MLB…The Case of Charlie Hustle.

Pete Rose. The name is instantly recognizable. The name conjures up images of a Cincinnati Reds player crashing headfirst into a catcher at the 1971 All-Star Game. There are images of a gritty, tough ballplayer with a funny haircut. Images of a hustling, all-or-nothing leader. Images of disgrace…and no images of Cooperstown.
Everybody knows the tragic story of Pete Rose. MLB’s all-time hits leader, World Series champion, perennial all-star, and his fall from grace after agreeing to a lifetime ban for betting on his own team, always to win, while managing the Cincinnati Reds. Pete Rose has petitioned all the MLB commissioners since the ban to lift it, and it has always failed to be acted upon. Just today, Pete Rose petitioned new MLB commissioner Rob Manfred for reinstatement, and that is why this article exists today.
I am not going to get into all of the sordid details. There are endless records in other places where you can get that information. I only want to ask the question if enough time has passed for Rose to be reinstated? Should a lifetime ban in this case actually be a lifetime ban? Was what Rose did so egregious that he should be denied the opportunity to come home? Is it okay to have many players and other baseball figures who have done far worse still be included in the baseball family (Alex Rodriguez, Barry Bonds, etc.), while Rose is a pariah?
The answer to these questions rests with the individuals. And once an individual has answered these questions, does the opinion matter? Let’s look at this. Even if the progressive new MLB commissioner agrees to lift the ban, it still does not get Rose into the Hall of Fame. The Baseball HOF is still a private institution, and they alone decide who is and who is not eligible for enshrinement.
And now, because you didn’t ask, I will offer up my own personal opinion. I believe that the lifetime ban that Rose agreed to (or was coerced in to?) was unjustified. The punishment did not fit the crime. Pete Rose had a gambling addiction. He bet on his own team to win, never to lose. It is highly unlikely that the action or inaction of Pete Rose while he was managing the Reds had any effect on the outcome of any game. He did not cheat. He did not use steroids, or any other performance enhancing drug. My belief is that then-commissioner Bart Giamatti wanted to make an example of Rose. He certainly did that. Now it is time to let it go. Lift the ban. Allow Pete Rose his proper place in baseball history as the all-time hits leader, and as one of the greatest players to ever play the game.
The case of Charlie Hustle is a sad one. Please let it be rectified in Pete Rose’s lifetime, while there is still time to do so. He has suffered the punishment. Now let him enjoy the accolades that he has earned.

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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…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…Next up for bid…an All-Star Game!

So I found out that Major League Baseball may be a fan of those auction shows that you see on cable TV such as ‘Storage Wars’ and the like. Commissioner Manfred has said that starting with the 2017 All-Star Game, he wants to award it via a competitive bid process, much like the Olympics and the Super Bowl are now awarded. Interesting idea, is it not? It certainly eliminates any favoritism from the MLB offices regarding the award of the game, unless they manipulate the bids. But that is not my concern. I am looking at it from the point of view that there are teams and cities that have a war-chest of money to spend on such things, versus smaller market teams that simply don’t. Is Minneapolis going to outbid Los Angeles? Will Milwaukee be able outbid Boston? Will anybody be up to the task of outbidding New York? There is an inequity here that I simply don’t like. It reminds me of the quotation about the rich getting richer while the poor have babies. If Commissioner Manfred wants to do something regarding the ASG, then he should stop awarding home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the game. It should rightly go to the team that has earned the right to that advantage, and that is the team with the best won-lost record. How about it, Commissioner?
The Toronto Blue Jays are going to a natural grass field starting with the 2018 season. They signed an agreement with the University of Guleph – Ontario Agricultural College to provide data on bringing God’s green grass to Rogers Centre in Toronto. I say ‘Good for them!’ It is certainly feasible to do this, as it is already being done in the NFL at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona. I will take a natural grass field over Astroturf or Tru-turf any day of the week.
Did anyone notice how the Venezuelan National team is 4-0 in the Caribbean Series, while Cuba is 1-3? I wonder if the newest wave of defections from the Cuban team has hurt their performance in this series? Perhaps, but under the heading of ‘games that matter’, Cuba eliminated Venezuela 8-4 in their semi-final game. Cuba moves on to face the team from Mexico, who is heading to the finals after winning their game against the Dominican Republic 5-4. Mexico is the two-time defending champion.

MLB…Holy Shift!

So, the Bud Selig era is over and the Rob Manfred era has dawned. In Manfred’s first hours, he said that he supports the banning of the defensive infield shift. I almost choked on my Fruit Loops! Where did Mr. Manfred get the idea that strategy is something that can be legislated from the office of the Commissioner of Major League Baseball? Policy and rules? Okay. Television contracts and financial rules? That’s fine. The approval or disapproval of trades and other personnel actions? Alright. Telling a manager how he can or cannot align his defense?? I don’t think so!
I understand what the commissioner is thinking here. It is obvious. First, he wants to find ways to improve the pace of the game. Second, he wants to find ways to keep a declining fan base engaged. How to do that? Increase offensive production. Almost everybody likes runs! A common complaint among fans, especially casual fans, is that the pace of the game is too slow and that there is nothing enthralling about a 1-0 game. The casual fan is not interested in paying for a ticket just to see David Ortiz ground out because he couldn’t hit around the shift. I understand the argument, but I do not agree with it.
It is an interesting discussion, but managing the stuff that happens on the field needs to be left to the managers on the field, and not the businessmen who work at 245 Park Ave. in New York City.
I have one final thought on this. If the shift is such a plague, hitters can nullify the whole issue by learning to hit to the opposite field. See? Problem solved.
So, what do you think? Should a decision like this be left to the MLB Boss, or does The Commish need to take care of the business and operations side of things, while managers should be left alone to manage?

