January 2012

Get Well Gary

Gary Carter is in the fight of his life.  The Hall of Fame catcher’s recent MRI discovered several tumors located on his brain.  The prognosis for him is dire, with some reports stating he has only weeks to live.  However, if there is a man who can rally from these most difficult circumstances,  I would say that man is Gary Carter.

His career numbers speak for themself.  He was an 11-time All Star who hit 324 career home runs, 298 as a catcher, good for sixth-best in history.    Carter earned three Gold Gloves, five Silver Slugger awards and finished in the MVP Top Ten four times.   Rounding out his outstanding career were his 1981 All Star Game MVP and key cog in the machine known as the 1986 New York Mets.  It is ridiculous Carter had to wait six extra years to be voted into the Hall of Fame.  My guess is the voters didn’t like the fact he “hung around” too much past his prime.  Such faulty reasoning is why fans have so many problems with Hall of Fame voters. 

Playing the toughest position in the sport at such a high level is not the only reason why Gary Carter can rally from Cancer. It is also his spirit and always upbeat personality.  That personality will serve him well during this fight against the tumors.  Many people, fans and players alike, never warmed to his pointing and other gestures that were never meant to show up an opponent.  It seemed every inning he was encouraging, congratulating and cajoling his teammates.    He smiled a whole lot as well, something many athletes should emulate.  Baseball and other sports are a kid’s game and no one exemplified being a kid that more than Gary Carter.   While I couldn’t stand the 1986 Mets I never had a problem with Carter.  I actually enjoyed his mannerisms and the fact he was out there having fun.  Back then he also made several commercials for the Leukemia Society.  That was the first time an athlete made an impression on me about a non-baseball related manner.  You received an autographed photo when making a donation.  I am sure after filming with Carter, the kids in those commercials felt they could beat that dreaded disease because he had their backs.  Now it is time to tell Gary Carter we’ve got his back.

Get well soon, Kid.  We are praying for you.

Arbitrate This

With the start of Spring Training a mere four weeks away, fans and players alike are getting the itch to see some Florida palm trees and Arizona cactuses.  For a potential 142 players and their respective organizations, their Spring Training will start differently and probably more painfully.  That is because between February 1st and February 21st, hearings will be held for salary arbitration, the process by which player and team can not agree on contract terms.  The player and management will each submit their own numbers and a third-party arbiter will determine which figure will be the player’s salary for the upcoming season.  By its very nature, arbitration is anything but fun in the sun and while there is a winner and a loser, nobody really wins.

Baseball’s version of arbitration began in 1974 and it centers around players who have had anywhere between two and six years of service time in the Majors and are not yet eligible for free agency.  The idea is for both club and player to submit figures based on the current market value of a player of similar production.  While intentions are good for both sides (control for up to six years for ownership, fair value for player) the proceedings expose two troublesome areas for the overall game.

One effect is the enormous spike in payroll a single arbitration case can have for a team.  Take Clayton Kershaw, for example.  He was paid $500,000 for his Cy Young season in 2011.  He deserves to get a significant raise.   Kershaw’s side  has submitted a $10 million dollar figure for arbitration while the Dodgers have countered with $6.5 million.  At the very least, the Dodger payroll will rise by $6 million dollars for just one player, a significant amount of money considering  the financial woes of the organization.   That could impact other moves the team would like to make like shore up the bullpen or get another bat behind Matt Kemp.  Perhaps if the Dodgers were smart, they would try to work out a long term deal starting with an $8 or $9 million figure for 2012 but less dollars than would be spent if they go through arbitration two more times with Kershaw.

The other effect is the inevitable hard feelings that will emerge once the hearing is complete.  The Dodgers will no doubt try every means possible to win their case, even if they upset the Kershaw camp.  They’ll point out he gave up two more homers in 2011 than 2010 or that his number of wild pitches stayed the same between the two seasons.   It is hard to knit-pick a 21-5, 2.28 ERA, 248 strikeout season so maybe they will use more personal language.  There is a chance both sides come out of the process with feelings that may never go away.  Don Mattingly won his 1987 arbitration case and owner George Steinbrenner was not too pleased with the outcome.  That led to some hard feelings between Mattingly and Steinbrenner that probably lasted well into Mattingly’s retirement.

