Craig Calcaterra

Blogger at NBC Sport.com's HardballTalk. Recovering litigator. Rake. Scoundrel. Notorious Man-About-Town.
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Hall of Fame voters: you now have a choice to make

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I’m still having a hard time getting my brain around Rob Manfred’s comments about David Ortiz yesterday. To sum up again: he basically pardoned Ortiz for the 2003 survey drug test results, saying that the survey testing might’ve had trouble distinguishing between a banned substance and some benign and legal substance. He went on to say that it would be unfair for Hall of Fame voters to consider “leaks, rumors, innuendo, not confirmed positive test results” when considering David Ortiz‘s Hall of Fame case.

As I noted in that article, other players names were leaked from the 2003 testing, like Sammy Sosa, and they deserve the same sort of public pardon that Ortiz just got. But thinking about it more in the last few minutes, it goes way beyond that, does it not? Just some questions and observations:

  • If Manfred admits that the 2003 testing was flawed, what magic wand did he wave in 2004 to make the testing as infallible as he and MLB’s surrogates in the media would have us believe? And make no mistake, people believe that. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t call for lifetime bans of first time positive testers, as they so often do. Maybe MLB might’ve done its players a nice solid, David Ortiz-style, and reminded people that testing isn’t perfect and maybe let’s not be so judgmental about someone who tests positive, even if the JDA says they need to be suspended on zero-tolerance grounds;
  • Manfred made it clear that his point of demarkation for drug information that should be considered for the Hall of Fame is the official 2004-on drug testing program. Indeed, he refers to “confirmed test results” on one side and casts everything else in the same pile as rumors and innuendo which should be ignored for Hall of Fame purposes. Logically, that includes BALCO, right? While well-documented, the information from BALCO was not part of MLB’s “confirmed test results” nor did MLB use any of the information from BALCO to discipline any baseball player. This means that, per Manfred’s comments yesterday, Hall of Fame voters should not hold BALCO against Barry Bonds. Take that away and he’s a Hall of Famer, right? If, however, Manfred says that BALCO does matter, why didn’t the BALCO guys ever get in trouble with the league?
  • For that matter, isn’t every player associated with PEDs for reasons other than post-2004 testing deserving of reconsideration? All of the Mitchell Report guys, including Roger Clemens and Andy Pettitte. Mark McGwire. Sammy Sosa. Might Manfred give a similar stump speech for Jeff Bagwell who doesn’t even have 2003 survey testing on his permanent record but who, obviously, is suffering in the Hall of Fame voting because of the very rumor and innuendo that Manfred just said voters should not consider? If David Ortiz gets the Commissioner’s Official Seal of Hall of Fame Approval, why not Bagwell and the others? Or is David Ortiz a special case? And if so, why?

Ultimately, I do not suspect Rob Manfred will answer these questions. The baseball writers who vote for the Hall of Fame will have to, however. For years they have publicly wrestled with what to do with PED users from the pre-testing era. Many have pleaded with Major League Baseball or the Hall of Fame for some sort of direction about what to do with these guys and how to consider their transgressions. For some this has been disingenuous pleading, as they were going to vote against PED-associated players no matter what. Many, however, have truly and genuinely asked the Commissioner what they should do.

Well, the Commissioner has spoken. He has affirmatively said that “confirmed testing” matters, nothing else. There are only two ways to read his comments yesterday: (1) all PED associations which come from pre-2004 should be ignored for Hall of Fame voting, for all players; or (2) only David Ortiz’s pre-2004 PED association should be ignored.

Hall of Fame voters who have asked for direction on this matter have a choice to make. When they make that choice, they must acknowledge that one of those interpretations of Manfred’s comments makes sense. One of them doesn’t.

Rob Manfred says David Ortiz may not have taken banned substances in 2003

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Death. Taxes. Someone bringing up PEDs in the comments section whenever David Ortiz‘s name is mentioned. These are the only certainties in life. Rob Manfred just complicated that a little bit, however, by doing the closest thing he can probably do to issuing a pardon to Big Papi over his association with a positive drug test in 2003.

