Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta, Alex Rodriguez, David Ortiz; Brandon Belt/Brett Pill; Albert Pujols/ Hunter Pence; Eric Sogard/Matt Garza; Cal QBs; George Seifert/Tom Flores
YESTERDAY, MLB suspended 13 players for the connection to the Biogenes clinic in Florida. So, can we now assume that baseball has cleaned out the PED users?
Ha, ha, ha. Theyíre not even close. Remember, it wasnít even MLB that uncovered this clinic, but a media source. As I mentioned last week, citing an article in The Economist, sports often walk a tight line, catching some players but not testing tightly enough to shut down the sport. Baseball is definitely one of those sports.
Thatís not just my opinion. Robert Weiner, who is a former member of the White House anti-drug program and one of the founders of the program used in the Olympics, noted that the Mitchell report, which was sanctioned by MLB, said half of the players were taking some form of PEDs. Of course, the number who were actually punished is a small fraction of that. No matter how many times players talk of wanting ďa level playing field,Ē a sizable number of them are not interested. And, neither is the commissionerís office or club owners.
The current program has caught an occasional big fish. Ryan Braun is the biggest, though it took MLB two tests, the first compromised in an almost comical fashion, to nail him. Mostly, though, theyíre nailing players on the fringe; three of the players named yesterday have already been optioned to the minors.
There are two players who are key to pennant races this season. The first is Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz, who has 27 homers this season. The other is Detroit shortstop Jhohnny Peralta. If the Rangers and Tigers make the postseason, theyíll both be able to play. Otherwise, their seasons are over.
Both will be free agents next year and, of course, theyíll get big contracts. Thatís why players take PEDs. They know that, even if theyíre caught, they lose only 50 games and their next contract will be a big one. Example No. 1: Melky Cabrera, who signed with the Toronto Blue Jays this season.
There is one more very interesting player in this mix, Alex Rodriguez. Because of his stature, MLB wants to suspend him through the 2014 season. Basically, those in charge are saying they donít want to see him on the field again. But, he has one ace to play: He can appeal and play for at least the rest of this season before a final decision is made. If he does that, heíd be 39 and ready to retire, so he could serve his sentence in retirement. Iím no fan of A-Rod, but Iím amused that MLB has managed to make him a semi-sympathetic character.
All this nonsense reminds me of a Bob Costas show a few years back when he was interviewing David Ortiz and presenting him as the anti-Bonds because Costas had repeatedly said how much he loathed Barry. Of course, by the time of the interview, Ortiz had already bulked up since joining the Red Sox and his power numbers had gone through the roof. Everybody but the little twit interviewing him knew that, and it wasnít long after that when Ortiz was caught and suspended. But, when he came back, the Red Sox fans quickly forgave him.
And, not just those fans. I was at an interleague game two years ago in Oakland when Ortiz hit a towering homer early in the game. PA announcer Dick Callahan told the crowd it was his 400th career home run. Everybody, Red Sox and Aís fans alike, stood up and cheered him.
As Iíve always said, the fans at the park love the current game, even knowing that players are on PEDs. Itís the fans at home, watching on TV, who moralize on the issue. So, why does MLB pay attention to them? The answer: They donít, except for an occasional petty occasion like yesterday.
GIANTS FANS often get annoyed with Brandon Belt and, with the call up of Brett Pill, have called for Pill to replace Belt. That wonít happen for a couple of reasons:
--The Giants have been patient with Belt because he was rushed to the majors. Usually, teams like to have prospects have 1500 at-bats in the minors, roughly three seasons, but Belt had only 670 before he was called up to fill the gaping hole that had existed since J. T. Snowís retirement. And, Belt had started his collegiate career as a pitcher, before shifting to first.
Itís been painful to watch him progress in fits and starts, though we should have expected this. I noticed one flaw a couple of weeks ago, his tendency to strike out on high inside pitches that he couldnít have hit safely, anyway. His patience at the plate has probably hurt him, too. Last week, the Giants convinced him while he was taking a short playing break to be more aggressive early in the count. Doing that the next game, he had a homer, single and triple. That probably will force pitchers to throw in a more normal fashion instead of just pouring in a decent pitch to hit just to get a strike. He had three more hits last night. His batting percentage is just two points lower than Pablo Sandovalís, and he has one more homer.
