December 2010

Bagwell: IV (Why we’re here)

So I’ve obviously received a lot of comments about this whole Bagwell thing—95 percent of them, ahem, not exactly on my side. And while I don’t love being referred to as an “ass-dripping mongoloid” (especially anonymously–but isn’t that always the case?), I do relish the chance to hear other opinions and takes. I try and be as open-minded as possible, believe it or not. Oftentimes I post something, only to later think, “Man, was I off.” It happens quite often.

But not this time.

The point many people have made is a strong one: How can you damn someone who was never proven guilty?

It’s an excellent question, especially considering I’m a far-, far-, far-, far-left liberal who thinks the death penalty is evil in all cases, because one never knows for absolute certainty.

But here’s the thing: This whole argument is Major League Baseball’s self-generated Catch-22. Back in the day, the union and the owners did everything in their power to keep the usage of PED on the downest of lows. There was, initially, no testing, then for the longest time predictable, easy-to-manipulate testing. Even now, the system is flawed—though much improved. The union, the owners, the players—they were well aware of what they were doing; what they were concealing. PED were terrific for the game, especially coming off of the 1997 strike. McGwire, Sosa, Bonds, Canseco—they brought life back into the game. Power. POWer! POWER!

Because of this—because, specifically, PED were not tested for, then not properly tested for—nobody was proven guilty. Not Bonds, not Sosa, not Canseco. Nobody. It was impossible to come up positive, because there was no such thing as positive. The union didn’t allow it. Testing? We don’t need no stinking testing.

So here we are, at the end of 2010, and people can rightly say, “Look, there’s no proof! [Fill in a name] never failed a drug test! Not once!” Which is 100% correct. [Fill in a name] never failed a drug test—because the union and the owners made certain for that to be impossible. Let me say it again: Impossible.

That’s why, in this case, I believe in the power of observation and, to a certain degree, speculation. Am I happy about it? No. Is it a remotely, remotely, remotely perfect ideal? Not even close. Every person on this site who posted some variation of “So are you not gonna vote for Derek Jeter and Ichiro?” is 100 percent correct. Were I to have a vote, I would probably vote for Derek Jeter. And for Ichiro. For all we know, they used. Again—you’re right.

But this is what baseball has given us—an awkward, imperfect, pathetic, sad, whatever case of “What do we do about these guys?”-itis. Maybe the readers who say, “Forget PED and go by the stats” are correct. Maybe it’s the only way. But I just don’t think it’s right, rewarding guys who blatantly cheated (again, I consider PED blatant cheating) for their bullshit accomplishments.

I’ve referenced this before, but one of my good friends is Sal Fasano, the journeyman catcher who now manages in Toronto’s system. I know Sal and his family very well. I know of his highs, his lows, his struggles, etc. We’ve spoken at length about PED, and I believe strongly he never used (To the reader who says, “Yeah, but how do you know?” I say—fair point. One never knows 100 percent). Sal bounced up and down and all around; was slumming in the minors while Mitchell Report guys like Todd Pratt and Gregg Zaun were taking up major league roster spots. And it infuriates me. People argue, “Hey, it was the era. Everyone used.” Well, not everyone used. Even if 99 of 100 did, there remains the one. To reward and praise those who cheated to reach a certain status demeans those like Sal who did it honestly.

I don’t know the answer here. Polygraphs? Truth serum? Water boarding? I get why many of you think I’m, again, an “ass-dripping mongoloid.” I love baseball. Maybe not as much as Joe does. But quite a bit, nonetheless.

Thanks.

PS: An important point I’d like to make: A couple of posters have suggested, “If you had any guts, you’d go on so-and-so site and defend yourself.” Blah, blah, blah. I understand, in 2010, this is the way some think. But to me, a writer writes, then lets others have their take. It’s not a writer’s job to engage in debate, go on radio or TV shows, etc.

Bagwell: III

Because my take clearly isn’t very popular here, I’ve invited one of the dissenters, Gregg Ferrara, to offer his counter. Gregg is a good guy, and I appreciate him taking the time …

After a few emails back and forth today with Jeff, he asked me to say a few words on here. I am the furthest thing in the world from a writer, I am in the IT field by trade, but I will take a stab at it. Prefaced, I am sick of the steroid talk, I think the effects on the game are unproven, and I think blaming the athletes of the past 20 years is extremely shortsighted, considering steroids have been in baseball since the late 1960’s.