You’ll recall that, in 2003, players were subjected to non-disciplinary, putatively anonymous drug testing. The reason: per agreement with Major League Baseball, if a certain percentage of players tested positive for PEDs during this survey testing, binding, disciplinary testing would go into effect in 2004. More than the required percentage did and baseball’s drug testing regime was launched.

The results of those tests were to be destroyed. Overzealous law enforcement, however, seized the test results in a bungled and ultimately unsuccessful investigation and then, seemingly spitefully, leaked the IDs of at least three of the positive testers to the media. The names leaked: Sammy Sosa, Alex Rodriguez and David Ortiz. All issued denials of various plausibility. Only Rodriguez later admitted a knowing use of PEDs at the time. Ortiz and Sosa have been tarred by it to varying degrees. Ortiz, of course, has taken far less of a hit to his reputation than either of the other two.

Now, on the occasion of Ortiz’s retirement, Commissioner Manfred has made a remarkable statement regarding that 2003 testing as it relates to Ortiz. He did it yesterday, on the occasion of Big Papi’s retirement ceremony. From the Boston Globe:

“There were legitimate scientific questions about whether or not those were truly positives. If in fact there were test results like that today on a player, and we tried to discipline them, there’d be a grievance over it, it would be vetted, tried, resolved,” said Manfred. “We didn’t do that. Those issues and ambiguities were never resolved because we knew they didn’t matter. We knew we had enough positives that everyone agreed on that we knew we were going to trigger the testing the following year . . . Even if Rob Manfred’s name was on that list, he might have been one of those 10 or 15 where there was probably or at least possibly a very legitimate explanation that did not involve the use of a banned substance . . . “it was hard to distinguish between certain substances that were legal, available over the counter, and not banned under our program, and certain banned substances.”

Manfred went on to say that Hall of Fame voters should not take the 2003 survey testing into account. He said that while testing positive under the current drug program is fair game for voters and their conscience, “what I do feel is unfair is in situations where it is leaks, rumors, innuendo, not confirmed positive test results, that that is unfair to the players. I think that would be wrong.”

This is remarkable statement from Manfred. Certainly for Ortiz, who was likely to face some pushback on his Hall of Fame case due to being a DH and, more importantly, due to his 2003 positive in the survey testing. Major League Baseball basically just told writers — who have long begged the commissioner for guidance on such matters — to ignore it and treat Ortiz as if he has a clean slate. I suspect voters will do so.

The bigger question is whether they will do the same for Sammy Sosa who, apart from the 2003 survey testing, which Manfred now says to discard, never tested positive for PEDs. Sosa, despite 609 career home runs and credit, at the time, for helping revitalize baseball in the wake of the 1994-95 strike, only got 7% of the vote this past season and will likely fall off the ballot after this year’s voting. I bet he would’ve liked Bud Selig or Rob Manfred to vouch for him like he just vouched for Ortiz.

Or how about Alex Rodriguez? While Rodriguez did eventually admit that he used banned substances around the time of the 2003 testing, how does Manfred’s statement yesterday square with how Major League Baseball treated Rodriguez during the Biogenesis investigation? Rodriguez was banned for a year despite the fact that Biogenesis represented his first violation under the drug agreement and, in the runup to it, MLB officials floated the idea of banning him for life. Part of the reason for that severity was for Rodriguez allegedly impeding the Biogenesis investigation, but the rhetoric surrounding it all at the time, at least from the media, was that Rodriguez was not a first time offender due to the 2003 tests.

So, yes, it is nice that Commissioner Manfred has effectively pardoned Ortiz over the survey testing. It’s the right thing to do for specifically the reasons Manfred states. But when will he say the same thing about Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriguez? And Will Hall of Fame voters and the public at large give them the same forgiving treatment for the 2003 tests that David Ortiz is receiving now?

