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Boricua, Baby
2006-04-25 04:56
by Alex Belth
Note: The Bronx Banter blog has moved to bronxbanterblog.com.

"Clemente," the new book by pulitizer prize-winning author, David Maraniss, hits the shelves today. It is a fine appreciation of Roberto Clemente, who is undoubtedly one of the most charasmatic players of the post-War era. Although Clemente was a key member of two World Championship teams, he played in relative obscurity in Pittsburgh during the 1950s and '60s, and was overlooked for his much of his career. Until, of course, his monumental performance in the 1971 Serious, and his untimely death in December of 1972. His legend and reputation have grown ever since.

As my pal Steve Treder put it to me in an e-mail recently:

Clemente was actually slightly underrated until the late '60s, and especially during the 1971 World Series when he suddenly got noticed by the national media. At that point they all suddenly seemed to think he was better than he actually was, after years of being overlooked. His early tragic death soon afterward froze his image in time. Had he lived, and had a few years of decline phase at the end of his career, his reputation probably would have balanced out about right. As it is, many casual fans seem to think he was the equal of Mays/Aaron/Robinson/Mantle, when in fact he wasn't nearly as good as any of them.

It is no insult to say that Clemente wasn't as great as Mays, Aaron, Robinson or Mantle. They are all legends. Fortunately for Maraniss, off-the-field, Clemente was more interesting than most. And between the lines, Maraniss points out, Clemente had a terrific, inimitable style.

There was something about Clemente that surpassed statistics, then and always. Some baseball mavens love the sport precisely because of its numbers. They can take the mathematics of a box score and of a year's worth of statistics and calculate the case for players they consider underrated or overrated and declare who has the most real value to a team. To some skilled practitioners of this science, Clemente comes out very good but not the greatest; he walks too seldom, has too few home runs, steals too few bases. Their perspective is legitimate, but to people who appreciate Clemente this is like chemists trying to explain Van Gogh by analyzing the ingredients of his paint. Clemente was art, not science. Every time he strolled slowly to the batter's box or trotted out to right field, he seized the scene like a great actor. It was hard to take one's eyes off him, because he could do anything on a baseball field and carried himself with such nobility. "The rest of us were just players," Steve Blass would say. "Clemente was a prince."

Thanks to Mr. Maraniss and the good people at Simon and Schuster, here is an excerpt from "Clemente." This section is less about Clemente specifically and more about the conditions that Black and latin players encountered in the early 1960s. But it establishes the backdrop that is essential to understanding Clemente's story. Enjoy!

BOOK EXCERPT: From "Clemente"

By David Maraniss

"Pride and Prejudice"

[Clemente] arrived at Pirates camp to train for the 1961 season on March 2, a day late. He and Tite Arroyo had been delayed entry from Puerto Rico to Florida until tests came back proving they did not have the bubonic plague, a few cases of which had broken out in Venezuela during the tournament.

On the day he reached Fort Myers, free from the plague, a story ran on the front page of the New York Times under the headline: NEGROES SAY CONDITIONS IN U.S. EXPLAIN NATIONALIST'S MILITANCY. One of the key figures quoted in the story was Malcolm X, the Black Muslim leader, who in the Times account was referred to as Minister Malcolm. Interviewed at a Muslim-run restaurant on Lenox Avenue in Harlem, Malcolm X said the only answer to America's racial dilemma was for blacks to segregate themselves, by their own choice, with their own land and financial reparations due them from centuries of slavery. He dismissed the tactics of the civil rights movement as humiliating, especially the lunch-counter sit-ins that were taking place throughout the South. "To beg a white man to let you into his restaurant feeds his ego," Minister Malcolm told the newspaper.

This was fourteen years after Jackie Robinson broke the major league color line, seven years after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the separate-but-equal doctrine of segregated schools, five years after Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. led the bus boycott in Montgomery, four years after the Little Rock Nine desegregated Central High School in the capital of Arkansas, one year after the first lunch-counter sit-in in Greensboro. Year by year, the issue of race was becoming more urgent. The momentum was on the side of change, but the questions were how and how fast. In baseball, where once there had been no black ballplayers, now there were a hundred competing for major league jobs, and along with numbers came enormous talent, with ten past and future most valuable players among them. Yet every black player who reported to training camp in Florida that spring of 1961 still had to confront Jim Crow segregation. Even if their private emotions were sympathetic to Malcolm X's rage at having to beg a white man to let you into his restaurant, the issue in baseball was necessarily shaped by its own history. Having moved away from the professional Negro Leagues and busted through the twentieth century's racial barrier, black players did not view voluntary resegregation as an option, and separate and unequal off the field was no longer tolerable.

