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Apparently, investing half a billion dollars this offseason was not enough to prevent the New York Yankees from starting 2014 the same way they started 2013.

Despite boasting some formidable new fire power and despite surviving a promising Spring Training campaign almost totally untouched by injury, the Yankees once again find themselves 0-2 on the young season. This latest slow start is in many ways much more troubling than last year’s, however. Last year the Yankees dropped the first two games to the eventual World Champion Boston Red Sox and found themselves without the services of Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeira, and Alex Rodriguez. This year, the Yankees have dropped two straight games to the lowly Houston Astros despite having a fully-healthy complement of sluggers including Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano, Carlos Beltran, and Brian McCann.

A team can neither win nor lose a pennant race in the first month of the season (much less the first series), but they can dig themselves into a formidable hole. Through the first two games, the Yankees have shown very little in the way of positive leading indicators while soundly suffering back-to-back defeats against what is unquestionably the weakest team in the Major Leagues.

The suddenly-svelte CC Sabathia yielded four runs in the opening game before recording his second out. While he ultimately found a way to settle in and spare the bullpen, Sabathia was absolutely clobbered in the first two innings of Tuesday’s game despite facing a lineup laden largely with minor-league-caliber hitters.

Hiroki Kuroda pitched much better in the second game, surrendering just three hits over six innings, but he too was unable to quiet the red-hot Dexter Fowler. Fowler, a prospect so mediocre that even the Colorado Rockies determined they could no longer wait for his emergence, seems to have finally realized his promise in his first two games as an Astro, hammering out two doubles, a triple, and a home run against the Yankees thus far in the series.

The Astros have successfully defended early leads in both of the first two games of the series, despite sporting a bullpen that held the highest ERA in baseball a year ago and saw little significant turnover in the offseason. This may owe more to the fact that the Yankee bats have been woefully anemic through their first two games than to anything Astros relievers have actually done. Despite a drastically-rebuilt lineup that features such formidable names as Jeter, Teixeira, McCann, and Beltran, the Yankees were two-hit through six innings Tuesday by veteran journeyman Scott Feldman. Their offense Wednesday was prolific by comparison, out-hitting the Astros 7-4, but squandering what scant few scoring chances they had.

The latest Red Sox defector and the Yankees’ new $153-million-dollar man, Jacoby Ellsbury, has perhaps been the biggest disappointment thus far. Ellsbury has failed to get a hit in his first seven Yankee at bats and has surrendered a number of extra-base hits in center field. Even Spring Training phenom and non-roster-invitee-turned-utility-man Yangervis Solarte could not provide a spark Wednesday as he pinch-hit for third baseman Kelly Johnson late in the game and sharply grounded into a double play with men on the corners. The play produced the only Yankee run of the game, but ultimately killed a budding rally helping to ensure the Astros win.

It may seem like laughable hyperbole to say that an 0-2 start is cause for alarm, but the way in which the Yankees have lost these games does not bode well moving forward. Their venerable offense has been positively stymied by two no-name pitchers on two consecutive evenings. Scott Feldman and Jarred Cosart are a far cry from Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux, but one would never know that looking at the ease with which both men handled what was thought to be one of the most dangerous batting orders in baseball.

Despite a strong finish to his Spring Training campaign and renewed optimism that Sabathia may finally be ready to adjust to his decreasing velocity and regain his mantle as Yankees ace, Tuesday’s start was a painful reflection of his struggles from 2013. Perhaps the only bright spots for the Yankees through these first two games have been the performances of the bullpen and newcomer Brian Roberts, ironically thought to be the two biggest susceptibilities for the team entering play this year.

The Yankees must improve significantly if they hope to avoid a demoralizing sweep at the hands of the Astros to start Jeter’s final campaign. If they have any chance of seeing Jeter end his career on a better note than Mariano Rivera did last season, they will need a paradigm shift in their play.

These first two losses have done nothing significant to derail the Yankees’ aspirations for a great 2014, but they have also given their fans little to no reason to think there are better days ahead. Thus far, suffice it to say that they are lucky The Boss is no longer with us.

