Finally, Someone Else Gets It, Part II – The Ryan Braun Situation, “Osama” Bud Selig and “Chemical McCarthyism”
It’s no secret that I have been a long-standing and vocal critic of the idea that performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs)are the scourge on baseball the media has made them out to be. I’ve illicited my argument to that effect time and time again on this blog, and the recent discussion of the Ryan Braun situation has only offered another opportunity to point out the fallacy that has been foisted on sports fans about the “evils of steroids.”
In an ideal world, there wouldn’t be PEDs; and there wouldn’t be cheating. But we don’t live in an ideal world. The Braun situation exemplifies that, but I fear the real problems inherent in the entire issue of PEDs in sports are being lost because the debate keeps centering on a bunch of half-facts, junk science, and worst of all, indignant presumptions of guilt being tossed about by a bunch of self-appointed moralists and people who have skin in the demonization game. In other words, we’ve become so whipped up over the PED “chemical boogie-man” that we’ve done a lot of things which are far more morally reprehensible than sticking a needle in your arm.
If the history of American popular culture has taught us anything; it’s that Americans love a crisis. We love a crisis so much we will blow right past facts in order to create the emergency “Oh my God, we must act now” mentality which ultimately leads us to create some really awful solutions. I first laid out a case to this effect over a year and a half ago. At that time, Ryan Hudson at SB Nation had penned a piece that echoes my sentiments. In his article, Hudson brings up the fact that there is not a proven link between steroid use and prolific home run hitting. Hudson also points out that very assertion is the central theme behind “Steroids, Other ‘Drugs’, and Baseball,” an exhaustive study of the subject done by Eric Walker. Walker’s work is full of empiric data that casts some serious doubts on the credibility of the claims made by the “steroids are to blame crowd.” Hudson also quotes an piece written by Joe Posnanski that begs the question “What if we are wrong again about steroids?”
The over-arching problem is that nobody wants to ask that question. God forbid we as a culture made a mistake when we rushed to judgement. Not only does it mean we may have been wrong; collectively we Americans have a really big problem with being wrong, but that question begs several others which are far more disturbing. It is that disturbing nature of the examination of the whole issue which keeps it from happening as often as it should; when somebody else takes up the cause it stands out to me.
Enter Charles P. Pierce from Grantland. He has penned what I consider to be the penultimate dissection of the Ryan Braun situation as it relates to the steroid issue as a whole. This is why I am breaking it down so Pierce’s excellent piece can be laid against not only the arguments I’ve made against the “Chemical McCarthyism” we’ve created, but those aforementioned disturbing questions we as a society need to face.
The system, we are told, worked. That’s always the second-last refuge of scoundrels. The system, we were told after the Watergate scandal, had “worked,” even though it hadn’t, not fully. The system had been truncated by a cheap political pardon, thereby allowing the main miscreant to spend 25 years walking on the beach, fashioning his own myth of persecution and redemption. In the case of Ryan Braun, whose suspension for allegedly taking one of those drugs of which baseball disapproves was overturned by an arbitrator last week, the “system” did not “work” because there should never have been a system in the first place, and Braun does not have his own San Clemente in which to hide. He will have to go out in public at least 162 times this year and own somebody else’s dreadful mistakes. I do not envy him that job.
40 years after the fact, Dick Marple, the Chairman of the Dubsism Advisory board, still has an apoplectic reaction to all things Nixon. I find Pierce’s analogy between the Braun situation and Watergate monstrously interesting, if for no other reason it lends itself to a presumption of guilt. After all, calling Richard Nixon a crook is like calling a Volkswagen a small, German car.
The more I re-read this, the more it dawned on me that Marple’s reaction to “Tricky Dick” is the same reaction the steroid moralists have to PEDs; table-pounding indignation. The difference is the steroid moralists are less concerned about guilt or innocence; they are interested in letting you know how much they value integrity; ironically, even at the expense of their own.
To me, this situation lends itself to a better analogy; “Osama” Bud Selig and his cronies have been baseball’s version of the Taliban for close to two decades now. While their means of action are not the same, Selig is like the Taliban in the sense he was a creation of the other owners to fight their problems in the same way the Taliban were created by an alliance fighting the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Much like the Taliban, Selig has ruled with dictatorial power, yet attempting to maintain an illusion of some semblance of democracy. Much like the Taliban, the presence of absolute power corrupted absolutely; Selig allowed the infiltration into baseball of a PED monster he may not have de facto created, but tolerated it for years because it benefited him. Now the Ryan Braun situation exemplifes the fact “Osama” Bud Selig is waging a failing war against what he tacitly permitted for years.
You may need a freight train to handle the hypocrisy this is going to bring.
A case like Braun’s was the inevitable outcome of what Scott Lemieux of the invaluable Lawyers, Guns, and Money blog calls baseball’s “War on (Some Classes of People Who Use Some) Drugs.” From its very beginnings, the “war” on performance-enhancing drugs in sports, and especially in baseball, has been legally questionable, morally incoherent, and recklessly dependent on collateral damage to make its point. Long ago, I went over to the purely libertarian position on this question simply because any other solution seemed to me to be incompatible with civil liberties and an equitable sharing of power in the workplace — and because every other “war” on drugs that I’d seen had been an enormous waste of time, money, and manpower.
Pierce doesn’t waste any time going after the underpinnings of the entire debate. When he says “legally questionable,” he is pointing out the fact that all drug testing in professional sports is based on agreements in collective bargaining agreements that survive today only because they’ve never been legally challenged. Even the proponents of drug testing trip over themselves when they offer the “integrity of the game” argument as a rationale.
Ask yourself a question: Did you ever wonder why this entire process keeps itself out of courts at all costs? It was an arbitrator who reversed Braun’s suspension, and it is very hard to get a court to reverse an arbitrator’s decision. The punishments involved are only suspensions, not terminations, and the reason for that is simple. Terminations, i.e. getting kicked out of baseball forever means you aren’t part of the player’s union anymore, and therefore are no longer subject to union agreements, which means if you want to challenge getting kicked out, you are no longer locked into a grievance procedure which involves an arbitrator; you can go to court.
In other words, MLB is on a “witch hunt” for people who are detrimental to the “integrity” of the game, and once they find them, they won’t kick them out because ultimately that may expose MLB to court proceedings which it believes it may not win. The dirty little secret is that courts have precedent for throwing out drug-testing procedures based on several criteria, not the least of which is that courts have ruled unions get into legal “gray” areas when they enter into agreements which infringe on individual civil rights, and random drug-testing without reasonable suspicion may be such an infringment.
In and of itself, that should be your first indicator something is seriously wrong here.
Then, there’s the “morally incoherent” charge. Understand that “integrity” is simply a code-word for “job performance,” and job performance is sports really is the bottom line. MLB is an employer, and like all employers, they have the right to expect their employees not to be impaired on the job, and a s such, employers have the right to fire you if you can’t perform on the job. But when it comes to PEDs, MLB is doing the exact opposite; they are seeking out players who are attempting to improve job performance. I will come back to this point later.
Then there’s the whole issue of collateral damage. Regardless of how the Braun situation is resolved, somebody is going to get their reputation needlessly trashed. If Braun is clean, the Mike Lupica’ s of the world are going to have eat all the “guilty until proven innocent” garbage they’ve been spewing like “He wasn’t exonerated. He was acquitted. There’s a difference.”
‘Then, there is the question of Dino Laurenzi Jr., the guy who handled Braun’s urine sample, who in my opinion is being set-up to be the “fall guy” in all of this. He is now forced to release a statement insisting he followed proper protocol and did not “tamper in any way with the samples.” Honestly, Laurenzi is the guy in all of this I find to be the most credible. Braun’s prepared statement smacked a bit of “lawyer-ese,” and I don’t buy a word coming from MLB or the lab people.
MLB and/or the lab it hired looks to be the dirtiest party in all of this; they sound like they have a personal stake in this mess; Braun’s response was measured and legal; MLB’s and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) was almost off it’s hinges.
MLB’s official comment was: “While we have always respected that process, Major League Baseball vehemently disagrees with the decision.” I’ve heard other heated words come from MLB, such as “enraged” or “livid” concerning the arbitrator’s decision. USADA CEO Travis Tygert said, “It’s frankly unreal. And it’s a kick in the gut to clean athletes…To have this sort of technicality of all technicalities let a player off…it’s just a sad day for all the clean players and those that abide by the rules within professional baseball.”
Laurenzi is the only one here who doesn’t have millions of dollars at stake. Braun faced of losing 50 games, which translates into about three million dollars in salary, MLB has been sensitive to this issue ever since the media turned on them, and don’t think that Tygert and his paid pee-testers aren’t turning some decent coin on this PED hysteria.
That should be your second indicator of major flaws; a process to detect the use and enforce the rules against the use of PEDs were clearly the same used for “impairing” drugs, because the reaction to the media-created disfavor of PEDs caused a knee-jerk reactionary solution rather than one well-thought. You also aren’t supposed to notice drug testing has turned into a multi-million dollar business.
Instead of re-thinking the process now that it has been exposed as faulty, and that may be fraught with ulterior (read that as “financial”) motives, we are diving into rationalizations as to why testing is necessary; as if there is some sort of morality which needs defending.
There always have seemed to me to be two main arguments against this position. The first is the question of the player’s health. This is not one to be dismissed lightly, even though, in almost every other context in professional sports, it is always secondary to profits in the mind of management. And the second, more hazy argument is that it is somehow unethical to ingest a substance that will make you play better. Too often, it seems, the former consideration is used to camouflage arguments based primarily on the latter.
The health consideration is doomed to failure in the long run because, well, Science Marches On. Sooner or later, someone’s going to invent a substance that enhances performance without any risk to the athlete involved. The reason this will happen is because whoever invents the stuff is going to get wealthy beyond Warren Buffett’s wildest dreams. Eliminate the health-of-the-athlete fig leaf and all you’re left with is the moral and ethical argument and, on its own, that falls apart with the slightest nudge.
I double over with laughter when anybody tries to trot out the “health of the players” argument. Let me see if I get this straight…Peter Gammons wants me to believe that “the Braun test result tells is that the Commissioner’s Office and the players don’t care if it’s the MVP or a 4A utility infielder, they want a level playing field. Thus, in a sense, this speaks for the sincerity of the program, that it doesn’t protect the faces of the sport or anyone’s favorites, that Ryan Braun gets no different treatment than some kid in the Dominican Summer League.” But on the other hand, “Osama” Bud Selig thinks that he can play a “health” argument for a testing protocol that would allow Ryan Braun to load up on addictive, narcotic pain-killers, chew tobacco, or drink himself to death, but has no right and drink himself blind, but no right to use even prescribed medication.
That’s important to note because if it turns out this test was skewed by the effect of legitimate medical treatment, Selig and Major League Baseball have a major league problem. Not only can they not hide behind the “health of the players” argument, there would also be a perfect legal reason for somebody to get the entire MLB drug-testing policy scrapped.
Now, let’s go back to that point about MLB seeking out players who are attempting to improve job performance. It smacks of the “moral incoherency” Pierce mentions, in the sense it destroys the moral and ethical argument for drug testing.
Can someone seriously argue that it is ethical to take a drug to make a performance possible, but unethical to take a drug that makes that performance better? Isn’t making a performance possible at all the ultimate performance enhancement? If there had been a drug that would have given us five more seasons of Sandy Koufax at the top of his game, how would that have been a bad thing, everything else being equal? Sports are rife with drugs. Without drugs of one sort or another, the NFL season would never begin, and the baseball season would end sometime in June owing to a lack of participating teams.
This is really where I feel like I have to wrap duct tape around my head to keep it from exploding. It’s time to just come out and say it…America is a drug culture. Turn on your television and tell me how long it takes for you to see a commercial for some prescription or over-the-counter drug. Sporting events themselves are rife with ads for (insert brand of alcohol here). We Americans want our doctors to give us a pill that fixes everything; so why are we shocked athletes might want a little something to boost their performance?
More importantly, why do we care? There’s too many of us who are simply refusing to believe the possibility that Braun may in fact be clean in all of this.
