Costas has a disincentive plan for PEDs

The Man Who Wouldn't Be Commissioner keeps thinking and speaking like one, anyway . . .

The Man Who Wouldn’t Be Commissioner keeps thinking and speaking like one, anyway . . .

By now it’s a waste of space to suggest Bob Costas should be baseball’s next commissioner, simply because he doesn’t want the job, and never really has, no matter who’s thought how highly of his mind and love for the game. Unfortunately, the Man Who Wouldn’t Be Commissioner doesn’t help his own anti-cause by saying things that cause people to think he ought to be dragged into the job by any means necessary when Bud Selig decides at last that it’s time to retire.

Costas did it yet again on The Dan Patrick Show this week, in the immediate wake of Ryan Braun’s suspension regarding the Biogenesis affair. Since the players have undergone a kind of ”cultural change” in which the majority want the game cleaned up, Costas observed, there are yet meaningful ways to deal with players who insist still on flirting with actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances.

The Major League Baseball Players Association, whom Costas applauded for taking a comparatively militant line on behalf of those trying to clean up the game, could recommend clauses in the next labor agreement, he said, whether in 2016 when the current one expires or by asking to re-open the current agreement:

* To give a player caught using actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances an automatic fifty-game suspension plus denial of honours and awards (MVP, Cy Young Award, All-Star Game selections, etc.) for a particular period if not the rest of their careers. Including Hall of Fame eligibility; and,

* To impose a lifetime banishment from the game on a second such offense.

Costas didn’t just pull those ideas raw from the field. The players’ union has shifted from defense at all cost to what Costas describes as “saying, ‘Look, they have you dead to rights’ . . . [T]he vast majority of players want the game cleaned up, they’re sick of competing against those who are gaining an unfair advantage, they’re also sick of having suspicion cast upon their own achievements and upon the game itself, and although baseball may have come around late on this, they are now in a position where they have the toughest and most aggressive policy in all of major North American team sports, and they’re serious about it.”

Now a pariah . . .

Now a pariah . . .

He isn’t foolish enough to believe baseball will rid itself entirely of people searching for an edge, real or imagined, either. Players have been looking for edges for over a century and a half of organised baseball. They didn’t begin with the Louisville Grays (of the nineteenth-century National League) going out of business after two seasons when four players admitted they’d been paid a little extra to throw some exhibition games, in baseball’s first known gambling scandal. Or, with the game tankings that climaxed with the 1919 World Series.

They didn’t end with Babe Ruth’s corked or four-wood bat, Preacher Roe’s Beech-Nut gum, the 1951 New York Giants’ spy racket, Whitey Ford’s wedding ring, Lew Burdette’s toxic waste dump next to the rubber, Graig Nettles’s and Amos Otis’s Superball bats, Mike Scott’s circle scuffs, or Ken Caminiti’s steroid confession.

And it doesn’t always begin with merely looking for an edge. Caminiti’s heartbreaking confession included his acknowledgement that he began dabbling when he was itching to recover a little quicker from a devastating shoulder injury. Andy Pettitte reached for human growth hormone on behalf of his barking pitching elbow. When Mark McGwire finally admitted using something more than androstendione, he said his motivation, too, was a battle against almost constant injuries.

Buzzards circling?

Buzzards circling?

Costas’s deterrent should apply to the Ryan Brauns and (if he’s guilty) Alex Rodriguezes of the sport, players who aren’t known to be trying to relieve or recover from injuries. Baseball should also look into ways of tightening up teams’ medical practises and staffings. They should have been doing so, anyway, ever since the Astros dismissed J.R. Richard’s shoulder fatigue complaints as malingering or hypochondria—until his post-1980 All-Star Game stroke ended his career and left the organisation with a big fat omelette on its face.

But for the Brauns and Rodriguezes, men looking for reward and not recovery, the Costas deterrent just might be one of the most powerful deterrents ever assigned to any collective bargaining agreement in any North American team sport. After a long enough period of bumping, grinding, and stumbling, baseball’s had the toughest drug policies in any professional team sport. Costas’s suggestions would toughen them further.

