Saturday, June 30, 2007

All done

The Landis story is up.

More: Floyd Landis on Tour to Clear His Name

I also added it here: Finger Food: Floyd Landis on Tour to Clear His Name

And here: Finger Food Columns: Floyd Landis on Tour to Clear His Name

That way there will be no excuse not to find it...

Here is the complete transcript, but it all appears in the story anyway:

Are you still going to race at Leadville?
Yeah, it seemed like a good idea back when I was training more… that’s going to be painful. I’ve been riding a little more since the hearing ending – I’ve been trying to get some more miles in. If I can just get a few decent weeks of training in I’ll be alright. I don’t particularly like to race at altitude and this one is at 10,000-feet, but I’ll be fine.

I don’t like altitude at all. I hate it. I did that thing a few weeks ago in Vail (Colorado) at the Teva Mountain Games for a fund raiser and that was a problem. The problem there was that I sat in that hearing for 10 days and I didn’t do [anything]. I didn’t even move. It wasn’t like I even exercised, I just sat there. Then I got on my bike a week later and tried to race and it was painful. Hopefully I can get some time up at altitude somewhere.

When you train, do you usually go to altitude?
When I really care and I want to be in shape and I’m training for the Tour or something, I go to altitude. It helps. It helps if you’re going to race at sea level, but if race at altitude you have to train there. You can’t just show up.

Is training in the Northestern U.S. humidity as difficult as training at altitude?
It’s not the same. It’s equally as hard, but (humidity) doesn’t help you adapt to altitude. It’s very difficult if you aren’t used to altitude. Riding around here is hard if you aren’t used to humidity. Those little hills that go up and down – you get tired fast riding around here [in Lancaster County]. You don’t ride 100 miles around here. In California, for example, you can ride along the coast and do 100 miles and not climb a whole lot and be alright. There’s nothing like that here.

How good are the riding conditions in this part of the country?
This is one of the best. If you want to win the Tour or are at the level I was at, you need big mountains. You need to be able to climb for an hour or an hour-and-a-half at a time. But as far as just riding goes and training and you want nice roads, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Last year at this time... what were you doing?
I wasn’t doing this. When does the Tour start? (told July 7) Right about now I was flying from California to France to start the Tour and I was in the best shape of my life. I’m not so much now, but I’m into some other stuff.

At some levels it seems like forever and other levels it went very quickly. The whole thing was a strange experience. Winning the Tour in the first place – although it was a goal – you can’t imagine it all you want, but it’s not the same until it really happens. Then I basically had two days to think about it and in those two days you win or just finish you feel awful for awhile. So I got through those two days and I really didn’t get a chance to think about, and little did know those were my only two days enjoy it and then this whole doping thing started.

Right there that eliminated any thought of winning the Tour from my mind. It’s always been dealing with this – and I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how the process worked, how the testing worked, and for that matter I didn’t even know what the accusation was against me. I didn’t have any paperwork or anything. It took about two months for me to get it. So everything I thought about and learned was just about what I needed to do and how to deal with the press, and obviously, I had very little idea.

So I had very little thought about actually winning the tour.

Since then you've become a one of the leading advocate for athletes’ rights, I assume you never expected that was part of the deal of winning the Tour de France?
That wasn’t even in the back of my mind, and honestly, I didn’t realize the jeopardy that athletes are in because it never crossed my mind. I had no problem giving a urine sample because I did it all the time and I assumed that the people testing it were legitimate and out to do the right thing. It never crossed my mind that it could be the way it is.

And it’s hard for people to believe when I say it really is that bad. They think, ‘Yeah, he’s guilty that’s why he’s trying to accuse them.’ But, even a guilty person deserves to have the evidence against him provided to him without having to spend $1 million in a year.

Ultimately, an arbitration hearing can’t handle a criminal prosecution and that’s what it is.

If you were a baseball player or a football player, would you have tested positive?
Of course not. None of this should have ever happened. Look, if you’re going to enforce ethics then you have to hold yourself to the absolute highest standard. You can’t have a lab that’s doing the testing forging documents and doing just random things wrong, and when they do just write it off as, ‘Well, it’s just a mistake we’ll just right it off and ignore it.’

Either it’s science or something else. If it’s not science than what is it? Take, for instance, at the hearing where they brought in Greg LeMond and Joe Papp, neither of whom said anything. They didn’t say anything and they had no relevance. For example, Joe Papp told us that he took a bunch of drugs and apparently they didn’t help him and then he left. I didn’t know the guy, I never raced the guy – what that had to do with science is beyond me.

No disputes from USADA?
They don’t have anything to say.

Why is there a disconnect between the public/press on the issues? Is it because they are “doped” on the issue of dope?
It’s a lot of things and that tops it all off. The subject of sports is all about doping and people have had enough. So whenever the subject comes up and someone is accused, they just write it off as, ‘Yeah, he didn’t do it, I’ve heard it all before.’ That’s all fine and USADA and WADA say that [its] tests are perfect and people believe them because why would they say it if it wasn’t true? You can’t imagine that an anti-doping agency would want to do anything other than find the truth.

But the problem is they have this lab and it’s not a very good lab and they made all of these mistakes. And when they realized they had made these mistakes and made a huge public scene and Dick Pound [president of WADA] says that, ‘Everyone says he’s guilty.’ Well, if they back down from that then they lost all credibility. They just can’t all of a sudden say, “we’re sorry.’

What if they rule against you?
If they rule against me, they are going to have to fabricate something.

What really got lost and I have been trying to tell people this: when they got to the point where they had to identify the substance and they had to measure it, they identified the wrong thing. And that got lost in the whole big mess because there were so many arguments, but if you just look at that there’s no point in even talking about the rest of it. The other 200 things they did wrong don’t even matter because they didn’t even test testosterone.

And I don't know how they are going to get around that! What are they going to say, ‘Well, it was something close to testosterone so we’ll just call him guilty.’ How is that going to work? I don’t know, but believe me, I’ve seen them do some pretty strange things to this point.

There’s a reason why they hide behind that gag order and it’s because they have nothing to say.

I assume you have heard about the Walsh book?
People have told me about it…

Are you going to sell more books than him?
Oh for sure. First of all, his book is in the fiction section so if people are looking for some entertainment, there you go.

His problem is that he just hates Lance. It’s clear. He’s not anti-doping, he’s anti-Lance. That serves no purpose.

It's his third time writing the same book...
How many times can you write a book in different languages? It’s still the same book.

What can you tell people about Lance that no one else knows?
I don’t think I know anything that anyone else knows. People have perceptions of him that might not be very accurate, but I don’t know any details that they wouldn’t know. The guy is obsessed. With whatever he does he is obsessed, and whatever he does he wants to be the best at it. Ultimately, he doesn’t have a lot of close friends because of it and he winds up not being the nicest guy. But that doesn’t make him a doper. That doesn’t make him a cheater. It might make him someone you don’t want to be around, but that doesn’t mean he took advantage of anyone else or that he deserves the harassment some people are giving him, like in the Walsh book.

Next year at this time will you be in France?
I hope so. I really hope so and I think so. The longer this thing goes on the more I think things are going to work out because we put on a case that was never refuted even in the hearing.

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Floyd interview excerpt

I finally transcribed my entire interview with Floyd Landis, which was much longer than I thought. In fact, the entire transcription is four-typed pages and 1,613 words long. Needless to say, some of it will not appear in the story I'm writing for tomorrow. However, when the story is finished (I'm still waiting for another comment from USADA... they won't return calls or e-mails), I will post the full transcription here. In the meantime, here's a snippet I'll pass along to tide everyone over:

Are you still going to race at Leadville?
Yeah, it seemed like a good idea back when I was training more… that’s going to be painful. I’ve been riding a little more since the hearing ending – I’ve been trying to get some more miles in. If I can just get a few decent weeks of training in I’ll be alright. I don’t particularly like to race at altitude and this one is at 10,000-feet, but I’ll be fine.

