Ahead of the Curve
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'Getch yur brats, beer & hogs!'

Should've seen this one coming. Damn. And I call myself a sports-writer, tsk-tsk.

Twenty years in the league, injuries rising, extended team trials, bat less reliable, nearly every accomplishment in the book, individual and team, I should've seen this coming.

When Derek Jeter hangs up his spikes for the last time at 2014 season's end, he'll be the last man out from those terrific Torre teams in the 90s and the most significant major leaguer to exit the game since Paul Molitor (1978-98) (almost went Fred McGriff).

If you're a batsman by trade, greatness boils down to 4 elements: runs, RBIs, intangible leadership and, if you get the shot, post-season play.

Jeter's PS numbers, where competition's keen and pressure weighty, are right on par with his regular season output (158g / .308 / 61rbi / 20hr / 111r). The man's a gem.

He'll leave our pastime as one of the true gentlemen of the game, in that tradition of men like Walter Johnson, Stan Musial, Yogi Berra, Jerry Coleman, Al Kaline, Sandy Koufax, Ernie Banks, Bob Clemente, Don Wilson, Robin Yount, Tony Gwynn, Hideki Matsui, Mariano Rivera and recent retiree, Lance Berkman. Men with humility, as if they understood just how fortunate they were.

Just one gripe. I'd have rather Jeter waited till season's end to make a decision: 1) there's a chance he'd play on through if he enjoys 2014 and felt he could go another; and 2) can't stand these farewell tours. The flash fans & memorabilia nuts will be out in droves.

When Derek hits Milwaukee for 3-game set (May 9-11) and gives "that Ramada" another shot, I'm thinking he gets a Harley-Davidson Electra Glide Ultra Classic tour bike, a lifetime supply of Klement's sausage (kielbasa) or Miller High Life. Gotta' go lager.

Baptism by Confetti

Last time the Red Sox were in clover,...

Progressive two-termer Woodrow Wilson was in the Oval Office;

Moundsman Babe Ruth was a Fenway favorite and beginning to wow with the bat;

And baseball's first golden age of the 20th century was coming to a close as greats like Crawford, Mathewson, Lajoie, Wagner, Plank, Walsh, Waddell and Chicago's torrid trio of bear Cubs in Tinker, Evers & Chance, were all showing the wear & tear begot in these raw times with some out of the game all together.

The decade was the nineteen-teens and the Great War (1914-18) was it's defining event, taking out ball careers and so many lives (17M) that it seemed unimaginable any future conflict could be more costly. But the War soon gave-way its headline banner to MLB's first major scandal of the young century when news of the Black Sox fix broke in 1919.

The year prior, Boston's junior circuit club had chalked-up its 4th championship of the decade, becoming century's third powerhouse, or as we'd say today, dynasty, following in the footsteps of "Husk" Chance's Cubs ('06-10) and Connie Mack's Athletics ('10-14).

Dynasty gets tossed about pretty good these days.

In besting St. Louis last October (4-2), Boston's third title in ten, some might be tempted to call this Bean-town run, dynastic. That'd be stretching it to its lexiconical limits, as it might be said to require a certain continuity in time & personnel (5 ('07)), but then calling a simple back-to-back, title-pack, a dynasty, has always struck me as a bit generous, too.

What might seal-the-deal on that dynasty tag would be another pennant in 2014 or, better yet, BoSox first consecutive World Series titles in 100 years (1914-15). And that'd be quite the feather in John Farrell's cap, a man baptized by confetti in 2013.

Two constants in these great years have been principal owner John Henry and Dominican born slugger and last year's Series MVP, David Ortiz, still referred to lovingly in some "Somerset" circles as "Big Papi."

A dedicated owner and clutch batsman. If you had just two common threads running through 10 years of "Seasons in the Sun," those are the two gossamers you'd want. Add some pitching, a table-setter, savvy catcher, cagey manager and you're in business.

Who ever knows what an owner's gonna' do but David, he's playing last year of a 2-year deal ($30M) and seeks an extension. He put up sweet stats in '13 (.309 / 30 / 103 / as Edwin Starr & "Elaine" said, "WAR, what is it good for, absolutely nothin!"), all especially savory for a man in his 38th year and eighteenth campaign.

