Today, I went to one of my favorite places in the entire universe, Durham Bulls Athletic Park, for the first time in 2009. The Bulls were supposed to play the Norfolk Tides, but unfortunately the game was rained out. But I’m not upset about the rain out, mostly because of an unexpected surprise. It turned out that the William Harridge Trophy that was awarded to the Rays for their 2008 American League Championship was present at the ballpark! Of course I posed with it, and here I am with the official symbol of the Rays championship:
Seeing the trophy in person was definitely one of the happiest moments of my life, and this immediately becomes one of my favorite photos. It was awesome for the Rays to share the trophy with their growing legion of fans in North Carolina. William Harridge, by the way, was the president of the American League from 1931 to 1958.
Due to the rain out, I’ll be attending tomorrow night’s game between the Bulls and the Tides. David Price, who was supposed to pitch tonight, will be pitching in that game. It’s the second time that I’ll get to see Price pitch in person this year. I also saw him pitch in the spring training game that I attended in Port Charlotte. And yes, the post about my spring training experience is coming very soon. Anyway, the Tides are the Triple-A affiliate of the Baltimore Orioles, so I’ll also get to see Matt Wieters in action. It’s tough to beat seeing the top two prospects in baseball playing in the same game. And as an added bonus, I’ll get to meet another card blogger in person. Pete from Dropped Third Strike will also be at the game, along with his girlfriend Kim.
Since their amazing run to the 2008 World Series, the Tampa Bay Rays have parted ways with Cliff Floyd, Eric Hinske, Rocco Baldelli, Jonny Gomes, Edwin Jackson, and Trever Miller. Today, they said goodbye to another member of the 2008 team, Jason Hammel, who was traded to the Colorado Rockies for a promising 21-year old minor league pitcher, Aneury Rodriguez. Hammel lost the battle for the 5th spot in the starting rotation to Jeff Niemann, who does have a much higher upside. Niemann was the #4 overall pick in the 2004 draft, he’s finally healthy after overcoming several injuries, and he’s proven all that he can in the minor leagues. However, he’s just keeping the #5 starter role warm for David Price.
Anyway, it’s sad to see Jason Hammel go. He’s responsible for one of my best all-time baseball memories. First, here’s some background. Hammel was the Rays’ 10th round pick in the 2002 draft, and he quickly emerged as one of their top pitching prospects. By 2005, he was dominating in Double-A for the Montgomery Biscuits, and other than the injury-plagued Niemann, he was the Rays’ top pitching prospect. He completely overshadowed James Shields in the Montgomery rotation that year. He was promoted to Triple-A Durham at the end of 2005, and I remember excitedly making a trip to Durham Bulls Athletic Park to watch him pitch for the first time.
However, it was during the 2006 season that Hammel created the memory that will stay with me for many, many years. It was July 16, 2006, exactly two weeks after my wedding. My wife and I had recently gotten back from our honeymoon in St. Lucia, and we were busy sending out thank-you notes for wedding gifts and trying to return to normalcy after our whirlwind wedding and honeymoon experiences. I suggested that we go to the Bulls game that day, and we invited two friends of ours to come with us. The Bulls were playing the Columbus Clippers, who at the time were the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate. I remember that it was a beautiful day for a baseball game. It was about 85 degrees with the sun shining, and we had great seats on the first base side. And Jason Hammel was on the mound.
Hammel was pitching brilliantly, and the Bulls took a 4-0 lead over the Clippers. Around the 4th inning, I commented that he hadn’t given up any hits yet, and I explained what a no-hitter was to my wife. I told her how rare it was and that I’d never seen one in person. The innings continued to go by, and Hammel continued to not allow any hits. I was beginning to think that this could be a truly special day. By the 8th inning, Hammel’s pitch count was getting high, and I could tell that he was laboring a bit more, but he continued to not give up any hits. After getting one out in the 9th, Bulls manager John Tamargo needed to take Hammel out of the game. After all, he was a highly regarded prospect, and this was the minor leagues. The Rays organization doesn’t like to take chances with potential injuries. Although many fans grumbled, Hammel got a loud standing ovation as he walked back to the dugout. Juan Salas entered the game in relief. Due to a combination of walks and errors, Salas did give up a run in the 9th, but he didn’t give up any hits. The Bulls won the game 4-1, and the no-hitter was complete! I was absolutely thrilled to have seen a no-hitter in person!