Salary arbitration seems to be part of the business of baseball for good.  Owners and players alike would be wise to avoid this process at all costs.  Perhaps many of them can keep it strictly professional but they are all human and it doesn’t take much to make it personal.

A is for Absent

Last week, I published an entry about the Mets and how the franchise, beloved by many for years was now in a precarious stage of their existence.  Today, I turn my attention to the Oakland A’s, a team that has had a lot more success, both historically and more recently than the Mets.

Do you care to guess which team not named the Yankees has won more World Series over the last 40 years?  That would be Oakland.  Granted, three of those titles came in the early 1970′s but it wasn’t that long ago when they appeared in three consecutive World Series (1988-1990, winning in 1989).  Of course, there is also the run the team had in the 2000′s winning four division titles.  The A’s have made 15 playoff appearances over the past four decades, second also to the Yankees.   However, for all of their success, they have had an equal amount of controversy.  The great A’s teams of the 70′s were known just as much for fighting (physically and monetarily) as they were for their Championships.  The teams of the late 80′s and early 90′s became the epicenter of steroid suspicion, if not flat-out steroid use.  Now comes the long rumored move to San Jose, about 35 miles south of Oakland.

In the past under Billy Beane, the A’s managed to stay competitive even after their best players would walk away.  With the exception of Jason Giambi who turned down the A’s $90 million dollar offer for the $120 million dollar Yankee offer, most stars walked away with no offer and only draft picks as compensation.  The trades of guys like Mark Mulder brought back prospects who kept the A’s going.  However, that run of good luck seems to have run out at the moment.  And now the current situation is making the team worse.

Since the A’s are in limbo on the move to San Jose, they are now trading their best young pitchers for prospects.  Instead of signing these guys to club-friendly contracts, they are being moved for prospects that MAY be ready IF they ever get to San Jose.  Gio Gonzalez was just traded to Washington and signed a 5 year-$42 million contract with club options for another two years.   Are you telling me the A’s couldn’t have done that by backloading the deal?  They could have used the Matt Moore contact as a blueprint for Gonzalez as well as Andrew Bailey and Trevor Cahill.   There is no chance of an improvement in the standings or in attendance.   Would you want to pay rising prices for a less valuable commodity?  In the past, the pitchers are what kept Oakland afloat.  Now it seems the A’s organization has tossed the Oakland fan base into the garbage as they wait on a new, tax-payer palace to be built hopefully by 2014.

What has happened to the Oakland A’s is just as sad as what has happened to the New York Mets.  The difference is Oakland is 3,000 miles from New York and therefore, less people seem to care.

Cashing In

The Yankees and Mariners made an interesting trade on Friday.  By acquiring Michael Pineda and Jose Campos for top prospect Jesus Montero  and promising Hector Noesi, General Manager Brian Cashman is risking the organization’s top minor league player for Pineda who started quickly but compiled an ERA of 4.74 over his final 17 starts.   Rookie wall?  Perhaps.  However if it is a harbinger of things to come and Montero turns out to be the hitter everyone forecasts him to be, this deal will look bad for New York. 

Brian Cashman is entering his 15th year as the Yankees GM, a remarkable accomplishment as any in sports given the organization and the media market.  Critics may point out that the size of the Yankee payroll gives him a big advantage over most executives.  Some of that may be true but there is also no job in baseball that has as much pressure. Also, there have been plenty of organizations that have spent big money and have had either mixed success (think Dodgers and Cubs) and spectacular misses (think Orioles).  A fair examination of his record will show that Brian Cashman has done an excellent job in his tenure as Yankees General Manager.

