The Mitchell Report

OK, now we know. Baseball is delivering its early Christmas present tomorrow, with the announcement of George Mitchell’s 20-month investigation into drug use in baseball.

Now, while this report promises to be titillating, I can’t help but question what good it will do for baseball in the long run. If there’s a single name mentioned that surprises anybody, then you simply haven’t been paying attention all these years. And if it slows down the attempt by players to gain an edge through any means possible, I’d be shocked. The only thing that will really affect change will be cooperation between the owners and the Players Association to bring in more comprehensive drug testing, and to start imparting a message that performance-enhancers won’t be tolerated. Personally, I think that a clause in every players’ contract that is similar to the one for gambling _ namely, that participation brings a ban for life _ would be a wonderful step, but I’m sooner expecting to see Dorothy fall out of the sky.

As for the investigation itself, it’s likely to have a lot of holes. Howard Bryant, who once upon a time covered the A’s for the San Jose Mercury News, wrote an excellent comprehensive piece for ESPN.com on the details of the investigation, and let’s just say there is much that’s left to be desired. The gist I get from it is that baseball is looking for a scapegoat, and if that’s the case, then they missed the boat as badly as the Warren Commission.

Meantime, the real issue is whether this will have any impact on fans going out to the ballpark. Baseball generated a record $6 billion in revenue last season, even as new players were linked to controversies, and Barry Bonds’ pursuit of the home run record brought with it endless discussion about the impact of steroids. So it sure doesn’t seem like fans give a mularkey about the fact that players are using this stuff.

Until they do, baseball really has no reason to police itself. This report was intended to appease Congress, and only time will tell if it does. It is, no matter how baseball spins it, not an attempt to rid the drug culture from the game. I’m afraid that might be with us to stay. 


Clarification needed

Wanted to clear the air on something, because it’s come to my attention that I was off base on something regarding my blog on Monday. Seems that I misinterpreted a column by Ray Ratto in the Chronicle over the weekend regarding the Barry Bonds to the A’s hysteria. I wrote that Ratto gave the impression that he didn’t believe his own reporter’s story (in fairness to him, I’ve since amended the blog), and for that, I was wrong. That was my knee-jerk reaction to what I read, and judging from other comments I’ve heard and read regarding that column, I wasn’t alone.

Nevertheless, I should not have doubted that Ray stands by the reporting of Susan Slusser. What it seems he objected to is whether the A’s are actually going to sign Bonds. By leaving a different impression, I cast a poor light on him. Can’t say much more than that other than to offer my apology .  

As for why such a story _ which essentially was based entirely on speculation and hid behind an anonymous quote _ received such huge play, that’s not a hard one. Sensational stories like that sell, no matter how flimsy they may seem to somebody schooled in journalistic integrity.

 It is interesting to note that the Bonds-to-A’s story is nowhere to be found on the A’s link on sfgate.com. Plenty of reader comments though.


Barry bad idea?

Heard an interesting theory over the weekend regarding the “Barry Bonds to the A’s,” story that caused so much ruckus on Friday. A fellow member of the industry forwarded the thought that the story sounded like a planted leak from some higher-up in the A’s organization as a way to gauge public reaction to the possibility of Barry Bonds joining the team.

I could see that, although I doubt it happened. Signing Bonds has so many ramifications, not the least of which is how many tickets it may sell or how many season-ticket holders it may turn off. The one flaw, of course, is that A’s general manager Billy Beane has always cared less about public reaction or the aspect of ticket sales.

Anyway, if the A’s are concerned about fan reaction, they should take note that a poll on our Web site all weekend indicates most folks are not for it. It’s 11 a.m. on Monday, and as of now, the leading vote getter (at 42 percent) is the one that says, the A’s should not sign Bonds, and if they do, “you can forget about seeing me at McAfee Coliseum.” It is worth noting that 25 percent of the voters think the A’s should sign Bonds. There were 371 votes tabulated.

One other interesting aspect to the story: Ray Ratto’s column this morning in which he essentially writes that Bonds is not the story yet, and that, “he is less likely to be an Athletic than more.” Some scathing comments follow that story, as well.  

Draw your own conclusions.


Bonds to the A’s?

The full story on this should be posted on our site later tonight, but don’t start buying season tickets based on the idea that Barry Bonds will be with the A’s just yet.

I’ve spent the afternoon making several calls, and I’ve found out enough from people I trust that a) yes, the A’s do have interest in Bonds, but that b) they’re not in a blanket sprint to sign him. Several factors would have to be worked out first (i.e., the money, the potential roster shake-ups that might have to occur to accomodate his salary), not the least of which is deciding whether they’re going to keep Dan Haren or Joe Blanton. From what I’m hearing, they remain very intent on hearing offers for both, and if the right one comes, they’ll jump.

