Goatriders of the Apocalypse

Steroid Speculation

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Sweet Lou thinks Cub fans will be kind to Mark McGwire this year...what do YOU think?

Oh, well, he APOLOGIZED! That makes it all better.
4% (1 vote)
Hellllll NO! I'm gonna BOO the big swolled up prick!
39% (9 votes)
I'm bringing in containers of durty syringes to throw at his fat ass
22% (5 votes)
I'm gonna sink my teeth into the flesh of his acne-scarred back
13% (3 votes)
Huh? What? Isn't DeRosa still on this team?
4% (1 vote)
Sox Suck! Sox Suck! Sox Suck!
17% (4 votes)
Total votes: 23

The Pujols Challenge remains open

Just a reminder --

Not too long ago Albert Pujols said he's clean and would get tested every day if that's what it took to prove his innocence.  Obviously, we support daily tests in his case.  After writing a lengthy article in which we accepted his challenge, we contacted several media types who promised to pass the information on to those in St. Louis.  So far it's been a week without response, and so yesterday we sent the following EMail to two St. Louis journalists:

to dgoold@post-dispatch.com,
date Thu, Jul 23, 2009 at 3:22 PM
subject We want to test Albert Pujols

My name is Kurtis Evans, I write for a Chicago Cubs blog called Goat Riders of the Apocalypse (www.goatriders.org).  During the All Star break Albert Pujols, stung by allegations that he's cheated to achieve his ridiculous numbers, said he's willing to be tested "every day."

At the time, my website accepted his offer (http://www.goatriders.org/grota-challenges-pujols).  On the off chance that our acceptance never reached your inbox, I would like to make sure it does now.  We are serious about this; if Albert Pujols is willing to take daily drug tests to prove his innoncence, in the name of the game's sanctity we would like to help him. 

Please pass the message onto him on our behalf.

Kurtis Evans

We're still waiting ...

Goat Riders to Pujols: We Accept Your Offer

Dear Albert:

Recently you were quoted as saying that you are frustrated by the steroid speculation that you have been the brunt of.  In your own words:

just because Manny made a mistake, now I have to pay? Just because A-Rod made a mistake, now I have to pay? Oh, guilt by association? That's wrong. . . .I would never do any of that crap. You think I'm going to ruin my relationship with God just because I want to get better in this game? You think I'm going to ruin everything because of steroids?  . . . . Come test me every day if you want, everything I ever made in this game I would give back to the Cardinals if I got caught.

Mr. Pujols, we can't accept this offer fast enough.  And let me say that we appreciate your generosity in making this offer.  After all, we at GROTA are firm believers in the importance of the sport's integrity.  There are millions of children out there who have grown up only to discover that their hero -- be it Manny, or Sammy, or Raffy, but not A-Rod (because nobody idolized him) -- is a cheat.  If you in fact are clean, sir, then you would be just about the only one.  That would be amazing!  That would be exactly what the sport needs!  We want to help you help baseball, Mr. Pujols!

So here's what we're going to do.  We at GROTA are a simple Cubs blog that you have surely never heard of (as people your age are not particularly internet savvy).  That means we're poor, working types who cannot easily afford the expensive tests that actually find the designer drugs.  So, we will start a charity drive here.  This charity drive will serve a two-folds purpose.

First, we will use that money to buy the really, really good drug tests.  Not the urine tests that you can beat, but hair follicle and blood tests.  A quick Google search confirms that these tests are expensive -- but they do exist and they work.  The problem with Major League Baseball, though, is that they only ask you to pee in a cup -- and I'm not convinced by any measure that you are unaware of when those tests are coming.  (Of course, that doesn't mean we think you're cheating, sir, it just means that we think it's possible that shady stuff could be going on.  We want to be sure, though, and we're sure you would appreciate our thoroughness.)

Since HGH is still undetectable in urine tests, blood is the only way to go.  David Epstein reports that HGH-seeking blood tests have existed for more than half a decade now, and there are some labs that will do a test for as little as $50 a pop.  Hair follicle tests for high levels of testosterone, on the other hand, appear to be pricier.  So let's just say -- and we'll confirm the exact figures later -- that we need to raise $250 a day to test you in hair and blood (and that might be on the conservative side.  Then again, who knows, perhaps there is a testing company in the Chicago area who would do it for free -- this is something we will look into).

