Many people don’t care about roster management. The ins and outs of the rules that govern how players get on and off the 40-man roster hold all the excitement of a dramatic Tess of the Durbervilles reading by Nate Silver. And yet cheating, perceived or real, seems to interest people more than any other topic. People sincerely believe that Gaylord Perry should be removed from Cooperstown, and others that Barry Bonds should never get a chance because they believe he’s using steroids. And then there’s those damn Yankees, which is where I’m going to tie this all up. The Yankees cheat. Oh, they’re not the worst violators. There are other clubs that use the Disabled List and rehab assignments like they’re an NBA team. Many teams that use the Rule 5 draft keep the player on the major league roster only as long as absolutely required. After that the player finds himself crippled by priapism that requires massage with release, or suddenly suffers a bout of the King’s Evil, and his strength sapped either way, must rehab in the minors where he belongs, suffering occasional setbacks from Scrivner’s Palsy or thrush, until September rolls around and rosters expand again.
A good general manager costs money (and a bad one costs more), but with Rodriguez, you’ve got a GM on the field. Texas should be happy he wants to take such an active role in roster and organizational management. Rodriguez wants to bring in Mike Cameron? That’s a great idea–he’ll come reasonably cheap because Safeco Field’s eaten him alive over the course of his time in Seattle, and he plays great outfield defense, which will help the team finally develop some pitching. Has John Hart had an idea that good lately? Even if Rodriguez is no good as a GM, he’d be no good at no additional cost. Managers make a ton of money. Rodriguez can save the Rangers even more money if they’re willing to take a chance. And why not? As everyone’s fond of saying, they were in last place without him as the manager.
One of the reasons patience at the plate is encouraged is that it wears out opposing starters, allowing the hitters to chew into the soft underbelly of middle relief where they can really score some runs. It sure sounds attractive, and it seems to make sense.
But it’s almost a trivial advantage. The range in pitches seen per plate appearance runs from 3.6 (Devil Rays and company) to 3.9 (Red Sox, Oakland).
Take an average AL staff. Every nine innings, they give up nine hits, three walks, strike out six, and watch one lucky fan get a nice souvenir. Look at a nine-inning game pitched by an average staff against the most and least patient teams:
9.30 H + 3.16 BB + 27 outs = 39.46 batters/game (by average staff in average park against average hitters)
So 39.46 PAs * 3.6 P/PA = 142 pitches to get through a game against the most-aggressive team. And 153 pitches to get through a game against the most-passive team.
Steroids seem like a meatball for me to rant about one way or another. I’m chilling, though. For all of the hype about what a big deal this is, how tainted the game is, how Canseco and Caminiti were right…they weren’t. Not even close. The predictions of baseball’s critics have failed to come true: the number of positive tests includes some minor leaguers (who have long been tested for drugs), and it’s not 50% or 75%–it’s one-tenth that. It’s a guy per team. Well, probably not–it’s likely that like the drug-haven clubhouses of the past, there are going to be organizations who are much deeper in this, and others that will turn out almost entirely clean. One player a team. As people talk about what a rampant scandal this is, how terribly damaged baseball is, remember that a 5% rate means about one player a team. If everyone could try and be reasonable about this, the debate would be a lot more productive (though of course the column inches wouldn’t fill up as fast). Speculation, of course, is that if the positive results were x, then the real numbers are x times y, producing result z that someone wants to highlight to show how bad the problem is. For instance, I believe that given the random sampling and small number of tests per athlete, for every positive result, there are 25 more players that use steroids at some point in a year but go uncaught. So let me do the math: Over 100% of baseball players are on the juice! Players who are retired…dead players! Dead players are using steroids!
Major league fields are beautifully kept, which brings out the qualities of the grass–spongy or forgiving, fast or slow. Even beyond grass height, think about how the grooming of the field, the choice of grass, the mix in the blend, it all in some small way affects every ball put into play, from the way a ground ball plays or the color of the chlorophyll on a center fielder’s uniform.
The rumblings about collusion, and specifically about whether Major League Baseball implemented a contract clearing house they wanted in the last Collective Bargaining Agreement but did not get, continue. What’s been largely overlooked is the “slotting” of draft pick signing bonuses in recent years as MLB has taken over more of the negotiation process from teams.
Slotting is the practice, codified in other sports, of giving draft picks certain dollar amounts according to their draft position. It eliminates negotiation almost entirely, and for owners in the NBA, for example, it means that their labor costs are certain and low.
I am frankly surprised that a good agent who represents premium talent–Scott Boras, for instance–has not hauled baseball into court over this. Even if you buy that the Players Association can bargain away the rights of players it doesn’t represent and doesn’t look out for (minor league players are not union members), nowhere in the latest CBA is anything mentioned about the slotting of picks.
