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Tag:PEDs
Posted on: March 29, 2013 1:25 am
 

MLB Family Feud '13

Wherever people cluster there are bound to be skirmishes.

At the dinner table, school, the workplace, your barber shop, …any place people come together. It’s human nature: different brain-matter, different opinions and then the verbal wrangling ensues.

Sometimes the tension runs like an undercurrent, out of public view. The conflicts that spring up can be as measured as a bow-shot at sea or as lengthy as the Thirty Years’ War (1618), as acrimonious as the ugliest divorce or low-key as a game of croquet.

And baseball’s no exception.

While MLB’s fiscal state is robust ($5B ‘12) and is set to raise the curtain on 2013 Sunday night (3-31 / ESPN) as the Rangers mosey on down to Houston to take on intra-state rival and new Junior Circuit member, the Astros, things are not all hot dogs & cerveza in America’s national pastime.

There are sore-spots that fester, some with a history, some just starting to take shape. Not likely any of these hot button topics triggers a clubhouse fisticuff but try broaching any of ’em with players & coaches and you’re likely to get an ear full.

WBC (World Baseball Classic)

Classic case of wishful thinking, as in, ‘We (MLB) wish the international format, so successful in the World Cup, can work for baseball too.’ Wish upon all the stars your “heart(s) desire” fellas, but even Jiminy Cricket won’t underwrite that dream.

Baseball’s global popularity explains why the WBC has met with worldwide applause since its debut in 2005. But state-side, the tournament barely makes a ripple in the sea of US sport news as fans are indifferent and players not exactly lining-up to participate.

Maybe if MLB went all in, making the WBC a real world series where each nation’s league champion team (‘12 Giants (MLB), Leones (LIDOM), Giants (NPB), etc.) was a participant, rather than a compilation of native players (WC), it might be better received by the American public. One thing is certain, its intrusion upon our beloved spring training traditions in Florida and Arizona, as minimal as it is, does not help the sell.

Sabermetrics (or Billy Beane baseball)

The dogfight between saber-heads & traditionalists flies under the radar but constitutes baseball’s war of philosophy.

Stats have always been a big deal in rounders, nothing new or contentious there. Just check the backs of older Topps cards: NFL versions are numeral-poor while MLBs are jam-packed with figures. Numbers were big in 1880 and they’re still big today.

But saber-heads kneel at the alter of the Holy Digit, spouting the ‘numbers never lie’ mantra while intolerant of other sporting faiths. They view baseball through the eyes of an accountant, dissing the subtle strategy, the history and humanity of the game, always favoring quantity over quality, numbers over nuance. If that reads a little harsh, go a few rounds with one of ‘em and see if it isn’t a pretty accurate assessment of the type.

Who’s winning the war? The battle of ideologies flares up whenever Cooperstown is the subject. By that measure (vote results), I’d say we’re in trench warfare.

PEDs (performance enhancing drugs)

Confused on MLB’s drug testing policy? If you answered yes, you’re not alone, if no, clue me in because I’m kinda’ lost. Thought I had it down last year when they were supposedly drawing blood from every player in spring. Then this winter they announced a new testing twist, a plan to start taking “random” samples during (?) the 2013 season.

Bottom-line: While baseball’s testing policy seems half-measured and a bit of a shell-game (See; MLBPA), they remain the one major US sport who is taking action and making progress. They’re catching some of the slugs, likely deterring others and may someday arrive at a clear, consistent and complete PED prevention policy.

The antagonists: users, pushers, enablers and faux-sport fans vs. everybody else.

Who’s winning this war? Given the persistence of drug peddlers, a cheater’s mentality that’s in vogue and a public that grows more & more dispassionate about anything that’s not TV, gizmos, food or drink, I’d say the crusaders have a long fight ahead. But they’ve drawn a line in the sand and they’re not giving up this time.

Some crusades will end. Saladin and Richard the Lionheart were warriors but also brave visionaries. They knew when to make peace (1192), even if others failed to heed their wisdom (4th Crusade). But if you really love baseball and care about the health, the well-being of children who will someday fill its ranks, this is one crusade we can’t quit on.

The DH Rule

After a period of dormancy, the designated hitter debate is heating up again. That can only mean one thing: someone’s got dollar signs ($$) in their eyes and has deployed an advance force (media) to help prepare the way.

I dislike the DH but have come to accept, even appreciate, its status as a distinguishing trait (vs DH-free National) and fixture of the American League.

Some believe an NL-DH is “inevitable” (3-5 / Jaffe / “True Grit” / SI). I’d say it’s as “inevitable” as abandonment of day-game World Series (’87), football gear in the batter’s box, dangerous maple bats and the AL-DH (’73). In a sport that used to respect its traditions and League distinctions, we fans asked for none of these changes (inter-league) supposedly needed for good of the game. Hogwash.

