MLB… Disappearing History.
I am not one to be macabre. I don’t like to walk around spouting gloom and doom, and I try not to associate with those who do. I know that there are plenty of ‘Debbie Downer’s’ and ‘Gloomy Gus’s’ out there. I would rather not deal with that.
Okay, so why the weird introduction to today’s article? It is because I just learned that Hall-Of-Famer Al Rosen has passed away at 91 years old. Al Rosen was a 4-time all-star with the Cleveland Indians. He was the third baseman on the last Cleveland Indians team to win a World Series in 1953. In that same year, he also took MVP honors. After his playing career was over, he was successful in the front office of several MLB teams. I most remember him as a front office man for the New York Yankees. He was one of a few Jewish players who are enshrined in Cooperstown (Sandy Koufax and Hank Greenberg , and Lou Boudreau …). He was exposed to the anti-Semitism that can exist in our game. He was a star in his day in spite of that.
What is really striking a chord with me is that since the beginning of 2015, we have now lost three significant pieces of our baseball history. Ernie Banks, Minnie Minoso, and now Al Rosen have passed away. These men are a part of the pantheon of baseball greats. Obviously, people pass on. Nobody lives forever, but it is still sad when one of these men passes away.
We need to keep our history alive. I believe that baseball is truly one of those things where the lore is passed from one generation to the next. I used to hear stories from my grandfather (who knew Hank Greenberg), as well as my father, along with neighbors, coaches, and so on. One of the ways that we keep our game great is to tell the stories and pass down the memories.
I close today with simply this….R.I.P. Al Rosen.
I am starting to feel like I am a jinx, and that this is somehow my fault. Yesterday’s column ‘Arm Issues’ addressed the alarming frequency of arm injuries among major league pitchers during MLB Spring Training 2015. Almost as soon as I posted my article, I heard about a few more candidates for trips to the disabled list. This is kind of proving my point…
First of all, we have an update on Cliff Lee of the Philadelphia Phillies. It turns out that he may not require Tommy John surgery. His diagnosis is a torn flexor tendon, and he said that he would try to pitch through the injury, however the team is not optimistic, and they fear that Lee will need surgery, and that surgery may be career ending.
Now to the rest of the updates on the rash of arm injuries…Marcus Stroman (Toronto Blue Jays) has a torn ACL and is gone for the season. Gavin Floyd (Cleveland Indians) has reinjured the elbow that had a stress fracture last season that put an early end to his 2014 campaign. Mike Minor (Atlanta Braves) has an inflamed rotator cuff. Jacob Turner (Chicago Cubs) has a mild flexor strain and a bone bruise.
Get better soon, guys!
If you have been paying attention to 2015 Spring Training, you will see that Yu Darvish of the Texas Rangers is having a little bit of elbow discomfort. The injury that Darvish has is being described by the team is an elbow sprain. It seems that this term on many occasions morphs in to a UCL injury (ulnar collateral ligament), and very rarely does it have any other outcome than Tommy John surgery. The outlook for the Texas Rangers was not good to begin with, and now with their ace most assuredly gone for the season, it has become dismal. Anyway, I was thinking about the amount of pitchers that are succumbing to UCL injuries, and asked myself if the frequency of this particular injury is now higher than it was 10 or 20 years ago? It certainly seems that way. In the past few seasons we have seen this injury to Matt Harvey, Joel Hanrahan, Stephen Strasburg, Jose Fernandez, and now Darvish along with several others. Why? Is it because today’s pitchers are bigger with different mechanics? Is it because they throw harder with what is termed as ‘maximum effort’ on every pitch? Is it because most pitchers have been at it for a long time, from the time that they were kids thru the time that their arms simply just let go? Perhaps it is a combination of all of these factors…
My point of all of this is not to get into the weeds of the bio-mechanics of cause and effect. It is more the simple question of what, if anything, can be done to diminish the frequency of this plague-like injury? I am not a doctor ( and no, I do not play on on TV either…), so I really don’t have an answer. Would limiting a pitchers work in the off-season or spring training be helpful? Darvish had done only minimal work in spring training this season, and now he is gone. I do not think that overwork is the issue here. Players have off-season conditioning programs which are generally effective, but in the case of these injured players, not so much.
In the case of the Texas Rangers, they will lose one pitcher, but he was their ace, and the one thing that they could have hung their hat on this season. We probably not see him again until mid-2016. That is going to be a long drought in Arlington Texas. What did the loss of Matt Harvey (Mets) and Jose Fernandez (Marlins) mean to their teams? In the long run, if MLB keeps losing it’s marquee players, they are going to want to do something to protect the product. The question again is ‘what’? I am hopeful that somehow it will get figured out. Players are having their careers dramatically altered, if not ended by UCL injuries. I would like to think that we have some of the best training methods and best sports doctors in the world. Surely they would have some input.
I wish the best for Yu Darvish, and going forward, any other player who suffers a UCL or any other injury. I understand all too well that it is part of the game. My hope is that there will be an answer to the question of injury reduction.
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.
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.
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..
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.