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Wednesday, March 17, 2004

Fed Up 

ESPN's Buster Olney interviews an anonymous baseball player on the issue of steroids for an article that will appear in ESPN the Magazine. I can't quote any text of the article because ESPN appears to have disabled the reader's ability to copy text, but it is well worth your read.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Inside Selection Sunday 

Athlon Sports takes a peek at the NCAA basketball tournament selection process.

"The Committee meets officially on the Monday prior to Selection Sunday. At this meeting, the first item of business is the “Nitty Gritty” report. This report is an alphabetical list of the top 105 RPI-ranked teams with the following statistical splits included:

- Division-I record
- Overall RPI
- Conference record
- Non-Conference record
- Conference RPI
- Non-Conference RPI
- Road record
- Record in last 10 games
- Record vs. teams ranked 1-50 in the RPI
- Record vs. teams ranked 51-100 in the RPI
- Record vs. teams ranked 101-200 in the RPI
- Record vs. teams ranked 200+ in the RPI
- Record vs. “board teams” (i.e. teams under tournament consideration)

Though individual Committee members are in touch throughout the week, the next official meeting is on the Thursday (March 11, 2004) prior to Selection Sunday. Prior to 8 p.m. on Thursday, the first and second ballots are due to the chairman.

On Ballot No. 1, each Committee member must identify no more than 34 teams deserving at-large bids. This may include teams that could eventually qualify automatically by winning their respective conference tournament. On Ballot No. 2, each member must identify all other teams deserving consideration for at-large berths. Any team that has already earned an automatic bid is not included on either ballot.

Once the first round of balloting has taken place, there are two boards kept for the duration of the process, the “At-Large” board and the “At-Large Nomination” board.

Any school named on all but two ballots of eligible voters (members are not allowed to vote for their own team) will then be automatically placed on the “At-Large” board, securing their place in the field of 34, at least for the time being. The “At-Large Nomination” board is a compilation of all teams that garnered at least one vote for the “At-Large” board as well as any team that won or shared their conference’s regular season title. After this step, the “At-Large Nomination” board is technically closed. The only way a team can be added is by receiving three or more votes from committee members."

Missing You 

It's a few minutes before the NHL announces what suspension Todd Bertuzzi will receive for his savage hit on Steve Moore a few days ago. Pondering the future of Bertuzzi and the NHL, USA Today's Christine Brennan weighs in.

"Who among us would notice if, this autumn, we found ourselves surveying a sports landscape without major league hockey? And how many of us would complain? Certainly not the thousands of parents and coaches who try to teach this wonderful game to kids and find themselves cringing every time another so-called superstar threatens to ruin a season's worth of sportsmanship lessons with one brutish outburst.

... there always has been room in the NHL for violence, and there always will be — unless the league decides it wants to suspend Bertuzzi for the rest of this season and the upcoming playoffs as well as all of next season (whenever next season is for the NHL). I'd say suspend him for the rest of his career, but only normal people lose their jobs over something like this, not professional athletes."

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

More Reader Email on Wiley/Bonds 

A very cogent defense of Ralph Wiley's piece on steroids and Barry Bonds from a reader:

"Home run totals had been jumping into the high-40s and 50s during the early-to-mid 1990s, climaxing with the McGwire/Sosa HR chase in 1998. During this time -- particularly when McGwire rolled out with 135 HRs in two years -- people were rather mum, don't you think? For much of his career, Mac wasn't exactly looking like the cover of Muscle & Fitness, either. The guy eventually filled out and it was pretty much accepted as such. The "much ado" about andro was seen as exactly that, much ado, and not much more.

Which is fine. But let Bonds set that record, and all of a sudden, there's talk about a taint -- be it drugs, be it diluted pitching, be it band-box stadiums... As an African-American who also works as a journalist, I don't like working with jerks, regardless of their backgrounds. Bonds comes off as a jerk. Though there's a method to his madness, it's pretty unnecessary. And that can't help but affect whether a player or athlete gets the benefit of the doubt, or how something can become an issue.

The point being that even if Bonds is a jerk, I wonder if this type of doubt would be cast on a similarly surly white athlete, to the point where such a "Roid outrage" would develop as it has since 2001.

So while the essay doesn't focus on the "core issue", I think it's fair to assume that there's more than enough being written about that. After all, it's the core issue. But I don't think that's the only way to approach that subject, and I think Wiley is simply giving a certain amount of scrutiny to the timing and the way the debate is framed.

Finally, it's not dismissing the central dilemma to simply say that while using steroids can make you a better athlete (explaining the risk-taking and secrecy), it will not give you enough baseball skills to achieve what Bonds has done. Which is his way of saying that as dilemmas go, it's not much of one."

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Maris* 

Allen Barra has an essay in the Wall Street Journal on the asterisk that never was in baseball records. [Hat Tip: Sports Law Blog].