What fans and the game need, want, and what they get are all very different animals.

Tradition giving way to common-sense change (bat-helmets) and even some profiteering, if it also profits fans (NCAA field: 32 to 68), is a standard all of us can accept.

Just as I won’t oppose progressiveness solely on basis of tradition, I just as surely won’t ditch a tradition merely for sake of change and making change ($) for the greedy few.

In a sport where the home run derby is its biggest event and bunny-hop celebrations make most viewers cringe, the on-going debate over the designated hitter rule actually pumps life into the game, giving it a visceral edge, in opposite of what agents-of-change would have you believe when mocking what they’d call a behind-the-times National, a League who’s been easily dispatching their DH devoted AL rival in recent Series play.

If proponents get their way and force the rule on the Senior Circuit they can kiss goodbye the ‘national pastime’ moniker for that arrogant act will signify the last nail in the coffin that buries what semblance of League distinction remained, along with a good part of history with it.

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Posted on: December 11, 2012 12:10 am
 

MLB 2013 Wish List

Dear Santa,

I know December’s a crazy time for you, especially with new super-shops in Costa Rica, Estonia and Dandong (China) churning out the goodies at record pace, but it won’t take a minute to read my list. Besides, these wishes are for the good of the game, so do what you can, Santa my man.

Old Time Baseball

Wish # 1: More Mike Trouts

In the aftermath of one of the most hotly debated MVP races in recent memory, some in the Mike Trout Fan Club staggered into the absurd by claiming their man lost the vote because Miguel Cabrera voters had wrongly applied an old-school standard: the triple crown.

But old-school, throwback, traditional, take your pick, all are pretty fair description of the manner in which Trout conducted his rookie season. The guy knows fundamentals. His round-tripper total (30) would be Ruthian in dead-ball days but near everything else he does would’ve made him one of the guys in 1920, sans stirrups & tobacco juice.

Fielding his position like it mattered (4E / 347-CH / .988), crafting a nifty bat average (.326 / 139G), always aware that an extra-base could be had for free (39-SB) and a run-production that’d make Billy Hamilton (1888-01) nod in approval (129), all showed a player who understood the nuances of baseball. And fans ate it up with a spoon.

Mike’s not the only well-rounded ball-player in the game today, he’s just the first in a long time to make it cool again. That represents a big change in baseball, a sport still dominated by the dinger and whose biggest event is sadly, not its championship series, but a corporate kiddie show and vestige of the PED era, the home run derby. Ugh.

The 2012 AL-ROY has got some work to do in the contact department (139 SO). But if he can avoid the sophomore slump and stay healthy, his zestful play might inspire enough young ball-players to where baseball could be embarking on a whole new era.

Just Say Yes, MLBPA

Wish # 2: Mid-season blood draw

While most were focusing on the wheeling & non-dealing at MLB’s winter meeting in Nashville last week, I was thinking about the 10,000 lbs elephant lumbering down the Convention Center hallways. He’s the PED pachyderm and represents baseball’s half-measured attempt to rid the national pastime of banned substances.

With test samples still coming back queer, I’m guessing many players don’t think too much of us fans. When recent toppers (Braun / B. Colon) and a 2012 league-leading batsman (Melky) are testing dirty, you’ve still got trouble. The good news, spring blood-draws are spotting cheaters; the bad news, by caving to MLBPA’s refusal to a mid-season blood test a window of opportunity has been left wide open for cheaters to crawl through un-deterred.

A drug-free game? I wouldn’t waste the wish. It’s like a kid asking Santa for a Corvette. Not gonna happen. Sadly, the sport-druggie is here to stay. The pro-game has always had a seamy-side or at least a competitive crudeness, but the muscle-bound PED user speaks to kids in a persuasive voice that the game-fixer and sign-stealer never could.

It‘s safe to say, “Just Say No” didn’t percolate too deep into young minds, but then the PED plague and its cheater-mentality never has been confined within USA borders.

What I do wish, Santa, is that players finally face the inevitable and ‘just say yes’ to a sincere, full-testing program, closing the window that keeps inviting in the bad guys.

Outgrowing Your Toys

Wish # 3: Ditch the DH, Inter-League, pie-in-the-face and bunny-hop celebration

April 6, 2013 will mark the 30th anniversary of Major League Baseball’s adoption of the American League designated hitter. Yankees’ Ron Blomberg did the honors, drawing a walk from the Red Sox’ Luis Tiant (Wikipedia). And inter-league, that started in ‘97.

