“…The perfect hitter.  Joe’s swing was purely magical.”–Ty Cobb on Joe Jackson, as quoted in Wit and Wisdom of Baseball, Saul Wisnia and Dan Schlossberg

The sound and fury over A-Rod’s 600th homerun should be over by tomorrow.  For two weeks we read about and heard about the insignificance of this feat, in spite of the excitement shown  by fans in every park. Almost universally, sports writers have thrown cold water on the achievement.  To his credit, A-Rod has said all the right things and kept the record in perspective considering his confession of two years ago.  

There is no easy solution of the problem of elite athletes who have taken PED’s.  It is too simplistic to say if they are in any way associated with PED’s, then they should not be eligible for the Hall of Fame.  There is too little evidence as to how many athletes were involved,and the actual effect of the drugs, not to mention the role played by owners, the media and we, the fans. The  good old days where everyone played the game the “right way” only exist in our imagination.

I have been wondering about the athletes that have not been outed.  What about the unreleased names on the list.  What about steroid using athletes already admitted to Cooperstown.  Athletes like A-Rod are taking all the heat, even though we all know there are many others out there.  Shouldn’t some of the athletes already in the Hall step up and take their share of the blame.  How can they stand by and watch the handfull that have been outed take all the blame.  Can they look them in the eye? I would think it is difficult to live with yourself when you have guilt from using and guilt from watching others take criticism that should be shared by you. Coming forward  might change the opinion of some writers as to voting for athletes like Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez.  It would at least force them to debate the issue. 

By tomorrow the hype over A-Rod and his 600th will have run its course.  Athletes with a PED secret can stop thinking about it until the next baseball milestone is reached.  The handful of outed athletes can go on bearing the burden that should be shared by many others.

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Regrets I have Few

If you had a pill that would guarantee a pitcher 20 wins but might take five years off his life, he’d take it.–Jim Bouton

A-Rod has been hovering at the 599 mark for over a week.  On some slow sports news days there were multiple articles denigrating A-Rod’s accomplishments because of his admission of PED use a number of years ago.  All his statistics are somehow tainted because of what he did for a limited period of time when he was younger.  Many writers, announcers and call-in fans also assume he had been using PED’s  both before and after the time period for which he admitted use.

The concept of “first offense” is a well established American concept.  Judges and prosecutors depend on it to keep our judicial system going.  Persons guilty of a first offense are treated more leniently than repeat offenders.  No one says, since you did this, you probably have been doing this same thing for a long time and we will therefore mistrust everything you have done since.  This apparently applies all over our country except in baseball.  For some reason people become irrational with baseball and PED’s.

In addition to sportswriters, the manager of the Tampa Bay Rays felt called upon to express his opinion about A-Rod.  His opinion was that people were not interested in A-Rod’s run for 600 because of his PED use.  First of all, I’ve been watching the games and I’ve seen full houses with flashing cameras every time he comes to the plate.  At the away games, people leave their seats to wait in the outfield areas to hopefully catch the ball. Secondly, should a manager of one team comment on a player belonging to another manager?  Be cautious,  it could come back to haunt you.  Finally, in the end, to get a full picture of any era, eveything should be presented to the public.  Put all the players with appropriate statistics in the hall.  Provide the history of the time period.  Let succeeding generations come to their own conclusions.  We don’t need the media and the insiders to form those conclusions for us.

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Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being.  With freedom comes responsibility.  For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who is unwilling to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.–Eleanor Roosevelt

William Rhoden, of the New York Times, states in his July 21, 2010 article that a vote for George Steinbrenner for the Hall of Fame. is a vote for Curt Flood.  I was surprised when I visited Cooperstown, that there was so little information about Curt Flood and Marvin Miller.  I would agree that Curt Flood had an impact on baseball that would warrant his inclusion in the Hall. 

The reserve clause was how baseball owners kept a stranglehold on baseball for a hundred years. Harold Seymour, in his “Baseball, The Early Years”, wrote that it was feared that without it , baseball would collapse.  Curt Flood was a player who finally took a stand against it and it cost him his career. I doubt today’s players are even aware of the debt they owe him.  Brad Snyder’s book, “A Well-Paid Slave” would be enlightening for them.  He says on page 351, without Curt Flood, “Michael Jordan, Derek Jeter, and Lebron James could never have obtained their multimillion-dollar salaries and endorsement deals without the right to sell their services to the highest bidders.”

I part ways with Rhoden when he tries to tie in Lebron James and his recent circus with Flood.  Anyone who thinks there is any similarity between the two is off the mark.  No one questioned James’ right to work where he pleased.  Not everyone has to sign with the home team like Joe Mauer. 

What people did expect from Lebron James was that he would behave with some semblance of maturity.  He doesn’t owe his life to Cleveland, but he did have a long term relationship with the city.  Most  responsible adults would have sat down with the owner and told him  ahead of time that he was leaving .  Face the fans who live and die with their team and take out an ad in the newspaper telling them how much he appreciated their support through the years.  Athletes do have some responsibility to their fans.  Professional athletes are entertainers who are paid well because fans want to see them.  The fans can’t dictate the choices of the athlete, but  the athlete should show some respect to the people who enable them to earn the salary that most fans can only dream about. 

Don’t insult the memory of Curt Flood.

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Rooting for the Yankees is like rooting for the house in blackjack–Adam Morrow,quoted in Bill Simmons,”Letters from the Nation,” 20 October 2003

I served Turkey Hill Pinstripe Brownie Blast ice cream to my Red Sox- loving sister-in-law, brother-in-law and nephews.  Other than a couple of snide remarks by my brother-in-law, it was devoured.  They hate the Yankees, but no one turns down ice cream. 

Some radio talk show hosts have been complaining that players don’t hate each other any more and only the fans are rivals.  That is probably true to some degree.  I have seen Yankee and Red Sox players engage in conversation before games.  Once the game starts, both teams want to win.  They are just not enemies off the field as are the fans.  At least in baseball, I know the players have more in common with each other than not. The frequency with which they change teams contributes to this.  The constriction of the world due to cell phones and twitter contributes. The strength of the players’ union also brings them together. 

I hope the baseball players today appreciate what Marvin Miller and their union  have accomplished for them in the past.  At Cooperstown I was surprised that there wasn’t more of an exhibit on Curt Flood and the free agency issue.  I don’t know if the young players know the history.  I’d recommend Brad  Snyder’s book, “A Well Paid Slave”. Another good book, in novel form, was Asinoff”s “Man on Spikes”.

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Momento Mori

Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity–Seneca

Luck is the residue of Opportunity and Design–Branch Rickey

In Bocca al Lupo–Italian for “good luck”, literally “into the mouth of the wolf”

George Steinbrenner symbolized New York to me.  My first knowledge of baseball players came in the 1960’s.  My first knowledge of baseball owners came in the 1970’s.  My only real understanding of what an owner was like , was represented by George Steinbrenner.  I love New York.  I love the Yankees.  The Boss seemed to be New York incarnate to me.  I lived in New York for three years while in graduate school and everything there seem larger than life, somehow more important than what was happening anywhere else.  George Steinbrenner understood the city.  New York has been the center of so many things since its rise in the mid 19th century.  Of course it should be the center of the baseball world, from the Knickerbocker Baseball Club  to the Bronx Bombers.

I would not have wanted to work for Steinbrenner but I am glad he was the owner of my team.  He belongs in the Hall of Fame.  A number of people seem to believe he ruined baseball.  I remember reading about another pioneer who many, at the time, believed ruined baseball.. Branch Rickey developed the farm system, first and integrated baseball next.  I believe he thought integration was the right thing to do, but first of all he wanted to win ball games.  There was a pool of talent that was not being used.  Very slowly, other clubs followed suit.  In the end, everyone saw that the game  vastly improved. Rickey was known to be a hardnosed businessman when it came to  contract time, but he had foresight and conviction.  He changed the history of the sport. 

George Steinbrenner changed the history of the sport in his own way.  Instead of  bemoaning the problem of free agency, he seized the opportunity to improve his team.  He most likely did not intend to improve baseball.  What he did was to force the other owners, kicking and screaming, to improve their teams if they wanted to compete.  They have to greater or lesser degrees, as some of them are still content to collect Yankee  handouts and not put it back into their teams. Cable Television came along, and Steinbrenner seized that opportunity. Regional networks have now become vital to the success of a team. 

