Like Barry Bonds, Baseball Widow hasn't retired; she's just not playing.
Enjoy the archives. . .



Thursday, December 16, 2004

Only Baseball Matters | MLB and San Fran Giants Observations from John Perricone

Another great point from John J Perricone about how the steroids debate has been framed from the beginning by the use of the term "illegal".

"Why are steroids illegal?" You might well ask the older looking gentleman with money bulging out of his pockets. "Because we outlawed them," replies your Senator.

I believe this is a good example of Baseball Widow and Hubby's favorite logical fallacy, "begging the question". I hope so at least, because I don't want the Widow to throw a dictionary at me if I'm wrong.
The Washington Moneygrubbers

isn't really the name of the team, but it might as well be. MLB is making demands and pointing fingers like they've been wronged here and most media sources seem to be buying it hook, line and sinker.

Not Jim Caple. His latest piece on ESPN.com is the best I've seen about stadium financing. Here's a great quote: "it's the height of greed and arrogance to insist a Washington owner doesn't need to contribute significantly to the construction of a stadium."

Public funding of stadiums is greedy. Baseball is an industry rolling in cash, and yet it lobbies, threatens and intimidates local governments into forking over taxpayer money.

The worst part of public funding for stadiums is the way the decisions are taken out of the hands of the public. In New York, mayor Michael Bloomberg has gone to great lengths to have obscure boards and state commissions make all the decisions on a stadium for the Jets on the West Side of Manhattan. He's done this because he knows this issue would never meet with the popular support of the people. In Washington D.C., our national seat of democracy, local government has stood up to MLB. I'm sorry more news stories haven't appreciated it in that light.

Of course, I could always change my mind on this issue if, say, the governor of Georgia decided to institute a new tax to raise funds to pay for the Braves' outfield.

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Postscript: Baseball Widow promised that I'd post about the Baseball course I taught at Duke TIP's Scholar Weekend in October. So here's a D.C. related note from class. We did a marketing unit where we looked at various revenue streams for teams. As a hands-on activity, the students named the team (this was before the team was designated the Nationals) and designed logos, uniforms, and marketing tie-ins. Here are top three vote-getters for the class:

The Washington Freedom
The Washington Generals
The D.C. Destroyers

I expected some creative ideas from 13 year olds -- maybe the Bloodsuckers, or the Insiders -- but was surprised that they opted for mainly safe choices. I wonder if it's a sign of mainstream media's indoctrination of the kids, or if people really do prefer bland names like "Nationals".

Monday, December 13, 2004

Life Looks Good From the Top of a Soapbox

Baseball is a great game to talk about, isn't it. I think that's why blogging about baseball is so much more abundant and successful than it is for any other sport.

On the other hand, I think the rise of blogs says a lot about the deficiencies in mainstream media. Political blogs give a voice to those shut out of the big picture debate, and in a way so do baseball blogs.

Either way, I have my own pet peeves about the way this great game is discussed. About 50% of that problem is caused by Tim McCarver and Joe Morgan, but the other half is just a part of the lingo of the game. And I hear even the best reporters, GMs, players, bloggers, etc. using this junk. So, I thought that I could take a cue from our political blogger brothers and try to change the world for the better, one word at a time. See, Baseball Widow and I are pretty passionate about word usage. It's probably the angry nerds that we really are deep down, but every time we hear someone misuse the phrase "begging the question", I'm afraid she's going to climb to the top of a belltower and start hurling unabridged Webster's Dictionaries at innocent passersby.

In that spirit, I'm climbing onto my soapbox to present the first in a series of baseball lingo rants.

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"Sweepstakes"

The Yankees are the frontrunners for the "Randy Johnson Sweepstakes". The Braves are in on the "Tim Hudson Sweepstakes". In fact, the Mets may see Ed McMahon pulling up to Shea to tell them they may already be a winner in the "Pedro Martinez Sweepstakes".

Wait a second . . . this isn't a raffle. A sweepstakes is "a betting or gambling transaction in which each person contributes a stake, and the whole of the stakes are taken by one". If the Mets do sign Pedro, they'll be paying him royally for the next four years -- they'll be paying all of the stakes.

If it were really a "sweepstakes", and luck were involved, there'd be some possibility that Pedro would wind up in Kansas City next year. Or at least KC GM Allard Baird would keep getting annoying junkmail claiming that he had a shot at getting the coveted pitcher(and while he's at it why not subscribe to a few fine publications).

