FORT MYERS, Fla. – Been a while since the last At the Letters, so I have to catch up on some mea culpas.
Thank you, entire population of Philadelphia, for reminding me that Ryan Howard hit half of his 58 home runs on the road and that his home-away splits were almost identical. It was stupid of me to imply he was a product of Citizens Bank Park. Howard is one of baseball's best hitters anywhere and would probably hit 50 home runs at the Polo Grounds. Still, it doesn't take away from the fact that Citizens Bank looks like it was transplanted from Williamsport.
Thank you, movie fans, for reminding me that Cleveland did not win the World Series in "Major League." Seeing that I'm from Cleveland, and my friend Josh fell asleep watching the movie literally every night from age 10 on – he still might secretly, though I think his wife put an end to it – the error was shameful and inexcusable. As we learned in "Major League 2," the Indians lost in the ALCS to Chicago.
And thank you, Barry Bonds sycophants, for reminding me that blind loyalty and logic are mutually exclusive.
Onto your words, and there are plenty of them. As always, my comments are in italics. And though I hate to start with the steroid subject, this first letter is worth it.
STEROIDS ("The new choice of the fan," Feb. 27, 2007)
Thanks for your column about the steroid problem. I understand the dilemma that this puts fans in. I think at one point I was there, hoping for the best, burying our heads in the sand, not taking a tough enough stance. I've changed my feelings, and hope that you and others who have the chance to keep this issue out there continue to be vigilant in exposing the problem. Fans need to do the same thing. I say to the fans, please don't grow weary of hearing about this problem. Continue to voice your displeasure of athletes getting involved with performance-enhancing drugs. I've become more vocal, and fans and the media should continue to do so for one simple reason. Young athletes are feeling the pressure and temptation to get involved in these drugs because they see the benefit, and they see athletes get away with it, and they think this stuff is harmless, compared to "real drugs." How far do you think these kids are away from "real drugs" when they start injecting or ingesting, and abusing steroids, et al.? It's all about the kids. That's why I'm not going to shut up, and I hope you and others feel the same.
I Won't Cheat Foundation
Formerly of the Atlanta Braves
A few months ago, a colleague suggested I get in touch with Murphy and ask him for his opinion on performance-enhancing drugs. Because he is the epitome of a player whose career looks a lot better because he was clean during the Steroid Era: back-to-back NL MVP awards, seven All-Star Games, five Gold Gloves, two home run titles and a run from 1982-1987 as perhaps baseball's best player.
Instead, it was Murphy who did the reaching out, and it's part of the larger voice he's developing on a subject with so few hard-liners. On Charley Steiner's radio show recently, Murphy lobbed salvos at alleged steroid users, and he's put his money where his mouth is, starting a foundation to discourage steroid use (www.iwontcheat.com).
I'll be talking with him in the coming weeks for a more extensive follow-up. Even if I don't wholeheartedly agree with his opinions, I respect them, because he's someone with the juice – no pun intended – to back them.
Don't you think the sport would be "fair" if performance-enhancing drugs were legal? If everyone can use them openly, then fairness has been achieved. Absent that, there is no way to achieve fairness. Dangerous? Maybe. Although I'm not convinced that, taken properly, performance-enhancing drugs are any more dangerous than other socially acceptable prescriptions, etc. No credible scientist will refute this point. The danger comes from abuse; but, abuse comes from non-performance-enhancing drugs now anyway. The state of affairs wouldn't be any different. The abusers will abuse steroids, cocaine, alcohol or whatever. Role models? Again, taken properly, performance enhancers can be no more dangerous than over-the-counter pain relievers. Even the most extreme don't have effects more detrimental than alcohol. Can moderation in performance enhancers be analogized to moderation with, say, alcohol? If people aren't willing to discuss legalizing performance enhancers seriously, then the only way to address this problem is deterrence (since monitoring is inadequate). If you take away the returns and benefits to taking these drugs, via a lifetime ban and confiscation of all earnings, then the risk will outweigh the reward for these guys. It is that simple.
Falls Church, Va.
I actually agree with almost everything Scott says. Only the problem is simple: Moderation would not work.
The entire culture of professional sports discourages moderation. Athletes lift weights manically. Offensive linemen ingest 10,000 calories a day. Basketball players want to jump higher, sprinters run faster, pitchers throw harder. More, more, more. To entrust athletes to use performance-enhancing drugs in moderation would be like sending a kleptomaniac into a store and asking him to pay for his items on the way out.
