The 1980 season opened under the cloud of a threatened mid-season labor stoppage. In March the players voted 973-1 to strike if the owners persisted in their demand that a club losing a free agent receive a major league player from the signing club as compensation–in effect converting the signing of a free agent into the equivalent of a trade. Hours before the strike deadline, the parties settled all other issues and agreed to revisit the compensation issue the next year. On the diamond, the Philadelphia Phillies rode their league-leading payroll to their first (and so far only) World Championship. Owner Ruly Carpenter blames himself and his fellow owners for rising salaries, noting that “no court can compel you to spend millions on players.” For proof, Carpenter needed to look no further than Oakland’s Charles O. Finley, who rode the majors’ lowest payroll to an 83-79 record in the year of Billyball.
A change last year from long-time trainer Kent Biggerstaff to a new staff makes it difficult to assess with statistical certainty, but many of the more bizarre medical stories last season came from Pittsburgh. Whether it was the ‘sudden discovery’ of an injury to Jason Bay or the saga of Brandon Lyon’s shoulder, the Pirates’ medical staff raised questions around the league. Coming into the 2004 season, the Pirates will be facing the same challenges. Most of their offense last year was expected to come from the bats of Brian Giles and Jason Kendall. While Kendall remains, his name continues to come up in trade talks. Giles was dealt for, among others, Jason Bay and Oliver Perez, two players with significant injury concerns. While contention in the NL Central probably isn’t possible in ’04, health could be the difference between being bad and being the Tigers.
Lineup changes for the Red Sox, a look at the Reds’ 2004 outfield, and a comparison of last year’s Padres offense with this year’s. All this and more news and notes from San Diego, Cincinnati, and Boston in Tuesday’s Prospectus Triple Play.
As a big college basketball fan, I spent a good chunk of last week watching the conference tournaments and trying to dope out who would be in and who would be out of this year’s NCAA championship. Like many people, I had Utah State in the field instead of Richmond, which was my only miss after a perfect record in ’03. Even though I didn’t see that coming, I think the committee did a good job in sorting through the eligible at-large teams and filling out the field.
However, I stromgly disagree the way in which the panel seeded the teams. I think they screwed up the Big Ten teams beyond belief. They gave a bit too much credit to the way some squads–such as Maryland and Xavier–finished their seasons, while applying criteria haphazardly in other cases. They’re the experts, and they have to consider dozens of factors, but my informed-outsider position is that they made some errors.
Yesterday, I got to thinking about how this line of thought also applies to my evaluations of baseball teams. Each year, I have some teams rated well ahead or well behind where most other writers and analysts have them. Some of you are already nodding your heads, remembering my touting the Padres and Reds, or my dismissals of the Angels and Marlins. Hey, I was wrong, and that’s going to happen. Sometimes I’m out there and right, as with the Mets in 2002. Either way, as long as I can go back and understand my analysis, and perhaps learn from a mistake or gain confidence in a particular point, it’s all good. I’m only right all the time when I disagree with Sophia.
Looking ahead towards the 2004 campaign, I can definitely see some teams whose “Sheehan seeds” are going to be much different than the consensus. Unlike in the NCAA tournament, however, I can’t hide behind a one-game-and-out format to defend my decisions. That’s the beauty of the baseball season; it brings out a team’s strengths and weaknesses in a way that the other sports just can’t match.