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Milwaukee Brewers Win a Wild One in Pittsburgh in 14; Gomez Ejected

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The Milwaukee Brewers managed to win a wild game, 3-2, against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Sunday afternoon. The game took fourteen innings, and featured the ejection of Brewers star centerfielder Carlos Gomez — a known hothead — in the third inning after he hit a triple off Pirates starter Gerrit Cole and appeared to delay his start from the batter’s box a bit. (Apparently Gomez thought he’d hit a homer, but he hadn’t.)

All very typical behavior in a baseball game, to be sure. Hitters do this all the time, and only rarely do pitchers get upset by it. (Instead, they try to get even, usually by throwing a baseball or two past the offending player’s head during the next at-bat.)

Words were exchanged between Cole and Gomez; Cole appeared to be barking at Gomez, and whatever Cole said was enough for Gomez to come off the bag, throw his batting helmet in frustration, and then charge toward Cole. Brewers third-base coach Ed Sedar went and immobilized Cole — an interesting choice — while Pirates third baseman Josh Hamilton tried to calm down Gomez.

At this point Pirates reserve Travis Snider charged off the bench and threw a punch or two at Gomez. The remaining benches cleared, with only Ryan Braun and Andrew McCutchen trying to keep their heads and keep everyone separated.

Before it was over, Martin Maldonado had thrown a punch that connected with Snider’s face after Rickie Weeks had Snider in a headlock, and Russell Martin threw several punches, only one of which seemed to connect (this one, perhaps, with Brewers bench coach Jerry Narron).

After all was said and done, Gomez was ejected (Elian Herrera came in to pinch run, then took over Gomez’s duties in center for the rest of the game), Narron was ejected (even though Narron didn’t do anything that I saw), and Snider was ejected.

Cole stayed in the game. Martin for the Pirates and Maldonado for the Brewers resumed their seats on the bench.

That the Brewers actually won this wild game 3-2 in fourteen innings is almost beside the point.

Yes, there were some wonderful heroics. Ryan Braun hit a solo HR in the top of the ninth to tie the game at 2, and Khris Davis, of all people, hit a solo HR in the fourteenth to give the Brewers the win.

And the relief pitching, again, was stellar — can’t ask for more from any of them, as nearly all of them are doing their jobs save Wei-Chung Wang (who wouldn’t even be at the major-league level excepting he’s a Rule 5 guy, so the Brewers have to keep him on the roster).

I’d much rather talk about the relievers as a group, or the three solo HRs from Mark Reynolds, Braun and Davis, or about Francisco Rodriguez’s 311th career save . . . but instead, what I’m left to talk about is this fight.

According to Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Brewers beat writer Todd Rosiak, Gomez explained what happened this way:

“That (Atlanta) game I know I go over (the line). But today I’m not,” Gomez said. “First of all, I hit a triple – it’s not a double – I’m not flipping my bat because I think it’s a home run. I thought it was an out. I thought it was a fly-ball out, line-drive center field. And I’m kind of like, ‘Oh, I had good contact but I don’t think it’s going out.’

“It’s not like I’m pimping a home run. Then I get to third base and somebody’s screaming at me – ‘It’s not your job.’ But everything’s over and Snider comes real angry and talks to me that way, so I responded back, he tried to punch me and everything started there. I don’t know why they’re mad for something like that.”

Then, Gomez went on to say that the Pirates had been doing a goodly amount of showboating themselves, but the Brewers said and did nothing about it. So why should the Pirates care even if Gomez was showboating (which, as you have seen, Gomez insists he wasn’t)?

That’s why Gomez insists he will not apologize. And he intends to appeal any suspension Major League Baseball intends to give him, for that matter — because he truly feels he did nothing wrong whatsoever.

Here’s a quote from Rosiak’s piece that’s from Brewers reserve catcher Martin Maldonado, the Brewers other “main offender” in today’s fracas:

Said Maldonado: “I saw Snider and Martin over Gomez. I could tell it wasn’t fair, so I had to protect my teammate. I don’t worry about (a suspension). That’s part of baseball. Whatever happens.”

Or, in not so many words, Maldonado’s saying he was protecting his teammate from being ganged up on. Period. And so if he gets suspended for that, fine.

Rosiak also interviewed Russell Martin and Gerrit Cole for his piece, and what they had to say was eye-opening in turn:

In the Pirates’ clubhouse, Cole didn’t deny giving Gomez a piece of his mind in the aftermath of his triple.

“I grabbed the ball from (Harrison) and I said, ‘If you’re going to hit a home run, you can watch it. If you’re going to hit a fly ball to center field, don’t watch it.’” said Cole. “I didn’t curse at him, I didn’t try to provoke a fight. I was frustrated and I let my emotions get the better of me and I ended up getting one of my teammates hurt.

“Not too thrilled about it.”

Snider had left the Pittsburgh clubhouse before reporters were allowed in, but Martin made it clear that the Pirates weren’t happy with Maldonado’s role in the incident.

“The fair thing would be to have our team hold down Maldonado so that Travis can go back and sucker-punch him right in the face,” Martin said. “That would be the fair thing to do. I don’t know if we ask the Brewers if they’re going to be down for that.”

I watched this game, so I can tell you for a fact that Cole did indeed swear at Gomez — Cole dropped the f-bomb a few times, in fact.

