Peter Schilling on Steroids

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"You shouldn't forget the importance of entertainment."
—Peter, from Michael Haneke's Funny Games

Thank God for Opening Day. Baseball, the game on the field, has finally replaced the simmering political theater that was at its turgid best this last winter, specifically Wednesday, February 13. By now every baseball fan knows that in Washington, D.C., in room 2154 of the Rayburn Building, Roger Clemens, arguably the greatest pitcher in the modern era, tried to defend himself against charges of steroid use, using tremendous bluster. Our elected representatives, Democrats and Republicans both, bellowed right back, trying to elbow their way into the day's newscasts with their fiery rhetoric or mumbled questions (there was plenty of both). Cameras whirred, pencils scratched upon pads, and only if great velvet curtains had come crashing down would this theater have ended on a more thrilling note.

Frankly, I don't know what to think of this whole circus, except that I often times keep wondering why it is that something I love as much as baseball can make me feel disgusted as often as it does. When I saw Clemens there in front of the cameras, my feelings were definitely mixed. It's not as though I like the guy—in fact, on many occasions he bugged the crap out of me. But he's a hell of a pitcher, and as I thought back on his career and simultaneously looked forward to this season, I wondered: do we really care if Clemens is right or wrong, an honest man or a liar? Does it matter if baseball is riddled with steroid users? What's the point?

And then I thought of Michael Haneke's Funny Games. This is an edgy film, about a pair of young men who terrorize an innocent family at their vacation home. The movie is relentless, and hardly entertaining, yet you cannot take your eyes from the screen. In the end, perhaps the greatest horror is learning that this family's torture was done for our benefit, for the fun of the moviegoer. We were as culpable as the marauders. And this is pretty much how I'd sum up these hearings and the steroid mess in general.

Although I am on record as having an opinion as to whether Roger Clemens is a doper or not, I have no interest whatsoever in pointing fingers at him, in part because that would be like shouting into the maw of a storm. We can argue all we want about whether or not Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens are the worst human beings since Pol Pot roamed the earth, but the fact remains that, for at least the last twenty years, baseball players have been shooting up. Probably quite a few. Furthermore, I think it's safe to say that we cannot in any way determine who shot up.

Doesn't this bother you? It bothers me. The not knowing, that is. Yes, we know Andy Pettitte shot up because he's said as much. We know Jose Canseco shot up, and we will know from those who admit the truth and those few who fail drug tests. But we don't know if Clemens shot up, not really. And if the Mitchell report is correct that baseball players have been indulging in PEDs since the late 80s, then we can never truly find out who imbibed. Can we know whether David Wells, he who has recently spouted off on the subject, used drugs to keep him plowing through season after season? I don't and neither do you. In my mind, anybody who sets to moralizing like he's doing makes me feel that perhaps he's trying to ease a guilty conscience. Did Cal Ripken Jr. take steroids to stay healthy and keep his streak alive? You might choke on your Pabst reading that, but we don't have any way to check out guys like Ripken, Jack Morris, Dave Winfield and other players for whom longevity was one of their strengths. And we never will.

There have been many suggestions, from Congress, from the union, from Major League Baseball, from fans and pundits, as to what to do about this steroid mess. That wonderful gadfly Jim Bouton suggests the most draconian solution: that we take annual samples of every players blood, keep it on file, and every time a new performance enhancing drug is found, we test all the blood. Should this substance be found, that player gets a lifetime ban, much like Pete Rose. (Bouton opines, "Call me Kenesaw Bouton Landis".) Much as I love Bouton, his solution seems like utter madness. From all I've read (not a lot, but some, notably Game of Shadows and Will Carroll's The Juice), for every test there's a new drug out there that will avoid detection.

Here's my own attempt at fixing this mess: The only solution as I see it is for Major Leage Baseball to grant total and absolute immunity to every player in the past, and declare this era one of steroid—no court of public opinion, no testifying, and no asterisks, just a simple shrug, admitting that the culture of professional athletics, the one that we fans foster, is to blame. We move on and let the past settle into itself, trying to figure out a way to utterly remove steroids (unlikely) or accept them as part of the game.

