Pete Rose

Pete Rose: “I should have picked alcohol … or I should have picked beating up my wife or girlfriend”

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Quote of the Day territory from the All Time Hit King. Pete Rose went on a radio show and talked about his lifetime bad for gambling compared to the PED guys’ suspensions for drugs and ballplayers with other vices. He came out here:

And to be honest with you, I picked the wrong vice. I should have picked alcohol. I should have picked drugs or I should have picked up beating up my wife or girlfriend because if you do those three, you get a second chance. They haven’t given too many gamblers a second chances in the world of baseball,” Rose said.

There is a pretty common talking point among those who, like me, tend to defend the PED guys, and that’s that it’s rather perverse that baseball punishes PED use so severely but doesn’t seem to care if players get DUIs, have a history of domestic violence or find themselves in other sorts of trouble.  I think this often gets misstated, however, and I think Rose is misstating it here too.

I don’t think it’s so clear a case that the league itself is messed up on this subject. Practically speaking it is hard for Major League Baseball to police conduct that does not directly relate to the game. If it were to suspend guys who engaged in criminal conduct or other sorts of moral deviancy it would have to figure out whether to do so upon arrest or conviction, which can often be separated by years. And what to do if there is a plea to a lesser charge. It would have to decide when, if ever, to interview the players involved in such a way as they don’t violate 5th Amendment rights. It would have to decide how to distinguish varying degrees of off-field misconduct. It seems easy to suspend a player who robs a liquor store, but what do you do if he’s, say, accused of tax evasion? And what if he’s just a miserable drunk?

This doesn’t mean the league can’t or shouldn’t at least think about wading into this world — at times I think it should, other times I’m not so sure — but there is no denying the hundreds of thorny issues involved. There are a lot of hard questions and tough choices to be made, all while law enforcement is doing its own thing. It makes the “why suspend Player X for ‘roids when Player Y is a drunk driver?!” rhetoric kind of beside the point, even if it feels satisfying to say it. They are different issues and only one of which is squarely within Major League Baseball’s jurisdiction, at least in the first instance.

Where I do believe that the comparison of PEDs and other bad conduct is apt is when we — usually we in the media — are talking about a player’s character in general.

There have been far more angry words written about Alex Rodriguez being a liar and a cheat, a narcissist and an all-around awful person than there have been sober words talking about the nature of his offense within the context of baseball’s rules. In contrast, we never hear too much said about the character of a player who has done truly awful things in an absolute sense instead of a baseball sense. Not many writers want to condemn the drunk drivers, wife beaters and rapists among the ballplaying class, even if they consider it their sacred duty to question the character of PED users and those players who are up for election to the Hall of Fame. That is where perspective is utterly lost in my view. They freak out about something that is major within the game but minor in life while simultaneously ignoring the transgressions that are major in life. Which is fine if they want to get out of the character assessment business altogether — I’d love it! — but they have no desire to. They still want to say some guys are saints and others are bums. They just don’t want to play fair when they do it.

Back to Rose: no, Pete. You shouldn’t have picked alcohol or drugs or beating your wife. That you didn’t speaks well of you. You were a fantastic baseball player who screwed up royally in a lot of ways, but you’re not worse off for gambling on baseball than you would have been had you been awful in other ways.  There are offenses to baseball and offenses to society. Yours to baseball are way worse than anything you’ve done in society, and you should be satisfied that you only fell so far.

(thanks to Rickset for the heads up)

Columnist calls for Sammy Sosa to “come clean.” He probably shouldn’t.

15 Sep 1998:  A silhouette portrait of Sammy Sosa #21of the Chicago Cubs taken in the dug-out as he looks across the field during the game against the San Diego Padres at Qualcomm Park in San Diego, California. The Cubs defeated the Padres 4-2
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Yesterday Sammy Sosa — quite ridiculously — compared himself to Jesus Christ. The idea: he has suffered greatly since retirement, having been shunned by the Cubs and disparaged by the baseball establishment and . . . well, I don’t know how that makes him Jesus, but forget it, he’s rolling.

Today, predictably, a Chicago columnist does what columnists have been doing for years with respect to guys suspected of PED use: argues that Sosa should “come clean” if he wants to come in from the cold. Here’s David Haugh of the Tribune:

The game welcomed back Barry Bonds and McGwire from steroid exile after both separately acknowledged their involvement with performance-enhancing drugs. Fox Sports employs Alex Rodriguez, who admitted to PED use during his career. The door back to baseball is open for Sosa, but only if he follows the same path his contemporaries from the steroid era did. The Cubs have made this clear to Sosa, in no uncertain terms, yet he continues to paint himself as the victim.

