Buster Olney: Bud Selig

It's time to let Pete Rose back in 

February, 13, 2015
Feb 13
videoMore than 25 years have passed since Bart Giamatti announced that Pete Rose had accepted lifetime banishment from baseball.

That’s long enough.

No real purpose is served by keeping him locked away from the sport anymore. The time has come for Major League Baseball to find some middle ground with Rose -- to let him back in, in some way, to create a loophole within the rules they control.

This year is the perfect time for Rose to be paroled by baseball. The All-Star Game is in Cincinnati this summer, and Rose should be on hand, perhaps even to throw out the first pitch, or more appropriately, catch it, as host to the baseball gala in his hometown. Rob Manfred has just taken over as commissioner from Bud Selig, who carried the responsibility of keeping Rose outside the gates in spite of a groundswell of fan support for his reinstatement. Selig knew what Giamatti went through in that horrible summer of 1989, during the stressful and devastating investigation of Rose, and because Giamatti died eight days after that announcement, no one could blame either of the two men who succeeded him, Fay Vincent and Selig, for harboring a personal distrust of Rose and a personal distaste for him. Rose committed baseball’s capital offense, betting on games, and then lied about his actions for years.

For his crime within the sport, Rose was given what could be regarded as the most significant penalty allowed for someone whose whole life has been built around baseball.

But with Manfred now in power, he should consider Rose’s situation again. Keeping him out no longer serves a practical purpose, and if Manfred lets him back in, Rose can help the Reds, at the very least.

This doesn’t necessarily mean that Manfred has to give Rose the benefit of full reinstatement -- nor should he, because of the precedent it would set. If Manfred welcomes Rose back into the sport with no strings attached, then he would have to consider posthumously reinstating Joe Jackson, Ed Cicotte and others who were banished from the sport. Manfred should not mitigate in any way the power of the penalty rendered upon those who bet on games. No player or team staff member who would actually consider betting on baseball should ever believe that it’s possible to be welcomed back.

But Manfred can construct a way that allows Rose to return to the sport in a constructive manner. (The issue of whether Rose would be eligible for Hall of Fame selection can be left to the discretion of the Hall -- it’s not Manfred’s place to decide that -- but given the outspoken views of current Hall of Famers about Rose’s actions before and after he was suspended, it’s very unlikely that any veterans’ committee would vote for Rose while he’s alive.)

Rose will be 74 years old this April. Even if baseball permits him to return for some kind of role, he would never manage again, he would never be a general manager. If Manfred wants to ensure that Rose could never influence any game, he could stipulate that Rose is not allowed to work in baseball operations in any capacity -- not as a spring coach, or a special baseball adviser. Manfred should permit a permanent relationship between Rose and the Reds. Rose should be allowed to make appearances on behalf of the team, speak to fans and contribute to broadcasts. Whether the Reds choose to retire his number should be a decision left to Cincinnati ownership.
[+] EnlargePete Rose
AP Photo/Al BehrmanThe lifetime ban for Pete Rose has, at this point, effectively served its purpose.

But keeping him outside the gates entirely is pointless now. Rose is already marginalized, destined to have some form of the phrase "lifetime ban" among the first words of his obituary. He was investigated, he agreed to the plea bargain, and eventually, he confessed. He has been suitably shamed, kept away from the game for many years.

That’s enough.

Rose has a habit of saying stuff that makes folks in baseball cringe, and if he went to work for the Reds in some capacity, it’s possible he would make some gaffes. But if he did again, would it really matter? If he criticized Selig on the Reds’ airwaves, for example, would this change the perception of any baseball fan -- whether they like Rose or not -- about his past actions? Rose has reached an age where words are more easily forgiven, like those uttered by an uncle or a grandfather at a holiday dinner table. Pete Rose is who he is.

He is the all-time hit king, who had more plate appearances than anyone in history, with almost 2,000 plate appearances more than the guy in second place. He is someone who played with a passion that burned in him, and was part of one of baseball’s last dynasties. He is a former manager of the Reds who broke Ty Cobb’s record. He is the most prominent figure in baseball history guilty of violating what is regarded as the sport's most important rule. He is someone who deceived the sport’s leaders, and was kicked out for decades. He is beloved by Reds fans.

