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Monday, February 09, 2009
Omnibus A-Rod PostObviously there was a lot of activity over the weekend, and while the blogosphere is often great at picking up and processing stuff quickly, it's not very good at perspective or organization. So, in the interests of perspective and organization -- with the knowledge that the A-Rod story is really three or four stories wrapped up in one -- I provide this post as one-stop A-Rod steroid story shopping for the day.
Issue #1: How on Earth did this happen?
I touched on this yesterday, but the fact of Rodriguez's test should never have come to light. As Mark Fainaru "thank God steroids are back in the news" Wada reported and many others have noted, the results from the 2003 tests should have been destroyed as soon as the positives had been tallied. They weren't, most likely because Gene Orza or someone at MLBPA either didn't realize or didn't care that trying to protect the test results of ten BALCO people risked the disclosure of the at least 104 non-BALCO people from the 2003 tests. This failure to see the forest for the trees is, in my mind at least, tantamount to malpractice, and someone should be sacked for it. Probably should have been sacked already, but what has happened has happened.
In any event, it is my view that long after the Alex Rodriguez-specific portion of this drama has played itself out with an apology, a press conference, and a .300/.400/.600 season, this episode will be remembered mostly as the first known instance of the MLBPA truly betraying the interests of its own players. That, my friends, will have longer legs than anything else that broke on Saturday.
And of course, let us spare no ill feelings when it comes to whoever in the government leaked this stuff. Look, I don't sit in my study wearing a tinfoil hat all day, but you don't have to be someone like that to wonder why, if the feds have had this information for years, it's only coming out now. To me this leak smells like a calculated and maybe even a vindictive move, designed to thrust the steroid story back into the public eye on the eve of Barry Bonds' trial. I don't like to use the term "witch hunt" because its misuse has long since caused it to lose its real meaning, but it is certainly the case that the federal government's investigation of steroids in professional sports has gotten out of hand, both in terms of the resources spent and in the amount of zeal with which it is apparently being pursued.
Issue #2: What does this mean for baseball?
On one level it means very little. Spring Training will start very soon, and the regular season soon after, and the bulk of this will recede to the point where only wackos like me -- the "chattering classes" as Pete likes to say -- are talking about it. People will forget the idiotic hyperbole that has stunk up the joint over the past 48 hours. People will go to the games to forget how crappy the non-baseball world is right now, and more people will be talking about what Alex Rodriguez is contributing to the pennant drive than what he has contributed to the steroid story. And if you don't believe me, just recall that this time last year we were still bobbing helplessly in the wake of the Mitchell Report and the opening scenes of Roger Clemens' one-man tragedy. The A-Rod story is about one man's acts six years ago. Last year's stuff was about nearly a hundred dudes and high, ongoing drama. It all receded too.
But on the chattering class level, if there is any justice in the world, the A-Rod story will finally put public lie to the notion that the Mitchell Report meant anything. Not to toot my own horn, but I wrote a pretty spiffy little number in this year's Hardball Times Annual about how the Mitchell Report was a PR piece that failed on every level except one: convincing the weak-minded that it approached comprehensiveness or represented finality. How does it look now that it missed the biggest name in baseball when evidence that the biggest name in baseball had used was in the league's possession all along? How can anyone associated with Major League Baseball point to the Mitchell Report as anything other than a historical curiosity when Alex Rodriguez and, presumably, a hundred other ballplayers' names will be leaking out over the coming weeks and months? Guess what? I hate the Mitchell Report, so I'm glad it has had its horse shot out from under it. I know everyone is sick of it by now, but let's have a real blood-letting and really get it behind us, cool?
Issue #3: What does this mean for the Yankees?
