February 22, 2009
On the Beat
Hopped Up or Hopping Mad?
You don't need to know exactly what 's available over the counter at the corner Walgreen's in the Dominican Republic to understand that performance-enhancing drugs have been used in Major League Baseball. The past two weeks of non-stop coverage of Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez's admitted steroid use has reminded us hourly of that, and the media, the fans, and even many people inside the game now routinely refer to the period from the mid-1990s until MLB began enacting penalties for PED use in 2004 as baseball's "Steroids Era."
There are still a number of players, however, who bristle at the idea that they played in the "Steroids Era." Chief among them is one the game's most visible superstars, Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who made his major league debut in 1995. "One thing that irritates and upsets me a lot, is when you hear everybody say it was the 'Steroid Era' and everybody is doing it, and that's not true," Jeter said. "Everybody wasn't doing it. Everybody is making a big deal of the list, 104 players. Everybody wasn't doing it. That's the thing that is irritating. It sends the wrong message to the fans and the kids that everybody is doing it, and that's not the truth. I understand there are a lot of big-name players who allegedly have done this and done that, but everybody wasn't doing it."
It seems that every superstar of the last two decades has either been implicated or strongly suspected of using steroids, from Rodriguez to Barry Bonds to Roger Clemens to Mark McGwire to Sammy Sosa. Rodriguez admitted he was a user after Sports Illustrated reported that he was among the 104 players on the list of those who tested positive during MLB's survey testing in 2003.
The Major League Baseball Players Association has insisted that the remaining 103 names on the list won't be leaked, because the testing was supposed to be anonymous and confidential. However, Cubs third baseman Aramis Ramirez believes that the MLBPA needs to be transparent in this case in order to protect the reputation of those members who are clean. "[If not,] then everybody is going to be looking over your shoulder, saying, 'They might have done it, they might have done it,'" Ramirez told the Chicago Tribune. "Let's just get it over with." Like Jeter, Ramirez hates the "Steroids Era" tag. "It wasn't," Ramirez said. "Not everybody used it. I didn't do it. I know a lot of guys I'm pretty sure didn't do it."
Rodriguez apologized for his steroid use and gave details of how he obtained and used the drugs during a news conference at the Yankees' spring-training camp in Tampa, Florida, this past week, but the furor has yet to die down as Rodriguez's explanation has been picked apart by every news source from The New York Times to the Pennysaver.
Yankees chairman Hal Steinbrenner believes that it's time to leave Rodriguez alone. "As far as I'm concerned, it's time to move on," Steinbrenner told Kat O'Brien of Newsday. "We are focusing on the season that lies ahead of us, and we know Alex will play a significant role in our quest for a championship." Steinbrenner also said that the Yankees do not regret signing Rodriguez to a 10-year, $275 million contract following the 2007 season that includes an additional $30 million in performance bonuses built around home-run milestones. "Alex is one of the premier players in the league, and an important asset to this club," Steinbrenner said. "We are looking forward to him having a great season."
Yankees general manager Brian Cashman knows that the story will not be easily put behind them, even in today's constantly changing news cycles. That will make the situation especially difficult, because Rodriguez is extremely sensitive to public perception. "I'm glad that this aspect is over and behind us, but it doesn't mean there isn't more coming," Cashman said after the news conference. "The story is going to be with him for a long time. It is going to be with him forever. This is Humpty Dumpty. We have got to put him back together again. We've got to put him back up on the wall."
If there is one positive for the Yankees in the Rodriguez saga, it's that it has taken the spotlight off of the three high-profile free agents they signed over the winter. Perhaps left-hander CC Sabathia, right-hander A.J. Burnett, and first baseman Mark Teixeira can all become acclimated to life in pinstripes without the usual hype and media attention.
It has not been lost on the rest of baseball, however, that the Yankees spent $423.5 million on that trio over the winter. In fact, it has caused a handful of small-market and mid-market teams to re-ignite ownership's old cry for a salary cap. Now, the Red Sox, one of the sports' most well-heeled franchises, are also suggesting that baseball should fall in behind the NFL, NBA, and NHL and adopt a cap. "I think we've gone as far as we can with revenue sharing," owner John Henry said, adding that there is a way MLB can "put together an enlightened salary cap" that all clubs could agree upon. Said president Larry Lucchino, "I'd call it a 'salary zone.' That's a better term than a salary cap. An enlightened form of a salary cap would have the Red Sox' support."
