Cheating in baseball: the shift from steroids to…

As a lifelong baseball fan, it troubles me at the amount of cheating in the sport that is coming to light. The Mitchell Report almost got me to quit following baseball for good; as it was, my return to baseball fandom was slow but complete long before the historic World Series of 2017 when the Houston Astros finally took it all in seven games against the Los Angeles Dodgers (unfortunately, that season was the subject of a cheating scandal itself).

A recent Sports Illustrated article highlighted a surprising form of cheating in baseball. As the title suggests, it relates to ball doctoring. Now, ball doctoring has been banned in MLB for an entire century. At least that’s what the rules say. As to whether or not they are being enforced, that’s another story. The epidemic of “sticky stuff” has pushed batting averages down. Should the trend continue, we may see another “dead ball” era (if we are not there already).

A few select quotes from the article, to highlight just how big the problem is:

“This should be the biggest scandal in sports,” says another major league team executive.

(Given baseball’s past scandals, this says a lot by iteslf.)

An AL reliever, who says he uses a mixture of sunscreen and rosin, recalls a spring-training meeting in 2019 in which the team’s pitching coach told the group, “A lot of people around the league are using sticky stuff to make their fastballs have more lift. And if you’re not using it, you should consider it, because you’re kind of behind.”

(Players have used similar logic to justify steroid use, in the pre-Mitchell Report era.)

“It’s so blatant,” says the AL manager. “It’s a big f— you. Like, what are you gonna do about it?”

(i.e. it shows disrespect for the game and, really, a lack of sportsmanship/ethics.)

“If you want to talk about getting balls in play and kind of readjusting the balance of pitching and offense, I think it’s a huge place to start,” says an NL reliever who says he does not apply anything to the baseball because he believes that is cheating. “Because it seems to have created these basically impossible-to-hit pitches.”

(Whoever this pitcher is, thanks for actually having a sense of ethics and not cheating.)

For hitters, all this suddenly acquired extra movement is catastrophic. What was an elite spin rate in 2018 is now average. The added spin means that the average four-seam fastball drops nearly two inches fewer this year than it did in ’18, according to Statcast, making it appear to hitters as if it’s rising.

“It is frustrating because there’s rules in this game,” says [Florida Marlins outfielder Adam] Duvall. “I feel like I’ve always been a guy that’s played by them, and I expect that of others, too.”

I think Adam’s quote, the last one above, is perhaps the most telling and the best summary of what’s going on with regard to “sticky stuff”. What is the point of having rules if you aren’t going to enforce them? If ball doctoring is against the rules, then MLB needs to take decisive action. If, on the other hand, “sticky stuff” is now the new normal and MLB is not going to consider it cheating, then it’s time to take the rule out of the rulebook (not what I’d really prefer as a baseball fan, but at least the rulebook would match reality).

Though it does look like maybe MLB is going to do something about it, per this quote from the article:

In March, the league sent a memo to teams to warn them that it would begin studying the problem, collecting those baseballs for analysis and using spin rate data to identify potential users of foreign substances.

Unfortunately “studying the problem” starting in March means we probably won’t see any action taken until close to the end of this season, if not 2022. But it’s a start. Maybe it means we’ll still have the prohibition on ball doctoring (spitballs, “sticky stuff”, or whatever) for decades to come. And once again, it will actually mean something rather than being a line in the rulebook that pitchers ignore.

Baseball is most fun to watch when there’s a comfortable balance between offense and defense. As a fan, I will admit I’m a bit biased towards good offense over good defense, but the reality is watching a game of “gone home run” gets as boring as a scoreless game that goes into extra innings. I’m okay with the trend shifting away from crazy offense if it happens naturally. If it’s a result of blatant cheating by pitchers, that’s a problem. It gets people to question the integrity of the game, and that’s potentially disastrous.

A case of censorship on Memorial Day in Ohio

WKYC reports on a censorship incident in Hudson, Ohio, at a Memorial Day observance. From the article:

Organizers of a Memorial Day ceremony turned off a speaker’s microphone when the former U.S. Army officer began talking about how freed Black slaves had honored fallen soldiers soon after the Civil War.

And now the American Legion of Ohio is calling for the resignations of the two people responsible.

Retired Army Lt. Col. Barnard Kemter tells 3News he thought it was an audio glitch at first, but it was no glitch at all. His microphone was purposely muted for several minutes.

Kemter said he included the story in his speech because he wanted to share the history of how Memorial Day originated. But organizers of the ceremony said that part of the speech was not relevant to the program’s theme of honoring the city’s veterans.

