Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Pete Rose; Lew Wolff/Brian Sabean; Alex Smith
by Glenn Dickey
Aug 25, 2010

CHARACTER ISSUE: I’ve criticized Bruce Jenkins but I have to say his Saturday column in The Chronicle made a lot of sense.

Jenkins wrote that the Baseball Hall of Fame should drop its “character” requirement because too many writers interpret that as a reason to keep out Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Alex Rodriguez because of the steroids issue. Pete Rose is also a casualty because he bet on games as a manager.

So, the HOF could soon be in the position of not including the two top home run hitters of all time (Bonds has the record but Rodriguez could surpass him or at least climb to second all-time), the hits leader and the best pitcher of his era.

And, how ridiculous is that!

In earlier times, writers voted for the player who did the most, not looking for purity of character. Ty Cobb in his later years claimed to have killed a man in a street fight during his career. Babe Ruth was a near alcoholic and womanizer. Tris Speaker wrote a letter to Cobb that seemed to suggest fixing a game. None of this mattered to the writers who voted them in because they were great players. In later years, they voted in Gaylord Perry, who owed his career to the fact that Bob Shaw had taught him how to throw the spitter, which had been illegal for 40 years.

Writers in an earlier era also knew that baseball players were always looking for an edge. When I started covering the sport, it was amphetemines, which they gobbled up as if they were M and M’s. Only recently have they been put on the forbidden list.

The fact is, nobody knows how many players have actually taken performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) because the testing has been woefully inadequate. Even today, when baseball brags about its drug policy, they can’t test for Human Growth Hormones, which is apparently the drug of choice for the top players.

Steroids get blamed for everything. When I commented to a writer at an A’s game that Bobby Crosby never advanced as I thought he would, he said, “Everybody thinks he got off ‘the juice’ after his rookie season.” Really? It seemed to me that pitchers learned Crosby would try to pull every pitch, so they threw him breaking balls on the outside corner, which he couldn’t do anything with, and he never adjusted.

But, what do I know? I’ve only been covering professional baseball for 47 years.

When I wrote about Jason Schmidt being ruined by throwing too many pitches in a couple of games, Ken Dito thought he got off steroids and didn’t have anything.

But Schmidt didn’t really fit the steroids image of a player who suddenly has an unexpected surge, whether he’s a position player or a pitcher. In fact, for years with the Pirates and Giants, Schmidt was regarded as a pitcher with great stuff (they’d say ‘electric” now) who hadn’t figured it out. Finally, he figured it out and had a couple of outstanding years with the Giants. But he wasn’t like Eric Gagne, just exploding out of nowhere. It was a mental improvement, not physical for Schmidt.

What you can say about some of the players who got in the steroids spotlight is that they were always good players. Mark McGwire hit 49 homers as a rookie, Clemens was a winner from the start, Bonds was the Player of the Decade in the ‘90s. In the case of Clemens and Bonds, their chemical help enabled them to stick around longer. Bonds became much more of a power hitter and his added muscle was certainly an important factor. But so was the fact that he became a much better hitter – the best I’ve seen since covering the game. He developed a great plate discipline, not swinging at a pitch an inch outside the strike zone. He also developed an incredible patience when he was being intentionally walked so many times. He might only get one pitch he could hit during a game, but he’d hammer that one.

Both Bonds and Clemens wound up facing perjury charges for, in Bonds’ case, lying to a Federal prosecutor and, in Clemen’s case, for lying to a Congressional committee. Bonds walked because his trainer wouldn’t testify against him, and the prosecutors had no case without that. Clemen’s trainer is the chief witness against him. I think there’s a message in there somewhere.

Neither Bonds nor Clemens is a likeable individual but that doesn’t change the fact that neither one of them should have been in this situation in the first place.

Why were the Feds prosecuting Bonds? Can anybody, anywhere make the claim that whatever he was doing on the baseball diamond was a threat to the country? The Feds wasted a ton of taxpayer’s money on a case that should never have seen a courtroom.

It’s much the same with Clemens. The ranking Republican on the committee, Tom Davis of Virginia, said they had warned Clemens not to lie. When he did, “What choice did we have?” Davis asked. The choice was whether to hold that hearing or not, and the head of the committee, Democrat Henry Waxman, made the wrong one.

It’s interesting to me that NFL fans and media take a much different stance in that. The NFL has a random testing procedure but there are so many loopholes in it, that players do what they want. As one who is in NFL locker rooms from time to time, I have no doubt that steroids use is rampant.

Once in awhile, a player gets caught and gets suspended for four games. Nobody pays any attention – and the media who vote for the Pro Football Hall of Fame never consider drug use as a barrier.

But baseball writers…oh, they’re defending the sport that is still pure. Suuuure, they are.

COLUMN RENEWAL: My new column year starts next Wednesday. If you’re on PayPal, you can click on the “Subscribe” button on my Home Page for details.

BASEBALL SLUMLORDS: More and more information is slipping out about baseball’s dirty little secret: that low revenue teams are taking the money they get from more profitable teams under the revenue-sharing plan and just putting it into the owners pockets, instead of putting it into payroll.

We have an example in the Bay Area: The Oakland A’s have kept the payroll low but made a profit because of the money from other clubs, including the Giants. While Lew Wolff campaigns to go to San Jose, which is not going to happen, he and his partner, John Fisher, are doing quite well, thank you very much. Of course, Fisher really needs the money.

