Monday, December 17, 2007


Though many will argue that ignorance does not mean bliss, for many baseball fans, they could do without a lot of the information they have heard, particularly that the greatest right-handed pitcher of the modern era probably used steroids.

The 409-page report issued by former senator George Mitchell implicated Roger Clemens as a steroid-user, detailing particularly interactions between Clemens and a trainer in Toronto and New York.

My personal reaction: This is the darkest day for baseball since I have been old enough to understand it. I was barely into T-ball when the Pete Rose gambling scandal hit the press. I do remember the 1994 strike, but my fondest baseball memories came post-strike anyway. Hands down, hearing that so many players "cheated" bummed me out more than any other scandal. But then I started to think. Did they really cheat?

The Clemens camp vehemently denied the accusations, but the detailed testimony of Clemens' former trainer would be tough to fabricate. Clemens himself has remained silent on the issue, speaking through his lawyer. That fact alone makes him guilty in the court of public opinion.

The report also confirmed what we already knew: Barry Bonds used steroids from the BALCO lab, though his story is still "he didn't know they were steroids." A federal jury will determine that.

Ex-Cleveland Indians David Justice and David Segui were mentioned in the report, marking the only Indians from the power-hitting "glory days" to have accusers, a bit of a surprise to me. (In a cynical, vindicative way, I was clamoring for my childhood hero Jim Thome to be named.) The only saving grace for the Tribe is that none of their traning staff has ever been subpoenaed, leaving most of the limelight to ballplayers who made careers in New York or the Bay Area, as Miguel Tejada, Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire and Jason Giambi all used while playing for the Oakland A's.

I have some baseball-enthusiast friends who have minimalized the report's release, saying, "Everyone was using back then. We'd rather not know about it and just try to forget the whole thing ever happened."

Baseball, though, is a sport that survives based on the fact that we can't forget what happens. It's a sport that built its popularity on records and numbers, records and numbers that are inevitably skewed by an era of rampant performance-enhancing drug use.

Though not named in the Mitchell Report, Tribe pitcher Paul Byrd confessed to human growth hormone use in 2002. Though HGH is on the banned substance list now, it wasn't then, and Byrd maintains he took the substance at the advice of a doctor and because he was recovering from elbow surgery.

Did he cheat? That's dicey. It really depends on whom you ask.

If you ask me, and if you're reading this, you essentially are, "cheating" is a knowing and intentional breaking of rules to give one an advantage. The rules on steroid use in baseball have toughened, and the number of violations has decreased (though reported violations have gone up because of positive testing.) This "stuff" coming out of the woodwork from years ago comes from times when the banned substance list contained many loopholes and a unified message of "We don't do this thing in baseball" was absent. Of course, then, that some of the world greatest competitors who depend on on-field performance will push the limits of legality. They will take whatever means they can to gain an advantage.

Commissioner Bud Selig gets the "response" half-right. The plan to test for steroids is fine. The plan to retro-actively punish active players for use in the past (possible suspension of Andy Petitte et. al.) is wrong. The game has changed, and it is closer to the pure, innocent game Americans love, and some integrity has been restored. We have to accept that like there was a Dead Ball Era, there was also a Steroids Era. Little by little, that era is ending.

It's tough for me, though, because I fell in love with the game during that era, and I'm left knowing more about my childhood heroes than I wanted to know.

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Monday, December 03, 2007


As my roommate Jimmy, a Chagrin Falls native, and I looked on, Browns quarterback Derek Anderson tossed a 37-yard pass to to tight end Kellen Winslow II with the game on the line. Trailing 27-21, the Browns had been able to push only as far as the Cardinals' 37 on their last drive. We moved from our upper deck seats to the endzone into which the Browns were driving, hoping to see some magic.

We almost did. Perhaps, we should have.

Winslow made a sensational catch as Anderson threaded the ball between three Cardinal defenders in the front corner of the endzone. The tight end, whom I often dub "Soulja Boy" for his infamous collegiate post-game rant, went airborn, caught the pass, put one foot barely in-bounds, but before he could drag the other foot, his half-airborn body was shoved out of bounds.

Incomplete, say the refs.