No, this is an auction, but you never hear that the Astros might just win the "Carlos Beltran Auction". The right word is there just waiting to be used, and we're all refusing to use it because . . . I don't even know why. "Sweepstakes" is stupid.

So stop saying it, already!

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Playing Favorites -- Part II

Well, as long as we're talking about favorites, I'll go ahead and tell you of my two favorite players of all-time: Dale Murphy and John Smoltz. One from each era of my baseball fan-dom, the years the Braves couldn't see first place with a telescope, and the years when it seemed as if they had a get-in-free card to the post season.

We hope to be posting a bit more on the Murph as Hall of Fame season gets going. For now, however, I'm celebrating the news that my favorite current player looks as if he's headed back to the starting rotation. As good as Smoltzie has been as the Braves' closer these last few years, his true place is as a starter. He should pitch more innings, which is a good thing for your best pitcher to be doing, and, as far as I'm concerned, saves are overrated. I hope this stratagem works for the team. Welcome is in order to Dan Kolb, the Braves' new closer (the guy, it seems, that is allowing Smoltz to start again). Goodbye and good luck to Jose Capellan, the prospect who netted Mr. Kolb.

One other happy side affect of this deal is that it seems that the Marcus Giles trade rumors are dead. This is good, as I didn't want Baseball Widow to have to boycott the 2005 season (which would severely limit my ability to not boycott it.)

Here's to the good ole days -- Smoltz on the hill, Julio at first, Giles around the keystone, Andruw in center . . . do you think Murphy could un-retire and fill our need in right?

Friday, December 10, 2004

Playing Favorites

Hot Stove Baseball! Sometimes I think the free agent signing period is my favorite time of year. New faces. New hopes. The prospect of the season to come.

But then, if you're a Braves fan, you have off-seasons like this one, where you focus on the losses. In the last couple of days the Braves have lost their best player from last year (J. D. Drew) and maybe their best starter (Jaret Wright), and all indications are that any free agent that's remotely attractive is out of the team's price range.

On the bright side, Russ Ortiz isn't coming back. The Diamondbacks have given Russ what looks to me like one of the worst contracts in recent memory. If that doesn't cheer you up, there's the news that the Braves have re-signed the ever youthful Julio Franco.

I know that doesn't sound like much. It certainly doesn't rate as an impact move for this off-season. Except here at Baseball Widow, that is. That's because Julio Franco is one of our favorites, and watching baseball is better when you're watching your favorites. I know that from the competitive side having Julio around at first base won't win as many games as if the Braves had managed to snag Carlos Delgado or Richie Sexson. But part of me doesn't care -- and not because those guys were never really a realistic option for the Braves this year. It has to do with liking to watch your favorites play.

And that's what scares me about the rest of this off-season. Because the team doesn't have much money to sling around, they're looking at trades. And the likely candidates are two of my other favorites: Andruw Jones and Marcus Giles. Jones is looking safer now, if rumors are to be trusted, but I'd still miss his affable smile, his single-robbing belly flops, and even his lack of plate discipline (ok, not that one so much). And if Giles goes, Baseball Widow is threatening to strike. He's her current favorite, and she can't bear the thought of a season without him.

So, Dodger fans go ahead and celebrate the arrival of Jeff Kent. D'backs, have fun with your new Troy. Me, I'll be happy to see Julio collect a few more hits. . .

And even happier if Marcus Giles and Andruw Jones are on base when he does.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Baseball Widow on PEDs (A Work in Progress)
Thought I would consolidate and re-post some of my previous ruminations on PEDs, since Baseball Widow was pondering the issue as far back as March. I still think pretty much the same things I've said before--which is to say that I just don't know where I fall on this, but I do think that most people are approaching the issue from the wrong direction.

Baseball Widow isn't arguing that there isn't a problem (pardon the awkward phrasing), but I am saying the exact nature of the problem needs to be defined clearly before solutions are implemented.

Is the problem illegal activity in baseball? Surely not. Rafael Furcal was allowed to play immediately after being arrested for his second DUI, and many other players have had legal woes that haven't interrupted their jobs.

Is the problem a concern for player health? Absolutely not. These athletes can destroy their bodies through extreme dieting, overuse of cortisone, alcohol, and tobacco. If we were really concerned about their health, we'd focus on these issues, as (statistically speaking, at least)they're much more likely to cause dramatic and permanent health effects.