This is not accurate. Bonds has never “come clean” about his PED use. He was in litigation over it until 2015 and wasn’t giving any confessionals about it. When the Marlins hired him he said nothing. He made allusions to being “an idiot” in an interview last summer, but that was clearly focused on his cagey attitude, not his drug use. There was no deal with the Marlins that his job was prefaced on his “coming clean,” and he never did.

The same can be said for McGwire. Big Mac was hired by the Cardinals as a hitting coach on October 26, 2009. His acknowledgment of PED use came months later, just before spring training in January 2010. While it may be plausible that the Cardinals told McGwire that they would not hire him absent a confession of PED use, that’s not how it tracked in real time. At his hiring, John Mozeliak and Bill DeWitt each said there was no set blueprint for how McGwire would proceed as far as his public statements went and they allowed him to control the timeline. His confession seemed to be very much a function of heading off spring training distractions and questions from the press which would have access to him everyday, not some precondition of his employment.

But even if we grant the apparently erroneous premise that Bonds and McGwire “came clean” to return to baseball’s good graces, such a road map is of no use to Sosa. He’s not looking to coach or, as far as we know, even be employed by a club. If the study we talked about four years ago remains accurate, coming clean about PED use makes an athlete look worse in the eyes of the public than those who deny. Ask David Ortiz how that works. It likewise will do nothing for his Hall of Fame vote totals. Ask McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro how that works.

Sosa may be engaging in some unfortunate hyperbole, but as far as can be determined, he’s not asking for a whole hell of a lot. He’s not asking for a coaching job or to have his number retired or for them to rename Wrigley Field after him. He’s asking to be acknowledged as a part of Cubs history. He’s asking for the same kind of treatment other retired greats receive from time to time. A first pitch? A public appearance or two? Some minor role as a team ambassador? The bar for that isn’t very high.

The Cubs, who benefited greatly from Sosa’s production — and, necessarily, by whatever juicing Sosa did to achieve it — aren’t being asked to do much. Just to be decent to a person who is an important part of their history. That should not require that Sosa give a weepy interview about steroids which will serve no one’s purpose but the tut-tutting media. A media which, if McGwire’s example is any guide, will still slam Sosa if he comes clean and claim that his confession wasn’t good enough and his contrition wasn’t genuine. If he does confess, bank on that reaction. Bet the mortgage on it.

All of which makes me wonder if it’s the media, and not the Cubs who are the ones who really want to see such a thing.

Rob Manfred on robot umps: “In general, I would be a keep-the-human-element-in-the-game guy.”

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 5:  Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred talks with media prior to a game between the New York Mets and Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium on April 5, 2016 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
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Craig covered the bulk of Rob Manfred’s quotes from earlier. The commissioner was asked about robot umpires and he’s not a fan. Via Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports:

Manfred was wrong to blame the player’s union’s “lack of cooperation” on proposed rule changes, but he’s right about robot umps and the strike zone. The obvious point is that robot umps cannot yet call balls and strikes with greater accuracy than umpires. Those strike zone Twitter accounts, such as this, are sometimes hilariously wrong. Even the strike zone graphics used on television are incorrect and unfortunate percentage of the time.

The first issue to consider about robot umps is taking jobs away from people. There are 99 umps and more in the minors. If robot umpiring was adopted in collegiate baseball, as well as the independent leagues, that’s even more umpires out of work. Is it worth it for an extra one or two percent improvement in accuracy?

Personally, the fallibility of the umpires adds more intrigue to baseball games. There’s strategy involved, as each umpire has tendencies which teams can strategize against. For instance, an umpire with a more generous-than-average strike zone on the outer portion of the plate might entice a pitcher to pepper that area with more sliders than he would otherwise throw. Hitters, knowing an umpire with a smaller strike zone is behind the dish, may take more pitches in an attempt to draw a walk. Or, knowing that information, a hitter may swing for the fences on a 3-0 pitch knowing the pitcher has to throw in a very specific area to guarantee a strike call or else give up a walk.

The umpires make their mistakes in random fashion, so it adds a chaotic, unpredictable element to the game as well. It feels bad when one of those calls goes against your team, but fans often forget the myriad calls that previously went in their teams’ favor. The mistakes will mostly even out in the end.

I haven’t had the opportunity to say this often, but Rob Manfred is right in this instance.