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MLB18 Chin Music: Baines Just Latest Cooperstown Confection In Hall of Good & Plenty

24 Dec

Journalist and junior-media alike expressed great bewilderment last week upon hearing the annoucement that long-time Chicago White Sox’ batsman Harold Baines had been elected to the 2019 baseball Hall of Fame class of induction.

But to this fan, it was the sizable squawk that proved positively bewildering.

Created in 1936 in central New York State in a town founded in 1786 by William Cooper, father of famed author James Fenimore Cooper, the Cooperstown HOF has had an open-door policy on enshrinement for quite some time now.

When names like Ryne Sandberg, Mike Piazza, Bert Blyleven, Orlando Cepeda, Barry Larkin and John Smoltz get in without nary a squawk, even as Curt Schilling and Fred McGriff get a collective cold shoulder, you have to feel the HOF door has been propped wide open, letting in good but less-than-great ballplayers to keep the fun times rolling (promotions, parades, etc.).

For the past 20 years, the typical inductee has been a guy who had great moments, even a great year, but didn’t inspire thoughts of greatness during their lengthy careers, except amongst kids and sabrmetrically-inclined who always seem to think their heroes can walk on water.

Named on less than 5% of writer ballots in his last year of eligibility (2011), Harold was elected instead by the Veterans Committee based, I believe, on these career batting numbers (rank in brackets): In 22 seasons with five teams, 2866 hits (46), 1628 RBI (34), 1299 runs (128), 384 HR (65), .289 BA (T-408), 6-time All-Star, led AL one-time in one category (SLG%-84) and in 31 post-season games hit .324 with 16 RBI, 5 HR and 14 runs. All good, but great? I guess so.

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But the bemoaners will want to save some gripe for when Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens gain entrance (< 5 years), because THAT is when the Hall will no longer be the Hall of Fame, but rather, the Hall of Shame, or Sham, if you prefer.

Like today’s fat Olympic fields, Halls are diluting on steady-stream of marginal inductees as younger, collectible-crazed voters turn what used to be a days-long walk amongst immortals into a three-day trek through Halls of Good & Plenty.

It’s a little like when Charles Schulz expanded his franchise and grew his Peanuts gallery with Woodstock and Peppermint Patty, or when Fred Flintstone found a new friend from outer space, Gazoo. The funnies just weren’t the same.

Was Harold Baines a user of performance enhancing drugs himself? Who the Sam Hell knows. We, the mass of baseball followers, like to think not. But with all the liars and cheats around today, it’s hard to know who to trust.

With the field of great HOF candidates so small, coupled with the current PED-testing policy that players have filled with holes you could drive a Mack truck through, beggers can’t be choosers. Baines will have to do.

If Harold was clean his entire career, it’s a cloud-of-doubt hanging overhead that seems unfair. But that’s the price he and his retired-MLBPA membership must pay for staying silent and NOT demanding the highest, Olympic form of testing.

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There are two battles raging today over baseball’s Hall of Fame composition: One is the long-standing issue of quality control, i.e., is the candidate truly great, of a stature such that it separates him from his peers, as say, Warren Spahn and Bob Clemente, or, is he a ballot choice that develops a patina of greatness over time, building support for election in a campaign for votes.

The other battle is of a more recent development, PEDs, were the emerging standard among junior media and collectors goes like this: ‘He gets my vote because he was a Hall of Famer before he started juicing.’ Ooooh, brother.

Assuming you have the powers of Carnac the Magnificent and can accurately pick the first year a PED suspect ‘Got needles,’ then by that absurd line of logic, bad boys Pete Rose and Joe Jackson should get induction because both were Hall-worthy before they messed-up with the gamble and game-fixing.

Okay, so the Hall is growing fat on suspect inductees and a niche of players keep playing fans for fools (Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera, Alex Rodriguez, etc.), but at least we have the baseball record book, right, a safe harbor for greatness buffered from the winds of changing mores and personal extremes? Wrong.

Officially maintained by Elias Sports Bureau, baseball’s record rolls are now tainted, with some of its most cherished marks held by seriously-suspected or proven performance-enhanced pretenders of excellence.

