cubs will be sold by Opening Day, and that he may sell naming rights to Wrigley Field because such rights could be "extraordinarily valuable."

This purist's enmity at such transparently avaricious motives knows no bounds! Presently, all that stands between my current state of equanimity and one of unbounded ire is the knowledge that, unlike the time that scalliwag Wrigley imposed his unseemly commercial will upon the North Side's august base ball club, this time they will be duly compensated for the dishonor of shilling for profit-seeking enterprises.


16th & Bryant

A man named Bill Soto-Castellanos, who served as a batboy and clubbie for the San Francisco Seals back in the 50s, has written a book about the late, great Pacific Coast League called 16th & Bryant: My Life & Education with the San Francisco Seals, I haven't read it yet, but a review can be found here.

I say "late great" because the PCL that exists today is not the PCL as it existed before the Dodgers and Giants invaded the west in 1958. In those days the PCL was pretty damn close to a third major league. Actually was one for people west of St. Louis. The accounts I have read claim that the quality of play in the golden age PCL was outrageously high. Even better: because of the favorable weather, the old PCL had a crazy-long season, lasting as many as 200 games over nine or ten months. If that happened today -- and it were televised -- I would almost certainly be divorced by now.

Based on the review, Soto-Castellanos' book does not appear to be anything like a comprehensive history of the PCL (you may want to check out another book for that), but I have often found that I get more out of a personal perspective like this one than I do from a top-down history.

I never know no Godfather. I got my own family, Senator.

Thankfully, next month's Congressional hearings following up on the Mitchell Report aren't going to be a circus, as ballplayers are not going to be asked to appear:

"We don't want to turn this into a circus," Rep. Tom Davis told USA Today. "We just want to know what Major League Baseball plans to do about their problems. We understand the collective bargaining agreement complicates matters, but we'd like to see if they agree with Senator George Mitchell's recommendations, and move on."

Good for Congress. It would be better if they kept out of it completely, but let's not make the perfect the enemy of the good.

Not that there still isn't some opportunistic grandstanding going on here:

While the NHL has not been officially invited to take part in the hearings, NHL sources in Washington have told the league they can expect to be included. The NHL took part in hearings both during and after the lockout. The fact politicians aren't rushing to ensure that the NHL is front and center in this latest round of discussions suggests they believe the NHL's drug testing policy is either adequate or the league doesn't have a significant problem with performance enhancing substances or both.

What about option C: that even if the testing sucks and the league does have a significant problem with performance enhancing substances, no congressman has ever gained votes by pandering to hockey fans they way they think they can by pandering to baseball fans.


I don't care how badly he fell off last season; $29M over three years is a bargain for a 26 year-old lefty who basically hasn't missed a start in five years. Is Dontrelle Willis the pitcher we all thought we was a couple of years ago? Nah. But he's better than he was last year, and he need only remain healthy through 2010 for this to be an amazingly good deal for Detroit. Especially when a guy like Carlos Silva is getting paid stupid money.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Schilling's Take

I like Curt Schilling's blog even when I disagree with him. And today I disagree with him:

Roger has denied every allegation brought to the table. So as a fan my thought is that Roger will find a way in short order to organize a legal team to guarantee a retraction of the allegations made, a public apology is made, and his name is completely cleared. If he doesn’t do that then there aren’t many options as a fan for me other than to believe his career 192 wins and 3 Cy Youngs he won prior to 1997 were the end. From that point on the numbers were attained through using PED’s. Just like I stated about Jose, if that is the case with Roger, the 4 Cy Youngs should go to the rightful winners and the numbers should go away if he cannot refute the accusations.

I'm not a Clemens apologist, but the notion that (a) he has to sue in order to clear his name, which is the logical end game to Schilling's comments about Clemens getting a legal team together; or (b) he should have his records taken away is silly. We've heard this from several people already, but I'm surprised that Schilling of all people is playing this game.

Now, I think Clemens did steroids and I think he's probably lying about it now, but for the sake of argument, let's assume he isn't, and that Brian McNamee is slandering him. How, exactly, is Clemens supposed to prevail in a lawsuit? The potential causes of action are pretty straightforward: a defamation claim against Mitchell and/or MLB over the contents of the Mitchell report, or a defamation claim against McNamee for the statements he made to Mitchell themselves.

I won't bore you with legal stuff, but in order to win such a lawsuit, Clemens would have to establish that (1) the statements are false and; (2) that, because Clemens is a public figure, they were made with actual malice. Note, though, that "actual malice" in this context doesn't actually mean maliciousness as we know the term. It's more along the lines of the defendant knowing that what they were saying was false when they said it and not caring about it.

A hypothetical Clemens v. Mitchell is dead on arrival. Mitchell was merely reporting what others have said to him under circumstances which gave rise to an indicia of credibility (threat of false statements charges). Thus, even if the statements about Clemens in the report are false, there is no basis for a finding of malice here. Sure, I suppose you could concoct one if you're into that sort of thing (let's see; MLB is looking to torpedo salaries and smear players to help them with collective bargaining or something, so they intentionally and maliciously commissioned a report with the intent of generating false statements in an effort to smear Rocket). Um, yeah, good luck with that.

While there is a slightly better chance of making a case against McNamee in that, hey if he's lying he had to have known it at the time, the prognosis is still decidedly poor. After all, what evidence would Clemens bring to bear in such a lawsuit? Yes, McNamee is on record five years ago lying to the press about steroids, but under oath he could simply cop to lying then in order to protect Clemens and say that he obviously told the truth once he was under oath in front of Mitchell. Like I said the other day: he-said/he-said. Sure, Clemens could win such a case if the jury believed him instead of McNamee, but it's really damn risky, and the incentives for mounting such a case are small, even if he is telling the truth.

