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Tuesday, February 22, 2005

A Writer on Steroids

Tony LaRussa is Angry

He is angry at his former star, manchild outfielder Jose Canseco, who not only has admitted in his new book that he shot steroids while with the Oakland Athletics and Texas Rangers, but also that he injected other players—including Mark McGwire, who LaRussa later managed in St. Louis.

Why is LaRussa angry? He says that McGwire couldn’t possibly have taken steroids, because McGwire wasn’t that kind of a guy. Whereas Canseco, you see, didn’t respect the game, and it’s far easier for LaRussa to believe—in retrospect—that Canseco was taking steroids.

LaRussa has carefully claimed that he did not know, at the time, that Canseco was taking them, but that by the early 90s, the manchild outfielder’s behavior had changed.

“In Jose’s case,” said LaRussa in a story published Saturday on MLB.COM, “we had some suspicions. Mostly what I looked at was a change in the way he went about his business. And that’s what I confronted him on.”

The story continues, “The manager repeatedly insisted that he was never certain Canseco used steroids, but that he suspected that it was a possibility.”

Holding Tony LaRussa up to close scrutiny is not only applicable here, but necessary. He was the manager of the team when Canseco was shooting up (and quite possibly shooting up some of his teammates). LaRussa has taken on the role of defender of McGwire, and by extension the organizations he has been involved with, under his own volition, and he has just as much to gain or lose from all of this as any of the players involved under his watch.

Someone is Lying

Canseco, on the other hand, claims that he and other players even joked about steroid use—that it was an open secret. Is Canseco telling the truth? If he is, that’s damning evidence that LaRussa either willingly had his head in the sand about the whole business, or that he was thoroughly unaware of what his own star player was doing to the bloodstreams of several of his teammates.

Is Canseco lying? Given his quite open, baldfaced desire to make as much money as he can from the remaining shreds of his baseball career, as well as his delusional idea that he was good enough to still play but was “blackballed” from baseball, it’s quite possible that Canseco is simply lying.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Canseco is lying, and that LaRussa had no clear evidence that Canseco or any other player in his employ was using steroids.

How, then, could the skipper know for sure that McGwire wasn’t? Because McGwire was playing harder than Canseco? Because McGwire smiled at LaRussa and obediently did his pre-game warm-ups? Because LaRussa wanted to believe that McGwire wasn’t capable of the destructive behavior Canseco so readily fell prone to when blocked out of his brain on steroids?

The problem with gauging steroid use—and this point is anecdotal—is that the drugs, many of which are very different in their composition, seem to affect players in different ways. Some guys get lazy on steroids and stop working hard, like Canseco; some guys grit their teeth and tough everything out, like Ken Caminti, until they collapse.

So the fact that McGwire didn’t pop off like Canseco did says nothing about whether Big Mac was shooting steroids. McGwire had androstenedione, a then-legal supplement, in his locker back in the 90s, which proves that McGwire wasn’t above taking things to increase muscle. Some have suggested that someone—maybe McGwire himself—planted the andro to throw people off the trail of other, illegal supplements that he may have been taking, but there is no proof of this.

One thing that’s very clear about all baseball scandals, be they concerning the Black Sox, Pete Rose, or steroids, is that the truth will eventually out. Whether anyone will care enough about baseball in 20 years to sort it out is another matter.


This issue is not primarily about Tony LaRussa, but it does concern him, and the climate in which alleged use of steroids took place. Canseco’s assertions against other ballplayers, and against his (and other clubs’) managers, trainers, and owners, are ludicrous, offensive, self-serving, and quite possibly libelous, but they may also be true. And not dealing with that possibility would be the stupidest thing baseball could do right now.

Unfortunately, Sandy Alderson, MLB’s Executive VP of Baseball Operations and the game’s appointed pointman on this issue, is hardly the impartial source you’d want to run an investigation.

Alderson, in fact, is one of the least appropriate people you could ask for to head up any fact-finding mission of this kind; he was GM of the Oakland Athletics from 1983 through 1997, meaning he was LaRussa’s boss during the time in question! That Alderson has publicly denied any interest in investigating Canseco’s charges is hardly surprising. Such an investigation might bring some unpleasant fact-finders to his own door.

Not that there’s any chance of this ever being done, but MLB ought to investigate every single one of Canseco’s charges—and do it fairly and openly. If there are users, they should be fined, suspended, and possibly banned. Let the players association bitch and moan—it’s a fight they’ll lose, both in courts and in the public eye.

For years, star players, such as Jeff Bagwell and John Smoltz, have complained to union leadership that the bad acts of users have tainted all players, and the problem is only getting worse. Remember the White Sox’ refusal to submit to testing last spring because they didn’t want to endorse such a pathetically ineffective program?

