Redemption Song: A-Rod Slugs His Way Out of Purgatory

Vanity may be a sin, but it's not a crime.

Vanity may be a sin but it’s not a crime.

Despite what you may have been told by Bud Selig and Major League Baseball, Alex Rodriguez is not the devil.

In a sports world filled with murderers, wife-beaters and drunk drivers, the vilified Yankees’ slugger worst sin was trying to gain an advantage on the field of play.

Think about that for a second.

If the NFL put the same amount of effort towards curbing domestic violence as baseball did building a case against A-Rod, would the headlines still be smattered with stories of Ray Rice and Greg Hardy?

Yet, in spite of the relatively benign nature of his transgressions, Rodriguez was forced to spend all of last season in baseball purgatory. MLB and Selig seemed to think it could solve its steroid problem by casting all the blame on one player (it’s not the first time) and then publicly flogging their artificially enhanced pariah. It, uh, didn’t work.

The 2015 season rolled around after what must have felt like an eternity, and A-Rod, healthy and freed from the tyrannical reign of Selig came out swinging, reminding fans that he’s still one of the most talented players in baseball — with or without performance enhancing drugs.

After the first 19 games of the year, A-Rod leads the AL in walks and is 4th in HR, 9th in slugging and 10th in OPS. His fast start to the season is even more impressive when you consider that he missed all of 2014 and plays for a team that really doesn’t want him around.

Rodriguez’s superlative skill set was on full display at Tampa Bay on April 18 as he drilled two home run including the longest shot of 2015. That moon shot not only gave New York a 1-0 lead, but also served as metaphorical giant middle finger to Selig, who likely thought he had hammered the final nail into A-Rod’s career with a 162-game suspension.

The Yankees weren’t expected to compete in a deep AL East this year but thanks to A-Rod’s potent presence in the lineup they find themselves atop the division with an 11-8 record. New York may not want Rodriguez, but it needs him.

Rodriguez is a cheater and a liar. But he’s also a helluva baseball player who’s overcome Titanic sized hurdles to find himself on the brink of history. The national pastime’s prodigal son has returned and he’s not leaving anytime soon.

So go ahead and cheer for A-Rod, because unlike the real criminals of sport, he deserves a second third chance.

arodhomerunswing

Major League Baseball and Its Players Continue to Drop the Ball: Cincinnati’s Volquez Tests Positive for PED’s.

Edison Volquez's suspension won't cost him anything more than money.

Another mysterious fertility drug, another failed PED test and another black eye for baseball and its players. Yeah, it sure seems like the sport has this steroids issue under control.

Major League Baseball announced on Tuesday that Cincinnati Reds’ starting pitcher Edinson Volquez tested positive for a banned substance during Spring Training and would be suspended for 50 games, effective immediately.

The catch? Volquez was already on the disabled list and unlikely to return to game action until mid-season. His suspension runs out June 15th—a date sooner than the Reds had anticipated Volquez being ready to pitch for their big league club. As it stands, Volquez will be able to continue his rehabilitation from elbow surgery while serving his “suspension” and will forfeit around $130,000 of his salary for the season. Somehow, I think Volquez will find a way to squeak by with the other $300,000 he is due to make in 2010.

Even his own teammates were stunned by the loophole in baseball’s punishment system. Fellow pitcher Bronson Arroyo reacted to the situation in an interview on Tuesday saying,  “I’m actually surprised they’re letting him do that.” Yeah, so is everyone else Bronson.

I’m not even mad at Volquez for using a banned substance…I’m mad at baseball for a punishment that doesn’t fit the crime. Despite a supposedly tougher stance on steroids, Volquez will miss exactly zero game-time for failing a drug test. Who is that fair to?

In the words of TV’s greatest lawyer Jackie Chiles: “Outrageous! Egregious! Preposterous!”

Preposterous indeed.

This Just Doesn’t Feel Right: Milwaukee Brewers to Build Statue of Bud Selig Outside of Miller Park.

