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One time in 3rd grade I got caught chewing gum in class. Chewing gum was against the rules. So, I was mortified as to the possible outcome of my indictment — the teacher telling my parents.

My teacher approached me, leaned over, and whispered, “Just don’t put it under the desk.”

… I was elated. I didn’t get in trouble. All I had to do was throw it away in the trash can. It was the single biggest relief of my, now seemingly, pathetic childhood. I, along with the rest of my classmates, chewed gum in class that entire year.

Then came 4th grade, and the end of my gum-chewing days. In fact, on the first day of school, the teacher sent me to the principal’s office… for chewing gum?!?

What defines a “rule”?

Is a rule some lofty ideology transcribed in some rarely read book?

OR

Is a rule dependent upon the application of that lofty, rarely read, ideology?

I would argue that, in realistic application, a rule is only as good as its enforcement. It seems to be human nature to push the limits if they benefit us in some way. Thus, we, as a society, often seek to find those limits in the currently “grey area” of all aspects of life. Including sports. And including baseball.

Why do the steroid era players deserve to be in the Hall of Fame?

Because they were the best of the best, in their era, operating under that era’s “rules.”

At the height of steroid era, players were hitting 50, 60, and even 70 home runs a season. And as a Nike commercial infamously pointed out, “Chicks dig the long ball.”

Power hitting was good for baseball. At least, it was good for the sale of baseball as a product to the general public. Fans wanted to see home runs, so baseball wanted to deliver them. When players began amassing abnormal amounts of muscle in a short amount of time, baseball didn’t investigate them. Conversely, the MLB turned a blind eye.

So, what did players begin to do? They juiced up. And, why wouldn’t they? Pitchers were facing stronger hitters, and hitters were facing harder throwing, quicker recovering, pitchers. Ball players had to do it to keep up with the rest of the league. They did it to stay competitive or to become more competitive. In the end, they did it to help their team win.

Along with winning comes accolades, records, and money, which made winning even more enjoyable. And, subsequently, made steroids more inevitable.

But, what if baseball had strict regulations, tough testing policies, and extreme punishments for those who were caught using performance enhancing drugs (“PEDs”)?

Then none of the great players would have used them. Every time Bonds, Clemens, etc. shot up, they did a balancing test in their head. Did the benefits outweigh the costs? Yes- they absolutely did. Baseball was eating up their dominating performances. They were being immortalized, getting huge contracts, and breaking records. And, what if they didn’t? Their thought process must have considered the guys who did take PEDs and those players’ chances of over taking their current status in baseball if they didn’t use PEDs.

So, if baseball had stricter regulations, tougher testing policies, and extreme punishments for those who were caught using PEDs, players would have weighed the benefits and costs and determined that it simply wasn’t worth it. Why risk using PEDs if, hypothetically, the consequences were to be suspended an entire year and have an entire career of work and accomplishments erased for a tail end chase at glory?

Players would have been discouraged from using PEDs so that they would not hurt their teams, themselves, or their legacies.

BUT there weren’t strict regulations, tough testing policies, and extreme punishments for those who were caught using PEDs.

I know. And that is why a majority of the blame for these great players using PEDs should be on the league. Players, who had excelled their whole lives in baseball and were natural die-hard competitors, were going to do everything in their power to be the best they could be, within the “rules” of the game.

If it had been one or two players caught using PEDs, then they wouldn’t deserve the hall of fame, but since it was hundreds of players, those using PEDs were not given an edge, but merely staying with the pack.

It was an even playing field, in which the great players were great.

We judge players relative to the generation they played in. No one voting on the basketball hall of fame is going to compare LeBron James to Bob Cousy. We compare players’ accomplishments relative to the players of their time period. It’s a simple fact that athletes have become bigger, faster, and stronger than sixty years ago, and if LeBron had played in the 50’s, he may have averaged 50 points and 30 rebounds a game… or more. But he doesn’t get to play against the players of the 50’s, and by the same token, Cousy doesn’t have to play against the players of today.

Applying the same logic, baseball’s hall of famers didn’t have to play in an era when everyone was using steroids — and getting away with it. If they had played “clean,” then they may not have even had the careers that they had in their own eras.

