Monday, August 10, 2009

Ramirez-Ortiz out, Vick in

By Don Klein

Isn’t it ironic that Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz who tested positive for taking illegal performance enhancing drugs are still allowed to play baseball in the major leagues and Michael Vick who after completing a 23-month sentence for promoting dog fighting can’t find a job in the National Football League.

Here we have two men who evidence proves cheated other players and the public are blissfully allowed to continue their exorbitant life styles while another athlete who made a horrible mistake and paid for his blunder by serving his full prison time is treated like a pariah.

Is it fair that cheaters get a bye while thickheaded behavior is forever punished?
Face the facts. Vick made a error in judgment, a serious error true, but he paid the price. He went to court, received a fair trial, was convicted and served his term of incarceration. He handled an extremely difficult situation like a man. He deserves a second chance in a profession at which he was a stellar performer.

Vick was one of those rare individuals in sports who could draw a crowd just by his appearance on the field. There are not many contemporary quarterbacks who are as exciting and innovative as Vick. He is a credit to the game. As far as we know he never cheated the fans. He did not use steroids nor did he ever throw a game or bet on them. These are capital crimes in sports.

If it wasn’t for foolishly arranging dog fights, his life would have been without regret. Who among us have not made regrettable mistakes. In a New York Daily News recent poll 56 percent of respondents favored Vick's return.

Of course, drawing a crowd means nothing to the NFL which packs them in at every game wherever played and collects multi-millions in television fees. No one today is as relevant to football as Babe Ruth was to baseball in the pre-television, pre-million dollar contract days. People paid money at the gate to see Ruth and that made team owners rich. Now stars are seen for free on television every week and the owners are even richer.

Vick, 29, was not to football what Ruth was to baseball. No one is. But Vick was not a pedestrian player either. During the six seasons in the NFL he played for the Atlanta Falcons and completed more than half the passes he attempted in five of those years. He pitched 71 touchdown passes and scored 21 others running the ball in on his own. He made the Pro Bowl three times.

Most importantly he was a crowd pleaser. Fans who rooted for his team, or against them, never knew what to expect from Vick. A chill would run up the spine of all when the center snapped the ball to him. Would he step back and pass like most quarterbacks or would he take off in one of those unpredictable, unorthodox scrambles in the back field that often ended up with a massive yardage gain on the ground. In short he was a sports delight.

Roger Goodell, the NFL Commissioner, acknowledged that Vick, suspended roughly four months before beginning his prison term, has been partially disciplined. But he gave no hint on how much of a bearing that might have on potential reinstatement.

When asked if Vick will be reinstated for the 2009 season, Goodell said: "I haven't sat down and looked at his case. I haven't met with him. I haven't understood where he is. I'm not going to try to guess."

The Falcons who own Vick's contract rights don’t want him back. Too much bad publicly, I guess. Perhaps figuring prison has diminished his talents they are attempting to trade him.

Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith believes Vick deserves a chance to compete for a job but added he is committed to Kyle Orton as his existing quarterback,
"I would look at Michael like I look at every other prospect that's available. He goes back into the pool," Smith told reporters. "That's what everyone in society does. Martha Stewart went to prison. She paid her time. Now she's back in society.

"Mike made a mistake, and he's paying the price for that mistake. Once you've paid your debt to society, you have to say, 'OK, let's go on from there.' "

Meanwhile there is almost no noteworthy reaction to the fact that Ramirez, now with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and David Ortiz, still with the Boston Red Sox, tested positive for illegal drugs in 2003. Ramirez and Ortiz were critical components of the Red Sox victorious World Series winning season in 2004.

It may be sacrilege to Boston’s insane Sox fans but the Ramirez-Ortiz scandal besmirches the Red Sox victory that year and should lead to the possibility of an asterisk being placed next to the team’s 2004 record. The only sound argument against such action is that there had been so much steroid corruption in baseball these days that all the teams were equally at fault in allowing their stars to take drugs. There should be an asterisk against all teams.

Every year baseball fouls itself with more drug scandals. Its players continue to insult the public and downgrade championships while baseball’s hierarchy does little about it other than give lip-service to its inadequate attempts at reform. Baseball is headed for the dump heap thanks to its greedy players aided and abetted by its even greedier and inept owners.

If the 1920s and 1930s where baseball’s golden years, the 1990s and 2000s has to be its contamination years. Ramirez and Ortiz should be thrown out of baseball as should all other ball players who cheat. It should be a dire warning to future players if the game is to continue in good faith.

Ramirez-Oriz out, Vick in. That's my formula for sports this year.