This situation, from the players’ side, is serious enough that heads should roll, starting at the top. How could Don Fehr defend his, and some of his players’, actions? Since when does protecting a labor union's interests include shielding law-breakers who harm the reputation and work conditions of the majority of union membership?

On the chance that Canseco is proven wrong by a thorough investigation, MLB and all the aggrieved players can then sue the lying son of a bitch for millions of dollars.

But let’s not stop there, while we’re on a roll! Don’t skimp on investigating managers, trainers, and club executives, either. Because it’s dollars to donuts that plenty of management types, aware of exactly what was going on, cynically let the whole issue roll along out of their craven fear of confronting it.

Did George Bush, former MLB owner, know exactly what was going on inside his clubhouse? Maybe not; he was probably no more hands-on with the Texas Rangers than he is “running” the country. But by the late 1990s, everyone in baseball knew that there was a serious problem with players abusing steroids, and yet no owner had the guts to speak out, because the home run gravy train was still delivering them fat profits in a timely fashion.


Canseco at least has had the courage—a funny kind of courage, but courage nonetheless—to be honest about the fact that much of his playing stardom came out of a syringe, and not what he developed on his own or what God gave him. But that may be the only commendable thing about him.

He is certainly a favorite of those who want to continue the push toward legalizing more and stronger steroids, but will Canseco have any other legacy in sport besides that of a talented but easily led fool?

Jose Canseco, primarily concerned with his own ego and wallet, wants to make a splash as he leaps off the tallest cliff on the mountain. In excerpts from his book, Juiced, released to the press, Canseco consistently mentions how HE became a huge superstar through steroids, and HE did this and HE did that and HE revolutionized the game by shoving needles into his teammates’ asses, blah, blah, blah. (As a matter of fact, many people in the game believe that steroid use started long before Canseco's professional debut.)

But has Canseco ever considered the very real possibility that bulking up with steroids hastened the demise of his own career? Plenty of anecdotal evidence exists to suggest, in fact, that steroid use has a significant long-term negative impact on flexibility.

Canseco’s decisions to sell his MVP trophy, World Series rings, and Rookie of the Year ring, and sever any relationships he ever had in baseball, are his business. But these acts, and his desperate, ego- and greed-driven willingness to spread acid all over other people in baseball, and char their reputations, shows a lack of respect for the game itself and for the players in it.

The players Canseco “outed” for their alleged steroid use may indeed have been guilty of using illegal drugs. Outing anyone without a fair review of the facts, however, is an ethically tricky process, one I’d personally prefer not be left up to the unilateral whim of a desperate waste case intent on pushing the benefits of steroids to America’s young athletes. Forgive my French, but what an asshole!

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


A few thoughts:

1. I'm enjoying the discussion of George Harrison's "Within You Without You" (under the "Worst of the Beatles" thread) but hope that things don't start to get rough...this business of rating, dissecting, and analyzing songs--or any art that means such different things to everyone--can inspire plenty of passion. My two cents? I think it's a beautiful song, one I didn't even begin to understand until I had listened to actual Indian music, in which pieces routinely last 20 minutes.

2. My interview with Cubs broadcaster Len Kasper is now online at, a cool site about sports broadcasting.

3. My contributions to this site have been pretty minor of late; I'll be back on the horse in a day or two.

4. Here's an e-mail message floating around the 'net that I received from my friend Phil Rogers, which I'll print without comment.

Dear President Bush:

Congratulations on your victory over all us non-evangelicals. Actually,
we're a bit ticked off here in California, so we're leaving. California
will now be its own country. And we're taking all the Blue States with us.
In case you are not aware, that includes Hawaii, Oregon, Washington,
Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and all the Northeast.

We spoke to God, and she agrees that this split will be beneficial to almost
everybody, and especially to us in the new country of California. In fact,
God is so excited about it, she's going to shift the whole country at 4:30
pm EST today. Therefore, please let everyone know they need to be back in
their states by then.

So you get Texas and all the former slave states. We get the Governator,
Barack Obama, stem cell research and the best beaches. We get Elliot
Spitzer. You get Ken Lay. (Okay, we have to keep Martha Stewart, we can live
with that.)

We get the Statue of Liberty. You get OpryLand.
We get Intel and Microsoft. You get WorldCom.
We get Harvard. You get Ole Miss.
We get 85% of America's venture capital and entrepreneurs. You get all the
technological innovation in Alabama.

