04 December 2004

Steroids, Hot Stove, GET BETTER WANDA!!!

So the Steroid Issue has begun in earnest. Before it was hot spots of idle speculation, a little talk show rumination here, a newspaper column suggestion there. Some witch-hunt like comments, people playing judge and jury, assumptions thrown around. No matter what was said, no one truly knows or did know what these men took (except, of course, the men themselves). People like to play detective though. Well, holier-than-thou detective I suppose.

Unfortunately, of course, they ended up being right. Giambi, Bonds, and Sheffield all apparently admitted to having used steroids (knowingly and not) over the past five seasons (in different spans) in Grand Jury testimony for the BALCO case.

I do, in some small way, feel bad for Giambi. I don't sympathize with him- of course I'm not naive enough to miss that what he's done, he's done to himself. That being said, I always kind of liked him. I liked him pre-New York when he said that rooting for the Yankees was like "rooting for Microsoft," as right as that is, it was a cheap dig that clearly didn't mean much to him, as he signed with Microsoft a season later.

So I didn't ever like Jason Giambi, I liked watching the player. He had a very steady, even stance that was punctuated by an odd, ugly swing. Immense patience and a great eye at the plate allowed him to elevate himself in quick succession as one of the best left handed hitters in baseball. His HR Contest shows at the All Star Game were usually pretty insane. So I miss that. It's also impossible not to harbor some semblance of admiration for someone who comes clean on a mistake they made. The cynic in me says there was a very good, ulterior reason, but who knows?

For Barry Bonds' admission, I feel bad for myself. A lot of what I told myself- correctly, I still think- was that we knew nothing at that point, and to ignore what he was doing would be tantamount to complete irrelevance. What Bonds was doing in the game I love was a once-in-a-liftime (and in many cases, NEVER in a lifetime) thing, and I had no interest in crossing my arms in anger and ignoring it. It made literally no sense. I've chronicled a lot of Bonds achievements here, and I continue to do so with the "Bonds HR Tracker" on the side of the page. I was enthralled by what I saw.

So, I feel sorry for myself that much of what he achieved above and beyond what seemed possible wasn't much to get excited about anyway. We were watching Ruth/ Gehrig/ Williams everyday in our lifetime- but now, not. I considered myself singularly lucky to have watched him, now there's not much to the claim. So, I really feel bad for myself as a baseball fan.

For Sheffield, I feel sorry for no one. There really isn't, objectively speaking, a more contemptible baseball figure alive today. I may hoot and holler about "hating" a ton of Yankees- Jeter, Posada- even Rodriguez. At the end of the day, I respect Jeter- he actually called Johnny Damon post-ALCS and wished him luck. I respect Posada- he plays hard, is fun to watch, and is very likely as underrated as any player in baseball. I even have a respect for Rodriguez's tremendous ability, and as image-centric and calculatedly self-selling as he is, that's not really something I worry about. The man can really play.

But Gary Sheffield breaks all those ideas I have about baseball players. In his case, there is ripe a sense of Schadenfreude that I don't usually get. Between claims of intentional tanking, whining, complaining, trade demands, disrespect of scores of fellow major leaguers, brainless race-baiting, and now claiming to be a cheater, but it isn't his fault, "it's Barry Bonds'," Gary Sheffield deserves everything bad that happens to him in this case. Just a real black mark on the game. But remember- he played with his shoulder being sore this year. That's heroic, right Mr. Kay? More eye-rolling on my end than in The Exorcist...

Here's a quote from the NYPost from Sheffield:

"I've been saying for years we need a stronger drug-testing policy," said Sheffield, one of the most feared hitters in the game, who hit 36 home runs this past season and led the Yankees with 121 RBIs despite an aching shoulder that eventually needed surgery. "I've seen guys that when I started they had the same amount of home runs that I had and all of a sudden they're doubling my home runs. It looked like the numbers I put up didn't have [any] meaning to it."

