Sunday, October 28, 2007

Is Baseball Hanging Paul Byrd Out To Dry?

So Paul Byrd admitted that yes, he did take HGH from 2002 to 2005. Byrd says it was for a pituitary problem, and that he had a prescription. He also says that the Indians knew about his past HGH use, and so did Major League Baseball. However, both the Indians' GM, Mark Shapiro, and a spokesman for MLB deny that. Which makes Byrd look pretty bad, especially if you are a fan dead set against players taking performance-enhancing drugs.

But I think it's possible Byrd is getting a raw deal here. I know professional athletes aren't the sharpest tools around, but if Paul Byrd didn't actually have permission from Major League Baseball to take the HGH, it strikes me as odd that he would say he did. Surely he would realize, if he's lying, that someone from the league offices would come out and say "No, we did not give him permission to do that", so it strikes me as a bit odd that he would try and say that if he didn't believe it was true. Now maybe wires got crossed, and someone rubber-stamped it without informing the higher-ups, and that person either isn't around to mention that (retirement, transfer to a different job), or they're afraid of getting canned if they do. Or. . . (and here's where we venture into the tin-foil hat territory)

Baseball is trying to make a big deal about cleaning up their sport now, after they were oh so willing to look the other way before, when it appears PEDs may have been helping people hit more home runs and getting fans back in the seats (note I use the word may; hell if I know who was actually taking performance-enhancers, or how much help those players were getting from them). Now baseball is convinced fans don't want their players on drugs (and I'm not sure how true that is; a lot of fans don't seem to give a damn as long as the guy taking them helps the hometown team win), and worried about Congress wasting time and money poking around, and here's a pitcher who says he had a medical condition (which may or may not actually merit the use of HGH), and a prescription (from an online dentist, that's kind of odd) to take one of those awful, awful PEDs.

I'm not sure I can put it past baseball to deny giving Byrd an OK, because doing so might make them look bad. After all, if Byrd can get medical clearance to take PEDs, maybe other players start claiming medical conditions that require HGH or steroid treatments, then baseball has a mess because they either have to deny all requests (and look like insensitive pricks), approve all requests (and listen to sportswriters, Congress, and the fans who hate the thought of players doping scream bloody murder), or take the time and money to investigate each claim for validity, and probably assign their own medical examiner for that, which would probably never past muster with Don Fehr and the Players' Association.

I'm not saying Byrd's innocent here. The whole "online dentist gave me the prescription" thing is fishy, the clinic he got the HGH from is under investigation, which hurts him by association, and since Byrd has been kind of mum specifically about what the problem was - and I'd say he has that right; why should he let us go nosing around in his medical history - it's hard to know whether he falls within the range of requirements to be prescribed HGH (I've read it's only for children with Growth Hormone deficiency; I've heard adults can get it for different ailments, lots of conflicting reports). All of that works against him. I'm just saying I think we have reason to doubt how honest Major League Baseball's being with us.

As to the Cleveland GM not remembering, two explanations, one conspiracy-style, one not: 1) Byrd did tell a GM about his use of HGH, just not Shapiro. He played for 3 teams during the time he was getting the HGH shipments: Kansas City, Atlanta, and Anaheim. Maybe he told one of them, and forgot to mention it to Shapiro. 2) Baseball is putting pressure on the Indians to go along with them in the denials of Byrd's claims, through threats of lost draft picks or something. hey, I said it would be conspiracy-style. Of course, there's a third option, that Byrd is lying through his teeth, but I'm just not sure I buy that, in light of the particular claims he's made.