ImageNews broke Wednesday that former All-Star and World Series Champion closer Brian Wilson had drawn heavy interest from a variety of potential suitors on the Major League Free Agent Market. Among those teams interested: The New York Yankees.

A variety of reliable sources confirmed that Yankees general manager Brian Cashman had contacted Wilson to gage his interest in coming to the Bronx. In the course of the conversation, Cashman laid out a rather predictable pre-condition for any potential contract: that Wilson would be forced to abide by the well-publicized Yankee code of conduct with respect to personal appearance and part ways with his trademark beard.

Perhaps just as predictably, Wilson ended the conversation stating that he had no interest in playing for the Yankees given such a restrcition.

This news led some to question whether the Yankees’ edict that their players maintain a kempt and professional physical appearance is still serving the team’s best interests in the Post-George Era. The supposed logic goes something like this: the vendetta against beards and long hair was a policy introduced by the oft-eccentric George Steinbrenner shortly after he purchased the team from CBS in 1973. If an elite availble free agent prizes maintaining his personal “style” above the chance to play for the Yankees, should the team artificially restrict the talent pool from which they can draw simply to uphold the narrow-minded prejudices of their now-deceased former owner?

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In short: yes. More explicitly: Hell YES!

The Yankee edict against wild hair and personal appearance was an invention of the late great George Michael Steinbrenner III, but it was also in keeping with a much longer track record of proud Yankee tradition. The Yankee organization has been home to some of the most legendary players in the game’s history: storied and timeless names like Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio, Mantle, and Berra. When “The Boss” assumed control, he sought to restore the team to a place of prestige and once again make them a model and enviable franchise in Major League Baseball, one to which every other franchise could only aspire.

While most teams spent the 1970s “revamping” their image by implementing uniforms featuring brightly-colored v-necks or gaudy lapels, King George countered by not only standing pat with the iconic and timeless Yankee uniforms that had seen so much success in the past, but taking things a step further and demanding that his team be run “much like military boot camp.” He posited that players would not be allowed to keep beards or long hair and followed through on such statements by passing notes to managers enumerating which players were in violation of his newly-implemented policy. No player, regardless of cache or pedigree was immune to The Boss’s edict. Even 1985 AL MVP and Yankee legend Don Mattingly eventually lost a well-publicized feud with the owner. While Richard “Goose” Gossage’s compromise may have been the nearest thing to insubordination ever allowed under The Boss’s ever-vigilant watch, even he was technically in compliance with the stated limitations imposed by Steinbrenner.

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While most teams have a seemingly-unending stream of marketable “alternate” uniforms (known to the rest of the real world as softball uniforms), the Yankees remain the only Major League team never to appear in a regular- or post-season game wearing a uniform of any color other than the traditional grey or white. Yankee uniforms have not changed substantively since the 1920s. Why mess with perfection?

Though some may see the Steinbrenner Era edicts as archaic, they proudly uphold a much longer-standing tradition of class and excellence and maintain the continuity of the sterling Yankee Image.

Why would—or more properly why SHOULD—the team compromise on that; especially for Brian Wilson?

Wilson may have a career ERA of 3.10 and 171 saves to his credit, but he has also undergone two Tommy John surgeries so far in his professional career and still possesses one of the most violent deliveries in baseball. Yes, he looked solid-to-good in limited action with Mattingly’s Los Angeles Dodgers late last season, but why should anyone believe that the second Tommy John procedure will be his last?

Furthermore, why should the Yankees compromise more than 40 years of team policy and more than a century or proud tradition simply to court a player who was unwilling to discontinue his Grizzly Adams-esque appearance in order to become a part of the greatest organization in the history of professional athletics? The Yankee rules on personal grooming did not discourage such players as Jason Giambi, Johnny Damon, or Kevin Youkilis from joining the Yankees. Is Brian Wilson so superior to these players that the team ought now make such an exception? Are Giambi, Damon, and Youkilis spineless cowards for caving to the all-powerful Yankees and cleaning up their once-notably-gruff appearances?

