Tell Pete Rose to crawl back under his rock

Pete Rose really isn’t worth this sentence.
I’m referring to the sentence I just wrote, not the sentence he’s currently serving. The only reason I’m wasting my time on Pete Rose is because this is the weekend and traffic’s going to be down, so I’ll save my worthwhile stuff for a higher-traffic day.

If you’ve never heard of Pete Rose, be glad. If you wish to lose your innocence, here’s Pete Rose in a nutshell: Pete Rose was a baseball player. He played baseball more than 20 years, mostly for the Cincinnati Reds. He holds the record for the most hits recorded by a baseball player. The previous record had stood for nearly 60 years when Rose broke it. (The previous record-holder, Ty Cobb, was a horse’s… backside, but he was honest.) Rose was banned from baseball for life in 1989 for betting on the game. He bet on baseball 400 times. Since that time, he’s been convicted of tax fraud and served time, and he’s also been accused of drug trafficking.

So how was he as a player? His nickname was Charlie Hustle. It wasn’t a term of endearment. Early in his career, other players didn’t like him much. He didn’t have a lot of natural ability. People talk about how Rose was an All-Star at five different positions. What they forget is that he was an All-Star at five different positions because he was one of those players who could play a lot of positions badly. The Reds played him where they could hide him. But to Rose’s credit, he ran out every ball he hit–no doubt some of his hits would have been outs with a more lackadaisical player running–and he took reasonably good care of himself, so he wasn’t hurt a lot and he was still able to play, albeit with severely diminished skills, into his 40s.

But that was part of the problem. As player-manager of the Reds, Rose kept penciling his name into the lineup long after he’d accomplished everything he was going to accomplish as a player, to the detriment of the team. Gary Redus, his center fielder, complained Rose was hurting the Reds by playing himself at first base in 1985, when he could have played slugger Nick Esasky at first base and opened up left field for the fleet-footed Eddie Milner, or for a prospect like Eric Davis or Paul O’Neill. But Pete Rose was too busy chasing glory to do anything like that.

In the 1970 All Star game, Pete Rose barrelled over Cleveland Indians catcher Ray Fosse. Fosse, the best young catcher in the game at the time, was injured in the play and never was the same after that. Rose ruined Fosse’s career, in a game that didn’t even count.

Baseball fans, let’s face it: Pete Rose was David Eckstein without the class.

Rose apologists are quick to point out that none of this is particularly relevant. And to a degree they’re right. Ty Cobb barrelled over more than a few players in his day, and Detroit’s left fielder hated Cobb so much that the team moved Cobb from center field to right field just to keep the two of them away from each other. You don’t ban a guy for life for being a jerk or a poor judge of his own ability or a bad fielder. And Rose apologists point out that Dads pointed to Pete Rose and told their kids they should play baseball like him. (Except for my dad. My dad pointed to Pete Rose and told me if he ever caught me playing baseball like him, he’d beat me senseless. My dad told me to be like George Brett, who played just as hard, was a better hitter anyway, and had class.)

But there’s something a lot of people forget about. A little rule that’s posted in every baseball clubhouse.

The rule, restated simply, says that if you’re involved in any way with a baseball team and you bet on baseball games, you’re banned for a year. And if you’re involved in any way with a baseball team and bet on a game involving your own team, you’re banned for life.

The evidence against Pete Rose isn’t all available to the public. There’s a lot of hearsay that Rose bet on his own team. But even if Rose didn’t, according to the letter of the law, Rose should have been banned for 400 years.

That wouldn’t have been a lifetime ban for Methuselah (assuming he was under age 569 at the time of the last bet), but it would be for Pete Rose and me. And probably you too.

There is a precedent. In 1920, eight members of the Chicago White Sox–pitchers Eddie Cicotte and Claude “Lefty” Williams; infielders Buck Weaver, Arnold “Chick” Gandil, Fred McMullin, and Charles “Swede” Risberg; and outfielders Oscar “Happy” Felsch and “Shoeless Joe” Jackson–were banned from baseball for life for conspiring with gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series (ironically, against the Cincinnati Reds). Although found innocent in a federal court of law, their statistics were struck off the record books and they could never so much as buy a ticket for a professional baseball game.

The ringleaders were Cicotte and Gandil. Most people believe that Jackson and Weaver were innocent–that Weaver knew about it and didn’t tell, and that Jackson knew about it, told, and went so far as to ask to be benched, but took money from the gamblers.

The ban stood until Jackson’s death in 1951.

Of the eight, the only likely Hall of Famer was Jackson. Lefty Williams was only in his fifth full season, and Cicotte would be a questionable candidate if he were eligible, though extrapolated out to a 20-year-career, both pitchers probably would have made it. But since people aren’t elected to the Hall based on what might have been, neither is likely. But Jackson had already distinguished himself by hitting .408 at age 21. Every other player who ever hit .400 over the course of a full season in the modern era is in the Hall of Fame.

Not that it matters any, but some guy nobody’s ever heard of, a guy named Babe Ruth, claimed he learned his batting style by watching Shoeless Joe.