And someone who comments may point out that Byrd should share his medical history with us to clear his name, if he's so innocent, so I want to address that. Let's say Byrd does just that, shares his medical records with not only MLB honchos, but the public, and those records corroborate what he's been saying. Is it going to change opinions? The people who were giving Byrd the benefit of the doubt still believe him, and now have the evidence to support them. The people who doubt Byrd probably still doubt Byrd, and will claim he's falsifying his records somehow to protect himself. Think about it this way. Lots of players are suspected of taking PEDs, even though they've never failed a drug test (that we know of). Those non-failed tests satisfy the people who already believed the player was clean, but the people who think he's cheating are still convinced the player is doping and either is masking it, or taking something that isn't tested for (which is a valid point), or had cycled off before the test. I mean, from a public opinion standpoint, I don't know that the drug-testing accomplishes anything. Maybe it keeps Congress off their backs (though they're so ineffectual I wonder what they could actually accomplish), but has it convinced anyone the sport is clean now, or just made it even more obvious there's doping going on?

Personally, I'll choose to hope the players are clean, but I'm not going to be surprised if anyone tests positive.


Thursday, October 04, 2007

Cardinals End of the Season Review

I suppose I should have had this up a few days ago, but my impending thesis defense is looming over everything right now, and honestly, the last fourth of the Cardinals season wasn't the sort of thing that much warrants remembering. The Cards ended up at 78 wins, below their pace after 3/4 of the season, but better than they were looking at the All-Star Break. They were 11th in the National League in both runs scored and runs allowed. And now Walt Jocketty is gone, and who knows what the hell LaRussa will do. But we'll worry about that in my off-season discussion post coming this weekend. Maybe.

Rotation - What's amazing to me is that the Cards used 12 starting pitchers this year (if you count Percival's "start" in the last game), and 10 of them made starts in the last 40 games. What the hell? Maroth still sucked. Mulder came back, pitched worse than he did last year, and then found out his shoulder needs more surgery. Yippee. Thompson made 4 starts; two were lousy, one was OK, one was good. I think that sums up Thompson's season pretty well, actually. Wellenmeyer came back from the DL, made three starts at the end of the season, and two of them were pretty good, especially considering the pitcher. Piniero cooled off after his first few starts, but he did have that kickass start that kept the Mets in freefall. Thanks, Joel. Wainwright continued to pitch well, Looper did about as well as you could expect, and Wells and Reyes kept getting booted from the rotation every time they struggled. I don't mind that happening to Kip, he actually pitched OK as a reliever, but I want to know why Reyes? I'm not saying he didn't struggle, but when Wainwright struggled the first couple of months (ERA of 6.34 on May 15) he was left in the rotation to pitch through it. When Reyes struggled, he was sent to Memphis, skipped in the rotation, or sent to the bullpen. I'm going to come back to this in that off-season post, count on it.

This rotation reminds me of the 1999 rotation. You have the talented ace-type get injured early (Morris in Spring Training then, Carp now), leaving a collection of detritus and unknowns. You have a surprise ace (Bottenfield/Wainwright), one other guy that gives you 30 starts (Darren Oliver/Loop), and a young fella that severely disappoints (Jose Jimenez/Reyes), plus the usual crap Duncan tries to turn to gold (Kent Mercker, Lance Painter/Kipper and Maroth).

Bullpen - Pretty solid year overall. Izzy rebounded nicely from that hip surgery last year. I know I keep saying that, but I did rip on Izzy a lot last year, when he was trying to pitch hurt, so I figure I owe him, and he really was pretty good. I can't recall nearly as many nail-biters with him this year, which is nice, though I think he might have started to wear down at the end of the season, he had a few ugly games in there, possibly because the hip surgery interfered with off-season training. But I think most of the heavy lifters wore down. Franklin struggled a bit, had his ERA rise above 3.00, but Springer finished strong. Flores and Tyler Johnson did OK, though you'd like steadier lefties, given how often TLR uses them. And hey, Kelvim Jimenez and Falkenborg both got their ERAs away from 10.00, Falk even getting below 5, so bravo.