 

And That Happened: Sunday’s Scores and Highlights

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And with that, another baseball regular season comes to an end. This is always a bittersweet day for me. It’s great that the playoffs are starting because there is always magic to be found in the playoffs. But baseball, for me anyway, is about the everyday and the mundane. About the constant background presence of a game every night — a game you can tune in and out of as you go about your daily business — as opposed to an Important Event Which Demands Attention like a playoff game. There’s something nice about a lower-intensity distraction and something stressful about an all-or-nothing undertaking which, to me anyway, makes the regular season more enjoyable in the aggregate, even if the playoffs create far more memorable moments. And as such, seeing the regular season end always makes me a bit sad.

But, as Vin Scully said during the ninth inning of his final game yesterday afternoon: “Don’t be sad because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” I’m glad And That Happens happens, and I’m glad you’ve shared it with me most mornings for the past nine seasons.

Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Giants 7, Dodgers 1: The Giants clinch a wild card spot with a laugher of a victory against a Dodgers team which seemed pretty checked out, to be honest. That’s OK for everyone except Cardinals fans, though, as it gave Scully more time to tell stores and reflect on his 67 years in the booth. As for the Giants: the entire second half collapse is now irrelevant. They once again have a one-and-done game in front of them with Madison Bumgarner pitching. It’s an even year. My preseason prediction of them winning it all may not lead the odds in Vegas right now, but it’s still in play.

Blue Jays 2, Red Sox 1: The Blue Jays clinch the top Wild Card spot as Aaron Sanchez takes a no-hitter into the seventh. If you care about such things, David Ortiz‘s final regular season at bat was a little squib in front of the plate resulting in a putout. Just as it was appropriate and sentimental for Vin Scully to end his career 80 years to the date of becoming a baseball fan, it would’ve been fitting if Roberto Osuna had misfired on he throw to first, if Ortiz had been safe and if he had then spent his evening berating the official scorer until it was turned into a hit. Wouldn’t be a dry eye in the house. *Sarah McLachlan starts singing “I will remember you . . .”*

Braves 1, Tigers 0: I told you on Friday that the Tigers had a tough job to beat this Braves team at this particular time. They dropped two of three to Atlanta and with that their season comes to an end. Julio Teheran dominated Detroit, striking out 12 in seven shutout innings as Justin Verlander got no run support despite seven strong innings of his own during which he gave up only a first inning sac fly. For the Tigers, it’s yet another offseason of decisions about whether to try to keep things up with the current approach or break things up dramatically in an effort to fix the flaws of this very top-heavy team. The Braves, meanwhile, start packing for their new home in Cobb County and start wondering if their strong final two months of the season make them a lot closer to contention than they seemed in the first half.

Orioles 5, Yankees 2Matt Wieters hit two homers and Kevin Gausman allowed only two runs while pitching into the eighth inning as the Orioles snagged the second Wild Card. This is wonderful for O’s fans. It, and all of the other results, stinks for baseball fans who wanted to see two or three days of tiebreaker chaos. Oh well, there are movies to watch tonight I suppose. My suggestion: “L’Avventura.” Saw that over the weekend and now early 1960s Monica Vitti tops my all-time celebrity crush power rankings.

Cardinals 10, Pirates 4: A win is nice but when you don’t control your own destiny, it’s not enough. The Giants win eliminated St. Louis despite their 10-run outburst against the Bucs. Matt Carpenter drove in four of those runs and Adam Wainwright was effective for six innings, but the 15-game dropoff from 2015 to 2016 was too much to overcome.

