Dealing With Knockdown Pitches: Many Current Players Could Learn a Lot from Lee May

The world of baseball lost a truly great one over the weekend.

Lee May, known as “The Big Bopper from Birmingham” died on Saturday at age 74.  He was a star and a leader on several teams (Reds, Astros, Orioles and Royals) during his 18-year career.1

He hit 354 homers place him tied for 88th on the all-time list.2  Several of today’s young stars will certainly pass him some day.

While two of them in particular, Washington’s rightfielder and Baltimore’s third baseman could eclipse May easily, it would behoove them to copy May’s cool-headed answer to the game’s conflicts.

In the early days of the Big Red Machine, he often batted behind the likes of Pete Rose, Alex Johnson, Johnny Bench, Tony Perez and Bobby Tolan. So, it wasn’t rare that he was following a number of hits, including homers by these teammates. It was the era of the unwritten rule that when a team began hammering an opposing pitcher, a batter would eventually be knocked down as the pitcher tried to establish that he would not be intimidated by reclaiming the inside part of the plate. 

With his position in the Reds batting order, Lee May was a common target. These knockdown pitches were sometimes referred to as “purpose pitches” which at least one sportswriter commented that the purpose was to separate the batter’s head from his shoulders.  Baseball in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s wasn’t the Wild West, but it held the expectation that if this happened, you simply dusted yourself off and made your point with your performance and not with the posturing of many of today’s major leaguers.

Back to May, he dealt with such affronts in a most effective manner which this writer remembers from his childhood.  Paraphrasing those common events (hey, can’t remember all of the words exactly, it’s been almost 50 years!) the late Jim McIntyre, former voice of the Reds: “And down goes May. He had to know that was coming after the way his teammates have roughed up [name] this inning. Heh, heh. He climbs back into the box, waving his bat.  You know, pitchers should learn not to do that because— and there it goes to deep left! And number 23, LEE MAY, has answered with a shot of his own.”

No fanfare, no staring at the pitcher like a ruffled rooster. Just plain and simple: act like a pro then hit like one.

You will be missed, Lee, and we’re grateful for having had you on our team.

 

1http://www.wlwt.com/article/reds-hall-of-famer-lee-may-dies-at-age-74/10383742

2 https://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/HR_career.shtml

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Suspended NFL Players Aren’t Having Games “Stolen” From Them

The Left’s “no consequences” expectation of life has led to another false implication of wrong treatment, this time a sportswriter commenting on the Cincinnati Bengals’ Adam Jones suspension for one game as the result of an arrest in January.

“This is also the first [Bengals] player of any consequence to see games stolen [emphasis added] from football since Cedric Benson had a three-game suspension reduced to one upon appeal for misdemeanor assault cases in 2011.”1

Jones was arrested for an incident at the Millenium Hotel in downtown Cincinnati.  Police charged him with “misdemeanor assault, disorderly conduct, obstructing official business and felony harassment with a bodily substance.”  The original felony charge, harassment with a bodily substance because he spit on a nurse,3  was dismissed by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joseph Deters, but the misdemeanors were deferred to the county’s municipal court2 where he later entered a guilty plea.4

The agreement between the NFL and the players has moral clauses in its standard player contracts.

“Par. 2: EMPLOYMENT AND SERVICES. Club employs Player as a skilled football player. Player accepts such employment. He agrees to give his best efforts and loyalty to the Club, and to conduct himself on and off the field with appropriate recognition of the fact that the success of professional football depends largely on public respect for and approval of those associated with the game.”

” Par. 15: INTEGRITY OF GAME. Player recognizes the detriment to the League and professional football that would result from impairment of public confidence in the…integrity and good character of NFL players. Player therefore acknowledges his awareness that if he…is guilty of any other form of conduct reasonably judged by the League Commissioner to be detrimental to the League or professional football, the Commissioner will have the right, but only after giving Player the opportunity for a hearing at which he may be represented by counsel of his choice, to fine Player in a reasonable amount; to suspend Player for a period certain or indefinitely; and/or to terminate this contract.”5

“Stolen” is the past participle of “to steal” which is “to take (the property of another or others) without permission or right, especially secretly or by force.”6

If Adam Jones signs a contract just like every other player in the NFL, damages the “public respect for and approval of those associated with the game,” and is suspended as provided by paragraph 15 of the contract—how is that stealing a game from him?

 

 

1 – “Jones suspended one game by NFL,” by Paul Dehner Jr., Kentucky Enquirer, 7/22/2017.

2 – “Prosecutor:  Felony charge dismissed against Bengals’ Adam Jones,” by Amanda Kelley, http://www.wlwt.com/article/prosecutor-felony-charge-dismissed-against-adam-jones/9167558, 3/22/2017.

3 – “Video:  Adam Jones tells cop ‘I hope you die’,” by Kevin Grasha, https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2017/01/23/video-adam-jones-tells-cop-hope-you-die/96969964/, 1/24/2017.

4 – “Bengals’ Adam Jones suspended by NFL for first game of 2017 season,” by Will Brinson, https://www.cbssports.com/nfl/news/bengals-adam-jones-suspended-by-nfl-for-first-game-of-2017-season/, 7/21/2017.

5 – “Current Ethical Issues In Sports Law,” Marquette University School of Law, by Scott A. Andresen (Andresen and Associates, P.C.), https://law.marquette.edu/assets/sports-law/pdf/Andresen.pdf, 7/9/2015.

6http://www.dictionary.com/browse/stolen

Baseball Players are Being Referred to as Mere “Pieces” More Frequently

[also posted on http://www.cartaremi.wordpress.com]

All industries and cultures have jargon.  Sometimes it involves the creation of entirely new words as the IT business does frequently (e.g. malware and defragging), while other commonly used words are simply redefined over time such as “backlog” or “cell.”1

Baseball is no different.  It has terms first used in other sports:  screw ball, grand slam and innings.2,3,4  It has also come up with a few of its own:  sacrifice fly5 and squeeze play.6

Conversational lexicon changes daily especially when modern media like Twitter truncates words and invents abbreviations like “LOL.”  Baseball has its own innovations with the word “piece” being most popular during June and July as the no-waiver trading deadline approaches.  It is used to represent the player(s) who are available to attract big name stars in return.  When used excessively, it seems to reduce the status of a human player to mere pawns in a game.  True, players may feel that way if their contracts give them limited say in what happens to them.  However, we should try to maintain respect so as not to diminish the dignity of the person.  Otherwise, we end up with these:

“And it doesn’t hurt that he’s on a cheap contract that runs out after the season, making him a fairly easy and obvious trade piece if the A’s remain buried in the AL West… Either way, barring a turnaround from the Bucs, he seems quite likely to be a top trade piece this summer… With free agency beckoning, the veteran reliever is probably the Phils’ clearest trade piece… Neither veteran is hitting much early on, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t still likely trade pieces… It’s not quite clear whether Atlanta will end up looking to move these moderately priced veterans, but both are swinging the bat well and could be useful pieces in the right situation.”7

It becomes more impersonal with those participating in fantasy leagues:

“In life, it’s always nice to get a deal and in fantasy, that can come in the form of trading pieces that have been performing beyond and below expectations… I’d even trade for Wil Myers because you can probably get an extra piece back with him with how hot Zimmerman’s been… Some pieces I would trade him for include Ryan Braun, Xander Bogaerts, and Jonathan Villar.”8

Those who are employees or stakeholders in a firm should consider how they’d feel if they were referred to as “pieces of the company.”

 

1 – “Backlog meant the biggest log in the fire during colonial times. Today, it means a reserve or a pile of work you still need to plow through… Cell used to mean jail! Or a tiny part of your body…” said Amy Richards.
Today, of course, it’s also what you call your phone,” from “These Everyday Words Used To Have Completely Different Meanings,” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/26/words-that-have-changed-meaning_n_4847343.html, 2/26/2014.

2 – “The first published reference in the OED [Oxford English Dictionary] is from an 1866 book on cricket: “A ‘screw’ ball, which in slow bowling would describe the arc of a circle from the pitch to the wicket, becomes in fast bowling a sharp angle.” – from “Screwball etymologies,” by Patricia T. O’Conner and Stewart Kellerman, https://www.grammarphobia.com/blog/2009/01/screwball-etymologies.html, 1/29/2009.

–“This term originated in the early1800s in the card game of whist (forerunner of contract bridge), where itrefers to the taking of all thirteen tricks. It later was extended to bridgeand various sports, where it has different meanings: in baseball, a homerun hit with runners on all the bases, resulting in four runs for the team; in tennis, winning all four national championships in a single calendar year;  in golf, winning all four major championships. In the 1990s the term was used for four related proposals presented on a ballot at once.”
From http://www.dictionary.com/browse/grand-slam

4 – “Cricket originated in England in the 1300s and became a mainstream sport four hundred years later… A match is divided into innings. During an innings, one team bats while the other team bowls and fields.”  From http://www.learn-cricket.com/eng/basics1.php

5 – “The sacrifice fly was adopted as an official rule in 1954, at which point it was distinguished from the sacrifice bunt. Before 1954, Major League Baseball went back and forth as to whether a sacrifice fly should be counted statistically. In the years that it was counted (1908-31 and ’39), it was grouped together with the sacrifice bunt as simply a “sacrifice.”  From http://m.mlb.com/glossary/standard-stats/sacrifice-fly

6 – “An April 20, 1905 Chicago Tribune article stated:  ‘[Ducky] Holmes tried to “squeeze” in the run which would have won the game with a bunt, but it went foul.’”
“The first use of the term “squeeze play” can be found in the Chicago Tribune five days later when an article stated:  ‘[New York Highlanders] manager [Clark] Griffith says he has a new one called the “squeeze play,” which is working wonders.’”  From https://sports.stackexchange.com/questions/4593/why-is-a-squeeze-bunt-referred-to-as-such

7 – “Top 30 Trade Deadline Candidates For 2017,” by Jeff Todd, https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2017/05/top-30-trade-deadline-candidates-for-2017.html, 5/19/2017.

8 – “7 Players to Trade Now (Fantasy Baseball),” by Clinton Ho, https://www.fantasypros.com/2017/05/7-players-to-trade-now-may-2017/, 5/12/2017.

“Framing Pitches” Has Ceased Being a Virtue

“Framing” pitches is no longer something to be proud of.  Initially, it seemed to mean that a catcher was ensuring his pitching teammate did not lose strike calls because he allowed his glove to drift slightly after catching a pitch “on the black.”

However, recent film clips on the MLB channel have shown that it has digressed to catchers giving a last second move of the glove on receiving an outside pitch to make it look like the pitch clipped the corner of the strike zone.

True, umpires are charged to call balls and strikes based on where the ball crosses the plate, not where it enters the catcher’s glove.   However, catchers who are adept at making non-strikes look like strikes are taking unfair advantage of unavoidable human limitations when umpires have to judge pitches thrown at 85-100+ mph while, at the same time, watch to see whether the batter interferes with the catcher or vice versa, determine whether a batter may have checked his swing on a given pitch, while also being on guard for a possible hit batter or foul tip which would negate a strike three if it was dropped. (Perhaps this is an argument for technology being used in balls and strikes — a topic for another time!) 

It’s not unfair to try deceiving an opponent who only has to keep track of a ball and a few fielders around him (e.g. to avoid being victimized by the hidden ball trick), but it’s unsportsmanlike to attempt misleading home plate umpires, the game’s defenders of justice, who have many more possibilities to be aware of on each pitch.

LeBron Hasn’t Replaced Oscar Yet!

As Bill James cautioned in his book, “The Politics of Glory,” the “we-can-make-a-group” argument can be used in error to make a player appear more exclusive than he really is.  In the book, he was commenting on various approaches employed to make it look like someone should be in the baseball Hall of Fame when such may not really be the case.  This discussion is applicable to all sports when attempting to declare a player’s uniqueness.

From the book, he described:  “the only player in baseball history who had 2,500 hits, 200 homers, and 200 stolen bases who isn’t in the Hall of Fame.  Vada Pinson.   There are six players in baseball history who have that combination – Aaron, Mays, Frank Robinson, Joe Morgan, Reggie Jackson and Vada Pinson, all Hall of Famers except Vada… Want Al Oliver instead?  Simple.  Just take the Vada Pinson list, change ‘200 stolen bases’ to a ‘.300 average’.  Now you’ll have a list of thirteen players, all of whom are Hall of Famers except Oliver.  He and Pinson were truly fine players, but their place in history can be overstated.

Getting back to LeBron James and Oscar Robertson.  It would not be sensible to challenge LeBron’s rightful place in basketball’s Hall of Fame once he retires and becomes eligible.  However, there was a recent article which used the same “we-can-make-a-group” tactic to imply that he’s unique beyond all who have ever played.

The article described the NBA’s great triple threat with: “The 31-year old is the only player with 27,000 points, 7,000 assists and 7,000 rebounds.”1  (His current log shows 27,521 points, 7,046 assists and 7,281 rebounds.2)

To reiterate, LeBron is a marvel for the ages.  He’s one of a select few who can essentially carry a team single-handedly in a big game.

What  About  Oscar?

But for those of us who grew up with the NBA of the 1960’s, we must speak up for Oscar Robertson who had 26,710 points, 9,887 assists and 7,804 rebounds.And, given that Robertson played before the NBA adopted the three-point field goal and that he made 9,508 baskets, it’s safe to assume that he would have had at least another 290 field goals that would have counted for the points needed to put him into the “LeBron Group” while exceeding LeBron’s assists by a significant amount.

Let’s  Not  Forget  Other  Greatest  of  the  Greatest

However, the main point to be made is that by looking beyond the arbitrary 27,000-7,000-7,000 grouping, we can find players who exceeded LeBron’s stats in two of the areas by huge margins, which temper the his OMG factor if we were to be texting.

Make it 30,000 points, 4,500 assists and 20,000 rebounds, we find Wilt Chamberlain as the unique triple threat.  He totaled 31419, 4643 and 23924 respectively.  He was also the only center to have the most assists in a season which makes him the only player to lead the NBA in points, rebounds and assists in the same season.3  Change the grouping to 38,000 points, 5,500 assists and 17,000 rebounds and we find the incredible Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who had 38387 pts, 5660 ast and 17440 rbds.2

A  Slight  Tweak  and  LeBron  is  Replaced!

Returning to similar stats of the “LeBron Group”, make the totals 26,000 points, 6,000 assists and 7,000 rebounds and LeBron has company (John Havlicek who had 26,395 pts, 6,114 ast and 8,007 rbds).  As we can see, make a slight change to 8,000 rebounds and LeBron falls out of the group for now.

LeBron James is truly one for the ages.  He is one of the all-time great multi-faceted threats on the court. The point is: be wary of arbitrary groupings.  They can exaggerate a player’s uniqueness by unfairly ignoring other superstars of the game.

 

 

1 – “LeBron keeps filling record books,” by the Associated Press, no author listed and as appeared in the Kentucky Enquirer, 12/12/2016.

2www.basketball-reference.com

3  — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_career_achievements_by_Wilt_Chamberlain

Was This a Misprint? Teaching Non-Violence Through Football?

It’s encouraging to see people come together to improve community life for children of all ages and backgrounds in urban areas.  Tomorrow’s adult citizens and leaders truly benefit when the current generation of adults takes the time to work with kids.

For example, Major League Baseball is in its 27th season of the “RBI” programs which stands for Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities.  The initiative goes beyond learning the game of baseball, which admittedly has lost some of its appeal with the proliferation of video games and a constant action lifestyle.  (The footnote below describes a few of these MLB community programs.1)

This writer will admit to having a bias toward the baseball.  However, this inclination did not having any bearing on what caught his attention in a recent newspaper.2  The article described the University of Cincinnati’s youth involvement with the community leaders and their projects.  Excellent!  We need more of these outreach activities.

The confusing part was about one in particular: “The goal is to promote nonviolence and collaboration between youths of different neighborhoods through football.”  Perhaps, it was chosen over ice hockey and rugby?  😀

 

 1 – “RBI leagues also are provided with a community version of Breaking Barriers: In Sports, In Life; a character education program based on the values demonstrated by Jackie Robinson. It is designed to teach children the values and traits they need to deal with barriers, obstacles and challenges in their lives. Other off-field programs are provided by the Partnership for Drug Free Kids with their Time to Talk, Play Healthy, and Not in my House character education programs aimed at preventing and handling drug and alcohol abuse. The Taylor Hooton Foundation’ Hoot’s Chalk Talk raises awareness and provides education on the subject of the use of APEDs.”

“Major League Baseball Charities, Inc. established the RBI (Runs Batted In) for RBI (Reviving Baseball in Inner-Cities) Scholarship Fund in 2007 to help provide financial assistance to youth who participate in the RBI program and wish to pursue secondary education. The RBI for RBI Scholarship provides annual scholarships of up to $5,000 to up to twelve RBI student-athletes who demonstrate academic achievement, leadership qualities, and financial need. Since 2008, the RBI for RBI Scholarship program has helped 88 RBI student-athletes to enroll in prestigious institutions of higher learning across the country, including: Columbia University, Citadel University, Morehouse College (HBCU), Tuskegee University (HBCU), UCLA, University of Florida, Bucknell University, James Madison University, and Wittenberg University.”
Note: HBCU stands for “historically black colleges and universities.”

http://web.mlbcommunity.org/programs/rbi.jsp?content=history

2 – “Peace Bowl at UC about more than just football,” by Kate Murphy, The Kentucky Enquirer, 8/1/2016.  Sub-heading:  “10th annual event gives kids a chance to be leaders on, off field.”

Bullpen Specialization Has Made the Third Catcher Essentially Extinct

How often do we see a manager facing the dilemma of wanting to bat for his catcher, but being reluctant to do because his concern is: suppose the replacement becomes injured?  If that happens, he will have to turn to his emergency catcher– someone who probably hasn’t caught since high school.

Why is this?  Except for four years (1986-1989) when the roster limit was 24 players, major league teams have been allowed to carry 25 players throughout Baby Boomer lives before the annual September expanded rosters.1  As a Reds fans, I remember the 1966-67 Cincinnati had catchers Johnny Edwards, Don Pavletich and Jim Coker.  The latter two were in more than 30 games each and in each year. Granted, flexibility is better served if one of the reserve backstops played elsewhere– as Pavletich did at 1B, too.  [All stats for games played are from www.baseball-reference.com]

Successful  Teams  of  the Past  Who  Used  More  Than  Two  Catchers

As I didn’t follow these teams as closely, I cannot verify that the three catchers listed were on the ML roster at the same time, but they did have at least catchers who appeared in more than twenty games.

Going back before my awareness of baseball, to the World Champion 1957 Milwaukee Braves, they had starting catcher Del Crandall (who also played the corner OF positions) along with Del Rice (48 games) and Carl Sawatski (28).

The ’61 Yankees, who defeated the Reds in the World Series used Elston Howard as the starting catcher  with John Blanchard as their official back-up.  He played in 48 games behind the plate with 37 of them being for the entire game.  However, they also had eventual Hall of Fame catcher Yogi Berra who was winding down his career behind the plate.  While he is listed as the Yankees main left fielder for that season, he caught in 15 games and certainly was available on a moment’s notice.  (Rookie Jesse Gonder, a catcher by trade, was probably just a September call-up.  He batted 15 times, did not see any time that season behind the plate for New York, but was available to catch down the stretch.)

The ’67 World Champion Cardinals had Tim McCarver, Johnny Romano (52 games) and Dave Ricketts (24 games) as their three catchers.

1969 World Champion Mets had Jerry Grote as the starting backstop along with J.C.Martin and Duffy Dyer getting into 67 and 29 games respectively.

1971 AL Champion Orioles’ starting catcher Elrod Hendricks (who also played in three games at 1B) was backed up by Andy Etchebarren (70) and Clay Dalrymple (23). The Pirates who defeated them in the series that year used Milt May (49 games) and Charlie Sands (28) to spell Manny Sanguillen occasionally.

The 1982 World Champion Cardinals had two catchers seeing significant action in addition to starter Darrell Porter:  Gene Tenace (37 games plus limited time at 1B), Glenn Brummer (32) plus Orlando Sanchez (15).

The 1987 World Champion Twins had two significant back-ups to capable receiver Tim Laudner (16 homers but with a .191 average in 113 games) in Sal Butera (51 games) and Tom Nieto (41).

This is by no means an exhaustive review of teams who used three catchers more than occasionally.

Perhaps  a  Change  Would  Open  Up  Strategy

The difficulty with current baseball philosophy is that more relievers are needed because of concerns for fatigue with the hard throwers commonly found in today’s bullpens.  As a result, teams carry an extra pitcher at the expense of a useful third catcher.

Perhaps if there were more of an emphasis on relief “pitchers” instead of “throwers”, then a manager’s strategy would be less restricted.  Few teams have a player with catching experience who is paid to play elsewhere like the current Cleveland Indians have in Mike Napoli and Carlos Santana.  Their presence gives a capable manager like Terry Francona even more options as they chase a division title.  Other teams should take note.

 

1 – “Major League teams decided to play with 24-man rosters during the first half of the 1978 season (i.e. until July 1) and during the entire season – except for the period of expanded rosters – from 1986 to 1989, as a cost-cutting measure in the face of escalating player salaries. The settlement of the 1990 strike made the 25-man roster a part of the basic collective bargaining agreement and it has not been touched since.”  http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/Roster

Kingman Watch for Big Papi?

Some records happen by accident.  Dave Kingman’s “most home runs for a final season” is one of them.  Don’t get me wrong, he’ll always have a special place in my sports heart as he was a driving force in my second Strat-O-Matic season when I took the 1971 Dodgers (yes, I was in high school then) and traded for the Giants rookie Kingman along with Ken Henderson.  Before our league had the rule limiting players with fewer than 250 AB in the previous season, I used him for a majority of the 122 games I played and he had an amazing 43 doubles, 20 HR and drove in 80 runs.  (Remember, in his initial season of 115 AB, he had an uncharacteristic average of .278 vs. an eventual .236 lifetime average.)

Back to his real career.  Although a prototypical designated hitter, he played most of his career in the NL.  Among his interesting achievements, he homered for four different teams in 1977 (Mets, Padres, Cal. Angels and Yankees).  His propensity for low batting averages gave him the strange distinction of leading the league with 37 homers in 1982, but his average of .204 was lower than the NL Cy Young award winner’s (Steve Carlton .218).

Kingman’s last three years were with the Oakland A’s where he had homer totals of 35, 30 and 35 to finish with a career total of 442, while playing mostly at DH and just a handful of games at first base.  When there were no real takers for him after that 1986 season, he retired.  Thus, his unintentional final season total of 35 HR broke the intentionally final season record of 29 which Ted Williams had in 1960.

But now, another Red Sox could bring that record back to Fenway.  David Ortiz announced before this season that this would be his last.  At the All-Star Break, he has hit 22 homers in Boston’s 87 games.  If he plays out the schedule at the same rate he has to date, he has a shot at 41 homers.  Unlike The Splendid Splinter who bypassed his team’s final games on the road in order to finish in Boston, Ortiz could finish at home with a weekend series against Toronto.  This could make for a fantastically sentimental finish!

“Let’s Shrink the Strike Zone” is the Baseball Equivalent to an Auto or Bank Bailout!

Automobile manufacturers allowed their economics get out of hand and sought a freebie outside of fair market practices.  Later, banks became greedy, made risky decisions and suffered major losses.  So, how were these situations “fixed”?—we citizens picked up the tab for their mistakes in the form of bailouts.

“Too  Big  to  Fail”  Is  a  Bad  Practice  Anywhere

Now that Big Bucks have overtaken baseball , we have unrealistic and excessively high player and cable television contracts.1  (Unless, of course, you think guys like Zack Cozart, Brian Matusz and Hector Santiago deserve more than Babe Ruth in real terms.)

Major League Baseball should allow the marketplace to reach a natural level by permitting the pseudo-baseball fan to depart for the gladiator-style NFL and other violent activities masquerading as “sport.”  However, human nature likes to hang on to extravagant situations, so instead, management and players are considering a hitters bailout:  shrinking the strike zone.2

How  Did  We  Arrive  at  The  Point?

Ever since the power-surge of the 1977 and 1987 seasons, players have been seeking to make names for themselves with more home runs while discarding the strategies which made baseball our national pastime for so many years.  (This is not a request to return to the pre-1920 Dead Ball Era.)  MLB played along with this by intentionally ignoring the Steroid Era for years in order to artificially repair a public image damaged by the strike/lockout of 1994 which canceled the World Series for that year.

Baseball reluctantly began to curb the use of performance enhancing drugs (PED).  To compensate for the reduced power of natural physiques, hitters have continued to whale away with ever-decreasing discipline at the plate.  Consequently, we have a game with more K’s than ever, but with fewer homers, stolen bases and runs scored.  The concern is that the game will lose too many fans to sustain the overly-inflated salaries and advertising expenses.

Smaller  Strike  Zone  Doesn’t  Address  the  Root  Problem

Now MLB is contemplating a “fix” to our game to make it more action-packed, perhaps like video games which may be stealing some of its audience?  It is considering shrinking the strike zone in order to create more hitters’ counts such as “2 and 1” instead of “1 and 2” as was mentioned on the Hot Stove show on the MLB channel today.  It certainly won’t affect the value of the dollar, but it will devalue the sport because  pitchers are not succeeding as a result of an unfair advantage, but because the art of hitting is being neglected.

Ignore  History,  Pay  the  Price

Baseball has a history superior to other professional sports.  And just like the average citizen with regard to our nation’s heritage, many baseball fans have forgotten the game’s basic history and what has made it successful.  When this happens, poor decisions are made.  When MLB was universally accepted as our “national pastime”, it had more efficient offenses despite a strike zone larger than the one we had last season which is being blamed as a cause of the game’s “problems.”  Something doesn’t make sense here.

“But  People  Change”

Very true.  However, the consequences never do.  The universe, economics and baseball included, has a strange way of balancing an unnatural interference by producing negative consequences whenever we try to “have our cake and it eat, too.”  The bailouts have aggravated an already spiraling national debt, threaten a devalued currency and make business people less accountable.

