Alex Rodriguez, PEDs and Baseball’s Rewritten Record Book

Celebration day.

Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez has 599 career home runs at the time of writing.

Roughly 18 years ago on May 3, 1992, Mets slugger Eddie Murray launched his 400th career home run in a 7-0 victory over Atlanta. This was a big deal. I know because I was there.

Unfortunately, neither my father nor his dashingly hansom 5-year-old son actually witnessed Murray’s historic blast due to my typically weak (for a preschooler) 5-year-old bladder.

I had to pee. We missed his at-bat.

I only vaguely remember this day, but know its details intimately as its an anecdote my father occasionally uses to impress friends – the best thing the Hilson family has to a “Good Will Hunting” moment.

Like “You missed Pudge Fisk’s home run? For a girl? You’re kidding me,” only:

You missed Ed Murray? For a Big Gulp? You’re kidding me.

Or something like that. Anyway, fast forward some 12 years when my dad and I bump into an impeccably well-tanned Alex Rodriguez shanking golf balls a couple blocks up from our house.

It’s not every day that one encounters the “greatest living ballplayer” out in the wild (though, actually, this was the first of several run-ins – hell, the guy dropped in on my yearbook class). So my father approached this 6-foot-4-inch glowing mass of orange, said hi and dropped the Murray story in their few seconds of casual conversation.

Heroes of a young Robb Hilson/Members of 400-3000 Club

While I’m impressed with the symmetry of this story, young A-Rod was not impressed with Murray’s 400 homers. And why would he be? If you’re Alex Rodriguez, you’re interested in three things: tanning, aging pop divas and doubling the total of a number once thought to mean something.

Mr. 800, anyone?

I tell you these stories both to impress you via name-dropping and emphasize that 400 career home runs was a huge deal. And it was a huge deal in my lifetime. On that day in May ’92, Murray became the 24th player in Major League history and the second active player (Dave Winfield, 411) to reach the once-momentous milestone.

The last two-plus decades, of course, have so altered baseball’s dynamics as to render these historically hallowed yardsticks inconsequential. The era-defining transformations read like this: diluted talent pool, shrinking ballparks, juiced baseballs, thinning air and – you may have heard – bigger, faster, stronger, more acne-ridden players.

For perspective’s sake, know that a startling 22 players have joined the 400 Club since 1997. Of the 128 players that have reached 300 career homers, 21 are still active and another 36 made their Big League debuts after the 1984 season. Anomalies in this latter bunch include Steve Finley (304), Luis Gonzalez (354) and Greg Vaughn (355), along with household names Sosa, Bagwell, Canseco, Bonds and Green.

Shawn Green. 328.

Performance enhancing drugs have become such a pervasive part of baseball culture that googling any player produces a “name + steroids” search option. They’ve directly produced staggering single-season figures that inspire WTF? double-takes and have more or less turned the backs of baseball cards into incriminating documents the products of look-the-other-way policies.

The Steroid Era transformed the likes of Brady Anderson (50 HR in ’96), Javy Lopez (43 HR in 457 ’03 ABs) and Brett Boone (37, 131, .331 in ’00) into Ruthian sluggers; vaulted McGwire/Sosa into the realm of legend; raised the red flag on any and all contract years; and greased the skids for that damning 162-game freak show that was 2001.

Anderson, au naturale

Of all the laughably inane statistical aberrations of the last 20 or so years, my favorite by far is this: in 2001, Louis Gonzalez of eventual champion Arizona finished with 57 homers, 142 RBI, 128 runs, a .325 average, a godlike 1.117 OPS, 100 walks and 198 hits… and finished third in the NL MVP voting behind the following two he-men.

2. Sammy Sosa – 64 HR, 160 RBI, 146 R, .328 BA, 1.174 OPS, 116 BB, 189 H

1. Barry Bonds – 73 HR, 137 RBI, 129 R, .328 BA, 1.379 OPS, 177 BB, 156 H in… wait for it… 476 at-bats

That Rich Aurilia, Brian Giles and Phil Nevin all topped 36 homers and .940 OPS is notable in its own right.

Are you like me? Are you still dumbfounded by the above even though you recall these players and their superhuman feats all too vividly? Are you still shaking your head at the sportswriter-floated notion that the tinkered spacing on the ball’s seams inflated power output? Are you reminded by every 2010 no-hitter of this generation’s sans-chemicals offensive impotence?

Are you starting to talk yourself into Greg Maddux as the greatest of all-time? Are you starting to realize that he used a knife to kill men in a gunfight?

Or do you instead just look back on the golden years of your childhood and think, “Wow. Baseball was a total joke.”

Contrarians would argue that the Steroids Era is just part and parcel with baseball’s ever-evolving landscape – that the record books are no more or less valid now than they were when a bunch of fat, white guys took advantage of legalized racism.

You want to erase Barry Bonds? Fine. But replace him with Josh Gibson. Still others might counter that power statistics like RBI were never legit measures of success in the first place.