Especially if you add a third possibility that Costas either did or didn’t raise (the clip I’ve caught doesn’t go that long, so I don’t know) but seems reasonable to ponder, considering the Brewers still on the hook for $100 million or so remaining on Braun’s deal and the Yankees on a comparable hook with an A-Rod who might be facing an even heavier penalty than Braun:

The Players Association and the owners could agree to install a clause into the standard major league baseball player’s contract rendering the remainder of the contract null and void if a player is caught and suspended for using or procuring actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances as defined under the game’s drug policy. Sometimes, when all else doesn’t do the trick, a belt in the bank account ought to suffice.

Would Braun have yet gotten himself mixed up with Biogenesis in the wake of the original suspension he defeated on a technicality, if he’d known it would cost him any future award consideration and, while we’re at it, the remaining $100+ million on his contract?

Would A-Rod, who once sheepishly admitted to trying actual or alleged PEDs in desperation to live up to his first gigabucks deal (in Texas) and swore he was done with them, have gone anywhere near Biogenesis if he’d known it could wipe out the remaining $100+ million on his Yankee deal?

Difficult if not impossible to say. If only because human nature reminds us that competitors with dollars at stake will always include those looking for any little edge they can find no matter what the prospective penalty. But human nature also reminds us that there will always be enough more to see the coming hammers and decide any little edge isn’t worth the big headaches those hammers would inflict.

21 thoughts on “Costas has a disincentive plan for PEDs

  1. Excellent article. I have always liked Bob Costas and respect his love of baseball. I especially like the idea of a player who is suspended for steroids not being eligible for awards or entrance into the Baseball Hall of Fame. If that doesn’t stop a player from using steroids, then I don’t know what will.

    My 14 year old grandson who has been playing youth baseball for 11 years idolized Barry Bonds until he was linked to steroids. He may have never tested positive for steroids, but there is a mountain of circumstantial evidence saying he used steroids. A player in his late 30′s doesn’t hit 34 home runs, then two years later hit 73 without some help from a performance enhancing drug.

    • Thanks Andrew! My issue with Bonds had always been not so much the issue of actual or alleged performance-enhancing drugs (the circumstantial evidence is indeed considerable against him, but there are just so many question marks around the substances themselves, and I don’t really know—neither, really, does anyone else—the no-questions-asked final answer on a lot of Bonds’ late-career performances, and if you have to ask at all it’s enough to taint him) as the fact that he wasn’t just clubhouse poison, he was clubhouse Chernobyl. The Giant clubhouse during most of his time with the team had an eggshell carpeting. You notice that they barely won with him (it wasn’t his fault the Giants lost the 2002 World Series) but, once he was gone for good, they eased back into serious contention (they finished higher each successive season) and won a World Series three years after he was gone, then another Series two seasons later. It isn’t fair to call him the only or the worst clubhouse Chernobyl, but it’s fatuous nonsense to deny it or to deny its impact on his team and on the game itself.

      If your grandson once idolised Bonds, forget the drug issue—that idolatry should have ended simply because, with or without the actual or alleged PEDs, Bonds was a man who treated one and all around him with contempt when nobody wanted to do anything but love him, play ball with him, and try to win with him. He was living proof that an overwhelming talent is too often conferred privilege or bypass that few others would get away with under normal circumstances. Barry Bonds was at war with the world long before he got any ideas about what he could or couldn’t benefit from BALCO. You can pity a man at war with the world even as you condemn him for waging it at all. I’m convinced to this day that the Pirates—who made a huge mistake in baseball terms in pressing him to the leadoff slot early in his career, simply because of his speed, when it was only too obvious he had the talent and the power of a number three or four man—would have let him walk even if they could have afforded to keep those division-winning teams together any longer, simply because he just wasn’t worth the headaches to them anymore.

      • I agree that Barry Bonds was clubhouse poison. Pirates may have become a loser for years after letting Bonds walk, but it saved them years of misery dealing with the consummate whiner. It tickled me that Jeff Kent won the NL MVP, when Bonds was on his steroids induced run. That infuriated Bonds. I have heard, but can’t verify if it is true that Bonds tore up a baseball card that a kid had given him to autograph. That is why I like Jim Thome who once said that he doesn’t understand ballplayers who won’t give an autograph to a kid, because he remembers when he was a kid. If I recall correctly Bonds wasn’t pitched to in the 2002 World Series that much. Had also heard that Arizona State was ready to kick Bonds off the team, but his dad Bobby intervened. Bonds to me was nothing more than a self-centered jerk, who may be in the Hall of Fame already, if not for his desire to keep up with the Joneses or rather the McGwires and Sosas.

