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August 21, 2006

The Ledger Domain

Contents Under Pressure

by Maury Brown

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As it is in baseball, so it is in life. Let things sit and fester for too long, and they'll bore a hole clean through your gut. Eventually, you purge and move on, or become that guy walking down the street ranting and raving at the sky. Maybe it's knowing that we're inching closer to the dog days of summer, but there are some events out there that make you wonder if the league is in a slow boil that will soon spill over. I figure today's as good a day as any to look at what's been happening around the league, give myself the $.50 self-therapy treatment, and afterwards hit some e-mails that have come in.

Jeffrey Loria v. Jeffrey Loria

At a certain point, you have to wonder just how disruptive Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria is going to be. It's one thing to be a passionate owner, but Loria's become his own worst enemy, with a gun pointed at his foot, ever-ready to squeeze the trigger. He very nearly did just that on August 6th, when manager Joe Girardi basically told his boss to put a sock in it while Loria was screaming down from his fieldbox over two questionable balls called by home plate umpire Larry Vanover during the Dodgers' first sweep of the Marlins since 2000.

Yes, in any other employment setting, a first-year employee yelling at the boss to shut his mouth isn't exactly a way to get that Employee of the Month award, but then Joe Girardi isn't exactly your average first-year manager. In his first season, Girardi has done what only the most optimistic Marlins fan could have conjured up: with a roster of players that might have initially been seen as a step up from replacement level, he's helped managed them to within reach of the NL wild card. This was a club that many predicted would be well within reach of a 100 losses this season, if not more.

Still, Loria has been buzzing in Girardi's ear for the better part of the season, arguing managerial philosophies. The incident on the 6th turned into a 90-minute postgame pow-wow between Marlins president David Samson, GM Larry Beinfest, Loria, and Girardi. At one point, Marlins management started to set up for a press conference where the topic would be Girardi's firing. Apparently, somebody had the good sense to pop a pill and chill, and Giardi is still in the dugout… for the moment.

Maybe there's some method to Loria's madness, but it is madness. Clubs with vastly more to offer are potentially at Girardi's beck and call, given his polished poise and (admittedly brief) track record for turning a young roster into a team of overachievers. They may be a losing club now, but up the East Coast one can sense that Frank Robinson's tenure with the Expos/Nationals helm is nearing an end, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if the new owners in DC might like to see Girardi come to town.

Note to Jeffrey Loria: Even if you are from New York, you are not the second coming of George Steinbrenner.

And on Loria… How's that New Stadium Coming Along?

The Marlins are moving into yet another offseason without a new stadium. That's why the Marlins cut player payroll this past season--the fire sale that began shortly after Girardi's hiring. On either August 30th or the 31st, representatives of the Florida Marlins, Miami-Dade County, and the city of Hialeah are scheduled to travel to MLB headquarters in New York to discuss the small matter of what's been published as a $100 million funding gap for a new Marlins facility. As County Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz said, "We're going to see where we can come up with more funding to close the gap. We want to keep the Marlins in South Florida, especially in Miami-Dade County. We want to work together to come up with the best compromise."

It's interesting that Miami-Dade has been sitting on the sidelines while Hialeah officials have been working on a deal, and now officials from both jurisdictions are traveling together to MLB headquarters. Maybe it's just me, but it would seem like someone there is a third wheel.

On the $100 million funding gap, that figure has surely grown since the Marlins and Miami-Dade County officials came to an impasse on how to breach the gap more than a year ago. Remember, that gap was pre-Katrina, which means material costs, such as steel, were substantially lower than they are now.

My prediction for the meeting in New York?

Miami-Dade and Hialeah reps: "What can MLB do to help? Would you be willing to pitch in?"

MLB: "You're doing fine. We have faith in your efforts. Keep trying. We'll get back to you."

Contemptuous

Barry Bonds' personal trainer, Greg Anderson, was back before a federal judge on Thursday for the fifth time, again refusing to testify before a grand jury. The difference this time is that the judge did not throw Anderson in jail for contempt of court, thus aggravating Federal prosecutors.

How does one refuse to testify before the grand jury and walk out of the courtroom without a contempt of court charge? For the first time, Anderson answered some questions, although they were of little substance. When Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Parrella asked Anderson, "Did you distribute anabolic steroids to Barry Bonds?" Anderson refused to answer, thus, more or less, ending his testimony.

Federal prosecutors claim that Anderson is simply trying to dodge the system, and asked U.S. District Judge Williams Alsup to place Anderson back in jail. The judge refused, saying that he needed to review the transcripts of the very brief testimony by Anderson to see determine if he is in contempt of court. Anderson will be back in court on August 28 to see whether he is back in jail, or not.

Anderson isn't the only one looking at jail time over the Barry Bonds steroid circus. In a separate courtroom this past week, U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey White ruled that Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, co-authors of the book Game of Shadows, must reveal who leaked secret grand jury testimony to them during the BALCO probe. Both Williams and Fainaru-Wada have said that they will go to jail in contempt of court before revealing the source of the sealed documents from the grand jury testimony.

