If you are one to eschew the daily fear mongering and perpetual bad news infecting our world today, then I highly recommend you avoid reading the Chicago Tribune first thing in the morning. Unfortunately, for me, the Tribune has become that thing I love to hate. My self-inflicted aggravation is just one of the many results.
But today, I came across a titillating article by Stacy St. Clair which boasted and celebrated the harmony, the togetherness, the complete reciprocal adoration between Barack and Michelle Obama — our nation’s first couple. Reading it made me feel good.
As the day went on, news broke of Alex Rodriguez — our collective fallen hero — and his stunning confession of guilt regarding his usage of banned performance enhancing drugs in 2003. The image of Rodriguez discussing the issue with Peter Gammons flickered on my computer screen. I was overwhelmed with sadness.
My thoughts immediately went back to the Obama article and I couldn’t help but ask myself: Is anything what it seems anymore?
Alex Rodriguez put on a great front. Despite Jose Canseco’s self-righteous smear campaign and associated agenda, I never once questioned Rodriguez’s proclaimed innocence. At no time did I suspect Rodriguez to be tainted in even the slightest of ways, for A-Rod was our hero. He was the one targeted with pulling us out of the steroid era forever. He was the one endowed with replacing Bonds as the all-time homerun king. He was the one who seemed like the most talented, most gifted, most touted ballplayer I have ever witnessed play the game.
What you see is not always what you get.
John Edwards seemed like a family man.
Pete Rose seemed like the consummate all-American baseballer.
Eliot Spitzer seemed like a hard-nosed crime-stopper.
The Wizard of Oz seemed like an all-powerful wizard.
And it turns out they were all just… like… us:
Don’t hate me ‘cuz I’m right.
Earlier this week, Jamaican Usain Bolt proved to the sporting world that indeed speed sells. With MLB’s recent crackdown on PEDs subsequently limiting the homerun game, is it possible that baseball will start to see an increase of importance on the running game or have we already seen the last of players like Rickey Henderson, Vince Coleman and Lou Brock?
Running is a much more complicated process than it was when we played tag in kindergarten. As our good friend Sen. Obama has shown us time and again, it is not without its pitfalls. And as Chinese hurdler, Liu Xiang, showed us, it is not without its pain.
But there are some people who just make it look easy. Michael Johnson, Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt. All of them make sprinting look as simple as hitting a home run looks for Manny Ramirez. Maybe they’re genetic freaks (or just straight up freaks as in the case of Manny), but there’s no denying they have a talent that 99.9% of the world just doesn’t have. It’s not so much what they do or how they do it but the fact that they can go out and replicate the feat on a consistent basis that sets them apart.
However, running does play an important role in the great American pastime. As much as I hate to have to think about it, much less mention it, one of the reasons that Cardinals beat the Tigers in the 2006 World Series was because the Cardinals had a running game that always put them in a position to score while the Tigers relied on brute strength that seemed to escape them when they needed it most. So, in that respect, I would argue that the question is moot in and of itself.
The running game has always been important for clubs that can’t afford to go out and buy sluggers. Now, the question is if the decrease in power will start to affect the Yankees, Tigers and Red Sox of the world. Again, I’d have to say that successful teams have usually found a way to combine the two elements.
Look at the Oakland A’s of late 80’s. Although they had the two most prolific juicers outside of Sammy Sosa on one team, they also had Rickey Henderson, Mr. “Rickey’s the Best” himself. And Canseco, although he could pound the ball, also did quite well for himself on the basepaths.
However, thoughts of Mr. Canseco and his ill-begotten physique bring me to another important point. Speed and doping aren’t always mutually exclusive. In fact, sometimes they’re regular kissing cousins as the the pride of Canada, Ben Johnson, can attest to. The crackdown on PEDs in MLB might lead to a general and overall slowing down of the game from the way it is played today. Remember, it wasn’t just the the Barry Bonds of the world who were looking for that little extra. It was also the Roger Clemens. And who knows how that might have also played into the speed game.
So, I think the answer to your question is that we have not seen the end of an era and that players who have great legs and a great jump will continue to be sought after. The thing that you have to take into account, though, is that you can’t steal a base or try for the hit-and-run unless you have someone on base in the first place. That was Rickey’s true talent, his ability to get himself in scoring position. And if you want to take it full-circle, it’s also the talent Mr. Obama has shown to this point in getting himself nominated. However, now we have to wait and see if he can find a way to bring it home just like Mr. Bolt.
With the imminent advent of a new football season, it’s time for RSBS to explore areas where a brown, oblong ball and a small, white ball overlap. The basics are pretty clear in that they both include a ball and two opposing teams but beyond that, there really isn’t that much they have in common. Maybe the silly tight pants? However, there is one area where they bear a striking resemblance.
Baseball today subscribes to the adage that you can’t win without a dominant closer. He can be a finesse guy, he can be an overpowering guy but he has to be able to shut down the other team for somewhere between 1 or more innings at the end of a game. This ranks them right up there in the same category as field goal kickers.
Now, before you start complaining, I fully recognize that both field goal kickers and closers are gifted with incredible physical talents. There’s no way I could kick a 50 yard field goal. In fact, there’s no way I could kick a 15 yard field goal. Similarly, I probably can’t throw a baseball more than 60 miles an hour, much less hit that tiny little strikezone.
But that doesn’t change the fact that both kickers and closers are specialty guys who come in for very specific tasks that have evolved with their respective games. And the rewards for these thankless jobs are relatively miniscule. Except on rare occasions, their best hope is just to remain invisible while attempting to succeed. Because when they fail, you can be sure their picture will be splashed across the front of the sports section (or the front page of various blogs).
Closers come from different backgrounds, sometimes converted starters who just can’t handle the innings anymore or guys with funky deliveries who can’t last outside of 25 pitches. And kickers tend to be guys who got kicked off the soccer team in high school or who were just too small to play any other position. Seriously, can you imagine Martin Grammatica playing wide receiver? He’d die, simple as that.
I suppose everything in life these days is heading towards more specialization and it’s rare that you find a renaissance man who can perform more than one task (unlike the ubermensch pictured here). But it’s kind of a shame that guys like Carlos Zambrano and Micah Owings are more the exception than the rule.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no purist and I have no desire for things to go back to the days of Babe Ruth or Bronko Nagurski. If you think players get injured a lot now, just imagine if they had to do double duty. But, I think we can shed a single tear for the end of an era before we except our new, super-specialized overlords.