I know Bud, I can't believe they're building a statue of you either.

Perhaps it’s because of his movie star looks. Maybe it’s on account of his turning a blind eye to steroids while baseball bulked up and ultimately tarnished two decades of the sport. Or it could just be that the team had some leftover bronze. Whatever the reason, the Milwaukee Brewers decided that they owed it to Bud Selig to erect a seven-foot tall statue of the commissioner outside of their home stadium, Miller Park (I promise never to use the words “erect” and “Bud Selig” in the same sentence ever again). Selig’s statue will join that of former players Hank Aaron and Robin Yount in some sort of bizarre baseball ménage à trois.   

Selig is a former owner of the Brewers that led a group of investors who purchased the bankrupt Seattle Pilots and moved the franchise to Milwaukee. According to current owner Mark Attanasio, “The Brewers and Miller Park are in this city because of the commissioner’s vision and dedicated efforts”. Be that as it may, does Bud Selig really deserve a statue? 

Selig has done a few good things as commissioner, most notably the institution of the Wild Card, which has helped add parity to a sport ruled by those with the biggest bankrolls (look no further than the Florida Marlins World Series titles in 1997 and 2003). On the other hand, Selig has also presided over some pretty boneheaded decisions, such as ending the 2002 All-Star game with a 7-7 tie (at Miller Park of all places) and then “resolving” this issue by giving the winner of the All-Star game home field advantage in the World Series (this time it counts–yeah sure). Selig has come under intense scrutiny for his role in the steroids era, and rightfully so. He was in bed with Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa throughout 1998 and then feigned surprise and disgust when the truth about PED’s couldn’t be hidden any longer. Selig’s not a terrible guy, but he is a terrible liar.

Mark your calendars for August 24th and then make sure you’re not in Milwaukee. That’s the date Bud Selig will be revealed in all his glory. Let’s just hope it doesn’t take long for some vandals to get ahold of that statue.

Vicente Padilla’s Resurgence Raises Serious Question: Is Swine Flu Baseball’s Newest Peformance Enhancing Drug?

The secret to Padilla's newfound success has been linked to the H1N1 virus.

The secret to Padilla’s newfound success has been linked to the H1N1 virus.

Just when baseball thought it had cleared itself of a league wide steroid problem the ugly performance enhancing drug monster reared its ugly once again—and this time the sport is powerless to stop the new drug’s proliferation.

A few short months again Vicente Padilla was a cast-off from the Texas Rangers, banished to the waiver wire by a potent combination of poor pitching, bad breath and general unlikeability. Even a pitching starved franchise like Texas wasn’t willing to put up with Padilla’s behavior, and this is a team whose opening day starting pitchers this decade have included the likes of Rick Helling, Ismael Valdez (slaps forehead) and Ryan Drese.

The Rangers sent Padilla packing on August 17th, citing “poor personal hygiene” and his “disruptive clubhouse presence” as reasons for the release. At the time of his departure, Padilla was 8-6 for the Rangers, but sported a ghastly 4.92 ERA and 1.50 WHIP. Just two days later, the NL West leading Los Angeles Dodgers signed the Nicaraguan Nightmare to a minor league contract in order to bolster their starting rotation. After a short stint in the minors, Padilla was called up to start for L.A. and immediately looked like a man reborn, closing out the season in style with a 4-0 record, 3.20 ERA and 1.22 WHIP.  He’s been even better in the postseason thus far, allowing only one earned run in 14 1/3 innings to go along with 10 K’s and only 2 walks, quickly establishing himself as the Dodger’s defacto playoff ace.

The origin of Padilla's super-powers.

The origin of Padilla’s super-powers.

All this from the same pitcher who a few short months again was cut by Texas and left for dead. Now Padilla is in the midst of a playoff run for L.A. and looking like Orel Hershiser; what exactly happened between his time with the Rangers and his signing with the Dodgers? As the great theologian Terrell Owens famously said, “if it looks like a rat and smells like a rat, by golly, it is a rat.” Vicente Padilla does smell like a rat…and that rat is named swine flu.

