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!

Enhancing The Outcome

When can we agree on the time the drug era began in baseball? One of the first times I noticed it was when a player for the San Diego Padres hit his 50th home run at old Bank One Ballpark (now The Chase) in Phoenix on a warm September evening in 1998. I had watched this player for years in Milwaukee. As he trotted across the plate, he was a caricature of his former self. Bloated, muscular beyond his years, hyper-alert. Being behind the visitors’ dugout you could gain such a perspective. That is the day, in my mind, legitimate baseball records ended. Not that the player in question was not a good player. On the contrary, he was a very good ball player. But 50?

Recently, Baseball Digest published a fascinating article on players with the most home runs before the All-Star break. It wasn’t the list that was peculiar; it was a comment one of the readers proposed. He asked, what would this list look like without the drug era players participating?

In order to do that, a line has to be drawn on when the drug era began. My timeline is the year that player hit his 50th home run…1998

By removing all of the players suspected or admittedly used drugs, the list would look very different from the one published. By using the arbitrary HGH Era date, Reggie Jackson of the Oakland A’s would lead the list with 37 home runs before the All-Star break. He would go on to crack 47 in that season of 1969. Second on the list would be Frank Howard of the Washington Senators. He blasted 32 before the All-Star break on his way to hitting 48 during 1969. Ken Griffey, Jr. of the Seattle Mariners would be #3 with 35 dingers in 1994. In fourth place is the legendary Shanley High School star from Fargo, ND, Roger Maris who hit 33 before the break on his way to his 61 in the magical 1961 season. To complete the top five is Matt Williams then playing All-Star caliber baseball with the San Francisco Giants and had 33 homers before the break in 1994 on his way to crashing 43 that year.

I have not included any player after the 1997 season. I simply do not know who was on the juice and who was not. For that matter, I don’t know what the status of any player was before the 1998 season. We experienced the cocaine era, the alcohol era, the chewing tobacco era (if you have never had a chew of ‘baccy’, you can’t understand the buzz that is created the first time you use it and the ‘no-fear’ of a heater past your ears).

Synthetic human growth hormone (HGH) was developed in 1985 and approved by the FDA for specific uses in children and adults. That’s children and adults. For children it was approved for treating a number of medical cases including Turner’s syndrome; Prader-Willi syndrome, chronic kidney insufficiency, HGH deficiency or insufficiency and for children born small for gestational age. It was created for use in adults for short bowel syndrome or HGH deficiency due to rare pituitary tumors or their treatment. It was also approved for uses in muscle-wasting disease associated with HIV/AIDS.

However, most common uses for HGH are not FDA-approved. Some people use the hormone, along with other performance-enhancing drugs such as anabolic steroids, to build muscle and improve athletic performance. Because the body’s HGH levels naturally decrease with age, some so-called antiaging experts have speculated and claimed that HGH products could reverse age-related bodily deterioration. The use of HGH for antiaging is not FDA approved. Regardless, some people obtain injectable HGH from doctors who prescribe it for off-label purposes, the uses for which it has not been approved by the FDA, and through Internet pharmacies, antaging clinics, and web sites.

Now we are once again deep within the much publicized HGH era that the Commish, wanting sainthood along with Karol Jozef Wojtyla, before he retires from his $18.4 million salary (equal to what both the NHL & NFL commissioners make), has thrown down the gauntlet on some of the best players in the game because their names were on a piece of paper and a paid informant is spilling his guts about anything and everything he can regurgitate for fame and a little bit of fortune. Plus, there is the possibility of not being persecuted further. More on that after the commish white-washes the game with the spirit of cleanliness once he proclaims the game safe for all young and old.

He plays with the very foundation of the game…its loyal fans.

Nonetheless, here is the list, tainted or not, of what Baseball Digest proclaims as the players with the most home runs before the All-Star break.