Wendell Smith, the influential black sportswriter who still had a column in the weekly Pittsburgh Courier but wrote daily now for the white-owned newspaper Chicago's American, began a concerted campaign against training camp segregation that year. On January 23, a month before the spring camps opened, Smith wrote a seminal article that appeared on the top of the front page of Chicago's American headlined negro ball players want rights in south. "Beneath the apparently tranquil surface of baseball there is a growing feeling of resentment among Negro major leaguers who still experience embarrassment, humiliation, and even indignities during spring training in the south," Smith wrote. "The Negro player who is accepted as a first class citizen in the regular season is tired of being a second class citizen in spring training." Smith added that leading black players were "moving cautiously and were anxious to avert becoming engulfed in fiery debate over civil rights," but nonetheless were preparing to meet with club owners and league executives to talk about the problem and make it a front-burner issue for the players association.

In a drumbeat of stories for Chicago's American and columns for the Courier, Smith documented the life of black players in Florida. While his scope was national and his campaign was for all of baseball, he often focused on the travails of black players on Chicago's American League team, the White Sox, who trained in Sarasota. Those players included Minnie Minoso, Al Smith, and Juan Pizarro, Clemente's friend and sometimes teammate in Puerto Rico, who had been traded from the Braves. "If you are Minoso, Smith or Pizarro . . . you are a man of great pride and perseverance . . . Otherwise you would not be where you are today, training with a major league team in Sarasota, Fla.," Smith wrote in a Courier column. "Yet despite all your achievements and fame, the vicious system of racial segregation in Florida's hick towns condemns you to a life of humiliation and ostracism." Among the indignities, he wrote:

You cannot live with your teammates.

You cannot eat the type of food that your athletic body requires.

You cannot get a cab in the mornings to take you to the ball park, unless it happens to be Negro-driven.

You cannot enter the hotel in which your manager lives without first receiving special permission.

You cannot go to a movie or night club in the heart of town, nor enjoy any of the other normal recreational facilities your white teammates enjoy so matter of factly.

You cannot bring your wife and children to the town where you are training because accommodations are not available where you are imprisoned.

You cannot, even if there are facilities, take them to the town's sprawling beaches or parks, unless, of course, they are designated as "Negro."

You cannot do anything that you would normally do in any of the major league cities where you make your living during the summer.

You are quartered in a neighborhood that ordinarily you would be ashamed to be seen in.

You are horribly embarrassed each day when the bus returning the players from the ball park stops on "this side of the railroad tracks" and deposits you in "Colored Town," and then proceeds on to the plush hotel where your white teammates live in splendor and luxury.

You suffered a bruised leg sliding into second base, but you cannot receive immediate treatment from the club trainer because he is living in the "white" hotel. If he can get away during the night and come to your segregated quarters, he will, of course; but for obvious reasons, he prefers to wait until daylight.

Your wife cannot call you in case of emergency from your home because the place where you are incarcerated does not have phone facilities available at all times.

That is what it is like to be a Negro big leaguer in Florida during spring training . . . And the story has been only half told.

The spring training headquarters for the White Sox was the Sarasota Terrace Hotel, which banned journalist Smith and the black players. When Smith pressed the owner, a building contractor named James Ewell, to explain his policy, Ewell said he was following the social practices of the Sarasota community. Also, he claimed that if he opened his establishment to blacks he would lose contracting work: "My clients throughout Florida and other sections of the south would reject my business, I believe." The White Sox situation was made more interesting by the fact that the team's president, Bill Veeck, had been in the forefront of integrating baseball and was not oblivious to the plight of his black players. Veeck had found another place for them, the DeSoto Motel, which was run by Edward Wachtel and his wife, Lillian, a white Jewish couple from New York, who had retired to Florida and wanted in their own "quiet" way to break the segregation policies of their new home. For this gesture, the Wachtels received anonymous bomb threats, hate mail, and late-night telephone calls warning that crosses would be burned on their lawn. Their modest green-and-white one-story motel was located in a white neighborhood on Route 301 a mile or so from the rest of the team. The DeSoto was clean but modest, with far fewer services than the Sarasota Terrace. The neon sign out front boasted Heated * Air Conditioned * Overnites * Efficiences.

