Heyman calls McGwire a coward for not risking prosecution

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McGwire oath.jpgI actually don’t have a huge problem with most of what Jon Heyman says about McGwire in his latest column. Sure, I think his tone is overly moralistic, and I continue to wonder why anyone cares what McGwire thinks steroids did or didn’t for him. But it’s not like he says anything a dozen other writers aren’t saying.

But I do take issue with one part of his analysis, and it’s the part in which Heyman talks about stuff he obviously doesn’t understand in the least: the legal stuff:

And by the way, his claim that he stonewalled Congress because he feared prosecution is fairly lame, as well . . . the reality is that McGwire would have been hailed as a hero had he
told the truth and if he had he pledged to help the steroid cause and
actually did help the cause . . .This isn’t his lawyers’ fault. It’s his fault. And of course, the
reality is that no one ever gets prosecuted for taking steroids. People
are prosecuted for distributing steroids, and they are prosecuted for
lying under oath.

We all know of hundreds of athletes who
took performance-enhancing drugs. And how many of them have been
pursued or prosecuted by the feds for that? Exactly zero. The
government doesn’t have the time or resources to go after the folks who
just use the performance-enhancing drugs. And they certainly wouldn’t
be hauling away in handcuffs an American hero, which is what McGwire
would have been had he cooperated rather than taking such a cowardly
stance.

It’s easy to be pretty cavalier about other people’s freedom, I guess, but one thing is certain here, and that’s that Heyman doesn’t have any experience being in the cross hairs of any sort of legal investigation. If a lawyer gave McGwire the kind of ignorant advice Heyman is spewing he’s be sued for malpractice.

I have said on a couple of occasions that it would have been a very good thing for McGwire to have been 100% frank at that Congressional hearing, and that by doing so he could have done no small amount of good with respect to the issue of PEDs in baseball.  But implicit in those comments was the idea that any such effort would necessarily have to come with some kind of immunity deal, because to do it he would have had to admit to committing crimes, even if they were minor ones.

And we learned something in McGwire’s confession the other day that we did not know before: he tried. His lawyers approached the committee’s lawyers and asked for immunity so he could talk.  And they said no. And it wasn’t just them: the Attorney General himself said no.

Now ask yourself: if you got a government subpoena and you knew that answering the questions they were going to ask you would require you to admit to committing a crime, and you asked them for immunity and they said sorry, no, would you feel all that comfortable that you wouldn’t be prosecuted for something? If, like Heyman, your answer is “yeah, sure,” you’re crazy.

Heyman says “the
government doesn’t have the time or resources to go after the folks who
just use the performance-enhancing drugs.” Such a comment show’s Heyman’s ignorance of the War on Drugs in general and the government’s interest in steroids in particular. They had agents literally sifting through athlete’s garbage prior to McGwire’s testimony. And while sure, the high-profile prosecutions of athletes like Barry Bonds and the investigation of Roger Clemens are premised on perjury, the government has a cute habit of setting perjury traps for people testifying about stuff that they might not prosecute in and of itself. And of course, thousands upon thousands of otherwise personal drug users have been charged as distributors based on possessing or using quantities of drugs that, while for personal use, are deemed enough to show an “intent to distribute.

Do they go after McGwire if he speaks frankly before Congress in 2005? I think the odds are less than 50%. But (a) they explicitly told his lawyers that they wouldn’t not go after him; and (b) even a 25% chance of becoming the poster boy of a federal steroids prosecution is a nightmarish prospect and enough to make any reasonable man balk at being so forthcoming about his illegal conduct.  I’ve represented high-profile criminal clients before, and I can tell you, a public investigation of even moderate length that does not result in an indictment can be an emotionally and financially-draining experience for all of those involved. Families can be destroyed. Fortunes lost. Friendships ended.

In other words, it is not something to be so blithely dismiss as Heyman does here.

