Major League Baseball’s steroid policy has been successful, and now with expanded human growth hormone blood testing all season long rather than just in spring training a possibility, according to Players Association executive director Michael Weiner, the probability of players cheating seems to be shrinking.
There’s debate as to what got the game to this point.
Was it the findings, as incomplete and selective as they were in the Mitchell Report, or were MLB and the union simply heading that way anyway after so much public scrutiny that they did so little for so long?
Roger Clemens was recently acquitted of perjury charges for lying under oath to Congress as to whether he took steroids because the government had such a non-credible witness in former trainer Brian McNamee.
The Clemens trial, though he was acquitted, was a reminder of the Mitchell Report’s impact since Clemens was mentioned prominently in the report that became the official document of steroids in baseball. The Mitchell team may only have caught a small percentage of users, but it’s interesting how differently commissioner Bud Selig and Weiner view the report.
“I am as proud of the Mitchell Report now as I was then,” Selig said. “I took a lot of criticism internally as well externally, but no other sport had ever had an outsider come in and examine this issue, and I would never have conceived I would do such a thing. The Mitchell Report — we knew from the beginning we wouldn’t get everything — and who knows what everything is. It not only found things but made 19-20 suggestions that were really good and that we adopted, which cleaned clubhouses and cleaned up things.
“The only objective,” Selig added, “was to make this sport clean . . .
The tie-in between the Clemens verdict and the Mitchell Report was not lost on Weiner.
“They are clearly connected in this sense — if not for the Mitchell Report you wouldn’t have had a Roger Clemens trial. I think in the end, what you think about the Mitchell Report is independent of Roger’s case. I know the commissioner feels very ardently that the Mitchell Report was the right thing to do. I didn’t think the Mitchell Report was the right thing to do at the time,” Weiner said.
“At that point, before the Mitchell Report, we had reached a new drug agreement. We had reached common ground with the commissioner’s office. We needed to do much better with tougher penalties and enforcement. There was acknowledgment that there had been problems. What the report did was give the commissioner public authorization —
Weiner said the Clemens trial “is an unfortunate byproduct because Roger Clemens was exonerated legally, but everybody knows, including Roger himself, that there’s really no winners. He can be exonerated legally and people are still gonna think what they’re gonna think. So I think the Clemens thing is unfortunate. Whether you think the Mitchell Report was a good thing or bad thing is a separate issue.”
The same situation appears to apply to Milwaukee left fielder Ryan Braun, who was suspended during the offseason 50 games for testing positive for a PED, then appealed and won because the evidence was possibly contaminated. Once again, a player was exonerated, but the court of public opinion appears against Braun.
“I would say there are two categories that came out of the Braun case,’’ said Weiner. “One was on the specifics of the collection procedure, and we now have clarity. It turns out we had a difference of opinion with the commissioner’s office as to when samples had to be delivered to FedEx and how overnight delivery worked. We clarified all of that and there should not be an issue. Players have absolutely no interest in getting into disputes over these type of procedures. We argued how the procedures work and should work and we prevailed and we negotiated that into the agreement. The other thing we did is we made modifications in how appeals work, particularly appeals that deal with potential procedural irregularities in collection. That was a hotly contested legal issue in connection with Ryan’s case and frankly it made a lot more sense to negotiate provisions as to how a similar appeal would be handled legally, than to leave it simply to the specifics of Ryan’s case.”
The Mitchell Report was incomplete and in some ways unfair as it ruined the reputations of potential Hall of Famers such as Clemens and Barry Bonds, while others got off scot-free. It’s Weiner’s job to protect his constituency so he would never be in favor of a document that would soil his members’ reputations, which is understandable. But as a result of naming names and bringing the problem in plain view, Selig hit a home run. Maybe even a grand slam. Whether Clemens won or lost his trial seems irrelevant.
Baseball is the winner.
Apropos of something
Brought up the topic of Florida baseball with Bud Selig and he expressed a mixed bag of emotions about how successful it is. He’s very frustrated with Tampa Bay attendance, and while acknowledging that Miami attendance is significantly up with the opening of Marlins Park, with all of its bells and whistles, you wonder about the long-term sustainability of a fan base in that market.
“They’ve run a great operation,’’ Selig said of the Rays. “They’re a very competitive organization, a very competitive team. As I study the attendance every day and looking at where they are, to see they’re No. 29 [in attendance] is inexcusable. Nobody can defend that.
“I know people down there will be offended. The people there who go to the games have great intensity. It’s disappointing. I’m concerned.”
The Rays have tried to address the issue and want to put a stadium on the Tampa side, where they believe they’ll garner the bigger audience as opposed to St. Petersburg. Right now they’re stuck in Tropicana Field, which doesn’t seem to appeal to the masses. But wouldn’t the team be appealing enough no matter where it plays? That seems to be the greater issue.
The Marlins have seen the highest increase in attendance, going from an average of 17,214 to 28,330. In a new ballpark you’d think it would be higher because the first year usually triggers at least a curiosity factor. The Marlins have surely benefited from some of that, but sustainability is the issue. Selig said that the demographics of the Miami area suggest there should be no attendance issues.
