Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Mitchell report can't burn what the needle can't find

The needle can't burn what the needle can't find
And the money won't save what the money can't hide
And part of me is safe and part of me is lies

- Seven Mary Three

When Seven Mary Three front man Jason Ross penned these lyrics, he most assuredly wasn’t thinking about baseball. Though several members of the group are avid baseball fans – especially minor league baseball – Ross is not.

He does, however, take some level of pride when people hear his songs and apply their own interpretation. No one would argue the whole of Needle Can’t Burn is about baseball, but sometimes little tidbits removed from the whole just seem to work.

Consider applying it to the recently released Mitchell Report detailing steroid use in baseball. Step over the obvious needle reference. The underlying causes of baseball’s out-of-control steroid problem are money and safety. While Ross has shown a preoccupation with the emotions, ideas and feelings we hide from others; in this case the motivation for hiding information was fear.

Some of those fears are quite rational. The Dugout has talked with more than one player who suggested that some players felt they needed the extra boost just to keep up with what others are doing.

Other fears couldn’t be more juvenile. At what age do kids learn to keep bad deeds to themselves to avoid getting in trouble?

Either way, this report could have made Major League Baseball’s worst fears come true. Turns out baseball had nothing to be scared of.

Now that the Mitchell Report is finally available, do can anyone honestly say they know more about steroid and HGH use in baseball? Were there any really surprising revelations?

Most of the big names in the report had already been rumored to be friends with the needle. While it’s impressive that Mitchell was able to implicate every major league club while using so few sources, most of the allegations barely reach the level of gossip.

Essentially, the report only reinforced anecdotal evidence that lots of players were doing lots of things, some of which were even legal. The biggest nugget The Dugout takes away from the report is that pitchers were just as busy plunging as hitters. So while some hitters’ stats were inflated by their own drug use, it seems safe to assume that others were diminished because they faced pumped-up pitchers.

Who benefited the most? Well, the cheaters did. And so did the owners. And so did the fans, who reveled in watching the grand game turn into an amped-up stickball match.

And let’s not forget the owners, who clearly looked away from the syringes, focusing instead on new television contracts and increased attendance.

Follow the money. Know that the era was tainted. Push for stronger testing programs and penalties. Invest money to find a test for HGH, which currently is undetectable in the blood stream.

In a few years some retired player with more credibility than Jose Canseco will write a book naming more players who juiced. But by then they will barely be footnotes used to sell books. Most of the hard evidence, if it ever existed, will have long been incinerated.

The more time passes, the more difficult it will become to discover where the needle hides.

One not so big name: Howie Clark was the only player featured in The Funniest Thing I’ve Ever Seen, More than 100 crazy stories from minor league baseball to be named in the Mitchell Report. The Dugout met Clark in 2004 while he was playing for Syracuse. His story may not be the funniest in the book, but it’s a different way to end this not so humorous steroid story.

The Dog Day Of Summer

Even though Howie Clark has played major league baseball for the
Baltimore Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays, he will likely be best
remembered as the man who played all nine positions in a single game
for the Double-A Eastern League’s Bowie Baysox in 1996. Now a
member of the Triple-A Syracuse Sky Chiefs, a Toronto affiliate,
Clark’s career has taken a path he didn’t foresee on that September

Clark played for Baltimore’s Triple-A affiliate Rochester Red
Wings in 2000, but didn’t have a job in 2001. He signed with the
Yucatan Leones of the Mexican League and was surprised by how
much he enjoyed his south-of-the-border experience.

“It’s different than the [affiliated] minor leagues because there’s no
where to [move up],” explained Clark, who equates the league’s level
of play in between Double- and Triple-A. “There’s no farm system.
You play to win. If you play well the town’s happy, the owners are
happy. Everyone’s happy. If you don’t play well you risk getting sent
out of there.”

As a bald American, Clark says he was easily recognizable in his
new town. Residents constantly came up to ask how he was playing or
how the team did that night. Clark considers the Mexican fans
knowledgeable about baseball, cheering often overlooked aspects of the
game such as advancing runners and good fundamental baseball.

“They cheer the home team,” Clark said. “They don’t boo the
visiting team. They have a certain class about them that made it fun to
come and play.”

But the league did have its downside. Some of the facilities weren’t
up to the standards of American minor league parks. The smaller parks
can lead to some interesting nights on the diamond and, in this case,
one dog-day afternoon.