I'm quite certain that the millions of Cub fans out there would donate more than that to prove your honesty, Mr. Pujols.  After all, Cub fans -- like all baseball fans -- want to prove the sport has integrity, and testing you would do that! 

Therefore, on the assumption that we can in fact raise more than the total daily cost of the drug test kits, the second thing we will do is this: whatever we have left over will go to a charity of your choice if you are clean.  (And on the unlikely chance that you are not clean and we have an overflow of donations, it'll go to a charity of our choice.  Either way the down-trodden win.  Perhaps there's a charity out there that benefits families scarred by steroid use -- we'll find them and help them out.) 

And if you are in fact unclean, sir, then rather than force you to "give back" everything you've ever made in the game to the Cardinals, you can instead donate it to a cause supported by this website -- and perhaps you'll also agree to retire in disgrace?  (We can discuss the ramifications of a failed test.  I'm sure we'll agree on something fair.)

Here's the thing, Mr. Pujols.  We won't just be testing you for a week or two.  We'll test you every single day of the regular and off-season.  We won't quit testing you in October -- we'll keep testing you for as long as you play and it comes up clean.  (But we will pay out to the charities in October if you have passed all 180+ tests each season.)  And although it's impossible to beat a blood test, we won't test you at a set time every day -- we will test you randomly, perhaps immediately before (or after) you have gotten on the team plane, or before (or after) you have entered your hotel, or before (or after) a game.  The point is you will never know when it's coming.

We would never have thought to issue this challenge had you not welcomed it with your statement.  But since you insist that you are clean, and as you welcome being tested "every day" -- your own words -- then it only makes sense that you stand behind what you have said. 

Also, we'd love to see a copy of your original birth certificate, but we can discuss that one later on.

So please, Mr. Pujols, I am sure that you are as anxious to clear your name as we are.  Contact us at media (at) goatriders (dot) org.  We'll set something up and get the ball rolling as soon as possible.

Y'know.  For the kiddies.  And to prove your innocence.  Really. 

Cubs 101 - Pt 34 - Sammy Sosa, the 30-30 Man

Brought to you by Coast to Coast Tickets!
Samuel Peralta Sosa was born a poor black sharecropper's son in the Dominican Republic.  Actually, I'm not certain his dad was a sharecropper, but you get the gist.  His was the prototypical humble beginnings of many of the Dominicans that were scouted, recruited, and signed by MLB in the 70's and 80's, up to the present day.  Sammy was a strong, quick,and skilled young lad when he was signed by Texas in 1985.  He made his major league debut with Dubya Bush's Rangers four years later, and even though Sosa matured quite a bit during his minor league apprenticeship, he was still largely as skinny, raw, and undisciplined as he was when he left home.  It only took Dubya's people 25 games, 84 at-bats and 20 strikeouts to decide to trade Sosa to a rival GM who was panting with (what we can assume to be platonic) man-love with him.

Of course, that rival GM was Larry Himes of the White Sox.  Himes only had to give up Harold Baines for him.  Baines, of course, was the face of the franchise, and his owner's favorite player.  But Himes must have convinced his owner that Mr. Sosa provided the fast-path to championships and winning beyond wildest dreams.  So then, Sosa came in and hit .233 with 150 strikeouts in his first full year.  After he followed that up with a .203 mark in 1991, Jerry Reinsdorf did the following: retired the number of his beloved Baines; fired Larry Himes; and when Himes (inexplicably) found employment a year later with the crosstown Cubs, traded Sosa back to him.  Which made him our property and the 23-year-old cornerstone of our franchise.

One problem right off of the bat - we already had cornerstones, good solid ones, named Sandberg and Maddux.  But thanks to his GM, Sosa was installed in the middle of the order, in center field, every day, an arrangement which lasted about 60 games, until he injured himself.  Inexplicably, Sosa earned himself a 400% raise for his 3/8ths of a season in 1992, from the league minimum, to $750k.  He also was installed in right field the next year in order to minimize injury risk, as well as to take advantage of his strong arm, which Sosa liked to display as runners tried to take extra bases.

