Clearing the Bases, Artificial Wood Edition

We have much to discuss…

• In a day that centered around the discussions of substances, it was refreshing to see the triumph of substance on at least one TV show. I stayed up late to watch Will Carroll and Alan Schwarz (of ESPN, Baseball America and The New York Times) appear on CNBC’s The Big Idea with Donny Deustch, talking to the host about the Rafael Palmeiro revelations. Both writers did an excellent job of standing up to Deustch’s tabloid-driven sensibilities, making intelligent, complex points in a clear, coherent manner.

Carroll addressed wild-ass allegations made by Jose Canseco about the length of time a steroid metabolite can stay in one’s system, and about the chain of custody in the testing procedure, two technical areas that he covered well in The Juice: The Real Story of Baseball’s Drug Problems. He hammered at Palmeiro for not revealing what substance he tested positive for (this was recorded in the afternoon and while he’d certainly heard the rumors that the drug was stanzolol/Winstrol, that leaked information wasn’t published until late last night). He called for tough questions directed at commissioner Bud Selig and MLB Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr over the delayed timing of the announcement. He was good.

Schwarz was even better, getting off the show’s best soundbite. Deutsch, who’d had Canseco on the night before (seen in a tank top showing his greased-up, tattoo-covered shoulders to rather unappetizing effect), tried to assert that his being right about Palmeiro gave complete credibility to the entire book was right, a notion Schwarz dismissed very fluidly: “I think it’s extraordinarily dangerous to suddenly decide that Jose Canseco is a prophet to whom we all should listen. The guy is a narcissistic goon who insists on claiming as if he knows everything about this subject.”

Score one for the smart guys.

• If the New York Times revelation that the substance Palmeiro tested positive for is true, the slugger is screwed. Stanzolol, better known by its brand name as Winstrol, does not come in any dietary supplement that might have just slipped into Palmeiro’s medicine cabinet by mistake. It’s a popular anabolic steroid, and a heavy hitter in the pharmaceutical lineup. The identity of the substance was leaked to the Times:

The person who said that Palmeiro tested positive for stanozolol did not want to be identified because the testing policy prohibits anyone in baseball from disclosing information about test results without authorization.

…Palmeiro said Monday that he had never intentionally taken steroids, but stanozolol does not come in dietary supplements and is among the most popular steroids on the market. It can be ingested or injected and usually remains in a person’s system for at least a month.

“It’s a mildly strong to strong steroid,” said Dr. Gary Wadler, a professor at New York University who is an expert in sports doping. “Potent is the word I would use.”

…In 2003 and 2004, Major League Baseball reported 128 positive steroid tests, including 74 for the steroid nandrolone (known commercially as Deca-Durabolin) and 37 for stanozolol. But last year, only one positive test was for nandrolone and 11 positive tests were for stanozolol, an indication of a changing trend.

Dr. Harrison G. Pope, a Harvard professor, psychiatrist and steroids expert, said nandrolone is detectable in the body for a much longer period than stanozolol. Nandrolone also was common in dietary supplements before it was added to the list of controlled substances in 2005.

If that 128 number has you scratching your head, it’s because several of the players who tested positive — 96 in 2003, 12 last year — tested positive for more than one substance, a term known as stacking. According to Carroll, “Stacking Deca and Winny is pretty common.” Deca/nandrolone is also the steroid most commonly associated with “false positive” tests due to the widespread use of a metabolite. Winstrol/stanzolol is less easily challenged because it’s not in any supplement. In an email, Carroll described the substance:

Winstrol’s a seriously potent anabolic steroid that’s been around for decades. It’s probably the second most commonly used steroid in baseball, after deca, due to its short transit through the body. It is short-acting, so must be taken daily. It can be injected or taken orally, in depot form. Winstrol has similar efficacy to deca without the side effects of gynecomastia (growing breasts on a man) and “juice bloat.” I won’t bore you with the 5-alpha reductase or methylization profiles, so let’s just say it’s effective, it’s potent, and that it’s used mostly for “cutting” — getting ripped and recovering — than it is for bulking.

In today’s edition of “Under the Knife,” Carroll elaborates further:

This is the same steroid that Jose Canseco said he used on Palmeiro in his book. There are few products that could cause a cross-indication of Winstrol in the system, putting more of a burden on Palmeiro’s defense that he doesn’t know how it got into his system. Sources tell me that further developments in the case should come public in the next 48 hours. For those of you that have jokingly asked me about the use of Viagra by bodybuilders, don’t laugh. Viagra is a nitric oxide enhancer and some advanced researchers in the anabolics field have discussed the use of Viagra in muscle recovery.

Elsewhere, Wadler told Newsday if the substance was stanzolol, then Palmeiro’s explanation didn’t wash:

“If it’s stanozolol, this was a deliberate act… The likelihood of sabotage is remote and improbable, and to suggest as much would be to send people on a wild-goose chase.”

Palmeiro has thus far refused to confirm the identity of the drug, citing confidentiality rules. But as ESPN’s Buster Olney points out, those rules are built in to protect him, meaning that Selig or the Players’ Association can’t talk about his case, though he can. That he won’t is a sign that his explanations about “cross-contamination,” his usage, and his intentions won’t stand up to harsh scrutiny. He is up shit creek until he comes clean.

• In other steroid news, MLB disclosed that Seattle Mariners pitcher Ryan Franklin had tested positive for a banned substance and would be suspended the requisite 10 days, the eighth player caught under MLB’s new policy. Though the timing on the heels of the Palmeiro revelation was odd, Franklin’s case got much less coverage. Like the first six players caught, he’s a marginal major leaguer rather than a star; thus far this year he’s 6-11 with a 4.61 ERA, and nobody’s ever going to have to fret over whether he belongs in the Hall of Fame despite his transgressions.

