Monday, January 11, 2010

McGwire's Admission Reaffirms How Fraudulent MLB's Record Book is

Mark McGwire has now admitted what just about everyone else already figured out several years ago: he used performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs). Initial reactions to McGwire's statement have run the gamut: PTI's Tony Kornheiser absurdly suggested that MLB should grant "amnesty" to PED users who issue apologies;'s Rob Neyer attempted to justify McGwire's actions by saying that if he (Neyer) would have needed to take illegal drugs to save his writing career then he would have done it; Vincent Thomas--previously best known for asking what another media room denizen called a "crackhead question" during last year's NBA playoffs--repeatedly declared on Rome is Burning that McGwire should have saved his revelation for a book in order to "get paid." In other words, while McGwire used drugs to enhance his physical performance a lot of writers and commentators act like they have taken drugs that are impairing their mental performance. One voice of reason is Sports Illustrated's Lee Jenkins, who correctly concludes that McGwire "was not a victim of the steroid era, as his statement implies. He was the most obvious creation of it."

I have extensively covered the PED issue (check out the Steroids/Performance-Enhancing Drugs section in the right hand sidebar of BEST's main page for a complete archive of my articles about this subject), debunking the ludicrous assertion that steroids don't work and repeatedly stating that PED users should be banned and should have their records vacated. A few months ago in a post titled Revelations About Sosa Show That MLB Must Fumigate the Record Book I wrote:

All of the players who have been caught by the drug testers, outed in the Mitchell Report or otherwise reliably linked to illegal PED use should either be removed from the record book completely--much like the NCAA "vacates" results by programs that cheated--or, at the very least, listed separately under a heading that indicates that their numbers are fraudulent to some degree. If the Players Association or individual players complain, then MLB should invite the aggrieved parties to file a lawsuit and then testify under oath that they are clean; that way, those players will open themselves up to criminal charges of perjury. Somehow I doubt that Bonds, McGwire, Sosa and crew will be interested in placing themselves in that kind of jeopardy.

There are two reasons why MLB must act so forcefully:

1) It is important to be fair to the players--past and present--who did not cheat.
2) The two main reasons that the cheaters cheated were to get paid and to establish a place for themselves in history (Sosa just smugly spoke about being elected to the Hall of Fame because of his great numbers); the best message that MLB can send to young baseball players is that cheaters do not prosper and that when they are caught all of their numbers are nullified.

Six of the top 15 players on MLB's career home run list have been linked to PEDs, including leader Barry Bonds and the sixth ranked Sammy Sosa, plus Mark McGwire and Alex Rodriguez, who are currently tied for eighth-ninth. Those cheaters--plus the 11th ranked Rafael Palmeiro--pushed clean, Hall of Fame sluggers Reggie Jackson and Mike Schmidt out of the top 10 in the sport's most glamorous statistical category, while cheater Manny Ramirez currently sits just two home runs behind Schmidt and only trails Jackson by 17 home runs. During Monday night's SportsCenter, John Kruk--a three-time All-Star who candidly conceded that he was not an "elite" player--said that the more that comes out about the "Steroid Era" the angrier he becomes. Kruk noted that he and other clean players were essentially playing "naked" while apparently a substantial number of "elite" players benefited from using illegal drugs. Kruk added that he cannot help but wonder what kind of numbers he and other clean players might have put up had the playing field been level. It is worth noting that PED usage not only warped statistics but also had a huge economic impact, because the cheaters reaped tremendous financial gains and the trickle down effect of their profits is that the clean stars earned less than they otherwise would have, the clean above average players who potentially could have been stars lost those opportunities and, clearly, some clean fringe players who might have been just good enough to play in the majors had their dreams completely shattered.

It cannot be emphasized enough that MLB's record book has been completely fraudulent for quite some time. The Olympics and the track and field authorities have responded to their steroid/PED scandals by wiping out the records/honors won by cheaters like Marion Jones and at some point MLB Commissioner Bud Selig--or his successor--must take a similar action.