Now we have Ryan Braun’s experience with the “system,” and nobody can be surprised that his urine was badly handled. And, by the way, let’s stop calling it “the sample,” too, OK? That’s misdirection by euphemism, and it works to hide the personal violation that mandatory drug testing truly is. Ryan Braun had to give baseball some urine, and the baseball official tasked with handling Ryan Braun’s urine kept Ryan Braun’s urine in his freezer for 44 hours, which is a long time to keep someone else’s urine, to my way of thinking.
It can’t have surprised anyone who’s watched the casual way constitutional safeguards have been generally tossed aside in drug cases over the past 30-odd years. It can’t have surprised anyone who’s read the revelations about how the criminal justice system has been perverted by bungling crime labs and incompetent medical examiners. (Here in Massachusetts, we are rather the home office of the latter problem.) Ultimately, in any authoritarian solution, the people with the power get lazy, and stupid, and they start making enough mistakes that people get tired of living with them. It’s one of the reasons we don’t have East Germany anymore. And baseball always has had a sweet tooth for the authoritarian solution.
Translation: “The guy who hung on to Ryan Braun’s urine for 44 hours did nothing wrong because our instructions were written by half-bright marmosets. We are now on a nationwide search to find smarter marmosets.”
Until the late 1960s, baseball’s fundamental economic structure depended upon the authoritarian device known as the reserve clause. In the 1980s, it engaged in the authoritarian — and monumentally stupid — collusion strategy to regain the control of its players that it had lost to courts and to arbitrators. It maintained its authoritarian attitude toward racial segregation for longer in its history than any other sport. (That was the direct result of baseball’s hiring as its first commissioner Kennesaw Mountain Landis, who was so enamored of issuing authoritarian dictums from the bench that, as Tim Weiner points out in his excellent history of the FBI, some anarchists sent him a bomb through the mail. And that was before he demanded — and got — dictatorial powers from the baseball owners and authored his own authoritarian solution to the problem of the Black Sox.)
Indeed, looked at from a different perspective, the people who look to baseball because they yearn for constancy in a changing and accelerated world are expressing little more than what Lewis Lapham calls, in a different context, “the wish for kings.”
If the history of world politics has taught us anything, it is that many of the most murderous tyrants began the reigns of terror under benevolent auspices. To me, one of the only noble causes in the whole anti-steroid argument is the defense of players who want the option of not pumping chemicals into their bodies in order to feel competitive with the guy at the next locker. But for the illusion of protecting that option, Selig and the rest of the MLB Taliban stomped all over the rights of all the players.
First and foremost, Ryan Braun shouldn’t have to prove himself innocent; no American should. There’s a reason why the Constitution sets specific protections. Granted, MLB isn’t the government, but when the stakes are as high as they are; the penalties here are 50 games and subsequently millions of dollars; the process needs to be a hell of a lot better defined than it is now. Barry Petchesky over at Deadspin said it the best – “If the procedure is so fucked up that some dude can keep a jar of Ryan Braun’s pee in his fridge over the weekend, then maybe Major League Baseball should worry less about Ryan Braun’s appeal and more about a chain of custody that relies on a courier knowing the hours of his local Kinko’s.”
But what really galls me in all of this is the use of the word “technicality,” as in “Braun got off on a technicality.” I’m no lawyer, but even I know that “chain of custody” is crucial to ANY bit of evidence to insure it’s integrity. This is why “chain of custody” is mentioned 33 times in the MLB Drug Testing Policy, and it’s why it doesn’t require the supercomputers at NASA to understand why the USADA is pissed by the arbitrator’s decision; their entire pee-testing for-profit business model is built on this “Chemical McCarthyism.” Much like the communist-hunting Senator Joseph McCarthy of the 1950’s, USADA’s raison d’être is all about finding and rooting out the players who USADA CEO Travis Tygert has judged as not being “clean.”
If “Osama” Bud Selig and his cronies are the Taliban, then USADA is the East German “Stasi ;” they are little more than Selig’s Secret Chemical Police. To understand the true nature of the USADA’s role, imagine s system where cops were paid per arrest, and there’s no constitutional protections against the cops arresting anybody they want…whenever they want. That’s essentially the role of the USADA; “Osama” Bud Selig forces the players to give the “Stasi” a reason to arrest them, the process by which they are deemed worth of arrest has now been shown to be flawed, and it doesn’t require input from the FBI crime lab to see why the USADA is viewed with suspicion by the players and the union.
As for the Baseball Taliban, they are the ones stuck on “technicalities.” They’ve made their best hay when they’ve offered up a sacrificial lamb; you can’t tell me Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens weren’t thrown under the Federal bus even after MLB lauded both of them. The Baseball Taliban were so sure they could offer up Ryan Braun’s head as a show they will take out a rising star for the sake of the supposed new chemical morality; this game is all about Congress letting MLB keep its anti-trust exemption, and the score of that game gets measured in the number of scalps they hand over as the “dirty cheaters.” McCarthyism, pure and simple.
Lastly, there’s the issue of this “Reefer Madness“-style hysteria. The steroid moralists use this to convince people there is something pernicious to all of society in the issue of PEDs, and even if they happen to be right, they never offer anything tangible to back up the hysteria they create.
The steroid frenzy is of a sad piece with this history. It began, as all drug frenzies do, with a series of scare stories guaranteed to terrify the rubes. Then came the rush to pass laws and regulations without really thinking them through because this was The Greatest Crisis There Absolutely Ever Was. Then came all the people who made careers out of the laws and regulations prompted by the original frenzy. Then came all the reporters and commentators who got rich enabling the people most directly profiting from the frenzy and/or being professionally outraged on behalf of “the fans” but, really, only expressing their own anger at not being allowed to be 14 years old anymore.
You could hear it all again over the weekend. Major League Baseball was crying doom to anyone who would listen. Rob Manfred, MLB’s president of labor relations, took refuge in outraged bafflegab.
“The extremely experienced collector acted in a professional and appropriate manner,” Manfred said in a statement. “He handled Mr. Braun’s sample consistent with instructions issued by our jointly retained collection agency. The arbitrator found that those instructions were not consistent with certain language in our program, even though the instructions were identical to those used by many other drug programs.”
Translated from the original Bureaucrat, this reads, “The guy who hung on to Ryan Braun’s urine for 44 hours did nothing wrong because our instructions were written by half-bright marmosets. We are now on a nationwide search to find smarter marmosets.”
The professional thumb-suckers in my business spent the weekend talking about “technicalities” and being offended by the fact that Ryan Braun held a press conference in which he excoriated MLB for the clownish way its “system” had hung him out to dry. People who denounce him for engaging in “victimology” overlook the fact that he really was a victim. Where does he go to get his name back? Why did we know about him at all while his case was still under appeal? Why, indeed, was any action taken at all while his case was still under appeal?
(“No, no!” said the Queen. “Sentence first — verdict afterwards.”)
The “war” on steroids always has been Kafka rewritten by Lewis Carroll. It is always going to have victims like Ryan Braun — or, worse, some player is guaranteed one day to be the victim of a demonstrably false positive result — because that is the nature of all authoritarian solutions. Once, when Mick Jagger and Keith Richards received preposterously heavy sentences after being busted for pot, a British newspaper thundered in response, “Who breaks a butterfly on a wheel?” New butterflies, same old wheel.
No matter how thin you slice it, its still baloney. Major League Baseball is now trying to police a problem to which it gave tacit approval, it cares little who it steamrolls in the process of saving its own face, and all of this mess stems from the fact this is another issue where we in this country allowed an easy belief supplant a hard truth. We are a “quick fix” culture, we are a “drug culture,” and we are killing ourselves with a silly “my drugs are OK, but yours aren’t” argument.
Honestly, this is hard to type…there are tears rolling down my cheeks from laughter. Somebody just used the phrase “culture of winning” in the same sentence with the Oakland A’s. I know, right?
Rico, otherwise known as the the guy at Athletics Nation…well, I’m sure he means well, and to be honest, I feel what he’s saying. For reasons I will divulge another time, I have split loyalties in baseball; I’ve been a fan of the Twins and Angels since my earliest days of sports fandom. That’s is relevant here for the fact that I know what loving a losing team is like. But I would hope my cheese never slipped this far off my cracker.
There are at least 3 people who I gather believe in the value of creating a “culture of winning,” and they are me, Billy Beane, and Bob Melvin. However, just because these three highly qualified and esteemed baseball people — ok fine, these two highly qualified and esteemed baseball people and some guy on the internet — believe in a principle does not make it a principle worth valuing.
There is an oft-argued question of whether a team like the A’s would be better off crashing and burning to 95-100 losses in order to grab a truly high draft pick, and perhaps the next Evan Longoria, or whether it’s better to remain as competitive as possible during the rebuilding process.
Wow…I barely know where to start with this. Let’s take the Brad Pitt-fueled legend of Billy Beane. I know the A’s went to the playoffs in four straight years from 2003 to 2006, but their pinnacle of achievement was losing to the Tigers in the 2006 American League Championship Series. Since then, the A’s have not made the playoffs again, in fact they’ve never finished above .500 since then. That doesn’t look to change this season.
Then there’s Bob Melvin. This guy defines “Jekyll or Hyde” as a manager. Here’s a guy who won 93 games with Seattle, and lost 95 with the same team the next season. Then he won 90 games with the Diamondbacks, and got fired less than two seasons later. He’s got a .481 winning percentage as a manager. The Mets hired Terry Collins as manager over Bob Melvin. Let that sink in for a moment…Terry Fucking Collins.
Culture of winning, huh? BWAHHHHHAHHAAAAH (deep, lung-reloading gasp) BWAHHHHHAHHAAAAH!!!! I’m sorry, but any place that has even a hope of building a culture of winning doesn’t have “oft-argued positions” about “crashing and burning” for draft picks. Herm Edwards covered this the best: “HELLO??? YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!!!”
One thing you have to like, right off the top, about a signing like Yoenis Cespedes is that the A’s have improved now without sacrificing the future in order to do so. This is in sharp contrast to the Matt Holliday trade, where the A’s either miscalculated how wide open the AL West would be in 2009, miscalculated how solid a player Carlos Gonzalez would develop to be, or quite possibly both.
That “get better now” deal set back the rebuild because it sacrificed a young player with potential; the only “downside” to the Cespedes signing is money, but in a way what the A’s did is to grab a #1 draft pick without having to lose 90+ games in order to do so. So now if they were to win 75-80 games and get a lower draft pick, they would essentially be getting that lower pick plus a really high pick on top of that: Cespedes.
Not bad, but what’s the point of winning 75-80 games when that won’t compete for anything while you’re waiting for your most talented young guys (Michael Choice, AJ Cole, Derek Norris, Sonny Gray) to move up through your minor league system, and for your most talented “major league ready” guys (Jarrod Parker, Brad Peacock, Tom Milone, Josh Reddick) to get their feet wet in the big leagues?
As far as Cespedes is concerned, the guy may very well be the real deal. But if you are a team crying about money (I think we all saw “Moneyball,” right?), it seems to me $36 million is an awfully big bet on a guy whose never seen a major-league pitch. If it works, Beane regains some of his “genius” status> Bu if not, this goes down as yet another Beane miscalculation.
“Miscalculation” is a key word here, as Rico uses it in his description of the Matt Holliday trade. Either of the “miscalculations” he mentions are perfectly valid. But so is the one he doesn’t mention; that Beane miscalculated when he acquired Holliday from the Colorado Rockies; switching leagues to a group of pitchers he’d never really seen and trading a very hitter-friendly Coors Field for that mausoleum for offense in Oakland.
Then there’s that pesky question of “what’s the point of winning 75-80- games?” Cue Coach Edwards again…”HELLO??? YOU PLAY TO WIN THE GAME!!!”
Hold on, Rico will take us deeper into his thinking.