I don’t like altitude at all. I hate it. I did that thing a few weeks ago in Vail (Colorado) at the Teva Mountain Games for a fund raiser and that was a problem. The problem there was that I sat in that hearing for 10 days and I didn’t do [anything]. I didn’t even move. It wasn’t like I even exercised, I just sat there. Then I got on my bike a week later and tried to race and it was painful. Hopefully I can get some time up at altitude somewhere.

When you train, do you usually go to altitude?
When I really care and I want to be in shape and I’m training for the Tour or something, I go to altitude. It helps. It helps if you’re going to race at sea level, but if race at altitude you have to train there. You can’t just show up.

Is training in the Northestern U.S. humidity as difficult as training at altitude?
It’s not the same. It’s equally as hard, but (humidity) doesn’t help you adapt to altitude. It’s very difficult if you aren’t used to altitude. Riding around here is hard if you aren’t used to humidity. Those little hills that go up and down – you get tired fast riding around here [in Lancaster County]. You don’t ride 100 miles around here. In California, for example, you can ride along the coast and do 100 miles and not climb a whole lot and be alright. There’s nothing like that here.

How good are the riding conditions in this part of the country?
This is one of the best. If you want to win the Tour or are at the level I was at, you need big mountains. You need to be able to climb for an hour or an hour-and-a-half at a time. But as far as just riding goes and training and you want nice roads, it doesn’t get any better than this.

What can you tell people about Lance Armstrong that no one else knows?
I don’t think I know anything that anyone else knows. People have perceptions of him that might not be very accurate, but I don’t know any details that they wouldn’t know. The guy is obsessed. With whatever he does he is obsessed, and whatever he does he wants to be the best at it. Ultimately, he doesn’t have a lot of close friends because of it and he winds up not being the nicest guy. But that doesn’t make him a doper. That doesn’t make him a cheater. It might make him someone you don’t want to be around, but that doesn’t mean he took advantage of anyone else or that he deserves the harassment some people are giving him, like in the Walsh book.

Next year at this time will you be in France?
I hope so. I really hope so and I think so. The longer this thing goes on the more I think things are going to work out because we put on a case that was never refuted even in the hearing.

Labels:

Spread around the dirt

It's hard to explain "real" athletics to the mainstream sporting media and fans, and by "real athletics" I mean sports that take athleticism like running, cycling (you thought I'd say golf) and basketball. Athletes often chide media types because "they don't play" or "they never played..." and to a large degree they are correct.

When it comes to really knowing sports and what it takes to be an athlete, sportswriters and fans know nothing.

That's especially the case when it comes to cycling. The conventional appraoch by well-known columnists and sports media is to simply put the sport off by saying, "Well, cycling is dirty and no one can take it seriously..."

Yes, cycling appears to be dirty. But to say cycling is more dirty than football or baseball is just plain stupid. Actually, it's really, really stupid and the people who write and spew that crap should know better.

The problem cycling writers are having right now is the same one baseball writers had five to 10 years ago when the sport was at the apex of its so-called "Steroid Era," which is "how could we not know." Baseball writers really dropped the ball and now writers covering other sports are repeating those mistakes.

Joe Lindsay, in his Boulder Report blog, nails it much better than I ever could. For people interested in sizing up the true sports landscape and the media's place in it, Lindsay post is as right on as there is...

Perhaps some day it will all be about the game and/or race again.

More: Looking for the exit.

Floyd Landis on Tour to Clear His Name

EPHRATA, Pa. – It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Not here. Not now. In any other era or any other point of history, Floyd Landis should be relaxing after a ride through the Pyrenees near his training base in Girona, Spain, or perhaps even trekking his way from France to London ahead of the prologue of the Tour de France, which is set to begin next Saturday.

Perhaps even he would be preparing for a ceremonial role in the 2007 Tour de France after undergoing hip-replacement surgery last November. Instead of leading his team through the heat of the French lowlands and the brutal climbs up the Pyrenees and Alps every day for three weeks, Landis could have been like the Grand Marshal in the race he won quite dramatically just a year ago. It could have been like a victory lap around the entire country and a way for the American rider from Lancaster County, Pa. to say thanks to the fans for witnessing the culmination of a lot of blood and sweat to make a dream come true.

Better yet, he could simply be watching it all from a top-floor suite at Le Meridien with sweeping views of the elegant City of Lights and an unobstructed look at the Eiffel Tower. That is if he had not chosen to grind it up Alpe d’Huez or Col du Galibier in an attempt to bring home two in a row.

Yeah, that’s how it was supposed be.

Landis speaks...

Why is there a disconnect between the public/press on the issues? Is it because they are “doped” on the issue of dope?
"It’s a lot of things and that tops it all off. The subject of sports is all about doping and people have had enough. So whenever the subject comes up and someone is accused, they just write it off as, ‘Yeah, he didn’t do it, I’ve heard it all before.’ That’s all fine and USADA and WADA say that [its] tests are perfect and people believe them because why would they say it if it wasn’t true? You can’t imagine that an anti-doping agency would want to do anything other than find the truth.

"But the problem is they have this lab and it’s not a very good lab and they made all of these mistakes. And when they realized they had made these mistakes and made a huge public scene and Dick Pound [president of World Anti-Doping Agency] says that, ‘Everyone says he’s guilty.’ Well, if they back down from that then they lost all credibility. They just can’t all of a sudden say, 'we’re sorry.’"

I assume you have heard about the Walsh book?
"People have told me about it… "

Are you going to sell more books than him?
"Oh for sure. First of all, his book is in the fiction section so if people are looking for some entertainment, there you go.

"His problem is that he just hates Lance. It’s clear. He’s not anti-doping, he’s anti-Lance. That serves no purpose."

It's his third time writing the same book...
"How many times can you write a book in different languages? It’s still the same book."

What can you tell people about Lance Armstrong that no one else knows?
"I don’t think I know anything that anyone else knows. People have perceptions of him that might not be very accurate, but I don’t know any details that they wouldn’t know. The guy is obsessed. With whatever he does he is obsessed, and whatever he does he wants to be the best at it.

"Ultimately, he doesn’t have a lot of close friends because of it and he winds up not being the nicest guy. But that doesn’t make him a doper. That doesn’t make him a cheater. It might make him someone you don’t want to be around, but that doesn’t mean he took advantage of anyone else or that he deserves the harassment some people are giving him, like in the Walsh book."

Are you still going to race at Leadville (in August)?
"Yeah, it seemed like a good idea back when I was training more… that’s going to be painful. I’ve been riding a little more since the hearing ending – I’ve been trying to get some more miles in. If I can just get a few decent weeks of training in I’ll be alright. I don’t particularly like to race at altitude and this one is at 10,000-feet, but I’ll be fine.

"I don’t like altitude at all. I hate it. I did that thing a few weeks ago in Vail (Colorado) at the Teva Mountain Games for a fund raiser and that was a problem. The problem there was that I sat in that hearing for 10 days and I didn’t do [anything]. I didn’t even move. It wasn’t like I even exercised, I just sat there. Then I got on my bike a week later and tried to race and it was painful. Hopefully I can get some time up at altitude somewhere."

When you train, do you usually go to altitude?
"When I really care and I want to be in shape and I’m training for the Tour or something, I go to altitude. It helps. It helps if you’re going to race at sea level, but if race at altitude you have to train there. You can’t just show up."

Is training in the Northestern U.S. humidity as difficult as training at altitude?
"It’s not the same. It’s equally as hard, but (humidity) doesn’t help you adapt to altitude. It’s very difficult if you aren’t used to altitude. Riding around here is hard if you aren’t used to humidity. Those little hills that go up and down – you get tired fast riding around here [in Lancaster County]. You don’t ride 100 miles around here. In California, for example, you can ride along the coast and do 100 miles and not climb a whole lot and be alright. There’s nothing like that here."

