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March 23, 2007
Hitting the Headlines
Since I'm still counting your ballots on my sports architecture poll (and I'm extending the deadline to Sunday if you haven't voted yet), let's take a look instead at the headlines today.
I used to take an extremely hard-line stance on drunk driving. At one time in my life, I thought that those who failed field sobriety tests should be given a shovel, made to dig a hole by the side of the road and then shot in the back of the head so that they tumbled into said hole. Then, a sign could be erected over the spot declaring it the resting place of another worthless scum who endangered fellow citizens with their lack of restraint. This, I reasoned, would make the drunk driving issue go away in a hurry.
Of course, I had to counterbalance this with my firm belief in due process and, in the end, due process won out. So, it's good news for Tony La Russa that I never managed to wrest control of the government, otherwise it would have been, "Here's your shovel, Tony…"
Commissioner Bud Selig has apparently intimated it is not a fait accompli that he will be stepping down at the end of his term in 2009. While still seemingly committed to ending his reign - which will have run to 17 years of combined acting and actual status by the time 2009 rolls around - he did leave the door slightly ajar to the room where they keep the extensions.
The question is: does it really matter? Those who believe that a Selig departure will make way for a commissioner who does not act solely in the interests of the owners are deluded. The days of hiring an outsider type from another walk of life are long in the past. Selig's successor - whenever it is that he requires succeeding - will provide more of the same. If anything, having had a taste of it and found it much to their liking, it is much more likely that the next Commissioner will be even more of an owners' advocate.
There are a lot of great reasons to live in New York -- not being limited to chain-manufactured pizza certainly being a good starting place in compiling a list to support this premise. It is in times like these, though, that I am grateful I live outside the immediate reach of New York media.
The unending saga of Alex Rodriguez, his contract and his search for love and acceptance from a fan base that seems reluctant to give it continues to be a media obsession. I don't know why you became a baseball fan, but if you're like me, it wasn't to read about this sort of thing. If I liked drama of this fabricated sort, I'd stay home all day watching tella novellas and wringing my hands at the manufactured angst.
Don't get me wrong: the business of baseball is an interesting study. I read Maury Brown and Neil deMause just like I hope you do, but this is something different. This is a daily assault. This is minutia. This is silly. Heck, maybe I'm out of touch. Maybe the people really like this stuff because it is silly and beats having to read about the world's harsher realities. If that's the case, then I suppose it serves the greater good and who am I to question that?
There's a thicker version of Todd Helton these days thanks to a winter spent "cleaning his plate" and living at the gym. Beset by a lack of power last year, Helton was determined to regain his strength, some of which was sapped by gut miseries. He has gained 25 to 30 pounds in the process. Two things - and yes, I know what people will intimate about a 33-year old man putting on 30 pounds of muscle in a single winter:
1. One of the great fears in the early days of free agency was that long-term, high-dollar contracts would breed complacency. While this has certainly happened on occasion, Helton's dedication to regaining his power - regardless of the outcome of his efforts - puts the lie to the fear that all players signed to guaranteed deals would stop taking preparation seriously. Something that nobody counted on (at least as far as I can remember) is that escalating salaries would buy players' time year-round. 35 years ago, Helton would have been too busy hustling insurance in the offseason to spend three or four hours a day at the gym. There is also a cult of the body that didn't exist in previous eras. Being in ultra-shape is part of the baseball culture now. Impressing upon one's teammates and peers (not to mention management) that one is dedicated to putting forth maximum effort can be demonstrated in one's appearance.
2. On the other hand, there's a lesson in the Todd Helton experience, a lesson that not a single team with money is going to follow. Regardless of his dedication of getting his game back, he remains a 33-year old player with old guy's skills that are about to get older. (As he himself says, "Why train to be a runner when all I do is hit and I've only got to take three steps and catch the ball anyhow?") The Rockies are on the hook for about $90 million more to Helton through 2011. As the years go by, they, or they in conjunction with whatever team they eventually trade him to, will be paying for a great past receding in the distance. Locking up talented players long-term before they are arbitration-eligible is one thing (as we will see in the next item), this is another. It will continue to happen, though.
In any event, Helton is not going quietly into the night. He's fighting the aging and health issues and that's commendable. Whether or not it works - PECOTA isn't enthused - he's giving it his best shot.
If I were allowed to generalize about fans that enjoy the sabermetric aspect of baseball it would be to say this: they are fans of logic and reason. The Gil Meche signing by the Kansas Royals offends them not because they particularly care about the Royals or how they spend their money but because it makes so little sense. It offends them much in the way a store brand television dinner does a gourmand.
That is why a deal that does appeal to the logical fan jumps off the screen and warms the heart. The Braves signing of Brian McCann to a six-year deal is just such an event. At 23, McCann is just the sort of player a team should be locking up through his prime. At under $5 million a season - even he reaches every one of his incentives - the money end is a coup for the Braves as well.
The Indians pioneered this procedure and the Mets tried their hand at it last year with Jose Reyes and David Wright. While Braves general manager John Schuerholz claims this doesn't set a trend, it is a gambit we're going to see more of in the future, provided these deals turn out as well as logic would dictate they will.
This isn't to say every budding superstar should be nailed down like this. In a bit of irony, juxtaposed with this headline is one about Joe Mauer getting injured yet again. Mauer and McCann are similar in many ways, both catchers, both born within a year of each other, both playing for the local nine and both poised to be the best in their respective leagues at what they do for the foreseeable future. Mauer, though, is amassing the kind of health resume that would keep a team from signing him long-term. Still, though, if the Twins gave Mauer the kind of deal McCann is getting, even a total flameout wouldn't be that great a loss.