Thursday, May 28, 2009

Frustration Guaranteed

Mo Williams needs to buy LeBron James a new Escalade. Or a Hayabusa motorcycle. Or a private jet. Whatever, as long as it's something very large and something very expensive, because LeBron just postponed Mo looking like yet another in a long parade of dumb athletes who make "guarantees" that their opponents won't let them cash.

Granted, Mo did his part for the first time in the Eastern Conference Finals, throwing in 24 himself and, for once, only needing 14 shots to do it, but LBJ drained 17 by himself in the fourth, rolled up his fourth playoff trip-dub, plus he forced Dwight Howard's disqualification. Mo, for his part, is a big reason the Cavs won 66 games this year, but in this Orlando series, he's been the anchor around LeBron's neck. 23 of 71 shooting, with 6 of 27 from deep, coming into Game 5. Maybe I missed something, but when did Mo Williams turn into Allen Iverson?

As far as the guarantee goes, it's not quite as boneheaded as Anthony Smith pouring gasoline all over himself and handing Tom Brady a book of matches, but coming from a guy who hadn't hit water from the deck of a cruise ship for the past week, it still seemed somewhat rash. It's also Mo's first rodeo in this arena, and hopefully he's smart enough to make it his last, unlike serial prognosticator/Orlando assistant coach Patrick Ewing, who just got bailed out by his team last round writing checks that someone else's ass had to cash.

In a sure sign that most former college athletes only pretend to go to class, so many guys aren't smart enough to realize that making these guarantees is a complete no-win situation. Ever since Joe Willie sat poolside in his swim trunks and laughed off being an 18-point underdog from an "inferior" league going into the biggest football game in history to that point, it's been ruined for everyone else. Star player making the boast, not some scrub role player? Check. Big game which was worth making a bold statement about? Check. Laughably big point spread making prediction all the bolder? Check. Team going out and backing player's mouth up? Check. We forget that Matt Snell did all the work in Super Bowl III because Namath shooting his mouth off is THE iconic moment in Super Bowl history. It got him the Super Bowl MVP award, scored him some hot tail, and even got him into Canton...because Lord knows he didn't have the stats for it. But after that...who can compare? The only recent occurrence that might have been able to approach Joe is if Eli Manning had gone out and guaranteed that he'd torch the Patriots, then gone out and done it with a five-TD game.

Eventually, the Kevin Smiths or Anthony Smiths of the world will realize that there is very little upside to these guarantees and one of two things will happen. 1) They'll stop making them (not likely); or 2) They'll start putting their money where their mouth is (as likely as Susan Boyle appearing in Playboy...dear God, let's hope that's unlikely). It's sad for all these macho athletes that a women's basketball player is a bigger man than any of them. (Quiet, you.) By all accounts, Courtney Paris is still looking to give back her scholarship money for Oklahoma's Final Four loss even if, at a WNBA rookie's salary, it will take her longer to repay than it would take your average Starbucks manager.

Granted, no sports guarantees carry quite the same weight as, say, Kaiser Wilhelm or my personal favorite, John Sedgwick. (#5 on the linked list, in case you're the tl;dr type.) We're not changing world history here...anymore. Because, let's face it, Joe made this shit cool. Problem is, making it cool means every schmuck out there is gonna wanna do it. But without Joe's sense of occasion, it's about like wearing a tuxedo to a rodeo...99% of the time, you just look stupid.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

The Cooperstown Juice Bar?

The question of "Do alleged steroid users belong in Cooperstown?" is still being debated ad nauseam across radio airwaves, TV signals, and all manner of Internet connections, and will continue to be even after any resolution is found. The question that all baseball fans need to ask themselves is how much this concept bothers them. In my last post, one of the links took us to a rather thoughtful essay by Sportales' Peter Cimino, asking us why exactly Gaylord Perry lubricating and mutilating the balls he threw (which is, was, and long has been illegal) is written off as lovable eccentricity, while guys getting needles stuck in their ass cheeks (which was not specifically illegal when Hans McGwire and Franz Sosa were bringing baseball back from the brink) heralds the apocalypse. It's a fair question. Those who would have never voted Gaylord Perry into the Hall and now cry foul over Barry, Mark, and Sammy...well, at least they're CONSISTENTLY moral. But if you chuckle at and glorify Perry and rage against and vilify Clemens, then quite honestly, that's hypocrisy writ large.