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Soon, those voters who grew on a steady diet of ESPN (Disney) news on Barry and Roger will make-up the majority of the BBWAA. Unfortunately, they’ve shown a collective lack of judgment capability with a boyish, sabrmetric bent as evidenced in their 2018 National League Cy Young awarding to the Mets Jacob deGrom (10-9 / 1.73e / 217i / MVP-5th) over the Nationals’ Max Scherzer. They are that same group which watched in awe as Bonds piled MVPs, Roger garnered CYs and they filled binders of memorabilia.

Bonds and Clemens, once taboo to voters, have been steady risers the past five years in Hall of Fame vote percentage, corresponding directly with the steady decrease in the average voter age. As such, there’s no motive for either to ever come clean on PED use, for their lie is also their supporters lie.

Were they to come clean, overnight those supporters (voters) would turn into their harshest critics for their collectible stock would drop like a rock in water. For now, the fallacy keeps their cards marketable.

Could it be that ridiculous? Sure it could, sport.

Roger and Barry will win election to the Cooperstown Club in the not too distant future. They’ll jump for joy and their rookie cards will soar in value once again.

But in the court of rational, mature, baseball-loving public opinion, resentment will keep growing over their ‘getting away with it’ in tarnishing the game’s sacrosanct record book and Hall of Not-So-Greats.

Bonds and Clemens have a great opportunity to man-up, set the record straight and pay back to a game that which has given them both so much.

But it takes a great man to seize such an opportunity and the Hall of Fame is fast becoming the place where the less-than-greats are being given immortality.

StevenKeys
Can of Corn
Photo credit: baseball, 9.24.06, wc.cca, Tage-Olsin; H.Baines, wc, K.Allison, 2011; B.Bonds, wc, 7.21.07, guano; Can-of-corn
Posted: 12.23 @ 8:00pE, edit 12.25; Copyright © 2018

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NFL17 Pre-Play: Cannabis, Chronic Player Pain and a National Conundrum

6 Jul

Mention marijuana (cannabis) to most NFL players and you’re likely to get a positive response, no pun intended.

Classified a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act, based largely on marijuana’s psychoactive cannabinoid, THC (tetrahydrocannabinol) (One of over 100 canabinoids, including the non-mood-altering cannabidiol (CBD) (Got your fill of biology yet?)) and the Act’s belief in that property’s serious risk for abuse, pot’s possession, sale and / or use are still prosecuted as a criminal offense in twenty-three states, nineteen more (42) if it is possessed outside of prescribed, medicinal usage.

Even so, as an agent for pain-management and escapism, cannabis, whether obtained legally or otherwise, appears to be the drug of choice amongst enough of the NFLPA membership to have spurred Dallas Cowboys’ owner and sport celebrity Jerry Jones to advocate for its allowance while speaking at the owner’s meeting in Phoenix last March.

Currently only eight states have decriminalized ganja for market sale, one of those being Cali-for-ni-a (‘99), the most recent, Nevada, and another twenty-one by prescription only. And don’t expect the former number to grow much beyond the single-digit state (no pun) anytime soon.

Even so, gone forever are the days where tokers took their only solace-in-smoke (or weed-eating, i.e., brownies) by way of High Times and the NORMAL newsletter. Business is booming for Hemp, Incorporated.

Yet, here-to-stay is marijuana’s well-earned status as a gateway drug, not just leading to stronger, more addictive varieties like narcotics, opiods, peer poisons in alcohol and cigarettes, but when engaged in youth can quickly open the door to a whole new lifestyle and not necessarily a better one. It’s one that is non-conforming to a fault while draining enthusiasm or ambition to a low level found in your forlorn basset hound. Been there, done it, woof, woof.

That status was bolstered somewhat on recent release by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s broadest study as yet conducted on cannabis – cannabinoids and their health effects on humanoids.

In January (1.17) the NA released its 468 page report* compiled from human subject studies for findings on the “health effects of recreational and therapeutic cannabis use” and that of its elemental cannabinoids (THC, CBD, etc.).

With a focus in this write on health issues most pertinent to NFL players and their employers stemming (no pun) from the marijuana issue, there was both good news and bad news to be gleaned from the lengthy report.

The good news is that “there is substantial evidence (p.90)” cannibas can be a beneficial agent in treating chronic pain, a malady concomitant with those who engage athletics over an extended period of years.

