Peavy becomes the latest pitcher caught with “dirt” on his hand

And I had nothing to do with it. Like Kenny Rogers, there was something that looked a lot like pine tar on his hand, and he claimed it was rosin and dirt.

“Peavy laughs off dirty-hand controversy” runs the MLB.com headline, which obviously endorses one side of the controversy.

Here’s a great bit from the LA Times, though:

Dodgers pitching coach Rick Honeycutt was handed a picture of Jake Peavy, the image showing a dark substance on the thumb, forefinger and middle finger of the San Diego Padres ace’s extended right hand.

“Pine tar,” Honeycutt said. “Rosin’s not that dark.”

Rick Honeycutt, of course, was once caught scuffing balls up with a tack hidden in his glove while pitching in a game.

Another interesting angle here is that the story – much like the K-Rod story – blew up, generally without anyone citing the online source for the story.

From that MLB.com story:

Photos of a dark substance on Peavy’s hand circulated after he tossed a two-hitter in the Padres’ 4-1 victory over the Dodgers on Saturday at PETCO Park, a complete-game victory with eight strikeouts.

The images were reportedly still shots taken from the televised broadcast of the game.

When I ran the K-Rod stuff, ESPN built a segment on it including using the game footage timestamps I posted to do video freeze-frames they could highlight and show off their technical wizardry, but they never mentioned me (or the book) at all.

The best I saw any mainstream outlet say was that it started on “a Dodger message board” with no elaboration.

So while this kind of event, with fans armed with increasingly better tools and supplied with better-quality footage to use them on, is going to become only more common, that aspect of the story goes entirely uncovered.

They – and here I include MLB and ESPN along with other outlets – don’t know what to do with this kind of thing. They want to cover the controversy without creating a monster they can’t control. In the political world, sites like the Drudge Report control much of the news coverage, and that’s power other outlets often wish they hadn’t ceded. MLB doesn’t want every fan deputized, and ESPN doesn’t want sports news democratized, so — you see where that’s going.

Again, from the LA Times:

A Major League Baseball spokesman said that the commissioner’s office was aware of the existence of the photographs, but didn’t know whether it would launch an investigation. Bob Watson, baseball’s vice president of on-field operations, was forwarded the pictures via e-mail by The Times and was asked whether he would look into the matter, but never responded.

Lemme take a stab at this: they will do nothing.

Tainted stimulant excuse becomes less tainted

This is incredible:

A study scheduled to be released Wednesday and obtained by USA TODAY reports
that 13 of the 52 supplements (25%) purchased at various U.S. retailers
contained small amounts of steroids and six (11.5%) had banned stimulants.

What’s more, there’s a reference to another, earlier study I hadn’t heard about:

A study by the International Olympic Committee conducted from 2000 to 2002
showed 18.8% of the 240 supplements purchased in the USA contained steroids.

One of the common, and entirely justified, complaints of players is that there’s no way for them to know if the creatine they purchase has something else in it. This – again – points out the need for some kind of reasonable way for players to buy clean, well-tested supplements, whether that goes through a certification program, MLB and other sports band together to offer an inspection program — whatever.

It raises a whole new set of questions now becomes: if a player uses a protein supplement, say, with a “small amount” of steroids, would they test positive? For how long? What kind of steroids are showing up in commercially available supplements, and doesn’t that argue for FDA oversight?

If you get a large enough answer to those first questions, you can explain away every positive drug test as the result of actually taking tainted supplements:

player population * percent taking supplements and not any banned drug * percent tainted supplements * percent of time a tainted supplement causes positive test = number of players who test positive without knowingly taking steroids

1,200 players tested * 100% taking some kind of supplement * 25% of supplements have some small amount of steroids * 1% positive test rate from taking those supplements = 4 positives/season from tainted supplements.

Crazy.

hat-tip to MSB

Bonds indicted for perjury, obstruction of justice

From the Chronicle:

(11-15) 17:20 PST SAN FRANCISCO – Barry Bonds, the former Giants star and baseball’s career home run king, was indicted by a federal grand jury today on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in connection with the BALCO sports steroid scandal.

Bonds was indicted for allegedly making false statements to the grand jury that investigated the BALCO steroids distribution ring, the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco said. Bonds is accused of four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice.

The grand jury indictment’s a long way away from a conviction, of course, but it’s been increasingly obvious since the contents of his testimony leaked that Bonds was – at the very least – flirting with perjury charges. I — and I’m not a lawyer/prosecutor/whatever — have always been unable to believe that Bonds, who by all accounts is an absolute control freak about his nutrition, workout regimen, and all other aspects of his career, would be so involved in taking substances from BALCO and not know what they were, or what they would do.