Is the problem illegal drug usage? That doesn't make much sense, really, since no one is advocating that the system be purged of those players who might occasionally use ecstasy at a party. Besides, as Baseball Widow points out below, drug policy in the U.S. is one of the most egregiously ill-defined concepts. "Illegal" vs. "legal" is not the same as "good" or "bad" or even "life-threatening" vs. "non-life threatening." To say that only illegal drug use is a problem because it's illegal is really just a form of begging the question, and this argument is complicated enough without engaging in false dichotomies or circularr reasoning.

If we don't take time to define the problem, then we can't find a solution that will work. Certainly any solution to any problem that involves stripping anyone of any civil liberty is not a solution at all. Still, the honor system has clearly failed, so what next? Again, Baseball Widow doesn't have answers; she has questions--questions that deserve to be addressed before a knee-jerk Band-Aid solution is slapped down.

So, here's what I said in the past. Some of my ideas have evolved, so these aren't necessarily my current views, but they're still views worth re-examining.

Performance Enhancing Drugs. . . I could sure use 'em for this post.

It's difficult to write with conviction about the subject of performance enhancing drugs because Baseball Widow is ultimately ambivalent about them. It probably does do some good, however, to lay out the reasons for my ambivalence. . .

As I see it, there are basically three ways to examine the consequences of Performance Enhancing Drugs ("PEDs") in baseball.

1. If Barry Bonds is the only person using PEDs, then it cheapens his accomplishments because his domination of the field stems, quite simply, from cheating. If that's true, then I'm sure history will appropriately asterisk his records and move on. This would hold true for any small number of individuals using PEDs in the game.

2. If everyone is happily using some sort of PED, then it's hard to feel indignant about any one person using them. We may fret over their health or over the ethics of introducing such a variable into the game, but if everyone does it, then it can't be cheating. At least, it doesn't threaten the competitive balance among players.

3. If most people are using PEDs and the people who don't are negatively affected, then baseball has a problem. A player who won't use PEDs when everyone else is will probably lose his job. . . either because his actual performance will suffer or because a club won't keep a player who isn't willing to do absolutely anything for the roster spot.

The obvious response to number three is trifold: no one's entitled to be a Major League Baseball player, no one's being physically forced to take PEDs, and no one cares if a player would rather quit than take drugs. Truthfully, I think that's a fair argument. I also think, however, that in a culture full of pressure to take the drugs, it's hard to tell which actions are voluntary and which ones aren't. Also, scenario three paints a picture where most people are cheating and the others are getting penalized for playing by the rules. That just doesn't seem right. That just flies in the face of promoting competitive balance among players.

I can't overstate the importance of competitive balance in baseball. It is the (Nerd Alert) sine qua non of pro sports. Certainly, performance enhancing drugs have the potential to destroy competitive balance, but can't you say that about anything? In fact, you can think of the Yankees payroll as the ultimate steroid: it's an artificial advantage. Every team has the same number of roster spots, and every team gets 27 outs. But Steinbrenner's thick wallet creates a capability that simply doesn't exist for other teams in the normal course of business.

So, Baseball Widow's official position is that she has none. I think PEDs are probably bad for the game, but I'm not sure exactly how bad they are. I'm also unsure as to the best method to regulate their use. Basically, I'm ambivalent, but I think I already told you that. But, Baseball Widow is rarely content to lack a definitive opinion on anything, so I'm sure we'll come back to this.


PEDs Part II

Baseball Widow said we'd come back to this topic.

Two strands of thought seem to be floating around out there: one questioning the true effects of Performance Enhancing Drugs, the other identifying additional circumstances and factors that could be considered performance-enhancing.

Baseball Widow will speak only briefly to the former. Baseball Widow hopes that everyone understands the now oft-stated assertion that steroids, hgh, and the like aren't magic pills. The drugs alone won't do much but send your hormones into overdrive. (Take it from Baseball Widow, who had a nasty lung infection last winter and was as pumped full of various steroids as, well, as Barry Bonds would be if he weren't innocent until proven guilty.) Of course any effectiveness must be accompanied by an exercise and diet regimen. And, of course PEDs wouldn't work the same for everyone.

I don't think that speculating as to their effects is really useful for this discussion. I think PEDs probably are effective, or they wouldn't be used. Even if they're not, there's a whole school of thought out there that says because a placebo effect can be incredibly powerful, the thing that induces the effect can and should be considered a drug (which raises a tangential but nonetheless interesting question about the desirability--and feasibility--of regulating placebos).