        • Jeff Kent was no prize package, either. He was a great player but he, too, was good for blowing up a clubhouse, and had been pretty much that way since he broke in with the Blue Jays and began making his bones in earnest with the Mets. Bad enough: the Giants clubhouse with Bonds. Worse, probably: the Giants clubhouse with Bonds and Kent.

          • Jeff Kent could stir up his share of trouble alright. Think it was him that made up the story about getting hurt washing his truck, when he was injured in a pickup basketball game or something else. Kent and Bonds mixed it up in the Giants dugout before. Bonds didn’t like anyone that didn’t buy into the Bonds mystique. Kent is on the HOF ballot for the first time this winter. Kent is listed 6th among all players on ballot in home runs with 377, if you don’t count the roiders. Only Frank Thomas, McGriff and Bagwell among the non-steroids users have more RBI than Kent. I don’t look for him to be voted in this year or next, though because of Maddux, Clemens and Glavine being on the ballot. Don’t know what effect the not guilty perjury verdict will do for Clemens in the voting. Just my opinion, but I think the HOF needs to send at least 2 players a year into the HOF, because there are so many great players on the ballot, even excluding the roiders. Was surprised that Mike Mussina retired with 270 wins. He retired after his only 20 win season in 2008.

          • My suspicion is that Kent probably won’t be a first-ballot Hall of Famer, and he may end up having to wait a couple of more turns past that. It’ll be as much because of his attitude as for anything else if that happens. Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine should be shoe-ins for the Hall, and on the first ballot, but I’m not feeling very trusting of the integrity of those writers who absolutely insist that just about nobody should be going in on the first ballot. Absent evidence (innuendo is not evidence), Jeff Bagwell deserves the honour and should have been a first-ballot Hall of Famer; so his defense around first base wasn’t top of the line, well, neither was Lou Gehrig’s. Clemens would be a difficult call for the reason you said and because too many suspect him even without anything such as a positive drug test to bolster their suspicions. I can see Clemens being made to wait on that basis.

            I’m not entirely sure we ought to have quotas for how many players “need” to go into the Hall of Fame every year, but it does seem a crime that none will go in come Sunday. Innuendo thwarted Jeff Bagwell yet again; there was no damn reason not to elect Craig Biggio. (For the record, I think Biggio was a better all-around second baseman than Jeff Kent, and I rank Kent behind Biggio and Roberto Alomar.) I’m still very much convinced that when all is said and done Jack Morris pulls up just short enough of a bona fide Hall of Famer (his big-game reputation is actually very badly overrated), but he won’t even be close to the worst pitcher who ever got into Cooperstown if he’s elected next year. (And he might well be, you never know.) Mike Piazza seems to suffer from the same thing thwarting Jeff Bagwell, absent any heretofore uncovered real evidence—innuendo. The greatest hitting catcher of all time belongs in Cooperstown otherwise. (The greatest all-around catcher? Yogi Berra, still, with Johnny Bench right on his tail and Ivan Rodriguez in the rear view mirror. I give the edge to Berra because he was actually more run productive per capita, was a better defender all around, and—most important, and probably least appreciated—he got better performances out of the pitchers he caught as a full-time catcher (the sole and obvious exception, of course: Whitey Ford) than they delivered throwing to anyone else, a distinction Bench, I-Rod, and just about all other catchers can’t really claim. Some purists will scream bloody murder about it, but handling and nurturing a pitching staff is probably the most important defensive business a catcher has.)

            Tim Raines (I’ve argued this before) belongs in Cooperstown and is probably held back only because he doesn’t have even one big statistical benchmark to scream on his behalf. I’m still on the fence about Lee Smith and Alan Trammell; I’m anything but about Curt Schilling—he was the very essence of a big game pitcher. Edgar Martinez is going to have a long wait, I fear, until the DH bias recedes reasonably; say what you will about the DH but it’s there, Martinez shone in the role, and he has the numbers to justify a plaque. Larry Walker actually looks better the closer you look at him. Fred McGriff would be exactly an average Hall of Famer if he gets in, but I suspect what’s keeping the Crime Dog kenneled is that he wasn’t as good in pressure hitting situations as people remember him being.

