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To the season-ticket holders from Brian Sabean

Wonderful tongue-in-cheek write up by John Ryan at the Mercury News today regarding the letter sent by Giants general manager Brian Sabean to season-ticket holders. Saw this myself, sans the humor, and I’m thinking Sabes should’ve consulted Ryan before he wrote it. I would’ve have added only:

“Sincerely,

Brian R. Sabean

Senior Vice President and General Manager and Management Star of the Mitchell Report. 

Enjoy the laughs.

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The Rocket’s Math

If you get a few minutes, amuse yourself by checking out the 1,800-word, 44-page report released by Roger Clemens’ agent, Randy Hendricks and two associates. First thought that hit me when I saw it: Who was the poor intern that got stuck with binding that thing together? Second thing: Where were these charts when I was failing geometry?

Seriously, though, this report doesn’t change a thing. I’d argue that it only makes Clemens look more guilty. As my geometry teacher once said — and I did ultimately pass that class — mathematics can prove almost anything, but common sense is called common sense for a reason.

Translation in this case: Most innocent men don’t go to such calculating tactics to prove their innocence, because they’re comfortable with the knowledge that they aren’t guilty. And let’s remember something very important here: Clemens is not on trial. So if truly doesn’t care what people think — and that has been the company line, hasn’t it? — then why is he investing so much energy to prove his point? As he told Mike Wallace on “60 Minutes,” it’s near impossible to prove a negative.

Clemens’ attempt to do so is not doing him much good.  In this lates entry into the affair, the charts are supposed to tell us that Clemens did not have any strange spikes in his career performance and that his career was not as astounding as the numbers might indicate.  But like everything in this case, that doesn’t tell the whole story.

Here’s what I’d like to see. I’d like to see video clips of Clemens pitching early in the 1998 season with Toronto side-by-side with clips of Clemens pitching later in the 1998 season.  I want to see what kind of life were on the Rocket’s pitches when he went 5-6 with a 3.50 ERA through the first two months, and what kind of life his pitches had when he went 15-0 with an ERA under two the rest of the way. By life, I mean natural movement — the kind you get from really being able to drive through the ball, and the kind that Clemens was lacking so much two years prior that he was forced to sign with the Toronto Blue Jays of all teams.

Brian McNamee supposedly injected Clemens right about the time Clemens’ 1998 season took off, so that’s why such video footage would be so helpful. Of course, we don’t see that in this report, because that could be damaging evidence for the Clemens camp. Imagine seeing the ball pushed from Clemens’ hand early in 1998, and then imagine it exploding from his hand after the dates McNamee allegedly injected him. I’m guessing Team Roger wouldn’t have a set answer for that one.

The point is, and I’ve said this before, is that Clemens should shut his mouth, and his “team” should fade to the back. As Clemens himself seemed to say on “60 Minutes,” it’s rather impossible to prove a negative. The more his camp tries to prove it, the more they make him look guilty (which, by the way, I think he is. I often wonder if Clemens did shoot up with PED’s and has now lied about it so often that he believes his lies. But that pathological issue is a subject for a psychiatrist, not me).

In the meantime, the game will go on without him. And as he fades from the spotlight, the questions will go to his children, which if you think about it is probably the saddest part of this story. Clemens, on the other hand, told us he couldn’t wait to be out of the public sector, so he could be left alone. Thus, it sure seems sinister that he’s spending so much energy making sure his name stays in the spotlight.

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The Rocket’s Red Glare

I do not believe Roger Clemens. Not after watching him on “60 Minutes” with Mike Wallace on Sunday. Not after seeing that he has filed a defamation suit against former personal trainer Brian McNamee. Probably not ever.

Hey, I realize I’m more cyncial than most. But really, wouldn’t you be a fool to believe anything that comes out of this guy’s mouth? If he was so innocent, why didn’t he issue some kind of statement, without any lawyering, on the day the Mitchell Report was released? An interesting article on ESPN.com over the weekend by the network’s interview coach stated the obvious when it said, “the instinct of the innocent is to talk and the instinct of the guilty is to run to a lawyer.” Exactly.

Here’s another problem I have with Clemens: In the video he released proclaiming his innocence, he insisted that McNamee had not injected him with steroids or HGH, but he conveniently left out that McNamee had injected him with lidocaine and Vitamin B-12, a fact that came out only during his intervew with Wallace. Clemens has done several interviews regarding his conditioning over the years, and never once mentioned that he was being injected with anything. If there was nothing shady about that, then why not volunteer it?

Clemens’ admission about the lidocaine and Vitamin B12 also seemed a little too rehearsed for me. Watch the interview and see how he spits out the answer, the smugness in his voice. A little too smug for me.

It was also comical to hear how he doesn’t understand why 24 or 25 years in the public spotlight doesn’t buy him “an inch of respect,” or any “benefit of the doubt.” Sometimes, the absolute inability of some star athletes to grip reality is unbelievable. If Clemens wants to complain about that, then he should take it up with Donald Fehr and his fellow union members, who a) long have resisted drug testing and b) have been caught in more lies than the boy who cried wolf. 

The bottom line regarding this whole thing, as colleague Gary Peterson wrote today, is that the Clemens spin job is in speed cycle right now. Let’s see how he answers some really difficult questions that could come in a press conference today (Uh, Roger, why didn’t you lobby the union and your fellow baseball teammates to pine for the elimination of performance-enhancing drugs?) and how he performs in front of Congress, if he chooses to show up.

Speaking of Congress, let’s keep one thing in mind. It’s entirely possible that the Clemens lawsuit was filed not with complete vindication in mind but rather to give Clemens an excuse to either skip the Congressional hearings (he was invited, not subpoenaed) or be choosy with the questions he answers. It’s difficult to win a defamation suit, especially when one is a public figure, so Clemens deserves credit for going full bore with a lawsuit, because it will expose him to sworn testimony in a court of law. Well, it’s hard for me to imagine, anyway, but again, maybe I’m more cynical than most.

In the final analysis, my feelings about Clemens haven’t really changed. Yes, I think he’s a Hall of Famer, because he was one of the best pitchers of his era, and if he used, he certainly wasn’t alone. But he’s absolutely NOT a guy I’d ever have pitch a huge game for me. All you need to know about that are the games he pitched and lost against Dave Stewart in the late 1980s and early 90s. 

In the meantime, he’s not a guy to be trusted at his word.

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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 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.