Baseball may accomplish the sports equivalent if it invites a scene of  batting practice during the game.  It will discourage the development of complete players and devalue the game’s records in the same way the Selfish Era of Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, et al did.

Mr. Manfred, baseball is inherently a great game.  Don’t try to create Arena Baseball!

 

1https://sportuoso.wordpress.com/2015/02/11/big-are-a-huge-factor-in-longer-baseball-games/

2 – a history of the strike zone can be found at http://www.baseball-almanac.com/articles/strike_zone_rules_history.shtml.  While proponents of a new strike zone can rightfully argue that the low end of the strike zone was lowered in 1996, they do so while forgetting the “high strike” has been gone since the 1960’s.

Big $ Are a Huge Factor in Longer Baseball Games

Human behavior can be difficult to understand.  The very same people who fantasize over just the possibility of a pill-induced physical condition lasting for four hours requiring medical attention, recoil at the thought of a baseball game lasting three hours.  It takes all kinds, I guess.

When I was became fascinated with this great game in the 1960’s, I recall the Cincinnati Reds yearbook showing the average MLB game to last somewhere in the 2:20’s.  This has now increased to over three hours as the chart shows.

img112

(graph courtesy of USA Today Sports)1

According to the USA Today article, the average time of a game first passed the three hour mark in 2000 when offense was higher.  So what’s causing the games to last longer now, especially since offense is down?

Extra-Inning  Games?

This is one easy category to use as proof – except that even with the recent increase in “extras”, the frequency of games going more than nine innings has actually been trending downward over the last century as follows:

 

img113

(graph is from “Beyond the Ninth Inning,” by Shane Tourtellotte)2

 

More  Pitches  Because  of  More  Strikeouts?

Strikeouts have increased about 44% over the last thirty years.3  There are a few exceptional hitters like the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter who see more pitches because they are more disciplined.  However, that the average number of pitches per plate appearance has gone from 3.6 to 3.8 during that time is mostly due to more pitches needed to produce more strike threes.  With a median number of plate appearances per team per game at 37, this results in seven extra pitches per game.  At the recent average of 23 seconds between pitches1, this adds two minutes and forty-one seconds to a game or about the length of between inning commercials, not much of a cause and effect here…  But, speaking of commercials, could there be something here?

More  Commercials,  Therefore,  Longer  Time  Between  Innings

Recalling my youthful days in the 1960’s, there was typically a one minute commercial between half-innings of a game on radio.  Now, we can count on at least two minutes to help pay for the cable television contracts showing every game everywhere – something not imagined fifty years ago. If we could eliminate this time for the eighteen half-innings in a game (we’ll use extra-innings to offset for the times the home team doesn’t bat in the 9th), we’re at the amount of saved time MLB Vice-President Joe Torre said was the preferred adjustment to game times!4

Why are large cable contracts necessary?  To help pay for ever-increasing player salaries.  Therefore, this is not going to happen.  Big bucks are here to stay pending an Obama-caused socio-economic meltdown.

Another  Impact  of  Big  $

The major league minimum salary has increased by a factor of 32 between 1973 ($15,000) and 2012 ($480,000).  The average salary was $29,303 in 1970 and was just under $3 million in 2009, over a one-hundred fold increase.

With so much at stake, we can see how both coaching staff and players alike are a lot more deliberate in their game strategy.  Management has a much bigger investment to worry about and the players have a lot more at stake.  Again, this part of the game is not going away without a huge national upheaval.

What  About  Requiring  a  Minimum  of  Two  Hitters  per  Relief  Pitcher,  Etc.?

For the true enthusiasts of baseball, we don’t mind receiving our higher ticket priced money’s worth.  But realizing that MLB’s salaries also depend on the support of fans who have very short concentration spans and are in need of constant stimulation, some accommodation is necessary.

A suggestion has been made to require relief pitchers to face a minimum of two batters  instead of the current one hitter.  First of all, it is doubtful that this would have any real impact on game length.  By hamstringing the manager’s strategy, he would probably counter by bringing relievers into games even earlier and we’ll end up with the same number of pitching changes as before.

Why is this likely?  Remember the Rule of Big Bucks, winning is essential at all costs as Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane remarked recently:

“We’ve tried to win every single game every single year I’ve been here…Every game is precious in the Major Leagues, and we treat it that way. Sometimes we do it at the risk of trading some younger players, but I can tell you, we want to win every single game.”6

Another idea is that players should run off the field after the third out so that the next inning can begin promptly.  It would also serve as a good example of hustle to youngsters.  While this is an honorable sentiment,  we must remember the Rule of Big Bucks.  No matter how quickly the players set up for the next team’s turn at bat, they would still have to wait until the ever-lengthening commercials are over.

Can  Anything  be  Done  to  Shorten  Game Times?

There are existing rules which, enforced, can help this situation.

Rule 6.02 which prohibits a batter from unreasonable delay either getting into the batter’s box when it’s his turn or other wasted time.  Part “b’ of the rule has comments which include:

Umpires may grant a hitters request for Time once he is in the batters box, but the umpire should eliminate hitters walking out of the batters box without reason. If umpires are not lenient, batters will understand that they are in the batters box and they must remain there until the ball is pitched.”7

This rule has a greater potential for appearing arbitrary at times than the following rule applying to pitchers.  However, MLB should at least attempt a directive to cut down on a lot of messing around instead of hitting.

Rule 8.04 in MLB’s rule book could come to the rescue.  It says, “When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call ’Ball.’”1

Even as a baseball diehard, I have to agree that this several decades old rule needs to be followed.  I appreciate the intricacies of the game,  but there comes a point where it must be acknowledged that good teams have good preparation and a game plan.  Only a handful of situations should arise that require some deliberation.  Despite what some football people try to declare, sport is not a war necessitating constant time-consuming decision-making!

It may also be a surprise to us that slow play has been discussed since the early days of the National League.  Albert Spalding may have led the NL in its initial 1876 season with 47 wins (remember 45 ft. pitching distance and underhand), but he was also the source of frustration for the 19th century sportswriter, too, who was drawn to hyperbole as the following indicates:

“On receiving the ball, “ a writer for the New York Star wrote about Spalding, ”he raises it in both hands until it is on a level with his left eye.  Striking an attitude he gazes at it two or three minutes in a contemplative way, and then turns it around once or twice to be sure that it is not an orange or coconut.  Assured that he had the genuine article… [and] after a scowl at the shortstop, and a glance at home plate, [he] finally delivers the ball with the precision and rapidity of a cannon shot.”8

Our great game could be sped up some, but maybe we don’t have it as bad after all.  At least we don’t need to seek medical attention after three hours!

 

 

1 – from “Why are baseball games getting so much longer,” by Ted Berg, http://ftw.usatoday.com/2014/09/mlb-games-length-three-hours-pace-of-play, 9/30/2014

2http://www.hardballtimes.com/beyond-the-ninth-inning/, 5/8/2014

3 – from MLB data listed in “Banning Defensive Shifts in Baseball is an Incredibly Illogical Idea, https://sportuoso.wordpress.com/2015/02/03/banning-defensive-shifts-in-baseball-is-an-incredibly-illogical-idea/, 2/3/2015

4 – “We’d like to be able to cut the name 10-15 minutes and get it around the 2:50 mark to get it a little more reasonable for people coming to the ballpark,” Joe Torre quoted in the same article as in footnote #1

5 – from “Minimum Salary,” http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/minimum_salary

6 – from “Revamped A’s expect to contend in AL West,” by Jane Lee, http://m.athletics.mlb.com/news/article/108704324/as-still-al-west-contenders-despite-roster-shakeup-for-2015, 2/8/2015

7http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/official_rules/batter_6.jsp

8 – page 91 of “Old-Time Baseball,” by Harvey Frommer, Taylor Trade Publishing an imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Lanham, Maryland, 2006

Banning Defensive Shifts in Baseball is an Incredibly Illogical Idea

Fact:  number of defensive shifts has increased nearly 500 percent, from 2,464 in 2010 to 13,296 in 20141

Fact:  In 2006, there were 23,599 runs scored during the regular season. In 2014, there were 19,761.This is a 16% decrease.

Therefore, baseball needs to outlaw defensive shifts.  WRONG.  We can avoid a doctoral thesis by concentrating on three issues –all showing this proposal to be nonsensical.

POINT  #1 : The  shift gives an unfair advantage to the team on defense

The proponents of the ban may have forgotten this, but a major league baseball field covers a lot of real estate, even in today’s smaller parks.  The catcher and pitcher are fixed in their positions at the start of each pitch leaving only seven players to cover vast territory.  A team willing to bunch several of these valuable defensive components on one side of the field against a pull hitter is leaving itself wide open to extra-base hits to the opposite field or (perish the suggestion) to a bunt!

POINT #2:  It’ll  bring  extinction  to  lefthanded  power  hitters

“[Braves manager] Gonzalez expressed concern that left-handed power hitters who pull the ball will be overshifted to a point at which their value will decrease so much they’ll be out of a job.”1

From a different source, disregarding the Steroid Era: “The shift is driving to extinction the lefthanded .300 hitter with power.  In 1999, 13 lefthanded hitters batted at least .300 with 25 home runs.  This year, there is only one such hitter on that pace.”As events unfolded this article was actually optimistic as the projected lefty, Michael Brantley, did not make this category in 2014.  The only non-full time righty to qualify was switch-hitter Victor Martinez (who may not count for their analysis).2

News flash:  Home runs are not the only way to score runs. Looking at average yearly totals for home runs and runs per game for every year ending in “4” during the “live ball era” (and extrapolated to a 162-game season to correct for the 154-game seasons of pre-expansion in the early 1960’s and the lockout/strike shortened year of 1994) we have:

img102

 

While many are bemoaning the fact that in 2014 offense has returned to early 1970’s levels, it’s interesting to note that 40 years ago teams scored essentially the same number of runs (1.6% more) despite hitting 20.8% fewer homers.

So even if lefthanded power hitters have become extinct:   1) it’s not the real cause for the significant change in offense   2) and it shouldn’t be viewed as a crisis as it ought to create an increased demand for complete lefty hitters who can hit to all fields until defenses decide to no longer “cheat” to the right side of the field.3

(By the way, the shift really hasn’t had a huge impact on scoring according to the Bill James Handbook.  It states that shifts prevented 195 runs last year.1  That’s a grand total of 6-1/2 runs per team.

 

Point #3:  Banning  defensive  shifts  is  a  “must”  in order  to  increase  offense

Just like some government spending programs, changing the rules is the easy way do something but end up not solving anything.  Banning defensive shifts merely subsidizes players who are less than complete major leaguers, regardless of the number of years they’ve played.  The problem is the overall lack of disciplined hitting as shown by the on-base percentage and strikeout data.

[Notice how the shape of the OBP data scatter is very similar to the run’s.  Coincidence?…]

img105

A separate quick analysis using league medians based on team data, on-base pct. actually peaked in 1999 (.345) and 2000 (.343).  OBP’s post-steroid drop really didn’t start until after the 2009 season (.333) when it went to .325 in 2010 and .319 in 2011.

 

Here is what happened to whiffs per team per season4:

img106

The temporary drop after the 1960’s is probably explained by the lowering of the mound in 1969.  However, the pitchers recovered and batters have continued to whale away and break futility records continuously since.

Another telling stat is the average number of hitters, per team, with at least 50 strikeouts (35 for 1994) but who fanned fewer times than they walked:

1924-(2.50), 1934-(2.69), 1944-(2.75), 1954 (2.81), 1964-(0.75), 1974-(1.38), 1984-(1.27), 1994-(1.43), 2004-(0.63) and 2014-(0.07).  Talk about extinction.

CONCLUSION

In response to Fredi Gonzalez saying that shifts are an “illegal defense,”1 – nonsense.  They exist in basketball because of the limited space.  A basketball court could fit in an infield.  Baseball fields don’t have that space limitation.  Football has illegal defenses because it would be impossible for a receiver to make a reception with someone all over him and pushing him during his entire route.  Batters don’t have anyone stopping them from hitting the other way or even bunting, except themselves.

Outlawing defensive shifts would be another example of enabling the inept at the expense of the big picture.

 

 

1 – “Players, coaches discuss impact of the infield shift,” by Lindsay Berra, http://m.mlb.com/news/article/107573504/players-coaches-discuss-impact-of-the-infield-shift, 1/28/2015

2 – “As shifts suppress offense, time has come to consider a rule change,” by Tom Verducci, http://www.si.com/mlb/2014/07/22/shifts-rule-change-lefthanded-batters-david-ortiz, 7/22/2014

3 – for those unfamiliar with baseball terms, when “cheat” is used to describe defensive maneuvers by player(s), it refers to making adjustments away from expected alignments and not a suggestion of unethical behavior

4 – The strikeout increase (also using median team stats) started for good after the 2008 season (1060) followed by 2009 (1117), 2010 (1143), 2011 (1140), 2012 (1231) and 2013 (1207)

Ohio State Takes a Bow, but Forgets to Take a Knee — Again

The Ohio State Buckeyes overcame a number of challenges during the season to capture a hard-earned national championship with a 42-20 win over Oregon on Monday.  It was the first big school college football title game resulting from a playoff involving a final four.  They knocked off good teams convincingly to achieve the ultimate in college football.

Unfortunately, while coach Urban Meyer was carving his name into the record books for all-time with a title at a second school, he displayed amazingly disrespectful play-calling at the end of a game for the second time this season.

Perhaps because our culture is in an Era of Self-Glorification, it’s easy for a majority of sports enthusiasts to overlook a key aspect of a true champion – sportsmanship.

Paul  Brown  Believed  in  Respect  for  the  Game  and  His  Opponent

Paul Brown taught it in when he commanded his Cincinnati Bengals to “act like you’ve been there before” when scoring a touchdown.  When one of his wide receivers, the great Isaac Curtis scored a TD, he would very subtly flip the ball over a shoulder and go back to the bench with the dignity befitting a genuine star.  He had no use for showboating, unlike many of number of today’s players who take great effort in drawing attention to their insecure selves.

Tom  Osborne  Won  the  Right  Way,  Too

College football has had its share of coaches who were successful in both the scorebook and in their character.  One of my all-time favorites is Tom Osborne, former head coach at Nebraska.  He eventually won three national championships (1994, ’95 and ’97) in the time before playoffs, but it was a tortuous road getting there.

The epitome of his frustration was when he lost a potential first title in the final minute of the 1984 Orange Bowl against Miami (FL).  With 48 seconds left in the game, he went for a two-point conversion after a TD instead of settling for a tie, which probably would have been sufficient for the Huskers to win the final poll.  When it failed and he lost the championship by that one point (31-30)1, he merely pulled of his headset defiantly and grimaced as if to say, “DARN it!” True to his nature, when things didn’t go smoothly he didn’t rant and rave or berate his players or officials.  He simply took it upon himself to do better… unlike some of his contemporaries (who shall remain nameless) in Columbus, Ohio,  Norman, Oklahoma and Gainesville, Florida encompassing the 1970s through 1990s.

When he won, he did it with class.  His Huskers won the 1996 Fiesta Bowl over Florida 62-24 for his second national title.  Although Florida led 10-6 after the first quarter, twenty-nine unanswered points by Nebraska resulted in a 35-10 halftime lead.  Gator mistakes and excellent Husker execution led to their back-up quarterback scoring their final points with 4:31 to play.  Although Nebraska later recovered a Florida fumble on a two-point conversion attempt, “The young Husker backups drove to the 1 -yard line, before quarterback Matt Turman dropped to a knee to ride out the time.”2  Note: by this time Nebraska’s third-string quarterback was on the field.  By running out the clock, Nebraska passed up a chance to set the single bowl game scoring record for that time.3

Urbaneezer  Scrooge  and  the 2014-15  Season

Fast forward to Sept. 13, 2014 for Kent State at Ohio State.  Six seconds to go, Buckeyes have a 4th and 6 on their 41 with a 66-0 lead.4  Punt or run out the clock?  No way, Kent State might take over inside the 50 in a 9-score game!  Urban Meyer has his qb throw for the end zone.  Although the pass is incomplete, the infamy isn’t.

Then, of course, there’s last Monday.  Twenty-eight seconds left in the game.  Ohio State with the ball, 2nd and goal from the 1.  Game and national championship well in hand, 35-20.  Take a knee?  Are you kidding, this isn’t “old-fashioned” Tom Osborne.  You kick Tiny Tim’s crutch away and have your running back score his fourth touchdown of the game…  Think I just saw the Ghost of Football Future buy an airline ticket for next fall to CMH.

 

1 – www.wikipedia.com

2 – www.huskermax.com

3 – My inability to find the actual single game team record for bowl games as of 1996 is unimportant as Baylor set the record briefly with its 67 in 2011. Thus, had Nebraska scored again in that 1996 Fiesta Bowl, it would have exceeded the future Baylor score.

4  — www.ohiostatebuckeyes.com

2014 Reds are at a (Leadership) Crossroads

There was nothing particularly interesting about the Reds’ 5-1 loss in Milwaukee today.  That’s just it.  There was nothing particularly interesting about it or, for that matter, the last six games the Reds have played in and lost.  Now, just because the Reds have their longest losing streak in three years is no reason to throw in the towel.  Even though they are in fourth place, they’re still just 5-1/2 games behind with sixty-one to play.

The inherent problem with this team is not a result of changing managers last winter.  The Reds have been generally under-achievers for the last few seasons. Dusty Baker may have ended his years in Cincinnati with a winning record and some post-season play.  However, he was never able (or perhaps enabling was the problem) to get this reputedly talented group to self-propel itself in a way that is distinctive of true winners.

Great  Teams  Know  How  to  go  Beyond  Good

All truly great teams had “it.”  OK, that’s with the exception of the best New York Giants and Philadelphia Athletics teams of a century ago.  No one would dare challenge John McGraw and all players called Connie Mack “Mr. Mack” out of respect.  But other memorable teams had a way of policing themselves so that the manager could concentrate on making lineups and pitching changes instead of rallying the charges all of the time a la Tommy Lasorda.

Miller Huggins didn’t so much as manage the Ruth-led Yankees of the 1920s as babysit the Babe to keep him out of trouble.  Everyone else took care of business.  The same goes for the St. Louis “Gas House Gang” of the 1930s.  Hall of Fame player-manager Frankie Frisch expressed it humorously when he said at a large dinner gathering, “I have the good fortune of managing a terrific ball club.  They – they manage themselves – if you know what I mean.”1

And Baby Boomers will always remember the triple World Series champion Oakland A’s of 1972-74 whose managers, Dick Williams followed by Alvin Dark, were more often referees than managers thanks to Jackson/Rudi/Hunter/Fingers/Tenace et al!

The  Big  Red  Machine  Had  to  Learn  How  to  be  Great

The Big Red Machine of the 1970s wasn’t born that way.  While the great, late Sparky Anderson had a tendency to downplay his impact on the greatest baseball era in Cincinnati, he was wise enough to understand that it took more than Hall-of-Famers to win, they had to be winners at heart. 

After some post-season disappointments in the first half of that decade, including a 98-64 record in 1974 which didn’t even qualify for the single set of playoffs of that day, the Reds started 1975 with many predicting a long-awaited championship for them.  However, the team began sluggishly.  Around the time they were at 20-20, Sparky said (approx. quote) “Either we’re not as good as people say we are, or if we are, then we need look at ourselves in the mirror and get on our horses…”  The team got it into gear and entered the All-Star Break with a 62-29 record, the result of winning 41 out of 50.2

Sparky was the master of managing a very capable, but not all-time pitching staff.  He was able to focus on this aspect of the game because the leaders of Rose-Morgan-Bench-Perez took care of everything else.  They knew when to encourage, when to kid and when to be vocal.

Neither  can anyone doubt the tremendous influence Lou Pinella had when he took a perennial 2nd place Reds team and turned it into, what some in Oakland still consider improbable, 1990 Worlds Champs.  Nevertheless, there was a unifying and rallying spirit among the players, too. The famed trio of “Nasty Boys” in the bullpen (Randy Myers, Norm Charlton and Rob Dibble) ensured that Lou didn’t have to do it by himself.

Current  Reds  Must  Break  With  30-Year  Tradition  of  Mostly  Reluctant  Leaders

The lack of real leadership is not completely the fault of this group of players.  Other than Sean Casey (and with all due respect to the super-quiet Hall-of-Famer  and captain Barry Larkin), the Reds have not had a true take charge leader on the team since the break-up of the Machine.  While the appointment of Dave Concepcion as captain after the great ones had left was a great honor for a loyal All-Star and justifiably a fan favorite, it was not the best move.  Starting pitcher Mario Soto might have been the closest to an on-the-field leader in the 1980s, but it’s usually doesn’t happen with a guy who doesn’t play every day.3

For thirty years, nearly all of the best Reds players tried to lead by example.  It can work with a Joe DiMaggio who’s surrounded by a very good, veteran ball club.  But such teams are rare and the Reds have three decades of proof.  And remember, while the Yankees had quiet stars in Lou Gehrig , Joltin’ Joe, Mickey Mantle (at least on the field), Yogi Berra, Chris Chambliss and Bernie Williams, they also had the likes of Bill Dickey, Frankie Crosetti, Phil Rizzuto, Billy Martin, Whitey Ford, Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson, Lou Pinella (there he is again) and Derek Jeter (who may be the best of both quiet and vocal leadership) and others who stoked the competitive fires of their teammates.

Time  for  a  Major  Spark

Speaking of fires, Reds television broadcaster Thom Brennaman declared the clear need of this current Reds team.  As the 5-1 loss was dragging to a close he said, “Someone’s got to show a little fire here.  Maybe get a little upset.”   Fellow commentator, and former major leaguer Chris Welsh added, “They’ve got to look within themselves and that starts by looking in the mirror.”  Sparky would have agreed whole heartedly.

This is not to say that that this team will be as memorable as their great baseball forefathers.  Still, other than Johnny Bench, none of that group came into the majors with great fanfare.  This team can do much better than it has.  Last year, Ryan Ludwick led the charge when Joey Votto was out for an extended time.  Devin Mesoraco and Todd Frazier have the potential to be field generals now and perhaps, Billy Hamilton down the road.

The problem is that even when Votto and Brandon Phillips weren’t hurt, no one could look at the team and see the same take-charge attitude that one sees with the likes of Pujols/Trout of the Angels, Posey/Lincecum of the Giants, Y.Molina/Holliday of the Cardinals or McCutchen/Martin of the Pirates.

The time is now.  Reds management gave long-term contracts to Votto, Phillips, Jay Bruce and Homer Bailey.  Time will soon tell if this was good strategy.  Several players need to step up and it doesn’t have to be from the megabucks players.

It’s time for them to get on their horses – assuming the horses haven’t already left the barn.

 

1 – from the record album “Professional Baseball- The First 100 Years,” narrated by James Stewart and Curt Gowdy, Fleetwood Recording Co., Revere, MA

2www.baseball-almanac.com

3 – I know, there have been exceptions.  Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Tug McGraw, Jack Morris and Justin Verlander come to mind, but being an everyday player helps.

Devin Mesoraco: A Leader in the Making!

Not every baseball team has an official captain, but every successful team will have at least one real leader.  It is someone the younger guys, and even the newcomers, can look to for the confidence and the will to charge through the 162-game season battle, 81 of which are in enemy parks.

The Yankees have Derek Jeter, while the Giants have Buster Posey and the Red Sox follow David Ortiz.  The recent past calls to mind Cal Ripken, Jr., Kirk Gibson and Ozzie Smith.  Going back a little farther we have Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente, Frank and Brooks Robinson, Hank Aaron, Willie-Mickey-and-the Duke, etc.

In Cincinnati, we were fortunate to have experienced The Big Red Machine of the 1970s.  It not only had appointed captain Pete Rose, but he was ably aided by the trio of Bench-Morgan-Perez who kept the position players focused while Sparky Anderson accumulated frequent-walker miles with his trips to change pitchers.

Reds’  Potential  Has  Not  Been  Reached

The current generation of the Reds has been on the edge of real achievement in the last four seasons.  But for various reasons, the end results have fallen short of expectations.

One of the nagging problems has been their inconsistency in clutch situations. Hitting with RISP has not been a reliable strength for a franchise with a history of good offensive teams.  The 2010 Reds were 2nd in the major leagues in hitting with RISP, but has followed with seasons of 13th, 21st and 15th.  So far this year, the team is hitting .222 in these situations.

Sometimes, it has been the general lack of a sensible approach to hitting.  How often have we seen a first-pitch out or double play after the preceding hitter received a quick walk?  A local commentator spoke recently of their laid-back approach to the game which appears to be stifling a necessary sense of urgency.

The  Time  is  Now

Small market teams can’t count on lengthy strings of contending seasons.

Granted, this year’s lackluster start began with a number of injuries in the pre-season and which have continued.  The unexpected failings of a good bullpen have overshadowed the fine showing of the starting pitchers.

With relentless and apparently unconnected speed bumps getting in the way of a good season, the singular question arises:  “Who is (are) the leader(s) of this team?”

There are now four Reds signed to well-paid long-term contracts which far exceed the imaginations of the ‘70s heroes, even when considering inflation.  Of those, one is a pitcher, so that would often rule him out as a significant take-charge guy.  Among the position players, all are certainly likeable, but two are now injured.  All have had stretches of brilliance, but none has stepped up to lead more than by example.

Certainly, “example” is important, but when it appears that bad luck is trying to force the management into determining “do we buy or sell?” come late June, someone must stand up with his achievements and take a vocal approach to get the attention of the other 24.

New  Candidate

Last evening, the Reds defeated the Phillies on the road 3-0.  A 3-run first inning homer by catcher Devin Mesoraco was the difference.  But it was in the post-game television interview with Jim Day on Fox Sports Ohio which may have given Cincinnati fans the first glimpse of the next effective team leader.

Day was discussing the game with Mesoraco who had just come off an injury and whose early season success had inspired talk of his possibly moving up in the batting order.  Regarding this, Devin said:

“Yeah, absolutely… I want to drive in runs.  I want to drive in big runs, two guys, two outs, guys on base.  I want to be the guy up there.  And for Bryan (manager Price) to have the confidence in me, that means a lot.  I’m just going to try to have good, consistent at bats and good things will happen.”

