May 13th, 2007 → 10:29 am @ Seth Mnookin
There are days when I think Murray Chass is a bad writer, or a lazy reporter, or a grudge-carrying boob. Those are the good days. Then there are days like today, when I wonder if he knows anything about baseball at all.
Pretty much everyone who is involved with, reporters on, is a fan of, or reads about baseball is aware of the laughably porous PED-testing program MLB has in place. It’s been written about again and again and again.
But in today’s Times, Chass has a typical column, which is to say, one devoid of any new information. He also comes out with this gem, which is impressive even for him:
“Because baseball tests for steroids and other performance-enhancing substances, it is unlikely that Bonds is risking his career by using them. But baseball, as all other sports, doesnâ€šÃ„Ã´t test for human growth hormone, so some Bonds critics believe thatâ€šÃ„Ã´s what heâ€šÃ„Ã´s using.”
This may very well be the first time I’ve seen anyone write that the MLB testing program is so good as to all but ensure players aren’t using. In fact, Jack Curry, one of Chass’s colleagues at the Times, wrote a long, prominent story less than two months ago that highlighted just how porous baseball’s program is.
Some of the highlights of Curry’s article:
* Baseball doesn’t test for the blood booster EPO or 1GF-1, a hormone that mimics the effects of HGH.
* If a player faces a random test on game day, he has up until an hour after that night’s contest to actually give a sample. That prompted this quote: “If a guy canâ€šÃ„Ã´t do it, he comes back in an hour?” said Dr. Gary I. Wadler, an associate professor of medicine at NYU and a member of the World Anti-Doping Agency. “Comes back in an hour? Give me a break. They should say that he will be chaperoned from the moment of notification. It shouldnâ€šÃ„Ã´t even be 30 seconds later.” The players, Wadler pointed out, are not chaperoned during this time.
* A GM told Curry that, on days in which a collector comes to spring training, a player could alert teammates who hadn’t shown up yet that testing was taking place.
* Some players are notified the night before a test is going to take place.
Chass is also wrong when he says that “all other sports” are similar to baseball in that they don’t test for HGH…unless Chass doesn’t consider what takes place at the Olympics as “sport.” Finally, HGH is no small exclusion: two seasons ago, when I was with the Red Sox, HGH was widely acknowledged throughout baseball to have replaced steroids as the juicer of choice.
May 11th, 2007 → 9:53 am @ Seth Mnookin
I, kid, I kid…but on a morning like this one, this story on “Pitchers You’d Pay to Watch” raises my hackles. (To be fair, Stark’s story isn’t supposed to be representative of his thinking; he queried 20 GMs, assistant GMs, and scouts. But that’s a group that’s been known to be fairly ignorant when it comes to baseball…)
You could probably more or less guess the makeup of this list after downing a half-case of Sam Adams: Santana, King Felix, Dice-K, Clemens, Oswalt, Wagner, Zumaya. Pedro and Peavy got votes, as did Beckett and Bedard. And — here I’ll quote Stark — “(believe it or not) Tim Wakefield.” Jamie Moyer did not get a “believe it or not.” Tim Lincecum did not get a “believe it or not.” But Wake did.
Which is odd: the knuckleball is a dying art, and when a knuckleballer is on his game, there’s little that’s more fun to watch. I know Zumaya can throw 100 mph gas; I also know I can’t distinguish between a three-digit heater and a 92-mph heater, and if you say you can with your naked eye, you’re a stone-cold liar. Felix’s slider is a nasty, nasty weapon; Oswalt is fun just because he’s a fucking tiger, and Dice-K is, well, Dice-K. But watching a dumpy 40-something toss up paper airplanes that make professional ballplayers’ eyes bug out like Wile E. Coyote’s (and make them swing with such ferocity as to risk throwing out their backs)…now that I’d pay to watch. Especially because you’re likely to see it less and less as time goes on.
There’s also the fact that, at the moment, Wake is, hands down, the best starter in the league. He leads the AL in ERA (1.79.) He leads the league in BAA (.189). He’s put up six quality starts in seven games, compared to five each for Beckett and Schill. After last night’s absolute beauty of a game, he has a May ERA of 0.00, a May WHIP of .714, and lefties are hitting .132 off him for the month. On the season, he’s given up about 20 percent fewer hits than Beckett (38 vs. 31) and a little more than 30 percent fewer than Schilling (45 vs. 31). Even taking into account the fact that he obviously won’t keep this up all year, I’m still willing to bet he’ll have been year-end stats than Roger “Give me $8,000-per-pitch or I’ll stay in Texas” Clemens.
