This Great Game Comebacker

The Week That Was in Baseball: February 4-10, 2013
The $20-30,000 Question for Ryan Braun A Fest But No Fans in Miami
Rangers Over Cowboys? Why Mike Piazza Wimped Out Against Roger Clemens

Where There's Smoke…
Last week, after the first wave of star names hit the public shores from the Biogenesis scandal, we warned: “Somewhere out there, there has to be a few major leaguers squirming in anticipation of what the media may next report.”

One of those was Ryan Braun.

Cleared of steroid use on a technicality last year, Braun was the most prominent of new names to show up in new or un-redacted files related to Biogenesis this past week: Others included Detroit shortstop Jhonny Perlata, Seattle catcher Jesus Montero, New York Yankee catcher Francisco Cervelli and Baltimore third baseman Danny Valencia. There is no smoking-gun evidence showing that Braun or any of these other newly-named players were given steroids from Biogenesis, but there was a figure next to Braun’s name of “20-30 K” suggesting that this was money the former MVP owed Biogenesis and its disgraced head honcho, Anthony Bosch.

Braun quickly denied any links to PED use through Bosch, stating through his lawyers: “During the course of preparing for my successful appeal last year, my attorneys, who were previously familiar with Tony Bosch, used him as a consultant.” (Maybe we’re reading into this too deep, but Braun says he doesn’t know Bosch yet is already referring to him informally as “Tony”.) He continues on: “There was a dispute over compensation for Bosch’s work, which is why my lawyer and I are listed under ‘money’s owed’ and not on any other list. I have nothing to hide and have never had any other relationship with Bosch.”

Because of the lack of public evidence, Braun is getting a pass for now. But the obvious question is…well, let’s have Bob Costas (speaking on ESPN Radio’s “Mike & Mike” show) take it from here: “We are talking about world class athletes who have access to the finest training facilities, the finest in nutrition, whatever the cutting edge, legitimate technology or medical knowledge…Yet athlete after athlete is consulting with somebody who is operating out of a strip mall in Pensacola? Some shady character whose previous thing was running some pyramid scheme someplace? What in the world are you doing in contact with the likes of Anthony Bosch?”

Braun had better be truthful about this. Because if his interactions with Bosch carried on through 2012 after successfully ducking his positive steroid test, and it’s revealed that there was some PED give-and-take—between the Miami New Times, MLB, the Feds and disgruntled Biogenesis ex-employees, the real truth will ultimately come out—then it’s very likely that Mr. Lucky’s luck will run out. And he won’t have FedEx to bail him out this time around.

We Haven’t Forgotten About Ya’, A-Fraud
While Braun’s name knocked Alex Rodriguez off the top of the steroid hit charts this past week, the embattled Yankee star continued to stay in the news. Yankee owner Hal Steinbrenner said that he was “concerned” over the latest Rodriguez steroid allegations, but confessed that he had no choice but to leave MLB to do all the legwork to determine if Rodriguez indeed did dip into the Biogenesis juice. But to show that the Yankees weren’t leaving Rodriguez out alone in the wind—after all, with $114 million still owed to him, he remains something of a valuable asset—New York general manager Brian Cashman said that the team would go the extra mile to ensure that Rodriguez goes through his team-sanctioned rehab in Florida without being bothered by paparazzi of all types (to which we include aggressive, middle-aged autograph seekers).

Congratulations, Alex!
Meanwhile, for all it’s worth, Rodriguez was tabbed as the sixth most disliked athlete in America in another one of Forbes’ top ten lists. The five who rated worse than A-Rod were Manti T’eo, Lance Armstrong, Tiger Woods, Jay Cutler (Jay Cutler?) and Metta World Peace (the former Ron Artest).

