Sam

Posts Tagged ‘mlb’

The problem with baseball nowadays

In Uncategorized on December 18, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Yet another story about an overpaid major league ballplayer on the wires today. The Giants signed back-up catcher Eli Whiteside to a one-year $ 600 K contract. That is the figure that Whiteside will earn if he makes the big league club. If he is placed on the minor league roster he will make $ 175 K next season. Another way of looking at this is that if Whiteside makes the minor league team next year he will be paid more than Willie Mays ever made in his prime years with the Giants. In fact Mays’ top salary with the Giants was $ 180 K in 1971-72. I wonder how Wille Mays feels when he hears that a back up catcher who hit .197 last year, whose lifetime average is a paltry .218 and whose game-used bats don’t even sell for $ 20.00 on EBAY stands to make more money in the minor leagues than he (Mays) made as the marquee player in the National League for twenty years ?

The argument can be made of course that $ 180 K – when the adjustment is made for inflation – was worth far more in 1972 than it is nowadays. But how much more ? According to the US Govt official Consumer Product Index inflation calculator $ 180,000 in 1972 has the same buying power as $974 K in 2011. In other words, if Eli Whiteside can get his average over .200 in 2012 he will probably be making more than Willie Mays, inflation and all.

All of this begs the question, what is wrong with America nowadays that a professional baseball player – even a lousy one – makes so much money ?

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Enough is not enough

In Uncategorized on December 10, 2011 at 6:23 pm

I was pleased to see that newly crowned NL MVP, Ryan Braun, has tested positive for PEDs. I can think of nothing more embarrassing to Major League Baseball and Bud Selig. Braun is one of the sports premier sluggers and his role on a resurgent Milwaukee Brewers team was one of the feel-good stories of the year. Not since the days of Gorman Thomas and Cecil Cooper has Milwaukee rallied around a team and two sluggers like it did this year around the Brewers, Cecil Fielder and Ryan Braun. That Braun won the MVP award came as something of a surprise to some people but I don’t think anyone said he didn’t deserve it.

Well, he obviously did not.

The revelation that Braun tested positive for PEDS comes on the heels of the news that Major League Baseball is going to reinstate Manny Ramirez and cut his suspension for drug use in half from 100 to 50 games. Ramirez has been caught cheating multiple times and you would think that the Commissioners’ office – if it was truly committed to cleaning up the sport and sending a message to people, players and fans alike – would say “enough” and put Ramirez on the ineligible list, as it did once with Pete Rose. But baseball recognizes that Ramirez is still a big draw so drug use or not they welcome him back and they are even making it easier for him return. All this says, at least to me, is that MLB cares very little about restoring integrity to the game.

Until we have someone in the Commissioners office who is committed to a clean sport and who is willing to issue lifetime bans for repeated drug use – even if this means a confrontation with the MLB Players Association and a lengthy strike – then the problem will not get any better, Every exemplary performance on the field, such as we saw this year when Albert Pujols hit 3 hrs in a World Series game, will be subject to suspicion. Was it real ?

Probably not.

I wonder what Bowie Kuhn would think of all this ?

The All-Star game

In Uncategorized on July 7, 2011 at 5:17 am

As baseball gets ready for the All-Star game, I have seen a few articles lately bemoaning the demise of the “mid-summer classic.” Last year, for example, the game had its lowest ratings ever after a steady decline over the years. In fact no one seems to get excited about the All-Star game anymore. I certainly don’t. I usually watch an inning or two at most. But that is out of sheer habit. After all, I have been watching the All-Star game since 1970.

The All-Star game used to be a game we looked forward to from the first day of the season. It was an exhibition game featuring the games greatest players and average players who were having great years. Willie Mays appeared in 24 all-star games. Billy Grabarkewitz, one. Exhibition notwithstanding the teams played hard to win and there was a noticeable absence of fraternizing between players during the game. There were no frivolous events like Home Run Derby with gold balls or a celebrity softball game. It was an exhibition baseball game pure and simple. But one of the highest quality.

Nowadays the All-Star game has a decidedly carnival like atmosphere, in part because of events like Home Run Derby. The game itself is played with nonchalance. Players from opposing sides intermingle good-naturedly and even exchange high-fives after good plays. But this is understandable when everyone on the field is privileged and a millionaire.