Listen, I hate steroids as much as the next guy. The thought of guys shooting up to get their muscles bulging sickens me... but lots of things about professional sports leaves a bad taste in my mouth. The problem as I see it is that we—the fans—have helped create a culture where, if you are on the edge as a player, if a few more dingers or a bit better batting average means a cup of coffee (and it's attendant millions), you'd be silly not to shoot up. You cannot pay mediocre baseball players forty million dollars and expect them to avoid grabbing whatever edge they can.We accept as fans the strange justice of average players making money hand over fist, so we have to live with the consequences, one of which is steroid use.

I hope kids don't shoot up, but then I also wouldn't necessarily want my kid to do any number of things we condone in America, including becoming a rich baseball player with the habits of professional athletes. Or wealthy owners who seem to think they ought to plunder public coffers. I'm not going to argue whether or not this is an issue worth pursuing, whether or not steroids are the worst thing to happen to baseball since the Black Sox scandal, etc. and ad infinitum. But I will say that I, for one, am totally unconvinced that we would ever truly know who is on the drug and who isn't, no matter what we do. Do you really think it's fair to vilify Roger Clemens when any number of great players from the late 80s to the present went off Scott free? If so, why do you feel that way?

Look, if Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds shot up, they shot up, and we need to leave it at that. Because we also don't know how many pitchers Bonds faced who were shooting up, and vise-versa for Clemens. We have no way of knowing how many players were on the dope, how level or uneven was this playing field. If somehow we can stop steroid use—a tricky goal that I doubt will ever be attainable—then we close this book and state that the last two decades are the Steroid Era, as off balance in the record books as the 19th century, with pitchers logging 60 wins a season. Or the first half of the 20th century, when some players hit .400, Ruth blasted 60 home runs in a year, 714 total, and DiMaggio had his 56 game hitting streak. Those are all anomalies, stats that would certainly not exist had the leagues been integrated with the best talent in the country—yet another tainted era that began to close with the signing of Jackie Robinson in 1947.

You might argue that this solution isn't fair to those players who didn't shoot up. Well, I ask you to turn to the case of Bucky Harris. Harris, as you may well know, was one of the Chicago White Sox players banned for life for his knowledge of the Black Sox scandal. The argument, which many of us believe is valid and has been hallowed by time, is that Harris deserves to be banned because he did nothing to stop the scandal which threatened to ruin the sport, and did in fact ruin a World Series. We all know he did not participate in throwing games. But he knew, and did nothing, and that was enough to damn him for eternity.

Do you really believe, in the close-knit world of professional athletics, that these guys didn't know their fellow ballplayers were on steroids? That David Wells and Curt Schilling—two men who have taken to proselytizing on this subject—had no clue about the culture of drugs? I think that's utter bullshit. They knew, and I think everybody knew. And if we're so dead-set on calling this a scandal, as bad as the Black Sox affair, then let's take this to its logical conclusion.

But I don't see it happening. Because this isn't as big a deal as people are making it. If it was a big deal, we would really be up in arms, we'd stay away from baseball, and the sport would lose money, and then you'd see real action. Don't forget, the owners only responded to the 1919 Black Sox scandal because they thought they'd lose their shirts, and for no other reason. Steroids? Not so much. These are funny games, pure entertainment. So what are we going to do? I don't know about you, but I'm going to sit back on opening day and let the parade march on by, just as I have every season. —Peter Schilling Jr.


It was the other Japanese guy.

Aided by timely hitting from Manny Ramirez, Hideki Okajima pitched an inning of relief to win the first game of a two-game series for the defending World Series champion Boston Red Sox over the Oakland Athletics in Tokyo.

Ramirez's second two-run double in the top of the tenth broke a 4-4 tie and closer Jonathan Papelbon hung on to send the Red Sox and their new Japanese fans home happy with a 6-5 win in spite of a shaky performance from this week's talk-of-the-town, Daisuke Matsuzaka.

