Friday, February 15, 2008

AL Central Update-Clemens Testimony Reaction Edition (2.15.08)

This should be a post regarding the reporting of pitchers and catchers, which usually is a cause for jubilation and typically makes me think of the up-tempo Josh Ritter song "Snow is Gone". Here in Minnesota, seeing the words "pitchers and catcher report" in print conjures up imaginary odors such as mowed grass and the scent one gets from kicking up infield dirt, even if the exterior thermometer reads well below zero. Here in the prairie land though, we still have a half-dozen snow falls left until spring finally commences but such a beautiful announcement reminds us that there is land on the horizon.

Normally at this time of year I am satisfied debating such issues as the recent Hernandez signing, if the Twins received enough prospective talent for Johan, or whether the Twins participated in the 4th outfielder market too soon when they acquired Craig Monroe. These arguments seemed to have conclusions. We will find out at the end of the 2008 season whether the Twins were justified adding Livan. We will have any answer in three years whether the bounty that was reaped for Santana was enough. We will know if $3.8 million was squandered on Monroe. These have answers.

Like the rest of America the last two days, I have been fixated on the Roger Clemens ordeal. Not on Clemens specifically, but the way the whole witch-hunt has degraded to what is essentially neo-McCarthyism. Like Communism and "the Red Scare", I believe that what really frightens congress (politicians, et al) is that this idea of injecting HGH could pour over the boundaries of our sacred fields into the American people: People idolize these players; People hate aging; These players have temporarily defied aging; Ergo, people might start gravitating towards human growth hormones or stem cells that might be able to provide youthful vigor prolonging the inevitable end. Don't forget that the government is still scared of stem cells (some don't even like the research). This has become bigger than the game itself. Hell, maybe an issue that will define a generation.

If growth hormones added longevity to a career without being a physical detriment, how is that a bad thing? Because everybody can't afford it? Because Clemens, et al should have conceded to aging and accepted the fact that they would not have been still playing if they couldn't do so without HGH? Should Debbie Clemens have simply allowed SI to touch up the photos without the aid of HGH?

I don't have an answer. I waffle on both sides. Half my foot is in the "let them all do everything" camp and the other believes in mandatory testing in the on-deck circle. Maybe when I am 65 and still playing softball pain-free I will think back on the HGH forefathers that made it possible for me to play on the diamond as a retiree the same as I would when I was 35 and mired in work. Maybe when my kids starts dabbling in steroids at 15 I'll be cursing the players whose cards I once idolized for teaching my young such a dishonest way to win. Who knows. Mentally, I want to return to considering whether Nick Swisher or Alexi Ramirez is a suitable centerfielder in US Cellular or if the Twins really do have a true lead-off hitter. These aren't heavy. But I can't just yet. Here are some of the more thought provoking columns in the afterglow of the testimony of Roger Clemens:

  • The Strib's Pat Ruesse lambasted Clemens ability to so easily throw his wife under the bus. In efforts to discredit his character, Ruesse quotes former Boston Globe scribe Mike Barnacle describing Clemens as:

"If Clemens had not once been able to consistently throw a baseball 95 miles per hour past men with bats in their hands, he would be wearing bib overalls and sitting on a milk crate at the open end of a trailer somewhere, brushing his tooth, while shooing away flies from his head," Barnicle wrote. "The man is a complete dope."

  • Rick Morrissey at the Chicago Tribune discusses that many celebrated what the ideal of Clemens is (an old man that won multiple Cy Youngs) but cringes at the idea of his 39-year-old wife. He questions why the bulging six-pack was the way she wanted to look:

But back to the pursuit of perfection. Allegations of HGH use aside, what told Debbie Clemens that the look she achieved was worth striving for?

What tells women that beauty is breast augmentation or nose jobs or face lifts? Or even that beauty can be found in an incredibly intense workout regimen and a strict lifestyle?

I don't find most female bodybuilders to be particularly attractive.