One point, arguably, is that if you’re an 80-win team you are only 10 wins away from being a 90-win team, so much of the foundation is there and you can more easily identify targets for bridging the gap to add those “just 10 more wins”. Few 65-win teams can make the jump to add 25 wins and call themselves contenders — Tampa Bay recently being one very notable, but rare, exception — and so you may be drafting very high but you’re also needing an awful lot of chips to fall into place in order to climb the mountain from 65 wins all the way to 90. And we all know, all too well, how frequently something goes awry in the world of “talented but unproven young prospects”.
Another point is that winning may require sufficiently talented players, but it is also a mindset within a team and within an organization. Students, employees, athletes — basically, people — have a natural tendency to rise or fall to the level of expectation, and one thing I really respect about Beane and Melvin is that I see them as being highly competitive, with the expectation that “if we’re not winning a lot, then we’re winning as much as we can and we’re building towards winning more.”
I believe that for whatever reason, Bob Geren brought a “mediocre is good enough” ethos to the team that was reflected in the team’s practice habits, and subsequently its on field play. The A’s didn’t have the talent to win a whole lot after Melvin took over the 2010 team and perhaps more importantly the bad habits, and “culture of mediocrity,” had been too entrenched in spring training, and then the first half of the season, for Melvin to reverse it significantly in June-September.
To be honest, this is the part where I said to myself “Holy shit! Maybe I miscalculated what this guy is really talking about!” I understand completely what he means about Bob Geren; if that guy managed my team, I’d probably wake up every morning wanting to drink a gallon of gasoline, then fire a flare gun up my own ass. This honestly was the part where I really felt Rico’s pain; watching the Twins in the mid-90’s was as exasperating an experience as one can get watching baseball. Going from the era of two World Series championships in four years to 95 losses; going from Puckett, Hrbek, and Gaetti to Scott Stahoviak, Rich Becker, and Pedro Munoz was as painful as I care baseball to be. Perhaps Rico has a point; maybe Beane and Melvin are the guys to right the A’s ship.
Then I read his closing.
However, even though the A’s most competitive years still loom in the distance, I see the Cespedes signing, even the interest in Manny Ramirez (whether you like that particular gamble or not), as efforts to keep sending an important message to the young players as they begin their A’s major or minor league careers: We aren’t going to sacrifice the future, like we did with the Holliday trade, but while preserving the future to be as great as possible we are going to be as good — heck if need be, as “not bad” — as we possibly can be, every day, every game, every season, until we’re ready to go “all in” and reclaim the AL West.
I like the message this sends to the players who will have to win down the line, and I think it’s the right mentality for an organization to have.
I’ve already said I see the Cespedes signing as a gamble, but it was the Manny Ramirez comment that tipped me as to what Rico is really up to. This isn’t about the pain of loving a lousy team, this is barely about baseball. This is an early “April Fool’s” joke; a gigantic dick-pull in green and yellow and I fell for it. Face it, anybody who can say with a straight face that signing Manny Ramirez “sends a positive message” is a master of satire. Forget the steroids and the 50-game suspension hanging over his head. Forget the drama and the clubhouse cancer he brings. Look at the fact that at this point in his career he is largely a non-factor and the Rays got better last year once they quit wasting at-bats on him.
Rico, I tip my cap to you. You are a master of satire. I’ve never been so taken in by a gag in my entire life. My sides will hurt for weeks from the convulsive laughter I went through.
I mean, you are kidding me, right?
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Once again, the issue of “performance-enhancing drugs” has reared it’s head in baseball. This time, the controversy revolves around National League MVP Ryan Braun’s 50-game suspension for testing positive for a banned substance was overturned on Thursday by baseball arbitrator Shyam Das.
This set the stage for Braun to give a seemingly-heartfelt speech of vindication, Major League Baseball to consider the possibility of legal action in federal court to reverse the decision, and the officially shopworn debate on the steroid subject amongst fans and the sports media.
So that you understand exactly were I’m coming from, I’m on record for a long time having said that the entire steroid argument in baseball is a complete sham. Before the strike in 1994, every writer in this country was pissing and moaning about the “plodding pace” of baseball. Then all of a sudden came the barrage of home runs and the obvious steroid use, which was completely ignored by those same writers until they decided they wanted to destroy Barry Bonds.
You’ve got to follow me close on this argument, because I understand how the “S-word” drives a visceral reaction that leads to an emotional argument. I’m hiting this subject from a position of logic.
First, go back to to my original thoughts on the role steroids played in baseball. To me, the over-arching issue is that effect of steroids on the game has been hypocritically moralized. This was done by a bunch of writers and some fans who decided that steroids were bad because they tainted the integrity of baseball.
Tainting the integrity of baseball under Bud Selig is like shooting out all your lightbulbs so the sun will go down. The sanctimonious hand-wringing on the part of baseball writers who really want to believe Braun is guilty or “got off on a technicality” is almost too much to bear. Where were all these scribing Dudley Do-Rights when Mark McGwire suddenly gained 50 pounds of muscle and transformed home plate at Busch Stadium into a bigger launching pad than Cape Kennedy? They were conveniently were sitting on their pencils because the offensive explosion that occurred in the national past time in the late 1990′s and early 2000′s was exactly what they wanted.
Flash the clock back to 1995 when baseball was trying to resurrect itself from the fiasco of the previous year’s labor stoppage that killed a World Series. The writers were bemoaning the fact that baseball is boring, there isn’t enough scoring, and the fans won’t come back to the game after the strike. So, when the moon-shots started flying out of ballparks across the league, the writers could barely contain their overt giddyness. This led to fans flocking back to the ballparks, and Bud Selig couldn’t have been happier.
The part nobody wants to admit is that the whole steroid issue began as attempt by writers to disgrace Barry Bonds. Writers have a problem with players who won’t kiss their collective asses, and Bonds was notorious for treating scribes with utter contempt. When it became clear that Bonds would be the holder of the two sexiest records in all of sports (the single-season and the career home run marks), the press began its delving into Bonds’ connection with BALCO. But much like Dr. Frankenstein, they created a monster they couldn’t control. Next thing you know, we had Congressional hearings and the resultant “outrage” at the “cheaters.”
Now for the fun part…baseball has a long and storied history of cheating. Since day one, players have been stealing signs, corking bats, scuffing or greasing balls, and generally doing anything else they could to win. Steroids are no different. It is far too easy to “blame” the aforementioned offensive explosion on the hypodermic needle, but doing so ignores some key facts.
- In the 90′s, Major League Baseball expanded by four teams, meaning 50 pitchers who otherwise would have been in the minors now were plying their trade in ”The Show.”
- Several new stadia were constructed in the 90′s, and the vast majority of them have outfield fences and small foul territory making them very “hitter-friendly.”
- Of all the players caught using “performance-enhancing drugs,” half were pitchers.
- In other words, the increase in offense has several possible contributing factors. The emptiness of the steroid argument becomes clear when one stops to consider that from the list of players named in the Mitchell Report, there wasn’t a case of a player who suddenly became a star due to his use of “performance-enhancing drugs.” Players who were stars before the needle were stars after the needle, and “role players” remained just that.
Shakespeare penned the correct thought on this scandal 350 years before baseball even existed: Much ado about nothing.
Don’t misunderstand me, I’m not saying steroids didn’t potentially play a role. The problem was that once the writers let the steroid genie out of the bottle, they couldn’t get it back in. Now writers are crying about the stale nature of a game full of pitcher’s duels. Now writers have created an environment in which every guy who breaks a record from now on will be suspected of being a performance-enhancing drug user, and the guy who competed clean during the “steroid era” will be discounted because of the tainted time in which he played.
The trouble is the successful Braun appeal rips the guts out of the entire mechanism for drug testing, which in turn eviscerates the assumption held by the writers about the effect of steroids on baseball.
Before Thursday, I believed the size of the contribution “performance-enhancing drugs” has been dramatically overstated; just look at the aforementioned bullet points and tell me those were not factors in the offensive explosion often cited as the proof of the effect of steroids. However, today, we now have a situation in which it is entirely possible the entire drug-testing program not only in baseball, but in all of sports is completely ineffective, which means it is now entirely possible there is absolutely no way of knowing the real scope of the issue.
This becomes a major issue because depending on who you want to believe, PED use was rampant in baseball, estimates happen between half and three-quarters of players were using something during the “steroid” era. Does that mean it is acceptable to cheat and break the law? Of course not, but whether you like it or not, it has long been accepted that cheating, PEDs included, is part of the culture of the game.
Braun’s case marks the first time a baseball player has successfully challenged a drug-related penalty in a grievance. That milestone is going to have some serious consequences, because it adds some serious new wrinkles to the debate.
Before Braun, there were two big problems in the steroid moralist’s argument. First of all, if you believe use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) is an offense worthy of exclusion from the Hall of Fame, at which point do you pound the stake in the ground which says “No PEDs Beyond This Point.” The argument already rings hollow because the “no Hall for you” treatment already has been applied to players accused of PED use before baseball had rules against it. After Braun, you have to legitimately question the entire drug-testing process. Think about it…Major League Baseball couldn’t even administer a system which it created. If this were done by the cops, any defense lawyer would get you sprung. This means you have no solid way of determining beyond a reasonable doubt who the offenders really were; look at how many people were found to be innocent after the fact due to the ascension of DNA technology.
That leads to the second problem…the steroid moralists already have a double-standard as to who draws their rath. Jason Giambi and Andy Pettitte largely have been given a pass; whereas Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds might as well have kidnapped and eaten the Lindbergh baby. And if that all weren’t enough, the fact that Manny Ramirez in as of this writing in the Oakland A’s camp should have the steroid moralists up in arms. Here’s the guy they could use to get the pound of flesh they want. Who better than the guy who clearly defied the anti-PED rule at least three times? Forget about the guys who were allegedly juicing before it was no longer permitted in baseball, forget about the guys who got caught once. Who would there have been better in baseball for a demonstration of “three strikes and you’re out?”
Rather, everybody is all wound up over Ryan Braun. Getting lost in that “guilty or innocent” debate hides the real implications of what this appeal is going to do to drug testing in sports as we know it. Without any speculation, let’s look at what this reversal means to any of the possible outcomes and the repercussions of each. Keep in mind, I’m not saying which of these are true, because there are only about four people on the planet who know the truth. I’m not one of them, and I’m guessing you aren’t either.
Possiblity #1) The test was tainted, Braun is completely innocent
This would be a “worst-case scenario.” Remember that all drug-testing in professional sports in this country is done as part of an agreement under collective bargaining agreements between league and the respective unions. Don’t think for a minute this wouldn’t become a huge negotiating point; this could mean the end of drug-testing as we know it. Face it, just the money in lost salaries due to the suspensions which now can be claimed are based on inaccurate testing is going to be the “elephant in the room.”
Possiblity #2) The test was not tainted, Braun legitimately tested positive
This would make Major League Baseball look as dopey as the LAPD did during the OJ Simpson trial; they both couldn’t convict a guilty guy. This would also likely mean a complete overhaul of the testing mechanism
Possiblity #3) The test was not tainted, Braun legitimately tested positive, but has extenuating medical circumstances
This one poses the most interesting possibilities, inasmuch as most workplace drug testing policies have exemptions for prescriptions and other results directly attributable to legitimate medical treatment. With that precedent being set, if Major League Baseball decides to drag this into federal court, this could prove to be a major issue, since it was Baseball who kept claiming the suspension would be upheld even if there was a legitimate medical concern involved.
Possiblity #4) The test was tainted, but Braun legitimately tested positive anyway
The only way we are likely to know this is true is if both sides suddenly get quiet and this story fades away. That would only happen if in order to go forward with this issues, both sides have to admit they are dirty. This is where in the history of negotiations you get a back-room, “I won’t tell if you don’t” deal.
While you muddle through those possibilities, consider the other question that will invariably be raised by the Braun appeal:
- How many more cases like Braun’s are out there that were never challenged?
- If the problem is the process, how do you fix that?
- If the problem is in the testing, how do you fix that, and moreover, what do you fix? Who is to say there aren’t all kinds of substances these tests can’t detect, or that non-banned substances can create false-positive outcomes?
- There is already a known level of inaccuracy in testing. Is that level of assumption wrong, is testing far more inaccurate than we thought previously?
