Monthly Archives: February 2012

Happy Leap Day!

 

Leap Day William, Leap Day William, Bursting from the sea!

Blue and yellow are the order of the day today! Get your colors on or someone will “Poke your eye, pull your hair, you forgot what clothes to wear!” While 30 Rock is not the show it used to be, the Leap Day episode certainly was a funny one.

Leap Day got me thinking, what major league ballplayers were born on Leap Day? There are eleven: Terrence Long, Bill Long, Jerry Fry, Al Autry, Steve Mingori, Al Rosen, Pepper Martin, Ralph Miller, Roy Parker, Ed Appleton and Dickey Pearce.

The most famous of these is Al Rosen, former Indians slugger, Yankee president and chief operating officer from 1978-1979, Astros president and general manager from 1980-1985, and Giants president and general manager from 1985-1989. Now the interesting thing about Rosen is that he nearly won the Triple Crown in 1953. He led the league with 43 HRs and 145 RBIs, but he finished second to Mickey Vernon in batting average – .337 to .336. Rosen nearly beat out an infield hit in his last at bat of the season but missed the bag and was called out. If he had managed to get this one hit, he would have won the Triple Crown for 1953. This got me thinking about how hard it is to win the Triple Crown.

In 2010, Joe Sheehan wrote an article for SI about this. That year, Joey Votto, Albert Pujols and Carlos Gonzalez were vying for the Triple Crown. It ended up that none of them managed the feat. We all know that the last two players to win the Triple Crown were Frank Robinson in 1966 and Yaz in 1967. Both managed the feat when there were only 10 teams in their league. Today there are 14 teams in the AL and 16 in the NL – a huge increase in the number of players able to compete for each individual stat category. Despite the increased competition, it seems that every year someone comes close.

In 2011 it was Matt Kemp who nearly pulled it off. He led the NL with 39 HRs and 126 RBI, but his .324 batting average was third to Jose Reyes .337. In 2010 Pujols led the NL with 42 HRs and 118 RBIs, but finished 6th in batting average. In 2009, Pujols came close again leading the league with 47 HRs, second in RBI with 135, and 3rd in batting average at .327. In 2007, Matt Holiday led the NL in batting average at .340 and RBIs with 137 but his 36 HRs was a distant fourth to Prince Fielders 50.

In the AL, it has not been nearly that close. In 2005 ARod led in HRs with 48, was third in RBIs and second in batting average. And there were years when a player won two categories but was not very close in the third – in 2006, David Ortiz led in HR and RBI but was not close to Joe Mauer’s .347 batting average, in 2007 ARod led in HR and RBIs but was not even in the top 10 in batting average, in 2009 Mark Teixeira led in RBI with 122, tied for the HR title with 39, but was nowhere near Joe Mauer’s .365 batting average.

Now, that got me thinking a bit more. Perhaps players, like most everyone else these days, have changed their focus from batting average to on base percentage. What effect would that have on the Triple Crown if we change the Triple Crown criteria from batting average to OBP for players in the post expansion era?

Well, yes, indeed more names would be on the list. Frank Robinson in 1966 and Yaz in 1967 would have still won. But, in 1969, both Harmon Killebrew  with 49 HR, 140 RBIs and a .427 OBP and Willie McCovey with 45 HR, 126 RBI and a .453 OBP would have won our new fangled Triple Crown. Barry Bonds would have won it in 1993 with 46 HRs, 123 RBIs and a .458 OBP. Our new Triple Crown adds three more names to the list. But, alas, Al Rosen would still not be a Triple Crown winner – he lost in OBP by .007 points. That one ground out to end his season would not have been the difference.

Can you smell it though? A change is in the wind!

While the Triple Crown would still be a difficult task, it seems more attainable if we change the criteria from batting average to OBP. Wille McCovey, Harmon Killebrew and Barry Bonds vote yes. I say we do it.

