Did You Know? – Appearances as Designated Hitter

The next appearance David Ortiz makes for the Red Sox as the designated hitter will see him set a new Major League Baseball record for most appearances as a DH.

Should David Ortiz appear tonight for the Red Sox against the Yankees at Fenway Park as the designated hitter, and by all accounts he will, he will set a new Major League Baseball record for most appearances as a DH with 1644 games, surpassing former slugger Harold Baines. Ortiz already holds the record for most starts in league history by a DH with 1625, well ahead of Baines at 1565 starts.

Big Papi is far and away the leader in most offensive categories as a designated hitter: most plate appearances (7188), most hits (1779), most doubles (450), most home runs (385), and most RBI (1256). Counting only players with at least 2000 plate appearances as a DH, his OPS of .941 ranks second to Edgar Martinez (.959).

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Five Future Red Sox Hall of Fame Inductees

The selection committee for the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame isn’t due to make a decision on the next list of nominees until more than a year from now, and the next induction ceremony isn’t scheduled to take place until November of 2008, but just whose career as a Red Sox player or manager might be worthy enough to earn enshrinement at that time? (We won’t consider non-uniformed honorees here nor will we consider a “memorable moment” from team history.) To be eligible, players must have played a minimum of three years with the team and have been out of uniform as an active player for another three years; former managers are generally chosen well after leaving Boston, as was the case for “Walpole” Joe Morgan and Dick Williams, two 2006 inductees. We are also going to shy away from more recent candidates who will be eligible when the next vote is expected, like John Valentin, Mo Vaughn, and Ellis Burks, simply because selections usually happen longer than three or so years after leaving the game.

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Respect For Rice Overdue

Rafael Palmeiro will be elected to the Hall of Fame, regardless of the fact that he was caught by Major League Baseball’s new drug testing policy, which showed that he took steroids to boost his numbers on the field. He is certainly not the first player in baseball to have used a performance enhancer to try and better himself at the plate, with Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti both admitting in recent years of widespread use of steroids by themselves and former teammates that saw home run totals climb into the stratosphere. The latter paid the ultimate price last fall when a cocaine overdose, likely fueled by his reliance on illicit drugs to keep that high that he felt playing baseball all those years alive, took him from this earth at the tender age of 41.

Palmeiro’s career numbers are indeed impressive, having recently passed the magical 3,000-hit mark and the 500 home run mark in 2003. Given that he is signed to play through the end of next season, it is quite possible that he could manage to hit enough home runs to qualify as only the third player in major league history to have a minimum of 600 home runs and 3,000 hits, joining only Hank Aaron and Willie Mays in that respect. The numbers are impressive, especially when you consider that Palmeiro has never held a batting or home run title in his 20 seasons playing in the majors. Unfortunately, the recent ten-day suspension will hang over his head for years to come, tarnishing an otherwise unblemished record.

Of course, there are others in recent years whose names will someday show up on the ballots of the baseball writers whose reputation are modestly stained; Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, and Sammy Sosa come to mind, although there is no concrete evidence that they have used illegal performance enhancers. Although it’s true that McGwire admitted to using androstenedione during the 1998 season as he and Sosa chased Roger Maris’s 37-year-old home run record, at that time it was not a banned substance as it is now, so he essentially gets a get-out-of-jail free card. So don’t be surprised to see them get elected, either.

Being a Boston fan, I can’t help but think about former Red Sox slugger Jim Rice, a player that I admittedly only caught in the latter part of his career. It’s not hard to look at his numbers and be impressed. Had he not debuted in the same season as rookie teammate Fred Lynn, he would have easily walked away with American League Rookie of the Year honors and perhaps even the MVP as well after batting .309 with 22 home runs and 102 RBI. From 1977 through 1979, his numbers were almost equal in every season, averaging .320 with 41 home runs and 128 RBI. In 1978, he collected 406 total bases, the only American League player since the legendary Joe DiMaggio in 1937 to have more than 400 in a season; three times, he led the AL in home runs and twice finished number one in slugging percentage.