Then there’s the aforementioned steroid moralists. The very same people who created this monster are the same one who had Braun convicted two days after this story originally broke, and they are the same one who are asking question that presume Braun’s continued guilt; question like “Does Braun’s successful appeal for testing positive for a PED clear his reputation?” Notice the insinuation; that his reputation has already been sullied. Of course, that can only have happened if you were ready to play judge, jury, and executioner right up front.
Again, just for now, stay off the “guilty/not guilty” argument. Rather, look at this from standpoint of the people who have skin in the entire concept of drug testing. As reported by ESPN, Travis Tygart, the chief executive officer of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, called the decision “a real gut-kick to clean athletes. To have this sort of technicality of all technicalities let a player off … it’s just a sad day for all the clean players and those that abide by the rules within professional baseball.” That sure sounds like a presumption of guilt to me from the leader of an organization that happens to be a major proponent of testing. Even ESPN lends itself to leaving you with a “guilty” taste in your mouth with statements leaving you with the impression Braun did in fact test positive.
Braun didn’t argue evidence of tampering and didn’t dispute the science, but argued protocol had not been followed. Multiple sources confirmed to ESPN investigative reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and T.J. Quinn that Braun questioned the chain of custody and collection procedure. MLB officials, however, argued that there was no question about the chain of custody or the integrity of the sample, and that Braun’s representatives did not argue that the test itself was faulty.
That paragraph leads you to believe that Braun and his counsel did not question the validity of the test. The fact that they appealed the decision means they did. See, it doesn’t matter whether you watched or swung at strike three; you’re still out. All it means is that Braun’s representation thought attacking the process of collection was the best way to get the suspension reversed, and they were right.
According to one of the sources, the collector, after getting Braun’s sample, was supposed to take the sample to a FedEx office for shipping. But sources said the collector thought the FedEx office was closed because it was late on a Saturday and felt the sample wouldn’t get shipped until Monday. As has occurred in some other instances, the collector took the sample home and kept it in a cool place, in his basement at his residence in Wisconsin, according to multiple sources. Policy states the sample is supposed to get to FedEx as soon as possible.
But Braun’s team did in fact also question the accuracy of the test.
Braun’s representatives are saying there was a difference in the ph balance of Braun’s sample when it was taken at the time of the test and when it arrived at the lab in Montreal. A source said the director of the Montreal Olympic doping lab, Christiane Ayotte, testified during the hearing that it was not unusual for the balance to be different, as the equipment used in the field is not as sophisticated and accurate as the equipment in the lab. She also said she did not question the integrity of the sample and that it arrived with all seals intact.
That sure sounds like a challenge to me. Even today, ESPN is publishing articles questioning the legitimacy of Braun’s defense. I get why ESPN needs to toe the company line on drug testing; it would like to keep it contracts to broadcast major league baseball. I also get they may want to protect all the people they had spouting about how guilty Braun was. The trouble is that all this stuff flying around in the wake of the Ryan Braun situation obfuscates the big problem. The plan enacted to solve the so-called steroid problem in baseball doesn’t work.
Instead of talking about how to fix this problem, everybody is hunkering down around a “guilty” or “not guilty” position which at the end of the day doesn’t matter, and many of those people are doing so because they already have a vested interest in which way the story goes. That is the definition of bullshit.
-Dubsism is a proud member of the Sports Blog Movement
10) Troy Williamson: 2005 Draft: Round 1/Pick 7; Wide Receiver – South Carolina taken by the Minnesota Vikings
When the traded Randy Moss to the Raiders, this pick was part of the deal. The Vikes used it hoping Williamson would at least replace Moss’ speed. He did have 4.32 speed; he also had bad eyes and had trouble seeing the football to catch it. Williamson finished up his three-year career in Minnesota with 79 catches, 1,067 yards and three touchdowns.
Could have Drafted: Antrel Rolle (8th overall), DeMarcus Ware (11th overall), Jammal Brown (13th overall), or Aaron Rodgers (24th overall)
9) Jamal Reynolds: 2001 Draft: Round 1/Pick 10; Defensive End – Florida State taken by the Green Bay Packers
The Packers traded Matt Hasselbeck and the 17th pick to move up to draft a guy who racked up three sacks for his entire 18-game NFL career.
Could have Drafted: Dan Morgand (11th overall) or Steve Hutchinson (17th overall)
8 ) Wendell Bryant: 2002 Draft: Round 1/Pick 12; Defensive Tackle – Wisconsin taken by the Arizona Cardinals
If it weren’t for Andre Wadsworth, Wendell Bryant might be the worst Cardinal draft pick in recent memory. Bryant’s career totals: 29 tackles and 1.5 sacks; it only took him three years to do it.
Could have Drafted: Jeremy Shockey (14th overall)
7) Mike Williams: 2005 Draft: Round 1/Pick 10; Wide Receiver – USC taken by the Detroit Lions
Mike Williams had two great seasons at USC; he notched 176 catches in only 26 games. The problem is that his entire NFL career only lasted 30 games which contained a scant 44 receptions. Naturally, this isn’t the only Matt Millen draft choice on this list which helps to explain why the Lions were one of the worst franchises of the last decade.
Could have Drafted: Antrel Rolle (8th overall), DeMarcus Ware (11th overall), Jammal Brown (13th overall), or Aaron Rodgers (24th overall)
6) Matt Jones: 2005 Draft: Round 1/Pick 21; Wide Receiver – Arkansas taken by the Jacksonville Jaguars
Jones was a 6’6″ converted quarterback who could run a 4.36 40 and had a 40-inch vertical. He also had the ability to snort the 50-yard line. He finished his Jaguar career with just 15 starts in four seasons, during which he was arrested twice on felony drug charges.
Could have Drafted: Aaron Rodgers (24th overall), Roddy White (27th overall) or Logan Mankins (32nd overall)
5) Peter Warrick: 2000 Draft: Round 1/Pick 4; Wide Receiver – Florida State taken by the Cincinnati Bengals
Peter Warrick proves what can happen when you get called a “can’t miss” prospect. A two-time All-American, Warrick’s career in the NFL amounted 6 sub-par seasons; 79 games, 275 catches, and 2,991 yards total.
Could have Drafted: Jamal Lewis (5th overall) or Brian Urlacher (9th overall)
4) Charles Rogers: 2003 Draft: Round 1/Pick 2; Wide Receiver – Michigan State taken by the Detroit Lions
In yet another example of what I like to call a “Millen Type Decision,” the Lions took Charles Rogers believing him to be their receiver of the future. Within five years, Rogers was in jail for assault and battery.
Could have Drafted: Andre Johnson (3rd overall)
3) Joey Harrington: 2002 NFL Draft: Round 1/Pick 3; Quarterback – Oregon taken by the Detroit Lions
Two fact say all you need to know about this pick. One, this is the Lions’ third appearance on this list, which explains a lot about the evaluation of talent in the Millen era. . Two, the only other quarterback besides Joey Harrington to average less than 6 yards per attempt was fellow draft-bust Rick Mirer.
Could Have Drafted: Quentin Jammer (5th overall)
2) Ryan Sims: 2002 Draft, Round 1/Pick 6; Defensive Tackle – North Carolina taken by the Kansas City Chiefs
Tony Mandarich may be the poster child for draft busts, but Sims may in fact be worse. In five seasons, he had 65 total tackles and five sacks. He was so unproductive that he was traded to Tampa Bay for a seventh round pick, meaning he may have been a waste of two draft picks.
Could Have Drafted: Dwight Freeney (11th overall)
1) JaMarcus Russell: 2008 Draft, Round 1/Pick 1; Quarterback – LSU taken by the Oakland Raiders
Russell’s 2009 passer rating of 50.0 was the lowest rating by a starting quarterback in the NFL since 1998. His final stats during his tenure as a Raider were 52.1 % completion precentage, 18 touchdowns, 23 interceptions, a passer rating of 65.2, and 15 lost fumbles. For this, the Raiders signed him to a contract worth $32 million guaranteed. In three seasons with the Raiders, Russell finished 7–18.
Could Have Drafted: Calvin Johnson (2nd overall)
If you recall back around the Super Bowl, there was a spirited debate about quarterbacks. On one hand, if Brady had won, would he be the greatest of all time? On the other, since Eli Manning won his second Super Bowl, where does he rank amongst the all-time greats? Let’s cut through the crap here…the best way to get a bunch of football fans arguing is to start a debate over a list of all-time greats, and no position gets a bigger reaction than the quarterback.
There are three main problems inherent in creating lists like this. For openers, everybody has personal biases and/or their favorites. Trust me, as you read this list, you are likely to find a guy who you will think I rated too low. Conversely, you are likely to find a guy who I rated too high or you may find a guy you don’t like rated above your favorite. The second issues is the subjective nature of “greatness;” this feeds into the “personal bias” issue and it isn’t easily solved by merely clinging to statistics, which leads to the third problem. The argument over “greatness” takes a major trip over the difference in eras; let’s face it, professional football is not the same game in 1940 as it is today. This is why I developed a list of criteria designed to mitigate those problems as much as possible.
Ability as compared to others in a player’s era – 30% of grade: This is what I consider the true measure of greatness. It is safe to assume that the players in the NFL at any time were the best football players on the planet, and standing out amongst the best of the best is a pretty good definition of greatness.
Athleticism – 20% of grade: Great quarterbacks have to make great plays, and that requires athletic skill. Another factor is that one-dimensional quarterbacks tend to rate lower in this criteria; the immobile pocket passer who can’t avoid a rush suffers in this category as well as the “scrambler” who can’t throw. To be at the top of this list, a quarterback really needs a high score here.
Performance in the “Clutch”- 15% of grade: Here’s where you get the play-off performances, fourth-quarter comebacks, and all those sort of greatness-defining moments. Conversely, if we are going to value winning championships, we also have to examine big-game failures.
Skill as a Passer – 15% of grade: This would be the statistic-heavy criteria on this list. Regardless of era, passing has been largely a sole responsibility of the quarterback.
Winning as a Team – 10% of grade: In the immortal words of Herm Edwards, “You play to win the game.” Winning is winning, and while regular-season wins are important, play-off wins and championships carry most of the weight for this criteria, but in the sense that football is a team sport, and quarterbacks are measured in this case as to how well they contributed to the performance of their team. In other words, a quarterback who never won championships can certainly make the list, yet one who didn’t have a regular-season winning record would find it very difficult. Also, A quarterback with winning-regular season record but a bad play-off record would suffer.
Leadership – 5% of grade: I’ve always thought this criteria for quarterbacks was a bit over-rated. Teams do need leaders, but that doesn’t always have to be the quarterback. It’s a bonus when that is the case, but it isn’t essential.
Toughness/Durability – 5% of grade: This is rather simple; you can’t be great if you can’t play, and you can’t play if you can’t stay on the field.
Really I’m trying to expand beyond the shopworn “who won more championships vs. who had better stats debate;” ESPN gives us a steady diet of that, but it also presents us the problem that really isn’t solvable. Not only is that debate an important part of the discussion, but any list of criteria is going to leave somebody out. Thankfully, this is why blogs have comments section. Peruse this list and share your thoughts.
First, look at the notable quarterbacks who didn’t make the cut. It’s a safe bet Eli Manning cracks the top 30 by the time he’s done, and of the current quarterbacks who aren’t included here, Aaron Rodgers and Philip Rivers seem to be the best bets to be in this discussion by the time their careers are done.
- Archie Manning
- Bob Griese
- Bob Waterfield
- Boomer Esaison
- Craig Morton
- Dave Krieg
- Donovan McNabb
- Drew Bledsoe
- Eli Manning
- Jack Kemp
- Jim Hart
- Jim Plunkett
- John Hadl
- Joe Namath
- Joe Theismann
- Ken Stabler
- Kerry Collins
- Phil Simms
- Randall Cunningham
- Roman Gabriel
- Ron Jaworski
- Vinny Testaverde
Now, for the actual Dubsism list of the 30 Greatest Quarterbacks to date:
30) Ken Anderson
Never a champion, but never a loser either. Despite the fact that Anderson played for some bad Cincinnati Bengal teams, that might be the best way to describe him. Anderson is the best quarterback who isn’t going to get into the Hall of Fame. The best thing on Anderson’s “great quarterback resume” is the fact he made the Bengals relevant for close to a decade and a half despite the fact the “Queen City Kitties” are one of the historic dysfunctional franchises in all of sport.