Fans of both would call me a purist. I never saw it like that. I just don’t like gimmicks that fans didn’t ask for and that change my game and the game of my ancestors, purely for profit ($). It was AL founder Ban Johnson (1901) who first permitted fans in the stands to keep foul-balls. Look how that’s turned out. Now the chuckleheads think they have some kind of entitlement and disrupt the action to claim their believed booty.

I don’t expect the DH to get the heave-ho, ever. It’s become part of the AL fabric, a distinguishing trait of the Junior Circuit. And that’s okay in today‘s monopolized, over-homogenized America. Just keep it out of our National.

But inter-league play, that’s a different matter. A curiosity in the beginning, that wore-off quick as we all knew it would. Now it’s become hackneyed, a deviation from regular scheduling, disruptive to intra-league competition and is best returned to its original and rare World Series state. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, you could say Mr. Selig.

And the post-game shave-cream-in-the-face routine? The only people laughing are the pie-pushers and assorted ESPN anchors. As for MLB’s embarrassing walk-off bunny-hop celebrations: thank god for the New York Yankees.

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Posted on: September 14, 2012 12:25 am
 

Pick ya' Poison: MLB vs NFL

Summer’s on the wane and there’s a nip in the nighttime air. That means three things: school is back in session, baseball is heating-up and the pigskins are flying.

It’s a heady time for fans of America’s two favorite sports. Richard Kimble (The Fugitive) knew the score: “So, what are you, a football player, baseball player?,” asked the good doctor / janitor as he tweaked the orders and wheeled young “Joel” to life-saving surgery.

While one sport is in the home stretch as contenders separate from pretenders and try to finish in the money (playoffs), the other is just outta’ the gate where gridiron gladiators look to hit their stride and jockey for the inside rail to build an early lead.

It’s a daunting choice come Sunday afternoon. Which sport do you watch on TV?

Do you get vested in the pennant races or dive into the game you’ve been yearning for ever since Eli hoisted his second Lombardi trophy last February? Life’s tough decisions.

5 Reasons to Choose Baseball

Reason #1: MLB’s smokin’ hot!

All three American divisions are in play with late-bloomers Baltimore and Tampa Bay joining the chase while the Swingin’ As of Oakland are doing their damndest to make sure those highfalutin Texans don’t go popping any corks anytime soon.

Ever since writer / ESPN commentator Skip Bayless publicly speculated on Derek Jeter’s supplement regime back in August, the Yanks got defensive and lost focus at the worst time (no player’s above suspicion until testing is tightened with an in-season blood draw).

And if you can’t get energized about the rise of the Nationals and the terrific seasons of rookie Mike Trout (LAA), slugger supreme Miguel Cabrera (DET), comeback kid Buster Posey (SF), re-invented R.A. Dickey (NYM), Mr. consistency Derek Jeter (NYY) or moundsmen David Price (TB) and Jered Weaver (LAA), you’ve got the heartbeat of a hibernating bear.

Reason #2: Baseball’s clean’in‘ up

No big Nielsens booster but still nice to know at least one of the pro-sports you watch is trying to put game back into the business. Rather than cause for cynicism, recent busts (Braun / Melky / Colon) are sign the PED-prevention program is working. Whereas, kid brother football keeps twiddling its thumbs, hoping cries for PED testing are drowned-out by a diverting media while their rippling-membership are given ample time to make the necessary adjustments before the inevitable blood-draw comes knocking.

Reason #3: Fewer TV commercials

Baseball does its share of shill during a telecast, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t compare to the commercial tidal wave to which NFL fans are subjected during a turf-battle broadcast.

Holy cow! Change of possession, TV time-out; injured or embarrassed player, TV time-out; coach’s challenge, TV-TO; official review, TV-TO; quarter-change, TV-TO; studio update, TV-TO. You get the idea. If you like commercials, football is your thing.

Reason #4: Baseball’s tougher than football

How could I make such a ludicrous statement, you ask? I’ll tell you how in two words: sticky-gloves, otherwise known as sissy-gloves. This ain’t your father’s football.

The handy-work of NFL entrepreneurs and glove manufacturers, this foray into cozy is nothing more than a nationwide money-grab (covering high school hands coast-to-coast) and an offense-enhancer to assist the catch-challenged in the same way the 5-foot wedge-putter and cantaloupe-sized driver head give welfare to the golfing community while making cash registers ring.

And spare me the safety claim. I’ll concede their worth in sub-zero temps (Lombardi & Bud Grant were cool customers), but if anything, they may reduce safety by the increased friction they create for hand, wrist and neck movement in tackling. And 9 outta’ 10 of those so-called miraculous grabs ESPN anchors go ga-ga over are directly attributable to the sticky-gloves. It ain’t rocket science and it ain‘t spectacular.