But was that enough for Gomez to go off like that?

And even if it was, should Gomez have allowed himself to get so carried away, considering he’s one of the most important Brewers on the team?

Personally, I think Gomez should’ve held his temper. He’s said in the past that he wants to set a good example for his young son, which he can’t do if he’s going to be throwing batting helmets or worse, throwing punches, no matter what the provocation.

Worst of all, the fact remains that every pitcher in the league has to know by now that Gomez is such a hothead that he can be removed fairly easily from games merely by taunting him. So if you’re an opposing pitcher, what’s to keep you from trying to “get the edge” by throwing a few f-bombs or whatever it takes to make Gomez go ballistic, which will get him tossed from ballgames like nobody’s business?

As a Brewers fan, I’m appalled that Gomez keeps having these things happen to him. He needs to learn how to hold his temper. It’s not easy, but he has to do it — otherwise his value to the Brewers is much less than it should be.

This is why, as both a person and a fan, I urge the Brewers to get Gomez into counseling before it’s too late.

Milwaukee Brewers 9-Game Winning Streak Comes to an End

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All good things must come to an end . . . something every baseball fan knows, most particularly a fan of the Milwaukee Brewers like yours truly.

You see, over the past two weeks, the Brewers had won nine games straight up until last night’s contest against the St. Louis Cardinals (which the Brewers lost by a score of 4-0). After my blog post bemoaning the Brewers’ lack of hitting in their opening series against the Atlanta Braves, the Brewers started to hit.

Better yet, Brewers pitchers kept pitching at the same high level as they had during that opening series.

And every baseball fan knows that when a single team has both good pitching and good hitting, that particular team is likely to win more games than it loses.

But a nine-game winning streak takes more than just good pitching and good hitting, welcome though those are. It also takes good defense — which, to the Brewers credit, they’ve mostly had — and a goodly bit of luck, besides. Without all of that, you don’t win nine games in a row.

So what will happen next to the 2014 Milwaukee Brewers, now that their first winning streak is over?

Well, there’s an old truism that states you’re never as good as you think you are (with the corollary, of course, that you’re also never as bad as you think you are, either). This is the main reason I don’t expect the Brewers to win ten out of every twelve games for the rest of the season — well, that, and the fact that the best team of the modern era, winning-percentage wise, won approximately seven games out of ten (that team, of course, being the 1954 Cleveland Indians and their gaudy 111-43 record in a 154-game season).

And in the past twenty years, only two teams have approached the level of the Indians’ past success — those two teams being the 2001 Seattle Mariners (116-46), and the 1998 New York Yankees (114-48).

So no, I don’t think the 2014 Milwaukee Brewers are likely to reach such dizzying heights.

But I do think they are likely to make the playoffs, providing Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez stay healthy.

Anyway, it’s been fun watching them play so well . . . and for the record, the main reason I didn’t talk too much about the Brewers during their nine-game winning streak was because as a true-blue diehard baseball fan, I really didn’t want to jinx my favorite team.

Realistically, I know that nothing I say matters. The Brewers are going to go out there and play the same way regardless. But I still didn’t want to jinx them . . . make of that what you will.

Odds and Ends, April 2014 Version

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Well, folks, as usual, I’ve been so busy the past week that I have barely had enough time to turn around.

Whenever I get this busy, I don’t blog much, I don’t do much other than what must be done first — editing, in this case, and glad to have the work — and everything else basically takes a backseat.

This is why I didn’t review anything last week at Shiny Book Review (SBR).

This is why I didn’t write a follow-up blog regarding the two elections that the Koch Brothers-backed Americans for Prosperity group threw a lot of money into . . . and it’s also why, despite the Milwaukee Brewers’ impressive sweep of the Boston Red Sox, I didn’t get back here to write about that, either.

That being said, here’s a few quick hits regarding the odds and ends I left open last week:

  1. The elections in Iron County, WI, and in Kenosha County for the Kenosha Unified School Board seemed to be largely unaffected by the huge amount of money Americans for Prosperity threw into the races. The folks in Iron County basically said in a number of televised interviews that they disliked interference from people who didn’t live in Iron County — so the money that AFP threw into the election seems to have gone by the boards. And the people in Kenosha County didn’t change their minds regarding their candidates, either . . . so it does appear, as my late friend Jeff Wilson once put it, that there is a monetary ceiling to an election where a group (or groups) can spend whatever they like, but after a certain point, people just tune out.
  2. The Brewers going into Boston and sweeping the Red Sox was completely unanticipated, at least by me. After only scoring four runs in three games and losing two out of three at home in the Brewers’ own opening series, it was particularly impressive that the Brewers could go into Boston, win all three games (including an 11th inning thriller), and actually have some clutch hits in games that mattered.
  3. What a shame that Wisconsin lost to Kentucky in the NCAA Basketball Tournament. I’m glad the Badgers did so well and got to the Final Four — that’s the one thing I got right in my NCAA bracket — but I wish they’d have had just one more game in them. (C’est la vie.)
  4. Normally after turning in a really big edit — as I did on  Saturday morning — I’d take a few days off. Right now, I can’t, because I’m looking over my master file for AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE. There is a reason for that: The e-book will be up on Amazon and most other major dealers on April 15 — so if you’ve ever wanted to find out what the deal is with regards to my Elfyverse or my character Bruno the Elfy, now’s your chance to set your clocks.

