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On Leyritz and more

The holidays are generally a slow time, but darn if there isn’t some dolt to provide material. Jim Leyritz, step up and face the music.

Leyritz’s incident is no joking matter, obviously. A family has been left in mourning, and the former New York Yankees World Series hero has seen his life altered forever. It’s tragic on all ends.

That said, Leyritz’s car accident two nights ago serves to show just what the professional baseball is up against in its bid to ban the sport of all things ill. Perhaps I’m off base on the analogy, but it seems that if ballplayers are still loading up on alcohol and then driving home (as Leyritz was alleged to do), then there’s simply no way to prevent any of them from sticking the odd needle in their behind.

Think about it. The campaign to curtail drinking and driving in this country goes back to 1980. I was in junior high school when Cari Lightner was killed by a drunk driver, the result of which caused her mother, Candy to form Mothers Against Drunk Driving. The formation of MADD created a fundamental change in how we viewed drinking and driving; the evils of it were preached in the classroom as early as elementary school, and the societal view of it gradually changed.

And yet, the problem still persists. And it’s unlikely ever to be eradicated completely.

So it will be with performance-enhancing drugs at all levels. Three decades worth of education might stem the tide, but it won’t ever be stopped completely. In my experience, professional athletes have a unique sense of self-confidence; it’s likely one of the key traits that gets them to that level in the first place. It’s that trait that seems to give them a sense of invincibility. We all have it when we’re in our teens, but most of us grow out of it. I’d argue that most professional athletes do not.

Anyway, it’s this trait that leads one not to call a cab but rather to hop in a car and defy the odds, just as it leads one to ignore the health hazards and stick a needle in his behind. Which is why we’ll probably be unearthing players as performance-enhancing drug users from now until forever.

Meantime, some other quick thoughts:

Interesting comments by Rep. Christopher Shays regarding Bud Selig’s responsibility for the rise of the Steroid Era. I agree with Shays completely, but I think his comments could be extended to any number of corporate CEO’s. The almighty dollar trumps all else, and our country has suffered for it.

— So now Roger Clemens’ lawyer has hired private investigators to discredit Brian McNamee? That’s it, blame the messenger.

— Got the following e-mail from a Cubs fan labeled mjtracy1226@comcast.com, regarding the last two lines of of my column Friday. “You can go to hell for your remark about the Cubs. … I hope something terrible happens to you this year.” Two things about that: 1) Shame when you can’t laugh at yourself or your team (and if you can’t laugh at the Cubs’ futility, then you might as well cry). 2) Wishing ill upon others is, in a word, sick.

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Christmas shopping, A’s style

Spent Thursday afternoon Christmas shopping, and was filled with empathy for A’s fans all around the Bay Area. Seems that the team’s 2008 wall calendar is already out of date.

Yep, there on the cover, in his All-Star form, is former starter Dan Haren. Sure, Nick Swisher, Mark Ellis and Eric Chavez also don the cover, but the appearance of Haren is a harsh reminder of the difficulty in rooting for the team by the Bay. Soon as a player who emerges who can be a new “face” of the franchise, he’s just as likely to be shipped away as he is to help the Oakland’s to a playoff spot.

So mom and dad, if you purchased on of these calendars to put in your child’s room, my suggestion is this: Trash it in favor of an Arizona Diamondbacks’ poster. Easier on the senses to root for the individual A’s who have left than for the laundry they left behind.

Meantime, one other observation on a completely separate note. Jason Grimsley’s affadavit to federal authorities back in 2006 was unsealed Thursday, and several of the names reported to be in it by the Los Angeles Times in October 2006 were not in it. As somebody who has railed on the lack of accountability in sports and society,I have to ask: What sort of ramifications will there be for the reporters of that October 2006 story? What ramifications should there be?

Anyway, this is my last  post until the Christmas holiday has passed. Hope the holiday season treats you well.

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“A’s” is for “awful?”

The A’s are going to lose at least 90 games next season. If not 95. If not 100.

Anybody out there not drawing that conclusion following the weekend trade of their ace Dan Haren to the Arizona Diamondbacks for a package of six prospects/suspects? If so, you probably believe that everything you hear out of the mouth of a major leaguer in regards to the performance-enhancing drugs in the sport is the gospel.

But how many games the A’s lose next season is not really the point. The real issue, rather, is a) whether the A’s are able to get a new park in Fremont built, b) when such a park will be ready to house the A’s and c) what kind of team the A’s will have when they move in.