I’m sure by now you’ve sensed my disdain for Rose and at least a small bit of admiration for Jackson.

So I’m going to surprise you by saying I believe Pete Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame. Anyone who hits 3,215 singles belongs in the Hall of Fame.

Sensing a problem, I asked my evil twin, R. Collins Farquhar IV, what he thought. This is a transcript of what he said:

I, of course, have a Solomon-like solution. (One of my favorite things about myself is that I’m so wise. One of my other favorite things about myself is that I’m so humble.) Pete Rose is banned from American Cricket for life. This also disqualifies him from the game’s quaint Hall of Fame. For life. When Pete Rose dies, his life is over, and thus his ban is over. So the simpletons should just wait until Pete Rose dies, and then elect him to the Hall of Fame.

I of course find it disturbing that I agree with everything R. Collins Farquhar IV said about Pete Rose, though not quite everything he said about himself.

What Pete Rose wants most is attention. What Pete Rose needs least is attention. Rose agreed in 1989 to a lifetime ban, and “lifetime” doesn’t mean 13 years. Rose received more than he deserved by getting the privelige of agreeing to it. Joe Jackson didn’t get to agree to his ban.

Had Rose ever shown any signs of remorse, it would probably be different. Steve Howe showed remorse. Darryl Strawberry showed remorse. When they messed up one too many times (or maybe it was because they were just too old to have any chance of being able to come back and be effective ballplayers), baseball sent them packing. Rose apologists point to both of them. But Rose has always been defiant, not remorseful. If he’s sorry, he’s sorry he got caught.

Put Joe Jackson in the Hall of Fame. He’s been dead 51 years. He’s paid his dues.

Let Pete Rose watch Joe Jackson go in. Then let him slither back under that rock he came from and ignore him. And after he dies, there’s no need to wait 51 years. Just put him on the ballot, and the people who saw him play can go on and on about what a great hitter he was, and how fun it was to watch him play the game (A David Eckstein without class can still be fun to watch), and he can go through the same voting process everyone else goes through, and he’ll be elected to the Hall of Fame, likely on the first ballot, and more likely in a red uniform than an orange one.

And then, finally, justice will all be served.

Phillies’ signing of Thome is about confidence, not wins

The Phillies just signed the most popular slugger in Cleveland Indians’ history, inking a 6-year, $87 million deal.
Analysts note that with Thome in the lineup instead of Travis Lee, the Phillies would have scored about 70 more runs last season. They still would have been fourth in the league, even with those extra 70 runs. That’s not enough to guarantee you’ll be the fourth team in the playoffs.

Analysts also noted that for the past few years, Thome has spent a good deal of time as the DH rather than playing in the field, and they doubt Thome will be capable of playing first base for the last year or even two years of his contract.

Also, last week, Philadelphia signed David Bell to play third base, replacing Placido Polanco. Bell’s a better hitter than Polanco, but not by much. Bell’s a better fielder than Polanco (at least at third), but not by very much.

But this trend isn’t about fielding. It’s not so much even about scoring runs. I’m not even convinced it’s about winning ball games. This is about confidence.

You see, a year ago, the Phillies had the best third baseman in baseball and the second-best third baseman in their team’s history (second only to Mike Schmidt, who is one of the three best third basemen who ever lived). The Phillies offered Scott Rolen a pile of money to sign a long-term contract. But Scott Rolen wasn’t convinced the Phillies wanted to win badly enough. He refused a couple of offers, slumped, got into some arguments with manager Larry Bowa, and eventually was traded to the Cardinals for whatever they could manage to get for him, preferring that to losing him to free agency.

It wasn’t that long ago that Philadelphia lost Curt Schilling, one of the best pitchers in the game today, pretty much the same way.

Rolen rediscovered his swing, and helped the Cardinals get to the postseason. Schilling dueled Randy Johnson for the Cy Young Award two years straight, and along with Johnson was the hero of the 2001 World Series, and was practically unbeatable up until the 2002 postseason.

Meanwhile, the Phillies looked like they’d given up and entered a rebuilding phase as they got ready to open an expensive new ballpark. And Philadelphia fans are notoriously unforgiving. We’re talking fans who’ll boo Santa Claus.

And the Phillies have lots of young, exciting players whose contracts are running out.

Signing David Bell and Jim Thome proves the Phillies are willing to spend some money. This will make unhappy players play better (witness Scott Rolen’s performance after coming to St. Louis versus his so-so performance in Philadelphia last year). Bell has become one of those players who always seems to find himself playing for a winner. Young players need that influence. Bell, at least theoretically, brings value beyond the numbers he puts up. If it were about numbers, the Phillies would have acquired Joe Randa, who makes much less money, and the Phillies could have had Joe Randa for a bag of baseballs and a vial of dirt scraped off one of Mike Schmidt’s spikes. But Joe Randa’s never played for a winner.

And Jim Thome’s a big, burly, buff guy who hits monsterous home runs by the truckload and excites fans. The Phillies haven’t had a truly great power hitter since Mike Schmidt. In his best year, Schmidt hit 48 home runs and batted .286. Jim Thome hit 52 home runs and batted .304 last year.