None of that will be changed by giving Pete Rose a role in the sport now, by letting him back into baseball and allowing an aged man a last opportunity to connect with fans who loved him, and to make a final peace

Notes from the MLB awards dinner 

January, 25, 2015
Jan 25
Clayton Kershaw and Sandy KoufaxGetty Images, USA Today SportsClayton Kershaw has dominated his era, just like former Dodger great Sandy Koufax.
Our colleague Willie Weinbaum filed this from Saturday night’s annual baseball soiree.

On a night of transitions and tributes, the 92nd annual awards dinner of the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America began with a moment of silence in memory of Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks. The evening concluded with the remarks of obscure former Cub Bob Hendley, who pitched a one-hitter nearly 50 years ago in the same game that the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax achieved perfection.

Koufax, who sat on the dais between one commissioner whose term was about to begin and another whose tenure was about to end, fulfilled the wish he articulated at the event a year ago -- to present Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw with another National League Cy Young Award. Kershaw’s three awards equal Koufax’s career total, and he also received the NL MVP Award from Koufax, so the dominating lefties of eras a half-century apart each have one MVP too.

About 24 hours before Kershaw traveled to the banquet, his wife Ellen gave birth to their first child. In an emotional speech citing his family, Kershaw gave thanks by name to every Dodgers player and staffer he said he encountered daily last season. Surprisingly, he also expressed gratitude to the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that eliminated him and the Dodgers from the postseason.

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PED suspicions still cloud free agency 

November, 7, 2014
Nelson CruzLeon Halip/Getty ImagesNelson Cruz led the majors in HRs, but his past suspension for PED use still worries some when it comes to a deal.
More than a decade ago, general managers elaborated on the murky business of investing in players who may or may not be using performance-enhancing drugs. Within that 2002 New York Times article, a couple of GMs from that time gave voice to the importance and the challenge of speculating:
"It's a fairly routine topic when discussing a player who suddenly is a lot bigger," said Randy Smith, general manager of the Detroit Tigers. "To me, you've got guys who look to enhance their performance and get a contract, and become much different than they were in the past. It's very hard to evaluate. You see guys with slider bat speed all of a sudden become good hitters with tremendous power potential.

"I think it's all over the industry, and I think with all the money that's out there it becomes more relevant."

When a player is acquired, San Diego General Manager Kevin Towers said, "you have to be very cautious if you feel the player is a user."

He added, "You are cautious about doing a long-term deal if he's had one or maybe two big years."

Penalties for drug testing began two years later, and by 2006, even the players' association bought into the idea of strengthening the penalties and working to create a level playing field for a silent union majority that didn’t want to have to think about using drugs to keep up.

But more than a decade after Smith and Towers elaborated on the guessing game that general managers faced, the newest generation of GMs continues to guess, to speculate, to wonder.

Major League Baseball teams are starved for power, and for right-handed hitting particularly

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MLB should act now on domestic violence 

September, 9, 2014
Rob ManfredAP Photo/Ricardo ArduengoRob Manfred should see the NFL's failures as a call to action for MLB.
It’s as if NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has fully mapped a minefield for MLB commissioner-elect Rob Manfred through trial and error, with pieces of Goodell’s reputation scattered all over as a result. As Manfred prepares to take over four and a half months from now and begin his own legacy, he can have a full understanding of how domestic violence -- once something not to be spoken of by previous generations, once expected to be a private matter -- is now regarded as intolerable by a society that has gained tolerance in so many other ways.

The high ground can be clearly seen and identified, and Manfred has an opportunity to do the right thing, in the way that new NBA commissioner Adam Silver did in the Donald Sterling case, and what Goodell did not do in the Ray Rice situation.

Manfred should go where other sports have not gone before, without fretting over the possible response of the players' association, and announce that Major League Baseball will have a zero-tolerance policy for domestic violence.

If you hit your spouse, Manfred should announce, if you physically abuse your children, you will not be employed by Major League Baseball or any of its 30 teams -- as a player, as a coach, as a manager, as someone working in the front office. If you hit your spouse or children, you will not own a baseball team.

Manfred is a smart person and he would know that the implementation of a no-tolerance policy against domestic violence would be subject to labor grievances, to lawsuits. But Silver faced the same complications as he considered discipline of Sterling, and decided that whatever the cost faced by the NBA would be worth it in the end. Because he now has rebranded his NBA, his leadership, as fully principled.
[+] EnlargeAdam Silver
Andy Marlin/USA TODAY SportsAdam Silver's quick action on Donald Sterling was lauded.

