Friday, May 08, 2009

Manny being Manny

I heard Buster Olney on the radio this morning talking about Manny Ramirez. Buster was whining about the fact that players like Manny Ramirez are essentially ruining baseball. He claimed that Manny was hurting other players by casting all of baseball under the steroid shadow. He cited an unnamed general manager who allegedly voiced concern that Manny, by signing a fat contract, was being rewarded for cheating.

I don’t disagree with Buster or his mysterious GM confidant, but Manny didn’t victimize Joe Torre or the Dodgers’ organization. Both parties entered that deal with eyes wide open. Just because the Dodgers didn’t want to ask why Manny was still such a beast at the plate even though he’ll be 37 in this month doesn’t mean Manny tricked them. Just because Joe Torre says he doesn’t want to believe that steroids are the norm doesn’t mean he actually believes it.

If the Dodgers, or any team, really cared about steroids they’d include anti-steroid clauses in the contracts, but nobody does that. If Major League baseball really cared about steroids they’d implement the same testing policies and procedures used by the International Olympic Committee.

The reality of the issue is that steroids are good for baseball. Getting caught is bad, but as long as players can stay ahead of the tests and beat the system, everybody’s happy. The proof is in the salary structure. Manny Ramirez got caught cheating. He trotted out that sorry “medical condition” excuse, but didn’t see fit to appeal his case to Major League Baseball.

Now it’s possible that Manny really was receiving treatment for a “personal” medical condition that he doesn’t want to talk about. Maybe he wants to get pregnant. But it’s interesting that about five minutes after the announcement was made, investigators identified the drug he tested positive for and experts immediately connected it to steroid use. It turns out that the practice of using female fertility drugs to stimulate testosterone production after a steroid cycle is pretty old school.

According to reports, Manny tested positive for elevated testosterone, which prompted further investigation. That yielded paperwork that connected Manny to hCG, which is similar to a designer drug that was at the middle of the BALCO investigation. This drug is used often enough for performance enhancing purposes that it is listed as a banned substance. Ergo, Manny is a cheater.

What people need to grow up and realize is that Manny is not the exception, he is the rule. There’s too much money being thrown around for these guys not to cheat, especially when the testing procedures are wanting and the penalties aren’t stiff enough. The IOC issues two year suspensions for doping and people still try to beat the system. The Tour de France is also strict but that doesn’t stop dozens of the world’s best bicyclists from taking their chances.

And we haven’t even talked about football. College and professional football players defy logic but for some reason we don’t connect them to steroids unless they fail the NFL’s testing procedure. Former players have called the test a joke, but because they admitted to cheating they are deemed unreliable and their claims are dismissed, but consider this: wide receivers and defensive backs are among the greatest athletes in the world, yet none of them ever compete in international track and field events. Why is that?

Perhaps the NFL doesn’t want players to miss summer workouts, but you’d think that letting a star receiver skip the preseason to represent his country at the Summer Games would reflect positively on the league. Surely none of the franchises would object to allowing a player to take some time off to pursue a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Still, we haven’t seen a prominent NFL player participate in an Olympic event since Willie Gault joined the US bobsled team more than 20 years ago. Maybe that’s just a coincidence.

Maybe Manny’s telling the truth. Maybe A-Rod is too and Barry Bonds never tested positive for steroids, did he? Perhaps we should take them all at their word. Never mind the bulging biceps and 30 pounds of solid muscle that magically appeared in an offseason. Forget about the fact that a 36 year-old veteran is playing with the vim and vigor of a 20 year-old rookie. Ignore the logic that says people shouldn’t be coming back from surgery in four or five weeks.

Just don’t complain when the next superstar tests positive.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Queen Favre

I wouldn’t care about Bret Favre and his latest drama queen moment if it was not painfully obvious that he just wants to spite the Green Bay Packers. Even if he ultimately decides to stay retired, there’s far too much attention being paid to this saga. I’m convinced the Favre, through his minions, has orchestrated this.

It would have been entirely possible for all of this, the discussions with Vikings officials, to go on under the radar. Even after Favre asked for and was granted his release from New York, keeping his intentions secret would be easy.

Most celebrities, be they high-profile professional athletes or high-profile actors, have fragile egos. They get used to being the center of attention and when they perceive that they are being marginalized they do things to draw attention to themselves. Pop princesses might be inclined to shave their heads and go clubbing without panties, aging actors might cheat on their wives with girls half their age and athletes often stage press conferences. Santonio Holmes decided to reveal his drug-dealing childhood when the Super Bowl media focused on Big Ben and Kurt Warner, now Bret Favre is waffling on his retirement.

