Saturday, February 14, 2009

"The Yankee Years" - A Book Review

Much has been made of the new book by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci. In fact, the book made substantial news before it was even released—always good news for a publisher. The book endured on the front pages of newspapers, blogs,, Yahoo Sports and all the rest of sports reporting sites for many days until the story was itself eclipsed by the Alex Rodriguez bombshell. A bombshell oddly linked by coincidence in the book itself.

A lot of the early hype was that Torre had broken some kind of internal code by exposing some things in the clubhouse. After reading the book in its entirety, there does not seem to be a whole lot for the players to squawk about. Certainly, there are some discussions that the book reveals about how Torre dealt with a player and a situation. But there doesn't seem to be any reporting that hasn't been widely known for some time.

The strongest parts of the story dealt with the years following the World Series run. According to the authors, the failure of the Yankees as an organization to be as smart as the Red Sox and the Indians in personnel management, helped along by a power vacuum left by an ailing Steinbrenner, led to Torre's best work just getting to the playoffs each year, but also led to the Yankees coming up empty in those playoffs.

The book really has two main themes. One was the success that Torre had in all situations despite the swirl of New York behind him. The second is an indictment of personnel choices by Brian Cashman and others in Yankee leadership.

Cashman certainly does not come across well in this book. The book paints a picture of Cashman jumping aboard the statistical revolution late in the game and misjudging what that data was telling him and his statistical “experts.” The focal point of the indictment concerns the dismissal of Bernie Williams in favor of players deemed to be statistically more capable but who flopped. Players like Betemit and Igawa (as apposed to Ted Lilly) purported to show the weakness of the statistical readings of Cashman's team.

In some fairness, the book also points out that the revenue sharing measures adopted by MLB helped smaller market teams to lock up players that in the past would have fallen to the Yankees. Through either a lack of proper statistical evaluation or plain bad luck, the lack of home grown talent, especially the years between Pettitte and Joba Chamberlain combined with the lack of younger talent on the market led the Yankees to continue to try to patch teams together with older players past their primes or players that had one good year with hope the success would be repeated.

The book paints vividly these failures from Carl Pavano to Kenny Lofton to Kevin Brown. This latter theme of strange and unsuccessful personnel moves combined with poor drafting reinforces the first theme that Torre succeeded beyond the Yankee talent level for many years and for his troubles was under appreciated and undermined by Cashman and the Yankee hierarchy. The case the authors build is a compelling one and hard to argue against.
The book, despite its reputation seems to deal fairly with most of the players Torre dealt with over the years with the exception (and rightly so) of Pavano and Kevin Brown. Otherwise, Sheffield, Wells, Rodriguez, Damon, Johnson and others seem to be painted fairly, if not always flattering.

The Red Sox and to some degree, the Indians did run smarter operations and made shrewder decisions than the Yankees which is why those teams overtook the New York team and beat them at their own game. The book describes this reasoning accurately. But those decisions have to work out too. Thus is the luck aspect of the game and also what gives these things a cyclical nature. The role of injury and chance to such decisions is not dealt with in this book, to some of its detriment.

There is an important chapter on the evolution of the steroid problem, but the chapter concerning this subject is brought up suddenly and is not tied adequately with its context of the Yankee years in particular. It's an important chapter with important information, but is brought up in a jarring and disjointed way.

Though Torre does in some instances admit he was wrong about certain players, he is absolved somewhat nonchalantly on his hand in those personnel decisions that took place. There were many he had to sign off on (and some he had no control over). Obviously, his opinion as well as the front office opinions are both to blame for some bad decisions.

Overall, Torre comes across as a heroic, yet humble hero who values trust and dealing with people with respect. His success speaks for itself and you can't argue with six World Series appearances, four titles and twelve straight post season appearances. If you had a high opinion of Torre before this book, it won't be changed by this telling. If you had a low opinion of Torre, the well written tome just may change your mind.

