Press Row: Dec. 11, 2006

Press Row: Dec. 11, 2006

Sports pages around the country are buzzing with baseball news. Here are some outside takes on events happening in and around the Major Leagues:

George Vecsey: "The steroids, the Hall, the shame"
Dan Shaughnessy: "Hits or errors for GM?"
Paul Sullivan: "GM out of hospital, but Cubs concerned"
Richard Justice: "Final thoughts on Drayton, Bud and the $76-million man"

Other stories from Dec. 11

George Vecsey: "The steroids, the Hall, the shame"
The sight of Barry Bonds lurking in a hotel lobby at the Winter Meetings was so delicious that the baseball press could not resist making him sound like some unemployed first-base coach.

Bonds's agent termed that conclusion the most irresponsible story in the history of journalism. As far as I'm concerned, if sullen, swollen Barry Bonds trudges through a lobby at Disney World, reporters have a free pass to imagine him bearing a tin cup, mooching for nickels.

The man with the outsized mandible has left himself open to such flights of fancy by consorting with seedy types like the boys from Balco and a personal trainer-supplier. Major League Baseball, which raked in the shekels from the steroid-driven home run frolics, is not about to bust Bonds or take back a percentage of his home runs. But we all pretty much know what happened when Bonds used those drugs and cream that people just kept giving him.

As it happens, Bonds agreed to a one-year, $16 million contract with the Giants, so he can collect his 22 home runs to pass Henry Aaron's career record of 755, a chase that figures to be mostly joyless.

The steroid years -- if they are indeed over -- keep ticking, with the duration of Chernobyl. Mark McGwire, the bulked-up behemoth who briefly held the single-season home run record, is on the ballot for the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he is likely to be shunned by a significant percentage of the voting baseball writers.

The New York Times does not allow its employees to vote for awards -- a sensible policy, since the paper wants us to report news and comment on news rather than make news. So here's my opinion.

There are plenty of worthy candidates for the Hall this year -- Tony Gwynn and Cal Ripken Jr., both no-brainers, and also Rich Gossage (more fearsome than Bruce Sutter) and Jim Rice (comparable to Billy Williams and Tony Perez). Let McGwire wait a decade or two, by which time he may be growing a second head from the androstenedione and whatever else he might have been using.
-- The New York Times

Dan Shaughnessy: "Hits or errors for GM?"
Hot stove? It's a scalding griddle for young Theo Epstein. He could get burned.

This past week was yet another demonstration of why ours is the best baseball town in America. Certainly there are places where fans love their team unconditionally (remember St. Louis, Edgar Renteria?), which makes for a cushy environment for players -- but there is no baseball region where the team matters as much as the Red Sox matter here.

It is Dec. 10 and the local football team is possibly bound for its fourth Super Bowl in six years. The Bruins are on the rise, the Boston College football coach bolted with a bowl game still on the calendar (Chuck Fairbanks-like), UMass is playing for a national championship in football ... and we're still wall-to-wall Red Sox. 24/7. Matsuzaka film at 11.

In our town, baseball news and non-news is breathlessly reported every day. Stuff happens so fast your head spins around like the little girl in "The Exorcist." Manny going? Roger coming? Seventy million dollars for J.D. Drew? Why Lugo over Gonzalez? Who is the closer? Can they sign Matsuzaka by Thursday? When did Theo decide to go all Duquette on us? Whom does Curt have on speed dial? Oh, and thanks for that championship, Keith Foulke, but don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out.

Did we mention that Friday's New York Times featured a column by Hall of Famer Murray Chass that indicated the Dodgers might file tampering charges against Boston (they haven't yet) and stated, "People in baseball now seem to view the Red Sox as a team that feels it can operate outside the rules ... the team seems to be the subject of resentment."

There have been a lot of Sox-centric winters through the years, but the dollar numbers keep rising and so does the level of interest in the local nine.

Theo is the man in the middle. And he's newly vulnerable -- like a skinny small forward planted in the paint, closing his eyes, and waiting to take a charge from Karl Malone.
-- The Boston Globe

Paul Sullivan: "GM out of hospital, but Cubs concerned"
Jim Hendry was released from an Orlando hospital Friday and was feeling better after a health scare at baseball's winter meetings. But the Cubs may ask him to scale back his duties in the coming weeks while he recovers from Thursday night's angioplasty procedure.

