From the archives: December 2007

Appreciating Maddux, Glavine

December, 26, 2007
In time, more names will come out, and some, like Roger Clemens, will have time to prove their innocence. But as we look askew at all the numbers and records and glory of "The Steroid Era," two men born three weeks apart in 1966, drafted in the same second round in 1984, and, ironically, paired for the infamous "chicks dig the long ball" commercial seem even greater today than they did when the 2007 season ended.

At this point in sports history, we cannot assume anyone's innocence, but no one has ever tied Greg Maddux or Tom Glavine to any scandal involving steroids, HGH or anything else. We have watched Maddux extend his career creating new pitches to mix with a fastball that on its good days hit 83 mph on the radar gun. And we have watched Glavine stoically speed-walk to 303 wins; only in the last two years has he adjusted to coming inside with his fastball and changeup and using his curveball better.

And here they are, without one question raised about whether or not they belong in Cooperstown. Before they retire in the next year or two, if they remain unquestioned, then their first-ballot elections may produce a higher percentage than one can now imagine. They will be held up as a couple of guys who won with resolution, creativity and guile in an era of power pitching and hitting.

If Clemens does not pitch again, Maddux in 2008 likely will get the eight wins he needs to surpass Clemens' career total of 354. Look, this is not a referendum on Clemens' staunch claim that he will prove the Brian McNamee testimony to George Mitchell to be false and that his 354 wins are unstained. But when Maddux first pitched in the majors in September of 1986, Clemens was already wrapping up his first Cy Young; since that debut, Maddux has actually won 39 more games than Clemens.

Since Glavine made his debut the following August, he has one more win than Roger, 303-302.

Granted, Maddux and Glavine pitched for some very good teams, but Maddux has won four Cy Young Awards, with one second- and two third-place finishes. Glavine has two Cy Young Awards, one second-place finish and two thirds, and he closed out the 1995 World Series with a one-hitter.

Maddux led the league in wins thrice, Glavine five times. Maddux led the league in innings pitched five straight years, from 1991 through 1995, and seven times led the league in games started. Glavine led the league in games started six times. Maddux won at least 15 games 17 years in a row and threw at least 200 innings 14 straight seasons. And those 2.18/2.36/1.56/1.63 ERAs in consecutive years in the mid-'90s, when offenses became inflated, are simply astounding. There was perhaps no one greater than Pedro Martinez during his prime in the American League East, but Maddux, at age 41, has stayed out there for all those innings to make his run at Clemens. If Maddux starts 10 games next season, he will have started more games than anyone but Cy Young, Nolan Ryan and Don Sutton. Warren Spahn, Steve Carlton and Eddie Plank are the only left-handers to have ever won more games than Glavine.

Cubs pitching coach Larry Rothschild maintains that Maddux may be the only pitcher who essentially invented two pitches -- the cutting fastball that rides either back over the inside corner to right-handed batters or over the outside backdoor corner to lefties -- as well as throwing the changeup inside, a practice that was taboo for generations. Ask Derek Lowe or Chris Young or any young pitcher who'll listen, and they'll tell you how Maddux changed the way they watch games, study hitters and pitch. He won 14 games last season for the Padres with stuff that most amateur scouts would classify as "Josh Towers -- tops."

This has been a trying time for those who care about the game. We don't know what's real and what isn't, who's lying and who's telling the truth, which rats are telling the truth they so long skirted.

We have judged players by their appearances, and in this time have watched Maddux and Glavine go from phenoms who threw in the 90s to guys who figured out somehow, some way to beat hitters while appearing like a couple of insurance salesmen playing golf at the country club. So, on a Christmas when too many lights have burned out and too many stars and ornaments seem to have fallen from the trees, it seems like the right time to put the careers of a couple of 41-year-olds in perspective, and appreciate that if any two players embody the good old days, they are Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine, Hall of Famers.

Bart Giamatti and integrity

December, 22, 2007
Former Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent was a guest this weekend on Bob Costas's radio show -- the best show of its kind -- and in linking Gaylord Perry's admitted cheating to the current steroids scandal, suggested that Perry, as well as those of the steroids generation, should be ineligible for the Hall of Fame.

Vincent, ever thoughtful and passionate, cited a suspension for cheating issued by then-National League President A. Bartlett Giamatti that was considered excessive by the media and, naturally, the Players Association. As we all now have to deal with the notions of cheating and its relation to Cooperstown, it seems a good time to recall the words of the most eloquent and intellectual voice of most of our lifetimes.

Giamatti wrote "Baseball fits America. Above all, it fits so well because it embodies the antithetical, complementary interplay of individual and group that we so love, and because it conserves our longing for the rule of law while licensing our resentment of lawgivers."

The suspension that escaped Vincent's recall was a 10-game suspension given to Phillies pitcher Kevin Gross for being caught with sandpaper. In a sport where wink, wink and nod, nod is so common, Giamatti considered Gross's offense a violation of the essential integrity of a game that has nothing without its integrity.

Years later, when Sammy Sosa was caught with a corked bat, George Will put that, and the Gross ruling, in far better perspective than I could type.

Will wrote:

In 1987 pitcher Kevin Gross of the Philadelphia Phillies was caught with a small patch of sandpaper affixed to his glove, and a sticky substance on his glove. Sandpaper can be used to scuff a ball's surface, changing its wind resistance and hence its movement when pitched. Foreign substances also can alter the movement of a thrown ball, and it is no defense to say, as a pitcher said when indignantly denying that he put a foreign substance on the ball: "Everything I use on it is from the good ol' U.S.A.!"

Gross was suspended for 10 days by Giamatti, then National League president. A former president of Yale and a professor of Italian and comparative literature, Giamatti died in 1989 shortly into his five-month tenure as baseball commissioner, after imposing a lifetime suspension from baseball on Pete Rose for gambling on games. Giamatti knew exactly why "boys will be boys" is not a satisfactory response to paltering with the rules of the game. Most of baseball's punishable offenses involve fighting or other violence that arises from the heat of competition. While such acts cannot be tolerated, Giamatti wrote, "It must be recognized that they grow often out of impulse, and the aggressive, volatile nature of the game and of those who play it."

Such offenses, he said, are less execrable than acts "of a cool, deliberate, premeditated kind" -- acts that have "no organic basis in the game and no origins in the act of playing." They are acts of cheating that are "intended to alter the very conditions of play to favor one person." Such acts "are secretive, covert acts that strike at and seek to undermine the basic foundation of any contest declaring the winner -- that all participants play under identical rules and conditions."

Giamatti understood that a team sport, like democratic society itself, involves a precious and precarious equipoise of individual striving and collective endeavor. In sport or society, break the rules that govern that equipoise and hark! what discord follows.

As we wrestle with steroids and other artificial performance enhancing issues and who does or will belong in the most important Fall of Fame in sports, the thoughts of Giamatti and Will, two men passionately attached to baseball, are worth recalling.

Call for everyone to come clean 

December, 20, 2007