Hammel got his first shot in the major leagues at the end of 2006, and he split 2007 between Durham and Tampa Bay, becoming a fixture in the Rays starting rotation by the end of that season. In 2008, he was in the big leagues for good, starting out as the #5 starter, and then becoming the long man in the bullpen after Scott Kazmir and Matt Garza returned from the D.L. He proved to be an effective long reliever, but my favorite Hammel memory from 2008 came on September 10, in the heat of the pennant race at a game in Boston. The game went into the 14th inning before Carlos Pena hit a home run in the top of the 14th to give the Rays the lead. They exhausted the bullpen, using seven different pitchers, before giving the ball to Hammel in the bottom of the 14th to save the game. Hammel was accustomed to being a long reliever, but he was effective and picked up his first career save in an extremely crucial game.
I wish Jason Hammel nothing but success with the Rockies. I hope that he finds a way to pitch well in the thin air of Colorado. Here are some of my photos from that glorious day back in 2006…
I took the picture of the starting lineups as I was leaving the stadium. I figured that it would be interesting to look at the lineups years later to see who was in the game. The Bulls lineup was headlined by B.J. Upton, Delmon Young, and Elijah Dukes, and it also included future Ray, Ben Zobrist. But take a look at who was hitting third for Columbus – Carlos Pena! Pena had fallen on hard luck after a few decent seasons in Detroit. He had been with Columbus all year, and he’d be released by the Yankees later that summer. He then signed with Boston, and he played for both Triple-A Pawtucket and the Red Sox at the end of the season before they released him too. The Rays picked up up from the scrap heap before the 2007 season, and he just barely made the team after an injury to Greg Norton. He went on to hit 77 home runs and drive in 223 runs for the Rays in 2007 and 2008, making it hard to believe that back in 2006, he was stuck in Triple-A on a team that was no-hit by his future teammate Jason Hammel!
So here we are, the night before Opening Day for the 2009 Major League Baseball season. This is the first Opening Day that I’ve had a blog. I always make predictions about every new baseball season, and it’s fun to have a public forum for posting my predictions for the first time. Now, at the end of the season, everyone will know exactly how incredibly horrible my predictions turned out to be…
American League East
1. Tampa Bay Rays
2. Boston Red Sox
3. New York Yankees
4. Toronto Blue Jays
5. Baltimore Orioles
The A.L. East is obviously the division that I follow most closely, and the one that I care about the most. Strangely enough, my predicted standings are exactly the same as the final standings in 2008. I’m sure that everybody knew that I’d pick the Rays to win it, but honestly, they’re still a young, improving team. I expect to see better seasons from Scott Kazmir (now that his his out pitch – his slider – is back), B.J. Upton (with a healthy shoulder, he’ll hit for much more power), Carl Crawford, and Carlos Pena. Evan Longoria is only going to get better, and I expect David Price to give a boost to the rotation in May when he returns from Durham. I think that Matt Garza may break out as a Cy Young candidate, and I’m predicting that he’ll throw a no-hitter last year (he came close twice last year). I also think that the bullpen is improved with a healthy Troy Percival, and the new additions of Joe Nelson, Brian Shouse, Lance Cormier, and Jason Isringhausen (when he’s activated from the D.L.)
I believe that Boston is the second best team in MLB, and they’ll easily win the Wild Card. It’s going to be another great division race between the Sox and the Rays, and I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Boston ends up winning it. They’re likely to get at least some good contributions from all of their free agent signings (most likely from Saito and Penny) and they’ve got a ton of impressive young players. Look for Jed Lowrie and Justin Masterson to break out. Clay Buchholz should also make an impact when he’s called up.
I’m less impressed with the Yankees. Sure, they added Teixeira, but now A-Rod is hurt, so the lineup isn’t improved – at least til A-Rod comes back. But that demonstrates a key point about the Yankees. Their roster is filled with old players who are injury prone. Lots of guys are going to spend significant time on the D.L. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Sabathia and Burnett on the D.L. either. Burnett seems to get hurt almost every year, and Sabathia has thrown more innings than anybody over the last two years.
I’m picking Toronto for 4th, even though I really like the direction that Baltimore is going. Toronto quietly gave up the fewest runs in the A.L. last year, but they lost Burnett, and Shaun Marcum and Dustin McGowan are both hurt. Their rotation is very thin, but their bullpen is still very good. I’d take Baltimore’s lineup over Toronto’s, but I still think that Toronto’s pitching is better. Baltimore has some nice pitching prospects in the minors, but in the majors, their pitching staff is awful. Look for Matt Wieters to have a huge rookie year for the O’s and Travis Snider to have a huge rookie year for the Jays. They’ll be 1-2 in the Rookie of the Year voting.