--Age is vitally important to judging the future of baseball players. Players who prove at age 20 that they can handle big league pitching, as Willie Mays and Hank Aaron did, are destined for the Hall of Fame. Players who make the big leagues between 22 and 25, as Belt did, usually have good careers. But a playerís best years are usually 27-32. Pill will be 29 in September so he is already at his peak. By contrast, Belt is still only 25 (in April), so he should continue to improve.
Iíve called Pill a 4A player, a term baseball people use to describe a player who is too good for the minor leagues but not quite good enough for the majors. Though I had no idea of what I was seeing, when I was barely a teenager, I remember a year when the Chicago Cubs had two first basemen, Chuck Connors and Dee Fondy. Connors started the season with the Cubs Triple A team in Los Angeles and tore up the Pacific Coast League. Meanwhile, Fondy was struggling with the Cubs. So, they sent down Fondy, who hit PCL pitchers for a plus .300 average, while Connors was struggling mightily in the majors. Starting the next year, Fondy had a decent major league career but Connors was a 4A player and realized that, making a very good career decision to go into TV as ďThe Rifleman.Ē
Itís a waste for both Pill and the Giants to keep him around in this lost year. They should trade him for a prospect because their farm system is thin now.
WHAT IS A baseball player worth? That often depends on factors beyond the athleteís ability. There is one example on the Giantsí roster: Hunter Pence. He wouldnít be worth $14 million to a team with good power but heís essential to the Giants.
There are other, more extreme examples.
In his later years, when he was probably descending into Alzheimerís, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner had several player signings which seemed outrageous but werenít for the Yankees because they were just rolling in money, mostly from their lucrative TV network. If one player didnít work out, Steinbrenner just brought in another. Jason Giambi is a perfect example. The Aís couldnít come close to matching the kind of contract the Yankees gave him and Giambi had injury and steroids problems during his Yankee career. But in his first five seasons, he had two seasons with more than 40 homers, two more with more than 30 and he drove in more than 100 runs in each of his first two seasons. I doubt Steinbrenner thought he got cheated.
The current counterpart to Steinbrenner is Angels owner Artie Moreno, who is spending wildly to try to win, unsuccessfully so far. He gave a 10-year contract to Albert Pujols that is more than Pujols will be worth but it was the only way he could get Pujols away from the Cardinals.
The kind of deal I think is a bad one is when a team which does not have unlimited resources goes overboard to get a player who doesnít perform well. And yes, I am talking about Barry Zito and the Giants. I have no idea what the Giants thought they saw in Zito Ė all of the media who saw the Aís regularly, including me, thought he was trending down in his career Ė but what they have gotten is a pitcher who can only charitably be considered mediocre. He had a great streak late last season when he was motivated to stay on the postseason roster, but he has reverted again this year to his ďWhat am I doing out here?Ē attitude. Now, heís been taken out of the rotation. As Iíve said before, he should retire. Iím sure heíll hang in there so he can get that $7 million buyout for next season and I canít blame him for that. He wasnít the one who negotiated that deal. Brian Sabean was. He must have thought he was still with the Yankees.
THE AíS didnít fare well in their weekend series with Texas but the one game they won was memorable because it was accomplished chiefly on bunts, though Yoenis Cespedes homer was also key to the win.
The last bunt was especially memorable. Leading by a run with Alberto Galaspo on third, manager Bob Melvin called for Eric Sogard to bunt. It was a safety squeeze, not the suicide squeeze that former Giants manager Roger Craig loved, but as soon as the bunt went down, Galaspo started running. Rangers pitcher Matt Garza fielded the bunt but never even looked toward Galaspo, throwing to first to get Sogard. When he realized Galaspo had scored, Garza started screaming at Sogard. After the game, Garza went to his Twitter account Ė todayís athletes canít resist telling the world what they think, preferably without filtering it through writers. Showing the maturity of a backward 13-year-old, he hurled sexual insults at Sogard, which only amused Sogard and his wife.
Garza has always been known as a pitcher who didnít field his position well but it makes me wonder if other teams watching that video, especially after Garza made certain it was big news, will be trying the same tactic.