*And as a side note, I simply don’t buy the “innocent until proven guilty” arguments. The media attention was on the great players that had allegations against them stemming from different investigations, but they were far from the only ones. It’s logical to assume that some players were using them simply to take themselves from bad to mediocre to prolong their careers. It’s called the “steroid era” and not the “steroid incident” for a reason.

Today, no player was voted into the baseball hall of fame, and it’s a shame.

Eventually, I hope that changes. There are several guys who deserve to be in. And do not misunderstand me, I do not approve of the use of PEDs and in no way condone of their use in baseball. I simply believe they were great players who worked within the boundaries the MLB had established to become some of the greatest players of all time, and these players shouldn’t be punished for being products of their environments.

If anyone should be blamed for baseball’s black eye known as the “steroid era,” it’s the owners and the league. Their application, or lack thereof, a “rule” evolved over time, and these great players, and their denial into the hall of fame, are the casualties of this unfair evolution.

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By: Tyler Raborn

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Hall Pass

Vance McCullough —  Wednesday, January 9, 2013 — 6 Comments

As members of the Baseball Writer’s Association of America (“BBWAA”) have casted their ballots, we are filled with questions on 2013’s Cooperstown crowning moment.

We could be in store for a surprise as no player could receive the required 75% of the vote (it has happened eight times in the past), or we could see a couple of ballplayers elected in the Hall of Fame this year.

But, there are many questions that one must ask themselves when looking at a hall of fame player:

How do we define greatness? Is it in the number of championships a player has to his name? Is it a career-leading statistic that etches him alongside the greats in the historic books? Is it his consistency as year-to-year All Star and fan favorite?

What if it was all these things? What if it was some combination? …or none of them at all?

What if these heroes we saw were steroid or PED users? What if they had the highest ERA (earned run average) of any player in the hall? What if some considered them a cheater? What if others considered them a hero?

How will we define greatness of those with achievements and asterisks?

These are the questions that baseball writers, historians, and fans are asking themselves on this very day. These questions will not go away, and we may never get the answer we feel is correct, but the show must go on. The ballots are filled out, the votes are in, and the results only hours away.

The voters – who are they?

To gain a vote to induct a player into baseball’s hall, you must be or have been an active member of the BBWAA for 10 consecutive years. Once a writer receives a Hall of Fame vote, he or she is eligible to vote for life. An elector will vote for no more than ten eligible candidates, with no write-in votes allowed.

Decision day is upon us. It is time for the public to see who will be immortalized in baseball’s rich history. Though the question remains, how will these electors cast their ballots?

The Baseball Hall of Fame will announce their 2013 induction class, and this year’s candidates have been the most ballyhooed bunch of all time. Bonds, McGwire, Clemens, Palmeiro, Sosa – most top candidates are associated with the juiced era and accused of using.

While others are not regarded as Cooperstown class, see Jack Morris.

To qualify for the Hall players must have played in 10 major league seasons, and the career must have ended five years prior to election. To be voted in, a player must achieve 75% of the vote to become a member of the Hall of Fame.

This is going to be the ongoing debate for years to come – what will the Hall of Fame do with the Steroid Era?

My opinion – it hurts, but it happened. People need to realize there are multiple layers to this story: the users in the game, the League, the Players Union. Everyone shares a responsibility in what is going on in the sport and we simply can’t ignore this time period of the MLB’s history. This era happened, and we must wear it like a boxer wears a black eye after a fight. To tell the history of baseball you cannot omit this storied time period because it was nearly universal, and the full story must be archived in the museum of baseball – Cooperstown.

Isn’t this the nation that loves comeback stories, going from wrong to right, and embraces forgiveness? Isn’t this the story of baseball today? Can we forgive those who did wrong against the game and themselves?

Baseball is the game that has transitioned with this country. It had Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Willie Mays, and others serve in world wars, a drug era in the 80’s, gambling issues, court hearings, and now a steroid/PED scandal haunting all who care about the sport they know and love.

And, it seems, this great game of baseball is about to make another transition.  Some will embrace it, and others will be disappointed in the new direction. I don’t know if it will be done today, but I believe the best of the steroid era players will get elected someday – even the accused.

We are all left sitting, waiting, watching for the decision to be final. During these times, where no one knows what is about to come, we all seem as frightened as we are excited about the Hall of Fame’s future.