Ultimately the arguments stop and end here: Major League Baseball has forever sacrificed one of its most intrinsic appeals – the mythical lore of its records.

In short, baseball is no longer a numbers game. And it will never be again because many of its sacred touchstones have been blown out of the water and permanently put out of reach.

Nobody will ever surpass 73 home runs in a single season, much less in 476 at-bats. And if he does, he will have done so dishonestly.

L to R: A future home run champion, a cartoon.

Which brings me back to Alex Rodriguez, a confessed cheater who stands on the precipice of 600 home runs and, at a day short of his 35th birthday, within striking distance of several vulnerable all-time marks. Regardless of the surrounding fanfare or lack thereof, A-Rod’s next longball will be bittersweet in that it will remind us of the young man who, not long ago, was anointed our national pastime’s presumed savior.

Rodriguez was going to set the records straight – erase the taint of BALCO, Bonds, 762 and other ill-gotten gains. Instead, his 600 – as with his 700, 756 and 763 – will just re-emphasize the fact that the statistics mean nothing, and worse, that we’re still waiting for a historical restoration that will never come.

- Robbie

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“Pimps” and Other Agents of Saban: An SEC-Bashing Week in Review

Victim Nick Saban

This one goes out to all you $5 mill-a-year coaches out there.

The No. 1 question that’s been on all our minds’ this week:

Is Alabama coach Nick Saban the antichrist, or just plain ‘ol satan?

In case you missed it, Saban turned SEC Media Day into a public forum for pimp flogging. But first, he called out agents for preying on naive 21-year-olds – tempting the innocent with “mad bank”/”ice”/”bling”/”rimz for Caddies” and, as a result, compromising their amateur statuses (a phenomenon with which his star player may or may not be familiar).

Presumably these youngsters have yet to learn the difference between right and wrong, making themselves prime recipients of – hypothetically speaking – a $100k under-the-table cash advance from a Jerry Maguire wannabe trying to do his employer proud.

"SHOW ME THE MONEY!"

“The agents that do this – and I hate to say this, but how are they any better than a pimp?” Satan said.

Saban said. Freudian slip.

In all seriousness, Nick – what the hell did pimps ever do to you?

Do tell.

Saban wasn’t the only exorbitantly-paid, super-conference ball coach calling out others for their “greed.” In fact, the Old Ball Coach and his long-term replacement Urban Meyer got in on the agent/pimp bashing as well.

Gamecocks quote machine Steve Spurrier of “Can’t spell ‘Citrus’ without UT” fame defended one of his players who allegedly attended a massive summer blowout on South Beach. I can neither confirm nor deny such an agent-funded party, but I can tell you that, since it’s going to rain tonight, I have to cancel my plans at The W with AJ Green.

Sorry, J. Hit me up tomorrow. Go Dawgs.

Spurrier said, rather benignly, that it’s hard to tell who’s an agent and who’s a runner these day. Yawn.

He added, “I think [arrests] are more common now because players are getting arrested for everything that in the old days they did not get arrested for. I can sort of remember back in our day, if you were out and something happened, they would say, ‘Can you get home? We’ll drive you home,’ to some of my teammates. They did not go into the tank that night.”

Ah yes, the tank.

Spurrier with non-criminal Tebow

Speaking of which, I’ve always been in the tank for former ‘Canes redeemer Butch Davis – the only head of a crappy, non-SEC team that made news this week. The North Carolina coach also has a pair of players allegedly involved with an agent, violations that resulted in an NCAA probe that he calls from “out of left field.”

After implicating UNC baseball’s left fielder, Davis went on to explain how rule changes that allow player/agent contact 18 months prior to pro eligibility have shaken the college football landscape.

Carolina is facing possible future sanctions.

On the bright side, Butch recruits like a maniac when he’s short on scholarships. I would know. Hope your track players can catch a football, Heels.

UM track scholar Santana Moss

And as mentioned, Florida’s own Urban Menace Meyer got in on the naughty-agent talk in a valiant, but unsuccessful attempt to deflect attention from the fact that he’s now dealing with a twenty-eighth rap sheet and a probable Sugar Bowl forfeiture.

Bottom line: NFL agents are taking college football down. These men are sharks, circling the young blood of the naive like…

… (*racking brain for appropriate analogy*) …

Well, think of them like big-time college football programs trying to recruit promising 16-year-old high school quarterbacks so they can feed their multi-million dollar amateur sports cash cow.

And with this I give you… The Week in Review. Enjoy.

_________

Saw “Inception,” Stephen Strasburg and Billy Corgan this week. Or as it’s known in the culinary world: Brilliance 3-Ways.

On Monday, former president Bill Clinton unveiled his “bucket list,” prompting the question: “There are things Bill Clinton hasn’t done?”

As you can imagine, Hillary was pissed.

Peace and love, dudes. Emphasis on "love."

Tour de France cyclist Andy Schleck vowed to take out race leader Alberto Contador after the latter took advantage of Schleck’s popped bike chain to capture the race lead.