McGwire's statement is carefully crafted but it is as fraudulent as MLB's record book. McGwire likely composed his remarks with the cooperation and help of MLB authorities in order to cast himself and the sport's decision makers in the best possible light (such as McGwire's assertion, "Baseball is really different now--it's been cleaned up. The commissioner and the players' association implemented testing and they cracked down, and I'm glad they did"). McGwire declares, "I did this for health purposes. There's no way I did this for any type of strength use" and adds "I wish I had never played during the steroid era." The first statement is a lie and the second statement is a cop out. Steroids and HGH--the substances that McGwire has belatedly admitted that he ingested for the better part of a decade during the height of his career, including the 1998 season when he shattered Roger Maris' single-season home run record--help to build strength and thus enhance performance; that is why they are called performance-enhancing drugs--and to assert anything else is about as scientifically valid as saying that the Earth is flat. We all know that superior hand-eye coordination is required to hit major league pitching and that PEDs do not improve those skills--but the point is that if you already possess those skills and then augment that natural talent with unnatural strength your performance (and thus your statistics, particularly in the power categories) will be greatly enhanced.

It is transparently clear why McGwire made his admission now:

1) Next season he will be a hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals and if he had not said something prior to the season then he would surely have been bombarded by questions about steroids/PEDs every day. McGwire issued his statement during the height of the NFL playoffs, hoping to minimize the amount of coverage that it gets and hoping that by the time Spring Training rolls around he can declare that this is old news and, reprising his infamous line, that he "does not want to talk about the past." McGwire says that now he is willing to answer questions about his PED use--but let's see just how long this willingness lasts and how forthcoming he really is; look for McGwire to do a handful of teary-eyed interviews with carefully selected media sycophants before he quickly clams up, says that he has nothing to add to his prepared statement and gruffly requests that all he wants to talk about is his future as a hitting coach.

2) Forgiveness is deeply entrenched in American culture, so McGwire has reason to believe that his chances of being elected to the Hall of Fame are better now that he has belatedly admitted the truth; clearly, his vote totals during his first several years of eligibility suggest that without such an admission he had little chance of being inducted, so in this regard he has everything to gain and nothing to lose, as can be seen by the early reactions of Kornheiser and Neyer referenced above.

It appears that Commissioner Selig is eager to welcome McGwire back into an active role in MLB but Selig's warm embrace of the man who cheated his fans and his employers out of tens of millions of dollars, who cheated Maris out of the single season home run record that Maris worked so hard to obtain and whose successful cheating clearly inspired the subsequent cheating by Bonds and others raises several important questions: for starters, when is Selig going to accept Pete Rose's similarly belated apology for betting on baseball? There is no evidence or indication that Rose's gambling had anything to do with his playing career, a stark contrast to how McGwire built his legacy squarely on PED use (while some can argue that Bonds was a Hall of Fame caliber player prior to his PED use, McGwire--by his own admission--used PEDs throughout his career). Furthermore, the only reason that Rose is not in the Hall of Fame now is that the HoF--under great pressure from MLB--made a grossly unfair postfacto decision after MLB suspended Rose that players on the suspended list may not be put on the HoF ballot. How can Selig possibly justify praising McGwire while leaving Rose in limbo? Another question that must be asked is why is MLB in such a rush to canonize McGwire but is making no such apparent efforts regarding Barry Bonds, Rafael Palmeiro and the other black and Latino PED users? Again, let me emphasize that in my opinion every single PED user--white, black, Latino or any other color/ethnicity--should be banned and should have his statistics "vacated." However, if MLB is going to absolve McGwire while ignoring all of the black/Latino PED-using record breakers then MLB certainly seems to be applying a racist double standard (not that this would be the first time MLB would be guilty of doing that).

