Oakland Athletics Photo Day

Why, exactly, do we suspect Bartolo Colon of using PEDs?


I woke up Sunday morning to see an interesting tweet from Buster Olney:

It struck me funny. Because when I think about Bartolo Colon and PEDs I don’t feel it necessary to go back to the 1998 All-Star Game to do it. I certainly don’t need to use the 1998 All-Star Game as a proxy for his greatness. Heck, in 1998 Colon was selected for the game by his own manager, Mike Hargrove. He was the fourth pitcher in for the American League, he pitched like crap for an inning and got the win in what was essentially a vulture job. It was like a lot of All-Star Games that way and it said almost nothing about Colon’s quality. It said zero about PEDs.

But that’s not really what Olney is saying, of course. He’s not actually saying anything about that All-Star Game. He’s saying “Bartolo Colon was a good pitcher in 1998 and now, 15 years later and after some bumpy years with time off, he’s a good pitcher again. And that is the basis for PED suspicion.”

source: Getty ImagesBut no matter which of those interpretations you subscribe to, I feel the sentiment illustrates a pretty big problem with the PEDs discourse. A problem which explains why a lot of guys who don’t take PEDs have been unfairly suspected in the past and will be unfairly suspected in the future: the assumption that “Anomalous performance = PED use.”

To be clear: I don’t think Bartolo Colon is in the “unfairly suspected” camp. The guy was suspended for PED use last season and he’s caught up in the Biogenesis stuff. I don’t know if he’s using this season, but to the extent people are suspecting Colon right now, it isn’t unfair. Dude just got busted doing it. We’re naive if we don’t, at the very least, look askance.

But even if the anomalous performance/recent use distinction may be splitting hairs with Bartolo Colon, it does matter in a larger sense.

What happens if we treat any player who has an odd, late career bump — or who does anything else unusual in the game — as a PED user? Should “a whole lot of people in the game” treat all players who do well at 40 after some time in the wilderness as PED users? How about guys who start hitting home runs when we may not expect it? Them too? Actually, we already do this too much. Just ask Chris Davis. Ask Jose Bautista. Ask the next guy who has a half-season’s power surge.

The example we’re setting by couching suspicion of Barolo Colon in his anomalous performance instead of the far better reasons for suspicion of him encourages us to play those lazy games — and other lazy games — with other players. We disproportionately accuse power hitters even though far more punch-and-judy guys and pitchers have tested positive for PEDs. We accuse players of PED use because of their physique or acne or temper or who their teammates happen to be. If history has shown us anything, it has shown us that if we create that sort of discourse with respect to one guy, we’ll use it with respect to others.

source:  You may say “well, that’s where we are.” But I don’t want to live in a world where everything that happens which is somewhat unusual is looked upon as fraudulent and bad. I want to cheer when some career minor leaguer finally figures something out, however late. I want to enjoy it when some tomato can reliever quits baseball, goes back to coaching high schoolers and then has some weird unexpected fluky run. I want to be happy for a guy whose life was turned upside down and found himself hitting in the Mexican League only to come back to the U.S. to find a niche. I want former All-Stars who we all thought were toast to come back and put together one last All-Star season.

What I don’t want is to get into some lazy form of thinking where anything odd is chalked up to PED use. That’s unfair and soul killing. To be suspicious of a player we need more than that or else we take all that is joyful and wondrous out of the game of baseball.

In Bartolo Colon’s case we happen to have more than that so we need not engage in these sort of cute, factoid-based accusations about the 1998 All-Star Game. We can and should simply say “people in the game suspect Colon because he took PEDs less than a year ago and is mentioned prominently in the Biogenesis documents.”

Baseball writers are in the business of crafting narratives. Fans inevitably adopt these narratives. The writers, therefore, either directly or indirectly, write baseball history. So when a well-known and well-respected baseball commentator like Buster Olney cites that 1998 All-Star game, or cites the mere fact that Colon is pitching well at 40 as evidence of PEDs, he encourages fans to do the same. And, by extension, to be suspicious of any anomalous performance. That’s wrong and unfair. Not to Bartolo Colon, but to the next guy who does something that, until a few years ago, we thought was pretty cool.

Mark McGwire to become the Padres bench coach

Los Angeles Dodgers batting coach Mark McGwire roams the field during practice for the National League baseball championship series Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013, in St. Louis. The Dodgers are scheduled to play the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 1 of the NLCS on Friday in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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The other day Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune reported that the Padres were in discussions with former Dodgers hitting coach Mark McGwire about their bench coach job. Today Jon Heyman reports that the deal is done and will soon be announced.

McGwire has been the hitting coach for Los Angeles for the past three seasons. When his contract was not renewed following the end of 2015 he was rumored to be up for the Diamondbacks’ hitting coach job. He likely view staying in Southern California to be a plus, as he makes his home in Irvine, which is around 90 miles from Petco Park. That’s a long commute, but Mac can afford the gas, I guess.

How to talk to your family about the designated hitter at Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Dinner

While political topics are normally the subject of awkward conversation at the Thanksgiving dinner table, hardcore baseball fans know that it can be just as awkward to talk about the game with relatives.

They don’t know baseball as well as you do — not by a long shot — but for some reason everyone thinks they have the God-given right not only to offer their baseball opinions but to demand acknowledgement that those opinions are correct. Baseball may be dying, you guys, but it’s vestigial status as our National Pastime makes everyone think they’re an expert by simple virtue of being an American. It’s maddening.

I can’t tell you how to keep your family away from sensitive topics, but here are brief answers to some frequently asked questions about the state of the game, and how you can defuse combustible conversations:

Will the National League adopt the designated hitter?