            And, among those whose presence on last winter’s ballot was their last such appearance, injuries kept both Dale Murphy and Don Mattingly from posting no-questions-asked Hall of Fame cases, and Bernie Williams just didn’t shake out as being all that close to a Hall of Famer, though he was a class act and a class Yankee all the way.

          • I am tired of this mentality of writers, who think first-timers on the HOF ballot should not go in. That is why we have such a backlog of players waiting to get in the HOF. I think it is safe to say that there are at least 5 players who deserve to go in this year, but because of the 75 percent rule they probably won’t make it. I usually like to watch the HOF ceremonies, but can’t get excited about it knowing nobody will be going in from my era. The thing I disliked the most was that McGwire in his interview with Bob Costas refused to admit that the steroids made any difference in his career and that he was just a better hitter. It was an empty apology to me, because of that and he didn’t tell Costas much more than he told the Congressional committee. McGwire’s 49 home runs in his rookie season is still suspect to me, since I think it shattered the old record. Injuries have been used as a copout by many players, as their excuse for using steroids. Still think Roger Clemens was in a steroids rage when he hit Mike Piazza in the head with the pitch and never showed any remorse that I know of.

          • I don’t necessarily think Roger Clemens was any less normal when he drilled Piazza or threw the broken bat at him. He was just as ornery when he made his bones with the 1980s Red Sox as he was against Piazza, so if he was doing anything or using anything it didn’t exactly change his mound personality one iota.

            Of all the things on which to hang Mark McGwire I think the rookie home run record is kind of fatuous. Someone was going to break that record sooner or later, and in 1987 there was a kind of rabbit ball introduced on that season, and who cares how many more bombs McGwire hit than Al Rosen (the previous record holder) in 1950? Of all the ridiculous arguments that have come forth in the steroid era, you’d about have to put into the top three the idea that someone isn’t “supposed” to do this or do that in a certain quantity. It’s as fatuous an argument as was the ancient (and disreputable) argument that Roger Maris had no damned business gunning for Babe Ruth’s single-season record because he wasn’t a “true Yankee” or that a majority of his homers were screaming line drives instead of parabolic punts. (Yep, people made those arguments, including no few sportswriters, and how blissfully they forgot the “true Yankee” who set the record eight seasons after he was sold to the club by the Red Sox.)

            I don’t know that you can fault McGwire for his interview with Bob Costas. Remove his two 60+ home run seasons, look to his career before that, and McGwire’s production pretty much runs along the lines of his health. THey spoke for several seasons prior to him actually doing it about McGwire being a likely candidate to bust Maris’s record, and the factors weighed, as I remember, in a balance between his actual power hitting and, among other things, the more hitter-friendly ballparks coming online not long after he broke into the majors. (We now know why he demurred from talking up to the Congressional committee—he was getting terrible legal advice; the chairman of that House subcommittee has long since said he believed McGwire wanted to talk up, and in just the way he spoke up with Costas.)

            I think, too, that I don’t dismiss the injury argument so readily as others do because I’ve made a point of reading a truckload of material about the issue and much of that material has yielded up stories involving players—in the Show and below it alike—who genuinely did accept the suggestion of trying actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances because they’d been told some of them could abet quicker injury recovery. I’d like to see an in-depth study done of athletes who tinkered with steroids for that reason and, considering the further injury quotient among steroid users, whether their original purposes didn’t work against them in terms of speeding recovery from one injury or set of injuries only to provoke future and perhaps more serious injuries.

            There’s no question that a boatload of baseball players gave them a shot (no pun intended!) because they thought their stats might get a spike or they might have found the difference between extended tours of the bus leagues and a shot in the Show. But then you look close, closer, closest, and you discover how many of them, as I noted earlier, actually didn’t see a noticeable stat spike or even any stat spike.

