This Needs to Stop

Alex Rodriguez

Other than FIFA, the MLB is the world’s most archaic league. No professional sports league in North America is as slow at adapting to modern changes than Major League Baseball. It took a lifetime in and a half for Bud Selig to finally install an expanded replay system.

While the importance of history in the game of baseball cannot be underscored, its rich history prevents the league from moving forward. The illogical phrase preventing change of “this is how it has always been done” rings truer in the game of baseball than it does anywhere else.

Last night, Boston Red Sox pitcher Ryan Dempster gave us his variation of the ever-constant vigilante justice we see in baseball. Dempster took it upon himself to send a cryptic message to Alex Rodriguez. He threw one pitch behind his knees, two pitches far enough inside for a half-blind person to understand what was going on and finally plunked A-Rod high and tight.

It was an unprecedented moment in MLB history.

I can’t lie. I smiled after seeing that 4th pitch bean baseball’s most polarizing figure since Barry Bonds retire. My baseball coach in high school, Dave Empey, was Ryan Dempster’s coach and is still his friend to this day. When I saw that 4th pitch fly into A-Rod’s elbow, I could hear Dave, in his old, cranky voice telling us in one of his pre-game speeches, “Ryan Dempster was a man!” Granted, Ryan Dempster doesn’t have to bat in the American league.

However, the biggest takeaway from this incident has to be the MLB’s ignorance of the vigilante justice that has been as integral to the game of baseball as the Kardashian’s are to late-night TV writers. Players and fans accept it, as we do with so many other things in society, because “that’s the way it has always been done.”

The vigilante justice pitchers impose when they bean an opposing does make some sense. Human beings are wired for revenge. An eye for an eye, right?

In this day and age though, that foolhardy acceptance of such a simple concept needs to change before someone gets hurt.

There has been no hotter topic than the issue of concussions in sports over the past few years. The NFL and NHL have gone out of their respective ways in attempts to minimize head injuries. The games have changed as a result of it.

The MLB is happy with vigilante justice. It means that, for the most part, they don’t have to deal with the straining process of determining suspensions. Accepting and recognizing it as simply a part of the game ensures that they don’t have to be the bad guy. Say what you want about Roger Goodell, but he has no qualms with being the bad cop.

Although the concept of vigilante justice does make some sense, when you break it down, it’s about as ridiculous as a monkey wearing a cowboy hat and riding a dog. Players hurl a rock hard object, the baseball, at the bodies and sometimes heads of opposing batters at speeds of 90-100 mph from 60 feet away. It may be considered justice in the game of baseball but, in a court of law, that sounds a helluva lot like assault with a deadly weapon.

Yet the majority of players and fans still seem to be fine with it.

Ryan Dempster continued to pitch. Joe Giradi was ejected for standing up for what was right. Curt Schilling said on the radio this morning that he couldn’t believe that C.C. Sabathia didn’t take it upon himself to stand up for his teammate.

Baseball mentality at its finest.

The MLB has been lucky. Despite the countless number of balls that have flown intentionally and unintentionally at the heads of players, no one has been seriously injured or killed. This may sound crazy but the ‘law of being due’ ominously looms over the game like a dark, stormy cloud. With the amount of balls that are purposefully flung at delicate human heads, it’s only a matter of time before someone sustains a life threatening injury.

It just takes one ball to hit the wrong spot, helmet or no helmet.

Major League Baseball has to get a better handle on this. Pitchers who intentionally toss balls at players should be suspended. A zero tolerance policy. It takes something to the degree of what Ryan Dempster did yesterday for the MLB to hand out one of those 6 game, 1 start suspensions.

Those 6 game suspensions have to be the bare minimum. Even though I still smirk when I think about Dempster’s best Batman impersonation, he needs to be made an example of. I know he won’t be but he should be. It can’t be up to the pitchers to do the dirty work. It’s not fair to the pitchers and it’s even less fair to the often time’s innocent (star) players who have to bear the brunt of the pitcher’s dirty work.

I don’t think I can count on my fingers how many times Bryce Harper has been thrown at in his very short MLB career.

Like so many things in life, significant penalties are the only way to change the culture. It’s the only way vigilante justice in baseball can be reined in. We can’t continue to stand idly by and tolerate players putting their lives on the line every time a team feels the need for retribution.

This is an important issue that is constantly swept under the rug by that dreaded nostalgic mantra. I get it. That’s how it has always been done.

But, come on. Let’s not wait until something tragic happens.

