Archive for March, 2006

2006 Preview: The drug scandal that just won’t go away

This is Part Four of my 2006 season preview. Today, I’ll examine the ongoing steroid scandal and recently announced investigation. So far, this week, I’ve looked at the hapless Royals, the troubled Nationals, and the defending World Champion Chicago White Sox. On Monday, I’ll have fun but pointless predictions for you.

Following the winter of discontent, Bud Selig shocked nobody today in announcing that former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell will be heading up an investigation into illegal drug use in Major League Baseball.

While this announcement had been rumored since excerpts of the damning Game of Shadows hit the pages of Sports Illustrated a few weeks ago, many aspects of this investigation bear watching. Only time will tell if Mitchell’s efforts will amount to a true attempt at cleaning up the game or a witch hunt directed at Barry Bonds as he homers his way passed Babe Ruth and toward Hank Aaron.

From the get-go, this investigation has the touch of an insider effort from the ownership and the Commissioner’s Office. While a formidable investigator, George Mitchell is hardly an impartial observer. Mitchell is a director of the Boston Red Sox. His name falls right below that of Larry Lucchino’s on the masthead.

Already, the investigation has the potential for controversy. Will Mitchell out someone on the Red Sox? During the Thursday press conference, Mitchell said he would investigate the Red Sox as he will every other team.

Meanwhile, baseball’s investigative mandate is wrought with conflict. First, Selig, in announcing the investigation, declined to mentioned Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield or Jason Giambi by name. Rather, he noted that there had been “an alleged relationship between certain players and BALCO defendant, Greg Anderson. A recent book has amplified the allegations and raises ethical issues that must be confronted head-on.”

But just how head-on will baseball be confronted this issue? Well, the adhere to the “it wasn’t against the rules before 2002” argument which I’ll address in a minute, Selig has limited the scope of the investigation. “I have asked Senator Mitchell to attempt to determine, as a factual matter, whether any Major League players associated with BALCO or otherwise used steroids or other illegal performance enhancing substances at any point after the substances were banned by the 2002 – 2006 collective bargaining agreement,” he said. “The goal is to determine facts, not engage in supposition, speculation, rumor or innuendo.”

Already, the investigation seems a little toothless. If what Game of Shadows, Howard Bryant’s Juicing the Game and Jose Canseco’s book all contain bits and pieces of the truth, then steroids were a problem in baseball long before the testing program began in 2002. In fact, this witch hunt doesn’t even touch Bonds’ 73-home run season. But there is an “unless.”

“It may be that conduct before the effective date of the 2002 Basic Agreement will prove helpful in reaching the necessary factual determinations,” Selig said. “And, if the Senator so concludes, he will investigate such earlier conduct as well. Indeed, should Senator Mitchell uncover material suggesting that the scope of the investigation needs to be broader, he has my permission to expand the investigation and to follow the evidence wherever it may lead.”

So now it’s getting interesting. Mitchell could potentially uncover a trail of steroid use stretching back to the late 1980s. And that investigation could find evidence of this steroid use by simply opening up a very good book. Howard Bryant detailed steroid use in baseball going back to the late 1980s and Jose Canseco’s arrival in Oakland. If Mitchell and his fellow investigators happen to crack open a copy of Juicing the Game, would that count as “uncover[ing] material suggesting that the scope of the investigation needs to be broader”? I would have to say yes.

So with something of a carte blanche from Commissioner Bud Selig, something no investigator has been granted since John Dowd went after Pete Rose, how did Mitchell respond? Well, he started off his investigation by, um, asking nicely for players to cooperate with him. “I invite those who believe they have information relating to the use of steroids and other illegal performance enhancing drugs by Major League baseball players to come forward with that information so that it might be considered in the context of all of the evidence. I further request full cooperation from all those we contact who might have relevant information,” he said.

There you have it, folks. The man in charge of baseball’s grand steroid investigation didn’t even say please. My parents would be quite disappointed. It is the magic word, after all.