All that aside, Schilling knows what it's like to be in the public eye. He knows people say crap about you all the time, and he can't seriously expect someone in Clemens' position to sue every time someone lies about him (not that I think McNamee is lying). Remember the bloody sock controversy? I don't recall Schilling suing over that, even though it was every bit as much an attack on his integrity as the Clemens-steroids stuff. Would it be enough for Schilling if Roger Clemens offered $1M to anyone who could provide hard evidence that he took steroids? I somehow think it wouldn't be.

As for the records, Schilling strikes me as a man who reads history on occasion. He has to understand that you simply can't undo event A and expect events B, C, and D to have remained the same. Who were the "rightful winners" Curt? In 2001 the AL Cy Young runner-up was Mark Mulder. He wasn't in the Mitchell report, but half of his offensive and defensive support was. Is he legit? And while we're having this conversation, are you planning on returning your 1993 NL Championship ring because it was obtained with the help of Lenny Dykstra? Of course you're not, because playing the alternative history game is silly and ultimately leads us nowhere.

So again, Curt, while I love your blog and love your candor, in this case, you're wrong.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Kettmann takes a victory lap

In 2000, Steve Kettmann wrote an article for the The New York Times which created quite a firestorm at the time. Until Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti got into the act in 2002, it was the go-to reference piece on steroids in major-league baseball. A couple of years later he was the ghost writer for Canseco's book. Now Kettmann is playing the "see, I told you" card in a letter to the editor in today's New York Times:

Roger Clemens has been added to the ranks of those linked to steroid use — despite his most recent denial Tuesday. This is hardly a surprise to those of us who have worked the steroid beat over the years. In fact, as the ghostwriter for Jose Canseco’s tell-all memoir “Juiced,” I can now reveal that serious thought was given to including Canseco’s recollections of golf course conversations with Clemens about steroids. At the time, we decided to focus on players Canseco injected — since those revelations would carry the maximum impact.

Being more right about PEDs, and sooner, than most of the rest of us, Kettmann is probably entitled to his victory lap. But as is the case with Clemens himself, discretion should form the better part of Kettmann's valor.

Why? Because while Kettmann doesn't mention it in his letter, in June 2002 he wrote an article in the New Republic in which he raked Canseco over the coals, calling him a traitor and a money grubber for his then-recently announced plans to write a tell-all book outing the players he knew to be juicing. The same book, it must be noted, that Kettmann himself ended up writing.

While the article now seems unfindable online (if anyone can find it please shoot me a copy), the tone was pretty unctuous. True, he was dead on about many things in that piece (he nailed the then-unknown Brian McNamee to a tree and was naming Clemens name over five years before George Mitchell did), but he wasn't exactly sober, measured, reasoned, or graceful about it. He labeled anyone who differed from his view on the subject a "weasel." Most preposterously, he blamed steroid use on "the Bill James school of sports analysis," essentially suggesting that the sabermetric observation that home runs are more valuable than hit-and-run singles actually encouraged steroid abuse. I wondered at the time* if Kettmann also believed that a criminologist's observations encouraged crime. I still don't know.

Certainly Kettmann was annoyed in that old New Republic piece, but that annoyance seemed to be based just as much on the fact that the story that summer focused on steroids rather than his own reporting on steroids. Indeed, just as he does in this letter to the editor, Kettmann took quite a bit of space to remind people that he was the first man to out ballplayers for taking steroids, not amateurs like Canseco and Caminiti.

But I suppose that's just quibbling, and I suppose congratulations are in order to Mr. Kettmann. And we can all provide them just as soon as Kettmann is done doing it himself.

Update: It's worth noting, upon 24 hours of reflection, that most of what stuck in my craw about this piece was the "see, I told you so" headline. It's also worth noting that it is almost always the case that the writer -- especially in the case of a letter to the editor -- doesn't write the headline. While I stand by my negative feelings about the New Republic piece from 2002, I would like to apologize to Kettmann for what may be an overreaction on my part.

*I fully cop to the fact that my 2002 piece bashing Kettmann was extraordinarily naive when it came to steroids, as was most of what I wrote that year. That doesn't change the fact, however, that Kettman's New Republic piece was fairly obnoxious.

Was that wrong? Should I not have done that?

The Yankees' traveling secretary pleads guilty to tax fraud. I don't have the transcript from the hearing, but I'm pretty sure he had to plead ignorance on this one. Cause if someone told him that that sort of behavior was FROWNED upon . . .

In other easy punchline news, the Anna Benson show may soon be coming to a ballpark near you.

Pete Rose has a Self-Serving Opinion? Really?

Pete Rose has an opinion about steroids. You may be shocked to learn that it's a self-serving one. It's going to air in Dennis Miller's show tonight on the Versus network, but since no one watches that, here it is:

"I've been suspended 18 years for betting on my own team to win,'' he added. "I was wrong ... but these guys today, if the allegations are true, they're making a mockery of the game.''

No Pete, steroid users are simply obtaining an unfair advantage. They'd be making a mockery of baseball if they did it, admitted it and agreed to be banned from the game, immediately reversed themselves and railed against their ban, and then, just when some people's positions were starting to soften over the whole affair, pulled yet another reversal and admitted they had been lying for 15 years in order to sell some merch.

Not that we know anyone who has done that . . .

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Clemens' Denial is a Play for the Future

Roger Clemens' denial seems like a pretty bold move given that it forces anyone who cares about the whole situation to decide whether he or Brian McNamee is the liar. If I had to guess I'd say that Clemens is. My opinion in this regard is not based on some moral judgment, though (I couldn't care less about Roger Clemens, good or bad). No, this is simply a matter of logic: McNamee's allegations against Andy Pettitte have been corroborated already -- by Pettitte himself -- and Pettitte is Clemens' close friend and workout buddy. While this obviously doesn't establish that Clemens took PEDs, it makes a story in which he didn't take PEDs far more complicated than one in which he did, and more often than not the simple story is the true story. Call if a gut feeling, then, but I think Clemens is full of it.