Veeck had tried to balance the conditions by hiring a cook, maid service, and transportation to and from the ball park. On the road, he had made the bold stand of pulling the White Sox from a hotel in Miami because it rejected his black players. Still, it wasn't until Wendell Smith began his incessant campaign that the White Sox took the final step of leasing their own hotel in Sarasota so the entire team could stay together.
Down at the Pirates training camp in Fort Myers, where conditions were worse, Courier sports editor Bill Nunn Jr., a journalistic disciple of Smith, was determined to lend his voice to the integration campaign. From his first day in town, Nunn began interviewing players and club executives for a full-page story. There had been few advances since 1955, the first Pirates camp in Fort Myers, when young Clemente was sent off to a rooming house in the Dunbar Heights section of town where he had to eat and sleep apart from his teammates. Including top minor leaguers, there were now fifteen black players in the Pirates camp, led by Clemente and Gene Baker, a veteran infielder. In interviews with Nunn, both expressed their disgust. "We live in a world apart down here," Baker told Nunn. "We don't like it and we've voiced our objections. We only hope we get action." At the ball park during the day, Baker said, he enjoyed talking to teammates Don Hoak and Gino Cimoli about their shared passion, greyhound racing. But when they went to the dog track at night, Baker had to go through the entrance marked "Colored" and sit apart from them.

Clemente was described as "bitter" about the situation. Here he was, a star player on the world champions of baseball, a reservist in the U.S. Marine Corps, still treated like a second-class citizen. "There is nothing for us to do down here," he told Nunn. "We go to the ball park, play cards, and watch television. In a way it's like being in prison. Everybody else on the team has fun during spring training. They swim, play golf, and go to the beaches. The only thing we can do is put in time until we head North. It's no fun."

Later, when asked to list his heroes, Clemente would place Martin Luther King Jr. at the top of the list. He supported integration, the norm in Puerto Rico, and believed in King's philosophy of nonviolence. Yet in some ways his sensibility brought him closer to Malcolm X. He detested any response to Jim Crow segregation that made him seem to beg. In his early years with the Pirates, whenever the team stopped at a roadside restaurant on the way to or from a spring training away game, the black players would remain on the bus, waiting for white teammates to bring out food for them. Clemente put a stop to it by telling his black teammates that anyone who begged for food would have to fight him to get it. As he recalled the scene later, he went to Joe L. Brown, the Pirates general manager, and said the situation was demeaning. "So I say to Joe Brown, 'We won't travel anymore with the bus. If we can't eat where the white players eat I don't want to go with the bus.' So Joe Brown said, 'Well, we're going to get a station wagon for you fellows to travel in.' And [now] we're traveling in a station wagon." That still left a long way to go to reach equality.

During the first week of exhibition games, Nunn interviewed Brown and asked him why he allowed the team to be divided by segregation. The general manager said that he had met with the Fort Myers town fathers, who told him local law prohibited the mingling of races in hotels or motels, but that he felt he was making progress in getting them to change their practices. "I talked to all of the city officials about this situation of separate quarters for our players this year. I didn't go to these men to make demands," Brown said. "I explained our problem to them and told them we wanted integration at all levels for our players. I was pleased with the reception I received. The city officials listened to my complaints and appeared receptive. They didn't make any promises but I believe they are just as eager to have this problem solved as we are." Integration would take time, Brown told Nunn. He considered it a step forward that city officials even agreed to talk about it. Brown was a Californian who had no use for segregation, but he also was a businessman who did not want to alienate the Fort Myers establishment. "Frankly, we have no real complaints against the city of Fort Myers," he concluded. "We have been treated wonderfully since coming here. The facilities are good and I've heard no objections from the Negro members of our club on the segregation issue."

That last comment reflected a common attitude among baseball executives, and many sportswriters, who were so lulled by their own comfortable situations and the lazy ease of their sport in springtime that it was difficult for them to see the reality. When the Fort Myers Boosters Club held a Pirates Welcome Luncheon at the Hideaway, the guest list included Brown and manager Danny Murtaugh, Pennsylvania Governor David Lawrence, Ford Frick, the baseball commissioner, Warren Giles, the president of the National League, and several heroes of the World Series, but not Clemente, who could not get into the building unless he worked as a waiter or dishwasher. That same day, at ten in the morning, a forty-three-minute highlight film of the World Series was shown at the Edison Theater downtown, and notices announced there was no charge and "the public is invited—men, women and children." As long as they were white. When the Fort Myers Country Club sponsored its annual Pirates Golf Tourney, the News-Press listed the foursomes, comprised of players, coaches, businessmen, and sportswriters. Brown and Murtaugh played, along with Groat and Friend and Schofield and Stuart and twenty more members of the Pirates organization. The Pirates were described as acting "like boys let out of school." When the golfing was done, they were all served "a bountiful buffet dinner." Clemente and his black teammates were back in Dunbar Heights.

