A Complex Measure

It was simply a very complex day in baseball. In New York City, at the legendary home of Champions, the Yankees on Friday were either saying good-bye or ridding themselves of one of the most gifted, tarnished individuals who ever played the game. For the record, this was Alex Rodriguez last game for the New York Yankees.

Perhaps the center focus of the PED-Era in the game, here is one of the best players who ever played the game crystalized in everything that is bad and good about the game. There is no middle ground when speaking of A-Rod. For the record, he is tied as the 23rd best fielding shortstop in the history of baseball with a career .9772 fielding percentage at shortstop. But in all fairness, he only played 1,272 of his 2,784 games at short. His fWAR was below 50%. At third base, he ranked tied for 32nd place all-time with a .9648 fielding percentage. Let’s face it, fielding isn’t what got him to be one of the highest paid players in the history of the game, although he won the Gold Glove twice in his career at shortstop.

When it came to hitting, he hit 50+ home runs three (3) times with a high of 57 in 2002. In his career, over 22 years, he had a lifetime .295 batting average in 10,566 at bats. 3.115 hits; 548 doubles; 31 triples; 696 home runs; 2,086 RBI; .550 slugging percentage; .930 OPS; 5,813 total bases; and 14 time All-Star; 3 time MVP in 12 years with the New York Yankees, 7 years with the Seattle Mariners and 3 years with the Texas Rangers. In his career he made $375,416,252, with a high annual salary of $33 million in a single season (2009 & 2010). Three times he was named the Major League Player of the Year; won the AL batting title once in 1996 with a .358 average; won the Hank Aaron Award four (4) times and the Babe Ruth Award once. He won the Silver Slugger Award ten (10) times. For his career his WAR was 117.8, five (5) times finished #1. He had an on-base percentage of .380 in his career, had 2,021 runs scored while on base 4,629 times. As a batter he ranks with Willie Mays.

This was a great player in the game of baseball. But that is what you would want in the first player selected in the 1993 MLB draft.

Yet he played under the shadow of suspicion, jealousy, admiration and contempt for the better part of the last eight years. It probably began when he left Seattle. But the flight of other great top players from that team including Ken Griffey, Jr. and Randy Johnson (both now in the Hall of Fame) was not that big of a contributing factor to dislike. In 2007, the cornerstone of fan disillusionment when Rodriguez was finishing the last year of a $252 million contract. He did the unthinkable for pin-strip fans. He opted out, effectively making him a free agent once again. Now the die was cast as it was announced he would not renew his contract with the Yankees citing that he was ‘unsure of the future composition ‘ of the team. He was now the target of criticism not only for not meeting with team officials before his announcement but for financial gluttony. But the biggest issue with fans was that he did it during the 8th inning of Game Four of the World Series as Boston was finishing their victory over the Colorado Rockies. MLB’s chief operating officer, Bob DuPuy, called it ‘an attempt by Rodriguez’ agent, Scott Boras, to try to put his selfish interests and that of one individual player above the overall good of the game’. After a quick PR repair job by A-Rod himself, a new 10 year $275 million contract was finalized on December 13, 2007.

Out of nowhere, the report hit. In the February 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated hit the stands, it reported that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for testosterone and the anabolic steroid Primobolan in 2003. His name had appeared on a government-sealed list of 104 major-league players (out of 1200 tested) who came up positive for performance-enhancing drugs. As crazy as it seems today, there was no penalty or punishment for a positive steroid test in Major League Baseball. To his credit, two days after the allegations, Rodriguez admitted to steroid use from 2001 until 2003, claiming that he cease using such substances after spring training that year.

What might become a reason for so many star players to take PEDs, injury, has loomed over the game. Prior to the 2009 season, A-Rod was forced to withdraw from the World Baseball Classic where he would represent the Dominican Republic, when an MRI revealed a cyst in his right hip. He went to have the cyst drained but discovered that he was also suffering from a torn labrum in the same hip. He underwent an arthroscopic procedure with a recovery period of 6 to 9 weeks, instead of the usual three to four months. He would require a second, more extensive surgery in the off-season. He missed spring training and the month of April. But he came out with a very strong season. It was his 12th consecutive season and 13th overall of reaching 30 home runs and 100 RBI breaking a ties with Manny Ramirez, Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx for the most in Major League Baseball history. And as a topper to any career, he helped the Yankees win their 27th World Series Championship and his first.

Two years later, Rodriguez opted for arthroscopic surgery on his knee to repair a torn meniscus that placed him on the disabled list at the All-Star break. During his recovery, he was facing serious allegations that he had participated in illegal, underground poker games. One of those games turned violent and cocaine was openly used Rodriguez denied that he had ever participated in illegal poker games. MLB had warned him in 2005 not to participate in such games. After retiring in late August, he sustained another injury with a jammed thumb.