Rank  Player                         Team                                      Pre-            Season            Year

1         Bonds                         San Francisco Giants             39                73                  2001

2         Reggie Jackson          Oakland A’s                            37               47                  1969

3          McGwire                     St. Louis Cardinals                 37               70                  1998

4          Ken Griffey, Jr.           Seattle Mariners                     35                56                  1998

5          Gonzalez                    Arizona Diamondbacks          35                57                  2001

6          Frank Howard            Washington Senators             34                48                  1969

7          Ken Griffey, Jr.           Seattle Mariners                     33                40                   1994

8          Roger Maris                New York Yankees                33                61                   1961

9          McGwire                     Oakland A’s                            33               49                   1987

10        Matt Williams              San Francisco Giants              33               43                   1994

I do not believe that any of the players who have been tainted with HGH should be honored with any record in baseball. True, proven before guilty is a cornerstone of our democracy. Yet when it comes to baseball, all you have to believe is what you see with your own eyes. In my lifetime, I have seen players who should not be allowed in the record books because they used a substance that gave them an advantage over others in the game. It is a game we played and look forward to comparing the best to the best that have ever played. It is this comparison that makes this game the greatest. Stats shouldn’t lie. But that is just my opinion.

What do you think?

Play Ball!

#23 Maybe #1

For many of us who grew up in the land of Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan or Ohio, the cool breeze of fall leads to one destination: Pasadena. The ‘Granddy of Them All’ is the goal for every kid who steps on the gridiron in the breadbasket. It’s the time the kids from the Midwest get to strap it on against the kids from the Pacific Coast. No matter where you live in Rockford, Rochester, Akron and the many other cities that mark this region of blue-collar workers, the goal is there. This year our team will make it to the Arroyo Seco where the Rose Bowl resides.

He was like us all. The difference: he was a natural from Pontiac. Tough, determined and very athletic, the schoolboy star became an All-American wide receiver who won the Big Ten football title while attending Michigan State. His tough, Ditka-type mentality along with great speed and agility, made him a sure pick for pro ball. When the draft came, the Cardinals picked him. But just when everyone expected him to jig, he jagged. Who wanted to play for the Racine-Chicago-St. Louis-Phoenix-Arizona Bidwell’s?

During college, his football coach, Darryl Rogers, suggested he go out for baseball. In only one collegiate season he hit .390, with 16 home runs and 52 RBI in 48 games. He jagged to the Tigers. His career was filled with honors. Two World Series championship rings, one in the American League (1984) and one in the National League (1988). One NL MVP (1988). A Silver Slugger (1988) and 2 time All-Star.

Oh ya. He hit what was probably the most famous home run in Dodger history. It is one of the most famous in World Series history. Just ask Hall of Fame pitcher, Dennis Eckersley. Strike one. Strike two. Ball, outside. Ball, again outside. Foul ball. Ball again. Mike Davis is on the move toward second.

“But, we have a big 3-2 pitch coming from Eckersley. Gibson swings, and a fly ball to deep right field! This is gonna be a home run! Unbelievable! A home run for Gibson! And the Dodgers have won the game, 5 o 4. I don’t believe what I just saw! I don’t believe what I just saw! Is this really happening, Bill? One of the most remarkable finishes to any World Series Game…a one-handed home run by Kirk Gibson! And the Dodgers have won it…five to four; and I’m stunned, Bill. I have seen a lot of dramatic finishes in a lot of sports, but this one might top almost every other one.” (Jack Buck)

The other day, in the tunnel that takes one from their seats to the club beneath the stands behind the plate at Chase Field, if you are on the 3rd base side, you get to pass the entrance to the Diamondback’s locker room and their dugout. It is one of the great hidden gems in all of baseball, as you will undoubtedly meet any number of players and coaches as they go back and forth from dugout to locker room. Surprisingly, the players and coaches  are very accommodating. Most have smiles and acknowledge you with a ‘how ya doing’ or ‘great to see you’ without ever having met you before. This close. This intimate. This is unbelievable. These are the guys in the Show. That’s Kennedy. “How ya doing, Up?”. “Goldie”. “Let’s get’em tonight.” “Thanks.” “See ya.” “Have a good game.” Talking with the guys. Guys talking to us.

Then, there he was. Looking down at a piece of paper in his left hand, shuffling toward the dugout, looked up briefly and said, ‘Hi’ as he moved on past and into the dugout. Another ‘Hi’ in the land of dreams. He looked like an older man, shaggy stubble of a beard, an old athlete well past his prime. But he was undoubtedly ‘Gibby’, the hero of East Lansing, Detroit, Los Angeles and certainly soon to be in Phoenix.

This is a tough man. He takes no guff. Going back to his days in Detroit (the first eight years he was there) he became a free agent in 1985 but received no meaningful offers and therefore re-signed with Detroit. He knew it. Baseball knew it. Baseball ownership had been in collusion and in 1988, an arbitrator moved that MLB owners colluded against the players in an effort to stem free agency. Seems nothing changed between players and management from the time of Comisky to Selig. Owners are owners. Players are chattel. Gibson took free agency immediately and went to the land of Dodger Blue.