The angered Luxembourg rider, who felt Contador should have stopped, vowed revenge, saying, “My stomach is full of anger.”

Actually, Andy, that probably has something to do with all the foie gras you ate RIGHT BEFORE STAGE 15.

On Tuesday, pitcher Jennie Finch announced her plans to retire next month, news that came as a huge surprise to casual sports fans.

You mean professional softball still exists?

Gratuitous Finch

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman blocked Ilya Kovalchuk’s record-breaking 17-year, $102 million deal with the New Jersey Devils this week. The league is citing salary cap violations in an attempt to conceal the fact that cyborgs will have long replaced left wingers by 2027.

In baseball news, Cubs manager “Sweet” Lou Piniella announced Tuesday that he will retire at season’s end to pursue a career in couples counseling.

Lou w/ bro Jim Joyce

CBS hinted Wednesday that former ‘Canes and Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson, 67, will participate in the network’s reality show “Survivor: Nicaragua.” We knew that Coach wanted to shed a few pounds, but isn’t this a little drastic?

It’s still unclear whether Johnson will be allowed to bring ExtenZe to the island, as natural male performance enhancement would presumably give him a competitive advantage.

Also on Wednesday, ESPN’s SportsNation reported a poll in which Kobe Bryant and Tiger Woods tied for America’s most popular athlete. On Thursday, a Mayan spokesperson reasserted “2012.”

On Thursday, disgruntled Hornets star Chris Paul informed his team he’d like to be traded to a contender. The only question now is: will he accept the veteran minimum?

Speaking of end of the world...

The McCourt divorce proceedings continued to worsen this week as Dodgers’ co-owners Frank and Jamie bitterly fought over who will get Manny’s bandana and who will take his lazy will.

And finally, Tiger Woods’ camp announced Wednesday that the star golfer lost a staggering $22 million in endorsements in light of his personal indiscretions.

Or, in glass-half-full terms, Woods – who hasn’t won a major in more than two years – kept about $90 million in endorsements in light of his personal indiscretions.

Keep up the great work, Beadle.

- Robbie

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So Paid: An Unfocused Look at the Past Week in the World

And let heads explode in 3…2…1.

I can only promise you one thing. This Week in Review will be better than last week’s effort.

Mother Nature has decided to have an apparent bonfire in Tampa this week as the temperatures continue to reach record highs. The thermometer has read like defensive tackle numbers: 96, 97, 94.

I can hear Buccaneer players quivering at the idea of training camp starting in one week from my living room. But that could also be the sound of me quivering at the thought of watching them take the field.

Regardless, it’s Friday. Let’s do this.

I’m actually going to start this post out on something of a serious note. Ridiculous idea, I know.

Last Thursday, a man by the name of Warren Cason passed away at the age of 85. Simply put, Mr. Cason (as I always referred to him) was the man. He grew up in the strawberry fields of Plant City, Fla., and carried the humble demeanor that those fields produce with him throughout his entire life.

He would go on to become a lawyer and create a very good life for himself and his family. But more than anything, he dedicated his life and his general well-being to the University of Florida.

I came to know Mr. Cason in his later years when he became a customer of my dad’s air conditioning company. It’s cliché to say, but I’m pretty sure he bled orange and blue. He was one of the most highly noted “Bull Gator” athletic boosters and also a regular donor to the university’s academic programs. He spoke of names that are immortalized on campus – Ben Hill Griffin, Stephen O’Connell, etc. – in a matter-of-fact manner. One of his four children wanted his granddaughter to go to Harvard instead of UF. He kind of groaned at the idea.

Seats on the 50-yard-line and fourth quarter passes to his sick skybox were a perk, but listening to him talk about Gator football made him sound like a kid.

My senior year of high school, he offered to take my paper work and turn it in himself to the UF officials to assure me a spot at the only school that I had ever wanted to attend. My mom said no, something about a “D” in physics and “fairness.” A couple of years later, I got into Florida anyways via community college.

So long, Mr. Cason. You’ll be sorely missed both in Tampa and on the 2,000 acres of land that the University of Florida calls home.

To read a great write-up about Cason from legendary Tampa sportswriter Tom McEwen, click here.

Now onto my attempts at humor.

Cristiano Ronaldo is reportedly getting married to awesome Russian model Irina Shayk. I mean this sounds like a perfect pairing. He’s a 20-something-year-old athlete who is in his prime and at the absolute peak of his sport. She is a gorgeous model taken by his pure greatness. Wait a second… Wait a second… RUN FOR YOUR LIFE, IRINA! THIS IS GOING TO END TERRIBLY!

"I'm warning you."

Two anchors at New York City’s local Fox station made people hate them even further this week when someone decided that it would be a great idea to have them interview veteran international soccer superstar Thierry Henry without any form of noticeable preparation or research. The interview was set to preview Henry’s big debut with the New York Red Bulls of the MLS. If you enjoy awkward moments and the downfall of major market media, you can watch it here.