Agree? Disagree? Reply in the comments section below or e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com

Also, you can follow me on twitter @chrisrossPTB and I will happily return the favour.

Hall of Infamous

Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds.

It’s not about morality with Barry in the slightest bit. It’s not that guys like Barry duped fans into believing they were heroes. It’s not that these guys brought shame to America’s past time.

I understand that Hall of Fame voting is partly determined by “character” but that isn’t why past steroid users should be kept out of the Hall.

This is about the question marks of their numbers. This is about the unknown, the unexplainable and the mystery. We have no idea what these all-time fakes would have done if not for their use of performance enhancers. The question mark surrounding what they have done is enough in itself to deem them unworthy of the Hall of Fame

I’m not exonerating the guys who cut balls with their belts, the spitballers and all kinds of other cheaters, but those guys are already in and that’s not going to change.

Steroid users gained a significant advantage. How significant is obviously up for debate but the uncertainty surrounding the level of significance is partly why these individuals should not be in Cooperstown.

People say that the “they cheated” narrative is simplistic and contrived.

Hardly.

I’m tired of the ol’ “everybody was doing steroids” narrative. Not everyone was on steroids. This article by Tom Verducci is a microcosm for the steroid era. A considerable amount of individuals were on the juice but there were also many who struggled immensely with the dilemma of whether or not to cheat. Whether or not to gain a significant edge over their competition.

Let’s assume for argument’s sake that the vast majority of players were on steroids. At least where I come from, majority doesn’t mean unanimous. The era was much more complicated than “everyone was doing steroids.”

Steroids skew the numbers. To illogically assume that everyone was juicing would be to ignore the historical aspect of the game, where numbers from eras past are still comparable unlike so many other professional sports.

Ken Griffey Jr. has never been associated with performance enhancing drugs. How does he stack up against the Barry Bonds’, Alex Rodriguez’s and Mark McGwire’s of the world? He stacks up incredibly favourably even when ignoring the possibility of PED’s. However, without steroids, where does he stand? It’s incomparable. I have no idea and neither do you. We could argue into the night but we wouldn’t get anywhere.

This is exactly the problem. Ken Griffey Jr. wasn’t doing it, at least we don’t think so. It isn’t fair to him that he is seen on a similar level to those who were clearly able to help their own cause through unnatural means.

What about Hammerin’ Hank? The Babe?

The dark cloud that hangs over those who have only been speculated to have taken performance enhancers should be enough in itself to keep a player like Jeff Bagwell out of the Hall of Fame. The absence of an outright admission or positive test doesn’t remove the unanswerable questions that will always follow that individual. For a player as good as Ken Griffey Jr. to have avoided any resemblance of a cloud over his head during that dreaded era shows that it wasn’t impossible to avoid that kind of speculation and the unanswerable questions.

How immense was the advantage of steroids? Do I really need to go over the same clearly inflated offensive statistics you have probably heard a thousand times again?

Don’t tell me that Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens would have been in the Hall of Fame anyway. You don’t know that. The fact that the numbers cannot be compared with former and future Hall of Famers because of the lack of knowledge surrounding the true effect of performance enhancing drugs is why no one can be certain of anything.

It’s not as if these individuals will be forgotten if they are not put in the Hall of Fame. Being such a big part of baseball history does not justify a spot for them in the Hall of Fame either.

It sometimes sounds like a segment of the people in favour of putting steroid users in the Hall of Fame want to do so only because they are tired of the debate. Personally, I don’t even think this should be a debate. Stellar careers were extended and made even greater into old age because of the technology. Fringe Major League players lost careers because other fringe players decided to go the steroid route.

I get that it must have been extremely difficult to choose the clean path. The best want to be the best and without steroids it was very hard to be the best during that era. Still, they knew what they were doing was wrong. Excusing them isn’t fair to those of the era who stayed clean and those in the past who weren’t exposed to the science of performance enhancing drugs.

Moreover, allowing the steroid era superstars into the Hall of Fame sets a terrible precedent. It opens doors that have no business being opened. No one seems to have considered the grave implications that admitting past steroid users could have on the inevitable future steroid users of Major League Baseball.

Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon have made it pretty clear that steroids are not out of the game for good. Technology is always improving and those who want to or feel as though they need to use will find ways to beat the system. What if a future Barry Bonds or Alex Rodriguez talent is found to have been using performance enhancers 30 years down the line? Welp, there goes your “everyone was doing it” argument.

The thing is, if you put the original Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens or Alex Rodriguez in the Hall of Fame, that means you have to put in the future all-time cheats of the world, doesn’t it?