Manfred should do the same thing, because it's the right thing to do, but also because he knows by now that there will be a day, maybe today, maybe next month, maybe next year, when Major League Baseball will face the issue of domestic violence because of the actions of one of its own. Some player or club employee is going to have an incident, sadly. It's inevitable.

Something will happen, and a society that has reframed its view of domestic violence through the Ray Rice case will stare down Manfred and ask: What are you going to do now?

There is no reason for Manfred to wait for that time to respond. He has the chance to be progressive, to declare where baseball stands on this, just as Silver did with racial intolerance.

Major League Baseball was slow to react to the growing backlash to the use of performance-enhancing drugs, but after the infamous congressional hearing of March 17, 2005, Bud Selig moved from playing defense to playing offense. He has pushed for tougher testing, toughened the policy. Now, he does not miss an opportunity to say that Major League Baseball has the toughest drug-testing policy in professional sports, a rendering vetted by drug-testing agencies. He has earned that right.

Manfred could do this right now on the question of domestic violence. Yes, there could be a day when a high-profile player valued by Major League Baseball would be lost to the sport because of a no-tolerance policy, and there’s no way to know for sure if an arbitrator would back a suspension and loss of salary. But Manfred cannot be wrong in doing the right thing on this issue. All he has to do to know that is to see how Goodell’s leadership is disintegrating, after he did the wrong thing.


• During two days of being around

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Bud SeligAP Photo/Paul SancyaBud Selig was honored in San Diego this week in what turned out to be an unpopular decision.
Only five months remain in Bud Selig's tenure as commissioner, and with his successor chosen (Rob Manfred), most of his remaining duties are ceremonial. After stopping at a few more parks in his farewell tour, he'll crown the champion at the World Series and move on shortly thereafter, perhaps to do the teaching that he has spoken of.

But in the days ahead, he has the opportunity to make a decision which, within the span of his time in office, wouldn't be nearly as important to the sport as a whole as the addition of the wild-card teams or the television contracts. For one set of executives with one franchise, however, a move by Selig could be absolutely crucial.

On Tuesday, Selig was in San Diego as the Padres announced that they will name a ballpark plaza at Petco Park after Selig. Mike Dee, the team's president and CEO, explained the rationale. From Corey Brock's story:
"It's tough to find something to give someone who has the experience and background he does," Dee said. "I think at this point in his career, his legacy speaks for itself. But to commemorate it here today was not only fun for us, but important for us to do."

Later in the article: "We wanted to do something to recognize his contributions here in San Diego because they are unique," Dee said. "Make no mistake, his contributions to the creation of Petco Park are profound. For those of us who were around and know the trips he made and conversations he had with local officials."

Selig said he was "very, very grateful," and as far as the Padres were concerned, this was a done deal.

But the backlash from Padres fans has been resounding -- overwhelmingly negative.

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McCutchen, Pirates need help 

May, 11, 2014
Gregory PolancoKim Klement/USA TODAY SportsOutfield prospect Gregory Polanco could be a part of turning Pittsburgh's season around.
Andrew McCutchen has never drawn more than 89 walks in a season, and right now, he's on track to increase that by a healthy margin. For the first time, opposing pitchers and catchers are making a point of pitching around McCutchen and putting the onus on the hitters who follow.

In the first quarter of the season, it's a strategy that has paid off. Pedro Alvarez has a .200 average, and entering Saturday's action, the Pittsburgh hitters who have filled the cleanup spot ranked 20th among 30 teams in OPS (.693). The batters hitting in Pittsburgh's No. 5 slot ranked 22nd in OPS.

Those numbers must improve. The Pirates, who face the St. Louis Cardinals in their first "Sunday Night Baseball" appearance since 1996 (8 ET on ESPN and WatchESPN), have good starting pitching and a good bullpen. But their start has been sluggish, with their offense ranked in the bottom third in runs, and they cannot count on McCutchen to consistently contribute; as the Pirates have seen early this season, he is getting a small handful of pitches with which he can do damage. He is being treated like their Miguel Cabrera.

Maybe Alvarez will be the hitter who will do more; maybe it will be Ike Davis, who has been productive in his first weeks with the Pirates, posting a .359 on-base percentage, although with a mere five extra-base hits in 59 at-bats. When Davis first joined the Pirates, they let him get settled in. Now, there is more work being done with him to get him back to what he did before he got hurt in the second half of last season, when he was able to keep his weight back more consistently.