I thought this would come during the season, actually, but sometimes these things take longer.

We’ll see where this goes, then. By all accounts they’ve got enough evidence in the form of seized dosage schedules and related evidence to make the case stick. This is likely to be ugly, ugly, ugly — particularly with Bonds’ achievements in this last season when he played under the shadow of this looming indictment.

Cameron’s stimulant suspension, advance drug test notification

Mike Cameron received a 25-day suspension for testing positive again under the stimulant policy. ESPN story. It’s the “tainted supplement” track, except with an interesting twist:

He later issued a statement through his agent, saying doctors for the players’ association helped him narrow down what triggered the positive test.

“After all of the analysis and testing, I can only conclude that a nutritional supplement I was taking was tainted,” he said. “Unfortunately, the actual supplement is gone, and therefore cannot be tested. Without the actual supplement in hand, the rules are clear, and I must accept the suspension.”

As skeptical as I am generally of the “supplement” use, I’ve also argued that the current rules are really hard on players, particularly players who don’t speak English as their first language. There’s no list of approved supplements (or there wasn’t last time I looked into this), no certification process, or anything. And you can’t expect players to run everything they take through a test themselves to determine if there are trace amounts of a different drug. I wanted to see MLB and the Players’ Association work together to start making inroads into the problem, and this may be a sign that the union, at least, is taking an active interest in looking into what supplements might cause problems for their players.

Anything that helps players avoid positive tests as a result of unintentional ingestion is good. If nothing else, it would help remove this excuse.

Over at the New York Times, a story today reports teams received advance notice of drug testing:

Drug testers contracted by the league routinely alert team officials a day or more before their arrival at ballparks for what is supposed to be random, unannounced testing of players. By eliminating the surprise factor, the practice undermines the integrity of the testing program, antidoping experts said.

Does it ever. Teams could alert their guys a day early? Wow. You wouldn’t be able to pass a test for steroids, most likely, but the extremely short-lived stimulants? Absolutely. Get the word out, and you greatly help the chances that those players get busted. Even if you think they’re detectable for a couple days, knowing to give the “don’t dose tonight if you were ever dosing, wink wink” signal helps. Huge deal.

This is one of the biggest holes in the minor league program. There were constant rumors that teams had tons of time to prepare for random tests, and that they knew who would be tested. As a result, many people viewed the whole program as something of a joke. I believe the rumors have bubbled up in public, but I don’t have a cite handy.

The possibility I thought of immediately – and this isn’t mentioned at all – is that the team could take a much more active role in having a player dodge the test. Say you’ve got a known steroid user on the team, and you find out the testers are on their way, and without knowing the cycles, you know they’re in trouble if they get tested the next day. You could easily DL them and send them off to see a specialist about that nagging hamstring injury (should inflammation for pitchers) to buy some time. They’re not going to get a

You’d have to be really clever about the “how” and hope the league doesn’t find out, or that player doesn’t test positive when they catch up to them, but I’m sure you can think about how that game could be played.

Without knowing test dates, we can’t go through the transaction logs for weird player moves or anything, so we can’t know if anything like this happened. It’s interesting, though, and I hope baseball’s able to figure out how to do surprise testing in a way that’s a guaranteed surprise.

Also, Howard Bryant, author of the fine Juicing the Game, replied in comments to my disagreement with his ESPN article.

Varitek pine tarring his fingers

Astute reader Lance Elroy wrote to point me to a bit of footage where, in the sixth inning, you can – maybe – see Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek putting pine tar on his fingers. It’s during Manny’s at-bat, the 2nd 3-2 pitch: (“good rip by Manny Ramirez…”) there’s a shot of Varitek in the dugout, and it looks like watching the dugout camera to make sure it’s not on, rubbing his hands…? He certainly looks fishy, but I’m not convinced he was up to anything nefarious: he might be getting ready to be put in with Wakefield out (which he was) — you can see during Drew’s at-bat Varitek’s putting his batting gear on, and he’s on-deck with Crisp up. It seems unlikely that Varitek was tarring his hands that early in the inning, and any advantage is deadened by his at-bat preparations.

It wouldn’t be a new trick, though. Catchers assisting their pitchers in ball-doctoring is a long and time-honored tradition. The pitcher’s under a lot of scrutiny, while their catchers are far freer to scuff or put something on a ball for the pitcher to make use of.