Even though he likely never gets into Canton, Anderson does have Hall of Fame worthy numbers as a passer; his stats are better than several guys long since immortalized in bronze. Granted his won-loss record in the regular season isn’t spectacular, but Anderson may be the best post-season quarterback who never won a championship. Anderson’s post-season passer rating is second only to Joe Montana, and that also happens to be the guy to whom Anderson lost his only Super Bowl appearance. Not to mention, Anderson’s 1982 single-season record of a completion percentage of 70.6% stood for 27 years; since when it has been passed twice by a guy who is likely to end up in the top ten of this list: Drew Brees.
29) Steve McNair
Steve McNair is the first example on this list of a quarterback who could beat you with his arm or his feet. His career year in 2000 with the Tennessee Titans exemplifies that. McNair registered career passing highs with 3,350 passing yards, 264 completions, 21 passing touchdowns, and a 90.2 quarterback rating. On top of that, he was also one of the team’s most effective rushers, tying for the team lead in rushing scores with five. This multi-faceted attack allowed McNair to become both the Titans’ all-time leading passer and one of the great running quarterbacks in NFL history.
McNair led the Titans to the playoffs four times, as well as once with the Baltimore Ravens. He came within one infamous play – the last-second, just-short-of-the-goal line completion to Kevin Dyson – of winning a Super Bowl. McNair was a three-time Pro Bowler and was All-Pro and Co-NFL MVP in 2003.
28) George Blanda
Throughout 26 seasons and 340 games in professional football as a quarterback and place-kicker, George Blanda was known for his toughness, versatility and longevity. He led the Houston Oilers to the first two AFL titles in 1960 and 1961. It took the Dallas Texans (later the Kansaa City Chiefs) double -overtime to keep Blanda and the Oilers from a “three-peat.”
Blanda’s professional career started for $600 in 1949. While the Chicago Bears primarily used Blanda as a quarterback and placekicker, he also saw time on the defensive side of the ball at linebacker. It would not be until 1953 that Blanda would emerge as the Bears’ top quarterback, but an injury the following year effectively ended his first-string status. For the next four years, he was used mostly in a kicking capacity.
Blanda retired after the 1958 NFL season because of Bears owner George Halas insistence of only using him as a kicker, but returned in 1960 upon the formation of the American Football League. He signed with the Houston Oilers again as a quarterback and kicker. He was derided by the sports media as an “NFL Reject,” but he went on to lead the Oilers to the first two championships in AFL history, and he was the All-AFL quarterback and won AFL Player of the Year honors in 1961. During that season, he led the AFL with 3,330 passing yards and a record 36 touchdown passes. That record, although tied by the Giants’ Y.A. Tittle in 1963, was not surpassed in pro football until 1984 when the Dolphins’ Dan Marino tossed 48 scores.
In 1962, Blanda had two 400-yard passing days for the Oilers; a 464-yard, 4 touchdown effort against the Buffalo Bills and a 418-yard, 7 touchdown blasting of the New York Titans. Blanda threw at least 4 touchdowns 13 times during his career and once attempted 68 passes in one game. Blanda would have easily been comfortable in today’s pass-happy game; from 1963 to 1965, Blanda led the AFL in passing attempts and completions, and ranked in the top ten for attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns during seven consecutive seasons. A four-time member of the American Football League All-Star team, Blanda’s already-long career seemed over when he was released by the Oilers in 1967. However, the Oakland Raiders signed him later that year, seeing his potential as a contributing backup passer and a dependable kicker.
During the 1967 season, Blanda’s kicking saw him lead the AFL in scoring with 116 points. The Raiders went on to compete in Super Bowl II, but the following two seasons ended in heartbreak as they lost in the AFL Championship games both times. In 1970, Blanda was released during the preseason, but bounced back to establish his 21st professional season with one of the most dramatic comebacks in sports history. Beginning with the game at Pittsburgh, Blanda put together five straight clutch performances.
Against the Steelers, Blanda threw for three touchdowns in relief of an injured Daryle Lamonica. One week later, his 48-yard field goal with three seconds remaining salvaged a 17–17 tie with the Kansas City Chiefs. Against the Browns, Blanda once again came off the bench to throw a touchdown pass to tie the game with 1:34 remaining, then kicked a 53-yard field goal with three seconds left for the 23–20 win. Immediately after the winning field goal, Raiders radio announcer Bill King excitedly declared, “George Blanda has just been elected King of the World!” In the Raiders’ next game, Blanda again replaced Lamonica in the fourth quarter and connected with Fred Biletnikoff on a touchdown pass with 2:28 remaining to defeat the Denver Broncos. The streak concluded one week later when Blanda’s 16-yard field goal in the closing seconds defeated the San Diego Chargers, 20–17.
In the AFC title game against the Baltimore Colts, Blanda again relieved an injured Lamonica and had a superb performance, completing 17 of 32 passes for 217 yards and 2 touchdowns while also kicking a 48-yard field goal and two extra points, keeping the Raiders in the game until the final quarter, when he was intercepted twice. At 43, Blanda became the oldest quarterback ever to play in a championship game, and was one of the few remaining straight-ahead kickers in the NFL.
Kansas City Chiefs’ owner Lamar Hunt said in jest, “Why, this George Blanda is as good as his father, who used to play for Houston.” Although he never again played a major role at quarterback, Blanda would serve as the Raiders’ kicker for five more seasons. Blanda played in his last game at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium on January 4, 1976, in the AFC Championship Game at age 48. Blanda went out on a 41-yard field goal and one extra point as the Raiders lost to the Steelers 16-10.
Blanda finished his 26 professional football seasons having completed 1,911 of 4,007 pass attempts for 26,920 yards and 236 touchdowns. Blanda also held the NFL record for most interceptions thrown with 277, until Brett Favre broke in 2007. He rushed for 344 yards and 9 touchdowns on the ground, kicked 335 of 641 field goals, and 943 of 959 extra points, giving him 2,002 total points. Additional stats include 1 interception, 2 kickoff returns for 19 yards, 22 punts for 809 yards, and 23 fumble recoveries.
In 1976, at the age of 48, he retired as the league’s all-time leading scorer, and he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1981.
27) Ben Roethlisberger
Roethlisberger became the youngest Super Bowl-winning quarterback to date when he led the Steelers to a 21–10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in his second professional season at the age of 23. Four years later, Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a second Super Bowl Championship. Roethlisberger never gets credit for what an efficient passer he is because of his ability to scramble and extend plays. He currently ranks 11th all-time in NFL passer rating (92.1), 5th in yards per attempt (8.0), and 12th in completion percentage (63.1%) among quarterbacks with a minimum of 1,500 career attempts. He also has a .700 winning percentage in the regular season. Having said all that, Roethisberger has plenty of time to move either up or down on this list.
26) Bart Starr
Starr is the quintessential model of efficiency and not beating one’s self. Starr is not the guy who will blow you away with his huge stats or game-winning plays, but he did lead the Packers dynasty that won five championships in seven years during the 1960s. His .900 winning percentage in the post-season e may be the most efficient passer ever and his 9-1 post season record is the best by a quarterback. As I said, Starr doesn’t have the huge stat sheet, but he does have 5 championships, an NFL MVP award, and 2 Super Bowl MVP’s. Let’s be honest, the great ones win when it matters.
25) Kurt Warner
Warner might just be the ultimate NFL “rags-to-riches” story. During journey from the fields of Iowa to the NFL, Warner at times bagged groceries and starred in the Arena Football. Nobody drafted him out of Northern Iowa and ended up having one the great careers of all time. He was the NFL MVP twice, Super Bowl MVP once, and owns the three highest single-game passing yardage totals in Super Bowl history.
24) Bobby Layne
For a guy who was never considered an “elite” passer, when Layne retired he held the league record’s for most career pass attempts, completions, passing yards, and touchdown passes. He was also one of the best running quarterbacks on this list. He won NFL Championships in 1952, 1953, and 1957, and just missed a fourth in 1954. The Lions haven’t won a championship since the shipped Layne to the Steelers in 1958. Bobby Layne is also the only player on this list who has a Dubsy Award named for him.
23) Norm Van Brocklin
‘The Dutchman” is the only quarterback to split the signal-calling duties with two other Hall of Famers during his career; Bob Waterfield in Los Angeles and Sonny Jurgensen in Philadelphia. Van Brocklin played in 9 Pro Bowls and was a first-team All Pro selection in 1960. He won two NFL championships and is the only quarterback to beat a Vince Lomabardi-coached Packers team in a championship game.
22) Drew Brees
This is a guy who is only going up on this list. After only 10 seasons, he already has 40,000 passing yards, 281 touchdowns, six Pro Bowl Selections, one first-team All-Pro selection and a Super Bowl MVP award. Barring injury, Brees has at least four or five high-level seasons left. Seems to me 400 touchdowns and 60,000 passing yards is in reach. Tack another championship to those numbers and Brees looks to be a top ten quarterback waiting to happen.
21) Len Dawson
Dawson was never flashy, and he never blew your mind with eye-popping statistics, but he was great nevertheless. Efficiency was his main weapon. Dawson led the AFL in completion percentage and passer rating six times and led the Chiefs to three championships. Along the way, he was a six-time AFL All-Star and was the MVP of Super Bowl IV.
20) Y.A. Tittle
Tittle’s is like the 1960’s answer to Jim Kelly. Tittle had the pieces around him and he was good enough to get his guys to the Championship on multiple occassions, but was never able to get over the hump. He came the closest in 1963 when he set a single-season record with 36 touchdown passes; a record that stood until Dan Marino threw 48 touchdowns in 1984.
19) Jim Kelly
Kelly is another quarterback who spent time in an inferior league (the USFL wasn’t a bad league, but it was closer in terms of talent to the CFL than the NFL). Even though he lost them all, playing in four straight Super Bowls was impressive, one can make an argument the Bills were over-matched in talent in two of them. If Scott Norwood makes that field goal in 1991, so many thing change. The Bills become discussed as one of the great teams of all time, the Bills likely win at least one more Championship, and Kelly moves up this list.
18) Warren Moon
The fact that Moon had over 49,000 passing yards and 291 touchdowns in the NFL is astonishing considering he spent the first five years of his pro football career in Canada. Even if one were to consider his CFL stats in the total (which is a bit ridiculous since one would need to assume the talent levels of the two leagues are comparable), he becomes the the only guy besides Brett Favre with 70,000 passing yards and one of only three quarterbacks as of this writing (Favre, Marino) with 400 touchdowns. Moon was never a successful play-off quarterback, but he was selected to nine Pro Bowls was named NFL MVP in 1990.
17) Dan Fouts
If Dan Fouts isn’t the best pure passer on this list, there’s no denying he is in the top three. He was a six-time Pro Bowler and was twice a first-team All-Pro. He was the first to throw for over 4,000 yards in three consecutive seasons, and his 4,802 passing yards in 1981 was a single-season record. However, his won-loss record was only 86-84-1, and he never appeared in a Super Bowl, having gone 0-2 in conference championship games.
16) Terry Bradshaw
Bradshaw started out as a bumpkin in cleats, and ended up winning four Super Bowls. However, in between, Bradshaw was a model of inconsistency. He would rapidly alternate between greatness and gruesome. He put together seasons which made him a 3-time Pro Bowler and once was named first-team All-Pro; he also had seasons in which he threw 25 interceptions, or only completed 45% of his passes, or got benched for some other reason. Inconsistency is a brutal enough factor to keep a league MVP and two-time Super Bowl MVP in the bottom half of this list.