So Mitchell has announced the start of his inquiry by asking if anyone, any member in that infamously frigid and unyielding Players’ Union, will come forward and implicate their teammates or fellow union members. He also hopes that those he contacts will be helpful. I hope $1 million shows up on my door step in the morning, but I’m not expecting too. It’s called wishful thinking, and it’s not going to get Mitchell anywhere.

Meanwhile, those on the field had the chance to respond to the start of the investigation. During an interview today on the NBC Nightly News, Joe Torre wondered whether or not the investigation would do anything other than bring names out into the public. He said players could not be suspended because steroid use wasn’t against the rules until 2002.

Now, as a Yankee fan, I’ve always respected Torre, but I am sick of this line of reasoning. Sure, steroid use may not have been explicitly against the Major League Baseball rules. However, it was illegal. As one of the many pieces I read about this today said (and sorry I do not have a link right now), if a runner murdered the second baseman, would that be ok with those in baseball? It’s not explicitly written in the Collective Bargaining Agreement that it’s not okay to murder your opponents. Granted, that’s a little extreme, but the point remains.

So now baseball not only has to deal with the fallout from Game of Shadows and the ongoing federal investigation into Bonds’ finances and a potential perjury charge, but the sport has to face its own internal investigation that is already rife with controversy. Adding to that is the distinct possibility that Barry Bonds will have passed Babe Ruth on the home run list by the middle of May.

It’s a tough time for baseball when Bud Selig, the champion of celebrating everything, would not commit to a celebration of Barry Bonds were he to pass Ruth and Aaron this season. As the 2006 season approaches, baseball fans seem destined for another year when the off-field soap opera matches the on-field drama of a hot pennant race. This too shall pass.

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Breaking News: Bud Selig announces steroid investigation headed by George Mitchell

The following is a live blog of the press conference announcing the steroid investigation. For my analysis of the anouncement and the investigation, please click here.

I’m watching Bud Selig’s press conference. He is talking about former Senator George Mitchell’s upcoming investigation into steroid use in Major League Baseball. As many of us following the sport feared, it will be a largely toothless investigation.

Playing off of the BALCO case as well as Game of Shadows, Selig is ordering Mitchell and his team to investigate illegal steroid use since the Collective Bargaining agreement went into place in 2002. This is no witch hunt for Barry Bonds and others who may have been juicing throughout the 1990s.

Rather, this is Selig trying to rectify and correct the loopholes from the original bargaining agreement. What will happen when Mitchell’s paper trail and interviews turn up THG or hGH use among baseball players? Who knows?

As Mitchell is saying right now, “Our mission is together facts not conjecture.” He wants to give everyone “a fair opportunity to be heard.” At the same time, Mitchell will have carte blanche to conduct his investigation.

Mitchell is requesting full cooperation for his investigation, but I’m sure he’ll counter a lot of opposition within clubhouses to his questioning.

On to the Q and A…

The questioners just asked Mitchell about his ties to the Red Sox. The Senator says he will investigate the Red Sox as he would any team.

Selig is now facing a question about his resignation. Should he resign, asked one of the reporters, and Selig is criticizing revisionist historians. He is, as Howard Bryant’s book made clear, promoting his testing programs. He is proclaiming the success of the program and the Minor League tests in place for the past six years.

Bud is now answering questions about the timing of the investigation. A reporter noted that the material was the same as that published in the Chronicle articles about BALCO. Selig says this information is much more specific.

Mitchell is being asked as a fan about steroids in baseball. “It is a serious issue that needs to be confronted,” he said. That’s not very groundbreaking.

Another reporter just asked if it would be better to focus on the future rather than trying to clean up something that’s already happened. Selig is avoiding the question while taking about a UCLA program baseball is funding for steroid testing development and hGH awareness. “We will continue to stay ahead of the curve,” he says.