But was he trying to get pine tar onto the ball for Lester’s sake? Even if he was intending to go out on the field with tarred hands, there’s another, more prosaic explanation: Varitek’s not particularly good at throwing out runners (this year, he threw out 24% of opposing runners, putting him in the lower half of AL catchers). Pine tar on the fingers would give him a better grip on the ball making the difficult transfer to through, and help him get the throw off faster.

You’re not supposed to do it. But if you can get away with it and gain an advantage, why not?

Manny Corpas cheating in the playoffs!

The Philadelphia Daily News:

TBS cameras on Corpas warming up before coming into yesterday’s 4-2 Colorado win in Game 1 of the National League Division Series at Citizens Bank Park clearly showed the righthander pour a cup of water or soda on the front of his shirt before leaving the bullpen and then rubbing dirt on the area.

Then, when he went into the game, he appeared to go to that spot before several of his pitches in order to get a better grip on the baseball. Since the Rockies’ road jerseys are black, any discoloration on the shirt would have been difficult to detect.

The article notes that it’s illegal for pitchers to apply anything to the baseball. The problem here, as we’ve seen with K-Rod and Joe Nathan and many other pitchers, is that the rule’s entirely unenforced. You can go out there with pine tar smeared all over your cap and rub your fingers in it before a pitch and not get called.

Here’s a totally awesome video of what went on, at least until MLB takes it down:

Will baseball, having failed to do anything about similar incidents all year – including cases where there was clear video evidence – take any action here? As much as the playoffs are higher profile, it still seems unlikely.

Gain 5mph through steroid use? Wowza

Reader Bob Montgomery wrote:

Relatedly, I’m sure you saw this story:

Tobin said the explosion in home runs coincides with a mid-1990s “steroid era” in professional sports. Use dropped to historic levels in 2003 when Major League Baseball instituted steroid testing, the article offers as background.

“A change of only a few percent in the average speed of the batted ball, which can reasonably be expected from steroid use, is enough to increase home run production by at least 50 percent,” Tobin said in a news release.

I haven’t checked the numbers out, but…
This, though:

Tobin applied a similar, though less extensive, mechanical analysis to pitching and found a smaller impact. He calculated that a 10 percent increase in muscle mass should increase the speed of a thrown ball by about 5 percent, or 4 to 5 miles per hour for a pitcher with a 90-mile-per-hour fastball. That translates to a reduction in earned run average of about 0.5 runs per game.

“That is enough to have a meaningful effect on the success of a pitcher, but it is not nearly as dramatic as the effects on home run production,” Tobin said.

5 mph seems huge to me!

Yeah. It’d be huge. Think about it like this: a pitcher with an 87-mph fastball and good control is at best a marginal major leaguer, most likely grinding out a job at the back of the rotation or in long relief. Throwing 92 with good control, though — that’s a front-end rotation guy.

Similarly, the effects for hitters would be equally huge.

The problem is that anecdotally, we just haven’t seen those kind of increases. The marginal players who’ve been caught in baseball’s testing program saw modest increases – Nate Silver looked into this for “Baseball Between the Numbers” and it was there but not huge. We can look to other suspected or all-but-known players, like Jason Giambi and Barry Bonds, and make some assumptions, but they’re still not that huge.

And for pitchers, there isn’t a lot of evidence to point to any consistent velocity increase. Some pitchers seem to have gained 2-3mph on their fastball, but the benefits are largely in recovery and anti-inflammation, not in raw power.

Under Tobin’s theory, what you could look for in the minors as a determinant of steroid use by pitchers would be descriptions of a pitcher’s velocity through their development. Velocity estimates are unreliable generally, but you would see players stall out in their careers, suddenly return from the off-season throwing +5mph and make the majors. That development path just hasn’t been there, and if pitchers could consistently make that kind of leap, a huge, huge number would all make it as soon as the choice between use & advance and stall was presented to them — and that would be AA & AAA. It’s not there.

Again, anecdotally what we’ve seen is some pitchers who are stalled in the minors see a much more modest increase in velocity.

Beyond that, I think the attribution of the rise in home runs neglects a lot of the other, larger things going on that also drove the home run rate in those years.