Maybe Starling Marte -- who has been hitting in the No. 5 spot lately -- will be a help, now that he has worked through some early-season struggles at the plate. Maybe Gregory Polanco will help after he arrives, whenever that is. The Pirates probably want to be sure that Polanco is fully prepared to help when he arrives, to reduce the time required for his initial growing pains, just as the Tampa Bay Rays do with their prospects.

The good thing for the Pirates is that just about every NL Central team is grinding through issues early in the year.

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Buster PoseyAP Photo/Lenny IgnelziYou are no longer seeing catchers get run over at home plate.
BOSTON -- In the days ahead, Major League Baseball will likely announce some tweaks and adjustments with the way that rules are being interpreted, including an affirmation of the new regulations attached to home plate collisions.

The catchers probably will be reminded of what they were told in spring training: If they don't possess the baseball and they are standing in front of home plate, then the run will score. This sort of dictum will lead to a lot of head-scratching and a recitation of the gray area and frustration for some players and managers.

But as one highly ranked team executive noted the other day, there is one thing we aren't seeing these days: Catchers getting hammered by baserunners.

We aren't seeing catchers curled up in a fetal position near home plate, knocked out or conscious but senseless, as a dazed baserunner looks over and trainers and managers run out of the dugouts.

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A-Rod runs out of people to blame 

February, 8, 2014
Alex RodriguezElsa/Getty ImagesAlex Rodriguez dropped his lawsuits against MLB and the players' union this week.
Until Alex Rodriguez was willing to testify under oath, there was no reason to take any of his costly legal maneuverings seriously.

But along the way, before his abrupt capitulation Friday, we needed an abacus to keep track of the attempted diversions, from the gold-plated lawsuits to the beautifully scripted I’m-Not-Going-To-Take-It-Anymore exit from the arbitration hearing to the declaration of innocence on WFAN. This was like the wizard of Oz imploring you to ignore the man behind the curtain.

In the end, none of the machinations changed the essential truth: Rodriguez broke the rules and used performance-enhancing drugs, then tried to get away with it.

A dozen other players were caught in the same Biogenesis net, including Ryan Braun and Nelson Cruz, and, when presented with the evidence, they essentially threw up their hands and acknowledged: I surrender, you got me.

Not Rodriguez, who bypassed two windows of opportunity in which he could take responsibility and accept his punishment like the other players. If he had done so, his relationships with the Yankees and others would’ve been damaged but workable.

Instead, he started flame-throwing blame at just about everybody around him. This included the Yankees, commissioner Bud Selig and the arbitration system negotiated by his union, plus, in his last act of desperation, at the union itself. His lawsuit against the union specifically named Michael Weiner, the beloved former head of the union who passed away from cancer at the end of last year -- someone who spent far too many hours in the last year of his life working to defend Rodriguez, who had cheated and lied over and over.

What a complete waste, of time, of money, of good will, of grace.

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Why MLB fought dirty in PED war 

January, 14, 2014
Far be it from me to suggest that Bud Selig is a historical companion of Abraham Lincoln, or that Rob Manfred is a modern day William Tecumseh Sherman, but bear with me a moment; there is a parallel to be drawn.

After Sherman sacked Atlanta in 1864, there was some question among the Union leaders what Sherman's army should do next. Sherman proposed total war to his superior, Gen. Ulysses Grant: Sherman wanted his army to march through Georgia's civilian population, because that would be most effective against an enemy who had fired the first shot -- an enemy who had instigated the war.

As H.W. Brands writes in "The Man Who Saved The Union," his biography of Grant, Sherman said, "War is cruelty and you cannot refine it; those who brought war on our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out. ... You might as well appeal against the thunderstorm as against these terrible hardships of war."

So Sherman took the fight through Georgia, destroying homes, crops and railroads, raiding livestock and eschewing civility. Long gone were the days when armies stood in lines opposite each other in an open field and traded volleys. Times had changed, and to expect the fight to play out with white-gloved decorum was simply unrealistic, and Lincoln, Grant and Sherman recognized that. They hated war, hated that it had been brought upon them, but they felt it was their responsibility to wage it as effectively as possible and bring it to an end.

