I know I’m gonna catch a lot of heat for this, but I’m gonna say it anyway: Nomar, if only you’d stayed away from the ‘roids. What might have been . . .
Don’t take this as bashing him. It’s not.
Well, maybe it is, but it isn’t meant to be mean, directly, anyway. You see, ten years ago, Nomar Garciaparra was my favorite player. Besides being arguably the game’s best hitter, and being enormously clutch in the ’98 and ’99 playoffs for the Sox, Nomar also seemed to be a great guy. He always seemed friendly on camera, had his head on straight. He seemed to appreciate the tradition of the Sox, speaking fondly of Johnny Pesky and becoming emotional when Ted Williams passed.
Heck, during his time with the Sox I showed him the ultimate respect, changing my softball uniform number from 9 to 5.
But then it all went south.
When contract negotiations rolled around prior to 2004, Nomar seemed greedy, turning down a 4-year, $60 million deal. Did he really want to stay here? Or was he just another player going for the biggest buck? He turned surly. Seeming to mope and complain all the time. Stories began to leak out about him being tired of Sox fans’ obsession with the team, and how he wanted to play elsewhere; stories about not getting along with other teammates. After the Sox stormed back from being down 0-2 to the A’s in the 2003 ALDS to tie the series 2-2, Nomar reportedly got on the bus to head to Oakland and said “Why is everyone so excited? They’re (the fans) just gonna rip us when we lose.”
And then there was that game in New York. While Derek Jeter was diving face-first into the stands, Nomar sat pouting on the bench, refusing to pinch hit.
Of course, his reported bad attitude isn’t the cause of his premature decline. That can most likely be attributed to steroids.
When Nomar was drafted by the Sox, he was described as an excellent defensive shortstop who could also hit some. When he debuted with the Sox, he was as string-bean with all the muscularity of a 10-year-old girl. In baseball, however, you don’t need huge muscles to be a great hitter. And Nomar could hit, winning consecutive batting titles in 1999 and 2000. His .372 in 2000 was the highest by a right-handed batter since Joe DiMaggio. His range was excellent, and the throws he made from deep in the hole were spectacular.
But then he bulked up. We all know about the 2001 SI cover. We all know what was going on in baseball during that time. We all know as he grew bulkier, his range slowed, and he started suffering from multiple injuries. Bulky, muscular guys aren’t meant to play shortstop.
And here we are. Nomar is retiring at the young age of 36. A one-time shoe-in for Cooperstown, not to mention having his number retired in Fenway, he ended up flaming out like a shooting star, and now will likely receive neither accolade.
That kid sure could play back then. What might have been . . .
I feel bad for Alex Rodriguez.
Actually, let me clarify that, just to avoid any confusion. First, understand this: I despise Alex Rodriguez. DESPISE him. I despise him for having his separate area for A-Rod merchandising at the Texas Rangers spring training camp. For begging out on his team (the Rangers), then saying he wanted to remain with the Rangers at a press conference where he was named team captain — mere days before asking for and receiving a trade to the Yankees. I despise him for his obsession with Jeter. I despise him for his bush-league antics, like yelling when opponents are trying to catch a pop-up, or pointing at where the outfielders are when he’s on second, or slapping a ball away when he’s running to first. I despise him for screaming at Bronson Arroyo about being hit by a pitch — a frigging BREAKING ball. I despise him for backing out of his contract, and announcing it in the middle of a World Series game — a game in which he was supposed to be there to honor Hank Aaron, but for some reason couldn’t make it. He’s a fake, a phony, a complete and utter dirtbag.
All of which leaves me confused as to why, on the day he takes the mantle as Baseball’s Ultimate Villain, I feel sympathy for him when I should be rejoicing. It doesn’t make any sense, but it’s true.
I feel bad for Alex Rodriguez.
I’ve been shocked at the number of top columnists who have jumped on A-Rod about the steroid scandal. Yeah, we all love to hate A-Rod. But, really, this isn’t his fault. Who can blame A-Rod? How can you blame a guy who in the late 1990s was perhaps the most talented player in the game (or at least in the Top 3 at the time), who was watching all these other players using steroids and getting all the glory. How can such a highly competitive individual so close to the cusp of all-time greatness not use steroids? We all like to be holier-than-thou, but almost all of us would make the same decision A-Rod would.
And that is why I can’t understand how the best baseball writers in the country are beating on A-Rod. They are saying he has soiled the game; ruined it. That he has ruined his legacy, and he deserves the hate. I wish I could feel that way, I really do. I jumped for joy when the report came out. But now, I feel bad for A-Rod. He doesn’t deserve this. It’s not his fault. There are people who deserve this; people who really are responsible for the Steroid Era and how it has soiled the game. And those people’s names are Bud Selig, Don Fehr and Gene Orza.
In case you haven’t heard, Bud Selig makes more than $17 million a year to be baseball’s commissioner. That’s more than all but the very elite players in the game. But at least those players get that money because of their effective performance. I’ve chronicled Selig’s many failures in this blog before, and I won’t rehash it here. But understand that memoes have shown the commissioner’s office was aware of a steroid problem in baseball as early as 1993, and chose not to take it seriously. When records were being trounced in the late-1990s, Selig chose to look away and let the sport reap the cash rewards instead of doing the one job at the heart of the position of baseball commissioner: Protect the integrity of the game. He failed miserably at that, and he failed at that on purpose. He knew of the problem and chose to look away while the game and its most hallowed records were soiled. For failing so horribly to protect the integrity of the game, Selig is certainly the worst commissioner in baseball’s history, and he should be fired. Of course, his cohorts — baseball owners — would never do that.