MLB has it’s own gear, sure, but it’s protective (sometimes TOO much) for players as well as fans in the seats (flying bats). Stand in a batter’s box someday and you’ll know what I‘m writing about. Suffice to say, baseball gear has a purpose beyond coinage.

Reason #5: One last look at Greatness?

Faux-sport fans will often bring up John Unitas when they hate on the aged. John stayed a year too long in the NFL (Chargers). But those who love on the game, whether baseball or football, take great pleasure in catching one last glimpse (or ear-shot) of greatness.

Everyone knows future HOF’ers Chipper Jones (ATL) and Omar Vizquel (TOR) are on goodbye-tours, but there are other players with the glow of greatness who have yet to decide or declare their future plans but might be giving their final curtain call.

Jamie Moyer (COL / cut) and Mariano Rivera (DL) were out early, Jim Thome found a spot (on DL) with the upstart Orioles, Jason Giambi still has fire (COL) and injuries have caught up with sweet-swingin’ Lance Berkman (STL). To those who ultimately pack it in, Vaya con Dios, mis amigos. Thanks for the memories.

And don’t forget the veteran voices of baseball, the men who paint pictures with words. Guys like Milo Hamilton (HOU), Ken Harrelson (CWS), Dick Enberg (SD), Bob Uecker (MIL), Mike Shannon (STL), Marty Brennaman (CIN) and Vin Scully (LAD), who announced his plan to return to Chavez Ravine for 2013.

There you have it, sport fans. All the reasons you need to pass on September football come Sunday and turn on the National pastime instead, daring to catch a few laps of NASCAR or Formula One between innings.

So stock-up on beverages, pay that satellite bill, treat your wife with respect (she suffers the supermarket getting those snacks you’ll pound-down) forego the network’s pre-game drivel and plant yourself in that favorite chair for some good, hard-hitting…football! Heck, you can watch rounders all week long, but come Sunday in September, the NFL is just what the doctor ordered.

Steven Keys
Posted on: September 4, 2012 1:12 am
 

NFL Wish List 2012

Dear Santa Claus:

     I know it’s still summertime, the season when you and the Mrs. are just getting back from your annual Elf-Awareness Conference in Puerto Vallarta, but I have a big favor to ask.
     NFL 2012 is set to kick-off Wednesday night (Cowboys @ Giants) and I have a few early requests that I’m hoping you can accommodate. I haven’t exactly been good this year, but I haven’t been bad, either. That oughta’ count for something in these times of rampant greed and selfish rationalization (PEDs), right?
     And besides, Santa, you still owe me. Remember that Denmark golf outing I arraigned in 2010 for you and your “assistant” with TW and his putting instructor Heidi? ‘Nuff said.

Super Bowl Drift

It’s all about Super Sunday, or is it? NFL brass have already set the post-season schedule Santa, but see if you can get Roger & Company to shave a week off that mood-killing, two-week dull-fest that follows Conference title games. Football’s a business, sure, but this grant to greed is taking an edge off player games and starts us dreaming of baseball. Yuck! Just kidding, Bud.

NFL Rules, Stats & Plays that Need Eliminating

On-side kick: Gotta’ be the dumbest, most un-football-like play in the book. Walter Camp or whoever hatched this turkey must’ve been on a toot. The team that just had the ball, can get it twice-in-a-row, if the oblong-spheroid takes a funny bounce and at ten yards lands in one of the kicking-team’s cozy-covered hands. Competition at its lamest.

Icing the kicker:” Letting the defense call a TO seconds prior to a FG attempt in order to mess with the kicker’s head is bad playground etiquette. Strong kids wouldn't stoop so low.

Lambeau Leap: A routine that always was a bit too comfy, a tad too needy for my taste, has now become downright hackneyed. I’m thinking Curly, Vince & Ray would've agreed.

Senseless Stats: An INT that gets hung on a QB for a pass that’s tipped into a defender‘s hands; A fumble-stat given to a carrier who had a ball stripped / punched from his grasp.

New OT Rules: No one that matters (players & fans) was complaining when a field goal gave victory in sudden-death OT. Simple case of someone in a Suit validating a job and squeezing in more commercial time. “Tanks for nothing” (Maggs / Caddyshack).”

“Calling all (fashion police) cars”

It’s bad enough football’s become a fashion runway for Nike marketing and its revolving-door of dress (uniforms), but c’mon NFL, could your unis be anymore skin-tight? The trend is towards more material, not less, so loosen up, fellas. It’s embarrassing, Santa.