Hendry's doctors ordered him to remain in Orlando until Sunday. Hendry said the doctors wanted him to "kick back" for a couple of days before getting on an airplane.

"I'm feeling really good," said Hendry, who expects to be back to work Monday. "I'm back to myself. I'm very thankful to the guys that work with us who finally convinced me to go to the hospital. I've had hundreds of calls and messages the last two days from people all around the game and friends of mine.

"I'm very, very grateful for the support I've had from the people who care about me. I'm feeling a lot better and very, very appreciative for everything people have done for me."

Cubs interim President John McDonough, saying he needed Hendry "for the long haul," plans to talk to his general manager Monday and convince him to slow down a little. Hendry's top lieutenants-Gary Hughes, Scott Nelson, Ken Kravec, Randy Bush, Paul Weaver and Chuck Wasserstrom-are front-office veterans who can man the fort while Hendry rests.

Getting him to relax is another story altogether.
-- Chicago Tribune

Richard Justice: "Final thoughts on Drayton, Bud and the $76-million man"
We may never know why this went down the way it did. It couldn't have been about money. Andy Pettitte's two-year, $32-million deal with the Yankees is huge, but it's not outrageous in this market. Besides, it could have been structured to give the Astros relief in the first year. If there was an alternative out there somewhere, that would be one thing. As far as I know, there's not. GM Tim Purpura seems to be scrambling to find one after the Jon Garland trade fell apart.

It makes no sense to take a hard line after going nuts on the Carlos Lee deal. One day you're spending like the New York Mets. The next day you're the Oakland A's. Maybe Bud Selig did apply pressure to slow down in the wake of Lee's deal. Pressure has worked with Selig before. Some teams ignore the commissioner; McLane doesn't. He wants to be a good soldier. McLane once ordered his people to renege on an offer to a high school draft pick after the commissioner's office complained about the deal being too high. That pick's name was Drew Stubbs. He was the eighth overall pick of the Reds last summer after a nice career at UT. If he becomes a star, McLane will be reminded of his mistake each time Stubbs come to the Minute Maid Park. (If Jimmy Barthmaier and Troy Patton become bigger stars, it will have worked out. Barthmaier's contract prompted the commissioner's office to complain about Stubbs. McLane apparently felt bad about pulling the offer off the table and allowed his people to overpay the slot price for Patton the next year. Yes, this is way too complicated and way too off the subject.)

(I'm not sure Bud Selig had much time to worry about the Astros this week. He just learned that baseball's most hallowed record is going to be broken by a cheat. That's what Barry Bonds signing with the Giants for 2007 means. How does he plan to convince Henry Aaron to be there when Barry Bonds hits No. 756. For that matter, how will baseball handle it? Will it be ignored the way other recent Bonds milestones have been? Will baseball hold its nose and pretend Bonds is not tainted by steroids?)

The thing is, it's not a large amount of money. The two sides were within $2 million of an agreement in 2007. If he stays healthy, his $16-million asking price for 2008 would have been reasonable. He said he wouldn't exercise the option if he was injured.

Maybe it'll work out anyway. From the beginning of this offseason, you could make the case that the Astros shouldn't do one thing in free agency, or to spend only on bargain-level players the way the A's do. To do so, you have to have a GM who is (a) very good and (b) very confident this way will work. You also have to be prepared for failure. Young players do fail -- at a high rate. That's why the Yankees until recently didn't play many of them. They found out veterans didn't guarantee them anything, either, but that's another story. Let's just say for the sake of argument, you do nothing. You don't lose anyone, you don't keep anyone.

You fill your staff internally with Jason Hirsh, Fernano Nieve (bad elbow at the moment), Taylor Buchholz, etc. You give Troy Patton and Juan Gutierrez every opportunity to make the jump from Double-A to the big leagues. You can actually see this working out.
-- The Houston Chronicle

Other stories from Dec.11
"Tamper tantrum on tap? Red Sox, Dodgers could take gripes to MLB"
-- Boston Herald
"Fearing inflation at the same time as fueling it" -- The New York Times
"In today's market, even Ohka may be beyond Nats" -- The Washington Post
"With power low, Colletti must work the phones" -- Los Angeles Times