Sheffield insisted he should not be lumped into the steroid category with Bonds and Jason Giambi, who admitted to the grand jury that he knowingly took steroids.

"I will continue to fight for what I know is right," Sheffield said. "God helps me fight my battles . . . I am not Giambi and I am not Barry Bonds. I should not be put in the same sentence."

As for the Bonds situation, Sheffield said, "That's his business. When it comes to me I deal with it."


So what happens? A couple things. Baseball is taking giant hits here, which is odd considering the rampant and more obvious abuses in the Olympics and NFL. My guess is that speaks more to the universal nature of baseball in America. What ultimately will be the tangible result, I have no idea- but there will be many, many people turned off by this enough to walk away, and that's too bad. Even after all the tremendous goodwill built up by an exciting, historic postseason with great ratings and a terrific, fan-friendly "story" in the Sox winning- this is easily enough to go back on that in a PR sense.

Right off the bat, Jason Giambi's career is more or less over. The Yankees won't be able to void the contract (read up on it- it really doesn't fit), and they'll be saddled with 86 million over the next 4 years. There could be a buyout of his contract... but that won't fly with the MLBPA. As far as sticky situations go, this one qualifies. Completely unprecedented, and from a purely curiosity standpoint, I'm immensely interested in seeing how that plays out.

For the Yankees, this is a really interesting time. The hypocrisy they're showing in attempting to void the contract of a player they don't already want (Giambi), but giving a "buddy pass" (haha) to a player they do (Sheffield) is embarassing. If they were interested in some sort of justice and example of intolerance on sullying whatever is the "Yankee Way," they'd get rid of both of them. But they won't, and that's terrifically hypocritical.

If you're the Yankees, you're going to have to take your lumps now. After 9+ years of arrogance (four of which were progressively less earned), the "World Class" label in absence of a championship, playing by their own rules, propograndical spreading of the "Yankee mystique" myth... they deserve to have the whole pile come down on them when things go wrong. If you want to use the existing rules to abuse the competitive spirit of the game, you're more than welcome- they didn't make the rules, and they have every right to exploit them.

That being said, if you're interested in doing that, when things go as wrong as they have with the Yankees in this past calendar year, you can't whine when people take joy in your misfortune. That joy was created by every word Michael Kay breathed, every ridiculous and misguided claim Mike Francesa made regarding the non-Yankee world (and the Yankee one), every time Tim McCarver called a Yankees game. The joy is from frustration at a certain level of self-obsession and narcissism and bluster unparalleled in modern sports. They're fucking up, and we're enjoying it. Alex Rodriguez embarasses himself on the field against the Red Sox twice, Gary Sheffield makes embarassing comments about the same Red Sox that would embarass him on the field, Kevin Brown punching a wall embarassing the organization, blowing a sure thing in the ALCS in an embarassing fashion, and two of the team's players make admissions that embarass the game of baseball. World Class?

Show of hands- how many people would love to corner Michael Kay to ask him which was worse- the "disgrace and disrespect" shown by Johnny Damon's hair (his words), or the use of illegal steroids by two Yankees? At this point, any sort of mention of the Yankee mystique, aura, intangibles, "World Class"- it's all meaningless now. Sorry. It always was, but now there isn't even a straw man with which to argue the point. The ghosts, mercifully, are gone.

This is gonna get really, really ugly before Opening Day, too. Just awful.


OK, some Hot Stove news.

After the best season of his career- a truly remarkable one, honestly- Armando Benitez signed a three year, 21 million dollar deal with the San Francisco Giants on Tuesday.

Considering their closer situation- torn rotator cuff Robb Nen and Dustin Hermanson- the Giants really, really needed this kind of bullpen help. Lack of it was a large part in their losing the NL West and Wild Card to Los Angeles and Houston, respectively.

I really think that, for a few years running now, Armando Benitez has gotten a bad rap. It's sort of accepted knowledge that he is bad in pressure situations, and that he blows a lot of big games. So let's take a quick look at a few things. First, his ERA+ numbers the last few years:

1996- 130
1997- 179
1998- 118
1999- 237
2000- 167
2001- 109
2002- 172
2003- 145
2004- 317 (!)