Both they and overly driven athletes have the same glassy eyed, single-minded look to them. It's neither beautiful nor excellent.

In our world, the line is getting very, very blurred between natural and unnatural.

In the pursuit of perfection, women with artificial breasts and athletes with artificially large biceps sometimes don't seem so different.

  • The Kansas City Star's Joe Posnanski in his personal blog gives his thoughts on the televised hearings. Including this on the idea of mistaking it for a B-12 shots:

I do want you to pause for a moment here and think about how stupid this B12 thing is for a moment. Let’s assume for a moment that Roger Clemens is weary of needles, a reasonably fair assumption since it appears he kept taking shots in the buttocks region, which is where needles-haters take shots. I know where he’s coming from. I hate shots. I am nervous about shots, I don’t like them, I don’t like when my daughters have to get them, I don’t like seeing them on TV. Anyone who knows me and several people who don’t know me will tell you: I hate shots.

OK, let me tell you what it means to hate shots: There’s is no way, no chance, no possibility that I would take a voluntary B12 shot unless there was a lot of money involved. No chance. A vitamin shot that MIGHT help me in some vague way or MIGHT NOT help me at all? Are you serious? Why in the hell would I do that? I don’t even believe in flu shots. I wouldn’t take a B12 shot even if recommended by a doctor (which, as Rep. Bruce Braley, a Democrat from Iowa righlyt pointed out, a doctor would not recommend unless I become a vegan or have to deal with Alzheimer’s or start dealing with mental health issues which is growing more and more likely by the day). And, while I love my mother very dearly, there’s is no way I would start taking B12 shots because she decided they’re good for met. Hating shots means hating shots all the time; you only take a shot when it’s ABSOLUTELY necessary and you really try to avoid them then too.

So based on the fear of shots alone I’m calling total bullcrap on the whole B12 shot thing.

  • Detroit Free Press's Mitch Albom approaches the issues straightforward: who is lying because both can't be telling truth.

I think he [Clemens] is. I think if Clemens is guilty, he is treating it like an injury the other team can't know about. Just get out there, look tough and pitch your butt off. He may figure nobody will believe a creep like McNamee, and Pettitte will never turn hard on him, he can just say Andy "misremembered" their conversations. In other words, in pitching terms, he can retire the side.

A big risk? You bet. But Clemens is nothing if not self-assured.

Meanwhile, what's the big picture here? What changes if Clemens is proven a liar? We already have plenty of big fish admitting steroids. One more changes nothing. If he did it, he did it years ago, when there was no testing.

  • Slate's Josh Levin decided that this is a split-party issue with Republicans siding with Clemens ('Perhaps that shouldn't be surprising, considering that the pitcher is a close friend of George H.W. Bush, "even building a horseshoe pit at his home for the former president," according to a 2006 USA Today article.') and the Democratic Representatives siding with trainer Brian McNamee ('Foxx, Burton, Shays, and Darrell Issa, R-Calif., attacked McNamee's credibility relentlessly, while their colleagues across the aisle—most notably committee Chairman Henry Waxman, Massachusetts' Stephen Lynch, and Maryland's Elijah Cummings—laid off McNamee and grilled Clemens.').

  • Finally, even though I am sick of Boston's reign as the best sports town in America and Bill Simmons as their official scribe, I do like his ESPN The Magazine article written at the end of January describing a game in 1996 where the fatter version of Clemens struck out 20.

The stunning turn of events didn't leave me as satisfied as I thought it would. Whenever people write about the Steroids Era, they always focus on numbers. After all, the combination of numbers and history makes baseball unique. We crunch them, compare them, memorize them, and eventually they become living, breathing entities. The Steroids Era has made it impossible to say which numbers are genuine, so fans worry that we can't compare generations anymore. I'd argue that every generation has mitigating factors that affect the numbers, and in time we'll learn how to weigh those factors from the past 15 years. We just need time.