In short, Wilson likely had little if anything to offer the Yankees, but moreover, the Yankees were more than justified in sticking to decades of tradition in asking him to alter his appearance should he elect to join the team. The same will hold for any player the Yankees court now or in the future. Wilson’s decision to refuse to consider such an opportunity is his choice, and his loss.

I never thought I’d say this, but way to show some backbone, Brian Cashman!

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Mr. President,

While I doubt this letter will ever find you, I felt I would be remiss in electing to do nothing substantive. I am writing to call to your attention the plight of a growing group of Americans directly affected by the on-going government shutdown, a group who has been largely ignored by both the media and our representation in Washington: federal contractors.

The bulk of attention paid to locked-out workers has focused on federal employees. Now that the Department of Defense has put more than half of them back to work, to most Americans’ knowledge the only people still sitting at home are the roughly 350,000 federal employees not included in the Department of Defense recall and most people have justifiably little sympathy for them, knowing that they will receive full back pay once a resolution is reached.

There are, however, many times more federal contractors who have been furloughed as a result of this government impasse—a number that continues to grow by the week—and we have a much more stressful situation with which to deal.

I work as a contractor to the US Air Force at a complex of large-scale wind tunnels within NASA Ames Research Center in California. We support of a variety of testing that helps develop emerging military technologies to help our deployed troops do their jobs serving and protecting this nation. We also test technologies to make aircraft and automotive vehicles more fuel efficient and better for our environment and we test a variety of cutting-edge space technologies. Our facility served a critical role in qualifying the parachute that put the Curiosity rover on Mars last year.

I could have made more money in a different career path, but I chose to be a federal contractor because I found the work interesting and wanted to do work that could help my country in some way. I may never have been physically fit for military service, but I am proud to be able to nonetheless make some contribution to my nation in my line of work. Many of my co-workers are military veterans who continue to serve their country by working at our facility. Now, I feel as though that country has turned its back on us.

As a result of the government shutdown, we have been unable to continue supporting our current customer, who is using our facility to help develop technologies which could greatly improve the safety and efficiency of the commercial air travel industry. All of our contractor work force (nearly our entire staff) was placed on furlough at some point this week. Unlike our federal employee counterparts, we have been told not to expect to receive back pay when this issue is resolved. We are thereby forced to burn vacation time which many of us have been saving for planned trips. Once that is exhausted, we will be forced to take leave without pay indefinitely until this situation is resolved. During the time we are taking leave without pay we will also be accruing debt to our company for the benefits which are usually automatically deducted from our paychecks, such that if we do not have enough vacation hours to wait this shutdown out, we will owe our company a substantial sum when we return to work.

We live and work in one of if not the most expensive local economies in the nation and while we will be eligible for unemployment benefits during this time, the maximum payoff is not nearly enough to live on, especially for many of my co-workers who have families to support. I can speak personally to the fact that were I to begin drawing unemployment, the maximum benefit would barely cover monthly rent on my small, one-bedroom apartment even before taxes were deducted. I would then need to find a way to cover my car payments, student loans, and other recurring monthly obligations.

Ultimately, unlike our federal employee counterparts, we cannot even be sure that we will have jobs to which to return if this shutdown drags on much longer. Working for a private company­—which relies almost exclusively on Department of Defense allocations—it is not at all a stretch to believe that they may elect to down-size our facility if they see a reduction in funding.

While I cannot claim that I voted for you in either the 2008 or 2012 election, I was very pleased and encouraged by the seemingly bi-partisan excitement your election wins generated. I was eager to see how you could utilize this energy to make the country better. While I must commend you for living up to your promises of ending America’s occupation in Iraq and instituting a national health care program, I feel that our current situation constitutes a failure on your part which greatly outweighs the benefit of either of those two accomplishments.

You ran on a platform of bi-partisanship, talked of bridging the growing divide in Congress, and told us that we were “not just a collection of red and blue states, but are and will always be the United States of America.” Yet now our nation is more deeply and caustically divided than perhaps at any point in its history. I am not trying to claim that you are solely to blame for this situation, as I think there is equal if not more culpability on the parts of the conservative factions of our government, but assignment of relative blame is not the point.