He was a Sparky Anderson player. Tough. Straight-laced and to the point. There he was the student. In Dodgertown he appeared to be outspoken and disciplined, something never said about the team since they flew across the nation to reside in Hollywood. He chastised the team for being unprofessional and brought about a winning attitude through the full strength of his personality. He openly criticized the team and became the de facto leader. His intensity and absolute determined attitude made the powder blue into a fighting blue. The Dodgers became tough under Gibson. Some say he brought back the Brooklyn spirit (us against them) to Los Angeles. The result? They became winners once again. They were once again the Dodgers of Robinson and Hodges, Pee Wee and Campy, Erskine and Newcombe. More than anyone, it was Gibson who brought them to this point.

Skip forward a decade or so. Now he was a bench coach in a very lonely Diamondback’s dugout for a manager nobody remembers. After a few really horrible months, crowds thinning and losses mounting, D’Back’s fired their manager and moved Mr. Gibson up to an ‘interim’ position as manager of their ball club. It was a move that saved money with management not caring what would happen the balance of the season. Gibson was an old baseball man who would step in place and marshal the troops until they could find someone who might bring them back to a pennant fight. After all, if their previous manager couldn’t do it, why would you think Gibson could do any better?

What he did in the final few games of 2010 was a miracle. These same bunch of guys who literally wallowed in defeat learned to become winners. There was only one thing that happened. Kirk Gibson became their manager. It is absolutely as plain and simple as that.

But the Diamondback management, since the days they forced out Colangelo as the owner, have been helter skelter. This GM in. That GM out. The owner interferes with everything. He criticizes the players and drops hints to his journalist pals about this and that. Announcers are fired because they don’t wear a logo T-shirt. Loyalty is non existent. Important decisions are hard to come by.

Beyond all odds, prior to the next season, mercifully, the ‘interim’ tag was thrown away and Gibson became full-time manager. It was the best decision this owner has ever made, certainly better then his purchase of the T-201 Honus Wagner (The Gretsky) baseball card.

Before the season began, Gibby asked around, including his old Dodger coach, Tommy Lasorda, what he would look for in selecting a good coaching staff. Lasorda simply said, ‘get the best’. Get the guys that every player looks up to.’

Gibson is no dummy. He quickly surrounded himself with the finest coaching staff in baseball. For batting coach, who better than Don Baylor (former NL Manager of the Year. 1979 AL MVP, hit 139 RBI in single season. 19 years in the Major Leagues.) Charles Nagy, Pitching Coach, 3x All Star (Cleveland) pitcher (129-105) in 14 years. Eric Young, First Base Coach, All-Star (Colorado), Silver Slugger (1996) in 15 years. Matt Williams, Third Base Coach, 5x All-Star, 4x Gold Glove, 4x Silver Slugger. Only player to hit home run for three different teams in three different World Series (Giants-1989, Indians-1997 & Diamondbacks-2001). Alan Trammell, Bench Coach. 3x All-Star, 3x Silver Slugger, 4x Golden Glove, MVP World Series (1984). Hit .343 in 1987. One of only three players to play 20 or more seasons for the Tigers (Ty Cobb & Al Kaline).

If you are a player for the Diamondback, who do you want to look up to and ask if you have a question? This is the best coaching staff in baseball. Result? The Arizona Diamondbacks were the surprise team of the season in 2011. Result? Gibson was NL Manager of the Year (2011) with nearly all of the same players he had inherited from the previous regime.

That was yesterday. Now is another year. Without any superstars, without the great pitching staff of the San Francisco Giants. Without the rah-rah of the Magic invested Dodgers, here come the D’Backs, within 2 in the loss column. This isn’t the Roeneke led Brewers, 16.5 out of first. This isn’t the Ozzie led Marlins, 14.5 out of first or the Manuel Phillies 16 out of first place at the beginning of August. These are the Gibson led Diamondbacks. Tough as their manager is. Strong as their manager is. Single-minded as their manager is.

Since he has worn that jersey number since he was a kid, #23 may just be the #1 manager in all of baseball. Other than he, who has done what he is doing? For many, we don’t believe what we are seeing.

Play ball.