If Boston wants to remain in clover and Ortiz can persuade on fitness, they'd do best to lock-up their cornerstone clouter for the rest of his career, agedness be damned.

Better to over-pay a proven, loyal commodity in twilight than lock-in long-term & lavishly with so many hopefuls (ATL / LAD). A lifetime achievement award? Nobody wants one a' those. Call it the 'gold watch extension,' like Gramps got after his many years dedicated of sales service , this one just happens to be worth, oh, 12.75M?

He's no Bambino but then in these times, Ortiz has been the next best thing in Hub City. Just control yourself in the dugout this year, big fella.'  Nobody likes a brat with a bat.

Dirty Little Secret

Okay, it's not really dirty, per se, more like, spotty, and it's not really a secret, but who ever peruses baseball's "Joint Drug Prevention and Treatment Program," apart from players in a jam and a handful of labor lawyers?

Baseball would have you believe that presently, every player is subjected to a regular season blood draw for HGH, but don't you buy it.

"In-Season Testing" for PEDs & reds is still confined largely to "spring training," where "Each player" will submit both urine (3.A.1., + add'l) and blood samples (3.A.3. / hGH).

Two more remote possibilities for an additional blood draw:

1) the "IPA (Independent Program Administrator) may schedule unannounced, random testing...during the off-season (3(c));" and

2) "in the event (there is) reasonable cause to believe a Player has, in the previous 12-month period, engaged in the use (etcetera) of (PEDs or stimulants) (3.C.1.)," that "Player will be subject to an immediate urine and / or blood specimen collection," after notice and the right to dispute the existence of reasonable cause ("commence a proceeding") is afforded "that Party" who received the "(RC) Notification."  Phew.

Translation: sizable window of opportunity is still open for cheaters to slither through.

I'm confident many MLB'ers would like PEDs outta' the game. And any strides forward baseball has made in instituting blood draws and establishing a base testosterone level for all players is downright grandiose compared to the other majors who've done nearly nothing beyond the limited benefits of urine testing.

But just imagine what today's cheater can do in the current MLB testing time-line.

Once his blood is drawn in spring he can start right on his PED plan, scale back as need be, play his cards right and he won't have his blood drawn again until the robins return.

And in the benefit-risk analysis, for the shallow mind, it's a chance worth taking.

Biogensis was a feather in baseball's cap but less a testament to MLB's drug policy and more a once-in-a-blue-moon, stroke of good luck for protectors of the game's integrity.

The fight against PEDs will never end. Cheating, for too many, is now entangled in the cultural DNA. And it jives with the Machiavellian 'ends justify the means,' a guiding principle in today's business philosophy, top to bottom.

More parents push their kids into sport, coaches are pressed hard to win and take out frustrations on anyone w/in ear-shot, the Biogensis list showed us the PED connection south-of-the-border is alive & well and then no player, not Jeter nor Ortiz, is entirely above suspicion.  And if you can't handle that reality, take it up w/ MLBPA and it's rank & file.

But the sooner that testing-window gets shut tight, the sooner cheating with drugs can become a thing of the past, the 'Good Dugout Seal of Approval' restored to every ball-club & player and a standard set for the nation to follow.

"Instant (Good) Karma?"

Instant replay: it's the penicillin of sport, purporting to cure every tantrum triggering ill and mollify every boo-hoo that rains down from the stands.

And like the wonder drug, IR is best when used sparingly, but then that ship's sailed.

I'm not a fan. Oh, I used to be, until it became clear replay was a momentum killer and snooze-enhancer.

Team sport was not invented for exactitude, unlike building bridges and heart surgery.

I can live with the occasional mistake or concession to tradition (expediency) made by officials, as rare as they are. I think that's called maturity.

But we live in selfish times, lots a' egg-shell exteriors & entitlement mentalities, hard-hats, PC'ers and everything in-between. 

Baseball's proud of its off-season upgrade to instant replay. And though not a fan, I'd give the effort a thumbs up. The home-plate alteration and double-play pass are hard to appreciate at this point, but we'll be hopeful.

New & improved instant replay: Instant Karma or Pandora's Box, time will tell.

Steven Keys

Can o' Corn

Photo Credit: J. Farrell / 7-27-13 / K. Allison / wc.cca

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