Palmeiro, Sosa & next wave crashing Cooperstown

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Palmeiro, Sosa & next wave crashing Cooperstown

Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2011
8:33 PM

By Patrick MooneyCSNChicago.com

Nearly six years ago, Rafael Palmeiro, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire sat inside a hearing room at the Rayburn House Office Building. They would not be viewed the same again after that St. Patricks Day in Washington.

Palmeiro pointed his finger at lawmakers and insisted: I have never used steroids. Period. Less than five months later, he would be suspended for failing a drug test, and claim that he didnt knowingly take steroids.

Sosa leaned on his interpreter and suddenly his English wasnt so good. McGwire said he wasnt there to talk about the past, but he would eventually, confessing his steroid use last year so that he could rejoin baseball society.

Those enduring images from 2005 will not fade away.

That much was clear Wednesday after the Baseball Writers Association of America skipped over Palmeiro and McGwire on the ballot, and sent a message for when Sosa becomes eligible in 2013.

Right around the same time the 112th Congress gathered for the first time, the National Baseball Hall of Fame revealed that Roberto Alomar and Bert Blyleven had been elected to Cooperstown.

At its best, this process elevates barstool arguments into a philosophical debate about the essential nature of the game. Baseball needs it to stay in the headlines, months after the season ended and weeks before pitchers and catchers report.

At its worst, it spirals into a witch hunt. To be sure, this remains political.

Alomar, a 12-time All-Star who won 10 Gold Gloves, received 90 percent of the vote. Despite being the finest second baseman of his generation, he had to wait an extra year before induction, perhaps because some voters still remember him spitting at umpire John Hirschbeck.

It took 14 years and an extensive Internet lobbying campaign before Blyleven was recognized for his 287 wins and 3,701 strikeouts. The right-hander with the nasty curveball earned only 17.5 percent of the vote when he first appeared on the ballot in 1998, and less than half as recently as 2007.

With that in mind, perceptions can absolutely change. But McGwires support bottomed out at 19.8 percent this time, and Palmeiro will have to make up a huge amount after getting 11 percent in his first year of eligibility.

The writers are saying that this was the Steroids Era, like they have done Mark McGwire, Blyleven said on a teleconference, as quoted by The Associated Press. They've kind of made their point. It doesnt surprise me.

Guys cheated. They cheated themselves and their teammates. The game of baseball is to be played clean. I think we went through a Steroid Era and I think its up to the writers to decide when and who should go in through that era.

A record 581 ballots, including five blanks, were cast by BBWAA members. The only other players to gain more than 50 percent of the vote were shortstop Barry Larkin (62.1) and pitcher Jack Morris (53.5). Jeff Bagwell (41.7) stayed in the picture, and this could have been the first of 15 times he will have to defend his record.

It wont necessarily get any easier. Besides Sosa, here are some of the candidates coming in 2013 and 2014: Barry Bonds; Roger Clemens; Mike Piazza; Frank Thomas; Greg Maddux; Tom Glavine; and Curt Schilling.

Whatever happens, it wont be an injustice. The game already made them absurdly wealthy and famous, all without the physical risks of, say, playing in the NFL.

This isnt a court of law, but you also shouldnt get immunity to publish any random suspicion or string together piece after piece of circumstantial evidence as absolute fact.

There is still much to learn about what steroids did to baseball. Maybe someone more credible than Jose Canseco will be willing to talk about what happened inside those clubhouses. Perhaps well see another whistleblower on 60 Minutes or read another book as enlightening as Game of Shadows.

In the meantime, all those tortured explanations from the BBWAA will still come down to a simple yes or no.

I wasn't expecting to be going in this year with the feedback I have gotten throughout the last few weeks or so, Palmeiro told The Baltimore Sun. But I thought more voters would look at my overall career and put more emphasis or weight on what I have done and not just on a positive (drug) test at the end of my career. There was a message there to be sent, and it was received."

Five hundred home runs and 3,000 hits dont mean what it used to.

Patrick Mooney is CSNChicago.com's Cubs beat writer. Follow Patrick on Twitter @CSNMooney for up-to-the-minute Cubs news and views.

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

Brett Anderson’s personality mixing well with Cubs: ‘I don’t hate anybody yet’

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Joe Maddon's T-shirt slogans can get a little old at times, but the Cubs manager found a new audience in Brett Anderson, who liked the idea of "Be Uncomfortable" after signing a one-year, prove-it deal with the defending champs.