But Selig isn’t the only one at fault. Fehr, Orza and the rest of the Players’ Union is to blame. They knew – without a doubt — about the steroid problem, and chose not to act. Instead, they actually worked to keep steroids in the game. Former Rangers pitcher Rick Helling told the Players’ Union they needed to do something about steroids. He told them that in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2002. The Union ignored him. They then went on to try everything in their power to protect the use of steroids in the game, from fighting every effort at testing, to allegedly even tipping-off players about when they might be tested (reports are Orza may have tipped-off A-Rod about a test in 2004).
Of course, while the Union fought testing, Selig provided no leadership. He might argue that it would have taken a strike, and baseball couldn’t survive another strike. Well, he could have at least yelled and screamed about it, instead of remaining silent. And if it takes a strike to weaken the union, then that is what baseball needed to do and should do. Have a lock-out, bring in scabs, whatever baseball needs to do to protect the game. Baseball can survive another strike. Baseball fans love baseball, and they’ll always come back eventually. Baseball will survive strikes, and it will survive the Steroid Era . . . but it will be tainted forever.
- When the Sox got rid of Manny and brought in some guy named Jason Bay, I heard a lot of “Why did they do this? Who is this guy? I’ve never heard of him.” from several fans who are older (fifties, sixties), aren’t fantasy baseball playas (like me), and/or don’t pay attention to the Pittsburgh Pirates (my second-favorite team). I told them “Trust me. You’re going to love this guy.” Today, they are loving that guy.
- Considering how strong Lackey was last night, that was a game the Sox could have easily lost. It is obviously, then, a huge win. But today, as not only Sox fans but the national media have began reading the Angels their last rights and pronouncing this series over, I caution everyone to not get ahead of themselves. Game One is important, but it is only one game. I remember the Sox winning Game One against the Indians in the 1998 ALDS, leading everyone to say the Indians looked like a team ready to be swept; the Sox didn’t win another game. Also, an important stat I saw last night was that in the American League ALDS, teams that win the first game are 12-14. Yikes.
- My buddy came through with tickets to Game 4 at Fenway . . . if there is a Game 4. Which puts me in the awkward position of kind of hoping the Sox drop one of these next two games. Not real comfortable with that.
- Last night, while my wife was on the couch watching the Dodgers-Cubs game and I was in the kitchen (there is SO much wrong with that statement), she suddenly yelled “OH MY GOD!!!” I ran into the living room, expecting to see her TiVoing back to a collision or an incredible catch. Instead, she was watching Manny fly up the first base line to get an infield hit. “That’s NOT our Manny,” she said.
- It’s just one game, but it might be time to reconsider the Dodgers’ chances. I pride myself on being a BASEBALL fan; someone who not only follows his hometeam, but the whole sport. However, I have to admit I wrote off the terrible NL West Division this year. I mean, look at their records! But these Dodgers might be for real. For pitching, as inconsistent and downright goofy as he is, we all know Derek Lowe is a certified bad-*** in October. Then, they have some sick talent in young arms like Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw. In the bullpen, they have not one but two stud closers in Saito and Broxton. And they have a 355-game winner (Greg Maddux) coming out to do middle relief. They have a deep lineup a good young bats around Manny. And, whereas having no strong bats to come off the bench or hit as DH has been an Achilles Heel for NL teams in the World Series for years, this team has studs like Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra ready to fill in. And did you see that Manny homer? This team is for real.
- It was pretty beautiful to see Wrigley Field get so glum.
- In Anaheim, it’s amazing to see so many of the opponent’s fans at a playoff game. And what is with Angels’ fans not being able to clap with their hands? It looks like the franchise that brought you thundersticks now has some kind of noisy strap for their “fans”. Let’s hope for baseball’s sake that tomorrow’s game is the last of the year in Anaheim of Los Angeles south of Portland on the same coast as Seattle.
- What a maddening loss for the Brewers. One inning, two terrible defensive plays, and – even with Cole Hamels looking Pedroesque – they lose a game they could have won. Now, do you think CC Sabathia can pitch on no-days rest?
-Check out this poll question from CBSSportsline’s SPIN: If MLB were to expand, where would the first NON-NORTH-AMERICAN franchise be located? The potential answers are -Japan, -Europe, -MEXICO, -South America, -The Caribbean. Does Mexico know it has been kicked out of North America? Is this part of our new immigration policy? Does that mean Mexico is out of NAFTA? Once again, geography takes a hit. Remember: Without geography, you’re nowhere.
-I found it disturbing this week when MLB ran a poll on its homepage asking if the number of wildcard teams should be expanded. Last I checked I believe it was around 52 percent for this, 48 percent against. I am passionately opposed to expanding the number of playoff teams. One of the great things about baseball is the regular season means something. In hockey and basketball, the regular season is almost completely meaningless. It is like watching a season of spring training games. If your team is elite, there is no drama; you are just waiting for the playoffs. If your team is mediocre, you know they aren’t winning a title. And are fans really hoping their team clinches one of the bottom three playoff spots? Wouldn’t they rather miss the playoffs and get a good draft pick? Smart fans (and most team owners) would prefer that. Baseball is exciting now, exciting for most teams and the fans. That’s because the regular season means something, including fighting for that sole wildcard spot. Let’s keep the season exciting and meaningful.