The point is, the likelihood of Bonds sizing up an A’s jersey is far from a slam dunk. Heck, it might not even be a lay-up. It does make for good speculation, however, and thanks to the Internet and the participation of folks like you, that’s all the counts in today’s journalism.

Gotta say, though. I imagine Red Smith, Shirley Povich and all the greats would be rolling their eyes in disgust. 


La Russa’s Rant

One of the staples of the Winter Meetings is a half-hour, informal gathering with 29 of baseball’s 30 managers (Dodgers manager Joe Torre never attends). It’s usually bland and lacking in anything controversial, but that wasn’t the case in Tony La Russa’s session today.

La Russa lambasted third baseman Scott Rolen, with whom he’s feuded for more than a year. Rolen remains on the trading block, and he’ll have to stay there; can’t imagine he can return after these comments.

Some excerpts:

Q: If the situation is serious enough that would like you to explore it, what can you or do you do to remedy that?

La Russa: Well, you know, I’ve had a long career, and I can’t remember ever being the combination of mystified and concerned that I am about this situation. Because speaking for any level of the organization, he has received first-class consideration, respect, gratuities. … I think he needs to understand that our Cardinals have given him a lot since he’s gotten there. He’s been given a contract; he’s been given a couple of World Series, he’s been given a  World Series championship, been a part of it, and he’s given back some. But he needs to give back more. And so, we need him.

Q: Based on what you’re saying, why would the club just not say, you’re under contract, we have an obligation to you, you have an obligation to us; this is the way it’s going to be. … Why accomodate him?

La Russa: You said it perfectly. Speaking for me, and I think that I haven’t heard anybody say this differently, there’s absolutely no intention to accomodate Scott. I mean, that’s not how you run an organization. The idea is to accommodate the St. Louis Cardinals, our team. Our responsibility [is] to our players and to the competition. So no, I don’t want to accomodate Scott.

Q: Do you think barring a trade, your next conversation with him is spring training?

A: You know, I’ve tried to converse. … I told somebody the other day, I can make a list of 50 respect points that this man has been given by our organization. It’s time for him to give back. … He’s got a contract to play, and we need him to play. And he’s going to be treated very honestly. If he plays hard, and plays as well as he can, he plays. And if he doesn’t, he can sit. If he doesn’t like it, he can quit.


So much for the trades

Day Three of the Winter Meetings is headed into the evening, and that’s generally when you start hearing about potential action. But as of now, this has become the most-hyped, least-substance event since the Super Bowl. No trades Wednesday (though the Miguel Cabrera-Dontrelle Willis trade to Detroit was officially announced). Here are some notes from the lobby:

— One A’s official said he’d be “shocked” if the team moves Dan Haren or Joe Blanton before the meetings are over or anytime soon thereafter. When presented with that information, an A’s executive said that’s a “safe” assumption. The Arizona Diamondbacks supposedly had assumed the lead in the sweepstakes for the two pitchers, but apparently there’s nothing imminent.

— One A’s source said the team had no meetings scheduled with any teams planned on Wednesday night. This, of course, could always change. The A’s were scheduled to meet with an agent, believed to be Alan Hendricks, who represents Huston Street.

— Don’t anticipate a Johan Santana trade getting done, even in principle. The Red Sox, according to several sources, has backed down on their interest. One intriguing team linked to Santana is the Seattle Mariners, and they’re reportedly willing to give up center fielder Adam Jones for him. Jones, according to the buzz, is supposed to be another Torii Hunter.

— Toronto Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi headed out of Nashville on Wednesday, lessening the chance that a Alex Rios-for-Tim Lincecum deal will be made. The Giants brass haven’t met with the media today, so clearly, they’re busy.


The Big Trade

Thoughts from the Winter Meetings on a bleary-eyed morning here at the Opryland Amusement Park, er Hotel in Nashville, Tenn.

— The acquisition of Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis by the Detroit Tigers in the biggest move of the meetings does two things. 1) It puts the Tigers in a class with the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels as the big dogs of the American League, and 2) It increases the necessity for the Minnesota Twins, their fellow rival in the AL Central, to deal Johan Santana. Even with Santana, it’s impossible to picture the Twins hanging with both Detroit and Cleveland; thus, better to get what you can for your best asset. It could portend a trade of Minnesota closer Joe Nathan, too.