In 1997, the St. Louis Cardinals were missing something. They had the opportunity to trade for Mark McGwire. McGwire hit a bunch of towering home runs and captured the fans’ imagination and helped the Cardinals lure some other great players, most notably center fielder Jim Edmonds, to St. Louis.

The Phillies want Jim Thome to come in and be Mark McGwire.

The Phillies covet former Braves pitcher Tom Glavine. Glavine’s been one of the best left-handed pitchers in the National League for the past decade. The Braves and Mets are also interested in Glavine. But the Braves made him a half-hearted offer and seem to be more interested in unloading salary than in making another playoff run. The Mets are coming off a last-place finish and they’re trying to find someone willing to take Jeromy Burnitz and Mo Vaughn’s contracts. Meanwhile, the Phillies have just signed two of the most coveted players in the free agent market. The Phillies’ offer is comparable to the Mets’ offer. Glavine wants money, of course, but he also wants to win another World Series before he retires. Who do you think he’s most interested in pitching for now?

David Bell alone doesn’t make the Phillies a better team. Jim Thome alone makes the Phillies a marginally better team. David Bell plus Jim Thome plus Tom Glavine signal a commitment to win, at least for the next few years, which will draw out the best in the players they have and make other players interested, as well as draw fans, which creates revenue, which can be used to pursue other quality players.

Those are the ingredients of a dynasty.

Now the Phillies just have to figure out how to mix them properly.

Baseball strategy 101

Bottom of the ninth inning. Two out. The lightning-fast Rafael Furcal on third base. The aged Julio Franco on first. Down by two runs. Two men left on the bench: Wes Helms, who’ll be pinch-hitting if pitcher John Smoltz comes up later in the inning, and Steve Torrealba, your .059(!)-hitting third-string catcher.
You’ve got to stay out of the double play because you want to get to Chipper Jones, who hits Robb Nen as well as anybody. You have no choice but to save Helms. And Julio Franco isn’t fast anymore, but he’s always faster than your third-string catcher.

What do you do?

You call down to the bullpen, where Greg Maddux is warming up, and have him run for Franco, that’s what you do.

Insanity? Probably. But here’s how I see it.

Maddux can still run the bases. He can almost certainly run the bases better than Franco. You have to get Chipper Jones to the plate at any cost. If Jones hits a homer, the game’s through, so the rest is a non-issue. If Jones doesn’t hit a homer and Wes Helms has to hit for Smoltz and the Braves end up only tying the game, no problem. Helms is a first baseman. Helms stays in to play first. Maddux stays in the game to pitch. The result is just an unconventional double switch.

And Maddux is exactly who you want pitching in extra innings in a do-or-die game. Normally a starter, Maddux can give you innings. And Maddux could potentially contribute with his bat.

But it’s all a non-issue now. The Giants closed down the Braves with Jones in the on-deck circle. The Giants are coming to St. Louis.

So it’s Angels-Twins in the AL, Giants-Cardinals in the NL. The usual suspects of October are going to be watching from their living rooms.

It’s a very different October.

How to reinvigorate the Royals

Please indulge me one last time this season to write about my beloved, who have currently lost 99 games and are going to make one last valiant attempt to avoid losing 100 this year.
The Royals are a small market. Small-market teams have a rough go of it, yes. But the Minnesota Twins have been doing OK. The Twins have some vision and a plan and they stick with their plan, and that’s part of it. So here’s what we need to do to duplicate that success.

1. Build a superstar. Back in George Brett’s heyday, the Royals had no payroll problems. The fans came out to see Brett, the Royals spent that money to get more players, and since the Royals had winning records, the fans kept coming. In the late 1980s, a bad season meant the Royals didn’t win any championships. But they had winning records. The Royals nearly have that superstar. His name is Mike Sweeney. He’s got a sweet swing like Brett. He’s got plate discipline like Brett. And he’s even more likeable than Brett. When Brett was Sween’s age, he partied as hard as he played. Sween takes care of himself and he takes care of his fiancee and he takes care of his community. The only people who don’t like Mike Sweeney are opposing pitchers.

But Mike Sweeney’s protection in the order is The Mighty Raul Ibanez. Now, The Mighty Ibanez has turned into a good hitter, but he’s not an All-Star. He’s a better hitter than a 50-year-old George Brett. That’s saying something. But to build a superstar, what the Royals really need to do it

And Mike Sweeney needs to get together with Dave Dravecky to put together a project talking about the Christian symbolism in baseball. (Pitchers can’t hit but it’s part of their job. Designated hitters come in and do that part of their job for them. Sound kinda like Christianity? I think so. I think God’s in favor of the DH.)

2. Sign Jim Thome. Jim Thome doesn’t fit into Cleveland’s plans anymore. Blame it on mass insanity. Blame it on tightfistedness. Blame it on whatever. But the Indians don’t want Jim Thome. And guess what? Jim Thome likes Kansas City. I don’t blame him. In Kansas City, if you’re on the highway and you want to change lanes, you use your turn signal and someone lets you. In Kansas City, strangers smile at you for no reason. When the now-departed Miguel Batista arrived in Kansas City at the airport after a trade, some little old lady walked up to him and said, “You’re our new pitcher. Let me get one of your bags.” People are just nice.