How good are the riding conditions in this part of the country?
"This is one of the best. If you want to win the Tour or are at the level I was at, you need big mountains. You need to be able to climb for an hour or an hour-and-a-half at a time. But as far as just riding goes and training and you want nice roads, it doesn’t get any better than this."

Who is going to win the 2007 Tour de France?
"Not me."

-- John R. Finger

Instead, Landis was sitting on a soft couch in a dimly lit but comfortable room atop of a bicycle shop near his old stomping grounds in Ephrata, Pa. answering a reporter’s questions. And he’s trying to figure out the fastest way down Route 222 in order to get from Ephrata to Lancaster for an appearance at a Barnes & Noble. From there it was figuring out how to negotiate the Schuylkill Expressway for another media outing. Instead of stages on the tour like Mazamet to Plateau-de-Beille, Landis will be attempting to get from West Chester, Pa. to Washington, D.C. to Wheaton, Ill.

Instead, Landis has lost a potential $10 million in earnings and has spent more than $1 million of his own money to clear his name.

What a difference a year makes, huh?

“I wasn’t doing this (last year),” Landis said. “Right about now I was flying from California to France to start the Tour and I was in the best shape of my life. I’m not so much now, but I’m into some other stuff.”

That other stuff is a different type of tour. Call it the Tour de Book or the Tour de Plead-thy-Case. Landis was relaxing after an afternoon ride in Souderton, Pa. to help promote the Univest Grand Prix race that will take place on Sept. 8. While relaxing, he multitasked by taking a phone call from a reporter before entertaining questions from another reporter from a Lancaster TV station and newspaper. After that, it was off to the Barnes & Noble in Lancaster where he would sign copies of his new book, Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won the Tour de France until late into the evening.

That’s what his life is like these days – another city; another stage; more books to sign; and more reporters asking questions leading to the same theme of, “Did you do it?” Or “How can they get away with it?” It’s a different kind of preparation with more grueling jagged mountains to climb. But unlike the Tour de France, this tour doesn’t have an end in sight.

And when it does end, it could end badly.

Needless to say, Landis hasn’t thought much about his victory in the Tour de France and it’s no wonder that he was a bit unsure of when the world’s biggest cycling race was going to begin this year. In a sense it’s like he never really won it behind the cursory pomp and celebration, but then it didn’t really mean anything yet.

“At some levels it seems like forever and other levels it went very quickly,” he said. “The whole thing was a strange experience. Winning the Tour in the first place – although it was a goal – you can imagine it all you want, but it’s not the same until it really happens. Then I basically had two days to think about it and in those two days even if you win or just finish you feel awful for awhile. So I got through those two days and I really didn’t get a chance to think about, and little did I know those were my only two days to enjoy it, and then this whole doping thing started.

“Right there that eliminated any thought of winning the Tour from my mind. It’s always been dealing with this – and I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know how the process worked, how the testing worked, and for that matter I didn’t even know what the accusation was against me. I didn’t have any paperwork or anything. It took about two months for me to get it. So everything I thought about and learned was just about what I needed to do and how to deal with the press, and obviously, I had very little idea.”

The whole doping thing has been Landis’ life since he stepped off the victory podium in Paris last July. His life, to this point, has been spent learning the intricacies of science and legal world, with equal parts circus thrown in. Along the way, Landis has become not only the biggest pariah in sports outside of baseball players Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, but also one of the pioneers in the battle for athletes’ rights as he fights to retain his 2006 Tour de France championship that could be stripped from him for an alleged positive test for testosterone following the 17th stage of the race.

Never mind the fact that Landis has not tested positive for anything before or after the now infamous Stage 17, there is a pretty good chance that he could be a banned doper despite the mountains of evidence accumulated that indicate otherwise.

And what if the United States Anti-Doping Agency’s (USADA) arbitration panel rules against Landis?

“If they rule against me, they are going to have to fabricate something,” said Landis, who could face a two-year ban and become the first ever rider to be stripped of his Tour de France victory if he is convicted.

Man on a mission
It would be very difficult these days to find any one in America who hasn’t heard of Floyd Landis, the recovering Mennonite from little old Farmersville, Pa. in bucolic Lancaster County. Winning one of the biggest sporting events in the world has a way of making anonymity disappear. Everybody knows Floyd Landis now. His story has been told and re-told over and over again amongst friends and acquaintances like it was the latest episode of a favorite TV show or a crazy snap of the weather.

Be that as it may, here’s a quick recap:

Before he won the Tour de France last summer and his world was turned into fodder for the gossip and science realm of the sports pages, Floyd Landis was the cult hero in professional cycling. In fact, there was not an aspect of Landis’ life that wasn’t legendary. His training methods were renowned for being grueling and insatiable.

"There's only one rule: The guy who trains the hardest, the most, wins. Period. Because you won't die,” he famously said in a pre-Tour de France Outside Magazine profile last year. “Even though you feel like you'll die, you don't actually die. Like when you're training, you can always do one more. Always. As tired as you might think you are, you can always, always do one more.”

You can always do one more. That is the line that personifies Floyd Landis.

Meanwhile, his on-again-off-again relationship with the sport’s biggest star, Lance Armstrong, was something every cyclist talked about. So too was Landis’ background and Lancaster County/Mennonite roots. Growing up in Farmersville, more dusty crossroads than rural hamlet, Landis didn’t have a television.

But mostly the stories about Landis amongst cyclists start out with, “Remember the time when Floyd… ” and end with some oddball feat like, “…drank 15 cappuccinos in one sitting.” Or, “rode in the Tour de France nine weeks after having hip surgery.” Or, “ate 28 bags of peanuts during a trans-Atlantic flight.”

Floyd Landis stories are the ones that involve a person pushing himself to extreme limits and taking silly risks that sometimes end with everyone smiling about what they had just witnessed.

The story should have ended after Stage 17 of the ’06 Tour. That’s where the Legend of Floyd reached epic proportions following his legendary ride to bounce back from an equally monumental collapse just the day before. It was over just 24 hours that Landis lost the leader’s Yellow Jersey in the Tour when he “bonked” and lost nearly nine minutes off his overall lead and dropped to 11th place. But in the very next stage Landis attacked the peloton from the very beginning of the 111-mile stage to amazingly regain all the time he had lost.

A few days later he was standing all alone in Paris. Floyd Landis, the kid from Farmersville, Pa., was the winner of the Tour de France.

That’s where it was supposed to end.

Instead, he became Floyd Landis the professional defendant because a urine test after that epic Stage 17 had come back positive, revealing an unusually high ratio of the hormone testosterone to the hormone epitestosterone (T/E ratio), according to a test conducted by the French government's anti-doping clinical laboratory, the National Laboratory for Doping Detection. The lab is accredited by the Tour de France, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and USADA.

An arbitration hearing led by USADA took place in Malibu, Calif. in May and Landis is still waiting on a ruling from a three-member panel.

But in the months leading up to the arbitration hearing, Landis became a trailblazer of sorts. Just as he attacked during Stage 17, Landis attacked USADA with mountains of evidence culled from his positive test to make the case that, as he says, never should have tested positive. Some of the evidence Landis collected included forged documents, faulty testing procedures, erroneously contaminated urine samples, and claims that the positive finding on one of the urine samples came from a sample number not assigned to Landis.

But the real innovation came in what Landis did with the information he had gathered. Instead of waiting for the arbitration hearing and hiding out behind lawyers and legalese, he took his case to the people. Like the online encyclopedia Wikipedia which allows users to add information to an entry when new findings are made, Landis mounted a “Wiki Defense” in which he posted all of the information released by USADA and the French lab and allowed experts to help him mount his case and find errors in the opposition’s stance.

He also went on “The Floyd Fairness Tour” in which he raised money for his defense, made detailed presentations regarding his case and talked to anyone who would listen regarding the French lab’s findings and USADA’s case against him.

