Bud Selig; Pablo Sandoval/Prince Fielder; Mark Davis/Reggie McKenzie/ Tim Tebow; Baseball Fans
REMEMBER ALL that bragging that MLB, and the writers who act as satellites, were doing about their new drug program. Turns out it’s working as well as the famed “War on Drugs” which we lost decades ago, though politicians of both parties don’t seem to understand that.
The decrease in power numbers in major league baseball in recent years was probably because MLB once again tinkered with the ball, this time to make it less lively. Despite the official pronouncements, changes are often made in the winding around the core, to make it more or less lively.
You only have to look through baseball history to see the results. The most obvious change came in the ‘30s, when owners were desperate to get people back during Depression years, and offensive figures were off the charts. Significantly, when Ted Williams came back from flying a fighter plane in World War II, he commented that the ball seemed much less lively. Coming from Williams, who once noticed that home plate at Fenway was an inch off center, that was significant.
Both the government effort against drugs and the one launched by MLB ignored a basic fact of life: You cannot stop people from doing what they really want to do. Prohibition didn’t stop people from drinking alcohol. It just forced them to get it through illegal means, creating the Mafia. The ‘war on drugs” has created still another set of criminals, this time in Mexico. Congratulations.
In baseball’s case, they’ve tried to legislate against the athletes’ basic desire to do anything to improve their performance. Baseball banned all foreign substances that were being used on pitches after Ray Chapman was killed when he was hit in the head by a pitch in 1920, but many pitchers since have used similar substances to doctor pitches. Gaylord Perry went from a pitcher who was about two weeks from getting his release from the Giants to a Hall of Famer, and he was by no means the only one breaking the law. In fact, he was taught how to throw the spitter by Bob Shaw, a veteran pitcher on the Giants at the time. Whitey Ford is another Hall of Famer who was always thought to be using a variation of the spitter, as was Preacher Roe from the Brooklyn Dodgers of the ‘50s. There have been others since but I quit cataloguing them years ago.
Amphetemines, the ever popular “greeenies”, were used by everybody in the game, until they were outlawed this year. Many around baseball think the drop in home run production has more to do with the absence of greenies, as well as a changed baseball, than a decrease in drug taking, and the latest news seems to support that.
There are two things that bother me about MLB’s drug program:
--The smarter – and richer – players are always going to be ahead of the testers, because they can get advanced drugs that can’t be detected.
--The policy is discriminatory, because there is a disproportionate amount of Latinos who get caught, in part because these drugs are often available over the counter in their native countries and also because they probably have problems understanding the program because of language difficulties.
There is, of course, an even bigger problem: hypocrisy. MLB commissioner Bud Selig wants fans to think the game has been cleaned up, but these facts to the contrary keep turning up. Darn.
NOT ALL of my predictions are wrong. I had just written that one of the Giants’ problems was that Pablo Sandoval will continue to have health problems because he is enormously overweight when he went down again with a foot injury that it seems will land him on the 15-day DL. As I wrote earlier, he may not play more than 120 games this season. When I looked him up on Wikkepedia, his weight was listed as 246 pounds. Maybe when he was 15. He reported to training camp this year at 266 pounds, and he may even have gone up from that.
This puts the Giants in a difficult position. They’ve been signing their stars to longterm contracts, trying to create some stability, but his weight concerns make Pablo a huge gamble. As it is, he is signed through 2014, getting $6.7 million this year, going up to $8,250,000 next year.
After that? Pablo is a big favorite with Giants fans but I think he’s too much of a gamble for the Giants. The comparisons of Sandoval with Prince Fielder are not relevant. Fielder is huge and, though he’s certainly overweight, I don’t see the big belly hanging out that is so evident with Sandoval. He’s also playing first base, a much less challenging postion.
I see Sandoval going to the American League, where he’ll wind up as a DH. He’ll probably be a dangerous hitter until he’s 40, but his fielding will decline with age because of his weight problems, and if he has to play in the field, he’ll be injured much more frequently. It makes sense to make a DH out of him.
The Giants got off to a good start on their road trip by taking two out of three from the Arizona Diamondbacks over the weekend but the rest of the trip will be tougher, playing teams in Pittsburgh and Cincinnati that have better records. Tonight in Pittsburgh, they’ll be facing Gerrit Cole, the No. 1 choice in the 2011 draft, who’s probably going to be more of a challenge than the D-Backs Sunday loser, Tyler Skaggs, who was sent back to the minors yesterday.
More than anything, their win in Arizona showed once again that there is no dominant team in the NL West, only three teams that are slightly better than .500. On paper, the Dodgers should be in that group, too, but they’ve had injury problems and that late season spending spree last year hasn’t seemed to give them any boost at all.