This Week's Wacky Look at the Transaction Wire

Each week here at the FanDome, we take a pun-filled look at the transaction wire for the last seven days. Take a few moments at your own risk:

- The Orioles Tyed the knot with Wigginton for two years.

- The Orioles also thought Moore was less and sent Scott down to AAA.

- The lawyers Drew up the contract and Sutton signed with the Astros for another year.

- The Cardinals don't believe that Rick's new contract will bite them on their Ankiel.

- The Astros have their own Bourn experience and signed Michael to a one year contract.

- Toronto is glad to have Shawn in Camp after he signed a one year contract.

- Bobby is ready for Abreu world as he signed to play in California.

- The Astros are delilahed to have Chris Sampson signed for another year.

- The Astros also didn't wait until the bell Towled in an arbitration hearing and signed J. R. for a year.

- Randy hopes to be on the ground Flores to a major league job as he signed a minor league contract with the Rockies.

- The Brewers will see if Eduardo, their new Cuban pitcher, is Morlan they could hope for.

- The Blue Jays got a Millar Light as they got Kevin on the cheap with a minor league contract.

- The Astros are trying to prove that their first round draft selection, Bogusevic wasn't a Boguspic. Bogusevic is now an outfielder instead of a pitcher.

- Braden's family went on the loopdeLooper when he found a job with the Brewers.

And that's this week's transaction wire, the Fan's work is Dunn.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Nice Story for a Change

After all those years of struggle, Rick Ankiel finally cashed in. Well, he isn't making Ryan Howard kind of money, but he signed a $2.85 million contract today with the Cardinals. He was just hours away from an arbitration hearing and the two sides split the difference in proposals. Ankiel's story is well documented and during that ordeal, he made major league minimum until last year when he played for $900,000.

Ankiel's story is one of those underdog stories you can't get enough of. He was a pitching phenom until that post season meltdown. He followed that horrid post season with the same problems in the spring. Then he hurt his arm, and yes, took a substance to try to heal, but it didn't work out and he had to give up pitching.

Blessed with natural athletic ability, Ankiel switched gears and switched to the outfield. He paid his dues in the minors (again) to build his tools up to major league standards. Three years went by and he worked toward making it back. To their credit, the Cardinals gave him every opportunity and after a three year absence, he was called up in 2007 and was given 172 at bats and he hit 11 homers along the way to an .863 OPS.

Last year, he played the majority of the Cardinals' games and got 413 at bats and hit 25 homers and produced an .843 OPS. How very cool is that?

Think about it. He was drafted in 1997. He got a cup of successful coffee in 1999. By 2000, he was a star with an 11-7 record, a 3.50 ERA and 194 strikeouts in just 175 innings as a starter. He was the toast of the majors and his team made it to the playoffs. And then disaster strikes. Who knows how it happens. Ask Steve Stone or Chuck Knobloch. For some screwy reason, it just doesn't work anymore. What happened naturally for all those years is gone.

It was terrible to watch. Balls were flying back to the backstop. He could have killed someone. He tried it again in 2001 and walked 25 batters in 24 innings before the Cardinals mercifully pulled the plug. He then hurts his arm and doesn't pitch again until 2004. He appeared in five games all in relief and though he only walked one batter in ten innings pitched, he had a 5.40 ERA and gave it up.

And then followed those three long years back in the minors. He was forgotten and a footnote. He was a strange Mark Fidrych.

"Remember that guy who had that one good year?"

"Yeah, I remember him! It's too bad it didn't last longer."

Well, he's back and he's doing his best to stay back. It's an amazing story and should be made into a movie some day. The Fan would pay to watch that one.

Good luck to you, Mr. Ankiel. May you shag flies and hit homers for many years to come.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

1976 - The Year of the Bird

Writing the post on Rick Ankiel helped the Fan remember the one and only Mark Fidrych. If some of you are too young to remember or have seen that wonderful pitcher for the Tigers, find some video on YouTube or something. He was amazing and it was magic.

