Interesting comments on baseball in Florida, Selig, etc.
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| By eyleenn on Wednesday, October 22, 2003 - 01:58 pm:|
From today's NYTimes:
October 22, 2003
SPORTS OF THE TIMES
Baseball Should Not Let Party End in Miami
By HARVEY ARATON
IT was nice to see the ethnically diverse mass of baseball fans partying in the parking lot of Pro Player Stadium before the Yankees' 6-1 victory in Game 3 of the World Series last night, just where they were the last time I was here six years ago.
That night, they were celebrating a seventh-game victory over the Cleveland Indians, when the Marlins, in their fifth season, became the first wild-card team to win the World Series. Major League Baseball seemed to have established itself in Miami with tentacles reaching into the Caribbean. The Cuban pitcher Liván Hernández was named the Series's most valuable player, hours after being reunited with his mother, Miriam Carreras, who had flown up from Havana.
They tell me there has been little parking lot partying since H. Wayne Huizenga, the original Marlins owner, tore apart his championship team, pocketed the profits from allowable tax shelters, sold the franchise and moved upstairs to a skybox suite, where his cash register remains open for business.
Huizenga, the waste management and video entrepreneur, was back in the news during the National League Championship Series when he was erroneously quoted as saying he was rooting for the Cubs. "I am a Marlins fan; I'll always be a Marlins fan," he said in a statement. On this particular issue, there was no reason to doubt him.
Figuratively speaking, Huizenga was right in the parking lot with the 65,000-plus that included several thousand Yankees fans, who went home happy, thanks to more clutch hitting from Derek Jeter, Hideki Matsui, Aaron Boone and Bernie Williams. Huizenga was down there, getting his 62 percent take of all parking fees, according to a recent report in The Palm Beach Post, and 30 percent of stadium concessions. Huizenga controls the Marlins' lease and is still slowly bleeding the life out of what should be a grand National League market, not a baseball flea market.
He blamed the game's economics and the lack of a new facility. Baseball's commissioner, Bud Selig, let Huizenga get away with this thinly veiled attempt to extort taxpayer money, with an argument that has since been consigned to the bin of disrepute. Most recently, new parks in Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Detroit have done nothing to alter their competitive quality and financial viability. Meanwhile, three of this season's final four play in parks that predate television, and they annually are the hottest stories and tickets in their respective towns.
The Marlins have been rumored to be on Selig's long-range contraction list, but baseball now has been given an unforeseen second chance in South Florida. The Marlins have appealing young players, with names like Castillo and Cabrera, Encarnacion and Rodriguez. They have youth and speed and a rotation of brash kids like last night's starter and hard-luck loser, 23-year-old Josh Beckett, off the Texas assembly line of right-handed power pitchers.
They again have hope, but they also have that bad stadium lease and an owner, Jeffrey Loria, who helped put the Montreal Expos where they are today. If the Marlins rally to win another World Series, might history repeat itself? With a payroll already upward of $50 million and several players who will soon seek remuneration worthy of their pennant run, Loria is making no promises for next year.
If nothing else, the Marlins are a microcosm of baseball itself, currently working under blue skies but with the forecast calling for the chance of potentially destructive storms. Basking in the ratings generated in large part by the soap opera sagas of the Red Sox and the Cubs, Selig suddenly must deal with the winds of steroid scandal blowing in from the west.
Ask David Stern. It is never a good thing when the player who is arguably your best appears in the same sentence with the words subpoena and grand jury. Some scientists familiar with the intermingling subjects of drugs and sports have been saying that the government investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Cooperative — to which Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi have been linked — could trigger an event of seismic proportions in sports. It is too early to guess where this is going, but it is a reminder to Selig that his most serious problems have not been resolved by the fascination with a billy goat in Chicago and Grady the scapegoat in Boston.
He still has a counterfeit drug-testing plan. He still has joke franchises that are not in the Yankees' league and barely qualify as major league. Some of these teams, including his beloved Milwaukee Brewers, may be beyond help. The Florida Marlins have already proved they are not.
A strong, assertive commissioner would not let a market with such potential be crushed again. Selig needs to find a way to help make baseball work here. Don't tell me about football, about humidity, about rain that can come at any moment and did, in buckets last night.
The game was delayed 39 minutes in the fourth inning, and play later continued in a steady downpour.
Immediately came the press box I-told-you-so's, and the national past-your-bedtime promised to drag on into the East Coast night. Miami needs a domed stadium, various Marlins owners have been crying since 1993. Perhaps it does, but it's worth noting that the Marlins had one home rainout this season and a mere six delays. They played four 1997 World Series games here with no interruption.
