Friday, August 20, 2010

Fridays with Franco

Hope you all liked it when FTC came out of the woodwork to comment on Big Ben and LeBron, because we may just pile on, regarding the woeful Rocket.

Matt makes some good points in his post, and that's why we keep him around. However, he's wrong. Clemens is worth indicting, and if found guilty, deserving of punishment.

We can all agree that Congress was absurd in spending tax payer money on steroid hearings. But beyond that, let's consider two things: 1) the US government's relationship with MLB is absurd, and 2) the steroid inquiry wasn't just about grandstanding, but also political diversion. It came about after George W. Bush mentioned the topic in the 2004 State of the Union address. Between redefining the mission of the Iraq War to no longer include WsMD, and warning Americans about the perils of gay marriage, the president took time to address performance enhancing drugs in professional sports. I remember Jon Stewart pillorying him for such a lame diversion, but lo and behold, George W. was right on the mark-- and a full year before Jose Canseco's whistle blowing.

Not to be too cynical, but our politician leaders act in accordance with news cycles, and when they anticipate a particular week, or month, or more to be potentially brutal, the typical ploy is to reinvent the news. The Bushies were getting slammed in the polls, and the news cycles were being dominated by things like Abu Ghraib. This is where the grandstanding over steroids found its groove.

But none of this has to do with Clemens.

Here's the thing: for as absurd a use of government as the 'roid hearings were, what became an even more scandalous sight was the way Congress treated one, unintended victim. You see, Roger Clemens is a friend of the GOP, a friend of George HW Bush, and a friend of George W Bush. His being caught up in all this was an unintended consequence, and as such, the republicans on the oversight committee were charged with protecting him.

But let's be even more specific here: Clemens didn't need protection from anything. The finger-wagging, grandstanding, diversion hearings were totally unenforceable. Congress called a couple famous juicers before them, got them to cry, and then let them go. Clemens got in trouble because he came back for more.

He is being accused of perjury, not because the US government wasted time and money subpoenaing his shrunken nuts, but because the US government's time and money was wasted by Clemens voluntarily coming before it, for the purpose of defaming his accuser.

The US Congress used Clemens and others as props in its PR campaign. Clemens came back and used Congress as a prop in his own PR campaign. While it's hard to respect the government institution's actions in this case, the appropriate recourse for us, The People, is to demand better; not to disrespect the institution with our own actions. No one should be allowed to use Congress as a platform to tell lies; not politicians, not citizens. If we really want to get back to believing in the institution, we must hold everyone accountable to this contract.

I have no problem agreeing that our justice system is whack, and that punishments rarely fit crimes in the cases of celebrities or athletes. But let's step back from all the goofiness, and just look at this for what it is: a man voluntarily testified in front of Congress, after being advised by the panel to either not testify, or tell the truth exactly. It's now clear that he may have lied under oath, and therefore it is reasonable to charge him with obstruction of justice and send him away for about a year. Yes, it's victimless, and that's why we're saying he shouldn't get the chair. Yes, it's lying under oath in front of a very high institution, and that's why we're saying he should get some kick in the ass.

That's my take on it.

Moving on...

Let's give Neal 'real deal' Huntington a shout-out. Three years ago, he took over this mess of a baseball franchise. His plan was unpleasantly long-term, and loaded with opportunities for Pirates' ownership to shirk paying up. The plan was outlined like this:
1) Cut everyone in the majors who makes above minimum wage; we're terrible, and don't need to spend money to keep losing. (DONE)
2) Use the money saved by the major league purge to relaunch our development program; oversees recruitment and domestic scouting. (DONE)
3) Infuse unprecedented cash into the draft, so that we never have to fear negotiating with the best player on the board. (DONE)*
4) Spend big bucks at the major league level when the good players arrive from the minors. (PENDING)
5) Win. (PENDING)
6) Trade good players for a net growth in our farm system, so we not only have enough good players to win, but also good players to deal for a third generation of prospects. (PENDING)

Part 6 sucks, but not as much as being stuck in parts 1-4. And truthfully, there is something neat about the trade-to-replenish model. A league without a salary cap is an unfair game, and there is certainly an art to winning it.

Anyway, I mention all this because this past week marked a big moment in this plan. No one was going to doubt that the ownership would be fine with part 1; as Pirates fans, we expect our front office to be cheap. And part 2 is the kind of under-reported thing that takes a while to gauge. What happened this past week was that Neal Huntington gave us a sign that he has every intention to fulfill his promise on part 3. He signed the big two pitchers in this draft, gave them boatloads of money, and then continued to spend on the lower rounds. Obviously we're still waiting to see if ownership will keep its promise to lock up this talent once it develops, but knowing that they came this far is a big deal.

Our congratulations to Huntington is still pending, but our faith in him is renewed for another while.

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