As Arlo Guthrie sings in Alice’s Restaurant (well kinda might sing this):

there’s only one thing you can do and that’s walk into the shrink wherever you are, just walk in and say “Shrink, you should use OBP over batting average for the triple crown.”  And walk out.  You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he’s really sick and they won’t agree to change the triple crown criteria.  And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they’re both faggots and they won’t listen to either of them. And if three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in and arguing for OBP over batting average and walking out? They may think it’s an organization.  And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in and arguing for OBP over batting average and walking out?  Friends, they may thinks it’s a movement.

 

So there you go. Let’s start a movement.

 

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Greatest Sox Catcher of All-Time

 

I grew up with Carlton Fisk. He, along with Dwight Evans, Yaz, Fred Lynn, Jim Rice, Rico Petrocelli, Luis Tiant, and Bill Lee made up the dreams of my youth.  In the late summer of 1980, I was uprooted from New England and plopped down in Winter Park, Florida. The Sox, though, were still my team despite the fact that fall never came and I had to follow them through an entirely new and unreal steamy Florida summer. That year the Sox finished 83-77 in 5th place behind the Yankees and Orioles, winners of 103 and 100.

During my teen years in the late ’70s (before the Florida move) the Sox were good with 97 wins in 1977, 99 wins in 1978, and 91 wins in 1979. They were, though, never quite good enough and looking back on it now, that was part of the pleasure. They tantalized but never finalized. Coming oh so close, they left me with great, but slightly painful, World Series memories in 1975. It was a good time to be a young baseball fan in New England. Glory and heart break tempered the souls of thousands of New England teenage boys. When we moved to Florida it was tougher to maintain that bond – there was no Ken Coleman, Ned Martin, Johnny Pesky, Dick Stockton or Ken Harrelson on the television and no Ned Martin on the radio. There were just box scores to recreate the games in my mind. And, worst of all, there was no Boston Globe sports section. Eventually, though, I meandered my way back to New England in 1987. My suffering would be better and more palpable closer to Fenway. The memories of those 70s players were always with me.

Back to Fisk for a moment. During the years 1976 to 1980 (when I still lived in New Hampshire), he cranked out 17, 26, 20, 10 and 18 HRs, made 4 All-Star teams and was a good defensive catcher. In all, Fisk would amass 162 HRs during his Red Sox career. He was a good catcher, maybe even best described as very good; he wasn’t yet great.

But, in 1981 his ten year Red Sox career came to an abrupt end when Haywood Sullivan mailed him his new contract a day late, turning Fisk into a free agent. The parallel for me was too stark. Fisk was leaving the Sox and so had I. Coupled with the trades of Rick Burleson and Fred Lynn, this newly based Florida Sox fan felt empty and alone. Fisk would sign with the White Sox in 1981 and, with many more years of fantastic production from behind the dish (and some at DH), would solidify his Hall of Fame credentials, playing with the White Sox for thirteen more years until he was 45.

Fisk’s Red Sox replacement was Rich Gedman, the guy with the weird wood chopping swing. He seemed more like someone out of Snow White then a baseball player. He had a decent three year stretch from 1984 to 1986 (his age 24-26 seasons) and was part of the 1986 Sox team that lost to the Mets. He was a two time All-Star but fell off the map after the 1986 season, never getting more then 350 ABs in a season the rest of his career.

The Red Sox would go through a series of catchers over the next decade (1987-1997): Gedman, Marc Sullivan, Rick Cerone, Tony Pena (his age 33-36 seasons), Damon Berryhill, Rich Rowland, Dave Valle, Mike Macfarlane, Bill Hasselman, Mike Stanley, and Scott Hatteberg.

Then, in 1997, Dan Duquette traded Heathcliff Slocumb to the Seattle Mariners for Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe and the Red Sox had miraculously acquired the greatest catcher in team history. Varitek, set to announce his retirement on Thursday, played his entire 15 year career with the Red Sox – 1546 games, 5099 ABS, 1307 Hits, 193 HRs and 757 RBIs. While Varitek will never make the Hall of Fame, he will, in my opinion, go down as the greatest Red Sox catcher of all-time.