Hey Curt! Need Some Roids!?
In the midst of the Biogenesis scandal came this other PED-related item out of left field in Boston. Pitcher Curt Schilling claimed that in 2008, toward the tail end of his career, he was approached in the Red Sox’ spring training clubhouse by a member of the team’s medical staff—“multiple sources” later told ESPN that it was rehab coordinator Mike Reinold—and was offered steroids to help him overcome recent injuries. Schilling said it was an “incredibly uncomfortable conversation” that was within easy earshot of several teammates; he quickly reported the exchange to the front office, who in turn told MLB, which started an investigation—and found nothing, as denials flourished and even Schilling didn’t eagerly step up to defend his accusations, according to a MLB source. Reinold was recently fired by the Red Sox for unrelated reasons; as for Schilling, he’s been known to exaggerate statements—and why he’s telling the public about this incident now as opposed to anytime in the five years since it happened is somewhat puzzling.

Webb Outage
The long and frustrating comeback road for former Cy Young Award winner
Brandon Webb finally hit a dead end this week as the 33-year-old right-hander bowed to chronic shoulder issues and retired from the game. Webb won the Cy for Arizona in 2006 and finished runner-up in the vote in each of the following two years—but in his first start of 2009, he was shelled after four innings of work and left with shoulder pain. He would never pitch again, as rehab continuously failed to being him back to big league strength. Don’t cry too much for Webb, who managed to collect $17 million for three seasons (2009-11) in which he was all but entirely shelved. He finishes his career with an 87-62 record with a 3.23 earned run average over six-plus seasons for the Diamondbacks, and is second on the team’s all-time win list behind Randy Johnson.

The World According to Mike Piazza
Details on a new book by
Mike Piazza on his life in baseball reveals that he wimped out on a chance to take on Roger Clemens, took numerous, mild performance-enhancing substances before they were banned and insisted, once and for all, that he’s not gay. The power-laden catcher who just missed entry into the Hall of Fame last month claims he took karate lessons shortly after getting badly beaned by Clemens in a June 2000 game in hopes of catching up with the Rocket one day again on the field—but he held back when Clemens angrily threw the shattered end of his bat at his feet in that year’s World Series because he realized Clemens was “a big guy” and he “stood a pretty fair chance of getting my ass kicked in front of Yankee Stadium and the world.” Piazza also claimed to have taken androstenedione, Vioxx, Ephedra and “greenies”, almost all of which are now banned by MLB. (He denied taking steroids and HGH.) And he could never figure out the public’s obsession over his sexual orientation, having dated numerous women before finally settling down with a former Playmate; “The whole episode was such a strange, incredible phenomenon…” he writes. “I still don’t get it.”

Dim Rays of Light in St. Petersburg
As we wrote last week in our opinion of whether MLB can survive in the State of Florida, the problem of the Tampa Bay Rays’ attendance woes are two-fold: A bad ballpark and lack of fan support despite winning times of late. A new ballpark would help, but it hasn’t come easy for the Rays; they’re so enchained to their lease at the reviled Tropicana Dome, they can’t leave until 2028 and they’re not even allowed to look at potential new ballpark sites outside of Pinellas County to move in the meantime. A City Council measure to relax that latter detail was defeated this past week, meaning that if the Rays want to explore a new ballpark option, say, in Tampa, they still can’t. The Rays, who didn’t attend the council meeting, fired a pre-emptive salvo by stating that only 300 of their season ticket holders actually reside in St. Petersburg; some now worry that the Rays will file for bankruptcy in an effort to force leverage against the lease in an attempt to break out of it.

Meanwhile, in Miami…
For Miami Marlin fans who’ve had it up to the top of Marlins Park with vilified owner
Jeffrey Loria and are hoping that he could be lured with a yachtful of cash to sell the team, we have some sobering news for you. The Miami Hearld revealed this past week that Loria fielded no less than six separate offers—some reportedly very lucrative—over the past year from prospective buyers willing to take the Marlins off his hands, including former Florida governor Jeb Bush, the brother of former President and Texas Rangers owner George W. Bush. But Loria said no to each offer, saying that he “loves” owning his team. It’s a shame that the fans can’t help but to not return the love.

