Thursday, December 27, 2007

Don't Blame Chris

(full disclosure: my son, and my tuition dollars, go to Arizona State University)

Please, please, please: cut Chris Jesse some slack.

He's the University of Texas football staffer who hopped off the sidelines to reach for a live ball coughed up by Arizona State quarterback Rudy Carpenter during the Holiday Bowl game. Manifold replays showed the act. Questions linger as to whether Jesse actually touched the ball, although the referees ruled he did. That judgment overturned a turnover, giving the ball back to ASU and leading to the Sun Devils' only first-half touchdown.

My question: why did it take the ESPN staff so long to point out the obvious: UT should have been penalized whether Chris Jesse touched the ball or not, because somewhere close to half the coaching staff (including head coach Mack Brown) was on the field while the ball was in play?

It's halftime as I write this, and this play could well turn out to mean nothing at all. But it's already up on YouTube, and this young Longhorn staffer will no doubt be branded for years as the guy who cost his team a fumble recovery. Wrong-O, Bevo. Texas had already been warned for its sideline antics, and the guy who should take the heat for allowing a wild sideline charge onto the field is the man who gets paid the big bucks to run the program.

This one's on you, Mack Brown. You spend enough time working the refs every game. Step up and take the heat for the fact that your sideline doesn't know where the sideline ends and the field begins.

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Slugger and the Surgeon

It's a tried-and-true plot device in detective shows: "doctor-patient privilege". A King's "X" for any criminal suspect--whatever you tell your doctor is inadmissible as evidence.

Except it doesn't apply in federal courts, which have their own evidentiary rules. This matters to Barry Bonds because he's facing federal charges. And it matters to Dr. Art Ting, the well-known Bay Area orthopedic surgeon, because he could well wind up sitting in the witness chair during a Bonds trial.

Ting, whose office walls are lined with photos of sports stars, has operated on Bonds more than once. He has literally held the man's multimillion dollar career in his hands. But this time, it could be Bonds' legacy (and freedom) on the operating table.

Ting is not new to this case. He testified before the federal grand jury, and it is known that Ting traveled with Bonds to BALCO when Bonds was having his blood tested. Prosecutors say they have evidence of positive blood tests--which is the basis for their charges against Bonds for telling the grand jury that he had not taken performance-enhancing drugs.

As Bonds' surgeon, one has to assume Ting knew what Bonds was or wasn't taking. If he traveled with Bonds to BALCO, it's hard to imagine he wasn't privy to the test results. And you can bet that if this case goes to trial, Ting is going to be compelled to tell the world what he knows.

This can't be a comfortable prospect for Bonds, or for Ting. He's varnished his career by treating big-name athletes. One has to wonder if this patient will turn out to be a privilege for Dr. Ting.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Chris Simon Haiku

On hearing that the preeminent thug in the NHL has done it again (this time, a 30-game suspension for knocking down an opponent, then skate-stomping the back of his leg):

Try to maim guy with my skate
Say I am sorry
Why does it seem deja-vu?

Mistakes Are the Best Teachers

All of you who never made a mistake, line up over there.

Never cut a corner? Never told a lie? Never did something you later regretted?

Then I submit you've never really learned much from life.

Right now, a lot of big-league ballplayers are getting the chance to learn some big-time lessons, courtesy of the Mitchell Report. Some players, of course, are choosing to stonewall. Others are using the report as a chance to come clean.

Cynics are noting that those who are coming forward to acknowledge their drug use are almost unanimously saying they only did it once or twice--a variation on the "I didn't inhale" theme. And the same cynics are quick to point out that many of these guys were previously steadfast in denying they'd ever done wrong.

I say, "so what?" If a Brian Roberts or an F.P. Santangelo or an Andy Pettite is willing to acknowledge a mistake, shouldn't we be willing to accept the apology and move on? What if every mistake you'd ever made was held against you forever? The only lesson you'd learn from that would be to keep on covering up.

As the eminent philosopher Tom Bodett puts it, "The difference between school and life? In school, you're taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you're given a test that teaches you a lesson."

School's out.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Time for Amnesty?

The Mitchell Report's reverberations are still rippling through baseball. Andy Pettite has 'fessed up (sort of). The Orioles wonder whatever happened to due process. And A-Rod went on "60 Minutes" to deny Jose Canseco's suggestion that baseball's greatest active player was juicing.

Congress is gearing up for hearings. George Mitchell himself admits his Hall of Shame is incomplete. He acknowledges the essential unfairness of naming some names, but obviously not all names. In Mitchell's words, "Anyone who has been named would like to see everyone else named, but that means you never get to the end of it."

Indeed. If baseball doesn't get this right, it risks descending into an athletic equivalent of the Inquisition or the Red Scare. Everybody's a suspect, everyone's a potential snitch. How's that for clubhouse harmony? Is that really what the fans want?

I'm going to go out on the limb here and suggest a way out: amnesty. Look, we all suspect what Mitchell tried to prove (but really didn't do). For a number of years, a lot of these guys were on something. At this point, do we really need a witch hunt?

What we need is closure, not punishment. Let's accept the fact that for a variety of reasons, a variety of people and institutions came up short. Let's end the climate of fear (and its close cousin, the code of silence) by issuing a blanket amnesty.

History can do what it wants with the reputations and statistics from the Steroid Years. For now, baseball needs to find ways to make sure those years end immediately. Toughen up testing and penalties. Tackle the "what goes on here, stays here" mentality of the clubhouse. And cut the Inquisition off at the pass with an amnesty program.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Friends Help Friends

One of the most striking aspects of the Mitchell report on baseball's steroid era is the connections.