"... so the talk of steroid use and how it should affect Bonds's breaking the single-season home-run record in 2001 has brought one of baseball's most enduring myths full circle. There never was an asterisk next to Roger Maris's name nor a record book to enter it in. Commissioner [Fay] Vincent couldn't remove Maris's asterisk because it never existed.

How did the myth of the asterisk come into being? Apparently it was born in 1961, a combination of the efforts of then-Commissioner Ford Frick and the controversy-making New York Daily News sports columnist Dick Young. Frick was one of Babe Ruth's closest friends and considered himself a personal guardian of the Babe's legend. In mid-July of 1961, when Maris and teammate Mickey Mantle were threatening Ruth's 1927 record of 60 home runs, Frick, fearing that the American League's new 162-game schedule would give someone an unfair advantage, called a press conference and announced, 'If the player does not hit more than 60 until after his club has played 154 games, there would have to be some distinctive mark in the records to show that Babe Ruth's record was set under a 154-game schedule.'"

Friday, March 05, 2004

Facts and Hysteria 

Dan LeBatard of the Miami Herald only had to write about 100 words for this column but it turned out to be one of the more interesting pieces I've read in awhile. (It has few words because he extensively quotes Dr. Norman Fost of the University of Wisconsin who has studied steroids for decades).

"'People become emotional and make up medical facts to support their view,'' says Fost, professor of pediatrics and director of Wisconsin's program in medical ethics. 'Good ethics start with good facts, and there are so many bad `facts' out there on steroids. Liver cancer? There's no evidence I can find anywhere to support you can get liver cancer from steroids. Injectibles don't even go to the liver or gut. And yet I see it repeated over and over again in news accounts, a photocopied paragraph borrowed from previous news accounts linking it to liver cancer. It's laziness. It shouldn't be repeated. It's not true. No doctor says it is.''

But, um . . .

''Even avid steroid opponents admit there has been great exaggeration and distortion of the risks,'' says Fost, who has been writing about steroids in medical journals for more than two decades. `But the sports media's coverage of this is uncritical, repetitious, clichéd, reluctant and repeatedly distorting of risk and harm.'

''I really don't understand the media's role in creating this kind of hysteria about steroids,'' Fost says. `There's Lyle Alzado dying on the cover of Sports Illustrated and in The New York Times with a this-is-what-happens-on-steroids headline. It's just not true. He had brain cancer. There is no empirical link between steroids and brain cancer. It's just not true.'''

The Price of Infamy 

Steve Hummer of the Atlanta Journal Constitution on the mess in the Georgia basketball program.

"The "test" is sure to be passed around the SEC, as well as certain areas of North Avenue. It is the stuff that cheers opponents' hearts as well as confirms -- in their minds -- an obviously superior intellect. This one will go down in Jan Kemp-type infamy, a slur that will be revisited upon Georgia and its athletes for years to come.

As for Georgia, the institution, it can only stand there with head bowed and take it. Who can blame it for rolling over in this matter? What other choice did it really have -- go to the mattresses for Harrick's credibility? That would be like taking up a defense for Kid Rock's fashion sense.

If all Georgia needs to do is answer these old charges -- if nothing new is flopping around on the deck of the NCAA dredge -- then it can count itself fortunate. For having a president who had the bad sense to ally himself with Harrick and for allowing coaches to give academic credits to players, a little humble contrition and decades of merciless teasing are a small price."

Reader Email on Wiley/Bonds 

"I don't like Barry Bonds. Never have, never will. It has nothing to do with him being black, or whether or not he's juicing; it has to do with the fact that he's a jerk. Yes, being in the public eye and having to deal with all the attention and scrutiny that he has to is no doubt stressful. In my opinion, none of that excuses how Bonds deals with his team-mates or baseball fans. Bonds is an amazing talent, with a hitters eye and a knack for waiting for the one slip up he knows is coming. He'd be a HOF candidate whether or not he passes Ruth. Reducing the whole thing to some stupid notion of racial jealousy or deification of Ruth is lazy and oversimplified. I like some of Wiley's columns, but that's a theme that shows up far too often."

Absolutely.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Missing the Point 

Ralph Wiley of ESPN's Page2 has a knack for shifting any criticism of a black athlete into some form of veiled racism presumably, in this case, because white America is so angered with Barry Bonds and his baseball talents that we conspiratorily invent an "issue" to discredit him.

That's the essence of this piece by Wiley on steroids, Bonds, baseball and America's struggling sociological maturity (according to Wiley).

"But isn't Barry Bonds out there every year, year after year, performing at the highest level? Where's Jose Canseco? Where is Ken Caminiti? Where is Brady Anderson? Where is Mark McGwire? Isn't that strange, for a man abusing even so much as food, or alcohol, or tobacco, or illegal pharmaceuticals, or certain other alkaloids, to have such longevity? Is Barry Bonds, by all accounts an egotistical sort, secretly sneaking around washing down monster steroids with water from the Fountain of Youth?"