At this point, the target date is 2012, and everything the A’s continue to tell us indicates a deal will get done. Personally, I’m optimistic about it, because there are no decent alternatives for the A’s to move, and because owner Lew Wolff has made a fortune out of creating development projects against very difficult odds.

So assuming the A’s will be playing in Cisco Field in 2012, the issue then becomes whether Billy Beane is expert enough to construct a team that’s a duplicate of the early 1990s Cleveland Indians. The Indians, as you’ll recall, were a miserable franchise for about 30 seasons, but especially so once they got word that they’d be moving into Jacobs Field. But by loading up on a boatload of prospects, drafting high (and being able to sign those picks), they put together a powerhouse that made those first few seasons in the Jake as memorable as any baseball team has ever enjoyed.

This is what Beane must do, and it appears his approach will be similar. The more minor leaguers he’s able to collect, the better the chances that one of two of them will turn into studs. And the more the A’s lose in 2008 and ’09, the better the odds of getting a stud or three high in the draft. That’s how Beane built the A’s in the late 1990s — Tim Hudson, Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Eric Chavez were all high picks — and it appears that’s how he’s trying to do it again.

Whether he can is another issue, entirely. It’s one thing to build a team once. It’s quite another to tear it down and rebuild it again. Can’t off the top of my head think of a single general manager that’s done it twice with the same franchise, especially one that’s had the same financial constraints as the A’s.

Thus, the A’s may be awful, but they won’t be boring.

One thing to debate: If the A’s trade Joe Blanton (and who among us doesn’t believe they will?), who becomes the Opening Day starter? Lenny DiNardo?

Here’s a look at the scouting report on one of the six prospects the A’s got in the Haren deal. One thing to remember: Coach’s kids tend to grade out high. 

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Baseball goes on

Received quite a bit of e-mail over the weekend regarding my column that suggests it’s time at least to discuss whether performance-enhancing drugs should be legalized. I was somewhat surprised that several of those e-mails either agreed with what I said or stated that I had opened their mind to the issue.

I don’t say that to brag. I do say it, because I think it speaks a lot to what fans think about this ongoing issue (they’re sick of it) and to the general hopelessness many of us have that a leader in any profession (be it President Bush, a CEO of a major company, a pro sports commissioner) will stand up and do the right thing.

The right thing, in this case, would be to ban for life all athletes who test positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Never gonna happen, of course, because of the lawsuits that would follow, and because _ assuming the testers ever moved ahead of the cheaters, and we got a full, accurate sample of the number of users _ no players would be left.

At any rate, it’s interesting to hear both sides of the debate. Honestly, I’d love to see a pro sports world that’s clean as a baby’s bottom after a bath. But in my opinion, it’s simply not a realistic goal.

What do you, the reader, think?

Anyway, promised some early winners and losers for you last week, so here they are:

THREE WINNERS

1) Stan Conte: The former Giants trainer was trying to the do the right thing by reporting his concerns about Greg Anderson being in the clubhouse and by reporting that some player on the Giants approached Conte about using steroids. Nice to see that some folks in baseball still have the courage to speak out, even if nobody is listening.

2) Jose Canseco: Unbelievably, he continues to be one of the most credible voices in the steroids scandal. Just about everything he wrote in “Juiced” has been borne out to be true.

3) The Boston Red Sox: Not one current player was linked. But there was no conflict of interest regarding George Mitchell.

LOSERS

1) Roger Clemens: The Rocket fuel was artificially enhanced, no matter what he may scream from now until the end of time. Incidentally, from the time Brian McNamee reportedly made his first injection into Clemens’ behind, Clemens has won 136 games. Take half of them away, and Clemens would still be 14 wins shy of 300, and one behind non-Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven on the career list.

2) Brian Sabean: We all knew Barry Bonds ran the Giants’ franchise, but the Mitchell Report showed us to what extent. And the extent to which Sabean went to avoid dealing with Conte’s concerns about steroids provides a ”how-to” on why baseball’s cultural ill was allowed to go unchecked. One more thing: None of this figures to cost Sabean his job.

3) Bud Selig and Donald Fehr: Again, another embodiment of why accountability has become a foreign concept in our country. Selig took no responsibility for the rise of the Steroid Era, even though the Mitchell Report takes him (lightly) to task. And he didn’t even offer up an, “I’m sorry.” Fehr did acknowledge that testing should’ve arrived sooner, but his inference that that the owners hurt their relationship with the players, because they didn’t deliver the report in a timely manner was weak.