The Fan isn't going to reinvent the wheel as good old Wiki has an excellent bio of the man. Check it out some time. For those of you new to the story, yes, it was that strange and yet so darn fun to watch.

Every once in a while, the Fan goes to to check out the stats for that wacky and incredible year. Take a look some time. It was amazing. His manager for Detroit was Ralph Houk. Houk was as old school as old school could get. There were no pitch limits. There was no protecting young arms. He was the same manager as the 1964 Yankees that burned out a young Jim Bouton and Mel Stottlemyre.

In his first year in the big leagues, Mark Fidrych, then 22 years old, pitched 254 innings. He started 29 games and finished 24 of them! He pitched back to back eleven inning complete games! He went 19-9 and only gave up 273 base runners in those 254 innings. He led the league in ERA. He won Rookie of the Year and finished second in the Cy Young Award voting and eleventh in Most Valuable Player voting.

All the while he talked to himself and got on his hands and knees and fixed the pitcher's mound. You had to be there to understand how much fun it was.

Most people think the story ended there. But he pitched in a few games for the next four years. After six starts in his second year, he blew out his shoulder. This was before the medical breakthroughs that players have now. His injury wasn't diagnosed until eight years later! But he did pitch the next year and despite a blown out shoulder went 6-4 with a 2.89 ERA. In typical fashion, he finished seven of the eleven games he started.

He tried it again in 1978. Remember, his rotator cuff was torn in two places. And yet, he started three games, finished two of them, went 2-0 with a 2.45 ERA. The man could flat out pitch. He tried for two more years and just couldn't get past the injury. But despite the pain, he pitched seven years in the minors trying to get back to the big leagues.

He finally got the diagnosis he needed in 1985, after he was out of baseball and got his shoulder fixed. He was 31, but the game had already passed him by and he had started a business in Massachusetts.

It's too bad. He was a bright star and he filled stadiums. He was on the cover of the Rolling Stone. He was a hit. But all too soon, he was gone and there has never been anyone like him since.

It was magical. Magical.

An Anti-PED Post

Okay, the Fan has had it. There will be no more talk of PEDs in this place. It's sickening and disturbing and we can't take it anymore. So what follows is just about the baseball the Fan loves and nothing else.

Unless an aSTEROID hits us, Spring Training will soon get started and it will be time to forget about winter and all our troubles and have our hopes renewed. Which rookies will show HUMAN GROWTH and be the next big thing?

Will Dustin PEDroia follow up his astounding season last year with another sparking edition? Will PEDro Martinez make it back to some semblance of himself? Will Anibalic Sanchez of the Marlins be the next great National League pitcher?

By year's end, will Milton Bradley have injected some life into the Cubs?

And which of the Greenees will play shortstop the most for the Cardinals, Khalil or Tyler? And which of the Nick Greenies is better? The one on the Angels or the one on the Red Sox?

Will Adam Dunn continue to be a player of Substance with the Nationals? Or will he end up as some kind of Richie Sexson in the end?

Will this be the year that we see more LaRoache clips on Sportscenter? Will the Mets keep their Miranda rights or will they ship him out eventually?

Will Junior Griffey get one more go round with the city of the Needle or will he even get a job? We all hope he gets a job soon.

There! That felt good. A whole post and not one mention of the scourge that has plagued our game. The Fan feels so much better and now will celebrate with some coke and call it a night.

Nick Johnson: He Walked, But His Career Never Got Running

Few players in this generation have been more highly touted and yet more snake bitten than Nick Johnson, who just finished another injury plagued season. And now he has once again lost his job as the Nationals' first baseman as he will be replaced by Adam Dunn. Dunn signed a two year contract today worth $20 million to play first base for the Nationals and all but ended Johnson's career with the team. Time will tell if another club will take one more chance on the now 30 year old player.