Sherman acknowledged that sometimes the Union's foragers exceeded their orders, and there were unseemly acts. But his hope all along was that the war would be so terrible that it would discourage others from waging it ever again.

For a period of two decades, Major League Baseball and the players' association ignored the fight that needed to be waged against individual players using performance-enhancing drugs, fueling the problem with their inaction. The leadership on management side recognized this, and so did the MLBPA, which changed course in 2002 and agreed to drug testing in the face of the practical needs. This is a really important point: The fight against performance-enhancing drugs doesn't belong to MLB's management; it belongs to the management and the players.

It would be convenient for everybody if the players who tried to beat baseball's testing system were predictable in the ways they attempted to succeed.

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Top 10 storylines to watch in 2014 

January, 1, 2014
Bud SeligAP Photo/Tomasso DeRosaBud Selig says he will retire at the end of 2014, but some say he won't.
Tim Kurkjian had it right last spring when he said the hardest thing to predict in 2013 was who was going to finish fifth in the AL East. Many folks thought it would be the Boston Red Sox, and instead, they won the World Series with a group of invested players who reinvigorated Boston’s fan base.

We can draw a lesson from that example, as we look ahead to 2014: You never know what you’ll see on a given day. But you can predict the 10 most prominent story lines that promise to attract a lot of attention in the months ahead.

1. The identity of Bud Selig’s successor

Selig has announced he will retire a year from now, so let the campaigning and the lobbying (and maybe some deal-making and backstabbing, in some quarters) begin in earnest.

I’ve heard three different theories about who will follow Selig from high-ranking club executives.

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More questions for Braun 

August, 23, 2013
Ryan BraunJeff Gross/Getty ImagesAgainst the backdrop of his statement, there's still much we can't see about Ryan Braun.
About 10 minutes before the start of a "Sunday Night Baseball" game in Baltimore on June 30, Chris Davis finished his pregame routine and stopped alongside the photo well, where I was sitting. Davis had something on his mind.

Earlier in the day, he said, he answered a question posed to him on Twitter: Are you on PEDs?

He had responded no, and he talked about the responses to his response. A lot of folks didn’t believe him.

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Stories that don't involve A-Rod 

August, 20, 2013
Alex RodriguezDavid Butler II/USA TODAY SportsThe attention paid to Alex Rodriguez has pushed some good stories to the background.
You feel like a parent as you try to follow the scrum involing Alex Rodriguez's lawyers. The back-and-forth is like something you hear between testy young siblings late in the day, and you reach a point where it’s impossible to separate truth from rhetoric with each charge and counter-charge. All you know is that you want it to stop, because in the end, there are only two elements that are relevant:

1. What is the evidence that led to A-Rod being suspended for 211 games by the commissioner?
2. What is Rodriguez’s explanation for the evidence?

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Derek Jeter limping into leverage 

August, 19, 2013
Derek JeterHarry How/Getty ImagesHe might seem like more of a symbol than a player, but Jeter's presence is valuable in New York.
BOSTON -- The last time Derek Jeter’s contract expired, in the fall of 2010, the Yankees held the negotiating hammer.

Jeter had turned 36 just months before and was coming off a middling type of season relative to his career performance, with his on-base average dropping from .406 in 2009 to .340 in 2010. So when Jeter looked for a significant deal, the response from Yankees general manager Brian Cashman was, in essence: Go ahead and try to find a better offer than what we’re willing to pay you, because it doesn’t exist.

Jeter wound up making a deal for far less than his side had aimed for, although nobody is suggesting the shortstop will starve based on his recent wages: $14.7 million in 2011, $16 million in 2012 and $17 million this year.

Now Jeter holds a player option for 2014 that would be for $9.5 million -- or he can take a $3 million buyout and blow up that option year. It might make sense for him to do this, because this time around, Jeter appears to hold significant leverage.

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Michael Weiner a true class act

August, 11, 2013
Brad ZieglerESPN IllustrationArizona pitcher Brad Ziegler makes a Sunday column relief appearance for Buster Olney.
Buster Olney is on vacation this week, so for the second straight year, guest columnists are writing the lead of his column in his absence. Today, D-backs reliever Brad Ziegler chimes in on what makes union leader Michael Weiner such a special person.