Then there’s the complicated Bay Area situation between San Francisco and Oakland. The A’s want to relocate to San Jose, but that infringes on the Giants’ territorial rights. For 39 months a panel appointed by Selig has explored how to get the deal done. Meanwhile, the A’s are suffering, averaging 21,011 at the antiquated Coliseum. Selig offers no timetable on when this will get resolved. Sacramento has stepped up to express its interest, and cities such as Portland, Ore., and Charlotte, N.C., may also be alternatives.
Apropos of nothing
1. Josh Hamilton told me that in a spring training game at Legends Field in Tampa against the Yankees, the Rays’ starting outfield was Carl Crawford in left, Rocco Baldelli in center, and Hamilton in right. Hamilton was drafted by the Rays in 1999.
Hamilton on former Texas teammate Jarrod Saltalamacchia: “We knew the power was there. We didn’t know about average. He’s relaxed and settled in. Great to see him handle a staff and play his game. I thought it would happen for him. Salty was young with us. A lot of that comes with experience and age.”
2. Rangers closer Joe Nathan on the last obstacle to complete his comeback from Tommy John surgery: “Between the ears, to be honest with you. Not having to answer questions on, how do you feel? Once you get past that and concentrate on getting hitters out, that’s when you know you’re back and put things behind you.” He said having a rebuilt elbow is like “resetting the odometer. When you start to feel strong again you almost feel like a new pitcher and hitters have to learn you all over again.’’
3. Please, no new rule where a hometown player has to appear in a Home Run Derby just to avoid the Billy Butler shenanigans in Kansas City.
4. Bud Selig said teams have no appetite for expanded instant replay. Thank goodness.
5. People often ask me about how long the pitcher has to deliver the ball. It’s 12 seconds from the time the batter is ready with no runners on base. There’s no clock with runners on base.
6. No plans to push back the trading deadline even with the new playoff format coming this season.
7. The one plan that makes sense to avoid more instant replay is to have a fifth umpire sit in a booth and make the call on any controversial play.
8. Twins general manager Terry Ryan thinks because Type A and Type B free agent compensation is pretty much gone, it makes it far more likely teams will move players to get something for them.
Updates on nine
1. Rafael Betancourt, RHP, Rockies — He is having a good season, but given Colorado’s poor season, it looks as if he will become trade bait. The Red Sox have shown interest and have scouted him a few times. They would likely not want to give up prospects for the 37-year-old former Sox farmhand, but could offer an outfielder.
2. Ben Sheets, RHP, Braves —He quietly signed a deal with Atlanta July 1, made two minor league rehab starts, and now he’s starting in the majors Sunday for the first time in two years after coming back from multiple elbow surgeries. Sheets, once considered one of the best pitchers in baseball, turns 34 July 18 and will replace Randall Delgado or Mike Minor in the rotation. This would be quite a story if he succeeds, considering he hasn’t pitched a full season in four years.
3. Jon Lester, LHP, Red Sox — He has been on Pittsburgh’s radar along with Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Ryan Dempster, and Matt Garza. It doesn’t appear the Sox would deal unless they got exceptional value back, and it doesn’t appear the Pirates would part with pitching prospect Gerrit Cole, whom the Sox would want.
4. Starling Marte, RF, Pirates — The Pirates have been searching for offense all season. They passed on Kevin Youkilis and now hope Marte can make a difference coming up from Triple A. Pittsburgh will likely keep pursuing a bat.
5. Justin Upton, RF, Diamondbacks — If Arizona GM Kevin Towers deals him, he wants a package that would include a third baseman and/or shortstop and something else. Towers had no interest in a swap with Boston for Jacoby Ellsbury, who becomes a free agent after next season. Upton is under contract through 2015, earning $9.75 million next year, $14.25 million in 2014, and $14.5 million in 2015. One team he would make sense for is the Pirates, but talks have not escalated into anything substantial. The Rangers, as if they need more offense, have also expressed interest.
6. Jason Vargas, LHP, Mariners — Could he be this year’s Doug Fister? While all of the Seattle talk surrounds Felix Hernandez, who is likely going nowhere, Vargas has emerged as a hot name for contending teams. “It’s too bad his name got out there because I think there were teams out there trying to slip in and take him for less than full value,’’ said one American League GM. “But now he seems to be in demand and the Mariners aren’t going to give him away. He’s a solid middle of the rotation guy who makes a lot of sense for a lot of teams.” Baltimore, Toronto, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, Detroit, and others may have some interest. The Mariners decided not to pitch him this weekend at Safeco (they said, to give him more rest) where he has a 2.84 ERA, and start him in Kansas City. Vargas has a 5.09 ERA in 11 road starts.
7. Francisco Liriano, LHP, Twins — The market continues to expand for the comebacking lefty, who keeps building steam (3-2 with a 2.74 ERA over his last eight starts) as he rebounds from a horrible first half. The trick for Terry Ryan is trading him at the right time before he starts to go south again. The Jays, Yankees, and Braves have all scouted him.
8. Josh Willingham, RF, Twins — While it surprised some that the Twins would sign Ryan Doumit to a two-year deal when they should be in sell mode, Ryan is thinking ahead to next season. He knows Doumit can relieve Joe Mauer of some catching duties. He also believes Willingham is too good a hitter to just give away. While Ryan will listen to offers for Willingham, who makes $7 million, unless he gets overwhelmed by an offer there is one player who may be staying put.
Hagadone, LHP, Indians —
From the Bill Chuck files: