THE AUTHOR

Ian Casselberry is a freelance writer, currently based in Asheville, NC. He is an editor at The Comeback and Awful Announcing

Previously, he has been a contributing writer for Yahoo! Sports' Big League Stew, MLive.com and SB Nation. In addition, he was a lead baseball writer for Bleacher Report. 

You can also find him on Twitter and Facebook, where he craves your attention.

He still plans to write that novel someday. 

("Pearls Before Swine" © 2005 Stephan Pastis)
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Entries in PEDs (7)

Friday
Aug092013

When Jack Clark speaks, do we have any reason to listen? 

One way for a brand new sports talk radio host to gain some instant notoriety and up his profile is to say something controversial. Taking on a big target and beloved institution in a particular city is another way to quickly draw some attention.

So it's pretty easy to see why former (and clearly embittered) major leaguer Jack Clark went on St. Louis sports talk radio to accuse Albert Pujols of using steroids, via the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Dan Caesar. Would we be talking about Clark and whatever "bold! outspoken!" thing he said on WGNU-AM otherwise? 

Clark says he "knows for a fact" that the Cardinals' former first baseman (now with the Los Angeles Angels) took steroids. Where is he getting that from? Well, he talked to a guy.

“I know for a fact he was," Clark said to co-host Kevin Slaten, who also believes Pujols is a steroid user. "The trainer that worked with him, threw him batting practice from Kansas City, that worked him out every day, basically told me that’s what he did.”

Did Clark actually see Pujols take any performance-enhancers? Well... no. He's going on the word of trainer Chris Mihlfeld, who worked with many major-league players, including Pujols, in the past. Is it possible that the trainer dropped a prominent name in hopes of getting Clark to sign up for a particular regimen or workout plan? I mean, is that at all possible?

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That's not to say this didn't actually happen, of course. (However, it should be noted that Mihlfeld says he never had such a conversation with Clark, according to NBCSports.com.) 

Pujols has been implicated in steroids rumors before in association with Mihlfeld. And really, in light of Major League Baseball suspending 12 players for PED use connected with the Biogenesis clinic in Miami, it would be naive to look at any prominent athlete these days and completely dismiss the possibility of pharmaceutical enhancement. Nothing is precious anymore. 

But MLB has a drug-testing policy in place now, which includes testing for Human Growth Hormone (HGH). Players are now getting caught and penalized for using PEDs. Could they still be eluding positive tests and using substances that aren't detectable? Of course.

However, it has to be pointed out that Pujols has not tested positive for such substances since the program was implemented. And as with the Biogenesis investigation, there is no other evidence such as payments, phone calls, text messages, invoices or any kind of testimony associating Pujols with any sort of PED peddler. 

While it's certainly understandable that Clark would be angry at those putting up historic numbers and earning megabucks contracts with the help of PEDs, he also comes across as angry and bitter, someone who wants to bring the current game down to prop up the achievements of players such as himself who played in a different era. 

What's inexcusable, however, is Clark just throwing shit at the wall and smearing current players as steroid users with no evidence whatsoever.

Clark singled out Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander as someone who has to be using PEDs because he's not pitching as well this year as he has in past seasons. As Clark sees it, Verlander cashed in with the five-year, $140 million contract extension the Tigers gave him in March. So naturally, he's off the juice and that's why he's not throwing as hard, right?

Is it at all possible that Verlander's arm has tired out just a bit after averaging nearly 240 innings over the past four seasons? That kind of workload — more than virtually any other starting pitcher in MLB — wouldn't have worn him down at all? 

Is there also a chance that Verlander isn't throwing as hard because the Tigers have been in the playoffs in each of the past two seasons and he's making sure to pace himself so he has something left in October when Detroit will be pursuing a World Series title? 

Could Verlander's diminished velocity have something to do with his pitching mechanics, as he said on ESPN's Pardon The Interruption this week? (Listen from the 10:25 mark to 10:53 here.) According to him, the stride in his pitching motion was off, causing him to land more toward the third-base side of the pitching mound. 

No, it's not an absolute explanation and we only have Verlander's word to go on. But pitching mechanics can often be a matter of precision, and if any one thing is off, it can affect location, velocity and health. Verlander has had such troubles before, but finding the right arm slot has arguably been the difference between him being very good and an elite pitcher. 

Or we could go with The Jack Clark Theory and presume that Verlander has been using PEDs because "the signs are there."

Sure, I'm a Tigers fan so I'm going to stick up for Verlander. Go ahead and make that assumption about me. But I'm also not going to assume that everything is on the straight and narrow. Too much has happened in baseball — and all sports — for us to be naive about such matters. We have every reason to be skeptical about what previously inspired and awed us. 