In the bonhomie of the occasion, no one noticed who wasn't there. Ducky Schofield, the utility infielder, was perhaps typical of white Pirates who were not racist but also did not seem to take into account how social conditions might have deeper effects on black teammates. When asked later whether Clemente was disliked by some of the Pirates of the late 1950s and early 1960s, Schofield said: "I'm sure there were some who didn't like him. . . . Maybe it was because he didn't put forth a whole lot of energy as far as being one of the guys. I think he pretty much stuck to himself quite a bit. In those days, guys ran in groups. Guys would eat together, have a couple of beers. Not that he had to do it, but I never saw him do it."

Exclusive events like the Fort Myers welcome luncheon and golf outing were held in spring-training towns throughout Florida. But unlike previous springs, this time they were loudly criticized. The most attention was drawn to St. Petersburg, which called itself the capital of the Grapefruit League as home to the Yankees and Cardinals. Both teams had been staying at segregated hotels, the Cardinals at the Vinoy Park and the Yankees at the Soreno, but under pressure from the local NAACP and black players, the system was finally being cracked. When Soreno's management refused to change its policy, the Yankees picked up and moved across the state to Fort Lauderdale, and in the aftermath, St. Pete officials were so worried about losing baseball entirely that the Cardinals were finally allowed to house their entire team in the same hotel. Small victories of that sort were being won here and there, rivulets in the mighty stream of civil rights. On March 13, in Miami Beach, Floyd Patterson defended his heavyweight boxing crown in a title match with Ingemar Johansson, and along with Patterson's victory the most newsworthy aspect of the fight was that, at the champ's insistence, the color bar was lifted in the Convention Hall. "Negroes were spotted freely among the predominantly white crowd in all sections," the New York Times reported, and "so far as could be noted, no incidents arose from the integrated set-up." It was an off-day for the Pirates, and third-baseman Don Hoak, who had been a decent amateur boxer, covered the event for a Pittsburgh newspaper. Yet in Sarasota and other spring-training cities, black ballplayers wanting to watch Patterson were not allowed into the whites-only theaters.

Change was slow, and did not occur unprovoked. One of the pivotal events that spring came when the chamber of commerce held a Salute to Baseball at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club. Bill White, the Cardinals first baseman, blasted the lily-white event as a symbol of baseball's capitulation to Southern racism. His words echoed across the state and nation. "I think about this every minute of the day," White told Joe Reichler of United Press International. "This thing keeps gnawing at my heart. When will we be made to feel human?"

"Clemente" can be ordered here and here. Mr. Maraniss has just kicked-off a promotional tour. He'll be at the Barnes and Noble near Lincoln Center tomorrow, Wednesday, April 26th at 7:00 p.m.

Comments
2006-04-25 05:52:22
1.   Rob Gee
Thanks Alex - great intro and a great read.

Is it wrong to ask who the modern equivalent of RC is? Or is it a combination of qualities from a few players?

2006-04-25 06:58:57
2.   Alex Belth
I was thinking that Jeter reminds me of Clemente in some ways. Not personality-wise, but the fact that his success seems to be a result of the power of his personality, his will, his determination and work ethic as much as his raw talent. Obviously, Vlad G bears some resemblance to Clemente, though he's much stronger and not as good defensively...
2006-04-25 08:03:36
3.   monkeypants
Ichiro to some degree: both play RF, great arm, supposedly great defense (is Ichiro really that good, at least in terms of range?), not much power from RF, high average, few walks. lots of hits, "exciting" player, very good but probably a bit overrated.

The major differences though: Ichiro is a good bit faster, and has never really had the underrated-before-he-was-overrated thing.

2006-04-25 08:04:30
4.   Rob Gee
You know, I thought Jetes too. But he is so far from undervalued or hidden from the general public. The rest does seem to fit though - natural leader, ephermal player over and above the stats, not the best in the game or at his position but stands out as that actor always ready to transform his part.