Padilla was diagnosed with the H1N1 virus on July 22nd and was believed to be the first player in the four major American sports (baseball, quidditch, jai-alai and poker) to test positive for the disease. He was scratched from a start against the Red Sox and was kept away from the rest of the team to prevent a spread of the virus. Apparently quarantining Padilla worked, because he’s still the only major league player that developed a confirmed case of swine flu, although that may change after the startling discovery of Dr. Van Nostrom at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta.

Van Nostrom, a specialist in infectious diseases, released a report yesterday that confirmed one of the most well-known old wives’ tales: that which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger. In his article published by Car & Driver & Science the doctor revealed his findings from Padilla’s stool sample, which may change the way America views the H1N1 virus. Below is an excerpt from Van Nostrom’s report:

“Much like a spider bite transformed Peter Parker into the powerful Spiderman and toxic ooze mutated ordinary turtles into extraordinary crime fighters, Vicente Padilla’s DNA was radically altered by his encounter with the H1N1 virus. After overcoming the disease, he was endowed with all the best characteristics of an adult pig: a strong sense of smell and keen understanding of the strikezone, as well as the ability to talk to spiders and increased velocity on his pitches. Since the diagnosis of swine flu, Padilla’s fastballs have looked better than ever and his curveballs are dropping right off the table, and this is only the beginning. If Padilla is able to fully harness the powers of the pig he will become unstoppable. There is no treatment, there is no cure, there is only unimaginable suffering ahead for all humankind.”

Padilla now has more in common with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than he does with other human beings.

Padilla now has more in common with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles than he does with other human beings.

If what Dr. Van Nostrom indicated in his report is true, how long will it be until baseball players are throwing swine flu parties in hopes of catching up with Padilla? Is H1N1 baseball’s newest fad performance enhancer?

Not so fast, says Van Nostrom: “There are so many different strains of the flu and everyone’s body responds differently to disease, so it’s unlikely another player will have results like Vicente. That surly bastard is truly one of a kind and anyone else who develops this disease is putting their life at risk…it’s just not worth it.”

Baseball’s playing field, which had been leveled by the sports’ tough drug testing, is thrown into disarray once again with the evolution of Padilla into a super-human shutdown pitcher.

Padilla’s agent Bus Cook refused to comment on the situation, only saying that his client was pitching well because of hard work and determination, not the swine flu, and called Van Nostrom’s theory “preposterous”. Padilla was approached at his locker by a swarm of reporters following the Dodgers 5-4 loss to the Phillies in Game 4 of the NLCS, and in between karaoke renditions of Randy Newman’s I Love L.A., the right-hander muttered  “how ’bout them Cowboys”, but nothing about the H1N1 virus–only fueling speculation that he gained some special abilities from the disease.

At this point there’s nothing baseball can do to slow down Padilla. After all, Bud Selig can’t suspend someone for getting sick, even if that sickness imbued the pitcher with super-human skills the likes of which baseball has never seen before. The Dodgers will be the favorites to win every time Padilla takes the mound, and it won’t be long before the team discovers they should start him each and every game, because everyone knows that pigs never need rest. Padilla will be a free agent at the end of the season and stands to make a large chunk of change, how big simply depends on how long teams believe his powers will last…and how much better they think he can get.

Vicente Padilla; from an afterthought to the best pitcher in baseball, all thanks to the biggest health scare in America since SARS and the kangaroo flu. There’s no doubt that Padilla will dominate the baseball landscape over the next decade, Dr. Van Nostrom’s work proves this, but it also raise a very serious question. Will Padilla use his powers for good or evil once he retires? If his past behavior is any indication, governments around the world had better start working on a swine kryptonite…and soon.

Michael Jackson Autopsy Results May Reveal Root of Recent Redsox Woes

Are the Yankees to blame for Jackson's untimely demise? Is there even such thing as a timely demise?