Over their entire careers, Varitek was not even close to Fisk as a player. Varitek is certainly not a Hall of Famer. He did, though, win two World Series rings,* make three All-Star teams and win a Gold Glove. And, some of the things Varitek did for the Red Sox are not readily countable or quantifiable. They say he was a great game caller. I don’t know how you quantify that but I do know he is the only catcher to be behind the plate for four no hitters – Nomo, Lowe, Buchholz and Lester.

*Fisk never won a World Series ring and only reached the playoffs two more times in 1983 and in 1993, his final season.

Varitek accumulated the 9th most number of games of anyone in Red Sox history and only Yaz, Ted Wiliams and Jim Rice had longer tenures with the Red Sox without playing for another team. In the modern baseball era the list of one team players is filled with some pretty big names: Brooks Robinson, Al Kaline, Cal Ripken, George Brett, Willie Stargell, Robin Yount, Alan Trammell, and Craig Biggio. Yet many of Varitek’s contemporaries, Pujols, Bonds, Clemens, Frank Thomas, Pedro, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux and Andy Pettite, can not lay claim to having played their entire careers with one team. Now, I know baseball is a business and players need to move around to maximize their value, but we fans have lost something over the last two decades with all this player movement. Owners and players don’t seem to care much about that, but fans do. Fans will hold people who were with them year after year in higher regard. With Varitek, I do.

Despite his lack of Hall of Fame credentials and my admiration for Fisk, Varitek, in my book, goes to the top of the career Red Sox All-Time catcher line. Not just for the stats he accumulated as a Red Sox player over fifteen years, but also for what he did for Sox fans that glorious 2004 season. He shoved A-Rod and the Yankees in the face in July of 2004 and started the regular season playoff push that would lead to an improbable and impossibly wonderful World Series title. He was the heart of the Red Sox for a good decade and a half and for that I thank him.

Happy retirement Jason Varitek. You will be remembered fondly.

Not that Chris Carpenter!

How much was Theo Epstein worth to the Red Sox? The answer is in: a Chris Carpenter. Unfortunately for the Sox, it is not the Cy Young Award winning pitcher from Exeter, New Hampshire.

Instead, the Sox get the Bryan, Ohio version:

2011: 10 Games, 9.2 IP, 12 Hits, 8 BB, 8 SO, 2.79 ERA

Now, I don’t really want to get into whether this is adequate compensation for Theo. Instead, it got me wondering about what other managers or general managers have been traded for players. I could not find many:

  1. Ozzie Guillen for Jhan Marinez and Ozzie Martinez (2011)
  2. Lou Pinella for Randy Winn and Antonio Perez (2002)
  3. Andy McPhail for Hector Trinidad (1994)
  4. Chuck Tanner for Manny Sanguillen and $100,000 (1976)
  5. Gil Hodges for Bill Denehy and $100,000 (1967)

Were the White Sox being cutesy with the Guillen deal? They traded an Ozzie for an Ozzie and got two players with only a “t” as the difference in their last names. Oddly funny. I think they would have been better off asking for Logan Morrison and a loan. But, I guess you can’t have it all.

Should Cubs fans be happy with this deal? They get a talented president of baseball operations in Theo Epstein and his henchman GM Jed Hoyer for a talented 25 year old reliever who may or may not learn to harness his high 90s heat. Some Cubs fans are not too jazzed about the deal. How might it turn out?

A Cubs Optimist (if such a creature exists) would say: the Mets and Pirates both won World Series after trading for managers. Managers, General Managers, Presidents of Baseball Operations, there is no difference between these things really. They are all just titles. Heck, Theo, Jed and Dale all sound like they were part of the Clampett clan and you know what happened to the Clampett’s right? They struck oil, black gold, Texas tea! You know what that means – Cubs win Series in 2015!

A Cubs Pessimist would say: the only other time a team traded for a GM was the Cubs in 1994 and that trade was followed by the heartbreak of 2003 and three LDS sweeps in 1998, 2007 and 2008. The Cubs are caught in a time warp of repeating history – trading for a GM who won two World Series titles with another team in hopes of breaking the Curse of the Billy Goat. Theo and Jed will only bring further heartbreak. Cubs wallow in another decade of misery.