It doesn’t have to be this way though. Don’t open Pandora’s Box.

It will only lead to no good.

Agree? Disagree? Reply in the comments section below or e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com

Also, you can follow me on twitter @paintstheblack and I will happily return the favour.

What to Believe?

How are we supposed believe anything anymore?

Performance enhancing drugs have seemingly taken over everything that is special in sports.

Melky Cabrera was suspended 50 games today because he tested positive for testosterone. Out of nowhere, the Melk Man had transformed himself into one of the game’s best players over the past couple of years. He currently leads the MLB in batting with a .346 average.

Steroids…of course.

That’s the easy explanation these days. Anytime something extraordinary happens, it can’t be natural. It is guys like Melky Cabrera that are making people lose faith. As expected, Cabrera was a fan favourite in his first year with the San Francisco Giants. No one could have foreseen him slashing .346/.390/.516 even after a career year with Kansas City in 2011.

I am not going to vilify Melky Cabrera. Oddly enough, he admitted to his wrongful use of performance enhancing drugs. Melky Cabrera is just another example of the sad truth of not only the baseball world, but the sports world as well.

We can’t believe anymore.

In all likelihood, Melky Cabrera isn’t the only star player receiving some sort of unnatural aid. There are others out there that haven’t been caught and will probably never be caught. The technology of the drug is always ahead of the technology to test for it.

The London Olympics brought awe-inspiring moments and moments that you will want to tell your grandchildren about. Seeing Usain Bolt dominant the 100 metre sprint was magical but it was as suspicious as it was magical. No one can be that good, can they? Despite being a 6 foot 5 freak of nature, running that fast with that much ease might be too good to be true.

Shiwen Ye, you know, that Chinese female swimmer who swam her final 50 metres of the 400 IM faster than gold medal winner Ryan Lochte. Ye beat a world record set by those fast swimsuits in Beijing regardless of the fact that she appeared to only swim her hardest for the last 100 metres of the race. Her performance was truly unbelievable but not in a good way.

These days, living by the innocent until proven guilty motto is about as realistic as communism being instituted into western society. It is impossible to have faith in athletes when we are constantly being reminded why we can’t.

Former BALCO owner Victor Conte said to the London Times that the more rigorous drug testing is easy to beat and estimated about 60 percent of the Olympic athletes at the London games were doping. Yeah, you read that right, 60 percent!

Steroids are supposed to be out of baseball yet two of the National League’s best players in the last two seasons have been found to have tested positive for a banned substance. One is being suspended and the other got off on a technicality.

The reason why sports are so appealing to the masses is that we can be amazed at the unbelievable. Most of the general public cannot fathom doing what these athletes can do on a daily basis. Special actions by athletes subsequently create special reactions from fans. However, the enchanting lure of the athlete significantly diminishes when the feat is accomplished through artificial means.

In 2012, the special has become the questionable.

We want to accept what we see as real but when we are given every reason not to accept, it becomes harder and harder. No one enjoys being deceived yet that is the feeling that surfaces every single time an athlete is exposed for using performance enhancing drugs.

I wonder how Cabrera’s legion of Melk Men feel now.

Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Marion Jones, Shawn Merriman, Bill Romanowski, Alex Rodriguez, Roger Clemens, the entire cycling world.

It has never been harder to accept the extraordinary than it is, right now, in 2012.

There is only one first thought that comes to mind these days when anything special is witnessed in sports.

Unfortunately, it’s steroids.

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Agree? Disagree? You can also e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

It Keeps Getting Better

Making the playoffs just got that much harder.

That is, if your team plays in the American League.

The MLB non-waiver trade deadline continued the wave of talent heading out to the land where the pitchers do not pick up a bat and Adam Dunn can still hit bombs. Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols flocked to the superior league in the winter but the happenings over the past few days have, to put it simply, made things ridiculous.

The real losers of the 2012 trade deadline? Every American League team.

The better league got even better.

It is unquestionable that the American League is the superior league. Despite winning only 4 out of the past 7 World Series, year-in and year-out the AL features higher quality overall talent. The interleague records reflect that as the American League once again dominated the National League in 2012, finishing with 142 wins and 110 losses. In fact, since 2004, the AL has won 55% of its games in interleague play.

That doesn’t look to be changing anytime soon.

The Miami Marlins fire sale allowed the Detroit Tigers to pick up Anibal Sanchez and Omar Infante. Ryan Dempster’s and Zack Greinke’s expiring contracts were dealt to the Texas Rangers and Los Angeles Angels respectively.