After which, color commentator and former major leaguer Chris Welsh said this about Mesoraco:

”He’s got the old-fashioned face mask on top of his helmet.  I mean the guy just looks like a ballplayer and you know just how much you miss when he’s not on the active roster… he’s a high-energy guy in the dugout!”

Confidence, enthusiasm, a plan and a willingness to be put on the spot to produce:  these are the attributes of a leader and a winner!

Solving the Issue of Whether to Pay Student-Athletes

“To Pay or Not to Pay Student-Athletes.”  This topic has never been more discussed, especially with the NLRB’s recent ruling that Northwestern University’s athletes are actually employees of the university and may form a labor union.1  As the university appeals, education administrators and fans will continue their decades-long debate.

There have been two standard arguments, one for and another against paying college athletes:
1) “These student-athletes bring in so much money to the universities, that’s it’s not fair that all they get is a measly scholarship.  It’s servitude!”
2) “College is not a time to develop professional athletes, but a time to become educated, something which will last beyond a player’s career.  A free ride is certainly sufficient, especially in the light of the high cost of tuition and room/board which many good students can’t afford or aren’t eligible for scholarships.”

Compounding the dilemma is that professional football and basketball, unlike baseball, essentially use the colleges as their minor league systems.  Many of the best athletes attend school for a while simply because the pros have agreed to not draft them directly out of high school or as in the case of Major League Baseball, a student must go pro or spend at least three years in college.2  Their course load is often not strenuous and of the best athletes, only a few ever complete a degree program.

The  Term  “Amateur”  Has  Been  Rendered  Essentially  Outmoded

A system where some student athletes would be paid will raise objections from those wishing to salvage classical form of amateur athletics.  Over the last few generations, the term “amateur” in sports has been tweaked, stretched and generally left for dead.

According to Wikipedia, the earliest days of organized sport occurred in the 19th century and were essentially reserved for those at the university level.  The working class was not able to participate in organized sport because of the six-day work week and church activities on Sunday.

As sports became more popular, accommodations started being made which led to the possibility of many more participating and some were paid for their efforts!  Of course, there was early opposition to this as shown by “Proponents of the amateur ideal deplored the influence of money and the effect it has on sports.”   (Author’s note:  Some may have been concerned about the influence of gambling interests while others were following the mistaken notion that “money is the root of all evil” instead of its misuse as being the problem.)  Wikipedia also reminds us of the concern wealthy amateurs had about the working class competing and exceeding them.

The renewal of the Olympics in 1896 wished to preserve the original spirit of the Greek Games.  As many of us Baby Boomers recall, the Soviet bloc countries began sending athletes who were really full-time athletes supported by the state through the military or other means.  Rules for participation in the Games have been steadily relaxed since the retirement of IOC President Avery Brundage in 1972.  With the exception of boxing and wrestling, amateur requirements in the Games have been removed since the 1990s (Wikipedia).

This virtual elimination of an amateur status is not the destruction of a timeless virtue, but a practical realization. The expected level of competition eliminates those who dabble in the sport on weekends or who are so independently wealthy that they can spend their time recreating instead of working for a living full-time.

Pros  Should  Pay  Their  Fair  Share  and  Students  Should  Have  the  Opportunity  to  Make  a  Choice

It’s time for the colleges and universities to stop subsidizing professional sports.  Granted, Major League Baseball has had its “farm system” of minor leagues for a long time.  However, this is not to say that it doesn’t benefit from the experience some of its players received in college level sports.  MLB does and should be involved proportionately in this proposal.  Still, it is the NFL and the NBA which benefit the most from colleges and universities.  These institutions should be properly compensated which, in turn, can help the student-athlete.

The foundation of this proposal recognizes that:

A)  Athletics in today’s colleges and universities represent more expenditures – and income for the schools- than ever before.

B)  The major professional sports benefit greatly from the college athletes they draft to make money for their organizations.  Currently, their gain is realized without compensation to schools.

C)  Colleges and universities exist primarily to educate, not simply as training grounds for those with aspirations of a career in professional sports.

D)  Student-athletes should be “on track” to graduation as any other full-time non-athlete student.

How  It  Would  Work

  1. The NBA, NFL and MLB would contribute annually to the various conferences of Division I, II and III (or whatever names the NCAA calls them) in proportion to the number of athletes they have drafted. Other sports such as hockey could be included eventually. The amount would be an agreed-upon percentage of the schools’ outlay to field an athlete in a given sport. The fee would be based on a rolling average of the most recent three years’ number of players drafted or signed as free agents (so that the pros couldn’t sidestep it by abolishing the current draft process). The fees would likely be paid in the first half of a calendar year in order to allow the colleges to budget item#2.
    Some incentives must be created to encourage the student to stay in school and for the pros to not draft them as early as they do typically. These could involve an increase in the fees paid to the conferences when athletes are chosen before their senior year or perhaps implementing the suggestion in item #4.
  2. Schools and the students would have new decisions to make under this proposal. By the summer or late spring preceding each school year, the two would agree on whether the student-athlete would receive a scholarship or be paid. If paid, the now employee-student would be responsible for his room, board, books, etc. Therefore, the salary would have to be in excess of a scholarship in order to be worthwhile. (Of course, special tax considerations would be needed from the IRS to make this fair for the student.) The decisions would be made annually and the student-athlete and school could change his status annually.
  3. All athletes in all sports, whether paid or on scholarship, would have specific rights to royalties from any licensed item sold by the school with the name or likeness of the athlete on the item. To be fair to the school, it would not include generic licensed items carrying only the school’s name, logo or nickname.
  4. As this concept expanded, pro sport franchises might be allowed to pay the student directly while compensating the school for its expenses regarding that particular player. At this point, new considerations arise. For example, it would be wise for the pros to take out insurance on their investment-student-athlete, but that would be up to them.

Legal,  Contractual,…. Oppositional

Legal:  Implementing all of this could very well require legislation as did the creation of binding environmental standards in the early 1970s.  Just as the EPA was created to carry out a new philosophy of cost allocation, there might be a need for a smaller equivalent here.  As a result of the recent ruling in the case of Northwestern University, this new agency would likely be under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor, although a case could be made for the Department of Education to be involved, too.

Contractual:  The agency would work with the major league sports and the conferences, not the NCAA or NAIA, to establish the criteria for the contracts which would execute payment arrangements.  The agency should have equal voting weight among the pro teams and the college conferences.  Binding agreements might come from the agency itself or from the Dept. of Labor, depending on how it’s set up.
These changes would also impact what students’ “letters of intent” cover.

Oppositional:  And, of course, the professional leagues are not likely to agree to this right away.  After all, they get to pick their new players without having to pay anyone for their de facto minor league system.  But their objections should be viewed in the same perspective as when U.S. industry had to face reality and begin to pay for the air and water effluent which had been subsidized by Mother Nature for too long.  (However, this is not to suggest that this sports proposal should reach the absurdities often demanded by the EPA later.)

The NCAA would probably be more upset than the NAIA.  It has expanded its sphere of control beyond what is practical and fair.3,4  Restoring a little more control to the conferences would be a good thing.

In addition, there may also be opposition from the players’ unions as these new cash outlays by their employers could impact existing players’ compensation until a new equilibrium is established between teams’ income and expenditures on all players whether in school or on team rosters.

Dramatic,  But  Necessary  Change

Everything in life has a cost-benefit analysis attributed to it. The current professional sports/college arrangement is badly skewed in favor of the pros.  Such a major shift in “who pays for what” would bring balance and might even possibly lead to a more realistic prioritization of professional sports in the fans’ lives in the long run.

Regardless, it’s time that the college/pros/student-athlete relationship be amended to reflect reality and to bring fairness to the process.

 

 

1 – “Labor board: Northwestern University football players can unionize,” by Sara Ganim, CNN, 3/27/2014
2 – “Why ‘One and Done’ Must End,” by John Calipari, The Wall Street Journal, 4/4/2014
3 – “NCAA is a Cartel and the Proof is in the Pudding,” by Jake Doerr, http://www.benchplayersports.com/?p=1787
4 – ”The NCAA Entrenches Itself as Part of the Problem,” by Taylor Branch, https://chronicle.com/article/The-NCAA-Entrenches-Itself-as/133327/, 8/1/2012

Happy 80th to the All-Time Home Run King!

No, it’s not July 24, 2044 because the true leader in career home runs is not Barry Bonds, it’s Hank Aaron.

Today we celebrate the birthday of a Hall of Famer who displayed terrific talent, great work ethic and, most importantly, admirable integrity.  He came by his achievements honestly, and what achievements they were!  Hank Aaron was a model of consistency with eight seasons of at least 40 homers, eleven with 100 or more RBI and fifteen seasons clearing 100 runs scored.  A complete player, he had nine years of 15 or more stolen bases and also won three Gold Gloves.

But Aaron was greater than that.  In an era which led to a song years later about its media headliners (“Willie, Mickey and the Duke”), he never complained because he wasn’t in the same spotlight even though he, too, was a real super-star before the term became diluted in recent times.  He led the Milwaukee Braves to a World Series championship in 1957 and the Atlanta Braves to the NL West title in the first year of divisional play (1969).  In addition, he was on All-Star teams for 21 consecutive years.

Not playing in New York and being a man of few words may have reduced the public’s awareness of his greatness.  But when he speaks, people listen respectfully.

May he hear our appreciation today for being an honorable champion both on and off the field.  Happy Birthday to Hank Aaron, the genuine home run king – and the undisputed RBI leader as well!

Should Disappointing Bengals Make a Change as the Disappointing Reds Did Recently?

The Cincinnati Bengals ended their season last Sunday with a very discouraging 27-10 loss at home to the San Diego Chargers in an NFL Wild Card game.  While the date of the game will always be ”2014,” it could just as easily say “2013”, “2012”, “2010” or “2006.”  Rearrange the years a little and it could read the “Cincinnati Reds.”  The difference, so far, is that only the Reds have made a change of field generals.  Should the Bengals do likewise?

How  Long  Have  Bengals  Fans  Suffered?

To start, we must acknowledge the Bengal fans’ frustration. Having gone 23 years without a playoff win, they have the longest current and the sixth longest streak in league history.  To understand its magnitude, the last time Cincinnati won a playoff game it was against the Houston OILERS.  The Bengals followed with a loss to the LOS ANGELES Raiders.  In addition, by losing a playoff opener for the third straight year, they have tied an unfortunate NFL record according to STATS LLC.1

Era  of  Frustration  in  Cincinnati  Began  Before  Lewis  Took  Charge

In all fairness, Head Coach Marvin Lewis has not been at the helm for this entire time of disappointment.  In the twelve years preceding Lewis, the post-Paul Brown Dark Age was launched with Sam Wyche’s last year followed by the terms of Dave Shula (19-52), Bruce Coslet (21-39) and Dick LeBeau (12-33).  The best season in that stretch was 1996 when Coslet took over for Shula and turned a 1-6 record into an 8-8 season.2

In Lewis’ eleven years, the Bengals have had five winning and three 8-8 seasons.  Only Forrest Gregg and Bill (Tiger) Johnson have had higher winning percentages than Lewis’ 90-90-1 for Cincinnati football.

But it is Marvin Lewis’ 0-5 playoff record, when it was reasonable to expect three wins, is the sticking point with fans.

Reds  Have  Been  Travelling  a  Similar  “Near  Miss”  Road

The Cincinnati Reds are in a parallel situation.   They have won just one post-season series (NLDS vs. the Dodgers in 1995)3 since their Word Series title in 1990.  Before Dusty Baker’s appearance in 2008, the Reds had nine manager changes, only three of which produced winning records for the entire stay.  (Of course, having the insufferable Jim Bowden as general manager for a large part of that time didn’t help.)  The city had endured seven straight losing seasons when Baker was appointed.  He added two more before making the playoffs in 2010, ‘11 and ‘13.  Quite a turnaround!

Unfortunately, the Reds three post-seasons have been downright embarrassing.  During their first series loss, they became just the second team to be no-hit in a post-season game.  The next playoff series, also a best of five, was lost when the Reds won the first two on the road, then Baker proceeded to be out managed as he had been in San Francisco and Chicago years earlier.  Finally, the ’13 Reds lost a one-game-and-out wild card game at Pittsburgh when the Reds had all sorts of chances in September to host the game or even avoid it altogether with a division title.

Despite winning an average of 89 games over a four-year span and three playoff appearances, the Reds realized what the Giants and Cubs had learned.  As WLW radio sports talk host Lance McAllister said in October 2012, “He (Baker) can get you there.  He just can’t win there.”  Reds management understands that the window of opportunity for “small market” teams is just that – a small window, not a bay window.  Time is of the essence because of the inevitable loss of stars to free agency.  Therefore, the Reds released Dusty Baker and promoted pitching coach Bryan Price to the manager’s post for this coming season.

Time  for  Important  Mid-Course  Correction  for  the  Bengals

The Bengals are facing the same situation, albeit with different issues.  Because of revenue sharing, economics isn’t the most pressing concern for teams in smaller cities.  Also, football is more dependent on one player (quarterback) than baseball is and changing head coaches in the NFL is more disruptive to a team than changing managers in MLB.   However, Bengals owner Mike Brown has to understand that the window of opportunity in football can be smaller than baseball’s because the average career length of the “skill positions” is shorter.

This off-season will be a critical one for this “generation” of Bengals.  Mike Brown has many things to consider as he looks to improve his team’s future.  Through all of this he must decide whether it’s time to change field leadership as his Cincinnati baseball counterparts three months ago.

 

1 – ESPN site, 1/6/2014
2www.pro-football-reference.com
3 www.espn.go.com

How Badly Do the Lewis-Led Bengals Underachieve in Spotlight Games?

With the recent repeat of a disappointing end to a promising Bengals season, there has been growing criticism that the Marvin Lewis Era teams have wilted in national spotlight games.  This and his 90-90-1 overall record obscure the fact that he started his tenure with four straight non-losing seasons1  and the last three years have been playoff seasons— a first in Bengal history.

The underachieving playoff results cannot be dismissed lightly and are examined first.  This article will analyze how his teams have played in all games considered to have been in the “limelight.”  For our purposes, this will include Saturday games in addition to the normally considered group of Thursday, Sunday night and Monday night games.


Playoff  Games  in  Lewis  Era  (records= reg. season + playoffs)2

Season       Playoff           Opponent        Score   (2nd H)    Cin/Opp.Rec.
2005           Wild Card      vs. Pittsburgh  17-31    (0-17)     11-6/15-5#      FL
2009           Wild Card      vs. NY Jets      14-24    (7-10)     10-7/11-8        FL
2011           Wild Card      at Houston       10-31    (0-14)       9-8/11-7        UL
2012           Wild Card      at Houston       13-19    (6-10)     10-7/13-5        UL
2013           Wild Card      vs. San Diego  10-27    (0-20)     11-6/10-7+      FL # – Steelers won the Super Bowl, but entered the Wild Card road game at Cin. with the same 11-5 record
+- Does not include any Chargers games after their Wild Card vs. Bengals on 1/5/2014.  Only if they were to reach the Super Bowl would the Bengals not have been considered the outright favorite for this analysis.FW=”favored and won”
FL=”favored and lost”  UW=”underdog and won”  UL=”underdog and lost”; “favored” and “underdog” are not from betting lines, but from final record comparisons

Summary 

Of the five post-season games, it is reasonable to have expected the Bengals to win three— two if the 2005 Steeler game is excluded.  Although Pittsburgh entered that road game with the same record as Cincinnati’s, they caught fire and won it all that season.  However, it would take a victim’s mentality to say that the Bengals were expected to win just one of these six games by also writing off the San Diego game even if they make it to the Super Bowl.

OK, so the Bengals lost both road games as expected.  The problem is that they lost all three at home with only one being partially understandable.

Post-season downers all around

The Bengals have lost by an average score of 26-13 with the average margin of defeat the same for both home and road games.  So much for home field advantage.

They led in two of the games at half time and have never trailed by more than seven at that break.  The sobering statistic is that their average 2nd half performance shows being outscored by an average of 14-3, a result of being outscored in every second half including three that they were held scoreless.  Is this a matter of the opposition consistently making better adjustments, lack of mental toughness on the Bengals’ part or both?

Prime  Time,  Non-Playoff  Games  in  Lewis  Era  (with final reg. season records)3

Date

Event

Opponent

Score

Cin/Opp.Rec.

Result

09/19/2004 Sun. night vs. Miami 16-13 8-8/4-12 FW
10/25/2004 Mon. night vs. Denver 23-10 8-8/10-6 UW
10/09/2005 Sun. night at Jacksonville 20-23 11-5/12-4 UL
12/24/2005 Saturday vs. Buffalo 27-37 11-5/5-11 FL
11/30/2006 Thursday vs. Baltimore 13-7 8-8/13-3 UW
12/18/2006 Mon. night at Indianapolis 16-34 8-8/12-4 UL
09/10/2007 Mon. night vs. Baltimore 27-20 7-9/5-11 FW
10/01/2007 Mon. night vs. New England 13-34 7-9/16-0 UL
12/02/2007 Sun. night at Pittsburgh 10-24 7-9/10-6 UL
12/15/2007 Saturday at San Francisco 13-20 7-9/5-11 FL
11/20/2008 Thursday at Pittsburgh 10-27 4-11-1/12-4 UL
01/03/2010 Sun. night at NY Jets 0-37 10-6/9-7 FL
11/08/2010 Mon. night vs. Pittsburgh 21-27 4-12/12-4 UL
11/25/2010 Thursday at NY Jets 10-26 4-12/11-5 UL
12/24/2011 Saturday vs. Arizona 23-16 9-7/8-8 FW
09/10/2012 Mon. night at Baltimore 13-44 10-6/10-6 UL
12/13/2012 Saturday at Philadelphia 34-13 10-6/4-12 FW
09/16/2013 Mon. night vs. Pittsburgh 20-10 11-5/8-8 FW
10/31/2013 Thursday at Miami 20-22* 11-5/8-8 FL
12/15/2013 Sun. night at Pittsburgh 20-30 11-5/8-8 FL

*- overtime
FW=”favored and won”   FL=”favored and lost”  UW=”underdog and won”  UL=”underdog and lost”; “favored” and “underdog” are not from betting lines, but based on final regular season won-lost records.  In the case of two teams with the same record, the home team is “favored.”

Summary

As disastrous as the fans perceive the Lewis Era to be in spotlight games, it is merely sadly disappointing (where have we heard that description before?).  Overall, the Bengals should be 10-10 in these games, but have gone 7-13 instead.  Underachieving, yes, but how bad is it really and why?

Long  droughts test fans’ patience

While there was a seven-game losing streak from Oct. ’07 until Dec. ’11, the Bengals should have been expected to win just two of them anyway.  However, four years is a long time regardless of the circumstances.  (Admittedly, for those who exclude Saturday games as being special, then the drought went six years while encompassing seven non-Saturday spotlighters.)

Bengals are more easily upset than being the spoiler

To add to the fans’ frustration subconsciously, the Bengals haven’t pulled an upset win in these games since November 2006.  In the same time frame, they’ve lost four which they should have won (and by an average score of 27-13).  That these were all road games does little to ease the pain.

Bengals flounder on the road

Home vs. road shows a severe disparity.  At friendly Paul Brown Stadium, Lewis’ Bengals have been 4-1 when favored and 2-2 when the underdog for a slightly better-than-expected overall record of 6-3.  All right!  However, the wheels come off on the road.  They’ve fallen to a reversal when having the better record (1-4) and have lost all six when having the poorer season record.

Good teams rise to the challenge when in hostile environments.  Young teams tend to freak out at times.  In eleven years at the helm, Marvin Lewis hasn’t had inexperienced teams the entire time.  Why does their road record seem to freak out?

Overall,  National  Pressure  Takes  a  Toll

While the Bengals’ performance in spotlight games has not been a complete disaster, it’s getting there.  The conclusion is that the Bengals under Marvin Lewis seriously underachieve when the national spotlight glows brighter.

In special games over the last eleven years, their results vs. reasonable expectations comparison is as follows:  (the games are ranked in increasing order of national pressure)

Actual Expected Difference
Saturday 2-2 4-0 minus 2
Thursday 1-3 1-3 even
Sun. night 1-4 3-2 minus 2
Mon. night 3-4 2-5 plus 1
Playoff 0-5 3-2 minus 3
7-18 13-12 minus 6

This will surprise some, but Monday Night Football is where Lewis’ teams have done better than expected.  Unfortunately, it is their only plus area.  Their overall record at home in featured games is 5-10 to go with a 2-8 road record.  This downfall must be considered in the off-season discussions when deciding how to improve the team to the level the Cincinnati fans deserve.

1 – although that stretch barely qualified: 8-8, 8-8, 11-5 and 8-8

2 – game data from www.pro-football-reference.com

3 – game data from Josh Kirkendall’s data on www.cincyjungle.com, 10/21/2012, www.pro-football-reference.com  and the Bengals and Steelers web sites

Thanks for Seeing the Light, ESPN

And thanks to the Ghosts of Christmas Ads Past, Present and Future for their quick response to Wednesday night’s revelation that ESPN had rejected a Christmas ad from a charitable organization.  The group, based in St. Louis, is raising funds for children who must be in hospitals throughout the Christmas season.  Unfortunately, they had included non-sports terms such as “Jesus’ birthday” and “God’s healing power.”   Heavens to Male-Enhancement!

But, Bill O’Reilly’s audience was informed on Thursday evening that ESPN had reversed its decision and would accept the original ad with the religious terms instead of the altered one submitted in its place.

Regardless of whether it was the aforementioned ghosts making a sudden appearance last night in Bristol, CT or perhaps a realization that its audience is a little more advanced than it assumed, there is relief in Mudville that the right thing was done ultimately.  Sports fans of faith appreciate your willingness to correct a mistake, ESPN, and we hope it was a learning experience for the media world.1

 

1 – and a learning experience for a certain marketing consultant.  Early in Thursday’s show before the reversal was announced, Peter Shankman declared emphatically that “ESPN watchers don’t care” about this issue.  Perhaps he’ll learn someday, too.

ESPN, the Ebenezer Scrooge sPorts Network

As reported by Bill O’Reilly tonight on Fox News, ESPN has rejected an ad from a Catholic hospital in St. Louis which is raising money for children who have to stay in the hospital during the holiday season.

The hospital’s error?  They mentioned “celebrating Jesus’ birthday” and referred to “God” in their commercial to request donations.

Unless there’s further review, and an apology to the public from ESPN, I will refrain from watching any of their stations until at least after the Christmas season.1

Note: referring to the PRE-conversion Scrooge!
1— the last day of the Christmas season is Jan. 6, the feast of the Epiphany

Follow-up:  ESPN changed its decision the following day and an article was posted about it

First, “Immaculate Reception”; Now, “Immaculate Deflection” — Time For a Lesson in Church Doctrine!

It has been almost 41 years since Franco Harris’ miracle catch, or non-catch depending on your perspective, in the NFL playoffs.  The sportswriters of that time decided to go beyond the usual trite superlatives and called it “The Immaculate Reception,” as it is still known to this day.  While the incredibility of the play was intended to be described as a miracle on the same level of the virgin birth of Jesus, they got it wrong.  The play’s supposed relative, “The Immaculate Conception” instead refers to Jesus’ mother having been conceived without original sin.  Well, one instance can be forgiven although the misconception (pardon the pun) grates on my sensibilities whenever I hear it.

Now, in this apparently magical season of the Auburn Tigers, we have a famous deflected pass which prevented an upset in a heartbreaking manner.  It should have been intercepted by Georgia, but was tipped to a Tiger who scored the winning touchdown in the waning seconds of a battle between two ranked conference foes.  Thus, we have “The Immaculate Deflection.”

But, wait!  In researching this game on Wikipedia, it was found that a missed field goal caused by a sudden 40 mph gust of wind preserved Ole Miss’ win in the annual Egg Bowl against Mississippi State in 1983.  The apparently “sure” 27-yard attempt was essentially blocked by the gust and fell just short after being “suspended.. inches from the uprights.”  Was this the first “Immaculate Deflection”?

Regardless, as much as I love sports, I’m not in favor of using spiritual imagery when it comes to something this mundane.  But if you must, at least make the right connection!

1963 World Series: When Baseball’s Tectonic Plates Shifted

To the baseball aficionado, some well-known dates come to mind when reviewing the history of our great game:

1869 (the first team to pay its players)
1893 (when 60’ 6” became the distance from the pitching rubber to home plate)
1901 (the American League becomes a rival major league to the NL)
1920 (the live ball makes its debut)
1969 (pitching mound is lowered and Major League Baseball splits into divisions)
1973 (the “designated hitter” is introduced)
1976 (the last World champion before free agency takes hold)

and so forth.  “1963” does not enter most conversations, but the 50th anniversary of this Series should be given its due attention.  That the New York Yankees were swept in that World Series was noteworthy on its own.

However, its aftershocks ended an era and ushered in a new balance of power for baseball.

Spring  of  1963

Life was getting back to normal in the United States.  Humanity dodged a major bullet the preceding October when the Cuban Missile Crisis was resolved without World War III.  In a sense, a new political balance of power had been formed in the Kennedy/Khrushchev rivalry, but that’s another topic.

The Yankees were preparing for their annual assault on the American League which resulted in a fourth straight pennant.  Meanwhile, the NL had its usual contenders.  The San Francisco Giants were coming off a tough seven-game Series loss to the Yankees, but were just as strong with Willie Mays still in his prime and Willie McCovey as an established star.  Jack Sanford and Juan Marichal led the pitching staff.  The Los Angeles Dodgers were regrouping after losing a best-of-three playoff to those same Giants the previous year, painfully reminiscent of 1951.1  They still had Maury Wills who had become the first to top 100 stolen bases in a season, Tommy Davis the defending RBI champ and, of course, Koufax & Drysdale.  And, the Mets were coming off their inaugural and record-setting 120-loss season as baseball’s Lovable Losers.

From a personnel standpoint, the St. Louis Cardinals were enjoying the final season of the great Stan Musial while a rookie was starting a major league career in Cincinnati which would take him past Musial’s NL career hit record (Pete Rose).

