Bryant Gumbel accuses Bagwell, Nomar and Pudge of using steroids

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Gumbel.jpgI don’t have HBO so I missed this, but apparently on Tuesday night Bryant Gumbel ended his “Real Sports” show by reading an open letter* to Mark McGwire, taking him to task over his apology.  While it was silly because it (a) was premised on the notion that anyone should care what Mark McGwire thinks steroids did for him; and (b) assumes that, while he was a private citizen in California this past decade he had any obligation to explain to anyone what he did or did not take in his career, the criticism was nothing new. 

What was new, however, were the names Gumbel named at the end of the letter:

“In closing, guys, please feel free to share this letter with Bagwell,
Nomar, Pudge
and all those others who went from hitting homers to power
outages overnight. Tell ’em fans are ready to accept what happened.
Tell ’em we’re ready to move on. Tell ’em that most of us get it…even
if they, like you, still don’t.”

So there you have it. Gumbel is now the first person to publicly accuse Jeff Bagwell and Nomar Garciaparra and Pudge Rodriguez of steroid use (correction: Pudge was named by Canseco in “Juiced”).  Would it shock me if any of them have taken steroids? No. But unless Gumbel is prepared to actually explain (1) how he knows they did; and (2) why, if he does know, he’s just now coming out with their names, I do hope he’ll spare us the sanctimony over people like McGwire waiting so long to “come clean.”  In other words, put up or shut up Gumbel.

In other news, I am waiting for comments from all of the writers who took the blogger Jerod Morris to the woodshed last year for writing that it was possible, based on a statistical pattern, that
Raul Ibanez had used PEDs.  Gumbel is just accusing without any evidence, so he’s even worse, right?  And if your answer is “well, we know Bagwell, Pudge and Nomar took ‘roids, so this isn’t so bad,” why the hell haven’t you reported it yet?

*If I were made dictator of the planet, one of the first things I’d do is to make the practice of “open letters” punishable by death.  You wanna say something to someone, write them a letter. You want to tell your readers or viewers what you think of someone else, tell them what you think.  Open letters are lazy-ass gimmicks with allow the writer to smugly pretend that they’re giving someone advice when he’s really being a passive-aggressive condescending prick. They’re the literary equivalent of “hey, I’m just sayin.'”  How about this: just say it.    

No one pounds the zone anymore

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“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.

Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:

Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?

There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.

As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.