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Where we endeavor to stay positive about the 2011 Mets…

Archive for the ‘Performance Enhancing Drugs’ Category

Manny Ramirez: A “What If” Scenario

Posted by JD on April 9, 2011

If you haven’t heard by now, Manny Ramirez abruptly retired on Friday. Apparently he tested positive for performance enhancing drugs a second time (which would result in a 100-game suspension) and retired rather than having to deal with it. Whatever your feelings on Manny (I mostly agree with Joe Posnanski’s take on him), his antics, and how his career ended, I think we can all agree that he was an amazing hitter.

That got me thinking: where would Manny rank on the Mets offensive leaderboard? The Mets have long been known as a pitching-first franchise (think Tom Seaver, Jerry Koosman, and Dwight Gooden, among others), so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Manny absolutely dominates the leaderboard. John Olerud would still own the highest average and OBP, but Manny would lead in OPS, runs scored, hits, total bases, home runs, doubles…you name it, Manny would lead it (and it’s not especially close).

It’s fairly unrealistic to act as if one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time suddenly played his entire career with the Mets. But what if the Mets had claimed him off of waivers in the fall of 2003? As you may remember, the Red Sox put Manny on irrevocable waivers that year: anyone could have taken him had they been willing to pay his full contract. Nobody claimed him then, but what if the Mets had?

Well, they would have gotten seven-plus years of miserable defense in left field. But beyond that, they would have gotten 1,251 hits (trailing only Ed Kranepool’s 1,418), 2,289 total bases (242 more than Kranepool), 262 doubles (1st all-time, though David Wright has 261), 254 home runs (two more than Darryl Strawberry), 670 walks (90 more than Straw), and 725 runs scored (63 more than Straw). Olerud would still hold the highest batting and on-base averages, but Wright (.305) and Dave Magadan (.391) would drop to second behind Manny’s .308 batting average and .411 on-base average. Mike Piazza’s .542 slugging average would fall to Manny’s .564 and his .975 OPS would be almost 50 points higher than Olerud’s. And did I mention that he put these numbers up between the ages of 32 and 39? That’s just ridiculous.

Going further down the rabbit hole, Manny was worth 23.7 rWAR (’s version of WAR) during those years. That would place him eighth on the Mets all-time list, below Piazza’s 24.6 but above Jose Reyes’ 23.3. That total wouldn’t get his jersey retired, but it dwarves the total put up by Mets left fielders since 2004. Cliff Floyd (5.4 rWAR in three seasons and a personal favorite), Moises Alou (1.9 rWAR in two seasons), and Jason Bay (1.2 rWAR in one season) played the most left field during those seasons (2008-09 saw 10 different players get more than 10 games each in left field; I didn’t bother adding up their rWAR totals).

What would Game 6 have looked like with Manny Ramirez starting in left? Endy Chavez’ catch, one of the most iconic moments in franchise history, never would have happened, but would Manny have hit a home run to match Scott Rolen’s blast? Or, in the most alternate universe I can think of right now, what would have happened had Endy started the game (thus making his awesome catch) but Manny appeared as a pinch hitter instead of Cliff Floyd? How loud would Shea Stadium have been if Manny delivered the game winning hit, and how would Carlos Beltran haters denigrate him today if he never had to face Adam Wainwright’s wicked curveball? Would the 2007 Mets have made the playoffs? Would we be looking back on an era with multiple division-winning teams? Have I gotten carried away?

If you’ve read this far (thank you!) I’m sure you’ve noticed that I haven’t accounted for park factor. You’re right: the numbers listed above were compiled when Manny played most of his games in Fenway Park, a notorious hitters’ haven (although he did play 223 games as an LA Dodger during those seasons). Also, there’s the not-so-small matter of Manny’s salary during those seasons: he’s made more than $140 million since 2004. So, no: this is not the most likely scenario. But isn’t that the fun of asking “what if?”

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Dubious Anniversary

Posted by JD on March 17, 2010

It’s after 11PM as I write this. I suppose some of you are in the process of squeezing the most out of a Happy St. Patrick’s Day while the rest of you are readying for bed. I wouldn’t normally bother trying to squeeze in a post at this hour, but today I feel obligated: March 17th is the anniversary of one of my least favorite baseball memories: the Committee on Government Reform’s hearing into steroid/performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball. And this year it’s the fifth anniversary, no less. I had to put down some of my thoughts on the event.

