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Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2016 — #24: Ryan Howard and Ryan Zimmerman sue Al Jazeera

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We’re a few short days away from 2017 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2016. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

In December 2015, Ryan Howard of the Phillies, Ryan Zimmerman of the Nationals and multiple other athletes, most notably Peyton Manning, were linked to performance enhancing drug use in a documentary that aired on the Al Jazeera America network. Their primary accuser was a pharmacist named Charlie Sly who worked for an Indiana-based anti-aging clinic in 2011 and was caught on hidden camera bragging about his alleged client list, which he claimed included these athletes.

For years, ballplayers who were alleged to have taken PEDs were asked why, if they truly were clean, they didn’t sue their accusers. In January, Howard and Zimmerman preempted that question. They sued the network and their accuser:

“Today I authorized my attorneys to file suit against Al Jazeera and its reporters,” Howard said in a statement. “Their irresponsible reporting forced me to take this action to protect my name and to fight back against the spreading of these lies. I will have no further comment, as the filing itself contains all I need to say.”

“All of these statements concerning Mr. Zimmerman are categorically untrue,” the lawsuit said. “Mr. Zimmerman has never taken Delta 2, human growth hormone, or any other steroid or other performance-enhancing substance banned by the MLB.”

Major League Baseball, as it was required to, conducted an investigation. In August, it cleared the sluggers unequivocally. It’s official statement:

The Office of the Commissioner has completed its investigation into the statements made by Charlie Sly concerning players Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies and Ryan Zimmerman of the Washington Nationals in the Al Jazeera documentary “The Dark Side.” This thorough investigation did not find any violations of the Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program by either Howard or Zimmerman.

Both Howard and Zimmerman fully cooperated with the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation. Mr. Sly did not agree to speak with the Commissioner’s Office or provide requested information.

Sly was shown to be a liar or, at the very least a braggart, and the Ryans were vindicated. Not everyone got out unscathed, however. in April, former big league catcher Taylor Teagarden, who was also in the Al Jazeera report, was suspended 80 games for PEDs. The case against him was a lot easier, however, as he was caught on camera talking about his drug regimen. Which, well, that wasn’t really wise, even if his big league career was basically over before that anyway.

Ryan Howard’s time in Philly ended in 2016, and he’s still looking for a job for next year. Zimmerman is still with the Nationals, of course, but he struggled with his health and production in 2016. Both of them, however, got a big win as a result of this whole Al Jazeera business.

As for Al Jazeera America: it ceased operation in April, taking the bench before either Howard or Zimmerman did.

Oh good, it’s “Yasiel Puig is a showboat” season

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With the Los Angeles Dodgers punching their ticket to the World Series, Yasiel Puig is now going to be the subject of commentary by people who tend not to care about Yasiel Puig until it’s useful for them to write outraged columns or go on talk radio rants about baseball deportment.

We got a brief teaser of this last night when, after scoring the Dodgers’ ninth run on a Logan Forsythe double, TBS analyst Ron Darling criticized Puig for his “shenanigans” and “rubbing it in.” Never mind that his third base coach was waving him home and that, if he didn’t run hard, he was just as likely to be criticized for dogging it. In other news, baseball teams don’t stop trying in the fourth inning of baseball games, nor should they.

That was just an appetizer, though. The first real course of the “Puig is a problem” feast we’re likely to be served over the next week and a half comes from Phil Mushnick of the New York Post, who wrote it even before the Dodgers won Game 5 last night:

If you were raised to love baseball and to recognize the smart, winning kind from everything less, the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig is insufferable. As the sport is diminished by professionals who disregard the basic act of running to first base as a matter of style, Puig, an incurable home-plate poser, often makes turning doubles and triples into singles appear effortless . . . In the postseason, Puig continues to behave as if he’s in the Home Run Derby. He even seems to relish his high-risk flamboyant foolishness despite frequent backfires.

This may as well be a fill in the blanks column from 2013 or 2014, when “Puig is a flashy showboater who costs his team more than he gives it” columns were all the rage. It ignores the fact that Puig, commonly dinged for being lazy, worked his butt off in 2017, particularly on defense, to the point where he has a strong case for a Gold Glove this year. It also ignores his .455/.538/.727 line in the NLDS sweep of the Diamondbacks and his .389/.500/.611 line against the Cubs in the NLCS. In the regular season he set career highs for games, homers, RBI, stolen bases and almost set a career high for walks despite having seventy fewer plate appearances than he did back in 2013 when he walked 67 times. He’s not the MVP candidate some thought he might be, but he’s a fantastic player who has been a key part of the Dodgers winning their first pennant in 29 years.

But the dings on Puig from the likes of Mushnick have rarely been about production. They’ve simply been about style and the manner in which he’s carried himself. To the extent those issues were legitimate points of criticism — particularly his tardiness, his relationships with his teammates and his at times questionable dedication — they have primarily been in-house concerns for the Dodgers, not the casual fan like Mushnick. On that score the Dodgers have dealt with Puig and, by all accounts, Puig has responded pretty well. An occasional lapse to be sure, but nothing which makes him a greater burden than a benefit. I mean, if he was, would be be batting cleanup in a pennant-clinching game?

So if the beef with Puig is not really about baseball, what could Phil Mushnick’s issue with him possible be?

I, for one, have no idea whatsoever.