Thursday, October 9, 2014

Quote of the Day (Wall Street Journal, Comparing Nelson Cruz and Babe Ruth)

“In 37 career postseason games, [Nelson] Cruz’s production is largely comparable to what [Babe] Ruth did through the first 37 of his 41 career postseason games. Cruz has more home runs (16 to 13), more hits (41 to 37) and more RBI (32 to 27) in only two more plate appearances than Ruth had over the same span.”—Brian Costa, “The Count: Babe Ruth or Nelson Cruz? Not an Easy Choice,” The Wall Street Journal, October 7, 2014

Few articles in The Wall Street Journal—even those editorials that sound like bad leftover musings of Gilded Age plutocrats—have left me sputtering with rage quite as much as the one quoted above. Oh, yes, Costa allows that Babe Ruth was a pretty fair pitcher during the postseason—an accomplishment that Nelson Cruz (pictured) can never hope to duplicate—and, if the writer wanted to explore defense a bit further, he could note that The Bambino, unlike Cruz, not only played the outfield on a regular basis but also that, early in his career, Ruth’s arm made him one of the better corner outfielders in the game.

But no—Costa is leaving out something far more fundamental. The only things that Ruth put into his body that could be considered outside the norm were gargantuan portions of hot dogs and beer. In contrast, Cruz, as every baseball writer knows, was suspended for 50 games in 2013 as part of the Biogenesis performance-enhancing drugs (PED) scandal.

Every baseball writer knows this, but you’d be surprised how few are inclined to bring it up this time of year—in fact, this year at all. The only notable exception I can think of was back in early July. At that point, John Lackey, then still with the Boston Red Sox, and smarting after a pasting (a homer, a double, and a single) given him by the Baltimore Orioles “slugger,” made one of those no-comments-that-say-everything: "I've got nothing to say about him. There are some things I'd like to say, but I'm not going to. You guys forget pretty conveniently about stuff."

The media love a controversy as much as anything else, and they couldn’t have been happier when O’s skipper Buck Showalter retaliated with one of his own no-comments-that-say-everything: “Everybody needs to make sure that their own backyard is clean."

Now, sensing a feud, reporters were happy to provide a bit of context: Lackey was making a veiled reference to Cruz’s enforced sitdown, while Showalter had in mind the failed (and mysteriously unexplained and undisciplined) 2003 drug test by Bosox designated hitter David Ortiz.

I’m not a fan of Lackey, who showed class neither in downing fried chicken and beer as his old team choked in manager Terry Francona's last season nor in calling the resulting controversy about it “retarded.” But his sullen no-comment about Cruz was entirely warranted—especially the part about how “You guys forget pretty conveniently about stuff." 

This time of year, on the air and in print, it’s all about how Cruz is killing the ball. Players, front offices, and broadcast booths all have vested interests in accepting retiring Major League Baseball (MLB) Commissioner Bud Selig’s belief that everything is fine on the Good Ship Lollipop, and that nobody would even think of trying to circumvent the sport’s PED ban.

It is unpleasant to think and write this, but who is to say that Cruz is not resorting to PEDs again? Two prominent similar cases of this phenomenon have already occurred, involving Manny Ramirez and Alex Rodriguez. In the case of A-Rod, the discovery of his continuing involvement with PEDs came not from a positive drug test but because of a lengthy and damning paper trail.

In fact, many of the players detected by the drug program have been minor-leaguers—i.e., too young and stupid to realize that human growth hormone rather than steroids is more likely to boost performance without triggering a positive identification.

You would think, then, given this background, that Costa might have learned the importance of avoiding categorical statements by looking at a past headline from his own paper, back in 2012: “Earth to Tigers: Stop Pitching to Nelson Cruz.”  That was printed at a time when, it is reasonable to believe now, Cruz's blazing postseason performance resulted from a steroid regimen.

When the Texas Rangers decided to part ways with their longtime player following his 2013 suspension, Cruz signed a one-year deal with the Orioles worth $8 million. As a free-agent following a monster year, he can now expect a sizable increase in his contract no matter what team he signs with—a nice bit of change for a player entering his mid-30s. All the more reason, then, why he might choose to go with the odds and try to resort to PEDs again.

Two weeks ago, Costa’s Journal colleague Daniel Barbarisi wrote about the icy treatment he received from Derek Jeter after a tweet that joked about meeting the Yankee icon and his latest glamorous girlfriend, Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Hannah Davis, in an elevator.  Perhaps Costa dreads a similarly wintry reception from the entire Orioles clubhouse.

But Jeter’s annoyance, however seemingly petty, had a point: his private conduct, unless it was illegal, had no bearing on his on-field performance. The same cannot be said for Cruz: Almost certainly, the past PED use of  “Mohamad” (the nickname for the player on a July 2012 client list kept by Biogenesis head Anthony Bosch) meant that pennants had been decided, careers made or unmade, because of an unfair advantage he possessed.

So, with the Orioles having moved on now to the American League Championship Series against the Kansas City Royals, instead of the media launching the same, boring questions (e.g., “What was on your mind when you stepped to the plate late in the game with guys on base?”), let’s see Cruz answer these questions instead:

*If you are swinging the bat so well now, why did you feel the need to use PEDs in the first place?

*How long had you been using steroids before you were suspended?

*Do you retain ties to anyone who helped you get around the drug-testing program before, as Alex Rodriguez did with his "Cousin Yuri"?

*Did you use steroids in prior playoff appearances? If so, how can we be sure that you aren’t doing it again?

So, back to that article’s question: “Babe Ruth or Nelson Cruz? Not an Easy Choice.” Really? I mean, you’re kidding, right?

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