Selig says the information collected by Senator Mitchell will be public. Unlike the original rounds of testing in 2002, this information will be public. Is it a witch hunt to out people or an attempt to clean up the sport?

Last question: Will there be a celebration of Barry Bonds as he approaches Ruth and Aaron? Interestingly, Selig is non-committal here. He says that he will come to that when the time arrives. I guess they will wait to see what Mitchell’s findings are.

That’s it for the press conference. I’ll analyze this later.

Update 4:20 p.m.: Let me clarify one point that I didn’t pick up on during the press conference: Mitchell is authorized to investigate steroid use from 2002 to the present. If he finds evidence supporting illegal drug use, he can extend his investigation backwards in time. Here’s what Selig said:

“I have asked Senator Mitchell to attempt to determine, as a factual matter, whether any Major League players associated with BALCO or otherwise used steroids or other illegal performance enhancing substances at any point after the substances were banned by the 2002 – 2006 collective bargaining agreement. The goal is to determine facts, not engage in supposition, speculation, rumor or innuendo.

“It may be that conduct before the effective date of the 2002 Basic Agreement will prove helpful in reaching the necessary factual determinations and, if the Senator so concludes, he will investigate such earlier conduct as well. Indeed, should Senator Mitchell uncover material suggesting that the scope of the investigation needs to be broader, he has my permission to expand the investigation and to follow the evidence wherever it may lead.”

More later.

2006 Preview: Royals heading nowhere fast

This is Part Three of my 2006 season preview. Today, I’ll examine the state of the once-proud Kansas City Royals. Yesterday, I looked at the troubles of the Major League Baseball-owned Washington Nationals. Tomorrow, I’ll look at baseball’s worst team, and it’s not one from Florida.

Kansas City used to be a great baseball town. From 1975 through 1989, the Royals were always competitive in the AL West. In fact, they captured their one and only World Series title in 1985.

But the heydays of George Bret, Bret Saberhagen, Charlie Liebrandt, and Dan Quisenberry have long since passed by the Royals. And this year, it is the Royals and not the deconstructed and rebuilt Florida Marlins or the work-in-progress Tampa Bay Devil Rays that stand to be the worst team in baseball.

In 2005, the Royals were nothing short of a disaster. They stumbled their way to a 56-106 record, finishing fifth for the third time in five years and topping the century mark in losses for the second straight season. Offensively, Mike Sweeney lead the team with an .864 OPS and Zach Greinke’s astronomical 5.80 ERA was the lowest qualifying ERA on the team. While the young Ambiorix Burgos and Andrew Sisco showed some promise out of the bullpen, the Royals, outscored by over 200 runs, had little to celebrate.

Heading into the off-season, the Royals knew they had to make some changes. They certainly made some changes, but are they really for the better? I don’t think so.

The 2006 Royals will welcome a plethora of new faces. Among them are Mark Grudzielanek, Doug Mientkiewicz, Reggie Sanders, Scott Elarton, Joe Mays, and Elmer Dessens. These players – all largely a bunch of career role players – may lend a veteran presence to a directionless team, but right now, they are blocking younger players from gaining valuable experience.

In Grudzielanek and Mientkiewicz, the Royals get two players who shouldn’t really be starting. Grudzielanek, 35, has a career line of .294/.330/.391. Mientkiewicz, 31, has a career line of .268/.359/.405. Once a prized prospect in the Twins organization, he’s topped .300 just twice in his career and has faced injury-laden seasons the last few years.

Meanwhile, Scott Elarton and Joe Mays inspire little confidence. The two combined for 337.2 innings last season, striking out just 162 while giving up a combined total of 55 home runs. Elarton, the projected number one starter, threw to an ERA of 4.61 on a good fielding Indians team and Mays threw to an ERA of 5.65 on the Twins. As they know won’t get to start against the Royals, they stand to see a marked decrease in performance this season.