Fainaru-Wada was interviewed by Charley Steiner on XM175 this past week. When asked by Steiner if, in a philosophical sense, he understood the government's position, Fainaru-Wada replied, "Neither of us [Williams and Fainaru-Wada] feel like we are above the law. The grand jury secrecy issue is not something that we have taken lightly. We didn't publish these stories willy-nilly. There were discussions at the [San Francisco Chronicle] about it. But ultimately, we've always felt these stories were of a public value. They were important. To read the affidavits folks who have stood up for us in our case here, they would suggest that, we've made some difference."

When you look at these two cases together in the context of what is being investigated--the use of steroids in professional sports--one has to wonder just how far the government willing to go. As it stands now, it's becoming an example of theater of the absurd, while millions upon millions of public dollars are pouring into these cases. Will Williams and Fainaru-Wada become Judith Miller and Matt Cooper? This isn't national security, it's professional sports. If Federal prosecutors are hinging so much of their case on the authors of Game of Shadows and Anderson, they must not have a very solid case.

As for Anderson… Who knows what's lurking in his mind, and would it explain why he might do jail time for Bonds? As Fainaru-Wada said to Steiner, "The cynics will tell you they believe Anderson must be getting paid or there must be a payoff at the end or he's been assured of something or those kinds of things. People that we know who are close to Anderson have said, 'He's said this all along. He's not going to name names. He's not going to compromise Bonds. And, he's not going to do this not because of Barry necessarily, but because this is the way he thinks. He just feels like it's the thing to do.'"

What seems very possible is that all three of these individuals (Williams, Fainaru-Wada, and Anderson) will be sitting in jail cells for contempt while Barry Bonds is still playing in a Giants uniform. Some might consider that a social injustice, but I find it ironic.

The Beginning of the End for Yankee Stadium

When 60 VIPs and dignitaries donned Yankee hardhats and stuck spades in the dirt this past Wednesday, it officially marked the point where a new Yankee Stadium would begin, and the death of the House that Ruth Built became an impending reality. Here's the ironic twist: it happened on the 58th anniversary of Babe Ruth's death.

Let's face it, Yankee Stadium isn't the same Yankee Stadium that was opened in 1923. The renovations in 1973 altered it in a manner that removed it from its original design. The limestone facing and frieze has been removed, contributing to the stadium's falling short of its original grandeur. My BP colleague Neil deMause will most assuredly comment on the new Yankee Stadium situation, as he has done so well in the past, but I wanted to hit on the topic for a couple of reasons.

The construction of a new facility certainly isn't needed for the same reasons that many other clubs push for a new ballpark. In those cases, it's being done to try and gain new revenues to compete with the Yankees and the Red Sox. This construction seems to be more a case of George Steinbrenner and building his lasting legacy. King George is notably understated these days--he was very brief at the groundbreaking, mentioned the heat, and said, "It's a pleasure to give this to you people. Enjoy the new stadium. I hope it's wonderful."

One can sense that Steinbrenner is fully aware of his mortality these days. His health is a topic of the day, and he rarely speaks to the media. Like it or not, New Yankee Stadium will be Steinbrenner's way of bulldozing the past and placing his stamp on the future of the Yankees.

Answering some e-mails

Let's get to a couple of reader e-mails addressing some key matters from the Blackouts article, as well as my article on the Nationals and Orioles attendance situation.

I wrote in Blackout Blues: All blackouts are tied to the zip code on your credit card billing address. No matter where you live in the world. No matter if you have an MLB Extra Innings subscription, or are viewing games via the internet. No matter if you are watching over the air. You are going to be caught in at least one or more of these blackout restrictions.

This is only partially correct. As Shane Higginbotham pointed out, "It is not entirely true what you said about MLB.TV and being tied to your ZIP Code. For example, if you use a credit card that was registered to a house you own in Washington to create an account and use it in California, you will still be blacked out for, say, the Angels game you want to watch."

There was a major gaffe in my article on the Orioles and Nationals (Mid-Atlantic Tango: Looking at the Orioles and Nationals Attendance). Haphazardly, I wrote, "Thirty-four years ago the team that we now call the Orioles arrived in Baltimore, and it was the Senators that had to take stock as to whether there would be an encroachment of territory."

Well, come on now, Maury. Thirty-four years? Many caught this and wrote me about it, but Salon's King Kaufman found out where I subconsciously pulled the figure from. King wrote, "At the end, you write that the Orioles arrived in Baltimore thirty-four years ago. As I'm sure others have pointed out, it was actually 52 years ago. What happened 34 years ago is that the Senators arrived in Arlington."

That old business addressed, now the real action kicks in. The rest of the year off of the field should see all sorts of action on the CBA and revenue sharing, something I'm sure we'll all agree needs to be addressed here almost as much as it does in MLB's board room.

Maury Brown is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Maury's other articles. You can contact Maury by clicking here

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