Monday, August 24, 2009

Juicing the Fun Out of the Game


You may have noticed a lack of updates on the site ever since the “story” broke regarding David Ortiz’s alleged steroid use.  The reaction that I saw everywhere after the story broke was disgusting.  It seems like a lot of people were chomping at the bit to take shots at the Boston Red Sox and their most popular player.  Now the World Series victories are supposedly tainted and of course all of the critics knew all along that Ortiz had to have been using steroids.  The only problem is that nothing about Ortiz’s past screamed steroids unless you’ve got your witch hunt blinders on.

The first piece of evidence that people always point to is Ortiz’s stats with the Twins.  They cite the low home run totals, but for some reason never mention the injuries or low number of games Ortiz played.  Ortiz’s 16.8 AB/HR in 2001 is very respectable.  To put it into perspective, this year Jason Bay’s AB/HR is 15.60, Justin Morneau is 15,75 Ian Kinsler is 16.08 and Ryan Braun is 17.42.  Albert Pujols leads the league with 10.84.

The only numbers that jump out at you are 2005 and 2006.  Ortiz led the American League in 2006 (Ryan Howard just edged him with 10.017) and that tied for the 26th best of all time with Kevin Mitchell’s 1994 season.  Bagwell had a season at 10.256, Frank Thomas had a season at 10.500 and Ken Griffey Jr had a season at 10.825 and they are all players considered to be clean.  I don’t see how these numbers implicate Ortiz.

A lot of people like to think that Ortiz came out of nowhere, but that’s not the case.  Ortiz hit 31 HR in 1997 for three teams between high A, AA and AAA before getting a cup of coffee with the Twins at the end of the season.  He hit 30 HR in 1999 in AAA after a rough start to his major league career.  He was a player that I always picked up as a sleeper in my fantasy leagues so it was frustrated along with the Twins when Ortiz succumbed to injuries and couldn’t translate his minor league success to the big league level.  Ortiz was a solid fielder, but never spectacular (and much better than he ever gets credit for).  When Doug Mientkiewicz showed up with a slick glove and lofty batting average, it led to the Twins deciding to let Ortiz walk.

The biggest factor in the jump in Ortiz’s statistics once coming to Boston was health.  Until the 2008 season, Ortiz was able to remain relatively healthy which he was never able to do in Minnesota.  He fractured his wrist in 2001 which cut short what probably would have been his breakthrough season.  2002 saw Ortiz plagued by knee problems which led to him getting the knee scoped.  Ortiz did what everyone expected him to do when healthy until injuries sidelined him again in 2008.

The other huge factor in Ortiz’s improvement was the help of hitting coach Ron “Papa Jack” Jackson.  Ortiz sang his praises highly and he seemed to straighten out the problems that Ortiz was having by getting him to open up his stance allowing him to get his bat on more pitches and use more of the field.  Ortiz got off to a slow start at the beginning of the 2007 season which was the first after the Red Sox let Papa Jack go.  Reportedly, he made a couple of phone calls to Jackson and found out what he was doing wrong.  He went on to have the highest batting average of his career that season.

Many people pointed to Ortiz’s slow start in 2009 and said that it must be due to Ortiz coming off of steroids.  Of course there’s no way that the injury could be a factor.  Some local pundits said that it looked like Ortiz was having trouble seeing the ball especially since he was swinging late on a lot of pitches.  Whether the new eye drops he started using were the reason or not, Ortiz caught fire after that.  His average is still pretty low, but since June 6th he’s leading the American League in home runs with 19 and as you can see from the chart above, his AB/HR is right where it usually is.

Ortiz maintained his innocence all along, but few believed him.  He held a press conference where the Major League Baseball Players Association stated that he was on the list, but didn’t test positive for steroids.  They haven’t spoken up on behalf of any other player.  It was interesting to hear Peter Gammons touch on this because after hearing all of the details released by the MLBPA about that list, he believes that there’s only around 60 – 70 different names on the list which tested positive for steroids.  Gammons also believe that Ortiz hasn’t ever taken steroids.  That hasn’t kept large numbers of people from continuing to insist that Ortiz took steroids.

What bothers me is that you won’t see one retraction.  For some reason, people would rather believe two “anonymous lawyers” who are breaking the law for a pay day over a ballplayer who hasn’t done anything to cause people not to believe him.  I guess it’s not suspect that the only names leaked this time were a couple of Red Sox by a New York newspaper about a week before a huge Red Sox/Yankees series.

If you don’t believe Ortiz then you can’t believe any player.  Whether it be Pujols, Griffey Jr, Vlad Guerrero or Frank Thomas.  There’s no way that anyone that’s clean is outhitting all of these players who have supposedly taken steroids.  With the Players Union not allowing blood tests for HGH, anyone could take it without fear of being caught.

I never understood the fun in tearing down other teams and/or players.  Hearing “Yankees suck” chants at Red Sox games, Celtics games and concerts makes me cringe.  It makes fans sound petty and sad.  If a team with 26 championships sucks then I wish the Sox would suck a little more.

Nothing good can come of outing these players from the 2003 tests.  If the Players Union allowed for HGH testing and we could definitely know who was clean, I’d be of the mindset that the list should be released, but since we don’t know if people who aren’t on the list are actually clean then there’s no use.  The list definitely shouldn’t be leaked a name at a time and Bud Selig should be doing all that he can to prosecute those two lawyers which leaked these latest two names to the full extent of the law.

Major League Baseball just gave Topps an exclusive license to produce baseball cards citing a need to bring kids back into the hobby as a reason for doing so.  Making kids suffer through their favorite players being called cheats and liars could alienate the kids that are already interested.  I know it has affected my enjoyment of the game and I’m 33 years old.  I can only imagine how little kids have reacted.  I feel badly for young fans of Ortiz, A-Rod, etc. who have to see their heroes torn down by a bunch of adults under the pretense of “the sanctity of the game.”  I don’t even want to imagine how badly I would have taken it if Dwight Evans had been labeled a cheater when I was a kid.

Who knows how fans will look back upon this era in ten, twenty or even fifty years from now.  Right now, it seems like too many fans are of the mindset that every player has used PEDs at some point in their career and don’t believe any of the denials.  There have to be some players out there not using due to the health risks or other reasons and that mindset isn’t fair to them.  A lot of players used before it was against the rules.  Are their accomplishments tainted?  It’ll be interesting to see how this all shakes out.  I have a feeling that baseball’s already hurting reputation isn’t going to get any better.

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