When evaluating athletes, especially when we are evaluating their Hall of Fame credentials, the best thing to do in the “Steroid Era” is to compare them to their peers. Jeff Bagwell, who never failed a drug test, was implicated on any list, or had his name mentioned by a former team mate, clearly fits the bill as a Hall of Fame player. Pearlman makes the point that we have to use our own eyes. This opens a can of worms that we should leave alone. I think Joe Posnanski (in my opinion the slam dunk greatest sports columnist in the country today) said it best, “I’d rather a hundred steroid users were mistakenly voted into the Hall of Fame over keeping one non-user out.”

Just from an ethical standpoint, this is extremely dangerous on many levels. Firstly, the obvious is that Bagwell became bigger as his career progressed. This could be from steroids, or it could be from better weight training and eating. We just don’t know, and until a failed Bagwell test is dug up, we should take him at his word. We do have that little innocent until proven guilty thing in America. Before the 90’s were ushered in, weight training was not something ball clubs embraced. How many clubs had personal trainers, chefs, nutritionists, or even in house gyms?

Secondly, and the more important point is why should we even care if Bagwell took PED’s? Jose Canseco, who still has not told a proven lie, believed that 80% of MLB players were on some PED. If Bagwell was taking steroids, but facing a pitcher who was taking steroids, wouldn’t the playing field be level? We look at the game today, 10 of the last 16 players busted for PED’s have been pitchers.
I think as the years go on, the stance on Steroids will soften. Take the words from Jeff Bagwell himself regarding Andy Pettitte. “Andy came out and said, ‘Listen, my elbow was killing me. I was making $12-13 million a year, and they told me it was going to help me and all I wanted to do was pitch.’ I mean, how can you even argue that? That’s not a performance enhancer. That’s just a guy who wanted to get healthy. How do you separate ‘I want to get healthy’ from ‘I’m trying to get better because I don’t feel like I’m the same player I used to be’?”

The question I have, obviously, is how this is any different from a cortisone shot? I am guessing that the vast, vast majority of people have no idea that a cortisone shot is a fancy word for steroids. Human growth hormones, or HGH, have been proven time and time again not to help athletic performance or increase muscle mass (ie to hit home runs or throw a ball harder).

Jeff asked me, would I vote for Barry Bonds? I find it funny that the question needs to be even asked. If we are to believe all of the “facts” presented in the Game of Shadows, Bonds didn’t start taking steroids until after the 1998 season. If you threw out all seasons after ’98, Bonds is still one of the 25 or greatest players of all time. He was a superior player to Griffey Jr, and arguably the greatest player of his generation. So we can compare Barry clean, and he was the best of his peers. Supposedly on PED’s, he was elevated back to being the best amongst his peers. Wouldn’t you say the playing field was level? Do you believe Bonds was hitting those 70 HR’s off clean pitchers? Or was Canseco right, 80% of players were using, and just as many if not more pitchers were dirty.

There is too much information out there that makes you wonder just how much of the offensive explosion was steroids anyway. When you take into account expansion, new smaller stadiums, better bats, or the most interesting is changes to the ball (I implore you to take the time to read this). From 2003 – 2009, why didn’t runs and home runs fall off of a cliff? Why did it take until 2010? How did Alex Rodriguez have a career year in 2007, hitting 54 home runs in a ball park that kills righties, considering he was being tested more than normal players due to his failed test in ’03? Right, it was HGH and the lingering effects from steroids 4 years later. 🙂

I say this to Jeff all of the time, if you want to persecute Bonds and Bagwell, you better be prepared to persecute guys like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays. Hank Aaron has admitted in his own autobiography to using amphetamines (later saying it was only once, which is as believable as Ron Washington using coke once). Read the link in the opening paragraph, from Tom House explaining in detail how many baseball players used steroids in the 60’ and 70’s. The simple difference was that they didn’t have the proper nutrition and weight training information, but the intent was still there. Since the dawn of professional sports, athletes have used whatever they could get their hands on to gain an edge. I don’t blame the Bonds or A-Rod’s for one second; I would have done the same thing in a heartbeat. The game goes on, and performance enhancing drugs go on.

Gregg can be reached at greggferrara@gmail.com.

Bagwell: II

Why I hate the internet …

Because one can’t have a debate without inevitably getting hit with stupid insults and mindless taunts.

I would love to hear people tell me why I’m wrong about Jeff Bagwell and the steroid era.

Seriously, I would.

But why rely on childish insults and slurs? So juvenile.