Read through the report, and you find example after example of how one player's use led to another player's decision to dip his toe in the water. We knew already about Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield and the Giambis (with trainer Greg Anderson in the middle). But there are many more stories in the Mitchell report about players who turned their teammates or workout partners on to the juice.

There's a story about Wally Joyner, at the tail end of his career, accepting advice from Ken Caminiti in San Diego and briefly trying steroids. There's the connect-the-dots tale of FP Santangelo, the journeyman utility player whose stops included the Giants and the A's. Santangelo had a connection (through David Segui) with the former Mets clubbie Kirk Radomski, who supplied him with human growth hormone. In a modern version of Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance, Santangelo hooked A's outfielder Adam Piatt up with Radomski, and Piatt passed that connection on to Miguel Tejada. A strength trainer is the reported connection between Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite.

Why should we be surprised? It's the way of the world. Who hasn't gotten a stock tip from a coworker? Or real estate investment advice from a neighbor? Or managed to get an "inside" deal on a hotel room or a car or a new TV?

We're social beings. We trust those around us. And when they offer us a deal, we're often quick to jump on it.

It's easy to blast these ballplayers as cheaters. No defense here: they broke the rules. But in searching for the "why" of all this, it's worth remembering the power of a personal relationship--for better or worse.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Here We Go Again

OK. I'm being sucked into the vortex again. I'll admit it: I quit on the Giants last year. Gave up. Sold all my tickets after August 1st and just stopped caring.

But I'm jacked again, and the reason why is the guy you see crawling up the outfield wall in the picture. The butt belongs to Aaron Rowand, and history says Giants fans will see a lot of shots like this. Aaron Rowand has just signed a five-year contract with the Giants, and he's a hard-ass.

I mean that in the best possible way. He plays full-out. This is the guy who made headlines in 2006 when he caught a bases-loaded drive just before smashing into the wall. He broke his nose and needed facial surgery. His manager, Charlie Manuel, said at the time, "That might be the best effort and determination I've ever seen." Here's the key: this play was in the first inning of a game in May.

Cool. A guy who plays hard even when it's not Showtime. But even better: Rowand doesn't mind being a hard-ass off the field. In other words, that famously blase' Giants clubhouse may have the heat turned up a couple of notches.

The Rowand signing also means the Giants no longer need to consider trading pitching phenoms Matt Cain or Tim Lincecum for an outfielder. Good. If they'd traded either of those guys, I might have been able to stay out of the vortex.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Why Didn't We Listen?

He's an unlikely hero. Anyone who knew Ken Caminiti saw a ballplayer, pure and simple. A pretty good one, too. He came out of San Jose's Leigh High School (my alma mater) and San Jose State, and had a very solid 15-year major league career.

But it wasn't his 3 Gold Gloves, or his MVP season for the Padres in 1996, or his 239 career home runs that should have made Cammy one of baseball's most memorable figures. It was the fact that he told the truth about something we didn't want to hear: the sport was juiced.

To be honest, you didn't really need a lab full of testing machines to see it in Caminiti. He got bigger and bulkier each year, and in 2002, the year after his career ended, he told Sports Illustrated why: he was 'roiding. And more than that, he wasn't alone. Caminiti estimated half of baseball was on steroids.

So what did baseball do? Nothing at all. The sport was drunk on home runs. Mc Gwire had those back-to-back 70 and 65 HR seasons in 1998 and '99. Bonds had just hit 73 in 2001. And Ken Caminiti was a broken-down former player with a history of alcohol and cocaine abuse.

But anyone who knew Ken Caminiti knew this was no Jose Canseco, who teased us for months about the "tell-all" book he was going to write. Cammy had no real axe to grind, no publishing contract, no ego to feed.

Sure, there was a big bunch of publicity when that Sports Illustrated article came out. But nobody really believed Ken Caminiti's story--I mean, how could half the players be on steroids? That would make this whole thing a fraud, wouldn't it?

It's been more than five years since Cammy came clean and three years since he died young, his body ravaged by booze and coke. Tomorrow, the Mitchell report on steroid abuse in baseball comes out. It didn't need to take this long. They could have just listened to Ken Caminiti.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

What's It Worth To You?

Cause: ruptured water heater in my garage.

Effect: a bunch of long-forgotten sports memorabilia surfaces.

I dig into a box full of ticket stubs, scorecards, trading cards, media guides, press passes...what once seemed like important artifacts. They still trigger memories, but I'm feeling the urge to have less stuff in my life.

So I decide to see if some of this stuff might find a new home. Maybe somebody else wants it. And maybe they're willing to pay for it.

A couple of ticket stubs from the day Willie Mays got his 3,000th hit (I was there, age 14, Candlestick Park) attract immediate interest. One guy's willing to pay $500 for a stub, even though the back is marred with my teenaged notes about the details of Mays' feat (a groundball single off Montreal's Mike Wegener).

Who knew?
And then there's this item:That's right. 1962 World Series. Game 7. McCovey's liner to Richardson.

And no, I was not there. How I got this wrinkled, defaced ticket stub, I couldn't tell you. It doesn't bring back any memories because I have no memories of the '62 Series--I was 6 years old and I doubt even aware that such a thing as the World Series existed.

So is it easier to sell this one? Actually, no. I've listed it on eBay, too, but I'm ambivalent. See, it's one thing to sell a piece of paper that represents a memory (like those Mays 3,000 stubs). It's entirely something else to sell a piece of paper that represents a fantasy--a game I never saw, but which is a central piece of Bay Area sports history.