Monthly Archives: September 2013

The Most Violent and Reckless Play in all of Sports

crashGrowing up with an extended background in Kempo Karate and football, I particularly enjoyed the physical nature of both sports… Then when I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to play professional baseball, I relished every chance I had to initiate extreme physical contact with the catcher whenever appropriate… As a matter of fact, I quickly earned a reputation around the league as somebody who if given the option, would rather to go through the catcher as opposed to around him… I did not discriminate either, I went after the veteran Jorge Posada, the rookie Alex Avila, the superstar Brian McCann, the journeyman Einar Diaz and even a fellow UCLA Bruin, Bill Hasselman… I went low, I went high, and even sideways if necessary… Most importantly I went in hard and with intent of preventing the catcher from catching or holding onto the baseball at all costs… In my mind, knocking the snot out of whoever was playing behind the plate was simply a byproduct of me doing my job… I always knew it was dangerous play..  Throughout my time playing baseball I sent several guys to the disabled list including All-Star catcher Brian McCann, and even ended a catcher’s career in the minor leagues… Yet, like many baseball purists, I just looked at it as part of the game…

 

 

May 26, 2011 completely changed my entire opinion… Why in a day and age when other sports are changing rules to protect players health and longevity, does baseball refuse to take action against the most violent and reckless play in all of sports? Rules that allow a catcher to block home plate with the baseball and a baserunner to do anything possible to try to dislodge the ball from the catchers grasp are both ignorant and irresponsible… At the time of the infamous Scott Cousins / Buster Posey collision, I was hosting “Sportsphone 680” for KNBR radio, the San Francisco Giants flagship station, and barely a year removed from my own playing career… Essentially I would conduct the Giants extended post game show and field calls from the passionate San Francisco fan base… When I watched Cousins crash into Posey, I thought that by rule it was a “clean” baseball play, and I still do… Coming down the line so many times in my career, just as Cousins had that fateful night, I understood exactly what was going through his mind…  “Whatever it takes to score, whatever it takes to score!”… So when Cousins veered to the inside of home plate to initiate contact as the ball was arriving I was not surprised… As a baserunner,  you need to make a commitment to either to slide or smoke the catcher by the time you are about 3/4 of the way down the line… I would always do my best to read the situation and make the proper decision,  but when you are running full steam ahead, often times it is very difficult to know exactly how the play is unfolding… No matter what though, the last thing I wanted to do was half ass my way into home plate, indecisive on whether or not I was going to slide, or mimic one my boyhood idols, Ronnie Lott…

 

The only reason why I would define it as a “clean” baseball play is because under the current rule structure there was nothing illegal about the collision… Although, the reality of the situation is that there was not a single thing that was “clean” about that play other than “by rule”… As a matter of fact, that play is so disgustingly dirty that it is a matter of time before somebody becomes critically injured or even killed… Buster Posey ended up missing the rest of the season with a broken leg and shattered ankle… Since that incident, several more collisions have taken place leaving more carnage around professional baseball… I lobbied hard two years ago on both KNBR and MLB Network for a rule change to little reaction and no avail… “Byrnes, do you want them to wear dresses too?”… Not really, but if a little female touch is what it will take to stop the nonsense, sure… “Byrnes, how can you spend years running into catchers and now condemn it?”… Very easily, I understand exactly how dangerous the play is for both the runner and catcher… I consider myself very lucky to not have any long term health effects from the multiple collisions I endured throughout the course of my professional career…

 

Last Wednesday a video surfaced of a AA Eastern League semi final game between the Erie SeaWolves and the Harrisburg Senators in which Senators 2nd baseman Brandan Douglas ran into SeaWolves catcher Brian Jeroloman… The collision was so incredibly horrific that I actually slammed my computer screen shut when I originally watched it… Jeroloman immediately went to the hospital where he remained for several days… Douglas was apparently OK but who really knows? Long term traumatic brain injuries have become a pretty hot topic as of late with the NFL and a just settled 1 billion dollar lawsuit related to concussions… There have been over 12 catchers in MLB this year that have missed time due to concussions… Because of the recent surge of violent home plate collisions and the variety of injuries that have resulted, including concussions, I don’t understand why MLB would not want to make a simple rule change to protect teams ever growing financial investments in players…  Something needs to be done… NOW!

 

I was fortunate to watch the UCLA Bruins baseball team win their first ever National Championship this year in Omaha Nebraska… Including my trip to Omaha, I followed the team closely throughout the course of the season on TV and also went out to the 3 game series when they came up to play Stanford… The Bruin squad was a gritty bunch of dudes that didn’t hit much but they pitched and played the game incredibly hard… There were at least a half dozen times that I watched plays at home plate where the catcher allowed the baserunner a path to the plate and the baserunner came “barreling” down the line  “sliding” hard into home plate… Just about each time, I stood up out of my seat fired up about the action at “the dish,” proving that a kamikaze collision is neither a integral or necessary part of the game… As somebody who spent an entire career running over catchers, I beg for MLB to go back to school and take a lesson from the college rule book before it is ultimately too late…

 

 

Confessions Of A “Steroid Era” Career

I played parts of 11 seasons of Major League Baseball from 2000 to 2010… I never used steroids and there is absolutely no reason why you should believe me… As a matter of fact, there is no reason why you should not question any player who played from the mid 1970’s to every one of the current players today… 1970’s you ask? Yup, that is the time when steroids became prominent at local gyms and were used recklessly by body builders and all sorts of other athletes looking to get an edge.  You can actually trace steroid use all the way back to the 1940’s when the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries were looking for ways to enhance the strength of their Olympic weight lifters…

Disturbingly, not long ago I was having dinner with a former long time Major League player that spoke about the steroid use of a prominent Hall of Famer that played the majority of his career in the 70’s and 80’s… Ha! Not like I was shocked but damn… So many members of the Hall of Fame, including this character, have recently spoken out and condemned guys who have had ties to performance enhancing drugs, saying there is no place for “cheaters” in the HOF… I just wonder how many of the other guys in the “Hall” were actually cheaters themselves?

