Melky Cabrera/Marvin Benard/Barry Bonds/Lance Armstrong; Jamaal Wilkes; Cal stadium; Bowie Kuhn/Marvin Miller
THERE HAVE been some very interesting developments on what might loosely be described as the drug scene in sports.
In Sunday’s Chronicle, John Shea had a very good column on the fact that Latinos have a much higher percentage of those who are caught than the actual percentage of Latinos playing major league baseball. He talked to a number of people, including my good friend, Amaury Pi-Gonzales, who cited some obvious reasons: They come from such poverty that they’ll try anything to get away from it and, having an imperfect grasp of English, may not understand the restrictions.
Of course, this morning there was another of those Chronicle columns that went the other direction, saying that the Giants missed a chance to take a stand by refusing to take Guillermo Mota back after he’d served his 60 days. This column urged more drug tests and more suspensions. Do they take a sanctimonious pledge at The Chronicle these days. The Giants said all along that the decision would be a baseball one, as it should be.
There are a couple of points that should be made: 1) Steroids and their equivalents do not make an average player a superstar. Marvin Benard is an example of that. What they have done is allow the superior players to work out longer and extend their careers. Willie Mays was through at 40, but Barry Bonds kept going. 2) What players are getting caught for now, the artificial testosterone, is not equivalent to steroids – and, BTW, those who insist that Melky Cabrera’s last two years are due to his using that are full of it. This artificial testosterone gives players more energy, so in that sense, it’s a replacement for the long-popular “greenies,” otherwise known as amphetamines. If those making the decisions on the joint MLB/Players Association program were more interested in reality than appearances, they would understand that young men playing day games after night games on the road need something to rev up their energy because they don’t just go directly to bed in their hotels after night games. You can fill in the blanks there. I never saw the harm in “greenies”, and I don’t see that any purpose is being served by punishing players who were caught using artificial testosterone.
There is danger to the players in taking all these substances, but as I’ve long said, if MLB really wants to stop this kind of thing, they’d say players can take whatever they want – but have to say exactly what they’re taking. Then, we’d have some legitimate evidence about what damage is done to their bodies, and maybe that would change their minds. Now, we have only anecdotal information.
Basically, you can’t stop people from doing what they want to do. Prohibition did nothing but establish a gangster class in the U.S. Our “war on drugs” has been an even greater disaster. By making these drugs illegal and driving up their price, we’ve created the drug lords who are wreaking havoc in Mexico – and, BTW, we haven’t stopped their use in this countryat all. Marijuana is illegal, which is ridiculous (I say that as someone who has never used it), and that hasn’t stopped either the growing or use of it.
I’m sure baseball commissioner Bud Selig realizes that, but he understands that there are many people, including sportswriters, who can be fooled by this sham program Selig has pushed.
Meanwhile, there is another idea which has taken form lately, that teams should be punished by a loss of wins when one of their players is caught. Dale Murphy talked of this idea in an interview for Comcast’s “Chronicle Live” when I was on last Friday night.
I admired Murphy as a player and have voted several times for him on the Hall of Fame ballot, and I also agree with him on his idea that youngsters playing in youth programs sign a pledge not to take drugs. Unfortunately, that only affects Americans, and baseball is no longer the first choice for American blacks, who go to football and basketball because they offer college athletic scholarships – and they can play in the NBA at 19, if they’re good enough. If Willie Mays had been offered a college scholarship, maybe he would have played football; he was a quarterback for his high school team. Filling the gap in major league baseball is the influx of Latinos and now Japanese players, none of whom would be affected by American youth programs.
The proposal to punish clubs wouldn’t work, either. The main objection is that you just can’t take wins from a team because contending teams have to play the same schedule. That’s why they’ll play makeup games, even if it’s really inconvenient for the teams, if teams are in playoff contention. In this case, if you take six wins away from the Giants, they might end up with fewer wins than the Dodgers but a higher percentage. So, do you make them losses, which would double the severity of the penalty? And, how do you determine how many games a suspended player “won” for the team? This is really a nonstarter.
So, is Murphy’s other idea: that the veteran players would police the clubhouse and make the offending players fall in line. I was writing about major league baseball in the ‘70s, when players were taking the socalled recreational drugs. Many ruined their lives and careers, and in so doing, also caused great damage to their clubs. But, nobody on those teams ever enforced any discipline on them. The myth of a clubhouse that just pulls together is just that, a myth, although it’s a favorite one of many baseball writers.
The other interesting case is the longstanding feud between the US Doping Association and Lance Armstrong. Now retired from biking, Armstrong announced that he’s giving up the fight, at which point, the USDA stripped him of all his medals. Armstrong has never failed a drug test but the USDA claims to have an informant who knows he was shooting up.
This is beyond vindictive, and the USDA may be fighting a case in an international court with the world Anti-Doping organization. I know which side I’ll be rooting for.
LAST FRIDAY, I went on a media tour of the re-done Cal stadium, and it is a beauty. The historic façade has been retained, and if you stand on the field and look up, it looks much the same as it always has, unlike the new Stanford stadium, which I termed the Aluminum Siding Bowl when I first saw it.
But the interior of Memorial Stadium is much different. It had been dark and crowded inside, with bathrooms that were, well, a disgrace. Now, that area has been cleaned out by the elimination of offices and workout rooms, now in the Simpson High Performance Center, and, when the outside wall was knocked down, the area going out from what was the refreshment stand has been greatly expanded, to the Richard Goldman plaza, which will be used for multiple events.
