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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Hammer Nails It on a Big Issue

The Fairly Detached Observers

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More divided duty for the Observers last week, with Frank back in New York and Artie manning the home office. They confabbed by phone on a day when baseball held a celebration under a cloud.

Frank: Hall of Fame induction day should have focused completely on Rickey Henderson and Jim Rice, but like everything connected to the sport, it was affected by the drug issue.

Artie: And Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, the true home run king, agreed with us on how the Hall should handle steroid users. Who knew he was a fan of ours?

Frank: Well, um, he didn’t actually mention the Observers. But Aaron said those connected to steroids should have their plaques labeled—asterisk or special phrasing—if they’re elected to the Hall.

Artie: Just as we said months ago.

Frank: Paul Molitor agrees, although guys like Goose Gossage and Bob Feller are dead-set against any “users” in the Hall.

Artie: Hank didn’t suggest a separate wing for steroid-era guys, as we have. But he’s with us nonetheless.

Frank: He also didn’t say whether a steroid user should be voted into the Hall, but he told members of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America, “If you guys elect someone like that, I would welcome them to the club.”

Artie: Asterisk and all, ain’a?

Frank: That’s fine by me. As we’ve said before, so many players were using drugs that it’s impossible to know who was “the most guilty” or what results were “the most tainted.” Besides, if anyone is going to declare certain players “unworthy,” it should be Major League Baseball. Don’t rely on the writers to police your game, Mr. Selig.

Artie: So you’ll continue to vote for Mark McGwire?

Frank: Absolutely. And I’ll vote for Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, and anyone else whose numbers I think are Hallworthy—if they’re on the ballot. Many took drugs, but only a few performed to the highest levels—just like in any era. If MLB wants people kept out of the Hall, then decree that they’re ineligible for the ballot, like Pete Rose.

Artie: Some say putting McGwire or Bonds in the Hall would violate the fans’ trust.

Frank: Lots of fans say they condemn drug use in the game, but I see little evidence that they act that way. Last week when Manny Ramirez pinch-hit a grand slam, I didn’t see Dodger fans booing him as a drug-test flunker. Last week at Yankee Stadium I didn’t hear Alex Rodriguez booed until he struck out with men on base.

Artie: The ballpark in San Francisco was packed when Bonds was setting his homer records, even though he was under suspicion. The fans are voting with their butts, still planting ’em to root, root, root for the home team even if it includes a steroid guy.

Frank: A lot is forgiven if someone wears the uniform you like.

A Visit from the Doc?

Frank: Awash in the Eastern media all week, I found a story even more aggravating in its twists and turns than the Brett Favre saga.

Artie: Holy smokes, that’s saying something. Tell me more ’cause personally, what do I care if some Vikings are lobbying Favre to join them with their tweeting, twitting, tweaking or whatever it is young people do with their Inspector Gadget toys.

Frank: I refer to the issue of where the ace of baseball’s trade market, Toronto pitcher Roy “Doc” Halladay, will land before the trading deadline Friday.

Artie: And where is that? Hey, depends on what online analysis you look at, and what minute you do it.

Frank: The Mets, the Phillies, the Dodgers, the Angels—they’re in it, they’re out of it. And you seldom know where the information is coming from.

Artie: Who knows what will happen after we go to press, but right now the Brewers still have a shot at the jackpot.

Frank: If they hand over a jackpot of players to the Jays. The speculation involves lefty Manny Parra, shortstop J.J. Hardy and one of their top prospects, third baseman Mat Gamel or shortstop Alcides Escobar. Or maybe both prospects and Parra.

Artie: I could see dealing Gamel or Escobar, but not both. If it’s Escobar, at least the Brewers have Hardy through 2010, and third base is a bigger long-term question. So I say keep Gamel. Come to think of it, I really ought to be Doug Melvin’s deputy! Whenever Ryan Braun wants to give up his badge, I’ll take it.

Frank: But if the Jays want Gamel and Hardy and Parra, do you make the deal?

Artie: I’d want assurance from Halladay that he’d consider re-signing after 2010, when his contract expires.

Frank: Remember, because he’d be getting traded during a multi-year contract, he’d have the right to demand a trade after this season.

Artie: Wow! I’d sure want to hear him say he wouldn’t do that. Otherwise it would be the same as CC Sabathia, except the “rental” would be for only about a dozen starts instead of the 17 they got out of CC.

Frank: But if Halladay would help get them back to the playoffs... A 4-7 start to the second half is crummy, but the division looks up for grabs.

Artie: And the wild-card race, too. The time to win is now!

Frank: We’re talking like it’s Halladay or nothing. Surely there are pitchers available for less.

Artie: Seattle is starting to fade, and they have that big lefty, Jarrod Washburn, whose ERA is a nifty 2.71. In his last seven starts he’s 5-1 and 1.81.

Frank: And he’s a Wisconsin native.

Artie: So he’d be more likely to re-sign as a free agent in the fall—assuming he pitched well enough for the Brewers to want him back.

Shifting Gears a Bit

Frank: The other day I actually watched a stage of the Tour de France on the telly.

Artie: What’s to see? The wheels of the bikes go round and round...

Frank: Ah, but there’s strategy. This was a mountain stage, with a lot of jockeying among the leaders as they battled those steep climbs with their teams.

Artie: It’s a team sport? How come Lance Armstrong is such a big deal as a seven-time winner if he’s just part of a team?

Frank: Only one guy wears the yellow jersey of the overall race leader, but he always has help from five or six teammates in maintaining the pace he wants. If another contender tries to break away, guys from other teams will break with him to wear him down.

Artie: Like having a “rabbit” for someone in a long race in track and field?

Frank: Yeah. Ideally, a team’s main man asserts himself and reaches the goal for the day—winning the stage, moving up in the standings or just holding his position.

Artie: And this is fun to watch?

Frank: Unless you’re a devoted fan, it’s hard to tell whether a guy is challenging for himself or a teammate. But once you catch on, it’s pretty compelling—especially when they zoom downhill on those narrow roads and super-narrow tires, inches away from waving fans and the TV-camera cars.

Artie: Armstrong came back this year after a threeyear retirement. How’d he do?

Frank: Third place—darn good considering the layoff. The team he joined already had a main man, Alberto Contador, who won in ‘07. After Contador grabbed the yellow jersey last week, Armstrong was a good teammate and Contador won it all.

Artie: So there’s honor among cyclists?

Frank: I guess. And Armstrong’s showing this year is almost as impressive as his victories.

Artie: Still, it’s bike riding—minus the cool sound of baseball cards in the spokes of a no-speed Huffy, like we had as kids.

Frank: I don’t recall pedaling 2,000 miles over three weeks, a lot of it in mountains. But you’re right, a few cards multiplied by almost 200 bikes would make a hell of a buzz coming down a hill.

Artie: Those French mushroom farmers would think it’s the Day of the Locust!

Photo by Jill Trapp