While the National League dealt numerous significant players over to the other side at this year’s trade deadline, Travis Snider and Jonathan Broxton were the only notable Major League player to make the move from the AL to the NL.

Due to the addition of the silly one-game wild-card play-in game, the American League race is tighter than a hipsters skinny jeans. 8 teams are within 6 games of a playoff spot in the AL as opposed to only 4 in the National League. Even if the previous playoff system was in effect, there would still be 5 teams within 3.5 games of a wild-card berth in the American League.

Mix in the AL Central and West division races that just got even closer due to the acquisitions of Infante, Sanchez, Dempster and Greinke, and you see that we’re in for a photo finish to the season. The amplification of the close race at the deadline was to be expected by AL teams but the increasing competition not be what anyone wanted.

As the National League becomes more top-heavy, the American league gets more stacked than 1992 dream team…well maybe not that stacked but you get the picture.

From a fans perspective, it is bordering on devastating to have your team play in the American League. The MLB has had more parity in the last decade but to win the AL takes more than your average playoff team. For most teams, it takes more than just money. It takes more than a good farm system.

Easy games are, of course, more difficult to come by.

It is no longer just the AL East. The AL East has long been the poster child for stacked divisions across all sports and that hasn’t changed with the bottom feeding Toronto Blue Jays sitting 1 game below .500. However, the AL Central and, especially the West both have 3 very quality teams in their division.

No division in the American League is a 2-horse race as the amount of gimme intra-division games are diminishing.

In order to compete in the AL, more teams have to be willing to make bold, daring and present focused moves. That has been reflected in this past off-season as well as the trade deadline. Numerous teams were able to improve their rosters but, by doing so, are only maintaining the status quo.

Such is life as a franchise in the American League.

Also, please vote for me to become Canada’s Next Sportscaster! I am one of the 24 finalists and I need your votes. It only takes a few seconds. Just follow the link: http://www.drafted.ca/finalists/chris-ross/

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts. Agree? Disagree? You can e-mail me at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

Monday’s Seven Casual Contemplations

It’s Monday, time to start your work day off right with some random thoughts, ideas, rants and ramblings from the past 7 days in the world of sports. However, it’s a holiday Monday up here in Canada. Happy Victoria Day everyone! Long live the Queen. Sucks to be American today, eh. Anyways, exclusive to Painting the Black, here are your Monday Morning Casual Contemplations.

Robot Umpires

Brett Lawrie’s childish, dim-witted, foolish or whatever you want to call it outburst against umpire Bill Miller on Tuesday really brought MLB umpires under the microscope. Lawrie was not wrong for being upset at Miller but his over the top reaction was wrong. His throwing of the helmet in his direction was just plain dumb.

Miller screwed up big time but that doesn’t mean robot umpires are the answer. I am not in favour of robot umpires. I’m not sure why because I am tired of human umpires and their, at times, seemingly limitless strike zone as I outlined in my Monday casual contemplations 3 weeks ago. Tennis has brought in video review but the line judges still exist. However, controversy is something that tennis has lost with the implementation of the challenge system. Controversy that made John McEnroe famous. The Brett Lawrie story was big news last week and brought a lot of press to Major League Baseball, which is always good for a league trying to compete with the more popular sports of the NFL and NBA.

Nonetheless, the inconsistent interpretations of a strike zone have always been and still are too much. Umpires are given too much leeway. It’s not part of the charm of baseball. The plate is there to determine what is inside and what is outside. There should be no varying interpretations of that.

If the MLB is willing to rein the umpires in and create a more consistent inside-outside zone that matches home plate then robot umpires are definitely not the answer.

Too Many Timeouts

Almost every time I watch a basketball game I think to myself the same thing – there are too many timeouts. The plethora of timeouts hurts the flow of the game. Teams do not need 6 timeouts a half. They don’t need a timeout to attempt to halt the momentum of an opposing team’s 10-0 run. Figure it out on the court. Baseball suffers from a similar issue with catchers constantly visiting the mound that slow the game down to a snail’s pace.

6 timeouts plus the TV timeouts is ridiculous. You cut that number in half and it would really help the game. It’s pretty much unbearable towards the finish of close 4th quarter games. I’ll tell my non-basketball watching brother there’s a minute left in the game. He knows that probably means 5 or 10. It doesn’t have to be that way though if they would reduce the number of timeouts. I guess the amount of commercial breaks is an issue but that is something I could care less about.

