The War Of The Worlds

First came the BALCO break, then Jason Grimsley’s affidavit and the redacted names, and now, it’s a gentleman named Kirk Radomski making the headlines. The feeling of déjà vu combined with “here we go again” is pretty intense.

It seems within the realm of possibility that the use of anabolic substances might have been/still is as prevalent as claimed by Ken Caminiti, David Wells and Jose Canseco. What if it’s true that 50-80% of major league players have used (anabolic) steroids at some point in their career? How could it have gotten this way?

We know that a large percentage of players have used amphetamines, and like steroids they’re illegal drugs used to help them perform (they feel) at their best or better.

Consider the various rewards of the big-league life and it becomes easier to understand why young men, who have had drummed into their heads since infancy that money, fame and prestige are things to be earnestly pursued, might be willing to do whatever it takes to achieve these things.

We’ve seen posters with big houses, expensive cars, etc. on them and the caption: Life—Whoever Finishes With The Most Toys Wins. There are commercials for little girls’ dolls that come with their own “bling” for both the doll and the child. A popular genre of music among the young advertises the importance of “bank,” “bling bling” and the like while the artists’ videos blast forth images of gold, big fancy cars, the latest clothing designs and jewelry.

In recent decades, the philosophy of “the end justifies the means” has become increasingly popular. Whining about those who didn’t play by the rules is considered the loser’s lament. It’s natural selection, baby—eat or be eaten. Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing and if you ain’t cheatin’ then you ain’t tryin’. We’ve heard horror stories about hockey dads, soccer moms, tennis parents and the like from whom our kids learn that they come in first—or else.

Every hour of every day this mantra is being drummed into the eyes, minds and finally the hearts of people since they’re first propped up in front of a television. So it shouldn’t surprise us when a young man sees that fame, fortune, women and a really fun job might be a syringe away. Are you really gonna let the guy one locker over beat you to that, especially if you see him popping something that doesn’t exactly look like M&M’s?

Nobody remembers who finished second. Or who led the Eastern League in home runs the previous year.

The point is this: This is what we’ve been taught. If the choices are (a) anonyminity, low wages, bus rides and wondering if you should have studied harder, or (b) fame, fortune, sex, bling and putting your feet up at 40, never worrying about money again and sticking a needle in your butt, what choice is going to be made by a person who has been told his entire life that your personal worth and net worth are so intertwined?

A young athlete knows that if he’s 45 years old, never made it out of Double-A and is pumping gas to make ends meet, people aren’t going to give a rat’s ass what he has to say—even if the reason he is in that position is because he said no to (performance-enhancing) drugs. He might get a sweet little old lady patting him on the head saying “That’s nice, dearie, can I get a receipt for that please?” but nobody is going to throw him a ticker-tape parade, pay him millions of dollars or have women throwing themselves at him while thousands of people hang on their every word.

That’s the way the world works and these people know it. The MLBPA doesn’t give out six-figure pensions to career minor leaguers who were in that situation because they were of sterling moral character and said no to drugs. Nobody pays money for their signature at card shows. Nobody carries their luggage and they don’t fly first class.

Let’s be honest here: If you’re a player who’s a borderline big leaguer, there is no reward—short or long term—to staying in the minors or having maybe a cup of coffee in the majors because you decided to do the honorable thing. You might be told that you’ll be healthier down the road, but what if that road has a dead end that cuts you off before you get a chance to live that long? How many players can you name who said no to drugs and never had a big league career of substance because of that choice?

Exactly.

But there are players who are now multi-millionaires. They have all the toys. People line up to give them free stuff. They travel first class with a model on each arm. They do cameos on TV shows, folks pay them big money to show up at their function and shake a few hands and make small talk. They date hot celebrities and get invited to all the best parties. What they say is newsworthy, and if they say nothing, that’s newsworthy too. They also know that once their careers are done that the money keeps rolling in from their pensions and autograph shows.

And performance-enhancing drugs helped get them there.

Yet people tell them to do the “right” thing, but if they do, nobody would give them the time of day if they never made The Show. Some of these folks who did the right thing might have filled our car with gasoline, or done some landscaping work for us, or picked up our garbage at 6 a.m. and we only notice them if they make too much racket.

