NEWS: BASEBALL CRACKS DOWN ON PED USERS
VIEWS: That’s the way the news media are playing the penalties meted out to 14 players implicated in the Biogenesis affair. The newsies depict vigilant B-Men banging down the door of the defunct Miami “anti-aging” clinic, rounding up the johns regardless of rank and nailing them with lengthy sentences. Holy J. Edgar!
Trouble is, that doesn’t square with the facts. For one thing, only seven of the Flawed Fourteen are current major leaguers, and one of the remaining seven (Jordan Noberto) is an unemployed free-agent pitcher recovering from elbow surgery. For another, just one of them—Ryan Braun—ever failed an MLB drug test, and his result was reversed on a technicality. That means that testing-- the game’s main line of pharmaceutical defense-- failed to identify 13 players later revealed as users, hardly an encouraging outcome.
Further, the case that triggered the actions wasn’t uncovered by Baseball but by a whistleblower. According to stories in the New York Times and ESPN, one Porter Fischer, a Biogenesis employee and investor, staged a late-night raid on the company’s files after concluding he was being scammed by Tony Bosch, the outfit’s fake-doctor owner, and turned the trove over to the Miami weekly newspaper that initially published it. Without his out-of-left-field help the episode might never have come to light.
As for the penalties, c’mon. After plea bargaining 12 players received the 50-game suspensions they would have gotten as first-time drug-test flunkers even though their PED use seemingly was substantial and prolonged; the major leaguers among them will be eligible to participate in this year’s playoffs if their teams make it that far. Braun’s sentence of 65 games allowed him to end an injury-plagued season with his last-place club and begin work on the new act he’ll unveil at spring training. My guess is that he’ll be a L.A. Dodger by then.
This leaves Alex Rodriguez as the only player whose case still pends. That’s because, at age 38 and with a thick surgical file, ARod’s 200-plus game suspension lasting through 2014, based on his admitted previous drug use and asserted attempt to hamper the investigation, amounts to a career ender, so he might as well seek arbitration. That’s good because it will force Baseball to subject its evidence to scrutiny in a quasi-judicial forum. If it holds up the game at least will have done something right.
NEWS: THE NFL REVISES ITS PRO-BOWL FORMAT
VIEWS: Lots of sports-page stories invite chuckles but few make me laugh out loud. One did the other day, concerning the National Football League’s annual Pro Bowl all-star game that has concluded recent seasons.
It’s no news that fan and player indifference has put the game in jeopardy; I joined those addressing the subject in my blog of July 15, which you can scroll down to read. The league has taken the criticisms to heart my announcing some changes in the way the contest will be played. The ones that got the most ink were a no-kickoffs rule in the name of player safety, and some tinkering with the game clock to speed play.
The change that got me, though, was the way the teams will be picked. Players still will be selected by a clunky process blending fan, player and coaches’ votes, but once a pool of the worthy is established the top two individual vote getters will be dubbed captains and allowed to choose sides without regard to the NFC-AFC conference divide.
Let me repeat that. The richest, most-buttoned-down, most-self-important sports league in creation will allow its all-star-game teams to be picked by CHOOSING SIDES, just like kids do in the playgrounds. Don’t you love it?
The stories didn’t say who’d get first pick, but I have a couple of suggestions. One would be to take a page from baseball and have one captain flip a bat to the other and then go hand over hand toward the handle until no more room remains and the top hand prevails. The other would have one captain spin a ball behind the other’s back and ask him to choose between laces up or down. That’s more suitable to football but not as much fun as the bat method. You can’t do chicken claws on a football.
NEWS: “JOHNNY FOOTBALL” CAN’T STAY OUT OF TROUBLE
Of all of sports’ prizes the dumbest and most overblown is the Heisman Award, given annually to the “best” college-football player. It forces an apples-and-coconuts choice among players at different positions facing different competition, with no guidelines except those of the individual electors. It’s really a contest among team SIDs (short for sports information directors) to see which can drum up the most votes for his candidate. The gap between hype and reality was sharp last season, when the No. 1 pick in the NFL draft, offensive tackle Eric Fisher of Central Michigan U., was a player who’d received no Heisman votes.
The guy who won was Johnny Manziel, a quarterback. That was thanks mostly to his catchy nickname of “Johnny Football” and a good-enough season of passing and running. His school, Texas A&M, probably thought it had struck gold because Johnny was a red-shirt freshman whose glow would illuminate the school for seasons to come. It also didn’t hurt that he’s a clean-cut looking white kid.
The glow has been anything but golden because it turns out that Johnny gets rowdy after a few beers, sleeps through obligations and sends rude messages from small electronic devices he carries. Other 20 year olds also do those things but they don’t have multitudes of followers, virtual and real, eager to broadcast their every expression.
Last week Johnny topped himself when it was alleged he pocketed cash for signing photos and gear, in violation of NCAA rules. If the charge sticks he’d be ineligible for the games ahead. His daddy is a well-off oilman who has hired a lawyer to protect sonny ’s status, shifting the media focus from the gridiron to the conference (or court) room. That’s just what the college-sports big-timers deserve, huh?