With the Red Sox season having mercifully ended nearly a week ago, it may seem like time for some to pretend that all of baseball has ended for a few months. It may seem like time to throw all of one’s passion into the Patriots, or into being vehemently angry over not having the ability to watch the Bruins.
But baseball is still here, and even though it is not in Boston, there is still a reason to watch this October. The drama of postseason play is universal as the story lines go further than just wins and loses. It’s about character, grit and everything that baseball fans love about the game.
It would be easy to say that Red Sox fans should automatically root for the team playing against the New York Yankees. The Baltimore Orioles are the underdog story of the postseason, and not just because they are playing against the so-called Evil Empire. Baltimore is making its first appearance in the postseason since 1997.
“Hey, this lineup here is a lineup that is a bunch of guys that are angry, want to play, want to win and ain’t taking no for an answer,” Baltimore’s center fielder Adam Jones told the media after the team defeated the Yankees on Monday.
That unbridled determination built the game. It is the reason why viewers become so emotionally attached to teams and players.
Yet, as much as the underdog story resonates with nearly everyone, and as much as every Red Sox fan would like to see the Yankees lose, there is a different team – one in the other American League series – that deserves some attention.
While the Red Sox season was continuing to crumble more than anyone could have predicted, the Oakland Athletics were going through something worse and on a more personal level. The A’s story goes further than baseball.
Just over a month ago, Oakland pitcher Brandon McCarthy suffered a life-threatening injury when he was hit in the head by a line drive. A mere three weeks after having brain surgery to save his life, while receiving the A’s nomination for the Roberto Clemente Award, McCarthy announced he would resume throwing the very next day.
Even after being there put him in a near-death situation, McCarthy will return to the mound.
That is true grit.
Last week, another A’s pitcher experienced a horrific life-altering experience when his newborn son suddenly passed away less than a day after he was born. Pat Neshek received the call from his wife during Oakland’s last regular season game that his son Gehrig had stopped breathing.
Neshek did not think he would return to baseball this season, but on Saturday he pitched in the seventh inning. Like the rest of his teammates, he wore a black patch on his sleeve with his son’s initials: GJN. After he retired the only two batters he faced, he patted the patch on his arm, and after looking to the sky found his wife in the crowd.
Neshek broke down in the dugout after pitching, but he did not regret going back to the game.
“I was hoping we’d win this game, but it will be a game I’ll remember forever,” Neshek said to the media after the A’s lost. “It was the right choice, it definitely was, being here.”
That is true heart.
While some might say that Neshek returned to the field too soon, baseball appears to be a part of his healing process, just like it can be for any fan going through a challenging time. The sport presents an opportunity to throw everything into a single pitch and remember what it is like to feel good about something.
Baseball is not perfect, and it is just a game. But these stories are real, human pieces to the larger puzzle that makes up the postseason. Winning the ALDS, or the American League or even the World Series will not stop McCarthy from remembering that moment when he was hit, nor will it heal the pain that Neshek and his wife feel.
But for a brief amount of time, a win can mean something more for them. It is not just another ring to add to the collection. It is a feel-good moment in a month of pain and heartache.
More than an underdog, the Athletics present an opportunity to support a team that needs some love as it heals.
Before you shut baseball out of your mind until the spring, think about those players that are a part of a larger cause. Remember the reasons why you fell in love with baseball, and consider, even for just one second, that maybe a win can be more than just defeating one’s opponent.FULL ENTRY
Upon first glance, the two recent suspensions of Melky Cabrera and Bartolo Colon for failed drug tests indicates baseball is finally doing something about a steroid issue that, for years, ravaged a league without a steroid policy.
Much of the achievements by players and teams in the 1990s and early 2000s will be questioned thanks to a lack of regulation from Major League Baseball and after-the-fact revelations that accused some of the biggest names of that time of using performance-enhancing drugs. Baseball first started doing something about steroid use in 2002, when it created a steroid policy that resulted in treatment – not suspensions – for players testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. The MLB was the only pro sports league without a drug policy at the time.
Then, the league was rocked by the BALCO scandal that revealed widespread usage of steroids among greats such as Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens. As a result of the evidence presented in a book, Game of Shadows, and a federal investigation, commissioner Bud Selig pushed the league to adopt stronger punishments for proven steroid users.
The harsher terms were met by resistance from the MLB Players Association, and the MLB adopted a still-lenient policy of 10-day suspensions for a first offense, 30-day suspensions for second offense, 60-day suspensions for a third offense and a one-year suspension for a fourth offense. But after dozens of players continued to test positive for PEDs, Bud Selig pushed the MLBPA until, in 2005, it adopted the current policy of a 50-game suspension for a first offense, 100-game suspension for a second offense and lifetime ban for a third offense.
Over the last three years, it seems the drug problem in Major League Baseball was starting to resolve itself, as only seven players were suspended through the 2009-2011 seasons for positive PED tests (although former Red Sox Manny Ramirez was suspended twice – once in 2009 and once in 2011).
But things are taking a turn for the worse in 2012. Guillermo Mota was suspended in May for 100 games after a second positive PED test, and in the span of one week, Cabrera and Colon became the fourth and fifth players respectively to be suspended for PED use this season.
Their suspensions were both for excess levels of testosterone and follow close on the heels of a disputed positive test from Ryan Braun, who avoided suspension after saying his test sample was not properly handled. Braun’s appeal was the first successful appeal of a steroid suspension by an MLB player.
But with two testosterone suspensions in one week and increasing positive tests for performance-enhancing drugs from some of the game’s higher profile players, baseball needs to reconsider its punishments for positive tests.
In the aftermath of Cabrera’s suspension, many in the media argued that testosterone testing is not strong enough in baseball, a complaint the MLB addressed by issuing a press release defending its testing methods.
And despite positive tests and suspensions for Ramirez and Mota, both used steroids again. Since Mota’s first positive test in 2006, he has signed six contracts worth a total of $10,025,000. So he missed 150 games in the meantime. How much does that matter when you’re making over $10 million dollars in six years?
Ramirez made out pretty well too. After his positive test in 2009, Ramirez finished out a contract with the Dodgers that paid him $18,695,006 and then signed a $2,020,000 with the Rays for the 2011 season.
Alex Rodriguez, an admitted steroid user who tested positive in 2003 (but was never suspended since suspensions for steroid use did not exist at the time), signed a $200-million contract after acknowledging he used performance-enhancing drugs.
While teams likely cannot get away with refusing to sign players who have tested positive for PED usage, players continue to enjoy high salaries and therefore do not have much reason to be deterred from steroid usage. Sure, Ramirez saw a drastic salary drop from his time with the Dodgers to his contract with the Rays, but he was also known as a problem player and was not producing at a level consistent with a high salary (he hit .298 with nine home runs and 42 RBIs – a career low – in 2010).
Baseball is certainly punishing its players who test positive for steroids – Oakland and San Francisco fans definitely feel that – but is the league really hitting the players where it hurts? With two suspensions in one week, now looks to be the perfect time for the league to re-examine its policies.