Monday, August 03, 2009

Sox Talk

Ok, it seems to me that it is time for some baseball talk. And here, at least, that means talk about the Red Sox. I see three issues most worthy of discussion: The explosive PED news about Papi and Manny, the trade deadline, and most important, the pennant race.

They Peed, They PED'd:
If you're reading this, you almost certainly know the news: In the slow bleed that has become the infamous list of 104 names of people who tested positive for Performance Enhancing drugs, Sox stalwarts Manny Ramirez (now the Dodgers' problem) and beloved David Ortiz, Big Papi, were on the list. And if you've read this far, you know the response by the well paid writers and talking heads, who have shown time after time that they are a lot more concerned about this debate than the rest of us, despite their complicity/blindness/ignorance during the worst years of the rampant PED usage: OUTRAGE! TEETH GNASHING! TAINTED TITLES! To that I say: Bah.

Do not get me wrong -- this is not good news. But it also is the exact news you get when you let a sport run without a testing program, making the use of steroids during the time in question effectively decriminalized activity, akin to Hamsterdam in The Wire. The list, which of course was never supposed to be released or leaked, comes from a time when baseball did not have a program in place to stop this sort of activity. In a very real way, steroids, HGH, what have you, were taken no more seriously than doctoring the baseball. That guys then utilized these means should come as no surprise.

What do failed drug tests from 2003 tell us? That guys failed a test for a whole range of drugs -- including amphetamines and a range of pre-steroid supplements that were not necessarily even banned in those incarnations at the time. We have no idea what the failed tests mean. What we do know is that it should never have come to this -- the list should have been destroyed. I am no fan of Alex Rodriguez, as most of you know (or should, if you read this). But the fact that he was on that list is something we never should have known. ARod is a bit of a tool, and he managed to make matters worse in his attempt to come clean, but this should not have been a story, at least from the vantage point of his name on that list being leaked. As for Selena Roberts' book, well, that's another matter. ARod still might be the greatest player I've ever seen. That does not preclude him from being a douchenozzle.

But above all, let's put to rest all of this talk about tainted titles. The Red Sox were playing on a level playing field in 2004 (and how any of this could possible taint 2007, when there was a testing program, eludes me entirely). Indeed, the team they beat in an epochal ALCS, the Yankees, had arguably the largest demonstrable list of those on the infamous list or otherwise under suspicion or confirmed. No one has clean hands in all of this. The idea that the titles of the Sox (or White Sox, or Cardinals, or Marlins, or, for that matter, the Yankees (nah, fuck the Yankees) is absurd. If the 2004 red Sox had played the 1975 Red Sox in the World series, that would be one thing (though players in that era had their own PEDs, most notably amphetamines, or "greenies," as they were known by the players who gobbled them by the handful). The idea of tainted titles is silly, ahistorical, and shrill.

Now, the records matter is another factor entirely. but even that issue I cannot exactly get worked up about. Whatever advantage the use of PED's provided players in the last two decades (why are many trying to draw a line starting in the mid-1990s anyway? If we know anything it's that we don't know anything -- fans in the bleachers in Fenway were chanting "Steroids!" at Jose Canseco in the late 1980s. Were we wrong on the merits? Hard to make that case now) is nothing compared to the abomination of segregation that profoundly colors everything that went on before Jackie Robinson's lonely walk onto the Diamonds at Flatbush, and really, for another decade or so, until real integration took place at all levels of baseball.

It also drives me mad that some sports are completely off the hook -- football most notably. We see sportswriters lamenting the baseball PED crisis in the purplest prose possible while football players get off with a 4-game slap and a wink and nod. PED's in baseball were not a good thing. They were not the end of the world. I wish this had not hit my beloved Red Sox, but Big Papi is still one of my favorite players of all time. Say it Ain't So? Sure. But it is so. Let's take off the scales and not pretend this is the end of the world.

