Friday, April 27, 2007

A Look at Landis from Both Sides...

As someone who has spent years as a professional journalist, I try very hard to remain neutral when it comes to certain things related to reporting...even when I am a fan. If you search my site, knowing I am a big Patriots and a big Red Sox fan, you will find articles that are often critical of my favorite teams. I'm a fan, but I understand reality.

I don't give players or the team a pass when I think they have screwed up.

Shades of guilt?
I have to all the doping scandal involving Floyd Landis, I think he screwed up. I don't know that he actually doped...he might not have, he might have. I do know that his initial reaction is problematic in the court of public opinion.

In the immediate aftermath of the first test Landis, a former teammate and domestique of perennial accusee Lance Armstrong launched into a variety of excuses for why the tests came back positive for elevated levels of testosterone. I freely admit to being no doctor, but the lines about ingesting the alcohol and the line, “now there's also the possibility, and it's an argument that has been used by other people. At this point, I don't know if it's somehow or some way I ingested something that caused the tests to be that way,” that he gave Jay Leno both ring hollow.

This led Landis to fall back on the stand-by of pointing the finger at the lab, which typically smacks of desperation.

Reasonable doubt...
Let's look at some of the surface issues here, I won't even delve too deep.

Landis has been able to fall back on the lab because, let's face it, this lab has had a history of mishandling samples.

Landis finds himself caught in a "perfect storm" type of scenario. Consider the following - cycling as a sport in recent years has garnered a reputation as a haven for the performance enhanced, particularly blood dopers. Cycling's governing body decided it was finally time to crack down hard on suspected cheaters - bouncing some of cyclings' biggest names, including Jan Ulrich and Ivan Basso, before the Tour even got underway last year. Couple that with the president of the World Anti-Doping Agency (Dick Pound's), profound and even slanderous contempt of Lance Armstrong and a growing resentment of American riders dominating the French event (wins in 10 of the last 20 years - Greg LeMond twice, Armstrong seven times, and Landis once) and what do you have? A situation in which being able to disqualify the winner gives the IOC the biggest trophy of all in cleaning up their sport.

I'm not saying this is what has happened, but I don't believe this is outside the realm of possibility.

Even those believing in Landis' guilt - which I admit is a possibility - I pose to you the following questions -

If WADA was convinced that there was no possible way that the test on the A sample was wrong, then why require representatives of USADA to be present when Landis' representative is present?

If the USADA rep couldn't be present, then why not reschedule?

In 2004 two riders were kicked out of the Tour after doping investigations. Is there some reason that the IOC's and WADA's people were unable to complete an investigation with enough time to prevent Landis from crossing that finish line? They were able to do it in 2004.

Also, with historical issues with the lab, would it really have been so difficult to farm the test out to a different lab that both parties could agree on?

Due process has been negligible at best throughout the course of this affair, and I am only scratching the surface here. And I think it's safe to say that it doesn't look like he will get a fair hearing from doping officials.

More quick hits

In the news for all the wrong reasons...again
It seems my favorite Atlanta Falcon punching bag, the highly over-rated quarterback Michael Vick appears to have run afoul of the law...again, this time he has been implicated in a drug probe which has revealed, at the very least, some sort of indirect support of the illegal practice of dog fighting at a home Vick owns in Virginia. Currently a 26-year old relative who was being investigated as a drug dealer in a narcotics probe lives at the home.

According to the report, "more than 60 dogs were found in three buildings. Some appeared malnourished, scarred and injured, officials said."

Unfortunately, since Vick was not there...and I don't believe this would be his primary residence, I have a hunch that this will provide him with plausible deniability, allowing him to walk away from this dog fighting and what is yet another drug-related scandal unscathed.

I think it's interesting that trouble always seems to be hovering around this guy - whether it's as Ron Mexico, flipping off the fans, or being detained at an airport...not to mention the MySpace photos with a girlfriend and the marijuana use comments contained therein. Sure, to be fair one has to ask, "is he an innocent target?" or, "is he somebody that keeps putting himself in position to be a target?"