At one time, Johnson was the best prospect in the Yankees organization. He was the heir apparent to Mattingly and then Tino Martinez. He was drafted by the Yankees in the third round of the 1996 draft and promptly tore up the minor leagues. He batted .317 for the Yankees' Tampa affiliate in 1998 with a 1.040 OPS. The following year, he batted .345 with a 1.073 OPS and walked 123 times for the Norwich Navigators (don't you love minor league team names?).

He made his major league debut in 2001 and fared rather poorly in 61 at bats. But he was still regarded as one of the top prospects in the country. The Yankees brought him to the majors in 2002 for good and he didn't bat that well, but still ended up with an OBP of .347 while displaying a good glove at first.

2003 is when the problems really started to occur. He had been injured from time to time in his first two years but in 2003, he got off to a great start but a stress fracture in his wrist was diagnosed and he went on the disabled list from May 15 to July. He still managed 324 at bats with a .284 average and a .422 OBP.

The Yankees lost patience with his missed time and he was included with Juan Rivera and Randy Choate in a trade with the then Montreal Expos for Javier Vazquez (who frustrated the Yankees for other reasons). Going from the most exciting venue in sports to the tomb that was Montreal had to be a drag for him but the worst was yet to come.

In Johnson's first year with Montreal, he didn't get into his first game until May 28 because of a back problem. When he finally did play, he was not very good and struggled to bat .251 and then he went to field a ground ball. The ball took a funny hop and hit him in the face and shattered his cheekbone. The Expos were averaging less than 5,000 fans a game which altered an old line: "If an Expo falls with an injury and nobody sees it, was it really an injury?"

The Expos moved to Washington and became the Nationals in 2005 and Johnson and the team got a new start. Indeed, Johnson played in most of the Nationals' games in 2005 and 2006 and performed very well. He played 288 games in those two years and averaged a combined .289 with a .418 On Base Percentage with 81 doubles, 36 homers and 151 runs driven in while scoring 166 more. Most impressively, he walked 190 times.

Then disaster struck again. On September 23, 2006, his season almost over, he went to catch a pop up and collided with Austin Kearns. In a horrible accident, his femur was severed and he needed an operation to repair the damage. The break caused him to miss the entire 2007 season.

He was finally ready to resume his career and was ready in Spring Training of 2008, but he tore a ligament in his wrist and had surgery to repair the problem on May 15 (that date again) and only managed 109 at bats the entire season.

The Nationals, like the Yankees before, have lost patience and will go with Dunn. A trade seems the only possibility for Johnson. And so a player with all that promise managed only 102 games a season for six seasons at his physical peak. At the age of 30, is it too late to accomplish what we've only seen in glimpses to this point?

Perhaps he can go to the Dodgers and be reunited with his uncle, Larry Bowa and his former manager, Joe Torre. Perhaps some other team will take a chance on a good fielding, walking machine, who just happened to need to take that machine a lot of times to the shop. It's too bad. He sure knew how to take a walk. He just couldn't keep the motor running long enough.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Abreu Would be Good for Angels

Here is a quick quiz: Who had more Win Shares last year between Bobby Abreu and Matt Holliday? Okay, another: Who had more Win Shares last year between Detroit's Granderson, Ordonez and Bobby Abreu? If you answered Bobby Abreu to both questions, you are a sharp baseball fan!

Abreu's Win Shares equaled 24 last year. Holliday had 23. Granderson had 19 and Ordonez, 17. Abreu had way more than Pat Burrell, had one more than Ibanez and way more than Donkey Dunn. So it's been a bit of a mystery why it's taken this long for Abreu to find a home. Yankee fans would have loved to have him back.

Abreu has age against him. He's 35 and his numbers have slightly diminished the past two years, but as the numbers show, he's still a pretty good player. He's certainly better than Nick Swisher or Xavier Nady or whoever the Yankees throw out there in right field. The other knock on him has been his fielding. But he had more fielding Win Shares than Ibanez, Ordonez, Holliday and Josh Hamilton.