I am intrigued by the news that Don Catlin is leaving UCLA to start his own research facility. Catlin is the doctor who discovered "the cream" and "the clear" and paved the way for the BALCO investigation. Along with Olivier Rabin, at the World Anti-Doping Association, he is the best doping doctor there is, and sports' best hope of finding a urine test for human growth hormone.
By then, though, there will be a new designer steroid, a new pill or balm or sublingual drop. And we'll be right back where we are now: losing the battle.
I am so tired of the holier-than-thou sports reporter. Everyone is guilty, reporters know everything better than everyone else. Political reporters can run the country and world better than our leaders. Sports reporters can play and manage the games better than the coaches and players. You guys are more pure than Jesus. I was tired of it as a sports information director at UNLV where everyone was considered to be a cheat and a crook by you guys. You guys would lie to me all of the time to get an interview and then go in a different direction trying to destroy someone so that you can make a name for yourselves. This takes me to Gary Matthews, Jr. You need to let it play out. I know controversy stirs the pot and gets you more attention and in turn more advertising revenue. So you guys think you know all and see all – and in this case you may be right. But, too often you destroy someone and then print a tiny retraction on the bottom of page 18. Matthews has never been accused of this before, he may be guilty, but you need to be patient and let it play out instead of trying to preach how great and knowledgeable you are when you only know a little bit of the information.
It is worth noting that Mr. Johnson was an assistant SID at UNLV when Jerry Tarkanian coached there.
PETE ROSE ("Liar, liar," Mar. 14, 2007)
Many Hall of Famers, including former teammates of Rose (Mike Schmidt and Joe Morgan), have publicly supported the lift of the lifetime ban on Rose. If Fay Vincent acknowledged that some Hall of Famers supported Rose it would in fact weaken his own stance. By lying about Rose's support, that is the definition of "self-serving." Shame on Mr. Vincent. Now the question is: Will you man up and call out the former commissioner of baseball for playing with the truth to further his own needs?
Of course his former teammates are going to stick up for him. And of course the people hurt most by his gambling are going to rail against him. It's those without a vested interest whose opinions are interesting, and I can tell you most don't want Rose in the Hall. They cannot deny his accomplishments – nor can they deny his missteps, which seem to outweigh the former.
I've watched a lot of National League baseball since 1963, and one thing is apparent to me: Pete Rose, the ballplayer, belongs in the Hall of Fame. I firmly believe he should be allowed to go through the same process as every other 10-year veteran and get a thumbs up or down from the BBWAA. I doubt that even then he gets in, but at least the writers would have to justify why Pete Rose the baseball player doesn't get a bust. Rose's lifetime ban from working in baseball should be a separate entity and should be enforced, but c'mon, Bud, give Charlie Hustle his chance at the Hall.
Virginia Beach, Va.
Pete Rose, the player, would have been a shoo-in if Pete Rose, the gambler, hadn't committed baseball's only unforgivable sin.
GYROBALL ("Finally, the gyroball mystery solved," Feb. 21, 2007)
Loved your recent article about the gyroball. I first became interested in that pitch after reading the article you wrote last spring during the WBC. I was wondering, is there any publicly available video footage of Kazushi Tezuka throwing a gyroball? I would love to see that DVD of highlights he compiled. Anytime I look on YouTube, all I seem to find are videos of Matsuzaka throwing a nasty slider. If you could point me toward some video, I would appreciate it!
Ye ask and ye shall receive.
Introducing … the first videos of the real gyroball, as thrown by some Japanese high school kids and caught by Ryutaro Himeno's slow-motion cameras. Notice the front half of the ball is dark and the back half is white. These are the special balls Kazushi Tezuka produces to learn the gyro. Thanks to him for the DVD from which we culled these videos.
I don't know what's more disappointing, the fact that the gyroball isn't all it was cracked up to be, or the fact that the pitch itself has been uncovered and confirmed.
Way to let the cat out of the bag! I didn't realize breaking the hearts of thousands of fans was the business you were in.
This pitch had all the character traits that true legends are made of. I can't help but be reminded of the scene in "Braveheart" where the countrymen continually embellish the feats of William Wallace as his story spreads through Scotland. The story just snowballs and snowballs until the legend reaches this untouchable plateau, and that is exactly how it was with this pitch.