Are the Yankees to blame for Jackson's untimely demise? Is there even such thing as a timely demise?

A team long known for its history of curses may have stumbled upon another with yesterday’s news that pop star Michael Jackson’s death has been ruled a homicide by L.A. coroners. Jackson, a lifelong Red Sox fan, died as a result of a drug overdose of propofol and lorazepam, drugs that were administered by former New York Yankees’ farmhand Dr. Conrad Murray. While no foul play is suspected, the damage has already been done to Boston’s season. Since June 25th, the date of Jackson’s passing, the Red Sox have gone from 4 games up in the AL East to trailing the New York Yankees by 6 games after play on August 25th. Boston has looked utterly lost at times since the King of Pop ascended to his heavenly throne next to Elvis and Tupac—blowing leads, weeping at the mere mention of “Thriller,” and making costly errors that helped create losing streaks of 5 and 6 games. The Red Sox still lead the Wild Card race by 1.5 games over Texas, but this latest news likely hammered the final nail into Boston’s 2009 season.

After their 6-3 win over Chicago on Tuesday night the team took turns addressing the media. A tearful J.D. Drew took the microphone first, saying “Hell yeah it’s been a difficult two months for us, he was the friggin’ king of pop! He wasn’t just a musician to this team…he was our inspiration. The first time I heard ‘Billy Jean’ I knew my life would never be the same. I decided that since I couldn’t sing, baseball was what Michael would want me to do.” Drew and Jackson were good friends in the off-season, and could frequently be spotted at Boston-area amusement parks and swimming pools. Drew fell into a tailspin after Jackson’s death, hitting only .217 in July, and admitted that he was pressing in the wake of his friends passing. After drying his eyes, Drew continued, “The only thing Michael loved more than children was baseball, he’s the reason I got into this game. Now? I just don’t know anymore…I guess maybe I’ll have to start from scratch, see what the man in the mirror has to say.”

Did Jackson's music help the Red Sox capture the '04 World Series?

Did Jackson's music help the Red Sox capture the '04 World Series?

Most casual sports fans didn’t realize the inexorable link between baseball and Michael Jackson, but the pop star was a lifelong admirer of the game, a theme which often appeared in his music. A number of Jackson’s songs pay tribute to the American past-time, including: “Black & White” (dedicated to Jackie Robinson breaking the color barrier), “Smooth Criminal” (in reference to Rickie Henderson’s prowess on the basepaths during the 1980’s), “Bad” (the Pittsburgh Pirates), “Thriller” (a musical version of the 1960 World Series) and “Beat It” (referring to the Boston Red Sox World Series drought). Jackson was a Red Sox season ticket holder and would often join the team for batting practice. Despite his waifish figure, several Boston players recall Michael hitting some tape-measure shots over the Green Monster. David Ortiz called him “the greatest ‘natural’ hitter I have ever seen. I wish he wasn’t such a great singer and dancer, or we would have signed him. That guy would have moonwalked all over the AL East pitchers“.

A bad season just got even worse for the Red Sox.

A bad season just got even worse for the Red Sox.

After a violent Drew was removed from the interview room by security, noted X-Files fan and paranoid-schizophrenic Rocco Baldelli took the podium. Baldelli, wearing a tinfoil hat and bubble-wrap suit, avoided looking directly at the media, but did say the following: “You think what happened was an accident? You dumb (bleeps) have got to be out of your (bleeping) minds. I knew all along he was murdered, and leave it to a former Yankee to inject him with the lethal dose. My horoscope told me this was going to happen, but I just didn’t want to believe it. I can’t understand how the commisioner didn’t suspend the rest of the season, because it’s clear we can’t play with the fear and sorrow that we have felt over the past two months. Clearly this is just another conspiracy against us by Bud Selig and the Yankees, I’m going to have my lawyer take a look at this situation and see if we can’t get things straightened out, because this is an absolute travesty. Goodbye sweet Michael, we will meet again on the Milky Way.”