15) Fran Tarkenton
Tarkenton greatness as a passer gets overlooked largely because he was such great runner (3,674 yards) and he was the first quarterback to lose three Super Bowls. His 47,000 career passing yards was #1 all-time when he retired. He completed 60 percent of his passe sin five of his final six seasons, which is incredible given that he played for 18 seasons, and at the time a completion rate that high was not common.
14) Brett Favre
Brett Favre was the ultimate riverboat gambler. He played at a high level into his 40’s. Of all the records he set, the one that nobody who is alive today will live long enough to see broken is 285 consecutive starts. He’s got 70,000+ passing yards, 500+ touchdowns, and he was an 11-time Pro Bowler, 3-time first team All-Pro, and a 3-time league MVP. That seems like a guy who should be in the top five. So, why isn’t he?
For starters, the fact that he threw 336 career interceptions, which is almost 60 more than the 2nd-place guy. More importantly, he threw way too many of those picks in crunch time, which helps to explain how a quarterback with a 186-112 regular season win-loss record was only a 13-11 performer in the play-offs, and only 3-6 in conference champiosnhip games and Super Bowls.
13) Troy Aikman
The New York Mets offered Aikman a contract when he came out of high school, but instead he chose to pursue football. 94 career wins, three Super Bowl championships and six Pro Bowls later, Aikman landed in the Hall of Fame as the quarterback with the most wins in any decade until he was surpassed by Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. Aikman retired as the Cowboys passer despite the fact his career was cut short by injury issues.
12) Roger Staubach
The only reason Roger Staubach isn’t higher on this list is his career simply wasn’t long enough to rack up big numbers. He was a 27-year-old rookie in 1969 because he had a four-year service commitment after graduating from the U.S. Naval Academy. His career gets even shorter when you consider that head coach Tom Landry didn’t name him as the full-time starter until 1971. But when he was on the field, there was none better. Between 1971 and 1979, Staubach won two Super Bowls and was a six-time Pro Bowler. The fact that he put up over 22,000 passing yards and 2,2200 rushing yards in what really amounted to only 9 full seasons, it isn’t hard to see that if Staubach had a more traditional-length career, he would easily be a top ten guy.
11) Tom Brady
Here’s where this is going to get ugly. I’m positive I’m going to get a lot of comments about how Brady should rate much higher than #11. No offense, but anybody who thinks that right now Tom Brady is a top ten quarterback now is blind to some crucial facts. But first, let’s look at the things that got Brady on to the list in the first place.
Brady’s NFL record of 358 consecutive passing attempts without an interception would be astounding in any era. So would the fact that he has three NFL Championships and two Super Bowl MVP awards. So would his .700+ winning percentage as a starting quarterback. Oddly enough, Brady’s accomplishments are somewhat over-valued by the era he played in.
First of all, he shares a major problem with Peyton Manning. Their lack of mobility coupled with rule changes made in the last twenty years mean neither would have been able to play before the 1970’s when quarterbacks really were “fair game.”
Second of all, Brady is great, but he simply isn’t that much better than many of his current colleagues…his 50 touchdowns or 5,000 passing yards aren’t such shocking numbers as they were in 1984 when Dan Marino was the first to approach them. The league values the forward pass, and has made rule changes to facilitate the passing game.
Lastly, I understand that Brady’s 5 Super Bowl appearances and 3 Super Bowl wins is a major accomplishment, but it’s also fair to look at Brady’s playoff performances in the years since the last of the those Super Bowl wins at the end of the 2004 season. In 12 play-off games since the last Super Bowl win, Tom Brady and the Patriots are only 7-5. More astounding are the stats for an average Tom Brady performance in those games: 23/36, 64% completion percentage, 256 yards, 2.17 touchdowns, and 1.42 interceptions.
Most of those numbers are acceptable, the touchdown to interception ration is the killer. For a guy who is supposed to be a great pure passer, and for a guy who holds that record of 358 consecutive passing attempts without an interception, having more three INT games than 0 INT games in your last 12 playoff performances kills ratings in categories like “Skill as a Passer” and “Performance in the Clutch”
10) Peyton Manning
Obviously, as of this writing, we have no idea if Manning’s career is over or not. As it stands right now, I believe Manning has earned the accolades which make him top ten all-time quarterback. Given the criteria we’ve established for making this list, the only way he moves up is to win another Super Bowl or league MVP award, neither of which seem very likely. Conversely, the only way he moves down is if another quarterback passes him.
Having said that, let’s look at what has made Peyton Manning a top ten quarterback. Nobody as of this date has won four NFL MVP awards. Peyton is the fastest quarterback in history to reach 4,000 completions and 50,000 passing yards. He is also an 11-time Pro Bowler and has been selected All-Pro eight times. Given all that, why is he only at #10 on this list?
For starters, Manning suffers greatly in two categories, Performance in the “clutch” and athleticism. Manning’s play-off record is dismal and Manning, like Brady, is an immobile pocket passer who would have only flourished in this league in the last twenty years. Put him and Brady in the 1960’s when defenders were allowed to literally beat the stuffing out of quarterbacks and neither of them would have survived.
9) Sid Luckman
To understand why Sid Luckman is in the top ten, you really have to consider the power of the difference in eras, and the length of season and individual careers. Considering Luckman played in an era when the forward pass was treated as a “trick” play, it’s difficult to look at sheer numbers and appreciate his greatness without considering the difference in eras. While Sammy Baugh (see #6) was inventing the modern passing game in the 1930’s and 1940’s, Luckman’s 2,194 passing yards and 28 touchdowns in 1943 seemed like an impossiblilty in those days; it would be roughly equal to a quarterback tossing for more than 6,800 yards and 57 touchdowns today. Luckman won four Championships and still holds the NFL record for touchdown pass percentage (7.9), and his 8.4 yards per pass attempt is second only to Otto Graham.
8 ) Sonny Jurgensen
Jurgensen is perhaps the #2 or #3 pure passer of all-time. Vince Lombardi once said that Jurgensen was the best he’d ever seen. Jurgensen was the dominant quarterback of the 1960’s. He led the NFL in passing yards five times (good for second-place all-time which he shares with Dan Marino) and led the league in passing touchdowns twice. Even though he spent time as a back-up early in his career, if he played today, an average Jurgensen season would be ~ 4,800 passing yards, yards and 37 touchdowns against 11 interceptions per season.
7) Steve Young
In terms of athleticism, Young ranked second behind John Elway. Young had a run of dominance emjoyed by only a select few in league history, but it was only long enough to rate him at #7 on this list. Young easily could have rated as high as Elway in the overall rankings had he not wasted two seasons in the USFL, two seasons in Tampa Bay, and played back-up to Joe Montana for four more. By the time he became the starter in San Francisco, half his career was over, but in the seasons he started, Young was a seven-time Pro Bowler, first team All-Pro three times, two-time NFL MVP and won a Super Bowl in which he was also the MVP. By the way, in that Super Bowl, he threw a record six touchdown passes. That’s just for openers on Young’s impressive stats. He retired with the highest career passer rating (98.6), he had a passer rating of 100 or greater in seven seasons, while racking up 4,239 career rushing yards and 43 rushing touchdowns.
6) Sammy Baugh
Without a doubt, Sammy Baugh is the greatest all-around football player on this list. At one time, Baugh held 13 NFL records at three different positions (quarterback, punter, and defensive back). As a quarterback, spot number six may be too low. Even though he retired 60 years ago, Baugh is still the record-holder for most years leading the league in passing yards. Baugh is still the record-holder for most years with the lowest interception percentage. Baugh was a 6-time Pro Bowler, a 4-time first team All-Pro, and he won two NFL Championships. The most amazing performance was Baugh’s 335 passing yards when he led the Washington Redskins over the Chicago Bears in the 1937 NFL Championship game. Remember, the league average for passing yards that season was 102.2 yards per game, so Baugh’s performance would be like somebody throwing for about 750 yards today. Oh, and he was a rookie when he did it. It’s still the best performance for a rookie quarterback in a playoff game.
5) Dan Marino
Marino is the highest ranked guy on this list that never won a Championship, and it really doesn’t matter. No matter what your criteria, if Marino doesn’t grade out as a top five quarterback, your list is wrong. His 48 touchdown, 5,000-yard campaign in 1984 is one of the great single-season performances in all of sport, not just football. Marino retired holding many NFL passing records, including total yards, touchdowns, and career completions.
4) John Elway
Not only is Elway perhaps the best pure athlete on this list, he also made so many mediocre players around him better. Tremendous athleticism. He was Vince Young, except he could throw it accurately to any place on the field. Elway made legitimate receiving threats out of no-names like Ricky Nattiel, Mark Jackson, and Vance Johnson, and the threat of Elway’s passing game meant defenders played back in coverage, which allowed bench-jockeys like Gaston Green, Bobby Humphrey, and Sammy Winder to become Pro Bowlers at running back. all earned Pro Bowl berths taking handoffs from Elway.
Elway’s five 5 Super Bowl appearances ties him (as of this writing) with Tom Brady, and while he lost three of them, Elway’s dominating performances were the sole reason the Broncos mattered for a decade and a half. Along the way, Elway won two championships, was selected to nine Pro Bowls, was a Super Bowl MVP, and 1987 NFL MVP. Not to mention, he was nicknamed “Captain Comeback” because pulling a fourth-quarter comeback might as well be called an “Elway.”
3) Joe Montana
Montana wasn’t big and athletic. Montana wasn’t lightning quick. Montana didn’t have the quickest release. But he was the definition of “cool under pressure;” the ice water which flowed through his veins allowed him to dissect defenses with surgical precision. This is why in a 10-year span in San Francisco, Montana won four Super Bowls, was named Super Bowl MVP three times, and was NFL MVP twice.
2) Johnny Unitas
Unitas was a three-time NFL MVP and was first-team All-Pro five times. Unitas has 3 championships, 10 Pro Bowls, was voted All-Pro 6 times., and still holds the record for most consecutive games with a touchdown pass (47) ; a record which has been on the books for 52 years.
More importantly, he was the inventor of the modern passing game. Unitas revolutionized the game, without him there would be none of the guys the under-40 crowd will try to claim are greater than he was.
1) Otto Graham
Anything you say about Otto Graham starts with this sentence: Graham was the greatest winner in the history to date of pro football. Given the listed criteria this list with which this list was built, “Automatic Otto” was a lead-pipe cinch for the top spot. Graham was the living, breathing definition of what being a pro quarterback is. Stack him up against the criteria:
Toughness/Durability: Graham played in an era when there were few rules to prevent defenders from turning quarterback into potted plants. Graham never missed a game, even after having his face split open in a game in 1953. Graham returned to that game with 15 stitches in his mouth to lead his team to a comeback win.
Leadership: Before his career in football, Graham served in the U.S. Coast Guard during World War II. After his pro football days, he served as the head football coach and athletic director at the U.S. Coast guard Academy
Winning as a Team: In his entire 10-year professional football career, Graham never finished a season without playing in a championship game. That means in 10 years, he played in 10 championship games and won 7 of them. That’s more than twice as many championship appearances as Joe Montana or Terry Bradshaw, with nearly twice as many victories. Not to mention, his regular season winning percentage of 80% is still the all-time record as well.
Athleticism: With 44 career rushing touchdowns, there’ really no question that Graham was top-flight athlete. Not to mention, he spent a year playing professional basketball with the Rochester Royals (now the Sacramento Kings).
Skill as a Passer: Just look at the numbers. 9.0 yards per pass attempt still ranks #1 on the all-time list, his career passer rating is the highest on this list and his interception percentage is the lowest.
Performance in the “clutch:” .700 winning percentage in championship games, and an .800 winning percentage overall. That ought to cover it.
Ability as Compared to Others in his Era: Because Graham spent the first four years of his career with the Cleveland Browns while they were still part of the All-American Football Conference (AAFC), and because the NFL doesn’t recognize AAFC championships or statistics, Graham rarely gets a high ranking in most discussions. That’s just ridiculous for a host of reasons, not the least of which was the fact Graham and the Browns dominated the NFL after the leagues merged in 1950. In many respects, the AAFC was a better league than the NFL, and the NFL recognizes AFL records.
Administrative decisions aside, there’s really no debating Otto Graham is the greatest quarterback of all-time.