Montreal Vlad seems about right too. I saw him throw out a runner at 3rd from the right field corner at PNC - my god. His back problems seem to have robbed him of mobility. He seems to have the personality though. Wow though - some combination of Jetes and Vlad - wish I had seen that.

2006-04-25 08:19:22
5.   wsporter
Thanks for that excerpt Alex. The Washington Post ran a review of "Clemente" on Sunday. The review was somewhat mixed (the Post seems to really get off doing that to their own people). I usually don't read this kind of stuff but given who it's about I determined that I would pick it up this week. Seeing your post has made me determine that I'll pick it up today.

There was absolutely nothing simple about Clemente. I recall that people either loved or hated him until the time of his death where upon he ascended to the position of cultural icon. People loved or hated his game and they either loved or hated what they viewed to be alternately his refusal to be treated as less than the man he saw himself to be or his outright selfishness. Many people in our country were wrong about the issue of race in the 60's and early 70's and many were wrong about Clemente. He was a complex man who could, like all complex people, be kind and cruel, joyful and morose. He was never boring.

As a kid growing up in the 60's within shouting distance of NY I like most other kids ended up watching many more Met broadcasts than Yankee because WPIX just didn't carry as many as WOR. We got to see Clemente a lot. The guy could flat out play and there was something so electric about the way he approached the game that separated him from anyone we had on either team in NY. I hadn't thought about it but I think your Jeter analogy is a really good one. Jeter has his own set of enigmatic movements and approaches to things that are a good link along with the talent and the obvious pride, sense of self and assuredness with which he seems to approach things. What a great post today Alex. I got to go get that book.

Here is the W. Post link for anyone who wants it. You have to go through a free registration process if you already haven't done so to read it:

http://makeashorterlink.com/?E6FC1130D

2006-04-25 08:46:16
6.   Dimelo
Alex, that was really good to read. This country still has a long way to go, as far as race is concerned, this story is only 45 years old. That's still fresh in the minds of many.

I'm not a Bonds sympathizer, but I have asked the question whether his anger and jealousy towards white people (it definitely seems like he hates white people) is a result of the things his father and Godfather (Willie Mays) endured throughout that time? I wonder if he's taken it as his personal F-U to what he perceives to be the white establishment and the suffering, he feels, they caused to people close to him. I'm sure time will tell us more, but he has made a lot of references throughout his career about things his father went through but I don't think he's ever elaborated.

2006-04-25 09:22:04
7.   Rob Gee
6 The converse question though D is whether Barry gets treated differently because of his skin color. I bet he thinks so. Me, I'm not so sure. He is the whipping boy of this era and it may just involve more than his surly attitude. Or maybe we just want the steriods taint to go away and he's the biggest clear sign that it happened.
2006-04-25 09:29:07
8.   wsporter
Rob 6 "he's the biggest clear sign that it happened." Are you sure Bonds isn't a cream sign.

Sorry.

2006-04-25 09:43:44
9.   Rob Gee
9 Funny thing is that occured to me as I wrote it. Once Barry is gone though we won't talk about performance enhancement anymore - though it will still exist. Maybe when someone like Pujols grows a third arm or something. Buggers - should be taking blood now.

After all the uproar, the seats are still filled.

2006-04-25 09:54:03
10.   Shawn Clap
Anyone ever listen the Roberto Clemente Jr. show on WFAN. Pretty good stuff, lots of the "social workings" of baseball kind of thing.

He used to call the games on YES. Sometimes I utilize the SAP button on my remote control, when Michael Kay becomes unbearable.