But it's completely unfair for Clark to just sling bullshit accusations at people, even if he has the presumed insight of a former player. This is about Clark trying to draw attention to himself and his career as a sports-talk radio personality. Would anyone be listening to him if the microphone was taken away? It seems unlikely. 

Monday
Aug052013

A possibly misguided appreciation for Jhonny Peralta

Maybe "appreciation" is the wrong word to use for Jhonny Peralta. After all, the Detroit Tigers shortstop was caught for cheating, for using performance-enhancing substances to gain an edge on the field.

Peralta was one of 12 players suspended by Major League Baseball on Monday for using performance-enhancing substances and violating the sport's drug policy. As outlined by MLB's Joint Drug Agreement, he's drawn a 50-game suspension for failing his first drug test. (Subsequent violations would draw a 100-game penalty, then a lifetime ban.) 

I try not to put my "fan cap" on too often these days when writing about baseball. (Of course, it was unavoidable when I wrote at Bless You Boys.) But this is me writing as a Tigers fan, more than a supposed baseball analyst, commentator or whatever you'd prefer to call it. Maybe I should do that more often. 

When the Tigers acquired Peralta from the Cleveland Indians in July 2010, I thought it was a decent deal. I don't recall any fans or analysts really having a problem with it. It was a low-risk, "why the hell not" trade for Detroit. But I viewed it as a patchwork move at best.

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At the time, the Tigers were 51-49 and five games behind the Chicago White Sox for third place in the AL Central. (Detroit went on to finish in third, 13 games out of first place with an 81-81 record that season.) The numbers said they were still in the race, but they weren't really in serious contention. 

Peralta wasn't having a great year, batting .246 with a .648 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage), 23 doubles, seven home runs and 43 RBI. He lost the shortstop position in Cleveland to Asdrubal Cabrera and was at the end of his contract. The Indians seemed unlikely to pick up his $7 million team option (versus a $250,000 buyout) for 2011. 

But Detroit needed a third baseman, which is where Peralta was playing in Cleveland before getting traded. Brandon Inge had a broken hand and Carlos Guillen had a calf injury. Inge was already rather ineffective, coming off surgery on both of his knees less than a year before. Neither Scott Sizemore nor Don Kelly was a solution at the position either. 

Peralta could also help out at shortstop, where he'd played for most of his major league career. Adam Everett brought a nice glove, but couldn't hit. Prospect Danny Worth profiled as a similar player. Ramon Santiago had flashes of promise, but was perceived as a part-time player, one who would wear down under the grind of a full season. 

Shortly after the trade was made, a friend texted me to ask, "Is Peralta going to be the Tigers shortstop next year?" My immediate response was, "Hell, no!" The idea seemed ludicrous to me. Peralta couldn't hit and couldn't field, and couldn't start at shortstop for the last-place Indians. 

But this friend is a smart sports fan (and former blogger — I wish he'd get back to writing), one who really knows his stuff, who thinks about these matters perhaps more deeply than warranted. So if he was thinking Peralta could be the Tigers shortstop in 2011, maybe he was on to something. Could Dave Dombrowski really have been thinking that far ahead?  

Another friend messaged me on Facebook and asked my opinion of the trade. To me, it was a good stopgap move for the rest of the year, but saw no future in it. But this friend looked at three 20-homer seasons in Peralta's past and felt like he could bring some much needed offense to the Tigers lineup. I thought that was crazy. 

As we now know, I was wrong on both counts. The Tigers were indeed looking at Peralta as their shortstop for 2011 — and perhaps beyond. And he became the best hitter at that position since Guillen from 2004-07.

In his first full season with Detroit, Peralta hit .299 with an .824 OPS, 21 homers and 86 RBI. More unexpectedly, he played good defense at shortstop, according to advanced metrics.

FanGraphs' Ultimate Zone Rating (which measures how well players get to balls hit in their defensive "zone") said Peralta saved 10 more runs than the average player at his position, making him the third-best defensive shortstop in baseball that year. He ranked third defensively among MLB shortstops again in 2012

Defensive performance is still difficult to quantify, however. There's no one system or metric viewed as definitive. This seems to apply even more when it comes to Peralta's defense. Under the eyeball test, he just doesn't seem like a strong defensive shortstop.

The Tigers seemed to agree, as they've tried to replace him at the position over the past two years. While his hitting is obviously an asset, getting a player who has far better defensive range at the most important position on the field was a priority. 

Yet Peralta has had another fine season at the plate this year. His .305 batting average is the best of his career. His .361 on-base percentage is the second-highest among his 11 major league seasons, while his .822 OPS is his third-best mark. 