Later in the week, I should have at least a bit of time to get a review or two in over at SBR, and I hope to be able to talk more about baseball, or politics, or maybe even the recent decision by the NLRB arbitrator in Chicago who ruled that Northwestern University’s football players should be able to form a union, as they are employees like any other (as that last really intrigues me, but I haven’t had enough time to do justice to the subject as of yet).

But for now, all I can do is please ask you to let people know that AN ELFY ON THE LOOSE is coming soon . . . and if you think anyone will be interested (or even if they aren’t), tell them that my late husband Michael B. Caffrey’s two stories of military science fiction about his excellent character Joey Maverick, a quiet and responsible man who is nonetheless every bit a hero, are available now at Amazon (here and here).

Even with my own novel coming out, it still matters a great deal to me that Michael’s stories find their audience, especially as, years ago, Michael had hundreds of people who said they wanted to buy them as soon as he was willing to put them out. (I don’t know where these people went, mind you. But maybe at least a few of them are still alive, and if so, perhaps they’ll discover the stories one of these years. Hope springs eternal, and all that.)

Written by Barb Caffrey

April 7, 2014 at 8:46 pm

Milwaukee Brewers Opening Series — Heartbreaking, in More Ways than One

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The Milwaukee Brewers “Opening Series” has ended after the Brewers lost today, 1-0, against the Atlanta Braves. Today’s loss means the Braves take the series, 2-1, and that the Brewers scored only four runs in three games.

Yep. You read that right.

Four runs. In three games.

Terrible.

What’s sad about today’s game is that Brewers right-hander Matt Garza took a no-hitter into the seventh inning. Garza only lost it after giving up a home run to Atlanta Braves third baseman Chris Johnson at the 6 and 2/3 innings mark — but that was all the Braves needed due to the impressive performance of Aaron Harang (who took his own no-hit bid into the sixth also) and the relievers who followed him.

Now, could the Brewers have scored some runs today? Yes, they could have. But they had only two innings in which to do so — the third, where Lyle Overbay stood on second base and Carlos Gomez had a chance to drive him in (but didn’t), and the seventh, where Ryan Braun stood on third with Aramis Ramirez on first with only one out. Jonathan Lucroy, the Brewers best clutch hitter after Ramirez and Braun, couldn’t even hit the ball into the outfield for a sacrifice fly, instead popping it up weakly to the second baseman (infield fly rule)  — then, with two outs, Ron Roenicke sent up Rickie Weeks as a pinch-hitter for Scooter Gennett, and Weeks promptly struck out.

What Roenicke needed to have the Brewers do in the seventh was this: Bunt. A suicide squeeze might’ve tied that game up, and the way the Brewers pitchers were going, we might be in extra innings right now.  Gennett was the right guy to get that done, as he has speed and his bat control last year was excellent.

Instead, Roenicke sent up Weeks. The results were predictable. Weeks did what Weeks generally does: he struck out, albeit on seven pitches. (He nearly took a walk. But nearly doesn’t count.)

Mind you, if Roenicke had just made out his lineup card slightly differently, and had put Overbay sixth instead of eighth, Overbay would’ve been up instead of Gennett (or Weeks) in the seventh. And there was a good chance that Overbay, unlike Weeks or Gennett, would’ve been able to successfully take a walk and extend the inning. With the bases loaded, anything could’ve happened.

But that’s water under the bridge, considering Roenicke for whatever reason decided to use Gennett instead of Overbay in the six spot.

What’s frustrating to me as a Brewers fan is that just a few, small changes would’ve won today’s game.

Granted, it’s much easier to manage a team from an armchair — I will admit this freely — but I do not understand why anyone would put Weeks into a clutch situation. Weeks has clearly lost his speed, he can’t catch up to the fastball, and his situational hitting skills are atrocious. He’s the last guy you want up in a 1-0 game with two guys on and two outs.

In fact, I’d rather have had a pitcher come in to try for a suicide squeeze — someone like Kyle Lohse, last night’s starter (who pitched more than well enough to win, providing the Brewers had just managed to score a few more runs) — than sent Weeks up there to strike out.

One thing is clear. The Brewers are not hitting yet.

But if they don’t start hitting, and soon, it’s going to be a very, very long year. No matter how good the starting pitchers are.

 

Time for a Milwaukee Brewers 2014 Season Preview

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As the Milwaukee Brewers baseball season officially begins on March 31, 2014, it’s time for a season preview.

Last year, the Brewers had an underwhelming year, to put it mildly. While youngsters just up from AAA like Khris Davis and Caleb Gindl helped All-Stars Jean Segura and Carlos Gomez get to a 74-88 record, the season was marred because of slugger Ryan Braun’s 65-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. And the constantly rotating cast of characters over at first base due to Corey Hart’s double-knee surgery woes didn’t exactly help, either.

And must I remind you about the horrible month of May, considering it was historic for all the wrong reasons?

Thankfully, 2014 looks to be a different story entirely.

This year, Braun is back, and is hitting a ton in Spring Training. There are now only two people who will regularly be playing first base — Lyle Overbay and Mark Reynolds. All of the starting pitchers — Kyle Lohse, Matt Garza, Yovani Gallardo, Marco Estrada, and Wily Peralta — appear healthy and ready to go, while the bullpen features an interesting mix of youth and experience.