Most general managers (nearly all of them in the 80's and 90's) placed utmost importance on players perceived to have 'five-tool impact', and there were few players at that point in time that were as young, with so much potential, as Sosa.  He bashed pitches, ran very well, and could send throws from deep in the outfield all the way to home plate.  His shortcomings were the typical ones for any raw prospect player - plate discipline; running routes to fly balls; overzealousness on the basepaths; and most of all, a brash, flashy nature.  It was easy to overlook all of that when he was only 24 years old.  He was young, and he could possibly mature and focus his talents.

On a fourth place Cubs team in 1993, one with Jose Guzman and Candy Maldanado instead of Greg Maddux and Andre Dawson, Sosa smacked 33 homers and stole 36 bases.  Larry Himes declared victory, and Sosa for his part received his first of what would be three gigantic multi-million dollar contracts.  Now, I don't begrudge the man for wanting to commemorate his accomplishment by purchasing a small token as a remembrance, but to this day, it rankles me that he purchased a shopping mall in his hometown and renamed it the "30-30 Mall".  I mean, certainly, the 30-30 Club is rather exclusive, but your team still hadn't won anything, and wouldn't it be more satisfying if you could buy a shopping mall and call it "Cubs Pennant Mall"?  But such was the me-first nature of Mr. Sosa.

The next few years, for the life of his first contract, Sosa put up great power and speed numbers.  In the somewhat abbreviated season of 2005, he hit 36 homers and stole 34 bases, making him a repeat member of the 30/30 Club.  He most certainly would have made it three years in a row, but the 1994 season was cut short with Sosa only five homers and 8 swipes shy.  He was making money commensurate with the great young players in the game, and at the end of the 1995 season was only 27 years old and only had two years remaining until his next big deal.

But Sosa was not happy.  He was not getting the acclaim and respect he deserved, from the national media, from his teammates, and now (since Himes had been relieved of his duties) from his own front office.  He started talking about looking elsewhere for his next big deal.  His agents started wondering out loud if the Cubs shouldn't try to trade him to a club who would respect Sammy more for his contributions. 

From the time he was plucked from the slums, to this very day, Sosa's biggest fault was a lack of self-awareness, an over-inflated self worth.  It never occurred to him that the reason why he was not getting the love he thought he earned was of his own making.  His teams never won, in no small part to his own lack of fundamental baseball.  He widened his strike zones; did not have  a great average with runners in scoring position; he got caught stealing in over a third of his attempts; he was infamous for his disdain of cutoff men; and he misplayed more than his share of fly balls.  Furthermore, Larry Himes managed to alienate or eliminate all of the clubhouse leaders, giving all credit to Sosa while assigning blame to the rest of the team.  Finally, he committed the almost unforgivable sin of complaining about his contract in Chicago, a place that demands unflinching loyalty from its sports heroes.

So for all these reasons, Sammy Sosa was not getting the fame he deserved.  Of course, Sosa never saw it this way.  A man who twice made the 30/30 club deserved more, and he believed he knew the reason why - it was because that particular club was NOT the place to be anymore.  Guys like Jose Canseco and Barry Bonds started a new "club".  No, not THAT one.  The 40-40 Club, of course.  Canseco was the founding member in 1988, and Bonds hit 42 homers and stole 40 bases in 1996.  When people talked about "the complete package", they pointed to Bonds and Canseco, and a new kid, Alex Rodriguez.  They were the state of the art - they were the ones keeping Sammy Sosa from the accolades he so richly deserved.

In the confusion of the 1994-5 strike, Sosa actually had signed an offer sheet with Boston, but when the smoke cleared, he remained a Cub, and his big payday loomed after the 1997 season.  Sammy, who did have a big heart, an even bigger ego, and loved hard work, figured out a way to leapfrog over everyone else, straight to the top. 

