Archive for February, 2009

Here We Go Again

February 28, 2009

by John Furgele

The rites of spring:  leaves on trees, dirty snow banks on road sides, and pitchers and catchers.  Yes, baseball is alive and hopefully, well, after a tough, tough offseason. 

That said, we are at it again.  Every time, a pitcher or player feels a tweak, a crack or anything thet might be just a sign of being a human, they ask out of workouts, games, and just about everything else.   The crisis management team gets called and rather than miss a day or two, the tweak sets back the player three times the time it should.  What are we missing here?  What has happened to the great American baseball player?

Johan Santana says he feels some tightness in his elbow.  But, rather than go out and throw through the nonsense, he has to pushed back and back and back.  We’re not even in March and already the Mets are saying that Santana may not be able to take the ball on Opening Day.

Are you kidding me?  One day of pain, and the whole program needs to be redone and reworked?  Stopping short of saying that the old timers were tougher, but the old timers were tougher. 

This is baseball, this is life.  If most of us didn’t go to work because of a little pain, we’d never get up in the morning.  Derek Jeter’s hamstring was sore, and manager Joe Girardi acted like the whole season was in peril and was deathly afraid of letting Jeter leave to play for Team USA in the World Baseball Classic.

Nobody wants to hear about Jeter’s sore hamstring, or Santana’s kind of stiff elbow.  Make Santana take part in practice.  Make him throw pitches.  If he blows out his elbow, only then let me know, because hearing about every twinge, tweak, stiffness and soreness is un-American and even more un masculine. 

There has to come a time when the team says, “Santana’s elbow is a bit stiff, but we’re going to let him throw through the pain, confident that once he’s warmed, the pain will be gone.” 

That is an athlete.

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Hall of Shame

February 11, 2009

by John Furgele

The BBWAA made Jim Rice wait and wait until finally voting him into the Baseball Hall of Fame, Class of 2009.  Maybe that’s a good thing, because in the wake of the steroid scandal that has rocked and is continuing to rock baseball, Rice’ generation may be looked at more favorably in the future.

Think about the Hall of Shame.  Mark McGwire and his 583 home runs is not even close to getting in.  To me, McGwire was way too one dimensional and was a virtual no-show in the postseason and is not worthy of induction despite his awesome home run numbers.  In his final season of 2001, a supposedly drug free McGwire batted just .187 with 29 home runs and 64 RBI, numbers that would make Rob Deer proud.  In the NLDS versus Arizona, he went 1 for 11 and struck out six times.  The Cardinals lost Game 5 2-1 to the eventual world champion Diamondbacks.  If McGwire gets a couple more hit, even one home run, then perhaps the Cards move on.

Roger Clemens, the disgraced pitcher with sure fire Hall of Fame numbers is on the verge of facing prison time.  Do you think he’s getting in?  It appears as if the Rocket has misremembered plenty regarding his role in the use of performance enhancing drugs. 

Sammy Sosa has never failed a drug test, has never had his name linked to renegade trainers, but he has always flunked the eye test and his sudden loss of the command of the English language in front of Congress was mind boggling.

Rafael Palmiero’s finger wagging and subsequent positive drug test will overshadow is 500 plus homers and 3,000 plus hits and will keep him out, and Barry Bonds, like Clemens probably has a better chance of going to prison that the Hall of Fame. 

And, the pioneer member of the Hall of Shame remains the Hit King himself, Pete Rose.  You would think that the above names would have learned  from Rose.  Rose denied that he bet on baseball, yet signed the agreement banning him from baseball.  Nearly two decades later, he admitted his sin, but it was too late.  And, with the steroid talk dominated the talk, Rose slips into greater oblivion. 

This may be good news for player like Andre Dawson and his 438 home runs.  Alan Trammell, who was a better overall shortstop than Ozzie Smith may get a closer examination.  My darkhouse candidate Ted Simmons had better numbers than Gary Carter and many, including the stat geek, Bill James say that Simmons was better defensively than he is given credit for.  Players like Simmons, ignored for years, may now get second looks as the BBWAA searches for players to vote in because at the rate we’re going, there won’t be any clean players to vote in. 

Alex Rodriguez’s best defense is that he at least nine more years to regain his reputation, but it will never happen.  It is too late for him to do that, and even if he stays clean, the public will always have doubts.  Even if Rodriguez submits to weekly, monthly or even daily drug tests, it won’t erase what he did to himself and the game.  Deep down, Rodriguez believes that because he got caught early enough in his career, he has enough years to make it “go away.”  Don’t count on it.

He claims he didn’t know what drugs he took, and couldn’t be truthful with Katie Couric because he couldn’t be truthful to himself first, another line of bunk that nobody is believing.  Athletes always know what they’re putting into the bodies and to think they would inject a drug into their bloodstream without any knowledge is more than absurd.