In 2013, he underwent another arthroscopic surgery in his hip to repair a torn labrum. It was the second time in four years that he had the surgery. But this operation was more serious than before. He began the season on the 60-day disabled list. While rehabbing, he again was embroiled in a series negative situations He became a central figure in the Biogenesis baseball scandal and MLB’s investigation into his possible connection to performance-enhancing drugs. Then he again got embroiled with Yankee management when he said on social media (Twitter) that his doctor had medically cleared him to play in games. Yankee GM Brian Cashman said Rodriguez’s doctor did not have such authority and that Rodriguez should ’shut the fxxx up.’ While rehabbing in the minors, he sustained a new injury as an MRI later revealed a Grade 1 quad strain, delaying his return and forcing him to continue in the minors. Rodriguez clearly frustrated sought a second opinion on his quad strain with a doctor who stated that there did not appear to be an injury. The Yankees were incensed. The war began. They said he had violated league rules for seeking a second opinion without the team’s permission. The stage was now clearly set for Yankees to get rid of Rodriguez. The ‘Cashman Conflict’ was the beginning of the end. Rodriguez continued to feud with Yankees management following his return, as his lawyers accused the team, and specifically Christopher S. Ahmad MD, of mishandling his hip injury in several ways; Rodriguez’s legal team contends the team withheld the injury from him and continued to play him in 2012 despite his health, and that team president, Randy Levine told Rodriguez’s hip surgeon that he would be happy if Rodriguez never played again. In response to the accusations, Cashman said, “I’m not comfortable talking to Alex about this because we feel we are in a litigious environment. Hello and goodbye, that’s about it.” He added, “It’s not just Yankees’ management. He’s putting it at the level of our trainers, our medical staff. The organization. The team.” It wasn’t a good year for A-Rod.

Alex Rodriguez was suspended from baseball but he delayed it pending an appeal. The suspension was upheld for the entirety of the 2014 regular season and post season. He was found to have violated the league’s Performance Enhancing Drugs policy, specifically through the ‘use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including Testosterone and human Growth Hormone, over the course of multiple years’ and ‘attempting to cover-up his violations of the Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation.’

In the 2015 off-season it was reported that Rodriguez met with new Commissioner of Baseball, Rob Manfred, in which it is reported that Rodriguez apologized while promising to behave in the future. In February he issued a hand-written letter of apology to “Major League Baseball, the Yankees, the Steinbrenner family, the Players Association and you,the fans’.

And now here we are. Criticism is plenty. In Joe Torre’s 2009 book, ‘The Yankee Years’, Rodriguez earned the nickname ‘A-Fraud’ from teammates and particularly from clubhouse attendants who were said to resent his demands. Steroid-user Jose Canseco said in his book, ‘Juiced:Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big’ called A-Rod a hypocrite. But then again, who cares what Canseco says. The fact remains, there is a playing stats side and there is the drugs side.

Performance enhancing drugs have torn baseball’s unique stat world apart. Those accused and/or suspended, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Ryan Braun, Rager Clemens, Rafael Palmero, Lenny Dykstra, Eric Gagne, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Glenallen Hill, Todd Hundley, David Justice, Andy Petite, Mo Vaughn, Fernando VBina, Manny Ramirez, Melky Cabrera, Jason Giambi, Jeremy Giambi, Benito Santiago, Gary Sheffield, Bartolo Colon, Yasmani Grandal, Carlos Ruiz, Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta, Miguel Tejada, Dee Gordon, Raul Mondesi, Rick Ankiel, Jose Canseco, Gary Matthews, Jr., Matt Williams, Wally Joyner, Ken Caminiti, Chuck Knoblauch, Paul Lo Duca, David Ortiz, Ivan Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Mike Stanton and many more have put the stain on the game. We are not talking about hard drugs or alcohol consumption here. We are talking about people taking drugs to make them perform better.

Thus the dilemma.

Alex Rodriguez could hit. Alex Rodriguez could field. Alex Rodriguez took performance enhancing drugs. He paid for the results. He served his time. His day in the game appears to now be over.

Baseball is a game we all play as kids. It is a game we love from our very core. He did as well and did it better then nearly anyone.

A-Rod…we hardly knew ya.

Play Ball!

Rosin Bag Rests

For the first Sunday since the middle of last February, the field is empty. The base paths are vacant. There are no bats in the rack nor bat weights in the on-deck circle. Rosin bags are resting, not on the mound, but in the club house, waiting for next season’s use. For Richie and others who have pushed and pulled their teams to hopeful victory during a most difficult year, the season is over. For those who love this game, the silence is now deafening.

The good news is, each of our favorite teams have a chance to win next year. All except for those who have a manager that is playing by a book designed by dummies. For this we have to understand that baseball pitchers can and should go for as long as they feel good about the way they are pitching on that particular day, in that particular game. This means that the managers, regardless of the rhyme or reason, DO NOT have to take their starter out for the guy who pitches in the seventh and then the guy who pitches in the eighth and finally for the closer in the ninth. We are reminded starting pitcher Jose Quintana had a two-hit shutout with 11 strikeouts through seven innings in a White Sox game in August. He looked good. He was feeling fine. Then the manager walks out of the dugout and goes to the bullpen. Why? That’s what the modern book of baseball managing says. If its written, so it shall be done.

