Tag Archives: baseball

No Need for Hank to Go Groupie

By Jason Menard

Now that Barry Bonds is but two dingers away from tying Hank Aaron’s career home run total, the pressure is mounting for Hammerin’ Hank to start following BALCO Barry around like a wayward Dead Head.

My question is why? Aaron is 73 years old and the way that Barry’s been hitting home runs lately, the record could be broken as soon as tonight or a month down the line. Is it fair to ask Aaron to turn into the world’s biggest groupie, following Barry’s oversized cranium from city to city on this less-than-magical mystery tour?

And for what reason? So Aaron can come out to a raucous applause, one that will probably overshadow the applause Barry receives for breaking the all-time home run mark of 755. After all, Aaron has long displayed grace, elegance, and dignity – three characteristics that aren’t exactly dripping off of Bonds.

Aaron chased down Babe Ruth and did so in the face of very real threats against his life. For a misguided few, the idea of a black man surpassing the Caucasian Babe Ruth was too much. Fortunately, as most racists are also cowards, Aaron was able to safely pass the all-time mark on Apr. 8, 1974 with his 715 th career home run.

Bonds has disgraced those who actually have experienced real racism by insinuating some of his negative perception is based upon the fact that he’s black. It’s not his skin colour that’s the problem – it’s his attitude, lack of respect for others, and general surliness that makes people hate him.

Aaron also received the support of Ruth’s widow, who stated that her husband would have enthusiastically endorsed Aaron’s campaign to break his own record. Those accolades aren’t exactly pouring in for Barry. Most people would be quite content to see him hang up his cleats shy of the record.

A short while ago I defended Barry because I think he’s good for the game in terms of attracting attention. As well, when he feels like opening up, he’s a good quote who doesn’t constrain himself with the standard baseball clichés. That said, do I think Aaron should be following him around to be in the park when Barry finally breaks his record? Only if that’s something he wants to do.

I don’t get the need to trot out former greats to celebrate someone breaking their record. If Aaron genuinely wanted to be there for Barry to congratulate him, then fine. But if he’s only going to show up because he feels he has to for HIS image, then there’s something wrong.

For 37 years, Aaron’s been the Home Run King. For many people, he will continue to be the only one worthy of the crown – a modern day slugging King Richard to Barry’s usurping John. And for some he may become akin to the Tibetan spiritual leader in exile – a veritable Dalai Hank, a king without a kingdom. In no way should Aaron’s reputation be tarnished by not being amongst the first to shake Barry’s hand once he makes that historic rounding of the bases.

For me it’s neither here nor there. Barry did hit those home runs. If he was juiced, he was not alone. And he’s the only one that’s even come close to Aaron’s record, so I give a solid measure of credit to his accomplishment. But would I feel bad if Hank decided to pass on the tour of the National League to wait for his pinnacle achievement between the white lines to be broken? Not at all.

I know I’d be bitter. After all, for years you’ve had the name Home Run King attached to your name and now the crown has been passed. Would I want to celebrate that? And sure, there’s an argument for showing grace and class, but Hank can do that by placing a phone call after that rerun of Matlock finishes. There’s no reason he has to wander around the country, waiting for an opportunity to clap.

As Bill Walton’s shown us, there are few things as sad as an aging groupie. In fact, the only thing worse may be one who’s obligated to attend because anything less would be an unfair denigration of his character.

Finally, by having Aaron attend in spite of his obvious preferences, it cheapens this and future moments like it – potentially when Barry has to swallow his pride and sit in the stands as Alex Rodriguez laps him on the homer track in just a handful of years.

The best of these types of moments come when they’re rooted in honest respect and appreciation. Those are the moments when fans and athletes alike stand up in pride. Faking it – like Major League Baseball’s going to do with Barry’s home run choice – represents a swing and a miss of an epic proportion.

Barry Bonds Is Good for Baseball

By Jason Menard

As Barry Bonds approaches the magical 755 number, he’s endured personal attacks that number at least a hundred-fold the number of dingers he’s sent over the wall of baseball diamonds throughout North America.

I won’t be adding my voice to the chorus of Barry-haters out there. In fact, I’m here to argue that – in a way — we need more Barry Bonds’ in sports.

Barry’s big head’s been in the news on an ever-increasing basis, thanks to commissioner Bud Selig bungling yet another aspect of his job. His on-again, off-again flirtation with being present for the game when – and it’s now truly a when, not an if – Barry breaks the all-time home run mark has been a source of embarrassment and amusement.

You may not like Barry, you may think he cheated to get where he needed to go. That’s your right. But to ignore such a monumental event would be exceptionally wrong – especially when Barry’s one of the best things about the game of baseball.