Among the questions asked:

  • So you just won the World Cup, right? (Uh, no he’s French.)
  • We like blowouts in America. What was the biggest lopsided victory you ever had? 3-0? (Ugh.)
  • Did you like those horns? Were they distracting? (Really? You can’t at least Wiki “vuvuzelas” before you go on air.)

Did I mention that this is in NEW YORK FREAKING CITY and not some low rent station in southeast Nebraska?

The other Celtics.

In other soccer news, the sport attempted to destroy the fabric of America by holding two of the biggest sporting events that the country had to offer on the same Wednesday night. Celtic Football Club took on Sporting Clube de Portugal at the little green dump known as Fenway Park while Manchester United was busy playing the Philadelphia Union at Lincoln Financial Field.

Manchester United impressed well, um, no one by defeating an expansion MLS team just 1-0. I’m assuming Celtic just got really drunk and voted illegally because I love stereotypes.

In his best efforts to not become the illegitimate child-breeding Karl Malone of the 21st century, Carl Crawford took one for the team (well, not really) and returned to first base leading with his left foot instead of his right during a pickoff attempt by Orioles pitching. Insert a one-liner of your own after clicking here.

Whammy

Tiger Woods is apparently still America’s favorite athlete according to some mysterious poll. This should come as no surprise to anyone. We also love James Bond, John Shaft and Vinny Chase.

Lou Piniella has announced that he will retire at the conclusion of this season. If his final game does not involve him beating umpire Joe West over the head with third base, then I will be sorely disappointed.

Louis Oosthuizen won the 2010 Open Championship on Sunday. No, I don’t have an opinion about it either.

The annual media days of the Southeastern Conference are taking place this week which means two things. A – I am furious that SC was not invited to partake in this year’s festivities; and B – It is suddenly nullifying and trendy to refer to sports agents as “pimps.”

Holt and Hilson: Not in this picture.

You see, this year’s rendition of SEC media days just happened to come at the epicenter of everyone flipping out about players, agents and money. Robbie has already discussed this controversy in a somewhat lengthy manner, so I’ll keep my analysis very short and concise.

Maurkice Pouncey didn’t do a damn thing wrong. Don’t hate the player, hate the game. Get that cash.

M.O.B… Go Gators.

New fight song?

Get rowdy this weekend. Do it for A.J. Green.

-Bryan

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Does Gator Football Deserve NCAA Sanctions?

Giving new meaning to "The Swamp"

The following is in no way meant to be inflammatory. Honest.

Go ‘Canes.

Somebody needs to address the $100,000 elephant in the room and it obviously won’t be Myles Brand because Myles is A) spineless and B) dead.

I think we can all agree that the NCAA – that bastion of… wait, what do they do again? – is by and large a farce; that, along with The Firm, German food and women’s sports, it looks great on paper, but really has no valid reason to exist beyond filling a Wikipedia page.

The guy from Zeppelin AND the guy from Bad Company AND the guy from Uriah Heep? In the SAME BAND? HOLY SH…!!!

Uh, not so much.

Given my cynic’s sarcasm, you can probably imagine my dumbfounded/slack-jawed/Carlos Dunlapian – i.e. face down on my steering wheel at 3 a.m. – reaction to the news that the NCAA’s 38-year probe into USC football and basketball (and tennis) resulted in actual punishments. And not just a spanking-spoon-type slap on the ass, but an honest to goodness hand-of-god smackdown.

Four years probation, 30 lost scholarships, fourteen voided victories, a pending national title forfeiture, a 2-year postseason ban, and one Lane Kiffin.

Like I said, smackdown.

A short-lived rivalry.

Unaware of the tenets of general decency (i.e. “rules”), Urban Meyer the guy who faked his death has taken it upon himself in his five years in Gainesville to turn the University of Florida football program into a dynastic cross between Pee Wee’s Playhouse and the 8th Street Gun & Pawn.

The Gators, beneficiaries of good karma upon my enrollment, have had… (*doing the math*)… (*using toes*)… (*damn, out of toes*)… twenty-eight players arrested on Urban Legend’s watch. That’s exactly:

  • 14 arrests per national title
  • 9.3 arrests per BCS victory
  • .97 arrests per NFL draftee
  • .0002 arrests per skanky Midtown girl

Of course, all these trivial infractions – garden variety weed, DUI, felony burglary, aggravated assault (read: “pummeling girlfriend”), battery, stolen police property, resisting arrest, violation of sexual restraining order, illicit use of semi-automatic weapons – took a back seat to this week’s technically non-illegal news that former center Maurkice Pouncey accepted $100,000 from an agent friend in the days leading up to the 2010 Sugar Bowl.

Allegedly.

When asked if he’d taken the money, the Steelers’ first-round pick said, “Straight cash, homie.”

No not really. Pouncey denied it and called the claims “absolutely ridiculous,” as in “[that's] absolutely [possible. Don't be] ridiculous.”