We get about two-thirds of the tax revenue, and you get to make the red
states pay their fair shares. Since our divorce rate is 22% lower than the
Christian coalition's, we get a bunch of happy families. You get a bunch of
single moms to support, and we know how much you like that.

Did I mention we produce about 70% of the nation's veggies? But heck, the
only greens the Bible-thumpers eat are the pickles on their Big Macs. Oh
yeah, another thing, don't plan on serving California wine at your state
dinners. From now on it's imported French wine for you. (Ouch, bet that

Just so we're clear, the country of California will be pro-choice and

Speaking of war, we're going to want all Blue States' citizens back from
Iraq. If you need people to fight, just ask your evangelicals. They have
tons of kids they're willing to send to their deaths for absolutely no
purpose. And they don't care if you don't show pictures of their kids'
caskets coming home.

Anyway, we wish you all the best in the next four years and we hope, really
hope, you find those missing weapons of mass destruction. Seriously. Soon.

Sincerely, California

Monday, February 14, 2005

Home Run Records Have Never Meant Anything

Got your attention? Okay.

This is a letter written to USA Today, by my good friend and colleague Gary Gillette, in response to an article Tim Wendel wrote in December. Briefly, Wendel's point was that the recent steroid use allegations against Barry Bonds, etc. deem current home run marks irrelevant. Following is Gary's cogent reply. If you want the original article, LMK.


The simple truth is that ALL major league home run records have been controversial: both when they were set, and for years afterward.

The earliest home-run record of consequence was set by Ned Williamson of the Cubs in 1884 when he hit 27 home runs in Chicago's Lakeside Park. Why was that so controversial? Because Lakeside Park had a left-field foul line less than 200 feet long, turning easy fly balls into round-trippers. When the rules was changed in 1885, making balls hit over that fence doubles, Williamson managed only three homers all season despite playing six more games. Yet Williamson's mark stood in the record books for 35 years--with no asterisk.

Babe Ruth set the baseball world agog by hitting a record 54 homers in 1920, then again by hitting 59 the following year, and finally by smashing 60 in 1927. Those records were extremely controversial, as defenders of the Deadball-era style of play said that Ruth was a mere basher, which somehow made him accomplishments less impressive. As Ruth revolutionized the game, he was simultaneously derided because he supposedly was not the kind of smart player who played "scientific baseball"--like Ty Cobb and the stars who were superseded by the power-based game of the 1920s.

When Roger Maris was challenging Ruth's single-season record of 60 home runs in 1961, his feat was derided as being a product of the 1961 AL expansion: both because of the weaker pitching and the new, longer 162-game schedule. The fact that many baseball fans today erroneously believe that Maris's record was accompanied by an asterisk speaks to the enduring fallacies of many of baseball's legends.

When Hank Aaron was about to eclipse Ruth's career record of 714 homers, defenders of Ruth pointed out that Aaron had the benefit of facing expansion pitching for most of his career, as well as getting almost 4000 more at-bats than Ruth. They rarely mentioned, of course, that Ruth clearly benefited from the lack of integration and never faced a black pitcher.

When Mark McGwire launched his 70 moonshots in 1998 and put his name in the record books, smaller ballparks, expansion pitching staffs, and supplements like androstendione were cited to demean his record-shattering season.

Baseball history has now "progressed" to Barry Bonds and his single-season record of 73 home runs (set in 2001) and his likely future record of 755-plus. 'Twas ever thus.

The history of the National Pastime teaches us that, whenever a player breaks an important baseball record, it is ALWAYS controversial. Most often, the detractors are advancing time-worn or irrelevant arguments in an attempt to degrade the new record holder. Sometimes, of course, their points are well taken, but pointing out that the new record holder has enjoyed certain advantages does not destroy the integrity of the new record.

All record-setting performances are the products of their times and must be understood in context. All players that have set important records enjoyed and exploited whatever significant advantages time and fate gave them. None of that has been changed by Bonds, or by anyone's putative steroid usage.

Gary Gillette
The Baseball Encyclopedia
Barnes & Noble Publishing

Friday, February 11, 2005


A wonderful reminder this morning. I stepped out the door and into the 25-degree cool, a new skin of snow covering the ground. Amid this calm, a fat robin swooped by, coming to rest under a bush. Just as I was digesting this, a male cardinal began to sing his "what cheer-cheer-cheer" from a bare tree across the street. As I listened to him stake out his territory for the coming months, a purple finch began to call in the distance. And the thought burned through me--spring isn't coming. It's already here.

Form in Void
The tree is stripped,
All color, fragrance gone,
Yet already on the bough,
Uncaring spring!

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Worst of the Beatles

Influenced by recent discussions with Rob Rodriguez and Mark's one man's list of candidates for worst Beatles song, posted more or less chronologically. Post your lists, too!