Yes, this may be why we have lost interest in the All-Star game and, some would argue, with baseball in general: because the All-Star game showcases the vast gap that now exists in America between elite athletes and the average citizen. Where we once could relate to a perennial All-Star like Stan Musial, who mowed his own lawn and left his number in the St. Louis telephone directory, we simply can no longer relate to players who are so far removed from ourselves.

So once again this year I will watch an inning at most. Or maybe not watch at all.

Baseball’s most exciting play: Play at the plate

In Uncategorized on May 27, 2011 at 5:15 pm

The headlines this week were about Buster Posey’s season-ending injury during the Giants–Marlins game the other night. Because of Posey’s increasing stature in the league – he is one of the NL’s upcoming stars – his is an injury that has generated much discussion. Many people are advocating that baseball change the rules to prevent violent collisions such as occurred Tuesday night. I have no doubt that Bud Selig will give in to these voices of change and at some point – maybe next season – there will be a rule change. And then one of baseball’s most exciting plays – the play at the plate – will be as non-existent as waxed Coke cups with cellophane lids.

In spite of its reputation as a non-contact sport, Baseball has always been a dangerous game. In the dead-ball era two players died after being beaned in the head by pitched balls and a player like Ty Cobb would routinely sharpen his spikes to intimidate the opposition when stealing a base. Although brushbuck pitches were a routine part of the game up until the 1980s batting helmets were not widely used until the 1960s and were not made mandatory until 1971. Yet even with the protection of a helmet there is probably nothing more fearful in sports than standing 60’ 6” away from a pitcher who is hurling a baseball 90 MPH at you – sometimes within inches of your head. In a sense, baseball is a lethal game on every play. But that is the beauty of baseball. It is a non-contact, finesse sport that requires a lot of guts.

Participant in baseball’s most famous home plate collision – during the 1970 All-Star game in Cincinnati – Ray Fosse does not think the rules should be changed to protect the catcher. Asked to comment in the wake of the Posey injury, Fosse said that the sometimes violent confrontation between catcher and base-runner cannot be avoided and that tradition should be respected – even though his own promising career may have been shortened by his collision with Rose. I could not agree more. The image of Rose racing down the third-base line and barreling into Fosse to score the winning run in the bottom of the 12th inning is perhaps the most enduring and exciting moment in All-Star game history.

So with the collision in San Francisco the other night. It is unfortunate that Posey was injured and will likely miss the remainder of the season. But it was exciting baseball.

Baseball at its best.

Interleague play: Frivolity ad nauseam

In Uncategorized on May 21, 2011 at 6:23 pm

Well, I see interleague play has begun again which means it is time for the Sports Purist annual invective against inter-league play.

Nowadays interleague play seems to be all about faux-historical World Series matchups. The most heralded interleague series this year is between the Cubs and Red Sox, the first visit by the Cubs to Fenway Park since the 1918 World Series. Is this series really worthy of all the national interest it has garnared ? The Cubs have been mired in medoicrity for over half a century and the Red Sox were equally bad until Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz, with the aid of steroids, brought Bean Town two world championships in recent years. Moreover, when they market this series as the Cubs “first visit to Fenway since 1918 ” Major League Baseball implies that there is continuity in the game. Yet baseball in the dead-ball era and the sport nowadays have so little in common that they don’t easily invite comparison. Babe Ruth led the AL in home runs in 1918 with 11 and two pitchers tied for the most complete games, 30. Does baseball nowadays resemeble anything like this ? Is the 2011 Cubs’ franchise really the same franchise that played in the 1918 World Series ? The 1918 Cubs played at Comisky Park. Wrigley Field had not even been built yet.

As you would expect both the Red Sox and the Cubs took the field this weekend in throwback jerseys, the Cubs in an all gray road uniform and the Red Sox in an all white uniform with matching white cap – looking more like culinary staff at the Savoy Hotel complete with toques than a baseball team. A lot of teams are doing this now, wearing throw-back jerseys that date back half a century. You feel like you are watching a Buster Keaton movie, the aesthetic of an all white, nameless uniform completely lost upon the modern-day viewer. The effect is almost comical.