His twin brother Mike, a senior lineman at UF, also denied the accusations… from the passengers seat of a brand new Cadillac Escalade. In a case of impeccably poor timing, Maurkice dropped coin for his new ride and loads of jewelry right after the NFL Draft.

Pouncey Brothers, sans Escalade/ice

I say impeccably poor timing because, had he just waited to sign his pro contract, nobody would’ve questioned the young lad – or his brother back in Gainesville – for bouncing around in this chromed out Caddy. Now it’s just another piece of evidence (along with very Bond-esque spy pics of him w/ the agent’s runner and an anonymous tip-off letter from Canada) suggesting Maurkice might’ve indeed accepted this $100k advance in the name of “toppling dynasty.”

Pouncey says he used a deferred line of credit to make his purchases.

You’re thinking two things right now: 1) This blowhard has it out for the Gators and 2) This blowhard has it out for the Gators.

Guilty (like somebody else I know).

Look, Florida has been good to me in the five years I’ve attended the fine institution. Great school. Hot babes. Huge market for scalping student football tickets. I have no ill will toward it. But I’m a year away from finishing grad school, at which point I can go back to rooting for the ‘Canes without being showered with warm Budweiser.

The Black version of me.

I brought the school a couple of titles. I partied on University Avenue till the wee hours of the morning. I watched Tebow throw his first iconic jump pass… Enough is enough. The Gates left Miami in the rearview some time ago and show no signs of slowing down.

Five to three is too close for comfort, and I’m thinking four years probation is just enough time for The U to regain its footing, climb back to national prominence and break ground on the state-of-the-art LeBron Field (aka “The King Dome”).

So yeah, I’m not a Gators fan per se, but I am a fan of competitive balance… And fairness. The NCAA penalized Southern California when two star players forfeited amateur status by accepting gifts and money. USC claimed it was unaware of the infractions, a naivete that qualifies as “lack of institutional control.”

When asked about the Pouncey issue, Florida AD Jeremy Foley said, “At this time we have no information that has indicated that there are any compliance issues for the University of Florida.”

Hmmm.

I’m obviously not an objective party in this matter. As you may know, the NCAA railroaded the ‘Canes back in the mid-’90s for a host of indiscretions (/indiscreet hostesses), including but not limited to: covering up failed drug tests, funneling slush fund money to players, general unruliness (i.e. “on-campus brawls”), academic dishonesty and falsification of Pell Grants that constituted “perhaps the largest centralized fraud ever committed.”

(*takes bow*)

Plus, I was raised to hate the Gators, and if you’ve ever been down South, you know the insufferable SEC fans don’t help matters.

So tell me what you think. Do the program’s actions under Meyer constitute a “lack of institutional control”? Does Gator Football deserve the USC treatment? Does villainy directly relate to on-the-field success? Is Urban Meyer two seasons away from “pulling a Carroll”? Have you ever personally been attacked by a Gator? Am I just bitter cuz the ‘Canes suck? Are you a “straight cash homie”? Should “innocent until killing someone” be the law of the land? Does Jeremy Foley read my blog? Am I leaving anything out?

- Robbie

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Rocco Baldelli, But Why?

Class A's Finest

There’s been plenty of sappy stories written on this topic. This isn’t really one of them.

Rocco Baldelli made his big another return to baseball on Monday night. This time it was for the Charlotte Stone Crabs, the Single-A Florida State League affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays.

The last time that Baldelli took the field as a player, he was in a Boston Red Sox uniform, the team that he idolized as a child growing up in Woonsocket, Rhode Island. This time he faced the Daytona Cubs and struck out all four times that he came to the plate.

Baldelli signed a minor league contract with the Rays the same day that he made his return to baseball against Daytona. The move was the first official step to a process that most saw coming from a mile away.

The background of Baldelli is very well documented. He was the “Pride of Woonsocket,” the first-round draft pick with all the potential in the world. He carried the unique blend of power and athleticism, even drawing premature comparisons to Joe DiMaggio from a number of veteran scouts.

The Good Ole' Days

All of that ended when a long string of injuries resulted in doctors insisting that Baldelli undergo some medical tests. They discovered a mysterious mitochondrial disorder that most doctors still aren’t quite sure what to think of.

Baldelli has been somewhat able to fight through the disorder, but it has definitely been a very ginger fight. Managers are forced to count the amount of times that he swings the bat like it’s a star pitcher’s pitch count. They are forced to conserve him as much as possible, rarely letting him play an entire game or on consecutive days.

The generic disorder that Rocco has makes many routine things a challenge. His muscles tire after the lightest of workouts or activities. The deeper he goes into a game or workout, the more and more chances skyrocket of a serious injury. It was said during his occasional contributions during the Rays’ 2008 playoff run that his legs would often begin shaking badly if left in past the sixth inning or during long innings.

But when effective, Baldelli is special. This is why the Rays continued to give him a chance in 2008, and why the Red Sox surprised some by giving him a $500,000 chance in 2009.