Furthermore, their true projected number one starter, Zach Greinke, left the team in Spring Training amidst some murky circumstances. Some reports say that Greinke, pitching on the hapless Royals, simply lost the will to pitch. As a cerebral hurler, he couldn’t deal with the team with no plan. Other reports say he simply broke down mentally. While the Royals still say the 22-year-old will be back, they have proceeded without him.

On top of the Greinke fiasco is the Runlevys Hernandez mess. Hernandez was placed on the DL because he is out of shape and doesn’t have the stamina for the season. While personal irresponsibility is hardly an excuse for the disabled list, Hernandez is still supposed to be a part of what now amounts to a four-man rotation.

With aging veterans installed in the outfield (Reggie Sanders) and infield (Dougie M, Mark Grudzielanek), the Royals are blocking the paths for three of their top prospects: Justin Huber, Donnie Murphy and Billy Butler. The Royals would be better off letting these rookies get their feet wet than they are by giving up outs and plate appearances to veterans who won’t really produce.

So as 2006 dawns in Kansas City, the Royals, a team with no plan, will have a clogged lineup. This team will make a lot of outs and give up a lot of runs. It will be another long year in Kansas City as that 1985 World Championship fades into the past.

2006 Preview: Troubled Nats are MLB’s black mark

This is Part One of my 2006 season preview. Today, I’ll examine the state of the Major League Baseball owned Washington Nationals. Yesterday, I looked at the White Sox’s attempts to repeat at World Champions. Tomorrow, I’ll look at baseball’s worst team, and it’s not one from Florida.

The Washington Nationals are in trouble, and it is all Major League Baseball’s fault. While Commissioner Bud Selig is basking in the glow of success cast by the World Baseball Classic, the Nationals situation – a story that should be a bigger scandal – grows worse with every passing day.

To recap, Major League Baseball bought the Expos in 2002 when the Expos owners bought the Marlins and the Marlins owners bought the Red Sox. In 2004, MLB announced that the Expos would be moved to Washington, DC. Meanwhile, every few months, Bud Selig promises to find an owner for the Expos/Nationals. First, it was going to by Opening Day 2004, then the All Star Break, then after the World Series, then Opening Day 2005, then late April, late July, the end of the regular season, and November.

As Selig looks everywhere for an owner, Major League Baseball went about antagonizing the Washington, DC city council to the point that a stadium almost wasn’t approved. A few weeks ago, the Nationals finally got their stadium approved, and it is supposedly going to be ready by Opening Day 2008. Meanwhile, Selig said an ownership group would be in place shortly after the stadium deal was finalized.

Guess what? No owner. The Nationals are in trouble.

So while this saga reflects poorly on Major League Baseball, it has left the Washington Nationals organization in shambles. First, this is a team with a farm system that hasn’t produced much talent since the late 1990s. With no money in the bank, the Big League executives haven’t been able to secure big bonus payments to high round draft picks, and they haven’t been able to recruit foreign talent.

In 2005, the Nats were ranked 26 out of 30 by Baseball America. When the 2006 list hits the Internet at some point this week, the Nationals won’t be any higher and could fall to 28 or 29. For the Nats to see some improvement in their system, they need an owner in place before the amateur draft this year. An owner would enable the Nationals to spend the bonus money on players who can make an impact.

It’s not all doom and gloom for the Nationals’ system however. Ryan Zimmerman, last year’s first round draft pick, will be starring in RFK Stadium this season. If his Spring Training is any indication, his presence will make Nationals’ fans forget Vinny Castilla’s 2005 season ever happened. After a two-home run game yesterday, Zimmerman has 7 homers on the spring and an offensive line of .329/.382/.700. While his defense has been some cause for concern, his bat will fill a void in an offensively-challenged lineup.

At the Major League level, the Nationals are in trouble. They have been hit with injury after injury this season. They lost key relief pitcher Luis Ayala to an arm injury that would have happened even if he had not participated in the World Baseball Classic. Before that, they lost their projected third starter Brian Lawrence to a season-ending arm injury. Lawrence was supposed to replace Esteban Loaiza who signed a three-year deal with Oakland this winter.