In the shadow of fellow countryman Matsuzaka for most of last year, the left-handed Okajima received a standing ovation from the Tokyo Dome crowd of 44,628 when he entered in the top of the ninth.

As the crowd filed out of the stadium and into the crisp night air, the buzz was about Okajima, who enjoyed an eleven-year career with Tokyo's Yomiuri Giants. "Up until Ramirez's first double, the crowd was pretty quiet," said Kenji Ayao, 30 an A's fan. "But once Okajima entered the voltage went through the roof. The number of flashbulbs popping as he released each pitch was amazing."

After winning 15 games in his rookie campaign, this week was Matsuzaka's homecoming. The right-hander rose to stardom as a member of the Pacific League's Seibu Lions, whose home dome in Tokorozawa is a one-hour train ride from downtown Tokyo.

News crews relentlessly hounded the star all week. At a welcoming party last Friday, shutters clicked as Athletics catcher Kurt Suzuki, whose grandparents were born in Japan, and Matsuzaka cracked open a wood sake barrel with baseball bats in a traditional kagamiwari kickoff ceremony.

As trains crisscrossed Tokyo during Tuesday's evening rush hour, the hometown fans, who did not engage in the rhythmic cheering that is standard at Japanese games, saw Matsuzaka struggle from the outset. In the first inning, Mark Ellis slugged a home run to left center and the Athletics pushed across one more to take a 2-0 lead. He exited after five innings having walked five and given up two runs.

After Boston took a 6-4 lead in the top of the tenth, a one-out RBI double by Emil Brown brought the A's within one, but Papelbon got Suzuki to ground out with two runners on base to end it.

Matsuzaka's appearance is certainly the highlight of the week. At a ticket shop in a downtown shopping district, 12,000-yen ($120) seats for Matsuzaka's start were selling for 30,000 yen. For the concluding game tomorrow, when Rich Harden and Jon Lester will take the mound, tickets were fetching merely face value.

On Monday excitement was slightly dampened after the rabidly popular Giants and Hanshin Tigers had been swept by the major league teams in four weekend exhibition games. The one scoreless inning tossed by Okajima on Sunday against the Giants stood as one of the bright spots, likely leaving the fans under the puffy white roof of the dome wondering just which set of teams might be suffering from jet-lag.

The Japanese media searched for positives. Monday's cover of the Tokyo tabloid Sports Hochi featured photos of the five Red Sox batters set down on strikes by Giants southpaw Tetsuya Utsumi during his two brilliant innings of relief work. Inside, Okajima's appearance was given a full story under a headline in bold kanji script that read: "I'm back." The front of Daily Sports, a publication based in the Hanshin stronghold of Kobe, featured multiple frames of a sliding catch by Tigers outfielder Lou Ford in the third inning of Saturday's game against Boston.

Strict television scheduling was another reminder that unless Matsuzaka is taking the ball nothing else can be too important. With the Athletics-Giants contest tied at two in the sixth inning on Saturday, Nippon Television sent fans scrambling for their radio knobs after it killed its broadcast at 9 p.m. in favor of a weather report and variety show. The match-up between the Tigers and A's on Sunday was not broadcast live, and with Nippon Television again upholding its 9 p.m. curfew, viewers were just barely able to see J.D. Drew's grand slam in the sixth but not Julian Tavarez's recording of the final out in the ninth.

After a tour through the streets of Tokyo, however, it would be a mistake to conclude that Matsuzaka mania had swept over everyone in the metropolis. On Monday evening at Kanda Dome, a baseball-themed restaurant in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward where diners can chow down on fried noodles beneath a curved, dome-like ceiling and wall-mounted jerseys of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, the general feeling was that Matsuzaka has moved on and so should everyone else.

"He is like a little boy, a high school boy," says manager Kayoko Takeshita, 77, of the tattered and heavily taped poster near the register that shows Matsuzaka in his powder blue Lions uniform. "But now that he is a man I hardly recognize him."

