Phillips: On votes of confidence, PED second chances and dip

Steve Phillips,
8/22/2014 2:22:04 PM
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TSN Baseball Analyst Steve Phillips answers several questions surrounding the game each week. This week's topics include a vote of confidence for the Jays' brass, a second life for PED offenders, the lasting effects of chewing tobacco and what the majors can learn from the little leagues.  

1) Reports surfaced over the last week that Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos and manager John Gibbons were both expected back for the 2015 season. What does the vote of confidence mean for both and, more importantly, for a team that has twice fallen out of a playoff spot this season?

It is good news for the Jays and their fans that ownership has given both Alex Anthopoulos and John Gibbons a vote of confidence that they will return next season. Change is not always the answer. It is oftentimes the easy way out for ownership. They figure they will make a change and the fans will back off of them waiting for some new grand plan or direction. But more often than not, the firing of general managers particularly, set the organization back a number of years.

Anthopoulos knows what he is doing. He knows where his team's strengths and weaknesses are. Gibbons is respected by his players and other managers. He is a good baseball man. Sure, neither of them is perfect but they are good men who give an honest day's effort and represent the organization well. Ownership's support of these two is also a bit of an admission that the club's shortcomings are in many ways their bosses' fault.

The Jays are close. They are much closer to a playoff team than they have been in years. They are starting pitcher or two short of being a true contender. A key trade or two at the deadline might have made the difference this season but Anthopoulos had no budget to make that happen.

The Jays are in a window where they have affordable power in their line-up. They won't have it forever. Power costs big money in the free agent market for both bats and pitchers. They can't let this time go to waste. There are certain times in an organization's history that they need to go for it. This is one of those times for the Jays.

Ownership has made it clear they believe in Anthopoulos and Gibbons. Now they need to make it clear they believe in the players.

2) Nelson Cruz enters Thursday leading the majors in home runs while Melky Cabrera sits second in the MLB in hits. What do these achievements mean for the once-suspended stars and their value heading into the open market this off-season?

Nelson Cruz is having a career year. So is Melky Cabrera. What a difference a year can make. Cruz was suspended from the Rangers this time last year for using PEDs acquired from Biogenesis. Cabrera is coming to the conclusion of the two-year $16 million deal he signed with the Jays after his own 50 game suspension for testing positive for PEDs.

Good for them. They have both bounced back from the embarrassment of getting snagged in MLB's Joint Drug Policy. They are taking full advantage of their second chances.

Are they clean now? I don't know. I assume they are because they haven't had another positive test. But you know what happens when you ass-u-me. So I am not totally willing to say they are clean.

The element of doubt that I have will not be shared by every general manager around the game. Some may feel like I do, but as long as there is one who is willing to invest in the numbers they produce they will get all the money in the world.

I suspect that both Cruz and Cabrera will get multi-year, multi-million dollar deals. They will be substantially compensated and completely unaffected by their previous wrongdoings.

The evidence seems pretty clear that sooner or later if you produce you will get paid. Just look at Jhonny Peralta's contract that he got from the Cardinals last offseason.

I am all for second chances. Heaven knows I have gotten them. I am thrilled when people take advantage of them.

Maybe I should take some PEDs, turn myself in and then cash in on my own big contract. Sounds like a plan.

3) Curt Schilling has been treated for mouth cancer and attributed his disease to his use of chewing tobacco. MLB prohibits visible use of smokeless tobacco but with Schilling's admission and Tony Gwynn's death from oral cancer earlier in the year, is it time for the League to take a stronger stand?

Every package of smokeless chewing tobacco and advertisement includes one of the following warnings:

WARNING: This product can cause mouth cancer.

WARNING: This product can cause gum disease and tooth loss.

WARNING: This product is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.

WARNING: Smokeless tobacco is addictive.

Yet Curt Schilling and Tony Gwynn kept chewing. So do dozens of other major league ball players.

Major League Baseball rules prohibit teams from providing any tobacco products to players. Many stadiums are nonsmoking facilities. Players cannot have tobacco tins in their uniform pockets or do televised interviews while using smokeless tobacco. Violators are subject to fines. Despite all of these attempts to make it more difficult on players they still have a never-ending supply of smokeless tobacco and continue to use it at a reduced but alarming rate.

Smokeless tobacco is banned in the minor leagues. Players, coaches and managers face fines and suspensions if they are caught using it. The reason it is not banned in the major leagues is because the Major League Baseball Players Association is unwilling to agree to it. Players want this to remain a matter of choice. They support education but they refuse to approve an across-the-board ban.

There is netting in hockey arenas now behind the goals because a woman died when there wasn't netting. Base coaches wear helmets now in professional ball and in most amateur leagues because a first base coach of the Tulsa Drillers, Scott Coolbaugh, was struck in the head by a liner and died.

There are so many things that we know we should do, but it takes a death to make it happen. Pitchers in baseball should wear protective headgear but it won't become mandatory until someone dies. Netting should be extended down the baselines in baseball stadiums to protect the fans from getting hit by line drives. It won't happen unless someone dies from getting hit.

We had our tragic death from smokeless tobacco (Gwynn). We had our real scare for one's health (Schilling). Why isn't it enough? The Players Association needs to protect its constituents from themselves. I don't care that tobacco is legal. It kills.

The Office of the Commissioner cannot unilaterally ban smokeless tobacco. It has to be negotiated as a topic in collective bargaining. I hope and pray that we don't need to lose more lives to get the players to agree to a complete and total ban.

4) So, this past week five million people tuned in to watch Mo'ne Davis, a thirteen year old girl, pitch for the Pennsylvania team against Las Vegas in the Little League World Series. It was the highest rated baseball game on ESPN since 2007. Thirty-four thousand fans showed up to watch which was 9,000 more than the Phillies had at Citizens Bank Park on the same night.

Let that sink in.

She is a woman among boys. She is a rock star. Everywhere she went in Williamsport people wanted to see her and get her autograph. In fact someone sold her autograph online for $500. Mo'ne is money.

But why?

From all accounts she is not only a wonderful athlete but a great kid too. Certainly there is part of the story that is a bit of a side-show: a girl beating boys at their own game. It never happens this way. She is a one-of-a kind.

The reason so many people watched though is not exclusively because of the uniqueness of Mo'ne but more because they got to know her. ESPN let us in behind the scenes and gave us a true sense as to who Mo'ne really is as a person? We connected with her and her story.

There are some that think the stat I gave you above is an embarrassment to baseball. We should be mortified that it took a little girl to drive ratings for baseball in a way that major leaguers couldn't. Those people think that fans have lost interest in the game and won't watch unless there is a side-show.

I disagree. I believe that the Mo'ne Davis story is a story of hope for a young girl but also for the industry. It proved that people are interested in baseball and will watch the games when the players are interesting to them. It reinforces what I have thought all along, that, if baseball markets its players, fans will connect and become interested in the game again.

Fans young and old want to know the same things about major leaguers that we learn about little leaguers: Who is your favorite player? What is your favorite meal? What is your favorite hobby? Who would they like to meet? Who is your favorite non-baseball athlete? What is your favorite movie?

Baseball has a hole to dig itself out of there is no question. But the last few weeks have provided us a pathway to get there. Football has had players arrested for smoking marijuana and domestic abuse. The NFL has an epidemic of DUI's from owners to players. The door is open for baseball to make up ground with better marketing of players and a few other changes.

The best news of the week was that Commissioner-elect Rob Manfred was in Williamsport, PA at the Little League World Series. It was a brilliant move. Baseball needs to get a younger fan base and the guy in charge showed he understands it.

There is a lot of hope for the game we love.

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