"It's been awesome so far," Anderson said. "That's my running joke – we're a month into it now or whatever it is – and I don't hate anybody yet.

"That's a testament to the group as a whole – and maybe me evolving as a person."

Yes, Anderson's sarcasm, social-media presence and groundball style fits in with a team built around short-term pitching and Gold Glove defense. The if-healthy lefty finished his Cactus League tour on Saturday afternoon by throwing four innings (one unearned run) during a 7-4 loss to the Colorado Rockies in front of 13,565 at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick.

Anderson will open the season as the No. 4 starter after a camp that has been remarkably low-key and drama-free.

"I'm kind of cynical by nature, but it's a fun group to be a part of," Anderson said, "(with) young guys that are exciting and happy to be here. And then obviously the mix of veterans, too, that are here with intentions of winning another World Series."

To make that happen, the pitching staff will have to again stay unbelievably healthy. Anderson rolled with a general question about how he physically feels now compared to where he's usually at by this time of year.

"Obviously better than last year, because I was walking with a gimp and all that stuff," said Anderson, who underwent arthroscopic surgery to repair a bulging disk in his lower back last March. "No, my body feels good, my arm feels good and you're getting into the dog days of spring training where you're itching to get to the real thing."

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

Joe Maddon breaks down the Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella decision for Cubs

MESA, Ariz. – Matt Szczur vs. Tommy La Stella appears to be the final decision as the Cubs shape their Opening Night roster.

That's assuming good health – manager Joe Maddon sounded unconcerned about Ben Zobrist (stiff neck), Addison Russell (stiff back) and Albert Almora Jr. (stiff neck) – and the Cubs carrying an eight-man bullpen.

Maddon appeared to eliminate one variable, confirming that La Stella has signaled a willingness to go to Triple-A Iowa if necessary, which would normally be an obvious statement, except for last summer's "Where's Tommy?" episode.

"I haven't even thought about it," Maddon said during Saturday's media session at the Sloan Park complex. "It's not an issue. I thought we handled it pretty openly last year and there's been no blowback whatsoever from the players."

Beyond this – La Stella initially refused to report to the minors last July, moved back home to New Jersey and talked briefly about retirement – an American League scout and a National League scout tracking the Cubs in Arizona both agreed that Szczur looks like the superior player.

Plus Szczur – and not La Stella – is out of minor-league options now.

"When you get this kind of a talent, depth-wise, it's a wonderful problem to have," Maddon said. "And then, of course, the rules start creeping in. The rules in this situation would benefit Matt, which is a good thing, because he's a big-league guy that's been riding the shuttle. He's done it in a very stoic manner, and he's been great for us."

La Stella has allies in the clubhouse – Jake Arrieta got a Coastal Carolina tattoo on his right butt cheek after losing a College World Series bet – and goes about his routine in a quiet, diligent manner.

La Stella is not a distraction at all and can hit left-handed and play the infield – two attributes that Szczur can't bring to Maddon's bench.

"Matt Szczur, to me, is a Major League Baseball player," Maddon said. "You're seeing what Tommy can do from the left side of the plate right now. And then it's just a matter of balancing things out. We've already mentioned that some guys on the infield can play the outfield within this group, thus it presents differently regarding what you need."

[MORE CUBS: Javier Baez won’t change his style around Cubs after World Baseball Classic: ‘We’re not showing anybody up’]

Szczur is hitting .361 with a .994 OPS through 14 Cactus League games and can play all over the outfield. But that skill is diminished when the Cubs already have four established outfielders plus Zobrist and Kris Bryant able to shift from the infield.

Then again, defensive wizard Javier Baez should have the Cubs covered all across the infield in case of an emergency. With the defending World Series champs a week out from facing the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium, we're about to find out if Maddon made his recommendation or had a possible trade scenario or disabled-list situation in mind.

"I love Matt Szczur," Maddon said. "This guy as a teammate – you're not going to get a better one. Nobody's going to get a better one on any team for any reason.

"We haven't decided everything or anything yet. Stuff happens in a very short period of time. He is a major-league baseball player. So we'll just wait a couple more days, see how it plays out. But he's a benefit to any group that has him."