Baseball's long been built on guys trying to get an edge. Stealing signs, spitballs, pine tar, big tits in and out of the stands, it's all been done. It's for this reason that I don't care whether or not a guy shot up, popped pills, bent over and welcomed suppositories, whatever. My criteria are simple: do I think a player would have played at a Hall of Fame level without using anything? As there's no way to know when a player would have started taking anything if he did, we have to look for dramatic production spikes. (See 1998.) If a guy wasn't Hall of Fame material before his stats went through the roof, then he shouldn't be held up as Hall of Fame material now.

Of these men, who have been held up as the faces of the Steroid Era:

Roger Clemens
Jason Giambi
Alex Rodriguez
Manny Ramirez
Rafael Palmeiro
Sammy Sosa
Barry Bonds
Mark McGwire

which ones would you put into the Hall of Fame? Why or why not? Which clause on the ballot ("Voting shall be based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which the player played.") is more important to you than any of the others?

For me, and I'll be honest here, "character" is lagging pretty far behind the rest. Even though some of his more notorious acti
ons can be defended today, many of them would have gotten Ty Cobb arrested and jailed for hate crimes in today's PC climate. And yet, no one's clamored for his removal. Nor the aforementioned Perry, nor Mike Schmidt, who has all but admitted to the use of amphetamines. Nor Willie Mays, who was linked to them in his final days as a Met. Nor Willie Stargell, who was said to be the hookup for the "We Are Fam-a-lee" Pirates. So what exactly would send up that kind of a red flag? Let's discuss:

Roger Clemens

Yes, this picture is here for a reason other than ogling Debbie Clemens...although if that's not a good enough reason for you, then why are you reading this and neglecting your subscription to The Advocate?

This is one of the pictures that Roger threw his wife under the bus for, admitting that SHE had used steroids to get in this kind of shape, but he'd never touch the stuff. The fact that he said all of this in Congress, of all places, takes much more balls than brains...which appears to be Roger's recurring MO. Guys who try to bluster and stare down Congress don't usually succeed, and it's a very misguided sense of John Wayne-on-PCP kind of bravado that keeps Clemens as defiant as he is. The fact that he needed to come on Mike and Mike to run down a book that many people didn't know existed, in effect doing little but providing free pub for the authors, gives us a clue that the man's actions really aren't governed by any interior sense of quality control. If his mistakes were centered around chasing poon, we'd say he was thinking with the wrong head, but for this, who knows what's making his decisions for him?

As far as his numbers go, if he doesn't deserve entry into Cooperstown, they should just close the place now. Third all-time in strikeouts, sure to be one of the last 350-game winners, seven Cy Youngs, two Triple Crowns...seriously. The same oversized grapefruits that are getting him in so much trouble now are the very things that made him a pitcher feared like few others not named Nolan Ryan or Walter Johnson. His production always seemed like a roller-coaster ride, dizzying heights followed by "off years" that most pitchers would still give a glove-hand finger for. He suffered a couple of injury-shortened years in his final Boston seasons, problems which never seemed to recur as one might expect. His years in New York were nowhere near as dominant as his pair in Toronto, but with the way the Yankees were built, did they really have to be? Bottom line, Clemens may be a complete idiot for trying to tilt with this windmill, and it will cost him the votes that really matter in the end, but I'll still give him mine. APPROVED

Jason Giambi

For eight years, Giambi was most certainly on a Hall of Fame pace. .304-32-109 as an average while being almost dead even on strikeouts and walks indicates a man with dominating skill at the plate. But, in 2004, a benign tumor and the first stirrings of the BALCO investigation may have caused it all to fall off the table. And while his power numbers have gamely struggled back to something close to his glory years, and he still has a very discriminating eye for a slugger, the steroid witch-hunt years have been suspiciously unkind to Giambi. We can blame the combination of sudden change in habits and advancing age, for sure, but the guy who's creaked through these last six years didn't QUITE have enough body of work to get him enshrined. Some people might give him the sympathy vote for actually standing up and apologizing, but the fact that he still hasn't gone all the way with the whos, whats, whens, etc. will even keep that wave from carrying him in. DENIED