So, because Bonds is still playing, he must not have ever taken steroids - he'd be physically worn down by now. So the fact that he continues to play casts doubt on his alleged steroid use. Uh-huh. Baloney. The fact that Bonds is still playing does not prove or disprove steroid use.

"This frenzy, this 'Roid Outrage -- and that would include investigations and any political currency shrewdly gained by the current crop of politicans -- seems to me to be rather curiously timed to Barry Bonds being on the cusp of breaking the home-run records of the most iconic figure(s) in all of American baseball history."

Does Wiley really believe that the Federal investigation of BALCO Labs - the catalyst of the "'Roid Outrage" - is the product of some deep-seeded conspiracy diabolically timed to thrwart Bonds' pursuit of Aaron's homerun record? Does he honestly think that's what this is?

"What Barry Bonds has done is show great merit in the game. Unfortunately, when you are what is called "black," that can be inconvenient; often when you show merit, the rules on merit are changed to make them more obtuse.... All of a sudden, all the pure-number guys, the sabermetricians, are just like everybody else, going off emotion, feel -- they plain don't like Barry Bonds."

Wiley needs to do a little more homework. The "pure-numbers guys" (as if there is an inherent flaw in seeking empirical data on baseball performance) usually stand in awe of Bonds. There is nothing but respect for Bonds' numbers. And most lists of the greatest players of all-time that I have seen usually include Bonds.

Wiley takes a few more racial cheap shots like this one:
"... but sometimes I get the feeling some sports fans would like it better if all of sports history was rather like an episode of 'Friends.'"

I wish Wiley would just write what he's really thinking. He's thinking "racism", he's so consumed in defending Bonds from what he perceives as America out to get the black man that he completely dismissed the issue at hand. Bonds may be innocent. Wiley doesn't know that, I don't know that. But there is cirsumstantial evidence that is causing plenty of fair minded people to begin asking tough questions. This is about baseball and competition, not necessarily about any one player. But to Wiley it's all about race. No other dynamic is in play. To Wiley no other facts matter.

Wiley never addresses the core issue. Does he believe that Bonds took steroids? It seems to me as if Wiley is preemptively counterattacking the accusations with a series of "So what" responses. And if Bonds did take steroids, does Wiley believe that Bonds had an unfair advantage? Are his records at all tainted? And if steroids aren't all that helpful, why are so many athletes willing to take chances with the drugs and why are they so secretive about it?

This issue demands so many tough questions that it hacks me off to read people like Wiley who are so dismissive of the central dilemma and instead resort to making accusations about race and sports.

Casting a Shadow 

Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe vents some frustration over the steroids issue.

"Unfortunately, the ever-vigilant, ever-blind Major League Baseball Players Association will protect its membership with typical intransigent rage. Citing players' rights and players' privacy, the union will insist on protecting the members from exposure. It will do so until a couple of players die (anybody remember Lyle Alzado?). And then probably keep doing it. In the name of players' rights and privacy. Safety be damned.

And so baseball's absolute joke of a steroid policy (get caught five times and you're in trouble, buster) will remain toothless. And the game and its records will be suspect. It'll be open season on baseball. Why will newspapers and television stations continue to cover this sport? How is it now any different from professional wrestling? We don't know who's cheating and who's not cheating. So until otherwise proven, we can only assume they are all cheating. After all, it's on record that 5-7 percent of major leaguers were caught last year, and they knew they were going to be tested."

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Drastic Action 

Mark Purdy, of the San Jose Mercury News, is in favor of immediate action in the wake of the rising scandal in baseball over steroids.

"This is what Selig needs to do: He should immediately suspend the likes of Bonds, Giambi, Gary Sheffield, Benito Santiago and any other major leaguers named in the Balco documents.

Selig shouldn't stop their paychecks. But he has to keep them off the playing field until baseball conducts its own investigation into the Balco case -- or until prosecutors release all of the investigative information and grand jury testimony, so we know precisely which players are accused of doing what. An independent investigation by baseball would sift through the mess.

Selig should also convene a panel -- Hall of Famers, baseball historians, current players --to formulate a pre-emptive policy on the next thorny question: Should the records or honors achieved by Bonds or any other men be nullified, if it can be proved they were taking performance-enhancing drugs while attaining those records?

My personal opinion: If Bonds produced a record with dishonorable drug matter in his system, his records should be erased. Yes, that includes his 73 home runs of 2001. The same goes for the 40-40 season of confessed steroid consumer Jose Canseco. The same goes for Ken Caminiti's MVP award in 1996, produced while he admittedly used steroids."

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