When Cashman assumed the role in 1998, he sought to solidify the winning Yankee ways begun by Gene Michael and continued by Bob Watson.  His trade for Scott Brosius (giving up enigma Kenny Rogers) along with the signing of Chili Davis were more under the radar than the headline-grabbing, Steinbrenner-esq trades of Chuck Knoblauch and Roger Clemens but just as valuable to the success of the team.  His trade for David Justice during the 2000 season ensured the Yankees of a third straight World Series title and very nearly a fourth in 2001.  Starting with the signing of Jason Giambi in 2002, it seemed the George Steinbrenner model of a star at every position started to surface with players such as Gary Sheffield, Randy Johnson and Alex Rodriguez eventually sporting the Pinstripes.  Whether or not the Steinbrenner influence was there, the trades for Johnson and Rodriguez made baseball perfect sense.  The Yankees had a need at Third Base and Rodriguez was available at the price of Alfonso Soriano and a minor leaguer.  Johnson was coming of a 16 win, 290 strikeout season for a dreadful Arizona team and was acquired for 2nd half flameout Javier Vazquez and two other minor leaguers.  Just because Johnson didn’t work as planned and A-Rod’s new contract is an albatross (not Cashman’s fault) doesn’t mean those transactions were not good trades.  

I would say the only real big time busts were the signings of Kei Igawa and Jaret WrightAJ Burnett is severely overpaid but has shaken off the injury bug that dogged him early in his career and pitched decently in 2009 when the Yanks won the World Series.  You could argue Carl Pavano  was a bust as well but only in the sense that he barely pitched during his four years with the team.  He was a free agent in demand at the time he was signed.  Igawa was the hopeful Yankee answer to Daisuke Matsuzaka and Wright had disaster written all over him after one nice season with the Braves.

Brian Cashman will never get a fair shake from those who detest the large bankroll of the New York Yankees.  It is a shame because an achievement of 13 playoff seasons in 14 years as General Manager is a smashing success in any sport and in any market.  Maybe it will take a few years away from the game to fully appreciate the remarkable job Cashman has done.  By that time, he could very well have a plaque in Cooperstown.

Met Mayhem

It is a shame to see what is going on with the New York Mets.

The truth is, whether or not you are a Mets fan you too should be disappointed.   It is not good for baseball to have one of the teams in the biggest media market to be a mess both on and off the field.  And make no mistake about it, New York is a baseball town first and foremost.  Football is definitely the most popular sport in the country but in the two biggest markets (New York and Los Angeles) baseball is king.

But I digress.

I know a lot of Met fans, really good fans like my sister, and I feel badly for all of them.  It is understandable to go though some rebuilding and watching a couple of lousy seasons during the process.  Met fans are used to do that.  But when you couple the latest overhaul with an ownership equal parts tone-deaf and borderline broke, you can see why Met fans have more issues than just the 2012 season.  And for all of the Yankee fans who say they feel their pain because of the 80′s and early 90′s, stop it.  The Yankees had the most wins in baseball between 1980 and 1989.  Their four really down years were 1989-1992 with a combined record of 288-359.  At this point, the current Mets’ run could be much worse.

The saddest part of this is that when the Mets are really good,  they can easily compete with the Yankees for the affections of the 8 million baseball fans in the area .   I wasn’t alive in 1969 when the Mets won the World Series but that team is talked about like some sort of deity.  In 1986, the Mets OWNED this town.  Even though the Yankees have had great success since 1996, there hasn’t been a hotter ticket in town (not even The Lion King on Broadway) than that Mets team.   In fact, I would venture to say that between 1983 when Tom Seaver returned and Darryl Strawberry arrived and 1992, the Mets had more fans than the Yankees.  And for all of the great Yankee moments, I don’t think any of them can compare to this Mike Piazza home run.    The Mets will always be the underdog in New York so when they are good as was the case in 2006,  it seems like more people in and out of the area are pulling for them. 