            Which is why the sad case of Rafael Palmeiro continues to interest me. (The only power stat spike I ever really saw over his career was when he returned to the Rangers from the Orioles—and his power stats did spike, perhaps because the Ballpark at Arlington was even friendlier to power hitters than Camden Yards had been, and Camden Yards wasn’t exactly a pitchers’ Nirvana at the time.) I wrote at some length about it in one piece about the Hall of Fame in late 2011; it’s worth repeating here for further clarity:

            Even with counting stats to burn, Palmeiro was kind of the Bert Blyleven of position players: He snuck up on you when you weren’t looking, until that one positive steroid test, after he finger-wagged his denial before the House Committee for the Dissemination of Great Messages to Kids (thank you again Mr. Will), and just days after he nailed his 3,000th career base hit (he already had 500+ bombs and 1,800+ runs batted in), blew his reputation to smithereens.

            The remaining problem? Palmeiro really may have turned up positive for stanozolol by way of a tainted vitamin B12 ingestion. The further problem: Palmeiro tested negative in 2003; he tested negative again almost a month after the positive that would smash his reputation, a negative test he took a fortnight before the positive was disclosed.

            It gets better. Palmeiro passed a polygraph test that indicated he had offered no responses “indicative of deception.” Even the House Committe for the Dissemination of Great Messages to Kids concluded there was nothing to tie Palmeiro to actual or alleged performance-enhancing substances before Palmeiro appeared before it.

            As a matter of fact, the committee’s then-chairman, Republican Tom Davis, has since beaten a soft but profound drum on Palmeiro’s behalf. Davis will tell anyone who will listen that the committe didn’t doubt Palmeiro was telling the absolute truth at the infamous hearing, and that Palmeiro just might be getting a bum rap over one mistake–a mistake that actually may not have been of Palmeiro’s deliberate making.

            That didn’t help him reach the Hall of Fame on his first two tries. It probably won’t help him for a number of years to come. But it probably will–and should–help clear his way in due course. Palmeiro will probably prove the absolute most quiet superstar to make it to Cooperstown if and when he gets in. And, unlike a lot of instances of debatable wrongdoing, it actually does seem that, the closer you look at Palmeiro, the less wrong there is to see.

            Something else of which you might make note: Palmeiro spent the bulk of his career playing for bad teams, or at least teams just shy of competitiveness, none of which was his fault. He was particularly lethal in the middle innings of games and very capable in late-inning pressure situations. But just what good is it when nobody else around you steps up often enough or keeps the other guys from stepping higher in those situations often enough?

            Until that certain issue decimated his reputation, Rafael Palmeiro looked like he was going to be Ernie Banks without the extroverted personality–a bona-fide Hall of Famer who’d been sentenced unconscionably to performing most of his career for teams that didn’t necessarily deserve him. Palmeiro actually did get to two postseasons in a twenty-year career (Banks never got to one), and he performed decently enough when he got there. But those teams (the 1996-97 Orioles, who wouldn’t have gotten there without him in the first place) didn’t get past the League Championship Series in each instance, and it wasn’t even close to his fault that they didn’t.

            Like Mark McGwire, Palmeiro hasn’t spent his life away from the game lamenting that he’s baseball’s wronged man. Until or unless you ask him. And, even then, he says it simply and lets it drop at that.

            Do you know, or do you remember: Rafael Palmeiro finished his career with more walks than strikeouts? He struck out 100+ times only once; he walked 100+ times thrice; he finished his career with five more walks than strikeouts overall; and, only once (1997, when the difference was 42+ strikeouts) did he ever strike out twelve or more times more than he walked. His final lifetime average per 162 games was exactly the same–77 walks, 77 strikeouts.
            But you and I both know that he isn’t going to get in this year, either. Allowing the facts to get in the way of juicy stories simply has too strong a grip to release for a long enough time.

            Watching this year’s Hall ceremony won’t trouble me. It’s the baseball historian in me. Though I have to wonder what on earth took them so long to put Jacob Ruppert in among the enshrined executives . . .

          • I would be shocked if Jeff Kent were to go in on his first try. He could be another Bert Blyleven and have to wait many years, if he gets in at all. I think a player that doesn’t get along well with the media is hurting their chances of being admitted to the HOF. That was terrible what the Astros did to J.R. Richard. They should have known that he wasn’t becoming a slacker all of a sudden. Richard was 10-4 with a 1.90 ERA in his last season in 1980. He only allowed 2 home runs in 113 innings that year. He played his last major league game at the age of 30 and finished his career pitching in the Rookie League for the Astros in 1983. He struck out over 300 batters in both 1978 and 1979 and retired with a 107-71 record and would have probably had 3,000 strikeouts, since he could have pitched another 8-10 years, since he had 1,493 K’s in six seasons that he pitched more than 100 innings. Surprisingly, Richard only made one NL All Star team.