This is a crazy game. If you had told me when I was growing up that I'd have at least six seasons of time in major league baseball, I'd have been absolutely ecstatic. While it was always a dream of mine to play, it also always seemed so far out of reach. Yet, here I am, blessed with so many things in my life, including a career that I truly enjoy. There are many other things, too: an amazing family (including the two friendliest dogs in existence), financial security and good health.

Good health -- something I'm thankful for every day. Something that not everyone in this life shares.

One of the most respected people in this game is in the fight of his life, and anyone -- everyone -- who has any part of this game is pulling for him. Players, coaches, general managers, owners, writers, umpires. Everyone.

As many of you know, Michael Weiner is currently serving as the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association -- our union. And anyone who follows the game also knows that a year ago, Michael was diagnosed with a Stage 4 glioblastoma, an aggressive and inoperable brain cancer.

I've been a player representative for the union since the start of the 2009 season. In the middle of that season, I got a phone call from Donald Fehr, informing me that he was retiring as executive director. After a few conference calls, we selected the obvious replacement that December: Michael Weiner. I hadn't yet met Michael. My agent, Rob Martin, had met him a few times and heard him speak a couple of times, so I asked what he was like. "The man is a human computer," he said. "He can probably quote you the entire basic agreement."

In my time getting to know Michael at various union events or even through casual phone calls, I can honestly say I have seen zero instances to dispute my agent's assessment. However, I can also honestly say that while his knowledge of the basic agreement and labor law in general is impressive, it isn't even close to his best asset.

His best feature is, far and away, who he is as a person. He's a devoted family man. He often speaks of his wife, Diane, and his three lovely daughters, and you can tell how much he cares for them. Furthermore, he genuinely cares about every single ballplayer. Never once has he started a conversation with me in which the first topic wasn't about how my family and I were doing. I'm guessing he's the same way with every other player. Those who've taken the time to get to know him know exactly what I'm talking about.

[+] EnlargeMichael Weiner
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIMichael Weiner's leadership on the issue of PEDs has been pivotal, writes Brad Ziegler.
As far as his professionalism, there's one thing that has really stood out to me: He genuinely cares about improving the game of baseball. Don't get me wrong, he wants things to be as good as possible for the players. And he can get downright angry and ruthless when he feels like the owners are attempting to encroach on the principles we, as a union, have stood on since our inception. But he also gets the big picture: What is best for the game in the long run?

In my opinion, never has this been more evident than when dealing with our Joint Drug Agreement. Michael has listened to the players. We want the game clean. No more PEDs. Period. We want to be the era that, down the road, is widely accepted as the group of players who cleaned up baseball. We certainly want to punish those who are caught with something illegal in their system, even if it's not intentionally ingested with the mindset of gaining an edge on the field.

As for those who intentionally cheat? Ban them for a year. Or ban them for life. As for voiding their contracts, well, that time may be coming. Players are sick and tired of guys trying to beat the system, and at this point, we have no tolerance. We are tired of this being the focus of our sport, year after year. Baseball is an amazing game -- perfect in so many ways -- and we must keep the attention on the field, where it should be.

It has to be a tough spot for Michael to be in when it comes to this topic. He's supposed to represent all players and get the best possible outcome for them in every situation, right? No. Michael's response: "If they cheated, they should be punished -- I'm just here to help make sure they get a fair trial."

To me, that is someone who genuinely cares about our game and the way it's perceived publicly. We all leave a legacy in life, and he wants the game to be better when his time in the game is over than it was when he first got involved.

I recently had a casual conversation with an MLB general manager. We discussed Michael's medical situation, and he said something that really stuck out to me: "That guy is incredible. He's the best thing that's ever happened to this game."

And even if he said it in passing, I'm not sure he's far off.

Michael's legacy on this game has already been established. And whether he continues to build on it for the next 40 years, or if he's taken from this life sometime sooner, he continues to leave a mark on this game -- and on people's lives -- that won't ever be forgotten. It is an absolute privilege to work alongside you, Michael. And it's an even greater pleasure to call you my friend.

Notes and links (from Buster)

Hanley Ramirez will try out his right shoulder on Sunday. Meanwhile, the Dodgers never lose: After Zack Greinke's strong effort Saturday, they've now won 36 of their last 44. The Rays pulled off a hidden-ball trick.

• The Braves' winning streak ended.

Jordan Schafer was activated from the disabled list, and Fredi Gonzalez intends to use him. 