These Players

Cam Newton (CAR): Would like to see Cam develop into a SB caliber pocket-passer as he seems to have the skill-set, though I’m not holding my breath. Old (run) habits die hard.

Peyton Manning (DEN) & Adrian Peterson (MIN): The great natural abilities of these two stars of the gridiron are a joy to watch (AP’s thunderous run vs. Browns in ‘09 is unforgettable) and, as such, I’m driven to root for their successful comebacks.

Randy Moss (SF): A charter-member of the Moss fan-club, admiring his unique talent and believing his moodiness misunderstood, I cancelled my enrollment after he “vomited” (Childress) on a beleaguered Vikings' team in 2010 while sucking-up to a disinterested Patriots. It’s a shame he hooked-up with the San Francisco 49ers as I’d thought before his arrival their throwback-style (Giants / Ravens) made them a nice fit for SB47. Your call, Santa.

Mark Sanchez & Tim Tebow (NYJ): “Soon the world will divide itself into two camps: pro-Boray and anti-Boray.” That’s Joan Crawford describing the up & coming violinist John Garfield in their 1946 film Humoresque. Joan could’ve been foretelling Tebowmania, but in fact, it’s only a minority of cranks and disciples who’ve gone camping. Most, like me, see Tim as a college-style (run) QB with the same vanity you find in most athletes and Jesus proselytizers. My wish: Tim finds his natural position (TE), Mark finds the end-zone and Rex Ryan finds inner peace.

The Los Angeles…

LA is a big town with a big football pedigree. As such, the City of Angels’ absence from the NFL line-up this past decade has left a serious void. I’ve always felt the Rams oughta be back in California, Cardinals back in Missouri and then the Sun Devils (ASU Forks) resurrected pro-style to fill the vacancy in Phoenix. That scenario won’t happen but the new Los Angeles franchise is already in the works.

Time to Give Blood, DeMaurice Smith

If you grant just this one wish Santa, I’ll be a happy camper: NFL blood-tests, prior to, and during the season of play, as part of a broad PED prevention policy.

After signing-on to an HGH blood-test in last year’s CBA settlement, the NFLPA has since weaseled-out of its offer, leaving the issue in limbo. Though many in the media have been ardently defending dethroned friend Lance Armstrong, waving the white-flag on PEDs, most of America, including parents, coaches, doctors, clean players and kids not looking forward to a career of injections, are not so easily misguided.

The late football great and former director of the NFLPA, Gene Upshaw, had some fine qualities. Leadership on drug-testing was not one of them. Time to get crack’in, DeMaurice.

Steven Keys
Posted on: August 20, 2012 4:55 pm
 

Barry, JoePa & Record Books

It’s not everyday you read something good about the NCAA.

Mind you, I’ve got no major gripe with the landlord of college sport. Not too happy about their cozy relationship with profiteers (Nike) and relaxation of player-standards in recent decades, but other than those two, most of what they do flies above my radar.

The NCAA is like your high school VP, a dirty job but someone’s gotta’ do it. Roaming the hallways, keeping order and quick to judge. No gray area with this guy. And he’ll probably turn gray fast, given the thankless nature of the job, policing the big-hearted youths of today, or as Joe Pesci would call ‘em, “utes” (My Cousin Vinny).

Last month the enforcers of collegiate merriment did something rarely done in today’s sporting world: they altered a record book. Not as shocking as Brett Favre hitting the Twin Cities’ tarmac and donning purple & gold (2009), but still, pretty big doings.

As part of the penalties levied against Penn St. per the Sandusky sex-abuse scandal, 111 of the Lions’ football wins from the years 1998-11 were “vacated” from NCAA rolls, knocking coach Joe Paterno from atop the D1 victories list (409 / 298) and moving the recently retired Bobby Bowden into the top spot with his tally of 377 (“Bobby” / CBS / 7-23).

Of all the sanctions handed down, that one’s gotta’ hurt the most. The others, including the 4-year bowl ban, scholarship cutback and fine ($60 XL) will all be absorbed easily enough over time. Some at PSU may welcome the shake-up as a means of penance to cleanse the soul. And the hefty fine, that’ll just get passed on to the students, like the insurance company that jacks their rates when the hurricane claims start blowing in.

It wasn’t the substance of their action that got my stamp of approval. While I appreciate the awkwardness of leaving JoePa’s name atop the wins-list, sadly, in striking 100+ from his total you hurt those people most who had nothing to do with the wrong-doing, the players & fans. Add-up the shame that will linger for decades at Penn State, the criminal course and other penalties, all together seemed punitive and deterrent plenty.

Instead, it was the NCAA’s deviation from SOP that has me nodding in agreement.

