General

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.

Wallowing In The Mud

Today the New York Times published a front page article on the A-Rod vs. MLB drama. If you don’t want to read the whole thing, here is a nice synopsis of it. It is fair to say that both sides come across as absolutely awful.

MLB has clearly decided to pursue victory at all costs. It is absolutely revolting to read the depths they have sunk to in their pursuit of Alex.

But that doesn’t excuse Alex’s behavior. Put aside the tampering, the cheating and think about the $100,000 anonymous donation to a Hispanic charity with the proviso that they publicly support Alex’s side.

Whatever happens when the final judgement is handed down, there will be no winners. Both sides have sunk to depths that make rooting for either of them impossible. All we can hope for now is a quick end to this mess.

What Do I Root For?

As a Yankee fan I am not sure what to root for in the next 24 hours.

As a selfish fan, it is easy. You want A-Rod to return to the lineup right now. Yes, he is 38 and has two bad hips, but it is very hard to imagine a scenario where he is worse than the guys the Yankees have run out there so far in 2013. The harsh truth is, the 2013 Yankees need Alex. But the 2014 Yankees might not, especially if they could be rid of his salary. So, A-Rod returning for 2013 and then being suspended for 2014 would be the best thing for the “root for the laundry” crowd.

But, I can’t do that. I can’t sit there and enjoy watching Alex play right now. I don’t know exactly what he did, but I am pretty sure it wasn’t good. He asked us in 2009 to judge him by what happened from that day forward. It certainly seems like he has failed miserably by that standard.

Things is life are hardly ever black or white and I think PED use falls under that category. If you grew up dirt poor and suddenly found a way to make enough money for you, your children and your children’s children to never have to worry about finances again, would you take it even if it was breaking the rules? I don’t know my own answer to that and that is why I can understand why some of these players did what they did.

But Alex was clearly not in that category when all of this happened. He had already made loads of money, so why did he cheat? Columnists have plenty of opinions from insecurities to just being a bad guy, but we will never know unless Alex tells us.

And that is ultimately what I would like to see come out of this. When all of the legal wrangling is finished I hope there is a moment where Alex tells us what really happened. He has said he will and I hope he does, but I think it is unlikely.

The sad truth of this whole mess is that there are no winners here. MLB can crow all it wants about cleaning up the game, but the majority of Biogenisis clients DIDN’T fail a PED test. As with most things in life, a seemingly trivial dispute led to this whole situation. Without that, none of this becomes public and all of these guys are still considered clean. And I think we all know that there are other clinics out there right now feeding their clients illegal PED’s. One day some of them may come to light, but chances are plenty will not.

So what do we do as fans? Do we applaud knowing that some of what we are watching is chemically enhanced? Do we turn off the tube in anger at the artificial nature of it all? Is there some middle ground? I don’t know the answer, but I know the upcoming announcement will do nothing to answer those questions. I guess the best scenario is that this all ends tomorrow and we move on-waiting for the next scandal to emerge.

It Begins-UPDATED 7:20 PM

MLB has just announced that Ryan Braun has been suspended for the rest of the season! According to Jon Heyman, Braun has agreed to the suspension.

The fact that MLB suspended Braun for 65 games and that Braun is not appealing it is very bad news for A-Rod. Clearly, MLB had some very strong evidence on Braun to be able to suspend him for more than the 50 game standard for first offenders and to do it with him agreeing. It has been widely reported that MLB was cutting deals with players to accept a lesser punishment in return for not appealing suspensions and this confirms that.

So, why is Braun the only suspension announced? Could it be that everyone else is fighting MLB or is it just the process? And if agreeing to the punishment of 65 games is the “reward” for cooperation, what will the penalty be for players who fight MLB?

Stay tuned

UPDATE Here’s a link to MLB’s statement and Braun’s statement. Interesting that MLB “commends” Braun for taking responsibility for his actions. That is clearly a message to other players. Braun’s statement is the standard junk most players say in this situation. I wonder if he will apologize to the sample collector he absolutely trashed in the media last year?

UPDATE- 6:01PM Heyman reported earlier today that A-Rod was facing a major suspension. The Daily News speculated today that Alex was trying to get declared medically ineligible to return to baseball, thereby making himself still eligible to collect his contract even if he was suspended. That suddenly seems a lot more plausible.

UPDATE- 6:08PM As ESPN pointed out, this greatly boosts the credibility of Anthony Bosch. That is not good for A-Rod or any other player linked to Biogenisis.

UPDATE- 6:17PM Buster Olney just said on SportsCenter that by agreeing to the suspension, Braun has given MLB a huge boost. They can now use that as support for any suspension that gets argued in front of an arbitrator. Basically, it makes their arguments much more credible.

UPDATE- 6:20PM TJ Quinn of ESPN tweets that MLB is going after A-Rod for interfering with the investigation as well. He says “they will go after him harder”

UPDATE- 6:55PM  More from Quinn. “Source also tells OTL evidence provided about A-Rod is “far beyond” what Bosch gave them re Braun.” Verducci also said a similar thing on MLB Network about the evidence against A-Rod in comparison to Braun.

UPDATE- 7:15PM Bob Costas had an interesting idea on MLB Network. In the next CBA, the players and owners should put a policy in place that getting caught using PED’s, besides being suspended, makes a player forever ineligible for the All-Star Game, Hall of Fame and any individual awards.

UPDATE- 7:20PM This is not a good day for baseball fans, so how about some humor? Logan Morrison just told reporters, “You know we’re clean. We haven’t scored a run in 37 innings.”  That’s a good line.

Prayers For Boston

I lived right in Boston for 10 years and some of my fondest memories are of Patriots’ Day. It is simply a great sports day and while I certainly didn’t root on the Red Sox, I always tried to get to the marathon course to cheer on the runners. For a number of years I worked right in Copley Square, so I would walk right across to Boylston and up a few blocks to see the runners finishing. Today that very place is the scene of terrible carnage and tragedy.

In the days ahead we will find out just how many people have died and been injured as a result of this craven attack. Whatever the final tally, it is too many and it feels futile to offer my meager  condolences and prayers to those who have lost so much. But, I also remember that in the aftermath of 9/11 how much it meant to me when people expressed their support for New York so I hope that in some small way this helps.

Boston, we are with you. Our thoughts, our prayers, our hopes and our condolences go out to you tonight.