My buddies and I continually debated whether or not it truly existed after reading your original column last year, and as time progressed we all turned our heads, embraced it, and helped fuel the tale. I even went as far as to lecture my girlfriend, who absolutely can't stand the sport, for 30 minutes on what this could mean for the sport, how innovative it was, and just how (for lack of a better term) awesome this pitch could be. Imagine the disappointed look on my face when I had to man up and break the news to her 10 minutes ago. Needless to say, laughing ensued, and Mr. Passan, I blame you.
Thirty minutes? I'm impressed, Tom. I tried to talk about the gyroball with my wife, and after 30 seconds she threatened to divorce me.
While reading your article about the gyroball, a strange thought occurred to me when you talked about the gyroball's mechanics, and that it may have been used unknowingly by pitchers in the past.
What if there was a pitcher who used it – knowingly – in the past, and in fact, dominated with it? The pitcher I'm referring to here is none other than Walter Johnson, whose no-effort, 100-mph, side-armed fastballs are the stuff of legends.
I don't know how much footage is available on Johnson pitching, but you might take a look at what does exist. As one of the few people who knows exactly what a gyroball looks like and how it's supposed to work, you'd be able to recognize it, if that's what it was. It would kind of cool to have this "debunked" gyroball provide the secret behind one of baseball's all-time most successful pitchers.
Des Moines, Iowa
This is why I love theories: Sometimes they're so crazy they might be true. That said, I'm going to put this one in the doubtful category. Though if anyone has video of Johnson pitching, I'd love to take a look.
Now that you can throw a gyroball, has any team asked you to work out for them?
Expecting a call from the Royals any day now. Hey, a few years ago they talked about signing a fast-pitch softball pitcher …
Ice is good for two things.
Injuries. My drinks.
This one made me laugh. Father knows best, obviously. I thought of Lincecum – and his dad's maxim – when I saw Carl Pavano looking like an ice mummy after his 48-pitch spring training start.
I followed your link and looked at Tim Lincecum's delivery, and I agree: it's definitely remarkable. The question, though, is: Is it legal? If you look at it in stop action, he's a long way off the pitching rubber by the time he lets go of the ball, courtesy of that unbelievably explosive leg drive. As I read the rulebook, I'm not convinced that some "baseball lawyer" won't look at that, make the case that he's not pitching in contact with the rubber the way the rulebook says he must, and force him to assume a more conventional delivery – which will eviscerate that fastball. Is there a real concern here, or am I just being paranoid?
Los Alamos, N.M.
It would seem your point has some legitimacy, Bill.
From the updated Official Baseball Rules, here is Rule 8.01(a): "The Windup Position. The pitcher shall stand facing the batter, his pivot foot in contact with the pitcher's plate and the other foot free. From this position any natural movement associated with his delivery of the ball to the batter commits him to the pitch without interruption or alteration. He shall not raise either foot from the ground, except that in his actual delivery of the ball to the batter, he may take one step backward, and one step forward with his free foot."
While it doesn't say anything about springing off the mound – and, if you want the Lincecum video in slow motion, he certainly pushes off – the rules do state "he shall not raise either foot from the ground" and doesn't give an exception for the push-off leg.
By the way, I'm impressed: Within four days, the video had gone from 3,000 clicks to more than 220,000.
EXTRA INNINGS ("Extra Extra Innings," Mar. 4, 2007)
I was going to sign up for the MLB.TV premium package. That is, until I read the blackout restrictions. I don't have TV and have always listened to the Mariners on the radio. But I thought, maybe it would be nice to watch some the M's games on my computer this year. Not so fast. Which led me to your articles. Thank you for a clear explanation of a murky and seedy topic. Has there been any news since last year's article? Any changes for the better? Probably not, considering the DirecTV/Extra Innings deal that MLB just made. Is there anything I can do? I called customer service for MLB.TV and tried to talk some sense into them but they say it's not their fault. I think at this point my best course of action should be to stop wasting my time with professional sports run by greedy and shortsighted owners.
Nothing new on the blackouts. Though don't worry. There will be an update in the near future. I will not drop this issue. Because it's an even bigger debacle than the Extra Innings deal.
