Baseball Toaster Bad Altitude
Break Out the Tinfoil Helmets
2006-04-20 16:58
by Mark T.R. Donohue

I get a little crazy on off-days. Today is particularly bad because Zach Day kept the game yesterday from being at all satisfying. I was watching the Baltimore-Cleveland game and thinking about how much I dislike the Orioles. I resent them for signing Miguel Tejada, who was my favorite player when I was living in Berkeley, and dooming him to a Todd Helton/Ernie Banks career path. I resent their spectacularly ugly orange-and-black third jerseys. Mostly, I hate their ornithologically correct-hat-wearing guts for their incredibly greedy, short-sighted, and territorial attitude with regard to the new Washington franchise. Their owner is an obnoxious power lawyer who made his millions off the misery and suffering of others (specifically, through asbestos litigation) and now is extorting money from a team it's in all of baseball's best interests to help thrive. This while running out a subpar product on the field and evidently lying about the money he's making all the while. Also, Corey Patterson is on the O's now.

Sure, I could think of mean things to say about Peter Angelos all afternoon, but my point (and I do have one) is a bit broader than that. The point is, steroids. That's all anyone in the press, on ESPN, or on the radio is talking about, but there are at least two things going on in baseball right now that are vastly more unconscionable than the steroid controversy. I mean, people have every right to be as incensed as they care to be about players juicing, but it happened. Nothing we do can change it. The steroid era is largely over with now (he said hopefully), and the statistics seem to indicate that just as many pitchers were juicing as hitters, so the wild claims made about the tainting of statistics may be something that dies down in time. Certainly unseasonably warm April weather has done just as much this season to boost power numbers. It's hard to see what further consequences another season of hand-wringing about performance enhancers can have. What, is MLB going to make the penalties for positive tests even harsher? Are they going to instigate public floggings, or worse, celebrity show trials with Jose Canseco as a witness for the prosecution and Mark McGwire weeping rivers of crocodile tears? I'd just as soon not, thanks. The current direction of the inquisition seems to be focused entirely on one player, which is absurd and unfair. And, as we've touched upon before, the Barry Bonds quagmire seems to be working itself out quite nicely, with the great man himself unable to so much as swing a bat without random loose pieces of bone and cartilage flying free from his body like space debris.

If anything, the most recent series of "revelations" about Bonds and who injected whom with what when has made me have more sympathy for the guy, not less. I'm not defending Bonds' cheating, I'm just saying that the timeline the most recent tell-all books have established has Bonds' steroid use beginning as a reaction to less physically gifted players passing him in the record books and the public imagination through rampant and seemingly consequence-less chemical augmentation. I don't forgive Bonds his decision, but I certainly understand it. If the other Rockies websites were flying ahead of me in quantity and quality of posts through the rumored use of blog-enhancing drugs, I'd be pretty conflicted about it. And as of right now, the Toaster doesn't test -- what would I have to lose, really?

But there I go proving my own point. Even people who are sick of hearing about the whole thing can't help but be drawn into the steroids debate. It's too high-profile, too dramatic, too mythic. It's like that Greek guy with the melting wings or something. And while it's a terrible embarrassment for baseball, it's also a perfect smokescreen. While the debate rages on in the public spectrum, as far as the lords of baseball are concerned, the steroid controversy is a dead issue. The penalties now in place will be the rules for a while. All the hot air blowing regarding amending or annotating the record books is merely hot air, as it doesn't take a meteorologist to tell you that this is flatly impossible and in fact ridiculous. In five years or so there will be much sound and fury regarding the Hall of Fame candidacies of many of the accused juicers, but five years is an awful long time. The Marlins could win two more championships and hold two more embarrassing fire sales in five years' time. And anyways, steroid controversy notwithstanding, lots and lots of people are still going to baseball games and paying greater amounts than ever for the honor of so doing. The steroid thing is a black eye for baseball, for sure, but they're already holding a steak up to it and it's going to clear up right fine before you even know it.

In fact, the continued media static over the steroid issue is tremendously convenient for Major League Baseball at the moment, because without much noise radiating beyond the affected areas fans in Washington, D.C. and South Florida are getting hosed like the kid in the "fire hydrant" scene from UHF. In his deepest heart of hearts, do you really suppose Bud Selig is broken up over all the mental energy national commentators are investing on pointing fingers at retired or near-retired Jurassic sluggers? Nuh-uh. Not while the Marlins franchise is pocketing something like $50 million in revenue sharing while fielding a AA lineup and trying to extort an additional $400 million for a new stadium from whichever region's taxpayers are stupid enough to give it to them. Not while the long-running ExpoNationals farce is tap-dancing on the ashes of democracy and free-market capitalism in the District. Selig and his henchmen (not least influential among them the reviled Mr. Angelos) are so determined to make a colossal profit on their looting and plundering of a once thriving baseball community in Montreal that they don't particularly care whether the Nationals retain any vestiges of competitiveness when they are finally redirected into the hands of private ownership. The entire Nationals situation has been brutally stage-managed, between the payouts to the Orioles, the endless petty feuding with the local government over yet another free stadium, and the current baseball brain trust's obvious preference for politically connected potential ownership groups over buyers who might actually have the money to make the team, you know, good.