If the Angels were to sign Abreu, it doesn't help them get any younger. They gave up on Garrett Anderson, an older player, only to sign Abreu, which wouldn't be that much of an upgrade. But he's an overall more useful player than Anderson at this stage of their careers as he can still steal bases (22 last year). He still hit 20 homers and is approaching 300 for his career. He already has over 300 career steals and is approaching 500 doubles. That's a pretty good career.

Tejada Shouldn't Have Said De Nada

Somewhere in the background, Queen is singing: "And another one falls and another falls, another one bites the dust...ah...another one bites the dust." Tejada is among the latest to fall to the fickle fate of who Congress decided to subpoena to testify on PEDs at the Hill. If you got called and lied, you're screwed. If you didn't get called, like A-Rod and only lied to 60 Minutes, you're just tainted.

Sometime soon, March will be over. Bonds will either be found guilty or not guilty. The idiocy of the WBC will be over and we can actually watch baseball and try to forget what a mud puddle our favorite sport has become.

Ah well. There will be more names and more news. Clemens will pop up on the news every once in a while as the feds build their case. McGwire will have his name appear in just about every PED story because he wasn't about to commit perjury. And on and on it will go.

It will be interesting in the morning light to find out Tejada's punishment. He'll probably get a token slap for pleading guilty and saving us taxpayers a whole bunch of money. But his story will soon disappear.

Don't want to write about this stuff, but it keeps popping up into every fan's consciousness, so it's hard not to write about it. Every fan wants it to go away, but it won't. And so it goes...

Ty Wiggington a Nice Pickup for Orioles

The Orioles signed Ty Wiggington today to bolster their depth as a guy who can play first, second, third or the outfield. It's conceivable that Wiggington will get 300 at bats and if so, will give the Orioles some pop, especially against left-handed pitching.

Wiggington had a Slugging Percentage over .500 last year with 23 homers in limited at bats. His home and away splits are somewhat discouraging meaning that playing as a right handed batter in Houston helped him out quite a bit with that short porch in left.

But Wiggington has batted .275 or better in each of the last three years with an average OBP of .335, which is pretty decent. There shouldn't be any game against a left-handed pitcher that Wiggington sits this coming year. He absolutely feasted on southpaws with a 1.055 OPS in 105 at bats.

After years of terrible front office work, the Orioles seem to be making strides in personnel moves. Markakis is a star and will only get better. Sherrill, recently signed to avoid arbitration, saved 37 games last year in his first year as a closer. Danys Baez, who did not pitch in 2008, should help in the bullpen.

And they have some good young players. Adam Jones showed star potential (he needs more plate discipline) and everyone is talking about young catcher, Matt Wieters. Everything written about the guy to this point says he's the next big thing. It seems he'll probably start at AAA, but the Fan says to bring him in now. Unless you want a bunch of games caught by a Ben-Gay collection of Chad Moeller and Greg Zaun.

With Markakis, Huff, Wiggington, Mora, Luke Scott and Brian Roberts, the Orioles should score some runs. Starting pitching will make or break them and it doesn't look too pretty beyond Guthrie and...well...Guthrie.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Who is Tony La Russa?

To most fans and to this Fan in particular, Tony La Russa is a bit of a mystery. We get contradictory information about the man and it's hard to get a true picture of what he is like. We know that he (almost singly) supports Mark McGwire with his loyalty and at the same time, we have two players in two years that have found themselves on his bad side and dispatched.

This year's case is Adam Kennedy, by all accounts a pretty decent second baseman. Kennedy has had a decent career and other than a dismal performance in 2007, has been league average or better in fielding and batting and in Win Shares for second basemen. We now learn from this story that Kennedy has been released even though the Cardinals are stuck paying him $4 million this year with no other second basemen on their roster. Boy, when La Russa fouls on someone, it's not pretty.

Last year it was Scott Rolen, who apparently never got over La Russa publicly throwing his player under a bus in an interview. The hatred between the two was widely reported and La Russa won the standoff and Rolen was dispatched to Toronto. Rolen, the holder of an .871 lifetime OPS was a proud player who did not like his manager ragging him in a public manner. Don't blame him.