Just plain sloppy...
Orioles announcer and Maine native son Gary Thorne screwed up...bad. Assuming he heard Doug Mirabelli right and Mirabelli did actually say that it was paint on Schilling's sock, as someone who has worked professionally as a journalist for over a decade, here are the questions I have -

If the story is true...
1. When he first heard this, as he claims, two years ago (to the best of his recollection), as a journalist why didn't he follow up on this and get confirmation? There were plenty of potential sources to confirm -

A. First baseman Doug Mankiewicz who had a very acrimonious departure from the Red Sox.

B. Former Sox center fielder Johnny Damon.

C. Former Sox first baseman Kevin Millar.

D. The doctor, Bill Morgan, who performed the procedure and later was fired by the Red Sox.

Those are the ones off the top of my head. Keith Foulke comes to mind as well.

2. Mirabelli has a reputation as a practical joker - always has had that reputation. Wouldn't that make it more important to a reporter to confirm a story?

3. Most importantly, why would any reporter sit on a story like this for two years?

Red Sox fan or no, as a journalist I know that's something I'm working on getting out quickly and I'm making sure I have corroboration for my story. This was just sloppy and irresponsible.

28th and wondering where to go...
Right now the Red Sox are third in the majors in ERA (3.21), the Yankees 27th (4.83), the Yankees are 4th in batting average (.275), the Sox are 13th (.259). However, from the 7th inning on the Sox are 5th (.277), and the Yanks are 8th (.263) in batting and the Sox are tied for 2nd in ERA (1.83) while the Yanks are 28th (5.03). All of this has translated into the best record in baseball for the Red Sox heading into the final weekend of April. For the Yankees? A better record than only the Royals, Rangers, Nationals, and Cubs. Technically, that leaves them in 28th overall in the bigs.

How loud will the thus far quiet George Steinbrenner become if the Yankees extend their losing streak against the Red Sox this weekend? If they are swept again? If they lose two of three?

It could get really ugly really soon in the Bronx.

I know that the Yankees started like this last year, but last year they had a deeper bench and the Red Sox pitching wasn't as good as it is this year. They can turn it around. The question is, will they in time?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Clearing out the recesses of the mind...

And those are lonely places. Lonely, lonely places...

Dissecting labs...
According to the French newspaper L'Equipe, Floyd Landis' B-sample has tested positive for epi-testosterone. This of course is the same paper that has led witch-hunt after witch-hunt against American riders and the same French lab that has repeatedly bungled the testing of Tour-de-France riders.

Landis has of course responded, making some very valid points about the potential invalidity of the test results. I am not defending him, nor any other American rider, as I honestly don't know what to believe. I do have to say that something smells very wrong about the process here and the term "railroaded" pops into my head.

Pushing the panic button...
Brian Cashman must really feel Steinbrenner breathing down his neck at the moment. The Yankees are off to a great start offensively, but have been horrible on the mound (I think the longest any starter has gone has been 6 innings). Cashman will be promoting top pitching prospect Phil Hughes to start Thursday's game. The Yankees GM has been loath to do this in light of the fates of other top prospects rushed to the bigs such as Kerry Wood.

Dropping three straight to arch-rival Boston and then a fourth to Tampa Bay must really be eating at The Boss...and Cashman I'm sure knows it, otherwise Hughes doesn't go any higher than AAA before September of this year. The move smacks of desperation which is kind of funny when you think about it - do the conversion to a football season. This would be like management panicking somewhere around the early fourth quarter of the second game of the season...say with 13:45 left on the clock in the 4th quarter.

Early returns looking good...
My other sports gig, Bitterfans, asked its writers to submit predictions for this year's baseball season season, and right now I'm looking good in my picks for each division winner (hey, I know it's early and anything can happen between now and October). Here they are along with current standings -

AL East - Boston 1st
AL Cent - Minnesota T-1st (with Detroit)
AL West - Oakland - 1st

NL East - New York - 1st
NL Cent - Milwaukee - 1st
NL West - Los Angeles - 1st

I fully expect to be wrong on a couple of these...but hey, I need to give credit where credit is due while the standings still fall in favor of my predictions. Yay me.

Bright lights, big city...
This weekend marks the biggest holiday in football fandom for anyone whose team is a perennial bottom feeder...Saturday is Draft Day. It is the day that is meant to give hope for the turnaround, give belief that what was once bad can become good in a hurry. Fans gather in Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan to see who the future of their franchise is going to be.

