A Hall of Fame voter still needs more information about Barry Bonds’ PED use?

22 Comments

I understand the idea of wanting to be more informed about things before making a Hall of Fame vote.  To want to have a fuller picture of the PED-era before casting votes for certain players.  I am not a fan of those who accuse with no evidence, but I do have some sympathy for people who genuinely wonder if certain players may have taken PEDs when, really, we don’t know that much about it with respect to some of them.

But even if you subscribe to that view, I don’t know how you can say we don’t know enough about Barry Freakin’  Bonds.  Yet Mark Purdy of the Mercury-News wants to know more, and he won’t vote for Bonds — or anyone else from that era, it seems — until he knows more.

Maybe I just followed this more closely than he did, but it’s not like there is a dearth of info on Barry Bonds’ drug use. I mean, multiple books have been written about it. Purdy himself sat through the entire Bonds perjury trial and heard more than anyone would want to know about it. He was no more than 30 feet away from live witnesses talking about Bonds’ testicular atrophy for crying out loud. Does he really think there is more that we need to probe here? And yes, I do believe it would literally take a probe to learn anything more about Barry Bonds’ body.

But that’s his position and he’s sticking to it. Here’s another position he has:

I have advocated an amnesty proclamation from MLB and Cooperstown. For a one-year period, former players would have the ability to tell the truth about their steroid use with no punishment or ramifications from baseball or the Hall of Fame. That way, voters would be able to make better judgments and make their selections without any angst.

Amnesty? From what? There are already zero punishments or ramifications from baseball or the Hall of Fame for these guys. They are eligible. Some are still playing. Some are coaches and managerial candidates. They’re all listed on the ballot when their time comes. Baseball has decided that they are every bit a part of the fraternity as anyone else is.  What would some phony-baloney offer of amnesty provide for them that they don’t already have?

I suppose Purdy believes that it would give them some sort of cover from the wrath of the writers who look askance at PED guys. Fat chance. The writers who look askance at PED guys tend to take the following approach to the sort of information Purdy thinks would clear the air:

1. We want more information! Shlabotnik needs to come clean!

2. Fine, Shlabotnik has apologized, but it raises more questions!

3. That in-depth interview in which Shlabotnik answers all the questions was so self-serving it makes me sick!

And, of course, these are the same people who consider a drug testing regime that catches people to be evidence that drug testing is a joke. You could provide daily CT-scans, fluid samples, lie detector tests and oaths from God Himself and a certain segment of writer is going to think it insufficient. There is no pleasing them, and the last thing baseball players should do is to try.

And Purdy has already shown himself to be one of that sad, never-satisfied crew. Last year, on the eve of the Bonds verdict, he wrote a column in which he wrung his hands about Bonds’ legacy in San Francisco. He worried in light of the allegedly new revelations of the trial, what the team and the city and the fans do with Bonds if he was found not-guilty. Or, for that matter, if he was found guilty. He, in quite familiar fashion, made it sound like there was some crisis afoot.

Except, as I demonstrated at the time, all of his concerns had long been answered. The city, the fans and the team all embraced Bonds despite already knowing all of the things Purdy suddenly considered damning, and knowing them for years. It was a non-issue to everyone except Mark Purdy by then, despite his claims that there were Important Unsettled Matters.

The lesson here: Mark Purdy, and many like him, are professional hand-wringers. He used the word “angst” above, and it’s pretty apt. He has an angst about PEDs in baseball that will never, ever go away no matter what he learns and no matter what information comes to light. Which means one of two things: either Purdy is simply not and never will be comfortable with PEDs in baseball, or else he’s cynically saying that there are uncertainties and concerns when there are not in order to kick up a morally indignant fuss in a column.

If it’s the former, it’s OK Mark, let it go and just don’t vote for these guys ever. Lots of voters feel that way and just because I disagree with you on that, at least it’s a defensible position.

If it’s the latter, though, cut the crap, will ya?

Major League Baseball considering expansion, radical realignment

Don Ryan/Associated Press
Leave a comment

Tracy Ringolsby of Baseball America wrote yesterday about a “growing consensus” within baseball that expansion and realignment are inevitable. The likely expansion cities: Portland and Montreal. The 32-team league would then undergo a radical realignment that would also involve reducing the season from 162 to 156 games while expanding the playoffs to 12 teams.

To be clear, Ringolsby’s actual reporting here is limited to that “growing consensus” about expansion, and the most likely cities involved, not regarding the specific realignment or game reduction plan. That I take to be speculative — he refers to it as “one proposal” — though it seems like reasonable and informed speculation. The general idea is that, if you expand, you have to realign, and if you realign you have to change the playoff structure lest too many teams in any one division become also-rans. That, combined with the near impossibility of changing the early-April-to-late-October footprint of the season and the desire of players to have less arduous travel schedules and some extra time off, leads to the shorter season.