MLB…Meet the New Boss.

Today is January 25th, 2015. I start with this simple calendar note because the date is important. This is the date that signifies a regime change in Major League Baseball. As midnight passed and the clock turned to Sunday morning, 12:00:01, a new commissioner of Major League Baseball took over the leadership of the league. Rob Manfred is the new commissioner of baseball, and he replaces the outgoing Bud Selig, who served for more than 23 years.
Bud Selig had a complicated and tenuous reign as commissioner. In fact, if you look at baseball history, the Selig era may have been the most arduous of them all. Selig had labor issues to be sure. There was even a cancelled World Series (1994) and a strike that is believed to have been engineered by him and a few select owners. There were massive contracts, the likes of which had never before been seen. But the biggest smudge on his reign will be marked with an asterisk…the Steroid Era.
Yes there was bad stuff. No relationship is 100% wine and roses. But on the on the other side of the coin, there was the expansion in the reach and popularity of the game on an international level that would have been unheard of in any other era. The domestic popularity of baseball has waned to some degree, but it is more profitable than ever. There is labor peace. Ownership and the players enjoy a good relationship now, and idea that was almost unthinkable when Selig took over in 1992. Yes, there was the whole PED debacle, but as a result, no major sport has more a more rigid testing protocol. There were many other positives of the Selig leadership. Overall, Bud Selig may very possibly go into the history books as one of, if not the best commissioner in the history of the league.
Incoming commissioner Rob Manfred inherits a league that is healthy and profitable. There are no labor issues waiting for him just around the first curve. But that is not to say that he will not face problems. There are the stadium issues in both Oakland and Tampa Bay. Complicating his issue is that there are not a lot of cities that are chomping at the bit to get a team. Baseball has seen a dip in the amount of youth playing the game, predominately in the inner-cities, where basketball and football are a more attractive option. There are initiatives in place, such as RBI (Reviving Baseball in the Inner-cities), but much more work remains to be done if baseball is to become a viable option fir these kids once again. Another issue that he will face is the one involving the length of games. A solution was initiated under the Selig watch, but it will be up to Commissioner Manfred to follow through with it, and bring it to the Major Leagues.
In closing, I would say ‘Thank You’ to Bud Selig for his good and faithful service to the game. I would also welcome Rob Manfred to baseballs front office, and wish him success and happiness as he takes over the reins of Our Game.
Meet the New Boss.

MLB…PED versus HOF.

MLB…PED versus HOF
I was reading an article where a reader asked a pointed question about the topic of whether or not players either convicted or accused of PED use during the so-called ‘Steroid Era” should be allowed admittance to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame? The reader further asked that if a convicted PED user is granted admittance, what about a guy like Pete Rose who merely gambled on the results of the games he managed? Further still was the question of whether or not the BBWAA was punishing the PED users by denying them admittance? My first thought was that this person must have eaten their Wheaties that morning, because these were some very good questions! My second thought was that this issue has been beaten to death, resurrected, and beaten to death again. Why revisit it? My third thought was to ask myself if I wanted to revisit it here on ‘Blager’s Blog’? My answer is that I don’t want to break out the scalpel and dissect every possible angle and argument, both for and against. It has been rehashed so many times, and I really do not think that there is an end in sight for this subject. With that said, I do have a few thoughts that I would like to share…
First, there is the issue of Pete Rose. His accomplishments are a matter of record, and I don’t need to restate them. I know that he agreed to a lifetime ban when then MLB Commissioner Bart Giamatti handed it down. I never believed that a lifetime ban was justified, and I still don’t. There is no evidence that Pete Rose’s gambling had any bearing on the outcome of any game. The gambling issue happened when he was a manager. They did not happen when he was a player, and that is what the BBWAA and the HOF itself sets as the criteria for either denial or admission. Now the lifetime ban stipulates that Rose has no involvement of any kind with MLB. However, MLB did find it in their hearts to allow Rose to participate in one of its’ on-field tributes, the 1999 All-Century Team festivities, when it suited the purposes of the League. Another case in point is that MLB is allowing Pete Rose to participate in the 2015 All-Star Game festivities at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. Gee, a little hypocracy, anyone? I hope that the new commissioner Rob Manfred who replaces the outgoing Bud Selig on Sunday, January 25th 2015, overturns this ridiculous banishment, reinstates Rose, and that Rose can finally take his rightful place in Cooperstown.
The second question that I would like to tackle is whether or not the BBWAA is punishing the players of the ‘Steroid Era’ by simply not voting for any of them. Perhaps I should say that the BBWAA is not giving players such as Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, and Mark McGuire enough of the vote to gain induction, while they can still offer up a ‘mea culpa and say that at least they got some votes. There were a few whispers going around that the Hall of Fame decreased the player eligibility window from 15 years to only 10 years, simply so that the ‘Steroid Era’ players would drop off the ballot in a shorter period of time. It is an interesting thought, is it not?
The last question that I have for today is that should an entire era of players and their accomplishments be simply expunged or ignored because they took an illegal substance? Should baseball’s All-Time Home Run King have to buy a ticket to get into the Hall of Fame? The same question goes for one of the most dominant pitchers in the history of the game. Were there players who took illegal substances long before steroids, but are somehow glorified with a bust in Cooperstown? I submit that there are. When the whole steroid scandal broke across the baseball world, I was outraged, just as many others were. I believe that over the years, I have softened my stance. I think that the players who used were wrong for doing so, but I am no longer so sure that they should not be in the Hall of Fame. That will be an issue for others to decide, as I am not a voting member of the BBWAA.
My intent is not to have a debate over inclusion or exclusion. Again, this argument has a lot of miles on its’ tires. I just want to encourage some thought on the questions posed by the person who read the same article that I did. They are some good questions. They deserve some good answers. I hope that I helped…