Not that we'll ever know for sure. The only way for it to be determined somewhat conclusively would be for Clemens to file a defamation lawsuit against McNamee, and that simply isn't going to happen. For one thing the standard is too high for a public figure like Clemens to ever prevail, and he simply doesn't strike me as the type who would roll the dice with those kinds of odds against him. For another thing, if he were to file a lawsuit against McNamee, the first name on the defense's witness list would be Andy Pettitte's. Is Clemens really going to unleash his lawyer to attack his good friend's credibility the way he'd have to in order to win? Is Clemens going to start the ball rolling on a case in which many other witnesses would be his and Pettitte's former Yankee, Blue Jay, and Astros teammates, all of whom would be questioned -- and this time forced to answer -- about what they knew regarding Clemens' steroid use? Of course he isn't.

No, Clemens is laying the groundwork for the future. True, five days post-Mitchell his denial lacks credibility, and there will no doubt be a firestorm of criticism coming his way in the next few days. But that will blow over as our memories of the Mitchell minutiae fades. Indeed, Clemens is counting on our memories fading, because with them, so too will our memories of Brian McNamee and the specifics of his allegations. But we will always remember Clemens' fastball and his strikeouts and his Cy Young Awards. And when the time comes to assess his Hall of Fame candidacy, we will remember that one time some trainer -- what's his name again? -- accused the Rocket of doing steroids. Unlike Mark McGwire, Rocket will be able to truthfully say that he denied the allegations at the time. Unlike Barry Bonds, he will be able to say truthfully that the allegations against him are a matter of he-said/he-said. Against that backdrop, even many of those who have strongly negative opinions about Clemens now will cave in the face of a six-year ambiguity.

Don't believe me? Think that no matter how much time passes, people will always have the Mitchell Report bookmarked and will scroll down to McNamee's allegations in all of their PDF glory? Think again, because the same thing could have been said about the Dowd Report on Pete Rose's gambling, and by the mid 90s, many if not most people had chosen to let their memories of the specifics of that scandal slip into history. Many of the same people who felt shock and shame at Rose's 1989 ban from baseball were prepared to live with him in the Hall of Fame a few short years later. True, it wasn't technically possible because he was banned from baseball, but the sentiment was swinging in his direction, at least until he reversed himself and admitted that he had been lying all along.

Clemens isn't going to be banned from baseball, and he is not going to reverse himself on this subject. As we sit here less than twelve hours after Clemens' denial, we have all of the evidence we will ever have on his PED use. McNamee certainly has nothing else, because if he did it would have been in the Mitchell Report. Clemens isn't going to provide anything. No other ballplayer will either unless Clemens stirs up a hornet's nest.

Based on that record, I think that Clemens's denial -- however incredible it seems this evening -- gives him the best chance he's ever going to get to make the Hall of Fame someday. Certainly a better chance than if he admitted using, and certainly a better chance than if he pulled a McGwire and said nothing.

Risky move? Sure, but so is pitching inside all the time.

The accompanying image is a painting by artist Stephan Holland, prints of which, and of other athletes, are available at

Workin' for the man every night and day . . .

Apologies for the lack of content this morning, but I gots to pay the bills today. Look for updates later in the afternoon or, worst case scenario, this evening. If not having fresh Shyster content on demand presents a problem for you, please be advised that I will entertain job offers. Sure, you'd have to outbid my law firm, but it is a Midwestern law firm so that may not be as hard as it looks.

Back soon.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A-Rod and Boras

Following last night's 60 minutes interview, the headlines are all about how Alex Rodriguez and Boras aren't speaking. The actual words used by Rodriguez, however, say much more than the silence does:

The whole debacle started, he says, when his agent, Scott Boras, told him the
Yankees didn’t want him anymore. "But they were trying to reach out to you. It's
kind of hard to believe that you were taking Scott Boras' word as gospel when
you had all these other signs coming from Yankee management," Couric remarks.

"You're right," Rodriguez says. Asked why he fell for that, Rodriguez said, "Why
wouldn't I trust my attorney. Most people trust their attorneys. I'm a baseball
player. I'm not an attorney. I've never negotiated a contract."

When your biggest client tells the world that you're a liar, you are pretty much done as a lawyer. Hard to say now if that goes for lawyer/agents like Boras, but it should.

Mitchell Fisking Wrap-up

For those of you who have had better things to do since Thursday afternoon than read this blog (which should be every single last one of you), ShysterBall ran a six-part microanalysis of the Mitchell Report. While a lot of people said it was useful, I rambled on so much that I think I only managed to break the 409-page Mitchell Report down to about 376 pages of text. But hey, that's 33 pages, so it's totally worth checking out. To see it, either scroll down or click through to the installments directly:

Fisking the Mitchell Report -- Part 1
Fisking the Mitchell Report -- Part 2
Fisking the Mitchell Report -- Part 3
Fisking the Mitchell Report -- Part 4
Fisking the Mitchell Report -- Part 5
Fisking the Mitchell Report -- Part 6

Thanks for all of the kind words. More importantly, thanks for your patience as I indulged myself, perhaps a little too much, in minutiae. I'll be sure to post some pallet-cleansing one liners over the next week.

And I promise to never use the word "Fisking" again.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fisking the Mitchell Report -- Part 6

This is Part 6, the final installment in ShysterBall's micro-breakdown of the Mitchell Report. For Part 1, go here, for Part 2, go here, for Part 3, go here, for Part 4, go here, and for Part 5 go here.

