MLB…One Fans Tweet On Progress.

When I jumped on the computer this morning, I was greeted by the following Tweet…”Life-long Red Sox fan but I wish they would rip this garbage park down. There is plenty of room in Southie to build a new one. Plus, it would be on the water.” I almost spit out my coffee. How could someone who is a self-professed ‘life-long Red Sox fan’ even consider the demolition of venerable Fenway Park?
My very first thought was that the guy who Tweeted this out must be a troll looking to crank people up. If he was, he didn’t do a fabulous job because there were not a lot of responses, as far as I could tell. But then again, Twitter updates so quickly that even if there were a lot of responses, they got pushed downward very quickly. Anyway, back to this particular Tweet. I might ask how any ‘die-hard Red Sox fan’ could even consider tearing down Fenway Park and building another one somewhere else? Does this person have no regard for the history of the Park? Where is the sentiment? Where is the respect for a Boston icon?
Now before I go off on a crazy tangent, the Tweet in question makes a few good points. First of all, let’s face that a park on the waterfront would be neat. AT&T Park in San Francisco is probably one of the best examples of a beautiful ballpark being built on a waterfront. But we can counter that with old Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor is not too far from Camden Yard (walking distance, actually), and that is also nice. My point however is that just because you can do a thing does not mean that you should…The Tweeter also calls Fenway a ‘garbage park’. Question…does something being old make it garbage? I am getting older, but I am not getting any garbagier (?). A 1957 Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa is old, but a well preserved and restored model sold at auction for over $16M. I could spend days listing examples of the fault in this person’s thinking, but I will refrain. I believe that I have made this point.
The John Henry ownership group is constantly working to improve Fenway Park. Yes, it is old. In fact, it is the oldest ballpark in the major leagues, having been built in 1912. Yes, it may be limited by the confines of the streets where it was built, but I believe that is part of Fenway’s charm. There is no other park in baseball like Fenway, and its uniqueness is what makes it great. In the same vein, workers are now scrambling to update Wrigley Field in Chicago, but nobody would ever dream of moving it from 1060 W. Addison, and tearing it down is completely absurd. The same thing goes for Fenway Park.
Baseball is a game of traditions. It is a game of great history, and we as baseball fans revere that history. Why is it that in some people’s minds that just because there is progress, things that are older need to be discarded? I certainly do not believe that, and I know very few baseball fans that do. We cherish our history. We delight in it. We pass it down to our children and grandchildren, just as it was passed down to us. Are you familiar with the sad story of the Tribal Fires? There was a tribe of people that lived for centuries without any modern conveniences of any kind. They hunted and fished. They made their own clothes and tents. They were happy and content with their lives. At night, all the members of the tribe, both young and old, would sit around the tribal fire and tell stories and teach lessons. The Tribal Fire was the center of their community. Well, one day well- meaning missionaries found this tribe and offered them some modernization, in the way of electricity and the light bulb. They told the tribal members of how this miracle of electricity and light would allow them to farm more effectively, and be able to preserve more food and make more things because they could work in to the night. But then something happened. Because the tribe had lights in all of their dwellings, the nightly Tribal Fire was no longer considered a necessity. It was a tradition that died off. As you can imagine, the tribe lost its identity and its traditions because the elders were not sitting around the Tribal Fire and teaching the younger ones any longer. Also, as you may have surmised, the tribe died off. It is a sad and true story, and it also starkly illustrates my point about traditions, and the need to keep them alive. Just because there is a newer model does not mean that it is a better model.
In closing today, I hope that the person who Tweeted out his opinion of ‘the garbage park’ has some time to reflect on what he said. Maybe some of the Boston Tribal Elders will correct him and his badly considered idea. Progress is a good thing, but progress has to be carefully balanced out with tradition and history. If it is not, then we lose some of the things that make us, well…us. Gone are the classic ballparks like Tiger Stadium, Comiskey Park, Ebbets Field, the Astrodome, and so many others, only to be replaced by the modern cathedrals of baseball. The new parks are beautiful to be sure, but we cannot keep tearing down the old parks just for the sake of having a new one.
Rest easy, though. Fenway Park is on the National Register of Historic Places, and as such it won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. May Fenway Park last for another 100 years.