The draft was created and designed on the premise that it favored the worst teams, giving them first shot at the top talent in the draft. It hasn't exactly worked that way - ask a fan of the Arizona Cardinals, a perennial bottom feeder. Of course that is no fault of the draft. The draft itself is sound as long as the organization picking has all of its front office and coaches on the same page.

To wit; the Cardinals, Lions, and Browns are consistently picking in the top ten. Theoretically those teams should be amassing an immense amount of talent. The Colts, Patriots, and Chargers typically are picking in the late 20's of the first round, amassing what should be lesser talent.

All teams work with the same salary constraints - and in spite of a reputation as being "cheap" the Patriots usually spend to the cap as does most of the league. What has been the difference between the bottom feeders and the cream of the crop? Management, talent evaluation, and coaching.

Bad luck does play a part (injuries, sudden retirements, etc), but even that can be overcome; the Patriots won a Super Bowl with a defensive backfield so decimated that one corner was a street free-agent, a safety was a career corner, the other safety a career linebacker, and the nickel-back was a career wide-receiver; the Philadelphia Eagles made it past the NFC Championship, getting that monkey off their back, sans the wide receiver who was supposed to be the missing piece in the previous seasons.

To put it a different way - If I told a Colts fan that Matt Millen was going to be their general manager, the Colts fan would probably go all Oedipus and claw his eyes out before killing himself. If I told a Pats fan that Dan Snyder was buying the team from Bob Kraft...let's just say what they would do would make the Boston Tea Party look tame by comparison.

For some reason it's like playing kick-ball when you're little, but the kid picked for team captain somehow finds a way to always pick the kid that everyone else would pick last. That's what it has come to for those bottom-end teams.

Management for the successful teams have set rules and prices and often will part with a highly talented player who thinks they are worth more than the team has budgeted for the position. The teams at the bottom? They're the ones who pay the big bucks thinking that the free-agent is the missing piece. Ask Redskins fans how well that has worked out, or Raiders fans.

The problem isn't the system...the problem is human, and the system wasn't made to account for human error.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Lucky Sevens...

It's early yet, so I'm not going to make a big deal about the Sweep at Fenway, however, if they take the three at the Stadium next week, The Boss (and I'm not talking Springsteen) isn't going to be happy. However, I do want to address some strange facts about this past weekend's series.

The finals of the games from Friday to Sunday - 7-6, 7-5, 7-6. One more run for the Yankees on Saturday and we're looking at the Number of the Beast. Is anyone really surprised by that?

Now onto the real trivia related to the weekend and the things that can be taken from this series.

The Yankees hitting is keeping some dismal pitching afloat. After this weekend, according to ESPN, Yankees starters are averaging fewer than 5 innings pitched per start and the bullpen has thrown the most innings of any bullpen in the majors. None of the starters is averaging even six innings per game.

The Bombers have largely been kept afloat through the efforts of the usually unreliable in the clutch Alex Rodriguez who has more home runs (12) than the rest of his team combined (11), and has more than twice the RBI's (31) of all but one of his teammates (Bobby Abreu with 16).

Red Sox pitching was mortal in the series, but still seemed to prove the old baseball adage, "great pitching beats great hitting." Also, Sox starters lasted a minimum of six innings in each start, keeping the Boston bullpen fresh. The Yankees had one starter last at least six full innings. In two of the three games Yankees starters relinquished the mound with the lead only to watch the bullpen cough up the lead. The Boston bullpen held in each instance it was asked.

Last night a rookie became just the second pitcher in the history of baseball to give up home runs on four consecutive at-bats. Curious connections - JD Drew is the only batter to be involved in the last time that four consecutive batters hit home runs (it happened a total of five times in the sport's history, but only twice was the same pitcher on the mound for all four dingers). Drew is the only batter involved in the quad-fecta more than once. Terry Francona's father was involved in the last time four were hit off of one pitcher.

What can be taken from this weekend? Not much more than a smug sense of self-satisfaction for Sox fans, with the understanding that the tables could be turned next weekend. But Yankees fans still should view this as a warning about the state of their pitching. As a Sox fan, I have seen my team try to build offensive juggernauts and ignore pitching. I can say that it can be good enough to get you to the post season...occasionally, but it won't get you much farther.