General

It Was Twenty Years Ago Today…

That the MLB players started a strike that would ultimately wipe out the 1994 season. It’s amazing to think how far baseball has come since that day.

When the strike happened, Bobby Bonilla was the highest paid player in the game at $6.3-million. That’s approximately what the Yankees are paying Ichiro Suzuki this year to be their fourth outfielder. Annual revenue was about $1.9 billion for all of baseball in 1994. Today it is close to $9-billion.  Not surprisingly, average ticket prices have almost tripled from about $10 to nearly $30. (It’s worth noting that inflation since 1994 has been about 61%, so MLB revenues and salaries are far, far ahead.)

Back in 1994 George Steinbrenner was trying to bully NYC into building a stadium in Manhattan for the Yankees while also threatening a move to New Jersey. Ultimately, he got massive tax breaks and other incentives for building a palace in the Bronx. Sadly, that’s what most of the MLB owners have done.

So when you hear the powers of MLB mention how wonderful the labor peace of the past twenty years has been, just remember who really paid for it.

 

I Hope He Grooved One

You know what most baseball fans wanted to see last night? They wanted to see Derek Jeter get a hit in the All-Star Game. You know what most baseball fans could care less about? This stupid idea that the All-Star Game “counts”.

It is ridiculous that home field in the World Series depends on a game where the best players can’t go more than a few innings. MLB should be ashamed of that and they should immediately switch it to the team with the best record in the World Series gets home field advantage. The NHL and the NBA figured that out a long time ago, why can’t baseball?

So I could care less if Wainwright grooved one to Jeter. First of all, even if he did  Jeter has to hit it. Second, why not do it? If Jeter’s last home game finds the Yankees mathematically eliminated from the playoffs and the Orioles are in a position where a win doesn’t matter, I hope a Baltimore pitcher grooves one to Jeter then. I hope the same thing happens when David Ortiz makes his final appearance at Fenway. Denny McLain did it for Mickey Mantle and I imagine other pitchers have done it as well. Baseball is a sport where failure is the norm. Even the greatest hitters make an out more often than they reach base. And that is not how we want to remember them. We want to see them touching them all or racing into second. Just like we saw Jeter do last night.

I Have A Problem

I have a problem with what David Ortiz said the other night about David Price. First, here are his comments:

“I have a lot of respect for the guy, man, but it’s over. I have no more respect for him. Last year we kick his ass in the playoffs, he went off, talking (expletive) about everybody, (Sports Illustrated writer) Tom Verducci and everybody. Players.We kind of got to talk on the phone. We kind of straightened things out. He was kind of upset. Me as a veteran I kind of let him know how things go in this game. Later on he called me and apologized because he knows he was wrong. He apologized in public. He apologized to myself. Everything was cool. So first at-bat of the season against him he threw at me.

I mean, it’s a war. It’s on. Next time he hits me, he better bring the gloves. I have no respect for him no more.

You can’t be acting like a little girl out there. You aren’t going to win every time. When you give it up, that’s an experience for the next time. But when you’re to be acting like a little (expletive) every time you give it up, bounce back like that and put your teammates in jeopardy, that’s going to cost you.

I was going to let him know. I respect everybody in this league and I get the same respect from everybody. If you’re mad because I take you deep twice, let me let you know, I have almost 500 homers in this league. It’s part of the game, son.”

A lot of people are focusing on Ortiz talking about war. Personally, I don’t believe he was literally comparing this situation to war or trying to disrespect troops in any way. War is used as a metaphor in sports by plenty of people and it would be great if they stopped it. War is a horrible thing and should never be trivialized like this. But, the war portion of Ortiz’s comments dominated the story, while the following got almost completely ignored-

You can’t be acting like a little girl out there. You aren’t going to win every time. When you give it up, that’s an experience for the next time. But when you’re to be acting like a little (expletive) every time you give it up, bounce back like that and put your teammates in jeopardy, that’s going to cost you.

There were many things Ortiz could have said here. He could have said, “You can’t be acting like a tremendous ass our there”. Or he could have said, “You can’t be acting like a total jerk”. But he decided to say “little girl” because apparently that is the same thing.  He also added a word for a female dog that is primarily used as an insult to women.

We have to stop this. We have to stop equating being a girl with something bad. And we have to start noticing when people say things like this. It wasn’t that long ago that using a term that questioned a player’s sexuality would have gone almost completely unnoticed. Thankfully, that is no longer the case. But comments like this that equate being a girl with a negative thing persist. I don’t know if David Oritz even realizes the implications of what he said, but it is time he does.

