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Friday, May 08, 2009

  And Then There Were Two

If you have read the late David Halberstam's The Teammates: A Portrait of a Friendship, you know that from the Red Sox teams of the 1940's emerged a quartet of players who, despite their many differences, forged a friendship that would last all their lives. Bobby Doerr got to the Red Sox first, in 1937, and was perhaps the most mild-mannered. Ted Williams was the last to retire, in 1960, and the most volatile. Johnny Pesky (né Paveskovich) was the youngest, the last of the group to join the team, and the only one who didn't play his entire career with the Red Sox. Dominic DiMaggio was the oldest and the only one who left baseball entirely after his playing days were over.

The men met through the Red Sox and remained a foursome of dear friends until the 2002 death of Williams. And early this morning, DiMaggio became the second of the teammates to die.

I had the pleasure of interviewing DiMaggio in 1996 while working in television production. Among the topics we discussed was the Hall of Fame, in which his friends Williams and Doerr were enshrined. Many (including Williams) believed that DiMaggio deserved to be in the Hall as well, and probably would be if his career hadn't been overshadowed by that of his older brother, Joe. So I asked him if he thought the Veterans Committee would ever select him. His straightforward response, delivered without so much as a chuckle, was that he didn't know, but if they did, he hoped it would be before he died so he could enjoy it. (It was a better question that what my mother wanted me to ask him, which was, "What was it like being Marilyn Monroe's brother-in-law?") When Williams, who sat on the Veterans Committee, passed, so probably did The Little Professor's shot.

Now, after 92 years of living, Dom DiMaggio follows Ted Williams into our memories, but without having received the accolades that his three friends got — Williams and Doerr with plaques in Cooperstown, Pesky joining the other two with his uniform number retired). DiMaggio was one of the inaugural members of the Red Sox' team Hall of Fame, but it doesn't seem quite enough.

The Veterans Committee should give serious consideration to admitting DiMaggio, who meets their criteria. Fans can submit their input via the Hall of Fame web site or to the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee, 25 Main Street, Cooperstown, NY 13326. But regardless of what they do, the Red Sox, having dispensed with their erstwhile rule that only players enshrined in Cooperstown could have their numbers retired, should afford the honor posthumously to DiMaggio and retired number 7.

Ask Bobby Doerr and Johnny Pesky, the two surviving teammates. They'll agree.

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Thursday, May 07, 2009

  That Depends on What the Meaning of the Word "Is" Is

You just knew this morning's report and the subsequent noontime announcement of Manny Ramirez' positive drug test wasn't going to be the end of the story. Sure enough, just after the shock (or, in my neck of the woods, unbridled elation) wore off, another shoe dropped: a report about precisely which banned substance was involved. (Note: the linked article has been updated several times since I started writing this post. The text quoted was present in the article as of the time I published.)

[T]esting by Major League Baseball showed that Ramirez had testosterone in his body that was not natural and came from an artificial source, two people with knowledge of the case told ESPN's Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn. The sources said that in addition to the artificial testosterone, Ramirez was identified as using the female fertility drug human chorionic gonadotropin, or hCG....

hCG...is typically used by steroid users to restart their body's natural testosterone production as they come off a steroid cycle. It is similar to Clomid, the drug Barry Bonds, Jason Giambi and others used as clients of BALCO.

If true (and controversial information from unnamed sources should be taken with a grain of salt, I believe), then it means that either 1) Manny took steroids and was trying to get his little friends working again, or 2) Manny took HCG instead of steroids.

So did Manny, in his released statement (also available at the link), lie? Maybe not, especially in the case of 1). He might have released the most brilliantly crafted denial since Bill Clinton talked about "that woman." To wit:

Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue.

Steroid use is known to cause hypogonadism, which certainly qualifies as a personal health issue, even if it was caused by the patient's own steroid use.

He gave me a medication, not a steroid...

Manny doesn't say he never took steroids, only that the substance the doctor gave him to treat his "personal health issue" — and for which he subsequently tested positive — was not a steroid.

I've taken and passed about 15 drug tests over the past five seasons.

Manny doesn't say he never took banned substances, just that he passed 15 drug tests over the past five seasons. That doesn't necessarily meant that 1) he took a number of other tests that he didn't pass, or 2) he didn't pass drug tests before that. Counting the 2009 season, "the past five seasons" would be 2005 through 2009. Not counting this season, 2004 would be included. But drug testing in baseball started in 2002. Penalties were triggered after the 2003 season, when more than 5% of the tests run were positive. In 2004, a first positive drug test carried a "penalty" of treatment only, no suspension or fine. Beginning in 2005, the current 50-game suspension for a first-time offense was adopted for steroids, a category in baseball's drug policy that includes certain hormones.

Don't think there isn't plenty more to come out on this story.

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  Manny Being Manny = Manny Cheating

So you've just emerged from a cave after winter hibernation and haven't yet heard the news from a few hours ago: Manny Ramirez has been suspended for 50 games after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs.

Manny is claiming it was an innocent mistake:

Recently I saw a physician for a personal health issue. He gave me a medication, not a steroid, which he thought was okay to give me. Unfortunately, the medication was banned under our drug policy.

Well, cry me a river. First of all, presuming that whatever drug he took really wasn't a steroid, MLB also bans a lengthy list of stimulants, illegal drugs, and several substances that fall under MLB's definition of "steroids" but are actually hormones. (See Section 2 "Drugs of Abuse, Performance Enhancing Substances, and Stimulants" in Major League Baseball's Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program for the entire list of prohibited substances.)