Rice was the classic power hitter in the lineup; though only 6-foot-2 and weighing in at just over 200 pounds, he used his short stroke and his strong wrists to drive balls all over the yard. From 1975 through 1986, he was one of the most feared sluggers in baseball as he averaged .304 with 29 home runs and 106 RBI. When he finally called it a career after the 1989 season, he had amassed 382 home runs, 2,452 hits, and 1,451 RBI; all three place him in the top 100 of all-time in MLB history. One would think that would be enough to get his plaque hung alongside the likes of Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski, two other Red Sox greats and among the only players he trails in several offensive categories in team history.

Yet Rice still waits outside the gates, perhaps silently wondering if the last few, injury-plagued seasons hurt his chances. Had he not tried to play through injuries to his knees in those seasons, he might have built on those numbers even more, finished on a high note, and found his way to Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility in 1995. However, when you consider that he put nothing more in his body other than perhaps a few vitamins, those numbers today are that much more impressive when compared to the baseball stars today that are pumped up on more than adrenaline. Rice is probably not the only star from his era that has been overlooked; Andre Dawson is one other player that comes to mind who put up great numbers but was nagged by injuries late in his career that probably hurt his chances.

Enshrinement in the Hall of Fame should not come easy; being a player of that caliber in any sport means that you were one of the best ever to play. For years, the baseball writers who voted for these ballplayers have generally turned a blind eye towards passing judgment on that player’s ethical conduct because, for the most part, the numbers have been all that mattered. Thus, Palmeiro and his contemporaries will be given a pass and honored among other past greats of the game, even with concrete evidence that they tampered with their bodies to give themselves an edge on the field. Yet, knowing that, perhaps players like Rice who were the power hitters of their era should be given a pass for, well, just being human.

Mr. Schilling Goes To Washington

Was I the only one who found it odd that, among the current and former Major League Baseball players who were issued subpoenas late last week to testify in front of a Congressional committee on St. Patrick’s Day, the person who was likely voted “Least Likely To Be Using Smack” by his high school classmates got served? It was no surprise to see Jose Canseco and Jason Giambi on that list and there is just cause to call upon the likes of Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, Frank Thomas, and Sammy Sosa, but Curt Schilling? Last time he was in Washington, he was offering President Bush a Red Sox jersey with Alan Embree’s number 43; this week, he better be sure to bring enough for everyone on the panel or someone’s feelings may get hurt.

Besides Schilling’s inclusion, there was one other surprise: Barry Bond’s exclusion. So instead of bringing the one player who happens to be the most central figure in the whole issue on steroid use in baseball, there picking on a player who has spoken out against the use of steroids and could better use his time getting healthy for the upcoming season. There are also several other players who would appear to be more worthy candidates, including the likes of Gary Sheffield or Benito Santiago, but Washington officials believe that Schilling’s obvious intelligence and knowledge of what goes on in the baseball community would provide better testimony. I could scratch my scalp until it bleeds and not come up with a reasonable explanation for this logic; even Schilling has questioned out loud why he has been lumped in with this group.

Now let’s be sure that we understand this. Bonds has hit about a bazillion home runs over the last six seasons and, in 2001, set the single-season mark with 73 tall jacks, some of which are still waiting to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. Eighteen months ago, Bond’s personal trainer, with whom he had shared a friendship since childhood, was confronted by federal agents who claimed that they had plenty of evidence to prove that he had supplied steroids to, among others, the San Francisco slugger who now sits a dozen home runs shy of passing Ruth in career home runs. I have only one question from my seat on this panel of outside observers: does Bonds have a “Get Out of Answering Questions from a House Government Reform Committee” card up his sleeve that’s not included in my version of Monopoly?

Actually, if you think about it, after witnessing his superhuman performance last October, perhaps there is reason to believe that Schilling is hiding something underneath that clean-cut exterior. His ankle was being held together with toothpicks and glue and yet he somehow managed to effectively pitch in two crucial games to help Boston win the American League pennant and the World Series. Maybe, along with the stitches and the painkillers, Dr. Morgan used this great anti-inflammatory cream he picked up from an undisclosed West Coast source that not only promised to perform medical miracles but, unlike most comparable products, didn’t reek of that awful Ben-Gay smell.