I am the proud father of two girls. I want them to grow up in a world where people judge them by their character. I want them to grow up in a world where they are not limited by their gender. I know I am just like millions of fathers out there in that respect and I hope those numbers will help to change this behavior. Being a “little girl” is not an insult at all. We shouldn’t use it like it is and we definitely shouldn’t teach our children that it is.

The Empire Is Huge

Here is a very cool map breaking down baseball fans by county.

You have to feel for Mets fans. Even in their home county, they are well outnumbered by Yankees fans.

Wishing Doesn’t Make It True

Hank Aaron is a baseball God. He hit .305, hit 755 homers and drove in almost 2300 runs and won three gold gloves. He is clearly one of the greatest players to ever play baseball. But, he is not the all-time leader in home runs.

I know this because I saw that record broken back in August of 2007. I called it a “joyless spectacle” and speculated that one day A-Rod might break the record. (In 2007 we thought he was clean kids)  I wish Bonds had never hit that 756th home run, but I can’t ignore the fact that he did. Whether he did it naturally or unnaturally, Barry Bonds is the home run king. MLB can put on ceremonies to honor Hank Aaron, and they should, but they can’t change that fact.

But what they can do is stop pretending that Bonds and the whole PED era didn’t happen. We need to confront it with some honesty. Pick a date, anytime after 1986 works for me, and admit that players started putting stuff into their bodies to cheat the game. Stop trying to figure out who cheated and who didn’t, we will never know. Put the players who put up the biggest and best numbers into the Hall of Fame and go from there. Do I think Bonds and Clemens cheated? Absolutely, but how do we know that they weren’t the rule rather than the exception? And if almost everyone was doing it, they were clearly better at it than most. I don’t like what they did, but a Hall of Fame that has Ty Cobb and Cap Anson in it can’t start to preach about character and morals. Don’t put an expiration date on that era because as we have learned recently, the cheating is getting more and more sophisticated. MLB has done great work trying to clean up the game, but the truth is that the cheaters have an advantage over them. No matter what anyone says, when you can take a cough drop full of steroids right before a game and then pass a test after it, you can’t say the sport is totally clean.

Why does it matter? Because more than any other sport, baseball is enriched by its history. We look out at Mike Trout and wonder if he is the next Willie Mays. We debate things like Munson or Fisk and Ripken or Smith. It is what brings us back to the park year after year and it belongs to each of us. It’s time for the BBWAA and MLB to stop trying to whitewash it.

The Crystal Ball

I know the season has technically started, but today is Opening Day in my mind. Here’s how I see the 162-game season and beyond unfolding.

AL East

1- Tampa

2- Boston

3- New York

4- Toronto

5- Baltimore

I think Tampa is the best team in the AL East and I expect they will be the only team that cracks the 90-win level in the division. Boston comes in second with the Yankees repeating last year’s 85-77 record. Toronto and Baltimore bring up the rear.

AL Central

1- Detroit

2- Cleveland

3- Kansas City

4- Chicago

5- Minnesota

I didn’t like the Cabrera extension, but he will earn whatever he gets paid this season. The Tigers are the class of the division and I see no reason not to pick them to repeat. Cleveland showed us something last year and while KC is a trendy pick, I am not buying it yet. Minnesota will be lousy, but I bet Phil Hughes has a nice year away from the Bronx.

AL West

1- Anaheim

2- Oakland

3- Texas

4- Seattle

5- Houston

A lot of things went wrong for the Angels last year and I think they rectify those this year with a division crown. Oakland is right behind them, but Texas drops off because of injuries. I wonder how Robinson Cano will enjoy playing meaningless games as early as August 1st? The only thing keeping Seattle out of the basement is the train wreck that is the Houston roster.

NL East

1- Washington

2- Atlanta

3- Miami

4- New York

5- Philadelphia

This is really a two-tier division. Washington and Atlanta are much, much better than everyone else. I think the Nats take the crown this year. I expect it will be a long summer in Philadelphia.

NL Central

1- St. Louis

2- Cincinnati

3- Pittsburgh

4- Milwaukee

5- Chicago

The Cards are consistently excellent and I suspect they win the NL Central again. Pittsburgh snuck up on people last year, they won’t do that again this one and I expect them to drop back a bit and miss the playoffs.

NL West

1- Dodgers

2- San Francisco

3- San Diego

4- Colorado

5- Arizona

A classic rivalry will fight for the crown in the NL West until the end. I say LA gets it.

