Wednesday, February 25, 2009

NY Yankee Hits First Home Run of Spring

Well, leave it to the Yankees to grab the headlines... again. In the top of the first inning, Brett Gardner socked the first home run of the spring training season, in the Yankees' road game against Toronto's Brett Cecil. That's certainly better than hearing A-Rod lie about steroid use.

PLAY BALL! Grapefruit, Cactus Leagues Begin Today

It's been a long four months, but baseball fans are about to be rewarded. Spring training games begin today in the Grapefruit (Florida) and Cactus (Arizona) Leagues. Two teams - - the Cleveland Indians and Los Angeles Dodgers - have made the move from East to West, joining the Cactus League and making Arizona now home to 14 major league spring training sites. That still leaves 16 teams in Florida's Grapefruit League, a more than ample supply of players and games to sate the appetite of fans too hungry to wait for the actual start of the MLB season. So, here's to baseball, the great American game. With any luck, players have gotten the message: play fair, without drugs. It's what the people expect and demand. Play Ball!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

A-Roid? Examining Alex Rodriguez's Seasons

Baseball's reputation was tarnished once again this past weekend when it was revealed that Alex Rodriguez - baseball's premier power hitter and highest-paid player - had used banned substances (steroids) when a member of the Texas Rangers. Following the initial reporting by Sports Illustrated that he tested positive for Primobolan and testosterone, Rodriguez admitted to using banned substances - without naming which ones in particular - during his three seasons with the Rangers, 2001-2003, and that he stopped using them during Spring training in 2003. What's intriguing about A-Rod's admission is that he led the AL in home runs in each of those seasons, knocking 52 in 2001, 57 in 2002 and 47 in 2003. Is it notable that in 2003 he hit fewer than in the previous seasons, or that his previous high was 42, which he accomplished in both 1998 and 1999 when a player with the Seattle Mariners? Maybe more interesting are his erratic season-to-season fluctuations since leaving Texas for the NY Yankees. In the five full seasons with the Bombers, A-Rod hit 36, 48, 35, 54 and 35. Did Rodriguez use steroids in those odd-year seasons (2005 and 2007) when he hit 48 and 54, respectively, or were '04, '06 and '08 just injury-riddled years? In those seasons, he played in fewer games, especially in '08, when he suited up just 138 times. One could give A-Rod a pass on 2008, though the evidence is telling. Both the batting averages and slugging percentages were significantly lower in the three even-numbered Yankee years as opposed to the 2005 and 2007 seasons, which compared favorably to 2001-2003. After studying the career records of players like Sammy Sosa, Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmiero - all notable roidsters - the evidence is pretty compelling. In each case, it's fairly obvious when a player started or stopped using steroids. All the stats go in reverse. Judge for yourself. Here are A-Rod's career stats. It seems fairly likely that he was using steroids as a member of the Yankees, notably in 2005 and 2007, one of which, I'm sure, was a contract negotiation year (2007). Considering Rodriguez's penchant for not telling the truth (a symptom nearly universally shared by steroid users), as in the 2005 interview with Katie Couric in which he stated unequivocally that he had never used steroids, it would be imprudent to believe him when he says he quit for good in 2003. The evidence in the stats is just too damming. Spring training is just weeks away, but this is no way to head into a new season. We're supposed to be full of hope and promise when the Boys of Summer take the fields in Florida and Arizona, but this year fans are likely to be full of angst and aggravation, that another one of their heroes turns out to be more hype than reality, more dope than muscle and more dishonest than ever. A-Rod's exposure leaves roughly four possible bona fide non-steroid power hitters from the drug-addled era: Frank Thomas, Jim Thome, Ken Griffey Jr. and Manny Ramirez. Let's all hope and pray that those guys turn out to have been clean all along. Baseball needs some standard of unblemished excellence. Then again, even if they are upright and un-drugged, just being an active player during these years puts a bit of taint on them as well. This has been another sad week for baseball, and they haven't even started playing.