American League Central
1. Chicago White Sox
2. Minnesota Twins
3. Cleveland Indians
4. Detroit Tigers
5. Kansas City Royals
Chicago’s still the best team in the Central in my opinion, but it’s a very weak division. Top to bottom, I like their lineup better than anyone else in the division, and they have pretty good pitching. John Danks could have a huge year. Minnesota has great pitching, but I’m not impressed with their lineup besides Morneau and Mauer (who is hurt for the first month of the season). The rest of the division is really, really bad. I’m picking Cleveland for third, but I don’t think they’ll win many more than 70 games. Their starting pitching is really bad, especially if Cliff Lee comes back down to earth this year. Two of their key players on offense, Victor Martinez and Travis Hafner, both seem to be on the down side of their careers. Detroit is similarly unimpressive, with a weak pitching staff and a lot of old guys in the lineup. Kansas City has some decent pitchers, but their lineup continues to be horrible. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Alex Gordon have a break out season, but that would still give the Royals only one really good hitter in their lineup.
American League West
1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2. Oakland Athletics
3. Seattle Mariners
4. Texas Rangers
The Angels are a worse team than they were last year, after losing Teixeira and having injury issues with three starting pitchers, but they’re still head and shoulders above the rest of the division. Oakland is an impressive young team, and the lineup looks pretty good with the additions of Holliday and Giambi. Their pitching is very young, but they have a lot of upside. Seattle is another team with some upside. They’ve got some good young pitching, and Erik Bedard can make a huge impact if he’s healthy this year. Texas continues to not have any good pitching, and I’m not as excited about their lineup as most people. Remember that Josh Hamilton saw a huge drop in production after the All Star break. Unless he returns to his first half form, their lineup looks a little weak.
American League Award Winners
MVP – Evan Longoria
Cy Young Award – Roy Halladay
Rookie of the Year – Matt Wieters
National League East
1. New York Mets
2. Philadelphia Phillies
3. Atlanta Braves
4. Florida Marlins
5. Washington Nationals
The Mets can’t possibly collapse for a third year in a row, can they? With their significantly improved bullpen, I’d be surprised if they didn’t clinch the division a few weeks before the end of the season this year. They’re loaded with talent, and I think it’s about time for them to return to the playoffs. The Phillies are still a very good team, but I’m very unimpressed with the addition of Raul Ibanez, who’s a bad fielder, and yet another lefty in the middle of their lineup. Their starting pitching behind Hamels is pretty suspect, but that didn’t hurt them last year. I’m picking the Braves for third, mostly because the teams below them are pretty weak. I think they’ll be about a .500 team. They spent way too much money on an aging Derek Lowe. The Marlins have some underrated pitchers, but they’re still pretty young all around, and they’re a couple years away from contending. The Nationals are even further away, although Adam Dunn is a nice addition to their lineup. Their main focus should be signing Stephen Strasburg, and then building their team around him.
National League Central
1. Chicago Cubs
2. Cincinnati Reds
3. St. Louis Cardinals
4. Milwaukee Brewers
5. Houston Astros
6. Pittsburgh Pirates
The Cubs still have the most talent in the division, and it’s tough to see them not repeating. I think that the Reds will be much-improved. Their pitching looks pretty strong, and I really like a lot of their young players, especially Jay Bruce and Joey Votto. I believe that they’re good enough to win the N.L. Wild Card. I’d be very surprised if they don’t have a very good season. St. Louis is a solid third place team. There are some question marks in their starting rotation, but they’re an all around solid team. Milwaukee’s starting rotation looks pretty weak to me without Sabathia and Sheets, but Braun and Fielder lead what’s still a pretty good offense. Houston is old and fading, while the Pirates should be better. I give Houston an edge for finishing in 5th, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see Pittsburgh finish as high as fourth if enough young players step up for them this year.