As to the latter thought strand, Baseball Widow is intrigued by the idea that almost anything can be considered performance-enhancing. I made the point that the Yankees payroll is an artificial/innate/organic advantage. Others have said that because Babe Ruth played in the segregated era, his records were enhanced by the fact that he didn't compete with Negro league players. Although I'm not willing to equate PEDs in absolute terms with sociological conditions, I do think that Performance Enhancers (PEs)--drugs or not--are interesting fodder for thought. Therefore, Baseball Widow would like to shift the discussion toward the very idea of Performance Enhancement.

I submit to you that none of us would even watch Major League Baseball if PEs weren't involved. Don't believe me? What separates professional baseball from backyard baseball? The level of play--the enhanced performance.

Ladies and gentlemen, we want PEs. We demand them of the athletes. We've set up a system whereby men who can throw balls really fast and hit them really hard are elevated in society. We make them millionaires, we pay through the nose to see them do their special tricks, we ask them to write their name on paper so that we can prove they touched something we touched.

It's not just baseball. Think of your average celebrity. You think Britney Spears keeps her bod gorgeous by working out a lot? Sure she does. But she's also taking PEDs--in the form of a diet pill. Guess what Beyonce Knowles gave herself for her birthday? Waffles. Yes, waffles. . .because she can't sit down at brunch on Sunday and snarf them the way you and I do. Self-denial is her PE.

It's inadequate to blame the culture of fame that encourages extreme behaviors. It's not being famous that makes athletes and celebrities go to extremes--it's that they wouldn't be superstar athletes or celebrities without the extremes. They're not just idolized; they're idealized. We expect celebrity athletes to embody the super-human athleticism that we have dreamed up in our heads to envy.

I don't mean to offer an excuse for PEDs; I believe in personal responsibility for one's actions. I do think, however, that the very nature of the professional game offers an explanation for their use. I'm not saying it's good or bad; I'm just saying that if we're going to let the steroids debate simmer, we'd better be prepared when it boils up to expose other things that force us to be less naive about the game we love.

PEDs, part IV (I think)

In the past, Baseball Widow has been quick to point out that the Performance Enhancing Drug ("PED") moniker is inadequate, especially to the extent that "performance enhancing" relates to competitive balance. I don't want to re-tread water under the bridge, but I've pointed out that the Yankees' payroll is an artificial advantage that smaller-market teams can never rival. We've talked about performance enhancing. Now let's talk about drugs.

Two recent events have caused Baseball Widow to think about drugs. No, neither of them involved law school finals.

1. Baseball Hubby's paternal grandmother recently had a terrible respiratory infection with some dangerous complications. She spent over a month in the hospital. At one point she was injected with steroids to keep her lungs open. The woman has incredible pluck--when visitors walked in, she asked, "Wonder if they'll finally let me in the big game?" She was, of course, referring to baseball. (Baseball Hubby's grandmother is a huge baseball fan, but that's another post.)

2. Baseball Widow recently spent an evening on a police ride-along. No, she wasn't arrested. Baseball Widow rode in the patrol car with a police officer for a ten hour shift, going on every call. The most eye-opening part of the experience was touring the slums and seeing how drugs permeate the community. Baseball Widow isn't saying anything new when she says that crack has devastating effects.

This is perhaps the most simplistic idea I've ever posted, but sometimes simple ideas need spelling out: drugs are neither inherently good nor inherently bad--they're just drugs. Sometimes drugs are essential to save lives. Sometimes drugs are instrumental in ruining lives. And, although people don't really like to think about it, sometimes drugs are just for the kick. We see all three instances in baseball.

Just for the kick: Maybe they work, maybe they don't. Sometimes they're legal, sometimes they're not. Creatine, Ephedra, Hgh, Steroids, Slim-Fast, Viagra, whatever.

Ruining lives: Steve Howe, Darryl Strawberry, Otis Nixon, Dwight Gooden.

Saving lives: Detroit Tigers pitcher Jason Johnson, wearing an insulin pump during games to keep his life-threatening diabetes in check.

It is inadequate to draw the illegal/legal distinction. First, there is a fundamental difference between Jose Canseco trying to hit a few more homers and Greasy Eddie the neighborhood crack dealer ripping off car stereos to support his habit. Second, the illegal/legal distinction is simply an arbitrary standard set by government officials who are susceptible to lobbying influence. Pop quiz: which is more dangerous, marijuana or tobacco? Well, if you grow it and roll it, you're gonna live a longer, healthier life smoking dope than buying Lucky Strikes. What's the difference between crack and powder cocaine? Chemically, pretty much nothing, but if you get busted for crack, you're gonna do at least twice the time as if you peddled cocaine. Look, I'm not making the case that anyone should be doing any of these, but I am saying that an intelligent conversation about drug policy--both nationally and in baseball--requires making finer distinctions than illegal/legal.