The  1963  Season

In a move that defies the present “offense is king” attitude of non-sophisticated sports fans, “Baseball authorities decided that the game had become too dependent on home runs.  Therefore, to balance the game in favor of the pitcher, the strike zone was enlarged…”1  According to the quoted source, while strikeouts rose significantly, home runs did not decrease much.

Be that as it may, “Once again, the Yankees won, and easily.  Excellent pitching and [catcher] Elston Howard’s MVP performance sprung the club from a tangle in June.”Whitey Ford won 24 games and Jim Bouton had his career season of 21 wins which were able to offset injuries to Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris.2

In the National League, Cardinals and Reds joined the Dodger/Giant battle for the pennant.  Eventually, a Dodger streak of 17 wins in 20 games and their three-game sweep of a hot St. Louis squad sent them on their way to meeting the Bronx Bombers.This was the first Series meeting between these two since the Dodgers moved West.

The  World  Series

Game 1:  The much anticipated battle between Ford and the relative newcomer Koufax (25 wins) didn’t disappoint at first.  Whitey fanned two Dodgers in the first and Sandy struck out three Yankees to start the Series.2    Then, a 3-run homer by catcher John Roseboro led to a Dodger 4-spot in the second inning which effectively ended the duel.  Ford lasted just five frames and LAD coasted to a 5-2 win.Koufax fanned 15 to break the Series record set by Carl Erskine ten years before (which was broken by Bob Gibson five years later3).

Game 2:  Johnny Podres, MVP of Brooklyn’s one and only Series championship in ’55, started against lefty Al Downing (who was to give up #715 to Hank Aaron eleven years later).  A 2-run double by Willie Davis in the first took some of the suspense out of the game.  Podres held the Yankees at bay for 8-1/3 innings as the Dodgers took a 2-0 lead at Yankee Stadium with a 4-1 win.3  Baseball fans could sense some rumblings under the Earth’s surface at this point.

Game 3:  Bouton and Drysdale squared off in this one.  When Davis drove in another first inning run, it must have seemed that the Dodgers were going to take charge early once again.  Only this time, Bouton held his ground for New York.  The score remained unchanged at 1-0 through seven when Hal Reniff came on in the eighth.  It didn’t matter as Drysdale made the one run stand up for an astonishing 3-0 Series lead.In 27 previous Series appearances for NYY, only the 1922 New York Giants had held them winless, although there was a tie game to blemish the feat.1,4

Game 4:  The clincher was a rematch of the first game, Ford vs. Koufax.  The Dodgers struck first, of course, but waited until the fifth when Frank Howard hit one which left the park.  Mantle squared the game at 1-1 with a solo shot of his own in the top of the seventh.  An error, some typical great Dodger base-running and a sacrifice fly by Willie Davis (who else?) gave the Dodgers the lead in the bottom half of the inning.  In the top of the ninth, a single, two strikeouts followed by an error ramped up the suspense a final time.  But Koufax was not to be denied and he finished off the 2-1 win.  The Yankees could not prevent being swept despite outhitting LAD 6-2 in this game.3  The baseball world was amazed, much of it outside of the Empire State rejoiced.  Unknown to all was that this baseball earthquake would have lasting effects.

Aftermath  and  Aftershocks

The Yankees recovered in ’64 to make it to the Series again only to be stopped by the Brock and Gibson inspired Cardinals in seven games (whose teammates included future broadcasters Tim McCarver, Mike Shannon and Bob Uecker).

The ensuing strange off-season should have been an omen.  Long-time Yankee favorite, Yogi Berra, was released as manager.  Then, Johnny Keane left victorious St. Louis and began wearing the fabled pin-stripes!  However, the Yankees weren’t able to reload as in years past.  The seemingly endless continuum of Ruth-Gehrig-Dickey-Ruffing-Gomez-DiMaggio-Raschi-Rizzuto-Ford-Berra-Mantle was broken.  In two years, the Yankees finished last for the first time since before the arrival of Babe Ruth in Boston.

Bobby Murcer, may he rest in peace, just didn’t have the supporting cast to go along with Joe Pepitone (with all due respect to Horace Clarke, Dooley Womack, et al).  Mel Stottlemyre had three 20-game win campaigns, but was essentially by himself on the mound until he retired after the 1974 season.5  The Yankee dynasty did not come out of hibernation until the advent of the Free Agent Era in the mid-1970s.  By then, George Steinbrenner had brought his checkbook to the Bronx and the Bombers regained their footing, beginning with the World Series loss in ’76 to the Reds followed by two championships in a row.

Those  “New”  AL  World  Series  Teams  Following  Yankees  Fall

But during the twelve years between Series appearances for the Yankees, surprising teams took their place.  It started with the Minnesota Twins in ’65.  Their last appearance had been in 1933 when they were still the original Washington Senators.

The Baltimore Orioles appeared in the Fall Classic four times, winning twice including an AL payback sweep against the Dodgers in ’66.  The Orioles had last appeared in the 1944 World Series—as the St. Louis Browns and that was their only pennant in their half-century of existence.

Boston’s Red Sox surprised everyone in ’67 when Yaz’s Triple Crown year led them to their first Series since the days of Ted Williams in ’46.  They lost two tough Series in the 12-year Yankees drought:  this one against St. Louis and against Cincinnati in ’75.  (The breaking of The Curse would have to wait another 29 years.)

The Detroit Tigers won the Series in ’68 after a 23-year absence.

The Oakland A’s won three straights Series (1972-3-4) after having last played in the post-season in 1931—as the Philadelphia A’s (the Kansas City A’s never had the good fortune).

Sadly,  1963  Was  More  Than  Just  About  Baseball

So, that Sunday afternoon of October 6, 1963, quietly ushered in a new era for baseball.  After 50 years, it still goes relatively unnoticed.  But with November 22, 1963 roughly seven weeks away and the resulting turmoil which occurred for years thereafter, perhaps that’s the way it should be.

1The Baseball Encyclopedia, edited by Pete Palmer and Gary Gillette, copyright 2004 by 24-7 Baseball, Inc.
2The History of the World Series, Gene Schoor, William Morrow and Company, Inc., New York, 1990
3www.baseball-reference.com
4www.baseball-almanac.com
5www.mlb.com

More NFL Playoff Teams? A Suggestion on Where to Stop Lowering the Standard

The National Football League in its effort to make even more money, I mean, making something “that’s a good thing for the fans,”1  is considering going from twelve teams to fourteen in its playoff setup as early as the 2015 season.

While it would most likely ensure that no 10-6 team would ever be left out again, it also increases the likelihood for 8-8 teams to make the cut.  Since when is achieving mediocrity (.500) considered worthy for special recognition?  This isn’t the NHL or a number of public school systems.

No, I’m not a big fan of football and especially the NFL.  Perhaps, that puts me in a good position to judge the sensibility of fabricated playoff fever objectively.  (There is a secondary problem because of NFL’s absurd impact on other professional sports.  Whenever wealthy football does something new, then other major sports feel compelled to follow.2  Time out.)

When a team earns a spot in the post-season, it brings a sense of achievement to the players and pride to its fans.  Why?  Because continuing to play games after the regular season has been completed is supposed to indicate a notable accomplishment.   When more and more teams are permitted, the exclusivity diminishes.3

Simple  Solution

Lowering standards is a creeping vine process.  It’s one thing to be innovative.  It’s another to let greed make a mockery of the process.  As the kid in the candy store finds out, “more and more” brings less and less satisfaction.

OK, NFL, and any other league looking to offset federal government type spending in its budget.  Draw the line and make it immovable.  Allow only teams with winning records to make the playoffs.  An 8-8 team might be allowed to qualify if it wins a terrible division, but that should be discussed seriously before accepting.  The rare 8-7-1 record would make the cut even if it results in a last place division finish.

“Excess”  Teams?

Suppose “too many” teams qualify with the winning record minimum?  Simply provide for an extra week of playoff games before the Super Bowl or reduce/eliminate “byes” if an extra week is impractical.

Oh, but then there’s no incentive to earn a bye.  Unless a team is exceptionally dinged with injuries, the bye is mostly a matter of prestige.  Often, a team worries about becoming rusty because of an off week while its next opponent stayed sharp with a game the previous week.

But it’s not fair for the players to work an additional game while the owners reap in the additional revenue.  Work it out in the labor agreement.

But that also means that the post-season schedules will be in flux down the stretch.  Well, if it’s beneficial for the fans to not know until the last minute whether their teams will make the post-season or when they’ll play, then the owners can share in the excitement of that uncertainty, too.  After all, they stand to gain the most.

“Too  Few”  Teams?

There’s the opportunity for the bye week some are probably clamoring for.  In addition, if a conference is top-heavy with good records, it should produce better playoff games because the good quality will be more concentrated.

Summary

We know that expanding playoffs are inevitable.  Pro sports are unwilling to control spending and, therefore, constantly need more revenue.  They prove a problem of our society acknowledged by a Miami University chemistry professor I had during the 1973-74 school year who stated that, when it comes to chemicals, “It’s the old American ideal.  If some is good, then more is better.”The same philosophy permeates professional sports.

With that in mind, let’s just get it over with.  Let all teams with winning records into the NFL’s post-season.  If we’re lucky, the thrill of the novelty will be short-lived and a more sensible format may return someday.

1 – That was NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell commenting on expanding to 14 teams in the playoffs.  As the USA Today article by Jarrett Bell on 10/9/2013 mentioned, “”With expanded playoffs, more of the games later in the regular season will be meaningful.”  In other words, it will delay late season apathy because more teams are hanging on, while fans are more willing to let go of their $.
2 – Witness Major League Baseball and its “play-in Wild Card” game.  It’s just another example of creeping playoff revenue.  By implementing the play-in concept to the Wild Card, the powers that be know that players and fans alike will say that is unfair.  So, will they eliminate the play-in and go back to a four-team playoff format in each league?  Nah.  We’ll soon see a best-of-three.  When that is criticized, the Wild Card will likely be elevated to a best-of-five, or worse yet, a sixth team so that teams with the best records can have almost a week off.  Of course, that will mean ending the season earlier, retiring the 162-game schedule and going back to the pre-expansion 154-game season.  And the record book enlarges.
3 – Non-professional sports such as high basketball aren’t included here.  High school is a time for enjoying life before the rigors of weightier responsibilities take hold.
4 – Spoken by the late, great Dr. Bruce V. Weidner, professor of chemistry at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.  The Elsa and Bruce Weidner Scholarship is given in their memory.

Joey Votto’s 2013: Worries Off the Field?

Joey Votto, first baseman for the Cincinnati Reds, has just completed his sixth full season as a major leaguer.  His achievements are the envy of most players.  Even so, there has been recurring concern in the Queen City about his physical condition first, then his performance ever since he missed a significant part of the 2012 season with a knee injury.  When he returned from his injury last year, there was a marked decline in his power numbers.  This was discussed at length throughout the ensuing winter’s Hot Stove circles.  However, he dispelled those doubts with a 2013 spring training which matched the great spring he had in 2010 which led to his MVP season.1

Fans  Begin  to  Worry  Again

Fans’ doubts about Votto resurfaced after a good start to his 2013 season.   Through May, he was batting .340, but went .285 the rest of the way.  It was good, but not Votto-like.  His OBP and slugging went from the .460s and .544 through the first two months and ended at .435 and .491 respectively.  For most players, there would really be no reason to be concerned.  Cincinnati fans have been spoiled by this tremendous player so that anything less than amazingly great brings on Wall Street-type doomsday thinking.

In fairness to the fans, Votto’s hitting with RISP was out-of-character for him.  2013 was the first season since his first full major league year of 2008 where his RISP batting average was slightly lower than his overall average.  In 2008, he hit .297 overall and .287 RISP.  For the season just completed, he was .305 and .291.  For the span of 2009-12, his RISP averages were 14, 45, 74 and 33 points above his overall.  Thus, the conclusion leans more toward fans being spoiled rather than having a reason to berate his performance.

RBI  Ratio  Has  Dropped

A #3 hitter such as Votto is supposed to be the ultimate combination of offensive abilities.  RBI is one measure of competence.  His RBI production rate has been declining since his MVP season of 2010.  In that year, he averaged 6.1 plate appearances per RBI.  In the last three years, this stat has been:  6.9, 8.4 and 9.8.  So, 2013 represents a 61% increase in the number of plate appearances he required to produce an RBI over what he did in his best season. By comparison, it was a rate less than half as efficient as this year’s MLB RBI leaders (Chris Davis and Miguel Cabrera at 4.7) which Cincinnati fans expect Votto to approach.

Part of this drop can be attributed to his being pitched around more.  Even though he had a 103 RBI guy behind him in the lineup for much of the year (Brandon Phillips), his OBP with RISP was a whopping 186 points above his batting average in those situations (.479 vs .291).  This differential was the same as in 2012 (190 points) and noticeably higher than for his MVP year (125 points, which is still high).  It would appear that opponents have pitched around Votto more during the last two seasons than before.

Some of his detractors say that his inflexibility with regard to not swinging at pitches slightly out of the strike zone hurts his team when it needs an RBI more than it does a base runner ( even though additional base runners should be a good thing with hitters like Phillips and Jay Bruce following him).  That same criticism was leveled at Ted Williams, too.  Ironically, research discovered a note in Wikipedia which stated  that “As a child, Votto adorned his wall with a Ted Williams poster.”  Coincidence?2

Perhaps  a  Vision  Problem?

There have been several cases where a player’s vision deteriorated enough to lower his hitting statistics, thus requiring correction.  This does not seem to be the case with Joey Votto.  OK, his hitting in the clutch is not as unreal as it has been.  But we should look to walks and strikeouts as vision will impact these areas.  Regarding walks, 2013 marked the third straight year he led the league.  Although he did set a personal high for strikeouts with 138, he walked a lot as well.  His ratio of 0.98 walks per strikeout for 2013 was noticeably better than his career average of 0.76 coming into this season.  Thus, Joey is seeing the ball well.

Fatigue  Was  Not  the  Reason

The point is that something seemed to be bothering Joey Votto the entire season.  It wasn’t due a popular view that he was gradually worn down because he played in every game.  A look at his monthly stats indicates that it wasn’t that he had two very fine months at the start of the season followed by a decline.  His early stats were only a result of an outstanding May.  That month was the statistical “outlier” for his 2013 season.  His April was very similar to June, July, August and September.3

So,  Why  the  Concern?

The older we become, the more we are able to read between the lines (no baseball pun intended).  What concerns this writer goes beyond Votto’s hitting stats.  One clue may be his career high of 14 errors this year, which was three more than what he committed in his first full season.  His mobility seemed to be restored from last year’s knee problem, so that can probably be ruled out.

Throughout this year, his expression at the plate and in the field seemed distant, almost as if Joey was looking beyond the moment on the field.  It was not one of boredom or indifference.  Votto is not a complacent individual who is taking his lucrative, long contract for granted.  His work ethic is exemplary.  From an observant fan’s perspective, he appeared to be consistently distracted by something, probably off the field.  There were several times when Reds radio broadcasters noted several Votto plays or at bats where the feeling was “where is his mind?”

His father’s death in 2008 was emotionally difficult for him to the extent that he missed some games dealing with it the following year.But even in that psychologically embattled year of 2009, his batting average differential between being ahead in the count compared to being behind in the count was a career best of just 63 points!So, is there something more troublesome happening in is life now?

While Joey Votto has always been less expressive than most, there seemed to be a distinct lack of joy in his face.  Here’s hoping that, if there is anything worrying him, it is resolved soon.  This is not coming from a sports fan worried about wins and losses, but from a concerned fellow human being.  Joey Votto is a great guy and deserves peace of mind.

1 – 2010 spring: .352, .462 OBP, .630 slug.  Compared to 2013 .346/.460/.673  …  even more impressive when compared to his lifetime spring numbers of .289/.393/.486

2 — This is not to suggest that Votto’s RBI production compares favorably to the Splendid Splinter’s, but then, few can.  Williams had just one season where his plate appearances per RBI (7.5 in 1959 at age 41) exceeded Votto’s career average of 7.1.

3 – While Votto hit .388 in May, the other months of April and June through September were .291, .297, .287, .275 and .281.  Subtract May and Votto’s average for the season would have been .287.

4 – Wikipedia note and a reference to an article on the subject (http://marksheldon.mlblogs.com/2009/06/23/votto-i-felt-i-was-going-to-die/

5 – 63 points represented the spread of .358 versus .295.  Major league average differential for 2013 was in the 90s.  This year’s mean team average when ahead in the count was .293 compared to .205 when behind. His differentials during 2010-13 were 107, 170, 150 and 141 points respectively.  But remember, Votto’s “ahead averages” for those three years ranged from .342 to .407, hardly ordinary.

Poor Dusty STILL Doesn’t Get It — ALL the Little Things Do Add Up!

As I wrote in my season’s farewell article last October 16: “The day after the Reds went home for the winter, Lance McAllister stated what some of us have realized for years.  Despite being in favor of Dusty Baker continuing as Reds manager, Lance admitted, “He can get you there, but he can’t win there.”   Dusty is a nice guy, beloved by his players.  But can loyal Reds fans really believe he will learn to take charge in 2013 as he never has before?”1

Watching the Pirates defeat the Reds 6-2 in the NL Wild Card game and listening to part of the post-game manager’s interview gives the “no surprise” answer to that question.  Another season under him has gone under.  It’s not so much that not winning it all upsets fans, it’s that his teams in-the-hunt always seem to fall short of reasonable expectations.2  Yes, “the team was leaking oil” as it approached the playoffs.3  Unfortunately, many parts that failed weren’t leaking prior to the win-or-go-home game.

How did this year’s post-season Reds add to his unenviable legacy?

1)    As usual, his team’s count-of-ten began before the official biting of the dust with Zach Cozart’s ground out.  This year’s version made a clear statement that “we’re powerless” during the weekend preceding the Wild Card game.  If the Reds could win two of those three at home, they would have hosted last evening’s game.
But alas, A.J. Burnett stymied them over eight innings en route to a 4-1 win on Friday.

On Saturday, Pirate manager Clint Hurdle pulled his starting pitcher when trouble began in the bottom of the fifth.  His move ensured that his starter couldn’t get the win, but his team’s win was more important to him.  Hurdle’s move was contrasted by the Reds starter being allowed to stay in long enough to serve five souvenirs to the fans beyond the outfield fences and clinch home field for Pittsburgh.

Sunday’s uninspired loss by the Reds was duly noted by mlb.com: “In the grand scheme of things, Sunday afternoon’s 4-2 loss to the Pirates didn’t mean much for the Reds… But this was far from the ideal way to enter the postseason… closed out the season dropping five straight. That matched a season high and marked Cincinnati’s longest home losing streak of the year… Although the regulars played just enough to get two at-bats, the Reds notched just four hits and
barely threatened in the first seven innings.”  That sound like a lost opportunity to right the ship mentally.

2)   Oh, but the Reds were mentally ready to play according to Dusty in the post-game.  Dusty disputed a claim to the contrary by citing Todd Frazier’s foul ball which just missed being a big RBI situation with two runners on and being down just 3-1.  In other words, the Reds were in the game.  Really?

-Brandon Phillips booted a sure dp grounder and it became a force at second base with a run scoring.

-Joey Votto had a ball simply fall out of his glove as he prepared a non-hurried flip to the pitcher covering in another play.

-Then there was a mental bobble of a different nature.  The enthused Pirate faithful were chanting Johnny Cueto’s last name.  At one point, he just dropped the ball while standing on the mound.  He could have used an encouraging message of some sort from his bench or teammates, but then, perhaps they were more concerned about possibly hurting his pride than the game’s outcome.  This is not to suggest that Cueto needs to be coddled, just that the manager sets the tone.   When it comes to taking charge, this one is tone deaf.

3)   As in last year’s Reds fade against the Giants… and the Cubs fade against the Marlins in ’03… and the Giants fade against the Angels in ’02, the bullpen was warmed up a few laps too late.  Crucial October games require a different style of managing.  At this stage of the season, it does not serve the team’s best interest to give a starter that extra chance to pull out of trouble.  You’re at the edge of a cliff, not contemplating two or three more months of skipping through green infield pastures with lilies everywhere.

In this year’s exhibit “A”, Cueto’s potential replacement should have been warming up after the second solo shot in the bottom of the second.  Remember, we’re in “no tomorrow” territory and Francisco Liriano, who is death to opposing batters in PNC Park, has a 2-0 lead.  Not to mention most Pirate swings of the bat are resulting in line shots.  Yet, when additional difficulties began rearing their ugly heads in the third, just then we saw a pitcher start his early warm-up lobs.  But, Cueto did not exit until the fourth.  His replacement allowed an inherited runner to score, which made it 4-1.  With the final score being 6-2, we can say it was already over by then.  As Biff Tannen used to say in “Back to the Future II”, “There’s something very familiar about this.”

The leaves are just beginning to turn in southwestern Ohio, yet a very talented Reds team has already turned its 2013 calendar over to the history books.  The manager’s contract says we have yet another year of this to look forward to.  Fortunately, for the next six months we can be distracted with partial government shut-downs, a $17 trillion national debt and Obamascare.  Have a nice winter, fellow Cincinnatians!

1 – “Reds Ignore Tale of 3 Cities,” reposted blog on www.sportuoso.wordpress.com, 12/24/2012
2 – 2002 Giants, 2003 Cubs and 2012-13 Reds
3 – post-game comment on TBS

Baseball’s Career Record Book is Stained for a Third Time

Baseball is not only a fascinating sport, but is also so different from its less civil counterparts of today.  One of its magnetic qualities is its record book.  The numerous categories it contains as well as the unprecedented length of time it covers give it an unmatched appeal.  So, when any action attacks its integrity, the game is injured .

The early days of the computer encouraged some of baseball’s powers-that-be to review all available game records.  Some career data were arbitrarily adjusted and some were not.  Most notable among the categories of honor were numerous “no-hitters” erased by a redefinition of the feat, decades after many of those players had gone to their graves.

But that pales in comparison to the disgraceful inaction of those running the business of baseball over the last two decades.  As a result, the embarrassing “Steroid Era” claimed another victim last evening, September 20, 2013, when Alex Rodriguez “passed”the inestimable Lou Gehrig with his “24th” career grand slam.1

This completes a Terrible Trifecta.  Mark McGwire began this blemished journey when he “passed” Roger Maris’ 61 homers with his “70” in 1998.  Barry (Michelin Man) Bonds followed with his “73” in 2001 on his way to “eclipsing” Hank Aaron’s true career mark of 755.  (Yes, Barry escaped being tested positive for PED’s as he played when MLB was fumbling away the early part of the early 2000’s. They might have been hoping that he and the others would retire and they could claim ignorance.  But we true fans remember, Barry, that you also had tell-tale knee problems, especially in 2005 to the extent that you missed all but 14 games and, by “chance” you couldn’t be tested while on the DL.)

“A-Rod” may lose his appeal with the arbitrator after the season and be banned for life.  Or he may just have his original 211-game suspension upheld and he could return during the 2015 season.  Or he may just retire.

It doesn’t matter, he has caused too much damage already.

We are confident that Roger and Lou are in a better place and probably don’t care about the injustice to their records.  We can be sure that 79-year old Hammerin’ Hank will continue to live the remainder of his life with dignity and his head held high for he knows the fans know he is really #1 in career homers.

But for us Baby Boomers with more time remaining, we will have to look away from part of our cherished record book until a future Ken Griffey or the like can clean the dirt left behind by players more interested in their self-importance than the Grand Old Game that has meant so much to so many of us since 1845.

1 – With MLB lacking the courage to disparage records “made” by “Players With Supplements,” the only recourse we have is to surround all of their “achievements” in quotation marks.

Mattingly and Baker, or “Taking Charge And Not Taking Charge”

Today’s episode Of “First Take” on ESPN had the two great pros at the debate table, Stephen A. Smith and Skip Bayliss.  These two fan-favorites are known for their passionate, but generally respectful go-arounds.  However, this show featured two consecutive topics which were noticeable more for their own contrast than for the opposing views they didn’t elicit from Smith & Bayliss (or Bayliss & Smith, if you prefer).

What  Started  Phillips  vs.  Reporter

The first segment concerned Brandon Phillips’ expletive-laced response to a Reds beat writer’s tweet, described the MLB.com article by Mark Sheldon and a clip from ESPN attached to his posting.  The setting was the manager’s pre-game meeting with the press.  C. Trent Rosecrans of the Cincinnati Enquirer had tweeted that afternoon that the Reds lineup change moving Brandon Phillips from the clean-up spot to the #2 spot was “Reds go from a hitter with a .320 OBP in the 2 hole to one with a .310.”

Both  Player  and  Writer  Are  at  Fault

As an ESPN analyst mentioned in the clip, this should normally not cause any commotion.  But he added, “You don’t know that dude BP.  He loves Twitter.”

From a fan’s standpoint, it looks to me like it was a writer trying too hard to make a non-existent point.  A ten point difference in OBPis immaterial; both are bad for a guy behind the leadoff hitter.  More importantly, it also conveniently ignores that the .310 OBP belongs to a guy who is normally a very adept #2 hitter and who has somehow converted an off-year .266 average into an NL 3rd best 95 RBI coming from the clean-up spot he’s unaccustomed to. (Rosecrans would fit in with some writers covering politics.)

The analysts correctly suggested that an outburst might have been expected considering that, at that time, the Reds had just experienced two painful losses in the park of the team they need to catch.1  According to Sheldon, it was also the last day of a tough 20-game, 20-day stretch for the Reds in the normally stressful dog days of August.

Of course, the magnitude of the player’s response is another matter.  The four-letter word exchange of unpleasantries took place on both sides of the manager, out of sight of the viewers but not out of hearing.  It did not represent either profession well.  Stephen A. Smith noted correctly that Brandon Phillips has now made himself a target of writers following the Reds, although the Enquirer’s sports editor dismissed it.2

Manager  Baker  Verbally  Washes  His  Hands

But Stephen A. made another key point.  This escalating situation was happening during the manager’s pre-game press conference.  He should have been the presiding judge (my words).  Instead, we see Dusty with an embarrassed smile.  He appeared to be more caught off-guard than willing to use his position as “the leader of men”3 to stop the festivities.  Thus, we hear Dusty say, “I ain’t in that one.  It’s between you and him.”  To which the sportswriter said, “It’s between him and him.”  Dusty’s only follow-up was, “OK, well that’s even better.”