Alex Rodriguez

I'll confess, once Bonds broke Hank Aaron's record, I jumped on the "let's go, A-Rod!" bandwagon. It galls me to see a guy like Hank shoved aside for an obnoxious prick like Bonds, but time marches on. And I wanted A-Rod to march right on past 800 and beyond. Then came Peter Gammons, who indirectly helped bring Yuri Sucart and Selena Roberts and a big pile of other odious people into the public eye. Now that Alex is back cranking them out of Coors Field East (aka New Yankee Stadium, aka The House That 'Roids Built), we'll probably be seeing ESPN tracking every one of his at-bats sometime in 2014. At the rate ESPN's stepped up the "depth" of their reporting, Pedro Gomez will probably be cutting into SportsCenter with a live report on every one of A-Rod's bowel movements by that time, but I digress.

Like Roger Clemens, A-Rod has been very dominant for a very long time, without even the fluctuations that Rocket had that seemed to signal age getting the better of him. Worst average? .285. Seasons with less than 35 HR? One. Less than 100 RBI? Once. His resume's already on point, so it's up to you whether you subscribe to his character. Me? I think his "only for three years" confession is straight out the north end of a south-bound walking hamburger, but honestly, if he's ever stopped at any point, then he's just that fucking good. No matter how much of a moron he might be...APPROVED

Manny Ramirez

Manny's been getting grilled (yes, pun intended...why the hell you think I used that picture?) over the fact that his drug of choice is one that habitual 'roid users use to come down. Honestly, this may be a case of "even the perfect plan finds a flaw eventually." See, Manny's never been one that you'd suspect of juice because he's never had that retarded, where-the-hell-did-THAT-come-from power outburst season, like Bonds, Sosa, and McGwire. The guy's just been a hitting metronome, consistent beyond belief. He slotted in between 33 and 45 home runs from '98 to '06 and hasn't batted under .290 in 15 years. This is another guy who would be absolutely first-ballot if not for chemical testing. And honestly, while the "I didn't know what it was" defense seems like a crock coming from body-obsessives like Bonds and A-Rod, I can almost see it as plausible coming from Manny, who's cultivated an airhead persona roughly akin to Jessica Simpson's. Still, the fact that Manny is one of only two guys on this list who actually DID get officially nailed is the only factor that I automatically reward with a...DENIED

Rafael Palmeiro

This one pains me. A great career with no real age-related nosedives, all undone by what's become the most famous finger since Johnny Cash gave the ol' California Howdy to Jim Marshall at San Quentin in 1969. Getting suspended for doing steroids after this kind of career is sad. Getting suspended for doing steroids after giving Congress this finger wag...well, to be honest, it's pretty fucking hilarious. Fact remains, much as I love Raffy, my criteria is that I'll consider you as long as you didn't get suspended. Well, Raffy did. DENIED

Sammy Sosa

Sammy was a tough one...well, until yesterday. I want to come down on him for not being a big banger pre-1998 Maris chase...but he'd hit 170 jacks his previous five seasons, supplementing that with 132 steals. However, pre-1998, he'd tended to wear down late in the season.