So, what is the standard that baseball should use? "Artificial Advantage" is about as slippery as "Performance Enhancing." What if I told you that some baseball players were abusing a prescription-only steroid injection in order to deaden themselves to pain so that they can play longer and harder? Outraged? Why should you be? It's just cortisone. Sure, excessive use can kill white blood cells, cause cataracts, high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and cause tendons to explode, but, hey, if everybody uses it, it can't be a big deal, right?

Is it possible that the uproar over illegal steroids is just because they haven't gained widespread use or acceptance yet? And if this is the case, haven't we really worked ourselves back around to the issue of competitive balance?

Baseball Widow doesn't have an answer or a conclusion. This is a topic in progress. . .


Monday, December 06, 2004

Baseball Widow Takes it Back

"If Baseball Widow has to, she will post on why this is a stupid, stupid question."

Baseball Widow shouldn't have said that. Debates are good, and closed-minded avoidance of the debate simply because I've made up my mind already makes me no better than if I hadn't considered the issue in the first place.


Saturday, December 04, 2004

Food for Thought

Okay, Baseball Widow figured that this Rose/Bonds thing wouldn't go away. She's not quite to the boiling point, though, so rather than rant, she thought she'd point you to a developing discussion surrounding the issue. David Pinto at Baseball Musings wrote a thoughtful post, and the resulting comments are also quite interesting. (Not just because Baseball Widow weighed in.)

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Requisite Post about the Big News

Let's skip the flowers and candy and get straight to business, shall we?

Giambi admits steroid use. (I'm not putting a link here 'cause the news is everywhere.) Here's what Baseball Widow is thinking. . .


--Why'd he 'fess up? Don't get me wrong, doing the right thing under oath is admirable, but I'm certain he must have reasons deeper than that--deeper, perhaps than just criminal immunity. Maybe he knows something about his career that we don't.

--Speaking of career implications, what happens next? Well, assuming Giambi is planning on coming back to finish his contract, the legal issues are interesting. Although Baseball Widow doesn't normally recommend Jayson Stark articles, this one offers an attorney's perspective on the possibilities. Baseball Widow wonders to what extent clubs will want to cite steroid use as a reason for dumping bad contracts. It seems to Baseball Widow that the exact people who are likely to be underperforming on their long-term, big-money contracts are the most likely to be using Performance Enhancing Drugs. Hmmm. . .puts the call for stricter testing in a new light, doesn't it?

--Who, besides the media, really thinks this is a big deal? PTI is already framing the issue as, "Who did more harm to baseball, Giambi or Rose?" Give Baseball Widow a break. If Baseball Widow has to, she will post on why this is a stupid, stupid question. For now, she's going to wait and see if anyone says anything manifestly idiotic. Suffice it to say that PEDs might do lots of bad things, but they don't compromise the essential nature of a professional sports league in the same way. Furthermore, you can't pretend that Giambi's actions as an individual are tantamount to Rose's. Giambi is one of many who used, and the game has seen eras in which coach-provided "go pills" were tossed to players as easily as aspirin. PEDs just don't affect professional sports in the same way player/manager gambling can.

--Why do they use? Oh, come on. Baseball Widow has written about this a lot. Who wants to see a 400 foot homer if someone could hit a 500 footer? As a fan of baseball, don't underestimate the extent to which your contribution to the cult of celebrity affects what the players are willing to do to perform. Since we've seen what the juice can do, who wants to watch the juice-free league? Did you watch the college baseball world series?

--What qualifies as "Performance Enhancing"? In sports, there's no way to place every athlete's performance on an even playing field. If we asterisk Maris and Ichiro because they had more games, we really should asterisk Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth because they played segregated ball. If steroids enhance performance, then Giambi's accomplishments are "tainted," right? But, wait, Curt Schilling was a walking medical ward when he pitched in the Division Series! Don't think for a second that he wasn't on Performance Enhancing Drugs--he just didn't happen to take the ones that aren't allowed. In professional sports, where, for better or worse, the rules really do differ from those that apply to you and me, it's just too hard to draw a line between "okay" and "illegal" performance enhancers.