Unfortunately, the legitimacy of those achievements now has to be questioned in light of Peralta's association with the Biogenesis clinic in Miami that issued PEDs to several major league ballplayers, including former MVPs Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun. According to Peralta, he took PEDs in the spring of 2012. Interestingly, he batted .239 with a .689 OPS that year — his worst season with the Tigers. 

Anticipating Peralta's suspension, the Tigers finally got their defensive upgrade at shortstop last week, nabbing Jose Iglesias from the Boston Red Sox as part of a three-team trade also involving the Chicago White Sox. 

Iglesias won't be as good a hitter as Peralta — especially from a power standpoint — but he's vastly superior defensively and is young enough that the Tigers have him under contractual control through 2018. He's now the Tigers' shortstop of the present and future.

But this is a tip of the cap to the Tigers' shortstop of the very recent past. Peralta's suspension will take him to the end of the regular season, and from most accounts, it seems unlikely he'll be invited to rejoin the team for Detroit's expected playoff run. His career with the Tigers is effectively over. 

I realize it might reflect poorly on my morals to celebrate a player who cheated and earned himself millions of dollars because of it. Peralta also just flat-out lied to media and fans back in February when he said, "I have never used performance enhancing drugs. Period. Anybody who says otherwise is lying."

Baseball players taking PEDs doesn't bother me as much as it might other fans. (I would vote Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens into the Baseball Hall of Fame.) Yet I acknowledge that skirting the rules to gain an advantage sends a poor message and destroys the spirit of competition and fairness that we all believe is inherent in athletics. 

Speaking purely as an unobjective Tigers fan, however, I enjoyed watching Peralta play (even while wincing at his poor defensive range) and the two excellent seasons he provided my favorite baseball team. I can't say I'm proud to have rooted him on now. But even if he did so with pharmaceutical aids, Peralta played better for the Tigers than I ever would've expected. And being surprised is one of the reasons watching sports is so fun. 

Friday
Aug022013

Talking PEDs on HuffPost Live

I was invited to take part in a discussion about Alex Rodriguez and the use of performance-enhancing drugs (specifically HGH — Human Growth Hormone) in sports on HuffPost Live with host Mike Sacks Friday afternoon. 

Also on the panel were Ben Heisler of MLB Network Radio, Rotowire's Chris Liss, The Week's Jon Terbush and Dr. Kent Sepowitz. 

That was a lot of fun. I really enjoyed chatting with those guys. Thanks to Matthew Chase and Felicia Kelley for making it happen. 

If only I could've stayed on after our segment to talk movies with Indiewire's Anne Thompson. Oh, well — maybe next time. 

Thursday
Jul252013

My new favorite comedy: A-Rod vs. the Yankees

I certainly didn't expect to write another piece about Alex Rodriguez this week. Baseball (and sports) fans are surely tired of hearing about A-Rod and steroids. And if I don't write another word about PEDs this season, it would not break my heart.

But the latest development in A-Rod's feud with the New York Yankees over whether or not he's injured and how that could affect the Yanks' ability to collect insurance on his $28 million salary for this season has turned this disagreement from drama into comedy. 

With Rodriguez's approval, Dr. Michael Gross of the Hackensack Medical Center went on WFAN to say he didn't think A-Rod was injured. That's quite a different opinion than the strained quadriceps Yankees team doctors diagnosed, an injury that would keep him out seven to 10 days. 

However, as I write in my latest post for The Outside Corner, it turns out that Gross didn't exactly have the most informed opinion when it came to A-Rod's injury.

However, Dr. Gross eventually admitted that he didn't examine Rodriguez. He looked at the MRI results that prompted the Yankees to keep him on the disabled list. But his diagnosis — if that's even what to call it — was based Rodriguez saying he felt fit to play. A-Rod knows his body, Gross reasoned. So if he says he can play, he can probably play. 

With that, palms smacked foreheads and covered faces throughout the New York media and across the internet.

Gross is obviously a very qualified physician, given that he is the chief of orthopedics at a prominent research and teaching hospital in the New York metropolitan area. Yet it almost appears as if Gross' consultation with A-Rod consisted of holding up a doll and asking him to point to where it doesn't hurt. 

Here is a link to the full article.

This might be the most entertaining comedy of the summer. Who needs The Hangover, Part III or Grown-Ups 2 when we have Dueling MRIs: A-Rod vs. the Yankees, starring Dr. Leo Spaceman and Dr. Nick?

Tuesday
Jul232013

Time to say bye-bye to A-Rod?