So, will the 2014 season be better than 2013? One would hope so . . . but then again, hope springs eternal and every team, coming out of Spring Training, thinks it’s going to be a world beater.

Here are my thoughts regarding the 2014 Brewers:

  • Braun will have an excellent season both at the plate and in the field. He’ll be tested rigorously, and it’s highly unlikely he’ll fail another drug test any time soon. So his play should be a bright spot no matter what else happens.
  • Garza has had a lousy Spring Training, to be charitable. But he’s one of those pitchers like former Brewer Ben Sheets — Garza doesn’t like to show anything of what he’s actually going to do in Spring Training, and because of that, it’s hard to gauge where he really is. My guess is that if he has enough stamina to get through six innings, he’s going to be fine.
  • Lohse looks good. He’s fit, healthy, a good mentor to the younger pitchers . . . he’s not the titular ace of the staff (supposedly, that’s still Yovani Gallardo), but he sure looks an ace to me. I expect no problems from him at all, and think he’ll be one of the best pitchers in the National League, providing he stays healthy.
  • Gallardo looks much better than he has since 2011. His curveball is sharp and his fastball seems to have recovered the movement it didn’t have during much of 2013. He had some off-the-field problems in ’13, including an arrest for DUI, but it seems like he’s gotten sober and is taking much better care of his health. This should mean that he’s going to be a better and more consistent pitcher, so this might be the year that Gallardo finally breaks out and shows he’s one of the top fifteen pitchers in the NL (along with Lohse).
  • I don’t know what the Brewers are doing with Peralta. Every time I’ve seen Peralta pitch on TV (as I haven’t been able to get to Arizona, obviously, to see them live and in person), Peralta’s battery-mate has been Jonathan Lucroy. Lucroy hits well and is a good catcher, but he is not the right fit for Peralta as Peralta seems extremely uncomfortable whenever Lucroy catches for him.
  • Speaking of Lucroy, I agree that the Brewers need him in the lineup as often as possible, as Lucroy is one of the Brewers’ best hitters. However, he should not catch Peralta, and he probably shouldn’t catch Estrada either, as both of them do much better with Martin Maldonado. The Brewers should instead put Lucroy at first base on those days, as it’s best for all concerned and they’ll get much better mileage out of Peralta and Estrada if they do.
  • The biggest question mark, to my mind, remains at first base. Unless Lucroy does play over there two times every five days, there isn’t going to be much production coming from that position.The two first basemen, while better than Yuniesky Betancourt and a cast of thousands were last year, are still not very good. Overbay is now thirty-seven, and while his glove is still better than average — and while the Brewers infield needs all the help it can get, especially with Rickie Weeks being way under par defensively at second base (the only time Weeks has ever fielded well was when Willie Randolph was helping to coach the team and giving Weeks constant pointers; is there any way to get Randolph back?) — Overbay does not look like he can hit major league pitching consistently any longer. And Reynolds . . . well, he’s not been as bad a fielder as advertised at first base, I’ll give him that. He seems comfortable over there, and he hits better than Overbay. But he’s a strikeout machine on a team that already has Gomez and Weeks, and that doesn’t seem conducive to getting too many runs across no matter how much power potential Reynolds demonstrably has (he’s one of those guys who’s actually hit baseballs completely over scoreboards or completely out of stadiums, well over four hundred and fifty feet).

The remaining thoughts I have are mostly about the bullpen . . . but rather than put them in bullet points, I’m just going to say this:

They’re mostly young. They’re mostly unproven. But I like the mix . . . Tyler Thornburg can start or relieve, Zach Duke can spot start if he needs to, if closer Jim Henderson falters, Francisco Rodriguez is right there and can possibly help (K-Rod has looked especially sharp in Spring Training, especially considering his freak accident in Arizona where he stepped on a cactus while playing with one of his kids; the doctors are still getting cactus spines out of his feet ten days-plus later), and I’m particularly impressed with Brandon Kintzler’s fortitude and perseverance, as he actually made his way to the major leagues via the Independent Northern League.

So, will the Brewers be any better? Or won’t they?

Only time will tell . . . but I like their chances.

Answering Questions — Milwaukee Brewers First Basemen, Figure Skating, and More

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Folks, sometimes people ask me questions . . . and when I’m hunting for a blog subject, as now, I decide to answer them. (Lucky you, huh?)

The first question goes something like this: “So, Barb. Why is it that you get so hyped up about figure skating, anyway? You’re not a figure skater, so why do you care?”

Hmph.

Well, I care because I like to see justice done. I got upset back in 2010 during the Vancouver Olympics when Johnny Weir didn’t get the score he deserved as he should’ve won the bronze medal.  So I signed petitions, formed groups, wrote to the United States Figure Skating Association (to no avail) . . . all because I felt injustice should not be a part of sport.

Why?

Obviously, I realize that nothing in life is fair. But we should strive to make our pursuits as fair as we possibly can.

And sports, in particular, should be much fairer than most other things. People spend years of their lives in the pursuit of perfection, so when inaccurate or shoddy judging — or worse, potentially corrupt judging as in the case of the 2002 Olympics — ruins the skater’s Olympic experience, that can’t help but make me take notice.