How Do You Do It?
Do You Want to Know a Secret?
Devil in Her Heart
Hold Me Tight
When I Get Home
Mr. Moonlight
Eight Days a Week
That Means a Lot
If You've Got Troubles (enjoyable, but less than slight)
When I'm Sixty-Four
Your Mother Should Know (the mono mix, available on bootlegs and such, is MUCH better and saves the song)
Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da
Rocky Raccoon
Honey Pie
What's the New Mary Jane?
Maxwell's Silver Hammer
Mailman, Bring Me No More Blues
The Long and Winding Road (the version on Let it Be)

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Kyle Go Bye-Bye

The Cubs have traded Kyle Farnsworth to the Detroit Tigers for three prospects.

Farnsworth has one of the best arms in the game, cracking 100 mph with his fastball and showing an often baffling change-up. The Tigers bullpen is better with him in it, just because that's 60 fewer innings to give to the likes of Alan Levine.

Coming to the Cubs are 25-year-old pitcher Roberto Novoa, 21-year-old infielder Scott Moore, and 21-year-old outfielder Bo Flowers.

Novoa, the only one of the three new Cubs with major league experience, appeared 16 times (21 innings) for the Tigers last year, fanning 15 and walking 6, allowing 25 hits, four of them homers. He pitched reasonably well as a starter in Class A until 2003, but was converted to the bullpen last season at Double-A Erie, where he fanned 59, walked 18, and ceded 63 hits in 79 innings with a 2.96 ERA. If he repeats his minor league success against righties, Novoa could be a decent big-league back-of-the bullpen man. He does not project as an impact performer.

Moore, a former #1 draft pick of the Tigers in 2002, was rated "best power hitter" in the Tigers system in the 12/19/2004 Baseball America, but has done little in his three-year career to justify any hype. Last year at Class A Lakeland--not an easy place to hit, granted--Moore batted .223 in 118 games with 13 doubles and 14 homers. He took 49 walks, but also whiffed 125 times. He's not fast and is less than adequate at third base, but at 21 still has time to iron out the kinks. His power will have to carry him.

Clearly Moore has excellent physical tools--anyone drafted in the first round does--but could use help on pitch selection. The Cubs, unfortunately, do not seem to feel that strike zone judgement is particulary important, so Moore could continue to slide.

Flowers is even farther from the majors than Moore. Last year in the (very) low-level Class A New York-Penn League, he batted .280 at Oneonta with only 19 walks in 66 games. He's not a power hitter and doesn't steal bases well, but Flowers is an excellent athlete, rated the best in Detroit's system by Baseball America. That's a long way from being a good baseball player, but it is a start.

Neither Moore nor Flowers were on BA's list of Detroit's top ten prospects, which is really saying something, considering the poor quality of the Tigers' sytem. Despite Novoa's promise, this deal was clearly made to get rid of Farnsworth, who makes an awful lot of money for an up-and-down middle reliever/setup man.

Much has been said (most of it off the record) about Farnsworth's personal problems; alleged alcohol issues and obvious emotional flareups have kept him from fully realizing his talent. Last August 27, Farnsworth kicked an air conditioner, an act of foolishness that landed him on the disabled list and left his club short-handed; the ill-advised tantrum clearly greased the righty's way out of town. Of course, Farnsworth would have helped himself by getting people out in August.

What's scary about Farnsworth is over his career, he has ERAs over 5.00 in April, May, June, and August; at least he's consistent in that way. Farnsworth turns 29 in April, and the Cubs clearly grew tired of waiting for him to grow into his talent. The Tigers, who are trying to win the AL Central this season, think they can afford to give him a shot.

Since the end of the season, the Cubs have rid themselves of several "bad apples"--Farnsworth, Kent Mercker, Sammy Sosa, Moises Alou, and even TV broadcasters Steve Stone and Chip Caray. (The definition of "bad apple" here can range from "bad example to young players" to "embarrasses the team in the media" to "overrated and expensive" to "Dusty doesn't like him.") GM Jim Hendry and manager Dusty Baker have now put their stamp on this team. This is the year we see just how smart they are.

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

..and there are some who'll say it's not enough


Lifesource, Chicagoland's blood center, is experiencing a blood shortage right now. If you have it in you to give blood, please call them to make an appointment at 800-486-0680....


Give blood, and keep blood between brothers. And sisters.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

The "Super Bowl"?

Wait...was there a football game today?

Saturday, February 05, 2005

CJ a Devil Ray?

Former All-Star catcher Charles Johnson is about to continue his slide into irrelevance; the Colorado Rockies are set to trade him to Tampa Bay.