In a sense, Landis took his fight to the streets and claims that USADA has never once disputed any of his findings. In fact, USADA never disputed any of Landis’ arguments in the arbitration hearing, nor have they answered the claims he made in his new book, such as USADA offered a more lenient penalty if he could help the agency mount a doping case against Lance Armstrong.

USADA, an agency that receives some of its funding from U.S. taxpayers, did not return phone calls or e-mails for comment in this story.

Said Landis about USADA not disputing his testimony: “They don’t have anything to say.”

In the interim, Landis has become the leading advocate for non-union athlete’s rights against the national and world agencies. In fact, in facing new allegations from Irish investigative reporter David Walsh in a newly released book called, From Lance to Landis: Inside the American Doping Controversy at the Tour de France, Armstrong has copied some of Landis’ moves by releasing all of the legal findings from his cases on the Internet.

So just like that Landis goes from winning the Tour de France to legal innovator? How does a guy who grew up in a home without a TV set create a “Wiki Defense” on the World Wide Web?

“That wasn’t even in the back of my mind, and honestly, I didn’t realize the jeopardy that athletes are in because it never crossed my mind. I had no problem giving a urine sample because I did it all the time and I assumed that the people testing it were legitimate and out to do the right thing. It never crossed my mind that it could be the way it is,” Landis explained. “And it’s hard for people to believe when I say it really is that bad. They think, ‘Yeah, he’s guilty. That’s why he’s trying to accuse them.’ But, even a guilty person deserves to have the evidence against him provided to him without having to spend $1 million in a year.”

Landis is mounting his legal case against the doping agencies, his information tour, and his book tour without the aid of a cycling union. In fact, if player in the NFL or Major League Baseball faced the same accusations as Landis, the players’ union would have his back. There is no such union to represent Landis.

So if Landis were a defensive lineman attacking the quarterback instead of a bicyclist attacking Alpe d’Huez would he have even tested positive?

“Of course not,” he said. “None of this should have ever happened. Look, if you’re going to enforce ethics then you have to hold yourself to the absolute highest standard. You can’t have a lab that’s doing the testing forging documents and doing just random things wrong, and when they do just write it off as, ‘Well, it’s just a mistake we’ll just write it off and ignore it.’”

It’s not the science, it’s the circus
Despite Landis’ piles of evidence and USADA not refuting them, the cyclist's credibility was what the anti-doping agency attacked during the arbitration hearing. That’s because three-time Tour de France champion Greg LeMond testified that Landis’ former business manager threatened him in a crank phone call that he was going to go public with LeMond’s secret that he had been sexually abused as a child.

The manager, Will Geoghegan, was fired immediately, according to Landis, and the cyclist admits he was in the room when the call was made.

But in retrospect, Landis says LeMond’s testimony as well as the attacks against his credibility are irrelevant because LeMond and a former professional cyclist named Joe Papp were brought in to testify for USADA for no real reason.

“Either it’s science or something else. If it’s not science than what is it? Take, for instance, at the hearing where they brought in Greg LeMond and Joe Papp, neither of whom said anything,” Landis explained. “They didn’t say anything and they had no relevance. For example, Joe Papp told us that he took a bunch of drugs and apparently they didn’t help him and then he left. I didn’t know the guy, I never raced the guy – what that had to do with science is beyond me.”

Because of the LeMond controversy, the real point of the hearings was lost for headline writers and the general public, says Landis. The fact is, he says, the French lab didn’t even test him for the substance that he is accused of using.

“What really got lost and I have been trying to tell people this: when they got to the point where they had to identify the substance and they had to measure it, they identified the wrong thing. And that got lost in the whole big mess because there were so many arguments, but if you just look at that there’s no point in even talking about the rest of it. The other 200 things they did wrong don’t even matter because they didn’t even test testosterone,” Landis said.

Then, he paused, leaned forward on the couch and raised his voice beyond a normal conversational tone:

“And I don’t know how they are going to get around that! What are they going to say, ‘Well, it was something close to testosterone so we’ll just call him guilty.’ How is that going to work? I don’t know, but believe me, I’ve seen them do some pretty strange things to this point.”

An uncertain future
The Floyd Landis story has been nothing but strange. Nothing has been ordinary and nothing has come easy. Listening to Landis speak after reading his book, as well as Daniel Coyle’s Lance Armstrong's War: One Man's Battle Against Fate, Fame, Love, Death, Scandal, and a Few Other Rivals on the Road to the Tour de France, makes anyone want to stage a riot or a march proclaiming the man’s innocence. It’s very difficult not to believe him simply because he is fighting. Oftentimes people are baffled that those who claim they are wrongly accused don’t display anger and choose to hide in the legal system of behind the words of an attorney.

But Landis isn’t doing that. Instead of cashing in as every other Tour de France champion has, Landis faces the reality of personal bankruptcy. He very well could lose his home and his daughter could lose money once earmarked for her education simply because Floyd Landis believes he has been wronged and has chosen to stand up for himself.

He isn’t in France living a cushy life that years of putting in the hard work on the saddle have earned him, but instead is talking to everyone who will listen, signing every autograph requested and making sure that everyone who wants to have a book signed gets it.

Very certainly Landis could mail it in. He could give pat answers in a detached way, but chooses not to. Instead he engages everyone and has a conversation when no one has forced him to.

One of the biggest pariahs in sports has decided he has to fight. Actually, he doesn’t see any other choice.

And that leaves us with one more question… will Landis still be fighting next year at this time or will he be relaxing after a ride through the Pyrenees near his training base in Girona, Spain in preparation for another ride down the Champs Elysées?

“I hope so. I really hope so and I think so,” he said excitedly. “The longer this thing goes on the more I think things are going to work out because we put on a case that was never refuted even in the hearing.”

That, after all, was the way it was supposed to be.

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Friday, June 29, 2007

Just hangin' out on a Friday night

Just a couple of things this afternoon/evening before I fade into working my tip-tap-tapping fingers away writing the night away…

Could a doubleheader sweep by the Mets be the beginning of the end for the Phillies? The notion that the Phillies could have moved into first place by beating up on the New Yorkers was a bit far-fetched, but it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility. But as it stands at this precise moment (top of the eighth inning), John Maine is dealing and the Mets appear as if they are about to push the lead in the NL East to five games.

Regardless, it was nice to see that Chris Coste announced his presence with the Phillies with authority. In his first AB since being called up from Reading late last night, Coste went deep by smashing a pinch homer into the seats.

On another note, could Cole Hamels be a little tired? He seems to have hit a bit of a wall as the mathematical first half comes to a close and he really hasn’t had the same zip on his change the last handful of outings…

Dead arm?

***
I had a nice chat this afternoon with 2006 Tour de France champion Floyd Landis up in his old stomping grounds of Ephrata, Pa. My stories about Floyd will appear on CSN on Sunday and will be promoted very heavily by the crack marketing staff at CSN all day Monday.

Additionally, Floyd will appear on CSN on Daily News Live from 5-to-5:30 p.m. on Monday uninterrupted, where we will talk about all the details of his case, cycling, the book tour, his future and everything else.

Anyway, look for the stories on Sunday. I will post the links here when everything is finished as well as a few snippets of the actual interview that I recorded with my trusty iPod.

Meanwhile, I’ll give my knee-jerk impression of Floyd… if charm and class are part of his defense then he wins. He’s definitely a top-notch dude all the way. Having had the chance to talk to hundreds of professional athletes over the past decade, Floyd is at the top of the list as far as interesting and engaging guys. He very definitely could have mailed it in with me after going through thousands of questions and other crap over the past year, but he was intent on having a real conversation and taking me seriously.

It’s too bad he doesn’t play for the Phillies.

I’d definitely put Floyd up there with Scott Rolen, Doug Glanville, Randy Wolf and Mark Grace as far as the absolute best guys to talk to… a top-notch and classy dude all the way.

