I do not know where you live; but for anyone reading this in the Mid-Atlantic region or the northeast part of the US, you probably have had enough of winter and are ready for spring. Even cross-country skiers have to have had enough of this nonsense by now… Therefore, I am going to do my small part to conjure up for you images of springtime and warmth and renewal and – - – baseball.
One can be happy about the impending arrival of baseball even if one is throwing cold water on the prospects for the hometown nine in 2010. Gene Collier writes for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; he holds no illusions about the Pirates crafting a miracle season in 2010; he threw a barrel cold water on that season in a column last week – - and living in or around Pittsburgh this February, it was not hard for him to find cold water. This is definitely not your standard “Hope Springs Eternal…” exposition.
Collier’s effort from 18 Feb deserves to be read in its entirety; it is a very good column and extremely well written. You will have to read it to find out what constitutes “Murmerer’s Row”.
Let me see, it is 23 February… If my calculations are correct, the Washington Nationals were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs sometime yesterday afternoon…
I make fun of the Nationals because it is so easy to do; they have not yet put a true major league team on the field in their tenure here in DC; this is a team that would not have been a prohibitive favorite to win the Minor League World Series last year. Having said that, the Nats are not the only team that begins their spring training drills with little if any hope of making the playoffs. Truth be told, most of these teams have little if any hope of finishing at .500 in 2010. Consider:
AL West: Given the moves made by the Mariners and the Rangers, it looks as if the Oakland A’s have first dibs on last place in this division. Remember “Moneyball” and how the A’s were so far ahead of the curve as compared to all the other teams in MLB in using advanced stats to assemble a roster? So which is it? Is “Moneyball” not all that effective as a strategy or is it that the A’s have no idea how to implement it effectively? The success of the A’s in their “Moneyball Hey-Day” was due in the largest part by a young pitching staff that was excellent. Harden, Haren, Hudson, Mulder and Zito could have won with a team assembled by anyone smarter than a blueberry bagel. Please note that none of those guys are anywhere near the 2010 A’s roster …
AL Central: Despite an early spasm of winning and some Herculean pitching performances by Zack Greinke, the KC Royals wilted last year. Moreover, they will wilt again this year. In the last 16 years, the Royals have been at .500 exactly one time.
AL East: People will focus on the “race” to see who wins this division. What they need to watch is the race to the bottom. Will the Orioles or the Blue Jays be “looking up at all of them” when October rolls around? When the Jays traded Roy Halladay, you had to think they were acclimatizing themselves for a visit to the bottom of the division standings. However, even an optimistic glance at the Orioles roster makes you winder how anyone in the AL East can possibly finish behind that squad. The Canadian Football League season usually begins in early July; I do not know if the Jays will be eliminated from contention that early so that Toronto sports fans can turn their attention to the Argonauts. However, the NFL does not start until the second week in September. The Orioles will have been out of the race for weeks by that time and fans can comfortably focus their attention on the Ravens by then…
NL West: San Diego is a wonderful part of the country; it is a great place to live. Having said that, the Padres are a miserable baseball team. The owner of the team was enmeshed in a “less than amicable” divorce proceeding and that forced him to sell the team to a guy who had been an agent for players in the past. There is a new GM in town but not any new impact players. I suspect the Padres are going to stink…
NL Central: Ah, the Pirates… For 17 consecutive seasons, the Pirates have finished below .500. Sometime this autumn, a kid in the Pittsburgh area will become eligible to vote and that kid will have been born since the last time the Pirates were a winner. As the Pirates trade away their players, the incumbent owners tell the fans they want to build via the farm system and that takes time. Lots of fans think “17 years” constitutes “time”… Oh, by the way, the Pirates signed a new closer for 2010. That would be Octavio “Heartbreak” Dotel. I just do not think he is the answer – - unless of course the question was:
Where can we find a relief pitcher who can masquerade as a closer and who will work cheap?
NL East: Ah, the Nationals… The product on the field at the end of 2009 stunk. Meanwhile, the Nats’ farm system was hardly ripe with Top Shelf prospects. I saw their A and AA farm teams last year and not a single player jumped out as a guy you wanted to get an autograph from because he was surely going to be a big leaguer in a couple of years. Attendance has cratered in Washington – - despite the hunger built up there in baseball fans by 35 years of absence – - and so the team had to find a way to make fans think they were going to be competitive in 2010. Enter a couple of relatively high priced players one of whose careers sure seems to be in the rear view mirror of life – - Pudge Rodriguez – - and a closer who had an ERA over 5.50 last season – - Matt Capps.
Commissioner Bud Selig said last Fall that he wanted to increase the “pace” of the game and he assembled a blue ribbon panel of baseball guys – - translation a meeting of “Geezers R Us” – - to provide recommendations to do just that. Well, I am a geezer too; and so, I have three ideas for the Commish:
1. Wave a batter to first base as soon as the defensive manager calls for an intentional walk.
2. Limit the number of “strolls to the mound” by a pitching coach or manager. On the third such visit of the game – - not an inning – - the pitcher on the mound must be removed. In addition, as soon as the pitching coach or manager emerges from the dugout for his stroll, have the umpire hit a stopwatch. If the current pitcher is not removed, the coach/manager has 45 seconds to get back across the foul line on his way back to the dugout or the batter due up starts his at-bat with a 2-0 count.
3. Forget about any more renditions of God Bless America in the seventh inning. They take time; most of them are poorly done. Unless MLB finds a way to reincarnate Kate Smith to do the number, put that rather young tradition out to pasture. It was fine to do this when baseball came back after 9/11; now…
Baseball is a sport that thrives on records and stats and history. Back in 1961, then Commissioner, Ford Frick, put an asterisk in the record books next to Roger Maris’ 61 home runs in a single season because he hit those 61 home runs in a 162-game season as opposed to Babe Ruth’s 60 home runs in a 154-game season. Given that history, here is another suggestion for Commissioner Selig:
Go to the record books and put a “dagger” next to the asterisk that Commish Frick had there. The asterisk footnote should acknowledge that Maris hit his 61 home runs in the “162-game era”. The dagger footnote should note that Maris hit his 61 home runs in the “steroid free era”.
Then put “double daggers” next to the numbers of any home run records involving play in the 1990s and until 2007 and make the note that there is reason to suspect that “chemical enhancement” was involved in any or all of these records.
Finally, let me close with two items from Dwight Perry in the Seattle Times, which have exactly nothing to do with baseball:
“Steve Schrader of the Detroit Free Press, on trying to decide whether to watch the Winter Olympics or the Westminster Dog Show: “Best in Show or Best in Snow? Kiss and Cry Area or Scratch and Sniff Area?”
“Q: What do they call the baddest dude on the Winter Olympic ski slopes?
A: Whistler’s mutha.”
But don’t get me wrong, I love sports…