Playoffs

Wild Card Round

Oakland over Boston

San Francisco over Cincinnati

(Yup, no playoffs in the Bronx this year)

Divisional Round

Detroit over Oakland

Tampa over Anaheim

Washington over St. Louis

LA over San Francisco

Pennant

Tampa over Detroit

LA over Washington

World Series

LA over Tampa

That’s how I see 2014 unfolding, how about you?

 

Blame Detroit!

The Yankees have gotten plenty of blame, most of it deserved, for the salary inflation in MLB. But tonight’s news out of Detroit should change that focus. The Tigers are apparently giving Miguel Cabrera an eight-year extension for $248-million with two additional options on it that could take the deal to $308-million.

Let me be clear, I think Cabrera is either the top, or second-best player in the game. He deserves a massive pay check. But, he is also two years way from free agency and about to turn 31. He is already earning a boatload. This deal makes no sense. When the Yankees handed a huge deal to A-Rod, he was a free agent. Ditto the Mariners with Cano and the Angels with Pujols. Kershaw was only one year away from free agency. So was David Ortiz with the Red Sox. I just don’t get the reasoning for this deal from Detroit’s side. Why give a guy this deal now?

This is just another indication of how much cash is flowing through MLB. Young talent is going to command a higher and higher valuation. Clubs would be wise to lock it up when they can.

Failing Logic

Well the results are in and Maddux, Glavine and Thomas are all headed to the Hall of Fame. I think anyone who watched baseball in the 80′s, 90′s and 00′s can wholeheartedly agree with those selections. Craig Biggio has to be like the kid who went to bed on Christmas Eve and then woke up to find out that Christmas had been moved overnight to March. 74.8% is a tough number to live with, but he at least is almost guaranteed to get in next year.

I gave my thoughts on the absurdity of Maddux not getting 100% yesterday and while it amazes me that 15 or so voters didn’t see fit to put him in the Hall, that’s not the biggest story of the day to me. The biggest story has to be the fact that Rafael Palmeiro didn’t get enough votes to stay on the ballot. A guy who hit over 500 home runs and amassed over 3,000 hits didn’t even stay on the ballot for five years.

“But Peter”, you say, “he was a major PED user so of course he doesn’t belong in the Hall.”

I can’t disagree with your argument, but here’s the problem then. What about all the other PED users who remain on the ballot? We all know the names, so I won’t recite them, but if they all cheated shouldn’t they all be punished equally? And if not, how do you justify it? Perhaps you perceive that certain players cheated for x number of years while others cheated for “x plus” number. But nobody could begin to prove that and even if you could, do you really know what kind of difference it made? How does Palmeiro get bounced while McGwire (for one) remains? Does this make any sense?

Of course not and this why somebody in the has to clean up this mess. Look at the record books and you will see the the names of these guys all over them. For his part, Palmeiro is in the top-25 all-time for games played, hits, home runs, doubles, RBI’s and runs created. Yet 50 years from now, some kid is going to call up MLB stats with his IBrain (trademark pending) and wonder how so dominant a player isn’t in the Hall of Fame. He is going to notice that this guy isn’t the only one omitted too. Sure, he can go and research it and find out what really happened or he could listen to one of his era’s baseball historians to explain it, but why can’t we, the people who lived in the present do it? Why can’t we fix this right now and leave an indelible record for the future?

I think we can. We can tell the writers that not voting for someone because of suspicion of steroids is no longer necessary because it is going on their plaque. If they admitted to PED use, it is on the plaque. If they were tried in a court for something around PED use, the conviction or acquittal goes on the plaque. If they failed a test and didn’t get it overturned or appeal it, it goes on their plaque. So for Rafael Palmeiro his plaque would list all his accomplishments and close with- “Was suspended in 2005 for failing a steroids test”. If the player doesn’t want to go into the Hall under those circumstances, they can remove themselves from the ballot, but that’s the deal.

It’s not a perfect solution, but one of the greatest parts of baseball is its history. We love to argue whether Ruth or Williams was the better hitter. If the ’75 Reds could have beaten the ’27 Yankees.  We are failing the fans of the future if we don’t figure out a way to fix this.

It Won’t Be Unanimous

MLB.com revealed the Hall of Fame ballots for their writers today and we now know that Greg Maddux won’t get 100% of the vote.

Ken Gurnick, using utterly failed logic, has decided not to vote for a single player who participated in the PED era, so he has only voted for Jack Morris. Here’s Gurnick’s reasoning

Morris has flaws — a 3.90 ERA, for example. But he gets my vote for more than a decade of ace performance that included three 20-win seasons, Cy Young Award votes in seven seasons and Most Valuable Players votes in five. As for those who played during the period of PED use, I won’t vote for any of them.