2001 was not a great year for Armando, and 1998 was sub-par for him. But absent of those years, Benitez has had seven amazing seasons out of his last nine. That's pretty satisfactory consistency from the closer position. He's been steadily at 69-78 IP every year, and gets his saves in. His strikeout rate has fluctuated, and that is certainly a flaw. In 1999 for the Mets, Benitez struck out 128 in 78 IP, leading him to a 1.85 ERA and (probably) his best year. By contrast, in 2003, Benitez struck out 75 batters in 73 IP, a far less impressive ratio. That, in and of itself, is a little troubling.

Here are his playoff numbers:

ALDS-- 4 IP, 2-0, 2.25 ERA, 6 K
ALCS-- 2.1 IP, 0-0, 7.71 ERA, 2 K
ALDS-- 3 IP, 0-0, 3.00 ERA, 4 K
ALCS-- 3 IP, 0-2, 12.00 ERA, 6 K
NLDS-- 2.1 IP, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 K
NLCS-- 6.2 IP, 0-0, 1.35 ERA, 9 K
NLDS-- 3 IP, 1-0, 6.00 ERA, 3 K
NLCS-- 3 IP, 0-0, 0.00 ERA, 2 K
WoSe-- 3 IP, 0-0, 3.00 ERA, 2 K

So we can tell one thing from this- don't pitch him in the ALCS.

Honestly though, it's not as bad as it's made out to be. It certainly isn't good: he's been great in the LDS series, but he's been AWFUL in LCS games. Ultimately though, the whole of his postseason performance is 30.1 IP, and it's at a 3.56 ERA. For a closer in the postseason, that probably won't get it done. But it isn't catastrophic, either. I think much of his reputation comes from having played in NYC and subject to an overly reactionary talk radio culture. A blown save against the Yankees in interleague play, despite what Francesa and the NY Post says, doesn't mean much. Closers blow saves.

Is he the surest bet in a really tight game? No. But he's a great relief ace. Those are very, very valuable.


The Yankees made a couple mid-range lateral moves to bring in (relatively) fresh blood in their bullpen. Neither is very good anymore- Rodriguez had one good year wherein hitters were fooled by his heat, but has been atrocious since. Stanton, while having a respectable year in 04, is in the sharp decline phase of his career. If he is the Yankee response to the need for a LOOGY in the pen, well, Sox fans should rejoice (I think it's not).

Meanwhile, they give up Kenny Lofton and Felix Heredia, two guys they predictably wanted nothing more to do with. Lofton was a pretty embarassing signing on the Boss' part, and between the general whining he supposedly did and his lack of production, off he went for some middle relief.

Heredia, I suspect, was injured in 04. He's still very young, and after good seasons in 02 and 03 (I stress "good"), he was awful in 04. I'm guessing in a pitcher's park, he'll thrive coming in against lefties and in long middle relief (Felix can go 90+ innings a year). Just a guess though. The Yankees improved in one (Philly) and moved laterally in the other (NYMets).


Tom Verducci's piece on the Red Sox "Sportsmen of the Year" issue of SI was amazing. I couldn't believe it- focusing largely on the story of a group of fans and highlighting the impact the team has on an entire culture and region of people, Verducci caught the spirit of the team's place in New England perfectly. Honestly, if it's something that you've never totally understood... read it. Really great.

"When Foulke flipped the ball to Mientkiewicz and the Sox won it all, all hell didn't just break out; it damn near froze over."


Looks like the Sox will be taking on the Tigers in the annual Hall of Fame Game in May. It is an exhibition game played in Cooperstown, NY on Doubleday Field. Should be pretty cool.


One last thing- our dog Wanda, whom you've met previously in the blog, is pretty sick. She's getting better, but wish her well... she's a good little dog.

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