Thursday, December 13, 2007

Mitchell Report Fails To Reveal "New" Information

All 409 pages of the Mitchell Report are available to be viewed, and you need to skim through all of them to find the names we were all clamoring to see. There is no "list", as many hoped, but paragraphs dedicated to each player accused of wrongdoing. Among the major offenders, all the BALCO characters (Bonds, Sheffield, Giambi) appear, as well as Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. The report failed to include juicy names floating around this morning such as Albert Pujols and Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez. Aside from Manny Alexander and Brendan Donnelly, there is a startling lack of Red Sox. I'm intrigued to hear Senator Mitchell's reponse to the numerous questions directed at him for such omissions. There are several things to take in to account while reviewing the document, if you have the time. First and foremost, the findings are predicated largely on the testimony of former trainers who supplied the drugs to the athletes. Several of the players have paper trails, including checks to said trainers for large sums of money to purchase performance enhancing drugs, that pretty much seals their fate. However, there is a lack of support for several players included.

One player that I quickly followed up on was Yankees pitcher Andy Pettitte. I'll be forthright in saying that my biases are difficult to hide concerning Pettitte, but take in to account the following. The alleged injections of human growth hormone administered by his personal trainer Brian McNamee occurred during the summer of 2002. MLB did not ban this substance until 2003. Therefore, he did nothing against the rules. Which brings us to the underlying issue in this "retroactive policing"; if there were no rules prohibiting the use of certain substances at the time, how can we punish players now for taking them? There's reason to believe that the drugs positively affected their performance and may leave some of their accomplishments tainted, but do we even know that for sure? It's an ethical dilemma that anyone can relate to. If there was a way for you to advance in your job that was morally questionable, yet technically by the books, would you do it? Almost everyone would say yes. Doesn't that make critics more than a little bit hypocritical?

Finally, now the question becomes, who to blame? Some will blame the players, some will blame the trainers, some will blame the coaches and executives. The report finds that everyone's to blame; one point I whole-heartedly agree on. However, I place most of the blame with greedy MLB executives. We've all KNOWN this is going on for years. The sport nearly died in 1994, and guess what saved it? The power surge of chemically enhanced Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire in 1998. If not for Victor Conte and BALCO, the startling details of the operation in "The Game of Shadows", or the increasingly accurate auto-biography "Juiced" by Jose Canseco, the MLB execs across the street on Park Ave would have never addressed this issue. Their league became flushed with cash. Revenues are soaring, attendance is through the roof, and baseball is second fiddle only to the NFL. They thrived on turning a blind eye to their problems and were hoping to ride the wave for as long as possible.

With that being said, it's not fair to put all the blame on MLB. Clearly the players who not only risked their own health, but set a poor example for America's youth, should not have gone down this path. But can you really expect some of the most competitive people in the world not to look for avenues to be more successful? Instead, I find the players union as culpable as the big wigs in Manhattan. For years they met drug testing policy with such resistance that it became impossible for any decent legislation to pass. It wasn't until 2003, when it became clear the sport needed to do something to save face, that they reached an agreement on a more stringent drug testing policy. Even then, players and trainers continued to find loopholes. Many turned to hGh, a drug undetectable by the league's testing procedures.

Sadly, there's one irrefuitble truth. No matter what laws get passed, or how sports attempt to clean themselves up, there will always be a market for athletes looking to gain a competitive advantage. That's why we think of them as super heroes. It's in their DNA. It's what makes them great. But it's also what makes them human.

The Black Cloud Over Manhattan; Mitchell Report to be Revealed Today

Three hours from now, the sports world will turn its attention to midtown Manhattan where up to 80 players will be denounced for steroid use by former Congressman George Mitchell. At this point, it is tough to determine whether the list is comprised of players with failed drug tests or merely find themselves there by matter of heresay. Early reports suggest that the Yankees will suffer the greatest indignity with "several prominent players" being mentioned. Articles have already surfaced that cite a former Yankee trainer who has confirmed that Roger Clemens will appear in the report due to testimony given by the ex-employee. Herein lies one of the greatest flaws of this investigation, Clemens name will be run through the muck presumably without a failed drug test. I'm not suggesting he did not use performance enhancing substances (in fact, his body transformation would certainly provide evidence in support of these claims), but in the absence of a positive test result, the findings will have a lot of grey area. However, before getting to the more specific problems with this 20 month investigation, let's evaluate the man chosen to spearhead these efforts.

