Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Jose Bautista, Babe Ruth, Joe DiMaggio, Barry Zito, Hideki Matsui
by Glenn Dickey
Jul 19, 2011


NOTE: I’m sending this out early because I want to go to the Giants game tomorrow. I’ll be back on the Wednesday schedule next week.

ROGER CLEMENS has never been a favorite of mine. He’s pompous, spoiled and, despite his impressive career stats, was not always a great big game pitcher. Dave Stewart owned him when the A’s and Red Sox battled in the postseason in the late ‘80s, to the point that some writers thought Clemens deliberately got himself thrown out in the first inning of one game, so he’d have an excuse for not winning. To top it off, when most of the media was focusing on Barry Bonds on the steroids issue, Clemens was off the radar for a long time.

Despite all this, I cheered when a judge declared a mistrial in his trial for allegedly lying to Congress. Government attorneys pulled a stunt that the judge told them a first-year law student wouldn’t try: Trying to sneak in evidence from Andy Pettitte’s wife – which the judge had earlier ruled out of bounds – with a video of her. Their argument that the judge could then instruct the jurors to ignore it was so transparent, the judge didn’t buy it. That would inevitably have been in the minds of jurors, which was what the government’s attorneys hoped.

This is taxpayer’s money which is being wasted in these trials. Congress has no business getting involved in the first place; it’s just a way of getting headlines for meaningless posturing. And the Justice Department should drop all these cases immediately.

Monitoring drug programs should be the business of individual sports, not Congress or the Justice Department.

Beyond that, it’s nonsensical that the media – and fans – are ignoring the real problem of steroids in football while figuratively wringing their hands over the use of PEDs in baseball.

Steroids have made football players both bigger and faster, which means collisions are much more violent. That also means that concussions are a huge problem, at a time when we’re learning that concussions can be a precursor of Alzheimer’s. The NFL is trying to strengthen its drug-testing program – the occasional four-game suspensions are laughable – but neither media nor fans have been pressuring them to do that.

Meanwhile, the concentration has been on baseball, where any damage done by steroids is strictly to those taking them. Baseball is not a collision sport.

So, why is everybody so upset about steroids in baseball? Because, from the commissioner on down, they think records are affected.

Well, here’s a revelation: Records don’t mean a damn thing. In any era, conditions surrounding the game are different. Babe Ruth is generally thought of as the best of all time but Ruth was operating in a lily-white sport. How would he have fared if there had been blacks and Latinos playing? We’ll never know, but we do know that, immediately after Jackie Robinson broke the color line, the National League became dominant because they signed so many top black players. And now, if you’re talking great hitters, you start with Albert Pujols and Jose Bautista, who is about to become the only current player to have back-to-back 50-homer seasons. Both are Latinos, of course.

Or, consider what many consider the most remarkable feat in baseball history: Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak. DiMaggio was playing in an era when hitters swung heavy bats and tried to make contact. DiMaggio struck out only 13 times that season and only 369 times in a career in which he hit 361 home runs.

Modern sluggers have very thin-handled bats which they whip through the strike zone rapidly, which gives them their power. So, they think nothing of striking out more than 100 times a year.

Under these conditions, no hitter will ever come close to DiMaggio’s record. But, if DiMaggio had been using the same kind of bat, it’s unlikely he’d have come close to hitting in 56 straight games.

Fans and media alike should quit this obsessing with records and enjoy the game. And Congress and the Justice Department should stick to meaningful issues instead of trying to garner headlines with silly cases against athletes.

IT DIDN’T take long for Barry Zito to come back to his unfortunate normal. Now, the window for trading him has closed. Not my fault. I told the Giants last Tuesday in my Examiner column that they should trade him immediatellly.

Now, they’re really stuck. They could skip Zito’s turn the next two times through the rotation because of off days Thursday and Monday, by which time Jonathan Sanchez will probably be ready to return.

But, that still raises the question of what to do with Zito. Some have suggested a six-man rotation, but that would mean fewer starts for Tim Lincecum and Matt Cain. Does anybody think that losing a start for either of those two is worth giving Zito a start?

But, Zito can’t be used in relief. He’s never pitched out of the ‘pen because he has an elaborate preparation routine that wouldn’t work for him as a reliever.

Maybe he could develop the same kind of phantom foot injury that landed Pat Burrell on the DL. But the Giants can afford to release Burrell, as they probably will, because he’s only signed for this year at $3 million. Zito is signed through 2013 at $18 million plus a year. Ouch!

Meanwhile, writers are heralding the possible return of Mark De Rosa, as if he will be a savior for the team.

I don’t get it. I never thought the signing of De Rosa was a big deal. He’s been a good player with versatility but never a great one. He’s played 1058 major league games, averaged .272 with 93 home runs and 440 RBIs. Those aren’t exactly All-Star totals.

