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Want to know what’s worse than steroids? This. Not Bill Simmons’ column, which is one of the best he’s ever written, but this NBA scandal. I don’t follow the NBA much, and everyone I knew was asking the same thing: “Which one?” They asked me like I knew. A sportswriter friend suggested another ref, while I could only name one ref at all–Dick Bavetta, and only then because he ran a race against Charles Barkley. There must have been ten people asking me “Which one?”, while I was only thinking “Not again.” I say that because baseball has already faced gambling crises in its past. With the NHL in free fall, the NBA in decline, and the media’s insistence on trying to take down baseball, only the NFL seems bulletproof. Even in the face of the Michael Vick scandal, the Bengals’ arrest record, Tank Johnson, and a problem so bad that it’s spawned this feature, the media machine that is the NFL is fine.

For baseball, while we hope there’s no Donaghy problem for the men in blue, that the Radomski list either comes out or doesn’t (depending on how you look at it), that the government doesn’t leak the survey list (or does), and while we fight the belief that only Barry Bonds matters to the casual fan, American sports seem to be at some tipping point. I argued in “The Juice” that steroids were a product of the culture we live in, one where sports is what happens between the Cialis ad and the Budweiser ad, but with the Donaghy scandal, I think we see the same. Everything is wrong, from unfounded conspiracy theories to unjust commutations, and with an audience that seems more interested in Paris Hilton than in Baghdad, sports is just a reflection of this larger problem. I don’t like what I see.

Powered by my new nephew, who I hope has a better world to grow up in and that he’s lefty, on to the injuries:

  • The Marlins are having enough issues already without a shoulder injury to one of their best players, but that’s what they have now. Hanley Ramirez separated his shoulder, an injury that can be devastating and can involve a long recovery. At first it looked as if the only bright side was that it wasn’t his throwing shoulder, but on Sunday, Ramirez told reporters that he thought he could play through it. That’s possible, though the past history of players attempting to do so isn’t good; J.J. Hardy and Richie Sexson immediately come to mind, though the mechanism of their injury was different. Also, we’re not sure how much separation there was. Any injury of this type involves the head of the humerus (the ball) coming out of the glenoid fossa, the shallow socket. There can be great case-by-case variance in how far it comes out, what damage it does by tearing or stretching the connected muscle tissue, and whether it goes right back in (reduction or self-reduction). The Marlins’ letting Ramirez back in has to give some confidence, but until Ramirez gets some distance between himself and this injury without a recurrence, he’s going to be a very risky player. In the longer term, this shouldn’t have much if any effect on his play.
  • Curt Schilling hit the mid-90s while David Ortiz hit the turf. It was that kind of weekend for the Sox, a mixed bag that ended up with them more or less in the same place, still holding a 7 1/2 game lead over the Yankees. Schilling looked phenomenal in his Triple-A rehab, making some think he may not need another start with the Paw Sox. There’s been no decision made on that, but his performance shows that the time off has served him well and could actually work towards extending his career, as he’s appeared to get religion on a maintenance program for his right arm.

    After what one source called a “shamu dive,” Ortiz’s MRI came back without significant damage. Ortiz remained on the bench through the weekend with the shoulder giving him time to heal up from the knee as well. You might have noticed that Manny Ramirez seemed very comfortable at DH, so unless Ortiz is fully healthy, you may hear rumors come up about knee surgery again.