The home stretch. Today we tackle the online pharmacies/rejuvenation centers, review the cons and cons of the current drug testing program, and chew over Mitchell's recommendations. Then we get to take a nap.

Pages 234-242:

Anatomy of Internet sales of steroids. Two kinds: (1) nasty, glorified street corner-style sales of potentially tainted PEDs that just happen to take place over the Internet; and (2) more sophisticated sales via a system of "rejuvenation centers" like Signature Pharmacy, effected by phony prescriptions.

The stuff about the producers who make their swill like bathtub gin in unsanitary Mexican factories was good reading and all, but there appears to be no evidence whatsoever that any baseball players bought PEDs from such places. Rather, it's all Signature Pharmacy and the other rejuvenation centers. Why then, aside from making this all look as seedy as possible, the street corner-style sales were included is a mystery to me.

Page 242:

Rick Ankiel, Paul Byrd, Jay Gibbons, Troy Glaus, Jose Guillen, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Gary Matthews, Jr., Scott Schoeneweis, David Bell, Jose Canseco, Jason Grimsley, Darren Holmes, John Rocker, Ismael Valdez, Matt Williams, and Steve Woodard all make the rejuvenation center hall of fame. Which brings us to yet another installment of Great Moments in Administrative Synergy:

The Commissioner’s Office conducted its own disciplinary interviews of the players who were still active at the time of the reports about their alleged possession or use. Players agreed to the interviews on the condition that the information they provided would not be shared with me by the Commissioner’s Office [emphasis added]. Either directly or in some cases through the Commissioner’s Office, I requested each of these 16 current and former players to meet with me to respond to the allegations about them in these reports. Other than Canseco, whose lawyer provided information in response to my inquiry, all of the players either declined or did not respond to my invitation.

What's that about? Had Selig lost so much faith in Mitchell by the time the Signature story was breaking that he was willing to sell out the very probe he had commissioned? As is the case throughout most of the report, Mitchell avoids editorializing. Maybe being 300 pages into this bad boy has me hallucinating, but I can almost here the bitterness in Mitchell's words on this point.

Jose Guillen, p. 249-50:

According to Mitchell, Jose Guillen paid for his HGH via wire transfer. Add that to checks and credit cards on the list of totally-traceable means of commerce ballplayers used to buy their PEDs. This is even more astounding for Guillen, in that he was the guy who, a couple of years ago, was found to be taking his salary checks to one of those seedy check cashing places rather than Bank of America or someplace. Note to Jose Guillen: you're supposed to use electronic wire transfers for your legitimate banking needs and cash for your drugs, not the other way around.

John Rocker, p. 253:

Rocker initially denied the [Applied Pharmacy] allegations, but his spokesperson later reportedly said that Rocker had been prescribed human growth hormone in connection with shoulder surgery.

John Rocker has a spokesman? Where was she back in December 1999 when Jeff Pearlman was asking him about the freaks on the 7 train?

Page 258, regarding the efficacy of the existing drug testing program:

As discussed earlier in this report, the program as originally adopted was the product of extended collective bargaining. It was an important first step in the effort to deal with what both parties agreed is a serious problem. Some improvements have been made to the program since program testing began in 2004. Additional improvements are necessary, however, to enable the program to keep pace with the evolving problems of illegal substance use.

I'm no expert on baseball's current drug testing regime. It sounds like a reasonable program to a lay person like myself, but there have been many, including many smart folks, who say it's riddled with loopholes. I suppose the extent to which that is true determines how much of the above-paragraph is an exercise in p.r.

Pages 259-262:

Mitchell reviews the development of testing standards by the U.S. and World Anti-Doping Agencies ("USADA" and "WADA"). He likes their standards and procedures, and identifies seven key characteristics of their programs. They are:

1. independence of the program administrator;
2. transparency and accountability;
3. effective, year-round, unannounced testing;
4. adherence to best practices as they develop;
5. due process for athletes;
6. adequate funding; and
7. a robust education program.

Get used to these standards, because they are going to be front-and-center as baseball attempts to address the Mitchell Report going forward. Query whether the increasing criticism of WADA and USADA as hysterical, non-scientific bodies will also be taken into account as baseball forges the path forward.

For now, Mitchell grades baseball's current program using those metrics. The results are not pretty:

  • While some steps have been taken towards independence, there is still too much player and management involvement in administering the program (See pp. 263-64);
  • There is a serious lack of transparency due to the automatic destruction of negative test data, which precludes periodic audits of testing operations, which Mitchell feels is an essential component of any successful testing program (See pp. 265-66);
  • Baseball's failure to test in the offseason means that, by definition, it is not running a state-of-the-art program. Here Mitchell provides the testing frequency for the NFL, NBA, and NHL, none of which test in the offseason either (See pp. 267-69); and
  • Best practices aren't being used in terms of sample collection, most notably as it relates to advanced notice provided to players, however unwittingly, and chain-of-custody issues with respect to the samples themselves. In terms of penalties baseball compares favorably to the other big leagues -- actually it's tougher -- but there is a lot of ambiguity about how it complies its list of banned substances, how so-called "therapeutic exemptions" (i.e. doctor's notes allowing players to used banned substances anyway) are granted, and a few other things (See pp. 269-78).

So whadda we gonna do about it?

Glad you asked! Mitchell has 21 pages on it (pp. 285-306), encompassing twenty specific policy proposals falling under three broad categories: (1) ratcheting-up the pursuit of non-testing evidence of drug use; (2) enhancing educational programs; and (3) adopting a state-of-the-art drug testing regime. Let's look at them, shall we?