The stadium seating is quite different, with chair seats and spots for wheel chairs, so that the seating will be cut from 72,000 to 57,000. The field has also been sunk several feet, so that those sitting in the first six rows on the west side will now be able to see the field, instead of the backs of standing players on the sideline.
The field itself is artificial turf but spongy, a long distance from the first artificial turf which was used, which was hard as a rock. Both Cal football and rugby teams will be able to use the field for practice and games.
This will be the third Cal press box I’ve sat in. The first one was so damaged by the Loma Prieta earthquake that a “temporary” press box was put in. It was small and cramped, and writers sitting in the front row got drenched on a rainy day. They also had to go to another room (I never wrote a column from the stadium, even when I was with The Chronicle, for various reasons). There was one feature I enjoyed, though. Because the press box was right behind the seating, fans could turn around and talk to me. That won’t be possible with the new press box, which is elevated quite a bit from the seating area.
Ticket prices will be much higher than before, and unfortunately, many of the televised games may not be available. The new Pac-12 Network has a contract with only one major Bay Area provider, Comcast, with whom it shares a building in San Francisco. It does not have contracts with AT&T, my provider, Dish or Direct TV. It seems to be relying on subscribers pressuring their service to provide games but it doesn’t seem to me that they worked hard enough before this.
THE SELECTION of Jamaal Wilkes to the basketball Hall of Fame is another indication of how hard it’s been for the Warriors to keep top players, or to get top players to come here.
Marc Spencer of Yahoo.com and I argued on “Chronicle Live” on whether a new arena in San Francisco would make a difference. Though Spencer and I both live in Oakland, he said he thought it would. “Players love San Francisco,” he said. And now, they also stay in San Francisco before games because there’s no hotel near the Coliseum Arena. They used to stay in the Edgewater, where they got drugs as well.
I didn’t argue with that point but good free agents want to come to a team with a winning tradition and the one time the Warriors won the NBA title, in 1975, hardly any NBA players were even born.
I think the Warriors are on the right track for this year with the moves they’ve made, but they need to at least make some playoff appearances before free agents want to come here, no matter where they’re playing.
THE NHL is risking another strike with their contract negotiations. The last time this happened, the NHL shut down for a year. Could we possibly be so lucky again?
THE SILLY SEASON for the NFL is about to conclude. Both the 49ers and Raiders play their fourth exhibition tomorrow, which shows you what they think of these games. They just want as much off time as they can muster before the games count.
I haven’t been to one of these games since I left The Chronicle. What’s the point? Trying to evaluate a team off these games is ridiculous because you have no idea what they’re trying to do. In the regular season, coaches game plan to beat the other team. In the exhibition season, they use them as expanded practice, working on areas where they might be concerned. Veteran starters often sit out these games, with minor injuries that would not keep them out of a regular season game.
And, every year, you can count on a young quarterback looking good – because he’s usually playing against defenders who may not even be on the other team’s roster when the real games are played. One of my readers got excited about Scott Tolzien when he looked good in the second game. It’s possible Tolzien will make the 49ers roster as the third quarterback, because Josh Johnson has been a disappointment in practices, but he’d play only in a real emergency.
In the Raiders’ last exhibition, Tyrelle Pryor looked very good as Matt Leinart’s replacement. But Leinart will be back this week and he’s solid at No. 2 backing up Carson Palmer. Pryor is an excellent athlete but he’s still a work in progress as a quarterback.
Nothing has happened in the silly season to change my original evaluations: The 49ers will be in the Super Bowl hunt and the Raiders will be also-rans in the AFC West – but are building a team and organization which can win in the future.
THE NFL had better settle its dispute with officials. If they play the regular season with replacement refs, Jim Harbaugh’s head may explode. He and Denver coach John Fox both had a long drawn-out battle with officials in the last game.
Harbaugh, of course, is super competitive, but going in with replacement refs makes no more sense than going in with replacement players, as the NFL regrettably did for a time in 1987. Just as with the players, the goal for officials is always to make the highest level, the NFL. I watch college games and the level of officiating is much higher in the NFL.
THE RED SOX unloaded some bad contracts in their trade with the Dodgers, especially Carl Crawford, whose contract might be the worst ever for a free agent position player. Barry Zito has the negative honors for pitchers. Whether it was the pressure or feeling that he had it made with his big contract, Crawford just disappeared as a front line player. Perhaps he will be better with the Dodgers, but I doubt it. The one good player the Dodgers got was Adrian Gonzales, who’s a west coast kind of guy. Being one myself, I can certainly understand that.
When free agency came in, Charlie Finley said what teams should do is negotiate one-year contracts with every player, so they’d all be free agents at the end of the season.
That was exactly the fear of Marvin Miller, executive director of the Players Association, because he knew that, in an unlimited market, the players would be paid their actual worth. A limited market drives up the price of even lesser players. That was what Miller wanted because he knew the high free agent contracts would cause all players salaries to rise.
Instead, with the guidance of commissioner Bowie Kuhn, the owners put in a system which binds players to teams for six years, thus limiting the number of free agents in any year.
I’ll leave it to you to decide whether Miller or Kuhn had the better understanding of what would happen.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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