2006-04-25 10:10:39
11.   Dimelo
Rob - The converse question is not mutually exclusive from the question I asked. I bet he does think he is treated differently because he's black and that is probably consistent with opinions he's developed throughout his upbringing and him taking issues with stuff his father and Godfather went through.
2006-04-25 10:18:30
12.   Alex Belth
One thing that Maraniss does a particularly good job of is distinguishing Clemente's famous hypochondria from his obsession with health. Clemente was a student of the massage arts, was a gifted masseuse himself, and was into chiropractics, health food, etc. It would have been interesting to see how he would have benefitted in today's health-conscious culture.
2006-04-25 10:28:41
13.   wsporter
911 Rob and D, Maybe this is way to much and a reach but you started me thinking a little about this. I can't stand Bonds now and I couldn't back in the day when he was gagging it up for the Bucs against the Braves. Part of me though, can't help wondering if he isn't singled out in part because of his race and the statements he has made about Ruth and white people in general. I realize he's the highest profile guy out there and because of that he's a natural symbol for steroid discussion in general. He's also a black man closing in on the record of a cultural icon, Babe Ruth, who happens to be a white man. He has remarked that Ruth was in part an inflated bi-product of the color line. In doing so he has made many feel cheap, threatened and guilty. He is also chasing the record of another cultural icon, Henry Aaron, who exists for many people as simply a "good man" rather than as a "black man". Bonds has seemed to pursue the records with an air of exclusivity and hate rather than the inclusive happy pursuit put on by those two joy boys of the clear and cream Sammy and Marky when the were chasing Maris.

Bond's is one of those polarizing figures whose aspect I think has and will leak out beyond the bounds of baseball into the society as a whole. People can get away with a lot in our society; a lot that is until they rub people in power's noses in it. I think in addition to everything and anything else that is what Bonds did; it was his ultimate mistake and why he is where he is now. I think we all have to keep a close eye on this thing and not allow MLB to turn the general Steroids investigation into a referendum on Barry Bonds alone.

Maybe I'll get creamed for this myself but it seems to me that the only one of the people under scrutiny who has managed to make any sort of admission or apology (tangential though they were) was Giambi. He is the only one who has managed to be able to create a public atmosphere where in he's not facing either indictment, massive opprobrium or both. I guess even a small dose of public humility will go a long way.

2006-04-25 10:46:57
14.   Rob Gee
12 You know I thought he was much younger when he died - probably more a symptom of the cultural place he came to have. It would be interesting with modern health regimes, but the guy kept it together well. In his last year he turned 38 and went for .312 .356 .479 in almost 400 AB's. No doubt he was playing less because of signs of age. The year before (turned 37) he went for .341 .370 .502 (522 AB's) and still in year 36 he stroked .352 .407 .556 (412 AB's). Not a bad decline phase at all - with modern treatments it would have been interesting if he aged more gracefully than his more lauded contemporaries (e.g., Mays).

13 You're right - Barry never has been likeable and that makes it that much easier to come down against him. I just wish he would come out and say - everyone was cheating, baseball knew about it and celebrated it, and I joined in. There's a real argument there - maybe in ten years we'll get the mea culpas (Bonds, McGwire, Raffy) when HOF voters 'punish' the guilty. The sad part is someone like Giambi really could be HGH'ing and we'll never know. Still pisses me off to no end that we could be cheering for guys who are cheating because they know they can get away with it. That seems much different than 2001 or even 1998 when it was under our radar.

2006-04-25 10:52:49
15.   Shaun P
MFD 13, I agree that we should make sure that "the general Steroids investigation [doesn't turn] into a referendum on Barry Bonds alone." I'm afraid, however, that it might be too late for that. The 'public', which includes some prominent national baseball columnists, wants blood, and I think the only blood that will satisfy them is Bonds' blood. Figuratively, and for some, literally. (That is, they want Barry's blood to test it, to prove to the doubters that Bonds is guilty.)

Taking Alex's thoughts about how Clemente would have benefitted in the modern health-conscious culture 12, I wonder what Clemente would have thought about PEDs in general and Bonds in particular. I've read countless stories that quote famous 'old-timers' about how the game has been ruined etc etc. There's got to be at least one old-time star who sympathizes with Bonds and doesn't see what all the fuss is. Would Clemente have been that person? I don't know enough about his life and his views, but reading some of the posts 5 above, plus their shared connection with Pittsburgh, does make me wonder.

2006-04-25 10:58:53
16.   Shaun P
14 "Still pisses me off to no end that we could be cheering for guys who are cheating because they know they can get away with it."

I wonder if all college football and NFL fans/commentators don't feel this way. After all, who says they aren't using HGH and the like too? Yet, I almost never notice a peep in the MSM about it. Isn't that a strange dichotomy, especially when so many polls have been jammed down our throats over the years about how football is so much more popular than baseball?