Infield - Molina's OPS for the season was. . . .708! Woo-hoo, he kept it over .700, first time since 1996 for a Cardinals starting catcher! So of course, he had to have knee surgery the last week. Damn. Albert ended up with an OPS below 1.000, thanks to that 0-for-5 on the last day. But, he was out there because he wants to play, even though he seemed to have a dizzy spell at the start of the game, so I'm not gonna criticize too much. He got no consistent help, so what can you do? Kennedy was not heard from, other than we found out he'll be ready to go from the beginning next season. One can only hope it goes better than this one did. Rolen shut down shortly after the 3/4 mark, and did not keep his slugging above .400. Sigh, he's never gonna get over the shoulder injuries, is he? Eckstein hit over .300, lead the team in steals, and had the third highest OPS of his career (.738). But he missed 45 games. Always a trade-off, isn't there?

Outfield - What a lousy year for the outfield. At least we know why Duncan stopped hitting at the end of July - hernia. Ouch. I watched that game in Arizona where he had to leave part way through (the game when Albert was a homer shy of the cycle). Before they pulled him, Duncan looked like he was having more trouble running the bases than Albert, and given Albert seems to have like five different leg ailments, that's saying something. Encarnacion took a foul ball in his face; his career might be over. I know a lot of folks didn't like Juan, but that's a lousy turn of events, whether you liked him or not. Edmonds did not have a good year. .728 OPS, so he got outhit by Eckstein, and No-Shoulders Rolen, and almost Taguchi as well. Ugh. I know Jim's trying hard, but there comes a point when the body can't do what the mind tells it to, or at least can't do it as well. Jim's definitely at that point. Oh, but he got his 1800th career hit, so congratulations.

Bench - With this team it's hard to tell where the starters end, and the bench begins. 16 players got over 100 at-bats. Gary Bennett did basically what you'd expect of him, though he failed to have a 9-game stretch like August 18-27 (4 HRs, 9 RBIs, including a grand slam). Brendan Ryan came out hitting like a bat out of hell, then cooled off the last few weeks as the league learned more about him. Unfortunately, his most notable moment was his getting pulled in the beginning of a game against the Phillies because he had the gall to swing at a 3-0 pitch. Christ, it's that garbage that makes me think I won't be sorry to see TLR go away. Really, he swung at a 3-0 pitch, and you benched him? Then why didn't Schumaker or Molina get benched for the half-assed baserunning mistakes the very next game? Either Schumaker went too far around third, or stopped when he shouldn't, or Yadi ignored a stop sign for him to stay at second. Either way, it was a freaking joke, and neither one got yanked for their stupidity. Go to hell, Tony.

Where was I? Speezer came back from rehab, and probably got overused, having not played for a while, but the other options were more Miguel Cairo or Russell Branyan, so I'll take a detoxing Speezer. Aaron Miles did as well as could be hoped, though I don't think anyone was hoping for Miles to be third on the team in at-bats. And please, if Aaron Miles must return next year (and if TLR is here, Miles surely will be back), don't play him anywhere but second. His defense isn't anything to write home about there, but it's abysmal at short or, shudder, third.

Lots of relatively young guys getting chances in the outfield. Ankiel managed to have an awesome start, a horrific crash, and a week or so of rebound, all in less than 50 games. Based on what I'd heard I expected his defense to be better, but he really looked like he didn't have a clue out there sometimes. Which makes sense; he's not an experienced outfielder. Hopefully he gets better. Schumaker hit surprisingly well, though I don't think he can sustain that, but he might make a decent new Taguchi. As for So, well he's like Miles, giving it everything he's got, though the Gooch is more competent in the outfield (I'm always a little leery to type "Gooch", because it seems dangerously close to "gook", and I don't want to offend anybody accidentally). Ryan Ludwick was a nice surprise. I'm not sure whether he'll get any better, but at the least he wouldn't be a bad guy to use in a platoon with one of the other late-20s Cards outfielders. And hey, he was third on the team in homers - with 14!

Man this team was weak. No power, less speed, almost no starting pitching. I don't know how they won 78. Was it was the bullpen? Wainwright? Albert? Or just the craptastic NL Central? I have no idea. I'm glad they did as well as they did, however it happened.

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