Another question: “But Barb. Seriously, Yuna Kim is a millionaire with a gold medal from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. She doesn’t need your help, so why is it you’re so upset regarding Adelina Sotnikova’s free skate in Sochi? Will anyone really care in four years anyway?”

I don’t know if anyone will care in four years or not. But the system needs to be overhauled. Ashley Wagner was right when she said the judges should stop being allowed to hide behind their supposed anonymity . . . if the skaters must identify themselves (as they do), the judges also must identify themselves so if they get something wrong, they can be retrained — or at the very least questioned as to what happened that led to whatever wrongness that occurred.

And again, I go back to Johnny Weir’s skate in 2010. I still care about it in 2014, because justice was not served.

So it’s quite likely that in 2018, I will still care about this if justice is again not served.

Onto another topic: “Barb, who do you think the Milwaukee Brewers are going to trot out at first base this year? They didn’t sign Manny Ramirez, so who do they have as possibilities?”

Heh. The Manny Ramirez thing was something I threw in there just to see if people were paying attention, though I honestly think the man can still hit and could learn to play first base if he wanted . . . but as the Brewers didn’t sign him, here are the potential first basemen in camp at this time:

  1. Hunter Morris (spent last year at AAA, hit .247 with 24 HR and 73 RBI). He is a bit raw, but has power to burn and a good, solid work ethic. He’ll probably start the year again at AAA but might come up later.
  2. Lyle Overbay (hit .240 with the New York Yankees with 14 HR and 59 RBI in 2013). Overbay still fields well at first, and continues to have some pop. He’s been with the Brewers before, so he knows Milwaukee well. My guess would be that he starts the year with the Brewers, as Overbay also can pinch hit and is a left-handed bat.
  3. Mark Reynolds (hit .220 with two teams with 21 HR and 67 RBI in 2013). Reynolds strikes out a ton. He is not a good defensive first baseman, to put it mildly. But he does have some power and it’s very likely the Brewers will keep him around to see what he’ll do as some of his HRs are moon shots of the Russell Branyan variety.
  4. Juan Francisco (His 2013 campaign was split into two parts — he hit .221 with 13 HR and 32 RBI in Milwaukee; before that, he hit .241 with 5 HR and 16 RBI in Atlanta). He is not a good first baseman, though some of that is because he’d never played the position prior to last year. He has astonishing power potential, but strikes out a good deal — nearly as often as Mark Reynolds. It’s likely that the Brewers will keep him around, but they also could trade him if they can find a buyer.
  5. And finally, there’s always Jonathan Lucroy. Yes, Lucroy’s a catcher, but he played first base several times last year and was competent if not comfortable. Lucroy is a consistent hitter who’s only weakness is grounding into double-plays . . . then again, Carlos Lee used to ground into double-plays all the time and no one complained, so it’s unlikely anyone’s going to say much about Lucroy either.

One final question, this yet again on a different topic entirely: “So, Barb. Why didn’t you review any books last week at Shiny Book Review?”

This one’s easy, folks . . . as I was doing my best to get a major edit out the door for a client, I simply ran out of time.

But I’ll be reviewing at least two books this week, so do stay tuned.

A-Rod, MLB, and PED Suspensions

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Folks, over the last week or so, I’ve been riveted by the current contretemps over Major League Baseball’s suspension of New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez (“A-Rod”) being upheld by arbitrator Fredric Horowitz . . . albeit not for the 211 games MLB wanted. Instead of 211 games, Horowitz reduced the suspension to 162 games — the length of a major league season — and further said that if the Yankees make the playoffs next year, Rodriguez would be ineligible for that as well.

I’ve written extensively in the past about Ryan Braun’s struggle with MLB over the same issues (go here, here and here for the three latest blogs on the subject), so if you’ve read my blog before, you know what I’m about to say.

But in case you haven’t, here goes:

I don’t approve of what MLB has done in paying off witnesses like Anthony “Tony” Bosch. I don’t approve of MLB purchasing stolen documents, either. And while I don’t approve of performance-enhancing drugs in the main, I think it’s wrong for MLB to go after one person — whether it’s Ryan Braun, Alex Rodriguez, or anyone else — with so much vigor that they’re willing to do practically anything to “get their man.”

Stooping to the defense of “we’ll do anything necessary to stomp out PEDs” is not good enough.  It’s a witch hunt, just as Rodriguez has said on many occasions. And I think Hardball Talk’s Craig Calcaterra was right when he said:

. . . I would not, if I were running Major League Baseball, have permitted my investigators to purchase the stolen Biogenesis documents. Maybe that costs me valuable information. Maybe that blows my case entirely. But I see no end result, including the possible failure to punish A-Rod, that is worth an organization under my command breaking the law, which I believe happened in this case. I also do my best to get better sourcing for the information my investigators obtained than guys named, simply, “Bobby.”

Even with the knowledge that Rodriguez could’ve and perhaps should’ve taken a much lesser suspension last spring (he apparently was offered a fifty-game suspension, this being the standard length for a first-time offender), I still believe that MLB’s actions were completely and utterly absurd — not to mention wrong.