Interleague play with turn-of-the century throwback jerseys. Baseball circa 2011.

Frivolity ad nauseam.

What is Fantasy Baseball anyway ?

In Uncategorized on May 17, 2011 at 6:41 am

I have never understood fantasy baseball. In fact I really don’t even know what fantasy baseball is. I have so little interest in fantasy baseball that I have never even bothered to google it to find out what it is. People occasionally ask me if I play fantasy baseball but I quickly demur at the suggestion, lest they invite me to join a fantasy baseball league. My concept of fantasy baseball is that is a refuge for grown men who were never good at sports when they were kids and who, as a result, are somewhat insecure about their maleness.

When I was a kid the equivalent of fantasy baseball was Strat-O-Matic. But I never knew anyone who played Strat-O-Matic. None of the kids I hung out with showed any interest and I have only a vague recollection of what a Strat-O-Matic card looked like ( something like a Milbourne card if I recall) . If one somehow found its way into your collection, you just threw it out. Unless it was Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle. And even then it didn’t warrant a rubber-band but just sat in the bottom of your shoe-box under your Topps cards. Needless to say, Strat-O-Matic was just for kids. Fantasy baseball, for some reason, has an especial lure for adults. I have no idea why.

People who play fantasy baseball seem to fall into two categories:

1.) The guy you sit next to at the ballpark who keeps score, listens to the game on a headset and wears a replica jersey. He doesn’t talk much during the game, shells a lot of peanuts while keeping score and usually brings a PBJ in wax paper from home. A beer ? Out of the question. He works at a printing company or a Copy Mat and derives great pleasure from discussing fantasy baseball with his co-workers or other initiates to this banal game. He never marries.

2.)The hyper-social male whose frenzied social networking masks a deeply seated insecurity among large groups. He is always schmoozing, patting people on the back, desperately trying to give people the impression that he “belongs.” He plays in a fantasy baseball league and wears this fact as a badge of honor. He is also known as a jerk.

Fantasy baseball: just another reason why baseball was better when I was a kid.

Post 3-11 Sports purist

In Uncategorized on April 25, 2011 at 5:29 am

It has been awhile since I have written anything. Living here in Tokyo we endured the earthquake of March 11 ( what is now being referred to here as ‘3-11″ ) and have been collectively paralyzed by everything that followed, most notably Fukushima. But life is slowly getting back to normal here: the trains are packed during the morning commute; the spate of post-disaster TV news programs, some of them very good, have given way to the insipid variety programs that define Japanese TV; people are thinking about foreign travel, hot springs and food again. So when I received an email the other day from a friend bemoaning Bud Selig’s plan to expand the playoffs I realized it was time for the Sports Purist to get back to “normal” too.

Since the season opened, there has been a lot to opine about including the Barry Bonds trial, the brutal beating of a fan outside Dodger Stadium , Manny Ramirez’s very un-graceful “retirement.” But let’s start with Bud Selig.

I have never understood Bud Selig. Selig has always been a self-professed baseball fan, frequently talking about his love for those great Milwaukee Braves teams of the late 1950s while a kid growing up in Milwaukee. He has been a lifelong friend of Henry Aaron which means that he can’t be all that bad. Or at least you would think. Yet Selig has done more to ruin the game during his tenure than any commissioner before him. Under Selig we have seen:

– Inter-league play which deprives the World Series of considerable mystique.
– World Series games frequently played into late October, early November.
– Rampant drug use.
– A gimmicky winner-takes-all format for the all-star game.
– A tie in an all-star game.
– Hallowed baseball records broken by ball players on steroids.
– Two Red Sox World Series championships ( right there that tells you that something is out of kilter)
– A disastrous players strike in 1994, until the strike one of baseballs most exciting seasons ever.
– Regular season games played on foreign soil including an “opening day” in Tokyo
– An astronomical rise in players salaries and ticket prices so that the demographic in any major league park nowadays is decidedly white and middle class ( Dodger Stadium is not a ballpark. It is a drug-infested neighborhood).

Anyway, I can do without Bud Selig. Even if he is a friend of Henry Aaron’s.