Stephen A. was upset that Baker did not stop the situation as he could have.  He should have told Phillips to take a break and leave the scene before it became worse.  Besides being the leader of men, he also represents the team and is responsible for maintaining a g reputation.  Taking charge didn’t happen.

Mattingly,  However,  DID  Take  Charge  of  His  Player’s  Attitude

The next “First Take” debate point concerned Don Mattingly’s removal of 22-year old rookie sensation Yasiel Puig before the fifth inning of last night’s Dodgers game.  Writers suggested a number of things that led to Puig’s removal (not sliding into second on a close play, looking bad at the plate and an exaggerated non-chalance in the outfield in addition to previous incidences).  However, manager Don Mattingly said he preferred to keep it “in-house.”4

It was known that “After the game, there were closed-door meetings involving club president Stan Kasten, general manager Ned Colletti, Mattingly and Puig.”4

“’I talk to him like I talk to my kids, honestly,’ Mattingly said after emerging from a 40-minute media lockout. ‘I try to be honest and represent the whole ballclub with the decisions I make and I feel, in a sense, it was in the best interests of the team.’”4

Support  for  Mattingly  in  Making  His  Point

Stephen A. acknowledged the wisdom of Mattingly’s decision with “He’s 22-years old (Puig)… If you don’t stop it now, it’s only going to get worse.”  After some agreement with Skip Bayliss on several aspects of Puig’s potential, he added, “But you can’t allow this kid to think that he has ‘arrived.’”

But  is  This  an  “Apples  and  Oranges”  Comparison?

OK, Brandon Phillips is a 32-year old veteran with 5,079 at bats, three Gold Gloves and who has proven his worth since coming to the Reds for the 2006 season.  Puig is a 22-year old with 289 at bats in his first partial major league season.

Age is irrelevant because we’re dealing with public actions which reflect not only on the player, but on each organization.  True, it has been a very stressful time for the Reds.  However, Brandon should know better and be above an irre implied analysis by a sportswriter who returned to Cincinnati and wants to make a name for himself among some veteran competition.

When things get rough on the diamond or in the press conference, a manager needs to be able to step forward and get emotions back in order – regardless of the stature of the participants.  Mattingly took the bull by the horns.  Baker looked as though he stepped into the bullring unarmed.

Mattingly  Appears  to Have  Accomplished  a  Mission

Yasiel Puig’s response to the incident gives hope that he understood Mattingly’s message by “’I felt the meeting went well,’ Puig said through an interpreter. ‘We talked about what I and every player needs to do to prepare for every pitch. I thought it was a good meeting. If I’m in the lineup on Friday, I will make sure to give 100 percent. If not, I will prepare to make sure I’m ready when my turn comes.’”4

As for Phillips, the Reds manager sent no message when it was needed most.  Guess we have to wait and see what Twitter reveals.

Final  Comment:  This  Isn’t  a  Precedent  for  Baker

If the age difference of the two players causes the reader to absolve Dusty in this case, let’s go back a couple of years with this “player’s manager.”

Two years ago, a different Cuban multi-million dollar signing was in his first full season with the Reds (Aroldis Chapman).   He endured a scary time where, in four appearances, he walked twelve and retired just four batters.  Twice, he did not retire anyone.5

In one of those outings, I recall the radio announcers saying that the 23-year old experienced a 10mph drop in his pitches from what was normal for him.  After the game, reporters asked Dusty about his visit to the mound and he said he was assured by Aroldis that he was OK, so he left him in.

Since when does a 61-year old manager allow the 23-year old to call the shots?  When something happens to a $30.25 million player, the guy who writes the lineup must also make the key decisions.  Enough said… without remembering the Dusty-Manager-Missing stunning collapses of the Giants, Cubs and Reds of prior mishaps.

1 –  and winning just three of the last thirty series in that city might make a team even more sensitive to perceived negative reporting

2 – “Angel Rodriguez issued this response on the newspaper’s website: ‘While we are disappointed in Phillips’ reaction, we understand it is a pennant race and emotions are high during a crucial series with a heated rival. This isn’t the first time a player has lost his temper in response to a reporter’s questions and it won’t be the last. It is part of covering the team day-in day-out.’” (article by Mark Sheldon, MLB.com, “Phillips expresses displeasure with reporter,” 8/29/2013)

3 – Stephen A. Smith’s description of what a manager is

4 – “After early removal, Puig vows to give ‘100 percent,’” article by Ken Gurnick, MLB.com, 8/28/2013

5 – “Reds’ Aroldis Chapman out with shoulder injury,” by Joe Kay of the Associated Press, posted on www.kentucky.com, 5/17/2011


Nelson Cruz Humbly Accepts Suspension— Some Disapprove That He Did Not Challenge!

The decision handed down by Major League Baseball yesterday to suspend thirteen players for using performance enhancing drugs (PED) will always be a significant event in the history of baseball.  But as with all disasters, the opportunity for acceptance and healing can bring a new life.  As Tampa Bay Rays star Evan Longoria tweeted, “Ultimately, although today will be a day of infamy for MLB, it is a tremendous step in the right direction for the game we love.”1

Regarding any suspension in a team sport, the repercussions go beyond the guilty player and his family.  Teams in the hunt for the post-season will be impacted the most.  While the San Francisco Giants overcame the loss of Melky Cabrera to win the World Series last year, it will be a few weeks before we know how this year’s hopefuls will be affected.

Texas  Attempted  a  Trade  in  Anticipation  of  the  Suspension

The Texas Rangers, knowing that outfielder Nelson Cruz was on “the list,” acquired pitcher Matt Garza last week when they were unable to trade for another outfielder.  However, they did recall two outfielders from AAA Round Rock to cope with the loss of Cruz.2

Cruz  Accepts  Punishment

Of the thirteen, only Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees will appeal his suspension.  Nelson Cruz of the Rangers has honorably3 agreed to forego the appeal process which might allowed him to play possibly for the remainder of the season and post-season because it is expected that the arbitrator will not be able to hear A-Rod’s case until at least November.1

Some  Rumblings  From  the  Press

Actions have consequences.  That’s the nature of the universe and of civilized societies.  Well, with the popularity of moral relativism today, I suppose it should not be surprising that some of the press called Cruz “selfish” as was reported by Stephen A. Smith in his daily debate forum on ESPN today.  Yes, the Rangers are in another division race with the usual high stakes.  And, yes, a lot of people will be affected by Cruz’s mistake.  But I agree with “Stephen A.” that Nelson Cruz is not being selfish for accepting the consequences of his error off the field.

Appeal  is  Not  About  Guilt

MLB has a defined sequence of penalties regarding the use of banned substances in its contract with the players’ union.  For PEDs, it goes 50-games, 100-games, then possible lifetime suspension.  While A-Rod’s suspension might be modified by the arbitrator, the 50-game suspensions are a virtual lock to remain in place.  Those of the press who are criticizing Nelson Cruz for not appealing his suspension are not suggesting that he’s innocent.  Rather, they want to follow the current fad and attempt to minimize the sting rightfully associated with penalties.

Many  Are  “Complicit” 

Stephen A. Smith’s used this term for the members of the press criticizing Cruz.  He linked them with those in baseball’s hierarchy who have been “complicit” in the increase in cheating for more than a decade.4  If everyone were truly interested in cleaning up the game, we wouldn’t hear such criticism directed to those who own up to mistakes and accept penalties like mature adults.

Integrity is facing the music.  More should learn that tune.

1 – from “A-Rod gets ban through 2014; 12 get 50 games,” posted by Paul Hagen, mlb.com, 8/6/2013
2 – from “Cruz Accepts 50-Game Suspension,” posted by T.R.Sullivan, mlb.com, 8/5/2013
3 – “Cruz said he used PEDs to recover after losing 40 pounds due to a gastrointestinal infection that affected him during the 2011-12 offseason.”
“’By the time I was properly diagnosed and treated, I had lost 40 pounds,’ Cruz said. ‘Just weeks before I was to report to Spring Training in 2012, I was unsure whether I would be physically able to play. Faced with this situation, I made an error in judgment that I deeply regret, and I accept full responsibility for that error. I should have handled the situation differently, and my illness was no excuse.’”  (same Paul Hagen article in footnote #1)
4 – ESPN television, 8/6/2013

MLB Should Imitate Olympics: Test Award Winners and Some Statistical Leaders

Last year, the question was whether Melky Cabrera (suspended for the remainder of the 2012 season on August 15) should be eligible for the NL batting crown if he were to end up with the highest average.Through a special agreement, he prevented a potentially divisive situation by removing himself from the batting title competition.However, he was allowed to keep his All-Star MVP award won in July, 2012 albeit with some murmuring among sportswriters and fans.

This week’s season-ending suspension of Ryan Braun is a second wake-up call for Major League Baseball.  While some are questioning whether he should retain his 2011 MVP award, this will likely become a non-issue in the absence of a precedent3 and the unlikelihood of Braun relinquishing it.

While it may result in a cause célèbre, it is important that MLB and the players’ union agree on a drug testing procedure for qualifying award winners and some statistical leaders.  A random testing is currently in effect, but obviously cannot be guaranteed to verify the validity of all who might qualify for previously mentioned titles.4

Who would be tested is straightforward:  all winners of the MVP, CY Young, Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger and Comeback Player awards plus statistical leaders in key hitting and pitching categories.  For this I would suggest the categories of Batting Average, Slugging Pct., OBP, HR, RBI, Runs, Hits, Doubles, Triples and Stolen Bases for position players.  The pitching categories would be Wins, Saves, ERA, IP, Strikeouts, Shutouts, WHIP and Appearances.  Obviously, only one test would be required of any player regardless of the number of awards and categories he could win.

How many players tested for each title would be determined by the joint agreement.  For the awards, it could be as simple as testing only the top nominee.  Should he test positive for a prohibited substance, the award could either be left vacant or test the top three or four initially and award accordingly.  For statistical leaders, it would probably make sense to test at least the top three and go from there.

Yes, this is a hassle.  However, MLB still needs to secure the complete confidence of its paying fans in the same assertive way the 1919 Black Sox scandal was dealt with (other than the banishment of Buck Weaver and perhaps “Shoeless Joe” Jackson).  New policies went into place then and they remain with us.  The only sad part of the current situation is that there is no way to disqualify the cheaters of the Steroid Era other than denying them enshrinement in the Hall of Fame.

We are stuck with quite a few tainted achievements in the record books.  By implementing such a drug testing policy, MLB can prevent additional tarnishing of records while the rest of us wait for the day someone can truly beat Aaron’s “755” and Maris’ “61” and so forth.

 

1 – Although he was one plate appearance short of qualifying for the title, a rule enacted a few years back allows for hitless at bats to be added to a player’s actual total to reach the required number of 3.1 plate appearances for eachgame played by his team.  If his actual hit total divided into the increased at bat total still produces the highest average, then he is declared to have won the batting title.  According to the article noted in footnote #2, this rule was first used for the 1996 NL batting championship when Tony Gwynn beat Ellis Burks for the title.

2 –“Cabrera was disqualified from the NL batting honor at his own request when Major League Baseball and the players’ association agreed Friday to a one-season-only change in the rule governing the individual batting, slugging and on-base percentage champions… ‘I ask the Players Association to take the necessary steps, in conjunction with the Office of the Commissioner, to remove my name from for the National League batting title,’ Cabrera wrote in the letter, a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press…’To be plain, I personally have no wish to win an award that would widely be seen as tainted, and I believe that it would be far better for the remaining contenders to compete for that distinction,’ Cabrera wrote.
Lawyers from Major League Baseball and the union finished drafting the change on Friday.” (www.espn.go.com, posting an Associated Press article, 9/21/2012)

3 –Since “Selig had said ‘we generally don’t interfere” in the batting title issue’” (Ibid.), we certainly wouldn’t expect him to intervene on awards given by the sportswriters.

4 – From Wikipedia: “On January 10, 2013, MLB and the players union reached an agreement to add random, in-season human growth hormone and to a new test to reveal the use of testosterone. Testing will begin the 2013 season… [“Baseball to Expand Drug-Testing Program”. New York Times. Retrieved 10 January 2013.]”  Wikipedia also listed the penalties for “Failure to comply with treatment program,” “positive steroid test results” and “conviction for use of prohibited substances.”

Ryan Braun Suspension: Long-Term Sorrow is Really For Brewers Management

This week’s season-ending suspension of Milwaukee Brewers leftfielder Ryan Braun because of his involvement with performance enhancing drugs (PED) is another example of how things are supposed to work in this life.  If you mess up seriously, then there will be serious consequences.

Now, this is definitely not a condemnation of Ryan.  Sure, he disappointed his family, fans and teammates in a big way, but he isn’t the first professional athlete to meet his Moral Waterloo, nor will he be the last.  It’s also safe to say that if we live long enough, each of us will be guilty of misdeeds which we will regret deeply and desperately hope for a second chance.  The advantage most of us will have is that our major wrong-doings will not receive the publicity of sports and public figures.  Ryan is human and deserves another chance.

The Brewers and their fans have the immediate problem of dealing with another let-down for the remainder of this already trashed season (Milwaukee is 41-57 and 19 games back in the NL Central as of this writing).  Initially, we need to feel for the young fans who are having their trust in athletes shaken for the first time.  Eventually, they will learn forgiveness and that their strong admiration should be directed to those who are more than just gaudy statistics.  The Brewer players and supporters will begin to heal and look forward as well.

But the damage is not limited to this.  While most are sympathetic to the plight of the team and the Brewer faithful, it’s time to recognize where noteworthy damage has occurred.  The MLB web site has this to say about Ryan Braun’s contract, “A five-time All-Star who won the 2007 National League Rookie of the Year Award and the 2011 NL MVP Award, Braun is in the middle of a club-record contract that runs through 2020. He is earning $8.5 million this season and will forfeit nearly $3.5 million during his suspension.”1

“Braun still has seven years and more than $120 million remaining on his contract. He will earn $10 million in 2014 and $12 million in ’15 before a five-year, $105 million contract extension kicks in. It runs through at least 2020.”1

OK, so Braun will forfeit a little more than $3 million for this season and the players will see attendance suffer in August and September.  However, Brewer management must feel the most betrayed.  They signed him to a long-term contract on the basis of some truly outstanding seasons.  The decision was made to keep Braun as the de facto franchise player and allow Prince Fielder to become a free agent.  Now, in retrospect, they extended themselves financially for a player who was misrepresenting his true abilities.

Of course, there’s no reason to expect Braun to become an ordinary player starting next season.  However, there’s also no reason to expect him to be able to put up the numbers which led to his incredibly lucrative contract.  I’d like to think that the Milwaukee ownership would have some legal recourse to soften the hit to its organization.

Until then, a majority of my sympathies go to them.

1 – Adam McCalvy, www.mlb.com, 7/23/2013

San Jose A’s? — Just Let It Happen, San Francisco Giants

The Battle of Silicon Valley is not something you would expect to be reading about in the baseball sports pages, but that it what is occurring right now.  Major League Baseball is a shrewd sport with well-defined marketing plans.  Only this time, a time-honored practice is creating an uncomfortable situation for all concerned.

Background

MLB teams have distinct geographical areas assigned to each franchise as protected areas.  A kind gesture on the part of Oakland A’s ownership twenty-three years ago made this dispute possible.  In 1990, the San Francisco Giants were unable to secure public financing for a new stadium in their city.  Bob Lurie, the Giants owner at that time wanted to investigate moving to San Jose.  To ensure the Oakland team wouldn’t challenge it (franchise moves require 75% approval by the other owners), he asked the A’s owner, Walter Haas, for consent.  At the time, the A’s had the third highest attendance, and being a “civic-minded philanthropist,” he agreed in order to help the Giants stay in the area.1

The Giants were unable to get public financing for a stadium in Santa Clara county.  The team was sold two years later to an investor group led by Peter Magowan, former CEO of Safeway, Inc.  According to Giant ownership, they financed their new home, AT&T Park based on “that territorial exclusivity” obtained in 1990.  That San Jose now has a greater population than San Francisco is not the top of the Giants’ owner concerns.  This is Silicon Valley and major sponsors include Yahoo and Oracle.1

According to the WSJ article, the complexity of this issue will not be brought up at the owners’ meeting in August.

My  Thoughts  and  Suggestion

1)   Yes, Giants, you may technically have a claim to the territory where the A’s would like to move.  And yes, like all major league sports, MLB has become so dependent on $ that I understand your reluctance to relinquish this territory.

2)   However, there is an ethical issue here fellow National Leaguer Giants (I’m a Cincinnati native).  While in 1990 neither team had exclusive rights to the Santa Clara region,1 the A’s allowed you to have the area on the assumption that you would move there.  Since you didn’t, it would seem honorable to end your claim on the area because the original circumstance of your request has long since gone by the wayside.

3)   In addition, you have the same opportunity to be magnanimous as Mr. Haas was  five years before he died.In 1990, the A’s had won the three previous AL pennants and one Word Series (yes, as a Cincinnatian, I enjoyed our surprising sweep of Oakland in ’90!).  They were in excellent shape financially and from a fan base standpoint.  The current Giants have won two of the last three World Series and should have been using that success to capture fans in the Santa Clara area who would remain loyal even if the A’s move there.  The A’s are moving upward now, but let’s be honest; the Oakland metro area has struggled more than San Francisco has recently.  Now you have the opportunity to return Mr. Haas’ charitable gesture.

I can’t guarantee that many A’s fans will switch allegiance to the Giants if their team moves from Oakland or how much income you may lose in the short term.2  But I can guarantee that a protracted squabble like this coupled with other issues in our beloved sport is all that some in Congress would need to reopen the drive to eliminate MLB’s anti-trust exemption.

For the sake of our sport, Giants, let the A’s go to San Jose!

 

1 – Brian Costa, Wall Street Journal, “Baseball’s Battle for Silicon Valley,” 6/28/2013
2 – Perhaps some form of compensation could be given by the A’s to the Giants.  It would be a form of new franchise payment but, of course, nowhere near the magnitude required of new teams entering the league.

Fourth of July to Labor Day: Baseball’s “Fast Forward”

I was introduced to this phenomenon around the middle of the last decade.  At that time, Kevin Keane was the outstanding host of the post-game radio show on WTAM (AM 1100) in Cleveland.  As the Fourth approached, he said that we would be experiencing the annual fastest two months in sports.  At the time, I was skeptical having never been aware of this.

But it’s true!  When this week is over, I caution all baseball fans to be sure to enjoy the season as much as possible.  Before you know it, it will be September.  The Major League rosters will expand and followers of many teams will be looking toward the Hot Stove League and the off-season with free agency, etc.

What causes this time warp?  In thinking about it, it makes sense after all.  July and August are the peak vacation months for many.  Anticipation and planning will make the time fly for that reason alone. For baseball, the actual mid-point of the 162-game season has already occurred so that the All-Star game is really taking place early in the second half of the season.  Add to that the daily rumors of possible trades before the July 31 “deadline,”1 and this month goes by even faster.  By then, the specter of the approaching new school year makes the remaining free time go that much quicker for others.

So, fasten your seat belts, The Ride is about to start!

1 – As a reminder, the “trade deadline” refers only to those trades which may be completed without the players clearing waivers first.  In most cases after July 31, a “gentleman’s agreement” will allow most star players to clear waivers with the expectation that the favor will be returned in the future.

IF Scioscia Departed the Angels, Could He Wind Up in Cincinnati?

Too many things would have to go just right for this unlikely event to happen, but it’s fun to contemplate!

The 2013 season is only at the one-quarter mark.  Just because the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in Southern California North of San Diego are twelve games back in the AL West, it’s too early to begin tossing around the “what ifs.”  However, if you are a Cincinnati fan who is still frustrated over the Reds obligatory extension of Dusty Baker’s contract last fall1, then you can see how the dots could connect with a little luck.  OK, a lot of luck.  But as Tom Bodette has said for years, “It could happen.”

How  Long  Before  Unrest  in  Angel  LAAnd?

As everyone knows, the Angels have orchestrated an invincible lineup over the last two off-seasons.  Unfortunately, Reality was never sent the memo.  Eighty-nine wins and finishing four games back of a wild card spot was certainly not the expectation for 2012.  This year’s poor start had added to the confused expressions seen throughout Disneyland.  If not for the worse-than-sluggish beginning of the team which really occupies Los Angeles, the clamor of discontent among Halo fans would be heard all the way to Cincinnati, which is where this idea started.

Not  Necessarily  the  Manager’s  Fault, but  He’s  More  Expendable

Mind you, this is not an indictment of Mike Scioscia.  He is a most capable manager.  Unfortunately, there are times when no one has any idea why a team put together in heaven, could end up in the totally opposite venue (especially a team called the “Angels”).  When that happens, it is far easier to replace the field management than to try to rearrange millions of dollars in salaries.

Even before the age of mega-contracts, such changes occurred including a notable instance with the Reds.While Sparky Anderson had amassed an excellent record in his nine years in Cincinnati (five division titles, four pennants and two World Series titles); the seasons of 1977-78 didn’t bring an expected continuation of success.  The concern was that a unit can stay together too long to the point where a comfortable atmosphere replaces the urgency of winning.  Thus, Sparky was dismissed, went to Detroit shortly thereafter and his Tigers won it all convincingly in 1984.

Getting back to Mike Scioscia and Dusty Baker.  This is not to wish ill on either gentleman.  In baseball, as in all major league sports, the head guys on the field do not have lifetime contracts.  (Connie Mack doesn’t count.  He may have managed the same team for 50 years, but it helps if you are an owner, too.)  Consequently, all managers end up looking for a new team sooner or later.

Timing  is  the  Key  to  This  Long  Shot

Therefore, IF the Angels continue to perform below expectations, then Scioscia could be out.  The question is when: during the season or not until after?

As far as Dusty Baker and his new extended contract is concerned, he would likely last at least to the end of this season (unless there’s a recurrence of his health problems he experienced late last season, hopefully he can stay healthy).  Naysayers to me have a point that the Reds are a decent bet to make the playoffs even with St. Louis doing very well.  So why kick the manager out? Because the goal of most Cincinnati fans should be that the Reds finally ascend to the heights they are capable of.  They should not be carrying the mantle of “so close, but bad luck, etc. kept us from winning” which was discarded by the Giants’ fans who have since enjoyed two titles in the decade after Baker’s self-inflicted near-miss in 2002; ironically against Mike Scioscia and his Angels.  (Unfortunately, Cubs fans still have the same Baker near-miss specter hanging over their heads.  However, Baker can take some solace in that a lot of bad things besides him have happened in the Windy City since its last title of 1908.)

If Mike Scioscia is not permitted to finish the season with the Angels, he might very well wait until the off-season to sign elsewhere.  In that case, Reds fans can cling to the hope that he will be available when “enough becomes enough” in the Queen City this October.

… But there are still two major hurdles.  Suppose the other Los Angeles MLB franchise disposes of manager Don Mattingly?  Scioscia already has a ring there as a player.  Would he want to go up the road “back home” and solve that unfolding mess?  Or would he rather get away from it all and go to our nation’s capital (which sounds like a contradiction)?

Washington Nationals’ manager Dave Johnson will retire after this season and become a consultant for the team.3  The Washington position would also be very attractive to Scioscia, who’s essentially a National League-style manager.  Additionally, he is used to the noise of working in a media-centered environment.

Who’s  in  the  Catbird  Seat?

#1:  Mike Scioscia   #2: Washington Nationals fans   #3: Dusty Baker   #4: Los Angeles Dodgers fans   #5: Cincinnati Reds fans

If Scioscia wins with LAA this year, then that will be great for him.  If he’s out, he could return to the Dodgers if Mattingly is out or another talented team (Washington) will have an opening that would be perfect for him.

If Washington wins this year, that’ll be great for their fans, too.  If not, they will be able to hire pretty much whomever they want because they have a very good and young team with a bright future.

The Dodgers have their own mystifying underachievement going on.  What they do with their manager could change all of this Cincinnati hope.  The keys are: do they make a change and would Scioscia want to stay in that part of the baseball world or opt for a great situation far away from the baseball money smog of southern California.  Let us not forget that Baker also won a ring as a teammate of Scioscia’s with the Dodgers.

Dusty Baker has a very good team now.  Even though they won’t win it all, he still has the comfort of being under contract through next season.4   Would the Dodgers take him if he is asked to leave Cincinnati a year early?  The suspicion here is “not likely,” but Reds fans can always hope that he has an eye on the LAD situation.

For Reds fans, 90 wins is very achievable once again this season.  But it’s also safe for you to plan a wedding or vacation in mid-October because you won’t miss anything – unless of course, Mike Scioscia comes to town!


1
– “Reds Ignore the Tale of Three Cities, Extend Baker’s Contract,” www.cartaremi.wordpress.com, 10/16/2012
2 – Cincinnati fired future Hall-of-Fame manager Sparky Anderson on November 28, 1978 when two straight seasons of missing the post-season came after winning two straight World Series with essentially the same personnel in ’75 and ‘76.  Anderson’s replacement, John McNamara, led the Reds to the NL West title in the following year when each league still had only two divisions.
3 — Wikipedia
4 – All right, it IS possible for the Reds to go all the way with Baker, but they might have to resemble the ’27 Yankees to do it.  Then again, that might not be enough.  As a caller reminded “Doc” Rodgers, host of the Reds post-game radio show on WLW this evening, it is unlikely that the ’27 Yankees would been as imposing with Baker at the helm because he wouldn’t have put two lefties (Ruth and Gehrig) back-to-back in the lineup!  This was a reference to Baker’s avoidance of putting Joey Votto and Jay Bruce together for fear of being neutralized by a situational lefty reliever late in the game.

Did the “Circus” Doom Tebow in New York?

The New York Jets released Tim Tebow today after one season of very little playing time.  Was this just another action by “the capital of quick-fix bonehead decisions”1 or was it because they were tired of the “circus” surrounding Tebow as ESPN’s Skip Bayless mentioned this morning?