Contrast in Fortunes
There were preseason “fan fests” held 3,000 miles and an emotional world apart on Saturday in San Francisco and Miami. At AT&T Park, the world champion Giants drew 40,000 as thrilled fans rushed in long lines to meet their heroes of last year. At Marlins Park, only a few thousand showed up, most of them ready to vent their anger at Marlin officials who presided over dumping the bulk of the team’s star talent over the offseason. One fan came to the event wearing a Toronto Blue Jays cap out of spite, while another who claimed to see 30 games last year at the Marlins’ new ballpark said he would only go to a few this year—and then, just to protest. A Miami Hearld photographer also snapped pictures of non-existent lines in front of concession stands and the ticket booth for advance tickets. It’s going to be a long year in Lorialand.

Lone Star Surprise
Football’s Dallas Cowboys were once labeled “America’s Team”, but now they’re not even DFW’s Team. A recent poll showed that local fans follow the Texas Rangers more than the Cowboys, the NFL team often thought to be on a par with the Almighty and situated in a state often joked for its two favorite sports being football and spring football. Chances are, the Cowboys still accrue deeper loyalty from Dallas-Ft. Worth citizens, but the Rangers have won two AL pennants in three years while, during that same time, the Cowboys have a collective losing record and no playoff appearances despite the opening of a massive, glitzy new stadium alongside Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

Scarborough Research, the group that ran the poll, also found baseball teams to be more popular than their football counterparts in ten other markets. St. Louis showed by far to have the greatest disparity of popularity between its baseball (Cardinals) and football (Rams) teams, while there was surprisingly more support in Tampa Bay for the Rays over the football Buccaneers—a head scratcher considering the stubborn lack of fan support for the winsome Rays of late.

Going for Broke
If baseball is supposedly so anathema to gambling (the Black Sox Scandal had something to do with it), why were the New York Mets proposing to build a casino in the parking lot of their own ballpark back in 2011, as it was revealed this past week? Because Mets owner Fred Wilpon desperately needed the revenue to offset his financial troubles from his connection to the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme—and commissioner Bud Selig, the man who has staunchly refused to let Pete Rose back into baseball, would have probably allowed it because Wilpon is a pal of his. But the City of New York wouldn’t allow it because any casinos operating within the state would have to be on tribal lands; the Citi Field parking lot just doesn’t qualify. Perhaps the Mets might have gotten away with it if they were the Indians or Braves…

Wounded of the Week
wounded of the weekIn a sudden development this past week, the St. Louis Cardinals announced that ace pitcher Chris Carpenter has had a setback in recovery from his nerve issues that kept him out for the bulk of the 2012 season—and not only are his prospects for pitching in 2013 slim at best, it very well could be that, as he nears the age of 38, Carpenter’s career may be done. Carpenter started six games last year between the regular season and postseason, winning one—a vital triumph in Game Three of the NLDS against the favored Washington Nationals.

Elsewhere, Minnesota pitcher Anthony Swarzak will get a late jump on spring training after cracking a pair of ribs last week. The cause: He had been horsing around with teammates before the Twins’ fan convention in a scene that conjured memories of the famed wrestling match between star pitcher Rube Waddell and teammate Andy Coakley on a train platform on the eve of the 1905 World Series that rendered the unpredictable but brilliant Waddell useless for a Philadelphia A’s team that badly needed him against the mighty New York Giants (who won the series in five games without allowing a single earned run).

DUI of the Week
Major leaguers hadn’t yet migrated to Arizona and Florida when news already hit of the winter/spring’s first drunk driving arrest. It happened in Colorado, where revered veteran Rockies star Todd Helton was arrested after a witness saw him driving erratically the wrong way and hitting a median. A police officer approached Helton walking out of a convenience store with chewing tobacco and lottery tickets (you’re making $10,000,000 and you’re into scratchers?) and was told by Helton that he had only drank two “igloo cups” of red wine. Those must have been some big cups.

Helton took a sobriety test, failed it and was booked, his mug shot showing him looking sleepy with his eyes closed; he later gave a profuse, beg-worthy apology, stating, “My entire career I have worked to set a positive example for my family and in our community and I fell far short of this standard.”

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