Now, he’s 36. Since the Giants signed him, he’s had two wrist operations. Not exactly the savior the Giants are looking for.

Where would De Rosa play? He was penciled in as a starter in left field before he was injured last year, but that was a desperation move. The Giants have better options now.

In the infield, second base would probably be the only option but Emmanuel Burriss has the speed to steal a base and keep a rally going, and De Rosa does not. The Giants are hoping to get Freddy Sanchez back for September, and Sanchez would be a big upgrade there.

SWINGIN’ A’S: I was at the Coliseum on Sunday so I saw the unusual spectacle of a big offensive showing by the A’s, seven runs before an out was recorded (an Oakland record) and eight runs in the first inning.

Does this herald a breakout for A’s hitters? I doubt it. I wrote earlier that the Giants’ offensive problems stem from the fact that they are “mistake hitters” and often helpless against pitchers who hit their spots. That’s even more true of the A’s. On this Sunday, Angels starter Joel Pinero couldn’t control his best pitch, his slider, and the A’s feasted on his other pitches.

There is some progress for the A’s. Their infield has been almost totally re-done, with shortstop Cliff Pennington the only one who has been a starter since Opening Day, and I like the changes.

Jemile Weeks, who has been a top prospect for some time, has come up to play second base, and I think he’ll be there for some time. Scott Sizemore has settled in at third and he looks like a decent hitter with some pop, and a good upside. Conor Jackson has taken over at first and he also has some pop, hitting a grandslam homer in the first inning Sunday. That’s a change I recommended some time ago.

There’s talk that the A’s will trade Josh Willingham because he has value to other teams; Philadelphia has been mentioned as a possible trade partner. I’d rather see the A’s re-sign Willingham for another year because he’s their only legitimate power hitter, but the A’s ownership will probably want to move him to bring in cheaper players.

Through an interpreter, Hideki Matsui has said he feels better about his swing now and expects his power numbers to go up, as the A’s expected when they signed him. Matsui still shows signs of his baseball intelligence because he does the little things, like sliding away from an infielder or catcher who’s trying to tag him, taking the extra base, taking a walk instead of swinging at a bad pitch.

Meanwhile, there’s been much publicity about his approaching the 500-home run mark, which I regard as ridiculous because it includes his home runs in Japan, the larger part of his total. Japanese baseball has improved greatly over the years but it is still not at the level of the American game. Matsui has accomplished enough in his career. He doesn’t need this artificial “record.”

NFL DEAL: Bits and pieces have leaked out about the settlement between players and owners. One of the most encouraging: There will be a rookie salary cap in effect for the first four years. Salaries will be perhaps half of what they are now, and the extra money will go to veteran players.

This is as it should be. It’s never made sense for unproven rookies to get so much money. It didn’t always work for them, either, because some of them thought they had it made and didn’t have to work at it any longer. Hello there, JaMarcus Russell!

The runaway rookie salaries also created some strange maneuvers, such as Michael Crabtree deciding he should have been the seventh pick instead of Darrius Heyward-Bey and so he should be paid like a seventh pick. The first part of that was correct but the second wasn’t. Crabtree, who’s not the sharpest knife in the drawer, wound up costing himself money because he didn’t get a bigger contract and only got paid for about half of his first season. At his insistence, he got an extra year on his contract, but that works to the 49ers benefit, because of the way NFL contracts are written. The 49ers can cut Crabtree early if they want to but if they want to keep him, he will have to play for them an extra year before he can become a free agent.

Well, I said he wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer.

WOMEN’S SOCCER: The attention paid to the finals of the women’s World Cup again demonstrated how fans get wrapped up in the ultimate games. Many people watch the Super Bowl, the World Series and the NBA and NHL playoffs who never watch regular season games. I’m sure many who watched the World Cup finals never watch soccer, let alone the women’s version.

I had an unusual experience with this game. The shootout that decided it was played on the TV monitors in the Coliseum press box, so we all watched it avidly. When the Japanese women won, a big cheer went up in the press box. Why? Because there are many Japanese journalists who are there every day to write about Matsui. One of them was sitting next to me and he soon had some of his countrymen (and women) coming by to celebrate. It didn’t bother me. Japan has suffered greatly this year from the earthquake/tsunami and I was happy that they had something to celebrate.

At one time, I followed soccer closely; I even did color on Earthquakes soccer radio and TV in the early ‘80s.

Lately, though, I haven’t followed it. In fact, probably the last time I did was in 1994, when I went to a quarter-final match at Stanford for the World Cup and was later interviewed on Australian TV on the subject of soccer.

There’s a lot to recommend about soccer. Normal-sized people can play it, unlike football or basketball, and it is great for kids because injuries are rare and individual players don’t face the pressure that pitchers and hitters do in baseball. And, in youth baseball, fielders often see little action as pitchers walk hitter after hitter. In soccer, the action is continuous and everybody is involved.

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