For some reason I was surprised at how fit Floyd still was. Though he hasn’t been training and didn’t touch a bike at all over the 10 days of his arbitration hearing, Floyd looked ready to go though he admitted that he has some work to do if he wants to ride better in the Leadville 100 in August in comparison to how he rode in the Teva Mountain Games earlier this month.

Regarding his rough ride in the Teva Mountain Games, Floyd said, “I got beat by a girl. Not just one girl, but two. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it’s not something I’m used to.”

I don’t know what I was expecting him to look like, but was definitely looked much more fit than me and I run 15 miles every day.

Oh yeah... minutes after I left, Floyd's wife was in an accident. Fortunately, everyone was OK.

***
I had the chance to meet Dave Pidgeon of the Lancaster Intelligencer Journal while waiting for Floyd this afternoon. Dave is the keeper of a stellar outdoors blog on his papers’ site, but politics is his main beat. Still, it's pretty clear that Dave knows his sports as evidenced by his work.

***
My friend Andy is an analyst for The Motley Fool in the D.C. 'burbs, and was quoted in an Associated Press story about Blockbuster shutting down 280-plus shops. That's certainly not big news, but his quote in the story is something else.

Check this out:

"Traffic is just not what it used to be when Blockbuster was the big rooster in the hen house," said Andy Cross, senior analyst with The Motley Fool.

Rooster in the hen house? What kind of hillbilly stuff is that?

I guess it beats, "We just take 'em one day at a time... "

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Coste to Coast

It was hard not to smile when Charlie Manuel announced that the Phillies had recalled Chris Coste from Double-A Reading after last night’s rainy, soggy, humid, sloppy and long game against the Cincinnati Reds at the Bank. For one thing, Coste’s arrival back to Philadelphia (for the third time) will be a move the fans will applaud. Even cynical media-types like me have a hard time not getting a little weak in the knees when hearing Coste’s story and perseverance.

Aside from that, I truly believe Coste was shafted by the Phillies.

No, it wasn’t anything sinister or conspiratorial or anything like that, but the Phillies had no qualms about sending Coste out on all of the team’s winter caravan stops at all of the distant outposts to get the fans excited, and the manager was saying all sorts of laudatory things about his hitting. But all along the general manager was looking for someone else to fill Coste’s spot. Where Manuel talked up Coste, Pat Gillick threw a wet blanket on everyone’s good time and then went out and spent $3 million on Rod Barajas.

Let’s see: $3 million for Rod Barajas or the league minimum for Chris Coste… money well spent?

No.

Certainly Barajas has a better Major League pedigree than Coste, but when the movie comes out on everyone’s favorite backup catcher, Barajas ain’t gonna be in it. Besides, Coste didn’t do anything to warrant a trip back to the minors aside from hit .328 with seven home runs in a pennant race. Anything close to that would be a career year for Barajas.

***
Let’s leave the bullpen and Pat Burrell alone today… chances are he’ll be below the Mendoza Line by the holiday. That is, of course, if he plays -- Burrell is not in the lineup for Friday afternoon's opening game. That's the fifth game in a row in which Burrell is on the bench and eighth game in the last 11.

***
Is anyone else looking forward to Cole Hamels facing Paul Lo Duca in tonight’s nightcap? That is, of course, if there is one.

Lo Duca and David Wright of the Mets are the Matthew Barnaby and Danny Ainge of baseball… fun guys.

Nevertheless, the Phillies-Mets rivalry is turning into a pretty good one. It really seems as if the teams don't particularly care for each other and that is pretty entertaining.

***
For the gang in the press box...

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Oh what a relief it is

To be fair, it wasn’t an ideal situation for Phillies reliever Geoff Geary. With no outs in the seventh inning and nursing a three-run lead, Geary was brought into the game with the bases loaded and nowhere else to go for help.

A little more than an hour later, the three-run lead was a three-run deficit, and Geary was bounced from the game and credited with a blown save while his ERA jumped 69 points. For Geary the outing personified his troubles at home where his ERA 7.71 and opponents are hitting a lusty .333 off him.

But the troubles get deeper for Geary. In his last eight appearances, the right-hander has a 12.27 ERA, which comes on the heels of seven straight outings in which he didn’t allow a single run.

But here comes the really troublesome part for Geary – he has inherited 35 runners this season, which is the second most in the National League. That means when Geary gets into a game, chances are there are already runners on base for him. The fact that he has allowed just nine of those 35 to score is not so bad considering that all three of his inherited runners scored last night.

“I think one of the biggest things that shows up is that we don't give up one, two or three runs,” manager Charlie Manuel said after last night’s game about his relievers. “We give up five, six, seven, eight. I think that's what's showing up. In the seventh inning there, even if they take the lead at 4-3, we've still got plenty of time to win the game.”

No, the 3-for-3 is actually quite awful and it would be difficult to categorize Geary’s season as “good” at this point. But there is a reason why Geary has been in 36 games this season and could top 80 appearances for the second year in a row, and it’s not simply because Manuel doesn’t have any other options.

Pitchers don’t rack up 80-plus outings by being the only choice for certain situations.

***
During his career, Geoff Geary has only contributed four losses to the Phillies’ 9,992 lifetime defeats. That many losses are definitely way too many for just one generation to achieve.

Regardless, the stories to mark the Phillies’ milestone 10,000 lifetime loss are beginning to trickle out in anticipation for the big day, which has even piqued the interest of the national media. In the latest issue of Sports Illustrated a pithy chronicling of some of the more interesting quotes that were delivered after a handful of losses through the years.

I particularly enjoyed the story related from Rex Hudler on former manager Terry Francona.

***
Remember Wally Backman? He played briefly for the Phillies in the early 1990s after making his name with the Mets during the 1980s.

Anywho, Backman actually was hired to manage the Arizona Diamondbacks a few years ago before getting relieved of his duties a few days after his hiring when it was revealed that he had spent time in jail for DUI and pleaded guilty to harrassing a female friend of his family in 2001, and accused of spousal abuse by his ex-wife. He had also filed for personal bankruptcy in 2003.

These days Wally is a long way from the Major Leagues and is managing the South Georgia Peanuts in the independent South Coast League. A few days ago it appears as if Wally had a bit of a problem with the umps and it made the papers…

***
Speaking of making the papers, my Uncle Jim is in pretty good shape. He’s a champion power lifter, was a decent runner and bicyclist, and still is an all-around sharp dude with a personality and sense of humor to match.

What makes this so notable is that my Uncle Jim is dead…

Well, not really. But according to the federal government, my uncle, Jim Johnson is a dead man and he’s spent the last four months trying to prove that he is, indeed, alive.

Check out his story that made the papers and while you’re at it, send him a card to let him know he’s the healthiest dead guy walking around.

***
Finally, an interview with Floyd Landis has been set up for Friday afternoon before his book signing and talk at the Barnes & Noble in Lancaster. Needless to say, it should be a pretty good time…

Let’s just hope that talking to Floyd is nothing like talking to Barry Bonds.

***
Meanwhile, it didn't take Lance Armstrong too long to answer the charges levied in David Walsh's latest book that was drawn on in a Sports Illustrated piece yesterday. Stealing a page from Landis' "Wiki" defense, Armstrong puts all of his information out there for everyone to see and draw their own conclusions.

Check it out here.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Punching a dead horse in the mouth

Based on what’s shaking baseball-wise in the local papers, it seems as if the piling on Pat Burrell has begun in earnest. It’s either that, or there really isn’t any new news coming out of the Phillies’ clubhouse these days aside from Jon Lieber potentially heading for season-ending surgery.

The big news is still a couple days away when the New York Mets come to town for four games in three days.

It really is hard to believe that even though the Phillies’ pitching staff has been decimated and the bullpen sometimes works with smoke and mirrors, the team very well could alone in first place by the end of the weekend.

How does that happen?