ImageAs our Commander in Chief, you ought to be held to a higher standard. You ought to be able to be the bigger man and put your political affiliations aside to try to bridge the gap and work in tandem with your political rivals in the best interest of our country. Rather, I think you have largely done the opposite throughout this process. Your tacit refusal to budge on anything substantive helped lead us headlong into this shutdown and your accusatory rhetoric since the shutdown began has only served to grow the animosity and broaden the rift that lies at the heart of the crisis now facing our nation.

I have never been more concerned or quite frankly afraid for the future well-being of the United States of America than I am right now. When I look at our present situation, I see a nation on the verge of total collapse. I fear that that the virulent blame being slung between these two warring factions will only further entrench resentment and narrow-mindedness within the voting public and lead to the election of even-more radical political leaders in future elections, spiraling our country into even worse despair.

Sir, I implore you: give me a reason to believe in our country and our system of government again. Make good on your most critical campaign promise and build the consensus we need to end this ridiculous shutdown. Put your personal pride aside and do what’s best by your country. America cannot survive as a nation that plots its course two years at a time. For the good our nation and our way of life, I wish you and the Congress the best of luck along these lines.

Sincerely Frustrated and Disappointed,

Pat Goulding II

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Second-year San Francisco 49ers starting quarterback Colin Kaepernick certainly has everything one could want in a franchise player.

He has incredible size and strength under center, he has a cannon for an arm, great pocket awareness, incredible elusiveness, and flat out speed to rival Steve Young, Michael Vick, and Randall Cunningham (not to mention run circles around Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, and Robert Griffin III). Couple that with a humble and understated nature which makes him more interested in honing his craft and improving his game than cashing in on his budding celebrity, and the 49ers would seem to have the perfect building block.

However, none of those traits may be as critical to his and more importantly his team’s future success as the plethora or praise and notoriety he has received thus far in his young career.

Kaepernick was no stranger to the headlines last season, as he took over for the initially injured—and suddenly rejuvenated and popular—Alex Smith at midseason and never relinquished the starting role. Head coach Jim Harbaugh’s controversial decision earned validation in the playoffs, as Kaepernick set a quarterback rushing record against a Green Bay Packers team many had picked to win the Super Bowl and led the 49ers to a stirring comeback in the NFC Championship game against the Atlanta Falcons—despite being largely shutdown from a personal production standpoint.

ImageDespite throwing the only interception by a 49ers quarterback in Super Bowl history, if not for some shall we say “creative” officiating at the end of Super Bowl XLVII, Kaepernick very well could have led his team to the most dramatic Super Bowl comeback on record and their sixth franchise title. For his heroics, he earned an ESPY Award as Breakout Athlete of the Year, but that was just the beginning.

After drawing notable attention for his offseason work ethic, Keapernick once again became the focus of the sporting world in early August when noted ESPN analyst and former NFL quarterback Ron Jaworski said on air that he felt Kaepernick had the potential to become “one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.” With the media still buzzing from Jaworski’s provocative prediction, Kaepernick again turned heads by appearing on a regional cover of Sports Illustrated for the second time this year—this time as part of a young quarterbacks breakdown in which he drew (not entirely unfounded) comparison to former 49ers great Steve Young.

ImageAll this positive attention surrounding Kaepernick gives the 49ers an asset they have lacked for some time: a popular and nationally notable team leader whom it would behoove the NFL to see succeed.

The 49ers’ hiatus from sustained success throughout most of the first decade of the 21st century was not-coincidentally concurrent with a prolonged lack of a notable, nationally-marketable super star. The 49ers were never able to suitably replace Young at quarterback after his career was cut short by repeated concussions. Though Jeff Garcia­—a local product discovered by long-time team guru Bill Walsh—provided some excitement, he was not the type of dominating stud the media likes to idolize. Terrell Owens may have become such a player, assuming the mantle directly from the great Jerry Rice, had his oft-immature antics and overly abrasive personality not made him so unpalatable for such a role.