Johnson, who is owed $8 million dollars, is apparently going to go to Tampa for a minor-league catcher, reportedly the redoubtable non-prospect Shawn Riggans. In addition, the Rockies are going to pay more than $7 million of his 2004 salary just to get him out of town.

The Rox think that 25-year-old J.D. Closser is the answer behind the plate; his offense has declined as he's climbed the minor league ladder, but in the thin air of Coors Field Closser will probably continue to put up reasonable-looking numbers. His defense is said to be good, but Closser's main value is that he will be very, very inexpensive.

Which is not to say that Johnson is a better option; not only has he lost much of his defensive value, but his bat is also increasingly flabby. Anyone who hits .230 and .236 playing two years at Coors Field needs a wake-up. Perhaps being traded to Tampa Bay, baseball's French Foreign Legion, will do the job. This is the last year of his contract; perhaps that will light a fire under his butt. But the strategy of getting a surprising year out of him so you can a) either finish fourth or b) trade Johnson at mid-season is just not one that good teams depend on.

Will the Rays say goodbye to Toby Hall as their everyday catcher? It would be appropriate to do so; he is only four years younger than Charles Johnson. Hall's only marker is that he can hit lefties fairly well, which makes him useful as a bench player. Unfortunately, Johnson just isn't any better at this point than Hall. Neither of them are capable of helping a contending team win.

Ultimately, this deal has little to do with helping the Rays become a good team; for every move they make to help themselves, they take a step backward. They're probably patting themselves on the back for getting a nominal starting catcher for less than a million bucks. You get what you pay for.

Meanwhile, the Colorado organization is in perpetual gear-shifting mode, without an idea of how to turn the talent they have into a winning club. Appropriately, on their 2004 post-season media guide, they spotlit not only Todd Helton and Jeff Francis as their star performers, but also a pitcher with a 5.84 ERA, a 37-year-old third baseman who is no longer with the club, and a second baseman with a .328 on-base percentage. Sheesh. While giving Closser a job is a good idea in many ways, the Rockies need about six more of him.

Friday, February 04, 2005

Just so we all remember...

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

Latest Time-Wasting Activity of a Record Geek

Well, I could write about the Cubs signing Jeromy Burnitz (.247, 21 hr in 126 games, is what I'm thinking he'll provide), but instead...well, for the last month I've been engaged in the ULTIMATE rock and roll geek activity: rating my favorite albums and songs.

Like, who cares, right? Well, it's a cool diagnostic activity...gets me to going back to things I've always loved and seeing if I still love them as much. Anyhoo, I plucked out 50 top albums, and here are the ten that didn't quite make it--i.e, they're 51-60. Eep.

Beatles, With the Beatles
Beatles, The Beatles (White Album)
Big Star's 3rd (Sister Lovers)
Fleetwood Mac
John Lennon, Plastic Ono Band
Madonna, Music
Terry Riley, A Rainbow in Curved Air
Traffic, Mr. Fantasy
The Velvet Underground and Nico (So sue me. I like the 3rd album a lot better. Never had much time for side two of this one.)
XTC, Black Sea

CD-shaped words, in brickbat and valentine form, through cyberwindows are always welcome.

Love on y'all.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Culture War?

We hear it now from the's a culture war. And it's been a culture war for a long time.

Well, yes, it is. And the right declared it.

Right-wingers think that there's too much sex, too much acceptance of "alternate lifestyles," too much booty-shaking in popular culture--just too much of what they don't like. And therefore, since they don't like what they see, they're free to demonize anyone they don't like.

Without getting into the fact that these folks seem to misunderstand everything about Christ's message when they claim to act in Christ's name, isn't it a bit ridiculous for right-wingers to act pouty and righteous when they're advocating eradicating the constitutional rights of people whose views and lifestyles they just don't like? Lifestyles and things that just make them feel icky, or scare them, or make them question their tiny little universes?

Some righties claim that hate comes from the left, but that's garbage. Who fought for civil rights in the 60s? The left. Who fought against it? The right. Who stands up for the rights of the oppressed, the poor, the mentally ill? The left. Not the right. The Republicans still like to call themselves "The party of Lincoln." What a laugh. (I wonder if they'll keep doing that now that allegations have arisen that he was gay!)

I don't hear anyone on the left using the kind of ridiculous vituperation that emanates quite regularly from well-paid right-wing radio commentators, many of whom don't really even believe the junk they say on the air, but are going for all the money they can get.

Yes, it's a culture war. And the right has declared it. And now we on the left have to figure out how to fight when all we want to do is to be left alone.