Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Rodriguez: Thirteen thoughts on the baseball Judas

It is better for your health to "ignore these blowhards" with regard to the media coverage of the Alex Rodriguez scandal, to quote FanGraphs, which has created the Hyperbole Index (HI, for short).

Good friend Pete Toms notes this is a chattering class issue. The majority of people who will attend ballgames, just for something to do or on a company outing, will have forgotten about this by April. For sanity's sake, condensing the whole Rodriguez matter to 13 thoughts seems appropriate for putting the matter to bed for a few days.
  1. Rodriguez breaking the home run record... good thing: Contary to what you might have heard, Rodriguez has not destroyed the game's history. His shame will serve to liberate it from the conceit, kept up by self-appointed gatekeepers such as Bob Costas, that baseball is the best game of all because of its record book.

    Those of you who have also watched all 18½ hours of Ken Burns' Baseball, six times over in the past 15 years might remember this part. At one point, Costas says the grand old game stands alone since you can rhyme off numbers such as 56, 755, 4,256, .406 and everyone will get the reference. In other sports it is, "How many yards did Jim Brown have when Walter Payton passed him? How points did Wilt Chamberlain have when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar passed him to become the all-time leading scorer in the NBA?"

    Statistics are a good backup for confirming what you saw or filling in what you missed. It's mostly a reflection of the competition player faced, the conditions (i.e., segregation, scouting, home ballpark), the way the game was played at the time and whether he was fortunate enough to enjoy a long career. Everything needs to be put into context, not just the Steroid Era.

    The failure to understand is this is why Dick Allen, who played in the low-scoring 1960s and early '70s, is not in the Hall of Fame. It is also a big part of why Jim Rice got in last month by the skin of his teeth. Oh, and remember, anyone who played before the game was fully integrated, their numbers are a bit suspect too.

    It's a fair leap, but if the top two home run hitters of all time are a pair of universally hated cheaters, perhaps it gets slower-thinking sportswriters to stop furrowing their brows in a vain attempt to understand the situation. This is a small, nerdy point to list first.

  2. Marvin Miller must be laughing. The now 91-year-old former players' union boss warned five years ago (The Biz of Baseball, July 13, 2004) that the U.S. government might step all over players' constitutional rights in order to be the white knight on Steroids in Sports. No one was listening (guilty as charged):
    "... it's one thing if an employer makes it a labor-management issue. It's quite another when the government says, 'I now will subpoena records of confidential tests and I will use the material,' which, after all is tantamount to saying, 'I will require self-incrimination and I may send some of you to jail.' I think the sports media, like so much of the other media, is just asleep on this issue."
  3. This shall pass. This is only the second-worst scandal in sports history, according to the estimable Seattle baseball writer Geoff Baker. (Canadians might be interested to know what claimed the No. 1 and No. 5 berths.) People are so jaded that they can shrug this off, noting it was timed so it keeps Steroids in Baseball on the front burner in the lead-up to the start of Barry Bonds' trial (which is going so, so well for the prosecutors).

  4. Statistics can prove anything; 14 per cent of all people know that. Baseball was due to see an attendance decrease in 2009 due to the recession. Expect someone to blame that on the Bonds and Rodriguez fallout.

  5. Putting the media on trial: The Sports Law Professor turned the cannon on Sports Illustrated's Selena Roberts, who broke the story Saturday.
    "Where is the reporters' complicity? I see Selena Roberts, Sports Illustrated's new back-page moralizer ... being interviewed on evening news programs without having to answer for her conduct. If it not permissible for an insider to reveal the contents of sealed evidence, then why is it morally permissible (if not illegal) for an outsider, especially a veteran reporter experienced in prying admissions out of reluctant innocents, to cajole and entice such insiders to break their known legal obligations? Isn't luring another to commit a wrong just as culpable as the wrong itself?"
  6. In other words, Rodriguez didn't have to make stuff up: Rodriguez steered some of his ESPN interview with Peter Gammons around to spewing invective about Roberts. He even went so far to accuse of her of committing a B&E:
    "What makes me upset is Sports Illustrated pays this lady Selena Roberts to stalk me. This lady has been thrown out of my apartment in New York City. This lady has, five days ago she was thrown out of the University of Miami police for tresspassing. And four days ago she tried to break into my house while my girls are up there sleeping, and got cited by the Miami Beach Police. I have the paper here. And this lady's coming out with all these allegations, all these lies, because she’s writing an article for Sports Illustrated. And she's coming out with a book in May. And really respectable journalists are following this lady off the cliff, and following her lead. And that to me is unfortunate.
    Jeff Pearlman has some choice words for Gammons for not challenging Rodriguez's assertions. Roberts was also slagged by The Futility Infielder last night.