Now for the fun part: I’m hoping you will comment on this list, but before you do, consider the following. When you are going to tell me about how wrong I am, be sure to include what you would have done differently. Otherwise, go make your own list
-Dubsism is a proud member of the Sports Blog Movement
As we find ourselves in the midst of “Lin-Sanity,” I’ve spent a ton of time watching various and sundry sports commentator types asking the question “How did so many people miss on Jeremy Lin?”
There’s an easy answer to this…because he isn’t the same player now that he was even six months ago. That leads to another question. How did that happen? To me, it seems pretty clear that one of the secrets of Lin’s success is the fact he understands the five fundamental skills of basketball.
1) Ball Handling
While it may seem obvious to say, the NBA is not the NFL. In the NFL, there are lineman who will go their entire career without ever touching the ball. In basketball, you are going to get the ball at some point, and when you do, you need to know what to do with it. There’s two fundamental rules here:
- Never give up your dribble without knowing what you are going to do
- If you are in the offensive low post and get a pass, never put the ball on the floor – keep the ball high and go strong to the basket; it’s why you are there in the first place.
This is really an off-shoot of Rule #1. There are only three things you can do with the ball; pass it, shoot it, or have it taken from you. Shooting isn’t always an option, and if you shoot when you shouldn’t or give the ball away too often, you aren’t going to stay on the court long. So, you’d better learn how to pass. The fundamental rules of passing:
- There’s three basic pass types: overhand pass, chest pass, and and bounce pass. Know when and where to use each
- Don’t get too clever – passing is essential to good ball movement, but you can overdo it.
- There’s never an excuse for being sloppy with the ball. Turnovers will happen, but being careless is unacceptable.
This area is the one that gets the most overlooked by many NBA players, but it is crucial. A good defensive scheme can be used to set up the offense, and to be effective in any good defensive scheme, meaning to be able to stop the passing, shooting, and dribbles of the opponent, a player needs to understand the concepts of footwork and position.
Roughly 50% of the time the ball gets shot, it’s coming back down as a free ball. Teams that can rebound limit the opposition’s scoring opportunities while increasing their own. Like defense, the keys are footwork and position. As a shooter, this also means following your shot.
Just like hitting in baseball, this skill is both the key to scoring and it is the hardest to master. The difference is that low-post players need to develop a different skill set than perimeter players. The most valuable “bigs” can shoot from five feet in with both hands. The most valuable perimeter players can create their own shots off the dribble. Regardless of who you are, MAKE YOUR FREE THROWS. There is no excuse for anybody who calls himself a basketball player to shoot less than 60% from the stripe.
Nobody is born with all this skills, and even Jeremy Lin didn’t have them all at an acceptable level as little as six months ago. This means these skills have to be developed, and they get developed through practice. Lin clearly improved something between the D-league and now. The last mass-hysteria outbreak in the NBA came courtesy of Blake Griffin, and he did that largely on freakish athleticism.
That leaves the last question: When’s the next phenom coming along, and will he be a fundamentally-sound player or a genetic-lottery winner with super-human abilities?
- Dubsism is a proud member of the Sports Blog Movement
Rural America is run by rednecks. One of the beautiful things about rednecks is that they live up to the definition ascribed to them by noted redneck Jeff Foxworthy: “Redneck” is a glorious absence of sophistication. One of the beautiful things about that such a lack of sophistication is they don’t tend to subscribe to such outright bull-shittery like “political correctness.”
Last month, PGA golfer Bubba Watson purchased his dream car – the famed “General Lee” ofDukes of Hazzard fame – for $110,000 at the Barrett-Jackson automobile auction. Phoenix International Raceway officials then invited Watson — a close friend of NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin — to be an honorary race official and take a lap in his new ride prior to the upcoming Sprint Cup Series race at the track. But NASCAR caught wind of the arrangement this week and nixed the whole idea on grounds the car could be considered offensive.
So, let me get this straight…a car; a completely inanimate object now has the power to be offensive? Eat me.
The General Lee, which was driven by the Duke boys in the early 1980s TV series, is named for Confederate general Robert E. Lee and has a Confederate flag on the roof. While that may have been acceptable in the old NASCAR, the new NASCAR is much more image-conscious and doesn’t want to exclude any of its fans. NASCAR’s view is having the General Lee parade around the track before one of its races could be construed as condoning a symbol of racism.
First of all, anybody who can look at a car and see a symbol of racism wants to see racism everywhere they look. Face it, if you can be offended by an inanimate object, you either have too much time on your hands or you don’t have enough real problems in your life.
But more importantly, who the hell does NASCAR think their fans are? Know where I find the people who get upset over a flag painted on a car? They are usually driving Volvo station wagons and ordering skinny chai lattes at Starbucks. How many NASCAR jackets have you seen in a Starbuck’s lately? NASCAR fans buy their coffee at the same place they buy their Skoal and their gasoline.
Frankly, I get the feeling Bubba Watson may have wanted to say more than this, but he was smart enough to stay out of the meat of the discussion.
Watson’s view, though, is pure disappointment:
Confederate flags remain a common sight at NASCAR races because some campers fly the flags in a salute to their Southern heritage. But NASCAR officials believe there’s a big difference between a guy hanging a flag on his RV and allowing the General Lee – and thus the Confederate flag – to take a parade lap in front of 70,000 people. NASCAR’s decision not to promote a potentially offensive symbol may be laudable, but some fans will likely consider it as an overly sensitive move. A sizable number of fans won’t look at the General Lee as anything but an iconic vehicle from a popular sitcom, and thus, they may view NASCAR’s ban as a politically correct overreaction.
Laudable, my ass. All this does is perpetuate a belief that we can ascribe all of the evils of society to a few symbols, and that by banishing the symbols, the problems go away.
- Dubsism is a proud member of the Sports Blog Movement
With pitchers and catchers reporting to spring training, it time to review another beautiful aspect of baseball…bad umpires. While there are so many examples of bad umpires and the bad calls, here are the ten that stand out in my lifetime.
10) Jim Joyce Blows Armando Galarraga’s Perfect Game
Let’s be honest…the only reason this call is on the list is because this happened to be the last out in a bid for a perfect game. Umpires blow calls at first base all the time; there’s more just like this one coming further down this list. Had Jim Joyce blown this call in the third inning rather than the final frame, it would merely have sunk into the ocean. But that isn’t what happened.
With two outs in the top of the ninth inning, Armando Galarraga was one out away from history. Cleveland Indians’ Jason Donald tapped a slow-roller that pulled first baseman Miguel Cabrera off the bag and forced Galarraga himself to cover the bag at first. Cabrera fielded the ball cleanly, threw to Galarraga, and got Donald by at least a clear step.
But Jim Joyce didn’t see it that way. Inexplicably, he called Donald safe, ending Galarraga’s bid on the 27th out. Not only did Joyce screw Galarraga out of the 21st perfect game in Major League history, but that performance with a correct call would have also set the records for the fewest pitches thrown in a perfect game since 1908 and the shortest perfect game since Sandy Koufax in 1965.
9) A.J. Pierzynski’s Non-Strikeout Strikeout
There’s several themes on this list, and one of them is all about timing. This gaffe also takes place in the ninth inning; this time in Game Two of the 2005 American League Championship Series. Chicago White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski was batting against Los Angeles Angels’ pitcher Kelvim Escobar.
With the score tied at 1 with two outs, Pierzynski offered at a pitch low out of the zone for what should have been strike three. But umpire Doug Eddings never signaled Pierzynski out and made no audible call. At first, Pierzynski took a couple of steps towards the dugout, but when he didn’t hear himself being called out, he ran to first base before a majority of the Angels even knew what had happened. Eddings did not use any no-catch signals at all during the game, and it was his assertion the third strike bounced out of catcher Josh Paul’s glove.
The problem was replay showed the third strike was not dropped, therefore Pierzynski should have been called out to end the inning. Upon his reaching first, Pierzynski was pulled for a pinch runner who ultimately came around to score the winning run. Since then, umpirers have been mandated to make a specific “no-catch” signal and/or a “no catch” verbalization after a dropped third strike.
8 ) Kent Hrbek Gets Two Points For A Take Down
Of all the calls on this list, this was the toughest to include. For purposes of full disclosure, I’m a lifelong fan of the Twins, I loved Kent Hrbek, and this call went my way. But umpire Drew Coble still blew it.
Atlanta Braves’ outfielder Ron Gant singled to left field in the third inning of Game Two of the 1991 World Series, and he took an exceptionally wide turn around the bag; a turn so wide he drew a surprise throw behind him. Gant got back to first safely, but he seemed to be off-balance. returned safely back to the bag, albeit slightly off-balanced. As the Twins home-town hero and first baseman, let’s just say Kent Hrbek was “conservatively” dimensioned at 6′ 4″, 250 pounds. Without getting into the alleged accuracy of those measurements, it went without saying that Hrbek was at least four weight classes above Gant. When Hrbek applied a “tag” which more resembled a high leg lift followed by a subtle, yet effective body slam, he was able to do it with such ease that one could at least claim Gant’s momentum had pulled him off the base. Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, and Drew Coble all agreed that was the case.
Several years after this incident, I happened to be living in the Twin Cites and as fate would have it, I bumped into the-then retired Hrbek in a suburban big-box retail outlet. After a handshake and some small talk, I had to ask…
J-Dub: “Mr. Hrbek, may I ask you a question?”
Hrbek: “Go for it.”
J-Dub: “Did you pull Ron Gant off the bag?”
Hrbek: “Coble didn’t think so.” (grins)
7) Tim McClelland’s Phantom Run
The 2007 season needed an extra game to see who would be the Wild Card team representing the National League; after 162 games the Colorado Rockies and the San Diego Padres needed game #163 to settle it. Not only do we need an extra game, that game needed extra innings.
The Rockies trailed the Padres 8-6 in the bottom of the 13th inning, with two runners on base and no outs. Rockies outfielder Matt Holliday smoked a bases-clearing triple to tie the game. Now with Holliday on third and still nobody out, the Padres intentionally walked the dangerous Todd Helton to bring the significantly-not-so-dangerous Jamey Carroll to the plate. Carroll hits what normally would have been a harmless soft liner to right field, which was caught by the Padres’ outfielder Brian Giles.
However, in this case, the ball looked to be deep enough for Holliday to attempt to score the game winning run. Holliday tagged up and took off for the plate. Giles threw a one-hop strike to the plate, catcher Michael Barrett caught the ball and blocked the plate. Holliday slid head first in order to avoid the tag, but Barrett puts the ball on him, all while Holliday NEVER touched the plate. All replays show Holliday NEVER touched the plate. But home plate umpire Tim McClelland (whose name will appear again on this list), made the safe call which handed the Rockies a victory and a trip to the postseason.
6) Larry Barnett’s Interference “Non-Call” in the 1975 World Series
If the Red Sox were still waiting for a World Series win, this moment would be right next to “Buckner” on the list of proof that “Curse” existed. To this day, there are scads of Red Sox fans wholeheartedly believe non-call on player interference cost the team the 1975 World Series.
Game Three proved to be crucial, and its’ outcome was decided on a play in front of the plate. Cincinnati’s Cesar Geronimo began the top of the tenth inning with a single. This was followed by a sacrifice bunt by pinch-hitter Ed Armbrister which chopped high into the air off the hard dirt in front of home plate.
When Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk attempted to field the ball, Armbrister intentionally bulldozed him, causing Fisk to throw wildly to second base. Naturally, the Red Sox immediately claimed interference on the part of Armbrister; that Armbrister should have been called out by home plate umpire Larry Barnett. They also argued that Geronimo should have to return to first base. This in-game appeal was rejected, and Fisk was charged with an error on the play.
As is all too often the case in matters like this, immediately after this play, Joe Morgan hit a single which allowed Geronimo to score, giving the Reds a 6-5 victory. As proof that Red Sox fans never forget, Barnett was booed in every subsequent appearance at Fenway Park until his retirement in 1999.
