CIRCUS IS BACK IN TOWN

By Murray Chass

July 28, 2013

If I believed there was life after death, I would be certain that George Steinbrenner, who died in 2010, had returned. In fact, no matter what I believe or don’t believe, I at least have to suspect that the legendary owner of the New York Yankees had abandoned his new location and returned for a command performance.

How else explain the nonsense that raged around the Yankees the past week or so. The circus was back in town, and the master ringmaster had returned to the podium in the Big Top in the Bronx. Who else could have orchestrated the Alex Rodriguez act, a three-ring show all in itself?Yankees Rodriguez Baseball

On the other hand, while that scenario might appear to be the case, if Steinbrenner were alive and well and in charge, it’s highly unlikely that he would have tolerated Rodriguez’s behavior, instead taking him to the woodshed for 40 whacks.

The Yankees have had a bad enough season without having Rodriguez try to manipulate his rehabilitation from his second hip operation and then a quadriceps strain. But that’s what the Yankees believe, or at least suspect, Rodriguez seemingly has done on a couple of occasions, most recently last week when he pulled a doctor out of his hat to say he was ready to play.

That was only one of the perplexing developments and raised only one of the questions:

  • In seeking a doctor to say he was physically ready to play, why did Rodriguez choose a doctor who only recently had his own problems with steroids?
  • Why did Rodriguez want or need a doctor to say he could play now?
  • Does Rodriguez really want to resume his career, or would he prefer to claim a disability so he could collect the $91 million in salary owed him for the rest of this year and the next three years, either from the Yankees or their insurance policy, before a possible suspension could wipe out all or much of that money?
  • Why would the Yankees want to delay Rodriguez’ return?

Addressing the last question first, the Yankees could have concluded that they will get little production, if any, from Rodriguez considering his physical condition and his advancing age (38).

In addition, the more playing time Rodriguez misses the stronger their claim would be for the insurance policy to pay off.

A delay would also benefit the Yankees by giving the commissioner’s office more time to decide on a suspension. Any suspension would be accompanied by a loss of pay for Rodriguez. Of course, as long as Rodriguez is on the disabled list, his pay will continue, but the Yankees wouldn’t lose money because of the insurance.

The Yankees, on the other hand, have to know the insurance company will fight their claim, arguing that steroids caused Rodriguez’s hip problems and therefore he is not entitled to any money.

Dr Michael GrossProbably the most bizarre aspect of the past week was the third baseman’s decision to have Dr. Michael Gross support his argument that he was ready to return, his quadriceps notwithstanding.

Rodriguez called the Yankees’ attention to the injury himself. Then as they treated him for it and delayed his return, he pronounced himself fit and had Dr. Gross tell the Yankees he didn’t see the strain on Rodriguez’s MRI.

Dr. Gross acknowledged that he was making that observation without having examined the player, and shortly after his name became public, the New York Daily News, in a bit of nifty reporting, found that the orthopedist had run afoul of the New Jersey State Board of Medical Examiners.

The board reprimanded Dr. Gross, the New Jersey Attorney General’s division of consumer affairs said, “for permitting an individual who had completed medical school but did not have a medical license to participate in the care and treatment of patients at the center and failing to adequately ensure proper patient treatment involving the prescribing of hormones including steroids at the center.

Dr. Gross, who was fined $30,000 and ordered to pay $10,000 in costs, is the orthopedic director of sports medicine at Hackensack (N.J.) University Medical Center, a highly respected, regionally known hospital in northern New Jersey.

Why a doctor of Gross’ status would jeopardize his position and reputation to vouch for the well being of A-Rod’s quadriceps is beyond comprehension. For his troubles, he gets special scrutiny from Major League Baseball in a new phase of its investigation into distribution of steroids to players. Dr. Gross may not have been involved, but he gives MLB investigators a new direction to investigate.

As for the other questions, they can be answered only by Rodriguez, who is the single star in Bud Selig’s firmament of steroids suspects now that Ryan Braun has accepted a plea bargain and a 65-game suspension.

Some observers, including Selig’s predecessor, Fay Vincent, speculate that there aren’t enough games for Rodriguez to negotiate a plea bargain.fay-vincent2

“Testing is not the remedy,” said Vincent, who believes only zero tolerance will stamp out steroids. “Suspensions are not working.”

Using baseball’s rule against betting on baseball games – one strike and you’re out – Vincent said in a telephone interview, “In gambling it’s a lifetime ban. You don’t see gambling in baseball. The problem here is these drugs produce millions of dollars. For guys who take them, the benefits are overwhelming. The teenage kid in Detroit is told if he takes HGH he can be four inches taller and make millions.”

Because he was forced out as commissioner, in 1992, before steroids took hold in baseball, or at least was known to, a memo Vincent wrote to clubs in 1990 was and is largely ignored. Congress banned steroids in 1990, and Vincent reminded clubs that steroids were thus illegal in baseball.

