Players should talk the talk
Where is their message on dangers of steroids?
It's understandable that players want to "turn the page" - to borrow one of their favorite phrases - on steroids.
It's understandable that some players are bitter about being named in the Mitchell Report while many of their peers got off scot-free.
But in the six months since the Mitchell Report was released, how often have you heard about a player going to a classroom to lecture kids and denounce the use of steroids? There have been a few, but too few.
There are still players out there denying they did anything. There are players who don't dare utter the word ever again. There are those who "explain it" by saying, "I only did it because of an injury."
It doesn't really matter why anyone did it. What matters is that they "turn the page" on making excuses and help kids not make the same mistake.
Mitchell is showing great patience as this unfolds.
"It's premature to make a judgment on that at this point," said Mitchell. "I'd like to give it more time to see how it all plays out and see what they're going to do. It's only been a few months.
"It was my job to make the specific recommendations that I made, and I've certainly been encouraged by the cooperation of the Players Association and the clubs, and commissioner Bud Selig, who has unilaterally put into action all of the recommendations that were made in the report that he can do on his own."
Major League Baseball is living up to its commitment by devoting $1.5 million over the next three years to the Taylor Hooton Foundation, which will conduct a grassroots anti-steroid education campaign involving some players.
Don Hooton, a Texas businessman, saw first-hand the ravages of steroids, when his son Taylor, a 17-year-old high school baseball player, committed suicide after using them.
The first event of this program was Friday at the Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, with 100 youths attending along with 25 coaches. Reds outfielder Ryan Freel and head trainer Mark Mann held an informational session for the children. According to MLB officials, the program, known as "Hoot's Chalk Talk," will be held in many major league parks.
Steroid education for youngsters seemed to be what Mitchell was getting at in the report. He named names because he wanted those players to get out there and spread the word about the hazards of steroids. But such speeches have been scarce.
Mitchell is passionate about the topic of performance-enhancing drug use by school-aged children. Speaking from San Diego, where he was on vacation with his family, Mitchell said up to 6 percent of high school-aged kids take illegal performance enhancers. He feels the steroid issue goes far beyond baseball, beyond professional sports and collegiate athletics. He would love to see pro athletes deliver a message in which sports is put into perspective so that youngsters don't feel the compulsion to experiment with drugs for a competitive edge.
Which is why he's thrilled that MLB is involved in the Hooton education campaign.
What he has yet to gauge is how the message is getting out there.
I can tell him, except for the Hooton Foundation, the answer is "not very well." School is now out or about to be out in most parts of the country, so there will be no opportunities until September for major leaguers to walk into a classroom.
When a drug problem arose in baseball in the '70s, the reaction was one public service message after another. Major stars were on camera, in classrooms, preaching not to do drugs. Did it work? It was better than not saying anything at all.
While Jay Gibbons, named in the Mitchell Report for steroid use, sent an open letter to teams begging for another chance and offering to give up his minor league salary for the charity of the team's choice, one thing he didn't do was say he was committed to teaching kids about the dangers of what he did.
There are many opportunities for players - those named and those not named in the Mitchell Report - to spread the word. Many players do a lot of worthwhile things on their off-days. Some visit sick children in hospitals, some do other charitable things. Others make money with endorsements and commercials and photo shoots.
What if one player a day visited a school and talked about steroids and drugs? Seems like it would make an impact.
It seems many players are taking a called third strike - still licking their wounds from being named in the Mitchell Report - at a time when they should be swinging away.
George Mitchell will not judge them just yet, but the rest of us can.
About SchmidtWith the Red Sox and Phillies playing this week, here are a few questions for Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt, now a spokesman for the national Discover Boating campaign:
I know you follow the Phillies closely. Who are you fascinated by?
MS: "[Chase] Utley can play in any era. He's a consummate professional. There is no 'look at me and look what I did.' Doesn't flaunt anything. Doesn't smile much on the field. Always has a serious look. Very smart player. He'll pull a stunt now and then, and you'll wonder how he thought that far ahead. He's a lefthanded hitter who hits equally as well against lefthanded pitching. He dives into the plate. He'll take a fastball in the back. Doesn't flinch. Almost looks like he likes to be hit. I love the guy. I called him a 'baseball rat.' The guy really wants to live at the ballpark. I don't think he wants to go home. Very refreshing to see that attitude in today's game."
Any fond memories of Boston?
MS: "Never played there. Was there in 2000 for the Ted Williams tribute, which was special. I actually spend a lot of time in Boston because my daughter lives in South Boston. My daughter and son-in law met at Fenway Park. It was probably early 2000s. My daughter ran the Stadium Club there. She worked there for a couple of years. The grandkids are big Red Sox fans. I can't think of anything sweeter in baseball than the Red Sox playing the Phillies in the World Series."
Ever get mad that the steroid era maybe enhanced so many stats?
MS: "No. It would be nice if 548 [career home runs] was a stronger number than it's become. It's lesser of a feat. Everyone knows - including the players who play the game right now, you can ask them - they know that a home run is a lot easier to come by these days. They didn't take the game into the direction of technology, balls, bats, small stadiums, strike zones, less pitching inside, umpires that police the game now, not the players, and the game is a lot more friendly now. There are a lot of reasons other than steroid and performance enhancers that have created this offensive monster that we have in baseball now. I might put performance-enhancing drugs way down the list."