That the World Anti-Doping Agency has come out in favor of the tactics behind the Rodriguez suspension only adds fuel to the fire.  As discussed in this article from A.J. Cassavell over at MLB.com:

“The ‘clear and convincing evidence’ found by arbitrator Horowitz in this case proves that non-analytical methods have an increasingly important role to play in uncovering those athletes who have breached anti-doping rules,” (WADA President) Reedie said. “Sharing information and intelligence is something WADA continues to encourage its own stakeholders to do in order to help protect the rights of the clean athlete.”

Um, even when “non-analytical methods” include intimidating and browbeating witnesses in the court of public opinion, then paying the very witnesses MLB just spent a fortune to vilify? Even when MLB is buying stolen documents of unknown veracity, then using them to back up their claims that the athlete in question — in this case, Alex Rodriguez — is guilty as sin of using PEDs?

How could any of those things ever be right, regardless of what Rodriguez actually did while a patron of Bosch’s Biogenesis clinic?

Granted, MLB wants to rid the game of PEDs — but why do it this way?

Because there is another way, and that way is called education. If you let all the players know exactly what these various banned substances do in the body — if they’re truly deleterious in their effects — that should take care of a good part of it.

And maybe that’s all MLB can do.  Because as broadcaster Keith Olbermann has said many times, there will never be a way to remove everything considered a “performance enhancer.” (KO has famously referred to an player who was known to have taken monkey testosterone — back in the 1890s.)

Years ago, baseball players took amphetamines to cope with the rigors of a 162-game season, and no one blinked an eye. Then, some players coped with the same rigors of a 162-game season by taking steroids — legal and illegal — because that was the only way they knew to keep their bodies in shape to play. (Note that the first player who admitted he took a steroid — a then-legal steroid called androstenedione — was Mark McGwire, who had well-known back problems.) Finally, some players — such as the recently-retired Andy Pettite — admitted using human growth hormone (HGH) in order to recover from injuries faster.

Now, all three of those substances are banned from baseball — though there are some workarounds for amphetamines in small doses with a doctor’s prescription. (For example, some baseball players have been approved to have Adderall to treat ADHD and/or narcolepsy; Adderall is a stimulant.)

Considering MLB’s current zeal and their scorched-earth philosophy when it comes to PEDs, will energy drinks that give players a natural “high” be banned next?

Don’t laugh. The World Baseball Classic banned albuterol because it helps asthmatic athletes breathe, so it obviously gives asthmatic athletes an unfair advantage. (I hope you can see my eye-roll from there.) And MLB has banned certain types of over-the-counter cold medicines, mostly because they contain a small dose of some form of stimulant.

All I know is this: Shaming people into doing something never works. MLB needs to educate the players in order to keep them away from PEDs, rather than shame them.

Maybe then, they’d actually get what they want — a PED-free game. And they’d not look so much like villains in the process.

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 15, 2014 at 7:30 pm

2014 Baseball Hall of Fame Vote Leaves More Questions than Answers

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Folks, for the second year in a row, the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY, is at the center of a scandal.

Last year, of course, the big scandal was that no one was voted into the Hall whatsoever (I wrote about that here).  But this year’s scandal is nearly as bad, considering — despite big names such as seven-time Most Valuable Player Barry Bonds and seven-time Cy Young Award Winner Roger Clemens being on the ballot again, the Baseball Writers of America voted only for three men — Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and Frank Thomas, all first-time nominees — and ignored everyone else.

Mind you, Glavine, Maddux and Thomas were all deserving candidates. I’m glad they got in. But I’m frustrated that Bonds and Clemens didn’t even get 40 percent of the vote, all because the BBWAA would rather punish alleged steroid users than celebrate great players.

This hypocritical attitude has already forced 3,000 hit club member Rafael Palmeiro off the ballot (he didn’t get the required five percent to stay eligible), has caused former All-Stars Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s candidacies to be largely ignored despite their memorable home run record race in 1998 that reinvigorated baseball, and has caused Bonds and Clemens to wonder if the BBWAA will ever allow either one of them into the Hall, either.

And I’m not the only one wondering about this. Keith Olbermann, on his ESPN sports show last night, asked again why the BBWAA insists on behaving in this fashion. (Granted, Olbermann is much more miffed about 3,000 hit club member Craig Biggio once again falling short of the Hall, this time by a mere two votes, than by the exclusions of Clemens or Bonds. But the point is much the same.) Olbermann believes at bare minimum that the BBWAA should allow voters to vote for more than ten people, the current maximum.

Here’s a sample of a few other good blogs on the subject, the first coming from writer Jonathan Weber at The Ballclub, a blog devoted to the New York Mets that in this case discusses the case for catcher Mike Piazza in detail:

But once again, the argument revolves around who didn’t get in, and central among the snubbed is Mike Piazza. Piazza’s credentials don’t need to be discussed. Neither do those for the similarly snubbed Craig Biggio or any of the others who probably should be taking their rightful place in Cooperstown’s hallowed halls.

The issue obviously lies in the voting process, and how those 571 individuals choose to cast their votes. It becomes, then, a rather subjective process and a bias against certain players who might have rubbed one, or several, of those 571 the wrong way. Or, however many of those 571 that choose to vote based on some archaic principle that only makes sense to them. Invariably, we get stories like the ballot holder from Los Angeles who voted for Jack Morrisand nobody else. Of course, what ends up happening is that Craig Biggio, who should be a Hall of Famer whether you feel he’s a compiler or not, falls 0.2% shy of election, and Mike Piazza falls 12.8% short.