“I wrote the memo because Congress banned them,” Vincent said.

Selig, owner of the Milwaukee Brewers at the time, received the memo but, like his fellow owners, ignored it. Selig also ignored amphetamines, which were rampant in his clubhouse as they were in all clubhouses until they were banned in 2005.

Because he missed the presence of steroids in their early years, as virtually everyone did, including baseball writers, this writer among them, Selig has aggressively gone after steroids in recent years. He was spurred by Congress and in the last few years aided by a change in the players’ position.

For years, players opposed testing, but the non-users eventually grew tired of being tarnished with the steroids label and have urged the union to separate them from the cheaters.

Commenting last week on Braun’s acceptance of his 65-game suspension, Michael Weiner, the union’s executive director, said, “It vindicates the rights of all players under the Joint Drug Program. It is good for the game that Ryan will return soon to continue his great work both on and off the field.”

Whether the union has moved far enough to accept a lifetime ban could be another matter, Vincent and others see a lifetime ban as necessary.

“Unless there is agreement with everybody, I think there will be litigation,” Vincent said. “Insurance companies will argue steroids led to injuries.”

ROSE RISES ABOVE PAST

Pete Rose 2013 225In the event you missed a remarkable interview the other day, permit me to call it to your attention. Conducted and written by Ted Berg, it appeared in USA Today and on the newspaper’s Web site.

Rose, who signs autographs every year at Hall of Fame time at a store near the Hall, was banned in 1989 for life for betting on baseball. His appeals for reinstatement have been unsuccessful. Apparently his suspension of nearly a quarter of a century and his being shut out of the Hall have had an effect.

The man who lied for 15 years in denying that he bet on baseball made these comments in discussing wrongdoing with steroids, the suspension of Ryan Braun and the possible suspension of Alex Rodriguez:

“Come clean as quickly as you possibly can. I guess Braun thought he was going to get away with it when he got off the hook the first time. I wish I could go around to all the spring training camps and talk to the young players about what happened to me.”

“If baseball wants to get you, they’ve got enough resources and enough investigators that they’ll find a way to get you.”

“I wish I had come clean a lot sooner. I had my different reasons why. It’s not right. I made a mistake and they made a mistake.”

“Most people in this country understand that people are human and they make mistakes. And most people will give somebody a second chance. I’m still waiting on that second chance. I’ll get it someday.”

Rose did not say in the article what mistake he thought baseball made.

Although he ultimately admitted that he gambled on games, Rose has never been completely honest about his betting. In his 2004 book, in which he talked for the first time about betting on baseball, Rose said he never placed bets from his manager’s office.

However, the investigation by John Dowd, the Washington, D.C., lawyer turned up voluminous, clear-cut evidence that he did bet from his office.

RATINGS, NOT HISTORY, ON HIS MIND

Commissioner Bud Selig appeared on the David Letterman television show the night before the All-Star game, and I think it’s necessary to comment on a couple of his comments.Bud Selig Letterman

Letterman brought up the All-Star game, which gave the commissioner an opportunity to sell his nonsense about the link between the game and homefield advantage in the World Series.

Letterman recalled the 1970 game in which Pete Rose scored the winning by flattening Ray Fosse at home plate.

Ignoring the development in which some managers instruct their catchers not to block the plate so they can avoid injuries, Selig said, “The All-Star game meant something in those days. We’ve brought that back.

The last five or six years the intensity of the All-Star game has been terrific because it does mean something.”

Funny, but I’ve missed the intensity the last few years. Maybe Selig has a different definition of the word, but in this year’s game, which the American League won, 3-0, two of the runs scored on a sacrifice fly and a force play, batters were retired in 1-2-3 order in 8 of the 18 half innings and Prince Fielder led off the A.L. ninth with a triple and remained at third as the next three batters made outs.

Last year was worse, the N.L. winning, 8-0.

And Fox’s ratings? What did the World Series link do for the ratings?

Viewership averaged 10.956 million, second smallest ever, exceeded negatively only by the average of 10.897 million for the N.L’s 8-0 win last year.

The other comment the commissioner made that I have to question came in his discussion with Letterman about steroids. In response to a steroids question, Selig said, “I had lived through the cocaine era of the ‘80s, which was very, very serious….We couldn’t get a drug-testing program.”

Convenient lapse of memory for the 79-year-old Selig. The clubs and the players had a joint drug program in the mid-’80s, but the clubs unilaterally terminated it, as was their right, on the day of the last game of the 1985 World Series.

Under the program, the clubs could submit for testing players whom they suspected of using cocaine or other illegal drugs. The owners, though, decided they didn’t want to be in the position of turning in their own players.

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