Meanwhile, the Aís are suffering through what I think is a temporary slump. Theyíre starting a two-game series in Cincinnati and theyíd better snap out of it because, in that park, opposing pitchers canít expect to pitch shutouts.
EAST COAST viewers must have wondered what was happening Saturday when neither the Red Sox nor Yankees were on Foxís game of the week. Instead, it was the Aís and Rangers.
During a lull in the game, Tim McCarver was talking of baseball being a ďselfish game,Ē another way of saying itís an individual sport within a team concept. He was right, of course, despite all the nonsense from fans and writers who think you have to have a great clubhouse atmosphere to win. Maybe in high school.
To illustrate his point, McCarver told a story about the Ď70s Aís, claiming that Reggie Jackson didnít tag up on a Sal Bando fly out because he didnít want Bando to pass him in RBIs. Iím not sure the story is true, frankly, but thereís no question that itís always been all about Reggie. I donít say that critically because Iíve always enjoyed dealing with Reggie, from the time the Aís first came to Oakland to a brief meeting we had during a recent Aís game. But, no matter what question he was asked, Reggie always turned the subject back to himself.
Interestingly, Reggie was briefly a mentor for Jose Canseco as a rookie, and Jose is the same kind of individual. I donít think it was a matter of Reggie passing his attitude along, though. Jose came by it naturally.
THREE-WAY battle for the starting quarterback position with the Cal Bears brings an interesting question: What will happen to the two QBs who lose out?
At this point, all three quarterbacks say all the right things about wanting to stay at Cal because of the academics and universityís reputation, but itís been my experience that all good collegiate players dream of playing in the NFL, and you donít get there if you donít play. A backup running back may get enough carries to make an impression but a backup quarterback sits, unless the starter is hurt or the game is totally out of control. Playing in a lopsided game, even if he plays well, will not impress pro scouts.
I was at John Elwayís first practice at Stanford as a freshman, and I was overwhelmed by his talent. I wasnít the only one. Two other quarterbacks, ahead of him in school, left the practice field and went over to the admissions office to transfer out. They knew they were never going to start ahead of Elway. I advocated that he be a starter that year but coach Rod Dowhower stuck with senior quarterback Turk Schonert, who led the NCAA in passing that season.
In this case, if junior Austin Hinder is selected at the starter, I think that both redshirt freshman Zach Kline and true freshman Jared Goff will stay, knowing theyíll still get their shot. But most observers feel that itís between Kline and Goff, and whichever of them wins the job, the other one might feel itís time to move on. In that scenario, Iíd be surprised if Hinder stays as well, because he would know that his chances of ever being the starter are nil.
So, by the end of summer camp, the Bears could be down to one quarterback, while facing a schedule that has Northwestern, Ohio State and Oregon among Calís first four opponents. Being the starting quarterback against those teams is definitely a mixed blessing.
ONE OF the biggest insults that has been hurled at me is to call me a blogger. In fact, Iím a journalist with five decades of experience in covering major league sports. A blogger is somebody sitting at home, watching television and formulating opinions, few of which have any value.
Unfortunately, the journalism world has legitimized these clowns by publishing what they produce as if it meant something. Usually, I ignore their claptrap but there was one last year that was so bad, attempting to talk of Bill Walshís relationship with the media, that I felt compelled to refute it in my Examiner column. Almost certainly, this blogger was not even born when Walsh was coaching and he never even talked to him. In contrast, I was very close to Walsh, so I knew how inaccurate these comments were.
I saw another one on the Internet recently, an attempt to identify the worst coaches in the history of each NFL franchise. On the list were George Seifert and Tom Flores, for their stints with the Carolina Panthers and Seattle Seahawks. I wouldnít evaluate their performances with those teams because Iím not familiar with them, a reservation bloggers never have. I do know that Seifert and Flores each coached two Super Bowl champions, with the 49ers and Raiders, respectively, so theyíre not exactly chopped liver. I also know that Mike Nolan was not the worst 49ers coach ever. In recent years, Mike Singletary was worse and the three coaches Joe Thomas had in his two years with the 49ers were all terrible. Of course, this blogger is probably not even aware the 49ers were in existence then.
We canít turn back the clock so bloggers are here to stay. But please, donít call me one.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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