Changing a record book typically requires something just short of an Act of Congress. That’s a good thing. Records are sacred stuff. Whether they’re category leaders, personal or team titles, individual stats or holders of top marks, all will, in theory, stand the test of time. The number & name will change but the record itself will resonate long.

Can’t say the same for the Halls of Fame. Like today’s bloated Olympic field, HOFs are becoming so diluted with a steady-stream of marginal inductees that they’re fast losing that special flavor. Caught up in the enablement age, voters are turning what used to be a days-long walk amongst immortals into a three-day trek through Halls of Good ‘n Plenty.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain. Just imagine in the not-to-distant future, when those collectible crazed kids who put their Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds rookie cards under glass, hold sway over the BBWA and become guardians of the Hall. “Uh-oh!” ("Mr. Gopher" / Caddyshack). The flood-gates are gonna’ open wide.

There are two battles raging over baseball’s Hall of Fame.

One is over quality control. Is the candidate’s stature such that it separates him from his peers, like say, Warren Spahn and Bob Clemente, or, is he a ballot choice that develops a patina of greatness over time, building support for election like…well, you can fill in the names yourself. If you need help, give Reggie Jackson a jingle. His timing is tacky but his standard is right on point (SI / “Reggie / Taylor / 7-5).

The other is about PEDs, where one emerging standard goes like this: ‘He gets my vote because he was a Hall of Famer before he started juicing.’ Oh, brother. Assuming you have the powers of Carnac the Magnificent and can accurately pick the first year a PED suspect ‘Got needles,’ if you apply that standard, Pete Rose and Joe Jackson get in because both were Hall-worthy before they messed-up big time.

So, while the pride & joy of Cooperstown grows fat and a niche of players keep playing fans for fools (Ryan Braun / Melky Cabrera), the official record book must become the safe harbor for greatness, buffered from the winds of changing mores & personal extremes.

Long before Halls of Fame were doing a splendid job of preserving & displaying the rich history of sport, a myriad of record books & statistical surveys were telling the tale.

But there’s a fly in the ointment. Officially maintained by Elias Sports Bureau, baseball’s rolls are tainted, filling-up fast with performance-enhanced pretenders of excellence. Some of the most cherished records are topped by seriously-suspected or proven PED-men.

Enter the NCAA. They’ve set a precedent, of sorts, in re-writing a small part of their own college football record book. It was a tough call that created some collateral damage (See above), but they had good cause, acted with all due speed and didn’t blink.

Now Bud Selig has a template, an impetus to finally move to fix baseball’s record book.

Sure, he’s got other fish to fry. Cheating, being the biggest flounder on his plate.

Victor Conti (BALCO) may actually believe “as many as half” of all players are juicing today (“Victor” / USAT / BN / 8-15). But anyone with any sense knows that recent test-troubles are par for the course when trying to change a culture of drug-use that’s international in its reach and as deeply imbedded into baseball as is performance-enhancement.

The PED problem will resolve in time. The clean-up effort has the backing of the nation, most players and the independent media. Patience & persistence are the watch-words.

But the foul odor that’s rising up from MLB’s record book is not going away on its own.

Naysayers will argue, ‘How can you fiddle with a record book when some of the marquee names never tested positive?’ Two-part answer: 1) An evolving test-policy that was way-late in coming can’t be the sole standard for finding a record-holder to have a PED pedigree, and 2) If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.

Go back in time to August of 1921. The Cleveland Indians are the reigning champs and Babe Ruth is in pinstripes, but the biggest story in baseball is the Black Sox scandal. When the implicated Pale Hosers are acquitted in a dubious Cook County trial after crucial evidence disappears, the newly appointed baseball Czar Kenesaw Mountain Landis is undeterred. Making reasonable inferences from available evidence, the next day he bans the lot of ‘em from pro-ball for life and adds a toxicity-tag.

Bud Selig has seen the evidence of proven & suspected PED users. As Commissioner and having no power to deny liberty (jail) or award civil damages, he’s not bound by the same standard of proof required in a judicial setting. Maybe that’s a good thing. As such, he can do, within certain parameters, as he pleases with the record book.

It won’t be easy. This ain’t 1921. Classifying the proven users vs. strongly suspected, removing names vs. asterisking (*), and then whether or not consideration should be given those few men who decided, for whatever reason, to come clean (Brothers Bash, Canseco & McGwire), will all make for one big sticky wicket.

And the media will have a field day. Some with their own form of collectible to protect, they’ll do their damndest to make sure it’s as thankless an undertaking as policing the high school hallways. It’s an action that’s likely to raise challenges by those players directly affected, claiming a right (intellectual property?) to a place in the hallowed book.