Following a brief renaissance from 2000-2002, the 49ers languished through a string of painfully pathetic quarterbacks—including Tim Rattay, Ken Dorsey, Shaun Hill, JT O’Sullivan, and even to a large extent Alex Smith—and had few other players of note. While Frank Gore and Patrick Willis generated a fair amount of praise, Gore never posted jaw-dropping numbers and rarely turned in highlight-reel runs, and marketing a team around a single defensive player is a difficult proposition.

ImageEven the popularity of some of their coaches did little to help their cause, as former legendary linebacker Mike Singletary ultimately became a comedic figure showing much more bark than bite. Harbaugh’s acquisition turned into quite a coup, revitalizing Smith’s career and casting historical comparisons back to the beloved and now-departed Walsh. However, the Smith-Harbaugh Saga ultimately paled in comparison to the much more marketable proposition of Eli Manning once again besting former wunderkind Tom Brady and assuming his illustrious family’s mantle. Fears of Smith’s limitations as more of a game-manager than a quarterback were clearly realized in a thoroughly pedestrian if not entirely terrible NFC Championship performance, and the New York Giants went on to win their second Super Bowl of the Manning Era.

Kaepernick offers the 49ers the storyline they have been lacking.

Kaepernick has quite a back story of his own—an adopted child who gave up a promising career as a top-shelf Major League pitching prospect to pursue his true passion of playing football, despite the fact that the only program to offer him a football scholarship was the relatively un-noteworthy Nevada Wolfpack. He ascended to prominence in stunning fashion and many people (not just the 49er Faithful) feel he and his team were cheated out of at least the chance to author the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history in February.

Kaepernick also has a team of sympathetic figures behind him. Coach Harbaugh is a quickly-rising star whom many would like to see earn a title as a coach. Many would also like to see Gore—who suffered through the lowest doldrums of the 49ers struggles—finally taste ultimate success. Add in interesting twists like Gore (who suffered two severe knee injuries in college) mentoring the twice-injured Marcus Lattimore, and Patrick Willis using Super Bowl XLVII to possibly pick up the torch of the NFL’s greatest active linebacker from Ray Lewis, and you have a formula that would predict the NFL will want to keep the 49ers relevant for years to come.

Perhaps there could be no greater story than one of the greatest franchises in the game’s history reassuming the all-time title lead with the first-ever Super Bowl three-peat. This would allow the 49ers to bid farewell to Candlestick and christen Levis Stadium in proper fashion before becoming the first team to actually win a Super Bowl in their home stadium.

One can dream.

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Many people have asked me recently, as a Yankees fan, how I feel about embattled slugger Alex Rodriguez.

The short answer: my feelings are mixed.

However, since last Sunday—when Boston Red Sox starter Ryan Dempster plunked A-Rod in the second inning of a critical Sunday Night Baseball matchup at Fenway—my assessment of the situation has become even more convoluted.

I have never been one to support alleged or admittedly PED use, but A-Rod is an interesting case, with no paucity of mystery and intrigue. Once seen as the eventual inevitable legitimate heir to the all-time home-run title—destined to restore sanctity to the record Barry Bonds spuriously wrested from Hank Aaron in 2007—the A-Rod story line shifted irreparably in 2009.

A-Rod was forced to undergo hip surgery prior to training camp and meanwhile became the focus of a media frenzy when it was revealed that he had tested positive for a variety of performance enhancing drugs and supplements in 2003—before the Major Leagues instituted an official testing and penalty program. A-Rod admitted to using certain substances within a narrow period of time after signing an historically large contract with the Texas Rangers, before it was officially illegal per MLB rules.

While the larger integrity of his overall career numbers had undoubtedly been called into question, many still felt he was a more palatable home run king than Bonds. A-Rod at least partially redeemed himself among Yankee fans and general detractors (myself included) after returning to action in 2009—boasting a very strong second half and finally reversing his personal history of disappointing postseason play in leading the Yankees to their 27th World Series Title to properly christen New Yankee Stadium.

History seemed to repeat itself in the spring of 2013.