Even though a rule exists in the NFL giving receivers a catch if they are "pushed out," the referees would not give the Browns the call, even after a suspenseful "review." Though many argue the call was unfair, I contend it was the "fairest" thing that happened all game.

As much as I wanted to see hometown team prevail in my new home town, the Browns didn't deserve to win.

Cleveland committed four turnovers, three of them leading to touchdowns. Leigh Bodden makes a big stop and then Ronaldinhos the ball to the sidelines, earning him a 15-yard penalty to sustain a Cardinals drive. Two 15-yard late hit penalties helped Arizona drive to the Browns' 2 and led to another score, making the game 27-21 and requiring a touchdown to send the game to overtime. To add insult to injury, the Cardinals were playing without Larry Fitzgerald for the entire game and Anquan Bolden for most of it. Without question, the Browns should have put forth a winning effort.

They knew that, though, and they played flat-footed and stupidly. The fact that they almost won only proves how much firepower this young team has. They think they're "good," but right now, they're just on their way to being good.

As disappointed as I was with the Browns stupidity, I also became even more enamored with their offensive firepower, having seen it in person. Anderson has the arm and skills to become a great quarterback, but he's still learning to use his head. The offensive line is full of stalwarts, and Braylon Edwards/Kellen Winslow is the best receiver/tight end playmaking combo Cleveland has had since the 80s. If the offense and special teams doesn't turn the ball over so much, the defense would have given up very few yards, as the Browns outgained the Cardinals nearly 2 to 1.

What does all of this analysis add up to? The Browns at 7-5 are good enough to go to the playoffs. They don't stink anymore. In fact, they are pretty fun to watch. (I had a blast at the game, though I am convinced University of Phoenix Stadium is cursed after what happened to the Buckeyes there last year). To get over the hump, they will have to use their heads. It's not rocket science for you or me to conclude that, but it seems like it is for the young Browns, who've yet to figure it out.

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Sunday, December 02, 2007


If you've ever gotten a bank error or tax error in your favor--to the tune of a couple million dollars, or, in Jim Tressel's case, $200,000 for his championship-game incentive--then you know how the Ohio State Buckeyes football program is feeling this morning.

After No. 9 Oklahoma's 38-17 throttling of No. 1 Missouri in the Big XII title game and Pitt's world-shattering 13-9 upset over No. 2 West Virginia, that "glimmer of hope" of an Ohio State return to the BCS National Championship has turned into a beaming light of certainly. This happens, of course, after most left their national championship chances for dead after a home loss to Illinois with one game to play.

The bank error analogy isn't to say Ohio State doesn't belong in the game because, if yesterday's pandemonium proved nothing else, it's that Ohio State is at least the second best one-loss team from a BCS conference, and unless you want to argue that Hawai'i is more deserving than the Buckeyes, the Scarlet and Gray have a foolproof argument. What I mean, more or less, is that this all comes somewhat unexpectedly when you consider the doom and despair that filled Ohio Stadium after the Illinois game.

You don't have to scroll far down the page to read my defense of the Rose Bowl and an all-but-concession that an '07 Buckeye national title probably wasn't going to happen. Of course, my last post came before a lot of dominoes fell into place. (Remember, Arizona had already beaten Oregon.) Here they are:

1.) Ohio State beat Michigan and did so dominantly. The "dominant" part doesn't really matter because Ohio State could have won 2-0 or in overtime, and they would still be where they are. They clinch the Big Ten outright and a BCS (Rose Bowl) bid.

2.) Oklahoma loses to Texas Tech.

3.) Arkansas defeats LSU in triple-overtime.

4.) Missouri beats Kansas. (Had Kansas won, they would going to the title game, even with a loss to Oklahoma, and today's sit-and-wait would be a lot less interesting.)

5.) Oklahoma destroys Missouri. (Ohio State is probably "in" at this point.)

6.) Pitt knocks off West Virginia. (Bedlam.)

I was rooting hard for Pitt to stun West Virginia, so hard that it was the primary game I watched last evening only switching over to the Big XII game occasionally. I was elated because that result came in first, but then I started to play out scenarios in my head about who Ohio State's opponent would be?