1. Investigating "non-testing based" evidence of drug use.

Depending on how paranoid you are, this category means either taking a tougher stance on drug use or establishing a police state in Major League clubhouses. It certainly means granting Selig a lot more power. The most notable recommendation here is the proposed creation of a "Department of Investigations," whose leader would report directly to Bud and would, theoretically anyway, be able to police the clubhouses and terminate drug problems with extreme prejudice without having to worry about queering labor relations because, hey, this guy would be above that stuff.

Anyone who knows anything about baseball's labor history, however, knows that (a) the owners aren't going to be able to restrain themselves and will soon have baseball's version of Information Retrieval snooping into stuff that will help them out in that next contract negotiation or arbitration proceeding; and (b) the Players' Association will not trust the DoI even if Christ Almighty Himself comes down from Heaven and deems its acts and motives to be 100% pure. That's just how baseball and the union roll. Mitchell knows that, so I'm surprised that he leads with such a provocative proposal.

Other recommendations in this "non-testing based" investigatory realm:

  • Work more closely with law enforcement officials: Mitchell uses the example of his own investigation as evidence that the cops will work with baseball when asked. Maybe that's true, but I wonder if the precinct phone will be picked up as quickly when the guy calling is the 'roids Czar as opposed to the former U.S. Senate Majority Leader;

  • Have clubs use their power as the players' employer to investigate potential violations of the drug program: The narrative on this one (pp. 291-92) is stupid. Mitchell says that even though the Fergie Jenkins precedent prevents players from being punished for not cooperating with investigations while facing criminal charges for the same conduct, this shouldn't present a problem because players suspected of steroid use are rarely prosecuted. This is an overly-narrow reading of the Jenkins decision. The point there was that players shouldn't be punished for relying on their rights against self-incrimination. You still have those rights even if there is only a slight chance of prosecution. As such, you will forgive the players from taking Mitchell's word for it that they wouldn't be prosecuted if they told their GM that they just bought a bunch of illegal PEDs from Kirk Radomski's successor.

  • Have clear, written policies for reporting violations of the PED policy: Did you know that clubs who cover up drug use by a player is subject to a $2M fine? Me neither. I wonder if the new version of this rule will be named after Brian Sabean or, rather, the folks at that October 2003 meeting at Dodgers' HQ.

  • Log all packages sent to players at the ballpark: While it seems a bit Orwellian, anybody dumb enough to continue to have their HGH mailed to the ballpark after everything that has been reported in the past year deserves to have a figurative boot stamping on their face forever. This may cause some unexpected problems, though. I mean, how many pairs of groupies' panties addressed to Grady Sizemore and Jacob Ellsbury are the clubhouse personnel charged with logging packages going to tolerate before they simply quit?

  • Background checks and random drug testing of clubhouse personnel: Mitchell cites Radomski as why this is necessary. Hey, I think anyone who works in a place as sensitive as a Major League Clubhouse should have a background check, but we should probably remember that Radomski didn't become a drug dealer until after he got the job.

  • Establishment of a hotline for anonymous tips: I can't conceive of any possible way such a thing might be abused, could you?

  • Testing the top 100 draft-eligible prospects each year: Lesson #1 of the Mitchell Report is that it's the injured, borderline guys desperate to hang onto their jobs who are the ones more likely to be using. Testing a bunch of high-ceiling fresh-elbowed youngsters isn't going to hurt, but it ain't exactly addressing the problem at hand, is it? Of course, if this list morphs into an agenda item once the Collective Bargaining Agreement is reopened, look for the prospects to be thrown under the bus almost immediately. They ain't in the union, and the union doesn't look out for them. Ever.

2. Enhancing Educational Programs.

I won't bullet-point these (you can read the five recommendations yourself at pp. 298-302) because they all basically boil down to "will somebody tell these bumpkins that steroids are bad already?! The only exception is the proposal to put on "scared straight" testimonials during spring training. This could either work really well or fail miserably. Failure would be the result if you trotted out, say, Jason Giambi to talk about how his life was "ruined" by steroids while pretending that he didn't receive a massive contract and zero punishment due to his steroid use. Success would be the result if you hired Jose Canseco to come out and just talk, agenda-free, about his life. If players using PEDs were subjected to that they'd make a beeline for the nearest john in order to flush their stash ASAP lest they become a spooky-lookin', self-absorbed douchebag too.

3. Adopting State-of-the-Art Testing.

Most of this section (pp. 302-306) deals with optimizing baseball's testing regime along the seven parameters outlined above. Mitchell wants it to look as much like the Olympic system as possible, complete with defacto WADA approval. I'll let the doping experts weigh in on whether that's possible or even desirable. I can, however, see a p.r. benefit for baseball if it were to at least talk about WADA-compliance being the goal, and that would be to shift scrutiny to the other professional sports leagues.

How? Easy. While Thursday sucked for baseball, it marked the moment the clock started counting down to the day when no one really cares about steroids in baseball anymore. That may be many many years from now, but between now and then, the public and the media's outrage will soften. Soon someone important is going to write the "baseball has come a long way since the Mitchell Report" article, and it will soon be followed by the "why isn't the NFL aiming as high as baseball?" Maybe that's a petty and cynical way to look at all of this, but as a baseball nut, I get angry whenever fans of a league in which 6'6" 375 pound dudes who can run a 4.4/40 have the nerve to tell me that the NFL's PED issues are under control. Baloney. I wanna see them squirm the way I've squirmed over the past five years.

Pages 307-311, Conclusions and the Future:

Mitchell parroted most of the stuff found in these wrap-up sections during his Thursday presser. Players dragged their feet, but the owners didn't press the issue. Everyone should look forward, not back, so that the recommendations in the report can be adopted rather than have everyone air dirty laundry, end up in litigation, etc. Selig should abstain from punishing anyone in the report unless the conduct was so serious as to risk the integrity of the game (note that nowhere in these hundreds of pages did Mitchell suggest that the integrity of the game was so-threatened). The offenses are mostly old news. Many if not most of the players are out of the game or soon will be. Perhaps most importantly, Mitchell acknowledges that "there is much I did not learn." I take that as a nod by Mitchell to the notion that he has based almost all of this report on BALCO and Radomski.