After once again struggling mightily through the 2012 postseason (most notably being benched by Joe Girardi  in the ALCS) A-Rod once again found himself in the unenviable position of facing another hip surgery while simultaneously being the center of huge performance enhancing drug investigation. This time, A-Rod was tabbed as the ring leader in the Biogenesis Clinic scandal, accused of obtaining Human Growth Hormone and other substances and recruiting teammates and other Major Leaguers to do the same, then attempting to cover-up his actions and interfere with MLB investigation proceedings.

A-Rod was absent from the lineup, but central in the headlines throughout the beginning of the 2013 season, as Major League Baseball eventually suspended 13 players for their alleged involvement with the Biogenesis Clinic. A-rod’s was the last and most severe of the penalties, totaling 211 games plus any potential postseason contests. Meanwhile, A-Rod and his lawyer and media relations team concocted a severely bizarre, soap-opera-worthy drama of insinuations and accusations which implied the existence of a vast conspiracy between the Yankees and MLB to keep him off the field and void his contract.

Sympathy for A-rod was at an all-time low.

Despite an incredible rash of injuries to key stars—keeping the likes of Mark Teixeira, Curtis Granderson, Derek Jeter, newcomer Kevin Youkilis, and other key role players out of the lineup for much of the first half of the season—even most Yankee fans were reticent to see A-Rod rejoin the team.

Things changed drastically on 18 August 2013, early in a critical game against the arch-rival and then-division-leading Red Sox.

Starter Ryan Dempster threw inside on A-Rod on four consecutive pitches, ultimately hitting him in the ribs on a 3-0 pitch. The umpire immediately warned the pitcher, the Red Sox dugout, AND the Yankees dugout, and threw out Yankees manager Joe Girardi before he could even make his way out of the dugout to argue. Dempster was not ejected and ultimately only suspended five games. He and his manager would both shamelessly claim on multiple occasions that the hit-by-pitch was unintentional.

It is difficult to accurately gage the magnitude of what A-Rod may or may not have done with respect to use of banned substances. He never tested positive for any banned substance in relation to the Biogenesis scandal. Even if he did attempt to foil MLB investigators, any tactful defense lawyer would claim that he likely feared he would not be treated fairly in light of discovery of even moderate evidence against him. His actions in underhandedly blaming the Yankees and MLB for conspiring against him are certainly questionable, but one thing is certain: the way MLB handled the Dempster situation was deplorable.

Whatever your views on A-Rod, MLB has only its own due process to blame for him being able to continue playing during his appeal. Why then should he be penalized for exercising his given rights under the collective bargaining agreement? Suspending a bottom-of-the-rotation starter a paltry five games is less than a slap on the wrist for taking a very blatantly intentional pot shot at a defenseless player.

Half-measures are the curse of the Bud Selig era.

Use of performance enhancing drugs was all-but encouraged by MLB due to Selig’s refusal to act on the issue when Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and other obvious violators were boosting the game’s popularity. Now he is setting a disgusting double standard by essentially allowing open season on A-Rod who is only exercising his rights under the due process of the game’s rules. Unlike Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro, A-Rod never vehemently denied his use of banned substances to the media, much less a Congressional committee. Yet while the preceding list was essentially encouraged for its transgressions, A-Rod is being hung out to dry. Even David Ortiz came to his support.

Whether A-Rod’s role as a newly sympathetic figure can help the Yankees overcome the adversity of this season remains to be seen, but leading them to the postseason would certainly be an intriguing twist in an already-spellbinding tome.

Perhaps it’s time to redefine our understanding of the word “justice.”

ImageThe date was August 15, 2012.

The San Francisco Giants were in the heat of a tight division race with the arch-rival Los Angeles Dodgers as they ventured to rebound from a disappointing 2011 season in which they failed to reach the playoffs in defense of their 2010 World Series title. Suddenly their best (and at times only) offensive threat—newcomer Melky Cabrera, who was being touted as an MVP candidate—was suspended 50 games for use of a banned performance-enhancing substance.