MLB…The Numbers Game

To all of you who thought that this article was going to be about player salaries, I am sorry to disappoint you, but it is not. This particular rant is about the retirement of uniform numbers in baseball. On the surface, it seems that this would be a fairly benign subject, but I wanted to examine it a little more closely.
Over the course of MLB history, there have been 179 players who have had their uniform numbers retired, and some of them by more than one team. I used several sources, including The Baseball Almanac and Wikipedia to source my data, so unless I got all cross-eyed during my count, I believe that it is accurate. The breakdown is that there have been 77 players in the American League, and 102 players in the National League to have been honored in this way. I have also included the numbers of managers and team executives, such is in the case of the then Florida Marlins (now Miami Marlins) assigning #5 to team executive Carl Barger, and then retiring the number. As you have probably surmised, the New York Yankees lead everyone in this category with 16 retired numbers, while the St. Louis Cardinals lead the National League with 12. There 10 players/managers who have had their numbers retired by more than one team, and there is only one player (Jackie Robinson #42) that has had his number retired by the entirety of Major League Baseball.
I want to take a look at a few questions that I have, and that you may have as well about this business of retiring a uniform number. It is the highest honor that a team can bestow on a player. It says that ‘You were so great, that no one else can ever fill your shoes, so we are going to retire your number so that no one can ever wear it again.’ If no one can ever fill his shoes, why don’t they just retire his shoes? They could do a nice bronze job, and then display them in the Team Museum… All kidding aside, the retirement of uniform numbers does present an interesting dilemma, and it only multiplies with the retirement of more numbers. I am going to pick on the New York Yankees (I am a Red Sox fan, so it is my birthright…), because they best illustrate my point. When the Yankees retired the #2 uniform number of Derek Jeter after last season, the Yankees became the first team in the history of any professional sport to run out of single digit uniform numbers that could be issued to a player. The list goes #1-Billy Martin, #2-Derek Jeter, #3-Babe Ruth, #4-Lou Gehrig, #5-Joe DiMaggio,# 6- Joe Torre,# 7-Mickey Mantle, #8-Yogi Berra and Bill Dickey and,# 9-Roger Maris. I am also going to throw in the #10 of Phil Rizzuto. Are you still with me? Okay. The Yankees recently announced that they are set to retire the numbers of ‘the next generation of Yankee greats’, which includes Andy Pettitte (#46), Jorge Posada (#20), and Bernie Williams (#51). That will give the Yankees a total of 19 retired uniform numbers. That is a lot of retired numbers, isn’t it? I know that the Yankees want to be at the top of the world in everything, but does that also include this? At some point, you have to start asking yourself about when will the Yankees run out of uniform numbers below, say #30? This season, if all goes as planned, the Yankees will have retired 14 of the first 30 numbers that exist in the numerical alphabet. Now, the Yankees can do whatever they want to honor their players, and if they want to retire everybody’s number, it is their right to do so. I have to wonder what they will do when, after the next generation or two of ‘Yankee greats’ retire, they simply run out of uniform numbers 1-99. Will the Yankees become the first team in the history of any professional sport to issue the first three-digit uniform number? Look, Mr. Steinbrenner, another way to be first!
Let me throw this out there…I understand that the retiring of a uniform number is a singular honor, but I think that a better tribute is shown in a ‘Ring of Honor’ in a ballpark. Also, the Yankees have a great idea with Monument Park beyond the outfield wall. Almost all other MLB teams now have something like this, be it in a Stadium Club, or a team museum, or something along those lines. My thought is that many people don’t know from uniform numbers, but they do recognize names. Also, what about the baseball greats who played before uniforms had numbers on them? They can’t have their number retired, so what is a fitting tribute to them? These are my thoughts on the numbers game. I would like to hear some of your ideas on this, too.