Not many people are asking this question, but at least one commenter here was yesterday, and I reprint the way in which he raised the issue for everyone else's consideration:
Above all else, the New York Yankees are a brand. The Mets play baseball, the Red Sox play baseball, and so so the other 27 teams that come through New York City every summer. The only reason people root for the Yankees instead of these other teams is proximity and brand. The last thing that brand needs is nine years of its best player constantly hounded by steroid talk as he gets paid millions in bonus money for hitting #600, #661, #715, #756, and #763.
I took issue with that by noting that the Yankee Brand, such as it is, is about winning lots of freaking baseball games. If the Yankees continue to win lots of freaking baseball games, the brand will not be sullied. Indeed, the only time in living memory when "the Yankee Brand" suffered was between 1965 and 1975 when they couldn't win anything. As for now, if they continue to win lots of freaking baseball games over the next few years, it’ll be because A-Rod has continued to hit the cover off the ball, and if A-Rod is hitting the cover off the ball, people will go back to worrying about (a) the Red Sox; (b) Derek Jeter's clutchiness; and (c) who Rodriguez is sleeping with, all as God intended.
Issue #4: What does this mean for Alex Rodriguez?
As far as career assessments go, I'll leave the heavy lifting to Neyer:
I hope Alex Rodriguez didn't cheat. If we do find out that he cheated, I will wish that he hadn't. But whatever happens, I'm not going to change my opinion that he's a great baseball player. Like many of the greatest players, he'll do whatever it takes to be the best player he can be. For a stretch of five or 10 years -- and yes, perhaps even today still -- being the best player could have meant cheating. Maybe the cheaters were wrong; that's the direction in which I lean, probably because I've got a streak of the moralist in me. But I will not sit idly while great athletes looking for an edge -- not all that different from the many generations before them -- are demonized by the high priests of baseball opinion. I will not.
That's exactly where I sit, and I would hope that come 20 years from now, that's where history will sit too. That instead of blackballing Alex Rodriguez because of steroids, his accomplishments, and the accomplishments of every player in this era, will be judged on a curve, just like we judge pitchers from the 60s and slap-hitters from the 20s and 30s. They're different, and their numbers must be adjusted in some rough way in order for us to find value in them, but they are not illegitimate per se. Indeed, now that A-Rod is out of the PED closet and given that others will no doubt soon follow, maybe we're more likely to get there than we would have had we never learned about this.
Why? Because the more players who are found to have used PEDs, the less accurate it is to say that anyone had an unfair advantage. Sure, on a matchup-by-matchup basis there were users facing non-users, but the caricature of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens -- juiced up monsters cheating their way across a league of innocents -- grows more ridiculous as each new name surfaces. Many, many ballplayers have used PEDs in recent years. So many, I'd guess, that at some point a blanket presumption of PED use -- as long as it's not accompanied by a blackballing and an excess of moralizing -- should be in order for the players of our age.
If you take such an approach, you will admittedly find fewer heroes and villains, which is sad if you write for a major newspaper, because that's how they seem to like their stories. But it does have the benefit of, you know, matching the reality which holds in the rest of our gray and ambiguous world.
And if you don't? If you demonize and hyperbolize like Jayson Stark and all of the others each time a new name pops up, proclaiming each new PED transgression to be worst than the last and all of them worse than anything that came before? Well, then, you're eventually going to have to give up on this game altogether, because you won't have a recent baseball memory that isn't terminally tainted. As I sit here today, no baseball memory of mine -- 1998 home run race included -- has been ruined by any PED-related revelations. If they had been, I probably couldn't find the will to wake up and write about this game every day. And to be fair, the Jayson Stark's of the world wake up and, most of the time anyway, seem to enjoy writing about this game too.
Which leads me to wonder: are they lying when they say how much they love baseball, or are they lying when they say that PEDs have destroyed it? It has to be one of those, right?
Posted by Craig Calcaterra at 8:00am
Jason @ IIATMS said...
Best. Recap. Period.
Seriously, Craig, thanks for taking the requisite time to calmly put all of this down in some semblance of order without trying to yell the loudest.
There’s so much I don’t like about this, besides the cold hard fact of ARod testing positive. Thanks for capturing all of that.
Posted 02/09 at 09:52 AM
Bravo, Craig! This piece won’t be the last word on the subject, but it should be.
Posted 02/09 at 10:08 AM
Fantastic Craig, as always.
I second your views on the Mitchell Report- its a shoddy PR cover for 10 years of wilful ignorance. Hopefully this incident will provide the kick in the backside for a much needed housecleaning at the MLBPA. Its pretty farcical that the same guys who let the steroid mess degenerate so far are now charged with the responsibility of cleaning it up.
Posted 02/09 at 10:13 AM
“So many, I’d guess, that at some point a blanket presumption of PED use—as long as it’s not accompanied by a blackballing and an excess of moralizing—should be in order for the players of our age.”
Yes. Guilt by association should be the conclusion that ALL players used PEDS from sometime in ‘90s into 2004 and beyond. We can wrap it all up in such a pretty little package for our consumption and all feel…, uh,... somewhat better about it? I’ll bet ballplayers- Frank Thomas, Schilling (his personal views and quest for attention set aside), Mussina, Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz- who did not resort to chemical enhancement to improve performance will certainly embrace this. Do I know they haven’t used? No. Do I suspect this group used. No, that’s my opinion. If news breaks in the future they did indulge, then I mentally place them into the catagory of ballplayers in the next paragraph.
As you, Craig, are aware, Bonds, Rodriguez, Sosa, Clemens, McGwire, etc., were virtual locks for HOF election without the need for PEDs. The ability to perform at a higher level due to PED
Assuming blanket use for the era is wrong in my mind- it takes too much away from those who didn’t use, not only as ballplayers, but as human beings. These men have had an honest on field effort taken from them by those who used. Lumping them in the same catagory, “assuming” (and with a lawyerly back ground you know how dangerous assumptions can be) blanket use, is not fair to these men and I’m certain they would agree.
If the guilty ones don’t surface, hand ‘em all. Let’s cut off the nose to spite the face.
Posted 02/09 at 10:27 AM
You missed one of the most intriguing aspects of all, which is that in 2004 Gene Orza was tipping off A-Rod about when his next “random” test was to occur. So not only did he continue to abuse PEDs but with the consent of the players union. This was actually mentioned in the Mitchell Report as well, but now we have more specific information, and it’s horrifying.
Also, no wonder A-Rod toed the line so quickly when the union told him he couldn’t reduce the total value of his contract to leave Texas.
Posted 02/09 at 10:28 AM
Wooden U. Lykteneau said...
I’m struggling with how it’s necessarily the union’s fault that the test results weren’t kept confidential. From the MFW story:
“But, for some reason, neither the owners nor the union filed the necessary paperwork ordering CDT and Quest to destroy all the records and samples.”
I’m no lawyer—but Craig, you are (heh heh)—but is there any reason why the players’ agents didn’t file said paperwork? In other words, were they prevented from doing so?
Posted 02/09 at 10:30 AM
Craig Calcaterra said...
Wooden—I’m not totally sure, but my sense of it was that there was no individual right to do it. The power over the tests resided with MLB and the union. There’s probably more to learn about this, though, so that’s all I can really say.
Guido—re: the tipping. The union has denied it, so again, I think we need more information before we can definitively say anything about it (at least responsibly). That said, if there was tipping, it’s just another reason for Orza (or whoever tipped) to go.
Spitball—Great name, because it highlights the very issue you raise. before 1920 or so, the spitball was legal. Many used it, many didn’t, and we’ll never know who did or did not for sure. We don’t throw out everyone’s records, however, because we can take a broader view and say “well, many did” and give a rough weight to the era. On a player by player level this may cause some injustices, sure, but there really is no other practical way to deal with it given the fact that we (a) will never have objective evidence on every player’s use; and (b) we are now at a point where we cannot take anyone’s word on the subject at face value.