Yes, Jim Thome’s going to cost buckets of money. But guess what? He won’t cost more than Roberto Hernandez and Neifi Perez cost combined. So here’s what you do. Rotate Jim Thome and Mike Sweeney between first base and designated hitter. Then try out this lineup:

Michael Tucker, 2b
Carlos Beltran, cf
Mike Sweeney, 1b
Jim Thome, dh
Raul Ibanez, rf
Joe Randa, 3b
Mark Quinn/Dee Brown lf
Angel Berroa, ss
Brent Mayne, c

We’ll talk about the Michael Tucker insanity in a second. Jim Thome’s .300 average and 52 home runs will make Mike Sweeney look a whole lot better to pitch to. It virtually guarantees he’ll hit .340 again, because pitchers will look forward to the half of the time he makes an out. Jim Thome will see good pitches because Mike Sweeney’s on base. Or someone else is. The Royals will score lots more runs. Meanwhile, Mark Quinn and Dee Brown have Jim Thome to learn from. The Royals’ lineup suddenly starts to look like the great Cardinals teams of the 1980s that had lots of jackrabbits who could hit doubles and one really big bat in the middle. Except Mike Sweeney and Raul Ibanez offer better protection than Jack Clark ever had in a Cardinal uniform.

3. Try Michael Tucker at second base. The Royals need a second baseman who can hit. Tucker’s not a great hitter for an outfielder, but he’s a really good hitter for a second baseman. He won’t be a great fielder. But the 1984 Padres solved two problems by moving Alan Wiggins from left field to second base. They got a good hitter at the position, and they freed left field for another bat. The Padres kept Jerry Royster around to play second in the late innings. The Royals can keep Carlos Febles for defense late in the game.

4. If the Tucker experiment fails, move Carlos Beltran to leadoff and Joe Randa to the #2 spot in the batting order. The Royals don’t score any runs because Mike Sweeney doesn’t have enough people on base in front of him. The Royals often give away their first out by having people like Chuck Knoblauch and Neifi Perez and Carlos Febles hitting leadoff. Joe Randa’s no speed demon anymore, but he gets on base. And he’s got enough power that a lot of times, when he gets on base, he gets on second base. Carlos Beltran gets on base. Mike Sweeney needs to hit with people on base. If the Royals were to sign Jim Thome, he’d be worthless without people on base. So disregard the traditional idea that your first two hitters should be your fastest runners, and just get some people on base. Carlos Beltran is your leadoff hitter anyway with him hitting second. Might as well accept reality and work with it.

5. Develop young pitchers. In 1985, the Royals brought in Jim Sundberg, a veteran catcher who couldn’t hit to handle their young pitchers. The formula of young pitchers with lots of good stuff and a catcher who knew how to guide them brought them to the World Series, and, ultimately, to a World Championship. Time will tell if any of today’s young pitchers will turn into Bret Saberhagen or even Mark Gubicza. Since the Royals can’t afford to go sign Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux (and since they wouldn’t score any runs for them anyway), they don’t have much choice but to take the chance. But since the Royals have been throwing their young pitchers’ arms out (witness Jose Rosado, Chad Durbin, and Dan Reichert) they need to re-think the way they develop their young pitchers. Throw fewer innings and watch more videotape.

And be patient. Greg Maddux spent two years as a so-so relief pitcher and sometime starter before he blossomed into the greatest pitcher of his generation.

Hmm. I’m already looking forward to April 2003.

Will today ruin baseball?

Well, it’s strike day. I haven’t talked about it. I was hoping if I ignored it, it would go away. That strategy rarely works, but there’s always a first time.
Let’s face it: This is the Crybaby Billionaire Boys’ Club vs. the Crybaby Millionaire Boys’ Club.

Players complain about how they used to be treated as slaves. Well, they aren’t anymore. The league minimum–the minimum is more than some doctors make. Baseball players work nine months out of the year, counting spring training. They have to travel a lot, but they don’t have to work full 8-hour days, usually. When they do work, they do things I do for fun (and usually have to pay to do).

Yes, in the 1960s, there was a problem. Those problems have been solved for a very long time. Players’ greatest fears are that their salaries won’t necessarily double at the same rate they did before. Well, boo-hoo. Today a decent utility infielder makes what George Brett made at his peak, and George Brett isn’t hurting.

Now, the players talk down about the fans. Even Neifi Perez talks down to the fans. Neifi Perez! The worst everyday player in the majors. Mr. .257 on-base-percentage. Mr. Where-have-you-gone-Donnie-Sadler?, for crying out loud! “They’re just fans,” Neifi says. “What do they know?”

Who cares what the fans know? (What I know is that Felix Martinez isn’t the worst shortstop in Royals history anymore.) They pay your salary. Though it’s certain Perez won’t be back in Kansas City next year, and questionable whether he’ll be playing baseball at all. Serves him right. He’s a lousy player and a jerk. Kansas City deserves better. For that matter, Baghdad deserves better.