With this key pitchers out, the Nationals’ bullpen is weaker. Plus, the rotation will be relying heavily on Russ Ortiz and Pedro Astacio. If Spring Training is any indication, the Nats better hope for a miracle or a AAA replacement player. Combined, Ortiz and Astacio have been downright horrible. The two have combined for 35.2 innings, giving up 57 hits and 30 earned runs. They’ve walked 14 and struck out 16.

But every cloud has its silver lining. One more “key” part of the Nationals organization may miss the entire season with an injury, but in this case, the team is lucky. Cristian Guzman may be out for the year with a shoulder injury. Cristian Guzman was so bad last year he actually took runs and wins away from the team. He had a VORP of -9.6, ranking him last among all Major League short stops, and an MLVr of -.270. With this injury, the Nationals will be forced to improve. The worst they could do is plug in someone with a VORP of 0, and already, they would a better team.

In left field, the Nationals are in trouble. Already, one supposedly marquee trade has blown up in the Nationals’ face. I have already written extensively on the Soriano saga. But this is not a positive situation for the team or the second baseman/left fielder. It just shows how rudderless the team is.

Off the field, the Nationals are in trouble. A walk around Washington, D.C., reveals approximately no signs that baseball season is starting this weekend. There are no ads in the Metro for another exciting season of Washington baseball. The television rights debacle created by Major League Baseball’s desire to placate Orioles owner Peter Angelos is now attracting the attention of Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.). And a story in yesterday’s Washington Post suggested that the Nationals business will suffer because, in the aftermath of the Abramoff scandal, lobbyists won’t be taking their Hill clients to the expensive seats at RFK Stadium.

So as the 2006 season dawns, the Nationals are clearly a team in trouble. They are a sagging, struggling team, facing two more seasons in a subpar stadium that is, in my opinion, the worst facility on the East Coast (and probably in all of baseball). They have no ownership and little hope for the future.

Hopefully, 2006 will finally be the year when Major League Baseball sheds itself of ownership responsibilities, and the Washington Nationals can finally begin the long, hard climb back toward respectability. It would be nice if they weren’t in trouble all the time.

2006 Preview: The defending World Champions

This is Part One of my 2006 season preview. Today, I’ll examine the defending World Champions. This series continues tomorrow with a look at the MLB-owned Washington Nationals.

White Sox’s hopes resting on lady luck

Seemingly since the last out of the 2005 World Series, baseball analysts from every side of the statistical argument have tried to figure out just how the Chicago White Sox shocked the baseball world to become improbably World Series champions.

On one side of the argument are those believers in Ozzie-ball. This is the supposed style of play exhibited by the Chicago White Sox and their outspoken manager Ozzie Guillen. Ozzie-ball is all about the little things. It’s about sacrificing and stealing. It’s about moving along baserunners, pitching complete games, and solid defense. It is a supposed throwback to the “old style” of baseball from the last reign of the White Sox, the Deadball Era.

The other side of the argument follows the stats line. The White Sox did anything but play small ball. While they didn’t overpower the league with their offense, they relied on the home run for a greater percentage of their runs than nearly every other team in baseball. They outpitched their opponents and outslugged them too.

While Ozzie-ball proponents like to dig in for the prolonged – and losing battle – against the statistical revolution, the truth is that the White Sox won the World Series last year because the fickle fingers of lady luck were firmly on their side. As we wait on edge for the 2006 baseball season to begin, many who ignored the White Sox last year are choosing them as favorites. To do so defies reason. For the White Sox to be World Champions again, they will need an inordinate amount of luck on their side. I wouldn’t count on it.

In 2005, the White Sox’s pitching staff turned in arguably one of the most durable seasons by a pitching staff since the era of closer. The team used just six starters the entire season, and the four starters who dominated the Angels in the ALCS – Mark Buehrle, Jose Contreras, Freddy Garcia, and Jon Garland – did not miss any starts. The four of them combined for 130 starts.