So what is Tony La Russa? Is he a demagogue? Is he a decent guy? It's hard to put a finger on it as there seems to be conflicting information. It just seems funny that for two years in a row, two players who did not appreciate him were ceremoniously dumped.

Yet Another PED Post {{GROAN}}

The big question concerning the entire A-Rod story is how the information got leaked so that Sports Illustrated could get their story? The story quoted four different sources. Where did those sources come from and what is the government's role in all this? The facts are troubling.

Donald Fehr released a statement as to why the tests of 2003 were not destroyed. The statement makes perfect sense in that they could not destroy the tests or the information concerning them because the government served them with a subpoena for all the information and the tests. The player's union has been battling the subpoena ever since.

Let's face it, it is in the best interest of the union not to have this information public. The union is run by lawyers for gosh sakes who would never throw their own charges under the bus. The leaks therefore, had to come from government employees. And that, my friends, is a misuse of public trust.

The government has not been exemplary in its handling of this issue. While the outcome has been good with MLB forced to take the issue seriously and clean up its game, which we can all be thankful for, the ends do not justify the means. Just look at Greg Anderson, the guy getting the most screwed by the whole Barry Bonds thing.

The prosecutors in the Bonds case want Anderson to rat on Bonds to make their case. He refused and was thrown in jail for months. When that didn't get him to talk, they started raiding his family houses and even his mother-in-law's house. That is harassment in the worst measure. Whether Anderson was a part of criminal actions or not, the government should not be strong arming his entire family like some kind of dictatorship.

And how much energy and money has been expended on this little adventure? While our kids are wasting away on Oxycontin and their pushers are untroubled by any government action, millions have been spent to put Bonds and now Clemens away. Enough already. You made your point, MLB is cleaning up its mess. Get your priorities straightened back around and go after real criminals.

And now, for who knows what end, four government employees have apparently leaked information to a news outlet about Alex Rodriguez. Who is next? It's appalling. Granted, it's good for fans to know about A-Rod and it's good for him to have a chance to clear the air. But it's deeply troubling how public officials can betray public trust in this manner.

Let the Piling On Begin

Alex Rodriguez admitted on video with Peter Gammons that he took substances from 2001 to 2003. He was apologetic and emotional and seemed aware and devastated that this will forever cloud his career. Good enough. Thank you, Alex. We wish you were a bit more forthright at what you were taking and where you got them, but we understand that you won't throw other players and their pushers under the bus. At least you manned up and admitted what you did. Now, because you are Alex Rodriguez, here comes the moralists and their headlines:

  • Rob Neyer - A-Rod sorry he got caught
  • Buster Olney - A-Rod tarnished forever
  • Jayson Stark - Game's history destroyed
  • Howard Bryant - Future king tainted
  • Jeff Passan - Narcissitic A-Rod couldn't resist juicing
  • Richard Justice - Like Bonds, A-Rod never will escape this shame

Oh brother.'s fan poll shows that 68% of the fans either forgive A-Rod or believe he doesn't need forgiveness. Only 32% (roughly about the same that thought Bush did a good job as president) said he wouldn't be forgiven.

The fans get it as does this Fan. A-Rod wanted an edge. Saw other players getting an edge. Took the stuff. Got caught. Admitted it. Okay, move on. The game was crazy and out of whack for a number of years. We all get it. But we know the problem now and if the union and MLB is smart enough, we'll make sure we get this stuff out of the game and move on. At least A-Rod, or his agent, was smart enough to come clean and admit it. Now if only Clemens and others would do the same. Oops. Clemens can't or he'll go to jail.

So to those high-minded sports writers everywhere, the Fan says to:

  • Neyer: At least he's sorry, give him that.
  • Olney: No he isn't. Not to most fans anyway.
  • Stark: Not it isn't. It will work itself out.
  • Bryant: Tainted maybe. It will be a black eye for sure.
  • Passan: Do you even know what that word means? Do you have the appropriate degree to make that call?
  • Justice: It's not like Bonds. A-Rod admitted it and apologized. Perhaps because he got caught. Okay, but still. Bonds will never apologize.

