Stephanie Vardavas (vard) Fri 22 Jul 05 08:00
Sorry to miss that, Howard! We need to get you to Portland. I am going to email Wendy Wolf and ask her why you aren't coming here!
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 22 Jul 05 09:15
Just wanted to repeat the info about Howard's reading. He's going to be at A Clean Well Lighted Place for Books tonight. 6:45 p.m. reception, 7:30 p.m. reading and signing The bookstore is at: 601 Van Ness Ave. San Francisco, CA 415-441-6670
Howard Bryant (ohmy) Fri 22 Jul 05 09:17
Steve, don't I feel like a loser! Looks like I've pretty much destroyed any chance of a repeat tonight, huh? :^) Thanks for the compliment on the Fresh Air interview. It was taped when I was in Baltimore on July 7, and the weird thing, certainly not bad, but odd, is what people take from your book. For me, one of the most interesting but under-discussed concept about this time period is *why* people just don't seem to care that much about steroid use and its affect on the game/balance, etc... one of the medical experts in the book, Chuck Yesalis, tried to make an analogy to the quiz show scandals of the 1950s. "They were just TV shows, so its not like people can only be outraged by 'important' subjects. But then, there was an expectation of legitimacy, and a price to be paid for transgression. Today, people don't demand that same accountability." I thought this was a fascinating topic, probably too esoteric for quick radio interviews, or maybe not written strongly enough for it to appeal outwardly the way it did to me. Chuck believed the demarcating line was Clinton. I thought that was simplistic and more than a little partisan (he's a big Red State guy). One of the people I respect, Billy Beane, told me that "people are used to being disappointed for believing" so they just assume the worst, especially when a) you see a lack of accountability throughout the country and b) they might just do the same thing for the multi-million dollar payoff. Tom Verducci, from Sports Illustrated told me something different: "People just don't watch baseball (or any sport) for the same reasons anymore." Chuck Yesalis believes that if this is the case, it is time to finally let go of the myth that sport, and baseball in particular, is vital to the national interest. It's not. It's something to watch, no different that "Friends" or the "The Apprentice." and <vard>, I haven't forgotten about #46!
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Fri 22 Jul 05 11:21
Thanks for remembering the earlier CWLPFB gig, Howard. That was a fine evening -- and both Art Howe and Ken Macha showed up for you, too! >>It's something to watch, no different that "Friends" or the "The Apprentice."<<< But hasn't this always been true about sports, at least in the United States? It seems to me that games and players become encrusted with near-religious mythology pretty much always in retrospect. In a present time, fans seem to expect, and thus take a suitably skeptical attitude toward, the hype and nonsense media so often slather on to sports and athletes. I mean, hey, I love baseball dearly, and I can become as sentimental and looney-sounding about it as anyone, but it's never struck me as anything more than entertainment. I think that's always been true of nearly all baseball fans, too.
Howard Bryant (ohmy) Fri 22 Jul 05 12:03
I think you are right to a degree; the myth grows as time goes on, but I think Chuck was talking more (and this is my fault for not explaining it better) about the athlete-as-role-model rhetoric that you never hear associated with Hollywood or the music industry. I think people acknowledge those two industries have incredible influence over children and such, maybe more so than sports, but this notion of the purity of sport, its role as a national asset, has traditionally separated it from TV shows or rock concerts.
Sam Delson (samiam) Fri 22 Jul 05 12:10
Howard, is tonight's Clean Well-Lighted Place reading your only Northern California appearance on this tour? I caught some of your taped interview on KNBR last night, in which you expressed the view that the steroid era may be winding down or ending, but the performance-enhancement era is only beginning. Can you elaborate on what you see as the key performance-enhancement issues ahead, including genetic engineering?