Despite the fact that the DH has been around four 43 seasons, your relatives — even those far younger than 43 — will loudly proclaim it to be a new-fangled abomination as they pass the sweet potatoes. While the best way to avoid conflict here is to say something like “I think the differences between the leagues are special and should be preserved” and try to quickly move on to something else, we don’t progress as a civilization by indulging foolishness in the name of peace. Tell your relatives that pitchers batting is dumb and that the DH should be universal. And then tell them to get their own sweet potatoes. You’re trying to eat here for cryin’ out loud.

Where will the big free agents go? Don’t the Yankees spend all of their big money and buy championships anyway?

My god, your uncle/cousin/sister’s boyfriend who probably shouldn’t be piping up about ANYTHING right now given that none of you really like him and it’s not going to last anyway is out of touch when it comes to such things. Tell them that the Yankees haven’t won jack since the first year of Obama’s first term and that even when they were winning the World Series all the time they did so on the back of homegrown talent, savvily-developed. Indeed, they STOPPED winning championships once they went huge on free agency and jacked up payroll and, despite the fact that they still owe a lot of old guys money, they are back to developing talent again and are way less likely to spend stupid money in free agency than they used to be. Careful here, though: people have strong feelings about the Yankees regardless of their ignorance and will likely fight back on this point. Maybe it’s safer just to discuss Obama. Here’s an idea to that end: how — as your drunk uncle claims — can Obama simultaneously be the least effective president ever AND a total dictator? Maybe Obama is one of those two things, but my drunk uncle has never given me a satisfactory answer to how he can be both.

Why doesn’t baseball have a salary cap? The players make too much money.

The idea of a salary cap in baseball is dead. Deader than vaudeville. It blew up the game in 1994-95, and the owners blinked rather than try it again in 2002.  Since then the money has been flowing, competitive balance has been better than most people will admit, and the owners seem to have very little desire to fight that fight again.  It’s not going to happen. Yet, for some reason — likely the Football Industrial Complex’s propaganda machine — every sports dilettante thinks that baseball not only needs a salary cap but that it’s actually something that could happen, even though it isn’t.

Here some ju-jitsu is in order. Rather than bog things down with facts which show that there is no need for a salary cap, turn the question around on them and ask them when the billionaires who own baseball teams will accept a cap on how much they should earn for their “labor.” When they spout off about how owners built the business themselves and are entitled to whatever they can get, ask them which of the current owners, who form a veritable Who’s-Who of Paper Movers, Genetic Lottery Winners and Men Who Were Born on Third Base Yet Think They Hit a Triple, built a dang thing. Peter Angelos, maybe. Just don’t tell them that he’s a rich plaintiff’s lawyer who had the union’s back during the 1994-95 strike.

What’s wrong with young players today? Why don’t they act professionally and respect the game? 

By this time your uncle may be so drunk on the Beaujolais Nouveau that he may actually slip and say “Latin players” instead of “young players,” and that’s assuming he’s polite enough to use words like “Latin” to refer to people from the Caribbean, Central and South America. If so, skip the lecture about how arguments regarding baseball decorum and “playing the game the right way” are really just proxies for cultural anxiety and creeping xenophobia and go directly to the inevitable conversation about immigration, refugees and Donald Trump. It’ll save you time and make everyone angrier way, way faster. And this is a wonderful thing.

Or, at least it is for me. I’m hosting Thanksgiving this year and the quicker people get to open warfare the quicker I can kick everyone out, bringing some peace and quiet back to my house. Plus: more pie for me.


(with both thanks and apologies to Brendan Nyhan of the New York Times)

Jerry Dipoto refutes the notion that Robinson Cano is unhappy

Robinson Cano

Yesterday John Harper of the Daily News reported that, according to a friend of Robinson Cano‘s, Cano is unhappy in Seattle and would like to go back to New York. Mariners GM Jerry Dipoto responded to that report, saying that it’s totally false based on his conversations with Cano and his agent:

“[Cano’s agent] reached out to let me know that did not come from Robbie and that’s not at all reflective of how he felt,” said Dipoto, who replaced former GM Jack Zduriencik two months ago. “Shortly after the season ended, I sat down with Robinson in my office for two hours and we had a great talk and I think we left with a very clear understanding of who one another might be.

There are official lines and things one says to one’s friends. Then again, there are also friends who know things and “friends” who assume things thought by others and then talk to newspapers about it too. Where all of this falls on the truth/knowledge spectrum is something none of us can ever know.

What can be known for sure is that (a) Cano had a rough season from both a health and baseball perspective; (b) Cano is a professional who knows that there is zero upside to communicating displeasure with one’s current team to the press, either directly or through surrogates; and (c) when one is productive and one’s team is winning, one feels very differently about life than if one is not productive and not winning.

In short: there could very well be truth from both sides of this little happening.

Mariners looking to trade Mark Trumbo

Mark Trumbo

Seattle acquired Mark Trumbo from Arizona in June, but that was the Mariners’ old front office regime and new general manager Jerry Dipoto is remaking the roster. And he already traded away Trumbo once, back when he was the Angels’ general manager.

Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com reports that “several rival executives said they expect” the Mariners to trade Trumbo, who is due to make around $9 million in 2016 via arbitration before becoming a free agent next offseason.

Trumbo has huge power, but he swings at everything and is a negative defensively as a corner outfielder/first baseman. He’s a career .250 hitter with a lowly .299 on-base percentage and modest .758 OPS thanks to averaging 160 strikeouts and 40 walks per 160 games.

It’s hard to imagine any team giving up a quality prospect for the right to pay $9 million for one season of Trumbo, but if Dipoto simply wants to be rid of the low-OBP slugger it might not take much to make a deal happen.