  7. Yes, him again: Rodriguez's infamy means that Pete Rose, who's been sent down the river so many times only to keep bobbing up like some raspy-voiced Rasputin, can continue his two-decade-old image rehabilitation.

    Rose was on MLB Home Plate on Tuesday afternoon, where he drew a distinction between his crimes as an athlete-gambler and a juicer: "What I did had nothing to do with the direct outcome of a game. What I did (betting on baseball), I did as a manager." That might be a flimsy premise, but taking a banned substance definitely impacts

    For what it's worth, Rose did not buy any claim Rodriguez was young and naive in 2001-03, pointing out "he wasn't a kid." Granted, at the time Rodriguez was playing for a team whose former managing partner who referred to things he did in his 30s as "youthful indiscretions." Maybe that gave him the idea (kidding).

  8. Cooperstown needs new shorts: Rose, who of course wants to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame worst than anything, said, "I just got a call from a guy in Cooperstown. He's all pissed off. He's like, this is going to ruin us because no one from the last 10 years is going to get into the Hall of Fame because of steroids."

    There would not be a problem if the Baseball Writers' Association of America would get off its collective high horse, but that's another 100 posts. To borrow a phrase from one of Kinger's contemporaries, Tim Cunningham, the Hall of Fame voting system is "totally broken." A-Rod sticking a needle in his bum doesn't let anyone off the hook.

  9. Comfortably numb: Please keep in mind that some other big name will get out at some point.

  10. Who is innocent by association? Poz noted Frank Thomas, who was just naturally huge and cooperated with the Mitchell Report, comes out very well. Thomas was huge naturally and his career has wound down at a normal pace. Some of the pitchers who played through the Steroid Era, such as Mike Mussina, might have stronger arguments for the Hall of Fame, assuming they were on the level.

    It's been hard, as a Jays fan, to shake the idea that Carlos Delgado's reputation might improve even though there's no way to presume anyone was clean as a bean. The former Toronto slugger, as you probably remember, finished second to Rodriguez in the American League MVP voting in 2003. Delgado was fourth in 2000, behind the tainted Jason Giambi, Thomas and Rodriguez.

    Being a former MVP draws a lot of water with the BBWAA. The view might take hold that Delgado actually should be looked at as the winner in 2003, which would help his borderline Cooperstown bonafides. As a first baseman who has OPS+'d 138 over his career, Delgado is an iffy Hall of Fame candidate, but he is getting close to the 500-home run plateau which once meant automatic induction, along with 500 doubles and 1,500 RBI.

  11. Talk about timing: The Rodriguez scandal has done for the new MLB Network what the first Gulf War did for CNN back in 1991, as Sports Media Journal noted. It's been a real coup for the digital channel, although Canadians have to take everyone's word for it since the channel is not available in Canada, thanks Rogers.

  12. Why the shrug? It is tough to feel scandalized when one made his peace with the Steroid Era three flippin' years ago:
    "Baseball’s hamfisted attempt to put a gloss over the steroids scandal last year makes every fan a little bit guilty. We are taking pleasure in a sport that you know has been altered by drug cheats, knowing that there are strings attached."
  13. Barry Bonds is still in the 10th circle. It makes no sense to draw a distinction between Rodriguez and Bonds because the latter is a more arrogant jerk. No one thought to call Rodriguez a cheater before Saturday, and Bonds was pilloried far, far worse.


Greg said...

Brilliant post, Neate. You nailed it right on.

My .02: I've never been a fan of A-Rod and his swaggering, self-serving arrogance, but this kind of story only re-affirms how broken professional baseball has become. This is a microcosm of a much larger problem in the league -- a moral and fiscal rot that's going to come down to a full-scale war in 2012.

Dennis Prouse said...

A-Rod gets points from me for coming clean, pardon the pun, rather than continuing to lie about it. (A-Rod got some good crisis PR advice, and actually listened to it, which is why he is going to get through this OK.)

I really don't blame the players who juiced. Everyone was doing it, and no one was getting caught. What's more, management was turning a blind eye. At that point, it becomes a competitive issue - if you want to keep up, or just stay in the majors, you are going to do whatever it takes, including taking performance enhancing drugs. It is the responsibility of management and the union to save players from harming themselves by having a testing and education program, something that was woefully lacking until recently.

Why the double standard on Bonds? Because he kept lying about it. It's like Pete Rose - his refusal to come clean about what he did is what killed his Hall of Fame chances. If Rose had simply admitted what he did, and asked for forgiveness, he probably would have gotten it. Ditto for Bonds. Now that Bonds has painted himself into that corner, though, it is hard to come clean without looking like a complete fool, or like he has been forced into it.

Anonymous said...

I am sorry in the pro leagues its not up to the mamagment and union to be baby sitting the players.Do i think the players derserve all the blame now but the share it with mamagament.