Floyd Landis and the future of baseball drug testing

Floyd Landis lost his 2006 Tour de France title, in a 2-1 decision that took well over a year to complete. It’s the first time the Tour de France has stripped a winner of their title over a drug offense, despite cycling’s long-standing reputation as the dirtiest of pro sports and the extremely aggressive drug testing program cycling’s pursued. In addition to the title loss, Landis will also face a two-year cycling ban, and may see additional sanctions from the French. He might appeal, but it looks like it’s pretty much over. In the saga we can see the depressing future of drug testing in competitive sports:
- a title in dispute for so long the next year’s event is completed well before a decision is made
- extremely complicated disputes over lab policy and
- no clear winner
- many losers

I’ve tried to follow the case as closely as possible, as I’m a big cycling fan, and I still don’t entirely know what to think. Landis went after the testing as flawed, not done to World Anti-Doping Agency rules (WADA, if you remember, is always happy to trot someone out to attack baseball’s drug testing as trivial and whatnot, in part because baseball doesn’t use WADA, and… anyway). And it wasn’t. Landis claimed there was a conspiracy to frame him, and while that didn’t come out, they found all kinds of problems at the lab, including this whopper of a statement, quoted in the ESPN write-up:

“If such practises continue, it may well be that in the future, an error like this could result in the dismissal” of a positive finding by the lab.

The arbitrator who sided with Landis agreed there were enough flaws to dismiss the positive – to find Landis innocent.

Was he guilty? I have no clue. Probably, but there’s just no way to say for sure.

How long before we see a similar situation in baseball? Consider a high-profile pitcher who tests positive for steroids, and is suspended 30 days. That’s only six starts, but they’ve got every incentive – and much, much deeper pockets – to defend themselves. I’m a little surprised, given the damage to his reputation, that Rafael Palmeiro didn’t bury the story in lawsuits when he tested positive. But it’s entirely likely that we could see a player during a season mount a massive, public defense of themselves while continuing to play, as the fans of other teams scream in horror each time he takes the mound.

And the second positive, with a one-season ban? That’s worth millions to a player. They’d have little to lose attacking the system.

It’s quite likely that baseball will look to sports that have coped with rampant drug use for cues in their own battle. We could soon see players who have multi-home run games tested after games, or increased random tests for players who exceed certain performance thresholds in a week, or even who perform better than their career norms. Teams who win pennant races all might be subjected to mass tests, and then tests in each round of the playoffs – or more often. And at that point, it would only be a matter of time before a postseason was thrown into dispute.

It’s certain, though, that even if baseball doesn’t pick up the kind of increased testing that nabbed Landis, it will inevitably face the same kind of long, drawn-out scandal, and would do well to be prepared.

Howard Bryant’s ESPN article on steroids and the Mitchell Report

Howard Bryant, who wrote what I consider the best book on the steroids era in baseball (“Juicing the Game”) has an article on ESPN that makes a bold assertion:

However, what Mitchell’s report must do most authoritatively — and two seismic events last week confirm this necessity — is conclude convincingly that the events of the 13 years following the 1994 players strike (aka the steroids era) have been far more damaging to Major League Baseball than its nearly century-old gold standard, the 1919 Black Sox scandal, Selig’s alternating silence and indignation notwithstanding.

I have a lot of respect for Bryant, but there is absolutely no way that this can be considered true.

I argue in Cheater’s Guide that the use of performance-enhancing drugs is second only to gambling and game-fixing in their threat to the game, but it’s a huge, huge gap.

In the penalty-free year, when players were tested without consequence, there were only 5-7% (depending on who you read) positive or refused tests (which counted as positive). As many suspected during that period, players using steroids were spread across teams, and it amounted to an arms race with horrible side effects as much as everything. But the fundamental nature of the contest wasn’t threatened. If you saw a game where Bonds and Sheffield played and they were both (unknowingly, they would maintain) using THG, the contest itself isn’t pre-determined. You’re watching the same game, chemically-enhanced.

Many fans viewed it as a regrettable arms race: I know in Seattle, where we had one of the most-rumored steroid players in Bret Boone, many fans were happy to condemn other players and ignore the possibility the home team’s success was potentially just as tainted.

Or take another way to look at this: Bonds may have been using performance-enhancing drugs, but we also know that many pitchers used them as well and benefited greatly from them. That’s entirely different than having Bonds take money to strike out five times in a game and make defensive errors where possible to tilt the outcome.

Gambling and game-fixing removes the contest entirely. You can read accounts from that era describing the situation in which bookies in the stands openly bragged about their ability to buy the outcome of games and pennant races — and they could. That’s far, far more damaging to the game than one in twenty players scattered through the sport gaining an advantage on each other.

Bryant argues in part that the scandal is wider because teams and managers are involved. This is true, and one of the more shamefully neglected aspects of the story. But this was also true of the gambling-ridden era, where even owners bet on the outcomes of games and associated with gamblers.