Sure it works! Take for example the Milwaukee Brewers. How many games were their starting pitchers, while leading the game, pulled out, and watched as the game exploded  around them for a loss because the modern book of baseball managing says that it is right and just to bring in Axford?

When a starting pitcher is in a grove and his 2-seam fastball’s painting the corners along with his 4-seamer, a wicked slider and a devastating change-up, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that you have caught magic in a bottle on this given day. The modern book of baseball managing should be thrown away. This game was never meant for 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th inning pitching specialists to interrupt the textural weave of a brilliant pitching performance.

Furthermore, this game was never intended for the modern book of baseball managing to have a roving shortstop or second baseman to play in the shallow outfield position of an over-shift plan to stop an above average pull hitter. This is the stuff of silly old men dressed in major league uniforms while greying at the temples. Silly men. Silly, silly men. (My apologies to the Coen Brothers and the writers of their film, ‘Intolerable Cruelty’ for that description.)

While the rosin bag rests in the box within the confines of the clubhouse, it’s time for the Hot Stove League. This is where the game of baseball gains its lore and its lure of statistical bias. This is why Tim McCarver could pull out such bizarre statistics only Elias Sports Bureau would have dug into for him to use in whatever key situation he felt was relevant. Who cares how many times a player drives a ball to the right side of the infield after falling behind on a 1 ball, 2 strike count? How many times does it matter if that batter leads the league in consecutive foul balls during a single time at bat? Do I care that David Ortiz is the only player to total 90 or more extra base hits in a season without scoring at least 100 runs when he finished the 2004 campaign with 91 extra base hits and 94 runs scored for the Red Sox? And do I care if I never hear such junk uttered by McCarver ever again? That’s perhaps redundant because Tim-boy has finally retired. Is it alleluia or hallelujah?

When you get over stat-urated, you run the risk of falling into the belief that the modern book of baseball managing actually means something. As a point to this madness of over analyzing every pitch and every at bat and every situation because of the doctrine of the modern book of baseball managing (MBOBM-every baseball stat now has an acronym so I’ll start this one in order to be placed in the register of the modern book of baseball managing on the baseball Wikipedia page), reached its height in the fifth game of the 2013 World Series in St. Louis. There were the Cardinals, in the bottom of the 9th, with two out and the potential tying run coming to the plate. The player on first was replaced by the manager because this manager had read the modern book of baseball managing and within it, on the chapter “What to do when there are two outs in the bottom of the ninth, in game five of the world series, with a runner on first and the tying run comes to the plate?”, it states put in a player who is fast.

What? What for? He only represents a run, not the winning run, not even the tying run, but just a run. The real question is what will happen at the plate? That’s the potential runner who can tie the game. If you watched and saw a young rookie, Kolten Wong, crying in the locker room after the game because he got picked off when he strayed too far off the bag, blame it on the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, not the kid who was put into a position where he could fail. As a manager of anything, business, ministry, naval vessel or a hot air ballooning fleet, you never put a young employee into a position where they can fail. That’s Business 101.

Let’s get started. Now we are into one of the most important parts of the season…the Hot Stove League where we can rip and applaud, scream and shout, laugh and cry all over again. The rosin bags are resting in the clubhouse. Let’s….

Play Ball!

A Nation Stops

Yesterday, on his first day back from the DL, a larger than life player for the Boston Red Sox took to the field, microphone in hand and addressed the sold out crowd at Fenway. “Today we are wearing Boston on our jerseys. Not Red Sox. We are Boston.” David Ortiz continued, “This is our city. And no one is going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong.”

So much has been placed in the tumbler of life in America’s fifth largest city this past week. The last time the city’s favorite baseball team played at home was on Monday morning, the traditional Patriot’s Day ballgame. Because of the events following that game, this was the first time the fans had gathered, knowing that the tragedy of the past week was still raw in their memories and the reality of facing the funerals of those who had passed lay ahead. But for now, Big Papi was reinforcing the strength of the city…reinforcing the fibre that has made these people so strong for so long.

These after all were the descendents of those who began our fight for freedom with a little party down on the docks centuries ago. This is where Revere expressed aloud the  warning of the red coats advancement. This is where the most famous marathon of all is run each year. And this is where the fabled Red Sox play ball

On Saturday, this is where the city once again identified itself with the resolve that runs through all of our veins. This day, in one of the most famous ballparks of all, a very large man reminded all of us that no one was going to take away that which is rightfully ours.

Now, we must bury the dead. Now we must remember not to forget. Now we must continue the fight started in this city so long ago.

Play ball!