I am not saying everyone with muscles is guilty. What I am saying is that baseball gave us the right to be suspicious and skeptical by doing nothing about the problem. When ballplayers had the chance to clear their names and their sport, they took the opposite approach, supporting a union effort to hide the extent of PED usage and, amazingly, making it as easy as possible for ballplayers to use. That’s undeniable. They had the chance. They considered the chance. They blew it.

So now I’m supposed to look at Jeff Bagwell, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and presume innocence? Really? To hell with that. I believe firmly in the American ideal of innocent until proven guilty, but baseball surrendered that right when they put forth all efforts to defending and supporting the guilty.

Barry Bonds has, techically, never been proven as a user. Does he deserve the benefit of the doubt? How about Sammy Sosa? How about Roger Clemens? Do we continue to reward the effort to hide cheating by merely nodding and applauding?

The same people writing this stuff are those who bashed me for suggesting Bonds used back five years ago; the same ones who bashed me for suspecting Roger Clemens.

I have a daughter. She’s in second grade. If she gets an A on a test, but then I find out she cheated, should I reward her? Should I praise her? Is it OK, because everyone in the class also cheated? That’s the best analogy for the steroid era. These sycophant fans lavish praise upon their heroes because they desperately want to believe. But why is cheating OK? Why should I just go along? Just nod? I know … I know—I’m a typical media hater; hitting a baseball is hard; steroids don’t help; blah, blah, blah.

I covered baseball for Sports Illustrated from 1997 through 2002. I loved the experience. Loved it. In hindsight, I feel robbed. It was, largely bullshit. Bonds’ records? Bullshit. Clemens’ records? Bullshit. Fiction. A joke. And yeah, did people use greenies in the past? Did Babe Ruth never play against an African-American? Yes, yes, yes. But those weren’t the eras I covered.

This was my era.

Again, maybe Jeff Bagwell didn’t use. But based on the era—and based on everything we know about baseball during that time period—I have the right to be suspicious and skeptical.

So do you.

Jeff Bagwell and why I disagree with Joe Posnanski

I was recently directed to this SI.com column, which was penned by Joe Posnanski.

Joe is one of the finest sports writers out there and—from my limited exposure—a genuinely good guy. His passion for baseball blows mine away. Joe clearly lives for digging into statistics and historical comparisons, which is why his work is of such a high quality. Whether he’s writing about the Snuggie or Albert Pujols or the Royals, you know Joe is going to give 100 percent. If he’s taken an article off, well, I’ve never noticed it.

That said, I strongly disagree with Joe’s take on baseball players, the Hall of Fame and PED. I’d like to elaborate.

First, here is a passage from Joe’s aforementioned column:

Jeff Bagwell — though he never tested positive for steroids, never was implicated in any public way, was not named in the Mitchell Report or by anyone on the record as a suspected user, and is not even on this rather comprehensive list of players linked to steroids or HGH — seems to have become in some voter’s minds a player who used performance enhancing drugs.

I can’t even begin to describe my disgust … it makes me absolutely sick to my stomach. This is PRECISELY what I was talking about when I said how much I hate the character clause in the Hall of Fame voting. I think it encourages people to believe their own nonsense, to stand up on high and be judge and jury. It’s something my friend Bill James calls the “I see it in his eyes” tripe. Bill has finished a book on crime — it is, he says, actually about crime books as much as crime — and one thing he kept running into in his research was people who claimed that they could pinpoint the murderer because “it was in their eyes.” Well, as Bill says, that’s a whole lot of garbage. Eyes are eyes. Some people look guilty when they’re innocent, and some people look innocent when they’re guilty, and most people don’t look innocent OR guilty except when we want to see that something in their eyes. Oh, but we love to believe we know. It’s one of the flaws of humanity. And the Hall of Fame character clause gives voters carte blanche to judge the eyes and hearts and souls of players.

I think my e-migo Craig Calcaterra has made this point on Twitter, but I’d like to also make it as strongly as I can: I’d rather a hundred steroid users were mistakenly voted into the Hall of Fame over keeping one non-user out. I don’t know if Jeff Bagwell used or didn’t use steroids. But there was no testing. There is no convincing evidence that he used (or, as far as I know, even unconvincing evidence). So what separates him from EVERY OTHER PLAYER on the ballot? Were his numbers too good? That’s why you suspect him?

Bagwell has written (or spoken) a story defending himself from the steroid charges. This is the takeaway: “I’m so sick and tired of all the steroids crap, it’s messed up my whole thinking on the subject. … If I ever do get to the Hall of Fame and there are 40 guys sitting behind me thinking, ‘He took steroids,’ then it’s not even worth it to me.”