Although I’ve been critical of Brian Sabean, I have to say that he and the Giants ownership are really trying to win. Sabean has continually added players during the season. One of them, Pat Burrell, has played a very important part. In the last couple of weeks, he’s added Jose Guillen and Cody Ross in an attempt to get more punch into the lineup.
The A’s? Nada. I don’t expect them to make a move at this point because there isn’t enough time for them to make a serious move. But a month ago, it seemed they had an opportunity to get into the race but they did nothing but pick up Conor Jackson, who was in the middle of an injury-plagued season that has now officially ended. Jackson could help them next year but there was no chance he would help significantly this season.

The A’s are hardly alone in this. Other teams down the food chain have been rapidly getting rid of anybody with any kind of salary, which basically means, anybody who is a good player. That’s a terrible disservice to their fans, who will have no reason to watch the last six weeks of the season.

When the NFL put in a salary cap, the players insisted that there also be a minimum payroll set, so owners like Paul Brown in Cincinnati and Hugh Culverhouse in Tampa couldn’t continue with payrolls substantially lower than other teams.

Something like that is needed in baseball. There is no sentiment for a salary cap, even with the Yankees having a payroll that is at least double most of the other clubs, but they should set a minimum payroll for teams. If a team doesn’t meet at least that standard, it wouldn’t qualify for revenue-sharing, no mater how low its attendance goes.

ALEX SMITH: In the late ‘80s, every time I wrote that Steve Young could become a top NFL quarterback, I was sure to be buried under mail from fans who thought I was an idiot. I ignored the fans’ wisdom and, what do you know, Young wound up in the NFL Hall of Fame.

Now, it’s Alex Smith. Every time I write that Smith can be a topflight NFL quarterback, as I did again in yesterday’s Examiner, I hear from fans who tell me I don’t know anything about the subject.

I’m not saying Smith is another Young, but there are some similarities in their situations. One is that I’ve listened to men who know much more about quarterbacks than I do. In Young’s case it was Bill Walsh, who bucked the NFL establishment in turning Young into a great quarterback. In Smith’s case, it’s been Norv Turner and Mike Martz, who were both high on Smith when they were 49er coordinators, though Smith wasn’t healthy when Martz was here.

It doesn’t matter what I think or the fans believe. It’s all up to Smith now, but I’m confident he’ll have a big year and the Niners will be back in the playoffs.

A’S FUTURE: The A’s have made a good start with a young pitching rotation of, in the order in which they should go next year, Trevor Cahill, Brett Anderson, Gio Gonzalez, Vin Mazzano and Dallas Braden. It may seem strange to have a pitcher who threw a perfect game as the fifth man in the rotation but Braden has much less ability than the others. He’s very competitive, and his attitude has made him a winner.

The A’s also have a strong defense up the middle, with catcher Kurt Suzuki, shortstop Cliff Pennington, second baseman Mark Ellis and centerfielder Coco Crisp. Pennington still makes too many errors on routine plays but he also makes more spectacular plays. He’s going to be a great defensive shortstop soon. Crisp has always been a great defensive centerfielder and he’s taken away at least two home runs this year with leaping grabs as the ball was seemingly headed over the fence.

Crisp and Ellis both have club options in their contracts. The A’s should definitely pick up Crisp’s option because he’s also an important part of their offense. Ellis is more problematical. He’s a superb defensive player and a good clutch hitter, but he’s had some injury problems lately. Adam Rosales, a crowd favorite, could step in for him. I’d guess, though, that the A’s will keep Ellis for another year.

The A’s problem continues to be a lack of power. They tried to bring in veterans last year, Matt Holliday and Jason Giambi. That didn’t work, for different reasons.

They tried Eric Chavez in a DH platoon with Jake Fox at the start of the season, which didn’t work for either one. Fox was eventually waived and Chavez has been on the DL for most of the season. He hopes to rejoin the team for a farewell tour in September.

Originally, the A’s sent Jack Cust down to Sacramento but recalled him when Chavez broke down. I certainly hope that this will be his last hurrah. Cust’s home run ratio has gone down every year, which suggests the pitchers are catching up to him; based on a full season, he’d hit about 21 homers this season. What hasn’t gone down are his strikeouts. Based on a full season, he’d be around 200 this year. Putting him in the field is never a good idea. He should be gone for good after this season.

His replacement could be Chris Carter, who had a short and unproductive stint earlier this month, going 9-for-19. He’s typically started slowly each season and then come on, but he’s regarded as a major league hitter. Major league fielder? That’s more of a question. He’s at best an average outfielder, and the A’s have several young outfield candidates. He’s better at first base but nowhere near Daric Barton, who is really nifty around the bag and improving each year as a hitter.

The A’s will have a lot of money coming off the payroll with the end of Chavez’s and Ben Sheet’s contracts, so conceivably, they could sign a free agent. But big bats are hard to find on the open market, and hitters know the reputation of the Oakland Coliseum. I think improvement will have to come from within.

And, oh, yes, I’d like to see the A’s get a real manager, instead of Bob Geren, but I don’t expect that to happen.

PARTISAN FEELINGS: It always amuses me when readers take jibes at teams other than their own.

For instance, I have one reader who loves the Raiders and always calls me out whenever I praise the 49ers. Conversely, there are any number of 49er fans who jump on Al Davis, who is an easy target.

A’s fans often criticize Mike Krukow for…well, being a Giants announcer. Any time I criticize Brian Sabean, I have a Giants fan who tells me the mistakes Billy Beane has made, as if that’s part of the conversation.

Enough, already. Your teams aren’t even in the same leagues. Enjoy the successes of your own teams, or bemoan their failures, and don’t worry about other teams. Or even their announcers.

What do YOU think? Let me know!

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