September '93: 101 AB, .248 avg., 4 HR
September '95: 108 AB, .231 avg., 6 HR
August '96: 69 AB, .217 avg., 4 HR (sat out September with injury)
June-August '97: 340 AB, .226 avg., 17 HR

He also tailed off badly in 1999, batting only .229 in September and once again falling short of McGwire in the home run race. The overall point, though, was that a pattern began forming of a guy who could have really good seasons, but seemed to wear down at some point every year. The biggest selling point I've ever seen for steroids isn't so much that everything gets so much stronger, it's that the muscles you're working recuperate so much quicker and maintain greater endurance...which is just as important as pure power over the course of the six-month daily slog we call the baseball season. When Sammy started to really bomb was the year that he finally kept it all together for a full season. A guy struggling until the age of 25 or 26, I can understand. A guy struggling until 29, and then putting up numbers that would have you kicking the AI level up a notch on your PlayStation, makes me scratch my head. All that said, I'd be pretty tempted to go ahead and vote Sammy in. But I can't really do that. He wasn't a Hall of Famer before his explosion, and his "no hablo ingles" performance in Congress was the biggest insult to the fans' collective intelligence since Latrell Sprewell's inflated grocery budget. And now, the news of his positive test makes it quite, quite easy to say...DENIED

Barry Bonds

Barry's the big fish. The government has slit its own throat trying to nail Barry Bonds to the cross. Books have noted conversations between Bonds and good friend Junior Griffey where Bonds looks at Mark and Sammy and says, "Hey, I want some of that." But, dear God almighty, if there was ever a guy who didn't need anything extra to go down as a legendary player, it was Barry. He'd already had a 40-40 season. He was already in the 400 HR-400 SB himself. And no one's joined him since. There was absolutely nothing to keep Barry out of the Hall of Fame even if he had RETIRED after 1998. But, instead, he turned into the Incredible Hulk and became the official symbol for the Era of Enhancement. Still, like I said before, if you looked like a Hall of Famer before the juice appeared to enter your system, you should still be one afterward. APPROVED

Mark McGwire

I first began paying close attention to baseball in 1988, when I was nine years old. I'd heard about the Bash Brothers, and seriously dug the Oakland lineup, not just Canseco and McGwire, but also guys like Carney Lansford, Dave Henderson, Luis Polonia, and that killer pitching staff of Welch, Stewart, the Eck, Storm Davis, et al. But a funny thing happened in 1989...Mark McGwire couldn't even hit his weight. Sure, he was getting on base and jacking long balls, but a .231 average? Ick. 1990, same thing. 1991, again, this time the average dropping to .201. Over that three-year stretch, Big Mac's average was .223. 31 HR and 92 RBI were nice, but he was a very feast-or-famine hitter. Kind of like another, more extreme case who was staring to become a punchline about this time. When McGwire started breaking down in '93 and '94, it seemed like he was all but done. Then, at 32, the man just went bananas. .312-52-113 bananas. Two years later, he and Sammy saved baseball. But while everyone else was marveling at these Ruthian swats that Mark was sending home with fans nationwide, I was still remembering the guy who had seemed like a rich man's Rob Deer less than a decade prior. Wondering how the hell a guy just explodes like that at his age, when a hitter is supposed to be slowing down a notch or two. It didn't seem right then, and after his stonewalling performance in Congress, it DAMN sure doesn't seem right now. At 30, it was wasted potential. At 36, it was shady immortality. At 41, he pissed it all away to avoid perjury charges. DENIED

When I was getting into baseball, there was a video being advertised on TV and in magazines called "The 500 Home Run Club." At the time, said club had amassed 13 members in over 100 years of baseball. (Maybe 12, Schmidt might not have been there when the video was produced.) We now have 25, doubling the club's membership in the last 20 years. In the 18 years before the video's production, only Frank Robinson, Harmon Killebrew, and Reggie Jackson had reached 500. Of the ten guys who've joined since Eddie Murray in 1996, only Ken Griffey, Jim Thome, and Frank Thomas have escaped far. Many within baseball are prepared to simply stick their heads in the sand and move along with life, and there's naught wrong with that, if you so choose. It's just made life more difficult for the writers who make these decisions that will be derided for generations to come, one way or the other. Eventually, all these men may very well join the Hall of Fame, but if they do, they should all be segregated into their own special room. We'll call it "The Juice Bar." Please observe all necessary safety precautions when entering.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

A steroid policy with some teeth?