The news conference was then abruptly cancelled with the start of the new episode of “Brooke Knows Best” on Josh Beckett’s clubhouse TV, but on the way out of the media room a sullen Jason Bay was heard muttering “jamon, jamon, jamon“.

Jamon indeed Red Sox fans, because with the death of Michael Jackson at the hands of a former Yankee, it might just be another 86 years until you win your next World Series.

Report Indicates That Sammy Sosa Tested Positive in 2003: Sosa’s Response “No Se”

Wait, this guy used steroids? Couldn't be!

Wait, this guy used steroids? Couldn't be!

Well, perhaps after yesterday’s news, it won’t be such a calm wait for induction into the Hall-of-Fame. The anonymous report, which proved what had long been suspected, indicated that Sammy Sosa tested positive for a banned substance in 2003, joining Alex Rodriguez as the two players whose identities have been leaked from the list of 104 names.

While the specific substance Sosa used wasn’t revealed, the indication is that it was some sort of performance enhancing drug (i.e. STEROIDS, STEROIDS, STEROIDS). Sosa’s legacy had already been tarnished from the corked bat incident and it certainly seemed to the naked eye that Sosa grew rather unnaturally throughout his time with the Chicago Cubs (see photo above).

Despite the fact that his career numbers are outstanding (609 HR, 1667 RBIs, 2306 Ks) this latest revelation destroyed any chance that Sosa had of being elected to the Hall-of-Fame. After all, Mark McGwire hasn’t been able to garner anywhere near the number of votes necessary for induction in the HOF, and there is nothing against McGwire but anecdotal evidence (and one very poor appearance in court).

Sosa rose to national prominence in 1998 when he and McGwire engaged in an epic assault on Roger Maris’ single season HR record. While McGwire eventually won the race to 61 and ended up hitting 70 longballs, Sosa smashed 66 HRs on his way to capturing the NL MVP and winning over the hearts of fans in both America and his native Dominican Republic. Between 1999 and 2002, Sosa continued his prodigious display of power hitting 63, 50, 64 and 49 HRs respectively.

In 2003, Sosa received immense scrutiny after he was caught using a corked bat in a game, but was quickly forgiven by his ardent fans and the Wrigley faithful (give the guy a break, he did say it was an accident, and he seems honest). Sosa spent one more year in Chicago before toiling in Baltimore and Texas during his final seasons. He didn’t play in the major leagues in 2008 and just recently had announced his retirement from baseball, ending his career sixth on the all-time HR list.

The Sosa allegations are just another sad chapter in baseball's steroid era.

The Sosa allegations are just another sad chapter in baseball's steroid era.

Sosa was part of the group of players including Rafael Palmeiro, Jose Canseco and McGwire that testified before congress in 2005 about the use of steroids in baseball. During the hearing Sosa mysteriously lost the ability to speak English but through his lawyer issued the statement “to be clear, I have never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs.” This statement, so blatantly erroneous on the surface, actually has some truth to it. Sosa, a native of the Dominican Republic, could have easily acquired steroids in his home country where they’re not illegal. More than anything, Sosa was guilty of a lie of omission, and this report finally brought the truth to the surface.

In an interview about the allegations, Bud Selig seemed to ignore the past, and professed his affection for Sammy Sosa and repeatedly brought up the fact that baseball now has the toughest drug testing of any sport. Selig wasn’t exaggerating, baseball’s testing is extremely stringent and effective (just ask Manny Ramirez), but he can’t simply gloss over what has happened in baseball during his regime.

If the sport is to truly move forward and leave the Steroids Era, baseball will need to continue to purge itself of cheaters, past and present. Revealing the players on that list from 2003 is an act of carthasis for baseball, the only the way the sport will be able to regain its reputation. Exposing Sosa and A-Rod is a step in the right direction…now let’s bring those 102 other players forward.