It's a sad day. Agreed. It's disturbing. Agreed. But it's also understandable considering the culture of the day. Athletes are uber-competitive and if others are getting an edge, then the temptation is there. NASCAR catches cheats all the time. Big time athletes will always look for an edge. The key is to be ahead of them and get the playing field as level as possible and keep it that way.

Thanks again, A-Rod. The Fan appreciates you not pulling a Nixon on us.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Ryan Howard Signs Big Contract

Ryan Howard got his big pay day as he signed a three year deal worth $54 million. The signing continues the trend of signing core young players through their productive years thus avoiding early exits to free agency that happened in the past. According to Tom Verducci in "The Yankee Years," teams are able to do this with the $26 million they all receive from proceeds of, and other on-line web deals the owners split evenly.

Howard, though he once again scored big in the traditional statistics like homers and RBIs, has some troubling statistics. His Batting Average has slipped three years in a row (.314, .268, .251). His On Base Percentage has slipped as well for three straight years: .425, .392, .339. And even his Slugging Percentage has slipped: .659, .584 and .543.

Howard also has some troubling splits. He is a .261 hitter at home with a .932 OPS but a .241 hitter on the road with a .832 OPS. He bats much better against right handed pitching with a .967 OPS and really suffers with left-handed pitching where he has a .745 OPS. Plus, he made 19 errors as a first baseman last year, which is hard to do.

Ryan Howard is another of those big boned players like Mo Vaughan, David Ortiz and others. Traditionally, these types of players only have an eight year window of good production. Howard is already 29 years old and this contract would take him through the age of 31. He has four years in so far, which should give him four more, so that is within the parameters of this contract.

Should we expect continuing dwindling numbers for Howard for the next few years? His trend is that way. The Phillies better hope that he doesn't. They are certainly risking a lot of money that his decline halts and he plays much where he is right now.

Torre's Book and A-Rod

The Fan bought Joe Torre and Verducci's book, "The Yankee Years," and after reading about two thirds of the tome, it seems fitting after recent news that the book contained long passages about steroids and baseball followed by a long section on A-Rod. Two things stood out. First, Rick Helling, the former pitcher of the Rangers (his best years) and others is singled out as trying to force the players union to do something about steroid use in baseball long before any of us heard about the stuff. Secondly, Helling and others maintained that half of the ballplayers, if not more, were using some sort of enhancements.

This revelation makes Helling something of a hero in retrospect. Not only was he crying wolf long before the sky crashed in on baseball, but he was a true anomaly as a good pitcher for the Rangers, one of the few ever and he was good without drugs.

Helling was also a teammate of Rodriguez in Texas in 2001, A-Rod's first year as a Ranger and Helling's last. Put the two and two together and you have a player who was on the Rangers who saw usage all around him and felt strongly enough to speak openly at union meetings about what he was seeing.

Helling played with Rafael Palmeiro. He played with Juan Gonzalez. Both were mentioned in the Mitchell Report. And now we find out that he played with A-Rod and that player has been implicated as well.

Let's back up just a bit and make a few clear statements. First, the Mitchell Report should never have named names. The first reason is that the information was culled from basically two informants who only had access to a certain subset of players. Therefore, only some of the players who were cheating were found guilty without a court of law and hundreds of others will go to their graves with their secrets intact and no smears upon their names. That isn't right. And it will mean that some will be inducted into the Hall of Fame that are tainted and nobody knows about it and others will never be elected because of the randomness of Mitchell's reporting. That isn't fair either.