Some of the reactions to Manny Ramirez's suspension for steroids went way beyond the rational. (See Bill Plaschke calling for everything but Manny's head on a pike...and this WAS the rational version. His totally losing his shit on Around the Horn seems to have disappeared into the ether.) But, honestly, are we past being annoyed with it yet? Do we just kind of shrug and simply adjust our hopes for our favorite teams (or our fantasy teams for that matter) and factor these guys out as if they'd suffered some minor rotator cuff problem? It's a difficult situation to get a good read on because everyone has an excuse. I thought it was arthritis trainer said it was good for me...I wanted my own pair of knockers to play with and not get slapped...I wanted to see if I could become Octodad...excuses all over the place.

Now, people who follow baseball seem to be divided into three camps: the Chicken Little "send them to the ovens" purists, the "why, God, why?" hand-wringing purists, or the "eh, what the hell else's new?" realists. And to be honest, I can't slot myself completely into one or the other. I guess my position would fall somewhere between Camp 1 and Camp 3. I can't really hammer Mike Schmidt for his use of greenies or Gaylord Perry for his use of the spitball, so why would I want to hammer Barry Bonds for using the cream and the clear? To be honest, my main anger at steroid users isn't that they're tainting the game, it's that they're overshadowing the games. Alex Rodriguez's confession owned spring training. The entire NL West race is now being viewed exclusively through the prism of Manny's absence from the Dodger lineup. Even when it's not the story, it's the story. Fringe players like Juan Salas or Ryan Jorgensen getting suspended isn't greeted with gnashing of teeth and wringing of hands. It really only becomes an "epidemic" when it's big-name veteran players getting the hammer brought down on them, and then you can't get away from it.

But is it really that hard a hit for a guy like Manny Ramirez? Examining his month-by-month splits shows us that he's already a better hitter in September than he is in May. How's he going to be this year, when he doesn't even have to worry about playing these essentially meaningless games in May? If the Dodgers are anywhere close to the division lead come Roster Expansion Day (and unless they all suddenly start playing like St. Mary's School for Blind Double Amputees, their odds are looking solid so far), they may very well sit back and coast while Manny clocks everything he sees into greater downtown Mannywood (which will be enthusiastically, if quietly, reopened if he's batting .350 through August, I have no doubt).

To put some real teeth into the steroid policy, I have two options. One of them will send most of you into chucklefits because, and I'll be perfectly honest, it's off the wall. The other one is a little more rational. And as a bonus, Proposition #2 could actually HELP the intrigue and storylines of the game, which are usually lacking through summertime, when the contenders are puttering around and wasting time with the already-mathematically-eliminated Pirates and Nationals.

Going out of order, Proposition #2 is this: defer the suspensions. Suspending Manny in May is like sending the man on an unpaid vacation. And let's face it, unless he's taking financial advice rather than hitting advice from Tony Gwynn, it's doubtful you're going to be seeing Manny behind the counter at Del Taco for some extra coin anytime soon. (Although, with Manny, we really do never know, do we?) But, where's the harm in making a 50-game suspension equal the LAST 50 games of the season? The ones that make players legends, give fans ulcers, and get managers fired? The interest in those dog-day games in June and July take on a little more meaning for a team and a fanbase that knows its engine is about to blow its biggest cylinder in mid-August. And if the pennant race is hot, just think how guys like Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier would feel if they were suddenly seeing those fewer pitches to hit and those fewer baserunners ahead of them, all because their dreadlocked security blanket was conducting fertility experiments? Making it hurt the team when they can least afford it will make teams that much more vigilant, which would in turn add an extra layer of scrutiny for players in addition to the already-heightened focus from Major League Baseball.