Opening Day – smorgasboard for the masses

In Uncategorized on March 31, 2010 at 12:44 pm

Well another baseball season is just around the corner. How I used to look forward to Opening Day and the traditional matinée between the Cincinnati Reds and Atlanta Braves.  That game used to be the only game played on Opening Day while all the other major league teams went into action on the following day.  The Reds-Braves opener had all the sacredness of National Holiday.  Just as Thanksgiving falls on the last Thursday in November, so the Reds-Braves contest was held on the first Monday in April.  That the opening game was never nationally televised – not even when Hank Aaron opened the 1974 season one home run shy of Babe Ruth’s record – but simply played for the enjoyment of the sun-soaked denizens of Crosley Field or Riverfront Stadium gave it a decidedly small town feel – an echo of baseball’s origins in Cincinnati.

But things have changed under the shrewd commisionership of Bud Selig.  This year, for example, on the same day the Yanks and Bosox meet in the season opener – a Sunday night game slotted for a prime time national broadcast – the Giants will be playing the Mariners in the last exhibition game of the Cactus League season.  A few years ago,  the Yanks and Red Sox opened the season – in Tokyo of all places – while a week of spring training games back home was still on the schedule. This is sheer lunacy.  Why does the league have to tinker with every sacred tradition ? The reason of course is money.   I just hope the next commissioner of Baseball – hopefully someone along the lines of Bart Giamatti ( pictured in his early days at Yale) or Fay Vincent, two individuals who never would have even thought to tinker with the Braves- Reds  opening day tradition  –  will put an end to this madness.

The morally bankrupt Texas Rangers

In Uncategorized on March 17, 2010 at 2:58 pm

The big story in baseball today is that Texas Rangers Manager Ron Washington tested positive for cocaine last year.  The bigger news, to me at least, is that the Rangers are standing by Washington and allowing him to keep his job. This is a reprehensible stance on the part of the Rangers management. 

Just a few days ago an American couple who worked at the US Embassy in Mexico were brutally gunned down as they returned home from a child’s birthday party.  Their own 1-year-old child, in the back seat of the car, was unhurt but there was a profoundly tragic image of a Mexican policeman holding the child as his colleagues went through the bullet riddled SUV. The violent mexican drug wars that the media have been reporting recently are the direct result of an insatiable US demand for Cocaine among other drugs. This is acknowledged by both the US and Mexican governments.   In a sense then it is recreational Cocaine users like Ron Washington who are indirectly responsible for the murder of the US diplomat and her husband. For they are the ones creating the demand.  Not only is it absurd to allow Washington to keep his job after he tested positive for Cocaine ( he is after all a manager and managers are not supposed to fail drug tests), but given the fact that the spate in drug related violence is happening on the Texas-Mexico border one would expect  the Rangers management would have terminated Washington’s contract immediately,  if  for no other reason than to send a message to their own community that they do not condone any activity that has led, even indirectly, to the deaths of thousands of innocent Mexican and American citizens since the drug wars began in 2006.  

A final thought on this post: I wonder what the Rangers’s first ever manager would say about all this were he still alive. That would be Ted Williams of course.

Ah, Spring is here….

In Uncategorized on March 9, 2010 at 8:43 am

I see that A-Rod is in hot water again, this time for his association with a Canadian doctor who is suspected of providing HGH to US athletes.  Here we go again. Although some people in baseball- because of the implementation of more stringent drug testing – have declared the Steriod Era over, the use of performance enhancing drugs (funny but doesn’t PEDs  sound like PEZ ? ) like HGH will continue to destroy the National Pastime. There is still no test for HGH and I suspect that many ballplayers who used steroids have simply switched over to HGH.  In fact, I was watching the Chisox-Cubbies Cactus League game the other day and every guy in the White Sox lineup looked like Popeye, even diminutive Omar Vizquel.   In short, one just does not know anymore if what occurs on the field is legitimate or not.  The only way to restore integrity to the game would be to impose widespread mandatory drug testing and then to issue lifetime bans to repeat offenders.  If a player knew that his livelihood was on the line, I am sure he would think very hard about using a performance enhancing supplement.  But of course MLB will never take these steps. The Players Union would have nothing to do with it and the entire season ( and all the gate receipts) would be subject to a strike and cancellation.  So this season, once again, with every home run we will wonder  “was that legit?.” Sadly, the answer will be “probably not.”