For you Met fans that think you have nothing to look forward to in 2012, allow yourself to dream this scenario.  It is September 1st and after a good 1st half,  the Mets go on a New York Islander-esq 4-16 stretch during the latter part of August.   They find themselves in Miami playing the Marlins in their brand-new crookedly financed stadium.  It is the 7th inning and the Mets are down a run.   David Wright hits a ball that goes through the legs of Jose Reyes.  Starting pitcher Carlos Zambrano glares at Reyes then proceeds to pull a swiss army knife from inside his glove and chase Reyes off the field.  Hanley Ramirez is so excited that he can finally go back to Shortstop that he cartwheels to his left.  Ozzie Guillen comes out of the dugout to yell at Ramirez for being out of position and the two of them brawl from the pitcher’s mound to the aquarium behind home plate.   Heath Bell comes in the 9th inning to preserve a one run lead when Ike Davis blasts a grand slam off him with two outs and send the Mets to victory.  After that, the Marlins go 8-20 the rest of the season and finish out of the playoffs.   Hanley Ramirez is then forced to spend Spring Training 2013 as Billy the Marlin.

Does that bring a smile to your faces?

Numbers Everywhere

Since we are up to the 20th entry of this blog, I figured a celebration would be in order.  Baseball is a game about numbers, sometimes too much of them but most of the time they can be fun.  The numbers to follow are not the well-known baseball ones like 56 and 755.  Rather they are numbers that can amaze, amuse or inform.  And that is the purpose of writing this blog.  So let’s begin with the number that represents this post.

20-I admit it, the number 20 seems a tad boring.  But then you have to look all of the famous players that have donned that uniform.  You can start with the allegedly retiring Jorge Posada.  Then there is Boston’s favorite shortstop, Bucky Dent.  There have been a total of 5 Hall of Famers that wore 20 including all-time great Frank Robinson.   For my money, the best player to ever wear the number 20 is Mike Schmidt.   He led the National League in home runs 8 times and won 3 MVP awards. Schmidt was no slouch with the glove either, collecting 10 Gold Gloves.  He is easily one of the best combinations of hitting and fielding ever and was arguably the best player of the late 70′ and all of the 80′s.

672-If I had told you there was a player in the Hall of Fame who went by the name of “Rabbit”, you’d lock me up and make me watch reruns of “Dance Moms”.  Well, Rabbit Maranville is in the Hall of Fame and 672 represents the number of at bats he had in 1922 without hitting a single home run.  For his career, he hit 28 home runs in 10,078  at-bats.  You would think that with such little power he probably had a high batting average.  Wrong again.  His career number is .258.  That would tell us that he is in the Hall of Fame because his glovework was off the charts.  Since he played so long ago, we have to assume he would have been the Ozzie Smith of his day.

2,405-That is the number of games Buddy Bell played in without seeing action in one playoff game.  However, instead of just stopping there, people should realize what a tremendous player Bell was.   He appeared in 5 All-Star Games and earned 6 Gold Gloves.  His best season came in 1979 when he hit 18 home runs with 101 RBI’s, batted .299 and led the American League with 670 at-bats.  Bell’s problem was that he played on some really wretched teams in Cleveland and Texas.  He is one of the most underappreciated players of his time and hopefully, this and other outlets will give him some more love.

7,132-There are actually two numbers that belong here so I started with the greater one.  The other number in this equation is 114.  Hall of Famer Joe Sewell had 7,132 at-bats and 114 represents the number of times Sewell struck out in his CAREER.  How many current and past players had at least 114 strikeouts in one season?  Right, none of us can count that high.  On average, Sewell struck out 10 times during a 162 game season.  His fewest number of strikeouts in a season was 4.  Oh yeah, he had 699 at-bats and drove in 98 runs that very same year.  That my friends is truly remarkable and are the type of numbers that need to be repeated more often.

15,189-The number of views I hope this blog records over the next 48 hours.