Angels 8, Astros 1: Mike Trout reached base three more times and drove in one, finishing with a line of  .315/.441/.550 with 29 homers and an even 100 RBI. Part of me hopes that BBWAA voters are still hung up on RBI and that that last one puts him over for the MVP, but I suspect the Mookie Betts cake is already baked. Maybe he needed one more homer and one more stolen base to make the 30/30 club. Maybe we should all just laugh at how ridiculous it is that I’m sitting here pleading my case for the greatness of a guy who is easily baseball’s best player. All I know is that, one day, people will be writing articles about how weird it is that Trout only won one or two MVP awards during his career and that the reason he didn’t win more was that he was too boringly and consistently excellent.

Rays 6, Rangers 4: Extra innings in a meaningless road game on the last day of the season probably feels like being held for detention on the last day of school before summer vacation. The Rays rallied in the 10th, though, to make it as quick as it could’ve been. Now the Rangers sit back and wait to see if they host Baltimore or Toronto in the ALDS. I don’t care too much about who they face, but I do fear a week’s worth of content about the Jose Bautista bat flip and all of that jazz a Texas-Toronto rematch would entail.

Nationals 10, Marlins 7: The best part of this game is that Max Scherzer won his 20th and drove in four runs at the plate and those two things — wins and hitting; the least important categories for gauging a pitcher’s individual value — will likely put him over for the Cy Young on many voters’ ballots. Whhhheeeee . . .

Phillies 5, Mets 2: Ryan Howard gets a nice sendoff from the Phillies, who will buy out his contract rather than exercise his 2017 option. He goes out with an 0-for-4, ensuring that his 2016 batting average finishes below the Mendoza Line, but that’s pretty academic at this point. With his departure, the last of the 2008 Phillies are gone. At least from Philly.

Twins 6, White Sox 3: Byron Buxton led off the game with an inside the park home run and Miguel Sano homered and drove in three. Thus begins another long winter of talking about how, if the young players develop . . . As for Chicago, Robin Ventura bows out and the Sox’ brass needs to take a long look in the mirror and ask themselves if the “add a random slugger and hope for the best” strategy is going to get them anywhere. Hint: it’s not.

Athletics 3, Mariners 2: The Mariners flipped their 76-86 of 2015 to an 86-76, but dropping two out of three to a 69-win A’s team in the final weekend ended their hopes. Here Sean Manaea allowed two runs over six innings to finish his rookie season in solid fashion.

Cubs 7, Reds 4: The best team in baseball rallied for four runs in the ninth, all coming with two outs. First Matt Szczur doubled home two runs and then Miguel Montero knocked himself and Szczur in with a homer. 103 wins are the most for the Cubs since 1910, when they won 104. They lost the World Series that year, by the way.

Brewers 6, Rockies 4: Extra innings in a meaningless game for both teams on the last day of the season probably feels like being held for detention on the last day of school before summer vacation, except this time you’re stuck in there with Judd Nelson and Anthony Michael Hall. No, you don’t get Molly Ringwald and Ally Sheedy, because that would make it more bearable. This is about punishment, jack. You mess with the bull, you get the horns, etc. Anyway, Andrew Susac put an end to this nonsense with a two-run homer. One meaningful bit: D.J. LeMahieu won the batting title without even playing in this game. Here are all the other league leaders in the major categories.

Diamondbacks 3, Padres 2: Down 2-1 heading into the eighth, Brandon Drury homered to tie it up and then, in the bottom of the ninth, Phil Gosselin hit a pinch-hit RBI single to give the Dbacks the walkoff win. I have to go back and check, but this may be the sole highlight from the Diamondbacks’ train wreck of a season. Not that the Padres season was anything approaching smooth sailing. Given the on-the-field futility and their front office controversy both teams have experienced this season, maybe they should do something radical like merge to form one team. Sort of like how the Steelers and Eagles did during the war. We could call them the PadreBacks or something. They could play in Yuma.

Indians 3, Royals 2: The Tigers’ loss to the Braves plus Boston’s loss to the Blue Jays plus the Indians win here gave Cleveland homefield advantage against the Red Sox in the divisional round. The over-under on the number of features on Terry Francona in Boston newspapers this week is 503.