Most of the middle-aged diners in Kanda Dome were unaware that the former Lions hero was set to pitch the following day; instead they were occupied with the 80th National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament ongoing at Koshien Stadium in Osaka.

Seeking equal billing to the opening series was Friday's Pacific League opener, and it proved to be a dazzler. Valentine's Chiba Lotte Marines were shut out 1-0 by Nippon Ham Fighters right-hander Yu Darvish. The lanky 21-year-old's four-hit, ten-strikeout performance further strengthened the argument of experts who think he will soon follow Matsuzaka across the Pacific.

Such predictions rekindle worries that Nippon Pro Baseball is simply becoming a minor league. Masayuki Tamaki, a noted baseball writer, believes that the high salaries found in the U.S. - as evidenced by the $52 million contract Matsuzaka signed before last season - are not the only reason players have left Japan. He points out that ownership only concerns itself with the profit of the parent company - which could be a drink manufacturer or candy company - and not with properly managing teams or investing in top-of-the-line facilities. "In America," he says, "the players can concentrate on baseball only."

This year Kosuke Fukudome, the two-time Central League batting champ for the Chunichi Dragons, will patrol right field for the Chicago Cubs and Hiroki Kuroda, formerly of the Hiroshima Carp, will be slotted into the rotation of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Right-handed pitchers Kenshin Kawakami of the Dragons and the Koji Uehara of the Giants are expected to make similar moves overseas in 2009.

Tamaki believes that the old-school NPB world is still wallowing in the glory of its history and lacks any kind of vision of the future. "In Japan," the journalist explains, "there are former players, veteran journalists, and front office management who want to be seen as sempai (mentors) to the current players, but in truth they are like annoying flies." —Brett Bull

Reprinted from Brett's fabulous Tokyo Reporter.

Horseshoe Sense and Good Deeds

Three-time All-Star righthander Gerry Staley is in the Hall of Fame . . . as a horseshoe pitcher. I forgot to mention: it's the Washington State Horseshoe Pitchers Hall of Fame. I could be very wrong, but I've never heard of a former major league pitcher becoming a Hall of Fame horseshoe pitcher. "He had to have something to pitch," his son, Brian, told reporters, "after baseball."

Twice an All-Star as an effective St. Louis Cardinals starter, once as an effective Chicago White Sox reliever, Staley died 2 January at 87, of natural causes, at his Vancouver, Washington home, his son said. Staley's daughter also survives him.

A junkballer whose signature pitches were a sinker and a knuckleball, Staley was a key man out of the bullpen for the White Sox's 1959 World Series team, going 8-5 with fourteen saves, and leading the American League in appearances, in the regular season; and, taking the loss in Game Four but racking one save and a 2.16 ERA in the Series, which the Go-Go Sox lost in six to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

He made his third All-Star team the following season, amidst a 13-8/ten save 1960 for the White Sox. He didn't pitch in the 1952 and 1953 All-Star Games, though he was picked for the National League, but he appeared in the second of two 1960 All-Star Games. (Two games were played in each season from 1959-1962, in part to raise money for the players' pension fund.)

Relieving teammate Early Wynn, Staley pitched two innings and surrendered two hits, one a two-out, solo bomb by his former Cardinal teammate Stan Musial in the top of the seventh, en route a 6-0 National League win. The decisions went to a pair of Cy Young Award winners, Pittsburgh's Vernon Law (the eventual 1960 Cy Young winner), got the win; and, future Hall of Famer Whitey Ford (the next season's Cy Young winner; they gave one award across the board from 1956-66), took the loss.

After his baseball career ended, Staley—who won 134 games in his career, including 54 with the Cardinals from 1951-53 (he also pitched for Cincinnati, the Yankees, the Kansas City Athletics, and the Detroit Tigers, before retiring after the 1961 season)—superintended the Clark County (Washington) parks and recreation department, eventually retiring to become a fisherman and horseshoe player.