Bryant doesn’t seem to be as familiar with the history of gambling and game-fixing as he is with the steroids era. For instance:

But the steroids era isn’t like the Black Sox scandal. The owners, because they have been as culpable as the players for the proliferation of drugs in their game, have no moral cudgel regarding steroids, as they did concerning gambling back in 1919.

For one, as many apologists for the Black Sox would be happy to tell you, there’s a case to meed that Comiskey brought it on himself. But moreover, exactly as they did with steroids, baseball long tolerated known crooked players and many more who associated with gambling interests. That tolerance was one reason the Black Sox conspirators thought they’d get away with it — because they knew that no one got punished for game-fixing in the atmosphere of the day.

The owners, if only in their open tolerance and continued employment of players like Hal Chase, were as culpable for the game-fixing that went on as they might be for steroids.

Worse is baseball’s slow reaction time to the drug problem. The Black Sox scandal lasted but two years, from exposure to the installation of Kenesaw Mountain Landis as commissioner to banishment of the eight White Sox players — proof that the sport understood its unique position and its responsibility.

This is just true. We know that Hal Chase, for instance, threw many games, including games that affected pennant races, long before 1919, and ended up involved in the Black Sox scandal. No one’s been able to prove it yet, but there’s a good chance that the 1919 World Series wasn’t the first one tainted by scandal. In 1920, gamblers used their leverage on the White Sox conspirators to force them to lose games, affecting another pennant race.

The integrity of the game was openly questioned long before the 1919 scandal, and to say that baseball’s crisis of competition lasted only two years focuses exclusively on the Black Sox. You might as well say that the steroid crisis ran only from Palmeiro’s Congressional testimony to his positive test result and retirement.

Steroids have greatly shaken the faith of many fans, but fans weren’t ignorant of what went on through those years, in the same way that they weren’t ignorant of the rampant gambling problems in the game leading up to the Black Sox scandal. One of them, however, was a largely tolerated escalation across baseball, while the other removed the essential competitiveness of the contest on the field, and nearly ended the sport.

Fans didn’t stop going out to games when it was clear the sport was facing a cocaine problem in the 1980s, or a steroids problem in the 1990s. But game-fixing undermined the belief that the sport was played as a contest at all, and nearly ended baseball as a competitive sport.

That’s a huge difference in magnitude, and so I have to entirely disagree with Bryant that this is the greatest crisis the game has ever faced.

Football cheating goodness: Patriots in trouble

I’ve been gleefully following the Patriots-Jets controversy, because it’s interesting and because it brings out interesting contrasts in how the two sports handle this. Here’s Chris Mortensen’s ESPN story.

The summary: the NFL took a camera and a videotape from a Patriots “video assistant” when they thought he was taping signals from the Jets coaches.

For one, there hasn’t been a similar coach-taping controversy in baseball yet, even though the nature of baseball makes it so, so tempting. In football, even if you put people on it, to make use of the information you have to either decode it in-game or hope that it’s still valid when you play them again later in the year.

But in baseball, where the series frequently run three or four games, if you crack a team’s system by videotaping their coaches and analyzing it all night, there might be two, three games left where you can take advantage of that information. And if you don’t, you’ve got another chance at it.

Football seems particularly well-suited to this kind of sign-stealing. In baseball, sign-stealing by the home team can give their batters an advantage for a hundred pitches, but that advantage is not all that huge. We can look at teams known to have been stealing signs and there’s no dramatic increase in their offensive performances.

But in football, where a team might only get to run fifty, sixty plays a game, being able to gain insight into the other team’s plays can be game-changing on that next snap. If you knew that every time the other team’s line coach made a particular sign that they blitzed two men, and you could be prepared for it, that could easily be a first down or six points.

The other interesting contrast is that the league’s anti- this. From the article:

Goodell is considering severe sanctions, including the possibility of docking the Patriots “multiple draft picks” because it is the competitive violation in the wake of a stern warning to all teams since he became commissioner, the sources said.

Baseball doesn’t have a rule, much less a stern warning memo to teams. And when these kind of things are suspected, baseball’s head office likes to investigate – and put the screws to teams – out of the public eye. You rarely even hear about them, and that’s generally only an accusation by an angry player that doesn’t get much play.

Here, we’ve already seen “sources” almost certainly close to the commish talking to the press about what happened, why, leading to reporting like “Sources say the visual evidence confirmed the suspicion”. Compared to the absolute silence MLB manages to enforce from their offices, it’s a huge difference. This is strange to me, because as I understand it, the NFL is way, way more controlling of the rules and regulations of how the game is run and what is and isn’t allowed than MLB. But faced with a controversy, they took action and they’re controlling the story.