I usually complain that the lack of changes in the weather in southern California causes me to not get into the Christmas spirit. So this year, Sophia and I came east to spend the holidays with my family…and it’s 57 degrees in New York City on December 23.

The California-native bride is happy that she can feel all her extremities, but I’m looking around for an open golf course, and still wondering if my Christmas cheer is going to make an appearance. (And writing book chapters. Swear to God, Richard.)

  • Speaking of Christmas, Rangers’ fans who aren’t millionaires in search of financial relief got an early present as the long-rumored Alex Rodriguez trade fell through for the 31st time. That leaves the team stuck with the second-best player in baseball, an inner-circle Hall of Famer in the middle of his prime years.

    Might the trade still happen? Sure. Heck, there are too many baseball writers who feel their lives won’t be worth living if it doesn’t and who will keep harping on the deal. As good as it not happening is for the Rangers on the field, Tom Hicks isn’t going to stop looking for ways to spend less money on his baseball team. Finally, the smart people left in the room in Boston know that dealing Manny Ramirez for Rodriguez makes a ton of sense for them on the field, and have every reason to make it fit financially.

    What shouldn’t be a factor is the idea that interpersonal issues would prevent Rodriguez and Nomar Garciaparra from staying right where they are and being huge assets for their teams. That’s an insult to all the professionals involved. Maybe covering Mu Lambda Beta is more enjoyable for some people, but I think the relentless emphasis on who will and who won’t like each other is one of the worst aspects of 21st century baseball. It doesn’t humanize the participants, it reduces them to caricatures. It doesn’t tell a story, it creates one, continuing the cycle of coverage that prizes access for the sake of access above analysis.

    Consider the last two weeks, the day-to-day treatment of the Rangers/Red Sox negotiations, and think about one point: was the story being covered by the media, or was the media driving the story? Would anyone have been worse off if we’d done without daily–even hourly–updates, if rumors hadn’t been leveraged into fact simply by the need to fill the next segment, the final column inches, the time to the next caller?

    I still write from the standpoint of the informed outsider. And I have rarely been more proud of that position than I have over the past two weeks.

  • Over the weekend, 58 players became free agents when their teams declined to offer them a contract for 2004 by the December 20 deadline. In most cases, this was because the team would rather do without the player than tender a contract offer with a salary of no less than 80% of the player’s 2003 salary, with the risk of going to arbitration if the two sides could not agree. The changed labor market in baseball made that risk an unwelcome one for teams dealing with mostly replaceable talent.

    Despite so many players finding their way into the market, the deadline didn’t have the impact it had in other seasons. The pool of new free agents was largely unimpressive, certainly not as talented as the group of players not tendered an offer of salary arbitration in the first week of December. Some players, notably Mark Redman, signed a new contract with the team that had non-tendered them within hours of being let go.

    Of the other players allowed to depart, only right-hander Jason Johnson seems likely to draw competitive bidding. Some of the new free agents can help teams–Russ Branyan, Danys Baez–and some are interesting projects–Ben Petrick–but none are likely to be impact players in 2004.

    By the way, I find “non-tenders” to be a very awkward term for the new free agents. Maybe we could take to calling them “toughs”? No, really, it works on a bunch of levels; the notion of players as meat, with the less-desirable ones turned back by the consumers, and the mental image of teams saying, “Tough” to players expecting a 2004 contract.

  • I don’t have a Hall of Fame ballot, but there are people who read this space that do. With that in mind, here is what I wrote about Bert Blyleven a year ago:

    Blyleven has been shunned by the BBWAA for five years now, and with the flood of qualified Hall of Famers coming onto the ballot over the next few election cycles, he may have missed his window. It’s a shame, because even by the established standards of the writers–ignoring all the goofy things the Veterans Committee has done–Blyleven is qualified for Cooperstown. What’s keeping him out is primarily the lousy run support he received during his first prime, with the Twins in the 1970s.

    Matt Rauseo of did some legwork into Blyleven’s career over at Retrosheet (support Retrosheet!– and found that Blyleven made 22 starts in his career in which he pitched at least eight innings, allowed no more than two runs (and no more than one earned run), and did not get a win. That’s a lot of great run prevention not leading to Ws for Blyleven through no fault of his own.

    Blyleven was one of the two or three best pitchers in the AL in the 1971-75 period, regularly finishing in the top five in ERA, adjusted ERA, strikeouts, and baserunners/9 IP. All of that good pitching netted him a won-loss record of 85-76. Peers like Catfish Hunter, Jim Palmer and Nolan Ryan all have their plaques in part–or in Hunter’s case, entirely–because they were getting better run support than Blyleven was, not because they pitched a lot better than he did.

    The lack of run support probably cost Blyleven the 13 wins he needed for 300 in his career, but more importantly, it established him in the minds of many voters as an inferior pitcher, an innings guy who “didn’t know how to win.” That reputation is unearned, and everything else about Blyleven screams “Hall of Famer.” He’s fifth all-time in strikeouts–the only eligible pitcher in the top 13 not enshrined–13th in innings pitched, and ninth in shutouts.

    There aren’t many certainties when it comes to Hall of Fame debate, but I have no qualms with this statement: Bert Blyleven belongs in Cooperstown, and if the BBWAA doesn’t elect him, it’s a criminal oversight.

  • Dear Dick Vermeil:

    It’s pointless to use one of your two challenges when the best-case scenario for you is first-and-goal from the one for the team that’s been walking on your face all day long.

    Thanks for pushing me to 0-6 lifetime in fantasy football semifinals.

    Go cry now.

    Hate, Joe

Hopefully, this Christmas Eve finds all of you safely ensconced in the warmth of your loved ones. May your entire holiday season be filled with joy, and may you have health, happiness and success in 2004.

One more thing, since I’ve been told that this is my last submission for 2003.