Thursday January 20th, 2005

To borrow from Anita Bryant, "Steroids, they're not just for breakfast anymore."

Steroids aren't just for adding muscle and hitting home runs. Hitters take them to develop quicker hands through the hitting zone. I once talked with a smallish center fielder who said he didn't want power, but when he used steroids he felt it helped his fast-twitch muscles and in the speed of his hands during his swing. He said he noticed a big difference when he was on steroids when he was between cycles. And pitchers, who don't need bulk, have found them useful, too. There are many kinds of steroids taken several different ways that give very different results. So be careful when you simply equate steroids with power. Read on.

I keep hearing that the steroids issue is as predominant with pitchers as it is with hitters. The talk is that velocity is down dramatically for some pitchers this year. Who are the pitchers who appear to have lost the most velocity? -- Ken D'Antuono, Atlanta

I don't look at steroids for pitchers as having a direct result on velocity. I think it's been more useful for them from a recovery aspect. Steroids help the muscles recover from the strain of working often and throwing hard, enabling pitchers to carry a heavy workload without a diminution in stuff. So I'd disregard the steroid issue when it comes to velocity. Since you asked, guys who have had lower radar gun readings include Mike Mussina, Ben Weber, Bartolo Colon and Pedro Martinez. It's not unusual for pitchers to lose velocity from time to time. Those so-called "dead-arm" periods that usually happen in mid-spring training also occur during the season.

Babe Ruth played against diminished competition? Back then there was ONE major league -- baseball. If you were a good athlete you only really had one choice: baseball. There was no NFL, no NBA, no NHL, no other big league. Granted, it was a whites-only era, but virtually all of the whites who would go into an athletic endeavor went to baseball. They also did not use a nice new baseball whenever the ball got slightly dirty or scuffed. And the baseballs were not hard cue balls that would rocket into the stands even if the bat broke. -- Pat Scopelliti, Ithaca, N.Y.

You make some valid points there, but I don't know how you could consider pre-1947 major league baseball to be anything but diminished competition when people with the talent to play it were excluded based on the color of their skin.

If character is a criterion for HOF induction, do you believe Cap Anson should have been inducted? Anson was almost solely responsible for denying blacks the right to play in the major leagues for more than a half century. -- Rick Allen, San Marcos, Texas

If Anson played today and held the same attitude I don't think people would vote for him for the Hall of Fame. Times change. Social agendas change. The coverage of sports changes. I'm not in favor of pulling out the Hoover files on every player in the Hall and re-examining their worthiness as far as character goes. No doubt there are bigots and gamblers in the Hall. And where do you draw the line on what's acceptable behavior? But they passed muster with the voters of their era. Our job now is to evaluate as best we can the players of this era.

Granted, Barry Bonds' numbers are better than Willie Mays', but he also hits against inferior pitchers AND wears body armor that allows him to crowd the plate. -- Jim Albertson, Norman, Okla.

I don't buy the assumption that pitchers are inferior. It's a myth. Coaching and training methods are so good now I think there are more hard throwers than ever. I do agree with your point about the body armor. It should be outlawed. I don't think it would have helped Mays, though. He was a guy who liked to extend his arms and didn't stand as close to the dish as Bonds.

It's time Major League Baseball does something about what pitchers and managers do nearly 50 percent of the time Barry Bonds comes to the plate: 25 games, 54 at-bats, 44 walks (22 intentional). At this pace, Bonds will have 290 walks by the end of the season, 148 intentional. The commissioner needs to immediately implement a rule that when a player is walked a second time in the game he gets second base; third time and there on, he gets third base. Don't you feel the integrity of the game is at stake if nothing is done? -- Quintin Kidd, Murray, Neb.

The integrity of the game is compromised if you start gerrymandering the rules like that. The intentional walk always has been a part of the strategy of the game. It's a valid, legal, smart move. Changing the way the game is played just because you want to see Bonds swing the bat would be totally wrong. Managers are paid to win ballgames, not to put on a show for the fans. If the Giants didn't want this to happen to Bonds they should have signed Vladimir Guerrero. Don't blame the managers for this.

What are the Hall of Fame chances for Omar Vizquel? The man is one of the "good guys" of baseball, and few shortstops in the history of the league have had the glove he had. That's saying something, considering shortstop, last time I checked, was one of the hardest defensive positions. -- Ryan Uyehara, Fairfax, Va.

Omar will be a borderline candidate. He's a close comp to Ozzie Smith. I can't say he's a lock, but he deserves serious consideration because of how well he's played the position, how long he's played it and how, like Ozzie, he worked to become a good hitter.

Do you believe in the "Mattingly Curse"? Check the Yanks record for the five-to-seven years prior to Don Mattingly's playing career, their record while he was playing with them, their record since he retired and their record now that he's back coaching. The guy's a jinx! -- Dan Bergin, Islip Terrace, N.Y.

Hmmm, very interesting. First I've heard of that. Anything like the Horace Clarke curse? Of course, I don't believe in stuff like that, but I do believe Mattingly will be a very, very good hitting coach. The guy loves hitting and pours his heart into his work.

Do you really think Pete Rose did anything more serious than spitting on an umpire? -- R. Lund, Vancouver, Wash.

Way, way more serious. Please don't take this as condoning spitting on an umpire. It's wrong. But it's heat-of-the-moment wrong. Robbie Alomar never planned on doing it. Rose walked past Rule 21 every day when he entered a clubhouse, bet hundreds of times, lost thousands of dollars, consorted with drug dealers and bookies on a daily basis, schemed his way deep into gambling and perpetuated a lie for more than a decade. If you go to a baseball game and believe there's even a chance that the fairness of the outcome of the game is in doubt, then baseball has no value. And that's what can happen when a man puts his livelihood (and bank account) into the hands of gamblers and bookies.

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