Now for Prop #1, which will either curl your toes and set your pubes on fire or make you nod your head enthusiastically. Since the big-name players are the ones who tend to overshadow the game when their wrongdoings are brought to light, and they're also the ones who tend to be banking the most money, one would surmise that they would have the most to lose, correct? Sure, there's the Hall of Fame, but when the shrine to this most statistic-obsessed game bars its doors to its all-time leaders in hits AND home runs, as well as what will surely be one of the game's last 350-win pitchers, it seems like Cooperstown takes more of an integrity hit in the long run than any of the offending players. The secret here is to make players stare down the barrel of a VERY big gun. 50 games in May is a vacation, as stated above. If you want to really make players decide that no enhancement in performance comes with ACCEPTABLE risk, the solution is radical, yet powerful: a salary-based suspension scale. I know, I know, it'll never happen. If Don Fehr and the rest of the players' union had their way, murder, rape, and Satanic sacrifice of small woodland creatures in the on-deck pentagram, er, circle, wouldn't be grounds for even a benching, let alone a suspension. Like I said, this one's out there. But think about it. For Manny, who's making $25M for this season, 50 games costs about $7.65M. Now, ponder this: would you be more cautious about using everything your doctor prescribed if you had to stare at an extra 10 games for each million in your annual salary? Adding that multiplier to the existing 50 games, Manny would (Mannywood? Yes, Manny would), in my MLB, be staring at a 300-game suspension. That's a month shy of TWO FULL SEASONS, boys and girls. Crazy? Probably. Fair? Ye gods, no. But I'll be damned if it wouldn't have every player in baseball snapping to attention and understanding that there'd really be no room to even consider screwing with the system. The bigger your paycheck, the bigger of a name you likely are within the game, and by that standard, the bigger the impact your being busted has on the public perception of said game. Juan Salas getting nailed doesn't make everyone cry about how tainted baseball is. Manny Ramirez getting nailed does. And if anyone would be stupid enough to dance in front of that train, they'd deserve everything they got.

I'll continue on the steroid track next time with a man-by-man discussion of the prominent figures in the Steroid Era, and who I would and wouldn't allow into the Hall of Fame...and while doing so, I'll invoke the name of the man, the myth, the legend...Rob Deer.

Peace and be wild.

Allow myself to introduce...myself

Welcome to Starr* Rated. Primarily, you could classify this as a sports blog, but honestly, I have several interests that may rear their heads in subsequent entries. Aside from being a heavy sports fan and aspiring front-office employee, we may dip into video gaming, music, TV, professional wrestling, and some very, very uninformed political viewpoints. I don't pay tremendous attention to politics, and as a result, have very little to say about it. But there's really nothing off-limits here.

About me: I'm 30 years old, about to re-enter the collegiate rat race after a 10-year hiatus. I have a wonderful wife who's put me in a good position to do so, and supports whatever it is I want to do in and after school. No children yet, but we do have a lovely basset hound named Abigail, or Abby for short.

About my sports: I grew up on Walter Payton and Barry Sanders, Michael, Larry, and Magic, the Gretzky-Kurri-Messier-Anderson Oilers, and the Braves' Rotation From Hell (Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz-Avery-Leibrandt). The Indy 500 will always be the most important car race in the world for me, no matter what NASCAR trots out with. As I've gotten older, I've grown much more interested in some of the more "European" sports, like tennis and soccer. You still can't get me to give a damn about golf, except to marvel about Tiger preparing to shred the record book, and I can't get into horse racing, except for the Derby...and even that excitement is primarily spillover from the wife, who lives and dies for the Run for the Roses. I'll check the Belmont to see if someone's going to cap off the Triple Crown, but otherwise, not so much.

My Teams: Colts and Bears in the NFL; Pacers and Bulls in the NBA; Braves and Mets in MLB; Lightning and Capitals in the NHL. Oh, and Man United and Yeovil Town in English "football." Very odd that I've gravitated toward pairs of teams in the same division, isn't it? Even when one does well, it's often at the other's expense. There's some psychological-Freudian-babble issues at the center of this, probably, but I can't quite afford that $100 per hour just yet.

Hopefully, talking about my pet sports issues here will be a lot more productive than trying to discuss them with Abby, who can rarely be bothered to wake up from her usual 21 hours of sleep per day.

And to close it out, let me give props to the sports fans over at, even if a bunch of them are myopic homers. I kid. Mostly. Some of them will likely come weigh in with commentary, and they are more than welcome. You'll be able to spot them as the ones who spit venom whenever I talk trash about the Ravens and Steelers. I kid.


Well, okay, no, I don't. I often do, just not right now. Anyway, welcome and enjoy. No matter who your teams are.