As we watch the Super Bowl with interest on Sunday, one thing that strikes me about football vs. baseball is how the use of performance-enhancing drugs is viewed differently. The general feeling about PED use in football is far different than in baseball.
Serving a suspension or being linked to it in baseball seems like a major crime among some fans. In football? No biggie. That was borne out so vividly the past couple of weeks when there were stories debating the Hall of Fame worthiness of Patriots receiver Julian Edelman based on his postseason prowess.
Edelman served a four-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance at the start of this season. That fact is barely mentioned. It’s almost ho-hum, he’s a football player so he can serve his time and he’s good to go. The excuse given is he used PEDs to recover quicker from injuries.
Andy Pettitte supposedly took HGH to recover quicker from his injuries, but in the recent Hall of Fame voting he received 9.9 percent of the vote for a pitcher who won 256 regular-season games and 19 more in the postseason, the most in baseball history. He also won five World Series championships. Now we understand that there are those who feel Pettitte was borderline even before the HGH issue, but the PED use didn’t help.
Gary Sheffield hit 509 home runs (26th all time), knocked 1,676 runs (29th all time), had a career .907 OPS, and got 13.6 percent of the vote because he rubbed a steroid lotion on his arms.
Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, and others believed to have used PEDs are called “cheaters” in baseball but you rarely hear that term used with football players who served PED suspensions.
I covered the NFL for eight years so I get the difference from a physical point of view. Virtually every play in football is a collision. Tough sport, got that part. The players play 16 regular-season games. Baseball players play 162 games. They play virtually every day for about six months, so they have their own form of wear and tear.
There’s a sentiment that getting caught in baseball is worse because it’s more of a statistical sport; there’s more history. This is true. But in Edelman’s case, there are numbers of catches and yards. How else would you evaluate a receiver? How else would you evaluate a quarterback, a running back? Even cornerbacks need interceptions to make an impact in any Hall of Fame voting. Defensive ends need sacks. Defensive players are also measured by the number of tackles they make.
“Two thoughts come to mind,” said Hall of Fame broadcaster Bob Costas, who also has a football broadcasting background, “records and generational comparisons, which are more relevant in baseball than in any other sport and much more important in baseball than football. And most people consider football to be a gladiator sport so they figure whatever these players have to do to get into gladiator mode we find that more justifiable and easier to overlook than they did in baseball. I’m not sure I agree with that, but that’s the reason.
“If you want a Boston comparison — Manny Ramirez isn’t going to sniff the Hall of Fame. He got 23 percent and I doubt it’s going to change much. With all due respect to Edelman, who is an estimable football player, Manny Ramirez is a much better baseball player [than Edelman is a football player]. I’m not saying that Edelman’s transgressions were equal or greater to failing three drug tests and openly quitting on two teams, and [Ramirez] wasn’t an all-around player, but he’s one of the greatest righthanded hitters ever.”
Costas believes that the football numbers are important in contract negotiations and/or establishing a player’s worth but he thinks most fans don’t know specific numbers like Emmit Smith’s career rushing yardage.
“But they know 755, until it was bogusly broken [by Bonds, who wound up with 762 homers]. And also when you look at numbers in football, the game has changed so much that as great as Drew Brees is you can’t compare his numbers to Johnny Unitas. It’s a product of his greatness and the way the game is played now. Guys used to lead the league with 60 receptions (in 14-game seasons) and now guys go over 100. A completion rate of 50 percent was decent and now you regularly see 60 percent and Brees went 70 percent.”
And so, the PED hypocrisy between baseball and football rages on. Both sports have seemingly done a decent job to rid their respective sports of the issue, but football players don’t have to worry about their reputations being tainted as a result of a suspension, whereas a baseball player never lives it down.
Apropos of nothing
1. Tony La Russa wants to make it clear that he’s totally committed to the Red Sox and a story that emanated from Nashville that he’s interested in bringing an expansion team there was premature at best.
“My understanding is that expansion could be 5-7 years away,” said LaRussa. “I have a couple of good friends who are involved, one is in the country music business [Steve Hodges] and one who I know from the Bay Area [John Loar]. If I’m still around baseball and this thing gets serious down the road, I think Nashville would be an outstanding expansion candidate. I know these guys and I trust them.
“But believe me there isn’t anything I do with that. I don’t spend one minute on it. I’m totally committed to Boston and the Red Sox and we’ll see if we can get back in it and win it again. I’m not doing a thing [in Nashville] and I’m disappointed that it came out that way.”
La Russa acknowledges that he and his friends have discussed being part of an ownership someday, but that day is far from happening. Commissioner Rob Manfred has been open to the possibility of expansion and there’s always the possibility a franchise such as Tampa Bay moving if it can’t secure a new stadium. Montreal, Las Vegas, Portland, Ore., Nashville, and a few others have expressed interest.
2. One interesting story line being talked about around the game concerning Manny Machado and Bryce Harper is this: If you’re going to commit that kind of money to players — and we’re talking more than $300 million — some evaluators would be concerned about makeup. Machado isn’t the easiest player to manage, which is a big reason why the Dodgers won’t make a bid to keep him. Harper, too, has had his hiccups regarding character.
The Padres, generally considered the doormats of the NL West, are now starting to make some noise about making a major acquisition, meeting with Harper this weekend in Harper’s hometown of Las Vegas, while also showing interest in Machado.
There appears to be a wide-open lane for the Padres to step in and get something done. They had a similar approach last offseason with Eric Hosmer and landed him even though Hosmer didn’t have a very good season, producing only a .720 OPS. Sometimes free agents don’t perform well in the first season of a new, large contract in their new home ballpark, though Hosmer did hit 61 points higher at Petco Park than on the road.