Honestly, it isn’t clear what the purpose of these hearings are except to point out to the last half-dozen people or so in the United States unfamiliar with the situation that baseball players have been using performance-enhancing drugs for the past several years. I’m not trying to downplay the significance of that last statement and my past columns have expressed a wanting for baseball to clean up its act, but hasn’t there already been at least one other congressional hearing on this subject? I seem to recall that, in that session, Senator John McCain from Arizona told Major League Baseball to put its house in order or that the government would do it for them. Why weren’t the players asked to join Bud Selig and Donald Fehr back then?

Unfortunately, I just don’t see what parading all these players in front of some government representatives is going to accomplish; the only person who may benefit from this is  Canseco, who may sell a few more books with testimony that is sure to be damning. The announcement of these hearings come almost on the heels of that book’s release and if it took a tell-all book by a less-than-reputable character to raise the hackles of Congress, then something is amiss. Plus, do they honestly believe that these players are going to possibly incriminate themselves by admitting to any use of performance enhancers, legal or otherwise, during their careers? Or that a player, like Schilling, is going to rat on his fellow players, some of whom he is going to possibly see again this season, even if he strongly believes that what they did was wrong? There’s a good chance that we are going to see ballplayers taking the Fifth more often than they would in the clubhouse before a Game Seven.

It has been pointed out that Congress has the responsibility to regulate commerce – let’s not forget that baseball has enjoyed antitrust exemption for over eighty years – and that it has the right to call into question any enterprise that engages in suspicious activities. For those who may have missed that high school civics lesson, Congress also represents people from every corner of the United States and they have a responsibility to the American public to find out everything that goes on with baseball on and off the field. My problem is that I don’t believe that the members of the panel really thoroughly studied the issue; otherwise, the list of witnesses coming to Washington this week would make better sense. Maybe it will all become clear on Thursday but I, for one, would feel that Schilling has more to answer down in Fort Myers than he does in front of a House Committee.

In Need Of A Fix

Yankees first baseman Jason Giambi, looking rather drained and weary in stark contrast to the man we’ve all seen launch several souvenir baseballs into the bleachers over his career, all but admitted in a packed press conference at Yankee Stadium yesterday that he had used performance-enhancing drugs in the past, including steroids. All he wishes to do now, with the belief that a great burden has been lifted from his shoulders, is put past mistakes behind him and focus on the goal of helping his New York teammates reclaim the glory of a championship in 2005. Of course, it will be nearly impossible to do so now that former Major League Baseball player Jose Canseco, who stroked 462 home runs in his major league career, not only admits in his new book, due to be released Monday, to using steroids but also fingered several former players and teammates, including fellow Bash Brother Mark McGwire and former Texas teammates Juan Gonzalez, Rafael Palmeiro, and Ivan Rodriguez.

Odd that all of this comes just a day after MLB commissioner Bud Selig appeared in San Francisco, stood in front of SBC Park, and announced that the city would host the 2007 All-Star contest. Ironically, it will take place the year after Barry Bonds, the player who some accuse of being the biggest cheat in baseball, witnesses the end of his contract with the Giants and perhaps his career, more than likely able to stake a claim to the title of the most prolific American home run hitter of all time. Fortunately, there’s little chance that he’ll ever catch up with Sadaharu Oh, who clobbered 868 home runs in 23 seasons of professional baseball with Japan’s Yomiuri Giants, to stake ownership of greatest home run hitter ever, period. Admit it; you likely either snickered or rolled your eyes when the legendary Willie Mays, Bond’s godfather, stood at the podium in front of the park and joked to reporters that perhaps he would have hit a few more home runs had he played here and that Bonds was aware of this fact. Yeah, we’re sure that Barry gets all the help he needs to pad those statistics thanks to the park’s generous dimensions that favor left-handed batters.

Of course, part of the blame can be pointed in the direction of Mr. Commissioner; his only response in addressing the problem recently is to flash the recently-signed pact, a more extensive, punitive and comprehensive policy governing testing for steroids and other banned substances, reached last month between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association. It’s not hard to see that this agreement has more bite than the toothless policy that had been instituted before this landmark accord. Yet this deal is just one answer to many questions still left to be satisfied with a viable response. How many records have been set by and how many honors have been bestowed upon players who weren’t all that they seemed? How long did the ownership turn its collective eye away from the problem, focused instead on trying to get the game back on its feet after the disastrous baseball strike in 1994? Why did it take loud whispers from every clubhouse in baseball, the death of a former MVP, and US Senate hearings to finally get baseball to address the matter?