Senator Mitchell has been lauded for his superb congressional records and his knowledge of baseball certainly made him a prime candidate. But Mr. Selig, how do you possibly select a man with direct ties to an individual organization? Not only does he hold a cushy position with the Boston Red Sox, many reports suggest he is a passionate fan with strong allegiances to the ball club. I fancy myself as a man of integrity, but you better believe if I was running this thing that Derek Jeter's name would not appear on that list even if I had 10 failed drug tests in my pocket. For his sake, and the sake of the integrity of this report, there better be a fair representation of Red Sox on the list. Preliminary lists floating around the internet have pegged Jason Varitek, the Red Sox captain, as well as former Sox stars Nomar Garciaparra and Trot Nixon. It is important to emphasize PRELIMINARY, and may not be accurate. If these hold to be true, it will give more credence to the report. However, Mitchell's ties to the Red Sox will be a tough obstacle to overcome. He's already come under fire for the announcement of Paul Byrd's abuse of hGh just prior to pitching a pivotal playoff game against the Sox. But since Selig decided to take the investigation out of "baseballs" hands and turn it over to "government", it is important to note how undemocratic this process appears to be.

First of all, where's the due process? Has every player whose been listed been notified and had a chance to plea their case before their names get sullied? What recourse will the players have to defend themselves? In the absence of a positive test, can MLB justify any suspensions or docking of pay? If this report is predicated on testimony from ex-trainers and clubhouse attendants, what if they just don't like someone in the clubhouse? Are these men of great character? Is a drug peddler like Kirk Radomski to be trusted? The findings of this report must be questioned and deemed credible beyond reasonable doubt.

The efforts of baseball to retroactively police themselves is shallow at best. It's still tough to rationalize this tremendous undertaking by Mitchell and his staff, especially given the lack of cooperation from players. Only one active player has testified before the committee, and it is widely believed he only spoke of his own drug habits. Despite one's personal feelings on steroid use, I personally despise it, it is unconscionable to hold people accountable for taking substances that weren't illegal in the sport until 2003. The executives at MLB just needed to give a "mea culpa", take all the heat for turning a blind eye to their sports perversions, and move on. Major League Baseball is flush with cash, generating over $6 billion in revenue. For them to try and become beacons of moral integrity to save face at this point is hypocritical at best, more appropriately depolorable. Let's just hope that no player is falsely accused because I sense a lot of counter-suits are in the making. Baseball should have just taken the money and run. By attempting to "take this issue head on", they will run in to a lot more problems than they can possibly solve. Bud Selig was hoping December 13, 2007 would read on baseball's epitaph as "The day the black cloud was lifted". It seems that the storm is just beginning.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Idiot" Democratizing the Fate of 756

Outside of San Francisco, it's hard to find anyone who believes Barry Lamar Bonds' recent 756th home run is the new standard for baseball's most treasured record. A fashion industry kingpin, Marc Ecko, is determined to find out what America truly thinks of Bonds and his place in history. Ecko recently purchased the ball for over $750 K and has created a website that allows people to vote on its fate. While many fans applaud the move, Mr. Ecko has been called out by one harsh critic. It is being reported in a news story on that the new home run king has labeled the ball's new owner as "stupid, an idiot." Unfortunately (or, as an anti-Bonds crusader, fortunately) he couldn't be farther from the truth. What is being done is a stroke of marketing brilliance by the clothing line entrepeneur. At the very least, he and his brand are getting recognition for being tied with sports' most polarizing record. At best, he is being championed a hero of the people who hope to see the record viewed for what it is: a chemically produced farce. Not to mention Mr. Bonds himself has completely fallen in to the marketing trap. By opening his mouth, he has simply stoked the flames on this hot story and provided even more coverage to Ecko's efforts. No publicity is bad publicity, so he just made the plan look a whole lot smarter. And Ecko's bottom line a whole lot wealthier.