I know this – I do not have a vote, and I wouldn’t welcome the headache. I love this game and wish it the best, but how do we truly define what the best is for its future?

At 2 PM EST today, January 9th, 2013, the BBWAA decides what is best.

I do know this: I stand for the game of baseball, but the clearness of what is fair or foul has become harder to recognize.

What say you, the sports fan, the baseball fanatic, the opinionated? Who deserves to get in?

Why or why not include those mentioned or unmentioned from the Mitchell Report movement?

Cast your vote in the Comments – let people know how you would vote – because a man’s word still counts for something and we all want to know!

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By: Vance McCullough

My Top 10 Sporting Events

Spencer Boothe —  Sunday, January 6, 2013 — 6 Comments

As a sports fan, there is always something on TV that I can watch. However, some of those events are more appealing to me than others. Some events I can tolerate, while others I would do anything to be able to watch (I thought about inserting some corny over-exaggeration here, but I’ll just let you use your imagination). So I decided to make a list of my top 10 favorite sporting events. Now I am a Mississippi State, Houston Astros, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Team USA fan, so this list is assuming that my favorite teams are NOT involved in that event. Obviously, if my favorite teams are involved, then I would be much more interested. Also, since I am in SEC country here in Mississippi, there is a little SEC bias. So here goes:

10. SEC Baseball tournament- As a former high school baseball player, baseball was always my one true love when it came to playing sports. However, watching baseball has never been as appealing to me as actually playing. I enjoy watching the SEC tournament because I know all the teams and have watched many of them play throughout the season. As for the tournament, it is interesting for me, but it’s not something that I feel like I have to watch.

9. World Series– Along the same lines as the SEC baseball tournament, I just don’t LOVE watching the World Series. I generally do watch the majority of the series, but it is generally for an inning or two at a time.

8. World Cup Qualifying– From my previous article, it is fair to assume that I am a soccer aficionado. Well, that assumption is correct. I really enjoy the sport, but I am much more of a fan of the international game, rather than club seasons. The World Cup is the mecca that every country in the nation longs to play for and win, and every country has an opportunity to get there during qualifying. 207 national teams from around the world have the opportunity to be among the final 32 that make it to the World Cup. The World Cup takes place every four years, so qualifying is taking place in between events. I really enjoy watching the qualifiers because every team is playing to advance, or to have to sit at home during the big event.

7. SEC Basketball Tournament– I am a big college sports fan, in general. Much more so than professional sports because in college players are playing to win rather than for their paychecks (I know that is debatable, especially here in SEC country). The SEC tournament is the end of the basketball season, and it is one last chance for teams to increase their seeding in the Big Dance, push themselves to the right side of the bubble, or steal a bid from someone else by winning the tournament. There is so much emotion during the tournament because for seniors it may be the last game they ever play. Every team wants to go to the NCAA tournament, and the SEC tournament is the last chance to impress the selection committee, or to win an automatic bid.

6. SEC championship game (football) – In recent years, SEC champion=BCS national champion. So, basically, watching this game is like watching the national championship game. It is always fun to watch the best team from the West play the best from the East for their shot to play for the BCS title. Even when it is not a de facto semifinal match, the game still determines the SEC winner and who will go to, at worst, the Sugar Bowl.

5. BCS National Championship– Now for the actual national championship game. As I just said, the winner of the SEC championship game usually wins this one, as well. But that is not always the case, and one of these days it will change (maybe Notre Dame this year. Probably not, though.) The national championship game is usually a hard-hitting affair for all the marbles, and it is a game that I always enjoy watching. Another thing I like about the broadcast is that they always show a “Year in Review” montage of all the big plays from the college season. It is also the last chance we get to watch football for roughly 8 months, so it is something that I cherish.

4. Bowl Season– You’re asking, ‘how can this guy like all the bowl games more than the actual championship game itself?’ Well, I do. I’m one of the people who actually enjoy watching all of the bowl games. As a huge college football fan, I enjoy watching as many games as possible. So you think that an Arizona vs Nevada matchup is boring? Well, I think that it could be awesome, and I’m going to watch it because you never know what’s going to happen. Some of the best plays of the season come in the small bowls that no one is watching. I’m watching, and I always will.