Set to retire after 2014, Selig certainly has the stature these days to afford the boldness that a record book revision requires, with rounder’s popularity and a drug prevention program that seems to be working, if not deterring some pompous players.

There’s no money to be made in re-working the record rolls. But it would be a big step in restoring to baseball some of what was lost when PED users and their enablers started disrespecting themselves, the fans, the game and its history.

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” (JFK).  Doing nothing is no answer, Bud.

Steven Keys
Posted on: June 23, 2012 4:07 pm
 

No-Hitters, No Wonder

Everybody’s talkin’ (Nilsson), ‘bout LeBron, R.A. Dickey and no-hitters. While Kevin Durant’s Finals fade is fodder for debate, not much more worthwhile to write about His Magnitude, Mr. James until the leaves start to turn.

As for the plethora of pitching gems, theories abound.

Next time you go to the ballpark, better hold on to that ticket stub for you could be in possession of a little piece of profitable history. In MLB 2012, no-hitters are happening with the frequency of an Oregon Ducks’ uniform change: weekly.

Some worry MLB is on a fast-track to becoming the “Hitless Wonder” League (’06 Sox), even turning as barren of scoring as the flop-fest that is soccer. I shudder to think.

But keep off that panic button, Biff. This has happened before. The early 90s saw back-to-back seasons of seven no-hitters each (‘90 & ‘91). You can call what’s happening today a ‘variant of normal,’ even if the final tally does hit double-digits. Maybe no.

The wealth of no-hitters this year shouldn‘t come as a shock to baseball observers.

Reason # 1 happens to be the elephant in the room: PEDs, or as we like to think, their demise. Though, with all the legal maneuvering from MLB and the Union, I’m not clear as to whether or not baseball’s even drawing blood for HGH testing this season as planned. A real shell game.

Suffice to say, the glory days of PED use should be over. Consider this present period to be one of adjustment for players and managers both.

Most think the big benefit from PEDs is power, the long-distance, as in home runs. Yes, that’s part of the payoff.

But the biggest advantage from juicing is bat-speed. Power doesn’t mean diddly if you can’t make contact. And putting bat-on-ball is a learned behavior, demonstrated so sweetly by laureates of the art, Ted Williams and Tony Gwynn.

Ever try hitting a 70-mph pitch? For us non-professionals it’s a 1-in-20 chance (Billy Crystal should be proud he even fouled-off a few in Yankees’ spring-camp a few years back). Then try hitting the real heat: 90 plus. Forget about it, Frank.

Reason # 2 for the surge in no-nos and low-lows (1-hitters): today’s home-run mind-set.

The round-tripper has been a fan favorite since the Bambino and the hot dog hit the scene. But when juicing became common-place in the 80s, most batters began swinging for the stands with reckless abandon. And more than a few managers (Leyland / La Russa) seemed pleased as punch, converts of the Earl Weaver school of thought: “Pitching, defense and the 3-run homer.”

Today, principles of hitting like on-base % and having ‘command of the strike zone’ get the snub: ‘Who cares with these biceps,’ still seems the overriding outlook of many a ballplayer in 2012.

It’s why the ‘Bud Selig Home Run Derby & Family Fun Show all-star Extravaganza’ has sadly become MLB’s biggest showcase of the season, bigger than even the fall classic.

Next time you watch a ball-game on TV take notice how non-selective, indiscriminate batters can be in the box, how many bad pitches they’ll flail at. I’m talking really bad.

Batters seem less patient-at-the-plate than their forefathers, though King Kelly and Larry Doby might just laugh at that observation. I’m picking up a trend where, if the batter doesn’t like first-call strike, he pouts, tanks the at-bat and then fumes when the umpire calls strike three. Makes you wonder how they ever made it to the Majors.

And it’s not like most hurlers in 2012 are wowing batters with their own command of the zone.

Sure, we have our masters of the mound (Verlander / Santana), but plenty of pitchers need Mapquest to find the plate these days. With today’s free-swinging, disco-dancing batsman, it doesn’t really matter. Throw the heat high and he’ll chase it.

And before we start talking about replacing the ‘men in black’ with machines (Valentine / Loney), players & managers should re-acquaint themselves with something called home plate and the strike zone it represents. Then get back to us on that robot thing, Bob.

It all makes contact hitters like Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki and Al Pujols that much more special. These guys still remember the baseball adage they were taught as youngsters: A walk is as good as a hit. It’s not deep psychology, but the more selective you are, the better pitches you get. What do know, Turbo?

Playing baseball is a highly skilled profession. And it’s not without its dangers. But it ain’t rocket science, though, the knuckleball of Mets’ renaissance-man R.A. Dickey comes pretty darn close.