Theo certainly has been busy though, trying to earn his keep. Here are some of the things he’s done:

  • Hires Jed Hoyer
  • Fires Mike Quade
  • Hires Dale Sveum (reportedly taking him from the Sox)
  • Signs David DeJesus
  • Trades Tyler Colvin, DJ LeMaheiu to Colorado for Ian Stewart and Casey Weathers
  • Non-tenders Koyie Hill
  • Sean Marshall traded to Reds for Travis Wood, Dave Sappelt and Ronald Torreyes.
  • Signs Manny Corpas and Andy Sonnanstine
  • Re-signs Reed Johnson
  • Trades Carlos Zambrano and cash to Marlins for Chris Volstad
  • Trades Andrew Cashner and Kyung-Min Na for Anthony Rizzo and Zach Cates
  • Signs Paul Maholm
  • Re-signs Kerry Wood

That seems like a pretty busy off-season, Cubs fans. Will it help in 2012? I don’t think so. Here are the likely starters for opening day:

C Geovany Soto

1B Bryan LaHair

2B Darwin Barney

3B Ian Stewart

SS Starlin Castro

LF Alfonso Soriano

CF Marlon Byrd

RF David DeJesus

Rotation:

Ryan Dempster

Matt Garza

Travis Wood

Chris Volstad

Paul Maholm

Ouch. I don’t think that is going to cut it in the NL Central. It looks like Theo is planning for a successful Cubs club in 2015, so you Cubs fans may have to wait a bit for your WS trophy and just enjoy your day games.

What Process Is Due?

 

“This,” one baseball official said, “is like a criminal getting off because he wasn’t read his Miranda rights.”

 

Really? I don’t think so.

 

Ryan Braun’s successful appeal of his positive drug test is seen by many as a vindication of “due process,” leading many to suggest that Braun won on a technicality (that the chain of custody was compromised). And, if anything represents due process and technicalities in American culture it is the Miranda warning. Are technicalities a bad thing?

 

Of due process and technicalities:

John Heyman tweeted: “braun deserves due process and his day in court.”

The New York Times reported: “If you are struggling to feel anything other than ambivalence over Ryan Braun having his baseball drug suspension overturned on appeal, you are not alone. It was a victory only a lawyer could love. Yes, Braun gets to do his little victory dance and return to swinging for the Milwaukee Brewers’ fences because his lawyers found a loophole and drove through it.”

Ken Rosenthal wrote: “I know what some of you are thinking: Ryan Braun got off on a technicality. Baseball cut him a break. Braun should have been suspended 50 games for his positive drug test — period … It’s called due process, folks. You might not like or even trust the result. But the rules were collectively bargained.” “I’ll just say this: Braun had every right to appeal, every right to make his case. That’s how due process works.”

 

This is a flawed, muddled and confused way to look at what happened to Braun. This thinking trivializes the concept of due process and suggests that due process victories are often just technical wins. Both notions undermine the important concepts of due process and fairness. Due process was not what worked here. The process MLB and the players union bargained for was what worked (despite MLB’s vehement disagreement). That process just isn’t the same as “due process.”

 

To see what is going on here, we need to be on the same page in understanding the legal concept of “due process.” Many people think it applies to all aspects of life for Americans. We all deserve to be treated fairly in every aspect of our lives as citizens. Well, due process does not address all aspects of life. Due process only applies when the government, either the federal government or the state government, undertakes an action that impinges on an individual’s life, liberty or property. No government action, no violation of due process. While powerful, MLB is not the government. MLB can’t put Braun in jail, take away his home, or put him to death for his alleged positive drug test. In regards to Braun and his drug test, due process is not the issue. Why then, does everyone seem to think it is?