Would we have been better off with West Virginia and their spread option?

Of course not, many of you say! The Mountaineers had the offensive speed to tear the Buckeyes apart, and OSU dodges a major bullet by not only getting into the game but also by avoiding them. Perhaps you're right, but in my BCS bowl projections, you will see that the Buckeyes will be meeting an equally formidable opponent on its ad hoc home turf.

Projections: I'm going to do this like the NCAA Men's Basketball selection show because today has just about the same amount of intrigue by using terms like "In" and "On the bubble."

"In:" Ohio State (Big Ten), USC (Pac-10), LSU (SEC), Virginia Tech. (ACC), West Virginia (Big East), Oklahoma (Big XII), Hawai'i (at-large--trailed Washington 28-7 last night in the first half before rebounding to edge them 35-28 in the closing seconds), Georgia (at-large).

"On the Bubble:" Kansas, Missouri, Arizona State

The bowls pick in this order: NC game, Rose (because they lose Ohio State to the NC game), Orange, Fiesta, Sugar.

...well, unless LSU slides up to No. 2 in the BCS and, thus, into the NC game. Then, the Sugar Bowl gets to pick LSU's replacement after the Rose Bowl picks Ohio State's.

Confused yet? Try to stay with me.

National Championship Game--Sunday, Jan. 7: No. 1 Ohio State vs. No. 2 LSU
I have said all along that if Ohio State gets into the national championship game, they do not want to play LSU. Unfortunately, the two-loss Tigers (or lyrically, "11-2 LSU") is going to get to host the championship in their home state. Even though the computers may give the edge to Georgia, if Lou Holtz, Kirk Herbstreit and others are any indication, the voters are going to give the edge to LSU. They have lost twice in triple-overtime and they won the best top-to-bottom conference in the country. I can't really argue with that.

Rose Bowl--Monday, Jan. 1: USC vs. Missouri
As much as I would have liked Illinois to slip in here, and they might have if Colt Brennan hadn't led Hawai'i back last night, Hawai'i's selection makes Missouri the best candidate for the Tournament of the Roses here. Though Georgia will likely finish higher in the BCS standings, Rose Bowl execs will remember the resounding success of the 2006 game, which pitted USC and Texas against each other. My gut is they will take Missouri over Kansas because Missouri beat Kansas two weeks ago. At least, that would be fair. I, most definitely, could be wrong here, as it seems selection committees have short memories, and Missouri did get drubbed yesterday. Most likely, it will come down to who they think will bring in the most money. Maybe they will play it safe and go with Georgia, but I think they will leave Georgia on the board.

By the way, CBS has Illinois here, which would really surprise me but would make for an interesting matchup, I believe. I'll root for that but stick to my prediction.

Sugar Bowl--Monday, Jan. 1: Georgia vs. Hawai'i
Georgia is the LSU replacement pick and an SEC team who will draw very well. They will then get the last pick and take Hawai'i.

Fiesta Bowl--Tuesday, Jan. 2: Oklahoma vs. Arizona State
This one is in my backyard, and I'm picking a little bit against my football sense. CBS puts Kansas here, and with one tight loss to Missouri, they deserve it. But I think the Fiesta will take the hometown Sun Devils because of the easy ticket sales and Arizona's State's strength of schedule. Likewise, even though Kansas and Oklahoma didn't play each other this year, bowls tend to shy away from inter-conference bowl games. Plus, after what the Sooners did to Missouri last night, they would likely do the same or worse to Kansas. Unfortunately, I think the Jayhawks might be on the outside of this BCS party looking in, but they do have the coach of the year.

Orange Bowl--Wednesday, Jan. 3: Virginia Tech vs. West Virginia.
Like the Sugar Bowl, this is an easy call. The Hokies get an automatic bid, and West Virginia gets an automatic bid here. It might as well be a border war. This game will probably be the best matchup outside of the national championship game.

That's all I've got. As I typed that, I decided I need to take a shower now, feeling dirty after slighting several teams. I'll try to forget about it by indulging myself with Browns/Cardinals today.

In the meantime....Go Buckeyes?

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