Boston’s gamble didn’t pan out. Baldelli appeared in 62 games, registering 150 at-bats, meaning that he was paid a little over $3,333 for every at-bat.

Rocco in Boston

When there was no interest in free agent Rocco after 2009, the Rays brought him back as a “roving instructor.” His job was supposedly to travel to the Rays’ various minor league outlets and coach prospects on baserunning and outfield defense. However, it became clear that the title was something of a cover-up early in the 2010 season. When the Rays were at the Trop, Rocco often was too. When the Rays took batting practice, Rocco was usually involved.

The Rays are firing up another attempt at a Rocco comeback, but why?

Baldelli was a slight asssett to the team in 2008 during both its regular season pennant race and playoff run. But to many, the 2009 season proved that he still is heavily crippled by this medical issue that doctors shake their heads at.

The Rays feel an obligation to Baldelli. The franchise is known for being painfully loyal to players, and its treatment of the once-promising centerfielder is a glaring example of that loyalty. This is why they signed him to a minor league deal and started discussing hopes that he could contribute down the stretch when rosters expand.

Loyalty is the only way to explain it.

Tampa Bay possesses one of the deepest and most fruitful farm systems in baseball. The Rays have excessive amounts of talent to draw upon when baseball allows them to extend their roster in September. From Desmond Jennings to Jeremy Hellickson to Fernando Perez, these are all players that can contribute every day, play in versatile roles and not need the constant personal attention of a team physician.

Only a matter of time.

But they’re not Rocco.

They’re not the man who stood in a press conference on March 12, 2008, and made an entire room teary-eyed as he questioned his condition, his career and his life. They’re not the man who Rays’ players all grew out beards in honor of as they awaited his return from the disabled list during that same season. They’re not the Pride of Woonsocket.

The March 12 Presser

Whether it’s right or not, some things get treated as more than a baseball decision. Sure, Rocco is worth pulling for. But to what extent?

-Bryan

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The Smashing Pumpkins Live in Ft. Lauderdale: A Fanboy Review

L to R: Billy Corgan, Jeff Shroeder

The Smashing Pumpkins at Revolution Live; Ft. Lauderdale, FL; July 20

I have approximately one thing in common with Billy Corgan: I, too, tire of answering the same questions over and over again. Let me first, then, address the rhinoceros elephant in the room so that we can move on to the rock ‘n roll.

Yes, the Smashing Pumpkins are still around.

Sort of.

Corgan – the band’s founder, de facto leader, songwriter and visionary – is the only remaining member from the ’90s juggernaut that revolutionized alternative music/penned Rat In A Cage!!! Some would say that the Thin Bald Duke has always been and will always be the Smashing Pumpkins, that the other original members – James Iha, D’Arcy Wretzky, Jimmy Chamberlin – were just cogs in the Corgan wheel.

Others would argue, rightfully, that James, D’Arcy and, particularly Jimmy – a force of god behind the drumkit and BC’s longtime creative foil – contributed to the band’s look, feel and presence, regardless of the musical contributions they brought to the table.

Discussions of are they/aren’t they (or rather, is he/isn’t he) worthy of the SP monikor are qualified – or offset altogether, depending on one’s perspective – by the simple fact that Billy Corgan continues to crank out typically worthwhile, occasionally brilliant pieces of music irrespective of his supporting cast.

And since I’ve never seen the Billy/Jimmy reincarnation, let alone the original lineup, I can safely attest without the baggage of preconception that this new bastardized ensemble

Absolutely f*cking rocks.

Perhaps the most striking aspects of Wednesday’s show were the evident dichotomy between new and old and the paradoxical notion of a humbled Billy Corgan. A worldbeater confined to the cramped confines of a tiny club in a city where music goes to die, the Pumpkins – and Corgan in particular – tore into their post-2000 material with a tempered ferocity that said something to the effect of, “We want you to know we’re too good for this. But we’ll shut up and let the music tell you.”

The Alpha Pumpkin

They opened with “Teargarden’s” Song for a Son, a mammoth cut that sounds much less of a classic rock cliche when stripped of its cheeseball piano intro and sterilized studio production. This version – delicate guitar interplay interspersed with freakout soloing – sounds much more a part with the SP canon than the one put to tape. It is vintage Corgan – big, bold, melodic and laced with heavy Fender tones, although wingman Jeff Schroeder (w/Gibson) took many of the leads, as he did all night.

Today was Today, which is to say it hit home with the oily muscle guys in the VIP lounge and the 30-somethings sporting Zero tees. The band played it – as they did with heyday classics Stand Inside Your Love, Tonight Tonight and Bullet With Butterfly Wings – by the numbers and with hands tied behind back.

Which only made the hellfire assault of As Rome Burns all the more deliriously thrilling. The song was the night’s easy highlight for me and probably something of a revelation for those unfamiliar with the band’s post-”Zeitgeist” material. Still unrecorded, Rome is a punishing, lighting-fast rocker in the Tales of Scorched Earth mold that showcases Corgan’s classical soloing and a steady diet of firing-squad fills via Karate Kid/drummer Mike Byrne.