It would be really hard to just take an eraser, open the record books, and begin removing names and numbers; this isn’t exactly an open-and-shut case like Milli Vanilli’s Grammy Award. Even with solid proof that a player cheated, there’s little the league can do. It appears that perhaps only history will mark this era in baseball with an asterisk, much like Ford Frick labeled the new home run record set by Roger Maris in 1961, the first year that the league added eight additional games to the regular season schedule. Of course, Maris accomplished that feat using determination as his drug of choice, not something that came in the form of a pill, a salve, or an injection.

Sadly, baseball continues to claim ignorance when it is clear that there was never doubt that there was something rotten in the state of the league. Canseco is certainly not the most trustworthy source; his allegations and accusations need to be taken with a grain of salt since he has made it his mission to single-handedly embarrass the industry that made him a household name. Regardless, from everything that we know today, league ownership needs to put on an honest face, swallow its pride, and cough up the truth about what it knows. Otherwise, the credibility of the league will continue to crumble and no apology will be able to repair the damage.

Tainted Love

When the San Francisco Chronicle finally let the cat out of the bag this week and detailed the testimony that several sports figures, including baseball’s Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi, gave in the BALCO investigation, it was no surprise to what people had long suspected. In fact, the proverbial bag was more like the plastic recycling bags that the sanitation department requires so that they can see exactly what we are pitching to the curb; the revelations did nothing more than prove what many had known for some time.

Bonds is well on his way to clobbering Henry Aaron’s career home run record by the early part of the 2006 season, but it will be an empty accomplishment. Even Hammerin’ Hank, as detailed in an article for theAtlanta Journal-Constitution today, has lost his admiration and support of the San Francisco slugger’s pursuit. “Any way you look at it,” he carefully pondered, “it’s wrong.” As for Giambi, the Yankees are looking to void the remaining $80 million contract that the New York slugger signed before the 2002 season that will keep him in pinstripes for the next four seasons, although most of the motions being made are merely academic and it would be difficult to show a correlation between his health problems in 2004 and his admitted drug use.

The steroid scandal is about to blow up in the face of Major League Baseball and the time bomb has been ticking long enough and loud enough for anyone to hear it clear across the country. Fans have been casting a suspicious eye on the field for the better part of recent years as the balls fly out of the park at an alarming rate and these stories only further lends discredit to the players. Now the federal government looks to act on the matter; Arizona Senator John McCain, who has warned baseball in the past to do something to police the players, has threatened to introduce legislation that would force the hand of the league to act on the issue.

Baseball will survive this latest scandal because the love of the game will conquer all. The fans love baseball in the purist sense: the smell of the grass, the color of the infield dirt and the uniforms, and the drama of a season from the early moments of spring training to the final out of the World Series. Every play and every game has the potential to be something magical. Whether it’s a line drive into the gap, a flashy double play, or a close call at the plate that makes or breaks the game, we rise from our seats to watch and either groan at misfortune or cheer in triumph. Those moments reveal the child that still thrives in each and every one of us that admires the bold beauty of the sport that has become an American icon.

However, to keep that fantasy intact, the owners and the players must now end the charades and agree together on a stronger policy that will hold players accountable for actions unbecoming of the game. Baseball’s dirty little secret is no longer that and it’s time for action to speak louder than words. It is not a matter of personal civil liberties as the Players Association has long argued; even most players now feel that they must answer the critics and submit to drug tests just to prove that they have followed the rules. The cold, harsh reality is that a percentage of the product that Major League Baseball puts on the field is tainted. In the past, it may have been about business, but the league can no longer do what it takes; it must do what is right.

There are plenty of arguments for stronger drug testing: Jose Canseco, Daryl Strawberry, and Ken Caminiti are three reasons that instantly come to mind. There are also those high school players who are hurting themselves more than they know because they believe that drugs are the answer to a career in professional sports. Most of all, the strongest argument is that it must be, at the most basic element, for the love of this game. As James Earl Jones’ character Terence Mann in Field Of Dreamsasserted as he looked over Ray Kinsella’s baseball diamond in that Iowa cornfield: “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball… This field, this game; it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds us of all that once was good and it could be again.” Come on, baseball; make us once more enjoy and believe in the good of the game.