The lack of respect for Wake has been a bit of a bete noire for me as of late, and when I get something stuck in my craw, I’m likely to keep on gnawing on it until I can force it down. I’m thrilled that Beckett seems to have given up the bullheaded ways of his (recent) past. I’m also excited that Schilling appears to be closer to the ’04 model than the ’05 model; the Sox need both of these guys to play deep into October. But it would be nice if, instead of another SportsCenter or Baseball Tonight segment on one of these two, or instead of another full-length feature about Dice-K, someone, somewhere (besides here, I mean) decided to highlight a 40-year old pitcher who’s demonstrated the beauty of a skill that looks to be in its twilight years. After all, if you were a kid, wouldn’t you want to get noticed (and paid) for bringing the high heat (even if it resulted in a mediocre record) instead of getting looked over (and underpaid) for quietly making the best hitters in the world look like fools?
There’s no better time to read about your favorite team than when they’re doing well; it’s a truth that I quite well growing up in Boston. Which is why this is an absolutely perfect time to read Feeding the Monster, which is available from Amazon for only $17.16 (cheap!). And, of course, free signed and personalized bookplates are here for the asking. They’re really nice. Seriously: ask anyone you know who has one. Or just write in. But whatever you do, act today. There’s no better way to add to the glow of this springtime dominance than to revel in the victories and triumphs of the last several years.
May 7th, 2007 → 2:55 pm @ Seth Mnookin
The Clemens news will — as it should — dominate the local headlines for a while. For the most part, I feel a sense of relief. As I’ve said before, I think there’s been a quasi-irresponsible lack of coverage concerning the various ‘roid rumors (and circumstantial evidence) that’ve been swirling around the Rocket for years. And my interest in the steroid issue has less to do with the sanctity of baseball or any of that crap than with the effect all of this idolatry has on kids, a subject I wrote about at some length in yesterday’s Globe Magazine. (The Times‘s Selena Roberts does focus on the issue in her column on the front of today’s Sports section: “The threat to the Yankees has nothing to do with Clemensâ€šÃ„Ã´s age, but how he hasnâ€šÃ„Ã´t aged at all on the approach to 45 when he once seemed kaput at age 35. Maybe Clemens has developed a natural youth potion, an organic Botox for his old bones. Certainly, Clemens deserves credit for his greatness â€šÃ„Ã® with a talent that is an understandable sirenâ€šÃ„Ã´s song for the Yankees â€šÃ„Ã® but he has also witnessed his aura undermined by a steroid whisper campaign.” Whatever risk that poses to the Yankees, it would have been magnified a lot in Boston…)
I also kind of think Roger’s a self-satisfied prick, and it sure looks from what’s come out thus far like Clemens and agent Randy Hendricks played the Sox in order to get a couple million more per New York. (Interesting fact: assuming his pitch count averages around 100 pitches per game, he’ll be making $8,000 bucks per pitch. Apparently the $120 million or so he’s made thus far in salary alone isn’t quite enough…) I also think his demands — to have the freedom to take off when he’s not on the mound (no emergency relief appearances for him) — wouldn’t have worked out all that well on the Sox.
But I digress. The real reason the Sox don’t need Clemens is because of the ace of their staff…Timothy Wakefield. Wakefield, who’s set to make $4 million a year in perpetuity (or approximately what Clemens will pull down per game), is going through another one of his brilliant, unhittable stretches: his 3-3 record is the result of nothing so much as the criminally low run support he gets, as evidenced by his 2.11 ERA and his .197 BAA(!). To put that in some context, Schill’s ERA is 3.28 and his BAA is .298; Beckett weighs in at 2.72 and .219. Wakefield is, in fact, at the top or near the top of virtually every metric that looks at opponents’ offensive averages.
It’s true that Wakefield goes through one or two lights-out stretches each year. It’s also true that, since 2004, he’s been the teams best starter. Don’t believe me? Look it up. In the last three years, Wake’s ERA is almost a half-run better than Schilling’s (4.13 vs. 4.55) and he’s thrown 55 more innings (403 vs. 348). The only reason his record isn’t better (26-26 over that time, compared to Curt’s 27-16) is because of aforementioned lousy run support.
I’m not, of course, saying that Wake is a better pitcher than Curt. To me, the real question is why Wake doesn’t get more consistent respect. My theory: the knuckleball. The knuckleball — and the knuckleballer — is seen as kind of a flakey, flukey pitch. When it’s on, who can say why? And when it’s not working, well, who can explain that one?*
But how is this really different from any pitcher (or any pitch)? Sometimes pitchers never get a good feel for the ball, or they never get in a good rhythm, or their mechanics are off. And sometimes the same thing happens to Wake. But if he’s not complaining, I shouldn’t be either; it’s the reason the Sox get away with paying him so little…
* Preemptive apologia: I may have read/heard something along these lines before; it’s also possible that I’ve simply thought this same thing to myself sometime in the past. I just can’t tell, but I’m not trying to steal anyone else’s thunder…
July 21st, 2006 → 10:22 am @ Seth Mnookin
This is the ninth in a series of outtakes done for Feeding the Monster, available in stores now. This interview with Tim Wakefield was conducted in the Red Sox clubhouse on May 10, 2005, and is being printed here to help get Wakefield fans through these next few weeks.