Kurt Evans
When Sammy Sosa started his career with the Cubs in the mid 90's, I was a teenage kid who did not have access to the Chicago papers or even the opinions of the Chicago-based fans, and I thought Sammy was pretty effin' cool.  I know I wasn't alone, either.

Pretty much all of my early opinions on the guy come from three sources -- Harry Caray, who described Sammy as being incredibly special in 1992, Steve Stone, who noted young Sammy's ridiculous hair style (subtly jabbing the flashy Sosa as having perhaps the wrong kinds of priorities), and Baseball Weekly, where I got to see the results of Sammy's exploits without experiencing his negative qualities.

Still, I was none-too-pleased when he became the defacto heir after Larry Himes sent Andre Dawson away from Chicago 1 homerun shy of 400. 

But was Sosa the empty calorie that Rob describes?  At certain points, he absolutely was.  In 1993 when the Cubs were a decent team lacking the punch necessary to really compete, Sosa was abysmal with runners on base.  He batted .214 in 1993 in "close and late" situations, and with 2 outs and runners in scoring position Sosa batted a putrid .160 with 19 strikeouts in 75 at bats. 

It was the same thing in 1995, when the Cubs were competing for a playoff spot until the last series of the season.  Sosa, who would hit 34 homeruns that year, would be the anti-intelligent hitter.  While batters typically improve against pitchers who they see more than once in a game, Sosa got worse -- he batted .310 the first time he faced a pitcher, .252 the second time, and .228 the third time and beyond -- and he was again a .226 hitter in "close and late" situations.

Still, Sammy deserves some credit.  He may have always grated some fans with his hot dog tactics and some teammates with his me-first mentality, but Sosa was always exciting to watch and he didn't exactly hit 600+ homeruns accidentally.  And when he was in his prime, be it from chemical advantages or other kinds, he was undeniably amazing, and no longer an empty calorie offensive player. 

And, back again to me: we have discussed two quite different perspectives on the most polarizing player in Cubs history.  Kurt notes that even before Sosa's unreal home run binge period from 1998-2003, his "primary" statistics (HR, RBI, AVG) were far superior to anyone else on the Cubs, and compared favorably to the cleanup hitters on nearly every other ballclub.  PEDs or not, Sammy was a supremely talented player.

I am beginning to think that the best thing to be is a Cubs fan who doesn't live in Chicago, or at least one who insulates himself or herself from the media.  For the 90's brought on, at least in the Chicago market, the advent of the major Sports Radio influence.  Until then, sports talk shows were only on a couple of minor stations, for a few hours a week.  Overnight, two major stations started full-time Chicago sports talk, and several other stations, to compete, beefed up their sports talk programming.  The hosts and program directors of these shows had a lot of hours to kill, and a favorite target, especially during the summer months, was the Great Sammy Sosa.

As a frequent listener, I was made aware of every cutoff man Sosa missed, every man he left on base late in games, and especially, every complaint he or his agent put forth in regards to the 'respect' he felt was lacking from his front office, once Himes was shoved aside.  And, of course, a few years later, the Internet really took hold, and far more people stepped up (like myself) and spent countless hours picking apart Sosa's faults to an even more minute level of detail than even the blowhards on the radio.

So is that really fair to his legacy?  Imagine what might have been said if the Internet and sports radio were around during the rise, stagnation, and eventual crumbling of the "1969 era" Cubs?  Would be feel the same way about Ron Santo, Fergie Jenkins, and some of these other guys if their every flaw was laid out open for all of us to pore over and analyze?  Probably not.

Fact is, though, Sosa came along too late.  Thus, as a rabid Chicago Cubs fan, who listened to every possible hour of sports radio and read every website, and heard nearly everything about the man; true, exaggerated, or completely false, it all shaped my opinion for the worse.  Just as for Kurt, living elsewhere, who got his information from TV, a more "mainstream" media, where the positives tend to be emphasized and the negatives glossed over, at least more so than on the radio and the internet.  His opinion, along with a generation of younger fans and non-local fans, thought Sosa to be the leader and savior of the franchise.