3. Super Bowl– I’ve already said that I like college sports much more than professional sports, and that is true. However, the Super Bowl is the exception. The talent in the NFL is so much better than it is in college football, and the game is so much faster. I am absolutely amazed by the freak athletes that play in the NFL, and the two teams in the Super Bowl are the best of the best. This is the last football action that we have until the preseason for the next year, so it is one last time for the guys to get together, grill out, and watch some football. Oh, and the commercials involved don’t hurt either.

2. World Cup– Yep, soccer again. I told you I love it. The World Cup is the only event in the world that the best players from each country play against each other to see whose country is superior (other than the Olympics, which I don’t care about, and other small sports that the USA doesn’t take part it). I love watching from the group stages to the knockout rounds to the finals while 32 countries battle to find out who is the world’s best. The fact that it is a tournament consisting of nations rather than professional teams is a huge reason why I am such a fan of the World Cup. Also, the fact that it takes place only every 4 years makes it that much more prestigious to me.

1. March Madness (NCAA Basketball Tournament)– And last but not least, as if there was any doubt, March Madness is my favorite sporting event. From flipping the channel between 4 games at one time on the first weekend, to the final buzzer of the championship game, I love every minute of it. The win or go home mentality makes every game as intense as possible, and who doesn’t love an upset? The first weekend of the tournament is as fast paced and unpredictable as anything else in sports (sorry NASCAR, you aren’t a sport). Does the best team in the nation always win the tournament? No, but 68 teams have a chance to win it. And whichever one of those teams actually does hoist the trophy will absolutely deserve it. I love watching every game of the tournament, and I always make sure my schedule is empty come March.

What say ye?

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By: Spencer Boothe

Feels Like ’51

Vance McCullough —  Thursday, January 3, 2013 — Leave a comment

FeelsLike51Art

When fans think of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays- they think of the Hall of Fame, the greatest names in Cooperstown, the manor of Major League Baseball. Ruth, Aaron, Robinson, Mantle, Mays – these are the names that are revered as the top baseball players the world has ever seen.

In the summer of 1951, Mantle and Mays took their first steps on a major league ball field. That year is forever written in history as the season that two of the greatest outfielders ever to play the game got their start.

Fast forward sixty some-odd years to 2012, and we have two outfielders who are already drawing comparisons to the stoic surnames of Mantle and Mays – 2012, the summer of American League Rookie of the Year Mike Trout and National League Rookie of the Year Bryce Harper.

April 17, 1951- At the ripe young age of 19, Mickey Mantle takes his first steps on the field at Yankee Stadium. The Commerce Comet got a hit in his first at bat, going 1-4 on the day, with an RBI. It was the Hall of Famers first step towards greatness, though it wasn’t a seamless season for the promising young outfielder.

While Mantle had a decent debut, he was later demoted in the midst of his rookie year. Mickey couldn’t get a hit and started doubting he was major league material. He was sent down to the Kansas City minor league club and still wasn’t hitting. He phoned his father expressing his concerns, and Elvin Mantle showed up at his hotel room the night of son’s frantic phone call.  Without hesitation, Elvin packed up Mickey’s stuff and was ready to take him home. After a heated father-son discussion, Elvin called the young Yankee a “coward,” and Mickey credits those words as the spark he needed to get back on track. The Mick took his father’s challenge to heart and proceeded to hit pitches all the way back to the Bronx.

While Mickey was warming to the majors, Willie Mays made his debut at the age of 20, on May 25, 1951. The Say Hey Kid went 0-5 in his debut and continued his hitless streak to an 0-12 mark- he totaled only one hit in his first 25 at-bats.

Mays was waning on confidence after his stagnant start. Willie went to his New York Giants skipper, Leo Durocher, begging him to take him out of the lineup, but Durocher knew what he had in his 5-tool rook. Mays’ first hit (though he didn’t collect his second for quite some time) was a memorable one – homering off Atlanta Hall-of-Fame lefty, Warren Spahn. Mays, with the confidence of his manager, stayed with it all season long and put together an award-winning year. This rookie’s resolve resulted in the first of many of Mays’ awards- 1951’s National League Rookie of the Year.

People probably see a little bit of Willie and Mickey in Mike Trout, the 2012 AL Rookie of the Year… but Trout’s debut was in the 2011 season, so how was Trout the 2012 award winner?