Good lord, what a shit-show it was. I remember sitting there in stunned silence as Mark McGwire repeatedly stated that “he was not there to talk about the past.” I remember staring in disbelief as Curt Schilling failed to back up his years of tough talk about what he would do if he were in a position to address steroid abuse. Most of all, I vividly remember the vague, nagging feeling I had when Rafael Palmeiro jabbed his finger in the air and said: “I have never used steroids. Period”.

I admired Palmeiro at the time. He seemed to me to be one of the most underrated, under-hyped superstars in the history of the game (there are only three other members of the 3,000 hit, 500 home-run club). I also admired how his family escaped from Cuba and made a life for themselves in the US. But something about his vehement denials struck a false chord with me. He was just a bit too insistent, a bit too urgent, to be entirely believable. It seemed as thought he stole the show that day with his assertive declarations, but in reality he was only digging a grave for his reputation (and, most likely, his shot at being enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame).

I may not have wanted to admit it at the time but I think I was waiting for the other shoe to drop. As we know now, it didn’t take long: Palmeiro was suspended for a positive steroid test in August 2005. It was all but the end of his career: although he has never filed for retirement (even though he’ll be 46 in September and hasn’t picked up a bat in five years),no franchise has come close to signing him since. A sad ending, indeed.

So, today is anything but a happy anniversary for Major League Baseball, McGwire, Palmeiro, and really, all of us who’ve been fans throughout the Steroid Era (or Selig Error, as I sometimes like to call it). It was a dark day for baseball, but try as I might to move on, it keeps coming back. I suppose it will forever be part of the fabric of the game, for better or worse.

UPDATE: I just re-read the post and realized it’s not quite what I was aiming for. Sure, I felt at the time that Palmeiro was not quite telling the truth and I am disappointed that I was proven right, but I didn’t want the post to focus only on him. For me, his was only the most shining example of failure. Everyone (with, knock on wood, one exception*) who was involved in the events of the day contributed to the horror show: Palmeiro was only the most egregious.

* That would be Frank Thomas. History awaits, but to this day it appears that his good name is still intact.

Elected members of our nation’s government wasted their time with an issue that ranked (and still ranks) far, far down on the list of priorities in what appeared (to me, at least) to be a shameful grab for the spotlight. Some of the biggest names in the sport produced one of the most pathetic performances in its history. It was the exact opposite of a banner day. What was a day that should have lived in sports-infamy morphed into a car-crash that a lot of us would like nothing more than to forget. Unfortunately, it became a day that will always lurk in the background for baseball fans of a certain age, casting a shadow on some of their favorite memories. And that’s the part of the “Dubious Anniversary” that I really wanted to focus on.

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The Selig Era

Posted by JD on May 9, 2009

I recently posted my thoughts on Manny Ramirez’ positive drug test. In that post, I reffered to the “steroid era”, that time from the late eighties to the early 2000’s when steroid use was rampant. Today, I read a post by Joe Posnanski of the KC Star, Sports Illustrated, and this blog (unfortunately his site is down as I write this, so I can’t link to it). In that post, he referred to the same time period as “the Selig era”.
So simple, and both literally and figuratively true. Though the steroid issue existed prior to Selig’s term as commissioner (I’m looking at you, Nails), it exploded on his watch as he looked the other way. I have no doubt that Fay Vincent would have handled it better (never mind Bart Giamatti). It seems appropriate to me to place a large slice of the blame on Bud.  Making “the Selig Era” interchangeable with “the steroid era” strikes me as the perfect way to do so, and so I shall. By all means, please feel free to join in and spread it far and wide.
On a side note, do yourself a favor and check out Mr. Posnanski’s blog. He’s one of the best sportswriters in the country today. His “The Soul of Baseball” is one of the best books I’ve ever read, sports or otherwise. I’m even planning on buying his book about the ’75 Reds. Why? Because he wrote it. I can’t recommend him enough.

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Manny, Mike, and David: A PED Story

Posted by JD on May 8, 2009

Fair warning: this is just one blogger’s view of Manny Ramirez and performance enhancing drugs (PEDs).  I’m not here to judge Manny’s intentions or crucify him for his decisions and I don’t have any grand solutions for the PED issue in Major League Baseball.  This is just my take on his positive test and how it impacted me.

As you know, Manny tested positive for using a testosterone-generating PED, hCG. The hormone is often used to speed the generation of testosterone at the end of a steroid cycle.  Under MLB’s drug testing program Manny must serve a 50 game suspension effective yesterday.