          • Here’s a comparison for you regarding Jeff Kent: Eddie Murray. Murray was elected to the Hall of Fame on his first try, and he had a forbidding media image, too. But there was a difference: Murray until circa 1987 had a sterling image in the press, in Baltimore and elsewhere, until he suffered his first trip to the disabled list, his own team’s owner at the time accused him publicly of malingering, and enough writers ran with it—while injecting some innuendo about his family—that Murray’s image changed almost overnight and, with it, his relationship to the press. That was the beginning of his infamous full silence with the press. At the Hall of Fame, he spoke of it in passing, saying, too, that he was concerned concurrently with team over individual, and that he came to fear that too much talk with the press might mean you were putting your individual self ahead of your team self. Thomas Boswell subsquently revealed that, if you wanted just to talk baseball, Murray would talk to you—mostly off record, but he’d be glad to talk the game itself, not the innuendo and the B.S. I don’t remember Jeff Kent being much like that, and his press relations had been sour from just about the outset.

            I wouldn’t compare Kent to Blyleven simply because a) pitchers and position players are different breeds; and, b) Kent’s statistical Hall of Fame case jumps out at you a lot faster than Blyleven’s did. Blyleven was media friendly most of his career, Kent wasn’t, but it took people a very long time, with some very deep analysis, to realise just how great Blyleven really was. (He’s also a bit of a baseball freak, if you consider his money pitch was maybe the third most voluptuous curve ball I ever saw—Sandy Koufax’s and Dwight Gooden’s were the other two—and he pitched long and hard for 22 seasons with it.)

            If you look closely at J.R. Richard, you shouldn’t be surprised that he made only one All-Star team, as great a pitcher as he was. It did take him quite a time to harness that thunderbolt, yes, and he was walking lots of hitters for a good while (he led the league three times, including the season in which he smashed the league strikeout record for righthanders), but the real reason he made only one All-Star team is that 1980 was the first season in which he pitched like an All-Star prior to the break. The managers picking the pitchers then were still looking at won-lost records as the primary criteria, it seems, and Richard wasn’t a topic even though there were one or two seasons before 1980 in which he had ERAs that might have justified an All-Star berth. The problem was his WHIP, and his walks had a lot to do with that.

            But if you look at his career splits, Richard’s lifetime April performance would be a breakout season for anyone else: 15-6/2.96 ERA/1.19 WHIP. In May and June, though, he’d be a sub-.500 pitcher despite a decent 3.33 ERA in those months while his WHIP would be up around 1.35 in the span, and that’s probably what kept him from more All-Star teams. He’d start regrouping in July (lifetime in July: 18-12, 2.98, and the WHIP would be back down to 1.20 or thereabout) then get hotter in August and September: 24-10 lifetime in August, 24-11 lifetime in September with a 3.14 ERA and a 1.2 WHIP. You could say, though, that Richard was a pitcher who re-heated just in time for the pennant stretch, and that’s probably a lot more valuable to his teams than whether he was making more than one All-Star team.

          • Thanks for the info on Eddie Murray. I had always thought he was moody, but that doesn’t seem to be the case. Not sure if anyone liked Jeff Kent. The poor numbers in May and June explain why J.R. Richard wasn’t named to many All Star teams.

          • The day Murray was elected to the Hall of Fame, his sister died. Murray came from a close-knit family.

            Thomas Boswell wrote the following of him after that day:

            To appreciate Murray, you had to understand one source of his silence. He’d learned painful lessons from watching his four older brothers, all of whom signed pro contracts, but none of whom made it in the majors. So Murray saw pitfalls everywhere. Quotes, since he was blunt and proud by nature, could only hurt him.

            None of the strictly raised Murrays were troublemakers, but injuries dogged some. One clashed with a manager, another hit 37 homers in a season but quit because he didn’t move up fast enough. “Some people just got to get hurt. You can see it. They either run into walls on the field, or they run into ‘em off it. The easy way is the only way. Avoid problems,” said Murray, who earned his nickname, Easy Eddie, every day.