Don’t get me wrong, I love watching basketball. However, fouls slow the pace of the game enough as it already is. I would love watching the game even more if there wasn’t this overabundance of timeouts.

Drew Brees Suck it Up

I know what Drew Brees has done for the Saints franchise. He won a Super Bowl. He’s the face of the Katrina rebuild. Thanks in large part to Drew Brees, the Saints gave the city of New Orleans something to root for after all was lost. As Brees argues, he outplayed his $60 million contract. That cannot be denied.

However, Drew Brees is the one being so difficult in his contract negotiation. Management shouldn’t be the side forced to get a deal done. People are saying that the front office needs to take care of Brees, particularly because of the unstable environment the Saints find themselves in. No, they don’t have to take care of him to the tune of his asking price of $23 million. Come on, they were the only ones who took care of him when no one else would.

Drew Brees is being selfish. This is so hard for me to say about the guy who was my desktop background for the better part of the last 2 years but it’s true. He was my favourite football player. From the man who is painted as the ultimate selfless competitor, it’s shocking that he is unable to be the bigger man to help his own franchise out. Hell, by Brees refusing the Saints (low-ball???) offer of $18 million, the Saints were unable to keep his all-pro left guard Carl Nicks. Forget helping your team out, help yourself out Drew.

Tom Brady and Peyton Manning (when he was in Indy) chose to take less than their market value for the greater good of the franchise. What’s wrong with Drew Brees? Whether his motives be selfish or unselfish for taking a bit less money, Drew Brees should compromise with the Saints.

I’ll never forget this quote from Chipper Jones who never was among the 4 highest players in the MLB. Chipper said that “Nowadays, so many players play the game for the 1st and 15th [pay days], but I never have. Certainly, I want to be compensated fairly for what I do, but I wasn’t going to hold the organization over a barrel. And I never wanted to be a player who makes so much money that we can’t stay competitive on the field. That was my main concern.”

Drew Brees was lucky that the Saints were willing to take a chance on him in the first place. He says that he deserves more because he outplayed his contract. So $18 million a season isn’t fair for a guy living in a city where so many people are still feeling the devastating effects of Katrina?

You know what’s “extremely frustrating” Drew?

It’s you.

Dale Hunter’s Plans

Dale Hunter surprised most everyone this past week by stepping down as the coach of the Washington Capitals. After hearing of his decision to step down the first thought that came into my mind was that he planned it this way all along. Dale Hunter had no intentions of coming back to Washington. He said it was a difficult decision but he knew a while ago that he was going home to London.

That’s why he didn’t have to worry about the repercussions of benching Ovechkin and Semin. In his mind, he knew this was a one and done situation. He could coach the way he wanted and not have to answer to management, the fans or the media because after a few short months the stress would be over.

Will Rhymes

On Wednesday, Will Rhymes was innocently hit on the right arm with a pitch. Well, it seemed innocent. He went on to pass out at first base. Fortunately, he was okay and was back in the lineup Sunday. Since Rhymes was not seriously injured, the story has not gotten much press.

I feel though that this is exactly the incident that exhibits the dangers of throwing at people simply to uphold the baseball code. I wrote about the stupidity that surrounds old time baseball after the Cole Hamels fiasco. This wasn’t one of those upholding the baseball code moments and Rhymes was not hurt badly. But if someone can pass out from getting hit on the arm, what could happen if someone got hit on the head in the wrong place? The human body is a sturdy machine but freak accidents do happen. I said it before and I’ll say it again, let’s pray to God that it doesn’t take a death or fatal injury for the MLB to step up and be intent on creating a culture change in the game.

NBA Seeding

I don’t know why the NBA still doesn’t re-seed after each round. The March Madness style bracket is just more fuel to the fire of those who think the regular season is meaningless. We shouldn’t even be talking about the trouble the Miami Heat are having with the Indiana Pacers right now because they should be playing the 76ers. Top teams have to be rewarded for a good regular season. Boston rested its players and ended up with the 8 seed in the 2nd round.

Re-seed. It’s not very difficult.

American League Imbalance

The Toronto Blue Jays sit at 3rd in the American League East but only one team outside of their division has more wins than the Jays. Of course, that would be the Texas Rangers.

I giveth thou, the American League.

Bonus (Shameless?) Contemplation!

Hit me up on twitter and then maybe give me a follow @paintstheblack. If you like what you see around the blog, subscribe either through the email subscription in the right hand corner or with the RSS feed so you can have immediate access to the latest articles on Painting the Black. Just…awesome.

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