Baseball dropped a bombshell Monday night, announcing that Milwaukee Brewers outfielder Ryan Braun violated MLB's drug policy and had been suspended for the rest of the season

While MLB didn't specifically detail what Braun had done to draw what amounts to a 65-game penalty, it's easy to presume that he was suspended for receiving performance-enhancing drugs from the Biogenesis clinic in Miami. Baseball is currently investigating Biogenesis' involvement with up to 25 players. Braun and New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez are the most prominent players on that list. 

So if Braun was suspended and didn't even fight the penalty after seeing what kind of evidence MLB had on him, what sort of punishment awaits Rodriguez? As I write in my latest post for The Outside Corner, we may be looking at the last days of A-Rod as a major league ballplayer.

Obviously, we don't know what MLB has on Rodriguez, but his involvement with PEDs could extend far beyond Biogenesis. Couldn't that be a reasonable assumption, given that A-Rod has already admitted to taking steroids in 2009? What are the chances that he stopped using PEDs in 2003, as he'd prefer us to believe? 

Rodriguez is going to be suspended. It's not a question of whether or not he'll be penalized, but when that punishment will come. Braun's suspension almost entirely assures such an outcome. His name is going to be tarnished, more than it already has. He's not going to be considered one of baseball's all-time greats, if he hasn't already lost that status. 

Here is a link to the full article.

All along, I've been skeptical about how much evidence MLB had on the players listed in the Biogenesis documents. To me, this seemed more about public relations than ridding the sport of steroids. But Braun's suspension is an indication that baseball has some hard proof on these players and is carrying out its crusade against them. 

Thursday
Jun062013

It's Bosch or bust for MLB's latest steroid investigation

Tony Bosch is a "biochemist," "nutritionist" or "nutritional adviser," depending on when one might speak to him.

He's not a doctor, though he may have tried to pass himself off as one in the past, with a degree from a school in Belize. 

Bosch also did or didn't supply baseball players with performance-enhancing substances from his Biogenesis clinic in Miami, depending on which story best suits his purpose.

Now, it appears that he's decided to confess and cooperate with Major League Baseball's investigation into Biogenesis and its relationship with players like Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun. Oh, and according to the New York Daily News, Bosch only went to baseball after A-Rod refused to give him money. 

So this is the kind of guy MLB wants to partner with, in the hopes of nailing PED users? MLB thinks Bosch is trustworthy, even though it's not yet known what sort of information he really has? 

I originally didn't think I had much to say on this, but after reading that NY Daily News story, I had to write about it for The Outside Corner.

That's the leap in judgment that MLB was willing to take. This is apparently how desperate the sport is to catch a number of players — many of whom could be superstar talents — who might be taking PEDs and breaking the rules of the game.

Bosch is a sleazeball who kneeled before baseball hoping for mercy. But MLB has decided it's worth associating with someone whose credibility is highly questionable. With his help, baseball intends to make a big, bold statement its fans, analysts, executives and players that it wants to keep the game clean. 

Here is a link to the full article.

Wednesday
Jun052013

The baseball story that just won't go away

Hey, I'm just as tired about steroids and PED scandals in baseball as you are. I'm on the side that believes fans don't care about this as much as the media thinks. 

But when ESPN breaks a story that Major League Baseball is pursuing suspensions of players who allegedly received PEDs from the Biogenesis clinic in Miami, fueled by the cooperation of the "biochemist" who ran that clinic, Tony Bosch, it's going to dominate the sports news cycle. 

For my old gig at Bleacher Report, I surely would've had to write one or two immediate responses that hitched a ride on that news cycle. I was grateful that I could just go to bed Tuesday night and not have to worry about that. 

However, I was up at 7 a.m. Wednesday to talk about the story with Ragz and The Bartender on 95.7 The Fan in South Bend. And I spent most of the day on several other radio shows to share my thoughts on Biogenesis, Tony Bosch, A-Rod and Ryan Braun. It was pretty fun. 

Ultimately, I ended up writing a little bit on this for The Outside Corner.. Editor Joe Lucia collected some thoughts from the writing staff for a roundtable. Here's some of what I wrote.

Without truly damning evidence, this feels like a smear campaign. "Hey baseball fans, you shouldn't root for these guys because we think they cheated. We can't prove it, but please be suspicious and boo them."

Is that worth compelling fans to call player achievements into question and potentially become soured on the sport? Baseball is surely bigger than the indiscretions of a few cheaters, and it's in MLB's best interests to look like it's cleaning up the game. But this is a risky endeavor — especially if no suspensions can be enforced.

Here's a link to the full article.

Oh, steroids. Baseball just can't quit you.