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Fri 22 Jul 05 12:23
That's true about the athlete-as-role-model -- it gives athletes a phony halo. (Was it Albert Belle who said, "I ain't no role model. Parents should be role models"(or something similar)? Whoever it was, I've always admired the remark.) But with regard to actors, they are often sold as role models, too -- I mean, the character roles themselves are marketed that way. Surely Obi Wan Kenobi is presented as a role model; Yoda is a role model. Shane and Rick Blaine and the film version of Erin Brockovich are role models. Yet while the public usually seems able to distinguish an actor from the role, at the same time the public wants to conflate an athlete's personality and personal life with the character (and that's what it is, a character) the athlete plays between the foul lines. But the two are often distinct. It's not the athlete's fault, however, that the public seems unable to distinguish between the athlete as a person and the athlete as an athlete. On the whole, baseball players perhaps endure this conflation more than athletes in any other sport have to. I think this is because the game of baseball offers, more than other games, such golden opportunities for the drama of myth to take root -- in the game- or World Series-winning home run, in mano-a-mano pitcher-vs-hitter confrontation, in an "unbreakable" record achieved doing something nearly impossible (like hitting major-league pitching for safe hits, which is beyond the talent of all but a few hundred people in the entire planet), in the summer-long rise of Cinderella teams, etc.
Sam Delson (samiam) Fri 22 Jul 05 12:53
I believe it was Charles Barkley who made the famous "I'm not a role model" comment.
Stephanie Vardavas (vard) Fri 22 Jul 05 12:56
It was said in a Nike commercial (of course). %^> A great deal of flak ensued. I believe the next sentence was, "Just because I can dunk a basketball doesn't mean I should raise your kids."
Stephanie Vardavas (vard) Fri 22 Jul 05 12:58
Incidentally, Charles' own new book, WHO'S AFRAID OF A LARGE BLACK MAN?, is very enjoyable and thought-provoking, and I recommend it.
Stephanie Vardavas (vard) Mon 25 Jul 05 09:18
Nice review in the Sunday Oregonian, Howard! How did the booksigning in SF go?
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 25 Jul 05 10:24
I was there and I loved it. Full of sports writers and serious baseball geeks. And Howard was amazing. Could have listened to his stories all night. It was great meeting you. I'm impressed by reading the first few chapters over the weekend. And now of course I get that this book is in some sense about the corruption of the game under Selig and the current owners, with the bodybuilding and drugs element as simply one factor. And that was the book I've been wanting to read! Nice review at sfgate -- San Francisco Chonricle. http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2005/07/24/RVG83DO2H31.DTL And a podcast interview there! http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/sfgate/detail?blogid=5&entry_id=266
Stephanie Vardavas (vard) Mon 25 Jul 05 14:44
Here is the link to the Oregonian review: http://www.oregonlive.com/books/oregonian/index.ssf?/base/entertainment/112202 6250186880.xml&coll=7#continue I love the punch line. After accusing Howard of being too "encyclopedic," the reviewer concludes: "If you can wade through all the history and side trips in "Juicing the Game," then this might be the most thorough and unnerving look at any sport ever written, unhappy ending and all."
Howard Bryant (ohmy) Mon 25 Jul 05 20:03
Hey everyone. Gail, it was great meeting you. Sorry about the absence for the last 24 hours. Back in Boston and trying to get my bearings. I would like to say the highlight of the trip was the reading, and it was, but that doesn't mitigate the lowlight. My Marin County boys took pity on me and let me reassume my 12-year spot in right center on the softball team for one day. 6-6 game, man on second one out in the bottom of the eighth. Sinking liner to left center, I race over, dive, trap the ball. Like a DUMMY, I pop up, toss the ball over the cutoff man's head, and the winning (LOSING!) run scores from third. I flew 3,000 miles to blow the game. All I could think of (even still on the ground as the other team celebrated) was, "If I was covering this game, I'd be KILLING the right center fielder for that play. Anyhow, the weekend was great. I failed once more, by talking too long and not leaving enough time for the Q&A section, which was too short. #56: <you expressed the view that the steroid era may be winding down or ending, but the performance-enhancement era is only beginning. Can you elaborate on what you see as the key performance-enhancement issues ahead, including genetic engineering?> Sam, I suggested the steroid era would be ending in the sense that the "baseball in denial" element of it can obviously no longer exist. The rhetoric is dead. The issue is alive, and despite the BALCO pleas I don't think can be dismissed as a media creation, which is what we've been hearing for the past several years. The next phase will be more stealthy. if during the era there was a split between the players who were using and those who were vigilant against anabolic substances, I think the next major split, from a player perspective, will be between those who use and those who might have used, but aren't so fanatical about it to learn how to beat the system. What baseball will face is the same as the other sports: Is the policy enough of a deterrent to keep the usage down? In other words, were the bulk of steroid users casual users, or are they now willing to educate themselves and pay for the intelligence required to beat the test? Virtually all medical experts on the subject say the baseball test can be thwarted fairly easily. hGH still cannot be detected in the urine, blood tests are out of the question, and for some odd reason no sport is heeding the advice of drug experts who say hair testing is far more accurate and revealing than urine. The short answer, Sam is this: without even moving into gene therapy and the like, there are enough anabolic substances and enough very intelligent people out there to keep usage at a high level, even if the numbers are reduced.