We had the Braves on "Sunday Night Baseball" the last two weekends, and our crew talked to Gonzalez about how he would structure his lineup down the stretch and into the playoffs. Gonzalez wasn't specific -- and he doesn't need to be -- but I walked away from those conversations convinced that his standards will be simple. He will play the best lineup he believes gives him the best chance of winning, regardless of contract size and track record. He reiterated that the Braves' collapse in 2011 changed the way he thinks, because now he's much more willing to make changes.

If B.J. Upton struggles early in September, he won't play as much in late September, I'd guess, and Schafer's presence gives Gonzalez an attractive alternative, especially against right-handed pitchers.

Brian McCann has a sore knee and was out of the lineup. The Braves' lead in the AL East gives Gonzalez the flexibility to liberally rest veterans such as McCann, and McCann has shown enough this season to demonstrate to teams that might be interested in him in the winter that he'll continue to be a productive player. He might be the most sought-after free agent of the winter, given that he could fit so many teams: Texas, Washington, the Yankees, Boston, San Francisco (with he and Buster Posey sharing catcher/first base duties), Philadelphia, the White Sox, etc.

Miguel Cabrera did it again. His current triple crown standing:

Batting average: .363 (first, by 33 points)

Home runs: 35 (he trails Chris Davis, who has 42)

RBIs: 109 (tied for first with Davis)

• White Sox GM Rick Hahn and the players believe in Robin Ventura, writes Paul Sullivan. 

Ryan Ludwick is nearing his return, and undoubtedly, the Reds need him to come back and produce. The Reds have been a middle-of-the-pack offensive team since the All-Star break. 

Jason Hammel is hopeful that his forearm issue doesn't keep him out a long time. 

Ryan Raburn and Yan Gomes are getting more playing time, Paul Hoynes writes. 

• The Rangers regained first place with help from Alex Rios

Will Middlebrooks is getting a welcome chance to reboot, writes Nick Cafardo. 

Jayson Werth had a really big day

• The Astros are on pace to finish 52-110, with a run differential of minus-242. 

Jacoby Ellsbury led the Red Sox to victory. 

• The Rockies are collapsing, and it's open season on internal evaluations

Adam Eaton has been finding his groove at the plate. 

• The Phillies need to make a decision on Charlie Manuel, writes Bob Brookover. 

In some parts of the Philadelphia organization, it's already taken as a fait accompli that Manuel and some staffers will be let go. But it'll be interesting to see if the logic used in the re-signing of Chase Utley -- he's an important part of the team's history, and he is still productive -- will be used in Manuel's case. Because if the Phillies don't believe Manuel is the best person for the job now, they should've already fired him, and if they think that like Utley, he can still do the job, they should extend him.

Other stuff

• There is a reported BALCO and Biogenesis link: Alex Rodriguez.

The tide has turned when it comes to MLB cheats, writes Tom Haudricourt. 

Rodriguez is on a short leash with Yankees fans, writes Bob Klapisch.

• The ousted St. Louis radio duo of Jack Clark and Kevin Slaten are weighing their options

• Ken Griffey Jr. was part of the ceremony in which he was inducted into the Mariners' Hall of Fame. He's a really complicated person.

And today will be better than yesterday.

Contracts now a target in PED fight 

July, 29, 2013
Alex Rodriguez and Ryan BraunTim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsA-Rod and Braun could be targets of lawsuits if teams feel the players destroyed their own value.
ATLANTA -- Long before Ryan Braun accepted his suspension or Alex Rodriguez asked his lawyer to join a conference call in which the topic was a quadriceps strain, club officials throughout Major League Baseball had started to look into the topic of whether they had legal recourse against players who used performance-enhancing drugs.

For the Yankees, this question really began with Jason Giambi, and this is why Giambi gave the infamous I’m-Sorry-But-I-Can’t-Tell-You-Why news conference so many years ago. With the help of his own representation, answers to difficult questions were crafted in such a way that he could steer around open admission of steroid use -- to protect the money that he had earned and that he would earn in the future -- while still responding, sort of. The statement that Braun issued last week was designed the same way.

The Yankees long ago concluded that given the rules contained within the collective bargaining agreement, they cannot void a contract based on PED use, which is why Rodriguez is still a member of their organization and may still play if he appeals what is expected to be a forthcoming suspension, rather than accepting it.

But some officials and lawyers within the game are taking a look at other avenues through which they might gain some financial relief from busted players –- back doors, in a sense.

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