National League West
1. Arizona Diamondbacks
2. Los Angeles Dodgers
3. Colorado Rockies
4. San Francisco Giants
5. San Diego Padres
I really like the Diamondbacks. As the Rays’ expansion brother, they’ve always been one of my favorite N.L. teams to watch. Webb and Haren are probably the top 1-2 punch on any starting rotation in baseball. The rest of their rotation and their bullpen is solid too. And their lineup includes many improving young players. I think that this is the year where Justin Upton will break out as a star, and I like Chris Young, Stephen Drew, Conor Jackson, and Chris Snyder. Remember how good the D-Backs were last April? That’s how good I think they can be all year. The Dodgers will finish in second. They’re still a good team, but Manny can’t possibly be as good as he was at the end of last year, and their pitching isn’t that great. I like Billingsley and Kershaw, but there’s not much after them. The Rockies should be about a .500 team in 3rd place. The Giants have some nice pitching, but their lineup is a complete joke. The Padres are in rebuilding mode. With Peavy and Young in the rotation, they won’t be horrible, but I still think they’ll finish in last.
National League Award Winners
MVP – David Wright
Cy Young Award – Johan Santana
Rookie of the Year – Dexter Fowler
American League Division Series:
Rays over Angels
Red Sox over White Sox
American League Championship Series:
Rays over Red Sox
National League Division Series:
Mets over Reds
Diamondbacks over Cubs
National League Championship Series:
Diamondbacks over Mets
Rays over Diamondbacks in the battle of 1998 expansion teams!
So there you have it. Now everyone can laugh at me at the end of the season when I’m proven dead wrong. Or shower me with praise if any of my predictions come to fruition…
I just found out that I’ll be able to watch the Rays on TV today for the first time this year! Their spring training game against the Yankees will be on the YES Network, so I can watch it on DirecTV. Wade Davis will be the starting pitcher for the Rays against Phil Hughes for the Yankees. Carl Crawford will be the only regular starter in today’s lineup, but I’ll get to see Gabe Kapler, Adam Kennedy, and Morgan Ensberg in Rays blue for the first time. Of that group, only Kapler is likely to make the team though. Anyway, it’s a meaningless spring training game, but it’s always exciting to watch my first baseball game of the new year. The game starts at 1:15 PM EST, and it just so happens that I’m working from home today, so I can watch it live…
The Rays lost to the Reds, 7-0, in yesterday’s spring training opener. That’s nothing to worry about though. The starters only had 1-2 at bats each before they were replaced by minor leaguers, and they had to face Edinson Volquez and Johnny Cueto. On the mound for the Rays was Carlos Hernandez, a former major leaguer who had a pretty good season with the Astros in 2002, but then tore both his labrum and rotator cuff, which is usually a death sentence for a pitcher’s career. He started a comeback in Single-A for the Rays last year, and he pitched two scoreless innings to start yesterday’s game. It’s not likely that he can earn a major league spot with the Rays, but his comeback is interesting to watch. Five of the runs were given up by Randy Choate in one inning. He has no chance of making the team. The other two runs were given up by Mitch Talbot, who has been a staple of the Durham Bulls rotation for the last two years, in the ninth. Hernandez, Jason Hammel, J.P. Howell, Lance Cormier, and Neal Frontz didn’t give up any runs.
I can’t wait for today’s game to start – baseball season is now up on us!
So by now, most baseball fans know about 9=8, which was the Rays motivational slogan during their improbable run to the World Series in 2008. It meant that if nine players played hard for nine innings every night, the Rays would be one of the eight MLB playoff teams. It seemed far-fetched when Joe Maddon introduced it during spring training, but it turned out to be prophetic. The team wore t-shirts that said 9=8 all season as a reminder of their goal. When they clinched a playoff spot, the Rays started selling 9=8 t-shirts to the fans, including me. So how do they follow the amazing success of 9=8? Joe Maddon’s unveiling of the new slogan was eagerly anticipated during spring training this week. It’s pretty simple and it’s awesome:
09 > 08
Simply put, 2009 will be even greater than 2008 for the Rays. The goal is to win at least 100 games. If the key players can stay healthy and the new additions contribute like they are expected to, it’s quite possible that the Rays will make 09 > 08 a reality. I can’t wait to see it.
One consequence of the Rays new winning ways is a huge increase in fan support. There was record attendance at last weekend’s annual Fan Fest at Tropicana Field. Justin from Tampa Bay Sports Wasteland has a great post about his experience at the Fan Fest. They also had a parade on Thursday in Charlotte County, Florida, their new spring training home:
A year ago it would’ve been hard to imagine fans turning out for a parade even in St. Petersburg. It’s great to see Rays fever spreading all over Florida. Hopefully this is a precursor for a much bigger parade at the end of October!