Howard Bryant (ohmy) Mon 25 Jul 05 20:14
Re: the reviews. You gotta have alligator skin. I loved the Chronicle review, which was so positive that my publisher loved it. I, however, couldn't get past the reviewers basic premise, which in my mind was: "How did *this* guy write a good book?" I mean, even a juiced-up pitcher couldn't put on *ten* miles an hour on his fastball. :*) The bottom line must always stay the same. There is an inherent arrogance that comes with writing (unless it's a private journal), for if you believe you have something to say and you want people to acknowledge your POV, you have to then accept the darts and low blows and harsh opinions that come with it. All of which made the Oregonian review fun to read. I'm glad my book past muster on his bookshelf. When it comes to my bookcase, though, John Helyar's "Lords of the Realm" is the most thorough examination of how the business of the game works. Some people thought it was too gossipy, and I did not like the fact that it did contained virtually no source material, but Helyar's narrative style is something to envy. I've gone pop, too. There will be a Q&A on the book in the July 29 issue of People. I asked the interviewer if he had "Juicing the Game" confused with some unauthorized biography of Britney Spears. He said no, and did the interview anyway.
Howard Bryant (ohmy) Mon 25 Jul 05 20:36
re #46. <vard>, the pitching chapter, to me, was one of the more interesting ones because it had to discuss disparate elements of the story, from the pitchers getting hosed, to Alderson v. umpires, to the whole QuesTec debacle. At one point, as the book got long and a little off-point (me and my side trips), my editor at Viking thought it might be better to scrap the umpire discussion of which you speak. I'm glad iit remained in the book. The funny thing about that section was that the only time the owners and players could agree on something was when they had a common enemy. In this case, it was Richie Phillips and the umpires union. That story could be a book by itself, but Sandy Alderson believes there were two original problems with the strike zone. The first was that over the years, especially in the AL, it grew misshapen. His reasoning for this was that because the view from the dugout was so poor in determining inside/outside strikes, the umpires became intimidated from all the jockeying and began to adjust the zone. The second reason was one of attitude, and it became a common saying in the league that, "in the National League, the umpire assumes a strike and puts the emphasis on the hitter to swing the bat, in the American League, the umpires assume a ball and puts the emphasis on the pitcher to throw a strike." To the pitchers, the AL attitude began to permeate all of baseball. The box got smaller and smaller. Mel Stottlemyre, the Yankee pitching coach believed the biggest casualty of the times had been the "perfect strike," that in the '60s and '70s, a pitcher could throw a strike that could not be hit. in today's strike zone, Stottlemyre believes every called strike cannot only be hit, but can be driven out of the ballpark. This is a critical change. Mike Mussina and Jeff Brantley were two of the most outspoken on another theory that affected the strike zone indirectly: baseball has taken an NBA-like approach to the hitters. The star system was in place. That meant a first-inning called strike was not so in the ninth inning. It meant that throwing inside on superstar players was going to be curtailed. It meant giving the hitters more advantages than they'd already had. When it came to the umpires, nobody was happy with them because it seemed they had completely abused their power. I remembeer a game in '98 when Rickey was with the A's and after an argument, Mark Hirshbeck followed Henderson to left field and ejected him. there was an aggressiveness to the umpires that infuriated everyone. Sandy, it should be remembered, was hired by baseball specifically to "get" the umps. He was backed by a secret ballot taken by the players at the behest of baseball to gauge the players' level of anger. The results gave Sandy the ammo he needed. This is actually a two-part question, so we should probably discuss the umps v. Sandy first, and after that the second part of <vard>'s question, which is Sandy v. manager, manifesting itself through new rules for warnings, hit batsmen, etc...