A Day For Raines

They are supposed to announce the latest inductions into the Hall of Fame tomorrow.  Perhaps by the time you read this, we will already know who is in.   If there is anyone voted in, chances are it will be Barry Larkin who gets the call.  Jeff Bagwell and Jack Morris both stand a good chance as well although they may have to wait another year or two.   However, one player who probably won’t get in and may have a very long wait ahead of him will be Tim Raines.

For a period of time it seemed as though the National League version of Rickey Henderson was Tim Raines.  In his prime years, Raines had a higher batting average than Henderson during the same period.  “Rock” burst onto the scene with the Montreal Expos in 1981, finishing second for the National League Rookie of the Year.  He is the only player to steal 70 or more bases in six consecutive seasons, finishing his career with 808 thefts, good for fifth all time.  Raines was a seven time All-Star (MVP of the Game in 1987) who finished in the Top 10 in MVP voting three times.  In 1986, he led the NL in both batting average (.334) and on-base percentage (.413).

Sometimes, one has to look beyond the numbers to appreciate the greatness of a player.  Raines’s nearly 1,000 RBI’s and gaudy stolen base numbers (along with a lifetime .294 batting average) may not be appealing to many voters.  However, for almost decade, Tim Raines was as dominant a player as you could find in the National League.  His combination of speed and power, although not as strong as Henderson’s, nevertheless gave opposing pitchers and managers many sleepless nights.  Also, don’t discount the fact he was a winning player.  The Expos made their only playoff appearance in 1981, Raines’s rookie season.  In 1993, the White Sox won their first division title in a decade with Raines leading off and hitting .306 with a .401 on base percentage.  And of course, he collected two World Series rings as a member of the Yankees.  Who could forget his stumbling catch to end Game 4 of the 1996 World Series?

Tim Raines would have been much more appreciated if those Montreal numbers came while playing for the Yankees.  Market size should not determine greatness.  Ask any of Tim Raines’s peers if he belongs in the Hall of Fame.  I am sure 95% of them would give a resounding “yes” to that question.

Replay Rising

I want it to go away.

I want replay in baseball to go away because the slippery slope that it will eventually become has just left the starting gate. 

Beginning in 2012, replay will be expanded from fair or foul home runs, fan interference and whether a ball left the field on a home run to include determining if a ball was caught or trapped in the outfield.  Already, people are wondering and clamoring for replay to be expanded again to include safe or out and hit by a pitch/not hit by a pitch.  I am sure at some point those reviews will be allowed and supposedly everyone will be satisfied.

Before you get what you wish for, watch this clip and ponder the following question. 

If replay was available and the runner is called out correctly, what happens to the batter?  Keep in mind there is one out in the inning.

A-Call him out (he fell down while running to first).

B-Call him safe as no throw was made.

C-Send the hitter back to the plate with two outs and no runner on third. 

None of the three choices seem to be the right answer, do they?  Then how can replay be instituted when you cannot have a definite outcome of the entire play?  We can’t act as though one part of the play didn’t happen without the other.  You can’t automatically call the runner safe or out because the play was not completed.  And to have a do-over?  What is this, second grade Wiffle Ball?  “I wanna do-over or else I quit”. 

Here is the other thing.  If you are to use replay for one disputed call, you have to use it for all close calls.  You can’t choose to review a questionable play at first base without reviewing whether or not that same batter checked his swing on the previous pitch.  Let’s examine that scenario.  Suppose the Mets are playing the Marlins in their new but questionably financed stadium.  David Wright legs out a base hit only to have the replay show the throw to first beat him by a step.  Then later in the game, the enemy known as Jose Reyes checks his swing and walks on a 3-2 slider .  The replay shows he did go around but since the call is not reviewable, Reyes stands on first and scores the eventual winning run.   Are you telling me that is acceptable?  I would much rather have no replay than having the opposing team get the benefit of replay on a particular call but my team can’t because the call it is not reviewable. 

For replay to work and be truly be error-free, every single close call must be reviewed.   As much as I love baseball, I don’t want to spend 6 hours in a stadium because there were 100 reviewable calls in the game.  Besides, if replay was used for every close play we couldn’t have arguments like this.

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