MLB…Open Minded

MLB…Open Minded.
I will say this… Newly minted MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has come in to his new job with his ideas going off like fireworks. You may love his ideas, or you may hate his ideas, at least he is open-minded enough to consider options regarding the development of Major League Baseball in to a better, more fan-friendly product.
I have already shared my thoughts on his idea about shrinking the strike zone (Honey, I Shrunk the Strike Zone, February 20th, 2015). SPOILER ALERT: This is a bad idea… But Commissioner Manfred also has an idea about decreasing the number of regular-season games from the current 162, back down to the pre-1961 standard of 154 games. I know that people are screaming about what a bad idea this is, but let’s slow down and consider it for a minute. Is it really such a bad idea? On its’ face, it would seem that the reduction of 8 games per team/per season would hurt team revenue as far as gate receipts are concerned, and In the short term it might. There would be 8-less games of parking revenue, ticket sales, beer and food sales, team merchandise sales, and so on. But there would also be 8-less games of travel, meaning 8-less days of hotel rooms, decreased travel demands, and everything associated with the logistics of a traveling baseball team. I don’t believe that the loss of revenue would be as great as it sounds, and it may perhaps even be a wash. In the case of some teams, the loss of 8 games at the end of a season could even be looked at as kind of a ‘mercy killing’. When a team is out by 25 games with only 8 games left to play, it can be painful for the team as well as the fans to endure. For the very-out-of-the-race teams, it is 8-less games of keeping the lights on for games that nobody shows up to. The team would save on the salaries of hourly stadium workers, and all the costs associated with that. Factor in also the diminished risk of player injuries in games that don’t mean anything. There are probably a lot more things that I have not touched upon, but if you are getting the feeling that I might be in favor of a regular-season schedule with 8-less games on it, perhaps I am…
The trade-off is that we may not be playing a World Series in November, which I am TOTALLY in favor of. The playoffs could also see a change, as it has been suggested to eliminate the one-game Wild Card playoff, and make it into a short series. I really like that idea. Everything in baseball is about a series, and the playoffs should not be any different. He also offered that the number of playoff teams could be expanded, which also could be a good thing.
I like that Commissioner Manfred is approaching the game with an open mind. He is looking at everything, and not just simply eliminating ideas out-of-turn. He is listening. He is thinking. I like that..

MLB…Have We Opened Pandora’s Box?

The other day, the Boston Red Sox won the courtship of young Cuban prospect Yoan Moncada. The Red Sox have signed Moncada for a staggering $31.5M dollars, which after the MLB penalty for going over their foreign player exception, will cost them $63M dollars. That is a princely sum of money for a kid who has never played one inning, even the minor league system, here in the United States…
I had asked a few weeks ago if the thaw in the frosty diplomatic relations between the USA and Cuba might lead to the floodgates being flung open for Cuban prospects to be able to play in the United States? I can’t say for sure, but even though players have been trickling in for the past few years anyway, the answer is probably ‘yes’. Recently, players such as Yasiel Puig, Rusney Castillo, Yasmani Grandal, and several others have made their way on to the American baseball landscape, and I believe that there are many more to come. Historically, Cuban payers such as Minnie Minoso, Leo Cardenas, Sammy Sosa, and Luis Tiant come to mind…
According to Baseball Reference.com, there have been 61 Major League baseball players born in Japan, 15 were from South Korea, while number of players born in Cuba total 186. While the amount of players from Japan really has not seen a dramatic influx, and an uptick in Korean ballplayers has not happened yet, there could be a veritable tidal wave of Cuban players coming to the United States, and I do not necessarily think that this is a bad thing. If we want to keep MLB as the premier baseball product on the world stage, then we need to have the best players playing here. This has become a larger issue over the past few years, as baseball is being forsaken by young athletes today for football and basketball. I am hopeful that MLB initiatives like ‘RBI” (Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities) will be successful in bringing the young athletes back into the baseball fold. Until then, we will need to recruit from the best talent pools in the world, and among the best is on the island of Cuba. Yes, Puerto Rico, Central America, Korea, and Japan also have vast talent, but for now we are sticking with Cuba.
It will be interesting to see what becomes of Yoan Moncada. I wish him the best, and I think it will be very intriguing to see what happens with a potential influx of Cuban baseball talent on American baseball fields.