Would you have been tempted by PEDs?
MS: "I'm not naive enough to think if I were a player over the era in which that was going on that I would be able to stay away from that. I can't say that I would. I would have been vulnerable like anybody else. I would have been competing against players I knew would be using - seeing their names in headlines every day, trying to keep up with them. It's a very tempting thing. It's an era that's going to stand alone in the history of the sport as we get further and further from it."
Can Randolph manage to save his job?There was no bigger issue in baseball last week than the ongoing saga of the Mets.
According to a major league source close to the Mets' situation and familiar with the Wilpon family's thinking, manager Willie Randolph's tenure is "game to game," and it is just a matter of time before the patience of the owners and team president Saul Katz runs out.
The Wilpons have entrusted general manager Omar Minaya to make the decision, but his future may be tied to Randolph's.
"If Omar sticks with Willie and Willie fails, then you could see two changes there at the end of the year," said the source. "It's Willie who will be targeted first. But Omar is under fire as well for the chemistry of the team and how it's built. This isn't all Willie's fault, but he's definitely the easiest fall guy."
The Wilpons don't usually succumb to public pressure. While the New York talk shows are calling for the heads of both Randolph and Minaya, don't bet the house that both will go.
Johan Santana hasn't really given the Mets the boost he was supposed to, and the 1-2 punch that was supposed to come with him and Pedro Martínez didn't materialize because of Martínez's injury problems.
"It's really day to day," said the source. "If the Mets go on a little run, it'll be on the back burner again. If they don't, nobody should be surprised by a press conference."
Etc.Touching the bases
Apropos of nothing: 1. Johnny Damon is playing like an All-Star again; 2. What if Brian Cashman doesn't take Hank's offer?; 3. Jacque Jones: .108 in 18 games with the Marlins, .165 in 24 games with the Tigers, and the big stat: 0 for 2 - released by both teams; 4. How pathetic is Richmond, Va., dining? Veteran International League broadcasters Don Orsillo and Dan Hoard could not recommend a place on a drive through there last week; 5. Mets third baseman David Wright is the only major leaguer who has played every inning of every game.
They won't be caught short
The White Sox won't have much in the way of angst if Orlando Cabrera bails on them as a free agent after the season. Three reasons: freed-up money (Cabrera's $9 million salary), Alexei Ramirez, and Gordon Beckham. Ramirez is the second baseman who Ozzie Guillen and Ken Williams feel could move to short next year. Beckham is the Georgia All-American and last year's home run leader on Cape Cod whom the White Sox drafted in the first round. He could rise quickly to the majors, and Beckham-Ramirez could be the double play combo of the future in Chicago.
The fall of the wild
What a horrible fall from prominence for Dontrelle Willis, now in Single A Lakeland (Fla.), starting from scratch to get his career back on track. He was a 22-game winner in 2003 and now he can't find the plate (21 walks in 11 1/3 innings for the Tigers. John Lowe of the Detroit Free Press, inventor of the quality start stat, determined that Willis is only the third pitcher in the last 53 years to allow at least eight runs on only three hits, which he did last Monday while walking five in 1 1/3 innings. Because of Willis's service time, he had to approve the assignment, which he did. The Tigers won't necessarily mess with his complicated delivery. As manager Jim Leyland pointed out, "He won 22 games with that delivery." But a weight gain might be messing up his mechanics.
Tricks of the trade
There seems to be a lot of folks assuming C.C. Sabathia will be traded by Cleveland at the deadline to a contending team. The reality might be different. Said an AL general manager, "Who's going to give up the boatload of young talent that Cleveland would want in a deal like that? Yankees? Brian Cashman wouldn't make the Johan Santana deal. Boston? Theo Epstein wouldn't make the Santana deal, nor would he make a deal for Roy Oswalt a couple of years back. The Mets? Could they give Cleveland what they want? It's a lot tougher to pull off than most people think." And the other thing: The Indians play in the AL Central. One good week, and they're back in the race.
Maddon '08 edition
There was a major league official or two who felt Joe Maddon should have received a suspension for his verbal joust with Coco Crisp that preceded the Fenway brawl. Despite the suspensions that were handed out, Maddon feels the experience was a good thing for his young team. Also one of the most colorful managers in baseball, Maddon rattled off some good lines. Concerning the suspensions: "The other team is going to be on a power play. We're going to play one short." On the team's state of mind after leaving Boston: "We're emotional right now, almost downright pugilistic. And I'm OK with the whole thing." After their long road trip: "We bonded very nicely on this trip. It was a kumbaya trip of sorts."
Cubs manager Lou Piniella was somewhat serious in saying he would consider Carlos Zambrano as a DH in interleague play. Zambrano is hitting .362 with a homer and six RBIs in 47 at-bats . . . Alan Embree has now appeared in more games (808) than Nolan Ryan (807) . . . How about A's prospect Carlos Gonzalez? The first seven hits of his career were doubles. Last time that was done was in 1936, by Johnny Mize with the Cardinals . . . The Angels drafted Bruce Hurst's son, righthanded pitcher Kyle Hurst, in the 36th round . . . Happy 50th birthday, Wade Boggs.
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com