I would say this to those people who would not vote for Jeff Bagwell because they simply believe he used steroids, based on how he looked or some whispers they heard. I have a better idea: Let’s just burn him at the stake. If he survives, you will know you were right.

•••

Again, Joe’s terrific. And I can understand his take in this area. But here’s the thing: Because Major League Baseball—and especially Major League Baseball’s players—did such an awful, pathetic, inane, horrific job of policing the game when it mattered, we are left with this mess. Joe blames some of us (and I’m among the us) for speculating that Jeff Bagwell cheating by using PED? Well, what the hell are we supposed to think? A. Have you seen the photographs of a young Jeff Bagwell, first as a prospect in the Boston system, then with the Astros as a pup? He looks, perhaps not coincidentally, like a young Jason Giambi; like a young Barry Bonds; like a young Sammy Sosa; like a young Bret Boone. I know … I know—people gain weight as they get older. And, hey, he lifted! And used natural, over-the-counter supplements! And … enough. I’ve heard enough. Seriously, look at the guy as an in-his-prime Astro. Dude looks like Randy (Macho Man) Savage. And while I can already hear the “Just because he had muscles atop muscles doesn’t mean anything” argument brewing, well, it does—in the context of a sport overrun by cheaters—mean something. In fact, it means a lot.

But, alas, Joe’s still right—perhaps Jeff Bagwell never used. Perhaps, as dozens upon dozens of his teammates turned to steroids and HGH throughout the 1990s and early 2000s (Reality: No two teams in baseball had more PED connections than the Texas Rangers and the Houston Astros), Bagwell looked the other way and continued to pop his GNC-supplied Vitamin C tablets. Maybe, just maybe, that happened. But, as the game was being ruined in his very clubhouse, where was Bagwell’s voice of protest? Where was Jeff Bagwell, one of the best players in baseball, when someone inside the game needed to speak out and demand accountability? Answer: Like nearly all of his peers, he was nowhere. He never uttered a word, never lifted a finger (Now, once he retired, he was more than willing to defend himself and speak up for the sport. Once he was retired).

This, to me, is why we are allowed to suspect Jeff Bagwell and, if we so choose, not vote for him. The baseball players have cast this curse upon themselves—A. By cheating (And the usage of PED was, factually cheating. I don’t care how often you say, ‘It wasn’t outlawed by baseball’ blah blag blah blah. In the United States, the obtaining and usage of HGH and steroids without a proper perscription is illegal. And ‘proper perscription’ does not merely mean one given by a doctor. It means one rightly given by a doctor for a necessary medical condition); B. By not standing up against cheating and doing everything to assure a clean product.

If he did use, Jeff Bagwell deliberately sought an advantage over other players—an illegal advantage.

If he didn’t use, Jeff Bagwell, stood by and watched his sport morph into WWE nonsense.

So, again, Joe’s right: Statistically, Jeff Bagwell is a Hall of Famer. And, on a personal note, he was always an approachable and nice guy. But, dammit, thanks to baseball’s meekness (for lack of a better word), Hall of Fame voters (I’m not one, for the record) have the right to suspect anyone and everyone from the past era. They have the right to view muscles suspiciously; to question a guy putting up six-straight 100-plus RBI seasons in the heat of PED Madness; to wonder why—when, oh, 75 percent of players were using–one extremely succesful, extemely large, extremely muscular man wouldn’t.

Did Jeff Bagwell use PED?

I don’t know.

Do I have the right to hold his era against him?

Damn right I do.

“Happy New Year”

So I’ve been listening these past few days as my mother in law has happily wished people a happy new year. I, too, wish people a happy new year. But, really, I’m not sure why.

Does wishing people a happy new year impact the happiness of a new year? I’m being serious—do the words make even the slightest impact on the joy or lack thereof a person will experience over the 365 days of 2011? I know … I know—the conventional answer (and, I suppose, logical answer) is that the words are stated not as a utilitarian device, but simply in the name of kindess. Blah, blah.

I just think, when you really ponder this one, it’s silly and sorta stupid. When someone says, “Happy birthday!” on your actual birthday, well, I can see a direct connection. A person who loves you wants you to have a great day. On that day. It’s immediate, and might add to the glow. But a year is a long time. You wishing me a happy new year one time doesn’t guarantee prolonged success for my family, no leaks for my house, my book not winding up on the $1 shelf at Books-A-Million. Really, the words are just words, stated with the absentmindedness of a sneeze.