I don’t have any sympathy for the players.

The owners complain about competitive imbalance and salaries rising too quickly. The problems are largely their own making, but at least most of them recognize there is a problem and are trying to solve it. As recently as ten years ago, there was no way of knowing who was going to be a contender. You could take a good guess, but several teams would always surprise you. Is anyone really surprised the Yankees and the Braves are the teams to beat this year?

Now Oakland and Minnesota have proven you can create a winner on a budget. They spend smart. That’s good. Not every small or medium-market team spends smart. But when New York can spend five times what a small-market team spends, there’s a problem. Oakland lost Jason Giambi to the Yankees; in a few years they won’t be able to afford to keep both Eric Chavez and Miguel Tejada either. Who cares about the players or the owners–that’s unfair to the fans.

Most of the owners are on the same page. Even Tom Hicks, who can’t seem to spend his way out of last place but not for lack of trying, wants a luxury tax and revenue sharing. He sees the need for rules to follow. George Steinbrenner won’t be happy until every team but the Yankees is bankrupt and the second-best team in baseball is the Columbus Clippers, the Yankees’ AAA affiliate. But he’s in the minority.

The owners are being the more reasonable of the two. That feels weird to say. Isn’t that kind of like saying Ayatollah Khomeini was reasonable about something?

A lot of people are saying if there’s a strike, they won’t be back. Some of them will make good on that promise. I know I’ll be back. Baseball’s broken. I see this strike like a car crash to an alcoholic. You don’t wish the car crash on anybody, but if the car crash leads to the person finally seeing the problem and doing something about it, then the car crash can do some good. With some people, it takes a car crash. But with some people, even a car crash isn’t enough.

And the players and owners are just like that drunk behind the wheel–not giving a rip who gets hurt as a result of their irresponsible actions. Who cares about the people who make their living selling concessions at the ballpark? Not the players and owners. That’s an established fact.

I’ll be mad if they can’t come to an agreement before the deadline. But I’ll be madder if the strike doesn’t accomplish anything. There’s only one thing worse than a drunk, and that’s an incurable drunk.

I know what we need. A few good men who love baseball–who love baseball more than money–need to step up to the plate and do the right thing. And no, I don’t really care if that happens tomorrow, or if it happens during a lockout in spring training while Jason Grimsley and Johnny Damon and Todd Zeile and Steve Kline sit at home.

I think it might be refreshing to watch a bunch of guys who’ve never touched steroids, who are actually glad to be getting paid to do what we used to do at recess, and who play every inning like it’s the 9th inning of Game 7 of the World Series, don’t you?

But there are no promises. So we wait. And I’m fully aware that if the worst happens, I might be the only baseball fan left.

That’s OK by me. I’m a Kansas City Royals fan. I’m used to being alone.

Darrell Porter is still worthy of respect

The Jackson County medical examiner announced Monday that Darrell Porter died of side effects from the recreational use of cocaine.
I should have recognized the tell-tale signs. I didn’t. I didn’t want to.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I don’t think any less of Darrell Porter now that it’s public knowledge that he had a lapse more than 22 years after he was released from rehab. He was one of my heroes because of the way he played baseball, the way he conducted himself off the field, and the way he confronted his problems head-on and never backed down. Recent events only serve to prove Darrell Porter was a human being after all.

Darrell Porter left home late last Monday afternoon with an odd story. He wanted to go get a newspaper and go to a park and read it. He went to a park 30 minutes away from home–a place he liked to go to fish.

He told his wife he was going to get a newspaper. Whitey Herzog said it looked like he wanted to go fishing. But why would Darrell Porter lie about going fishing?

I don’t know anything about the psychology behind that kind of behavior. What I do know is my dad used to exhibit the same kind of behavior. He’d disappear for hours at a time, and often the story wasn’t straight. He’d tell Mom one thing and tell me another. Sometimes he really was doing what he said he was doing. Sometimes he was drinking.

My dad was an alcoholic. He gained his ultimate victory over his addiction Nov. 6, 1994. That was the day he died.

Likewise, Darrell Porter gained the ultimate victory over his addiction Aug. 5, 2002.

His own words are telling. “God humbled me. I fear Him and I know He loves me, and I’m trying to get where He wants me. I wouldn’t say I’ve overcome anything yet, but I’m on the right track.”

Those words are vague enough to give room to hide in–words that reluctantly admit something less than total victory. But he was right. He was on the right track. In the late 1970s, his drug habit exhibited itself in fits of rage and paranoia, fits that often hurt others, not only emotionally but sometimes physically.

In 2002, it manifested itself as something of a double life–a moment of weakness, isolated from family and home and other people. Irresponsible? Yes. He shouldn’t have been operating a motor vehicle on cocaine. But he knew enough to go off somewhere to indulge his desire where he couldn’t harm anyone but himself.

