Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Reality Check
By Ben Valentine

Amazingly, nobody has posted on the blog in sometime. I guess we've all been swept up in midterms, spring break and NCAA tournament shock. Frankly, I don't think Sportszilla has recovered from Washington's loss to Louisville. It almost broke him. He'll recover, but it will take time. Let's all wish him well as he heals using the prozac which is Ray Allen.

Well enough of that, on to real sports. Since I haven't written in a little while, today you get a double installment. Two topics, one big news, one big news to a few.

Unless you've been living in a cave somewhere outside of Bangkok, you no doubt have heard about the steroid scandal in baseball. Everyone's addressed it; well everyone except us. There's been a lot of debate, accusations. Some have wished that players have the decency to admit to it. I could address the unrealistic nature of that request but that wouldn't be of much use to your time. So instead I want to discuss something that came to my attention last week.

Apparently, an AP poll of Hall of Fame voters concluded they would not vote Mark McGwire into the Hall when he becomes eligible. Their reasoning, or at least the one vocalized in the column, is there was no way to differentiate from McGwire's non juiced years and his juiced ones. Seems logical at first, but naturally I have a few problems with it.

First and foremost, the argument can be applied to any player. Who knows who's juiced or not? Because McGwire is a name, he gets accused. I do think he did it, but I have no proof. I mean, Roger Clemens COULD have done them, as been hinted at. But no one has proof, so nobody is talking about not voting him into the Hall on his first ballot. The reality is that people unfortunately have a mindset of the juiced athlete; the big buffed power hitter. They don't realize that steroids have a variety of functions. Not everyone who takes them gets big. The idea we can just single out a few players and solve the root of the problem, is simply addressing the problem on the surface only.

Secondly, let's assume for a moment that you can tell a steroid user JUST by looking. We'll say that big and buff equates to juiced. Well McGwire has the home run record for a rookie, hitting 49 in his first year. Have you seen pics of him back then? He doesn't look like he does now. And hell, when he hit 49, NOBODY hit 50. If he could do it then, when he wasn't big and therefore wasn't juiced, then obviously the steroids didn't cause him to hit for more power. His numbers jumped like everyone else's in the mid nineties... which brings me to my final point.

He jacked 49 that season. Really now, does Mac look juiced here?

There is simply no way to quantify how much steroids have affected the game. Offensive numbers started to escalate in the mid nineties with the advent of hitter's parks like Camden Yards and Coors Field along with the "juiced" ball (not referenced to steroids, it means the ball is wound tighter thus allowing it to travel farther), no one can truly say what kind of an effect steroids had on the game. After all steroids have been around for years; they were not even banned in the NFL during the 70's (we were reminded by the oh so vocal Jim Haslett, probably the first and only useful thing he's ever done). So players probably have been juicing for years, before the Bonds, McGwires and Giambis ever sniffed the majors. Do we disqualify everyone who has played since 1980 because of a cloud of steroids? Of course not, just like we don't disqualify pitchers for having admitted later after retirement that they threw spit balls or scuffed the ball. There's a reason you're not allowed to do these things in baseball. It gives the pitcher an unfair advantage. How is scuffing a baseball so your pitches has better movement any better than using an enhancer to hit the ball farther? Those players who cheated back in 60's and 70's broke the rules and got away with it. We don't call them cheaters, we call them competators, people who would do anything to win.
Do we have to put an asterik next to anyone who played in Denver? It's a bigger stat inflator than the roids are.

Doing anything but the same for the players of this generation would be nothing short of hypocrisy.

Landon Fails Again

Around here at Sportszilla, nothing causes more contraversy than soccer. Not even steroids. Our friends at Veni Vidi Vixi rip us for having it. Sportszilla wishes we had less of it. Fellow Jabber Jock T-Bone Mussa and I frequently disagree about it. I never like to admit weakness in anything that I enjoy, but I readily admit he's more knowledgeable about the league play than I am. However I do follow it, and consider myself somewhat up to date with the soccer world, especially World Cup qualifiers and Premeirship stuff.

With that said, I felt I had to weigh in on the recent news that Landon Donovan, undeserving poster boy for American soccer, appears to have crashed out of Europe for the second time faster than an SEC team in the NCAA Tournament. This time he burned up even faster than before, as he apparently on his way to the LA Galaxy of the MLS after once again failing the Bayer Leverkusen.

As has been appropriately pointed out on Soccernet by writer Jen Chang, people need to stop making excuses for Donovan and accept the reality. He is just never going to be a world class striker. Not unless he changes up his attitude fast.

Personally, I've always seen Donovan as a third rate player anyway, as the Sportszilla can attest to. He is a name, one which has been living off 2002 for way too long. When I called Eddie Johnson a "flavor of the month" way back when the player I envisioned was Donovan, who, outside of two weeks of the World Cup, has no credibility on a grand stage. I'm sure T-Bone will challenge me on this, but what has Donovan done? He's been a good player in what is a mediocre league at best. Even Clint Mathis, who isn't a particuarly first class striker himself, fared better in Germany.
Donovan struggling. See any game he's played outside of MLS.

The reality is Donovan is willing to accept being a top player in a third class league. It is just that MLS fans. If England, Spain and Italy are the top, Holland, Germany and France a tier below, then MLS is lucky to be notched in there with the rest of the leagues in Europe, Mexico and South America.

Complaints have always been made about Donovan's lack of playing time with Leverkusen, but chances have to be earned. Donovan is no golden boy in Europe. He's just one of many players trying to cut it. He's got no track record there and thus certainly doesn't deserve a spot to be handed to him.

If Donovan wants to be taken seriously as a top notch player, then he needs to demand he not go back to MLS. He can go to France, Italy, England, Spain, Holland, another German team; just not back to MLS. Maybe if he wants a chance on a big stage, he should go to a mid to bottom range Premiership squad; i.e. Portsmouth, Blackburn, Southampton or a team that gets promoted next year. He'll have an easier time earning a chance there. Plus there will be less pressure. He can add to his unimpressive track record and then maybe earn a spot on a top squad.
A REAL US rising star, Demarcus Beasley of PSV Eindhoven.

But until then Donovan will never be more than a third rate player in my book. If the US wants to sell a top player, look to Holland squad PSV Eindhoven's Demarcus Beasley. He's a player who didn't start out with the first team right away, but has worked himself into the rotation there with his solid play; he's third on the team in goals. When he got few minutes early on he made the most of them and unlike Donovan who tanked it that Champions League match with Liverpool, impressed when he got important minutes against on the big stage. Other young US players whose futures may lie in Europe like Eddie Gaven, Eddie Johnson or, down the road, Freddie Adu, could learn something from him.

And as it turns out, so could Landon Donovan.


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