Ha. That was fun.

Happy new year!

PS: And why is “New Year” supposed to be capitalized? It’s sorta like ordering a Venti instead of a small.

V-e-r-y Dark

The book is due in a couple of days, and I have turned very dark.

I am supposed to be spending these days with my wife and kids. But instead, once again, I find myself here, sitting in a coffee shop, an enormous stack of papers taunting me like a junior high bully. I’ve been working on this fucking thing for two years, and it’s startiing to really get to me. I’ve been having severe headaches the past few days, and Advil ain’t doing shit. I’ve been waking up tired, napping tired, going to bed tired. Tired, tired, tired, tired.

Also frustrated. Of many things. Surface bullshit. Did you see her shirt? Are you sure you want to wear that? That guy’s gotten fat. The conversations that take up our time between womb and tomb. It’s so inane, and yet what’s the alernative? Can we really talk about death and politics forever? Probably not.

I know I’m making no sense. I can’t explain what I’m going through right now, except I’m extremely down and dark and want to scream very LOUDLY. FUUUUUUUUUUUUCKKKKK!

FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!

FUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!!

Oddly, I feel a little better.

I’m in a diner called Howley’s. It’s open until 2, and I’ll be here when it closes. The table I’m sitting at wobbles, but I need to be here because of the outlet. It’s dark inside, and smells like burger. The douche sitting next to me is wearing one of those sweaters that screams, “I’m trying to impress you!” I’m not impressed. I’m wearing a Target T-shirt ($10) and Old Navy sweats ($15—on sale for $10). I’ve got flipflips on, sans socks. On one fingernail I have neon pink hooker nailpolish. I got it for free at Sephora with my daughter a while back. Not sure why I put it on.

OK, I’m ready to dive in … and sink (or swim)

PS: The above photo was brought to my attention today. It’s what a guy looks like when he totally sells out (this refers to either man).

Bad News For Palin

Every couple of days or so CNN.com posts a headline reading something like PALIN IN TROUBLE or POLL SPELLS DOOM FOR PALIN.

Today’s is: BAD NEWS FOR PALIN

So what’s the bad news? Did her gun get stolen? Is she pregnant with baby No. 73?

No. According to the latest poll, Barack Obama and Sarah Palin are “going in different directions.”

Says the piece: “According to a CNN/Opinion Research Corporation survey released Tuesday, 78 percent of Democrats questioned in the poll say they want to see Obama at the top of their party’s ticket in 2012, with only 19 percent saying they would prefer someone else as the Democratic presidential nominee. The 19 percent figure is the lowest figure since March, when the question was first asked.”

Look, I love hearing any bad news for Sarah Palin (not death or anything, of course), because I can’t stand her. But a poll taken, ahem, two years before an election that probably won’t happen is ludicrous. It actually represents something I loathe about the mainstream media’s political coverage, which is the whole catch-a-wave-and-go-with-it approach to reporting. Were this poll taken a week before the election—sure, it’s bad news. But now, in December 2010, it’s utterly meaningless. Obama is on an upswing because he had, unambiguously, a couple of HUGE weeks. In the future, he’ll have many shitty weeks, too. And the polls will change. And change again. And change again again.

It’s meaningless.

Norma finds a roommate

My dog Norma (the white one) has been hanging with her cousin, Mattie. They voluntarily started sleeping together.

Just thought I’d share.

The Jets long fall

Considering all the bombast and arrogance from Hard Knocks, the New York Jets have sure fallen. Yesterday, after losing to a solid (but certainly not great) Chicago Bears team, New York’s players were celebrating their squeak into the playoffs. Yikes.

I get the happiness, and that’s cool. But these Jets are doomed, and yesterday’s game proved why. Rex Ryan’s reputation is built on defense, but the New York defense sorta, well, stinks. Two excellent corners, OK safeties (though no Jim Leonhard is a problem) and fantastic run linebackers. But, unless there’s a blitz, the Jets’ pass rush frightens no man. New York’s defensive line is filled up with, in baseball speak, a whole bunch of No. 4 starters. When Shaun Ellis is your go-to guy, well, it isn’t so good.

This would be OK, I suppose, if New York’s offense were dazzling. But it’s not. Mark Sanchez is still in that I-hope-he-plays-well-enough-not-t0-lose phase of his career, which means he can only carry a team every so often. Maybe that’ll work in the first-round game. But when it comes time to face the Pats, well, my team is dead.

PS: When I Googled Imaged “Shawn Ellis,” the above kid came up.