Why not reach out for help again? Wouldn’t that have made him look even stronger? Those are easy questions for me to ask. I’m not living what he lived. But the hardest words for any human being to utter are, “I’m sorry.” I think the second hardest to utter are, “Help me.” It was easier to count the costs, figure out how to minimize the possible damage, indulge the moment of weakness, and when it was over, it was over. Go back to daily life. Yes, there was guilt to live with. But at least it was the guilt of harming himself, rather than the double guilt of harming himself and harming his family.

Do I think this was a regular occurrence? Frankly it’s none of my business. And I’ll never know. The case is closed. There will be no investigation into how Darrell Porter got his cocaine, or how frequently he used it, or what else he might have used.

Do I think any less of God, seeing that Darrell Porter was a strong and outspoken Christian and yet lived with and ultimately died from this struggle? No. God forgives us and He strengthens us, as we can see from Darrell Porter’s actions. In his moment of weakness in 2002, he still showed more strength than in 1979. There were no brawls. No one else was hurt. Is God capable of completely curing us from our addictions? Yes. Does He always? No. Why? I don’t know.

I don’t believe Darrell Porter was a hypocrite. Hypocrisy is something Christians are frequently accused of, and sometimes rightly so. But our problems don’t all completely go away when we convert. Sometimes they get worse. Let’s face it: Darrell Porter was a big target. If I’m the devil and my goal is to thwart God and His people, who am I going to pay more attention to? A hard-drinking, pill-popping, cocaine-sniffing catcher who’s batting .208? No. I’ve already got him where I want him. What about a community pillar who spends most of his time talking to people about addiction and overcoming it and the role God should play in your life, whether you’re addicted or not? That second guy is going to get a whole lot more of my time and resources. Of course the temptation never went away. He lived with it every single day. And I think that as time rolled on, further and futher from 1980, the intensity probably only grew worse. Cocaine has zero appeal to me, but I’m sure at times it meant the world to him. And whether that lapse happened once in his lifetime or once every couple of weeks, it doesn’t make much difference in my mind.

What’s important isn’t that Darrell Porter relapsed at least once. What’s important was that he faced his problem and he got it under control. Not perfect control. But control nonetheless.

There are too many stories about people who shook their addictions and somehow turned into Superman and never touched the stuff again. Those kinds of stories are encouraging when you’re first trying to overcome. But when you slip and fall, eventually you get tired of hearing about it. Somehow, since that person reached a goal that you can’t, it makes you less of a person in your own mind.

In his book Snap Me Perfect, Darrell Porter recounted a lapse he had in the early 1980s–probably 1981 or 1982–with beer. He picked himself back up again and tried to carry on.

That’s why I looked up to him for 22 years. And that’s why that won’t change now.

St. Louis just lost more than a great catcher

Darrell Porter went out to get a newspaper, and he never came home.
That night, it rained in St. Louis. It was as if the earth was weeping. As it should. Now a catcher has gone home to play baseball with late Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile. But when this world lost Darrell Porter, it lost more than a former MVP and three-time All-Star. It lost one of the finest examples of a human being who ever played the game. Porter overcame drug and alcohol addiction in 1980. Today, people hold your hand when you’re famous and addicted. In 1980, they just looked down on you.

Darrell Porter didn’t let that stop him. In spring training in 1980, former Dodgers pitcher and recovered alcoholic Don Newcombe paid the team a visit. He asked 10 questions, and said if you answered yes to three of them, you might have a problem with drugs or alcohol. Porter answered yes to all 10 questions. So he checked himself into a rehab center. He cleaned up. He started going to church and got right with God. And he dedicated his life to trying to keep others from making the same mistakes he made. He figured he became famous for a reason, and he ought to use his fame and name recognition for something.

So he quietly went out helping people. In 1984, he wrote a book. We’re not talking a tell-all book like Jose Canseco plans to write. Don’t get me wrong, Porter told all. But he told about the person he knew best: himself. With brutal honesty. It’s been years since I read it, but I remember him talking frankly about getting together with his buddies and snorting cocaine through rolled-up $100 bills and drinking like tomorrow would never come. He talked about checking into rehab in 1980, and he talked about lapsing once, stopping at a gas station on the way home one day, and buying a beer. He left the empty bottle in his car. Part of him wanted his wife to find it. She did.

He was candid about what drugs and alcohol did to his career. In 1979, he had the finest year a Royals catcher ever had, batting .291 with 20 home runs and driving in 112. Those aren’t just good numbers for a catcher, those are good numbers for Johnny Bench. But that was the end of the road. He peaked at age 27. He played another 8 years, but his career numbers were much more pedestrian. For the rest of his career, he was an average defensive catcher and an average hitter who could occasionally pop one out of the park. His old self only surfaced when the game was on the line. He often told people his drug and alcohol abuse destroyed his career. That’s a bit harsh–he played for 16 years, eight on drugs and eight off–but it’s easy to see that something kept him from being everything he could be.

Porter spoke to one of the Christian groups on campus at the University of Missouri while I was a student there. I’d thought about going, because Porter had been one of my heroes growing up. For some reason I didn’t, and I don’t remember the reason. It might have been that I had a test, or a story deadline. Or it might have been something stupid. Like a story deadline.