Jose Canseco--an admitted steroid cheater whose tell-all books revealed just how rampant PED use has been in MLB, despite vigorous denials by Bonds, McGwire, Palmeiro and others--is one of the few honest men in Major League Baseball concerning the justly named "Steroid Era." That tells you all you need to know about the state of the sport and about the disastrous reign of Bud Selig, the man who has presided over the destruction of MLB's most cherished legacy, its record book.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Hawk Finally Swoops Into Cooperstown

Andre Dawson was the ultimate five-tool player and his combination of power, speed, hitting ability, fielding prowess and a strong arm earned him the nickname "The Hawk." Dawson is the only player who received enough votes to be inducted in the Baseball Hall of Fame this year but just a glance at his resume shows that he should have glided into Cooperstown a long time ago: 1977 NL Rookie of the Year, eight time All-Star, eight time Gold Glove winner, NL MVP runner-up in 1982 when he led the Montreal Expos to their first and only playoff appearance, 1987 NL MVP in his first season with the Chicago Cubs (the first player from a last place team to win that award), 438 career home runs (36th all-time, ahead of old school Hall of Famers Billy Williams, Duke Snider and Al Kaline) and 1591 career RBI (34th all-time, just four RBI behind Hall of Famers Mike Schmidt and George Brett and seven RBI ahead of Hall of Famers Rogers Hornsby and Harmon Killebrew). Dawson's knees absorbed a terrible pounding during his early years patrolling the AstroTurf outfield for the Expos but despite injuries that robbed him of some of his mobility and caused him great pain he still totaled 314 career stolen bases, joining Willie Mays and Barry Bonds as the only players in MLB history with at least 400 career home runs plus at least 300 career stolen bases.

It is fitting to mention Bonds' name in connection with Dawson's, because it is partially Bonds' fault that Dawson had to wait so long to join the Hall of Fame; when Bonds and the other performance-enhancing drug (PED) using cheaters made a travesty of MLB's record book in the 1990s and 2000s it became easy to overlook the accomplishments of stars from the 1970s and 1980s like Dawson and Dale Murphy (a two-time NL MVP, seven time All-Star and five time Gold Glove winner who still has not been inducted in the Hall of Fame). How could players who "only" totaled 350-450 home runs be elected to the Hall of Fame when players began routinely cranking out 50-plus home run seasons en route to astronomical career totals exceeding 500 home runs? I am not interested in parsing out how many home runs Bonds, Alex Rodriguez or any other cheaters hit when they were clean--all of those guys cheated the game, cheated themselves, cheated the fans and cheated the legitimate Hall of Famers who came before them and I hope that the Hall of Fame voters reject all of them the way that Mark "I'm not here to talk about the past" McGwire has been rejected so far. The Hall should spend the next decade or so inducting every omitted player from the 1970s and 1980s and the few spotless guys from the 1990s like Ken Griffey and Frank Thomas but I hope that I never see Bonds, Rodriguez or Roger Clemens in Cooperstown. How can the Hall exclude Pete Rose as a player for conduct that he did as a manager and then induct players whose actions tainted the sport's history and records?

The sad postscript to Dawson's election to the Hall of Fame is that the honor came three years after his mother passed away--but at least Dawson can be somewhat comforted by the fact that Mattie Brown, like any good mother, never doubted her son's talent or his place in history, telling him "Baby, it's gonna happen. Don't worry about it. Just be patient. You did what you did for a long time. The Hall of Fame, they can prolong your entry but they won't take it away from you."