Stephanie Vardavas (vard) Tue 26 Jul 05 07:23
Sounds good, Howard, and please let's not leave out a discussion of Richie Phillips' ill-considered gamble with the jobs of his membership, and the carte blanche he handed to Sandy to cull the herd. (pulling up lawnchair)
Stephanie Vardavas (vard) Tue 26 Jul 05 07:24
(and agreed, LORDS OF THE REALM is an amazing book, which I recommend to everyone reading this topic)
Howard Bryant (ohmy) Tue 26 Jul 05 21:20
Richie Phillips was a bizarre case, explainable only as arrogance gone overboard. He had clearly misread the anger that existed toward the umpires, both with the their imperialistic attitudes during the game and the perception that they simply were not as good as they were supposed to be. The flashpoint was the finale of the Braves-Marlins NLCS, better known as the Eric Gregg game, where Gregg clearly seemed caught up in the energy of the Marlins and Livan Hernandez. Phillips was a bulldog and saw the arrival of Sandy Alderson as a direct frontal challenge from baseball. What Phillips did not realize clearly enough, though, was the internal splintering inside the umpires' union. They had tried to get rid of him earlier in 1999. Still, his decision to urge the umpires to pull a mass resignation was, as Marvin Miller said, one of the dumbest moves in the history of labor relations. His plan was for every umpire to resign on a set date during the season, the reason being the umpires were forbidden by contract to strike. Phillips had an idea: to have all the umps quit, dissolve their own union, then form a Phillips-owned umpiring agency where the umpires could be outsourced back to baseball. What Phillips did not comprehend was how badly baseball wanted to clean out the umpiring ranks and Phillips gave them the perfect opportunity. As Alderson said famously, the resignation strategy was, "either a threat to be ignored, or an offer to be accepted." Alderson chose the latter, and five dozen umps lost their jobs. To this day, no one understood what Phillips was thinking. His own members, the ones who rejected the strategy, bounced him, dissolved the union, and formed a new umpiring union with baseball. The issue of competency is an interesting one, for Alderson then brought QuesTec into the fold, ostensibly as a "training tool." Baseball and the umps clashed because the game was convinced that the umpires missed as many as 7-10 calls per game.
Chip Bayers (hotwired) Tue 26 Jul 05 23:34
So what has happened in the interim? Have any umpires been disciplined/demoted because of their poor Questec scores? And have umpires become less imperialistic? Or has it all gone by the wayside now that Alderson has moved on? I'm thinking of the david Wells incident a couple weeks ago, where he and the home plate ump had separated after an argument, but the second base ump tossed him for something he said after he had turned his back on home plate.
Stephanie Vardavas (vard) Wed 27 Jul 05 08:17
From my reading of the book, Howard, and also just based on not having heard about them lately, I have been under the impression that QuesTec (never properly capitalized) was out of business for at least a couple of years. Is that accurate? Thinking back to my own days in MLB (admittedly 16-26 years ago, a very long time), even then the leagues would have leapt at any opportunity to cull the herd of umpires. Richie is not a stupid guy but he never bothered to invest in any goodwill with the leagues and when the day came that he finally did overplay his hand so massively, the outcome was not hard to foresee.
Howard Bryant (ohmy) Wed 27 Jul 05 12:31
Exactly right. People had been waiting a looooooong time to get the umps. When the chance arose, they took it. Good question, <hotwired>. The immediate result was litigation. The new umpires union sued baseball at least three times for trying to implement QuesTec as an evaluation tool. Alderson attempted to tie plum positions _ All-Star game, playoffs and World Series assignments _ to QuesTec scores. The union's position, and it was a good one, was that QuesTec's technology was never designed for anything more than "value-add" to a TV broadcast _ cool graphics that showed how a pitch broke. Anyone watching the A's on KRON, I believe, in the late 1990s, will remember it as "Pitch Trax" or something like that. Some umpires do believe they have not advanced because of QuesTec and that is why the umps and baseball have been at it in court for the past five years. The umps won some stays in court, but the big victory was in ousting much of the old guard (many were eventually rehired as part of a settlement), but the statement was made. Anecdotally, the feeling around the game is that the umps initially were less combative, but it is beginning to turn again, evidenced by the Wells ejection a few weeks ago where Kevin Millar was at first base and saw an umpire writing in his notebook that Wells spit on him, pushed him, etc...Wells is angrily appealing. I asked him about it the other day and he seems eager for his day in front of Bob Watson. As for QuesTec, <vard>, it is a bizarre scene. There is no QuesTec. They have no address. No phone number. They have multiple lawsuits against their CEO, Ed Plumacher, who has been barred from two stock exchanges for multiple violations. Baseball never did a background check on Plumacher or the company. Yet baseball reupped with QuesTec for another five years last December. When you call baseball for information on QuesTec, they refer you to a cell phone number that ostensibly belongs to Plumacher. There is no name on the voice mail, and no one has ever called me back from that number in two years.