The Jets made their decision despite granting Tebow just 71 snaps during the regular season.  This isn’t the time to rehash the lack of wisdom in the Jets’ early plan to use him at positions other than quarterback.  However, as Skip pointed out, at least twelve NFL teams would have been better off with Tebow as the starting qb.  His winning ways as a Broncos are proof.  A look at their recent 6-10 season during which they managed only 17 points per game strongly suggests that NYJ was one of that group which would have benefitted with him in the starting leadership role.

So why the early Tebow exit?  Back to the previously mentioned “circus.”  Ever since his emergence on the national sports scene, Tim’s outward expressions of his Christian faith have drawn undue attention.  The news media feels obligated to highlight him whenever he makes a quick prayer on the sidelines.2 However, their attention is not one of quiet admiration, but rather a disdain for someone who dares to buck the status quo in our post-Christian society.  It has the mistaken notion that the practice of one’s faith is to be confined to church buildings.Another likely source of their irritation is that he is known to be living a chaste, single life.4   It’s difficult to push moral relativism when another true Christian becomes successful.

It’s disturbing that, in a country known for its glorification of individualistic success, it punishes the individual who doesn’t conform to society’s formula for eternal doom.

 

1 – Mike Lupica, New York Daily News sports columnist and radio commentator, on ESPN today
2 – And despite what many continue to believe, he doesn’t pray for victory over his opponent, but rather to do his best and to accept the outcome willingly.
3 – It is this state-over-church philosophy which spawns the ridiculously restrictive definition of what constitutes a religious organization when attempting to force implementation of the HHS mandate.
4 – “Living the Abstinent New York Lifestyle,” Bob Tedeschi, New York Times, 8/22/2012.  While not available for comment, a Tebow photo and a reference to his well-known morality was mentioned.

Joy and Anxiety As College Conference Realignments Change the NFL’s and NBA’s “Minor Leagues”

Or  Have  We  Forgotten  the  Purpose  of  College?

The last few years have seen a tremendous change in the college sports conference landscape.  The first rumblings were heard with the movement of universities which caused the Southwest Conference to dissolve in 1996 after 82 years of existence.What used to be the PAC-8 (remember?) gradually became the PAC-12.  The Big Ten hasn’t had as few as ten members for a while.  Even the “mid-major” MAC (Mid-American Conference) had member schools in seven states ranging from Illinois to New York to Florida before contracting then adding schools in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts.

Of course, the Big News now is the Big East or Catholic 7 or America 12 or… Just as in big business, major mergers, consolidations, etc. occur when big money is involved.  So it is with our colleges and universities.  Athletics have become such a major budget force that they have long since surpassed academic excellence in the minds of the news media and rabid sports fans.

Don’t get me wrong, I am very much a follower of numerous sports on various levels.  Sports are not life, but they add a very enjoyable dimension to life.  But as with any spice, moderation is the key.

University  of  Cincinnati’s  General  Campaign  Achievement  is  Overshadowed

Being a Cincinnati native, I follow the University of Cincinnati’s fortunes despite the fact that I broke with family tradition (excluding my father who graduated from a small college in New Mexico) and went to Miami University.  [No, the Miami founded in 1809 in Ohio, not the Miami founded in 1925 in Florida.]  Recently, Bearcat Nation reached a remarkable milestone by passing the $1 billion mark in funds raised by a campaign which began in 2005.  Only about two dozen public universities have accomplished this, and to their credit, just $76 million is scheduled to go to athletics.2

However, in a matter of one week, the public joy has been replaced with a barrage of negative emotions.  The once proud Big East, of which U.C. has been a member also since 2005, is facing a major reinvention.  As most college sports fans are aware, seven Catholic schools with a predominately basketball focus are leaving and keeping the conference name.  This leaves the Bearcats and a number of other schools pondering what to do now that the athletic sky is falling.

Image  and  $  Concern

Granted, the perceived rubble facing the remaining “America 12” could very well hurt athletic recruitment as these universities will be viewed as having less impressive schedules.  For the short term at least, this will impact the athletic department bottom lines which contribute much to the universities.  It’s not that the collegiate sports athletic pie as a whole is shrinking, it’s shifting.

When big money shifts, it changes the way we do things.

How  Did  College  Football  and  Basketball  Become  So  Financially  Influential?

Football and basketball used to be part of the American Athenian-style balanced education.  Football entered the scene after more than 70 U.S. institutes of higher learning had already been established.  Basketball came 20+ years later.  Great research and learning occurred without a Top 20 (sorry, showing my age) without a Top 25.

The excitement of bowl games (and the BCS, if you insist) along with March Madness are clearly two of life’s grandest spectacles.  There is nothing inherently wrong with these events and the associated rivalries and sense of school pride.  Smart marketing has added to the hype – and the dollars involved.

Pro  Basketball  and  Football  Benefit,  Often  to  the  Students’  and  Schools’  Detriment

It used to be that the scholar-athlete had ample time for the purpose at hand – obtaining an education.  In order to compete on many levels of college competition, it has often become the athlete-scholar with the “scholar” part fading into the background.

The goal of a B.A. has been replaced with an “N.B.A.” in the minds of many professional sport hopefuls “attending” college.  A similar mindset change affects many college football players.

Now, these two professional sports are not to blame for the rise in their sports’ interest on the college campuses.  They didn’t create the NCAA tournament which started in 1939 or seven years before the NBA was formed from earlier basketball leagues.  Bowl games began about seven decades before the Super Bowl.

HOWEVER, these two pro leagues benefit greatly from the colleges because, in effect, they serve as the sports’ minor leagues.3,4  Oh, the NBA does have a minor league, but it exists to develop some players who weren’t NBA-ready when drafted, but the majority of its minor-leaguers are on college campuses.

The more the college competition increases, the better the athletes which are available for these two pro sports.  These athletes are often deemed ready for the pros before earning a degree so the athlete takes his chances in the outside world, without a diploma.  And the school loses a source of revenue which leaves earlier tha originally intended.  Concern for academics is only an issue when schools are required to show adequate advancement toward degrees for its athletes.  Even then, there’s outrage that it’s somehow unfair to be placing academic requirements in a university setting.

Can  This  Be  Corrected?

Not likely.5,6  The NBA and NFL have no financial motivation to invest in minor leagues systems when the equivalent is already in place at someone else’s effort and expense.Of course, most universities are too dependent on the income from these two sports to agree to revert to the old days of seeking contributions from alumni and other sources on the basis of their academic achievements.

What would happen if all pro sports leagues were required to contribute to the general scholarship fund of schools when they take anyone who participated in that particular collegiate sport?  Of course, the question of stipends for athletes will be raised.  Perhaps this could be linked to revenue from officially licensed items instead of a direct salary in addition to free tuition, etc.  However it’s done, the colleges need to cease subsidizing the professional organizations.

 

1 – Wikipedia
2 – Associated Press article on www.therepublic.com, 2/17/2013
3 – unlike professional baseball which has had minor leagues since 1883.  It eventually became known as the “farm system” in the 1930’s when Branch Rickey formalized the system when he was with the St. Louis Cardinals.1  As a result, baseball still drafts a majority of its talent from recent high school graduates.  It pours money and coaching effort into their development.
4 — In addition, colleges don’t give equal footing to the sport of baseball.  “Baseball is what they call an equivalency sport. This means that colleges only have a limited number of scholarships to divide up between the entire roster. For instance, a NCAA DI coach has 11.7 total scholarships and can divide those up any way he wants, perhaps giving half scholarships to virtually every player or giving full rides to just a select number of players, usually pitchers, catchers or power hitters.
At the DII level there are 9 scholarships per team, NAIA schools have 12 scholarships, and fully funded Junior Colleges can offer up to 24 scholarships.”  (www.collegesportsscholarships.com)
5 —  But hats off to the Ivy League, the University of Dayton and others who dropped from Division I in football to focus on academics.  (And Xavier University who dropped the sport altogether in the early 1970s.)
6 – The University of Chicago dropped football from 1940-1969. “[University President] Hutchins disbanded football at the University of Chicago arguing that ‘the game hampered the university’s efforts to become the kind of institution it aspired to be.’ Even in his retirement, the former president wrote a column for Sports Illustrated in 1954 defending his decision to drop football. ‘The university believed that it should devote itself to education, research and scholarship,’ he recalled.”  (www.athletics.uchicago.edu, by Dalton Person, senior, right guard, 10/6/2012)
7
—  For some reason, men living with their girlfriends and the subject of marriage come to mind…

OLYMPICS TO DROP WRESTLING IN 2020?!

The modern Olympics began in 1896.  Those Games had wrestling with no weight classes and no time limit.  There was just one winner, but the sport was there.  In ancient Greece, wrestling was held starting with the 18th Olympiad in 708 BC.1,2

Now in its modern and telemyopic vision, the International Olympics Committee has dropped wrestling from the guaranteed lineup of sports to be included in the 2020 Games.  (I’m hoping the irony of a “shortsighted” decision for the “20-20” Games is not lost.)  The decision was based on three dozen criteria including “television ratings, ticket sales, anti-doping policy and global popularity.3

Wrestling could be retained.  For now, it will be in a pool of eight sports vying for a single spot in those Games.  Only one from the group of wrestling, baseball/softball, karate, squash, roller sports, sport climbing, wakeboarding and wushu.3

This decision will likely unite wrestlers from countries not always in agreement with each other.  While the U.S. has the most Olympic wrestling medals all-time (50 gold and 125 overall), the sport’s current force is Russia.  Japan, Turkey, Finland, South Korea, Iran and Cuba have all won dozens of medals.4

I’m a baseball fan if nothing else.  HOWEVER, even my beloved baseball should not be a possible replacement for a sport about 2,500 years older than it is.  And, to even consider other sports which many  world  sports aficionados would have to look up to find out what they are!

Ah, but television and short attention spans call the shots.5  That would make an ancient Olympic contemporary of wrestling, the discus,1 vulnerable unless it can be held with the stadium lights off and LED’s implanted in the discus.  Also likely to fall off the bubble is the javelin.  If Jarts can be banned from the U.S. and Canada, then how can we justify endangering our young athletes…..

Certainly, there are far greater causes in life than lobbying for specific athletic contests.  But the absurdity is that the Games are to be a source of recreation, healthy competition and a break from the serious absurdities of the world brought on by political and ideological greed.  When people in charge can mess up sports, why are we surprised when they can’t handle difficult decisions?

 

1 – Wikipedia
2 – Biting was not permitted, but attacks such as breaking the opponent’s fingers were permissible. (www.perseus.tufts.edu)
3www.wqam.com
4 – Maggie Hendricks, www.sports.yahoo.com, 2/12/2013
5 – “An IOC spokesman last week said proponents for other sports, such as archery and fencing, have taken steps to make them more exciting.  The Summer Olympics have added newer, TV-friendly sports, such as beach volleyball and BMX cycling, in past years.  They plan to include golf in the 2016 Games.” (Stu Woo, “Iowa Grapples Wrestling Call,”The Wall Street Journal, 2/19/2013

Go Ahead, Try to Predict the AL East Standings This Year!

Even with having followed baseball since the 60’s, this year’s AL East offers one of the most interesting challenges for me as a fan.  Tim Kurkjian said it best a couple of days ago on ESPN when he recounted his analysis of that division.  Tim said that he would look at a given team and find reasons for it to finish last.  Then, he would also find reasons for it to finish first!  It seems to apply to all in that division with the possible exception of the Red Sox.  Throwing vanity to the wind, here goes.

New  York  Yankees

They have a lot of question marks:

1)    Mariano Rivera:  how effective will he be, coming back from an ACL injury which ended his 2012 season after nine appearances, and at age 43?0

2)    Michael Pineda:  another casualty to surgery.  The Yankees site is hoping he will be able to pitch by June.

3)    Who will emerge as the starting catcher to replace the departed free agent Russell Martin? (Cervelli, Romine or C.Stewart)

4)    The outfield is uncertain, too.  Brett Gardner’s full return will ease a lot of concerns.  He was held to 39 AB, regular season and LCS last year.  Will the loss of free agent Nick Swisher   be partially offset by a good season from 39-year old Ichiro whose OBP has been just .301 and .307 the last two seasons?

5)    Will Ivan Nova rebound from a 5.02 ERA and perform closer to his rookie mark of 3.70?

6)    Andy Pettitte turns 41 in June.  A great competitor, but for how long?

7)    Hiroki Kuroda had his 38th birthday this month.  Will another slow start like last year’s raise concerns about his remaining years on the mound?

8)    How big of a hole in the bullpen will the departure of Rafael Soriano (to the Nationals) leave?

9)    Will recent pick-uo Travis Hafner be able to shake off the nagging injuries of the last five years and provide some needed left-handed power at DH?

10)   What’s worse, not having Alex Rodriguez until after the All-Star Break or having him after the All-Star Break?

11)   Derek Jeter is 38 and coming off his eighth 200-hit season – and a broken ankle.  He’s too much of a talented competitor to doubt him, but he’s still human… Maybe  🙂

These are not the usual volume of questions one would expect for a team which is coming off a 95-win season.  You have to hand it to manager Joe Girardi who said, “This team could win 95 games and get to the World Series.”1  

Prediction: Less than 50% chance of making the post-season.  Could finish as high as second, most likely third or fourth, last place shouldn’t be a worry… the again, if all of those question marks go clunk.  The AL West is too strong, and with the help of a rebuilding Houston, the top three win totals should be better than the black and blue East’s.  Second place in this division might be going home after game #162.

Baltimore  Orioles

This team was the inspiration of 2012.  Their win total improved by 24 to a second place finish of 93-69.  The word of caution revolves around their “Pythagorean” win total.The Orioles won an astounding eleven more than what their run differential predicted.  This is a result of an amazing 29-9 record in one-run games and an unbelievable 16-2 record in extra-innings.3  Clearly, this team didn’t waver in close encounters.

Back to the caution, Pythagorean and close games records are not easily repeatable because there is always an element of luck involved.  As we know, Lady Luck is capricious.  The truly good teams are able to overcome poor record in close games partly because in their cases, the close games represent those relatively few times when the opposition has a chance!4

In the Orioles defense, their preceding two poor years of 66 and 69 wins contained one-run records of 29-21 and 22-22 to go along with “extras” records of 13-4 and 8-8.3  So, perhaps, this team is able to create a little luck on its own.

Maybe their “lucky” success is by design.  As reported from their spring training camp, “Things happen for a reason around here.  ‘With the preparation that Buck brings to the clubhouse,’ said catcher Matt Wieters, ‘it’s only a matter of time before guys buy in. You put the work toward it, and you’re going to get the results eventually.’”We’ll start finding out in six weeks!

Prediction:  Less than 50% chance of the post-season.  This team is maturing and Showalter seems to know how to get the most out of his Orioles.  Not sure if the loss of free agent Mark Reynolds will mean anything.  Unfortunately, where is the starting pitching going to come from?  Still not sure how they did it last year.  It could all click, or finally run out of magic if the starting pitching doesn’t materialize.  Same as the Yankees, possibly as high as second, most likely fighting it out with their post-season counterparts for third place, or worse if no magic at all.

Tampa  Bay  Rays

Their win totals of 96, 91 and 90 over the last three seasons are to be respected.  Should this “downward” trend be a concern to the central Florida faithful?

Hopefully not.  The Rays have compiled impressive win totals despite ranking 15th and 18th in the majors in runs scored the last two years.  How is this possible?  It’s that old axiom about pitching.  The Rays had the 8th best ERA in the 2011 majors and the best last season.6

Outlook for 2013:  returning starters David Price (20-5, 2.56), Jeremy Hellickson (10-11, 3.10) and Alex Cobb (11-9, 4.03) plus a healthy Jeff Niemann (2-3, 3.08) is the basis for another solid rotation despite the trade of James Shields (15-10, 3.52 and 227.2 IP) to Kansas City in December.  The bullpen with five returnees each with at least 55 appearances, and with two ERA’s under 2.00 and a median ERA of 3.03, is impressive.

Offensively, the hope is that losing B.J.Upton to free agency will be partially offset by a full season from Evan Longoria.  Add to that expectations of 26-year old Desmond Jennings coming into his own after a good first full season and a return to form for Ryan Roberts and Yunel Escobar will help the offense.7

If there is a worry, it’s another age-old axiom:  Pitching is fragile.  If injuries nail critical parts of their staff, the Rays may not have enough firepower to overcome it.

Prediction:  Maybe their hitting will get out of its doldrums.  Maybe the pitching will hold up. Maybe I’m nuts, but these guys should be in the battle for first / second.  Playoffs are very likely.  Joe Maddon knows how to win.  They’ll find a way.

Toronto  Blue  Jays

So, Toronto won just 73 games last year?  Their eye-popping acquisitions last winter may make that fourth place finish but a distant memory before this year’s All-Star Break.  A pitching staff which had placed 24th and 26th in major league ERA the last two seasons now has Mark Buehrle, R.A.Dickey and Josh Johnson in its rotation.  An offense which was sixth in homers despite a lengthy injury to Jose Bautista and eighth in stolen bases now has Jose Reyes (40 SB, tied for 5th in ’12) and Emilio Bonifacio (30 SB, tied for 17th) added to its roster.

What can be said other than it will be very interesting north of the border if these stars jell with Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion (an improving fielder, but better for Toronto now at DH) coupled with a healthy season for Brandon Morrow (10-7, 2.96 with a career total of 693 strikeouts in 648 IP) and a return to form for Ricky Romero who slumped to 9-14, 5.77 from 15-11, 2.92.  Both of these 28-year olds should be part of a dynamite rotation, eh?

Prediction:  They’ll be in the battle of the “T’s.”  First or second vs. Tampa Bay is a good possibility, playoffs–yes.  Lack of experience in crunch time will be their only enemy.

Boston  Red Sox

Is the nightmare of 2012 (69-93) a one-time nightmare?  A team which hadn’t done well in close games the previous two years (22-26 one-run and 6-12 “extras” in 2010 followed by 19-19 and 6-5% in 2011) still managed to win 89 and 90 games respectively.

However, the cracks were in the foundation in late 2011 with the epic collapse and missing of the post-season.  Optimistic Bobby Valentine returned to managing last season only to witness a Beantown implosion of serious proportions.

What is there for 2013?  The rotation has familiar names John Lackey and Jon Lester along with newcomer Ryan Dempster.  At 34, Lackey is returning from Tommy John surgery.  Twenty-nine year-old Lester returns from a 9-14, 4.82 and a .273 “average against” downer of a season while Dempster (who turns 36 in May) is coming off a good 12-8, 3.38 year, but who struggled with a 5.09 ERA in twelve starts for the Rangers after the Cubs traded him.  Boston needs these three to anchor its pitching staff.  Joel Hanrahan brings his 76 saves in the last two seasons at Pittsburgh to lead a bullpen which was leaderless in ’12 with the free agent departure of Jonathan Papelbon.8

Offensively, there’s still Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz and newly acquired Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli.  These five know how to win.  The trick will be if they can transfer their winning ways to a number of inexperienced players who, hopefully, weren’t irrevocably damaged from the collapse of 2011 and down-and-out 2012.  New manager John Farrell will not lack for “opportunities” to keep Boston from repeating in the cellar of this potentially topsy-turvy division this season.

Prediction:  Another last place is by no means a sure thing.  The Bosox might even make it to third, but too many things would have to go right plus some pleasant surprises — not something known to happen at Fenway historcally.

 

1 – Bryan Hoch, www.MLB.com, 2/12/2013
2 – divide the square of runs scored into the sum of run squared scored plus the sum of runs allowed scored, that result times 162
3www.espn.go.com
4 – Take the case of the Yankees.  They have win totals in the last three seasons of 95, 97 and 95 despite one-run records of 20-19, 21-24 and 22-25 plus “extras” records of 7-7, 4-12 and 6-3 respectively.
5 – Anthony Castrovince, MLB writer, the Orioles site 2/15/2013
6 – How about explaining their 96 win total in 2010, you say?  Yes, third most runs scored with the eighth best ERA.  That is tough to beat!
7 – Ryan Roberts, 32 years old, hit just .214 in 60 games for the Rays after coming over from Arizona in mid-season.  His lifetime average and slugging are about 30 points higher than what he hit with Tampa.  The 30-year old Escobar was obtained in December from Miami (who received him from Toronto in the much-ballyhooed Buerhrle-J.Johnson-etc. trade).  He hit .253 in 2012 vs. a .282 career average.
8 – Poor Papelbon was doomed.  He escaped the Boston Disaster only to run into the Phloundering Phillies 81-81 year of 2012.

Aroldis as a Starting Pitcher: Good or Bad Idea?

Cincinnati Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty has to feel good about the upcoming season when he surveys the team he is in charge of and sees just one issue left for the Winter Hot Stove League: Will converting closer Aroldis Chapman to a starting pitcher work?  The burning question has been smoldering for nearly three years since his recall from Louisville during the 2010 season.  At AAA, Chapman made 39 appearances with 13 starts and one complete game.  He also had eight saves in nine opportunities.1

Chapman  Has  Shown  Ability  As  a  Starter

Aroldis was signed out of Cuba where he was a starter.  While it was suspected that he pitched less frequently than a starter would in the five-man U.S. rotation, he had a proven ability to pitch the multiple innings per appearance required of a starter.  He also showed in last year’s spring training that he could be effective as starting pitcher.  The only reason he was moved back to the bullpen was due to the season-ending injury to newly acquired closer Ryan Madson, who has since signed with the Angels.

What  About  the  Reds  Closer?

Still, the debate remains and with good reason.  Some are questioning the wisdom of moving a closer, and a lefthander, who held opponents to a meager  .141 average last season with the pressure on and a .149 average for his total major league experience covering 135 innings.  Bronson Arroyo  has been named among those who think Aroldis should stay in the bullpen. Pete Rose, in a Cincinnati sports talk show radio interview a couple of weeks ago, was adamant that teams should always prize an effective closer and not change his role.  Meanwhile, Reds pitching coach Bryan Price and broadcaster Jeff Brantley (615 appearances, 172 saves. 3.39 ERA, .237 opp. Batting average in 14 seasons)1 are confident the transition will work to the benefit of both Chapman and the Reds.2

As far as the closer situation is concerned, Jonathan Broxton is capable.  He had 84 saves in 6+ seasons with the Dodgers and 23 with the Royals in 2012 before coming to the Reds where had picked up four more saves.  In the majors, he has held opponents to a .226 average.1  Broxton is a known asset.

What  Lefty  Relievers  Remain?

If Chapman leaves the pen, the Reds still have Sean Marshall, another capable known quantity.  In the last three seasons (two with the Cubs and last year with Cincinnati), he has held all batters to an average under .235 each year.1  In 2012, left-handed batters hit only .173 against Marshall.3

The Reds also have an often-overlooked luxury.  FOUR of the Reds righties in the bullpen held left-handed hitters to sub .200 averages in 2012. Rookie J.J.Hoover led the parade holding lefty batters to a .120 average in 30.2 IP, followed by Broxton (.147 in 22.1 IP with the Reds), Jose Arredondo (.165 in 61 IP) and Logan Ondrusek (.190 in 54.2 IP). Granted, AL lefty batters hit .258 against Broxton last season.3  However, the records of those four pitchers certainly soften any concern about having enough relievers capable of handling left-handed batters in crucial situations.  This is especially true for Arredondo and Ondrusek who have shown this same ability in prior seasons.

The  Transition

This spring training will proceed the same as last year for Aroldis.  While it’s understood that it’s unlikely he’ll pitch 200 innings this year, the hope is that 2013 will set up next season for a full number of innings.  Time will tell how his stamina holds up over the course of a full season as a starter in the major leagues.  Hopefully, the concern with how long it will take recovering after a start in the second half of the season will not be related in any way to his limitations as a reliever pitching a second day in a row or three out of four.

Develop  Another  Breaking  Pitch?

There will be attention to having him perfect another breaking pitch.  In 2012, Aroldis threw fastballs 81% of the time and hitters flailed away at a pathetic .132 clip.  Sliders were 12% of his pitches and, if you can believe this, batters did worse with this pitch (.091).  The key point is the change-up. Batters hit .364 off the change-up which he used just 6% of the time.It is highly unlikely that Chapman will develop a devastating curve a la Koufax.  Nevertheless, a second breaking pitch for the Cuban Missile will be important.

Historical  Perspective

Many pitchers have successfully made the transition from reliever to starter and vice versa.  Dennis Eckersley and John Smoltz both went from established starters to premier closers.  Going in the other direction might be different.  Hall of Famer Rich (Goose) Gossage antagonized batters to the tune of 310 saves, 1502 strikeouts and only 119 homers in 1809 IP and an overall average of .228 in 1002 appearances.  Most forget that his first team, the White Sox, made him a starter for one full season.  While it wasn’t a complete failure (9-17 but a 3.94 ERA [major league mean was 3.52] in 31 games, 29 starts… and FIFTEEN complete games, 224 IP and a .254 average against), they wisely returned him to the bullpen and his Hall of Fame career was proceeded.  Incidentally, in the previous season of 1975, Gossage had 26 saves and a 1.84 ERA.1

Reds fans will certainly be watching this unfold closely.  They are hoping all goes smoothly for the talented lefty who will turn 25 years old on Feb. 28 — the same age Gossage was the year he was a starter! The proponents are banking on the fact that Chapman has been a starter before, that he has not thrown a dangerously high number of innings early in his career,4 and that his mentors seem aware that a sensible plan is mandatory.  Perhaps, the stand that the Nationals took with Strasburg last year will serve as an example of prudence over ambition.  Starting April 1st, we’ll see!

1www.mlb.com
2 – John Erardi, Cincinnati Enquirer, 2/3/2013
3 — USA Today Sports Weekly Special Edition, published November, 2012
4 – In the mid to late 1980s, Baseball Digest printed a study on pitchers since 1900.  It focused on innings workload for pitchers prior to reaching age 25.

Oops, Ray (Lewis), In Your Gratitude You Misused a Christian Belief

With the increasing lack of respect for religion and for those having the courage  to discuss beliefs, it has been gratifying to hear an increasing number of prominent individuals thank God for His blessings publicly.