Second, just because something was prescribed by a doctor doesn't make it medically legitimate. Not all doctors are ethical. This isn't a knock on Manny's doctor, about whom I know nothing. It's simply the way things are.

Third, the policy explicitly provides for valid exceptions under which players may use banned substances if medically necessary. (See Section 3 "Testing," subsection G "Therapeutic Use Exemption" of the Program.)

1. A Player authorized to ingest a Prohibited Substance through a valid, medically appropriate prescription provided by a duly licensed physician shall receive a Therapeutic Use Exemption ("TUE"). To be "medically appropriate," the Player must have a documented medical need under the standards accepted in the United States or Canada for the prescription in the prescribed dosage.... 2. A Player seeking a TUE must notify, or cause the issuing physician to notify, the IPA of the existence of the prescription.... 3. A TUE shall be effective from the date the Player notified, or caused the issuing physician to notify, the IPA of the existence of the prescription involved, and shall not be effective for any use or possession of a Prohibited Substance prior to that date....

What that all means is that, presuming that the substance in question was medically necessary, Manny and his doctor could have followed the clearly defined process for seeking an exemption. Absent that, it would still be possible for Manny to defend himself, in the public sphere if not within the realm of baseball's drug policy, by simply authorizing the Commissioner's Office to release the test results and authorizing his doctor to release medical records pertinent to the prohibited substance. To my knowledge, he has done neither and apparently has no plan to.

That leaves us with but one conclusion: Manny Ramirez is a cheat. Just like the other players who have tested positive, not to mention guys like Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Rafael Palmeiro, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Ken Caminiti, et al.

And that leaves me, personally, with the need to pick a new player to consider the greatest hitter I ever had the privilege to watch play. How very sad.

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Wednesday, May 06, 2009

  Yankee Smackdown, Continued

Your humble correspondent begs her readers' forgiveness for the delay in this report. Some of you may know that from last Thursday through Sunday, the Red Sox dropped three out of four games to the former Tampa Bay Devil Dogs, a result that left me in a fetal position, weeping uncontrollably. Oh, the shame.

Fortunately, I emerged Monday morning and saw my shadow, forecasting yet another sweep of the New York Yankees. And so it came to pass that over two rainy nights in a half-full, overpriced stadium in the urine-stained Bronx, Jon Lester and Josh Beckett and a posse of Red Sox relievers and hitters kicked ass and took names. Despite toying with their opponents by allowing a few runs, our heroes made the MFY their biatches. Case in point: the much vaunted younger players Robinson Cano and Nick Swisher combined to go 0 for 14, wiping the smirks off their fugly mugs. The less vaunted and older Hideki Matsui was 1 for 5. Melky Cabrera was 4 for 8, but his name (which, as far as I can tell, really is Melky), is so ridiculous that I'm still ignoring him. Mark Teixeira managed to hit two home runs, but for his $20.625 million salary this year, he's still batting below the Mendoza Line.

Which brings us to our daily lesson in baseball terminology. Many have heard but few understand the number known as the "Mendoza Line." So named for former major league shortstop Mario Mendoza (who hit .180 in the 1975 season, .185 in 1976, .198 in 1977 and 1979, and — wait for it —.118 in his final major league season), the Mendoza Line is typically considered to be a batting average of .200. Personally, I believe it's possible to suck even with a batting average slightly above .200, which is why I prefer instead the more obscure "Ainge Line," referring to Danny Ainge's career major league batting average of .220 before he made the very wise jump to professional basketball. I am happy to report that both Jason Varitek and David Ortiz are now hitting above the Ainge Line. And speaking of Ainge, the MFY's Captain Intangibles, also known as The Most Overrated Shortstop of His Generation, made a couple plays in the brief series that made it look like he learned defense from The Danny Ainge Infielder's Instruction Video ($7.99 plus shipping and handling, call before midnight tonight!)

But I digress.

The biggest difference between the two teams wasn't batting (both had plenty of hits and a few home runs). It was pitching. The good guys used a total of six pitchers in their two wins, while that other, lesser team needed 11 pitchers to lose. The MFY pitching staff is in disarray, despite having spent great big Steinbrenner bucks in the off-season on two big-name free agent pitchers to go with their high-paid, big-name, light-hitting first baseman. At this moment, it could be said that the Yankees are the worst team money could buy. If we could replace all our remaining Rays games on the schedule with Yankees games, what a wonderful world this would be.

So the question of the day is... Will the New York Yankees ever win a game against the Boston Red Sox again? Probably, but they'll have to wait a month to try. The two teams meet again at Fenway June 9-11. Mark your calendars. And since these two teams always manage to play painfully drawn-out games (Monday's game ended at 1:15 a.m., thanks in part to a 2 1/2 hour rain delay), don't forget the No-Doze.

In other news, we have another two-game mini-series tonight and tomorrow, this time against the Cleveland Indians in Boston. Tonight's pitching match-up: Justin Masterson vs. Carl Pavano. Sox fans may remember Pavano as the prospect Dan Duquette traded to the Montreal Expos to get The Former Red Sox Pitcher Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken (but his initials are P*dro Martin*z). Best move the cowlicked one ever made as GM, and it seemed even more so after Pavano signed with the Evil Empire for big money and then sat on the DL for the better part of four years. I get all tingly just thinking about it. Tomorrow's pitchers are Tim Wakefield vs. Aaron Laffey, who is young enough to be Wakefield's son. I predict that old age and cunning will defeat youth and skill in that match-up.

In town for three days this weekend are the aforementioned Rays. I have instructed my co-workers that if I'm not at work Monday morning, they are to send out a search team, and make sure they bring lots of liquor.

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