Stephanie Vardavas (vard) Wed 27 Jul 05 12:55
My God. How do you sign a contract with an entity that doesn't exist? Who is there to "re-up" with?? That is bizarre. Howard, within the game, how do people feel about the consolidation of the AL and NL umpiring staffs and in general the destruction of the league organizations? The leagues are now just scheduling constructs. There haven't been real league presidents in years and their functions have been subsumed into the Commissioner's Office under the "MLB" brand instead of "American League" and "National League." I was raised in the American League and it all seems very sad to me. Is interleague play considered an unqualified success? What about this innovation of giving home field advantage in the World Series to the "league" that wins the All-Star Game? And while we're talking about the All-Star Game, am I the only fan who thinks it's a shame that they aren't alternating those between the leagues any more? For that matter, am I the only person who thinks it's a shame that they don't HAVE leagues any more? One day about 21 or 22 years ago (during the period I worked for the AL) I had a lengthy conversation with a Baseball Operations employee at one of our clubs. He said to me, "Thank God for the league office. At least you are on our side. Half the time I feel the Commissioner's Office is against us." That was a real eye-opener for me, as I had never thought about it that way, but once I did think about it I could certainly see what he was talking about. Now the Commissioner's office is run directly by the owners, without the pretense of an actual independent commissioner. I guess the clubs don't need that buffer any more.
Steve Bjerklie (stevebj) Wed 27 Jul 05 13:37
>>>For that matter, am I the only person who thinks it's a shame that they don't HAVE leagues any more?<<< No, you're not. I miss the old distinction, too, and wish interleague play would be ended immediately. I miss the sense of real rivalry between the leagues. And since the introduction of interleague play, it feels to me, at least, that something's been removed from the meaning of the World Series (okay, okay -- "North American" Series), and I'd like that something returned. But interleague play will be with us as long as the commissioner's office has impressive attendance numbers to show us to support its claim that interleague play is a success with the fans.
Howard Bryant (ohmy) Wed 27 Jul 05 14:48
Inside the game, these changes are all part of Bud's consolidation, his fiefdom. Yesterday, a baseball man called me and told me, "the next time you take shit from the Commissioner's Office, tell Bud he's lucky you were only investigating steroids." <<<Is interleague play considered an unqualified success? What about this innovation of giving home field advantage in the World Series to the "league" that wins the All-Star Game? And while we're talking about the All-Star Game, am I the only fan who thinks it's a shame that they aren't alternating those between the leagues any more?>>> The feeling among the players is that interleague is an unqualified success...at their expense. They hate the screwed-up travel it presents (to find the games for interleague, the dreaded two-game series has become a part of baseball) and the fact that teams aren't playing the same clubs to make the playoffs (Yankees get to beat up on the Mets and Expos while Twins have to play Cardinals...not always a bad matchup, but you get the picture). They've all been resigned to its permanence, however. As for the All-Star game, a manager told me a hilarious story. We all know that baseball made the calls about who got to go to the game and who didn't. Vard, your friend and mine Phyllis Merhige essentially told Terry Francona he would be taking Bartolo Colon over his own pitcher, 10-1 (at the time) Matt Clement. Anyhow, inside the AL clubhouse, there were Fox cameras everywhere. Francona and some of the players are being fitted for in-game microphones, etc... MLB needs this ASG to have meaning, since the winner gets home field in the WS. So the Fox cameras are panning on all the AL All-Stars while Terry Francona is giving a speech about how important this game is for their league. Some players are giggling. Others yawning, and, I was told, most pissed off that the whole thing seemed so orchestrated. Francona goes around the room and asks if anyone has any questions. David Ortiz, I was told, said something "stupid" to the effect of, "I better get some ass after listening to this." Finally, Ichiro raises his hand. The Fox camera zooms in on him. And in his broken English, he says, "Let's kick their motherfucking asses!" The room broke up in laughter, mostly because the Fox guy could no longer use the shot. In other words, the whole thing feels forced. The feeling is that MLB is so trying to "expand the brand" that they seem to think the game cannot sell itself anymore.
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