Finally, the Rays continue to add free agents to their spring training roster. You probably know about the major offseason acquisitions like Pat Burrell, Matt Joyce, Joe Nelson, and Brian Shouse, but the Rays have also recently added these players as non-roster invitees:
- Morgan Ensberg – the former All Star has fallen way down since his amazing 2005 season for the Astros, but he should be a great contributor to the Durham Bulls this year, and a decent fill-in for the Rays if there are injuries. Despite his struggles, he’s still good at taking walks and getting on base. And who knows, maybe he can resurrect his career the way that guys like Carlos Pena, Ty Wigginton, and Eric Hinske have done for the Rays in recent years.
- Adam Kennedy – he’s always been a great defensive second baseman who is decent offensively. It’s surprising that the Cardinals recently released him after a pretty good 2008 season. He’s really in camp because Akinori Iwamura will be playing for the Japanese WBC team and the Rays needed an extra second baseman for their spring training games. But he’s supposedly a good teammate and influence in the clubhouse, and if there’s an injury, he wouldn’t be a bad backup infielder.
- Jason Isringhausen – he’s the most intriguing of all of these players. He’s been one of the most consistently effective closers of the past decade, but he had a really bad year for St. Louis in 2008. He had surgery in September for a torn flexor tendon, so that might have been why he pitched so poorly. If he can bounce back, he should be a very useful reliever for the Rays, possibly even the closer. It’s a low risk, and potentially very high reward signing.
The Rays first spring training game is on Wednesday, and I’m sure that I’ll have many more things to say about the Rays once the games start to be played…
All is right with the world again, now that spring training has begun across Major League Baseball. It’s hard to believe that it’s that time of year already. Finally, baseball fans can focus on their favorite players, their favorite teams, and the upcoming 2009 season instead of worrying about what team will sign Manny Ramirez and why A-Rod used steroids six years ago. OK, so the media will keep talking about Manny and A-Rod, but at least it’s now easier for fans to move past those things and turn their attention to what’s happening on the field.
It’s been great for me over the last few days to read the many new articles in the St. Petersburg Times and the Tampa Tribune about the Rays players reporting to spring training, and the optimism with which they all speak about the new season. The first pictures of Pat Burrell in Rays colors have come out, including this one of Burrell and Evan Longoria:
We’re only a little more than a week away from the Rays first spring training game, against Cincinnati on February 25. And we’re only 48 days away fom Opening Day! It’s going to be awesome to watch the Rays this year as the defending American League champions. I can tell that they’re even more confident after their experiences last year, and I think that they’ll be an even better team with the additions of Pat Burrell, Matt Joyce, Joe Nelson, and others. We’ll also get to see David Price in the starting rotation all year, B.J. Upton and Carl Crawford fully healthy, and Evan Longoria take his game to a whole new level. I wonder if he can beat out A-Rod as the starting third baseman on the A.L. All Star team now that A-Rod is more unpopular than ever. Anyway, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Rays finish with even more than the 97 wins that they had last year. The A.L. East race is going to be amazing this year, and it’s very possible that the Rays, Red Sox, and Yankees will be the best three teams in all of baseball.
One of the things that has kept me busy over the last few days, and one of the reasons why I haven’t posted since Saturday, is the planning of a trip to Florida that my wife and I will be taking in March. It works out great for us – she will have a few weeks off from work, and we’re both eager to get away from the daily grind and spend some time in the warm sun. And most importantly, we’ll get to see some spring training games! I’ve never been to a spring training game, so I’m really looking forward to it. This will be the Rays first season in their new facility in Port Charlotte, which is about 90 minutes south of the Tampa Bay area. I’ll be excited to see my favorite players in action up close, and hopefully I’ll have a chance to get some autographs and photos with the players. You can be sure that I’ll be sharing my experiences with you on the blog.
I’m planning to go to the game against the Orioles on Saturday, March 21 in Fort Lauderdale, and the game against the Yankees on Sunday, March 22 in Port Charlotte. I’m hoping to meet up with Brian from 30-year old Cardboard, and Mario from Wax Heaven in Fort Lauderdale. If any other bloggers or readers are from Florida or will be in Florida during that time, let me know if you’d like to meet up at one of the games. After the game in Port Charlotte, we’ll be driving to the Orlando area to spend the week in Disney World. We went to Disney during the summer of 2005 and had a great time, and my wife has been wanting to go back for a while. I got a good deal on staying at the Coronado Springs resort on the Disney property. I’ve never stayed at one of the Disney resorts, so it should be interesting. I might be able to sneak in a Braves spring training game at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex sometime that week too.
