Baseball fans finally made it to third base, on the cusp of believing that MLB and its players are clean — standing on third base, eagerly awaiting the opportunity to celebrate a PED-free game with Ryan Braun and MLB itself coming up to bat. But both Braun and MLB struck out, leaving fans stranded at third.
I’m sure Braun feels like he just hit a home run, getting a 50-game ban overturned. But fans feel stranded. MLB probably feels like it just got called out on strikes on a pitch in the dirt. (Hey, it happens.) But fans feel stranded.
After the cloud of the Steroid Era, which began in the 1980s and lasted well into the 2000s, fans have been apprehensive in accepting the credibility of MLB’s drug testing program.
Since an agreement with the players instituted the testing program 2006, players have been busted 27 times. That isn’t close to the number of players most fans suspected of cheating in the early 2000s, so it’s easy to see why many fans didn’t immediately jump on board. And suspending Guillermo Mota or J.C. Romero for 50 games, or even Dan Serafini, didn’t exactly convince fans that the game was clean.
But once Manny Ramirez got popped in the midst of terrific run with the Los Angeles Dodgers, fans began to take note. After hitting .396 for the Dodgers during the second half of 2008 after his trade from Boston, Manny was off to a torrid start for L.A. in 2009 when he was suspended for 50 games.
If MLB is willing to suspend a star like Ramirez, then the program must be working, right? If the suspension of lesser known players managed to get fans back on base, the Ramirez decision moved the fans to second. As time passed and gaudy offensive numbers became a thing of the past, fans were more comfortable moving on to third, finally prepared to proclaim the game clean.
Then, while standing on third base, believing that favorite stars like Albert Pujols, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Joey Votto, Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera have been tested and tested again for PEDs, and that all were drug-free, the hammer fell, crushing fans’ hopes.
And I’m not sure what’s worse, quite frankly, having the NL MVP taking PEDs, or having a system that we can no longer trust. I think I would take the tainted MVP.
Now I have no business declaring Braun innocent or guilty. Only he truly knows the answer to that. And sadly, that’s not the most important issue right now. The fact that we can’t trust testing, or that there is a loophole large enough to convince a judge to doubt the process, can only mean that MLB and its players do not have a reliable testing system.
Since the St. Louis Cardinals won their 11th World Series in late October, the baseball world has witnessed many major moves and risky contracts — and that was with the big-money Yankees and Red Sox staying fairly quiet. From power sluggers leaving the NL Central to power arms moving east, there were many winter changes that will have a long-lasting effect on the 2012 campaign and beyond. Here are nine of the most important hot stove happenings:
Offseason changes add to senior circuit’s pitching depth, teams’ expectations
—by Mark Ross
Similar to the American League, this offseason has seen plenty of changes when it comes to the pitching staffs in the National League. Trades and free agent signings have not only impacted rosters, but have been made in hopes of shaking up the standings in Major League Baseball's Senior Circuit.
We believe that all MLB teams should have their own Mt. Rushmores. Who are the four individuals that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple. Even two guys sitting in a bar can figure that out, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.
Milwaukee Brewers Mt. Rushmore
A franchise that began as the Seattle Pilots in 1969 lasted just one season in the northwest prior to moving to Milwaukee under new ownership that included Bud Selig. The Brewers have the distinction as the only franchise to compete in four different divisions at some point: the AL West from 1969-71, the AL East from 1972-93, the AL Central from 1994-97 and the NL Central from 1998-present. But Milwaukee has just two division titles, the first in 1982, and the second in 2011. This past summer the Brew Crew established a franchise record 96 wins. In 43 seasons of competition, the Brewers have finished at .500 or better just 15 times. The 2002 season marked the only time the franchise lost 100 games, and the only season with a worse record than the expansion season of 1969. The two names that scream loudly to any Milwaukee fan for Mt. Rushmore are Robin Yount and Paul Molitor. Finding two additional names takes a bit more digging.
The most popular man in Milwaukee (who never played for the Green Bay Packers, that is) won two MVP awards, one as a shortstop in 1982, the second as a centerfielder in 1989. Yount made his major league debut on Opening Day in 1974 at age 18 and spent his entire 20-year career with the Brewers. The Hall of Famer amassed 3,142 hits, 1,632 runs and 1,406 RBIs in a Brewers uniform.
With Yount firmly entrenched at shortstop, Molitor was forced to find other positions in order to break into the Brewers’ lineup. Like Yount in 1973, Molitor was drafted No. 3 overall in 1977. And also like Yount, Molitor found himself in the Brewers’ Opening Day lineup the following season. A shortstop by trade, Molitor stated at five different positions the first five Opening Days of his career (shortstop, DH, second base, left field and third base). In 15 seasons in Milwaukee, Molitor totaled 2,281 hits, 412 steals and a .303 batting average in 1,856 games.
Ranking third in most offensive categories in Brewers history (albeit a distant third) is enough to get Coop in this honored company. He has 154 more RBIs than Molitor, which ranks him second in that category. Cooper in fifth with 201 home runs. Of the nine 120-RBI seasons in team history, Cooper owns three of them, most of anyone. The former first baseman also owns three of the team’s seven 200-hit seasons, again, tops on that list. Acquired prior to the 1977 season from Boston, Cooper batted .302 over 11 seasons with the Brew Crew. During his first seven seasons with the team, he finished fifth in MVP voting three times over four seasons with an eighth-place vote mixed in. He won two Gold Gloves and batted .316 from 1977-83, averaging 22 home runs and 95 RBIs. His .352 average in 1980 would have been good enough to win an AL batting title 22 times during the 30 years from 1962-91, but George Brett chased .400 in 1980, ending at .390, leaving Cooper to settle for runner-up.