Sorry, Rest of Band. I couldn't see you.

(Obligatory Byrne mini-bio: he’s 20, used to flip burgers at McDonald’s, caught Billy’s attention by internet audition (seriously), and works a kit like a manic octopus. He’s everywhere – super busy, always looking for a spot to cram another THWACK… Mike’s also a bandana enthusiast. Seems to me like an all-around great human being.)

As for this dichotomy… Corgan seemed to thrust himself into the newer tunes as if with something to prove. Though he ran through Today, SIYL, Hummer and Bullet like obligatory retreads, the band injected the pummeling likes of dirge-epics United States and encore Gossamer with a visceral energy and an unabashed grandiosity that screamed for something more than these cramped quarters. Likewise, the frantic dual-soloing in set closer Tarantula one-upped the virtuosity in nearly everything before it.

With a hits-loaded set, Corgan threw bone after bone to a crowd that didn’t need bones in the first place. The place was loud, appreciative, receptive and tightly packed (so much so that I lost bassist Nicole Fiorentino to obstructed view… sorry Nicole. You sounded great in Gossamer). They also responded really well to the shows only quiet moment – a duet of ’20s lullaby Love Is The Sweetest Thing between Billy and little niece Ava. Kudos to the audience for the (com)passionate reaction and special shoutout to the moshers on the floor, who… were being total douchebags.

Grunge kids/scenesters/fanboys/moshers

Other highlights included heavy, sexed-up renditions of electro-faves Eye and Ava Adore – the latter the beneficiary, along with fellow “Adore” cut Perfect, of a crunching rock makeover. New single Freak also stood out for its awkward-on-paper Sabbath riffing + “la la la” chorus. The song, like the rest of the “Teargarden” entries, trumped its studio counterpart in its distortion-laden live form.

Freak is a pop song. Here, it rocked.

“Zeitgeist’s” Bleeding The Orchid, as an out-of-tune variant to its album version … sucked, actually. Owata did no such thing. Another unreleased post-’07 gem, this one reminds me of 1979 in its effortless melodicism and lush propulsion. It recalls Zwan in its airy optimism, packs an impossibly catchy refrain and, in general, sounds like a future Pumpkins hit.

The Mighty SP was on its game Wednesday. They held a candle to their vaunted legacy. Succeeded on their own merits, too. And while it was great see BC and Co. in an 1,100-person dive, I got the overwhelming impression that this band – as it was from the very beginning – is built for something much bigger.

- Robbie

Note: all videos and pics are SC exclusives. Enjoy.

Bullet With Butterfly Wings

Bleeding The Orchid

Cherub Rock

Love Is The Sweetest Thing


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Signs of the Apocalypse: 50 Reasons to Hate Sports

Poster child.

This post is dedicated to Louis Oosthuizen.

Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t think it is. Granted, it’s not Heat fans (should they exist). It’s not Spain. And it’s certainly not the immediate family of the funny looking dude who crushed everybody at the British Open.

To everybody else: sports in 2010 kind of sucks, no?

Now I’ve been kicking this (blasphemous?) thought around my subconscious since at least the end of 2007, when my beloved Miami Hurricanes pretty much blew off their own toes in a nationally televised game against football powerhouse Southern Calif the University of Virginia.

48-0. We bulldozed the Orange Bowl months later out of sheer humilation.

That was the first “things will never be the same again” epiphany for me, and maybe the inevitable moment in every man’s life when you realize that sports is primarily about money and ego (and doing everything in your power to destroy legacy/history/dynasty). The actual loss, though emasculating in every sense, wasn’t the impetus for such a flood of emotion. It was instead the fact that we’d let our once-proud program come to this – a whipping boy for mediocre competition, a team without a home, and worse, a casualty of disinterest.

The most startling thing about it all? It happened so damn fast.

National champions some five years prior.

I imagine the people of Baltimore had this same feeling when the moving vans left for Indy; or Beantown when Clemens fled north of the border; or Packers fans every time Ted Thompson opens his mouth.

Crushing blows happen. They’ve always happened. And it used to be that I’d let them soak in, bitch about them for a couple days, then collect my thoughts and convince myself that the worst was over.

This is as bad as it gets. This will not happen again – not to my team, not to my town, not to the guys I love.

As you, the jaded skeptic, already know, such a line of thinking is irrational and naive.

But that hasn’t stopped me from clinging to the things I know I can bank on. So when Tom Glavine won his 300th game with hated rival New York, when the Braves traded Kevin Millwood for Johnny Estrada, dumped childhood hero Andruw Jones and railroaded an aging John Smoltz, I let baseball go for a little while and shifted my focus to three immovable pillars: Tiger, LeBron, The U.

What now?

Again, maybe things have always been this bad or maybe it’s just my sports optimism coming back to bite me in the ass. But it seems to me that era-defining debacles are in fact multiplying and subdividing – that we’re headed face-first into an irreversible black hole of narcissism, cheating and straight cash homies.

