Chaos and Kanji is the blog where I write about my adventures through Japan!

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Friday, November 30, 2012

What should the Baseball Hall of Fame do about steroids use?

The Baseball Hall of Fame is just that - a hall of famous baseball players and others involved in the game. A combination of many factors have to be examined when deciding on a vote. It's about statistics, popularity, and contribution to the game. There are plenty of racists, jerks, and cheaters already in the Hall. There are a couple missing because of how they were cheating when they were caught (I'll write about one of them very soon). We can't turn a blind eye to players from the 1990s and 2000s because of suspicions. Several great players who probably never touched "the clear" and "the cream" are lumped in with others who have just because they played during that era. But the early 1990s were a boom time in baseball, and the 1998 season and Barry Bonds' accomplishments were an amazing time in the game. Their stories so far may not have happy endings, but how many AA middle relievers were also using steroids to try to get ahead. It's a product of the times.
These days, MLB fans have a lot to look forward to. Hopefully drug testing has actually improved (even if the policy isn't strict enough). Strasburg, Harper, Trout, and Posey are part of an amazing new group of players who should bring (hopefully clean) excitement back to the game for a new generation of fans.

Meanwhile, the Hall of Fame ballots will be quite controversial for the next several years. But those ten would be my pick this year. To not acknowledge the contributions of players from my childhood is to say that the games I attended, the players I cheered for, and the cards I collected meant nothing. And while Clemens and McGwire are the only two real "users" on my list (earlier today), as I've left off Sosa for the same reason Bonds is gone. The two of them expect to be in the Hall of Fame. Clemens and McGwire - based on what I've seen - don't seem to expect to make it any time soon. That sense of entitlement alone irritates me.
But let's get back to the issue of steroids. And to talk about that, let's look back at the McCarthy era communist scare. Remember how everyone just got off the hook by naming someone else involved in communism? The grand jury testimony and investigation ran just like the "trials" in the 1950s. Because no testing was involved, all we have to go on are players and trainers who may be lying to protect themselves or their teammates and associates. And unfortunately, Mark McGwire was right. To admit to steroid use meant shame upon him, but to deny it meant being branded a liar.
MLB was way behind the times on instituting a drug policy to combat this use. So while there are moral questions, the players we are dealing with on this year's ballot were never doing anything "against" the rules. In the end, it's a cloudy area for me. It's a time when steroids should have been tested for and clearly banned from the game, but that didn't happen. There were no rules in place. And we'll never know the whole, true story. I doubt there are smoking gun documents laying around at this point proving any certain players bought or used the substances, and so we have to go on the players' confessions only.

Do we turn a blind eye? No. But were Tony Gwynn, Nolan Ryan, and Cal Ripken using performance-enhancing drugs? I'd love to think not. But Ryan, like Clemens, was dominant late in his pitching career. Gwynn says he never used them, but how can we be sure? He had to have practiced a lot to be such a great pure hitter. And Ripken needed to keep his body in shape to play in so many games. Could he have used drugs to heal his body faster? Just because Gwynn didn't hit 500 home runs, Ripken's head didn't swell to be the size of a beer keg, and Nolan Ryan retired before Sosa and McGwire went on their ball-crushing rampage, doesn't mean they're clean. I believe they are. But everyone who played from the late 1980s through 2005 is suspect. There's no way around it.
Bob Gibson was a dominant pitcher, but he was on the mound when pitching was king. Does that make him any less of a great pitcher? What about this past year? There were three perfect games in 2012. Pitching has become big again. Will Verlander or Strasburg be compared fairly when their time comes to be voted into the hall, because they pitched during a weak-hitting era?

We have to accept the Steroids Era for what it was, and still acknowledge the legends of the time. How that pans out over the next few years and then into the future will be interesting to follow.

What are your thoughts? Post a comment here or link me to your blog post. I'm interested in what you think.