If they let this team sink into disrepair again, it'll be the tears of the fans, not the rain, that washes away baseball in Miami.
| By eyleenn on Wednesday, October 22, 2003 - 02:07 pm:|
More from the Times on the "shadow of steroids."
October 22, 2003
SPORTS OF THE TIMES
Baseball May Be Closer to a Better Drug Policy
By GEORGE VECSEY
SMACK in the middle of the World Series, the names Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi have come up in a federal grand jury investigation of a drug company that may be the source of a new steroid.
There is no indication that the panel was looking to upstage the World Series, but that was the impact. If not for the grotesque muff of a fly ball by Jose Cruz Jr. in the postseason, Bonds and the Giants could very well have been playing against Giambi and the Yankees in Game 3 last night.
Giambi says he visited the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative, or Balco, to learn about the vitamins they manufacture, and he says his subpoena is "no big deal."
He played first base and went 0 for 2 in the Yankees' 6-1 victory over the the Marlins last night. Sometime later this fall he will tell investigators what he knows about Balco.
The television ratings are huge for baseball's postseason, but there has been a downside. A few Yankees and Red Sox players made fools of themselves during the recent series, and now Jeff Nelson and Karim Garcia of the Yankees will have to return to Boston to answer questions about the bullpen stomping of a member of the Fenway Park grounds crew. The hot-stove league threatens to become the subpoena league.
But baseball may be close to serious testing for performance-enhancing drugs. If a trial testing program this past season produces a 5 percent positive rate, "Then we will have the greatest drug-testing program in all of sports," said Rob Manfred, the vice president for labor of Major League Baseball.
This means that the future health of baseball players depends on reaching the 5 percent level. Failure would be good. The program went into effect this spring in an agreement between Major League Baseball and the players association. Up to now, baseball has avoided all this dreary business of testing and suspensions by not having any standards regarding steroids or certain other performance-enhancing drugs.
We have two kinds of athletes — hothouse and free-range — with no certified way to tell the difference. While Mark McGwire was breaking the home-run record with 70 in 1998, he acknowledged that he had used androstenedione, which is comparable to a steroid.
Andro — as it is called — is not illegal in baseball, but it is in so-called Olympic sports as well as in pro football. McGwire later said he gave it up because he did not want to be seen as setting an example for young people, who are nevertheless gobbling up anything that will make their muscles grow bigger.
Since McGwire's breakthrough season, there has been anecdotal awareness of baseball players who came to spring training considerably larger than the past September. Some are left with prominent facial bones and permanent marks from acne and other suggestions of steroid usage. The latest visual impression is that some who bulked up for a few years have since slimmed down.
Major League Baseball has not acted on andro, leaving the impression that it did not want to meddle with the contemporary game of mucho home runs and mucho strikeouts.
Baseball had enough trouble early this season when Sammy Sosa's bat broke, revealing an illegal use of cork filler. Sosa, one of baseball's most appealing figures, has said his "mistake" was in corking a bat for batting-practice home run displays.
• Bulked-up power hitters and power pitchers could be a far deeper problem. The players association has zealously avoided testing, but last spring, a young Baltimore pitcher, Steve Bechler, died of heatstroke after taking a large dosage of a diuretic that contained ephedra.
Now there is testing, including 240 players for a second time at random. "We'll know in a couple of weeks," Manfred said.
Baseball cannot be happy with very large sluggers like Giambi and Bonds being linked to Balco, the laboratory in the Bay Area that may be a source of the powerful new steroid, tetrahydrogestrinone, or THG.
"The players are witnesses, not targets," Manfred said. "There are some funny things about this. It may be about taxes rather than drugs. We really have to know more about this."
An estimated 40 athletes have been called before a federal grand jury in San Francisco to investigate Balco. Track and field athletes have reportedly used the new drug and were liable to be detected because that very suspect sport at least has rules and testing.
Many doctors say steroids are likely to have dire impact on athletes after their playing days are over.
"I think everybody is concerned about the health and welfare of the players," said Joe Torre, the Yankees manager. "They'll work it out."
Maybe they will. Maybe they won't. Baseball has good reason to be leery about sending its best players to the Summer Games because of the advanced testing in the Olympic movement. The gold medal would not be worth having a few stars busted for steroids. Baseball would not want steroids to intrude on a happy moment. But now, near the end of an exciting postseason, the shadow of steroids has fallen over baseball.