The alternative to Extra Innings is supposed to be MLB.TV. I just got it and I'm appalled. It won't stay on top, and won't shrink to the image only, so you can't do other work easily – which is the point of the service. You end up trying to work with a "rest of screen" that is a few inches deep at most, and even then MLB feels free to turn the image off if you do anything active in a tiled (not overlapping) screen you're working in, since it thinks it must now be in background, behind something, although it isn't. This may mean jiggling the MLB.TV screen hundreds of times during a game to get the image back! It overwrites the settings screen for Flash so you can't access those at all. Once it even blacked out a game in Explorer it shouldn't have. Ugly, ugly, ugly, not recommended.
Lots of people have had problems with MLB.TV. I'm not one of them. I absolutely love the mosaic feature where you can watch six games at once. I'll be doing the opening day blog again this year using MLB.TV. My one beef: The picture quality isn't high definition. It's not even over-the-air broadcast quality. It's more like rabbit ears. I imagine within the next two or three years, though, they'll get up to HD standards.
WORLD BASEBALL CLASSIC ("A Classic argument," Mar. 7, 2007)
I attended the semis and finals in San Diego, and thought it was a blast. Listening to Korean fans chant (and joining in) was fantastic. There is no obvious and perfect time to do it, but I hope they leave it in March. Splitting it would take away the momentum, and the All-Star break may mean the All-Star players may opt out, robbing us of the best players. March is a great month for it, even if we get pitch counts, which means teams need pitching depth, not a bad thing. I look forward to attending the next WBC!
The All-Star Game, no matter how baseball tries to sell it, is an exhibition. I think more players would drop out of that to play in the WBC finals than vice versa. Look at last time around. A short list of players who didn't play for Team USA: Chris Carpenter, Roy Halladay, Roy Oswalt, Joe Mauer, Grady Sizemore and Barry Bonds. Obviously it wasn't the best team the United States could field.
To determine the best team in the world, shouldn't the best teams play with their best players at their peaks? Extend the All-Star break to a week, and it would happen. I love the idea that months of buildup could lead to genuine hype for an event that was so good the first time around, it needs a worthy sophomore effort.
If people like the WBC that's fine. I don't give a hoot about it. I like spring training. I hang on every word from spring training. I like the slowness, learning about new players, which old players have had it. Play after the season when the job they get paid for is over. I'm not into that pseudo-patriotism thing. It's great for the other countries' fans that don't see the best in the game all the time on TV like we do in every sport.
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Steve, for what it's worth, was the only person out of about 100 who said he didn't like the WBC.
I, too, miss the WBC. My wife got me tickets for the finals as soon as it was posted. We went to San Diego and had a wonderful time. I am guessing that the next one will be either in Japan or Puerto Rico. Me and my credit cards are ready to go.
I wouldn't worry too much, Willie. Perhaps the 2013 finals will be in Japan but not 2009. And Hiram Bithorn Stadium isn't big enough to host them.
MASUMI KUWATA (" Life as art," Mar. 7, 2007)
Saying Kuwata once was Matsuzaka is perhaps an understatement. In fact, for most people in Japan, Matsuzaka is what Kuwata once was: he was the pitcher of Koshien. Kuwata was a freshman when he first won Koshien as his school's starting pitcher (which effectively means the only pitcher), lost in the final the next year and won it again in his final year (students only attend high schools for three years in Japan). He was often described as the best high school pitcher in the post-war era, and his supremacy in high school baseball became a measuring stick for all high school pitchers entering the NPB draft. In fact, Matsuzaka was often labeled "Kuwata class" by scouts before he was drafted.
COOPER BRANNAN (" Duty, honor and curveballs ," Mar. 5, 2007)
I truly appreciated reading your article that focused upon Cooper Brannan. I was shocked to see the young man displayed on MLB link for Yahoo! Sports. I formerly lived in Gilbert, Ariz., and coached Cooper at Highland High School during his freshman and junior varsity seasons before I moved to Minnesota. Cooper was always a yes-sir, no-sir type of guy who went through a lot in high school but always displayed a core value to support the collective group. Your column exudes these values and illustrates one of the positives that MLB, and more specifically the San Diego Padres, do for foundationally strong citizens of our country.
My son was an all-conference pitcher in high school. He's now in the Marines, stationed in Twentynine Palms, Calif. I'm going to send him a copy of this article along with a Padres baseball cap and tickets to a game. I'm sure he'll be inspired.
How can we tell Cpl. Brannan that he is our hero in the same esteem as Pat Tillman?
You just did. /