That was what Porter’s life after baseball was like. He quietly volunteered his time wherever he was needed. He didn’t go looking for more fame.

A fan recounted meeting Porter recently at a game on a St. Louis Post-Dispatch discussion board. He asked Porter to sign an old poster. He signed it, and then the fan asked him to write “1982 World Series MVP” under his name. The fan recalled that Porter was very flattered to be asked to write that, maybe even flattered that the fan remembered that. Porter wasn’t one to advertise his three All-Star appearances, or the two MVP awards he won in 1982.

Since Porter didn’t go running around, looking for chances to make appearances and introducing himself as “Darrell Porter, three-time All-Star catcher for the Kansas City Royals and 1982 National League Championship Series and 1982 World Series MVP for the St. Louis Cardinals,” not a lot of people remember him. But the people who do remember him will miss him.

Porter showed up at the Royals’ spring training this year, some 22 years after he left the team and 15 years after he retired from baseball. He wanted to learn broadcasting. Broadcasters Denny Matthews and Ryan Lefebvre spent some time with him and he impressed them. He worked hard, bought his own equipment, brought it with him, and learned as much as he could from the professionals. If he was going to go into broadcasting, it was going to be because he was a good sportscaster, not because he was Darrell Porter, three-time All-Star catcher for the Kansas City Royals and 1982 National League Championship Series MVP and 1982 World Series MVP for the St. Louis Cardinals. Matthews and Lefebvre wanted to put him on the air this year.

Nobody knows exactly what happened. Porter told his wife he was going to get a newspaper and go to a park to read it. That I understand. If you’re interested in broadcasting, you keep up on the news. I use the Internet to do that, but if you’re a 50-year-old retired baseball player, you might not want to use the Internet. Besides, it’s hard to get Internet access in a park. Why would someone go to a park to read a newspaper in 97-degree heat? Remember, Darrell Porter was a catcher, and he spent most of his career on Astroturf. At Royals Stadium and Busch Stadium in the early 1980s, it could reach 110 degrees or more on the playing surface in the summer. Porter was bearing that heat with all that padding.

And once a baseball player, always a baseball player. He probably just wanted to be outside, away from telephones, away from everything else. If you’re not a baseball player, you don’t understand. I understand.

What I don’t understand is which park he chose to visit. He lived in Lee’s Summit, but he drove to a park half an hour away. Maybe he just couldn’t make up his mind. I remember driving around for half an hour one night back in March looking for someplace to run sprints. But I ended up at a park about five miles from home. I guess it sort of makes sense. But only sort of.

Porter got to the park, but he ran his car off the road. There was a tree stump alongside that wasn’t visible in the grass, and his car got stuck. At 5:26 pm, someone drove past, saw the car on the side of the road, and saw a man lying next to it. The driver alerted police. Police arrived soon afterward and found Darrell Porter, dead. The coroner speculates he was trying to free his car and was overcome by the heat.

He left behind a wife and three kids: a 20-year-old daughter and two teenaged sons. They’re going to have a hard time dealing with this. Their dad was just 50. He was supposed to have 25 years left in him. Now he’s gone, and no one knows why, and although they might not want to admit it, they’re at the ages when they probably need him most. I was 19 when my dad died at 51.

There are a few people out there like Darrell Porter. Genuinely nice people, real people, honest, down-to-earth people. People who want more than anything else just to make a difference, who come in and take charge of a bad situation and leave it a better place when they move on. You have to look for those kinds of people, but they’re out there.

It’s a shame to lose people like that, especially at such a cruelly young age. You can never have too many of those.

Darrell, I’m sorry I didn’t hit that home run for you tonight. I was trying too hard. I’m sure you understand. But I’m going to pay you the highest compliment I know, and when I say this, I mean it, with everything I’ve got.

We’ll miss you.

This year, Selig outshines even Steinbrenner

Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is considered prudent. –Proverbs 17:28
Bud Selig has once again opened his mouth and is calling the Minnesota Twins, despite their raging success this year–and not-so-shabby last year–a candidate for contraction.

Translation: Twins owner Carl Pohlad loaned me money a few years ago, even though it was against baseball’s rules, but that’s OK because I enforce the rules, and now he can sell the team to the rest of the owners and I can make them pay more money than he could get by selling the team outright, so I’m going to do him that favor, no matter how bad it makes baseball look.

They talked during the All-Star Game about how Bud Selig once sold Joe Torre a car. That’s appropriate, because Selig is still spewing as much crap as a used-car salesman and he doesn’t know where to stop.

I really don’t understand is why Selig, in this era of corporate scandal that destroyed Enron and WorldCom and Martha Stewart and now threatens the AOL Time Warner empire, is willing to do anything that has even the most remote appearance of corruption. But maybe Selig’s like a 16-year-old with a red Lamborghini, an attractive girl riding shotgun, and a fifth of whiskey. The worst possible outcome always happens to the other guy, right?

And the ironic thing is that in 1995, Carl Pohlad’s company loaned Bud Selig money, because Bud Selig’s Milwaukee Brewers needed money.