5) Chuck Knoblauch’s Tag That Wasn’t A Tag
In yet another example the Red Sox fans and the hysteria they had about curses before 2004, this call during Game Four of the 1999 American League Championship Series was enough to make them snowstorm the field with garbage in protest. This is also another example of timing being a crucial element of controversy.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, the Red Sox’ John Valentin hit a routine roller to Yankee second baseman Chuck Knoblauchthe second baseman. The Red Sox already had Jose Offerman on first base, so naturally he has no choice but to break for second. Knoblauch fielded the ball, made an attempt to tag the runner, then threw the ball to first. The key is “made an attempt to tag the runner;” in actuality Knoblauch missed the tag literally by two feet. But second base umpire Tim Tschida immediately called Offerman out, making this an inning-ending double play. Once again, all the replays showed Offerman and Knoblauch were barely in the same area code, let alone close enough for a tag.
4) Don Denkinger Gift Wraps a World Series for the Royals
This call is often mistakenly referred to as the worst of all time. Don’t get me wrong, Denkinger blew this call by a mile, but it really is a) just another blown call at first base, which as we’ve already discussed happen all the time b) it was in the ninth inning, which magnifies the perceived severity and c) the really egregious stuff happened the next night in Game 7.
Again, as we’ve mentioned, it is the ninth inning of Game Six of the 1985 World Series. The St. Louis Cardinals lead the Kansas City Royals 3 games to 2. The Cards are on the verge of triumph; they are only three outs away from victory as they lead the game 1-0 headed into the bottom of the ninth. Jorge Orta, the Royals’ lead-off batter of the inning hit a routine little bounder along the first base line to first baseman Jack Clark, who cleanly fielded the ball and threw it to pitcher Todd Worrell, who was covering the bag. He was clearly out and St. Louis should have been celebrating their second World Series win of the 1980’s. Except for the fact first base umpire Don Denkinger called Orta safe.
As you would expect, a heated and lengthy argument between the Cardinals’ manager and players and Denkinger breaks out, after which Denkinger continually refused to admit he was wrong until a meeting later convened by Commissioner Peter Ueberroth. However, that meeting came too late for what happen in the bottom of the ninth as a result of this call. The Royals got runners in scoring position with a passed ball by the Cardinals’ catcher, Darrell Porter. Then, after intentionally walking the bases loaded, Royals’ pinch hitter Dane Iorg hit a game-winning, two-run single.
As per the standard system of rotating umpiring duties, Denkinger having been the first base umpire in Game 6 would call the balls and strikes in Game 7. Early on it was clear he was letting the bad blood with the Cardinals from the night before effect his strike zone. Cardinal pitcher got squeezed from the first pitch forward. Cards’ ace pitcher John Tudor gave up five earned runs and four walks in only two and one-third innings, largely because he was pitching to a strike zone about the size of a deck of playing cards right over the heart of the plate. Television cameras caught the Cardinals’ manager Whitey Herzog screaming at Denkinger from the Cardinals’ dugout. It didn’t get any better for Joaquín Andújar, who exploded twice over Denkinger’s calls at the plate during the fifth inning. Eventually, Herzog and Andújar were ejected after a heated argument with Denkinger regarding the strike zone. Not surprisingly, the Cardinals lost Game Seven 11-0.
3) Tim McClelland Has No Idea of the Rules
Usually, one expects a veteran umpire to do two things; blow an occasional call because errors of the eye are to be expected, and know the rules of the game. That is unless the umpire in question is Tim McClelland. One of the great demonstrations of McClelland’s ignorance of the basics of the rules of baseball showed up in Game 4 of the 2009 American League Championship Series.
In the top of the fifth inning, New York Yankees outfielder hit a comebacker to Los Angeles Angels’ pitcher Darren Oliver. At the time, there were runners at second and third, so Oliver threw the ball to home plate which caught the Yanks’ lead base runner Jorge Posada in a rundown. As Posada was caught in this pickle, the Yankees’ runner on second did what he’s supposed to do; Robinson Cano advanced to third on the play.
The trouble started when the Angels’ catcher Mike Napoli caught up with Posada near third base. As Napoli approached Posada, he noticed that Cano was inexplicably not standing on the third base bag. Napoli tagged Cano and then turned back and tagged Posada, who was also not standing on the bag. It is one of the basic of baseball to know that if you aren’t touching a base, and you get tagged with the ball, you are out. Even the most casual baseball fan would know this base running gaffe should have rendered both Yankees’ runners out.
But umpire Tim McClelland didn’t see it that way. For some reason McClelland, who as the third base umpire happened to be standing directly in front of the play, only ruled Posada out. Worse yet, the call was so blatantly wrong that it should have been overruled by the home plate or second base umpire who had clear views of the play.
2) The Jeffrey Maier Incident
This one is really one of the iconic moment in the history of baseball. How many names can you think of which belong to non-players who changed the outcome of a playoff game? Welcome to the legend of 12-year-old Yankees fan Jeffery Maier. This bad call has all the hallmarks…for starters, it involves the Yankees. It also is the first chapter in Derek Jeter’s post-season legend.
Flash the clock back to Game One of the 1996 American League Championship Series. It’s the bottom of the eighth inning, the Yankees are losing 4-3 and the future Yankee captain steps up to the plate. Jeter nails a long fly ball to deep right field. As Baltimore Orioles’ outfielder Tony Tarasco retreated to make the catch against the wall, Maier clearly reached over the wall into the field of play and and deflected the ball into the stands.
The rule says if a spectator reaches out of the stands, or goes on the playing field, and touches a live ball, then spectator interference should be called. This was a clear case where Tarasco was going to make the catch, it was clearly a case of fan interference, and clearly Jeter should have been called out. Again, replays inarguably showed Maier reaching far below the top of the wall to retrieve what was Jeter’s fly ball out. But right field umpire Rich Garcia inexplicably called it a home run, tying the game at 4. The game ended as a Yankees’ victory when Bernie Williams hit a walk-off home run in the 11th inning.
1) Tim McClelland’s “Pine Tar” Debacle Proves Once Again He Doesn’t Know The Rules
If there were a Mt. Rushmore of bad umpires, Tim McClelland would be both Roosevelts and Abe Lincoln’s beard. After all, this is his third appearance on this list, and this instance is so incredibly bizarre it almost defies explanation.
July 24, 1983: The infamous “Pine Tar” game. The setting: The Royals are visiting Yankee stadium; the Royals are losing 4-3 in the top of the ninth inning. The Royals have two outs and a runner on first base. Future Hall-of-Famer George Brett steps up to the plate to face another future Cooperstown inductee in Rich “Goose” Gossage, and Tim McClelland is the home plate umpire. Brett turns on a Gossage fastball, rocketing it into the right field seats and giving the Royals what should have been a 5-4 lead.
That was until Yankees’ manager Billy Martin confronted McClelland, citing an obscure rule stating that any foreign substance on a bat could not extend further than 18 inches from the knob. At this point, McClelland demanded Brett’s bat be inspected. The umpires have a short conference, after which McClelland strode toward the Royals’ dugout, pointed at Brett and called him out for having too much pine tar on his bat. That made for the third out, thus ending the game at 4-3 in favor of the Yankees.
Everybody’s seen what happened next. Brett exploded out of the dugout in a full-on death charge straight for McClelland, and likely would have killed him with his bare hands had he not been physically restrained. This call was so wrong that American League President Lee MacPhail upheld a formal protest which was filed by the Royals. McClelland was officially ruled incorrect for ejecting Brett and nullifying his home run, and MacPhail ordered the game be replayed, beginning after the Brett home run. When the game resumed, the just result occurred, the Royals won 5-4.
But what gets lost in the iconic vision of Brett’s complete meltdown is the sheer incompetence of McClelland. Not only did he let a manager goad him into a call which was blatantly wrong, if he were going to make a call about the bat, the time to do it was when Brett first stepped into the batter’s box with the allegedly offending bat. To make matters worse, there is no stipulation in the rules about a player being called out for breaking the “pine tar” rule; rather the remedy prescribed by the rule book is the removal of that particular bat from the game. This means McClelland hit the bad umpiring trifecta; he didn’t know the rule, he made a wrong call on the rule, and he inflicted the wrong solution. The “pine tar” incident was easily the worst example of bad umpiring I’ve ever seen.
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Honestly, this rant has been stuck in my throat for 12 years; ever since ESPN came out with that silly list of Greatest Athletes of the 20th Century. A list that includes horses should be all you need to know about its credibility. But there was just too much “power of present perspective” that allowed people to miss what a mistake it was naming Michael Jordan at the top of that list.
It was completely ridiculous to put Jordan ahead of Babe Ruth. Ruth revolutionized baseball; before Ruth set the career home run mark at 714, it was held by a guy named Roger Connor who had 138…and most of those were of the inside-the-park variety. Then there was the small matter of the fact that not only did Ruth’s fame build Yankee Stadium, it literally built professional sports in this country. It’s no accident that all that pro sports took off in America after everybody saw what attraction a major sports star could be. Nobody ever talks about the “house Jordan built” and he didn’t have nearly the impact on his own sport; Jordan didn’t revolutionize anything, he simply improved on what Elgin Baylor and Julius Erving had already done.
Don’t even get me started on how asinine it was to put Jordan in front of Muhammad Ali. Did we forget about Ali being called the “Greatest of All Time?”
Again, the problem stems from too many voters under the age of thirty who hadn’t seen anybody on the list whose careers were before 1980. Then it dawned on me; the key to exposing this fraud was to note that Jordan isn’t even the greatest basketball player of all-time. The fact that he was the only basketball player in the top ten was the first clue; it made me look for where Wilt Chamberlain was on the list. It made me realize that not only Chamberlain should be in the top ten, but that there was no way Jordan should be in front of him.
Chamberlain was capable of scoring and rebounding at will, despite the double and triple-teams and constant fouling tactics that opposing teams used to try to shut him down. He dominated the game as few players in any sport ever have; when Hall-of-Famer Oscar Robertson was asked whether Chamberlain was the best ever he said “the books don’t lie.” Just run through the usually accepted criteria.
Many Jordan supporter hang their hats on the fact he won 6 NBA championships. First of all, I reject team accomplishments as a measure of individual greatness, but it is one area where NBA fans believe there has to be a ring for there to be greatness. While Jordan has six and Chamberlain had two, it still leaves MJ just a bit over the halfway mark to Bill Russell’s eleven NBA Championships.
Wilt retired as the all-time in career points with 31,419, which was later surpassed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Karl Malone, and Michael Jordan. Jordan was never the all-time leading scorer. While Jordan and Chamberlain both led the league in scoring for seven consecutive years, Chamberlain was also the only NBA player to score 4,000 points in a season and score over 3,000 on two other occasions. The closest Jordan ever got to that mark was 3,041 in 1986-87, and by then he had the advantage of the three-point shot.
The record books literally drip with Chamberlain’s accomplishments. Some of them are simply mind-boggling, like the 48.5 minutes per game he averaged in 1961-62. Some of his scoring numbers are hard to believe, such as his mark of 14 with 40+ points, 14; 65 consecutive games with 30+ points, or his field goal percentage of .727 in 1972-73.
Seriously, Wilt’s name appears so often in the NBA record books that if you are ever in doubt as to who holds a particular record, just say “Chamberlain” and the odds are with you. What is really exceptional is so many of these records find the second-place guy miles behind Wilt. But of all the records noted here, there are nine which need to be on any list of unbreakable records in sports; nobody is going to touch these anytime soon, and they still stand nearly four decades after Chamberlain’s retirement.
- 23,924 career Total Rebounds
- 55 Total Rebounds in a Single Game
- 2,314 Total Rebounds in 1960-1961
- 100 points in a Single Game in 1961
- 50.4 points per game in 1961-62
- 45 50+ point games in 1961-62
- 271 career 40+ point games
- 118 career 50+ point games
- 32 career 60+ point games
Chamberlain owns 71 NBA records; he has sole possession of 62 of them. Many will fall to others; he’s already been passed by three other career scorers. But look at that list and try to tell me how a guy who set nine unbreakable records isn’t the greatest basketball player of all time.
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