My first recollection of this occurring locally was in the 1970’s.  Cincinnati Reds star outfielder George Foster always gave a genuinely humble interview and made it a point to thank God for his abilities.  He made sure that the focus did not linger on him but on God who provides for us.

I attended St. Xavier High School in Cincinnati during 1969-73.  The first all-school pep rally made a lasting impression on me.  Principal Donald O. Nastold, S.J. (may he rest in peace) made a point which needs to be spread today.  He made it clear that it was inappropriate to ask God for victory in a sporting event.  Why should God favor us over the opponent (most likely it was Moeller or Elder)?  This was not a battle of morality, but a football game.  Instead, we should pray that: our guys played to the best of their abilities, good sportsmanship prevailed and no one from either side is injured.

This lesson came to mind when listening to the post-Super Bowl interviews on the radio last night.  Ray Lewis is to be commended for his efforts to lead a good life and to inspire his teammates to be at their best.  It is also admirable for him to want to thank God for the blessings he has received.

However, in his exuberance, he made a critical error when he said the victory was a sign that “if God is for us, then who can be against us?”  I realize that Ray was a riding an emotional high which few have had the privilege of experiencing.  Nevertheless, yesterday’s Super Bowl was just a football game, not a battle against an Evil Empire.  There was no reason to suspect that God was against the ‘49ers.  Unless the power outage could not be fixed, there was going to be a winner and a loser based on who reacted to the stress and opportunities the best.  Moral justification wasn’t the issue.

Gratitude to God must be a way of life for all of us, but it shouldn’t confuse us into thanking Him for picking sides in a sporting contest.  He inspires and protects us, but the outcome is not important in the big picture.  His concern is our most important victory – eternal life with Him!

RedHawks’ Rebuilding Pain is Eased by Better Ball Control

Easier  Schedule  Has  Helped  Transition  Year  Struggles,  Too

John Cooper took the Tennessee State program from 9-23 in the 2009-10 campaign to 20-13 last season for the Tigers’ first 20-win season in 32 years.  By accepting the head coaching job at Miami, he was stepping into a similar situation.  The former MAC powerhouse was coming off three straight sub-.500 seasons including a 9-21 (.300) last year which was the school’s lowest winning percentage in 42 years (when the school was still called the Redskins).

Complicating the situation for Coach Cooper was the graduation of Julian Mavunga who had fourteen double-doubles in his senior year and the transfer loss of Brian Sullivan.  The sharp-shooting freshman had 79 three-pt field goals which was the second most in a RedHawk season and his .449 accuracy was eighth best.  Then came the season-ending injury to Bill Edwards after five games.  He was expected to be the main inside presence for the RedHawks, so you can understand what has happened since.1,2

FG/Opp.     3pt/Opp.   FT/Opp.     Rbd.Margin     Ast:Turn.

.458/.429     .356/na      .701/na            -0.3          1.03/na        2007-08
.435/.417     .332/.322   .709/na           +0.3           0.92/na       2008-09
.435/.419     .347/.341   .727/.688         -1.1           0.81/1.15    2009-10
.431/.443     .349/.369   .728/.705         -1.3           0.80/1.28    2010-11
.434/.451     .355/.338   .698/.714         -2.3           0.86/1.00    2011-12
.434/.478     .330/.388   .687/.690         -7.9           0.94/0.92    2012-13

Scoring         FGA/G        SOS   Record

62.5/60.6     50.2/51.5       88     17-16      2007-08
61.6/58.9     50.4/50.6     133     17-13      2008-09
62.4/63.2     49.0/52.8     128     14-18      2009-10
66.4/70.3     52.2/57.2       92     16-17      2010-11
60.7/64.2     49.1/50.9     114       9-21      2011-12
64.9/70.3     53.0/52.0     189       7-11      2012-13

Loss  of  Rebounding  and  Better  Percentage  Shots  for  the  Opposition

Even with Mavunga protecting the boards last year, Miami’s rebounding margin dropped slightly from 2010-11.  With Julian’s graduation and the loss of Edwards, a -7.9 rebounding margin has befallen Miami through games of January 26.

Surprisingly, Miami is actually averaging one more field goal attempt per game than its opponents are.  This has partially offset a more efficient opponent’s offense.  With minimal inside game, it’s not surprising that RedHawks opponents are enjoying a .478 field goal percentage or a .061 improvement over four seasons ago when the RedHawks last held a slight rebounding advantage for the entire season.  .  (While the decline in Miami’s free throw shooting continues to be exasperating, it appears that its opponents aren’t faring much better this year either!)

The  3-Pt  Arc  Has  Not  Been  Friendly  Either

Miami’s three-point accuracy has dropped to its lowest level since the 2003-04 team due to the loss of Brian Sullivan.  Junior Jon Harris is leading the team at .371, but is getting little help.  In addition, this season’s opponents are hitting a damaging .388 from behind the arc  –  a .066 improvement from four years ago and a .050 jump from last year.  Rebounding and the inability to keep opponents shooters in check has produced a 70.3 defensive scoring average.  While this matches the 16-17 team of two years ago, this total is 11.4 points per game higher than the squad of four years ago which went 17-13 (the last winning season in Oxford).

Better  Ball  Control  and  Lower  SOS  Has  Reduced  the  Transition  Year  Pain

Coach Cooper has instilled an improved protect-the ball philosophy which had waned during the five years before him.  The team’s current 0.94 assist-to-turnover ratio is its best since 2007-08.  Junior Quinten Rollins has gone from a decent 1.37 to a terrific 2.44 this season.  Freshman Geovonie McKnight is currently one assist short of a 1.00 ratio.  In addition, Miami’s opponents are at 0.92 which is a big drop from just two years ago.

Miami’s Strength of Schedule is 189th.  If that holds up, it will be the school’s easiest schedule in 26 seasons when it was 178th out of 290 schools in the 1986-87 year.

These positives have kept Miami’s scoring differential to -5.4 per game.  With a typically tough Miami out-of-conference schedule, it would be much worse.  Miami experienced early season losses of 38 and 41 points to N.C.State and Louisville respectively were larger than any during the 16-year tenure of Charlie Coles.  Facing teams like the Wolfpack and Cardinals is typical of pre-conference RedHawk regimen.

Outlook

The remainder of the 2012-13 season is likely to be a continuation of the learning process which brings with it an assortment of highs and lows.  But as Coach Cooper said in a recent interview on WMOH radio, he has been through this before and the process is in place for a return to the winning which RedHawk followers are used to.

Looking back on the last few games, the key will be to maintain an intensity sufficient to make this season a stepping to a return to greatness.  We’re hanging with you, Coach Cooper!
1 – Stats for 2011-12 and 2012-13, except SOS, are from www.muredhawks.com
2 – All stats for 2007-08 through 2010-11 are from www.sports-reference.com

2012 MAC Bowl Games Recap: Bobcats and Chippewas are the Highlights

The Mid-American Conference was granted seven bowl games this season.  Despite having all of its teams being the pre-game underdogs, Ohio University and Central Michigan brought home wins to savor through the winter.  While a 2-5 record is not what MAC followers would have liked, the resurgence and relative youth of key players make for an optimistic future.  A summary of each contest:

Ohio  45   Louisiana-Monroe 14  (Advocare V100 Independence Bowl, Dec. 28)

A 7-0 start put the Bobcats into the national rankings for the first time in decades.  Unfortunately, a loss at arch-rival Miami started a four out of five tailspin.  Fortunately, Ohio’s ability was recognized and they proved worthy by producing a bowl-record 556 yards of offense en route to the most satisfying game of the seven MAC’s bowl invitees.

Ohio jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first 6:43 of the game on the strength of an 80-yard drive capped by a Tyler Tettleton 3-yard TD pass to redshirt junior Donte Foster (both native Oklahomans) and a 68-yard strike from redshirt junior Tettleton to redshirt sophomore Chase Cochran (from Ohio!) on a 3rd and 8 following an interception.  The Warhawks of Louisiana-Monroe were in their first bowl game at a site which amounted to a home game.  After their first score, a 38-yard field goal by Bobcat redshirt senior Matt Weller (surprisingly, another player hailing from Ohio) made it 17-7 early in the 2nd quarter.  A 2-yard run by redshirt junior Beau Blankenship (from Oklahoma, of course) after OU’s third interception made it 24-7.  That was how the first half ended but not before the Bobcats thwarted a 13-play ULM drive which had a first and goal from the Ohio 1 at one point.

The second half opened with a seven play 75-yard drive ending with a Blankenship 2-yard run to make it 31-7.  Blankenship scored again from the one a short while later.  Each team scored again to make the final 45-14 and send the Bobcats home with a 9-4 record.

The 45 points scored by Ohio tied the Independence Bowl record set by LSU against Michigan State in 1995.  The Bobcats controlled the ground 219 to 95 yards and dominated the air, 14.7-5.5 in yards per attempt.  Somehow, ULM had more first downs, 24-21.  They also had only 28 yards to penalties compared to OU’s 78.  ULM also had a seven minute advantage in time of possession.  But the Bobcats made the most of their time with the ball.  Blankenship gained 104 yards on 19 carries was his ninth 100-yard game of the season.  He also set an Independence record with four touchdowns.  ULM’s qb Browning had a net of just 47 on 24 rushes.  Ohio’s dynamic receiving duo of redshirt senior Tyler Futrell and Cochran caught five and three passes for a whopping 133 and 162 yards respectively.  The Warhawks Brent Leonard hauled in seven for 76 yards.  Keith Moore, a redshirt junior, was in on nine Bobcat tackles.1

Central Michigan  24   W. Kentucky  21  (Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl, Dec. 26)

Despite a 2-5 start, CMU earned its bowl bid by winning four of its last five games, including the last three straight to go to Detroit for the fourth time.  The Chippewas built a first half lead, lost it in the 3rd quarter, then pulled it out in the final quarter in what was essentially a home game for them.

CMU opened the scoring with a 69-yard pass from Little Caesar’s Bowl MVP Ryan Radcliff to redshirt freshman Andrew Flory.  The Hilltoppers tied it on a 6-yard run by Kawaun Jakes, then another Radcliff-to-Flory pass (this one for 29 yards) ended the 1st quarter with the Chippewas on top 14-7.

Senior David Harman’s 50-yard field goal tied this bowl’s record set when it was the Motor City Bowl (2005 Memphis against Akron).  It extended their lead to 17-7 before a 6-yard pass from Jakes to Jack Doyle made it 17-14 at the half.

Western Kentucky went ahead in the following quarter with a one-yard run by Kadeem Jones.  The Chippewas evened their record at 2-2 in Detroit with an 11-yard touchdown pass from senior Radcliff to senior Cody Wilson to pull out the 24-21 win.

CMU had a small edge in total offense, 393-327.  WKU’s running back Andrews gained 119 of the Hilltoppers net of 128 on the ground.  Meanwhile, CMU’s Zurlon Tipton was similar with 101 of his team’s 140 yards rushing.  Of Western’s 199 yards passing, 70 came on one play to Rico Brown.

For the Chippewas, Wilson’s first quarter catch ran his string of games with at least one reception to 42 games.  He (101) and Flory (105) cleared the century mark in yards for the game.  Junior running back Tipton had his seventh straight 100-yard game!  Junior punter Richie Hogan set a Little Caesar’s Pizza Bowl record with an 82-yard punt, breaking the record of 74 which had been tied by WKU’s Hendrix Brakefield in the first quarter.  Each team ended the season with a 7-6 rcord.2

Utah State  41   Toledo  15   (Famous Idaho Potato Bowl, Dec. 15)

After a losing a tough 24-17 game at Arizona, the Toledo Rockets blasted off on an 8-game winning streak and headed into its bowl game with a 9-3 record.  Utah State entered at 10-2.

The first half was a close contest.  Toledo scored first on a 37-yard Jeremiah Detmer field goal.  Late in the first period, Utah State scored on a 62-yard run by Chuckie Keeton.  Another Detmer 37-yarder made it 7-6 before Utah State’s Nick Diaz added a 27-yard field goal as time expired.  Utah State 10-6 at the half.

The only score of the third quarter was a 44-yarder by Diaz, so at 13-6 the game was still within reach.  Another Detmer field goal, this one from 29 yards out made it 13-9 midway through the fourth quarter.  Then the wheels fell off.  Kerwy Williams had three TD runs over the next 3-1/2 minutes.  His first was on a 63-yard run, he set up his second with a 56-yard run to the Toledo 5 and the third was a 25-yard rushing touchdown a couple of plays after an interception.  Each team found the end zone one more time resulting in the 41-15 final.

Utah State’s Williams and his 18 carries for 235 yards told much of the story.  QB Keeton threw for 229 and added 92 on the ground completing Utah State’s one-two punch.  Surprisingly, Toledo ran more plays (76-62) and had a whopping 35:55 to 24:05 advantage in time of possession, but was swamped in the yardage battle, 582-315.  The Aggies had four tacklers exceed the seven which a trio of Rockets defenders had.3  Alas, it was a long evening in Boise for Toledo.

UCF  38   Ball State  17   (Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl,  Dec. 21)

The Ball State Cardinals were 3-3 following a 35-23 home loss to Northern Illinois.  At that time, their opponents had no way of knowing they would end up in the Orange Bowl.  By the same token, the Cardinals could not have known that they were about to embark on a six-game winning streak which would take them to St. Petersburg and the eighth bowl game in their history.  They averaged 36 points per game during the streak which started with an overtime win at home versus Western Michigan.

The first quarter wasn’t a good one as Central Florida Knights took a 13-0 lead.  Blake Bortles’ 8-yard TD pass went to Latavius Murray who also scored on a 2-yard run.  The Cardinals’ Brandon Newman blocked the extra point on the second touchdown.  Ball State got on the scoreboard when sophomore Willie Snead, playing in his home state of Florida, caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from junior Keith Wenning who had missed the regular season finale because of injury.  But, Bortles scored again from six yards out and followed that with a two-point conversion toss to Dontravius Floyd.  Just before the half, Bortles and Murray combined on a 5-yard TD pass to make it 28-7 at the intermission.

Senior Steven Schott hit a 45-yard field goal for the Cardinals, then the Knights retaliated with another Bortles touchdown pass, this one of six yards to J.J.Worton.  Shawn Moffitt tacked on a 25-yard field goal for UCF to make it 38-10.  Ball State’s Wenning ended the scoring with another TD pass (16 yards) to Snead.

With two touchdown passes, Wenning has 57 for his career placing him second in Ball State history.  He also broke his own school record for completions in a season with 301.  Schott’s field goal allowed him to tie the Cardinals single season record of 25, originally set in 1985.  Snead led both teams with seven receptions and his 78 yards was second to UCF’s Perriman and his 90 yards.  Bortles of Central Florida was 22-33 for 272 yards and gained 80 yards on nine carries.  The Knights (10-4) had the four sacks in the game and had nine tackles for loss to the Cardinals three.4

San Jose State  29   Bowling Green  20   (Military Bowl, Dec. 27)

The Bowling Green Falcons started slow at 1-3, then took off on a six-game winning streak where their average score was 30-8.  The last game in that streak was an impressive 26-14 at Ohio. The Falcons entered their post-season at 8-4.

The Spartans scored early in the first quarter on a 33-yard pass from Davis Fales to Kyle Nunn.  Later in the quarter, BG had a 12-play drive which stalled and redshirt freshman Tyler Tate hit a 28-yard field goal.  Redshirt sophomore Gabe Martin blocked a punt resulting in another Tate FG, this one was from 33.  San Jose State added a 36-yarder from Austin Lopez.  It was 10-6 Spartans at the half.

The third quarter started off well for the Falcons when redshirt sophomore Charlie Walker nailed the quarterback, causing a fumble which All-American Chris Jones took 21 yards to the Spartan 8.  Sophomore Anthon Samuel ran it in on the next play for a 13-10 Bowling Green lead.  Later, the Spartans blocked a Falcon punt and it carried through the end zone, making the score 13-12.  On the next drive, Fales tossed an 18-yard score to Chandler Jones and San Jose State had regained the lead.  Undaunted in the fourth quarter, BG senior John Pettigrew had a 37-yard run to the San Jose 1 yard line and he took it in on the next play.  Falcons were back on top, 20-19.  With just 4:43 remaining in the game, Lopez hit a 27-yard field goal which, as it turned out, put the Spartans ahead for good.  San Jose recovered a BG fumble on the next drive.  De’Le Eskridge later punched it in from the one producing the final score of 29-20 at RFK Stadium.

On the bright side, this season marked the second straight three-game improvement for the Falcons, who had gone 2-10 the 5-7 during the last two seasons.  The Falcons lost despite holding San Jose to -15 yards net rushing!  (The difference in the game was the Spartans doubling BG’s yards per attempt in passing, 9.2-4.5)

San Jose’s David Fales was 33-43 for 395 yards.  For the game, the Spartans’ Noel Grigsby led all receivers with nine catches for 134 yards while the Falcons’ Chris Gallon, a redshirt freshman, had seven for 73 yards.5  This was a rare case where a one-dimensional attack was victorious.  Still, the future looks bright as a number of the Falcon players mentioned here are returning next season.

Florida State  31   Northern Illinois  10   (Discover Orange Bowl, Jan. 1)

[First of all, anything other than just “Orange Bowl” doesn’t sound right.]

The Northern Illinois Huskies opened and ended their season with a loss, but the rest was a 12-game winning streak which took them to new heights.  After a frustrating 18-17 loss to Iowa at Soldier Field, NIU started with an easy win over Tennessee-Martin followed by close victories over Army and Kansas.  Then it turned its attention to its MAC foes and averaged 45 points in its 8-game regular season conference schedule while allowing just 15 per game.

An indication that this wasn’t to be the Huskies game was when the Seminoles started from their five after a Northern punt and scored in just four plays.  It ended with a 60-yard run by Lonnie Pryor .  Junior Mathew Sims hit a 25-yard field goal after a fake punt and a series of plays took NIU to the Seminole 6.  The first quarter ended with FSU leading 7-3.  Defenses held throughout most of the second period, but the Seminoles scored with 11 seconds left when Rashad Greene caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from E.J.Manuel to make it 14-3 at the half.

The Seminoles started the second half scoring with a 25-yard field goal.  Despite having a 3rd-and-15 from its own 8, the Huskies drove 92 yards in the next three plays to make it 17-10.  The drive was culminated with an 11-yard pass from redshirt junior Jordan Lynch to senior Martel Moore.

Unfortunately, the fourth quarter belonged to FSU.  Quarterback Manuel scored on the first play of the period on a 9-yard run.  Four minutes later, Pryor ran it in from 37 for the final score.  It had been set up by a NIU fumble near midfield which was reviewed and upheld despite appearing to the contrary.  Both teams ended at 12-2 for the season.

The Seminoles doubled the Huskies on the ground, 252-126.  A similar differential existed in the passing game with FSU holding a 7.7-4.3 advantage in yards per attempt.  Eight Florida State receivers caught passes, while four Huskies had receptions led by Floridian sophomore Tommylee Lewis with five for 61 yards.  The punting game was good for both teams as each had four punts inside the 20.  The defenses held 3rd down efficiency to low levels (NIU 5 of 18 and FSU 3 of 14).  Pryor led Florida State with 134 yards rushing, qb Lynch led NIU with 60.  The Huskies Jimmie Ward, a junior, was in on 14 tackles to lead both teams.6

Arkansas State 17   Kent State 13   (GoDaddy.com Bowl, Jan. 6)

After a win against Towson and a loss at Kentucky, the Golden Flashes went on a 10-game winning streak.  Offense was the key as they averaged just under 36 points during that stretch.  A very tough double overtime loss to Northern Illinois in the MAC Championship (44-37) preceded their first bowl game in forty years.  The Golden Flashes were ranked #25 and were tied for first in the FBS with a +21 turnover margin.  Its head coach, Darrell Hazell, would be leaving to take the job at Purdue.  Meanwhile, this was the fifth straight year that Arkansas State has lost at least one coach!

All of the game’s scoring occurred in the second and third quarters.  Redshirt junior Dri Archer put Kent State on top 7-0 with a 16-yard run.  The turning point of the game was when Arkansas State linebacker Nathan Herrold intercepted a tipped Kent pass in the end zone later.  The Red Wolves tied it when David Oku ran in from 10 yards out, then J.D.McKissic caught a 31-yard pass from Ryan Aplin to make it 14-7.  The Golden Flashes took just 54 seconds to get a 42-yard field goal from senior Freddy Cortez for a 14-10 halftime deficit.

The teams traded third quarter field goals (25-yard by Brian Davis and Kent State’s Cortez with a 26-yarder).  Kent State mounted one last drive.  Senior Spencer Keith completed one fourth down pass and was scrambling on another fourth down play deep in Arkansas State territory when he was tripped and fell to end the historic Golden Flash season.

Each team had 19 first downs.  Kent had a big advantage on the ground 193-72, while the Red Wolves had the passing edge, 213-157.  The Golden Flashes also had a 6 minute lead in time of possession.  Dri Archer topped both teams with 77 yards on just nine carries.  Sophomore teammate Trayion Durham had 68 yards, but it took 20 carries to accomplish that.  Arkansas State’s McKissic was the leading receiver with 11 for 113 yards.  Kent’s senior Matthew Hurdle had six catches for 72 yards.  Penalties were not a big factor as Kent State lost 68 yards on penalties to 35 for Arkansas State.7

1www.ohiobobcats.com
2www.cmuchippewas.com
3www.utoledo.edu
4www.ballstatesports.com
5www.bgsufalcons.com
6www.niuhuskies.com
7www.kentstatesports.com

Remembering “Stan the (Gentle)Man” [1920-2013]

What a contrast and relief it is to turn our attention from debating the merits and demerits of the Steroid Gang eligible for the Hall of Fame ballot to paying tribute to one of the game’s greatest and most honorable players.  Stan Musial, 92, left this life on January 19 and also left volumes of memories which will serve as an example that playing and living the right way is possible.

His death causes us to give thanks for the privilege of having him grace our national pastime for seven decades as a player and as an ambassador of the game.  This epitome of a true sportsman was modest in victory and gracious in defeat.

Baseball  Career  Almost  Didn’t  Happen

But baseball was very nearly denied one of its greatest.  Stan’s father was a Polish immigrant whose dream was to have his son attend college in his new homeland of opportunity.  As Stan pleaded with his father, the situation became emotional; son then father were moved to tears.  He conceded with, “This is a free country and you are free not to go to college.”

Even with his father’s permission, Musial’s baseball career was nearly ended prematurely.  He began as a pitcher and soon injured his arm seriously enough to end his days on the mound.  Fortunately, he was a pretty good hitter so he played in the outfield and at first base throughout his career.

Achieved  Greatness  Consistently

And what a player he was!  His Cardinals won three World Series by the time he was 26.  Despite toiling for another seventeen years without reaching the Fall Classic again, he was the model of consistency, power and decency.  Musial won seven batting titles and his efficiency was remarkable.  His total base count remains the second highest of all time1 despite ranking eighth in plate appearances2.  Musial is still third in doubles, fifth in RBI (although a second of the Steroid Group will pass him this year) and eighth in runs scored.  There is one “accomplishment” that escaped him – he was never thrown out of any of the 3,026 games he played in!1

Musial’s 3,630 hits remained the NL’s best until a player who was a rookie in Stan’s final season of 1963 broke it (Pete Rose).  Speaking of consistency, his hit total was split exactly between home and road games (1,815 and 1,815).  Another interesting note, he was the first member of the 3000 Hit Club to have hit as many as 400 homers.  (No, Babe Ruth didn’t reach 3,000 hits.)

From a personal perspective, I just missed seeing him play.  My father took me to my first major league game on July 3, 1964 at Crosley Field.  The Reds were hosting the Cardinals in the season after his retirement.  I didn’t know who Musial was then.  All I knew was that my Reds defeated Bob Gibson 4-1 that night.  Nevertheless, St. Louis went on to a World Series title that season, its first since the Musial-led team of 1946.

Widespread  Respect  for  Musial

I also remember a time Musial was remembered publicly in a very unusual way in the 1990’s.  It was during the homily for a Mass on the Feast of the Immaculate Conception (told you it was unusual).  The assistant pastor, Fr. Harry Gerdes, decided to deliver his homily while walking up and down the main aisle.  He stopped and pulled out a small figurine.  Even from a distance, I thought “That looks like Stan Musial.  What on earth is he doing?”  He made his point quickly.  Fr. Gerdes reminded us that we often have heroes from an early age. He said that even the best of them, with Musial as an example of the best, might let us down at some time.  However, that is not true of the example set by and the intercessions of the Virgin Mary.  (Not bad being recalled in such a way, in a rival city three decades after your playing days were over!)

The world has changed dramatically since Stan Musial walked off the field for the last time in the early fall of 1963.  Just two months after his last game, President Kennedy was assassinated and many mark that as the loss of innocence for our American society.  The ensuing moral decline has impacted everything, even our beloved baseball.  A popular song from 1968 asked, “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?”  Paul Simon “explained that the line was meant as a sincere tribute to DiMaggio’s unpretentious heroic stature.”3  Joe D was a fine example of someone concerned about maintaining an honorable public image to serve as an example to kids.  Stanley Musial’s name could have been substituted just as easily.

But Musial’s spirit does live on in baseball.  Willie Mays was reported as saying that no one ever had a bad thing to say about Musial.4  Just ten days earlier, John Kruk said of Craig Biggio5, who was unfairly passed over this year for Hall of Fame induction, “He played the game right… No one has said a bad word about him.”6  Biggio accepted the disappointment with Musial-like politeness.

We’ll miss you, Stan, but you left behind a legacy which will remind us that an accomplished competitor can still be a gentleman!

1 – Marty Noble, Mlb.com, 1/19/2013
2 – statistics from Mlb.com
3 – Wikipedia.com
4 – ESPN, 1/19/2013
5 – like Stan Musial, Biggio is a member of the “3000 Hit Club” and ranks fifth in doubles, just two places behind Musial (stats from Mlb.com)
6 – John Kruk, ESPN analyst, 1/9/2013

RedHawks Revisit “Hanging’ With Mr. Cooper”

Miami Head Basketball Coach John Cooper could be forgiven if he chose a brief leave of absence and did something relaxing like whitewater rafting – without a raft.  A coach’s first year with a new team can be an interesting transition.  However, Coach Cooper has endured an initial half-season which the writers for Mark Curry’s lead in the 1990’s sitcom “Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper”1 would not have thought believable.