OK, before you call for the good people in the white jackets to wrest me away from the mike, let me explain. Barry, although being the bane of media people everywhere, is exactly what those same media people have been begging for all these years. And his antics ensure that baseball maintains a place of priority on sportscasts.

And when Bonds finally pops 756, barring unforeseen circumstances, baseball will once again be the lead story in daily newspapers around North America – and when was the last time that happened?

Bonds also represents what the caveat “be careful what you wish for” truly means. After all, what’s the one complaint that most media people – and many fans – have about their athletes? That’s they’re as dull as watching paint dry once you get them off the field of play and in front of a microphone.

Athletes have their own language of boring platitudes, designed-to-be-non-offensive statements, and banal generalizations that offer absolutely no insight into the game or the person. After all, how many athletes have you heard giving 110 per cent, while taking it one game at a time and making sure to bring their A game each and every night because there’s no I in team and winning takes a total team effort, so guys need to step it up, keep their focus, circle the wagons, get off their heels and fight their way back off the ropes so they can answer the call, go for the jugular, and pull it out in the end.

The call has rung out loud and clear for someone to break through the platitudes and tell it like it is. We cry for honesty, then howl with disapproval when Barry gives it to us. Unfortunately, you can’t pick and choose how honesty is served. Sometimes you’ll get an engaging, genuinely funny, and insightful person spinning witty yarns that speed the beat grunts towards carpal tunnel syndrome in their efforts to catch every precious word.

And then sometimes you get the rude, boorish SOBs.

The thing is, Barry’s not just a mashing machine carnival side-show – he can still play. He currently leads the National League in on-base percentage and on-base-plus-slugging percentage. And his relatively healthy performance this season has led to Bonds’ agent making noise about the slugger returning for yet another season next year.

In 78 games so far, he’s within a hair’s-breadth of his career batting average, as his .295 mark stands just four thousands of a percentage point shy of his lifetime mark. On a woeful Giants roster that offers little support or protection for Bonds, he’s still managed to crank out 17 home runs and chip in 42 RBIs. And let’s not forget that when he’s allowed the chance to hit. He’s drawn 91 walks – a pace that would find him amongst his top-three career walk totals if it continues until the end of the season.

In the end, whether Barry was juiced or not really doesn’t matter. Pitchers were juiced, hitters were juiced – heck, I’ve seen some suspect peanut vendors who have a little too much oomph in their tosses… That isn’t real-life – it’s sport, so there’s no need to work yourself up into a fit of indignant apoplexy.

Athletes from all walks of life cheat to get ahead. They always look for that extra edge. Taking steroids, in truth, is morally no better or worse than popping Sudafed between periods – it’s an attempt to gain a competitive advantage. Singling Barry out for something many others were alleged to be doing seems at best a little malicious, and at worst too much like a witch hunt. The legal aspect of obtaining an illegal prescription for a drug – that’s a different story. But it’s also one that has no impact on the field of play.

We prefer to remember our sporting past as a halcyon time, but the reality was probably much different. And I’m pretty sure the same was happening in Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth’s time – instead of steroids, it could have been amphetamines, cocaine, or other illicit substances. It’s just that a co-operative media would look the other way. No more.

In the end, Barry’s Barry. Great hitter? Best player ever? The game’s biggest cheater? Obnoxious buffoon? Or an example of being careful what you wish for? I choose the latter.

2007© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Matsuzaka Deal Shows Money Trumps Brains

By Jason Menard

When teams show that they have more money than brains, is it any wonder why people can’t relate to the sport of baseball anymore? This is especially true when the cost of that lunacy ends up being paid by the average fan.

The latest example of finances getting in the way of synapses firing normally is the decision of the Boston Red Sox to throw away $51.1 million in a bid to sign Japanese pitcher Daisuke Matsuzaka. Mind you, that’s essentially a $51.1 million transfer fee – that doesn’t even include the player’s actual salary.

Now, Boston only has to pay the Seibu Lions, Matsuzaka’s home team, should the American League club and the player come to an agreement on terms on a contract. But $51.1 million is ridiculous and it marks an investment that can never yield an adequate return.

I don’t care if Matsuzaka is Cy Young, Satchel Paige, and Roger Clemens all rolled up into one, no pitcher is worth an outlay of over $50 million. Last I checked, baseball is a team game, and Matsuzaka will only pitch once every five games at most. His impact, while noteworthy, will never be able to match the expectations that this initial financial outlay demands. In the end, Matsuzaka runs the very real risk of being weighed down by his expectations – and it’s hard to throw an effective fastball with that much weight on your shoulders.