In the 1990s, Buffalo Bills defensive end Bruce Smith, who was just voted into the Football Hall of Fame, was doing a commercial for the now defunct or extremely hard-to-find Lay’s Au-Gratin potato chips.  In the commercial, Smith had to grab a handful of chips and shove them into his mouth.  Smith, at that time was really into nutrition and the once chubby defender had almost no body fat.  Smith, so conscious about food intake, never swallowed the chips.  He shoved them in, sampled enough for the camera, then spit them out each and every time.  If Bruce Smith wouldn’t eat delicious potato chips, why would Alex Rodriguez inject a PED without firm knowledge of what he was ingesting? 

The Hall of Shame will grow and it will grow at the expense at the Hall of Fame.  Let’e be fair, the Hall of Fame is very overrated.  We make such a big deal about who should get in, who shouldn’t get in.  I laughed when Peter Gammons asked Alex Rodriguez about the Hall of Fame when his laying career is not even close to being finished.  Why would an active player like Rodriguez be fixated on the Hall of Fame when that vote is nearly 20 years away?

Don Mattingly, Keith Hernandez, and Steve Garvey were great players, Hall of Fame honored or not.  Bill Mazeroski is in the HOF and he would be ranked fourth from this group.  So, in reality, is the Hall of Fame all its cracked up to be?  Just because one doesn’t make it in doesn’t mean they’re not great players.

Bonds, Rodriguez, Clemens, Sosa and Palmeiro can join those on the outide looking in because like Garvey, Hernandez and Mattingly, they will not be getting enshrined in their future. 

Somewhere, Bill Mazeroski is shaking his head.

No Surprises Here

February 10, 2009

by John Furgele

So, Alex Rodriguez was a steroid user.  Are you surprised?  Shocked?  Stunned?  I stopped being surprised many years ago.  When Barry Bonds got bigger, and his AB per home run ration went from a fabulous one per sixteen to a cartoonish one per six, it was over for me.  The Steroid Era was in full regalia. 

In an word, I was disappointed.  What boggles me is that Rodriguez knew he had tested positive in 2003, then five years later, went on 60 Minutes, looked Katie Couric in the eye and told her that he never used steroids and never was tempted to use them.  This, after knowing and hiding the fact that he had tested positive in 2003.  That said, Bonds denied using steroids, so did Rafael Palmiero and Roger Clemens, and heck, O.J. Simpson claimed he didn’t commit double murder or assault and robbery.

Then again, should we be disappointed by athletes, or humans for that matter?  Our country has become more and more dishonest each year.  We have bankers lying about where money has gone.  These bankers then got bailed out by the government and then took care of themselves by making sure bonuses and salaries to executives were paid before a loan was given.  We have automaker CEOs bankrupting the Big Three carmakers, then taking private jets to Capitol Hill to beg for money.

We had the Enron scandal, and the Stuart Madoff “ponzi scheme,” so should we be surprised that an athlete, a mere baseball player, would be dishonest?  Why is this such a surprise?  People with far more education than Rodriguez have been caught in a web of lies.  So, to expect a baseball player—even the best in the game—to be above the others is utter nonsense.

The Steroid Era runs from approximatety 1994 to the present and there is no end in sight.  Sure, MLB has toughed up its once non-existent drug testing policy, but they don’t test for HGH and as everybody knows, the cheaters are always a couple of steps ahead of the “cheater catchers.” 

We have seen Bonds and Clemens disgraced, but most were grateful for “A-Rod,” because he was clean and when he eventually passed Bonds, the home run record would be a clean one and would save baseball from a permanent stain.

No more.  No matter what Rodriguez does from here to the end of his career, he is ruined.  There is no doubt that Rodriguez will continue to cement his status as one of the game’s best.  He will get his 3,000 hits, get his 763 to 800 home runs and will bat over .300.  And, despite the drugs, might still be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, but the damage is irreversable.  No matter how clean he insists he is, there will always be doubts, always be those who claim that he is taking HGH or some other undetectable performance enhancing drug. 

Rodriguez says he took steroids from 2001-2003, then stopped.  Why should we believe him?  He might have stopped using steroids, but perhaps he started using HGH or some other agent?  We don’t know and that’s what hurts the most.  Rodriguez, so aware of his place in the game of baseball, will likely swear up and down that he is clean.  He may even submit to monthly drug tests to prove that he is drug free, but it is too late.  The adulterer may stay loyal to his spouse for years after the transgression, but some people will always refer to the reformed adulterer as an adulterer. 

Deep down, Rodriguez knows this.  He may stay clean for the rest of his career, but deep in his inner soul, he knows he is tainted and knows that no matter what he does from here on, he will always be tainted. 