Let's consider that for a moment. While I may be painting with a slightly broad brush, it can be said that BALCO catered to some hyper-elite athletes who either didn't believe that they could ever be caught or didn't care. Radomski -- the only drug dealer I've ever known to take personal checks and credit cards -- catered to, well, the less mentally-gifted. The vast majority of ballplayers can be expected to fall somewhere in between those extremes, and there's a good chance that they're not in this report because of it. No matter the case, it can't be disputed that we're dealing with a thin slice of players and circumstances here -- and how much thinner would it have been if Radomski hadn't fallen into Mitchell's lap a year after he started the investigation -- and as such, to base any broad judgments on this report would be folly.

But upon reading all 409 pages of this thing, I know one thing: the report can't be dismissed. Even if it's dealing with a small subset of data, I see no evidence that the data is false, nor do I see any reason to believe that the small sample size is likely to mislead us in any material way. Despite its shortcomings, the Mitchell Report confirms, as we knew it would, that baseball has had a PED problem for many years. Only the most ignorant observers will say that the report is shocking, but that doesn't mean it isn't useful.

I know another thing too: I'm tired, as those of you who have made it through all six installments of this bad boy must be too. Let's all get some rest, shall we?

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Fisking the Mitchell Report -- Part 5

This is Part 5 in ShysterBall's micro-breakdown of the Mitchell Report. For Part 1, go here, for Part 2, go here, for Part 3, go here, and for Part 4, go here.

Radomski, McNamee, Bigbie, and Allen. Sounds more like a law firm than the wellspring of player-specific steroid data, but they're all we have to go on, so let's get going.

But before we get to the named players, this disclaimer from Senator Mitchell, on pages 148-49:

From the outset, my objective in this investigation has been “to gather facts,” to prepare a report that is thorough, accurate, and fair, and to “provide those whose reputations have been, or might be, called into question by these allegations a fair opportunity to be heard.” Each player mentioned in this report, and others not mentioned, was provided that fair opportunity; each was invited to meet with me, with his personal lawyer and a lawyer from the Players Association if he so chose, so that I could provide him with information about the allegations against him and give him the opportunity to respond. Most players declined to meet with me.

Much of the public response to the report in the past couple of days has taken the form of "hey, the named players had a chance to be heard, so screw them if they now complain about the strength and validity of the evidence against them." And on some level I understand and sympathize with that.

But it's important to remember that Mitchell was acting on marching orders that were nebulous at best. He had a relationship with law enforcement that was altogether unclear, but undeniably real. He had Congress standing behind him cradling a Louisville Slugger, waiting to swing it if they didn't like what they saw and heard. As a lawyer, I would never allow my client to talk under such uncertain circumstances. People I know have gone to jail based on the odd conversational tangents that can occur during such interviews. The common response of "well, he'd talk if he didn't have something to hide" is a nonstarter as far as I'm concerned, concocted by people who don't understand what the Fifth Amendment and, more broadly speaking, the concept of self-incrimination is all about.

My point? While the evidence cited seems fairly conclusive in most of these cases, maybe, just maybe, Roger Clemens and the others named here have legitimate rejoinders to the specific charges leveled against them. Maybe they declined to speak, however, because of some different, darker secret. Maybe they, like many people, objected to the setup and ground rules of the Mitchell panel itself on general principle. We simply don't know, and because we don't know, it's important that we not oversell what Mitchell is reporting. These are, for the most part, allegations, not findings in any definitive sense. Most of what is reported here would not be enough to get an indictment let alone a conviction in some hypothetical legal proceeding, so we should be careful about how we characterize things.

With that out of the way, what were these sick, twisted, dirty cheaters up to?

Lenny Dykstra, p. 148-150:

A common thread among the players named in the report is their claim that they took PEDs in an effort to rebound from some injury. I find it interesting, therefore, that Dykstra's steroid use, cited as beginning with the 1989 season, coincided with a period in which he became less and less durable. Indeed, Dykstra only played in more than 100 games in three out of the eight seasons of his post-1988 career. There's probably a lesson in there, kids.

Jack Cust, p. 159:

Between him and Jeremy Giambi, I think we have conclusive evidence that steroids can considerably hinder one's base running abilities, particularly the running (and sliding) that is supposed to occur between third and home.

Josias Manzanillo, p. 161:

I have no recollection of this player whatsoever. Apparently Mitchell didn't think much about him either, because while he notes over and over how little cooperation he got from players, he pretty much gave Manzanillo the Heisman:

In order to provide Manzanillo with information about these allegations and to give him an opportunity to respond, I asked him to meet with me. His lawyer proposed arranging an interview, but we were unable to do so before the completion of the investigation.
Not that I would have held up the process for someone as random as Manzanillo either. His lawyer, however, provided a proffer of his testimony. Best fact: Radomski's nickname was "Murdock." God, I hope he was named after this Murdock. That would be cool.

Todd Hundley, p. 163:

Hundley is the odd steroid case that actually conforms to the stereotypes. In the year he allegedly started taking PEDs -- 1996 -- Hundley, unlike the vast majority of the people named in the report, saw the sort of spectacular rise in power numbers that the public assumes is always the case ("Radomski told Hundley that if he used steroids, he would hit 40 home runs. Hundley hit 41 home runs in 1996"). At the same time, he's a player who was constantly out of the lineup with injuries over his career, indicating either that (a) the primary motive of steroid users was to get and stay healthy; (b) that one of the effects of steroids is alarming fragility; or both.