That’s the reward for doing “the right thing.” Do what we feel is right and as a reward we won’t thank you for what you did because we’re not paying any attention to you because you’re nobody of importance.

That’s the tide being fought against. We’re telling young men to do something that might keep them away from everything we taught them was important in gaining our esteem and as their reward for doing so they get none of the things that we admire and would cause us to notice them.

That’s part of the problem. We’re more focused on what a person has, rather than how they have attained those things. If a 17-year-old has a hot sports car, he’s A-list. He’s on top of the food chain. Nobody cares how he got the car they just care that he has the car and wonder how they can be part of it.

If a person has several million dollars, nobody cares how he got that several million dollars—they just care that he has several million dollars and wonder how they can be part of it.

If a person has made millions as a major league baseball player, nobody cares how he got to be a big-leaguer—they just care that he is big league player and wonder how they can be part of it.

Do you think Jason Giambi would have the same success getting into New York’s hottest nightclubs if he had never reached the majors?

Do you think Jason Giambi would have any less success getting into New York’s hottest nightclubs if he said that he used performance-enhancing drugs to reach the majors?

Do you think Jason Giambi would have the same success with the opposite sex if he had never reached the majors?

Do you think Jason Giambi would have any less success with the opposite sex if he said that he used performance-enhancing drugs to reach the majors? It means the difference of getting the hot blonde in the tight miniskirt and getting laughed in the face at with the remark “In. Your. Dreams!” in front of your buddies and listening to her friends laugh as you walk away.

We give these young men two sets of signals: One signal is, we stand up and say (performance-enhancing) drugs are bad. The other signal is if you are a major leaguer, not only is the world your oyster but we’ll change society’s rules in your favor. And if you get caught with performance-enhancing drugs you’ll get suspended, read a bunch of articles criticizing you, pay a modest fine (for your income bracket) and get to keep all your goodies. The rules remain in your favor.

It’s easy for us to say drugs are bad. They are bad—for us. The penalties can be harsh and life-long and the rewards minimal and temporary. But major league players will not face our level of penalty and the potential rewards are everything we have decreed are important in life and can potentially last their entire lives.

At the same time, the risks of not using can be high (never enjoying the potential perks, privileges and lifetime security of a major league career) and the rewards low (possibly being a nobody, living from paycheck to paycheck with no guarantee you’ll not have health problems at 55-60 years old, not being able to watch a ball game without thinking “What if…?” and “That could’ve been me if only I had just…” and wondering if you blew your only chance at the brass ring).

It’s like this: Suppose there’s a planet with almost no gravity and beings inhabiting it. We’ve seen people in these kinds of environments (and it looks fun—but I digress) so we know that you’re not likely to hurt yourself if you fall. Now you tell these beings about the hazards of cliffs, bridges and roofs of tall buildings. You try to explain how these can inspire fear and caution in us and that the laws of gravity can both injure and kill.

You’re going to sound pretty silly to these creatures because to them, the law of gravity is no big deal.

That’s what our world’s rules about (performance-enhancing) drug usage sound like to those who have succeeded in the world of major league baseball. Our world’s rules don’t apply in their world. Here’s what drug usage has gotten the following people in big-league salaries:

Matt Lawton $35,589,000
Jason Grimsley $10,673,000
Felix Heredia $8,587,000
Guillermo Mota $8,183,000 (will make $5 million in 2007-08)
Ryan Franklin  $7,877,500 (will make $1 million plus $1 million in bonuses)
Carlos Almanzar $2,177,500
Juan Rincon $1,670,000 (will make $2 million in 2007)
Alex Sanchez $1,243,000
Rafael Betancourt $1,009,100

At the end of this season, almost $83 million will have been paid to such journeymen level players and these are just the ones who have been caught. Some of the above players will receive hefty pensions that will set them up for life. They have baseball cards bearing their image, souvenirs of their time in MLB, probably video tapes/DVDs of games they’ve played in, photographs of them alongside some of baseball’s greats. Some will have League Championship and World Series rings on their fingers and memories of dog-piling on the field, enjoying the ultimate moment in the game.