The details of the plan:

  • The American and National Leagues would be disposed of, with MLB putting all 32 teams into four, eight-team, regionally-based divisions: East, North, Midwest, West. This is designed to (a) maintain regional and traditional rivalries while (b) cutting way back on cross-time zone travel. Both New York teams and Boston are in the “North,” both Chicago teams and St. Louis are in the “Midwest,” etc. Texas and Houston are in the “Midwest” too, but we’ll let the Texans get mad about that later.
  • The playoffs would feature a LOT of play-in games. Specifically, Ringolsby would have the four division winners go to the Division Series, where they would play the winner of four different Wild Card games, the participants in which would come from the eight non-division winners with the best records, regardless of which division they came from.
  • The schedule would go back to 156 games, giving every team an off-day every week. Between that and the more compact, almost all single-time-zone divisions, the travel schedules would be far less taxing, with shorter flights and more flights which could leave the day after a night game as opposed to directly after a night game, causing teams to arrive in the next city in the wee hours of the morning.

Thoughts:

  • Obviously this would piss off the purists.  The elimination of the traditional leagues, the shorter season, a (slightly) altered standard for records and milestones, and a doubling of one-and-done playoff series would make a lot of fans dizzy. On the one hand, I could argue that baseball has NEVER been as pure and unchanging as people like to pretend it is so maybe people shouldn’t get too bent out of shape over this, but it’s simply unavoidable that this would rattle a lot of baseball fans, and not just the ones hopelessly stuck in the past. Baseball should not be slavishly devoted to its history, but it needs to recognize that its history is a selling point and an important touchstone for many, many fans.
  • Ringolsby’s specific realignment idea is kind of fun, but will inevitably lead to some winners and losers. For example, many traditional rivalries or regional rivalries would be maintained — Chicago and St. Louis and Boston and New York would remain division rivals — but other, less-sexy but very real rivalries would be disposed of. The Mets, for example, would have no old NL rivals in their division. There will also be some teams which get screwed logistically. Here, all of Minnesota’s division rivals would be Eastern Time Zone teams, so all of its road games would be played in a different time zone. You could fix that somehow, but someone else would likely be inconvenienced. There isn’t a perfect way to do it. As such, implementation could be pretty messy, with some owners opposing it, possibly vehemently.
  • The playoff idea would make for a lot of drama with four play-in games, but I don’t think it’s a sustainable model. Yes, division winners would all be guaranteed a five-game playoff series, but having two-thirds of all of the playoff teams subjected to a random one-and-done game as opposed to the current four of ten would inevitably lead to calls for longer Wild Card series. And it would likely, over time, diminish the cachet of the Wild Card itself. Now most people think of Wild Card teams as having made the playoffs, With this plan, I suspect fewer people will think of it that way as opposed to some sort of weird, non-quite-the-playoffs limbo, thus hurting late season interest among fans of non-division winners.
  • A 156-game season wouldn’t be the end of the world. We had a 154-game season for a little over half a century total and a 162 game season for 56 seasons so far. Changing it might cause people to get grumpy about records and milestones, but other changes in the game, be it pitcher usage patterns or juiced baseballs or integration or night games or any number of other things have already changed the context in such a way that such standards were never as set-in-stone as people tend to believe. At the same time, extra off days might very well improve the caliber of play as players are more rested and therefore sharper.

In the end, it’s important to recognize that Ringolsby’s article is, in all likelihood, a trial balloon leaked by Major League Baseball, so don’t take any one aspect of it too seriously, even if we should all take the idea of some radical shift involving expansion and realignment in the not-too-distant future seriously.

Why? Money mostly. There are huge financial incentives for baseball to do this. Part of this involves the cost-savings which would result from better scheduling and less travel that Ringolsby mentions. A much greater incentive would come from the franchise fees the owners of the two new teams would pay the 30 current owners in order to be allowed into the MLB fraternity.  In the last round of expansion, the Diamondbacks and Devil Rays owners paid $150 million each for their teams. Given that franchises have gone up in value by a factor of ten twenty, it’s not inconceivable that new owners in Montreal and Portland would have to fork over well north of a billion dollars each to enter the league. That’s a check for $66 million written to each owner in exchange for simply voting “yes” at some meeting in Scottsdale on some fine December afternoon.

So, while there may be no uncertainly on the “how” of it all, the very fact of expansion and subsequent realignment seems inevitable. Now is a good time for us to start thinking about how the details of it all would work.