Regardless of the outcome, people are genuinely interested in the balls' fate. Whether they believe it should be handed over to the Hall of Fame, branded with an asterisk, or shot in to space (as the three options allow), people want to feel that they had some voice in how this conflict should be resolved. Personally, I'm rooting for it to be branded, and not just because I think of Mr. Bonds as a despicable figure. My reasons are far more sadistic. Could you imagine the predicament MLB and the Hall of Fame would be in? If the ball is publicly branded, how could they attempt to display a pristine one? How about Mr. Bonds' reaction to the Hall displaying the original in its altered state? Quite honestly, it would serve them right. If not for baseball's blatant encouragement of performance enhancing drugs, the game's integrity may still be intact. The sad truth is that most people believe all baseball stars are dopers, and it doesn't help that Bonds has a callous, abrasive personality to supplement his "alleged" use. So vote early, vote often, and hopefully the true results will be carried out in the upcoming weeks.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

WANTED: Capable Outside Linebacker

No team ever likes to lose a player, but the Giants may have gained an opportunity when reserve DE Adrian Awasom suffered a potentially season ending injury on Sunday. If he is put on Injured Reserve (which all reports indicate), the Giants will be in a position to add a player to the roster. With the shaky play of the linebackers in the seasons' opening weeks, an outside addition would be welcomed with open arms. Despite having seven players on the current roster listed at that position, bringing in another would allow the Giants to terminate the ill-advised Mathias Kiwanuka experiment. He could transition back to his natural defensive end position which is in need of a boost with the loss of Awasom, and the Giants could attempt to upgrade their greatest weakness during its first two games.

During the offseason, many feared the linebacker position would be a weakness. Many people were looking for the Giants to draft college standouts Jon Beason or Paul Pozluszny with their top pick. However, we were assured that with the signing of Kawika Mitchell and switch by Kiwanuka, the linebacking corps would be fine. After two standout performances by tight ends, it is apparent an upgrade is necessary. They failed to obtain Al Wilson via trade this offseason, but he remains a free agent. If he could be deemed physically fit, he always excelled in pass coverage. It would at least be wise of the Giants to re-visit this option.

Two games in to the season, there's many reasons for concern. With 14 left to play, there's plenty of time to right the ship. However, the long term issues bother me the most. New general manager Jerry Reese has proven very capable on draft day but has left this roster with many question marks. He's sat by in recent weeks as many veterans (Donovin Darius, Jeremiah Trotter) who could have helped this team tremendously were signed at low prices. As it stands, the Giants are dangerously thin at safety and have received no positive contributions from the linebacking corps. Reese looks to suffer from Isiah Thomas syndrome; great eye for amateur talent, but no ability to form a cohesive roster. Hopefully he uses this new opportunity to start turning things around.

Monday, September 17, 2007

New York In Need of Giant Shake-Up

In getting off to their worst start since 1996, the Giants defense has surrendered an astounding 80 points in just two games. To avoid a devastating 0-3 start, the Giants will need to make some dramatic changes to a defensive unit that looks among the worst in team history. As has been the case in the Tom Coughlin era, they've struggled to get teams off the field on 3rd down. Along with attrocious tackling, lack of a pass rush, and a staggering inability to cover the middle of the field, opposing offenses will continue to score in droves. If the Giants are to salvage their season (isn't it awful to think it may be done in September?), they should seriously consider doing the following:

Give up on the Kiwanuka experiment. Did the organization think he could make the transition based on zone schemes that had him drop in to coverage a year ago? Many teams institute packages where the DE will shift in to coverage to throw off a quarterback's reads. Just because he was fortunate enough to have a couple interceptions hit him between the numbers, didn't mean he was capable of doing it on a regular basis. Kiwanuka is certainly extremely athletic and a gifted football player...with his hands on the ground. He needs to go back to his natural position instead of watching tight ends roam free.

Replace Kawika Mitchell until further notice. Mathias is not the only one LB getting burned in coverage. "Major" free agent acquistion Mitchell has been far slower than advertised. He's been lined up on the weak side, a position he's been unfamiliar with. Late in games, the Giants have turned to Reggie Torbor in passing situations, but he has not made much of an impact. The Giants are waiting for the return of Gerris Wilkinson, which could send Mitchell to the bench or to his more familiar SAM role.

Sign a veteran safety. Outside of Gibril Wilson, the Giants are extremely thin at safety. Giving the Free Safety position to James Butler and releasing Will Demps was a flat out mistake. Butler has struggled with his tackling and in coverage. Unfortunately, the Giants have no options behind him. The inconsistent rookie undrafted free agent Craig Dahl sits behind him on the depth chart, and seventh round pick Michael Johnson is the only other safety on the roster. Not making a run at Donovin Darius or Lamont Thompson (both of whom recently signed with the Dolphins) was another in the series of questionable decision making by the front office.

Get Aaron Ross on the field. I realize he was lifted in the 3rd quarter for cramps, but if the secondary is going to get torched, at least let him get some valuable game experience. Corey Webster has failed to show any progress, Sam Madison has shown hes on his last legs, and R.W McQuarters has never been anything more than a nickel back. The defending Jim Thorpe award winner for top college CB, Ross has a promising future in this league. That future could be now. Despite being beaten on the play, his deflection of a Brett Favre pass led to the Packers only turnover of the game. In a defense struggling to make plays, his presence could be instrumental in righting the ship.