On its surface, this is hardly a remarkable fact. Buehrle, Garcia, and Garland had always been considered horses. Buehrle, who turned 27 last week, hasn’t thrown fewer than 221.3 innings since 2000. Garland has made 32 starts or more for four years in a row. Likewise, Garcia has topped 200 innings for six of his seven years in the Majors. Only Contreras, a star in Cuba and a dud in New York, was surprising in this regard.

Joining this foursome in 2006 will be Javier Vazquez. Like his rotation mates, Vazquez throws innings and makes his start. He has topped 215 innings in five of the last six seasons, making no fewer than 32 starts a year. If the White Sox’s injury luck holds up, it is conceivable that they could go through a season using just five starting pitchers. At this stage, it is not very likely because Contreras, who may be much older than his listed 33 years, has expressed concerns about his elbow. Plus, the innings could catch up to Garcia or Buehrle at any moment. Luck will play a role in keeping the team healthy.

But of course, you could argue with me and say that any team is relying on luck to keep them healthy. In fact, teams relying on older pitchers like the Yankees and the Red Sox need even more luck than the White Sox in avoiding the disabled list.

This luck, though, extends well beyond the trainers’ office. According to the Pythagorean Theorem of Baseball, a measurement of runs scores vs. runs allowed translated to wins and losses, the White Sox were 8 games better than expected last year. Luck indeed had a big role to play in this marked difference.

The White Sox starting rotation last year (those four pitchers plus 22 starts from El Duque and 10 from Brandon McCarthy) held opponents to a 3.75 ERA in a Major League-leading 1074 innings, but these pitchers, the numbers show, did not exactly blow away the opposing hitters. They recorded just 5.78 strike outs per 9 innings, good for 22nd overall. That’s not exactly what I would have expected from a team that overwhelmed its post-season competition. While they did a masterful job of keeping runners off base through the free pass, luck lent its hand to the Chicago White Sox.

Overall, the Chicago White Sox pitchers had a team ERA of 3.61, good for second overall. But when you look at the defense-independent aspects of their pitching records, their success begins to melt away. The Sox DIPS, a defense-independent pitching stat, was 4.19. Their DIPS%, a ratio of ERA to DIPS, was 1.16, third highest in the Majors. The White Sox were relying on their defense for a significant part of their success. Furthermore, their DER, a measure of defensive efficiency, was .713, second best in the American League.

In other words, the White Sox were very efficient in turning batted balls into outs. This high level of success is hard to maintain over the course of multiple seasons, and the White Sox know this. This team – the defending World Champions – has seen similarly built teams win World Series one year only to slip in their next season. The 2003 Florida Marlins – a team relying on pitchers outpitching their career records, hitters having career years at the same time, and an inordinate amount of luck or Steve Bartman – come to mind.

The White Sox, however, seem to know that luck and great defense may not be as kind to them in 2006 as it was in 2005, and they have tried to address their problems. White Sox GM Ken Williams hopes that Jim Thome can provide the lineup with more pop. If the team regresses to their mean of just over 4 runs per game instead of just over 3.50 runs per game, at least, Williams reasons, they will have an improved offense in place.

In 2005, the White Sox scored 4.57 runs a game. For this team to repeat, I would expect them to need closer to 4.80 runs a game. If the White Sox can stay healthy and top 780 runs scored for the season, this defending champs could see their season once again extend into October. With luck on their side last year though, this time around, the lady may not be as forgiving.

An airplane flight

Nothing new today. Just got in on a late flight from Florida. I’ll be bringing you four new columns starting Tuesday night. This week, I’ll start previewing the season. I’ll have a book review, and I’ll follow up on those announcements I talked about last week.

Book Review: Juicing the Game scorches the baseball universe

Steroids are baseball’s problem that just won’t go away. But like any major ongoing news story, it’s hard to jump into the steroid fray in the middle and understand the current state of affairs.