Many of the superstars (and regular players, for that matter) from baseball’s steroid era have been indelibly linked to steroid or PED use.  Manny, however, was seen as something of a man-child, baseball’s answer to the idiot savant. His antics were frustrating but often charming (at least to me and, I suspect, most of Red Sox nation).  The man-child persona also had the unintended benefit of giving him some cover in the endless debates on which players were juicing.  The argument went something like this: “Manny would never use PEDs. The guy peed in the scoreboard at Fenway during a pitching change! He’s not sophisticated enough to pull it off.”  I’ve heard plenty of versions of it and, in full disclosure, I’ve used it a few times myself.

Well, the man-child defense just got thrown out the window.  Turns out he was sophisticated enough*.  It’s pushed me to the point where I cannot escape this conclusion: if Manny did it, everyone did it.

*Incidently, the Boras factor should not be overlooked here. I’m not saying that Scott Boras gave Manny PEDs: I have no proof or even any circumstantial evidence of this.  I am saying that Boras’ two most high-profile clients have been linked to PED use in the past four months.  That counts for something in my book.

Now I know this is not exactly breaking news.  It’s been a common point of view for several years now, but it just resonated more for me when Manny tested positive.  You see, I’ve long been that guy who defended steroid-era players.  I may have suspected that certain players were using PED’s, but I just didn’t want to believe it until it was unavoidably obvious*.  My typical defense?  “Well sure, Player X used PEDs, but Player Y didn’t because (insert lame excuse).”  Well, you know what?  Too many Player Y’s went on to fail a drug test or be otherwise implicated.  Manny and his man-child persona were the straw that broke my back.

*The one exception? Roger “The Rocket” Clemens.  I wanted that bastard to be caught red-handed with a steroid needle in his ass.  Needless to say, I’m a big Brian McNamee fan.

Which brings me to Mike Piazza. Not to get all Jeff Pearlman on you, but Manny’s positive test has finally led me to the point where I can no longer defend Mike Piazza in the PED debate.  This is NOT to say that I believe he used them.  Quite the contrary, actually.  He’s always been a stand-up guy, someone who represented himself, his family, and the franchise with pride.  Beyond that, he’s one of my favorite players and I hope beyond hope that he’s never implicated.  But here’s the rub: I can’t honestly say that I’d be surprised anymore if evidence came out today proving that he did use PEDs*. That’s the saddest thing about the Manny affair: it finally stripped me of the last shreds of my doubt and disbelief.

*And by the way Jeff, I need more more than circumstantial evidence or anonymous sources.  I’m willing to believe you based on your body of work, but you have to do better than some snide “backne” comments.  Come out with something more substantial or stop taking shots at Piazza. Considering the fact that you wrote one of the best Mets books ever, it’s downright infuriating to me that you took that route.

It’s not fair to Piazza, or Frank Thomas, or Pedro Martinez, or any other superstar from the steroid era.  But hey, it’s not fair to us fans either.  We now live in a reality that mandates we doubt every single statistical achievement from that era because the “good” guys can no longer be reliably separated from the “bad” guys.  And that’s just rotten for all of us.

In seeking the silver lining to this mess, I came up with this: the fact that one of baseball’s biggest stars was snared by MLB’s drug testing program indicates that it is working. Yes, it’s imperfect and yes, cheaters will find ways around it. But it offers a respite to the fan: if you’re favorite player never tests positive, you can at least rely on the fact that he regularly passed a test for chemical enhancements that one of the greatest right-handed hitters of all time failed.

That’s where David Wright comes in (and Jose Reyes, Daniel Murphy, and others of that age bracket).  As he continues his assault on the Mets’ record book, we know that David has not failed a drug test.  Until he does, we can be reasonably assured that he’s clean.  Should he make it through his entire career without failing a test, we can refer back to his body of work without the spectre of PEDs hanging over it.  And that’s at least a start.

Granted, this is not the greatest silver lining I’ve ever come up with.  I’d love to be able to say that David positively does not cheat because he hasn’t been caught (I do believe that, by the way).  The reality is that MLB’s testing program is far from perfect.  There are no reliable means to test for some human growth hormones in use today, and MLB’s tests will always be reactive rather than proactive.  It’s in the nature of the beast that chemsists will invent new performance enhancers and athletes will use them until they are caught.  The cycle will repeat itself and we’ll be forced to look back on their achievements with doubt, wondering when exactly they became tainted. 

At least a supervisory structure exists now.  Is it perfect?  No, it’s an imperfect solution that will produce imperfect results.  I’m angry that the best I can say about David Wright is that at least he hasn’t failed a test yet, because I genuinely think he doesn’t use PEDs.  But then, I thought that about Manny.  Look where that got me.

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