 

My guess is that commentators and baseball fans really think that what they are talking about is the need for a fair procedure. That is great and true and there is a legal concept called procedural fairness that does apply to private actors, like MLB. But, if you were to really look at and understand “procedural fairness” you would see that it only tangentially applies to MLB and Braun. For example, it might apply if say that MLB, without a drug testing policy agreed to by the players, suspended Braun for taking steroids.* Braun could go to court and argue to a judge that MLB’s action violated procedural fairness in his right to be employed as a baseball player. Would he win such a case? Hard to say.

 

That, though, is still not the case here. What makes Braun’s dealings with MLB different is that MLB and the player’s association (a union), under collective bargaining laws, agreed as part of the union contract to a process under which players would be tested for banned substances. Part of that agreement was that the process was to be secretive, it was to have certain testing criteria and procedures that were to be followed, and that if a player tested positive he had a right to appeal that result to a three person panel. That is what happened to Braun. Well, apart from the kept secret part – cough, cough, MLB.

 

Instead of pointing out that the process Braun was contesting was one that MLB and the players had agreed to in the CBA, the media just lumped what happened to Braun under the term “due process.” Why do we care, you say? Even after all your legal shenanigans and double speak, due process or procedural fairness or the process MLB and the union agreed to under the CBA, all three are still the same in our minds. Well, here’s my point, they shouldn’t be.

 

By suggesting that Braun’s due process rights were violated, commentators diminish the concept of due process. The right to a fair trial, to have a lawyer (even if you can not afford one) in a criminal prosecution, to speak your mind and not be muzzled, and to practice your religion are all important notions in our country and they can not be taken away without due process – a fair proceeding where the government is called to task. Braun’s drug test appeal is not a fundamental right and thus not afforded due process. He is, however, afforded a fair procedure as set forth in the CBA. Was the media just trying to make Braun’s case look silly by labeling it as a due process case or were they just confused. I suggest they were confused and ill informed.

 

Now, don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that it isn’t important for Braun to get a fair shake in his dealings with MLB, it is just that his concern does not rise to the level of a fundamental right that must be afforded due process. And, to casually throw around the term “due process” in this context is careless and undermines our legal system. Wow, that’s kinda over-the-top, don’t you think? Not really. For, unfortunately, most people don’t really understand our legal system** and know the rights it affords its citizens. And, unfortunately, many in our country gather their knowledge about things like the law from the media. That is why it is dangerous when the media presents Braun as a model for how “due process” works. When the media generalizes (and gets it wrong) about “due process” it undermines the concept.

 

It also appears that people are unhappy with the fact that an agreed to adversarial hearing raised concerns about the fairness of the testing procedure as it applied to Braun. The “thinking” now is that other “guilty” ballplayers can take advantage of this alleged “loophole” or technicality. MLB and fans across the country should understand that Braun’s attack on the process uncovered a flaw that may affect the reliability of the tests to which players submit. With a player’s reputation and livelihood at stake, it is important that the process the parties agreed upon be followed to the letter and that it be a pristine process. That is what was important to Braun and should be important to all ballplayers. In that regard, protecting the integrity of the system is vital. Belittling the process by suggesting the technicalities are bad is stupid. Technicalities exist so that there is less of a chance that someone will be unfairly targeted or convicted. The reason we have Miranda warnings for people is not to give people a technicality so as to avoid punishment. Rather, Miranda was designed to neutralize the distinct psychological advantages police have over suspects; Miranda is meant to level the playing field so that we avoid wherever possible coerced confessions; confessions that still happen way too often. A technicality like Miranda is a good thing. Pressing a flaw in the testing process for MLB is also a good thing. Lets not damn technicalities or belittle them.

 

As our parents tell us, life isn’t always fair. When your life and liberty are at stake, however, you want want both fairness and due process. Braun didn’t need due process, he just needed a fair process. Which is what he got.

 

 

*Forget for a moment that MLB and the player’s association are subject to the National Labor Relations Act.

 

**Iin 1991 the New York Times reported that only 33% of Americans can identify the Bill of Rights – I would suggest that number has not improved in 2012.