If anyone has tips about the best times to get autographs and photos during spring training, or any tips on things to do or see at Disney, I’d love to hear it. It feels great to know that baseball is back, and I have a fun trip to look forward to soon…
Check it out – B.J. Upton is starring in a new national TV commercial for Dick’s and Adidas with Ryan Howard:
It’s awesome to see any player on the Rays get national exposure like this. That doesn’t happen very often, but now that they’ve been to the World Series, I should get used to this sort of thing. It’s great to see two of MLB’s brightest young stars in the spotlight. With so many of the stars from the last 10-20 years tainted by steroid accusations, MLB should be marketing its young stars aggressively. This just makes me even more excited about the new season!
So I heard the news just as everyone else did on Saturday. Somebody leaked that Alex Rodriguez (A-Rod) had tested positive for steroids in a supposedly confidential test in 2003 before baseball’s steroid testing program was enacted. My immediate thoughts after hearing the news were as follows:
- Nobody should ever doubt Jose Canseco again. Canseco is clearly the only person who has ever been totally honest about baseball’s steroid problem. Sure, he’s not doing it out of the goodness of his heart – he’s doing it for the money and because he feels that he was blackballed out of the sport, but he is the only major figure who has been 100% honest about his involvement with steroids and the involvement of others. Everybody doubted him when he named McGwire and Palmeiro in his first book, and everyone doubted him when he named A-Rod in his second book. All of the members of the media who doubted and mocked Jose Canseco owe him a huge apology, which I’m sure they’ll never deliver.
- I was not surprised at all to learn that A-Rod used steroids. I honestly don’t think that I’d be surprised if it came out that any player, even someone who is universally admired like Cal Ripken, was on steroids. If Mother Teresa was a baseball player, and if she played in the late 1990s, she probably would’ve been juicing too. At this point, I believe that players who didn’t use steroids during that time were in the minority.
- The test was in 2003. A-Rod has never failed a MLB steroid test since then. It’s generally assumed that the current testing prevents players from using steroids. So if we believe that A-Rod has not been on steroids since 2003, then it should be obvious that he is one of the best players in baseball without steroids. So I don’t buy any arguments that his home run totals are inflated due to steroids.
- We now know that the list of players who used steroids is very long, and it contains names that we already know, and many others who we don’t know about yet. Many prominent hitters and pitchers used steroids. With so many players using the drug, did anyone really have an advantage? With each new revelation about a player who was using steroids, the accomplishments of others who we already knew used steroids don’t look quite as bad as we originally thought.
I really think that A-Rod is being unfairly treated by the media and many fans. I think that this has been going on ever since he first signed the $252 million contract with Texas, and it intensified after he was traded to the Yankees. He gets picked on because he makes more money than anyone else in baseball, but who else deserves to be the highest paid player? The only other player who could make an argument is Albert Pujols. He gets criticized for never having won a World Series, but there are hundreds of players in MLB who have never won a World Series. Baseball is a team game, and A-Rod has certainly helped his teams win many more times over the years than the number of losses that he’s been responsible for. And I’m not even going to get into his personal life. Yes, it appears that he treated his wife horribly, but that’s not something that we should even know about. It’s a shame that he has absolutely no privacy because of the unscrupulous scumbags in the New York media.
I think it’s ridiculous to suggest that A-Rod isn’t a legitimate 500 home run hitter, or that he deserves some sort of asterisk, or that there’s any question that he should be in the Hall of Fame. It’s clear to anyone who has paid attention to baseball over the last 15 years that A-Rod is one of the most dominant players of his generation – when he was using steroids and when he wasn’t. It’s also clear that a majority of star players were using steroids during that time. It certainly isn’t an isolated thing. We’ll never know for sure exactly who used steroids and who didn’t. It’s probably likely that a few players who are already in the Hall of Fame used steroids. Sure, the players knew it was wrong and they shouldn’t have done it. But we really need to blame MLB for allowing the steroid usage to go on for so long with no testing. MLB created an atmosphere where many players felt that they needed to use steroids in order to keep up with everyone else.