Fans of other teams complain about the Yankees having more money than everyone else.  No one gave it to Steinbrenner.  He swung for the fences and everyone else ran the bases behind him.

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For the Greater Good

Well Mr. Barrow, Lou Gehrig is badly underpaid.–Joe DiMaggio to Ed Barrow when the Yankees GM told him his contract demand after his rookie year was more than Gehrig made after 12 seasons.

Cliff Lee goes to the Texas Rangers.  That’s fine.  I can’t tell who offered the better package. Evaluating prospects is an inaccurate science.  I am, however, tired of listening to sports radio hosts  say the Yankees were being greedy if they had acquired him.  It would be bad for baseball, sports writers  asserted.  Blame the Evil Empire for wanting more when they had enough.

The NY Yankees are a business.  Their business is to win baseball games.  Thanks to George Steinbrenner, they have pursued that goal with a single- minded determination.  What is the point of owning a team if you don’t try your best to win.  If you don’t want to put all your resources into winning, then you should invest in another business.  There are no poor owners in professional sports.  They don’t all have the same opinion about the purpose of owning a sports franchise.

Because the Yankees are located in NY and have made the most of their location with shrewd investment decisions both on and off the field(YES Network) , they have outstripped the competition.  There are older clubs and clubs in large markets, but at the moment  Yankee ingenuity has paid off.  It wasn’t given to George Steinbrenner; he pushed, bullied, gambled and was creative, sometimes all at the same time.  I recommend the biography of George Steinbrenner by Bill Madden, to review what he accomplished.

The NY Yankees however, get killed in the media and in public opinion and would have received a lot of criticism if the Lee trade had succeeded.  The public, and even some Yankee fans, want the NY Yankeees to stop and think of everyone else before they make a move to improve their business. Do the unsuccessful clubs stop and think of everyone else before they make their decisions?  It sure doesn’t seem to be the case. The Yankees revenue share and pay the luxury tax.  The less successful teams pocket the money and we have no proof they use it to become more competitive. 

It is easy to pick on the Yankees.  They are highly successful and are based in the media center of the United States.  Most business owners would laugh if they were told they could not use the fruits of their own labor to improve their business and had to help out their competitors.Maybe more transparency should be demanded of the less successful teams to see what they have been doing with their money.  Maybe some other owners should be reminded they purchased a team not a drug store.  It’s too easy to just attack the  big bully.

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Tech Curve

“You don’t save a pitcher for tomorrow.  Tomorrow it might rain.”–Leo Durocher

What would old time managers say about the use of technology in baseball?  According to Joshua Prager in his book “The Echoing Green”, Leo Durocher was using technology to steal signs for his NY Giants. It was reported on the Mike and Mike Show on ESPN this morning, that Commissioner Bud Selig seems to have no inclination to expand instant replay.  Something about it changing the game of baseball. 

I don’t understand the reluctance to use technology to improve the game.  Advances in technology are being to used to improve all aspects of the game.  It was reported in the June 22, 2010 issue of USA Today, in an article written by Paul White, that MLB has installed PITCHf/x in all major league ball parks.  A camera along each foul line measures the speed of each pitch as well as its movement.  The data can then be analyzed for each pitcher.  A website called uses the PITCHf/x data to produce  reports for each major league pitcher.  The article goes on to discuss how major leaguer Brian Bannister uses the data to improve his performance. 

Bud, if you’re responsible for this use of technology, why not use instant replay to improve the game as well.

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Contrary Comparisons

“It depends on the length of the game”–nineteenth century player King Kelly, responding to a reporter who asked  if he ever drank while playing

Sometimes I contemplate drinking when I listen to certain sports talk radio announcers give their opinions on pitch counts for young pitchers. Following Phil Hughes being skipped by the Yankees and his  subsequent struggles in the very next game, I listened to  a WFAN host rant about young pitchers and pitch counts.  Of course he trotted out the handful of Hall of Fame names who pitched endless innings, never mentioning the vast majority of players with far less substantial careers.  I doubt he has even researched the question to see if his opinion holds up.  Quite honestly, there are so many factors to consider in evaluating how young pitchers should be used, it is difficult to debate it.  First, I think that you have to know that these multimillion dollar businesses have spent the time to explore these issues.  They have a lot invested in these athletes. This particular host suggests that these athletes should just pitch and if it happens that they get injured, well that’s a risk you have to take. I would think that the young pitchers have a right to expect that their employers will not be reckless in determining  how much they should pitch.  I thought we were past the practices of yesteryear when players were treated like cannon fodder.  

I just had this vision of a young pitcher pitching 175 pitches to complete a no-hitter and shouting up at the crowd like Russell Crowe in “Gladiator”:”Are you not entertained?”

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Don’t Get Me Wrong

I love sports.  Pretty much all sports.  Baseball tops the list, but I follow many others.  I don’t however, want to get to know any athlete merely because they are a professional athlete.  I don’t want to know where they go for entertainment or what they wear or who they hang out with.  I’m only interested  in what  they have to say about  their particular sport or the charity they work for.  I really don’t care about their political views since that is not their area of expertise and therefore their opinion has no more value than mine.  I do expect them to be law-abiding, however I have not boycotted a team because of the unsavory behavior of a specific player. 

I know this is nothing new,but we value athletes too highly.  I was listening to Mike and Mike in the Morning on ESPN today when they were discussing the Cubs and the recent troubles of Carlos Zambrano.  He was being criticized , among other things, for  going out to dinner with the manager of the White Sox following his blow up in the dugout with his teammates.  Lou Piniella was quoted as saying he, Lou, was so upset that night that he couldn’t go out to dinner  with his daughter who had arrived in town that day and who he hadn’t seen since he had left for spring training.  Isn’t that in mid-February? 

Then I started to remember other quotes that had bothered me in the past.  On Mother’s Day one of the NY newspapers had printed tributes by various baseball players.  One young man with six children said his wife was the perfect wife because she never bothered him during baseball season with anything to do with the house and children.  Baseball season lasts six months.!

One time I read a book entitled “Reflections of the Game.  Lives in Baseball”.  It contained an essay by sportswriter Pat Jordan that described something called “The Athlete’s Blessing”.  Jordan writes about Tom Seaver and the fact that throughout their friendship he never inquired about any aspect of Jordan’s life.  Everything revolved around Seaver and his needs and wants.  The Athlete’s Blessing was that his problems and concerns were of more importance than those of the people around him and all through his life that had been the case. 

On a more personal basis, during the college application process with my own children I learned that one child who would  play a varsity sport in college had a leg up on the other child who played a sport that was a club sport at most colleges.  Child number two had to  make it on their grades and scores. 

Sometimes when we wonder why athletes get into trouble, maybe we should look to ourselves for failing to hold them  to the standards of behavior we hold each other to in our day to day life.

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Can’t anybody here play this game?–Casey Stengel referring to his 1962 Mets

I can call Aunt Madaline.  My Aunt Madaline and Aunt Philomena live together in my grandmother’s house.  Aunt Madaline is 81 and Aunt Philomena is 85.  They watch all the Yankee games because Aunt Madaline is an avid fan and she is the boss.  She is however, very hard on her team.  I’ll say they didn’t play well after a loss.  She’ll say they stink. Thank God they won last night, or I wouldn’t be able to calm her down. 

One of the sports radio personalities on WFAN was hard on the Yankees for a reason other than their sloppy play.  Mike Francesa complained there was too much fraternization between the players. I don’t think that was the cause of the poor hitting and base running.  I listened to a lot of the callers who expressed their views on this subject.  I decided it was a generation issue.  Today’s players, unencumbered by the indentured servitude called the reserve clause, jump from team to team.  The players live near each other and play golf together in the off season.  Frequently they work out together during the winter and they share trainers.    Cell phones and the internet give them instant and constant access to each other.  How can they not be friends. I really don’t think it effects their play.  I’ve seen Derek Jeter laugh with Kevin Youkilis while standing on first base.  No one ever would accuse him of letting it interfere with his play. 

Much ado about nothing.

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