Hal Morris, p. 164:

Apparently Morris was using steroids as a member of the Reds in 1999. That year Morris had a total of 9 extra-base hits -- all doubles -- in something like 112 plate appearances. Hal, Radomski may have ripped you off.

Rondell White, p. 165-66:

White told Radomski that he needed steroids to "stay on the field." Hmm, given all of his time on the DL, White may have been ripped off too. More seriously speaking, there is definitely a chicken-egg thing going on with steroids. Were players like White, Hundley, and Dykstra drawn to PEDs because they were injured so much, or did steroids make them fragile? I suppose those aren't mutually-exclusive, so it's probably a little of both.

Roger Clemens, p. 167-175:

I scoffed all summer as a certain brand of idiot proclaimed that, to them, Hank Aaron would always be the Home Run King no matter what Barry Bonds did. Now I sit here happy that people will start calling Greg Maddux -- my favorite player of all time -- the best pitcher of the past twenty years. I know it's inconsistent, but subjectivity can be a bitch like that.

In the winter of 1996-97, I had a conversation with my friend Ethan Stock about where Roger Clemens fit into the grand scheme of things. At that time in my life I pretty much judged pitchers by wins and ERA. My view: that a pitcher who had just come off of a four year stretch winning 11, 9, 10, and 10 games while posting ERAs in the mid-4s was on the way out of the league. I thought he was a borderline-at-best Hall of Fame candidate because, hell, everyone knows that pitchers are supposed to win 300 games in order to have a shot, and Roger sitting there with 192 wins would be lucky to end up with 200.

Ethan disagreed pretty adamantly, though I can't for the life of me remember the specifics of his argument. Doesn't matter though, because he was right. Even if Clemens hadn't thrown another pitch after 1996, he probably deserved to be in the Hall of Fame on the power of a seven year period of dominance, the single game strikeout record, and carrying some less-than-stellar Red Sox teams farther than they had any business going. Ethan was also right to believe that Clemens wasn't done, though if he based that on the fact that Rocket's peripherals were still really strong despite the bad records, he didn't let on.

Of course now we know Clemens had some chemical help rebounding from his mid-career lull. We don't know, however, how much help he really got. Clemens certainly wouldn't have fallen off the planet and not pitched again if he hadn't met McNamee, so its exceedingly safe to assume that his win total would have been well into the 200s or higher even if he had become someone's third starter and banged around aimlessly for a few more years. That's a Hall of Fame career, even if my 23 year-old self didn't fully realize it at the time.

But of course he did use and, like Barry Bonds, we're left to wonder why. The Larry Bigbies of the world make sense, as they obviously thought -- probably correctly -- that PEDs were the difference between being set for life and having to sell insurance one day. Bonds and Clemens were already world class, so their decisions baffle us. Outrage us, even, in ways that no other players' PED use does. I mean, I know the Mitchell Report is only a couple of days old, but it's a safe bet no one plans on writing a scathing editorial about David Segui in the near future.

I've had casual conversations with people who chalk the outrage up to the records Bonds and Clemens set, as if they somehow delegitimize the game in ways that 50 other steroid users' combined efforts do not. I'm not so sure this is the case. Sure, the records are easy to latch onto, but I think there's something a little more primal at work. I think people are really reacting to some subconscious egalitarian impulse that is offended when those who already have so much strive for more. Just as Fred homo erectus banged bones on rocks when he saw the group's alpha male mate with yet another fetching young hominid Fred couldn't have, we start to bristle when we see those who already dominate the sport doing something to take that domination to yet another level. They already have it all, we complain, how can they possibly want more?

As I type this, there are already dozens of editorials floating around obsessing over Clemens legacy and Hall of Fame chances, and there will no doubt be scores more before pitchers and catchers report. My view? We are probably right to put down that glass of "Clemens is the best pitcher ever" Kool -Aid we've been drinking for the past decade or so. We are probably wrong, though, to say that keeps him out of Cooperstown. That is, unless we're interested in flunking him on a morality test the likes of which voters have never applied before. Well, maybe McGwire, but it's an open question as to whether he would have been in the Cooperstown conversation without steroids. Not so with Roger.

The dust won't be settled on Clemens for a long time. I, and I imagine Barry Bonds, will be watching closely to see if any double standards are put in play.

Chuck Knoblauch, p. 177:

Keith Olberman is avenged. Or maybe his mother. Actually, I wonder if Knoblauch's steroid use isn't directly attributable to his battle with the yips. A man can slug around .400 and hit fewer than 20 homers a year if he's a fundamentally sound middle infielder. He can't do that and make a living as a full-time DH, which is where Knoblauch's throwing issues sent him. The Mitchell Report has Knoblauch beginning to take steroids in 2001. That's the year he ceased being a second baseman. Knoblauch knew he needed to hit homers to justify the leftward slide down the defensive spectrum, and it seems that's what he set out to do.

David Justice, p. 181:

We interviewed David Justice before we had knowledge of the Radomski and McNamee allegations. Justice denied using performance enhancing substances himself, but he provided the names of many players who, he suspected, had used steroids.
It's worth noting that Mitchell doesn't say which players Justice threw under the bus. I presume this means that Mitchell couldn't corroborate any of Justice's suspicions. I wonder if Justice's gum flapping was inspired by a desire to appear to be one of the few straight-shooters in all of this. If so, he failed pretty miserably, and gets tagged by Mitchell as an ineffective rat in the process. This sort of thing, by the way, is exactly why I wouldn't let a client of mine speak with Mitchell.

Adam Piatt, p. 199:

After Radomski’s guilty plea was publicly announced, Piatt’s lawyer contacted us. We later interviewed Piatt, who voluntarily admitted his use of performance enhancing substances. He accepted full responsibility for his actions and said that he had learned an important life lesson as a result. Piatt should be commended for his candor, for his willingness to admit that he made a mistake, and for accepting responsibility for his actions.