Enter Howard Bryant and his masterful book Juicing the Game: Drugs, Power, and the Fight for the Soul of Major League Baseball. Originally published last July, Bryant’s thorough and scathing overview of the steroid scandal hit the paperback shelves recently complete with a new epilogue that updates the tale.

Bryant’s book is covered in quotations praising his writing and his research. As the writers at The Hardball Times noted, “This is the definitive history of Major League Baseball over the past fifteen years.” In producing this authoritative tome, Bryant left no stone unturned.

He provides a more-or-less chronological account of baseball since the late 1980s. He begins with Bud Selig awaiting his Congressional appointment last March, and the story unfolds as a flashback. We hear of collusion deals and cocaine suspensions. We hear of Jose Canseco’s steroid boasts in 1988 and Tony La Russa’s ongoing hypocrisy and cover-ups.

In detailing the rise of steroid use in Major League Baseball, Bryant points to a few sources, all of which combined to create a culture of secrecy and near tolerance for performance enhancing drugs in baseball. Taking into account the hit baseball took from the strike in 1994-1995, the renaissance of baseball coinciding with the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa Home Run Derby in 1998, the drive for more offensively oriented baseball, and the culture of protection and secrecy surrounding the clubhouse, Bryant weaves a narrative of, as the book suggests, the soul of baseball.

While there is no need to rehash the entire novel, I want to take a look at a few people who come out the worst in Bryant’s tale. First among them are Bud Selig and Donald Fehr, the two Generals in the never-ending battle of baseball labor rules. Selig comes off at times as grandstanding, ignorant, too aware, ineffectual and weak on the drug issue. While Selig originally knew about steroids in the early 1990s and wanted to put a drug testing policy on the table in 1994, he knew it would get him nowhere.

Throughout the tale we are left to wonder what Selig knew and when. Bryant’s point seems to be that, until Selig met the father of a teen who committed suicide in the midst of steroid-induced depression, his postures on drug use in baseball were just that. He wasn’t really going to search too hard for the truth about steroids in baseball, and when he learned the truth, he was quick to do nothing. His drug testing plans came about only in the face of severe public pressure, and while he claims he was interested in the issue for a decade, his inactions speak louder than his actions.

On the other side of the table is Donald Fehr, the lawyer in charge of the Players’ Association. Fehr, living in the shadows of the legendary Marvin Miller, has handled this issue with the skill and aplomb of, well, Bud Selig. He is the great obstructionist, not listening to the union members clamoring for a drug testing deal while professing an innocence that doesn’t exist. As Selig as commissioner seems to be looking out for the owners’ best interest, Fehr guards the players and their vaunted privacy ever so closely. No one is watching out for the game’s best interest.

On the field and in the dugout, it’s hard to find a more damning character than Tony La Russa. As I noted earlier this week, La Russa was one of the Steroid Era’s great enablers. It’s clear from La Russa’s more recent comments that he knew about Jose Canseco’s steroid use as early as 1988. Yet, he did nothing about it. He could have alerted General Manager Sandy Alderson about potential illegal drug use. But as a manager he wouldn’t break the code and throw his best slugger to the dogs.

Considering what he knew about Canseco, he must know volumes about Mark McGwire. But he remains steadfast in his defense of McGwire to the point of indirectly incriminating himself. As the book details the Canseco revelations, La Russa original says he knew nothing about drug use. Then, when Canseco points a finger at McGwire, the darling of Tony La Russa’s managerial career, La Russa changes his story. He knew Canseco was juicing, he says, because the slugger told him so himself. Once again, we meet a figure who knew about the drug problem and did nothing to stop it.

Finally, we see the same old people with the same old problems. There is Jose Canseco becoming a baseball pariah and an unlikely source of fact – or half-facts at least – for the steroid era. There is Mark McGwire not wanting to talk about the past. There is the embattled Barry Bonds denying anything under the sun. There is Sammy Sosa fading away, and Rafael Palmeiro flaming out.