  • Is it pure genius that the Mets sent Pedro Martinez to the Dominican to continue his rehab? There’s very little in the way of reporting down there despite the baseball culture, and for what there is of it, the separation between Latin and American sources is proving a tough wall to climb, not only for me but for more savvy Mets watchers. Martinez reportedly has thrown two side sessions and is ready to move to Port St. Lucie for a minor league rehab, but until we see it, it’s hard to believe that all the smoke we’ve heard regarding setbacks doesn’t have at least one smoldering ember behind it. Risk isn’t necessarily about someone being injured; it’s about not knowing, and that’s the heart of the problem with Martinez. For the team that successfully hid an injury last year at the deadline, almost anything is possible. One thing we do know is that Moises Alou appears ready to come back this week from his lingering quad strain.
  • While the Tigers continue to focus on their bullpen in trade talks, the two guys they hope will solidify their pen are already Tigers. Fernando Rodney is close to a return, with one more side session this week before heading out for some minor league innings. That should give Dave Dombrowski enough time to figure out if Rodney will be enough or if he’ll need to make a deal. He won’t have that luxury with Joel Zumaya, though all signs have been positive. Many think that the waiver deadline might be more active, buying the Tigers’ braintrust even more time to figure out their bullpen. It’s not often that one-win players can make a difference, but in the close battle for the AL Central, they might.
  • Gary Matthews Jr. didn’t immediately lose the battle with the wall, but let’s call this one a standing eight count. Matthews hit the fence pretty hard on Saturday, jamming his wrist on a play that ended with Joe Mauer circling the bases. Out of the lineup on Sunday, the move was said to be precautionary and that there’s no real damage. Even if that’s the case, we know that wrist injuries, even minor ones, can linger beyond the “pain period” and affect bat control. It’s definitely something to watch for and one of the small things that can make a difference in what is now a very tight AL West.
  • Roy Oswalt, a name that’s coming up on the whisper wire, doesn’t seem concerned by that or by the mild chest strain. A source that spoke with Oswalt over the weekend told me that he’s had this problem, according to Oswalt, “a couple times and never missed a start.” One of those occurrences was in 2003, but if there have been others, there’s a small concern that this is a chronic problem. Even if that’s the case, a chronic injury that doesn’t cost any time is scarcely a concern for anyone other than the training staff. Oswalt could miss a start, more to reduce his innings than as a statement about the severity of the injury.

    The Astros are also not concerned about Hunter Pence, though maybe they should be. Pence injured his right wrist on an awkward slide, then had to be pulled from the game after his next plate appearance. The wrist was, according to a source, “swollen and discolored.” As with Matthews, even a minor wrist injury can be problematic in the short term. Pence is perhaps the one bright spot on Houston’s 2007 season, so they’d be smart to be very cautious with him.

  • Scott Rolen is comparing his shoulder pain to what he had at the end of last season, not to the pain he had before shoulder surgery. That’s small consolation to the Cardinals, because Rolen had a difficult second half last season, and if he’s wearing down more quickly, that certainly doesn’t bode well for this season or his longer-term future. The comp here’s a bit odd–John Smoltz. Smoltz also has widely-noted shoulder problems, and has gotten fatigued at the end of seasons; he came up a bit short this year, just as Rolen has. Both should be fine in short bursts, but will need additional rest to maintain. With the Cards in disarray and the training staff taxed by a plethora of injuries, Rolen might be backsliding because of their inability to keep up.
  • Kerry Wood and his “miracle” shoulder continue down the comeback trail. He finally gave up some hits and a run, but his velocity was again very good and his control solid. One source that watched him said that the hits were made on “good pitches,” but that the biggest concern was that Wood has made “no changes” to his delivery. Wood told WGN’s David Kaplan last week that he was throwing “fastball and slider, but my curve is my best pitch right now.” Wood could be back in the next two weeks, if not sooner.
  • Ian Kinsler is making good progress with the stress fracture in his foot. I’m still in the dark over how this occurred, and I feel like the terminology being used is less than illuminating (stress fractures don’t occur after a trauma). That’s just me being peevish, though, and it doesn’t affect the recovery. Kinsler should start a rehab assignment later this week, likely a short one at Double-A Frisco. The Rangers also figure to get Vicente Padilla back after he gets some work in at Frisco. That’s scheduled for Tuesday.
  • Quick Cuts: Bill Hall thinks he will be back in the Brewer lineup by mid-week. … Phillies prospect Kyle Drabek will have Tommy John surgery. … Brett Myers is expected back on Thursday, and yes, he’ll close quickly if not immediately. … Brad Penny threw an inning of relief in yesterday’s Dodgers game, making him (at least) the third high-level starter to throw in a game on his “throw day.” I like it. … Darin Erstad and Scott Podsednik are both expected back early this week, perhaps as soon as Monday. The White Sox will likely send down Charlie Haeger after a spot start to clear one spot. … Still no time frame on a return for Randy Johnson, though a source says his recent throwing sessions have been “pretty good.” … Fun for all ages!

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