Hmm. The Brewers ran out of money. The Brewers’ owner went to the Twins’ owner for money. Interesting.

The Brewers last went to the World Series in 1982. They lost in seven games. The Twins went to the big show in 1987 and won. They went again in 1991. They won. In 2001, the Twins went 85-77 and finished second in their division and even finished second in the wild-card race. The Brewers finished 68-94 and did what they almost always seem to do best: prop the Cubs up in the standings.

I know of a team in the northern midwest that seems like an excellent candidate for contraction. And that team would be:

The Milwaukee Brewers.

Leave the Twins alone.

But don’t get me wrong. Selig isn’t a complete waste. Selig is doing an outstanding job of frustrating George Steinbrenner. You see, before Selig became the most hated man in baseball, Steinbrenner had been the undisputed champion, for about 30 years. But don’t get me wrong. Steinbrenner’s having a great year. Why, last week he accused Major League Baseball of conspiring against him. He wanted superstar outfielder Cliff Floyd. Floyd went from Florida to Montreal to Steinbrenner’s archrival, the Boston Red Sox. Now it’s conspiracy.

That’s the way Steinbrenner thinks. A few years ago, George Brett had dinner with George Steinbrenner. Back in Brett’s heyday, the Yankees and Brett’s Kansas City Royals were big rivals. They met in the playoffs in 1976, 1977, 1978, and 1980. The Yankees won three of four years. At some point in their conversation, Brett noticed his view of Steinbrenner’s face was blocked by a menu, so Brett moved it. Steinbrenner put it back. “I can’t stand looking at you,” Steinbrenner said.

“Why?” Brett asked.

“You beat us too many times in the playoffs,” Steinbrenner said.

Brett asked if beating the Yankees once counted as “too many times.” Steinbrenner said yes.

Now you know why I rooted for the buy-a-championship Arizona Diamondbacks in the World Series last year. Yeah, I wanted the Cardinals to go. But I wanted Steinbrenner to not get what he wanted.

But Steinbrenner’s not just an immature little kid who’s not willing to share his toys. Two weeks ago, Roger Clemens was making a rehab start at Class A Tampa. The home-plate umpire was–horror of horrors–a woman! Well, Steinbrenner was horrified. They were mishandling his pitcher.

Earth to Steinbrenner: A rehab start is about throwing pitches to real-live batters to see a few things. First and foremost, does it hurt? Second, can you throw seven innings? Third, does it hurt?

Earth to Steinbrenner, again: Gender has nothing to do with the ability to see, to know the rules, and call balls and strikes.

Earth to Steinbrenner: The male umpires who call balls and strikes in the major leagues seem to have never read the rulebook, because they never call a strike above the belt. So if your theory that women don’t call balls and strikes the way men do happens to be true, having a woman behind the plate was probably a very good thing, and I eagerly await the day when we see women umps in the Big Leauges.

Then Steinbrenner said Ms. Cortesia should go back to umpiring Little League. “She wasn’t bad, but she wasn’t that good,” he said.

Clemens’ assesment: She did great.

So tell me who’s a better judge of an umpire’s ability: a loud, rude, obnoxious baseball owner, or a 40-year-old pitcher with 18 years’ experience in the major leagues?

Yep, Steinbrenner’s been in rare form these past couple of months. But he’s been eclipsed by Bud Selig. Pete Rose and Don Fehr are back and spewing as much garbage as ever, as well, and Ted Williams’ kids are doing their best to make everyone forget their dad’s Hall of Fame career. And Reds GM Jim Bowden made the mistake of invoking the memory of Sept. 11 when talking about a possible player’s strike. (He was wrong, of course. Sept. 11 destroyed two towers, but it didn’t destroy New York and it didn’t destroy America. A strike could destroy baseball.)

Yes, they’re all valiant attempts to look stupid. They’ve even managed to drown out baseball’s one-man wrecking crew, player agent Scott Boras. But none of them can hold a candle to Bud Selig.

It’s kind of like 1941. Joe DiMaggio had a great year in 1941. So great, he even won the MVP that year. But nobody remembers that anymore, because 1941 was the year Ted Williams batted .406. DiMaggio was the better overall player, and DiMaggio was the far bigger celebrity, and DiMaggio handled the limelight a lot better. But 1941 was Ted Williams’ year. Nothing could eclipse him. Not Luke Appling. Not Jimmie Foxx. Not even The Great DiMaggio.

2002 is Bud Selig’s year. Steinbrenner and Rose and Fehr and the rest of baseball’s repulsive bunch will be remembered for a lot of things, but saying the most stupid things in 2002 won’t be one of them.

A class act

The Royals–mired in an 8-game winning streak that has them within striking distance of third place–are more than just scrappy. They’ve got some players who are big-time class acts.
There’s superstar Mike Sweeney, who’s missed the past seven games because he strained a back muscle climbing into the back seat of a pickup truck and hunching down so his mother could sit in the front seat. Of course Sween would get hurt doing something nice. He’s always doing something nice.

Then there’s Paul Byrd. Read more

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