This struck me as odd. For some 400 pages, Mitchell tries very hard to keep things as cool as possible, wavering from the bloodless tone of a man merely providing information only when exhorting us to think of the children in the summary and recommendation section. Here, however, he sounds like a man providing absolution. There were others in the report who cooperated and were reported as being regretful about their steroid use. They didn't get the gold star that Piatt did. I wonder why.

Miguel Tejada, p. 201-04:

More B-12 weirdness. I'm still not sure that anyone knows what, exactly, was going on with all of that. Unlike all of the other players in this section, Radomski is almost a secondary figure here. The bulk of the information on Tejada, such as it is, comes from Mr. Candor, Adam Piatt. This is also interesting:

In December 2005, Texas Rangers owner Thomas O. Hicks and general manager Jon Daniels engaged in an email exchange about possible trade discussions. In one email, Daniels stated that he had “some steroids concerns with Tejada,” and cited Tejada’s decreased productivity over the second half of the 2005 season.

This is one of the few instances where such team brass emails are referenced here (there are a few more below dealing with former Dodgers) and it's offered with very little context. Did Mitchell propound a document request to all teams, seeking emails with the word "steroids" in them? Did he circulate the names he had and ask for any deliberative information on them? How, exactly, did this email come out? Given how many of their players were involved, why aren't there any from the Mets and Yankees?

Paul Lo Duca, p. 208-211:

On July 30, 2004, the Dodgers traded Lo Duca, Guillermo Mota, and Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins. Then-Dodgers' GM Paul Depodesta was excoriated over the move by the local press, most notably by L.A. Times writer Bill Plaschke. Plaschke hadn't liked Depodesta from the moment he was hired, criticizing him as some sort of out-of-touch computer geek based on his modest fame as a central figure in Moneyball. After the Lo Duca trade, Plaschke made it his mission to ride Depodesta out of town on a rail, and on that rail he was ridden after the 2005 season. Yesterday, Plachke offered a startling (for him) mea culpa, saying that because Lo Duca wound up on the steroid list, "[t]he sour history of DePodesta’s reign also may have to be somewhat rewritten."

In this we see the power of the Mitchell Report. Plaschke's criticism of the Lo Duca trade has always been stupid, because it was an awesome trade for the Dodgers. They gave up a totally overrated catcher, for whom they had a great replacement, for Brad Penny, the guy who has proven to be their ace starting pitcher. You make that trade 100 out of 100 times and Depodesta should have been praised for it, not slammed.

The Dodgers have played three-and-a-half seasons of baseball, and in every one of those games they've been better off for having made that trade than if they had not. Yet it is only now -- once Lo Duca's name shows up in a thinly-sourced report of steroid use -- that Plaschke can bring himself to reevaluate the trade. And this is a writer who yells at statheads for failing to get their noses out of books and watch some real baseball for a change.

By the way, Lo Duca, Kevin Brown, and Eric Gagne are all Dodgers whose steroid use team brass openly discussed in an October 2003 team meeting. The comments all treat the drug use in and of itself as secondary, focusing instead on what that use means for performance. They don't care that Lo Duca was using, only that he may have stopped and is hitting fewer line drives. They likewise care about Brown and Gagne's use only insofar as it affected their immediate value as players, making comments that indicated their concern was centered on the idea that too much juice could land them on the DL as opposed to steroids, you know, being illegal, against the rules, and wrong. The Red Sox made comments like this as well regarding Gagne and others.

Fernando Vina, p. 213:

Some people are wondering why Vina, a Baseball Tonight analyst for ESPN, was missing from the wall-to-wall coverage on Thursday. Is this early evidence of the blackballing power of the Mitchell Report, or merely a result of crappy winter weather in New England on Thursday? Hard to say, but seeing as though Mike Golic recently admitted steroid use in terms that were very much like those ballplayers named by Mitchell (i.e. coming back from an injury, using it for a bit, etc.), it would be a bit odd for Vina to be exiled over this while Golic remains the face of the franchise, no?

And thus endeth the name-naming portion of our show. There were obviously many more players listed than the ones I mentioned above, but (a) these are the bigger names; and (b) quite frankly, the summaries are all the same: Randomski mentioned player X used steroids or HGH in 2001. We have checks from player X to Radomski. Player X declined our request for an interview, etc. ad nauseum.

There are going to be a lot of sweeping conclusions about steroids in baseball based on the Mitchell Report and, more specifically, the section I just reviewed. It will likely keep Clemens out of the Hall of Fame for a time, and may cause many of the named players serious trouble when they try to find jobs in and around baseball once their playing days are over.

But as I mentioned before, we need to be wary of overreacting here. While there is considerable indicia of reliability for most of the information supplied here, we have to remember that almost all of it comes from one guy -- Kirk Randomski -- and is thus by definition thin. At the same time, the sheer repetition of the years 2000-2001 makes one realize that even of Randomski is beyond reproach, we are really only getting a slice of things here, both regarding the players who are named, as well as the countless others who almost certainly had different dealers. Because of this, when we punish those who are named, we are necessarily making examples out of them rather than thoroughly and conclusively addressing and punishing past sins.

I may be in the minority in thinking this, but I do not believe that the purpose of the Mitchell Report was to provide a vehicle for a public shaming. Accordingly, if I were in Selig's shoes, I would consider a blanket amnesty from all punishment for those named in the report in an effort to encourage greater dialogue going forward. Let's get beyond the naming of names and, instead, let's try to constructively address the problem of PEDs themselves.

Next up: online pharmacies, recommendations, and conclusions. Yes, my friends, the end is near.

And now the end is posted. For Part 6 -- the last installment of this undertaking -- can be read here.