Tag Archives: MLB

How are the 2014 76ers Any Different than the 1919 White Sox?

After the 1919 World Series, when it was revealed that some members of the Chicago White Sox had taken bribes in exchange for throwing the World Series against the Cincinnati Reds, several of their players, including one of the biggest stars of the era, “Shoeless” Joe Jackson, were banned from baseball for life. Almost a century later, the effects of that scandal are still being felt in major league baseball.

Baseball has been criticized, rightly or wrongly, for taking too soft a stance on the use of performance enhancing drugs. In fact, baseball has always been soft on people trying to gain an edge to win, be it spit balls, corked bats, or stealing signs. More than one baseball player has said over the years that “if you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying”. What MLB has absolutely no tolerance for is the opposite of cheating; intentionally losing games.

Pete Rose is the all-time leader in hits, a three time World Series winner, MVP, 17 time all-star, and three time batting champion, yet he was banned from baseball for life for betting on baseball games while managing the Cincinnati Reds. He had never been formally accused of not trying to win, but the thought of a baseball manager gambling on baseball games was still considered so damaging to the integrity of the game that the league was willing to ban one of its biggest stars for life.

This stands in stark contrast to the approach of the NBA. For years, many people, including prominent sports writers, have openly questioned the integrity of the league and its officiating. It has been openly suggested that the referees will favour a big market team like the Lakers or the Celtics over a low profile teams like the Sacramento Kings. The most oft-cited example of this was game 6 of the Western Conference Championship between the LA Lakers and the Sacramento Kings. In that game, the Lakers were granted 27 foul shots in the 4th quarter alone, while some blatant fouls committed in plain view of the referees were ignored.

In 2007, NBA referee Tim Donaghy was charged with betting on games that he was refereeing after an FBI investigation. Mr. Donaghy, who would plead guilty to several charges and spend time in prison, claimed that he was told several referees in the game, because it was in the interest of the NBA to have a seventh game, intentionally favoured the Lakers.

In many ways this was a bigger scandal than the 1919 World Series, as there has actually been an official convicted of influencing games. None of the baseball players in 1919 were ever charged and nobody was ever convicted of anything. The NBA then did a rigorous investigation of itself which apparently proved that Donaghy acted entirely alone, all of his accusations against the NBA were false, and there was absolutely nothing for anyone to worry about. The league continued on with absolutely zero fallout, even after two Washington Wizards players pulled guns on each other in the locker room in a disagreement over a gambling debt.

All this brings us to the 2014 Philadelphia 76ers, who by all indications are doing everything in their power to not only lose games, but to lose every single game this year. The 76ers are a good bet to break the record for the worst record in NBA history this year, and it is not outside the realm of possibility that they will actually go 0-82. To be clear, the players on the roster are working hard and are trying to win; it is the team’s management is trying to lose by purposely assembling the least talented team in the NBA.

Their plan started a couple of years ago when they decided to rebuild and traded away their best player, Andrew Iguodala. Trading away veterans to focus on drafting young players is nothing new, but what the 76ers did truly broke new ground. While they continued to shed their veterans, they repeatedly drafted talented players recovering from serious injuries or who were planning to spend the next year or two playing in Europe. This allowed them to acquire good young players, but because those players could not play for them right away, they could continue to finish near the bottom of the league and acquire more lottery picks. To ensure that they continued to be outmatched in the short term, they have filled up their roster with 9 (nine!) undrafted players.

The team is making a mockery of the spirit of competition. To those who say that the team is trying to win at some point in the near future, just not right now, I would counter that the 1919 White Sox were only accused of trying to lose a handful of games. What the Philadelphia 76ers are doing is every bit as damaging to the integrity of the game as the 1919 White Sox. If the NBA cared about the integrity of its game it would do something about it. But it won’t.

Roger Goodell’s Troubles Are Only Just Beginning

Yesterday we received news that the DEA raided several NFL locker rooms as part of an investigation into potentially improper or illegal use of prescription drugs by NFL teams. This is very bad news for Commissioner Roger Goodell.  One of the most mystifying things in all of sports in recent years has been how Major League Baseball has received mountains of bad press and was even  subject to United States Senate hearings about the use of performance enhancing drugs by their players, yet the NFL, whose players look like Soviet era science projects, has largely escaped any negative publicity whatsoever. That is all about to change.

The contract in the leagues is downright mystifying. Bud Selig is widely condemned for turning a blind eye to PEDs after the 1994 strike as the surge in home runs and the pursuit by various players of the single season home run record sent ratings soaring. While that may well have been true, Selig and MLB would eventually make a serious effort to get drugs out of baseball. They instituted aggressive testing and punishment for the use of both steroids and HGH, and even launched their own investigations into the suppliers of drugs, which resulted in major suspensions to some of its biggest stars, such as Ryan Braun and Alex Rodriguez.

By contrast, the NFL is only now getting around to implementing an HGH testing program, and when players do test positive for steroids or other PEDs, they only get a 4 game suspension and are welcomed back with open arms as if nothing had ever happened. To put things in perspective, Alex Rodriguez was suspended for an entire year without ever failing a single drug test. He was suspended when MLB investigators, acting proactively, uncovered that he was a client of a PED supplier.