If I Could Vote on the Hall of Fame

I like voting. It's still kind of fun to me to take surveys and express my opinion, and I find it interesting to see how I compare with everybody else. And now that the 2013 BBWAA Hall of Fame official ballot has been released, I can pick out the ten names I would choose if I had a choice (and used all 10 of my votes)! Here they are, in alphabetical order.
Jeff Bagwell was the face of the Astros in the 1990s, and while he didn't join the 500 home run club, he was a consistently strong player and holds several team records. He is considered one of the best first basemen of all time, and his batting stance is still visible in many baseball fans' memories today. That says Fame to me.
While he may have been (okay, was) a jerk, and might have used steroids at some point in his career, he is one of the best pitchers of all time. His domination on the mound didn't just come from power, but also presence and pitching smarts. And while I'm not condoning it, having a cocky attitude may be what Roger Clemens needed to be a dominating pitcher.
Julio Franco may not hold many MLB statistical records, but he's Hall of Fame material in my mind for other reasons. He set several records for "oldest" player to do several things, and he was an all-around good guy to have on any ballclub - several of which he played for. Between eight MLB teams, at least nine minor league teams, Mexican League ball, the Dominican Winter League, a South Korean team, and twice playing for the Marines here in Japan, he might have the record for most teams played with total. I'm not sure. Over his 26-year career, he compiled over 4200 hits in major, minor, and international league play - only Ty Cobb and Pete Rose have done that too. He had an outstanding 1991 season, and holds an MLB career batting average of .298 with 2586 hits. While I think he doesn't have a chance to make it on the BBWAA ballot, I hope he eventually gets in.
Could there be anyone who looks more miserable to be riding the bench? Edgar Martinez made a career of spending most of his time on the pine while still being on the starting lineup, and might be the best designated hitter of all time. He has a career batting average of .312 with 2247 hits and 309 home runs. The award for the best DH is named after him. He is one of Seattle's fan favorites, and raised the bar for players who take the field.
Don Mattingly might be one that gets elected many, many years from now. He had a high batting average and was a great player, though he was on the worst Yankees run in the past century. Mattingly has won multiple awards and has had his number retired by the Yankees. I would like to see him elected after his managerial career comes to an end, because the Dodgers are looking pretty good and could put it all together for a while.
What do you do with a man who is a member of one of the most prestigious clubs in baseball, brought interest back to the game after the horrible 1994 strike, and recently admitted to using steroids during his career? Maybe you put an asterisk on his plaque. I'm not sure. But McGwire was an important part of baseball both during the A's dynasty of 1988-1990 and the 1998 home run chase, and he has 583 home runs in his career.
Jeff Bagwell, Edgar Martinez and Don Mattingly are all faces of their franchises. So is Dale Murphy. He didn't put up great career numbers but was a perennial All-Star, Gold Glove winner, and Silver Slugger winner. He has twice been the NL MVP. His number is retired by the Braves and his legend in Atlanta is on par with Chipper Jones. Plus, the Braves were America's Team for a long time and thus his fame reaches out beyond the southeast.
What do you do with one of the best hitting catchers of all-time? Piazza was known for his bat (.308, 427 HR) but was a pretty good behind the plate as well. He was a twelve-time All Star, ten-time Silver Slugger winner, and the 1993 NL Rookie of the Year. He should be in the Hall next year.
A member of the 3000-Strikeout Club, Curt Schilling has frequently come through in the postseason and has been a member of a World Series-winning team three times.
Another local fan favorite, Trammell ended up on several All Star teams and has won multiple awards. Between his bat and glove, he proved to be a valuable part of the Tigers organization and was half of the longest-running double play combination in history with Lou Whitaker. Statistically, he's one of the top ten shortstops of all time and ranks better than many Hall of Fame shortstops.
I put that card of Barry Bonds at the top of this post. Bonds belongs in the Hall of Fame. Whether you like him or not, he was a presence on the field both with the Pirates and the Giants. He holds a ton of records - he was the Babe Ruth of the 1990s and 2000s. I believe he did steroids, but at this point I believe that nearly everyone else did as well. He was driven to be the best, and even before he probably started doing steroids he was one of the best on the field. But I think there are plenty of other deserving players not getting enough attention. And, Bonds doesn't deserve unanimous selection. He will have to settle for less than the best.

Honestly, I really think Bonds suffered from a need to be the best. He had to be better than everyone - season home runs, career home runs - he is very close to being the all-time leader in several other categories. Even just a couple years ago, he had dreams of returning to the field, and I bet he would have played for the league minimum.

I'm going to continue my thoughts on the Hall of Fame in my next post...

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Triple Play Pack Busting 2

Let's look at another pack of Triple Play, shall we? I like this product a lot. Here's number two of five.
Buster Posey is a good start. The sue of the Golden Gate Bridge in the background adds a nice hometown touch.
 Dan Uggla looks like a high school kid here. With a massive Adam's apple. Is that accurate? I'm not sure why they chose that color for the background - shouldn't it be a certain shade of red?
 Those rays coming from Mauer's back are actually pretty-well done. Mild-mannered Joe Mauer works as a modest cashier at his local mom and pop grocery store by day, and is a model citizen in the community. But by night... he's SuperCatcher! Ready to block wild pitches at a moment's notice! Faster than a base stealer from home plate to second! Stronger than a runner during a play at the plate! Smarter than a batter when calling pitches!
 Who is the man pictured here? Where was this photograph taken? I like the idea of this subset, by the way.
 There is a lot of words on the back of the card! And if this is meant for children, perhaps they should have run it by a first grade teacher. Not many kids know the phrase "in essence" - even most high schoolers. I would also like to have seen (or see in the future, if this brand continues) more obscure rules and terminology. Most collectors should know what a pitcher's mound is. How about worm-burner? Meat?
 Hey! A play at the plate card! Either that, or the genie is about to appear. This is another fun sticker without a player.
 We've reached the last two cards in the pack, which means it's puzzle time. A-Rod looks very determined. Why do the Yankees have stars? Are they that special? Couldn't Panini have used images of the Statue of Liberty? (Yes, I get it. Yankees - Americans - Stars and Stripes.)
 The Rangers get the outline of Texas as a background. Josh Hamilton has a nice action card.
Extreme closeup! This is the back of a puzzle piece. Exciting, huh?