The bad news: 1) Marijuana is still a gateway drug; 2) pot can be addictive (“problem cannabis use (333)”), especially as a teen and 3) regular use of cannabis is associated with risks of schizophrenia (“substantial (295)”), bipolar disorder (“moderate (307)”), suicide (“moderate (314)”), memory loss (“moderate evidence of…association between acute cannabis use and impairment in the cognitive domains of learning, memory and attention (275)”), anxiety (“moderate evidence daily cannabis use is associated with increased anxiety (119 / 318)”) and social phobia disorder (“heavy use (120)).”

It’s a mixed bag. The bottom-line: If in chemotherapy (nausea) or afflicted with multiple sclerosis (spasticity), the “conclusive” findings (94 / 103) tilt your risk-benefit balance in favor of marijuana’s use (“oral cannabinoids”) to alleviate suffering, assuming you’ve had your prof’l consult and sorted through the national hodge-podge of legalese. In those more serious, harder to treat medical conditions, cannabis is a proven therapy for relief, and that alone is reason for re-examination of its rather draconian federal categorizing.

But where paid athletes seeking a marijuana solution for chronic pain are subject, a state so common in their bruising professions, whether by smoke or extracts (oral), the risks posed appear too great in the benefit balance, risks arising from uneven permissibility (legality) and, more importantly, from the potential for memory decline, that very same malady central to the ongoing concussion debate that plagues hard-hitting sports like football, hockey and boxing. That’s an irony that hits like Bobby Wagner: Ouch!

And when there exists effective alternatives readily available to pain-sufferers in nutrition supplements (tart cherry & noni juice, magnesium, Co-Q10, curcumin, polyphenolic-antioxidents, Bs, D3, alpha lipoic), diet adjustments ((-) gluten, sugar, cured meats) and NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (ibuprofen, naproxen)), the so-called marijuana answer to pain management, not without its merits, proves too risky to fire-up or wash-down.

Even as the mental health and cognitive findings on pot’s use and “sustained abstinence (275)” were not based on “conclusive” or “substantial” evidentiary finding (Box S-3, “Weight-of-Evidence” standards (p.7)), it’s doubtful additional NA compilations on the polarizing weed, even with gold standard double-blind placebo controlled structures sought, will reveal the opposite to be true, that memory or bipolar – anxiety disorders are improved with its habitual use.

And keep in mind that whenever federal and state governments are at odds over a national issue of legislation, leading to a broad non-uniformity, that status will trigger Commerce and Supremacy clause inquiries and then eventually end up on the Supreme Court’s docket. So don’t vest too heavily yet.

Marijuana is here to stay, legal or illegal, medicinal or diversionary. And like it or not, Charles Barkley, pro athletes are role models to the nation’s youth. Fire up the bong and make it a public issue with lifestyle or league violations and that segment of the population least able to manage the drug properly will have their lives changed forever in health risks and bad habits.

In 2015 the League (Goodell) and NFLPA (Smith) went all namby-pamby in raising, under their collectively bargained drug policy, the level of marijuana required in test to trigger a violation, essentially telling players and the public that using what is still fairly characterized as an illicit drug is A-okay with them, because lots of the using players want it that way, even as its continued use is also fairly characterized as detrimental to their health. So there’s that.

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This writer is not medically-trained (I was, as George Segal’s character “Mr. Kovacs” termed it in The Cable Guy (96), “on the pot” in my late teens, alcohol and smokes included, of course) and did not read the entire 468 page report, instead focusing on those sections most relevant to NFL player concerns. But I wrote with honesty and thoroughness befitting an 1100 word blog. For the lay-person the report is readable, somewhat unclear in spots but overall helpful by informing on a very broad and still yet under-researched subject.

Steven Keys
NFL HunchLine
Photo credit: marijuana-joint, wc.cca, T.Hansen, 2.23.08; marijuana-costume, SCCE, 10.16.16, wc, G.Skidmore; marijuana-plant, J.Martin, wc, 7.14.15; marijuana-neon, wc, SanFernando-Valley, LA-CA, L.Avocado; NFL-symbol, wikiproject
Posted: 7.6.17 @ 1:03p EST, edit 7.7; Copyright © 2017
*References: National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine: http://nationalacademies.org/hmd/reports/2017/health-effects-of-cannabis-and-cannabinoids.aspx