Depends on your definition of cheating… I can guarantee you just about all of them at one point either stole signs, doctored a baseball, used a corked bat or loaded up on some sort of amphetamine… Steroids, because of the adverse health effects, public perception and terrible message it sends to our youth about what it takes to succeed, has alway been looked at differently, and I believe it should be.

I can also make an argument though that steroids actually saved the game… After the 1994 strike many fans had turned their back on baseball… It wasn’t until the famous home run chase of 1998 that MLB once again reclaimed the national spotlight… It seems a bit hypocritical to me that the guys that we marveled at and worshiped because of their ability to hit baseballs to places nobody thought possible, later became ostracized from the very game that they helped put back on the map, and for the most part, became somewhat exiled by society in general… We all had suspicions, yet nobody during that time period acted on them… Not that I condoned their performance enhancing drug use, but lets remember there was no drug testing program in place at the time and in my opinion the 2 guys were simply products of a much bigger problem, an entire Major League drug culture…

I signed out of UCLA in 1998 with the Oakland Athletics and played my first Major League game with them in August of 2000… Years later the “Mitchell Report” came out and I was shocked to read many of my former teammates names tied to PED’s… I was not ignorant to the situation but one way I describe it is that the steroid culture was very much like the cocaine culture… You go to a club, everybody is dancing and having a good time, you just assume everyone has that same good alcohol buzz that you do… Then you notice some dude’s eyes popping out of his head or a chick that won’t stop talking and looks like she is continuously picking her nose… I was not ignorant to the obvious in the “boom shooka boom boom” club and I sure as heck was not ignorant to the obvious in a big league clubhouse… The similarity of the steroids and cocaine continue, not once in my entire playing career was I ever offered steroids and not once in my younger and wilder club-going days was I ever offered “blow”… For me, or at least for the people keeping it from me, these were two very secret societies that kept to themselves and the other people who they knew were involved in the culture…

For a long time I just accepted the “steroid era” for what it was… It did not bother me that much and I didn’t necessarily feel as if I was getting cheated… The main reason is because individually, I did not feel as if I needed to get bigger, stronger or faster… I needed to lay off the 2-2 slider in the dirt… As a matter of fact, if I had chosen the steroid route, I would not have felt as if I was cheating… I would have been doing what a large percentage of other guys around the league had made habitual within  baseball… My decision to not use steroids was by no means a holier-than-thou attitude either.  Actually, it was very selfish… I had no desire to deal with the common side effects; pre-mature balding, back acne (backne as I like to refer to it), and shriveling testicles… I also watched a kid at my high school get so heavy into steroids that soon after graduation, his heart exploded…

Another major deterrent was that as much as I loved baseball, I refused to let the game define me as a person… So many guys put their entire self worth into baseball thus they lived under the guide lines of “whatever it takes.” Even as a kid, I always had many different interests… I figured that I would put my heart and soul into whatever I was doing at the time and then when I was done for whatever reason, I would simply move on and figure out “what’s next?”

I generally don’t blame the guys who used performance enhancing drugs prior to 2003 when the drug testing program was finally implemented… They were simply victims of a PED culture that was ultimately fueled by the silence of the players, teams and the media as well…

My first year out of the game, I ran into a borderline HOF caliber player and the issue of steroids came up… He proceeded to tell me that he played his entire career steroid free until he realized his time was coming to an end and he became willing to do anything to hang on… For the final 2 years of his career, he used performance enhancing drugs… He said the main difference that he noticed was how well he could SEE THE BASEBALL! Immediately I thought to myself it was a good thing I didn’t find that out until after I was done playing… Throughout the course of my career there were definitely times that I felt like I would have done ANYTHING to lay off that gosh dang 2-2 slider in the dirt!

As I am now 3 years removed from playing the game and 3 years into a broadcasting career, I hold a much different view… The recent suspensions of 14 players tied to Biogenesis in a lot of ways was the final straw for me… For years, dirty players have been screwing clean players out of opportunities and potential financial prosperities… For whatever reasons the clean players simply have just kept their mouths shut and  continued to be OK with getting cheated… Based on the recent comments of many current major leaguers, times are definitely changing, and I encourage more to speak out… There is no greater influence than that of your own peers!

Concerning is the fact that not one of the players suspended because of their link with biogenesis, with the exception of Ryan Braun, ever tested positive for PED’s… Here we are 10 years after the drug testing program was implemented, and obviously guys are still beating the system… Chemist seem to be a least two steps ahead of the testers… Now, new forms of fast acting testosterone that can leave your system within hours, seem to be the recent drug of choice…

So long as the reward  of multi-million dollar contracts outweighs the risk of a 50 game suspension for a first time offenders, players will continue to try to beat the system…  For the sake of the game, current players need to encourage the players union to make the penalty so severe for 1st time offenders that it actually serves as a real deterrent… My suggestion, a one year suspension for the 1st positive test and you also give the team the option to cancel a player’s contract, figuring that player signed the contract under false pretenses… The players union will never want to agree to this because players contracts are essentially what keeps them in business… The players must remember though, it is the PLAYERS union and ultimately their opinions and voices are what run the entire operation… 2nd offense, lifetime ban… Players must also continue to chastise cheaters, making them feel embarrassed and ashamed for their actions… This is now an opportunity for current big leaguers to stand up for all the clean players, active and former, who have been wrongfully cheated out of opportunities and jobs throughout the course of the past 30 plus years…