The suspension, coupled with a blockbusting trade that brought a cadre of marquee stars from Boston to Los Angeles, cast the prospects of a San Francisco postseason berth in a bleak light. The ultimate outcome was far from expected, however.

After vowing not to have Cabrera back for any potential postseason games, the diminished and beleaguered Giants surged down the stretch, ultimately winning the division by eight games over the seemingly reinvigorated Dodgers. They then twice staved off near-certain elimination in the divisional and league championship playoff rounds before sweeping the much-more highly-touted Detroit Tigers for their second World Series title in three years.

Flash forward to August 5, 2013.

Major League Baseball makes its strongest statement to date against the use of performance-enhancing drugs, issuing 13 suspensions in association with investigations surrounding the south Florida Biogenesis Clinic. The most severe and by far most notable ban went to New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez, who “happened” to be making his 2013 season debut following his second major hip surgery in four seasons.

Rodriguez was the only player to appeal his suspension.

The Yankees entered play on August 5 at 57-53, having recently split a very hotly-contested two-game series against the red-hot Dodgers in Los Angeles. Andy Pettitte was coming off three consecutive solid (albeit losing) starts, and the Yankees were playing the Chicago White Sox—owners of a 40-69 record and the lowest run production in the American League, and losers of their last ten straight games.

Pettitte did not survive the third inning, allowing 7 runs on 11 hits as the Yankees lost 8-1. The following night, the Yankees had a clear second run robbed from them early on a bad call at home plate before watching a critical two-out at bat against their best pitcher, Hiroki Kuroda, get extended on a questionable ball before Alejandro De Aza doubled in the third White Sox run in their 3-2 victory.

In fairness, Pettitte has been inconsistent all year and every slumping team is bound to break out eventually, but can this all really be strictly a coincidence?

Is it a coincidence that the demure Giants caught fire to beat the boisterous Dodgers for a division title, then further defied the odds and logic in the postseason to claim a World Series title after disavowing themselves of their besmirched slugger (though, ironically, Barry Bonds was a prominent off-field presence during the World Series)?

Is it a coincidence that Rodriguez’s suspension was served the day he was set to return to the field?

Is it a coincidence that Pettitte—a 17-year veteran—was visibly frustrated throughout his two and two-thirds innings of work with the strike zone being called in what was by far his worst outing of the year, coming against the worst-hitting team in the league?

Is it a coincidence that a blown call at second base in the first inning of that game robbed Rodriguez of an RBI opportunity in his first plate appearance or the year?

And is it a coincidence that the Yankees have dropped two straight games to a team nearly 30 games below .500 after looking very competitive since welcoming Alfonso Soriano back to the Bronx?

This could all be coincidence, but it seems more reasonable that Major League Baseball is pulling strings to make a statement against PED use.

You can believe in magic and fairy tales, I’m a slave to logic. 

ImagePerhaps it is only fitting that the first true setback of the 2013 San Francisco 49ers campaign centers on wide receiver Michael Crabtree.

Crabtree posted by far the best numbers of his four-year career in 2012, but the Texas Tech alumnus was also integral in the ugly end to what would have been the greatest Super Bowl comeback in history. Crabtree failed to connect with second-year quarterback Colin Kaepernick on three consecutive goal line plays as the 49ers endeavored to grab a last-minute lead. The fourth down play was particularly painful, as many felt Crabtree was clearly held, preventing him from catching what would have been the go-ahead score.

News then broke Wednesday that Crabtree had torn his Achilles tendon while taking part in offseason Organized Team Activities and underwent surgery that will keep him out for an indefinite period of time. The tentative timetable for his return has been set at six months, leaving open the possibility that he could be available late this coming season and into the playoffs.

Many have cite the precedence of Terrell Suggs and Da’Quan Bowers—both of whom returned after similar injuries in a five-to-six-month timeframe—but as Hall of Famer Chris Carter pointed out on the radio today, the wide receiver position requires much more strength in the Achilles than linebacker or defensive end. It is also unclear how long it will take Crabtree to get back up to game speed once he resumes full practices, so his status for 2013 must remain dubious at best for now.