Ah, free agent filing season, the most exciting time of the baseball season. What sports fan doesn’t eagerly check the Web several times a day, an ear to the radio and an eye on ESPNews, hoping to find out if Kenny Lofton beat Marvin Benard in the race to file for the millions their agents have assured them is waiting for each. Yes, faster than you’ll hear someone sing “baby” after tuning into your local pop/R&B station, the long quiet is on us. We’re left to looking over the free agent lists and trying to come up with funny teams. Like: How much would you have to pay to lose more games than the Tigers next year?
Fans of other teams face the off-season and have a thought process that runs (more or less) like this: “We have some good young players, they should be OK. We have this high-paid guy that sucks, boy, it’d be nice to get rid of him. We have some decent pitchers, that might work out if they stay healthy. There are a couple of obvious weak spots, I hope we get a good free agent or two. Yeah, we might be pretty good next year.” Whereas the mob of angry Yankees fans runs: “We’ve got some good young players, but they’re not good enough. They’re gone, we’ll send them to some god-awful team in exchange for their best players coming up on free agency. We have this high-paid guy that sucks. He’s gone. We have some good pitchers, if they get hurt we’ll find more. There are a couple of obvious weak spots, and we’ll go get the best free agents out there. That should do it.” Where’s the fun in that? It’s like solving a Rubik’s Cube but being encouraged to paint the sides one uniform color.
“This is the famous Allen “Bud” Selig. We know of no Commissioner in any age that costs the game as much in action and in sloth. His unique harebrained ideas and wild schemes produce a sense of dread you will find in no other executive in any sport…” I wrote that little parody of the Budweiser label off the top of my head and, relatively, I don’t even drink that much Bud. Which is to say I drink a lot of it. Selig said that he thought the Marlins’ post-game celebration after winning the NLCS was “tacky and out of place in today’s society which is less tolerant of alcohol abuse.” No problem with the victory cigars, apparently, but the alcohol…oooh nooo…save me from the deadly alcohol, where in a joyous clubhouse celebration following one of baseball’s great team achievements, being sprayed over the head with sweet, delicious champagne causes: Nation-wide increase in SIDS Tripling of federal budget deficit Teenage pregnancy Massive outsourcing of middle-class jobs to India Outbreaks of the deadly mutaba virus in every metropolitan area All of which clearly call for–no, demand–the intervention of Bud Selig.
I’ve never been to a World Series game. I’ve had chances, but it’s been people calling me days before and asking if I can fly down for one game, always at times when I can’t afford the last-minute air fare. No longer. I’ve found a sure way to get primo tickets to the World Series: I’m going to be a cast member in a provocative new drama from Fox. Or I’ll create a new drama that everyone’s talking about. Oh yes. Critics will be talking, though we’ll be selective about which critics and which things they’re saying we quote them on. Fox is such a generous employer. I got a free T-shirt this year from Prospectus, and it was one of the early batches that might have been tainted with the deadly mutaba virus. And yet here are these well-paid beautiful people (and Ron Silver, who also was the villain in “Heat Vision and Jack”) who are presumably treated to a game by Fox. People say Fox is a soul-sucking multinational ghast, but I have to disagree. Going that far to show these employees how much they’re appreciated: that’s something you don’t see often enough in today’s go-go corporate culture. Largely because the expense of flying your Indian outsourcing firm over to the states for the World Series doesn’t make much sense when they’re not baseball fans.
Is Yankee Stadium haunted?
Experts differ. Or, they might, if they had anything to say about it at all. Realistically, ghosts don’t exist any more than the alignment of the stars affects the outcome of our lives. But respectable newspapers still run horoscopes, so what do I know? Maybe Yankee Stadium is haunted.
Today, construction of any monument of significance requires an archeological survey to make sure you’re not building it on top of an ancient settlement of death-worshipping cultists. But Yankee Stadium was originally opened in 1923, when such practices were not attempted; and when it was remodeled in the mid-’70s, the stadium was torn down entirely. So it’s possible that because the site was unchanged, no new survey was undertaken.
However, a brief search of the literature produces no accounts of supernatural activity of any kind at Yankee Stadium. Even the paranormal camp, who can usually be relied upon to come up with something harebrained about anything, didn’t have any quotes for me. I’d have called them up and asked, but I didn’t want to give anyone ideas.
What’s a guy got to do to get suspended?
Seriously, I want to know. In the wake of the weird events of Game Three of the ALCS, MLB brought the gag inflatable hammer down. On Sunday, the Associated Press reported that Pedro Martinez was fined $50,000, Manny Ramirez $25,000, Karim Garcia $10,000, and Don Zimmer $5,000. There wasn’t a single suspension handed down, not even for a few days next season, or during spring training; nothing at all.