Trading Laundry:
Meanwhile the trade deadline has come and passed. The only big Sox deal involved the Red Sox trading a couple of legitimately promising (but not absolutely top tier) young guys for Victor Martinez of the fire sale Indians. Martinez plays both catcher and first base (as well as DH when necessary), van hit, and because of his versatility, he gives Francona some serious flexibility, which will be essential both in dealing with some fragility (Mike Lowell, eg.) and with egos, given that there are now more guys than spots in the lineup. But with Kevin Youkilis' ability to play gold glove-caliber first and third base, and Jason Varitek's need for more time off than he has been getting, my guess is that what might seem like too much will at times seem like barely enough in the weeks to come.

The Sox were one of many teams allegedly in the Roy Halladay sweepstakes. And I have no doubt that they were players until the end. But it would have been uncharacteristic for the Theo Epstein era Sox to have poured too much into a 32-year old pitcher with just over a year left on his contract. There is not a team in baseball that would not want a warhorse like Halladay. But Epstein had a ceiling, I'll guarantee that, and he refused to smash through it even as all around him there was an air of panic as the Sox completed their worst run of the season. I have said it repeatedly over the years, but the Sox are learning yet again that there is no such thing as too much starting pitching. This year, as in so many of the last few, the Red Sox seemed to have more starting pitchers than slots in the rotation. But in a long season those extra arms always end up as to few arms. Starting pitching may yet prove to be the bridge too far for these Red Sox. But the price was too high for a guy who seems determined to test the 2011 free agent waters.

In sum, with all of the rumors that were swirling (I most wanted the Sox to find a way to get the Padres' Adrian Gonzalez, but that too proved impossible), the Red Sox remembered that the trade deadline, like politics, is the art of the possible. The Sox did what they could. Now we'll see if that is enough.

The Pennant Race:
Move drugs and business aside and what we have stretched out before us will be another wonderful pennant race. The Red Sox, Yankees, and Rays are three of the best teams in baseball and are going to fight it out for two postseason slots in what is still the most exclusive playoff system in sports by a long way. This coming week the Sox face a two-game series against the Rays followed by a four-game series against the Yanks in the New Toilet Bowl. The odds are the Sox will split these series, as always seems to happen in even-numbered series. Win either one and the Sox will feel pretty good. Pull out a sweep and it becomes a great week. And of course they want to avoid doing the unthinkable, so let's don't think about it.

The Sox have a hellacious August schedule in which they face the Yanks twice, the Rays, the Tigers, the White Sox, the Rangers, and a feisty Toronto team twice. But the Sox have a tendency to rise and fall based on the level of competition. My guess is that this week will settle nothing save for the fact that there will be much left to settle. September almost promises to have the Sox and Yanks fighting for the division title with a future October date penciled in. That is as it should be. No one is happy about PED revelations. But in the end we have the game, the glorious, wondrous, fantastical game that is baseball.


Anonymous said...

This may be the one year where I actively root for the Red Sox (I had written off my Tribe back in May) simply because of my profound respect for El Capitan and what he did day-in and day-out through the lean years and the winning years for my boys. I am very sad to see him go, but I wish him well and hope that he can get a ring before it is all said and done.

Short anecdote: My father was on a flight from Cleveland to BWI on Saturday with Victor who was catching up to the Sox in Baltimore. He thanked VMart on behalf of all Cleveland fans and wished him well. Apparently Victor nearly broke down crying then and there on the plane. It is for that simple reason that he will go down in my book as one of the greatest to ever play for Cleveland (he is already the greatest catcher the Tribe has ever had). That a player would love playing for the team and city that we expend (waste) so much of our energy and time cheering, lamenting, lambasting and loving says a lot about that player.

-Donnie Baseball

dcat said...

DonnieB --
That's a great story that reminds us how much so many of these guys really do care. I'm glad he's ours now. And that we will be renting you as part of Red Sox Nation for a few months!


Mojodessa said...

A-Rod a douchenozzle... hahaha

dcat said...

Unfortunately, he got the best revenge this weekend. Oh well -- it's August, so still his time to shine!

(Actually, I'm not even certain the numbers bear out that he is that much of a postseason bust. Still, when the facts conflict with the myth, print the myth!)


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