And incidentally, on the same subject, am I the only one who doesn’t believe Alex Rodriguez? 

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Historic Day

 Mark it down. Dec. 13, 2007, will go down as a landmark day in the history of baseball, right up there with July 4th, 1939, Oct. 3, 1951, and April 8, 1974. It’s the day a roadmap to baseball’s Steroid Era was provided, and that’s important, because without studying the past, it’s impossible to change the future. 

That said, don’t view the release of the Mitchell Report as some sort of panacea. It’s not. This is just step one in what will have to be a journey of at least 1,000 steps to make baseball clean again. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, the culture of juicing is as much a professional sports thing as it is a baseball thing, and changing the way a culture thinks could take a generation.

It is doable though. Whether it will or not, who knows? Can’t say I’m real confident. My guess is that Donald Fehr and the Players’ Association will come out guns-a-blazing as soon as they study the report fully. Roger Clemens’ denial will be the first of many. Other players not named will remain suspects.

You see, it’s hard to break the cycle. It will take acts of courage in certain areas, and face it, the baseball fraternity is not a courageous lot. Case in point: The Rocket

Look, I can understand Clemens’ anger, and indeed, there are some questions regarding his inclusion that must be answered. But what we’ve learned already is that where there’s been smoke regarding steroids, there’s usually fire. So if Clemens indeed used, he’d be doing his sport a favor by admitting it.

Unfortunately, his mind-set is like so many others. Deny, deny, deny, to the grave if necessary. Perhaps its fear, or maybe it’s because athletes have become so arrogant that they don’t think there’s any chance any hard-core proof will ever stick (and to clarify, the case against Clemens in the Mitchell Report is hardly iron-clad). Oh, and if I ever have to hear ”I never tested positive,” again, I’ll vomit, and so should you. It’s insulting to the intelligence.

Anyway, time to sleep on it and let some of it sink in. Tomorrow, I’ll give you some of my winners and losers from the day. 

In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts out there in cyber-land. You guys pay the salaries. You’re the ones whom these athletes think they can fool. Fill up the comment box, and let me know where you stand.  

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Next up, Donald Fehr

OK, the ball is now in the court of the Major League Baseball Players Association and its head, Donald Fehr. Commissioner Bud Selig told the media that on the points where he has unilateral authority, he will adopt the Mitchell Report’s recommendations for eliminating the steroid culture from baseball. And on a subsequent interview on ESPN, deputy commissioner, Bob DuPuy said he’s hoping to hear that Fehr and the MLBPA react the same way.

Not sure I’d bet my house that he will. As ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian said, the union likes to fight more than anything else, and its darn good at it.

Meantime, Roger Clemens’ attorney have put out an emphatic denial. Won’t matter what they say. His reputation is permanently damaged, and at this point, no player deserves the benefit of the doubt. Sorry if they don’t like that, but they can point the finger at all the other players and at the MLBPA, who for years resisted any kind of testing. They also can blame themselves for not testifying. Denials in the report wouldn’t have been a bad thing for them.

(Not to mention this: If these guys had nothing to hide, then why not speak?) 

Meantime, waiting to hear if the A’s and Giants will comment. The Giants look horrible in the report, by the way, particularly general manager Brian Sabean. The A’s don’t look a lot better. More on that in a bit.

 Anyway, hearing lots of talk about how many of the names dropped in this report are as a result of heresay, and after skimming it from beginning to end, I have to agree. So clearly, this is not an iron-clad document, though nobody should have expected it to be. As I wrote in today’s column, it’s just as likely to be remembered as baseball’s version of the Warren Report, because it no doubt would have a ton of holes.

More later, but in the meantime, here’s the list of players.

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Bud Selig’s knowledge

Just came across something very interesting during my skimming of the Mitchell Report, so you can scratch what I said earlier about commissioner Bud Selig being absolved of all blame.

Selig consistently has said that he was unaware of the problem in baseball until 1998, when the AP reported that Mark McGwire was using androstenedione (which was legal at the time). But there are several annotations in this report, some of them pointing to stories as early as 1989. So Selig’s stance that he couldn’t have known is bunk, and Mitchell seems to call him on it.

Can’t wait to hear Selig’s response. 