This is hard for me to admit, because my favorite player of all time is Greg Maddux. I’d like to think he didn’t use, and if you put a gun to my head I’d say he didn’t. I’d like to give him more credit for doing what he did in the steroid era, but I can’t know for sure that, on the whole, he didn’t have a greater advantage than he did a disadvantage. Eventually you find yourself going around and around in circles.
What to do? Say that everyone kind of juiced, adjust offense down a bit and understand that this is an era just like the deadball era and the 1930s and the 1960s. We have no problem doing that for the old days, so let’s do it for the new days too.
Posted 02/09 at 10:39 AM
I still think the government piece is worth more attention. Is their plan to leak a name a week? Month? Leaking names from a confidential test in 2003 is pretty distrustful.
I’m not sure why this angle does not get more media coverage. Does the mainstream press not get it?
If the government wants to prosecute Bonds, then they should prosecute Bonds and leave it at that. If their case is weak then they should stop dumping thousands in tax payer dollars into it.
Posted 02/09 at 10:51 AM
The Common Man said...
“Look, I don’t sit in my study wearing a tinfoil hat all day”
I will now adjust my mental picture of Craig working accordingly.
Great post, Craig. Can we start a pool to figure out when Orza will resign?
Jon Heyman wrote about this yesterday (and Craig linked to it). Heyman argues that it was Orza’s determination to pare down the original list of users to under 5%. As for individual agents, I imagine that, if any of them made a request and that request was ever made public, it would be extremely damaging to that agent’s clients.
Posted 02/09 at 11:01 AM
About the players’ union:
And on a tangential note:
Isn’t it the height of bad form for a newspaper (or whatever SI.com is) to write stories about its own influence? Especially so soon after the report that there’s no way to accurately gauge that influence? It feels a lot more like advertising than actual reporting.
Seeing the headline on the SI.com front page is making it hard for me to read anything else on their site. I think the continuing steroid follies have finally driven me crazy.
Posted 02/09 at 11:25 AM
Aaron Moreno said...
I refuse to give any credence to the suggestion that a GOVERNMENT LAWYER would willingly leak information to the media and public at large in an attempt to poison the well and win an otherwise weak case. To say that we may hear other names on the steroid list soon is absurd, and I will now sing the Star-Spangled Banner while holding my professional ethics book close to my heart until this goes away.
Posted 02/09 at 11:49 AM
What to do? Say that everyone kind of juiced, adjust offense down a bit and understand that this is an era just like the deadball era and the 1930s an the 1960s.
Why adjust just offense? We seen from the names released in Mitchell and other sources that pitchers are just as likely to have used PEDs. It seems to me that there are so many potential drug related factors involved (fastball speed is up, recovery between outings may be improved, bat speed is up, larger hitters less able to play quality defense ...) then throw them into a pot with a bunch of unrelated non-drug factors (smaller parks, new ball construction, double lacquered maple bats, changing strike zone ...) that it becomes a fools errand to suggest a steroids discount, particularly one that only impacts one side of the ledger.
Posted 02/09 at 11:52 AM
The only thing more annoying than all the moral indignation about the steroid scandal is all the moral indignation about all the moral indignation about the steroid scandal. If it’s not a Shysterball post about poor A-Rod and the evil MLBPA, it’s a Shysterball post about poor Bonds and the evil prosecutors.
I would be a happy man if the words ‘steroid’ or ‘investigation’ never graced the pages of this blog ever again.
Posted 02/09 at 11:56 AM
The spitballs, dead balls, lively balls, the introduction of shin guards by Mr. Bresnahan, pitcher dominance for much of the ‘60s, etc., occured due to rule and equipment changes, and influenced how the game was played. Changes due to drug enhanced performance do not, in my book, fit in this same catagory.