Two down, three to go! Stay tuned, folks.

Triple Play Pack Busting 1

I don't get the chance to bust too many packs of, well, anything these days. My disposable income is focused on sightseeing and hunting for Japanese singles. But I couldn't resist buying the last 5 100-yen packs of Triple Play found in a local card shop last month. Let's waste some posts by looking at the cards I pulled! Nobody seems to post anything from Panini these days, anyway.
 Alfonso Soriano leads off the bunch. I like the fun cartoons and the use of team colors, even though there are no logos.
 The backs are fairly standard but I like the inclusion of the trivia question.
 Ahh, Curtis Granderson. If you had stayed with Detroit, you'd have an AL Champion ring in a few months. This is a pretty action-packed photo, and you can see the stress in his arms as he dives for the ball.
 Hm. Well, there isn't much going on with Mr. Konerko here. It's a good cartoon though. There should have been more action! I like the use of the player's jersey number on the front of the card.
 I was kind of hoping one of the subsets in Triple Play would use a different style of art (though that didn't work well for Topps National Chicle). This would have been a good place for more anime-style detailed drawings.
 One problem I have with the art is that it looks too computer-y. I guess it might appeal to kids more in this style. The use of actual photography on the card is interesting. What if they had taken a photo of a generic baseball field and put the cartoon characters in the real field?
 Ahh, sticker! Of a generic player! That's kind of a nice touch, if you ask me. Baseball doesn't always have to be about the players. If I had a binder for my homework I would probably want a bunch of these all over it.
 The backs are boring for the stickers, but reminiscent of Panini's old baseball stickers. I'm not complaining.
 This is a puzzle card of O-Dog. Did I ever tell you I've played baseball with him? He's pretty cool. You'll see what the back (front?) of the puzzle cards look like later. This was a good idea, though I would rather they replace the above image with something different, such as a highlight, some interesting trivia, or maybe a funny moment in baseball.
I think puzzles are expected to fall two per pack. Given that they take up a large portion of the set, that's a good thing.

More coming up later, I promise!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Card Store Pickups: Mint Akihabara

Akihabara is a fascinating place, and I enjoy visiting occasionally. Every time I go I try to make time to pick through the offerings at the Mint/Yellow Submarine card store near the station. In fact, I went twice in a month. How do they keep sneaking new oddball cards into the mix from years ago? Where do these random cards come from? How did I miss them before? The store is quite unorganized and has more Idol card singles than baseball card singles, but a bit of hunting always turns up something good.
 I had seen these metal cards in the store a few times, but never bothered to buy one until now. It's a premium card from BBM's Legend of Hideki Matsui set issued in 2002. Each box contained a silver (shown), gold, relic, or autograph card. They're blank-backed but there are several different types.
 BBM has issued super-limited "Photo" cards for several years. This is serial-numbered and I got it at a great price.
 I've been really focusing on Calbee cards, so finding this Top Player insert was great.
 A BBM Team Set single.
 Takara! After going months with very little luck locating Takara game cards, October and November were pretty good to me.
 The 1995 issue looks a little sleeker, but there's no escaping the Takara layout.
 This is a 2002 Calbee Checklist card!
 Compare this 2012 Owner's League game card's layout to the Takara card above. (Some of the border was cut off due to the use of black.)
This is the white border version. I'm not sure what the difference between white and black is, though they aren't part of the same checklist. They might be parallels or an entirely different set.
 1990 Calbee. The hunt continues for Calbee singles!
 This card is a serial-numbered insert from BBM's 2009 Historic Collection.
 Here's a team set serial-numbered parallel. This card is found in the 2009 BBM Fighters team set and is serial-numbered to 100. The front has a sort of holofoil design.
 Yu Darvish got his own insert set in the 2009 Fighters team set. This is Prince of Power Pitch.
 Another insert set, this time from BBM's flagship set.
 Konami's 2012 Baseball Allstar's is one of the better-looking game card designs. CardGen is better, though.
Take a close look at this card and the card just above it. Can you tell any difference? Neither can I. This is the second series of 2012 Baseball Allstar's, though it has the same design. Why don't they just continue the checklist since it's from the same year? I'm not sure.
 There is a Masters set that goes along with the Owners League game card, featuring retired players.

These days, it's the inexpensive random numbered cards that keep me coming back.