Twenty years from now, how many people will remember that they once got busted for using steroids? They will remember that he was a big league ballplayer and judging by the house he lives in he must have been pretty good, too! Has he ever shown you his World Series ring? It’s so cool!

Worth a couple of weeks of nasty editorials about you? Damn straight.

In this world people will do a lot worse things for a lot less money and recognition—why do you think reality TV has so many people eager to appear on the shows and humiliate themselves in front of family, friends, workmates and millions of people they’ve never met? Why should it surprise that that people are willing to risk public scorn when the rewards for drug use are so high and the consequences for getting caught are nowhere near the consequences for not using?

It’s hard to take the health-consequences threat seriously when you consider this: Is a good diet, regular exercise, lots of fresh air and performance-enhancing drugs any worse for you than long hours, little exercise, eating on the run, drinking coffee by the carafe to stay awake, and drinking and smoking to cope with job stress to reach the summit of the corporate ladder? Isn’t anybody worried about the longer term health consequences for people who aspire to be executives and CEOs?

Ultimately, a lot of things have to change outside of the world of major league baseball before we change the things in major league baseball. Until the risks are so harsh, and the rewards so minimal for PED usage, it’s an uphill battle. We have to change our world before we can hope to change theirs.

The Whine Cellar

Last weekend, one bad inning against Josh Towers (5 ER/3 HR) got Mr. Towers booted from the Blue Jays’ rotation and replaced by Victor Zambrano. I don’t think Towers deserved to lose his job, but it’s nice to have somebody in the ‘pen who’s not so walk-happy. Jays’ relievers are averaging over 4 BB/9 IP.

Last year that caused them big problems early on. The reason they’re getting away with it this year is that they’re not quite so generous in giving up the long ball. Only the Yankees have given up more walks among AL East relievers. The Jays are also second worst in issuing walks in the division (to Baltimore).

Right now, if there are runners on base, John Gibbons’ best options are Casey Janssen, Jeremy Accardo and possibly Jamie Vermilyea, since they keep the ball in the park and haven’t been issuing many freebies. I’d be tempted to use Towers in this role, too, but he’s awful pitching from the stretch. This year, opposing hitters bat .279/.323/.393 against Towers from the windup and .326/.333/.651 from the stretch. He’s given up a single dinger to 61 hitters from the windup and four home runs to just 43 from the stretch. He needs to take a page from Bob Gibson’s book. Since Hoot couldn’t hold base runners, he simply didn’t worry about them. With runners on base, Josh should just pitch from the windup. I think more damage is done by the hits and homers he gives up pitching from the stretch than by the odd stolen base.

Towers has great control (1.46 BB/9 IP) but since his raw stuff isn’t outstanding, he has a razor-thin margin for error—apparently he loses that margin when he throws from the stretch.

Finally, how good was Tom Henke—and for one year Duane Ward? During the glory years of 1985-93 (just 1993 for Ward), the two posted a 2.44 ERA as closers (AL ERA 4.12). Since then, Jays closers’ ERA has risen to 4.05, against a league average of 4.68.

Of course, the Jays haven’t been in a postseason since 1993. I wasn’t nearly as depressed about this until I heard a criticism about the Pittsburgh Pirates: Somebody mentioned that they’ve been bad for so long that they haven’t reached the playoffs since 1992.

Ouch.

I’d be tempted to give Accardo a couple of save opportunities. Closer Jason Frasor is reminding me of Mike Timlin. Timlin was a good reliever (in fact, he’s still gainfully employed). With the Jays he had a nice sinking fastball and slider combination. However when asked to close, he stopped trusting his stuff and was afraid to challenge hitters. Timlin would fall behind, then try to muscle up, causing his fastball to lose its sink and his slider its bite with predictable results.

I see Frasor falling into the same trap. He was asked to close in his rookie year and this year. In the middle two years of his career, when he was not closing Frasor (in 124.7 IP) had a BB/9 of 3.25 and a K/9 of 8.16. In seasons he’s been asked to finish games, his BB/9 is 4.82 and his K/9 is 7.39 (in 80.3 IP). He looks like he’s afraid to challenge hitters with his stuff and now is starting to walk guys, then getting hammered when forced to come in. It’s 1996 all over again.

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