WBC – Done; Spring Training – Almost Done; Baseball – Aahhh…

Spring Training is ending – mercifully. The WBC is finished – mercifully. I have ignored baseball commentary for too long now, so here are some observations about our national pastime.

The Pittsburgh Pirates are on the cusp of baseball history. If the Pirates have a losing season in 2009 – - and by any projection that is squarely in the category of “gonna happen” – - the Pirates franchise will own an ignominious baseball record. This year would become the 17th consecutive losing season for that franchise and would eclipse the MLB record for extended futility held by the Philadelphia Phillies. But do not let that potentially record shattering performance by the Pirates mask the fact that the current and recent Pirates teams have not been nearly as putrid as the Phillies’ teams from the 20’s, 30’s and 40’s. Allow me to review the bidding here…

From 1918 through 1931 (14 seasons) the Phillies posted a losing record. Those were 154-game seasons then; so a break-even record would have been 77-77. In that span of time, the Phillies lost 100 or more games 5 times AND they lost 90 or more games another 5 times. Translation: In 10 of those 14 seasons, the Phillies were abjectly awful and never in danger of posting a winning record.

In 1932, the Phillies entry in the National League finished with a record of 78-76. You can look to praise that team for its accomplishments and say they were “two games over .500” if you will. Mathematically, they were ONE game over .500; translate one of those victories into a loss and that team is no longer over .500. Whatever…

Then, starting in 1933, the Phillies’ teams went back to the roots of the franchise and stunk like a rotting rhino corpse in the hot sun of the Serengeti Plains. From 1933 through 1948, the Phillies had losing seasons in each of those 16 seasons. However, it is important to note that absent that “one win over a .500 record” in 1932, the Phillies would not have had a winning season from 1918 to 1948. That is a record of futility that puts to shame the failures of the LA Clippers and/or the Detroit Lions.

Moreover, for the period between 1938 and 1942, the Phillies lost an average of 107 times a year – - and recall those were 154 game seasons. Not only did that franchise lose consistently, they found ways to lose epically within its consistency.

The Phillies had 16 consecutive losing seasons from 1933 to 1948; in that span of time, the franchise’s cumulative winning percentage was .363. That is an average seasonal record (based on 154 games) of 56-98.

In the past 16 seasons that the Pirates have posted an equally lengthy losing streak, the Pirates have a cumulative winning percentage of .439 during that streak. That is an average seasonal record (based on 162 games) of 71-91.

Pirates’ fans have more than sufficient reason to be “upset” with the ownership and the GMs of recent Pirates’ teams. The Pirates have been bad for a long time now. Nevertheless, in a historical perspective, the Pirates’ franchise is still miles ahead of the accomplishments of the Phillies’ franchise during the period between 1918 and 1948. Those teams had losing records in 30 out of 31 seasons and missed a 31-year losing streak by a single victory in the 1932 season. Now that is just plain fetid…

The Phillies are the defending World Series Champions in 2009. Nevertheless, Steve Simmons of the Toronto Sun expressed his cognitive dissonance with the following issues surrounding the Phillies’ team:

”I don’t understand baseball. J.C. Romero, who tested positive before the World Series, got to pitch for the Phillies and wound up the winner in two games of the Series. Then he got to pitch for Puerto Rico in the WBC. His 50-game Major League suspension begins on opening day … “

You know something, I don’t understand this either…

The Florida Marlins look like they are going to get a new “baseball-only stadium” in Miami; according reports, that stadium has cleared the last of its political hurdles. The budget figure for building this edifice – which will feature a retractable roof akin to the one in Seattle – is $515M. The parking lots/parking facilities for this stadium will cost – hold onto your hats here – an additional $94M. Think about that; it will cost, after overruns, about $100M to find a way to park the cars for the people who will come to this stadium to watch baseball games. The pols in Miami have no difficulty dealing with that kind of “stuff”. All in favor of these expenditures at these levels, stand up and shout “Stimulus…”

The Marlins will cough up – reportedly – $155-160M for this project and they will be responsible for any overruns. Additionally, in what was a major bone of contention in the decade-long negotiations leading up to this deal, the Marlins have finally agreed to change the name of the franchise from the “Florida Marlins” to the “Miami Marlins”. Wow! Talk about caving in to pressure…

Since this business negotiation has taken something near to forever, you would have to assume – never a good idea – that everything else associated with the deal would be optimized by now. Well, maybe it is and maybe it isn’t… The new stadium will be constructed at the site of what was the Orange Bowl; that is geographically proximal to “Little Havana” in Miami. In one sense that is a brilliant site selection; baseball is an attractive sport for the Miami Latino community and for its Cuban ex-pats. On the other hand, the few season ticket holders that the Marlins have now reside predominantly in Broward County Florida and Palm Beach County Florida. Those folks would need to drive through rush hour traffic to get to games at the new stadium and those folks have said repeatedly that they are not going to do that.

So, the Marlins will have a new stadium; at the same time, they will alienate their current base of season ticket holders – not a humongous throng to be sure but it is the base of the franchise’s meager attendance. How will this turn out? Given the propensity for Miami fans to ignore sports teams in Miami, it may not end well for the taxpayers in South Florida. Stay tuned…

Finally, to conclude today’s focus on baseball, let me present to you three commentaries from sports columnists around the country on the “Roger Clemens situation” since that has been out of the news for a while now:

“A grand jury is weighing whether to indict Roger Clemens on charges of lying to Congress. Not a good sign: I just saw a least-believable poll and Roger slightly trailed Rod Blagojevich.” [Greg Cote, Miami Herald]

“Lab tests confirmed Roger Clemens’ DNA and performance-enhancing substances on syringes supplied by ex-trainer Brian McNamee, The New York Times reported.

“What’s next, Clemens’ fingerprints on Mindy McCready’s Clearasil?” [Dwight Perry, Seattle Times]

“Brian McNamee claims he played Pin-the-Tail-on-the-Roger in the Yankees’ hot-tub area. Memo to McNamee and Clemens: Get a room!” [Scott Ostler, SF Chronicle]

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…

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  • Tony  On March 26, 2009 at 7:22 am

    “Miami” Marlins, huh? Looks like Phase I of Operation Marty McFly is complete – now to make the “prediction” from Back to the Future II come true, they just need to move Miami to the AL, change their mascot from a fish to an alligator, and have them match up against the Cubbies in six years…

  • The Sports Curmudgeon  On March 26, 2009 at 8:44 am


    Trivial as it may sound, that was one of the “negotiation issues” in the lengthy process that led to the approval of public funds for this stadium.

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