Secondly, these 109 tests performed in 2003 were part of a major league/players union agreement. If more than a certain percentage tested positive, then the union agreed to make testing permanent. Obviously, that percentage was met and testing was instituted. Also part of the agreement was that 109 that were tested were never to be identified. The reporting by Sports Illustrated and others is a breach of privacy that was part of a collective agreement and that is just wrong, if not a legal breach (which it probably is).

The Fan has always maintained that an amnesty was needed for all incidents that occurred before 2004 as there were no laws prohibiting anything. Plus, there was no way to punish all the hundreds of players who used because there would be no way of determining the actual scope of users.

The only way out of the wilderness for MLB was to move forward and make sure the players were clean from now on. And, thankfully, that is the direction we seem to be heading. The unfortunate fact is that it will be extremely difficult for anyone implicated by any of the means that implications have occurred, to get elected to the HOF and that is a shame for those players and their fans. What the players did was wrong, no doubt. But how can you taint a small percentage of the total number of players who did wrong by punishing those few?

Torre and Verducci's book is insightful and in no means damaging to the players who are painted with less than white paint. Even Jeter is painted as being cold to some who have hurt him. A-Rod is praised and damned for his good points and his bad. But it seems fairly presented.

The real compelling story of the book to this point is the heroism of one Rick Helling, who saw a problem around him and tried to stand up to his peers and tell them to stop it. Too bad they didn't listen. Too bad for all of us.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

An Ode To Grass

The Fan is resisting the temptation to respond to the A-Rod bombshell. First of all, every blogger in the universe is doing so. Secondly, Rob Neyer wrote the perfect piece already over at, so there is no sense in trying to out perfect perfection.

Rather, this post will be about grass. Oh come on! Get your minds out of the substance abuse frame of mind. Not THAT grass. The grass that makes walking into a baseball stadium one of the most beautiful experiences in life.

The last live game the Fan was able to attend was in Atlanta to watch the Braves and the Marlins. There is nothing like the feeling of walking through the turnstiles for a night game, walking through the muted, yet artificial light of the inner bowels of a stadium, walking through a concrete arch and glimpsing the ball field for the first time.

The stadium lighting is so good that everything is bright and the grass is the first thing that is noticed. Always the grass, perfectly manicured, mowed (or landscaped) in patterns of wonder. It doesn't matter if a bunch of grounds people are still watering the dirt that seems so perfect and such a rich counterpoint to the lushness of the green grass. Is there any other experience like that in sports?

The best patterns used to be in Kansas City and Baltimore and close behind was Shea Stadium. Yankee grass patterns seemed like the team in general: business-like with simple patterns. Kansas City and Baltimore always seemed to have intricate and unique geometric designs and were amazing to see.

A real up and comer in the grass department is at Fenway Park in Boston. One of the groundskeepers is from up here in northern Maine. The Fan knows his family and they get to go down occasionally and watch a game with him. Wouldn't that be a cool job!

The thing that is so intense about grass at major league parks is the contrast it brings to the city experience outside the stadiums. Let's face it, most ball parks are urban and surrounded by sprawls of concrete and asphalt. The city is gritty and often dirty and drab in shades of brown, gray and black. Then, in the middle of such man-made ugliness, is the baseball stadium and inside is a little slice of Eden with the most amazing color of green there is.

There aren't too many instances now where baseball teams share a stadium with football teams. And that is a good thing because the Fan always felt cheated when the amazing experience of a live baseball field was tempered by lines left from a football game. Those are ugly and a ripoff of the otherwise fantastic experience.

The other ripoff is AstroTurf, or sports turf or whatever it is they are using now that is artificial. The worst experiences would have to be those stadiums where only the bases had dirt cutouts in the artificial carpets.

No, there is nothing like going to a live baseball game. The Fan has been to Shea, Yankee Stadium, Fenway, Fulton County Stadium, whatever the name is of the Miami stadium where the Marlins play (which is surprisingly pretty in person). Hopefully, the future will hold new stadium experiences. Wherever they may be, they will all inspire the same awe, the same promise of excitement and the same goosebumps of a little boy who experienced them for the first time 40+ years ago.