If you are wondering if baseball’s anti-drug efforts are working, consider that Giancarlo Stanton, who was just rewarded with a 13 year, $325 million dollar contract, led the National League in home runs this year with 37. In 1998 and 1999, Sammy Sosa hit 66 and 63 home runs respectively, but didn’t lead the league in home runs either year. As for the NFL, Jerry Rice, the greatest wide receiver of all time, ran a 4.7 40 yard dash as his combine in the mid-1980s. In the 2014 combine, 4 defensive ends ran a faster 40 time.

Roger Goodell has been hammered for turning a blind eye to domestic violence in the NFL. Just as it was looking like he had weathered that storm and was going to save his job, the federal investigators suddenly raided NFL locker rooms. If he thought he had it rough when media types like Bill Simmons were calling him names, just wait until he gets dragged before a Senate Committee in 2015.

NLDS Highlights How Major League Managers Have No Idea How to Use Relievers

The Washington Nationals loss in game 4 of the NLDS put a spotlight on one of the most baffling enigmas in professional sports; most major league managers have absolutely no idea how to use relief pitchers. Major league managers, even Matt Williams, are all of at least average intelligence, yet they routinely make terrible moves with relievers late in games, particularly so in the playoffs.

Playoff baseball magnifies by a factor of ten the flawed approach that managers have towards relief pitching. When you are managing over a 162 game season, it makes some sense to stick to a predetermined routine of middle relievers, set up men, and closers. You have to think big picture and can’t wear out your best arms trying to win every game as if it is your last. The difference with the playoffs is that often times the game could very well be your last.

In game 2 of the NLDS, up 1-0, Williams took starter Jordan Zimmerman out of the game with 2 outs in the 9th inning after walking a batter. The closer promptly surrendered the tying run and the Nationals went on to lose in 18 innings. Not wanting to risk overworking your starter makes perfect sense in April, but when you already down one game to none in a best of three series, the starter is likely to get six months rest before his next start if you don’t win that game. They didn’t win and Zimmerman’s next start will be in April of next year.

The decision in game 2 was nowhere near as bad as game 4. Tied 2-2 in the 7th inning of an elimination game, the Nationals surrendered a lead with their two best relievers along with Steven Strasburg watching helplessly from the bullpen. This perfectly illustrates the problem with big league managers’ approach to relief pitching. When the Giants got runners on base, that was the time to bring in the absolute best pitcher you have available at the time, but Williams chose not to bring in his best relief pitcher because managers have all inexplicably decided that your best relief pitcher should only ever pitch the 9th inning. There is absolutely no objective reason for this beyond inertia. In the playoffs, there is no reason why any reliever would have to pitch the 9th. With a shortened post-season rotation, a starter could be the one to close out a game. In the case of game 4, Steven Strasburg was more than capable of coming out and getting 3 outs in the 9th inning if necessary.

For all the progress that the study of data and analytics in baseball has made, the myopic approach to closers seems to have only gotten more entrenched in recent years. Managers will likely cling to this outdated strategy as long the most useless stat in all of baseball, the “Save”, continues to be tracked and given such high regard. Only when relievers and managers are unchained from this demi-stat will we ever see truly rational use of relief pitchers.

How Bud Selig Ruined His Legacy by Getting Rid of PEDs

The reaction to Bud Selig’s retirement as commissioner of Major League Baseball this week was met with great celebration, not of his tenure, but of his departure. The sports media roundly derided Selig for presiding over a decline in baseball’s relative popularity, particularly in relation to the NFL. Many went so far as to mock him as an old man completely out of touch with the modern world, as evidenced by his own declaration that he has never sent an e-mail in his life and “never will”. Much of this criticism is justified, as the NFL has become far more popular than MLB during Selig’s tenure. What is not fair, though, is criticising him for the prevalence of performance enhancing drugs that lead the shattering of home run records in the late 90s and early 2000s.

It is worth remembering that baseball was grabbing a greater share of the sports headlines than the NFL when Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa were battling to be the one to break Roger Maris’ single season home run record in 1998. Every morning, the first thing any sports fan wanted to know was if McGuire or Sosa had hit a home run. The battle was made even more perfect when McGuire broke the record while playing against Sosa’s Cubs and the two embraced in a heartwarming display of sportsmanship. If Bud Selig had turned a blind eye to the drug problem, baseball would be far more popular today and we may not have found out that the race to break Maris’ record was fueled by performance enhancing drugs.

But the fact is, for better or worse, Bud Selig did make a concerted effort to eliminate PEDs from major league baseball, even though it resulted in a sharp decline in home runs. Baseball has the more rigorous testing system and harshest penalties for PEDs. Some of the biggest stars in the game, including Alex Rodrigues, Manny Ramirez, and Ryan Braun, have all received lengthy suspensions. Baseball has not merely reacted to positive drug tests, they have actively investigated the suppliers of performance enhancing drugs, as with the case with the recent Biogenesis scandal.

What is odd is that rather than being congratulated for aggressively moving to rid baseball of drugs, Bud Selig is being continuously blamed for baseball players taking drugs. The NFL, by contrast, which doesn’t even test for human growth hormone and is filled with players who are freakishly big and fast, does not seem to take any heat at all, even though players routinely test positive for the PEDs that the league does test for. In baseball, thanks to the leagues aggressive stance against PEDs, a positive test means that the player will likely never get into the Hall of Fame, no matter how impressive their career numbers. In the NFL, you can test positive and get a job working for the NFL network.

I am not going to say that Bud Selig was a great commissioner, but he did the right thing in attempting to rid his sport of performance enhancing drugs. I find it sad that doing the right thing has somehow done so much harm to his legacy.