Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Baseball Faces New Drug Issue, As First Hinted at In This Blog

        By Ross Newhan

        As I wrote in a Nov. 28 blog, Baseball was nervously girding for a new steroid era built around synthetic testosterone, and was negotiating with the players union on a new and tougher testing program aimed at the synthetics. That program--featuring a stiffer synthetic protocol and in season blood testing for human growth hormone--has been in place now for several weeks, but it comes too late to forestall the potential indication of sweeping synthetic use.

     The Miami News Herald, a weekly publication citing information in the personal notebooks of a former employee of a since closed Miami "wellness" clinic, named Alex Rodriguez and five other baseball players as having used or deeply investigated performance enhancing drugs. The notebooks belonged to Anthony Bosch, the director of the since closed Biogenesis clinic. Bosch, according to two baseball sources familiar with the industry's investigation of the Biogenesis and other South Florida clinics, confirmed to me Tuesday morning that Bosch is not licensed to practice medicine in Florida and is the son of Pedro Bosch, who was Manny Ramirez's doctor when Ramirez, then with the Dodgers, was prompted to drop his appeal of a 2009 testosterone suspension when baseball investigators unearthed a testosterone prescription from Pedro Bosch.

     The notebooks belonging to Anthony Bosch portray Rodriguez as a serial drug user despite his 2009 denials, according to the News Herald, and also name Toronto outfielder Melky Cabrera, San Diego catcher Yasmani Grandal, Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz, Washington pitcher Gio Gonzalez and former San Diego pitcher Cesar Carillo. Cabrera, then with the San Francisco Giants, drew a 50 game suspension last year when he tested positive for elevated testosterone and ultimately gave up the National League batting title. The promising Grandal will miss the first 50 games of the 2013 season for a similarly positive test.

    The notebooks, according to the sources I talked to, provide detailed information on doping in several sports, lacerate in depth the last bit of credibility that Rodriguez has tried to sustain and could result in criminal accusations or suspensions. Both Rodriguez, facing the possibility that the already fed up Yankees could attempt to void his longterm contract because of continued drug use, and Gonzalez have denied connections to the clinic.

    Under the Joint Drug Agreement between baseball and the union, the commissioner can enforce disciplinary action against a player for "just cause" where there is a violation not specifically mentioned in the agreement. PED use, purchase and/or prescriptions fall under that umbrella. This promises to be a moving story but should not come as a surprise to readers of the blog.           

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Weaver and Musial: The Loss of Two Legends

       By Ross Newhan

       The Baltimore Orioles under Earl Weaver, even as the names changed, had to rank as one of the 10 best teams of the last 50 years, and Stan Musial, Stan the Man of the St. Louis Cardinals and the real El Hombre as Albert Pujols insisted in reaction to those Angel billboards, had to rank as one of the 10 best hitters ever.

      Weaver died Friday night, and Musial died Saturday.

      Two giants of the game with differing personalities.

      There was the pugnacious Weaver who battled players and umpires, and there was the mild Musial, who seemed to take as much delight in pulling out his harmonica and playing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," as he did in discussing his Hall of Fame career, the fourth player elected to the Cooperstown museum on the first ballot.

      In the years that I covered the Dodgers and baseball in general--first in Long Beach and then at the Los Angeles Times--I did  not see Musial play in person.

     I did chat with him a few times at the old Busch Stadium in St. Louis and I recall asking him if it was true that he could discern the nature of a pitch in the split second it left the pitcher's hand, as Ted Williams claimed he could see the seams on the ball, see it hit the bat.

    "Well," said Musial, "studying pitchers was a key to my sucess. I don't know about seeing the seams, but I became so familiar with the pitchers that I could tell what a pitch was almost immediately and I was able to adjust my swing by the time it reached the plate."

    He had a .331 career batting average, won three Most Valuable Player awards, played on three World Series teams, was consistent to the remarkable point of collecting 1,815 hits at home and the same number on the road, and never struck out more than 46 times in a 22 year career (and those 46 were in his next to last season).

   Who needed steroids when you had the eyesight of Williams and Musial, and to a degree there has to be grudging respect for Barry Bonds in the same regard.

   Steroids helped inflate his physique and double his normal home run totals, but he still had to see the ball and hit it.

   What impact steroids had on that basic fact is uncertain. Bonds cheated and made the most of it.

  Williams and Musial had no need for the cream, even if it had existed then.

  In the years that I covered the Angels and baseball in general--in Long Beach and then at The Times--I had many pre- and post-game talks with the always quotable, biting and crusty Weaver, who loved to tell reporters that his tombstone should read: "The sorest loser who ever lived."

  He preached the "three run homer" and had the hitters who could produce it, supported during many of his 17 years at the Orioles' helm by one of the best rotations ever.

  Weaver led the Orioles to four American League pennants and one World Series title, and his cap turned, gesticulating arguments with umpires were/are video highlights. He was ejected 94 times, a figure far surpassed by Bobby Cox's record 158.

  If those umpire debates are not among the first things that come to mind when thinking of Weaver, his long feud--real at times and, perhaps,cinematic at others--with stubborn and perfectionist Hall of Fame pitching ace Jim Palmer shares billing.