However you slice it, the Giants need a major face lift. Whether that's the current starters looking themselves in the mirror and making a change (totally unintentional MJ pun) or some hungry back-ups proving they can play in this league, the defense needs to start showing a little pride. Rookie coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has shown his aggressiveness, but the defense's inability to get to the passer or cover the voids filled by blitzers' is alarming. The vaunted front four have registered zero sacks, with the team's only 2 coming from back-up Justin Tuck.

The offense has demonstrated it can move the football and will only improve with the return of Brandon Jacobs. Still awaiting word on Plaxico's bum ankle and the early diagnosis for rookie Steve Smith is not encouraging (fractured shoulder blade), but fortunately they have capable back-ups in Sinorice Moss and Anthony Mix. The offensive line has looked great in creating a pocket for Eli Manning and opening up holes for Derrick Ward. Without dumb mental errors by Shockey and Toomer, the Giants would have put up a bunch more points in yesterday's loss. It's hard to imagine the defense is this bad with a solid front four and some capable players behind them. Hopefully they can get everything clicking soon and turn this season around.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Oden, Durant, then ?

The two most talked about stars in College Basketball are headed to the Pacific Northwest after sensational freshman campaigns, but after they are off the board, it's anyone's guess what will transpire in tonight's NBA draft. Portland has reportedly tabbed Oden as their man with the top overall pick, which all but guarantees Kevin Durant to the SuperSonics. Will it be Oden's longtime teammate Mike Conley Jr to the Hawks at three? More likely it will be Chinese sensation Yi Jianlian or Florida's Al Horford, but there is very little consensus on how the rest of the lottery will shape up.

Any amateur draft has its uncertainties, but the unsettled future of superstars such as Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, and Jermaine O'Neal, whose names are all linked to trade rumors makes this one espeically tricky to figure out. The Celtics #5 selection has been involved in a host of trade talks, but they publicly pronounce they are reluctant to rid themsleves of their lofty pick. With two picks in the top 11, the Atlanta Hawks should be the major swing team of the night. Whether they offer the picks in a package for a superstar or look to acquire more picks, they have the most influence over how the draft will shape up.

Sure-fire lottery picks Durant, Oden, Conley Jr., and the Florida trio of Horford, Corey Brewer, and Joakim Noah have been spotted all over New York City promoting the game. Most of them are sure to get their autograph seekers, but there's one player who doesn't get enough attention. As a member of the two-time defending champion Florida Gators, it's hard to imagine a player being overlooked, but this guy will be special. I'm not talking about Noah or Horford, but rather the 6'8' swingman Brewer, who has an impressive skill set and a non-stop motor. His tremendous wingspan has made him a defensive stopper, as well as being a versatile offensive threat from on the wing. A sure-fire top 10 pick can hardly be described as a sleeper, but Brewer should immediately help any team he ends up on. I'd love to see what he could do in an uptempo system that likes to put a lot of pressure on the ball. He can get a bit too aggressive and be caught out of position on defense, but most of the time he ends up with the ball and an easy two on the offensive end. For selfish reasons I hope he inexplicably pulls a Brady Quinn to the Knicks, but some team will be lucky to have him in the top 10.

With their lottery pick dealt to the Bulls, who could be in the Brewer sweepstakes at 9, the Knicks have to wait until pick 23 for their only selcrtion of the night. According to most reports, the Knicks have locked in on DePaul junior Wilson Chandler. The words most often associated with Chandler are "athletic and versatile", two areas that would greatly improve any team. He's more polished offensively than last year's first rounder Renaldo Balkman and gives the team a much needed boost in the front court. A concern is whether he is enough of a presence on the defensive end to compensate for offensive minded Center Eddy Curry. With that in mind, the Knicks initially had interest in shot blocking specialist Shaun Williams. It's unclear whether he will fall to the Knicks because several teams ahead of them, including the Nets, have him on their radar. The Knicks have no second round pick, which like their first round swap is thanks to the ridiculous Eddy Curry deal, but with 14 players under contract a late draft choice would have a tough time sticking with the team. However, by signing Kentucky's Randolph Morris in March, they essentially picked up an extra first rounder.