Not to punch a dead horse in the mouth as Larry Bowa used to say, but the truly amazing part is that the Phillies are challenging for the lead in the NL East even though the team has just one right-handed hitting threat in Aaron Rowand and Pat Burrell could be the worst player in the National League right now.

Anyway, here’s my little rip job on the much-maligned left fielder.

Certainly anything can happen between now and the end of the season, or even until the end of Burrell’s deal following the 2008 season, but as it stands now it’s fair to say that Burrell is nothing more than wasted talent.

He is wasted talent that isn’t in the lineup again tonight for the third game in a row.

***
Tonight’s starting pitcher Jamie Moyer is one of just seven 40-something pitchers taking the mound, which is the first time that has ever happened in baseball history. Greg Maddux, Roger Clemens, Kenny Rogers, John Smoltz, Tom Glavine and Woody Williams are the other 40-year old hurlers working tonight.

More impressively, Moyer was named the softest-throwing pitcher in the Majors in an anonymous poll conducted by Sports Illustrated.

The other soft-tossers? Try Maddux, Glavine, Rogers, etc.

Not bad company.

***
Speaking of Sports Illustrated, expect writer Austin Murphy to make a little bit of news with his latest story in which Lance Armstrong is, once again, implicated in doping news.

Here’s the thing about cycling that I don’t think many people understand… USADA, WADA, UCI and the brass of the Tour de France are just as corrupt and power hungry as any other group of bureaucrats or politicians.

Do you think there is a reason why the commissioners and union presidents of MLB, the NBA and the NFL don’t want those groups anywhere near their sports? Sure, the leagues all have their problems with performance-enhancing drugs, but to call in corrupt, money and power-hungry egomaniacs from the alphabet-soup groups of regulators isn’t going to help.

Still, it’s pretty explosive stuff from Austin Murphy and it will be interesting to see how Lance Armstrong snuffs out another fire. Plus, we never knew SI was in the business of hyping agenda-driven, insinuation-laden tawdry books that read like bad talk radio... good for them for branching out, I guess.

Excuse me while I go take a shower.

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Closing in on 10,000

If you like losing baseball teams, and judging by the apparent interest in the Phillies by the folks who visit this blog there are a bunch of you out there who do, check out Dan McQuade's latest epic for the new edition of Philadelphia Weekly.

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Monday, June 25, 2007

Buying or selling?

As we enter the last week of June, thoughts typically turn to things like training for a fall marathon, the summer road racing circuit and the Tour de France (me); or the big Fourth of July picnic, the family vacation and which players from the local team will make the All-Star Game (normal people).

But the start of July also means selling and buying in the chic parlance for certain baseball clubs. In that regard, are the Phillies selling, buying or both? Even though they enter the homestand against the Reds and the hated New York Mets just three games off the pace in the NL East, it seems like a fair question.

Clearly the Phillies need pitching help and that fact has nothing to do with the statistics or anything else. It has to do with other types of numbers, such as the Phillies only have three starting pitchers with any real Major League experience and that glut in the rotation that once saw Jon Lieber and Brett Myers moved to the bullpen is gone.

It’s funny how that happens.

Nevertheless, the Phillies are facing a crucial portion of their schedule with Cole Hamels, Adam Eaton, Jamie Moyer and Kyle Kendrick holding down spots in the rotation. With 13 games in 13 days and just one day off between now and the All-Star Break, the Phillies can probably get by with one of their arms in the minors, but chances are that won’t get them to the playoffs.

That means if the Phillies are serious about breaking the streak of Octobers spent at home, a trade should be in the offing.

But there are a lot of other teams looking for the same type of pitching as the Phillies, too. The Mets, for instance, are said to be looking to add an arm or two and will spend what it takes to do so – after all, simply making the playoffs is not an accomplishment for the Mets.

The Red Sox and Yankees will probably be foraging for some pitching as well, which means that if the Phillies want someone, say, like Mark Buehrle, it will cost them.

Maybe it will cost them something like Aaron Rowand.

Trading Rowand for pitching help didn’t seem like that huge of a deal at the beginning of the season, but now things have changed. For one thing it’s hard to say what type of pitcher Rowand could get for the Phillies, and for another thing, the centerfielder is the only right-handed hitting threat the team has.

If only they could trade Pat Burrell for something like reimbursement on the transportation to get him out of town…

While Rowand has rated at the top of the list amongst National League outfielders in batting average, on-base percentage and OPS, Burrell has been simply horrible. In 71 games Burrell is hitting .205 and is on pace to hit just 18 homers with 69 RBIs and to strike out 111 times. Since the start of May, Burrell is 21-for-133 (.158) with 13 extra-base hits and 31 strikeouts.

Worse, against lefties the right-handed Burrell is hitting just .155, so why Charlie Manuel continues to put him in the lineup is simply foolhardy.

Aside from the $13.25 million salary for this season, Burrell’s nearly non-existent production could end up costing the Phillies someone valuable like Aaron Rowand.

***
If you're looking for the Phillies to go after Rangers' reliever Eric Gagne to shore up the bullpen, stop right now. According to published reports, the Phillies are one a handful of teams on Gagne's do-not-trade list.

***
Our current obsession, Floyd Landis, kicks off his book tour tomorrow with an appearance on the CBS Morning Show and Late Night with David Letterman. From there Floyd stays in Manhattan for a reading/signing at the Bryant Park Reading Room along with one-time CSN.com columnist John Eustice on June 27.

Also on the 27th, Floyd hits Ridgewood, N.J. before going to Huntington, N.Y. on the 28th.

Then comes the big stop... Lancaster!

There is a reason Led Zeppelin never came to Lancaster and it has nothing to do with the fact there wasn’t a venue big enough to accommodate them…

***
Speaking of the Tour, if I was pressed right now I'd predict Alexandre Vinokourov will win, but don't sleep on Montana's Levi Leipheimer.

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Sunday, June 24, 2007

Positively False review

As promised, here is the first of two reviews of Floyd Landis', Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won the Tour de France. This review was written by my wife, Ellen Finger, who hijacked the book when it arrived fresh from the publicity staff at Simon & Schuster. Another review, by me, will follow though it's clear that I have my work cut out for me trying to keep up with my wife.

Additionally, I'm still awaiting word from the Landis camp on his availability for an interview when he comes to Lancaster next week. Hopefully things can be worked out so that more dispatches about this interesting case can be written.

Anyway, here is the first of a series of who-knows-how-many stories from the Finger Family on Landis Avenue in Lancaster, Pa.

Review: Positively False
by Ellen Finger

About 10 years ago my future husband took me to downtown Lancaster to watch a professional bike race. I had never enjoyed riding my bicycle as a child. In fact, the first time my dad insisted I try to ride my pink, banana-seat bike without the training wheels I rode right into the back of a parked pick-up truck. Thus started my distaste for cycling. So when John insisted we watch the pros ride through our little city, I reluctantly agreed.

Watching the race from near the top of the Brunswick building on the corner of Queen and Chestnut streets, I got a taste of what attracts athletes to pro cycling – fearlessness, speed, risk, and a fierce competitive spirit. Although I don’t participate in activities unless I’ve made sure to control variables that pose risk, and have never enjoyed or succeeded at endeavors involving speed, I can relate to the competitive nature that bike jockeys need to possess to win. I like to win – or more accurately, I hate losing.

Which might explain why I was drawn to the copy of Floyd Landis’ book Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won the Tour de France that my husband received in the mail from the publisher a few days before its release date. All I knew about the man from Lancaster County (my home, too) was that he won the Tour de France last year after an amazing comeback, and then was accused of doping during the Tour. From the pictures of the back and front covers I could see that this man with the intense eyes and triumphant scowl hated losing, too.

Three days ago I sat down to thumb through the 306-page memoir and look at the pictures of Floyd’s childhood. Though I grew up only about ten miles from the Landis family, my suburban sprawl neighborhood close to the Park City mall was really a world away from Floyd’s conservative Mennonite home in Farmersville. Heck, I had never even heard of Farmersville until the summer of 2006.