The story goes on to elaborate on how the retired colonel was asked to change certain portions of the speech, presumably the ones that occurred while his microphone was muted. To Barnard’s credit, he claims not to have gotten notice he was asked to edit–or perhaps I should say censor–part of his speech, and the city officials he talked to advised him to make no changes.

The particularly obscene and vile part of this censorship is that it was about African American former slaves and their role in the first Memorial Day (or as it was called then, Decoration Day) observances. That effectively makes this a racist incident, especially since Hudson prides itself as the home of an abolitionist and part of the underground railroad.

It’s a slap in the face to the people who strive to make this world a better place for everyone regardless of the color of their skin. Thankfully, something will be done about the people who decided to cut the microphone and silence what may well have been the most important part of the speech. I appreciate that the former colonel gave the organizers the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes the answer really is that such a malevolent act of censorship was done on purpose.

Violence, hockey, and the NHL’s leadership

I can’t believe what I just read over the past few days.

I don’t post about hockey that often. I’m technically a Vegas Golden Knights fan, though I will sometimes root for the Colorado Avalanche. What I’m writing about today involves neither of those teams, but is still very worrisome for the future of professional ice hockey.

Some five years and change ago, I wrote two pieces about Raffi Torres, one right after his last suspension for a dirty hit in a preseason game, the next some months later after finding out what happened to him. (Torres wound up retiring in 2016 November, a few months after the second post; I didn’t have anything new to add at that time.

Now, another incident has come up. Actually, because of how badly the NHL has handled this, it’s exploded into a huge controversy and set new NHL records for fighting. I speak of the recent incident involving Tom Wilson of the New York Rangers in a game against the Washington Capitals on May 3 (Monday).

This article from CBS Sports has a nice timeline of the events (I’ve left all the links intact):

  • May 3, 2nd period: Tom Wilson injures [Artemi] Panarin, and punches [Pavel] Buchnevich down on the ice
  • May 3, end of 3rd period: Rangers officially eliminated from playoff contention
  • May 3, postgame: Rangers coach David Quinn said Wilson crossed a line, Mika Zibanejad says the Caps player didn’t have “respect for the game and for the players”
  • May 4: Rangers release statement saying [NHL’s head of the Department of Player Safety George] Parros is “unfit to continue in his current role”
  • May 5, less than 5 hours before game time: Rangers fire Davidson and Gorton. Chris Drury is set to take over both positions
  • May 5, less than a second after the opening whistle: Three fights break out between Caps and Rangers players. Six fights would happen before the five-minute mark, including one between Brendan Smith and Wilson
  • May 5, 1st period: Wilson leaves with an upper-body injury, Caps PR Twitter account gets ratioed with schadenfreude-hungry Rangers fans, and everyone makes the same joke on Twitter
  • May 5, 2nd period: Rangers honor their injured teammate by refusing to put any effort on the ice, go down 3-0. Buchnevich gets a five minute major for cross-checking Anthony Mantha in the face, and Zdeno Chara gets a 10-minute misconduct penalty
  • May 5, 3rd period: Bit less eventful on the pushing and shoving front. Rangers scored two, and T.J. Oshie recorded a hat trick in the first game since his father’s death. Caps won, 4-2

Also of note is that the NHL fined the Rangers $250,000 (that’s 50 times what Tom Wilson was fined) for making that statement regarding George Parros. While it is a nominally subjective statement, just about every objective review of the facts shows that it makes no sense for Tom Wilson to have gotten off with only a fine and no suspension. This is a player who has been suspended multiple times in the past, and who in any other major sports league would be looking at much more severe consequences.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman has the brass balls to come out and say this regarding the fine (quotes from the previous article above):

Public comments of the nature issued by the Rangers that were personal in nature and demeaning of a League executive will not be tolerated. While we don’t expect our Clubs to agree with every decision rendered by the Department of Player Safety, the extent to which the Rangers expressed their disagreement was unacceptable.

It is terribly unfair to question George Parros’ professionalism and dedication to his role and the Department of Player Safety.

My response to this: It is terribly–no, that doesn’t do it justice. It is downright obscenely and egregiously unfair to the Rangers, Artemi Panarin, and Pavel Buchnevich to basically let Tom Wilson get away with such a blatant disregard for player safety. It is a joke that the NHL even has a Department of Player Safety if the person heading that department can’t do his damn job and suspend players who do things like this and pose a danger to the rule-abiding players on the ice.

I’m absolutely disgusted. This is a failure in leadership on the part of the NHL, pure and simple.