MLB…Honey, I Shrunk the Strike Zone!

Here it is! The latest, greatest solution to the issue of diminished run production since, well…ever! The Office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball now presents the new, improved shrinking strike zone! It sounds like a bad, late-night infomercial, right? When I first heard the news that MLB was considering this, I was a bit skeptical. But then I had a little time to reflect, and here are my thoughts on it. I am going to take the scenic route, so stay with me….
Over the last few years, we have watched strikes get called on pitches that, let’s just say are not even close. Since when does a sweeping curveball that misses the plate by six inches and is at a height somewhere between a batter’s kneecaps and the tops of his shoelaces constitute a called strike? That is not how I learned the game. This issue is a particular irritant to me because I was a catcher, and I actually started off my baseball life as a pitcher. Take from that what you will. I was either such a wonderful pitcher that they decided that I would be better off as a catcher, or I had an insight into pitching that would go on to serve me well as a catcher, and later as a coach. I will take the latter. My point is that I know what a strike looks like, and that ain’t it…
The MLB rule that constitutes what is a strike is defined as ‘… that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball’ (MLB Official Rule Book, 2014 Edition, Rule 2.00, Definition of Terms). The rule book even has a very nice picture of a left-handed batter getting ready to take his hacks. To some degree, this rule is not being followed by MLB umpires, and it gets more convoluted on a season-by-season basis. ESPN has ‘K-Zone’, and this tool illustrates my point quite nicely.
I understand the argument about the ‘human element’ of officiating. I even agree with the point about game officials in any sport having the right to use discretion (the ‘in the neighborhood rule’ as far as turning a double-play goes, the first down marker in football, and so on). The discretion of the game officials has been accepted since the game was born, and while there is room for it, when the rule is just episodically ignored, there is a problem…
And now to my point…This whole discussion is centered upon some perception of diminished run production. Let’s be real. The casual fan is certainly more interested in seeing a game with lots of offense and higher run totals, whereas most purists appreciate the value of good pitching and solid defense. The question is which one of these is more entertaining for the average fan? Is it more exciting to see a game with a 10-9 score, or a defensive gem that ends with a 2-1 final score? What makes for higher ticket revenues and better television viewership? What will bring back the fans that have abandoned baseball for something with more, for lack of a better term, excitement? The answer, in the opinion of MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, is RUNS! I had made a statement in an article a few weeks ago about nobody paying good money for a ticket to see David Ortiz hit an easy grounder to second base and get thrown out by a mile. The fans that paid for that ticket want to see David Ortiz smash the cover off a ball that lands somewhere in the Triangle of Fenway Park. And what is one way to generate a potential for more base-runners, and therefore a potential for more runs? Shrink the strike zone. I get it. But before MLB pulls the trigger on a rule change, why don’t they simply enforce the rule that is already in place? There is  technology available to help umpires get the calls right (K-Zone?).
To close, I am overwhelmingly against the shrinking of the strike zone. There is no need to change a rule that, when it is properly called, works perfectly well. To change this rule for the sake of higher run production is a slippery slope. If we change this basic rule, what is to prevent MLB from saying, for the sake of the run production, that batters will now get four strikes? Maybe only three balls will constitute a walk? Maybe they will lower the height of the pitcher’s mound again? It is simply a bad idea. Overall, umpires do a good job. When they enforce the rules that already exist, the strike zone issue, and the runs per game issue will solve itself.