You can say what you want about Selig’s tenure in the Commissioner’s office, but he worked tirelessly to bring baseball back to Milwaukee after the Braves left for Atlanta after the 1965 season. It isn’t a stretch to say that the owner-turned-Commissioner is responsible for bringing baseball back to Milwaukee.
Given his long-term commitment to the team, Ryan Braun is a positive PED test last October away from already being honored. The 2011 NL MVP has some making up to do.
Along with Yount and Molitor, Jim Gantner shares the record for games played by three teammates.
Mike Caldwell averaged 15 wins and 231 innings from 1978-83, and won 102 games.
Had he signed a long-term contract with the franchise, Prince Fielder most certainly would have hit his way onto the mountain.
Stormin' Gorman Thomas averaged 35 home runs and 98 RBIs from 1978-82.
Follow Charlie Miller on Twitter @AthlonCharlie or email him Charlie.Miller@AthlonSports.com
Will talk of steroids in baseball ever go away? When will this loathsome subject that dirtied the past two decades of baseball become a distant memory?
Unfortunately, the subject of steroids and other PEDs in baseball will never go away. Never ever, ever.
NL MVP Ryan Braun is the latest player to test positive for something on the restricted list. With his camp adamantly denying wrongdoing, the appeal process will drag through much of the offseason. And what should be made of the award Braun has yet to actually receive? If it is determined that he in fact cheated, can the award be rescinded?
The bad news for Braun is that one of two things will happen after his appeal is heard with MLB: He’ll be found guilty of using illegal substances and shelved for 50 games, costing him about $1.85 million and forever tarnishing his otherwise pristine image; or he will be exonerated and show up for spring training in February with a clean record, yet forever placed on the “suspicious list” by most fans and members of the media.
And the news gets worse. As long as there is more money in cheating than in testing, the sinister laboratory minds and illicit athletes will always be one step (or more) ahead of the chemists developing tests.
So we are stuck with the curse of these insidious drugs. I believe that MLB testing is working, but it’s not absolute — and never will be. But baseball will always have this problem as long as substances can allow players to run faster, throw harder, hit with more power and prolong careers. With every 10-year, $254 million contract signed, players will try to cut corners. And every spring when clean players are cut, many will face unimaginable temptations.
And so it goes. Until the long list of players from the “Steroid Era” are no longer on the Hall of Fame ballot, we will continue to hear arguments about Hall of Fame voting as many writers will allow their suspicions, or proven allegations, about PED use to determine their Hall voting.
The NLCS shows all the signs of a classic series hanging in the balance of every pitch. There are two teams from the same division who know each other so well. The St. Louis Cardinals and Milwaukee Brewers split their 18-game season series 9-9. And let’s just say there is some “built-up intensity” toward one another that adds a bit more spice.
But there are two things that could allow this series to go haywire: Milwaukee’s inept supporting cast in the Brewers’ lineup and St. Louis’ inconsistent bullpen.
It’s no secret that Ryan Braun and Prince Fielder carry the Brewers’ lineup. Add to that Yuniesky Betancourt’s strong postseason and Jerry Hairston’s timely hitting and you have the Brew Crew’s complete offensive arsenal. Yep, those four guys are doing all the heavy lifting.
Non-pitchers not named Prince, Braun, Yuni or Hairston are batting .168 in the postseason. That’s half the lineup over a seven-game stretch, which is a decent sample size. They were 16-91 (.176) in the NLDS vs. the Arizona Diamondbacks and are 5-34 (.147) so far against St. Louis. Milwaukee is operating with half a lineup that can’t make outs and the other half can’t get on base. If the Cardinals are allowed to pitch around these four hitters without the supporting cast capitalizing, the Redbirds could be celebrating earlier than expected.
However, if the Cardinals’ bullpen reverts to its roots of allowing other teams to enjoy big innings, then the Brewers would waste no time dismissing St. Louis from the playoffs.
In the NLDS with Philadelphia, the St. Louis bullpen was very good. In 13.2 innings, the six relievers combined to walk only one batter and struck out 13 while allowing only 11 hits.
Avid Cardinals fans can tell you that those numbers don’t represent what was going on during the season. The Cardinals were second only to Washington in blown saves during the year. And that doesn’t count the numerous one-run leads that turned into multiple-run leads and tie games lost by the bullpen.
Other than Chris Carpenter, the Cardinals starters typically are effective deep into games, putting pressure on the bullpen most every night. That’s been the same in the playoffs. In the seven games thus far, St. Louis starters have gotten through the sixth inning just three times, including Carpenter’s masterful Game 5 performance at Philadelphia.
So what can we expect from the next five games?
The St. Louis bullpen, aided by manager Tony La Russa’s knack for dictating the right matchups, is as deep as it has been all season and has found its groove. Milwaukee hitters like Corey Hart, who had 15 RBIs vs. St. Louis during the season, and Rickie Weeks, who homered in Game 2, won’t stay cold much longer.
The likely scenario says the Cardinals will take two of three in St. Louis leaving them a game up heading back to Milwaukee. Could the Redbirds steal a second victory from the best home team in baseball? Perhaps. But there’s little doubt this baby is going the full seven with a trip to the World Series on the line and aces Carpenter and Yovani Gallardo on the mound.