For all the heat Isiah Thomas feels as an unsuccessful coach and general manager, draft night is where he shines. He has an undeniable talent of finding less sought after talent, yet inexplicably makes a lot of foolish moves through free agency and trades. While Eddy Curry has grown in to an offensive force, he's too one dimensional to ever warrant the package the Knicks gave up. The slew of picks they forfeited (and are giving away through next year's draft) to acquire him should be reserved only for the most elite, and even then it's questionable. Even with some shaky decision making in the front office, the Knicks have assembled a team capable of winning in a weak Eastern Conference. They've asserted tonight's pick will not be expected to make an immediate contribution, but he will need to do so if the Knicks are to end their playoff drought.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Why The Rocket Will Re-Launch in NY

Yankee fans were floating on cloud nine for 6 1/3 innings last night. The future of the franchise looked the role by no-hitting a dangerous Texas lineup, the bats awoke to the tune of 9 runs, and the Bombers were en route to a crucial victory. Then Phil Hughes clutched his hamstring after an 0-2 delivery and all the good feelings washed away. In a 9-0 game, with the mounting injuries, it was a no-brainer to pull the kid. Later on we learned the injury will cost him 4-6 weeks. Another devastating blow in a rough early season.

The natural question on everyone's minds is will this latest injury expedite the Roger Clemens process? One would have to think so, but his agent Randy Hendricks remains tight lipped on the situation. There are really a multitude of reasons I believe he'll be back, but I'll get in to a few major ones with one caveat...we must remain at least on the heels of the Sox. He's not coming back to watch the playoffs on TV.

1) The Yankee organization remains largely in tact from his last trip here (Steinbrenner, Cash, Torre, Jeter, Posada, Mo) and he loves those guys. He'd welcome the chance to suit up for the execs and despite Rivera's early season troubles, would love handing the ball to him late in games.

2) He would love to be reunited with his best-friend Andy Pettitte. Pretty much the same as above, but deserves special mention due to their special relationship.

3) Boston embarrassed him last time he was there by saying he was in "the twilight of his career". Granted the man largely responsible for the decision, as well as the quote, is gone, Roger has too much pride for that not to hurt. I think there's more of a grudge there than people embrace.

4) He wants to wear a Yankees cap in to the HOF. What better way to justify that than to punctuate his career with another ring in NY, and another season (well, half) to put on his resume as a Pinstriper.

5) Not that he's the mentoring type, but if he could be considered "instrumental" in the progress of Mini-Rocket Phil Hughes, his legacy grows even greater. A man who names his kids all K's to recognize his strikeout wizardry clearly has the ego to take that in to account.

FOX will broadcast a Saturday Subway Series tilt in the Bronx on Saturday June 16th. The man making his season debut on the mound for the Bombers will be wearing #22.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Best Sports Week of The Year?

Perhaps the greatest attraction to sports fanaticism is that it gives you a platform to assert your convictions. If your a Yankee fan, you'll talk to your face turns blue about why they're better than Boston. Drive down Tobacco Road to ask about what Coach K can do with his national championships, and you'll get vastly different answers over the course of just a few miles. Everything is up for debate and rarely will you find unanimity. So when I heard the first week of April dubbed "the best sports week of the year", I had to evalute whether the argument held any weight. I whole-heartedly agree with this statement and I dare anyone to convince me otherwise.

Let's get in to the specifics. First of all, the week kicks off with MLB Opening Day and the Men's Basketball NCAA championships, arguably two of the finest spectacles in sport. As people relish the fact baseball is back, a new (or in this year's case, repeat) champion is crowned in the culmination of THE best tournament in sports. Some golf nuts may argue with me on the latter half, but even if they do, the week concludes with the premiere golf event of the calendar year down in Augusta. Not enough? Check out the next generation of hoop stars at the U-19 Hoops Summitt with the best our country has to offer on the prep level and international gems waiting to be discovered. Even though the NHL can hardly be considered part of the "big 4" following its lockout, the regular season is coming to a close with exciting races for the final postseason berths.

What other single week has this much to offer? Last week in October with the World Series and the NFL hitting midseason form? Close, but not quite. First week of January with BCS games and NFL playoffs? Heaven if your a football fan, but no variety. There is no other individual week where 3 major sports are at peak interest. You can even make a good argument that opening day is more exciting to baseball fans than the World Series. Growing up a Yankee fan that hasn't been the case with me, but if you're team is a perennial bottom feeder, day 1 could be the only enjoyable game of the year.

So now I encourage any takers to find a better Sunday-Sunday than the week we're currently in.