Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Eric Thames has been the feel-good story of the 2017 season. After washing out of Major League Baseball and reviving his career in the Korean Baseball Organization, Thames is back in the majors and hitting like one of the game’s most dominant players.
Thames, 30, has seven homers in 13 games, which is tied for the most in baseball. Six of them came in five games over the past week. He’s hitting .429 and slugging a whopping .959. By comparison, in his last stint in MLB, he hit six homers in 40 games with the Seattle Mariners in 2012. Between then and now, he found his stroke, hitting 124 homers in Korea.
While Thames’ return to MLB has been a great underdog story, not everyone is pleased with his current narrative. Two members of the Chicago Cubs organization have made some suspicious comments suggesting Thames’ current performance may be … enhanced. Neither member came out and said they believed Thames was cheating directly, but we’ll let you be the judge of their comments.
The first instance came courtesy of Cubs pitcher John Lackey. He was tagged for a double and a home run by Thames during Monday’s 6-3 loss. When asked about Thames following the game, Lackey gave somewhat of a strange response:
“You watch film on recent stuff and try to figure out a way, you know, to get him out. But I mean, really even the homer hit the other way, I mean, you don’t see that happen here very often. That’s kinda one of those things that makes you scratch your head.”
On the surface, that quote isn’t all that suspicious. But as Brew Crew Ball points out, it takes on a slightly different meaning when you watch video of the news conference, which can be found here. As Lackey says the words “scratch your head” he smiles and winks at the reporters. Upon further review, it doesn’t seem like an eye twitch or anything like that. The wink looks to be intentional.
Still, though, that might not be enough evidence to say the Cubs are accusing Thames of cheating. The wink is certainly strange, but maybe he was just being playful or joking.
If left there, we could probably just ignore the whole thing. That didn’t happen. Cubs pitching coach Chris Bosio weighed in on Thames during a local radio spot on the Mully and Hanley show, and took the innuendo surrounding Thames to the next level.
Bosio was asked an open-ended question about Thames’ performance, Starling Marte’s suspension and whether that means steroids are still prevalent in the game today. Here’s how he responded:
“Well, the bottom line is [Thames] has hit the ball and we gotta figure out a way to get around [it]. All that other stuff, I’ll let other people worry about. But he’s doing stuff that I haven’t seen done for a long time.
“You start thinking about Ken Griffey Jr., Manny Ramirez when he went to the Dodgers, Barry Bonds … You’re talking about some of the greatest players to ever play this game. So, yeah, it’s probably a ‘head-scratcher’ because nobody knows who this guy is. And when he was here before, his body has changed. But, like I said, I’ll leave that to everyone else and we’re just gonna try to worry about how to pitch him better and get him out.”
That definitely adds some fuel to the fire, no? Bosio doesn’t come out and directly accuse Thames of cheating, but there are mentions of Ramirez and Bonds. Ramirez tested positive twice for steroids, the first of which coming with the Los Angeles Dodgers, which Bosio specifically mentions. We all know about the beliefs surrounding Bonds and his steroid use.
On top of that, he also mentions that Thames’ body has changed since he last played in the majors. Now, he could mean that Thames got serious about working out and altered his routine. Or Bosio could be using the same innuendo that gets attached to most suspected steroid users. It’s worth noting he also compares Thames to Griffey Jr., a player many believe was clean his entire career.
Thames, by the way, was subjected to a “random” drug test following Monday’s performance against Lackey, which followed a run of Thames hitting six homers in five games.
Further complicating the issue is that the Cubs should understand the severity of baseless steroid accusations. Just a few years back, some questioned whether Jake Arrieta’s ascendance from fifth starter to Cy Young contender was legitimate. Arrieta spoke out against his critics, maintained his numbers and never failed a drug test.
If anything, it goes to show that any surprising performance will be questioned these days. While the steroid era is thought to be over, players are still using, and little is being done to address the issue head-on.
That’s going to result in situations like this. A player who comes out of nowhere and performs well will face innuendo and scrutiny from the media, fans and even other clubs. It’s hard to say for sure if that’s what these two Cubs intended here, but it’s also hard to completely write it off given the state of the game.
(BLS H/N: Brew Crew Ball)
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