He was realistic about his baseball career, even if he wasn't necessarily discriminating. "I played in an era when there were a heck of a lot of good ballplayers," Staley told a reporter three years ago. "You can't single out one over all the rest. If you kept the ball in the park, you were doing a good deed." —Jeff Kallman


You can take this one to Vegas, we're sure: Peter Schilling and Jeff Kallman lock brains to give you our iron-clad guesses as to who's going to end up in the winner's circle this October. So if the mortgage has you down, and your job's nearly on the fritz, just take what little savings you have and lay it on the line here. You couldn't do any better reading tea leaves...



1. Cleveland Indians
2. Minnesota Twins
3. Detroit Tigers
4. Chicago White Sox
5. Kansas City Blues

This may look odd, but bear with me for a bit. I think the Twins, even minus Johan Santana, are much improved. So much, in fact, that I think they'll give the division a run. Their pitching staff could be a mess, but then again, it could be that guys like Scott Baker, Francisco Liriano, Livan Hernandez & Co. could gel as the Tigers did in '06. Probably that won't happen, but if it does, that and the revamped line up could make things very interesting in the strong AL Central.

Upon first glance, the team is exciting. Carlos Gomez's speed could be a real factor, but we'll see if the guy can get to first, which is essential to stealing second or racing to third on a sacrifice bunt. These Twins will score more runs, and have a vareigated offense, and their youngsters could be frighteningly good. Liriano still has a good strikeout to walk ratio in the spring, and Scott Baker, who threw 15 perfect innings against KC last season, ought to improve mightily once his ailments come to an end.

As a long-suffering Tigers fan (and trust me, that game five meltdown in the World Series only added to the depression), I cannot bring myself to jump on the bandwagon that only the Red Sox are better. The Red Sox are not only better, but they're a mite bit younger. Jesus, these Tigers need every single player to be healthy, and already one of the young guys--Granderson--is out with an injury. Even if the Tigers make the playoffs, they seem to be the type of big swingers that get shut down fairly easily against a talented pitching staff--much like the Yankees did against the Tigs in '06. Add to this mess the fact that the bullpen is a disaster--signing closer Todd Jones was insane--and the Bengals will reach the postseason only if everything goes their way. I can't help but pick a young and still-hungry Cleveland to win this one. —Schilling


1.Boston Red Sox
2. New York Yankees
3. Toronto Blue Jays
4. Tampa Bay Crocodile Hunter Killers
5. Baltimore Orioles

I am now going to rant a bit about how unbelievably shitty the Baltimore Orioles have become. What a franchise. These guys aren't going anywhere soon, which is a shame because Baltimore could certainly use a winning baseball team. Then again, I've just been watching The Wire, HBO's masterful series (it is that good), and the blight and corruption that is reflected in that show leaves one's heart aching. Of course, it saddens me even more that the city of Detroit is so much worse off that there's almost nothing left in the city from which to hang a television series on.

Anyway, I digress. My point is that a baseball team is so much more than just a collection of fancy millionaires swinging a bat at a ball. And that the Orioles management doesn't seem to get this, or if they do they're certainly squandering the hopes of a beleaguered populace. For those of us who have become totally sick of the fact that this division has been won by the likes of the Yankees and Red Sox, now nothing more than a two-headed beast, Baltimore's woes are even more pressing. The Red Sox, top to bottom, are the best team in both leagues, hands down, and the Yankees still have quite a bit of pop, and a good, young pitching staff to boot (though they can't beat the Sox). Toronto will be just above mediocre again (though I'm willing to concede that if anyone has a chance to be a surprise playoff contender, it's them), the Rays will excite by almost reaching .500, and the Orioles will be yet another background footnote on shows like The Wire. Oh, the humanity. —Schilling


1. Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
2. Seattle Mariners
3. Texas Rangers
4. Oakland Athletics

The AL West is still the Angels' to lose. If they can only convince manager Mike Scioscia that protecting Vlad the Impaler also means protection from the mound (there's no excuse to keep letting their biggest bat get plunked into uselessness, as Guerrero was in the season's final fortnight) as well as in the lineup (and that's still a little iffy) and on the rotating DH plan. And, if the front office can only be convinced it may not be dumb to offer Francisco Rodriguez a better longterm proposition. Seattle has improved as Erik Bedard automatically bumps up the rotation, especially if Felix Hernandez finally lives all the way up to his possibilities and innings-eater Carlos Silva's sinkers don't prove stinkers to his infielders. But this lineup—all not named Ichiro—remains too suspect with Jose Guillen gone to Kansas City as a free agent. And the team needs to prove they can play up for more than isolated stretches, while the front office needs to prove it can do more than just a Bedard trade that cost them a talented young outfielder regardless. By default the Mariners should finish behind the Angels.

