Autopsy Report: Detroit Tigers

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I prefer to think of this as an autopsy and not a eulogy, because an autopsy deals specifically with the cause of death. A eulogy, in contrast, takes in the deceased’s whole life and tries to draw some lessons from it. I don’t think anyone can draw any intelligent conclusions about the Tigers’ entire 2012 season based on these past four games, no matter how important they were. Four games is pure randomness and the Tigers performance in them is no more relevant to their legacy than a random fall off a cliff during a vacation to the Grand Canyon is to the life of a Nobel Prize winner.

So, what happened to the Tigers?  In a nutshell: everything:

  • The Giants were the better team: Before anyone casts this World Series as a Detroit failure, they had better first note that it was a Giants triumph. While they flew under the radar for so much of the year, the Giants won six more games than the Tigers in a tougher division. The Giants were and remained a well-balanced team throughout 2012, and history shows us that well-balanced teams do awfully well in the postseason where runs are harder to come by and defense matters more. They didn’t have a pitcher as good as Justin Verlander or a hitter as good as Miguel Cabrera, but there were few if any holes on the roster, and when a couple of potential weak links — like Barry Zito — came up big in the playoffs, it transformed a good team into a team that was great at the right time.  But, the Giants aside …
  • No one hit. Omar Infante and Delmon Young each got five hits, and each reached base via a walk or a HBT (Infante’s HBP, sadly, broke his hand). The rest of the lineup was deadsville. Prince Fielder was 1 for 14 with four strikeouts. Jhonny Peralta was 1 for 15. Miguel Cabrera hit a homer last night, but was 3 for 13 overall. Austin Jackson had three hits in four games. Quintin Berry had none. It was a top-heavy, all-or-nothing offense in 2012 for Detroit, and they picked a bad week for the nothing.
  • The layoff:  While the Tigers worked out every day in between the end of the ALCS and the beginning of the World Series, several Tigers said that not playing any real games during that time was disruptive to their rhythm and their mojo. It’s impossible to measure such things, but it’s not a stretch to say that layoffs lead to cold bats.
  • Verlander was mortal: It was only one game, but the only time the Tigers were blown away in this series was in Game 1 when Justin Verlander came out with poor command of has his fastball and Pablo Sandoval feasted on him for a couple of home runs. It’s harder to measure mood and momentum than in it is to measure rust, but it was probably somewhat dispiriting for the Tigers when their ace was popped in the nose right out of the gate.
  • The cookie just crumbled: luck should not have a major place in a serious empirical analysis, but a four-game series sort of defies serious, empirical analysis. The Giants got the bounces. Literally, at times: off the third base bag in Game 1 to set up a big inning, off Doug Fister’s head in Game 2 to give Gregor Blanco a single. Multiple hard-hit balls by the Tigers throughout the series that just always seemed to be right at a Giants defender.

A whole year can disappear pretty quickly in the postseason. The Reds and Cardinals were good teams that saw their good seasons end only one game away from advancing. The Braves and Rangers were good teams that had good seasons erased after just one game total. The Tigers, like the Yankees before them, saw a good season erased in four short games.  That’s how playoff baseball goes.

So, if you’re wondering what should be listed as the cause of death on the autopsy report, how about this: October.

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 good 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.