Perhaps this Crabtree-centered synergy of sorrows is really an opportunity in disguise, however.

620b748e926a30b97e76ce7265c9b3c9Almost as quickly as the injury was announced, experts and blowhards alike began debating what the 49ers ought to do in response. From an outside perspective, it might initially seem as though the injury merely alleviates the overcrowding at wide receiver that the 49ers were poised to face in training camp. Anquan Boldin joined the team via trade, and with Kyle Williams and Mario Manningham returning from injury, prospects AJ Jenkins and Quinton Patton looking for reps, and substantial hype surrounding journeyman/practice squadder Ricardo Lockette (not to mention a guy named Vernon Davis), many believed the 49ers might do well to stick with in-house options and offer them the chance to climb the depth chart.

Things are not always what they seem.

Manningham and Williams are both returning from serious knee injuries sustained late last year, calling into question their potential readiness for the start of the season and suggesting they may not perform up to previous standards (at least not immediately) when they do return. Jenkins offered absolutely no indications of being ready to live up to the expectations that come with being taken in the first round. While there is a good amount of possibly-well-placed optimism surrounding both Lockette and Patton, all three remain virtual unknowns—with career production totaling 2 catches for 105 yards (all from Lockette). Free agent signee Marlon Moore has generated significantly less excitement, likely due to his to-date pedestrian résumé and average size. Of the remaining receivers on the roster, only Chad Hall (who?) has seen any snaps in the NFL. Also consider the loss of tight end Delanie Walker, whose absence stands to put more demand on the remaining receiving corps.

Given these considerations and Jim Harbaugh’s proclivity toward pushing for competition at all positions, it seems very unlikely that the 49ers will enter the 2013 season relying solely on current options. This suggests they will look to sign another free agent wide receiver, both whom?

A couple former 49ers highlight the remaining list of available receivers: Brandon Lloyd and Terrell Owens. Lloyd is below average in size and while he has always had a knack for the spectacular catches, he often struggles with the routine. Owens has expressed interest in returning to the league and this is not the first time his name has surfaced in the same breath as the 49ers in recent years, but many question how well he would be received in a potential return to his first team. Other marquee options include Chad Johnson—returning from an off-field issue which cost him all of last year and, like Owens, has always had an on-field persona not nearly in step with 49ers’ team-first mentality. Randy Moss—who was a virtual non-factor for the team a year ago before proceeding to jab at team legend Jerry Rice at the Super Bowl Media Day—is also available, though there was been virtually no mutual interest in his return since the Super Bowl.

Then there is Ramses Barden.

ImageBarden was originally drafted by the New York Giants in 2009, but languished on a stacked depth chart throughout his tenure in New York. At a glance, he has meager career statistics, but he has shown great promise when given the opportunity to contribute. In 29 career games, he has logged 29 catches for 394 yards, but this includes just one start. In that game, a Monday Night blowout win over the Carolina Panthers, Barden recorded 9 catches for 138 yards.

Barden has the size, speed, and skills (at 6’-6”, 227 lb) to become a stud at wide receiver and a bonafide deep threat for the strong-armed Kaepernick. He showed in college that he can be effective in an option offense, leading the Cal Poly Mustangs to a top-ten national ranking and home playoff berth in his final college season. What’s more, he should be a bargain. His agent can argue that he shows great promise, but the NFL is a results-driven industry, so the 49ers should be able to sign him for very little guaranteed money.

Barden represents the best option for the 49ers in trying to find a replacement for Crabtree who can step in and contribute as a primary receiver immediately. He also has the potential to become a mainstay by the Bay, forcing the 49ers to make a difficult decision when others return to health. Nonetheless, I’m sure Harbaugh would agree that is a problem he would love to face.

The 49ers stand to lose nothing in taking a flyer on Barden and giving him a chance to win a roster spot in Crabtree’s absence. The irony is that he would not have remotely entered into consideration prior to the injury. This could be a major silver lining to an otherwise devastating blow and could have major positive downstream ramifications for the 49ers for years to come.

Keep the Faith!