Steven Keys
Posted on: April 26, 2012 2:22 pm
Edited on: April 30, 2012 3:15 pm
 

Goodell Looking Presidential

It’s a job that should come with a warning: “Careful what you wish for, you just might get it.”

The hours are long, there’s nearly no off-season, travel-time is taxing, fan-mail is sparse and the endless speeches, interviews & negotiations vacillate between dreary routine and stress-city.

But there is an upside.

The pay is sweet, prestige is high, there’s job security (if you keep owners happy), great seats anytime you want ’em and someone’s always around to carry your bags (pre-10PM).

The post is NFL Commissioner.

And nobody in the history of professional American football has been more skilled, more effective at doing the Commissioner thing than its current title-holder, Roger Goodell.

Pete Rozelle was a giant (1960-89). In facilitating the NFL / AFL merger (‘67), conceiving the Super Bowl and brokering the first big network, merchandising & labor contracts, Pete will always remain the League’s most significant Commissioner in its long history.

While Goodell faces many of the same challenges of his predecessors, he’s also faced with a slew of issues Rozelle couldn’t have even fathomed 30 years ago.

Bounties have been around for years, so the players claim. Believable enough. But the organizational guidance New Orleans gave its elaborate and sinister program had never before been uncovered nor contemplated by League admonishers.

Whenever money’s riding on the outcome or score of a sporting contest the risk of game-fixing exists. Though wagering on competitions goes back centuries, the explosion of fantasy prognosticating on individual player performance has created a whole new beast.

Alcohol has always been an issue in the pros, but it was in Rozelle’s day that illicit drug use burst onto the scene. Marijuana, speed & cocaine were the preferred poisons, ruining more than a few careers. Today it’s PEDs that taint the field. It’s the one test RG’s failed by letting DeMaurice Smith and the NFLPA call the dance tune and avoid blood-testing.

There’s one vexing issue Roger’s been spared that gave his predecessors fits: competition. No more troublesome, rival football fraternities fighting to feed at the money trough (AAFC / AFL / WFL / USFL). The Courts & Congress have played ball in validating the NFL monopoly and the good times just keep rollin’ along!

Every issue that crosses Goodell’s desk seems to get the full treatment: public & press are kept informed, player input is sought and when a League decision is reached, it’s clear, appears decisive and is announced in a timely, prudent fashion.

Roger’s got a skill-set, a style you’d hope to find in every corporate Suit and elected official, from school board member to President of the United States. He’s an intrepid decision-maker reminiscent of Presidents past, Teddy, FDR and Harry Truman.

Our current leader gets high marks for decisiveness on matters of national security (bin Laden) and foreign policy (Libya). That should get Mr. Obama a 2nd term, despite a tendency towards wind-gauging on the home-front.  But his challenger Mr. Romney has proven an even bigger tweaker than he, excepting on high-end tax cuts, of course.

It’s no secret Presidents today work chiefly for America’s elite, regardless of party. Not much choice, given the Court’s broad interpretation of speech (donations) and the big war-chest required for a White House win ($1B+). Even so, the savvy leader knows when to throw voters (fans) a bone, something to chew on to make us feel we’re being heard.

Whether it was last year’s CBA, the on-going Saints saga or his recent Papal-like mission to Minnesota to bring the flock back into the fold with words of hope AND warning, Roger takes bold action and throws fans something to chew on. And in the end, after the griping is done and all the dust has settled, most parties are satisfied.

In contrast, his peers (Stern / Bettman / Selig) will often take half-measures, playing it safe by trying to please / appease all factions, accomplish little and please no one.

if Metta (Artest) had behaved as badly in the NFL as he did recently on the NBA court, League response would’ve been swifter & stronger (given the video) than Mr. Stern’s measured, 3-day think-a-thon before issuing the modest 7-game suspension.

Roger wouldn’t get my hypothetical vote for President just yet.

First rule of business: NFL’s gotta’ stop tinkering with the Rule book. Though it’s well-intentioned, too frequent changes (Nike college) weaken fan trust, creates confusion and threatens traditional, foundational aspects of the game that even younger fans appreciate.

Second, institute pricing relief. The NFL & affiliates have been on the gravy-train for decades. It’s time to give something back to fandom by rolling-back stadium prices and cutting-back excessive, momentum-killing TV commercials and late-hour games.

Thirdly, do some LBJ arm-twisting, get on your bully-pulpit and persuade players to finally submit to HGH blood tests. It’s about integrity, safety and sending a message to America’s youth. Besides, player refusal is weak and without merit.

Accomplish these, Roger, and voters just might draft you for the White House in 2016.

Steven Keys
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com