I wrote about Favre’s drama last year. I felt then that he was out of line and I believe that. He’s got every right to be unretired. He’s got every right to play where he wants but there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Last year he put the Packers in a tough spot and they opted move on. They just didn’t feel that Bret Favre was the right fit at the time. As great as Favre has been, teams are built around continuity. You have to know who your quarterback is year in and year out if you want to be successful. With Favre Green Bay was getting a question mark.

Favre was upset because the Packers didn’t roll out the red carpet and sound the horns when he announced his desire to return. He demanded his release but the Packers still had rights to him and figured they’d broker is itch to come back for a little bit of value. If anything they could keep Favre from signing with a divisional rival and stirring up bad blood within the organization.

Favre wanted to play for the Vikings. He thinks he’s pals with Brad Childress and the Vikings need a quarterback. Some people believe that the Vikings are a good QB away from a serious playoff run. Others aren’t so optimistic. It’s also pretty obvious that Favre is no longer a good quarterback. He’s slightly above average on his better days but he still has a tendency to self-destruct when it matters most. He did that last year, throwing interceptions as the Jets squandered their opportunity to get to the playoffs.

Favre’s apologists will say that Favre wasn’t the only reason the Jets fell apart and even if he was the main reason, he was injured. Bull shit. If Favre was injured to the degree that his performance was a detriment to the team he should have stepped aside. A true professional needs to know when they’re doing more harm than good, but Favre’s more caught up in his consecutive games played streak than his fans are. Favre’s ego won’t let him take a seat when common sense tells him to.

In addition the way he finished the season, Favre also alienated his teammates by behaving like some sort of prima donna. Several Jets’ players came forward and said good riddance to Bret when he decided to call it a career (again). They talked about how he didn’t participate in meetings, drills or other organized team functions. Favre had his own little room, a fortress of solitude if you will, where he hid from essential contact.

Perhaps that’s because Favre really didn’t want to play in New York. What he really wanted was another bite at getting to the Super Bowl and after his interception in overtime cost the Packers that opportunity two years ago he figured his best shot was with them. But he waited too long and the team decided it was best to move on.

His goal at that point was not to win a Super Bowl, but to stick it to his former team. How dare they? He’s Bret Favre, master of the universe. He’d show them. He’d sign with the Vikings so he could remain close enough to Green Bay to listen to the fans call into the sports talk shows and rip the Packers for letting their icon slip away. He thinks that the fans will be on his side because he thinks he’s bigger than the Packers. He wants to go to Minnesota to prove it to everyone.

Bret Favre is a selfish jerk who doesn’t even know how to pronounce his own name. He’s always been that way, but it was easier to overlook when he was younger because he overcame his personality flaws with raw athletic talent. His ego was bruised and now he wants to settle the score, so he’s engaging in very public talks with his former team’s biggest rival. He wants to see them squirm. He’s like that girl you dated in high school who went to the prom with your best friend after you dumped her.

If Brad Childress is willing to kiss Favre’s ass in the right places and make him feel appreciated, Favre will come back for another season. He will gleefully don a Vikings uniform and walk onto the frozen tundra of Lambeau field, expecting a warm welcome from all those fans who adored him all those years. Showing up Green Bay’s front office means more to Favre than winning a Super Bowl, but Packers’ fans aren’t that gullible. By now even they can see Favre for what he is and they’ve got to be glad that he’s no longer holding their team hostage with his childish behavior.

Childress is an idiot if he signs Favre, just like your best friend is the idiot for agreeing to take your ex to the prom. Favre’s not interested in the Vikings or their fans. His eyes are always going to be on Green Bay to see if they’re noticing him. Favre will end up hurting the Vikings more than they know. Even if Favre did have the right intentions there is the pesky little issue of his performance. Do the Vikings really want to watch Favre break their heart in the post season with ill-advised throws into double coverage?

It’s a low class move on Favre’s part. In spite of the way things ended up, Green Bay, the team and the fans, treated him like a king for most of his career. Regardless of what he does he will always be remembered as a Packer but if he goes through with this and signs with the Vikings his legacy in Green Bay will be tainted forever. Football is a business and ultimately fans put aside their personal feelings and accept it. 49ers fans understood why Jerry Rice and Joe Montana had to move on, but Rice and Montana didn’t sign with divisional rivals to spite the organization. If Favre signs with Minnesota he will have made it personal and every bit of goodwill he has earned with the fans will be exhausted.