Neither Biggio or Piazza has been specifically implicated of any wrongdoing. . . Piazza’s problem is basically guilt by association—though he’s never failed a drug test and never been specifically implicated for steroid use, he’s of that era so the suspicion will follow whether he’s guilty or not. At this point, if you haven’t gotten a smoking gun on Piazza, you’re probably not going to, because there really aren’t any guns left for the players of that era.

(Emphasis and ellipsis by BC)

This blog from St. Louis Cardinal Baseball.com writer Ray DeRousse points out the real problems with leaving Bonds, Clemens, Biggio, and the others out of the Hall:

Imagine it is the year 2114. A young boy from San Francisco visits Cooperstown with his family. The kid strolls through its corridors, gazing with wonder at the memorabilia enshrined in glass and the bronze faces of baseball’s greatest players staring back at him along its hallowed halls. Slowly, his excitement turns to confusion.

“Dad, where is Barry Bonds?” asks the boy.

The father stops, temporary stumped. “He’s not here,” he responds carefully. “Barry Bonds is not allowed to be in here.”

This confuses the boy even more . . .

Is this really the kind of conversation we want in the corridors of Cooperstown 100 years from now? Apparently the writers charged with voting players into the Hall of Fame do, as they used yesterday’s election ballot to strongly rebuke several players of the PED generation . . . (including) Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro.

(Links to Baseball Reference removed because they’re already extant in this article, and ellipses added to condense quote — BC)

Even Yahoo Sports writer Jeff Passan, with whom I’ve had my differences, wrote this:

As one side seethed about the indignity of Greg Maddux failing to show up on 16 Hall of Fame ballots and another side bellowed about the shame of Dan Le Batard giving his vote to Deadspin readers and another wallowed in the misery of Craig Biggio falling two votes shy of induction and the entire operation reached levels of rage and fulmination and wrath that have turned sports debate today into the modern-day Cuyahoga, a conflagrant river of pollution, a harrowing fact fell to the background.

The man who may be the greatest hitter ever and the man who may be the greatest pitcher ever are going backward in their efforts to join the Hall in which they belong.

If Passan, a man who’s seething hatred of Brewers OF Ryan Braun is already legendary due to Braun’s PED use (and subsequent cover-up of same), can say this, why can’t the rest of the baseball writers?

Oh, wait.  At least a few have, including Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel beat writer Tom Haudricourt, who admitted to voting for Bonds, Clemens, and a number of others (he didn’t vote for Palmeiro as Palmeiro failed a drug test).

But it’s obvious that many in the BBWAA are retaliating against supposed PED users, though there’s another factor in play — that ten-vote rule — that Haudricourt discusses here.

My view is simple. Bonds, Clemens, Palmeiro, Piazza, and Biggio are all clearly Hall of Famers and should’ve been elected into the Hall right away. But because the BBWAA seems to want to be punitive, these men aren’t getting into the Hall.

How do you fix this? Olbermann’s suggestions (referenced in this article by the Washington Post) of adding people like Bill James, some sportscasters like Vin Scully (perhaps Brewers-own sportscaster Bob Uecker might qualify for a vote due to his fifty-plus years in baseball?), and even a fan vote counting for one percent overall sound like a step in the right direction.

But one thing is clear: this must be fixed.

Because this is wrong.

Sent the baseball story to F&SF

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Folks, I’m glad that editor C.C. Finlay said in his post announcing his guest editorship for the July/August issue of the greatly respected Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction (F&SF for short) that he wanted to see some humor, because that’s what I do best.  And after first readying the other story for F&SF (all I can tell you is that it’s science fiction, as that one’s off to the Writers of the Future contest, as I said before), I wasn’t sure what I could polish up in time to send, under the circumstances.

Then I remembered the baseball story.

I wrote the baseball story a couple of years ago for a humor anthology. It didn’t work for the editor of that anthology, possibly because it was shorter than I’d envisioned and cut it down to fit the anthology requirements. But once I’d fleshed it out, I sent it to a few of my writer-friends . . . and they laughed.

Mission accomplished, right?

Well, partially. You still have to make sure you send in a clean manuscript, which is why the “dusting and polishing” phase is mandatory, and you have to make sure you conform to whatever the formatting is the editor in question wants.

Here, that was not onerous; the editor wanted more-or-less standard formatting (double-spaced, Times New Roman or another font that’s unobtrusive, identifying marks as appropriate in case the story is printed out and the pages get separated, etc.). But sometimes it can be really interesting to get to that last phase — for example, if an editor wants a single-spaced manuscript with underlines around italics (yes, I’ve seen this, and as it’s actually how I tend to write e-mail because I’ve been writing e-mail since the Internet was first popularized — don’t tell anyone I’m actually that old, will you?), you have to give the editor what he wants or you have zero shot to sell a story to him.

(Or her.)

Anyway, the baseball story is off — and in case you’re wondering, it’s because of working on not one but two stories this past week that I wasn’t able to review anything over at Shiny Book Review. So do look for a book review (or maybe two, if I’m feeling ambitious) late next week . . . just in time for the deep freeze gripping much of the United States (and most definitely my home state of Wisconsin) to ease up a trifle.