— Speaking of Santana, the guess here is that he’ll go to the Red Sox, and that wouldn’t be a terrible thing. Can’t you picture the Tigers potential lineup against a potential Red Sox rotation of Santana, Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Curt Schilling in an October showdown.

— Would love to be a fly on the wall to hear the internal discussions the Giants are holding regarding the possibility of trading Tim Lincecum or Matt Cain to Toronto for outfielder Alex Rios. Personally, I wouldn’t move Cain unless I could have the entire Tigers lineup.  Lincecum might be less painful to move, but not much. Keep in mind that Rios would be entering his second year of arbitration this winter, so he’s not nearly the financial bargain that Lincecum is.

— Continue to get the feeling that the A’s are more likely to deal Joe Blanton than they are Dan Haren, and that such a move likely won’t come until the meetings are over. One report says the Diamondbacks are offering a “Herschel Walker-type” deal for Haren, but I’ve heard just the opposite, namely that they don’t have nearly enough. That’s the nature of these meetings: Deciphering what’s true and what isn’t is like reading Beowulf.

— Speaking of the A’s, general manager Billy Beane summed up the nature of the meetings perfectly: “You don’t get any sleep, you don’t eat well, you don’t get any exercise. Everything grinds to a halt and not much actually happens.”


Bill King is a Hall of Fame Finalist

Good news for all those A’s fans that have been stuffing those on-line ballot boxes on various sites. Your work has gotten legendary announcer Bill King onto the final ballot for the 2008 Ford C. Frick Award.

King was the second-leading vote-getter (7,659) and earned a spot on the final ballot for the first time. The late, great broadcaster was the play-by-play voice of the A’s for 25 seasons. He passed away in 2005.

He still faces a steep climb to get into the Hall, however. Cincinnati Reds announcer Joe Nuxhall, who passed away last month, led the fan voting with 82,304. Nuxhall, King and fellow fan-ballot winner Joe Morgan will join Tom Cheek, Ken Coleman, Dizzy Dean, Tony Kubek, Graham McNamee, Dave Niehaus and Dave van Horne on the final ballot.

Still, it’s a start for King, who probably would be shouting “Holy Toledo,” in anger that anybody is making this big a deal about his candidacy. That’s the kind of guy he was.


How bad were the Giants?

A few stats to contemplate while waiting for some deals to go down on the second day of the Winter Meetings, courtesy Media News’ Andrew Baggarly.

— The Giants’ .387 slugging percentage was dead last in the major leagues in 2007. Imagine if Barry Bonds hadn’t been in the lineup.

— Speaking of Bonds, he led the Giants with 28 home runs last season. The Giants got a whopping 26 home runs from the rest of their outfield. Ouch.

— The Giants were a whopping 26-44 against their National League West foes last season. No other team in the majors had a worse record against teams in its own division. Shows just large a gap general manager Brian Sabean must close to move up even a couple of rungs.


Whither Miguel Tejada

One of the rumors making the rounds here at the Winter Meetings is that the Giants will be major players for Baltimore Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada.

Tejada has been worn out from four years of losing in Baltimore, and some questions have arisen about his attitude. Anybody who saw him play in Oakland will tell you that he could be an inspiration inside and outside the clubhouse once he’s revitalized, and a move to the Giants would do it.

His numbers also slid last year, but again, that’s nothing that a change of scenery couldn’t cure. Losing wears on players after awhile and until proven wrong, it’s worth assuming that four years on a pathetic franchise has done that to Miggy.

Now, logical thinking would indicate Giants GM Brian Sabean would not have to give up either Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum to get Tejada, who could provide a big bat for a lineup that currently has nobody that even accelerates the heart rate. Baltimore reportedly is shopping ace Erik Bedard, so the Giants might be able to consumate a deal using only Noah Lowry, Jonathan Sanchez, Brad Hennessey or any combo of the three as bait.  

Of course, the O’s have proven to be anything but logical over the past decade, but maybe that’ll change with new general manager Andy McPhail. McPhail built winners in Minnesota and Chicago, and now is trying to do the same in Baltimore. The biggest obstacle could be O’s owner Peter Angelos’ love for Tejada, and Angelos is probably the worst owner this side of Al Davis when it comes to negatively influencing what his team does.

And what about Omar Vizquel, you ask? Well, the O’s are selling Tejada as a third baseman, even though Tejada apparently still sees himself as a shorstop. Hard to imagine he’d complain about playing besides Omar Vizquel, though, especially since a trade to the Giants would bring him back to the Bay Area.

Worth keeping an eye on.