Let’s set aside the argument of whether or not Morris belongs in the Hall of Fame. Gurnick’s blanket statement that he won’t vote for anyone who played during the period of PED use means he shouldn’t vote for Morris! You can argue that PED use started in 1987 with the long ball explosion and I wouldn’t argue with you. If you want to wait until 1988 and Ben Johnson being stripped of his gold medal for PED use, I wouldn’t argue either. But to think that PED use didn’t start until after Morris retired in 1994 is silly. I’m not saying that Morris used PED’s. I have no idea if he did or didn’t. But if you are not going to vote for anyone from that era you have to be consistent.

And, while I imagine Gurnick will argue that Morris did the bulk of his pitching before the PED era started, he cited “three 20-win seasons, Cy Young Award votes in seven seasons and Most Valuable Players votes in five” as reasons to vote for Morris. Morris won 21 games in 1992 and received Cy Young and MVP votes in 1991 and 1992, so Gurnick looks foolish.

We’ve argued this issue before here on YR.com and come up with various suggestions for improving the process. I will be interested to see if Gurnick is the only guy who left Maddux off the ballot, or if some other writers did as well. Maybe, just maybe this will lead to some sort of reform process for the voting system.

 

What Took So Long?

I was shocked today when the BBWAA announced that Roger Angell was the recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award and therefore joining the Hall of Fame. I was shocked because I couldn’t believe he wasn’t already in it.

“The Summer Game” has to be one of the best books ever written about baseball. As a kid, I read and re-read it and only put it down when I picked up “Late Innings”. Though the years, Angell has contributed great baseball pieces to the New Yorker and I am always excited when I see that he is contributing to an issue. Consider his most recent contribution after the 2013 World Series it’s a treat to read even if you didn’t like the final result:

O.K., about those beards—I give up. The Red Sox took this World Series in six games, but by something wider in retrospect. The Cardinals, ahead two games to one in the early going, led only once after that—a little 1-0 margin that held up for two innings in Game Four. In actuality, they outhit the Sox, .224 to .211, but did not draw sustenance from this gruel, because of a collective batting debility. The bottom four hitters in their order failed to deliver a single base runner in scoring position over the seven games. Their dugout was tomblike last night after Shane Victorino’s three-run double, high off the wall in the third inning, and no wonder. The eight Boston batters not named Ortiz, by contrast, stayed upbeat throughout—a boys’ club, you felt—despite a similar collective fatuity at the plate. Somebody or other would provide: Gomes with a three-run homer in Game Four; David Ross with a seventh-inning double the next night; that Victorino double yesterday. All this can be blamed on St. Louis pitching, of course, but there was clearly something else in play during these games—a winning conviction beyond the reach of stats. Beards did it.

Big Papi had four walks last night, three of them on free passes from the Cardinal pitchers, and struck out at last in the sixth, dropping his batting average from .733 to .688, still good enough by miles for the Series M.V.P. award. No one has ever been hotter—unless it was St. Louis third baseman David Freese, back in 2011, when he saved the Cards from extinction by the Texas Rangers in Game Six of that World Series with a ninth-inning two-out, two-strike, two-run triple, then won the game with a lead-off homer in the eleventh. Freese was present but not present this time around, striking out seven times—you wanted to look away.

Fox TV provided a nice little Ortiz vignette, with an overheard water-cooler chat between Cards catcher Yadier Molina and home-plate ump Jim Joyce as Big Papi approached the plate once again. “The guy’s unbelievable,” Molina said, through his mask.

“He’s fun to watch,” Joyce agreed.

I also appreciated a Fox shot that reprised Stephen Drew’s fourth-inning home run into the Sox bullpen, where the presiding Boston cop, Steve Horgan, again raised his arms in triumph, exactly as he had famously done in the A.L.C.S. when Ortiz’s homer landed there, with Tiger right-fielder Torii Hunter spinning after it, head over heels. Drew’s shot put the Sox up by 4-0, and there was time for me to muse about Horgan’s duties while on patrol out there: Patting down pigeons? Breaking up a deadly international ring of autograph counterfeiters?

Such are the idle between-time pleasures of baseball, but that season has now flown away, worse luck. The Red Sox have taken their third World Championship in ten years, and the first clinched at Fenway Park since 1918. No trace remains of the Curse of the Bambino and accompanying New England paranoias that filled up our paragraphs and night thoughts for so many years. Winning almost all the time has a lot to be said for it, but not quite winning, barely missing again and again, keeps you whining and breathing, and might even be more fun in the end.

That is great writing and that closing paragraph a thing of beauty. Roger Angell is 93, it’s about time he was enshrined with the greats of the game.