I understand one’s need to weight and adjust, to neutralize parks for the sake of sabremetrics. The “steroid era” goes beyond other “eras”. Even when one adjusts and weights, there is fundamental difference, a nagging thought in the back of my mind, that says this ain’t right. That thought doesn’t occur with other “eras” come to mind. Some ballplayers got screwed in this era due to illegal or ethically and morally shakey practices of others. Something has been taken away from from those who played with PEDs. Adjustments and weights do nothing but diminish the clean accomplishments of these guys, they continue getting screwed. Until I’m shown Maddux, et al, used they stay on the pedestal.
Henry Aaron’s accomplishments mean much more to me than those of Bonds (and in the future Rodriguez) ever could. Simply because I can hold to trust the accomplishments of Aaron. Those of the users I cannot.
Posted 02/09 at 12:10 PM
Aaron Moreno said...
I’m gonna guess here Matt and say that you’re gonna be pissed for awhile.
Posted 02/09 at 12:12 PM
I tend to focus on the failure of the union here. A few years ago, I heard Marvin Miller on the radio, defending the rights of players to NOT take drug tests. He cited the right to privacy and ultimately, the slippery slope players would find themselves if they gave up their privacy, even in a matter like PED’s.
Now, tests that should have been destroyed are seized by the government, and then leaked to the press. So much for privacy. Whoever at the MLBPA failed to make sure those tests should be destroyed should be fired if they don’t have the brains/class to resign first.
And to top it all off, Reggie Jackson and Curt Schilling want have the other 103 (or 104) positive tests released, you know, for the betterment of the “clean” guys. All that would prove is that the clean guys didn’t test positive for what they were testing for. Maybe a bunch of guys hopped up on steroids stopped, or were taking substances that couldn’t be tested for at the time. A negative steroid test could mean nothing.
What happened to Fehr and Orza and the union? They went from competent to idiots overnight, and every one blames the players, and no one looks at owners as culpable in this matter.
Posted 02/09 at 12:50 PM
I agree with spitball - steroids are different. Unlike the spitball pitch, though there wasn’t an explicit punishment by baseball rules, steroids were illegal to obtain and use. The deadball era affected all players without bias. Steroids were used by some and not by others and therefore did not affect all players equally.
Craig is right about the circles, though. I’m sure there are plenty of occasions where steroids turned a routine fly ball into a homerun. But what if that homerun came off a pitcher that had used steroids? I always thought it was fitting that Bonds’ homerun that tied Hank Aaron was hit off a pitcher that had been suspended for steroid use in 2005.
I think this mass media coverage, “witch hunt”, public obsession, whatever you want to call it, is simply a search to find out as much as possible. I agree with spitball that it’s just not fair to the David Ecksteins to write off an entire 20 year era. It may be easier to write it all off as a steroid induced era of baseball and move on. But until we know as much of the truth as possible, we will never be able to put the era into the appropriate historical context.
Posted 02/09 at 01:12 PM
Re: Jason Stark and ilk. I believe that they don’t really believe in what they spew—it sells newspapers (or webhits), so they go with it.
Re: Cheating in baseball in general. Look, the whole argument is really simple and silly. Read Bill James’ Historical Abstract. Some have been cheating from the get go. There could be as many cheaters in the MLB population as in the investment banker, lawyer, doctor, plumber, or whatever population you want to sample, maybe more, maybe less, who knows. But they have been doing it forever. You want to keep Bonds and McGuire out of the Hall of Fame, or the “record books”? Fine. Take out Mays for taking greenies (and who knows, steroids - do you see his numbers from when he was over 30??? Re-DIC-ulous—and steroids were around in the form we’ve come to know and love since the ‘60s and ‘70s, let’s not kid ourselves—see the Steelers of the era). Take out Ruth for using horse semen (the HGH of the 1920s, apparently). Take out those who violated the morals clause, or the “good of the game clause,” take out EVERYONE. That’s where this line of whole moral indignation goes . . .