These tales, fleshed out and with background, are nothing new. Bryant presents them within the context of the period, and he connects the dot. For someone looking to understand what went wrong with baseball in the late 1990s, this book is the place to start and end. While I eagerly await my copy of Game of Shadows, for now, Bryant’s tale provides all you need to know about steroids in baseball.

Despite this glowing praise, I do however find some fault in the new epilogue. Bryant, writing the epilogue last winter, tries too hard to wrap up a story that he knows is not over. Throughout the pages that appeared in hardcover, Bryant’s many sources said over and over again that the steroid scandal was far from over. Yet, the epilogue tries too hard to find baseball’s hidden redemption. Who saved baseball from the Steroid Era?

As the recent revelations about Barry Bonds, Gary Sheffield, and others reveal, baseball’s redemption is not yet at hand. The sport is still coming to grips with the social, cultural, political, and legal ramifications of the tumultuous Steroid Era. When the dust finally settles – and that won’t happen any time soon – Bryant may yet need to pen another epilogue for his damning indictment of professional baseball.

Howard Bryant’s tale of steroids in baseball Juicing the Game is available at a bookstore near you or from your favorite online bookseller.


RSS River Ave. Blues

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    Mike Axisa
  • Yankees have little choice but to demote Dellin Betances and hope he figures things out in lower leverage spots September 19, 2017
    In what has been an ongoing theme all season, the Yankees have a problem in their bullpen. They’ve never had everyone clicking at once. Not even for a game or two, it seems. There’s always been that one guy who is out of sorts. It was Tyler Clippard for a while, then Adam Warren, then […] The post Yankees have little choice but to demote Dellin Betances and […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Yankees 2, Twins 1: The Jaime & Aroldis Show September 19, 2017
    Who said the Yankees can’t win close games? The Yankees picked up a not at all stressful (nope, not at all) 2-1 win in the series opener against the Twins on Monday night. This is a pretty important series given the postseason races, I hear. The Yankees are 12-4 in their last 16 games and […] The post Yankees 2, Twins 1: The Jaime & Aroldis Show appeared […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Game 149 150: Wild Card Game Preview? September 18, 2017
    Can’t say I expected a mid-September series to be important for both the Yankees and Twins, but here we are. The Yankees currently sit in the top wildcard spot, four games up on the Twins. The Twins have a two-game lead over the idle Angels for the second wildcard spot. The Yankees have some breathing […] The post Game 149 150: Wild Card Game Preview? appear […]
    Mike Axisa
  • 9/18 to 9/20 Series Preview: Minnesota Twins September 18, 2017
    The Last Time They Met The Yankees visited Minnesota for a three-game series in mid-July, and dropped two of three. That was the last of the interminably lengthy stretch of series losses, thankfully, and the Yankees have gone 34-22 since. Some series notes: The trade for David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, and Todd Frazier was made […] The post 9/18 to 9/20 Serie […]
    Domenic Lanza
  • Rotation shuffle confirms what we already knew: Luis Severino will start the Wild Card Game September 18, 2017
    Over the weekend the Yankees shuffled their rotation under the guise of keeping CC Sabathia and his balky right knee off the turf in Toronto this coming weekend, and I’m sure there’s some truth to that. Sabathia aggravated the knee and had to go on the disabled list the last time he pitched at Rogers […] The post Rotation shuffle confirms what we already kne […]
    Mike Axisa
  • Yankeemetrics: Bird hunting in the Bronx (Sept. 14-17) September 18, 2017
    Dingers and runs are awesome What happens when you combine one of the five best homer-hitting teams (Yankees) with one of the five most homer-friendly ballparks (Yankee Stadium) and one of the five most homer-prone pitching staffs (Orioles)? You get the dinger-fueled blowout that happened on Thursday night in the Bronx. The Yankees crushed four […] The post […]
    Katie Sharp

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