According to the MLB Rule Book: “a player shall be considered a rookie unless, during a previous season or seasons, he has (a) exceeded 130 at-bats; (b) accumulated more than 45 days on the active roster of a Major League club or clubs during the period of 25-player limit (excluding time in the military service and time on the disabled list).”

Trout got his cup of coffee in 2011, serving a short stint as one of the Angels in the outfield. He had 123 at-bats, a .220 batting average, 27 hits, and 30 strikeouts. He was up with the Halos from July 8th to the 29th, demoted, and called back at the close of the season, August 19th to September 28th. With only 40-days of MLB service, and 123 at-bats, Mike Trouts’ eligibility for rookie status wasn’t jeopardized, and thus 2012 would birth baseball’s AL Rookie of the Year.

Opening Day 2012 was Wednesday, March 28, 2012, and absent were both Michael Nelson Trout and Bryce Aron Max Harper. But, both players were not far out from digging into major league dirt, as they made their first appearances on the evening of Saturday, April 28th.

Like Mays, Mike Trout’s official rookie season didn’t start out as a hit. Trout was 0-9 before doubling off of Twins pitcher Nick Blackburn during his first home game of 2012. That double came on the 30th of March, and Trout didn’t have a monthly on-base percentage (“OBP”) lower than .366 for the remainder of the season. This Jersey boy was major league ready and finished with a storybook season. Trout was voted AL Rookie of the Year, finished second in the AL MVP voting, won a Silver Slugger, and was voted an AL All-Star.

Bryce Harper paved his own path to The Bigs and it was one filled with as much admiration as scrutiny. He was deemed the LeBron of baseball by Tom Verducci and featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a high school athlete in 2009. He left high school early after passing his GED test and spent a season with The College of Southern Nevada (a junior college in Henderson, NV) where he was drafted first overall by the Washington Nationals in the 2010 MLB First-Year Player Draft. He is a player who is talented beyond his years and who was impatiently waiting to explode onto the scene of pro baseball. Harper’s maturity and talent have been the prospect’s strongest suites, and the 2012 season was where it was on full display.

Harper was a surprise call up on that Saturday night in April while the Nats were on a West Coast road trip. Harper walked out of the tunnel at Dodger Stadium and was slatted to start in right field and bat seventh. In his first at bat he grounded out to pitcher Chad Billingsley. In the fifth inning he flied out to left field. But then, in the seventh, on a 3-2 count – Harper lined a double into center field for his first major league hit.

Harper later slumped in the dog days of summer, but from mid-August to the season’s close was hitting well over .330 on a Nationals team ranked atop the NL Eastern Division. This 19-year-old phenom was as good as advertised, as he was recognized for his achievements by winning NL Rookie of the Year and being voted an All-Star by the fans.

With only one season behind them, we will not be able to judge if Harper and Trout will be Hall of Famers, hit over 500 or 600 home runs, achieve multiple MVP honors, hit for the triple crown, or go down as two of the best to every play ball. But, they came in together – just as Mickey and Willie – and they’ve already got a leg up on the ’51 dynamic duo. They both won rookie of the year, while Mantle lost, ironically, to his teammate Gil McDougald!

That being said- Mantle and Mays will never be duplicated or approached in what they meant to the game.

Yet, we do know this, these four players are something special to the sport, and we need to enjoy the Harper and Trout years to come.

Mantle was a man’s man as much as he was a ladies man. He played through a rare bone disease, osteomyelitis, and rose to the occasion time and time again as the World Series record holder in total: walks, extra base hits, home runs, RBI, runs, strikeouts, and total bases.

Mays took the torch in the era of civil rights and ran with it. He played partially in 1952, and missed the 1953 season because he was fighting for his country in the Korean War. Many argue he is the best to ever take the field with over 3,000 hits, 660 home runs, a lifetime batting average of .302, and defensively recording the most putouts by any outfielder ever, with 7,095- can one really argue against it?

I am thrilled that Harper and Trout are the here and now of Major League Baseball. If they play 18-seasons like The Mick or 22-seasons like The Say Hey Kid, it will be a treat for baseball fans to watch their careers unfold. I wish them both health and prosperity, but most of all, I hope that everyone has taken notice of the historical talent that has taken the field in 2012 – just as it did in 1951.

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By: Vance McCullough