The Rangers' offence will keep them out of the basement, especially with the Milton Bradley bump-up and the Ian Kinsler extension. But while general manager Jon Daniels seems to have broken the organisation's addiction to the quick fix, he still hasn't broken its addiction to fixing murderous team ERAs with position players. And how many more games or beanbrawls do the Rangers stand to lose because Vicente Padilla can't keep his temper in check. It's rebuilding time in Oakland, which could mean a potent club in a season or two, particularly if prospect acquisitions Carlos Gonzalez (outfield) and Gio Gonzalez (lefthander) mature soon enough to equal their reviews.—Kallman



1. Chicago Cubs
2. Milwaukee Brewers
3. Cincinnati Reds
4. Houston Astros
5. St. Louis Cardinals
6. Pittsburgh Pirates

This one is a toss up in two directions: from the first to third spots, I'd say this division is anyone's guess between the Cubs, Brewers and Reds. Fourth to sixth, same deal, three different clubs. All three at the top have a nice balance of the young and old. At the bottom the Pirates are in their eternal rebuilding process, while Houston and St. Louis hobble along with their vets.

Over in Chicago, I think there's reason for genuine excitement about Kosuke Fukudome, and even without a leadoff hitter this is a decent club in a weak division. The Brewers are ready to rumble offensively, but their pitching is a question mark, and Cincinnati could be the big surprise--in this case, if their pitchers connect and their hitters keep blasting homers and scoring runs, these guys will be good. If the young arms still need seasoning, next year will be the one. —Schilling


1. New York Mets
2. Philadelphia Phillies
3. Atlanta Braves
4. Washington Nationals
5. Florida Marlins

For the Mets it looks too much like this year or nada—the farm's too thin, which doesn't bode well for moving into their new playpen in '09. But watch the trade deadlines. There could be prospects coming to begin the farm reconstruction, if Omar Minaya's still as smart as he looked in waiting out the Yankees and the Red Sox to land Santana. As for their main competition, a season ending tie with the Phillies wouldn't surprise me. I'm not sure the Phillies' pitching overall will hold up, especially in that yum-yum hitters' park they call home. Moving Brett Myers to the rotation out of the pen looked smart until Brad Lidge dinged his bad knee, and if he has to miss significant time this bullpen means big trouble.

They look better than you think; this team can never be ruled out entirely, under its current organisational structure and thinking, and if they find a way to keep Mark Teixiera you can magnify the foregoing exponentially. John Smoltz and homecoming Tom Glavine, however, stand to shepherd the next generation of Atlanta mound maestros—meaning, again, that '09 could be a Brave new year. For the Nationals, managerial brains equal division sleepers. The Nats may not win it, but they'll make it painful enough for whomever does until their shaky rotation shows its shakes. —Kallman


1. Los Angeles Dodgers
2. Arizona Diamondbacks
3. Colorado Rockies
4. San Diego Padres
5. San Francisco Giants

This team now looks more like the 1996 Yankees than you might think. And Joe Torre, who managed those Yankees, can still make pina colatas out of mere pineapples. Over in Arizona, landing Dan Haren makes the Diamondbacks tougher than they've already proven themselves to be. The roster depth makes them formidable, their brains at the plate make them a battle. Last year's pennant winning Rockies have a problem—other than a hole or two on the pitching staff: the Diamondbacks are just too good to let the Rocks sneak in through the wild card again, and the Rocks right now just don't look like quite a consistent threat to a smartened-up Dodger formation.—Kallman

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