The MLBPA has always been vehemently opposed to a salary cap, which is why the players went on strike for 242 days during 1994 and 1995, wiping out the postseason in '94 and causing owners to attempt using replacement players to play exhibition games during spring training in '95 in a failed attempt to break the union.
Most large-market clubs have also been opposed to limits on how much they can pay in player salaries, but Henry believes that every major league club except for the Yankees thinks that the time has come for a cap. "I think the so-called large markets and small markets are probably united in one aspect-united may be too strong a word-but I think we all agree that competitive balance is an issue," Henry said. "If there was a way to put together an enlightened form of a salary cap, I think everybody among the owners would support that."
The White Sox are still waiting to see if their most high-profile fan, President Barack Obama, will accept their invitation to throw out the ceremonial first pitch before the April 6 opener against the Royals at US Cellular Field. Obama did decline the chance to visit the White Sox at their new spring-training facility in Glendale, Arizona, this past week when he was in Phoenix to announce another part of his economic recovery package. "I'm sure everyone is more focused on their jobs than that at this point," White Sox GM Ken Williams said.
Meanwhile, the Cubs are feeling slightly snubbed by Obama. Manager Lou Piniella suggested that the club should send Obama a cap. "It would be nice for him to mention the Cubs once in a while," said Piniella.
Obama raised the ire of Cubs' fans last season when he suggested they only visited Wrigley Field to enjoy the sunshine and drink beer. When Cubs first baseman Derrek Lee agreed with the future President, he took plenty of heat from the fans, yet Lee says that he admires Obama for not showing bipartisanship when it comes to baseball in Chicago. "That's politics," Lee said. "You can't be like that in sports. He probably did better not riding the fence."
Meanwhile, politics played a big role in Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz deciding to play for Panama in next month's World Baseball Classic. Ruiz was not going to participate until he received a call from Panamanian President Martin Torrijos, who told him, "This is for your country." Ruiz was invited to the presidential palace after the Phillies' World Series victory last year, and he presented Torrijos with the jersey he wore in the clinching Game Five victory over the Rays.
Also on the WBC front, Canada would seem to be a long shot to advance past the first round of the tournament, as such standout pitchers as Cubs right-handers Ryan Dempster and Rich Harden and Brewers reliever Eric Gagné have all declined to participate, while Rockies left-hander Jeff Francis and Nationals right-hander Shawn Hill are both recovering from arm surgery. "We don't have a lot of depth like some of the other teams do," said Red Sox left fielder Jason Bay, who will be one of Canada's key players. "We're going to need some of the younger guys to step up like they did three years ago in the first WBC."
Canada did not get out of the first round in 2006, but it did stun the United States in pool play at Chase Field in Phoenix. That memory still burns brightly for Bay. "I think that win probably did more for baseball in Canada than anything that has happened in a long time," said Bay. "For us to be able to beat the United States did a lot for national pride in the sport. It was amazing to be part of that, and I'd love for us to be able to do something similar this time."
Canada will get that chance; it opens against the US at the Rogers Centre in Toronto on March 7.
NL Rumors and Rumblings: The Nationals are interested in re-signing reliever Chad Cordero, who is recovering from shoulder surgery. The Rangers are also in the mix. ... The Rockies plan is to play Clint Barmes at second base and Seth Smith in left field, though Jeff Baker could still figure into the second-base picture, while Ian Stewart and Carlos Gonzalez will get consideration in left. ... While rookies Chris Perez and Jason Motte appear most likely to be the Cardinals' closer, Josh Kinney will also be considered for the job this spring. ... Brandon Jones will likely platoon in left field for the Braves with Matt Diaz after Ken Griffey Jr. decided to sign with the Mariners as a free agent. ... Veteran infielder Jose Valentin will serve as a player/coach at Triple-A Buffalo if he fails in his long-shot bid to make the Mets' Opening Day roster.
AL Rumors and Rumblings: After getting a deal done with free-agent third baseman Joe Crede, the Twins are now trying to close out a deal with free-agent reliever Juan Cruz. ... The addition of Crede ends the Brendan Harris/Brian Buscher platoon, and Harris will now become the primary middle infield reserve, while Buscher will compete with Matt Tolbert and Matt Macri for another utility spot. ... The Athletics would like to sign Nomar Garciaparra as a free agent to be their super utility man, but he is said to be leaning toward retirement. ... Third baseman Corey Koskie, who has not played since suffering a concussion while with the Brewers in 2006, is working out daily at the Twins' spring-training facility in Fort Myers, Florida, in hopes that someone will bring him to camp on a minor league contract.