Steroids: why does the NFL get a free pass?

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Headline to a column written in the Philadelphia Daily News: “NFL seems to have better handle on steroid problem than MLB.”

The keyword is “seems.” According to the article, steroid use was de rigueur in the NFL back in the 80s in a way that it has never been alleged to be in baseball. Ex-lineman Brian Baldinger:

“I remember the first day of training camp, going into Player X’s
dorm room when the vets showed up,” says Baldinger, who played 11 NFL
seasons for the Cowboys, Eagles and Indianapolis Colts. “A brown bag
was dumped out on the bed full of syringes and you name it. And you
just kind of grabbed what you needed.

“It wasn’t like it is now, with baseball players saying, ‘Let’s get
the playing field even.’ Back then, it was understood that X-amount of
players, mostly linemen, that’s what they did [use steroids]. It wasn’t
looked at as a competitive advantage.”

In light of that culture the NFL, to its credit, instituted steroids
testing in the 1980s. And it has had some success. According to the
article, anonymous post-retirement surveys by a medical journal
indicated a 20.3% rate of steroid use among respondents in the 1980s
and a 12.7% rate currently. While it’s not unreasonable to assume that
the actual usage rate is higher simply because human nature does not
easily allow people to admit bad stuff, let’s just say that 12.7% is
accurate.

So rates are lower, but is that any basis to claim — as the people
quoted in this article claim — that the NFL’s testing regime
represents success? 12.7% of current NFL rosters equals roughly 215
players. In the past four years, however, a total of 43
players have been suspended for violating the NFL’s PED policy, or
about 10 a year. I’ll spare you the math, but trust me when I tell you
that 10 a year is somewhat less than 12.7%.

Yet despite this — and despite the fact that the no one has ever
provided any data suggesting that as many as 12.7% of baseball players
are using PEDs at any given time in the testing era — football is held
up as having its PED house in better order than baseball. And that’s
before you apply the same “look how big those dudes are” logic to
football that is so often applied to baseball.

I won’t claim that baseball’s testing regime is perfect — it’s
actually less comprehensive on paper than the NFL’s — but I find it
incredible that the NFL is given a virtual free pass when it comes to
steroids while baseball’s drug problems are continually dragged out for
public ridicule and abuse.

Angels’ Pujols has foot surgery, could be sidelined 4 months

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ANAHEIM, Calif. — Los Angeles Angels slugger Albert Pujols had surgery on his right foot Friday, possibly sidelining him past opening day.

Angels general manager Billy Eppler said Pujols had the procedure Friday in North Carolina to release his plantar fascia, the ligament connecting the heel to the toes. The three-time NL MVP was bothered by plantar fasciitis repeatedly during the season, but played through the pain in arguably the strongest year of his half-decade with the Angels.

Eppler said the surgery typically prevents players from participating in baseball activities for three months, along with another month before they’re ready to resume playing in games. Opening day for Los Angeles is April 3, and the Angels hope Pujols can be ready.

“He’s at that point in his career where he’s keenly aware of what’s happening with his body,” Eppler said in a phone interview. “I don’t put the timetable on Albert like you would with your younger players. We’ll just see in Albert’s case, as he progresses, what his timetable is.”

Pujols, who turns 37 next month, batted .268 last year with 31 homers and 119 RBIs, the fourth-most in the majors – although his .780 OPS was among the worst of his career. He largely served as a designated hitter instead of playing first base due to problems with his hamstrings and feet.

Pujols heads into 2017 with 591 career homers, ranking him ninth in major league history. He is 18 homers behind Sammy Sosa for eighth place.

After playing in pain until the final week of the Angels’ disappointing season, Pujols began shock wave therapy on his foot early in the offseason, believing he wouldn’t need surgery.

But Pujols’ foot became more painful in recent weeks despite the therapy, and he huddled with the Angels’ top brass to decide on surgery after his most recent trip to see Dr. Robert Anderson in North Carolina. Continuing with conservative care would have required 10 more weeks, forcing Pujols to miss the first half of the 2017 season if he still required surgery.

“He just felt that the pain had gotten to a point where he was comfortable” having surgery, Eppler said. “If we did delay it, you’re just looking at 2 1/2 more months into the season.”

Pujols had a different type of surgery on his right foot last winter, but recovered in time for opening day. He also had plantar fasciitis in his left foot during the 2013 season, eventually forcing him out for the year when his fascia snapped.

Pujols has five years and $140 million remaining on the 10-year, $240 million free-agent contract that pried him out of St. Louis, where he won two World Series and became a nine-time NL All-Star.

The Angels haven’t won a playoff game since Pujols’ arrival and Mike Trout‘s concurrent emergence as one of baseball’s best players. They went 74-88 last season, the injury-plagued club’s worst record since 1999.

Diamondbacks hire Mike Fitzgerald to head Research and Development department

BOSTON, MA - SEPTEMBER 24:  Mike Hazen, new Senior Vice President and General Manager of the Red Sox, addresses the media during a press conference to announce his promotion before the game against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park on September 24, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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According to an official announcement, the Diamondbacks have acquired former Pirates quantitative analyst Mike Fitzgerald as their new Director of Research and Development.

Fitzgerald joined the Pirates’ front office in 2012, where he frequently accompanied the team on the road to help breach the divide between analytics and the clubhouse. According to a profile written by Grantland’s Ben Lindbergh in 2014, Fitzgerald’s multifaceted approach brought balance and perspective to the organization, whether he was assisting coaches in making statistically sound decisions, optimizing the batting order, weighing in on scouting and personnel decisions, developing more effective defensive positioning, or keeping players and personnel appraised of the latest developments in sabermetrics.

In the wake of Fitzgerald’s departure, Pirates’ GM Neal Huntington praised the Diamondbacks for a smart acquisition and said that the club has every intention of finding a replacement analyst, albeit one who will have some big shoes to fill.