George Parros needs to go. Clearly, this is someone who can’t do his job and protect rule-abiding players by issuing appropriate penalties to the players committing clearly malicious, dangerous, and rule-prohibited acts. Actually, Gary Bettman needs to go, too, if the team that justly criticizes such a blatant miscarriage of justice gets a ridiculous quarter-million-dollar fine for what the rest of the sports world can clearly see is justified. And Tom Wilson probably needs to go too, or at the very least massively lean up his act before he follows Raffi Torres out the retirement door. Those kind of attacks on other players are unacceptable. A mere $5,000 fine is getting off way too easy (basically, one notch below getting away with it outright).

Outrage in DC: A second impeachment, a second acquittal

For those that missed it or need a refresher: Second impeachment of Donald Trump (from Wikipedia). Basically, the vote to convict fell short of the two-thirds margin, 57-43.

The good news is, that means seven Republicans put decency before party loyalty. One of them, perhaps not surprisingly, is Mitt Romney (who would have made a decent president, especially compared to what we had during that four years). I’m not sure who the others were, but on one hand I’m relieved it was not a party-line vote all the way.

I am, however, greatly disappointed that not only did we fail to find a total of 17 (ten more than we did), but from what I read, a lot of Republican Senators didn’t take the trial seriously. Either they didn’t show up for some of the evidence, or they were present but absent in mind: doodling instead of taking notes, reading the newspaper, or doing any number of things that would have gotten a contempt of court charge had they done so as jurors in a court of law. Which is basically what an impeachment hearing is: a trial by jury, with the Senate as that jury.

I hesitate to mention this, but I feel it must be brought up again. Many of the parallels to Adolf Hitler’s reign and Nazi Germany, so far, have been frighteningly accurate; the next one that people are now talking about is that Hitler came to power after the Germans failed to recognize how dangerous he was in the previous decade or so. For this reason, I’m hoping the criminal prosecution of Donald J. Trump, at some level, is successful in yielding a conviction and prison sentence. That now looks like the only way we will keep him from running for re-election and, Zeus forbid, actually getting re-elected.

It’s not really what a lot of people who lived through America run as a TV reality show the last four years, including myself, wanted. But I’m willing to be content with it if that’s the best we’re going to get.

I’m just glad to have relatively decent leadership again, even if Joe Biden was far from my first choice for president.

Maybe the long nightmare is finally over?

For better or worse, it’s been an interesting past couple of weeks here in the US. I have not weighed in on the domestic terrorist attack on the US Capitol–and let’s just be honest with ourselves here, that’s what this was–or anything to have happened since. Many of the former social media accounts of Donald J. Trump have been suspended, possibly permanently. This is something that really should have happened long ago. Unfortunately, the occupant of the office of president had to actually incite a riot to make it happen. (Twitter, at least, gave “world leaders” a bit more latitude in regard to the rules. I can understand why but the result is still unfortunate.)

A lot of it is very sad. Five people died in the attack on the Capitol that should not have. Our country is probably just as divided as ever. People still think there’s some kind of massive election fraud going on, just because DJT tweeted it (there’s not).

We’re now looking at a most unlikely outcome: for Donald J. Trump to finally be impeached and convicted (post-term). This is only possible since the new Senate will now have a Democratic Party majority (once Vice President Kamala Harris takes office tomorrow). As it stands, DJT is the first occupant of the office to face impeachment twice in one term–something even Andrew Jackson wasn’t able to make happen, and he pissed off a lot of people back in his day.

That part is good, but then there is one that really isn’t. The infamous (anti-)social media site Parler is closer to finding a new home. Parler has been offline since January 12, the day that Amazon booted them off the company’s servers. Google and Apple have already taken the former Parler apps out of their respective online marketplaces. This makes a total of three tech giants giving the Twitter alternative a vote of no confidence.

And I think it is for better that the respectable tech companies in the US give Parler the boot. I support responsible free speech, but not “frozen fruit”. We cannot allow any social media platform to facilitate the type of violence that took place on January 6 and then disclaim liability under the guise of “free speech.” The protections of the First Amendment simply do not stretch as far as Parler’s owners would have us believe. What took place online that led to the riot was thousands of times worse than the proverbial shouting of “fire” in a crowded movie theater. If you abuse your rights to free speech, you are responsible for the results. If you amplify the unlawful or reckless “free speech” of others, as Parler did, you are responsible for what happens as a result.

Parler and the people behind it (John Matze, Rebekah Mercer, Jared Thomson, among others) contributed to the domestic terrorist attacks that took place on January 6. This is unfortunate, but true. I place most of the blame on Donald J. Trump, and possibly others within the Republican party. However, we as a society simply cannot ignore the role of Parler (and possibly other “alternative” social media). Until and unless the problem with the Parler machine is fixed, Apple, Google, Amazon, and any other companies in the appropriate position are fully justified in keeping it locked out and tagged out.