MLB…Fool Me Twice…

If it seems like I am picking on Alex Rodriguez, it is only because quite frankly he deserves it. His ‘apology letter’, in my humble opinion, is nothing but a bunch of nonsense that one of his handlers helped him write. I am not buying it, and I am not sure that anybody else is either.
In a nutshell, Rodriguez has basically issued a 5-paragraph ‘mea culpa’ which basically is saying, ‘oops, my bad. Let’s play baseball.’ It just isn’t sitting well with me. In this letter, Rodriguez is still arrogantly deceptive, never stating or admitting, exactly or in part, what he did. Isn’t that part of an apology? Rodriguez has now twice (first with the Texas Rangers, and now with the New York Yankees) played MLB and all the fans and other people who are non-cheaters for suckers, and now he wants to make all-nice and get back to the business of playing baseball?
Here is a large part of my issue. How is it that Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, Rafael Palmiero, Sammy Sosa, Roger Clemens, and a host of other players tainted by the PED scandals are basically baseball pariahs, while Golden Boy Rodriguez is expecting to be welcomed back to Yankee Stadium with open arms? He says in his letter that he ‘accepts that many of you (baseball fans) will not accept his apology or anything he says at this point…’ and he is right. Is it a lousy thing that he did what he did? Of course it is…it is cheating! Anthony Bosch, the man who owned Biogenesis, has been sentenced to 4 years in a Federal prison while Rodriguez gets to collect his undeserved, multi-million dollar contract, yet he hopes he can buy forgiveness with a letter. Sorry Alex, but it will take a lot more than that…
When somebody says that they are accepting responsibility for a wrong that they committed, it is not enough to just say that they are accepting responsibility. They need to try to right the wrong that they have done. Just how does Alex Rodriguez plan on doing that? The short answer is that he can’t, and his ‘accepting responsibility’ is nothing but empty words at best. As I mentioned earlier, he has done this twice (Texas, and now New York) and you would think that he could change and perhaps be a better person, but I am not sure that he is capable of that kind of change.
There is an old expression that goes, ‘Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.’ Well, this is time number two, and if we just let this go and give him a pass, then it is truly ‘shame on us.’

MLB…Vacuum.

As a baseball fan, I think that I can speak for most, if not all of us when I say that the few weeks between Super Bowl Sunday and the first televised MLB spring training games constitute the worst time of the year. In general, it is cold. Depending on where you live, there is probably snow on the ground. You long for images of sun-drenched fields in Florida or Arizona. If you are like me, you are not a basketball fan, and the hockey coverage where I live is not exactly spectacular, so there is this void in your life. A vacuum has been created, and it feels like it will never end. The days drag by and seem longer and longer all the time. You look at the calendar and notice that it is still a few weeks until pitchers and catchers report, which by the way, are among the 4 happiest words in the English language…
You begin to wonder if the sun will ever come up again. You look at the sports pages of the papers and on the internet. You read every baseball blog that you can get your hands on (including this one…). If you are married, your wife (or your husband, significant other, maybe your therapist…) tries to help you get your mind off of your misery by offering you various distractions. Does ‘honey, since you have no plans today, why don’t we go antiquing…’sound familiar? Or, how about ‘Now you can clean out the garage’…Sigh. I miss Florida and Arizona so much, that as I write this, I have PGA Golf on TV…Hey, at least it is sunshine and palm trees, okay?
I know that it sounds crazy, but for me it is a real thing. As soon as the World Series wraps up, I am already scouring the news from the post-season baseball universe for news of firings, retirements, and other such information. During this time, I am grateful for football, and it is better still that football is played on Monday nights, Wednesday nights (college), Thursday night (college and pro), Friday nights (college and high school), Saturday all day and well into the night (college), and Sunday afternoon and night. But once that all ends, we are forlornly looking into an empty abyss. College football is done by the end of the second week in January, and the NFL is done by the beginning of February. So, from then until early April, we are in the badlands. No baseball, no football…just antique shops, garage sales, and cleaning out the garage…
So, what is a baseball junkie to do? For me, I have a regular job that keeps me very busy with things and responsibilities that are much more important than baseball in the grand scheme of things. But even at this job, I have a lot of baseball junkie friends, some of which are even more gone than I am. That is helpful. There is MLB Network, which for me has been an absolute Godsend. However, I know that we need to get back to real bats and glove issues when they start playing ‘The Sandlot’ and ‘Brewster’s Millions’ over and over again.
I know that there needs to be an off-season. Players need to heal and rest. Grass needs to regrow. Other things need to push in and have their time. But I miss baseball. There’s just a sad emptiness when it is not around. It will be back in a few weeks. Come back soon, baseball…I will be right here waiting.