Has MLB really allowed the steroid mess to spin out of control at this specific time in order to grease the wheels for their shady operations in the swamplands of Florida and D.C.? No, I'm not that paranoid, plus I don't think they're that smart, plus the obvious straw that broke the camel's back on the steroid wall of secrecy was the threat that Congress might come along and clean up the mess for baseball if baseball didn't take steps to clean it up itself. But it is very convenient the way the timing works out. The few dozens of fans buying tickets for the next Marlins-Nationals series in Miami (July 17-19) aren't getting directly screwed by all of the steroids players were using in 1995. But they are getting well and truly done over by the media powers' decision to dedicate every spare moment of baseball coverage not dedicated to the Red Sox, Yankees, and Chris Shelton to Bonds, BALCO, and bulging biceps. (See what I did there, with the alliteration? Pretty good, huh?)

You know what we need? We need embarrassment ninjas. I don't know if all of you are big enough fans of John DiMaggio, "Even Stevens," and teenaged cartoon breasts that come to perfect right angles to watch "Kim Possible" as regularly as I do, but here's a concept introduced there that deserves exposure on a broader scale. See, they're these ninjas, right? And they specialize in embarrasing people. Right now, I don't think the lords of baseball are nearly as embarrassed about the Marlins and Nationals situations as they should be. Hence, ninjas. I think there are probably a lot of figures in baseball, on the field, in the front offices, behind the microphones, and churning out columns, who need a visit from the embarrassment ninjas. I smell a regular feature. Maybe even a theme song.

But it's not all doom, gloom, and the outlawing of human triangles today. Clint Hurdle: "Zach Day's next start is doubtful. I don't know where we will go, but we will go somewhere." It won't be Byung-Hyun Kim, or at least not yet, at BK has one more scheduled rehab start with the SkySox on Monday. Miguel Asencio and Mike Esposito are the most likely suspects, although both are not at present on the 40-man and would require some roster wrangling. Maybe they could, I dunno, release Zach Day. Just throwing it out there.

2006-04-20 20:31:34
1.   deadteddy8
The word that's conspicuously absent from this piece is "contraction". If MLB wants to contract, and it has the right to contract up to two teams after this season, which two make the most sense to dump? Florida has a touch and go relationship with its fan base and the current Washington version doesn't have real roots yet. Add that both franchises are running into major problems attempting highway robbery for stadium funds, and it makes too much sense to contract the Nats and the Fish. It would even out the two leagues' numbers, Pittsburgh and Cincinatti should move to the NL East, and Colorado should move to the Central. The thing is, according to my reading of the CBA, MLB has until July 1 to announce any contraction, and then I can't find any procedure for how to divvy up the players, so unless there's a lot of behind-the-scenes work going on, there's a time crunch looming. Would all those players become free agents? Would there be some sort of draft to ensure that DTrain goes to the Rockies and Cabrera to the Royals? I have no idea, but if MLB is intent on contracting, those two make the most sense.
2006-04-20 21:18:41
2.   Mark T.R. Donohue
Were MLB to contract the Marlins and the Nationals, they would have to buy out Florida and sacrifice the $450 million they stand to pocket from the sale of the Washington franchise. I don't see that happening. Also, contracting two teams eliminates 50 extremely high-paying jobs, which gets the players' union involved and ensures the next labor negotiation will be brutal. At the moment, contraction isn't on the table because the threats of relocation seem to be working. If the local government in Florida calls the Marlins' San Antonio bluff, maybe that'll be the next step. The actual fact of contraction, however, to my mind is unlikely as the Marlins actually picking up stakes and playing in the Alamodome next season.
2006-04-20 21:32:50
3.   joejoejoe
I think the MLB gravy train is headed for trouble. Massive public subsidies of new stadiums for a profitable private can't continue to escape scrutiny. I've seen two stories in recent weeks in the business pages about new ballparks and "scarcity pricing". How does it benefit communities like the Bronx to have 10,000 fewer fans in the neighborhood each day in a shiny new stadium as opposed to the status quo? Short answer, it doesn't.

Look for an ABA or AFL type competitor to MLB to spring up in the not too distant future. The myth of intimacy and nostalgia that was spurred by the Norman Rockwell moment of Cal Ripken playing in Camden Yards will soon collide with the reality of crony capitalists who use monopoly profits to leverage their own fat wallets with communtity tax dollars better spent on police, fire, and basic services.

I'd love to see a team of $200-$2M players in a 132 game schedule in public stadiums like the LA Colosium (home of the '59 WS Dodgers v. Go Go Sox, attendance 92,000 fans a game!) where the public keeps half the gate, the owners keep half the broadcast rights and merchandise, and the players keep the rest.

Panathenaic Stadium in Greece has been in continual use since 1896 and is based on ruins from 330 BC. I don't need to got neverland nostalgia parks and have waiter service in my mid level corporate box seats. I want to sit in a modest park with tickets within the reach of my fellow citizens and enjoy a game. Bill James said that marginal talent is not scarce for major league ball teams. I think the time is ripe for a competitor to MLB to rise again.

And I don't know Kim Possible but embarrassment ninjas sound like a great idea.

Source: Boston Globe,
Ballparks Prove Less is More,
Demand, Revenues Climb as Teams Reduce Seating -

2006-04-20 21:35:22
4.   joejoejoe
I think contraction might end stir up too much attention in Congress and kill the golden goose that is the anti-trust exemption. I know Minnesota was going to lobby hard to end the anti-trust provision if they got close to contraction.
2006-04-21 01:13:06
5.   Voxter
You are the only other grown-ass man I've ever encountered who watches "Kim Possible". I've thought about the utility of embarassment ninjas before, too. Sometimes I think I am one -- except that the only person I embarass is myself.
2006-04-22 07:02:18
6.   Samthefan
Here's to the most poetic, prolific (seriously you post like sixteen times daily), pants-wearing (I assume), p____, p_____, blogger out there.

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