2006-04-25 11:10:20
17.   Dan M
I hate to split hairs, but as Barry has said himself, he's not chasing Ruth's "record" because Ruth doesn't have the record.
2006-04-25 11:10:40
18.   Rob Gee
16 The difference, I think, is that the NFL already went through their steroids problem and responded with a strong, but not perfect, testing program. But you're right - no blood tests there either. That's why I think after all the current uproar dies down, probably coinciding with Barry's exit, we'll go back to the status quo. Players will cheat, management won't do a damn thing, and in twenty years we'll re-live this all over again with the next generation of drugs. Good times!
2006-04-25 11:11:48
19.   Rob Gee
17 Dan - But he did say he was going to wipe out the Babe - cause he won't matter no more. That had to offend some people, no?
2006-04-25 11:19:58
20.   Dimelo
Why are people so preoccupied with people cheating? Cheating occurs everyday. We cheat on our taxes (at least Rob Gee does, don't want to incriminate myself. thanks for taking the fall, Rob), we leave a little early from work, come a little late to work, we speed, we cheat drug tests (Rob Gee does that too), we were happy to see Jeffrey Maier catch Jeter's homerun (isn't that "cheating"?), we run red lights, basically we cheat everyday. I bet if we could clone ourselves and put someone that looked identical to us and make that person do our daily job, then we'd probably cheat our employer too. We would then get smart and probably send that clone to our wife or girlfriend so we could cheat on them too.

Anyhow...I'm just saying...and I'm not condoning cheating but it happens and it's in our culture, it's in every culture. I am amazed at people being surprised that an athlete would actually look to do something illegal to get an edge. "Oh my God, what about the kids?" Well....f- them too.

I am not one to pull the race card. Quite frankly, I can't stand the race card. But it's more than a coincidence to see a former major league baseball owner, turned President of the United States, question baseball's steroid policy in a state of the union address. The events that followed were again all "coincidence". After Bonds breaks McGwire's homerun record, the President in his state of the union in 2003 questions steroids baseball testing policy, then in September of 2003 BALCO is raided…..what a sec…what do we find here…this guy is Bond's trainer…again all coincidence….in December of 2003 a bunch of players including Bonds is required to appear before a grand jury because of the BALCO inquisition, a couple of months later testimony is leaked that Bonds cheated and did steroids, a year later we have the congressional hearings. I don't know….all of this steroid crap came about because the people in power did not want to see Bonds - a black man who doesn't know his place - break the all-time homerun record. Again, I hate Bonds…I could care less about him…but I think it's more than coincidence and they can paint the pig with a different coating of lipstick and they can say it's about keeping our records "pure" but it's all bullshit. And I could care less about the cheating angle….but I won't kid myself and think it's only about the "cheating". Sure you want to have a process in place to catch cheaters, but this wasn't about catching the cheaters as it was more about catching Bonds.

BTW, I was joking about Rob...I'm sure you all knew that already.

2006-04-25 11:39:43
21.   Shaun P
18 To go off on a side rant, that kinda ties in with Dimelo in 20 - the NFL and NCAA can't test for HGH, or any unknown designer drugs, and so who's to say that their use in football isn't rampant?

In fact, I think you can make a very convincing argument that PED use is likely very rampant in football. But I don't hear that argument being made. Why does football get a free pass? Why don't people who have statistical outlier seasons in the NFL get the same scrutiny that Brady Anderson and Bret Boone, among others, have gotten, based on evidence that is circumstantial at best?

The NFL is the most popular sport in the country. How many 'kids' play college football at some level? How many kids play high school football? Where's the concern for the potential for steroid use in those 'kids'? Why instead is the focus on all those kids who follow/play baseball, by most polls the THIRD most popular sport in the country?

The more I think about it, the more I think that Dimelo is right. This isn't about catching the cheaters, or about saving the kids. Its about Bonds, and that is very sad.

2006-04-25 11:51:21
22.   Rob Gee
20 You know, D, I might do all of those things. But millions of people aren't cheering me on either. Not that I'm into the whole role model nonsense - it's just that we expect that we're watching the greatest athletes at work. We pay good money to see them perform with blood, sweat, and tears, and not syringes, on the line. No one would confuse me with a great athlete nor would anyone pay to see me work.

The Jeff Maier homer was an honest mistake - that happens in sports. But when it comes to evaluating the performance, I'd like to see something truer to what human beings are capable of - not some freakish chemistry experiment.

For instance, suppose we found out that Lance Armstrong was a cheat (which I don't think he is). To me that changes things - you don't marvel at his fortitude and perservance any more. He's not a symbol of what the great heights we're capable of - instead he's a bum.