            “You’ve got to push things away that upset you and keep you from your goal. It almost happened to me. I got mad the year I wasn’t sent up to AAA,” said Murray. “It was hard to swallow, ’cause it’s your pride. But sometimes you’ve got to swallow. If you get on the club’s bad foot, that’s the beginning of the end.”

            Murray might have spent all of his 21 seasons with the Orioles, like Ripken, if he hadn’t broken his own rule. Murray got into a petty spat, some of it public, with an owner. Attitudes soured. Once on “the bad foot,” he ended up being traded for Brian Holton, Ken Howell and Juan Bell.

            So Murray became a bat for hire, hitting .330 for the Dodgers, driving in 100 runs for the Mets and batting .323 for the Indians as they reached the ’95 World Series. But leaving the Orioles, his baseball family, curdled something in him. Those first 12 years, he hid his joy — but it was there. After that, you never knew for sure.

            “I’m not into publicity. Some need it. Some don’t,” he said after signing his first huge contract. “I’m not wild about the money, either … but if it’s playing baseball you’re talking about, I don’t know how I could be having any more fun.”

            He was reamed in the Baltimore press, and particularly hammered by Dick Young out of New York over the spat with then-owner Edward Bennett Williams—exactly why Williams called Murray, an ultimate gamer, a malingerer when he hit the disabled list for the first time, still escapes a lot of people—and it soured him once and for all on the press while he played. But if you got him away from the notebooks and microphones, people who were there swore he was once of the nicest guys in the game. I remember by the time he got to the Mets Murray was so wary of media that, when then-Met broadcaster Tim McCarver approached him in his first spring training there, Murray waved him off abruptly, and the two never had a solid relationship while Murray was a Met.

            Jeff Kent’s goose was cooked from just about the moment he got pranked on the Mets, as first-timers often do, when someone swapped his civvies for a gag costume. Kent went ballistic instead of going along with the gag. Even Gregg Jefferies—who’d been moved on after he himself had been a clubhouse cancer, unable to come to terms with his major league production not always equaling his astonishing minor league career—was amazed at Kent’s recalcitrance when he was told about it. From that point forward, Kent was a player you merely tolerated in your clubhouse because the guy could flat out hit and play a serviceable second base, or so his reputation went. He left the invariable impression that baseball was little more than his job, especially when he said things such as his once-famous remark that he wasn’t in baseball to make friends. (He did have a few, of course.) And though he had a reputation as a clubhouse leader on the Giants, for awhile, and though he could and did play hard, he was thought to give off the impression that he had no tolerance for anyone else’s mistakes and barely any tolerance for anyone else as a person. Yet one year the San Francisco writer voted Kent their Good Guy Award.

            I suspect now that Kent was a perfectionist in his way; it seems to have come from his father, whom he admired. And, like only too many perfectionists, it may have prevented Kent from being merely a human for too long. Yet stories seem to abound about Kent going out of his way to help younger players if he thought those players really wanted to listen and learn. He suffered few fools gladly and didn’t quite know how to deliver himself less than bluntly, and he tended just as often to bury himself in his own world in the clubhouse. Apparently, though, there are those players who swore (Ellis Burks is just one of them) that, once you got through his walls, Kent could be a very nice guy. (Apparently, too, they still talk about the spring J.T. Snow suffered a devastating injury and the first person to console Snow’s wife was Kent.) It may hurt him in the long run that he didn’t let that side of himself show often enough.

          • Can’t blame Murray for not wanting to talk to media, after the way it ended in Baltimore. Jeff Kent should have known that pranks are part of being rookie and that he will be pulling pranks on rookies in future years. What goes around comes around. I heard he was on Survivor but didn’t ever watch any of the shows. Am going to Texas in a few minutes, so won’t be back till tomorrow, in case you reply and I don’t answer.

          • Say hello to Jeff Kent when you hit Texas. (He lives there, I think.) ;)

            (Kent objected to the clothes prank because, he said, he figured he’d been there/done that in Toronto the season before he became a Met by way of the David Cone trade . . . )

          • No Jeff Kent sightings in Texas at the Bill Gaither concert in Beaumont last night. That casts a whole new light on Kent exploding about the prank, if he had already been there and done that. Have to agree with Kent on that one.