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The Mitchell Press Conference

Gotta say, it was hard not to be impressed by George Mitchell during his “detailed statement” that unveiled his report on drug use in baseball. Not just because he refused to name-drop (the report does that), but because it seems his focus is on what baseball can do going forward to eliminate steroid and HGH use from the game, and not focusing so much on what happened in the past.

Obviously, the new names in the report will get the biggest play in the media, but in all reality, that should be a sidebar. For the umpteenth time, no player who dons a uniform should be above some sort of suspicion, even if it’s minute. And it’s not a baseball thing. It’s a professional sports thing.

What was so impressive about Mitchell was that his focus was on the future. It gives baseball a chance to emerge from this storm and have some sunny, suspicion-free days ahead. Not anytime immediately, because it could take a generation to change a cultural ill. That said, perhaps baseball, and this report, will someday be remembered as the first step in making sports clean again.

Major obstacles stand in the way, obviously, not the least of which is how the Players Association reacts. Mitchell urged all of baseball to come together “in a well-planned, well-executed, and sustained effort to bring the era of steroids and human growth hormone to an end and to prevent its recurrence …” and offered some recommendations. Of course, the MLBPA rarely comes together with anybody — if they had, this embarrassment may have been avoided — and my guess is that MLBPA head Donald Fehr’s press conference will set the tone for adversarial banter. That only two players — Jason Giambi and Frank Thomas — were said to have cooperated voluntarily doesn’t bode well, either. Face it, the players are like a class full of students who have been caught cheating and think they can get away with it, no matter what it might mean to future students.

One part of the report that leaves something to be desired, however: It seems, at least through a real quick skimming, that the commissioner’s office didn’t receive a whole lot of blame, but that the rest of baseball did. Then again, the blame game only serves to keep the game stuck in its current mud. To find firm footing again, the focus has to stay on the future. Hopefully, all sides are humbled enough that they realize the same thing.

More later.

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M-Day

The names in the Mitchell Report are starting to leak, and I’ll repeat what I’ve been saying for two years: If any name surprises you anymore, then you simply have been playing ostrich.

Anyway, the two names in the news this morning: Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte.

Now, I know that we live in an “instant analysis” society, but I would like to see the unveiling of the report, and hear some of the questions that George Mitchell and commissioner Bud Selig answer, and hear reactions throughout the league before I form an educated opinion.

That said, I can tell you this: Clemens’ name has been whispered in off-the-record, steroid-related discussions for years, and if, indeed, he cheated his way to his phenomenal numbers, then his achievements deserve the same asterisk that Barry Bonds’ supposedly do. In fact, I would argue that Clemens might deserve the Mark McGwire treatment, because who knows how many years, victories and strikeouts were added to Clemens’ career because of performance enhancers.

As for Pettitte, his name was not heard nearly as much in private circles, at least by me, but again, nothing should be a surprise. And since Clemens and Pettitte train together, it would only make sense that their names are linked together.

One other thing as we sit here less than an hour from the release of more names. If Mitchell’s report tells us nothing more than the fact that there was a serious drug culture “from top to bottom” in baseball, then the approximately $20 million spent ($1 million per month) on the Mitchell Report was money wasted. After all, we’ve all known — at least those of us not playing ostrich — that such a culture has existed for years. Players acknowledged it in private conversations. So did executives, scouts, managers, you name it.

However, if this serves as an epiphany for the industry that such a culture should not be tolerated, then every cent was worth it. Baseball has been operating in denial for years, not that a problem didn’t exist, but that nothing really needed to be done about it.

Then again, never underestimate an industry’s (or individual’s) ability to fool itself. Thus, the reason that the most important part of the Mitchell Report is not the release of it, but the reaction to it.

More later. 

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The Hot Stove Heats UP

Two big moves in baseball today:1) Aaron Rowand has signed a five-year, $60 million contract with the Giants to patrol center field. Love this signing. Rowand is the anti-Barry Bonds, and is just what that clubhouse needs. He’ll run through a wall at a moment’s notice, and that’s the kind of fire that’s been lacking there for a long time. It’s easy to hitch your wagon to the home run king, but when that home run kings seems bored and selfish much of the time, that spills over. Good move to change the culture of the team.2) Miguel Tejada goes from the Baltimore Orioles to the Houston Astros in a trade for five players: Not sure what the Astros are thinking. They need pitching, and they traded away some in this deal. The Astros then cleared out the shortstop position for Tejada by non-tendering Adam Everett Wednesday evening. Tejada should put up huge numbers in Houston, and he’s in a better organization, but he may have to put up with another year of losing.Your thoughts?