The biggest problem with this outrageous fee is the cost it exacts on the game as a whole. Baseball has long been plagued by a deep divide between the haves and the have nots. Unlike football, basketball, and now even hockey, there are a significant number of teams that begin the season fully aware that they’re not going to be able to compete. And for every Minnesota dream team that comes up, there are dozens of Yankees, Red Sox, and Cardinals to stomp them down. In most sports, hope springs eternal in the off-season. In baseball, the off-season simply is the prelude to a dénoument that begins the moment after that first pitch is thrown.

Close to home, the Toronto Blue Jays enter this season begging their corporate overlords to loosen the purse strings a bit to increase the budget into the $90-95 million range. And here we have the Red Sox committing $50+ million just for the right to negotiate with a player? Forgive fans for not leaping off the baseball bandwagon.

And this type of insanity isn’t restricted to baseball. Soccer is also known for its financial lunacy. In 2001, Real Madrid paid Juventus a record 45.62 million pounds for the rights to Zinedine Zidane. Not content with that acquisition, that same year, they also bought the rights to Luis Figo from Barcelona for 38.7 million pounds. The next year they acquired the rights to Brazilian star Ronaldo for 28.49 million pounds.

Even our beloved hockey isn’t immune to this type of activity. Transfer agreements with the various European leagues are in place to compensate teams for the loss of players to National Hockey League Clubs. But lately there’s been a significant amount of friction between the Russian league and the NHL, as the Russians are looking for soccer-type transfer fees for the rights to their players.

Transfer fees have their place. They compensate players and leagues for losing players. And this money is then able to go back into the system to help develop the next generation of stars. Unfortunately, where the system falls down is when it gets so exorbitant that only a select few have the means and the wherewithal to compete for players.

This lunacy on its own wouldn’t be so bad. Sports aren’t about a huggy-feely commune working together so everyone’s sitting around the rink singing Kumbaya. It’s a competitive environment and the goal of any game is to win. However, the cost of a team aggressively approaching player acquisition is inevitably paid for by the average fan. Through increased ticket prices, increased concession prices, and other ancillary charges, the average person is forced to bear the burden of the owner’s folly.

So in the end, you’re left with one small group of fans bearing the financial cost of these high-priced signings and one larger group of fans who are well aware that their team can’t compete on or off the field with these deep-pocketed clubs. And how is that good for the game in the end?

Maybe Matsuzaka’s going to be worth every single penny the Red Sox eventually pay him. I hope he is, because he’s caught in a very high-stakes game here not of his own design. Unfortunately, he and the fans who support his team are the ones who are going to feel pinch caused by this deal.

It doesn’t matter if this pinch comes in the form of increased pressure on the player, or increased financial burden for the fan. Either way, it ends up hurting everyone involved.

2006© Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

Good-Bye Nos Amours

By Jason Menard

The Montreal Expos are officially (well, more or less) leaving town for good this year. The field of Olympic Stadium will no longer play host to Nos Amours. It appears to finally, once and for all, say goodbye to Canada’s first professional baseball team.

I should feel sad. I should be angry. But the problem is, I don’t feel a thing. I said goodbye a long time ago and never looked back.

I grew up an Expos fan during the glory years of The Hawk, The Rock, Cro’, Tim Wallach, Steve Rogers, Black Monday, and on into the divine “Year That Never Was” in 1994. I even stuck around to see the one who may be the greatest Expo ever – Vladimir Guerrero.

I was angry at the fire sales, the inept and deceiving ownership, and the constant jokes from outsiders who didn’t understand. I shook my head at lazy sports columnists who referred to Montreal – with over three million people within 15 minutes of the island – as a small market.

Spending a few years in Ontario as the Blue Jays rose to prominence, I spent many a day defending Canada’s First professional baseball team from its upstarts to the West. Most of all, I resented the expressed belief that Montrealers didn’t support baseball. But that’s all in the past, now.

What I choose to remember are the good times. For years I would take the Métro to the Stadium and take my seat in the left-field bleachers for Opening Night. In later years, I would take my son, when he began to take an interest in sports – and could stay awake longer than the fourth inning! And what I remember most is this – baseball in Montreal works.

I’m not a fan of Olympic Stadium by any means. In fact, the only times I’ve seen the stadium alive was for the Grey Cup and on Opening Night. When you packed 50,000 screaming fans into the stadium, you got an atmosphere. The feeling was electric and everywhere you looked you saw the smiles lighting up each and every face – young and old, male and female, French and English.

And then came game two. For the last decade, like a cresting wave, crowd size would crash until 5,000 people was considered a good draw. Sure, people would come out for $1 steamie (hot dogs to those devoid of Quebecois) night, but rare was the day that I couldn’t buy walk-up tickets and have my pick of the lot.