  Each took delight in getting under the skin of the other, or as Palmer once famously said, "The only thing Weaver knows about a curveball is that he coudln't hit one."

   The basic fact is that Palmer teared up and broke up when speaking of his Hall of Fame manager during an impromptu news conference at the Orioles' Fanfest on Saturday, and Weaver is known to have told every young pitcher who tried to break into the club's rotation that he should go about it the way Palmer does--in both preparation and performance (the latter, of course, being almost impossible given that Palmer would win 264 games).

    The basic fact, too, is that the passing of Weaver and Musial has left the baseball landscape much less than it had been.           


Friday, January 11, 2013

Credit Baseball for Continued Advance on Drugs


       By Ross Newhan

       The Commissioner and Players Union may have been tardy in reacting to the spread of steroids and performance enhancing substances, but they deserve credit for accelerating the pace to an extent that baseball now has the most comprehensive testing program in U.S. professionnal sports.

       The latest improvements, as agreed to by Bud Selig (through his labor leader Rob Manfred) and  the union's executive director, Michael Weiner, is highlighted by in-season blood tests aimed at detecting human growth hormone and a more rigorous protocol aimed at unmasking the development of synthetic testosterone.

       I reported in my blog of Nov. 28 that there was widespread industry concern about the development of synthetics and that the union and commissioner's office was negotiating a testing program designed to better detect the unending work of unethical chemists trying to stay ahead of the game.

     For baseball, it's a constant process that may never be totally perfect, but give the Commissioner and union appropriate recognition for continuing to work at it.


   One of the highlights of the baseball off-season will be held Saturday night at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza: The 10th annual dinner/auction known as the "Spirit of the Game" and sponsored by the Professional Baseball Scouts Foundation.

   The event was the branchild of Los Angeles insurance man and philanthropist Dennis Gilbert, and has helped dozens of scouts--a transient and indispensible profession--through periods of illness and unemployment. Harrison Ford will be among the presenters, and Vin Scully, Jim Palmer and Ferguson Jenkins are only a few of the baseball luminaries who will be honored. Ticket inquiries: 818 224-3906.     

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Justifiably, Bonds and Clemens Face Long Climb to Hall of Fame Election

     By Ross Newhan

     It is clear that the steroid era impacted virtually every candidate on the Hall of Fame ballot, arguably the most controversial ever. No one was elected in the vote by eligible members of the Baseball Writers Assn. of America. What this means for Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, easily the two most acclaimed players linked--authoritatively and circumstantially--to performance enhancing drugs, is difficult to decipher.
    In their first year on the ballot and needing 75% of the more than 600 votes, Clemens, the only pitcher to win seven Cy Young Awards, received 37.6% .and Bonds, the only player to receive seven Most Valuable Player Awards, received 36.2%. In other words, two thirds of the electorate did not vote for either, but was that simply a first ballot statement by many voters or a telling and significant indication they will never receive 75%?

    Both have a long climb and are eligible to remain on the ballot for 15 years as long as they receive at least 5% of the vote.

    In other words, the Hall of Fame election is a process, and it is possible that some votes may have simply deferred possible support for Bonds and Clemens.

    This was the eighth time in voting history that no one was elected by the BBWAA and the first time since 1996, when six players on that ballot ultimately climbed to 75%. It is also noteworthy that only 21% of all Hall of Fame members were elected on the first ballot. Even Joe DiMaggio had to wait.

    Neither Bonds nor Clemens made my ballot and never will. The evidence of PED use by both is  monumental, a shame given that it seems safe to say that both would be first ballot selections save for the cheating.

   Yet, both did better in the voting than Sammy Sosa, a stalwart of the steroid era who hit 609 home runs, reportedly tested positive for a PED and received only 12.9% of the vote, leaving him with virtually no chance to be elected. Two other players once thought to have a chance but firmly associated with the era through admission or testing continued to slide towards the end of the ballot: Mark McGwire at 16.9% and Rafael Palmeiro at 8.8%

   My ballot listed Craig Biggio, Jeff Bagwell, Jack Moris, Mike Piazza, Curt Schilling and Lee Smith.

   Biggio finished first in the voting at 68.2%, missing by only 39 votes. Morris, in his next to last year on the ballot, moved by up only 1% to 67.7, a disappointment.

  Piazza and Bagwell, both victims of the rampant suspicions that clouded the steriod era, have a shot at the 75% in time.

  Piazza, in his first year on the ballot, got 57.8%, and Bagwell, in his third year, received 59.6% .

  Schilling, a 216 game winner whose post-season record is among the best in history and whose strikeout to walk ratio IS the best, got only 38.8%, and, like Morris, may have a tough time climbing significantly next year since Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Mike Mussina are among the pitchers eligible for the first time.      

  Only 10 players can be listed on a ballot and that impacts the procedure. For Bonds and Clemens, next year's percentages could be more telling in relation to their eventual shot at election.

  The Cooperstown Museum may not be a Hall of Saints, but it is impossible for me to condone the cheating that twisted the statistics of an era and a sport's history.