Apathy, too. After all, letting go is much easier when there’s a giant snow shovel repeatedly wailing on your fingers.

Of course, it’s about this time every year that I’m reminded by ESPN’s resident tear-jerker Chris Connelly that there are at least five good things left in sports. And these good things make me think of other good things – Derek Jeter and Tim Duncan. But at this point, I wouldn’t be half surprised if the Spurs ship Timmy to Dallas and Selena Roberts exposes Jeter’s ’98 ‘roids bender with Greg Maddux.

Padres great Greg Maddux

I’m also aware that – had I the wherewithal and America Online – I could’ve written this post as a 9-year-old dumbstruck by the OJ murders.

I think Chuck Klosterman is on to something: sports atheism. Love the game, hate the players… or rather, just write them off altogether. And their teams, too.

Still not buying? Let me change your mind. Here are some of the things that I hate about sports as of July 19, 2010.

I hate…

1) That a guy I’ve never heard of blitzed the field at one of my favorite golf tournaments. Again.

2) That Tiger Woods is a scumbag, a scumbag I will always root for.

3) That the 2008 U.S. Open – the greatest individual sports achievement I’ve ever seen – is now guilty by association.

4) That our star NFL quarterbacks have turned to assaulting defenseless women, you know, instead of defenseless canines.

5) The Geriatric Who at the Super Bowl. Thanks, Janet Jackson Nipple.

6) LeBron’s hour-long Make Out Session With Himself.

7) That LeBron James referred to LeBron James in the third person multiple times during LeBron James’ Make Out Session With Himself.

8) That LeBron forfeited his G.O.A.T. legacy.

9) That maybe LeBron’s an okay dude and Delonte West’s getting off scot free.

10) That Floyd Landis even exists.

11) That vuvuzelas even exist.

12) The confluence of women, hotel rooms and star athletes. See: Bryant, Kobe; Roethlisberger, Ben; Irvin, Michael; Woods, Tiger; and

13) Dead McNair, Steve.

14) Baseball’s power outage, the tarnished record books, and the fact that the dramatic offensive decline just makes the last quarter century look like a bigger farce than it already is.

15) That head injuries will inexorably change the way tackle football is played.

16) The University of Southern California, Calipari’s tenure in Memphis, Meyer’s tenure in Florida, Lane Kiffin’s tenure on Earth.

17) The professionalization of prep sports and the idea that 18-year-old John Wall isn’t good enough for the NBA, but Wall + 6 months of college makes him a No. 1 pick.

18) That there’s a giant, lonely, inexplicably sad hole where the Orange Bowl used to be.

Once-sacred ground.

19) That these are the mental images – in order – I will take from seeing a rookie Stephen Strasburg in person.

20) That the best golfer in history is no longer good at golf.

21) Andre Agassi’s biography and the notion that “too much information” doesn’t apply to anything anymore.

22) That I’ve “forgiven” Tiger for something that is none of my business to begin with.

23) That I’ll never fully forgive LeBron, even though he’s only guilty of what I’m guilty of – pride.

24) That T.O.’s Ego hasn’t diminished along with T.O.’s Skillz.

25) That, at this point, Number Four’s just doing it to mess with us.

As Neil Young would say, "Old man, take a look at yourself. You're being a dick."

26) That a headbutt, a handball and a few bad calls are the only things I remember from the last decade of soccer.

27) That anybody, including Curt Schilling, can have their own blog.

28) That Manny Being Manny stopped being funny when we found a needle in his ass.

29) That we only blackballed Barry Bonds when he stopped hitting home runs.

30) Plaxico’s abject stupidity.

31) Peter Angelos’ abject stupidity.

32) The NBA’s vendetta against common sense.

33) Contract disputes.

34) Pending lockouts in most of the sports I still care about.

35) That Floyd Mayweather has big money and a big mouth, but won’t put one where the other is.

36) That Tiger, LeBron and Big Ben preempted a thousand heartwarming stories.

37) That I have egg on my face for defending the indefensible Milton Bradley.

38) The Tour De France. Enough already.

39) That Lawrence Taylor can’t find a better person to speak for him than Lawrence Taylor’s wife.

40) That I have zero good excuses for not caring about hockey.

41) That David Reutimanns are few and far between.

42) That there will never be another Tim Tebow.

43) That Junior can’t play forever.

43) That my alma mater’s “lack of institution control” no longer refers to the crappy parking situation.

44) That basketball’s biggest breath of fresh air plays for a stolen franchise.

Kevin Durant, Zombie Sonics

45) The rape and pillaging of small-market teams at the trade deadline.

46) The fact that, on top of everything else, sports is just indiscriminately cruel (RE: Tom Watson @ Turnberry).

47) Villifying an Olympic hero for a little weed.

48) That we’ll never hear from Armando Galarraga again.

49) That the sports gods will get me back for this.

50) That if something’s too good to be true…

It probably is.

- Robbie

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