Look, nobody can seriously argue that guys like A-Rod, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Roger Clemens were not among the best players of their generation. Under normal circumstances, there is absolutely no doubt that these guys are Hall of Famers. Unfortunately, they are all tainted by allegations – and in some cases, proof – that they used steroids during their playing careers. But the more that we learn about what went on regarding steroids in MLB, the more apparent it becomes that the whole era is tainted, and not just a select few players. These are still the best players of their era, and I’m starting to feel that they should all be enshrined in Cooperstown despite their steroid usage.
Should they be admired as much as players like Babe Ruth or Willie Mays who played without chemical enhancement? No, but I don’t see how you can justify keeping all of these players out of the Hall of Fame unless it is decided that no one who played in the steroid era can be in the Hall of Fame. And that would be totally ridiculous.
I have to say that I was impressed by A-Rod’s quick public admission and apology for using steroids, even though he denied it in the past. I would like to see that from the other stars who are guilty of using steroids. The thing that upsets me the most about the known steroid users is that so many of them continue to lie about it. Mark McGwire famously pleaded the fifth. Rafael Palmeiro lied before Congress. Barry Bonds continues to deny it. And Roger Clemens continues to make a complete ass of himself. If these players would be as honest and open about steroids as Jose Canseco has been, and as Alex Rodriguez is now, it would really help me and other baseball fans to fully understand what went on during the steroid era and begin the healing process with these players.
I also want to preemptively defend the sport of baseball from those who will argue that this problem somehow only affects baseball. Steroid usage occurs in many other sports, including football, but people seem content to turn a blind eye. Let’s take Shawne Merriman as an example. He’s one of the biggest stars in the NFL, and few people seem to care that he failed a steroid test and was suspended for four games in 2006. I don’t hear anyone saying that there should be an asterisk next to his sack totals.
Baseball is different because of its long and storied history. People have a hard time seeing cherished records broken by players who have been tainted by steroid usage. But what’s done is done, and nobody can go back and change the past. We’ll always know that Barry Bonds’ home run totals were affected by steroids, but we’ll never know exactly how much they were affected. And the same is true with A-Rod, but probably to a lesser extent. But just like the Cincinnati Reds will always be the champions of the tainted 1919 World Series, the statistics from the steroid era will never go away. All that we can do is place them in the proper historical perspective. Babe Ruth was the greatest home run hitter of his generation, Hank Aaron was the greatest of his generation, and Barry Bonds and Alex Rodriguez were the best of the steroid era.
Finally, let’s focus on one of the few positive things about this news. A-Rod failed the test back in 2003. That was six years ago. MLB now has a comprehensive performance-enhancing drug testing program. It took a while, but MLB seems to have finally cleaned up the game. With spring training about to begin later this week, let’s look optimistically at the upcoming season and be thankful that the steroid problem is now in baseball’s rear view mirror. Let’s play ball!
I’ve never been a Jason Giambi fan. I didn’t like him during his original stint with the A’s, I liked him even less when he signed with the Yankees, and I absolutely despised him when I found out that he was a steroid user. But when I read about his rookie card in this post on Bad Wax recently, I immediately wanted to own the card. I went straight to eBay and I was able to buy a PSA 10 graded copy of the card for only $8. So, you might be asking yourself, why would I want to own Jason Giambi’s rookie card so badly? In this case, the picture speaks louder than any words possibly could:
Yes, folks, that is what Jason Giambi looked like in 1991! Before he became a disgusting steroid monster, he was the scrawny 20-year old kid that you see on this card. If you look closely enough, you can see the remnants of teenage acne on his face. He looks like someone whose ass even I would be able to kick! Heck, Steve Urkel might be able to take him in a fight. I can’t stop myself from laughing when I look at this card and think about what Giambi turned himself into…
The back of the card reveals that Giambi was 6’2″ and weighed 195 pounds. According to ESPN, he’s now 6’3″ and 240 pounds. It’s amazing what a steady diet of steroids and HGH can do for a body. It’s also interesting that he was a third baseman for Long Beach State at the time, which was the same position that Evan Longoria would occupy 15 years later. Giambi was in his sophomore year in 1991, and while he hit .407 that year, he only hit 3 home runs with 54 RBI. One year later, he was the second round pick of the A’s and the rest is history…
Check out the half-page ad that Rocco Baldelli purchased in today’s St. Petersburg Times. It definitely validates my sadness over the Rays losing him. Congratulations Boston, you’re getting the classiest player in Major League Baseball!