On the difference between the current ownership group and the Yawkey Trust: In my opinion, itâ€šÃ„Ã´s been a 180-degree turn since theyâ€šÃ„Ã´ve taken over, as far as the clubhouse, the field, the fans’ perspective of it. Theyâ€šÃ„Ã´ve really did a good job of bringing it all together. The ballpark is more fan friendly or being more convenient for the fans to watch the team play, and theyâ€šÃ„Ã´ve also made it more convenient for the player to work here. Considering the conditions that we used to come to work to everyday before, it’s a lot nicer since they redid the clubhouse.
On Fenway: Itâ€šÃ„Ã´s not that the clubhouse was bad before. Itâ€šÃ„Ã´s just that itâ€šÃ„Ã´s such an old ballpark, it was hard to do things. Just like you, you go to your desk everyday, if it’s cluttered, itâ€šÃ„Ã´s depressing to go to work everyday. They did a good job coming in here and making the changes that they made, not only from a team standpoint, but everything that surrounds the team. That helps us perform better.
On communication between ownership and players: We have roundtables and they want the playerâ€šÃ„Ã´s opinion and perspective on things. In years past, it was never like that. [When the team fired Dr. Bill Morgan], at least they gave us a chance to voice our opinion, and ultimately they make their decision and you have to respect that.
On the concept of team chemistry: I really feel that the organization has a good sense on what chemistry is. You know, even though we had great chemistry last year, they went out and got guys who could fill those holes and keep the chemistry together. You could have 24 great guys, and it’s one bad guy who could ruin the whole team. I think theyâ€šÃ„Ã´re aware of it. Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m a big believer and I think the organization is aware of that too that talent can only take you so far. There’s that little extra team concept of chemistry and character of the ballclubâ€šÃ„Ã®weâ€šÃ„Ã´re all a family in here. We spend more time with our teammates for nine months than we do with our family. All of these guys are like brothers to all of us. [If you have bad chemistry] it effects peopleâ€šÃ„Ã´s emotions on the field. If you get one guy thatâ€šÃ„Ã´s a bad apple or has a bad attitude or is always complaining about something or stuffâ€šÃ„Ã´s not right, it makes it depressing because you hear it all the time. And you just donâ€šÃ„Ã´t want to hear it. Youâ€šÃ„Ã´re happy with the way things are and then you hear somebody else whoâ€šÃ„Ã´s not happy, who badmouths the organization or stuff like that. We donâ€šÃ„Ã´t need that. We donâ€šÃ„Ã´t need that one negative person amongst 24 positive people because itâ€šÃ„Ã´s easier to pull somebody down than it is to pull somebody up.
On having a veteran clubhouse: I just think it makes it a lot easier for all of us to go out and, everybody on this team knows what their role is, and I think it comes from the manager first. We’ve got a lot of guys on this team that could be everyday players somewhere else. Doug Mirabelli, for example, he could be an everyday player, but heâ€šÃ„Ã´s content with his job and understands what it is. Ramon Vazquez could play somewhere else. Jay Payton could play somewhere else, but they know their roles and theyâ€šÃ„Ã´re very important roles in the success of this team. Itâ€šÃ„Ã´s not just the David Ortizes, the Mannys, the Pedros, or the Curt Schillings that win ballgames. Itâ€šÃ„Ã´s the 25 of us that are here. Like Dave Roberts. When I said this last year when we went to the ALCS after we beat Anaheim, itâ€šÃ„Ã´s gonna take 25 of us to win. And we did it.
On signing a contract that will keep him in Boston through the end of his career: Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m a big fan of the tradition here. Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m a big fan of the passion that the fans have for the team. Iâ€šÃ„Ã´ve been a part of it for so long that Iâ€šÃ„Ã´ve grown accustomed to it. I like it here. Iâ€šÃ„Ã´m comfortable here. I canâ€šÃ„Ã´t see myself wearing another uniform. Iâ€šÃ„Ã´ve worn this one for so long that when it came time to get something done, it wasnâ€šÃ„Ã´t about the money, it was to stay on a team that I want to be apart of. Thereâ€šÃ„Ã´s a lot of history here.
On the atmosphere in Boston: Itâ€šÃ„Ã´s great to play in a market thatâ€šÃ„Ã´s this big and gets this much attention because every game feels like a playoff game. Iâ€šÃ„Ã´d rather it be this way then playing in San Diego or Pittsburgh where there are two or three beat writers that are around and thatâ€šÃ„Ã´s it. I actually played in Pittsburgh when were good and it was fun and we got a lot of attention and we were winning, but now itâ€šÃ„Ã´s, you know, itâ€šÃ„Ã´s tough for those guys to win sometimes. They come to the ballpark everyday and thereâ€šÃ„Ã´s no excitement. Thereâ€šÃ„Ã´s electricity in this ballpark every night.