Free agent reliever Eric O’Flaherty weighing interest from four teams

New York Mets pitcher Eric O'Flaherty throws against the Miami Marlins during the ninth inning of a baseball game in Miami, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2015. The Mets defeated the Miami Marlins 8-6. (AP Photo/Joe Skipper)
AP Photo/Joe Skipper
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Veteran reliever Eric O'Flaherty is coming off the worst season of his career, but there’s still plenty of interest in a bounceback, as ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reports that he’s deciding between four teams and “should sign a deal by the weekend.”

You really can’t sugarcoat O’Flaherty’s 2015. The 31-year-old was flat-out bad, posting an 8.41 ERA and 21/18 K/BB ratio over 30 innings of work between the Athletics and Mets. Opposing batters hit .343/.427/.482 against him. I keep going back to check if that’s a misprint, but nope, it’s real. He also missed some time with shoulder inflammation. On the bright side, Tim Brown of Yahoo Sports reported last month that O’Flaherty feels healthy and believes that he has fixed his mechanics.

O’Flaherty’s career has veered off track since Tommy John surgery in 2013, but he has enjoyed plenty of success in the past and throws from the left side. He’s the kind of guy who will continue to get chances.

Mets sign outfielder Roger Bernadina

Cincinnati Reds v Arizona Diamondbacks
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Veteran outfielder Roger Bernadina has agreed to a minor-league contract with the Mets that includes an invitation to spring training.

Bernadina was a semi-regular for the Nationals from 2010-2012, but never developed as much as hoped offensively and didn’t play in the majors at all last season.

At age 32 he’s a career .236 hitter with a .661 OPS in 548 games as a big leaguer and given the Mets’ outfield depth–they already have Alejandro De Aza and Juan Lagares in bench/part-time roles–Bernadina seems likely to begin the season in the minors.

J.R. Graham is in The Best Shape of his Life

Minnesota Twins starting pitcher J.R. Graham celebrates after the final out as the Twins beat the Chicago White Sox 12-2 in  a baseball game, Thursday, April 30, 2015, in Minneapolis. The Twins won 12-2. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)
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Rhett Bollinger of MLB.com reports that Twins reliever J.R. Graham has lost “roughly 30-40 pounds this offseason.” It’s not a result of workouts, though. Just a change in diet. Bollinger says that Graham cut out sugar, alcohol and foods heavy in carbs and focused on a high-protein diet with lots of salads, meats and vegetables.

That’s an awful lot of weight to lose in four months, but the dude is only 26 and guys in their 20s lose weight just by thinking about it. Which is so very annoying to those of us who aren’t guys in their 20s.

The real test, of course, will come when he is working out far more strenuously once spring training starts and gets into the season. Normal schmos like me can keep up that kind of diet without much of a hitch as long as we have the willpower. An athlete’s energy requirements are far greater and far more specialized, so he’ll need more fuel than he’s probably been getting this offseason. Word is, however, that professional sports teams have people on staff that, you know, have made monitoring that kind of thing their life’s work.

In the meantime:

“I can just feel the change,” Graham said. “The energy. Everything. I feel great. I’m excited to see how it’ll translate into spring. I know I shouldn’t have any problems because I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. I’m faster. All that. So it’s really exciting.”

It’s very exciting indeed. Because, with that, Graham becomes the latest baseball player to be . . . In The Best Shape of His Life.

The time my family invited itself to Gaylord Perry’s house for lunch

Gaylord Perry
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I mentioned my Gaylord Perry story in the last post. I feel like I’ve written this up before, but I couldn’t find it in our archives. Couldn’t find it anywhere. Maybe I’ve just told it to friends and radio hosts and people so many times that it feels like I’ve written it before. Oh well, I’ll tell it again because I like telling this story.

