One of the 5,359 reasons the Home Run Derby sucks

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And now, the moment only the masochistic among you have been waiting for, the Home Run Derby:

The 2009 State Farm Home Run Derby field was finalized on Sunday,
when American League home run leader Carlos Pena was named to replace
the Red Sox’s Dustin Pedroia on the AL roster for Tuesday’s All-Star
Game and as the fourth AL entrant in the Derby . . . Pena joins Tigers
third baseman Brandon Inge, Rangers outfielder Nelson Cruz and Twins
catcher Joe Mauer from the Junior Circuit, and the National League
features big league homer leader, hometown hero and All-Star
centerpiece Albert Pujols of the Cardinals, plus Adrian Gonzalez of the
Padres, Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard of the
Phillies.

I just can’t stand the derby. It’s tedious. It’s repetitive. It gets
worse as it goes on because guys get tired. It’s just really not my cup
of tea. But worst of all, it features Chris Berman calling each and
every shot, and that’s ninth circle of hell stuff. This year even more
so, because I recently discovered that, in addition to being annoying,
his “back, back, back” business is both (a) stolen; and (b) wrong. I read this last week while doing some research on fabled Dodgers and Yankees broadcaster Red Barber:

A number of play-by-play announcers, including Chris Berman, picked
up on his use of “back, back, back” to describe a long fly ball with
potential to be a home run. Oddly, those other announcers are
describing the flight of the ball, whereas Barber was describing the
outfielder, in this famous call from Game 6 of the 1947 World Series
with Joe DiMaggio at bat: “Here’s the pitch, swung on, belted… it’s a
long one… back goes Gionfriddo, back, back, back, back, back, back…
heeee makes a one-handed catch against the bullpen! Oh, Doctor!”

Which makes sense when you think about it because the ball, as far as
it’s concerned anyway, is going forward. It’s the outfielder who is
going back.

Either way, fine Berman, steal from Red Barber if you must. But at
least steal correctly. There are no outfielders making plays on the
ball at the Home Run Derby, so there shouldn’t be any “back, back,
backs.” If you agree to drop that tired, stolen and inaccurate shtick,
I’ll agree to watch your little exhibition. Deal?

Joe Morgan is asking Hall of Fame voters to keep PED users out

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Hall of Famer Joe Morgan has never equivocated on his belief that users of performance enhancing drugs should not be allowed into the Hall of Fame. Whenever he has been interviewed on the subject he has been steadfast in his stance that PED users are not worthy of induction.

This week he has taken a further step: he has sent a letter to all of the Hall of Fame voters, asking them to keep PED users out.

In his letter — the entirety of which you can read over at Joe Posnanski’s blog — Morgan says “if steroid users get in, it will divide and diminish the Hall, something we couldn’t bear.” By “we,” he’s clearly referring to Hall of Fame members. While he does not name any player he would like to see voters keep out, he spends a lot of time talking about how PEDs are bad for baseball, PED users cheated the game and how he and many other Hall of Famers do not want to see them elected. He invokes “youngsters” and refers to the Hall of Fame as “special” and speaks to the “sanctity” of election. It’s the moral argument against PED use we’ve been hearing for a goof 15 years or so.

It’s also hopelessly naive and comes far too late in the game to be a useful plea.

As we’ve noted many, many times, there are already PED users in the Hall of Fame. Amphetamine users to be sure, but even if you want to give them a pass, there are steroid and/or HGH users too. In case you forgot about that, allow me to remind you about the time Hall of Fame voter Thomas Boswell appeared in Ken Burns’ “Baseball” documentary update “The Tenth Inning” and explicitly said that he personally witnessed a current Hall of Famer drink a PED-laden shake:

“There was another player now in the Hall of Fame who literally stood with me and mixed something and I said “What’s that?” and he said “it’s a Jose Canseco milkshake”. And that year that Hall of Famer hit more home runs than ever hit any other year. So it wasn’t just Canseco, and so one of the reasons that I thought that it was an important subject was that it was spreading. It was already spreading by 1988.”

Boswell tends to keep pretty silent about that come Hall of Fame voting time in December, but he has never backed off the claim either.

Less reliable, but still never refuted, were the stories of Patty Blyleven, former wife of Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, who said that she knows of a Hall of Famer who took PEDs as well, and who continues to nonetheless publicly rail against PED use. There are likewise other Hall of Famers of whom baseball writers are strongly convinced — or know for a fact — took PEDs but about whom they’ve never reported because no one would go on the record about it or corroborate it in a way that satisfies prevailing journalistic standards. Go ask a BBWAA member about why it took Jeff Bagwell so long to get into the Hall of Fame. Or simply go back and read what they said about him a few years ago.

Going beyond those cases are the cases of a host of players — players who have been on the ballot for years —  about which we’ll never, ever know. Do we know for sure that any of the guys currently on the ballot who played before drug testing never took PEDs? Of course not. In light of that all Morgan can ask is for voters to keep players of an entire era out. Which is a completely unreasonable and unfair request.

In the absence of guidance from the Hall of Fame or Major League Baseball, BBWAA voters were somewhat inconsistent with alleged PED users for a time, but they’re beginning to coalesce around a set of rough standards:

  • If you tested positive for PEDs or were disciplined for PEDs after the testing program was fully online like Manny Ramirez and Rafael Palmeiro did, you’re not getting in. Figure Alex Rodriguez will fall in this group one day too;
  • If you were strongly and convincingly associated with PEDs in the pre-testing era like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens, the road you have to go down is going to be pretty bumpy, but you may, possibly, get in one day if you were an overwhelmingly great player;
  • If you were seen as one-dimensional like Mark McGwire or Sammy Sosa and either admitted to PED use or were suspected of it, welp, sorry. We’ll leave why Sosa is suspected of it to another post.

All of this is will likely change slightly over time. Bonds and Clemens have recently gotten over the 50% voting threshold and could gain some steam with the voters. Alex Rodriguez was good enough and his post-career image rehabilitation has been such that he may get more support than most post-testing PED guys one day. Maybe McGwire and Sosa will get new looks down the road by some iteration of the Veteran’s Committee. After that, there aren’t a lot of guys who are seriously in the Hall of Fame discussion with credible PED claims against them.

Which is to say that history is sorting itself out, for better or for worse. Sorting itself out in a way that renders Morgan’s views on the matter — whether you consider them well-founded or otherwise — too little, too late and, given what we know and do not know about PED users, rather useless.