Keeping Eric Mangini is a Smart Move by Mike Holmgren--Even if it Doesn't Work

When Cleveland Browns owner Randy Lerner briefly emerged from seclusion to hire Mike Holmgren to reverse the franchise's decade-long sagging fortunes, no one could have imagined that the initial step in that process would be to retain first year coach Eric Mangini; the Browns started the season 1-11 and could easily have been 0-12 if the Buffalo Bills had not gift-wrapped a win for the Browns by fumbling in field goal range late in Cleveland's 6-3 week five victory (Cleveland's game-winning "drive" traversed 15 yards in seven plays, culminating in a chip shot 18 yard field goal). Lerner clearly brought Holmgren aboard to do yet another "reboot" of the Browns' malfunctioning operating system after previous attempts to create "49ers East" (with Carmen Policy and Dwight Clark), "Miami Hurricanes North" (with Butch Davis) and "New England Patriots West" (first with Romeo Crennel, then with Mangini) all failed dismally, resulting in just two winning seasons and one playoff berth since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999. Then, Mangini's Browns--who spent the first three fourths of the 2009 season redefining offensive ineptitude--suddenly discovered a winning formula that involved heavy doses of running back Jerome Harrison, kick returner/wide receiver/"wild cat" formation quarterback Joshua Cribbs and an improving defense: the Browns closed the season with four straight wins, the team's first such streak since Bill Belichick coached the franchise's original incarnation back in 1994 (which is also the last season that the Browns won a playoff game). The Browns' strong finish raised the possibility that Holmgren would not clean house but instead give Mangini the opportunity to continue to coach the team.

Although respected Cleveland Plain Dealer columnist Terry Pluto asserts that "the easiest move would have been to fire coach Eric Mangini," a more in depth analysis of the situation proves that the opposite is true: while firing Mangini would have been "the easiest move" to make a month ago, Holmgren would have had little to gain and much to lose by firing Mangini right now. If Holmgren canned Mangini and the Browns started out slowly next season then the heat would be on Holmgren for not giving Mangini a fair chance. Mangini has made an improbable transformation from the coach who fans wanted to run out of town to the coach that many fans feel has earned the right the right to keep his job. The only reasons for Holmgren to get rid of Mangini now are (1) if his long range plans are completely incompatible with Mangini's coaching philosophy and/or (2) if Holmgren has a top notch, proven winner lined up to succeed Mangini.

Regarding the first reason, by keeping Mangini around so soon after Mangini had been a dead man walking, Holmgren has all but assured Mangini's loyalty: if Holmgren offers input--say, about how to handle the quarterback position--and Mangini balks then Holmgren can justify getting rid of Mangini by referring back to what Holmgren said in his introductory press conference, namely that a team can only be successful if the owner, executives, coaches and players are all on the same page. So, Mangini has little choice now but to do things Holmgren's way; the four game winning streak saved Mangini's job but it did not give him carte blanche to do whatever he wants to do. With noted quarterback guru Holmgren running the franchise the Browns will hopefully enjoy some stability at the quarterback position by either firmly establishing one of the two incumbent signal callers as the definite starter or by acquiring a better player to fill that spot.

As for the second reason to dismiss Mangini, there is no way of knowing whether or not whoever Holmgren may have wanted to bring in to coach the team is even available but coaching the Browns is hardly a dream job at this point for any coach who has established himself as a winner and therefore can pick and choose where he lands.

Then consider that even with that final four game push the Browns still finished dead last in the NFL in net yards gained (4163) and 31st (next to last) in net yards allowed (6229); the Browns gained nearly 2300 fewer yards than the top ranked offensive team did (New Orleans Saints, 6461) and they allowed nearly 2000 yards more than the top ranked defensive team did (New York Jets, 4037). In other words, the Browns must not only find a way to maintain their late season performances in the running game, defense and special teams but they must also upgrade themselves in other areas (most notably the passing game) in order to contend for a playoff spot. If Harrison is not cranking out 100 yard rushing games and/or if the Browns do not placate Cribbs' demands to renegotiate his contract then the team could get off to a miserable start next season. In that case, Holmgren can fire Mangini with no negative repercussions from the media or fan base and Holmgren will have a bit of a grace period to find a new coach and turn the team around.

Of course, if the Browns race out of the gates next season and become the latest team to vault from last place to playoff contention then Holmgren will receive a lot of praise for being flexible and patient and resisting the urge to fire Mangini. I don't know what kind of season the Browns will have in 2010 but whatever they do Holmgren has ensured that he will not face serious scrutiny until at least 2011.