Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Updated: February 14, 1:39 PM ET
Leave baseball's history in the past
By Jim Caple
Pitchers and catchers report to spring training Wednesday. Meanwhile pitchers and trainers are set to report to Capitol Hill. I'm much more interested in those at spring training.
Granted, the Roger Clemens/Brian McNamee saga commands your curiosity in the way an accident by the side of the road does. I mean, you have secretly tape phone calls, old syringes and bloody gauze preserved in crushed beer cans, a wife taking HGH to tone up for a bikini picture and, not to be forgotten, extra ears? Frankly though, I've had it with steroid stories.
I don't think I'm alone, either. I think the media is far more interested in the steroid story than the average fan. I can't prove this, but based on ever-increasing attendance, e-mail messages from readers and our own polls that regularly show fans are more offended by a lack of hustle than the presence of performance-enhancing drugs, I think more people are fed up with this story than the media acknowledges.
I do know I'm tired of it. And I'm especially sick and tired of Congress pretending that this still is worthy of government hearings. What does Congress hope to achieve with this latest round of testimony? Baseball instituted a tough, sweeping policy against PEDs -- what more does Congress want the game to do? What is Congress' objective other than free air time? (What Congress certainly doesn't want is to ask the NFL any tough questions about the size of its players and the health problems they experience
but that's another subject.)
Enough already. We get the point. Baseball players took steroids. The league and union dragged their feet. Performances and statistics were affected by illegal performance enhancers. We understand that. For crying out loud, how could we not understand when we've been hit over the head with it so repeatedly that we feel like Mike Piazza after taking a Clemens fastball to the helmet?
But now that we know what happened and now that baseball has corrected the policy, what purpose does it serve to recycle the same stories, to keep dredging up the well-trod past? What is the necessity to subpoena someone such as Chuck Knoblauch, who has been out of the game for six years? Santayana said those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it, but those who endlessly focus on the past never step beyond it.
I'm reminded of something Mudcat Grant said when I was at the Twins fantasy camp last month. When Harmon Killebrew was criticizing modern players who took steroids, Grant got up and reminded everyone that players from the 1960s took performance enhancers as well, from greenies to something he called the "horse pill." He later told me about how he doesn't know how to respond at autograph signings when fans tell him how much they respect players of his generation for playing clean and not taking anything. He doesn't know whether to sit there and say nothing or whether to tell them, "Wait a minute. Guys in our generation did things, too."
"We look at players today with condemnation and forget about the things we did," Killebrew said. "So if you put an asterisk by a player's name now, how far are you going to go back? What about the generation two times before? Are you going to look into that, too?"
George Mitchell recognized the need to move forward when he recommended clemency for the players named in his report. "
a principle goal of this investigation," he wrote, "is to bring to a close this troubling chapter in baseball's history and to use the lessons learned from the past to prevent the future use of performance enhancing drugs.
Spending more months, or even years, on contentious disciplinary proceedings will keep everyone mired in the past."
He's right. We have to move on. And the start of spring training is a fitting time to start. This doesn't mean baseball is burying your head in the sand over what happened, it's just saying that it's time to start fresh. I mean, good lord, if the Orioles can finally complete the Erik Bedard trade, the rest of us should be able to go forward.
Pitchers and catchers are reporting in Florida and Arizona. Today is the start of a new season and it's time to let go of the past. The rest of the media can keep droning on about a tired story but I'm swearing off Clemens jokes and moving ahead. I'll be watching players running across green outfields, listening for fastballs popping into gloves and eagerly looking forward to those magic words "Play ball!" as baseball moves into a new and cleaner era.
TELL YOUR STATISTICS TO SHUT UP
Sadly, this is the last year the Dodgers will train in Vero Beach, their famous spring home since 1948 when Jackie Robinson was coming off his rookie season. But if you plan to say goodbye to one of the great venues in spring training, don't wait too long because the Dodgers' last year in Vero is going to be a shortened spring. Los Angeles is playing two games against the Padres at the Olympic baseball stadium in Beijing in the middle of spring training, so the last game at Dodgertown is scheduled for March 17. When the Dodgers return from China, the team will move its spring training site to Phoenix (replacing the Athletics at their site, since they will have departed for their season-opening games against the Red Sox in Tokyo, March 25-26). The Dodgers have six games scheduled in Arizona, followed by an exhibition game against the Angels in Anaheim and three exhibition games against the Red Sox in Los Angeles -- including one at the L.A. Coliseum on March 29. Before opening the season at home against the Giants on March 31, the Dodgers will have played spring games in three states, on two continents and in 18 stadiums. Thank god George Costanza isn't their assistant traveling secretary.
Two weeks passed from the time the Mariners had Adam Jones take a bench with his Venezuela team so he could fly to Baltimore for a physical to the time the Orioles finally signed off on the Bedard trade. The deal is a risk for both teams but a good one that should help them both. The Mariners get Bedard, one of the games best left-handers, who should help their rotation significantly and help them challenge the Angels for the AL West title. The Orioles, who need to look further into the future in the AL East, get a number of good young players. The best of those could be Jones, who has great tools (his arm is outstanding) but is still developing as a player (he never even played Little League, starting out at Pony League).
If you are going to spring training, bring your wallet. The Red Sox are charging up to $46 for box seats and $15 for standing room. The Yankees are charging $17 for reserved upper level outfield seats. And remember, these are for exhibition games. Yeah, the steroid scandal is really killing baseball's popularity. Fortunately, there are some bargains around the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues. The top price for the Dodgers is $20. Box seats for the NL champion Rockies at Hi Corbett Field, one of the best places to watch spring training, go for $17 and tickets go for as low as $4. The White Sox charge $15 for a boxseat, the lowest top price in the majors. One of our favorite places to take in a game -- the outfield berm at the Mariners/Padres stadium in Peoria -- goes for $6. And get this -- parking is free for the Royals and Rangers in Surprise.
Despite my impressive performance at the Twins fantasy camp -- 19 runs (but only four earned!), 17 walks and two hit batters in 11-plus innings, Minnesota opted to replace Johan Santana with Livan Hernandez. I hope the Twins don't regret this decision. Meanwhile, it's worth noting that as pitchers and catchers report, at last glance, the following players still didn't have a job: Barry Bonds, Reggie Sanders, Kenny Lofton, Sammy Sosa, Freddy Garcia and Barolo Colon.
Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached here. His Web site is jimcaple.net, with more installments of "24 College Avenue." His book with Steve Buckley, "The Best Boston Sports Arguments: The 100 Most Controversial, Debatable Questions for Die-Hard Boston Fans," is on sale now.