I understand.  Of course, I completely disagree.

Sponsored by Chicago Cubs playoff ticket broker Coast to Coast Tickets.

Sammy Sosa still belongs in the Hall of Fame

A memo to Jason: I know how strongly you disagree with Rob's strong distaste of Sammy.  Feel free to tack onto this article, or write another one of your own.

A memo to Rob: Telling people from my generation about your hatred of Sammy Sosa is probably on the same level as telling children that Santa Claus may not be everything that he's cracked up to be.

Still, a few weeks ago I penned this piece about Sammy as he officially announced his retirement: Sammy Sosa belongs in the Hall of Fame.  The premise of the piece is that, as he was never caught cheating, Sammy's induction should be a no-brainer.

Then it turns out he was caught in 2003.  Whoops.  It's probably a safe bet that he was caught fairly early on, hence his turn to cork.  But you know what?  Sammy still belongs in the Hall.  And despite all his short-comings, he is still a great Cub, one who we'll remember for a long time for a bunch of reasons.

Probably the best thing I said in that previous article: I don't necessarily subscribe to the notion that we are born flawed but I certainly agree that our life makes us that way rather quickly.  Heroes have dark sides.  Villains can be charitable.  And Sammy Sosa was a long-time flawed hero who played the charitable villain brilliantly. 

That was Sammy.  He was selfish, self-aggrendizing, and self-important.  He alienated Mark Grace, and Ryne Sandberg, and Don Baylor (maybe we can forgive him the last one).  He hit epic homeruns, took epic upper-cuts, and stole bases to the frustration of his teammates.  He talked about money in the clubhouse and during the game whether the Cubs were winning or losing.  He blasted his boom box and it was eventually smashed to pieces.  He evaporated in September of '04 and was as responsible for the team's collapse as Dusty, taking massive missed swings when short ones contacting the ball into the shallow outfield would've got the job done. 

He was never my favorite player -- in fact, he replaced my favorite player.  But his jersey was the first I ever owned.  I still have it in my closet, unworn since 2002 because it was washed and worn to the point of oblivion. 

Anyway, Rob, the point is this: I get why you don't like him.  You want the guy who will play selflessly, who will throw himself at fly balls, who will throw down a surprise bunt with runners in scoring position, who will rally a team through both his words and actions.  But I do think that you take it too far because I remember clearly what he did on the field to win, and while it doesn't erase his numerous, flagarant flaws it does allow for me to remember him fondly. 

So, now we know for a fact that he cheated, as if that changes anything from when we only knew without proof that he cheated.  File this one under "unpopular opinions of Kurt," but I don't really care.  Every guy to hit 500 or more homeruns since the 80's cheated, maybe with the exception of Ken Griffey Jr.  Big deal.

The point is that in an era where everybody cheated, Sosa was still head and shoulders better than most of the rest.  I guess the implication is that he either had the best trainer or he would've still been better than the rest had nobody ever discovered steroids. 

And yes, with apologies to your assertations to the contrary, Sosa's homeruns and RBI were not empty calories.  As much as the Cubs clearly couldn't do it with him alone -- see 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 -- they also couldn't have done it without him -- see 1998, 2003.  Sosa's contributions were huge.  His Nintendo numbers will never be duplicated.  His enthusiasm and play will never be forgotten ... nor will his ego and selfishness.

Anyway, I would respectfully suggest Rob that you take comfort in this one fact that was true in 2003, was true a month ago, and is true now: he is not, nor was he ever Mr. Cub.  He was never, nor would he ever be loved more than Banks, or Sandberg, or even Grace and Wood.  Our organization's marquee player is not a cheater.  But one of the best we ever saw was, and his positive test from 2003 does nothing to change the amazing things he did.

And with that, like you, I'll leave this one in the past ... until his eligibility comes up (or his loud denials of cheating, whichever comes first).


No, don't go run out in the streets and celebrate.  I am NOT going away.

But something occured to me this morning.  Now that he has been exposed once and for all, I don't ever ever have to write about Sammy Sosa ever again.

I'm putting away my anger.  RIP, Pumpkinhead.

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