Same deal with the ball players. I cheered hard last year for Giambi to come back strong - esp. after his 'confession'. But after what I learned about the current loopholes - I feel less good about the homers he hits. When our emotions are so invested in the team and its players, these things matter.

And if they don't, send your girlfriend/wife over to me. Yeah she might be cheating, but if it feels good...

2006-04-25 11:59:50
23.   Rob Gee
21 I don't think HGH is that easy to acquire - not that I've tried. Supposedly though it's hard to get and so very expensive. But you're right - there should be more serious testing in all sports. That was one of the things the politicians were going to get into - among many other things. The fact is though that players and management make more money from increased performance. So there's very little internal pressure to make PED go away. It needs to come from the regulatory level - and until it does, the problem will persist.

I don't think it's all about Bonds though. He's an easy target, but he wasn't called to testify and it started long before him - remember the stuff they 'found' in McGwire's locker (Canseco says it was an intentional plant to throw folks off). The pressure was building - Bonds has just found himself in the crosshairs because of his current pursuit of the major record in the sport. 61 used to be that but he already has that one. He's just an easy target. Even if he was a more likeable guy, he'd still get the heat (see McGwire and Raffy).

2006-04-25 12:13:38
24.   Dimelo
Rob, She's going over right now....I didn't include my address because I don't want you to return to sender. :-)
2006-04-25 12:24:44
25.   wsporter
MFD 21 I wonder if it's the "black man" thing or rather "that particular black man" thing where Bonds is concerned. There is part of me as well that wonders if buying into this whole notion of a "Circus Maximus" conspiracy is worthwhile.

I'll support Giambi after his "apology" and will until he gives us a reason not to whether he hits 40 or 4.

23 Remember though Rob, Bonds wasn't called before Tom Davis's Committee on Government Reform because he was still under subpoena in an ongoing investigation. The Committee cut a deal with the DOJ that exempted Bonds from being called. There was a fairly big deal made out of it at the time.

Bonds is such an easy target that it will, I think, be fairly simple to do a cursory investigation of others and zero in on him. That way George Mitchell's Investigating Committee will be able to argue plausibly that they didn't conduct a one man witch hunt when in fact that is precisely what they will do. Furthermore and as long as I'm in the mood to concoct crazy conspiracies, I wouldn't be surprised if that was part of the agreement not to call Bonds by Tom Davis's Committee. They agreed not to call Bonds and the Government agreed to hand over their file to the committee's council who would then feed the information to MLB in an "arms length" investigation; an investigation that MLB and the Congressional Committee agreed they would conduct long before "Game of Shadows" was released.

Maybe my notion is too John le Carre or Marvel Comics but there does appear to be something very wrong about the way this thing is and has been handled.

2006-04-25 13:01:12
26.   Rob Gee
25 Sorry - I didn't say it in the best way possible - others were called to testify. It hasn't been always been about Bonds - it has come to that though because he continues to play and break sacred records.
2006-04-25 13:23:24
27.   Shaun P
25 "there does appear to be something very wrong about the way this thing is and has been handled." Right on, MFD - not to mention all the leaks that put the BALCO grand jury testimony in the press in the first place!

To leave this talk behind, I saw a great Tom Verducci article today about older pitchers. Look for the fascinating story from Moose, about something Jorge taught him in ST:

http://tinyurl.com/zvgkt

I hope Moose does pitch long enough to win 300, and I hope he makes the HoF, and I hope his plaque has an interlocking NY on the cap.

2006-04-25 14:34:25
28.   Rob Gee
27 Great link, Shaun - thanks.

The Moose stuff is really fascinating, I think for two reasons. One, Moose learned to better disguise his change and the end result is it's even slower than before. But two, he had no idea his entire career. For all the good a pitching coach does, and we argued this pretty heavily in the Spring, the most significant adjustment he made came from having his catcher hit against him. My god, why don't teams try this more often? "$1000 to the guy who can name five Unit pitches in a row..." I'm sure in the middle of the season it would be tough but Spring Training why not?

This quote from Tampon is also fascinating:
"Now I know I can get my fastball to the corners at 94 instead of giving up two feet of location at 97,'' Schilling said. "That's a great feeling."

These guys know how hard they're capable of and can dial it down by mph. My god!? It really rings true with what Cano said about Cabrera this weekend and how he took a different approach to his AB's. That's good stuff.

Now who's going to teach Wang about pitching with men on base?

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