Like Palmeiro, Franklin won’t reveal what he tested positive for, though he vehemently denies using any substance. He claims he was tested in May, first turning up a positive, and then a negative on a second test three weeks later. He claims that the reversal indicates a flaw in the testing procedure, but given what we know about how quickly some drugs pass through the system, that’s not necessarily the case.

Also like Palmeiro, Franklin’s case was heard by an arbitration panel, meaning at least one member of a four-person panel (MLB executive VP Rob Manfred, MLBPA lawyer Gene Orza, and one doctor from each side) initially found “reasonable basis” for a challenge, though in the end, his appeal was denied by MLB arbitrator Shyam Das. The back-to-back nature of the announcements and the fact that both went to arbitration hints that the hearings were the cause for delay in revealing the positive tests. Like appeals for any other suspension, these things don’t always happen in the fastest fashion, generally requiring the presence of all parties to take place.

Still, especially with regards to the Palmeiro case, the timing issue is troubling. The Baltimore Sun reports that Palmeiro tested positive in May, appealed in June, and then had to await the decision, which wasn’t signed off by Das until Monday. Only certain representatives of MLB and the MLBPA knew about the results prior to Monday’s announcement. The Orioles organization apparently didn’t learn of the positive test until Friday.

• If you’re looking for some perspective as to how we’ve reached this crazy point regarding steroids, there’s a new book out that should be at the top of your list: Howard Bryant’s Juicing the Game, which hit the shelves last month. Bronx Banter’s Alex Belth reviews the book at length, calling it a logical successor to John Helyar’s classic history of baseball’s labor-management wars, Lords of the Realm (a book I can’t recommend highly enough). Helyar’s book ends amid the 1994 strike, which is where Bryant picks up the baton. Belth describes the book as

…an insider’s history of the professional game since Fay Vincent was commissioner. It features a huge cast of characters and explores how and why the current Offensive Age, the Steroids Era came to be. Perhaps the most compelling aspect of the book is that Bryant does not attempt to simplify a complicated situation. The bottom line may not be complex (mo money, mo problems), but Bryant doesn’t lay the blame on one thing in particular — instead, the entire game is complicit…

While Belth’s review is informative, I’m obliged to give him a little tweak for not disclosing that his partner in Bronx Banter crime, Cliff Corcoran, was the book’s editor (both Cliff and Alex are great friends of mine as well, so caveat emptor). Nonetheless, Belth, who took Bryant’s writing style to task in discussing his first book, Shut Out: A Story of Race and Baseball in Boston, has fewer complaints about the style here, saying that the story was told with “great precision and focus,” important in a book that’s 400+ pages. Having cracked open my copy of Juicing the Game last night, I concur — I couldn’t put it down until about 2 AM. Ignore it at your peril.

Juicing the Game‘s arrival and immediate relevance has caused me to put aside another book I’ve been reading, Matthew McGough’s Bat Boy: My True Life Adventures Coming of Age with the New York Yankees. Remember the story from the New York Times a couple of years ago where a bat boy described being sent on fool’s errand of finding a left-handed bat stretcher by Don Mattingly on his first day on the job? That’s McGough’s story, and from what I’ve read in the book, he’s got an entertaining inside glimpse at life in the dugout and the bowels of Yankee Stadium, circa 1992-1993. It’s a lighthearted memoir that I hope to get back to soon, and once I do I’m planning to catch up with McGough for a little Q&A or something.

• In non-steroid-related news, the latest version of my Prospectus Hit List went up as usual on Tuesday, jam-packed with trade deadline analysis and references to Shakespeare, Faulkner, Coleridge and Stengel. The Cardinals are still #1, the Yankees are sixth, and the Dodgers have fallen to #25. Ouch.

• When we would watch ballgames together, my late grandfather (who was once offered a professional baseball contract) always rolled his eyes when a pitching coach or manager would visit the mound to discuss… whatever it was they were discussing. “Tommy Lasorda’s asking him if he heard the one about the Irishman. My aching back…” was a familiar refrain.

A recent Seattle Times article by Larry Stone, “10 great moments in ‘chatting’ history,” offers a handful of hilarious anecdotes about those discussions. Speaking of Stengel, my favorite concerns the Old Perfesser in his twilight years with the Mets:

Casey Stengel was a purveyor of memorable mound quotes. One time, Tug McGraw begged Stengel to let him stay in a Mets game.

“Let me pitch to one more man,” McGraw said. “I struck him out the last time I faced him.”

Replied Stengel: “Yeah, but the last time you faced him was this same inning.”

Another time, in a game against San Francisco, Stengel went out to talk to Mets pitcher Larry Bearnarth with two on, no outs and future Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda at the plate.

“Tra-la-la,” was all that Stengel said before walking off, leaving a puzzled Bearnarth. On his next pitch, Cepeda grounded into a triple play to end the inning. Bearnarth couldn’t wait to ask Stengel what “Tra-la-la” meant.

“Tra-la-la, triple play,” replied Stengel.

Don’t miss it, especially if you need a laugh during these dark days for baseball.

• Yes, I was at Saturday’s Yankee game. I left early, when he score was 7-3, and thus missed their dramatic comeback. I was by myself and had sat through the bullpen blowing the 3-1 lead that Shawn Chacon had left them with in his pinstriped debut. As soon as I heard Bob Sheppard intone, “Now pitching for the Yankees, Wayne Franklin…” I was out of there. In the words of South Park‘s Eric Cartman, “Screw you guys, I’m going home.”

I’ve got almost an entire writeup of the game done, but deadlines and events have conspired to shift it to the back burner. It’ll have to wait until things slow down. Tra-la-la…

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