So if you live anywhere in the frigid zone, do what I plan to do: Stay home, put up your feet, watch the Green Bay Packers game later today, then read several good books. That’s by far your safest option . . .

. . . but if you must go out, be sensible and have an emergency kit along for the ride (at bare minimum, the kit should include a blanket, some water, and some food in case of emergencies; if you have a candle, bring that along as well).

Written by Barb Caffrey

January 5, 2014 at 1:11 pm

Vinny Rottino to Play in S. Korea in 2014 (Plus Brewers Search for First Baseman)

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Folks, after Racine native Vinny Rottino’s injury-plagued 2013 campaign in Japan, I was concerned.  Then when I deduced that he was given his outright release by the Orix Buffaloes of the Japanese Professional Baseball League, I really started to worry about where Rottino was going to play in 2014 — or if he was even going to find a team to play for at all.

Mind, I say “deduced” because most of the Japanese baseball sites have to be translated to be useable.  The translations can be dicey — for example, I’ve seen a walk called a “dead ball” in Japanese translation, and some of the other stats can be just as interesting to figure out.

What wasn’t hard to figure out, though, were Rottino’s 2013 stats: 37 games played, 111 plate appearances, a .206 batting average . . . the four homers, the eight RBI, and the single stolen base notwithstanding, this obviously was not the year Rottino was hoping to have in Japan.

Despite Rottino’s talent, he’s now 33 years old; yes, he plays the infield, the outfield, and catches — which is a very rare skill set.  He’s good at all of them, too, and had a stellar Triple-A career, being named to the Triple-A All-Star team several times (most recently in 2011 while in the Florida Marlins organization).

But the timing was never right for Rottino; while with the Milwaukee Brewers organization, Rottino never got a chance to play regularly –  despite being the Brewers minor league player of the year in 2004.

And Rottino seems to need to play regularly to be successful, as has been shown over and over in his minor league career.  (Not that this is any real surprise, of course; most baseball players are like anyone else.  You do much better at something if you are able to do it every day rather than once in a great while.)

Watching Rottino continue his baseball career is both inspirational and frustrating — inspirational because he has refused to give up (for which I applaud him), but frustrating because he obviously has the talent to succeed . . . but time is no longer on his side.

At the age of 33, it gets harder and harder for any baseball player to find teams willing to pay him to play.  And in Rottino’s case, the major leagues are now out of reach.  Japan didn’t work for him, partly due to an ill-timed injury (then again, when are injuries ever convenient?).  So I didn’t know what would be next for Rottino — would he end up as a coach, as the Milwaukee Brewers, Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers, and several other teams have expressed interest in hiring him as such once his playing career is over?

Would he end up in the Mexican League?

Would he end up taking a year off from baseball, as health-wise it might be desirable — remember, I don’t have hard information to work with, as Rottino was just too far away for me to keep a good eye on, but I do know that when you get above age thirty, injuries can be tougher to rehab.  (Witness former Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Corey Hart’s struggles last year as a case in point.)

At any rate, I asked a friend if she’d heard anything about Vinny Rottino, as I was concerned.  Fortunately, she’d seen a wire story, which is here, about Rottino signing to play with the Nexen Heroes over in South Korea on December 10, 2013.

Rottino is in good company, as former big leaguers Luke Scott and Felix Pie, among others, have recently signed to play over in Korea.  And Korean baseball has been growing in prestige lately, partly because of Shin-Soo Choo’s success in MLB.

I’m very pleased to see that Rottino will continue his baseball career in 2014.  I hope he has a great season in Korea and enjoys himself immensely.

Now, as for my plea to the Milwaukee Brewers regarding their first base situation — there is one and only one obvious solution to this mess: Sign Manny Ramirez already.

Ramirez is a free agent.  Yes, he’s been tainted twice with performance-enhancing drug allegations.  But he can still play ball, is a power hitter, and I’m betting he can play first base with the best of them.

The Brewers must think outside the box, because every player they’d normally think about has been taken.  The players I’ve heard as current possibilities for the Brewers include Tyler Colvin, who hit .241 during his 2013 campaign; Ike Davis, who’s bounced back and forth between Triple-A and the majors and had a low batting average of .205; and Carlos Pena, who hit all of .207 during 2013.

None of these players will make any difference to the Milwaukee Brewers — not one.

Whereas Ramirez is a career .312 hitter with 555 HRs, 1831 RBIs and a .411 on-base percentage.  Yes, he’s now 41.  Yes, he only hit .259 last year with Texas’ Triple-A team in limited playing time.  But the man can still hit — witness how he tore up the Taiwanese league last year, prompting his signing to first Oakland’s Triple-A team, then Texas’s.  He truly seems remorseful for his past actions.  And I’m certain he could do a better job than Colvin, Davis, Pena, or maybe all three of them put together.

Yes, the Brewers should be cautious and go over his medical records.  They should make sure Ramirez is clean, healthy, sober, whatever else they need to do — but they should make a serious push toward seeing if Ramirez has anything left.

Because it’s either sign Ramirez, or coax Geoff Jenkins out of retirement at this point — and while I loved Jenkins as a player, he retired five full years ago.

Written by Barb Caffrey

December 21, 2013 at 8:42 pm

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