It’s one thing to watch Curry deal with the expected, unexpected ups-and-downs of high school coaching.  It’s another to see a professional like John Cooper deal with the following in the college ranks:

1)  In two of their first three games, the RedHawks lost by 38 to N.C.State and by 41 to Louisville – greater losses than any which Charlie Coles witnessed during his tenure.  In between, they defeated Division I newcomer Grambling by 26.

2)  They won a non-conference road game (at William & Mary) for the first time in several years and had an easy win at home against James Madison who’s struggling on the road this season (1-5 away from home through Jan.12)2 .
But a 3-2 record is still cause for optimism, except now Bill Edwards is lost for the second straight season.  Average point spread at this stage was 27 points.  Nothing like keeping the fans on the edge of their seats.

3)  Then a heartbreaking one point loss at IPFW… IPFW?

4)  All right, we don’t like close games, so RedHawks lose by 26 at Evansville and by 22 at Dayton.  An 8-point loss at Wright State completes the four-game losing streak.  Record is 3-6, average margin is still 21 points.

5)  Double digit home wins against Illinois-Chicago and Division III Wilmington improve spirits.

6)  Alas, reverse direction with another one-point loss, this time at home vs. UMass despite overcoming an 8-point halftime deficit and outscoring the taller Minutemen 32-22 in the paint.  What?

7)  That’s OK.  Home opener is against N.Illinois and they have won just once in twenty tries in Oxford… Huskies nail a season-high nine 3-pointers and win at Millet for the first time since the 1981 season.3

8)  Not to be discouraged, the RedHawks go to unseasonably warm Buffalo (57 degrees for the high temp.4) and build an unseasonably amazing 21-point second half lead.  Then they allow a seasonably normal 19 unanswered points to the Bulls; eventually lose the lead before Allen Roberts’ two free throws and a Geovanie McKnight steal ensure a crazy, one point victory.3 A dreadfully long trip home is averted.

Whew, is it April yet?  This 6-8 record has had enough extremes for a full season or two.  Miami has had three one-point games, despite an average game margin of almost 17 points.  Remove the three nail-biters and the spread averages 21.

After the game, Coach Cooper commented, “We were just trying to survive.  We’re in the last rounds of the fight, and we’re just trying to get through and keep the lead on the scorecard.  That’s the bottom line… This is my 20th year of coaching.  I don’t know how many times I’ve ever won a road game with 20 turnovers.  It may be the first.”5

Unfortunately, Mr. Cooper, I’m afraid this topsy-turvy season is far from done with regard to “firsts.” Hangin’ with you, Coach!

1 – Wikipedia.com
2 – JMUsports.com
3 – Muohio.com
4 – pre-game radio show, WMOH, 1/12/2013
5 – Rick Cassano, Hamilton JournalNews, 1/13/2013

Bonds, McGwire, Sosa, Clemens etc. Should Not Be in HOF

Last evening on WLW radio’s “Sports Talk,” host Lance McAllister gave his reasons why the stars of the “Steroid Era” should eventually be inducted into baseball’s Hall of Fame.  The normally lucid McAllister claimed that if players in this era are ignored, it would be as if the world is being told that baseball did not exist for the period he listed as from “1995-2005.”  He believes that we must not ignore the amazing feats of the players who used performance enhancing drugs (PED’s) or we’ll risk losing part of the game’s history.1

Lance’s  First  Error

Even if the guilty Steroid Era players are not enshrined, it would not leave that period devoid of all of its stars in the Hall as McAllister claims.  Roberto Alomar and Barry Larkin are already HOF members and are players of that era.  Alomar had 60% of his hits from 1995 on and Larkin had half of his in that time frame.2

For those eligible this year, Craig Biggio and Edgar Martinez had approximately 70% of their hits in that era.  (Martinez is admittedly a long shot because he was primarily a DH, but his reputation regarding PED’s is clean.)  Larry Walker, another long shot, hit 74% of his homers in those eleven years.2

For future eligible candidates, we find Ken Griffey Jr and Jim Thome who were stars in that era and maintained honest reputations.  The 1995-2005 era does exist in the Hall.

However,  Integrity  IS  the  Issue,  Even  if  Not  Always  Observed  Historically

But there is no reason to “protect” any era in baseball’s history.  We must remember that if no star from 1995-2005 had a clean reputation regarding PED’s, then it would still be appropriate for no one in that group to be enshrined in the Hall.  “Losing” eleven years is not a calamity, Lance, merely an admission that the Hall’s standards regarding the “absolutes” are not relative.  It’s bad enough that MLB chose to ignore the problem when it was trying to regain the sport’s popularity after the shameful labor dispute which led to the premature ending of the 1994 season and the cancelling of that World Series.  It would be worse to legitimize it for all-time.  Yet, that is what Mark Newman (mlb.com writer) wants.  He is calling on his “stubborn and confused peers to concede they’ve been wrong in playing moral judge.”3

Paul Hagen, another eligible voter on MLB’s site and an unwitting proponent of relativism, said that because we don’t definitively know who used steroids, then we should not turn the voting into a “guessing game” by arbitrarily leaving some stars out. He added, “Further, the integrity clause is only one of the criteria listed, one that not all current Hall of Famers have been held to.”3  That’s true, Charlie Comiskey, owner of the 1919 Black Sox, treated his players so poorly that his players were vulnerable to the temptation to throw the World Series, but he’s in the Hall.  Or Hall of Famer Cap Anson, who was instrumental in cementing the color line in baseball which would last for sixty years.  That is the part of baseball’s lost history worth lamenting.  We may not be able to fix the past, but it doesn’t give us license to commit avoidable errors.

Effects  of  Rationalization  on  the HOF

Bill James very ably argued against this rationalization and seven other popular fallacies of fans’ and writers’ Hall of Fame consideration.  He debunked this one which matches Hagen’s comment about criteria: “once a player with an outstanding weakness has been elected to the hall of Fame, that weakness no longer counts, and can no longer be used as a reason not to elect another player who has the same weakness.4  Granted, James was speaking of statistical weaknesses, but it applies to all Hall of Fame attributes in the consideration process.   He showed how the baseball HOF was cheapened when some less-than-borderline cases were enshrined which led others to use the “if-one-then argument” to add more honorees who were clearly not in the same company of the Hall in general.4

By the way, if we accept Mr. Hagen’s argument about integrity, then Shoeless Joe Jackson and his third highest all-time average of .356 must be inducted, too.  His HOF-caliber stats were achieved without any artificial assistance such as corked bats, PED’s, etc., and like Clemens, was acquitted in court.  Still, he was banned along with seven of his teammates for throwing the 1919 Series to the Reds as a result of the integrity clause.  (And there remains great debate concerning how aware the illiterate Jackson was of both the throwing of the Series and the statements he “X’ed” for the court proceedings.)  But if we accept moral relativity in our federal government, then surely baseball can’t be held to a higher standard.  Right?

Would  Devalue  the  Truly  Honorable  Players  of  1995-2005

If we decide to look the other way and rationalize the honoring of players who cheated, what does this say to the players who were honest during the Steroid Era and, worse yet, to the next generation of fans who’ll be looking for the greats to admire someday?  Yes, Kenny, your 630 homers were quite noteworthy, but you might have really been great, if you had just been smart like Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens et al…  Some Hall of Fame that would be.

The  Real  Hall  of  Fame

Hal Bodley, also with mlb.com, said it best, “My vote for McGriff is not only a testament to his career that included 493 homers and 1,550 runs batted in, but for a clean player who deserves recognition in an election where players suspected of PED use compiled much better numbers.  McGriff’s 493 homers are 111 more than Hall of Famer Jim Rice hit and the same number Lou Gehrig blasted.”3  “Lou Gehrig.”  Now THAT is what the Hall of Fame stands for!

 

1 – Lance McAllister, WLW “Sports Talk” host, 1/8/2013
2www.mlb.com statistics for players of the past
3www.mlb.com , “MLB.com scribes reveal their 2013 Hall ballots”
4 – Bill James, “The Politics of Glory (How Baseball’s Hall of Fame REALLY Works),” MacMillan, 1994

Cubs Sign Dontrelle Willis, They Should Consider His Hitting, Too

The recent announcement that the Chicago Cubs are giving Dontrelle Willis a shot at making the major leagues again made numerous baseball fans happy.  He has brought a level of enthusiasm to a sports world in need of athletes who genuinely give their all for their craft.  Dontrelle continues to do this despite being overworked at a young age resulting in ongoing arm troubles and ineffectiveness.  (He had four consecutive seasons of between 197-236 IP before he reached age 25.1)

Despite pitching just 6-1/3 innings at AAA last year, the Cubs are hoping this effervescent lefty can regain some of the skills which made him such a successful hurler with the Marlins as recent as 2006.1  I want to join the many who hope he returns in a big way.  His 1-6 record with a 5.00 ERA for the Reds in 2011 is misleading.  His performances should have rewarded him wins long before the one he was credited with in his last start of the year.

Dontrelle’s  Bat  Stats

But even if he doesn’t pitch well, the Cubs would be wise to recall his ability to hit.  He has a major league average of .244 with thirteen doubles, six triples, nine homers and 39 RBI in 389 at bats.1  More noticeably, in his ’11 campaign with Cincinnati, he would have been the first pitcher since the 1920s to have hit .400 with at least 30 at bats had he not made an out in his last plate appearance.2

Why  He  Should  Be  Given  a  Shot  as  an  Outfielder,  too

In my article of November 28, I expanded on a radio fan’s call-in suggestion that righthander Mike Leake be given consideration as an outfielder because of his hitting ability.  In the course of my discussion, I mentioned that Dontrelle Willis should consider a comeback in this way.  He has what it takes to be successful as a position player: proven ability to hit, speed (his most recent triple was in ’11), general athleticism (just watch him play), a strong arm obviously and he’ll be only 31 years old in a few days.

Spring training begins in about six weeks.  Let’s see if Dontrelle Willis becomes one of the “feel good stories” of 2013!

1www.mlb.com
2 – Reds television announcers, late September 2011

RedHawks Tug-of-War: Improving Ball Control vs. Rebounding Loss

Miami RedHawks head coach John Cooper is dealing with a difficult transition in his first season since coming from Tennessee State.  He knew he would have to find a way to offset the graduation loss of Mr. Double-Double, Julian Mavunga, who had fourteen double-doubles and led the team in three categories with 16.4 ppg, 9.0 rbds and 3.4 assists.1  What he didn’t count on was losing power forward Bill Edwards to a second consecutive season-ending injury.

Consequently, Miami’s downward slide in rebounding margin has accelerated along with another decrease in free throw shooting.  Fortunately, for the Oxford faithful, an emphasis on better ball handling has essentially offset these two negative trends.  Through games of January 2, 2013 a comparison of the last four seasons, against Div. I opponents, shows the following:

FG

3PFG

FT

RBDS

Rbd. Margin

AST/TO

Sagarin

2009-10

.435

.347

.727

31.8

-1.2

0.805

145

2010-11

.427

.350

.726

32.9

-1.7

0.801

164

2011-12

.432

.357

.697

29.2

-3.1

0.881

198

2012-13

.422

.353

.673

28.5

-9.5

1.007

181

[Statistics for 2009-2012, excluding Sagarin ratings, are from www.sport-reference.com.  Current season data is from www.miami.muohio.edu and Sagarin ratings are from www.usatoday30.usatoday.com.]

The MAC season begins shortly.  Miami’s fortunes will rest on how much they can outhustle their opponents and how well they are able to box out as much as they can on the boards.  As Bill Russell commented in his 1960s autobiography, Go Up For Glory, rebounding is usually a matter of positioning.… One other thing, practice those free throws!

John Cooper was able to make winners out of Tennessee State.  He has another opportunity in his RedHawks post.  This writer is betting that he will after a difficult, but good learning experience for his team which will lose only one senior (non-starter) for the 2013-14 season.

1http://www.sports-reference.com

Cin. St.X: The Best 6-5 Team Ever?

Ordinarily, a high school football team which has a final USA Today computer ranking of 6th in Ohio and 61st nationally would have double digit wins.  Not so, with the 2012 edition of the Cincinnati St. Xavier Bombers.  However, despite the toughest schedule in the country and only four home games, they managed to make the “big school” playoffs in Ohio and finish with an admirable 6-5 record against unreal opposition.  A small measure of pride comes from the fact that, in the final USA Today Top 25 rankings, sixteen of those teams did not have a strength of schedule in the top 100!  (That the Bombers had the most difficult schedule was deduced from the fact that Moeller had the second toughest schedule in both the nation and in Ohio.  As StX had the toughest overall opposition in the state, then it follows that its SOS was #1 in the country.)

To their credit, the Bombers won two of three games against teams who won state championships in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.  They outscored those teams 95-62 primarily on the strength of the surprisingly easy 49-21 win over Moeller, who was #9 nationally at the time and recovered to finish 23rd in the country.

St. Xavier was 2-4 versus high schools which finished in the Ohio’s Top Ten by USA Today computer rankings, being outscored by a total of just nine points in those six games.  The real heartbreaker was a last second loss at home to Colerain, 31-28.

The Bombers played SIX of their eleven games against teams which were ranked in the Top 25 nationally at one time in the season.  Their only win was the previously mentioned victory over Moeller.  Two of the losses were last second agonies, the first loss to Colerain (previous paragraph) and the one which got away at Louisville Trinity, 14-13.  Consequently, St. X was outscored by only nineteen in those six mega-battles.

The Bombers managed to outscore their opponents by 306-275 for the season.  Their uncharacteristically high average of allowing 25 points per game still received a computer ranking as the 4th best defense in the state because of their incredible strength of schedule.

In most years, a 6-5 record will usually get lost in the Great Sea of Mediocrity.  But for this St. Xavier squad, their 6-5 mark is one which should be remembered and respected for many years to come!

St. Xavier’s 2012 season unfolded as follows: 1

   Score StX record
Middletown at Nippert    43-39      1-0 4-6 overall, Greater Miami Conference
Indpls. Cathedral at Lawrence North    33-27      2-0 IN 4A state champs 2, USA Today 3rd in IN
Colerain home    28-31      2-1 achieved USA Today Top Ten
lost regional final to Moeller 24-21, USA Today 4th in OH
Louisville Trinity road    13-14      2-2 defending USA Today nat’l champs
KY 6A state champs 3, USA Today #14
Moeller home    49-21      3-2 was USA Today #9 for this game
OH Div. 1 state champs 4 , USA Today #23
Elder road    35-26      4-2 lost to Colerain, regional semi-final 35-34 OT
USA Today 7th in OH, 71st nationally
LaSalle road    31-14      5-2 USA Today 43rd in OH
Lake. St. Edward road    16-27      5-3 ranked nationally at one point, lost regional semi-final
USA Today 3rd in OH
Cle. St. Ignatius home    21-32      5-4 ranked nationally at one point, lost regional final in 3OT
USA Today 5th in OH, 48th nationally
Louis. St.Xavier home     23-9      6-4 lost toTrinity15-14 in state quarterfinals 3
USA Today 5th in KY
Colerain road    14-35      6-5 (see above)
Note:  state rankings are from USA Today computer data, not a poll
SEASON   SUMMARY
St.   Xavier Bombers 306-275       6-5 lost to Colerain, regional 1st round
USA Today 6th in OH, 61st   nationally
1 – St. Xavier schedule and scores (except for playoff game) from http://www.stxavier.org 2http://www.ihsaa.org
3 http://www.khsaa.org
4 http://www.ohsaa.org
 

Ari-Cle-Cin Trade, Good for All?

[originally posted on my other site, cartaremi.wordpress.com, 12/15/2012 as “Three  Team  Trade  (Ari-Cle-Cin)  Has  Three  Different  Timetables  For  Final  Evaluation”]

Trade talks which began with the Arizona Diamondbacks showing interest in the Cleveland Indians shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera ended with a three-team exchange of players.  Arizona wound up with a new shortstop, but it wasn’t Cabrera!  Such are the twists and turns common with baseball trade discussions.

Baseball general managers are constantly looking to improve their teams.  It’s a complicated process which takes into account many factors, some of which are not always in the forefront of fans’ minds.  Individual player’s ability, age and injury history, salaries, etc. are certainly important.  However, the general manager also has a minor league system at his disposal.  Thus, the timing of player development is just as important as what 25-man roster will take the field for his team’s next game.  This factor was quite evident in this trade.

The net result of the three-team deal was:

1)  Arizona received SS Didi Gregorius, LHP Tony Sipp and minor league 1B Lars Anderson.
2)  Cleveland acquired CF Drew Stubbs, RHP Trevor Bauer, RHP Bryan Shaw and RHP Matt Albers.
3)  Cincinnati gets OF Shin-Shoo Choo, INF Jason Donald and cash. 1

A)  The Diamondbacks
have been very active since late October.  Their 81-81 record came after a 94-win season; and thus, was a major disappointment.  Since the San Francisco Giants reaffirmed their supremacy with their second World Series title in three years and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ new owners are spending some serious money, Arizona had to be proactive if it was going to have a shot in the NL West next year.

At the end of the 2012 season, they had a surplus of outfielders and young pitching talent, but the left side of their infield was a weak spot. In late October and November, they traded an outfielder and a couple of prospects with little or no major league experience for a starting SS (Cliff Pennington), a veteran righty and a lefty reliever plus they signed two free agents: a first and a third basemen.

BUSY  DECEMBER  FOR  DIAMONDBACKS

This positioned them for their revved-up activity this month.  They acquired back-up catcher Wil Nieves, reserve leftfielder Eric Hinske, starting third baseman Eric Chavez and starting RHP Brandon McCarthy via the free agent market. 3

The key acquisitions of the three-way were lefty reliever Sipp and shortstop Gregorius.  Sipp adds another lefty with major league experience to a bullpen which had been short of such southpaws.  Sipps’s four years in the big leagues have been noted for great batting average against and good strikeouts. Diamondbacks decision-makers are probably hoping they can curb his wildness so that his tendency to send souvenirs to bleacher fans (36 HRA in 220 IP)3 will not be problematic.

GREGORIUS is a “timetable” point of this article.  He has only 20 major league at bats, so at age 22 he’s a mid-range project (determining the success of this trade will not come in 2013).    Unlike the other Arizona trades which are clearly for the “win now” philosophy, they can wait a little for his development as they acquired Pennington as the stop-gap at SS and INF/OF Willie Bloomquist remains to fill-in as necessary.

B)  Alas, the poor Indians fans
as they enter 2013 —  the 15th year of their third, perhaps now fourth, stage of rebuilding (for us oldsters, it makes us recall the seemingly endless series of failed Soviet 5-Year Plans during the Cold War).

Their early activity indicated the possibility of trading Asdrubal Cabrera when they sent pitcher Esmil Rogers to Toronto for 31-year old SS Mike Aviles and his five years of major league experience.  He has a .277 lifetime average with some speed 4, not ACab-like numbers, but would do for the interim.  They also picked up infielders Blake Wood and Luis Hernandez in anticipation of losing 32-year old third baseman Jack Hannahan who eventually did sign with the Reds.

TRIBE  REBUILDING  AGAIN?..  UNFORTUNATELY,  “YES”

By themselves, these actions are not indicative of a new rebuild.  However, the trading of Choo might be.  Unloading a key performer just prior to his big earning years does not suggest a win-soon strategy.  The three young pitchers they acquired could help re-establish a pitching staff which seems to have lost its way.  The timetable for assessment of this trade is in the long range.  Bryan Shaw, 25, has shown promise in his two major league seasons with a 3.18 ERA in 97 appearances. 4  Matt Albers, 29, with 300 appearances is pretty much a known quantity: a set-up man as he has yet to record a save.4

But the key to this trade, and the reason it will take a while to judge it, is TREVOR BAUER.  He just completed his second year as a professional after being drafted out of UCLA. 1  And with just four starts in the big show, the Indians will indeed be waiting more than one season to see if he realizes his potential.  They’re hoping it will be sooner rather than later.

Oh yes, the Tribe also picked up Drew Stubbs in this three-way deal.  Cleveland has been short on right-handed power and they’re banking on his 59 homers in 1792 at bats to help out.  He also brings speed with 110 steals in 3-1/2 seasons.  He also brings strikeouts (588) and a .312 OBP, which Reds fans will not miss.

C)  The Reds
have been looking for a prototypical leadoff hitter for some time even though they have managed to win the NL Central twice in the last three years. SHIN-SHOO CHOO became a leadoff hitter in mid-May last season in Cleveland after a rough start.  It turned his season around as he hit .310 with a .389 OBP in 99 games the rest of the way. 5  The only concern with this 8-year veteran is his lack of experience in center.  He has been primarily a right fielder.  Cincinnati is hoping that previous Gold Glove winner Jay Bruce in RF will help Choo’s transition.

The Reds have been in a “win-now” mode since last winter, so this trade fits into their short-range assessment of current strategy.  Walt Jocketty will know by the next All-Star break if this trade worked.  In any event, the likelihood of minor league outfield sensation Billy Hamilton reaching the majors by the end of next season minimizes the risk of this acquisition.

IN CLOSING, baseball fans love to be arm-chair general managers.  The key to thinking like a real GM is being aware of all factors involved in a trade.  Many trades are made with the understanding that final assessment will occur beyond the immediate season. This three-team deal gives fans a chance to look at three different timetables.

1 – Indians.com 12/11/2012
2USA Today Sports Weekly Special Edition, published November, 2012
3 – Diamondbacks web site
4 – Indians web site
5 – Reds web site

Moeller and GCL: Great Year!

[originally posted on my other site, cartaremi.wordpress.com, 12/11/2012 as “State  Champ  Moeller  Caps  Another  Super  Season  for  Cincinnati’s  Greater  Catholic  League”]

The Greater Catholic League (GCL) has a long tradition of being the best -of-the-best in the Cincinnati area going back to the days when it was the Greater Cincinnati League.  Having a losing record in this ultra-competitive league is no indication of a poor season, as Moeller will attest.  While the Crusaders were 1-2 in the GCL this year, they went on to win their 8th state title by defeating previously unbeaten Toledo Whitmer 20-12 in the championship game.  Of the eight teams to qualify for the regional playoffs in southwestern Ohio, three were from the four-team GCL South (Elder and league champ St. Xavier also participated).

Not only does this league do well within the state of Ohio, but it routinely achieves national prominence as the 2012 rankings from USA Today indicate:

. . Record . Final State Ranking . State SOS Current National Ranking*
Moeller   13-3            1st      2nd                24th
St.Xavier     6-5            5th      1st                45th
Elder     9-4            7th      3rd                65th
LaSalle        4-6          42nd      8th
SOS= strength of Schedule
*- not all states have completed their seasons as of Dec. 11

Strength of schedule is often very tough, in part, because wins against very good teams will count more toward making the post-season.  However, it can also be a matter of being able to find opponents to fill out a six-game non-league schedule.  As a result, the elite schools in Ohio will often play each other in addition to their counterparts in Kentucky and Indiana.  St. Xavier, Moeller and Elder had the three most difficult schedules in Ohio this season with LaSalle’s ranking eighth.  With the Crusader’s SOS also being #2 nationally, it follows that the Bombers of St. X had the toughest in the country!  This would explain how three teams averaging four losses each could be among the state’s top seven when the rest of the top ten in Ohio had a TOTAL of nine losses or an average of 1.3 losses.

2012- It was a truly another GREAT(er) Catholic League season!

[all data taken from USA Today’s site]

RedHawk Fans Amused at U.C.’s “Plight”

[originally posted on my other site, cartaremi.wordpress.com, 12/6/2012 as “RedHawk  Fans  Amused  at  Bearcats’  “Plight”]

The corner headline on the Thursday, November 29, 2012 edition of the Cincinnati Enquirer read, “UC’s teams stuck in Big East.”  The accompanying sub-headline “ACC rejects bid to step up, gives open slot to Louisville” 1 was followed by a summary of the latest in the on-going shifts in college conferences.

The Atlantic Coast Conference had been deciding which university was going to fill the vacancy created when Maryland decided to join the Big Ten in 2014.  The University of Louisville, the University of Cincinnati (UC) and the University of Connecticut were the candidates for that spot.  “The mood was somber as news reached the University of Cincinnati Athletic Department that the Atlantic Coast Conference had chosen Louisville over UC…. (who) instead will remain a member of a Big East that will include many of the Conference USA schools with which the Bearcats were happy to part company when they left C-USA in 2005.” 1

At this point, Miami University Redhawk fans could be heard chuckling a mere 33 miles away in Oxford, Ohio.  Poetic justice can be so painfully ironic.  For the last seven years, MU had been putting up with the implication that it was lucky to be considered as an opponent worthy to occupy a spot in UC’s valuable schedule.  The annual basketball rivalry was suspended, and then resumed as a two-for-one home and away series instead of alternating years at each school.

Even the 120-plus year old football Victory Bell rivalry (the longest continuous battle west of the Alleghenies) was in jeopardy as UC assessed its priorities.  It wasn’t sure whether, as a member of the big-time Big East, it could afford to continue being associated with such non-BCS company.  This rivalry had survived numerous times of war, the Great Depression and many social upheavals.  Now it was in danger of being deemed irrelevant by UC despite Miami’s two #10 final poll rankings in its history – the most recent just a couple of years before UC headed to the Big East.

Meanwhile, Miami will continue its proud 65-year association with the unheralded Mid-American Conference (MAC).  This lowly MAC is a conference which boasted two Top 25 teams in its football championship game this season.  It received seven bowl bids this year, including Northern Illinois which is going to the Orange Bowl – a game in which UC participated recently.

As for UC, RedHawk fans’ sentiments will be directed toward the well-being of their nearby brothers and sisters.  MU supporters will hope that, somehow, UC can feel respectable once again!

1 – Bill Koch and Cliff Peale, Cincinnati Enquirer, 11/29/2012

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