What started out as a casual glance at his book became an almost obsessive need to read and learn more about the man and his mission. Between diaper changes, yardwork, grocery shopping, and other responsibilities of a wife and mother, I did nothing but read Floyd’s book. Obviously it’s not because of an interest in cycling, but I do enjoy sports and nonfiction books. I initially was curious to find connections between my life and upbringing in Lancaster and Floyd’s. Eventually, though, I realized I was reading to find the truth. I, like many people, assumed that someone whose urine test reveals a level of testosterone that is significantly elevated is definitely a cheater. I follow rules, always have. Cheaters and liars, especially ones who get paid a lot of money for playing sports, make me sick. But something about this man, this brash, outspoken man who still looks like most of the Mennonite and Amish boys I see occasionally when I drive through eastern Lancaster County, made me want to look beyond the seemingly logical conclusion (his miraculous performance in Stage 17 of the Tour had to have been due to performance-enhancing drugs, right?) to see if there was more to the story.

Before I could really delve into the myriad of scientific detail, political absurdity, and tales of athletic glory, I had to admit something to myself. One thing that has always bothered me about men who spend their lives playing games is that it ultimately seems like an incredibly selfish pursuit. The older I get the more I feel like my life is not my own. I am constantly thinking about working a full-time job for someone, taking care of someone, cleaning up after someone, or saving money to buy food, clothes, or diapers for someone else. Floyd even admits in his book that he “put training first, even before (his) family. When you want to win, you eat, drink, sleep and breathe cycling.” Well, I want to win when I play, too, but who has time for games? I know, I know, professional cycling isn’t just a sport, it’s a job. And it’s a well-paying one for athletes like Landis, at least after many years of toiling as an amateur and then an underpaid professional domestique (servant to a cycling champion like Lance Armstrong). But, I just can’t understand the need of some men to spend months away from loved ones and pass their time alternating between grueling training and zombie-like resting. Maybe I’m jealous of their apparent luxuries, maybe I will never realize my full potential as in individual, or maybe I’m just a grown-up.

As I read I realized that I believe Floyd Landis. Not only has the man spent almost all of his money trying to mount a defense against doping charges and has made his fight very public, as opposed to those swollen (by that I’m referring to their synthetically-enhanced muscles AND egos) arrogant baseball players testifying before Congress with apparent memory problems, but also he has brought to light the extremely screwed-up anti-doping agencies that exist here in the U.S. and around the world. I’m not sure how much of our taxpayers’ money and legislators’ time should be spent revamping an obviously corrupt system, but something needs to be done. If our government funds the USADA (America’s relatively young sports anti-doping agency) it does so without really having any idea how the organization operates.

And if they do, Congress is guilty, too. But I suspect that the same kinds of minds that wrote and sold the brilliantly-titled law No Child Left Behind (which might be leading to better performance on hardly standardized tests while dampening a desire for real learning and teaching in our increasingly stressed out schools) also championed the anti-drug movement that supposedly is trying to clean up sports. The problem is that most senators and representatives never have time to really read about or follow up on the intricacies of the legislation they pass. They hear convincing sound bites (who wouldn’t want to rid professional sports of cheaters and druggies and who WOULD want to leave a child behind?) and hope for the best. But Landis reveals in great detail how duped – not doped – we all are about the injustices these government-sponsored agencies have quietly inflicted on athletes, particularly in cycling. I was shocked and appalled to learn that the people who test the urine of pro athletes, the people who bring doping charges against athletes, the people who prosecute accused athletes, and the people who judge the fates of these same athletes – they all work for the same agencies. How un-American is that? Even my fourth graders know that there must be a system of checks and balances to ensure that justice prevails.

So there it is. I really don’t care about cycling. The ridiculous dichotomy of rigorous training coupled with slovenly relaxation, as well as the complicated team dynamics of cycling, and the unwritten rules of the peloton that result in good athletes having to sacrifice their own efforts to protect the diva-like team leader are foreign concepts to me.

But I desire for truth and for justice. Good people should win. Hard work should be rewarded. Incompetence (as so obviously displayed by French drug labs) and corruption (the USADA and WADA come to mind) and selfishness (UCI is guilty here) should have no place in our society, but they do. Floyd Landis won the Tour de France. I hope he can race again. But mostly I hope finds some satisfaction knowing that his most important and biggest uphill climb will be to bring awareness and hopefully, change, to one kind of injustice plaguing America today. Despite what his parents thought, and may still think, about the perils of a life spent outside of their pious community, I hope they know that their boy still knows right from wrong.

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Saturday, June 23, 2007

End of The Lieber Era?

When Jon Lieber walked off the mound in Cleveland last week with what was called with italics and smart-alecky finger quote marks as a “strained” ankle, no one thought it was too serious. Some even suggested that the ”strain” occurred when it appeared that Lieber wouldn’t escape the inning without his ERA inching closer to 5.

He is in a free-agent year, after all.

But when the news hit that an MRI revealed that Lieber had ruptured his peroneus longus tendon. This is the tendon that helps one go up on their toes and also pulls the outside of the foot upwards. The peroneals help to stabilize the foot on uneven, rough surfaces. According to medical journals, the rupturing the tendon isn’t too common, though it is often overlooked when treating an ankle sprain.

According to a podiatrical site,symptoms include pain behind the lateral ankle bone (fibula). Pain also increases with the duration of time on your feet and there is often swelling behind the fibula.

The problem for Lieber and the Phillies is that peroneal tendon tears do not tend to heal with conservative care and will require surgical repair. That pretty much means that Lieber’s time as a Phillie is probably over.

All told, Lieber went 29-30 with a 4.55 ERA. Seventeen of those 29 wins came during the 2005 season, where it was fair to say that Lieber was good. But then his fitness became an issue (an undoubtedly contributed to his injuries over the past two seasons) along with his attitude that headed south when the Phillies talked about trading him, when they didn’t trade him, when they moved him out of the starting rotation and then back to the rotation.

Either way, Lieber’s injury has put the Phillies in a lurch. With Freddy Garcia out indefinitely, Brett Myers heading back to the bullpen when he returns from the disabled list and unseasoned rookie Kyle Kendrick holding down one of the spots in the rotation with Cole Hamels, Adam Eaton and Jamie Moyer, the Phillies need an arm… now.

For the short term, assistant general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. said the team will fill a rotation spot from within the organization, but a trade is possible.

“You can't predict when someone is going to blow out a foot, a tendon,” Amaro told the Associated Press. “It is possible someone else will become available in the near future.

“Then again, I know how hard it is to make trades in this day and age.”

In the interim, Lieber will get a second opinion in Philadelphia on Monday. It’s hard to expect the news to be positive.

***
Writer Jeff Pearlman wrote a story about all of the former Major Leaguers playing for the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League for ESPN.com that is worth the read. Having had the chance to see the Ducks play in Lancaster earlier this season, it was fascinating to learn why so many former All-Stars are still toiling away far from bright lights of organized ball.

Pearlman is also the author of a book about Barry Bonds. It has to be hard to sell a book about someone as obscure and ignored by the mass media as Barry Bonds.

At least the ESPN.com story is good.

***
Speaking of Barry Bonds, according to a story in the L.A. Times, Marion Jones is broke. Flat broke.

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Friday, June 22, 2007

On the road to 10,000

Dan McQuade, of Philadelphia Will Do, asked a handful of writers to celebrate the Phillies 10,000th loss with a 50-to-75word essay for a piece he’s putting together for Philadelphia Weekly. Because I like Dan and tell him that he was the best intern we ever had at CSN.com (I like to pump up his ego… he needs that), I agreed.