Because of the parity, the race for the NL West should be an interesting one, especially since it’s unlikely a wild card will come out of the division. The Giants could well win it but with the rotation as shaky as it is, it’s hard to see them going anywhere in the postseason. Of course, crazy things happen in the expanded MLB postseason.
MEANWHILE, THE A’s, though finally having their hot streak interrupted by the White Sox’s double win over them on the weekend, are looking forward to playing the Yankees at the Coliseum this week.
How times have changed. When Bob Geren was manager of the A’s, his players were cowed by the Yankees, losing 10 straight, which finally convinced general manager Billy Beane he had to make a change. The A’s swept a four-game series from the Yankees last July, as they started their run to the AL West title. This year, they took two out of three from the Yankees in New York.
To be fair, this is not the dominating Yankee team to which we’ve become accustomed over the years. As others have noted, they have more salary represented in players on the DL, including Alex Rodriguez, than the A’s have in total payroll. Still, they’re only two games off the lead in the AL East, which is once again the strongest division in the American League, which means in baseball. Though commissioner Bud Selig attempted to even the imbalance between leagues by transferring the Houston Astros to the AL West, the American League has retained the superiority it has had in inter-league games since 2003.
The key here, though, is the A’s confidence, which starts with their manager. Melvin has given the A’s a feeling that they can overcome adversity, which they certainly had with multiple early season injuries, and the depth which Beane has provided with his offseason moves has paid off. Remember when the debate was what the A’s would do with all their outfielders? Turned out, they needed every one.
Even though the marathon known as the baseball regular season is not yet at the halfway mark, this series against the Yankees will help determine whether the A’s can surprise the baseball world once again by winning their division.
BASEBALL CROWDS have changed enormously since I first started covering major league games in 1963, but even so, I’m continually amazed by the Giants crowds. Last Wednesday, I was watching the Giants being baffled by R. A. Dickey but, though they were trailing, 4-0, after Barry Zito fell apart in the fifth, they were partying as if the Giants were the team with four runs.
Giants management has done a tremendous job with their park, turning it into an amusement park where a baseball game sometimes breaks out. This, of course, is diametrically opposite to the type of crowds we used to see at Candlestick, where it took real devotion for fans to come out.
Now, that type of fan is seen at the Coliseum, where the A’s are putting together another strong team effort, with the second lowest payroll in baseball. No frills, either, at the Coliseum, but the fans are really into the baseball. Reminds me of the old days.
IT’S AMAZING to me how many writers have jumped on a storyline—Raiders return to bad old days—because of the firing of public relations director Zac Gilbert. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The most extreme was a website columnist who claimed Mark Davis was putting general manager Reggie McKenzie on notice that he wasn’t going to swallow the line that Gilbert, as McKenzie’s voice, had been peddling: that McKenzie was in a hole because Al Davis had created huge salary and salary cap problems by overspending for achievers. That’s a line? More like the truth. Who can doubt that? Of course, this writer is obviously still entranced by the Davis legend, which hadn’t been true for, oh, maybe three decades.
And the idea that Mark Davis would take control was bizarre. I’ve had several unplanned, meetings with Mark over the years and one thing was always clear: He was not a decision maker. Still isn’t. He’s taken advice from Ron Wolf and John Madden, and they’ve told him that McKenzie’s way is the only way out of this mess. The decision to fire Gilbert took six weeks, and I’m sure it was mostly because that’s what Mark’s mother, Carole, wanted.
I feel sorry for Gilbert, who’s a class act, but he’ll get another job because the rest of the NFL knows he was doing a fine job. And, I’m confident McKenzie will bring the Raiders back. But when you’re in such a deep hole, you first have to get to the surface before you can start to build.
NEWS FLASH: The New England Patriots have signed Tim Tebow. Boy, I’ll bet that will give Tom Brady a lot of sleepless nights.
PERHAPS IT’S because the seasons in all professional sports have grown longer, which produces more injuries and more weary players, but the postseason play in all pro sports seems to have become more unpredictable. That’s certainly been true of the NBA this year.
When the Warriors beat the Spurs in San Antonio in the second game of their series, I thought the Spurs were dead in the water, showing their age. But then, Stephen Curry twisted his ankle, Andrew Bogut had to play through injuries and it was the Warriors who went down in that round.
Now, the Spurs and Miami Heat are tied, 1-1, and there are two ways to look at it. One is that the Spurs gained by winning one of the two games in Miami, so three of the next five will be on their home court, if it goes that far. But the loss to the Heat in the second game was devastating because the Heat simply overran them in the late stages, and once again, the Spurs seemed to show their age.
I’m not going to be foolish enough to make any more predictions, though I’m sure there are some of you who wish I would so they could bet the other way.
PET PEEVE: Those announcements on the message board at the Coliseum to cheer. Since when have baseball fans had to be told to cheer? The Giants never do that. They know they’d get too many complaints from fans that they were disrupting their phone calls. To friends two sections over.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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