In 1984 I was on vacation with my family in the big RV, driving through North Carolina. As we always did on those long family road trips, my brother and I spent all of our highway time sorting through boxes of baseball cards we brought along with us. As we passed through a little podunk town, my dad suddenly pulled over and stopped to make a call at a pay phone. He got back into the RV and said “we’re stopping for lunch.” As we pulled away from the phone booth, I saw a sign that said “Welcome to Williamston, North Carolina, Home of Gaylord and Jim Perry.” Maybe Jim got first billing since he’s older. I don’t remember. But that was the upshot.

Five minutes later we are pulling up to a house next to a large farm. A woman came out of the house and said, “You’re the fella who just called? Come on in!” She welcomed us inside. “Gaylord will be here in a minute,” she said. My brother and I freaked out as we looked around the living room. There were photos of Gaylord Perry in action. Trophies and awards. Jerseys in frames. All kinds of other stuff. The thing I remember most was a giant leather chair shaped like a baseball glove that, to this day, I wish I had (maybe the 1984 version of this?). Five minutes later Gaylord freaking Perry walked in. He was wearing dirty jeans, work boots, a dirty white t-shirt and a Kansas City Royals cap. It was his first summer not playing baseball since he was a kid and he was spending it farming. Still had the cap on, though.

Gaylord and his wife, Blanche, were warm and welcoming. They said that not too many baseball fans just up and stopped by, but that they were happy someone did. Blanche made us sandwiches. Gaylord signed autographs (we had a few Perry cards in the RV stash). Even at that age I knew Perry’s reputation as a ball-doctorer. He told us a bunch of spitball jokes and stories which he had no doubt honed on the banquet circuit over the years, but they were mostly new to me. My parents, who were not baseball fans and didn’t know much about Perry apart from the fact that he was a famous baseball player, were delighted when Perry asked me to explain to them what I thought a spitball was. You could tell Perry thought that it was absolutely adorable that I thought the best way to doctor a ball was to, you know, spit on it. He talked about Vaseline and all sorts of other stuff, adding “or so I’m told” or “some people say” every now and again with a wink.

After lunch, Gaylord took us back to his office, in a separate building. He opened a file cabinet containing autographed baseballs from his former teammates and his friends in the game. I got a George Brett ball, which Perry said he gave me because Brett was the best player whose autograph he had sitting around handy. My brother said he was a Tigers fan so Perry gave him a Lance Parrish ball Perry had gotten somewhere along the way. He had a bunch of others too, but we weren’t greedy. He gave my mom a T-shirt he had which commemorated the Pine Tar Incident, in which he played no small part. He autographed the shirt for her, apologized for it being so big and said that maybe she could use it as a night shirt. My dad took Polaroids of my brother and me with Perry which I still have around here someplace. Then off we went, with Gaylord and Blanche Perry waving from the porch.

I was saddened to hear a couple years later that Perry’s life took an unfortunate turn not long after we met him. Two years later he lost his farm to bankruptcy. A year later Blanche died in an automobile accident. Perry went on to coach college baseball for a while. I remember seeing an interview with him around that time and he seemed like a much sadder guy than the smiling fellow we met that day in 1984. It makes sense given all that had happened.

In 2012, while in Scottsdale to cover spring training, I walked into the Giants clubhouse one morning and sitting at a table were Willie Mays, Ernie Banks and Gaylord Perry. They were there for some sort of pregame ceremony and were just shooting the breeze and telling old baseball stories. Perry was laughing and animated and at times was practically breathless due to all of the cackling. He had Mays in stitches too. It was fantastic to see him smiling.

When the conversation ended Perry got up and walked from the table. I thought about saying something to him about the time in 1984 when my dad impulsively took his kids to Gaylord Perry’s house and to thank him for the kindness he and his wife showed my family that day. I didn’t, though. He was soon in another conversation and, on some level, it seemed awkward for me to have brought that up there, in the clubhouse, wearing a press credential when people were working and preparing and things. In hindsight I wish I had.

I’m going back to Scottsdale to cover spring training again in March. I hope he’s there again. If so, this time I will.