But because I like to follow directions in my own way, Dan’s call for 50-to-75 words quickly became 758. That’s a few too many. As a result, I gave Dan permission to rip apart what I sent him in any manner he sees fit and my version of one of my memories of the Phillies’ march to 10,000 losses is printed below:


The very first baseball game I ever saw was at Veterans Stadium between the Phillies and the Mets during the Bicentennial summer of 1976. All I remember was how big and green the place was and how tiny the ballplayers were from our seats somewhere in the upper reaches of the stadium (not ballpark).

I like to think Steve Carlton faced Tom Seaver that day, but I can’t be sure. One thing is for certain though, and that is Larry Bowa played in the game. Growing up in Lancaster, Pa. and Washington, D.C., Bowa quickly became my favorite player. He was a smooth fielder at shortstop with a strong arm and fought for everything he got with the bat. Bowa skills as a hitter were so poor that it was fair to say that every hit he got during his 16 seasons in the Major Leagues was earned. It was a fight and to a kid interested in the uncool, that was kind of cool.

Since Bowa was my favorite player, I naturally assumed that he was articulate, sensitive, intelligent, witty and noble. Isn’t that the way all heroes and adults were supposed to be? Because I lived so far away from Philadelphia and there was no proliferation of sports media like there is now, I knew next to nothing about Larry Bowa aside from the profile of likes and dislikes in the team-issued yearbook. According to the 1980 Phillies Yearbook, Bowa liked The Supremes.

Who would have guessed?

I knew nothing about how his teammates thought he was obnoxious, the opposition hated him or that once in the late 1970s he supposedly lured a writer from the Camden Courier Post into the darkened clubhouse by getting another player to tell him he had a phone call so that he could assault the scribe.

I was a kid who played shortstop for my little league team and loved baseball – what better reason to like Larry Bowa?

So when Bowa was hired to replace Terry Francona before the 2001 season, I was excited. The 2001 season was also my first full year writing about the Phillies for Comcast SportsNet and what could be better than doing that than with my favorite player running the club?

There are certain poignant moments in a man’s life when he can remember still feel the way the sun shined on his skin on a particular day, the way the air smelled at a precise moment, and how time stood still for the smallest fraction. For me those times were when my son was born, my wedding, the first time I saw a Picasso painting up close and the first time I heard Minor Threat.

Then there was the first time I met Larry Bowa. After a couple of days of following the team around in Philadelphia at the beginning of the 2001 season, I finally had a chance to go into his office in the clubhouse at the Vet and introduce myself. I would be one of the guys writing about the club, I told him, and it was going to fun and interesting getting a chance to hear his wisdom and insight on baseball.

Needless to say, he wasn’t too impressed.

He was even less impressed a couple of days later when I asked him a harmless question about pitcher Randy Wolf in a post-game press conference. Knowing that Wolf was working on a strict pitch-count because of an arm injury that limited his work during the spring, I wondered if the pitcher still had enough left to go an inning or two longer than Bowa had allowed.

In retrospect it seemed as if I didn’t phrase the question so succinctly, because Bowa answered my question with a few of his own:

“Are you following what’s going on here? Do you know anything about baseball? Are you bleeping stupid? He was on a pitch-count. That’s why I took him out.”

Oddly, as Bowa was shouting at me as if he was R. Lee Ermey in Full Metal Jacket, I felt myself leave my body and watch it all from above the fray. At the same time I wondered if I was supposed to answer those questions. After all, he did ask…

What does one say? Kind of; a little; and it depends on who you bleeping ask.

By the end of the 2001 season I took solace in the knowledge that Bowa would one day be fired. I knew then that firing Bowa was the only hope the Phillies had.

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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Good call

The Phillies announced that John Vukovich would be the lone inductee into the team’s Wall of Fame this year. Upon the briefest of retrospect, this is the absolute perfect thing to do. Over the past two decades Vukovich had the most indelible influence on the franchise, and this is a good thing.

Initially, I wrote how Gene Mauch, Jim Konstanty and Darren Daulton were my choices for the Wall of Fame, but voting in Vuke and just Vuke was the right way to go.

The Phillies said Vukovich's wife Bonnie, daughter Nicole and son Vince will accept Vuke’s induction.

“I started crying when David [Montgomery] called me,” Bonnie said in a statement issued by the team. “I called John’s brothers right away and they started crying. I’m so thrilled for John that he’ll be on that wall forever. When the granddaughters are grown, I can take them there and show them their grandfather. That will be so special.”

At the very least, Vuke deserves the stage all to himself. It’s just too bad he couldn’t be here to grumble about it.

***
Speaking of grumbling, Jason Giambi has reached an agreement to talk to the former Senator George Mitchell for his investigation of baseball’s doping problem. According to reports, Giambi was ordered by Commissioner Bud Selig to talk to Mitchell or face suspension, which seems kind of odd.

It’s odd because Giambi was being threatened by the commissioner for apologizing to the fans for the so-called “Steroid Era” of baseball. Apparently, being the commissioner of baseball or one of its owners, players or managers means you never have to apologize.

In that regard Giambi should have known better.

Nevertheless, there are people far smarter than me writing more in-depth and correct-thinking analyses of the Giambi issue, so we’ll just leave it at this:

If Giambi is truly sorry and baseball is really serious about wiping doping out of the sport, then they should hope that Giambi sings. They should hope he sings like a hyperactive canary or mafia stool pigeon with immunity and nothing to lose.

He should sing like Luciano Pavarotti.

Why? Simple… like cycling, baseball needs to destroy itself in order to safe itself. Actually, that’s only if MLB is truly serious about doping and, sadly, I suspect they are not.

Why should they be? The game has never been healthier financially. More people go to the park than ever and there are several games on TV every night. Exposure, revenues and interest is at an all-time high so why would the commissioner do anything stupid like make sure the players aren’t doping?

In a column written for ESPN the Magazine, former professional cyclist Jonathan Vaughters -- a former domestique for Lance Armstrong on the USPS teams and now director of the Slipstream/Chipotle cycling team -- writes admissions are a good thing. Citing Bjarne Riis’ revelation that he took EPO during his Tour de France victory in 1996, Vaughters wrote that he thought it would be the confession that not only cleaned up cycling, but also all sports. He then noted that professional cycling conducts 12,000 drug tests a year and even suspected dopers are suspended. In fact two of the most talented riders – Jan Ullrich and Ivan Basso (the equivalent to Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez in terms of notability in cycling) – were banned despite neither testing positive. Actually, Basso admitted to “attempted doping and that while he had not actually undergone doping, he was “fully aware that an attempt at doping is tantamount to doping” and that “[he would] serve [his] suspension…”

Vaughters wrote:

If baseball followed our rules, Bonds’ chase for No. 756 would have been over long ago. On the other hand, if cycling tested athletes the way the NFL and MLB do, no rider would ever turn up positive. Sure, cycling has had its own yellow wall of silence: Any rider who spoke out about drug use was forced from the peloton. But the wall is crumbling, and the sport will be better for it.

Vaughters is absolutely correct.

Warm up those pipes, Jason. Sing away.

***
Speaking of singing, the copy of Positively False: The Real Story of How I Won the Tour de France, that arrived last night direct from the good folks at Simon & Schuster, was hijacked by my wife this morning. As a girl from Manheim Township, my wife appears riveted by a fellow Lancaster Countian’s story and is already more than three-quarters through the book.

I’m going to venture that it will be the first time that she has ever finished reading a book before its actual release date.

Nevertheless, look for my review by Monday or Tuesday. Maybe I can coax one out of her, too.

***
The Phillies move on to St. Louis after three days in Cleveland. Better yet, the three pitchers they are expected to face this weekend have a combined record of 7-25…

As far as the city of St. Louis goes, I can’t say I’ve ever really been there except for the airport. However, in talking to a bunch of the scribes, St. Louis and Cincinnati are the least favorite stops on the circuit, though the saving grace for the Gateway City seems to be the riverboat casinos.

My least favorite stop on the circuit? Philadelphia…

Come on – I kid, I kid.

Actually, I don’t have a least favorite stop. Even Shea and RFK have a certain charm.

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