BEHIND THE PLATE: MLB hot stove anything but dull this offseason

Major League Baseball has been anything but boring this winter.

From the A-Fraud scandal to instant replay to winning the Tanaka lottery, baseball teams have been trying to find the missing pieces to their puzzle of winning this upcoming season’s World Series.

Most news, however, has been focused on the dark cloud engulfing America’s favorite pastime. Ever since the Mitchell Report surfaced last decade, bringing to light that many of the stars were using performance-enhancing drugs, Bud Selig and Co. have been trying to rid the sport from these cheaters.

While new drug testing policies have been in place for several years, players still continue to cheat the system because they fear that some teenage phenom will grace the league and take their job. Instead of training harder and studying longer, many of the stars feel that taking PEDs is the only solution.

In what has been dubbed as the Steroid Era, it has become increasingly difficult to trust baseball players. Determining who’s clean and who’s telling the truth is as hard as trying to knock a Aronis Chapin fastball out of the park.

Alex Rodriguez keeps digging his grave with his perplexing antics of blaming MLB and even the players union for prejudice. He demands fairness from everyone involved with his suspension from the game, yet he was unwilling to play fair since he signed his mega deal with the Rangers. Rodriguez is a disgraceful cheater who continues to taint the game that 5-year-old boys learn to love as time passes.

But while Rodriguez’s actions continue to press MLB to instill better drug-testing policies and suspensions, it challenges what we as fans trust. How do we know this kind of behavior did not exist before Mark McGuire belted 70 home runs during the regular season for the Cardinals? How do we know Babe Ruth was not taking a supplement while with the Yankees? Was Lou Gehrig’s unbelievable hitting streak unethically aided?

It seems ridiculous to pose these questions about the greatest to ever play the game but the ongoing battle against PEDs begs for answers from the past, present and future. How do you know for sure that every one of your childhood favorites were playing the game fair and without supplements? You don’t anymore.

Last week, though, was a revelation for the baseball world when Selig announced that MLB will expand instead replay for this season.

Every major sport, except baseball, has taken advantage of the technological breakthroughs to provide officials with clarity regarding calls. While some would argue that this expansion hurts the game because it has pride itself on the human element since the creation in the 1800s, blown calls continue to affect the game.

Games, however, should not come down to a blown call, but more often than not, everyone immediately reacts to that call being the reason why a team lost. Nine innings, 27 outs and more than 300 pitches are seen in every baseball game, which makes it illogical to say this one call affected the game. What about the full-count walk when you opened the at-bat with two strikes? What about the dropped can of corn in left field that could have prevented a run from scoring?

Baseball has been called America’s favorite pastime for many reasons, including the human element with officiating. With players getting stronger and faster and teams being more analytical than ever, MLB must keep up, especially with its umpiring, and the expanded use of instant replay will benefit the game.

The No. 1 priority for an official in any sport is getting the call right.

And the Yankees appear to have done something right since winning the 2009 World Series. New York signed Masihiro Tanaka, the Japanese pitching prodigy, on Wednesday to one of the highest contracts, less than a week after the Dodgers gave the keys to Los Angeles to Clayton Kershaw.

Will the signing work for New York as it did for Texas when the Rangers picked up Yu Darvish? Tanaka hasn’t even thrown one pitch off American soil but he will get his chance next month in Florida as he tries to prove his worth. Don’t start penciling in a Dodgers-Yankees World Series quite yet, though.

With less than a month remaining until Spring Training, baseball is slowly separating from the Rodriguez disaster by jumping on the bandwagon of professional sports to embrace technology and offer umpires more tools to perform their job at a better level. Insert the Tanaka lottery that New York won this week and baseball’s scale of good and evil is starting to come to balance.

Are you ready for baseball season?

Thomas Ranson can be contacted at


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