          • I can agree to a small extent, but had he gone along with the gag even if he’d gotten it in Toronto the year before (the Mets players who pranked him figured it was OK because he was new to the team), he’d have gone a long way toward getting acceptance in the clubhouse. I suspect that, like many players, Kent wasn’t really comfortable in New York in general. Nothing wrong with that, not every locale is for everybody, and the flip side is that you have many a player comfortable in New York who’d be lost somewhere else. The clothing switch gag is one of baseball’s oldest clubhouse gags and no harm was intended. (Believe it or not, I learned the details in a peculiar book, Bob Klapisch and John Harper’s The Worst Team Money Could Buy, a season-long chronicle of the 1992 Mets.)

          • In that case there was really no reason for Kent to express anger, over the change the clothes prank. It may have indeed helped the Mets players to accept him, instead of classifying him as a first class jerk.

  2. Barry Bonds fell 65 hits short of 3,000 hits and 4 RBI short of 2,000 RBI. Pitchers refusing to pitch by intentionally walking him or pitching around him caused him to lose hundreds of chances to reach those goals. Alex Rodriguez finds himself now in the same situation, not because of him being an offensive threat, but because he has missed so many games because of injuries. Those injuries may or may not have been caused by steroids. He needs 99 hits for 3,000 and needs 53 homers to reach 700 home runs. With him hitting only 34 home runs over the last two seasons, 700 home runs it would take him three seasons to reach 700 home runs. He only needs 10 RBI for 2,000 RBI, which he will probably reach if he plays again.

    • I don’t think anyone will know for a long time, if ever, whether anything Alex Rodriguez dabbled in caused the injuries that have hammered him the past few years. (Right this moment I can’t recall any steroid user suffering his kind of hip troubles, and I never noticed A-Rod to have been so bulked up that it might look like a threat to his limbs as often happens with steroid users, but I’m no medical expert, either.) One thing he has had in common with Bonds is hubris, and it looks as though that’s about to come home to roost on him. Though I can’t remember Bonds ever pausing during a postseason benching to flirt with a couple of cupcakes in the box seats, either . . .

      • Bonds bulked up more than any steroids user ever in the history of the world. It was so obvious it would be funny, if it wasn’t such a serious matter. Greg Anderson singlehandedly kept government from proving he used steroids, by sitting in jail to protect Bonds, when he knew the doping schedules but stayed loyal to Bonds. I agree there isn’t that much evidence about the steroids causing any certain health problems.

        • I agree his bulkup was the single most conspicuous of the users this side of Jose Canseco. But I still have to ponder this: the majority of those who eventually admitted to or got caught using actually experienced a) no measurable statistical spike on the juice; or, b) a noticeable statistical dip on the juice. This happened, for example, with Jason Giambi and even Jose Canseco; it wasn’t true, for example, of Mark McGwire, necessarily—he’d always been a mass bombardier even before he began to use, and I’m a lot more inclined to be lenient with McGwire because I absolutely do believe a lot of the juicers began to use the stuff because of injuries. Ken Caminiti’s fabled Sports Illustrated confessional included his comment that he got tipped to the idea when looking for a way to heal faster from a shoulder injury. McGwire had an injury history before he landed in St. Louis. And you remember, surely, Andy Pettitte copping to using human growth hormone in a bid to relieve his chronic elbow trouble.

          That, I think, is a side of the issue that tends to be bypassed thanks to the Bondses and Cansecos and that ilk who really were looking for another edge, whether or not they actually found one—players looking for some sort of injury relief under pressure, perhaps not much trusting their teams’ medical and training staffs, perhaps feeling undue pressure elsewhere to get back on the field no matter what. I think a lot of the issue would be resolved a lot more acutely if teams were a lot more sensible about medical treatments and organisational personnel were a lot more sensible about driving an injured player back to the field before he’s actually ready to be there. That’s an issue for baseball—on the part of the owners and the players alike—to tackle head on, and none too soon. (Personally, I think it’s been a serious enough issue going back to the J.R. Richard situation in 1980, but that’s another part of the argument entirely . . . )

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