Howie Clark: In 2001 I went down to Mexico to play for the
summer. For their spring training you play in tiny, tiny towns. The
dugout is very small and it’s super hot.

I played for the Yucatan Leones, which was in the city of Merida.
We were playing Cancun’s team in the spring, playing in this tiny
town a couple hours from Cancun. I just remember it being so hot
and there was no shade.

In the middle of my at-bat a dog ran onto the field. It just kind of
came on and ran by the pitcher’s mound. Then it stopped. Then it
started running all around. Nobody wanted to go after it. It stopped
the game for a little while, but [the game] started up again.
It happened three times that game. The same dog just came
out. I don’t know whether it just liked the game, or what. It was
definitely far removed from anything around here. They called time
and they were chasing this dog for what seemed like forever trying
to get him off the field.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Home Team Handz gives baseball the clap

The Dugout is still waiting for Home Team Handz to announce its first contract with a major or minor league ball club. That wait shouldn’t be long.

For those yet to see the story on the main MinorLeagueDugout.com site, Home Team Handz debuted a nylon glove with plastic half-globes attached to the palms at the winter meetings in Nashville. The front and back of the gloves are pictured on the right.

Clapping your hands while wearing these gloves produces a sound significantly louder than skin on skin. The gloves, which may be a bit pricey for a minor league giveaway even with the spot for sponsorship on the back of the glove, should make their appearances at major league parks this season.

The Dugout, for one, doesn’t want to be at that game. They are loud. As Matt Moore, a friend of The Dugout, put it: They are a headache on a glove.

That doesn’t mean the product won’t sell. Look at ThunderStix. Those things are utterly annoying, yet they were the hit of promotional giveaways for, what, five years? Home Team Handz puts the thunder in your palms – which is actually a benefit to those sitting behind you.

The gloves are also more durable, therefore more usable, than the balloon-like Thundersix, which should help increase the amount of grade-school detentions if giveaway days precede school days. People who wear these clap-traps seem to love them. And they draw a crowd.

They are another example of a simple idea that thousands of people will wear and think, “How come I didn’t think of this?” So congrats to Marc Kohn and Craig Maniglia for executing a good idea. Fans of these sorts of promotional noisemakers should hurry to get a pair. Those who don’t like this stuff, well you should probably get your hands on some, too. Trust The Dugout, you may not be a fan of the noise, but you certainly don’t want to be the only fan without them.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Winter meetings start dealing

Baseball’s Winter Meetings are in full swing – so to speak.

The Dugout is currently position just to the right of ESPN’s broadcast position. The media pool is in a frenzy chasing the big trade. For those who haven’t heard, several media outlets are reporting that the Florida Marlins have traded both Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis to Detroit for centerfielder Cameron Maybin, pitcher Andrew Miller, and catcher Mike Rabelo.

Maybin was the Tigers’ first-round selection in 2005. Miller was their No. 1 pick the following year.

The Marlins will also receive three other minor league pitchers. Eulogio De La Cruz is reportedly one of them. The Detroit Free Press is reporting Burke Badenhop and Dallas Trahern are also part of the deal.

This just in: Harold Reynolds just walked. He’s now working for MLB TV. He picked up a copy of The Funniest Thing I’ve Ever Seen: More than 100 crazy stories from minor league baseball. Can’t hurt to have him carrying it around.

In another player movement note, the Yankees just signed catcher Jose Molina to a two-year deal. The move is significant to Dugout fans because to make room for him, the Yankees removed Andy Phillips from their 40-man roster.

Phillips told one of the stories featured in the book Reynolds is about to read.

The Dugout spent most of the afternoon canvassing the convention center floor. The next great promotional item has been identified. You will never clap the same way again. Look for the story to be posted either later tonight or early tomorrow.

There will also be features about the latest in popcorn accessories, an interesting way for fans to giveaway their unused tickets, and perhaps a little something about an online academy that trains students for careers in sports management and marketing.

Will leave you with this guy on the right - if i can get the picture posted. For some resaon the site is exceptionally slow. His human horn show was one of the highlights of last night’s convention opening – for about 30 seconds. He clearly had too much time on his hands for a long portion of his life. Pray a ballpark near you doesn’t find this guy attractive.