Finally, this is GREAT for the sabermetrics side of the baseball argument. Because now, perhaps, the MSM will have to embrace metrics like OPS+ or VORP or whatever, to determine the true VALUE of a player. New metrics to neutralize steroids will be developed, and then we can REALLY determine (if) A-Rod really was the best or not, and not just speculate. I say, the more steroid news, the better for the metric side of the baseball world . . .
Posted 02/09 at 01:48 PM
One more thought.
When I was younger, in college, and KNEW that in ‘98 McGuire was on roids (body type, andro is a scam, etc.) I didn’t care that he was juiced; the steroid use on its face isn’t what always troubled me. It is that, back in the day, G.C. Alexander would pitch a 3 hitter still drunk from the night before, or that Ruth/Mantle whomever was hungover/just pounded a beer/etc. before blasting a 500 foot home run. There was a certain romanticism in that baseball, since apparently you could excel at it with alcohol coursing through your body, was something that ANYONE could do, if they had the talent.
Nobody talks about the serious amount of work Mantle put in, from the age of 3 onwards, to be the best. Nobody talks about the drinking and driving, the destruction it must have caused with his personal relationships or team relationships. Nobody cares about the alcohol use; it’s an American thing (we love alcohol, guns and alcohol and guns together, but god forbid anyone tokes on a joint, we’re out to punish him tremendously . . . wait, where am I going? Oh yeah). We love Mantle, or Ruth, or whomever, for the chemicals he put in his body; but, b/c that chemical is not associated with performance ENHANCEMENT, we look the other way. Steroids changes the nature of this romanticized view; baseball went from broads and booze to 6 hours in the gym, windsprints, etc. that made already talented people do things we could never do, especially do drunk. THAT’S the real indignation with steroids. It dehumanized the ball player.
Posted 02/09 at 01:58 PM
Pete Toms said...
@ Guido: “horrifying”. Come on man, it’s only baseball.
The baseball writers (whom I’ve defended before during the annual blogger jihad over HOF voting) were complete incompetents on this subject. On Friday I was watching a Toronto sports talk show and a long time Jays beat writer - Bob Elliott - was one of the participants. The subject got round to steroids in baseball (remember, this is the day before A Roid) and in particular Clemens’ years with the Jays. Elliott towed the baseball writers’ party line, “well, there were rumors about guys but we didn’t have any evidence and well, we didn’t really know”. How, could a baseball beat writer NOT know? The increased size of the players across the board, Caminiti and Canseco, guys like Anderson, Radomski and McNamee hanging around clubhouses, the ANDRO IN MCGWIRE’S LOCKER. They revealed themselves to be a bunch of ingratiating jock sniffers, too scared to ask the tough questions and be blackballed. I see a lot of SI bashing - and I don’t read SI - but I did read Verducci’s 2002 piece on roids in baseball this weekend and he is the one baseball writer who got it right.
Tipping. The PA has admitted to speaking with all 104 during the 04 season to advise them…and then it gets gray….that the feds had their tests but they (the PA) don’t admit to telling these players that they were positive tests…the PA also admits that the 04 testing was delayed due to logistics and that when meeting with the aforementioned 104 during 04, advising/tipping? (semantics?) them that they were to be tested before season’s end. (The PA goes to great lengths to explain that the players knew that anyway). Anyway, go to Maury’s and read the 10 page letter that Fehr sent to Waxman and you’ll understand what I’m on about and where all these “tipping” allegations stem from.
I haven’t been to BP today but perhaps Will Carroll will explain this….did Orza need the test results - both the pee and the identities - to prove “false positives”...or was he and the PA just massively incompetent?
The important question in all of this, much more important than silly old baseball is employee drug testing and Fourth Amendment Rights. I’m way in over my head here but I’m opposed to employee drug testing, I think it’s an invasion of privacy….and if the federal government can seize your results when your not even under investigation….
Posted 02/09 at 04:22 PM