Don Zimmer can charge the starting pitcher, forcing Martinez to spill Zimmer, and the old guy’s fine is $5,000? George Steinbrenner is going to go insane: for those prices, he can have everyone on the roster go after Derek Lowe if he comes out in the first inning tonight throwing unhittable stuff. If it works, the team gets a shot at the middle relief; if it doesn’t, maybe Lowe is rattled. Either way, the total fines will be something the Yankees can pay out of petty cash.
If Long can demand a trade, what’s to stop other, often better players from asking for crazy stuff? Mike Mussina wants an attractive female Ivy League Yankee intern to follow him around during the pre-game, reading aloud from Modern Library selections to stimulate his mind as he warms up the pitching arm. David Wells wants a stack of ham sandwiches exceeding his own height before every game. Al Martin wants an additional wife at the start of every homestand. Jeff Kent would like someone to wash his truck for him during games. Carl Everett could demand local natural history museums take their fake dinosaurs off display while his team’s in town. Are any of those demands any more ridiculous than a trade demand by Terrence Long?
This probably happens to everyone. After I filed my column for Tuesday, I started to think I’d missed something, that there was one more thing I’d forgotten to look at. The next day, I had the same feeling, so when the column went up, I went back again and there it was, staring me in the face. I started this follow-up immediately, and considering the amount of e-mail I normally get I was stunned that I was able to dive into it a couple hours before a reader sent feedback that nailed the problem exactly: I found your latest Breaking Balls (“Cheaters”, in case it takes a week for you to get to this e-mail) quite interesting. But I also find your conclusion a little odd, especially considering the Red Sox splits at home with RISP. The reason for the drop-off is right in your article: “Some teams have supposedly gone to always using more complicated signs usually reserved for runner-on-second situations when facing the Sox.” Since RISP usually means a runner on second, teams will switch to the more complex signs. Anyone stealing signs would be more likely to screw up and relay the wrong pitch, or be unable to relay any information at all, either way one would expect a decrease in the hitter’s effectiveness. In fact, one could argue that Boston’s poor performance in those situations is evidence that they rely heavily on stealing signs. Not that I blame them, it’s not cheating after all.
Are the Red Sox cheating? During a game last Wednesday, Tampa Bay Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella complained that the Boston Red Sox relievers were watching television in their bullpen, while his team’s bullpen had no television. After talking to the umps, the umps made the Sox turn off the television. Piniella said a couple of things, but mostly that by having a TV, relievers could better see batters and their approach, which gave them an unfair advantage. There are important issues at stake here. What if there are better-quality sunflower seeds available in one bullpen? Could one team stock a nasty flavor of Gatorade, like “Glacier Freeze,” in the opposing team’s bullpen in hopes of knocking them out of their routine? Make the bench itself uncomfortable and wobbly, promoting inter-bullpen arguments about who’s rocking it? It’s not, incidentally, cheating to steal signs. There’s nothing in the rules that says you can’t, because there’s nothing in the rules about signs at all. Technically, this is all outside the rules anyway…except that I understand there’s an MLB rule that prohibits electronic devices in ballparks entirely. Which if true, the Red Sox are breaking. Unless MLB granted them an exemption, which they do all the time when teams want to do things like build stadiums with dimensions forbidden by the rules, or violate the debt/equity rule if the team is owned by the Commissioner.
I’ve complained a lot about broadcasts, but what do I actually want? As I’ve sat around watching every game I can down the stretch, I’ve given this some thought. I want insight, more than anything, and failing that, I’d like not to be insulted. I don’t want to have the screen read to me: I can read. If I couldn’t, wouldn’t having the dude say “as you can see from the scouting report…” only rub in the pain of illiteracy? There’s so much to talk about in a baseball game–from pitch to pitch, what’s the sequence? How does this fit into a batter’s strength and weaknesses, or the pitcher’s? What kind of strategic possibilities exist, and how does each manager handle that situation? Instead, according to the announcers, every hitter is a first-pitch, fastball hitter who likes his pitches out and over the plate, and every pitcher needs to put the heat right in on their hands (an expression Jim Bouton used to ridicule). With runners on, it’s always a good idea to put the game in motion, I’m told. Put pressure on the defense. Nothing’s this simple. I’d love to see some real debate in the booth. I’ve argued before that the best thing baseball could do would be to copy wrestling and have one announcer (the play-by-play man would be best) who’s a bit of a homer, and the other announcer who’s the critic, and rankles the home fans a little. With the right people, you might find that while fans didn’t like the crew, they were much more involved in the broadcasts and tuned in to see what would happen next.