Because Hosmer, like Harper, is a Scott Boras client and he’s already made a deal with the Padres, it may be that Boras and owner Ron Fowler can strike something that would please both sides. Harper wouldn’t be far from his Vegas home. The one problem with San Diego is that it doesn’t get a lot of attention and players tend to get lost there, but if the team adds someone such as Harper and/or Machado along with Hosmer, it’d get some attention.
The Padres, under general manager A.J. Preller, are certainly trying to take the next step and they should be commended for that in a league that has so many teams tanking it, which is creating so much tension between players and owners.
3. And still we ask, where are the Phillies and their deep pockets? All we’ve heard about all offseason is how the Phillies are going to land one or both big-name players, but they have not been able to pull the trigger. They signed Andrew McCutchen and David Robertson and traded with the Mariners for Jean Segura, but the bigger names have eluded them so far. We even heard the Phillies would pursue lefty Dallas Keuchel, another Boras client, and closer Craig Kimbrel. We’ll see how this all ends up, but it was Phillies owner John Middleton who said, “We’re going into this expecting to spend money. And maybe even be a little bit stupid about it.”
Updates on nine
1. Nick Wittgren, RHP, Marlins — In another “Huh?” move by the Marlins, they designated the righty reliever for assignment. Wittgren, 27, made 32 appearances and had a 2.94 ERA in 2018. They DFA’d Wittgren to make room for veteran infielder Neil Walker. This is yet another head-scratcher by the Marlins, who lead the league in them.
2. Adam Jones, OF, free agent — Jones has started to get some action from interested teams who value his leadership and the fact that he still has something left as a player. He’s only 33, but some of the analytic models might as well peg him as 54. Jones should get signed. The Phillies had interest in him at the trading deadline but Jones wouldn’t go. At the time Jones had just moved into a new house (Cal Ripken’s old mansion) with his family and didn’t feel the time was right to waive his 10-5 rights. But now the Phillies have moved on with Andrew McCutchen on a three-year deal even though Jones may still be the better player.
3. Marwin Gonzalez, utility player, free agent — This is one excellent player still on the market. The former Astro can play anywhere on the field except catcher and play it well. So why is he still out there? “As much as teams love him, do you want to pay a utility player $12 million-$15 million over a longer term?” is the way one American League executive put it. The Astros still appear interested in re-signing him, according to owner Jim Crane. Gonzalez played short, second, first, third, left field, right field, and DH last season. He hit .538 (7 for 13) against the Indians in the ALDS but only .200 against the Red Sox in the ALCS.
4. Bud Norris, RHP, free agent — Norris could be a Red Sox target for a late-inning relief role. Norris has changed agents after there was little activity on him. He had a decent year for the Cardinals and can throw in the 95-m.p.h. range. The price tag on relievers has come down considerably now where the Red Sox may be able to get into the derby for the remaining relievers left.
5. Wade Miley, LHP, Astros — As much as teams liked the idea of adding Miley to the back end of their respective rotations, nobody wanted to pay big in terms of years and money. So Miley, after a long wait (like everybody else), decided on going to a good team and signed on with the Astros for $4.5 million, with $500,000 more in incentives. The odd thing here is that the Brewers didn’t come close to the Astros’ offer for a pitcher who really helped them win last season.
6. Greg Holland, RHP, Diamondbacks — The Diamondbacks did a great job signing Holland to a one-year deal worth $3.25 million with the opportunity to earn an additional $3.5 million in incentives. Holland seemed to be a perfect candidate for the Red Sox, but again they didn’t want to commit that type of money. Holland had the tale of two seasons in 2018, bad with the Cardinals, terrific with the Nationals.
7. Sandy Alderson, senior vice president, Athletics — Great to see this classy man back in baseball after receiving good news on his battle with cancer. The former A’s, Padres, and Mets executive left the Mets to take care of himself. The A’s hired him back to form an impressive team with David Forst and Billy Beane.
8. Craig Kimbrel, RHP, free agent — While it doesn’t appear Kimbrel will get five or six years on a new deal, there are enough teams now sniffing around that he will receive multiyear offers in the 3-4-year range. The Phillies, because of their money situation, always seem like the front-runner. But a return to the Braves has always been there. The Twins have inquired and the Nationals need one more guy in the pen and have the money to do it. If the Red Sox have waited for a market to not develop so they can swoop in, they may not get their wish. The Red Sox, too, can always go higher than they want to since their window is right now and they can scale back in future years.
9. Corey Kluber, RHP, Indians — Don’t bet against the Dodgers making what could be the biggest deal of the offseason if they could land Kluber. While Kluber’s name has been out there the entire offseason as possible trade bait, the general feeling has been the longer it goes the less likely it is to occur. The Dodgers have pieces the Indians would want in return. Adding Kluber would make the Dodgers tough to beat and give them a great chance to return to the World Series a third straight year.
From the Bill Chuck files — “Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen has had two heart procedures and has a contract opt-out after this season and is in line to make $18 million in 2019 and 2020 and $20m in 2021. Jansen is 31 and Craig Kimbrel 30 and over the last three seasons Jansen has a 2.07 ERA and Kimbrel a 2.44; Jansen has a 0.805 WHIP, Kimbrel has a 0.906; Jansen has a .177 batting average against, Kimbrel .146; Jansen has allowed 17 percent of inherited runners to score, Kimbrel 23 percent; Jansen has a 92 percent save rate, Kimbrel 91 percent; Jansen has struck out 37 percent of the batters he’s faced; Kimbrel 42.3 percent; and Jansen has walked 35 in 208⅔ innings, while Kimbrel has walked 75 in 184⅓ innings.” . . . Also, “As each of these teams tries to make major moves, it should be noted that over the last five seasons, both the White Sox and the Padres have gone 356-454.” . . . Happy 67th birthday, Fred Lynn.