He is not the only one as we await to hear of the other 103 names on that list.  But, no matter.  There will be some players who won’t care if they make the list, but Rodriguez cares.  In fact, that’s Rodriguez’s flaw.  He cares too much.  He cared so much about his numbers, he took steroids.  He cares so much about his image, he wants you to forgive him. 

This is America.  We like to forgive, but we don’t forget and that’s the cross to bear for Alexander Emmanuel Rodriguez.

A Super Weekend

February 2, 2009

by John Furgele

Super Bowl 43 was much better than expected.  The stars played well as Ben Roethlisberger showed that he is an elite quarterback and Kurt Warner showed that he does indeed belong in the Hall of Fame.  In football, compiling is not required for HOF enshrinement, dominance and playing big on the big stage is.  Both Roethlisberger and Warner proved that the big stage is something not to fear.

Unfortunately, the real star of the game was referee Terry McCauley and his crew.  Yes, you have to call penalties like holding and the like, but is there a point where some things can be let go?  Too many personal fouls for my liking, and even though it seemed that most of the calls went against Arizona, even the unsportsmanlike conduct against Pittsburgh cornerback Ike Turner seemed to be a bit rough. 

At one point, it felt like the refs were trying to win the game for Pittsburgh, but the calls did seem to even up a bit at the end.  I didn’t like the running into the holder call against Arizona cornerback Adrian Wilson and the late “lovetap” on Roethlisberger was atrocious.  Several times during the game, I found myself yelling, “this is the Super Bowl, let the players determine the outcome of the game.”

In the end, I was puzzled why the Kurt Warner fumble with five seconds left was not reviewed.  It should have been because a case can be made that Warner’s arm was in motion and the play could have been ruled an incomplete pass.  Like most, I would have liked to see the Cardinals get one more play and try a Hail Mary to Larry Fitzgerald.

In the end, Arizona blew the game.  When you’re up 23-20 with 2:48 to play, you can’t really ask for anything more.  All Arizona had to do was stop the Steeler defense, but they couldn’t.  Roethlisberger should have erased all doubts that he isn’t a big game quarterback, because he is.  Critics bring up his 10 of 21 performance in Super Bowl 40, but they forget that he was brilliant in road wins at Cincinnati, at Indianapolis and at Denver.  Without those performaances, there is no Super Bowl 40 appearance for the Steelers. 

The experts were wrong again.  All week, they touted that Pittsburgh’s defense and Arizona’ offense would be the key battle.  Those who really know football (like me),  knew that the exact opposite was true.  The game came down to the Pittsburgh offense and the Arizona defense, and when it was time to make plays, the Pittsburgh offense made them and the Arizona defense did not.  The two week gap between the conference championships and the Super Bowl has not affected play; in fact that last two games have been beauties.  The problem with the two weeks is that it gives the media gasbags too much time to contradict themselves, and gives way too much time to people who think they are football royalty like Peter King, who really thinks highly of himself, but wants to be heard so much that the facts don’t really mean anything.

In the broadcast booth, Al Michaels and John Madden did a nice job.  Though he is balleyhooed beyond reason, Madden was sharp as a tack last night, and the best comment of the night was when he said that the Super Bowl winner/runner-up is “the widest gap in professional sports.”  That couldn’t be more true.  The Super Bowl winner is immortalized, while the runner-up is cast aside and often treated like they are the worst team in pro sports.

In baseball, you can lose the World Series and still get points for being valiant.  The 2001 Yankees come to mind, as do the 1975 Red Sox and the 1991 Atlanta Braves.  But, in football, you get casted and it sticks.  The Buffalo Bills won four straight AFC Championships, but can never be considered a great team because they couldn’t win the Lombardi Trophy. 

As for the Arizona Cardinals, I get the feeling that it may take another decade or two to reach a second Super Bowl.  Look at the Bills.  After losing the 1993 Super Bowl, they haven’t come close to getting back.  After losing a classic Super Bowl to New England in the 2003 season, the Carolina Panthers have reached an NFC Championship Game, but no more.  The 1999 Tennesee Titans came within one yard of forcing overtime in the Super Bowl, but have not sniffed a Super Bowl since.  And, the Philadelphia Eagles keep finding ways to the NFC Championship Game, but after they lost the 2004 Super Bowl, have not been back since.

Madden’s words ring very true.  His Oakland Raiders went to one Super Bowl and they won it, and because of it, he is immortalized and people forget that Madden was just 1-6 in AFL/AFC Championship Games.  In fact, people now refer to those Raider teams which lost in the AFL/AFC Championship Games as great teams.  They don’t get that moniker if they would have lost to Minnesota in Super Bowl 11.  The Philadelphia Eagles won’t get accolades for losing the NFC Championship Game until they win the NFL Championship Game, aka the Super Bowl. 

Unfortunately, because of its one game format, there is no glory in being the runner-up.  We saw that yesterday.  A great game, between two evenly matched teams, but in the end, a wide gap exists.

Very wide.