Where did those 45,000 fans go? Well, the simple answer was that they knew they weren’t wanted, so they didn’t go back. The Spectacle was over, life goes on…

For years Montrealers were told that Olympic Stadium was a terrible place to watch baseball and that the sport couldn’t survive in such a venue. So, people started to stay away. After all, if you’re told how terrible it is to go someplace, why would you go. And then there were discussions about the downtown stadium that would revitalize the sport in Montreal. But that died.

People would stay away, and then the ownership would get rid of the best (read: most expensive) players and get futures in return. This only compounded the problem. After all, why would you go watch baseball in a terrible venue, just to get attached to players that would end up leaving anyway? And still the sportscasters would find cause to criticize Montrealers for not supporting this team.

So the spiral continued down, eroding fan support. But the fans weren’t gone – they were just in hibernation, waiting for the bit of good news that never came. Then MLB takes over and the team is left playing with one hand tied behind its back. Rumours of moves to West Virgina, Las Vegas, and Washington became annual events. So why should you go to a game, when they’re just riding out their time with a less-than-competitive team in a stadium that kind of looks like a toilet bowl.

Appropriately, the fans flushed the Expos.

I stopped going to Opening Night. I stopped going to games. I stopped watching baseball altogether. And while the pundits will now polish their boots to kick Montrealers while they’re down — making their snide comments about Montreal’s lack of support and small market mentality, I’ll know better.

Because I was there. Me and 50,000 others at Opening Night, the thousands who followed the team in The Gazette and La Presse, the countless masses who gathered around TVs in living rooms, pubs, and bars to watch the games – we know, in our heart of hearts, the truth.

We never got a pitch to swing at. Baseball just gave Montreal a decade-long Intentional Walk.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

The Bloom is Off This Rose

By Jason Menard

So the legendary Pete Rose has finally come forth and admitted what most of us already suspected – that he bet on baseball. And now it’s expected that all will be forgiven and let’s roll out the welcome mat to the Hall of Fame for Charlie Hustle.

I’m sorry if I don’t buy it. Charlie Hustle he may have been, but now he’s more Charlie Hustler.

Perhaps I’m just a cynic, but this confession of guilt and the pleading mea culpa would have rang far more true if it didn’t coincide – and feature prominently in – his latest autobiography. Perhaps I’d be more charitable if this ending of this 14-year farce didn’t come as Rose was running out of eligibility for Hall of Fame voting. Oh sure, he would have been voted in by the Veteran’s Committee, but I can’t believe that Rose’s ego would allow him – a sure first-ballot entrant – to enter through the back door.

No matter what he says now. No matter how hard he tries to play the victim, now — more than ever — I firmly believe Pete Rose should not be reinstated and eligible for the Hall of Fame.

Many people will argue that people who have committed far worse transgressions against humanity find themselves enshrined in Cooperstown, to which I’ll wholeheartedly agree. But I also firmly believe that what a person does outside of the game should not be a factor in judging their worthiness for enshrinement.

Despite what many try to make athletes out to be, they are not role models and should not be judged as such. They are humans, subject to the same weaknesses and foibles as the rest of us.

The problem with Rose, ironically, is not so much his gambling but the way he’s chosen to make a mockery of the game he professes to love so much. Gambling on baseball, while a mindnumbingly stupid thing to do would probably have been a forgivable transgression given time. However, telling bold-faced lies and attempting to tarnish the credibility of those who lobbied the initial accusations against him is unforgivable. This farce has done more damage to the game than place a few bets ever would have.

I don’t deny that Rose had – or may still have – a serious gambling problem. And yes, it is an addiction. But Rose has yet to take the biggest step in beating his demons – accepting full responsibility for his actions. As he has for much of the past decade and a half, he’s looking for scapegoats upon which to pin the blame for his current troubles.

He says things like gambling was a way to replace the high that he missed from competition. And while that may be true, thousands of players, all of whom shared a competitive drive, found other outlets to satisfy their thirst for “the rush.”

Had Rose admitted he made a mistake at the time, it’s true he probably would have been suspended for life. But had he fessed up, accepted his punishment, and got on with his life, he would have eventually become a sympathetic character is this sad drama. Our society is very forgiving when it comes to its idols, and it only would have been a matter of time before fan pressures would have built up to the point where the baseball establishment wouldn’t have had any choice to let him back in.

As it stands now, his 14-year history of lying has made a mockery of the game and should be the factor that stands between continued exile and reinstatement.

There are those who will say that baseball commissioner Bud Selig insinuating that all will be forgiven should Rose simply fess up obligates him to reinstating Rose are wrong. All Selig has to do is turn around and say, “Sorry Pete, I lied.”

After 14 years, that’s a concept that Rose is sure to understand.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved