An Unkind Thought For The Day…

Since I know I am going to have something a smidgen unkind to say in a moment, I need to make certain that everyone here understands that only congratulations and respect go to the St. Louis Cardinals for their accomplishments this year. The fact that they made it to the NL playoffs in the first place was a laudatory accomplishment; the fact that they were able to sustain their momentum and their focus throughout the levels of the playoffs and into the World Series is a testimony to their abilities.

Having said that, I want to put a marker down right now before the “Tony LaRussa for the Hall of Fame Bandwagon” begins its journey to say that Tony LaRussa just might not be worthy of first ballot Hall of Fame induction contrary to much of what I have already been hearing and reading. Let me explain…

Tony LaRussa’s candidacy for the Hall of Fame sometime in the next decade will put a question of equity in front of the voters for the Hall of Fame. More than a few of them have taken positions on the moral high ground with regard to players coming up for consideration should that player have been outstanding in the steroid era and should that player’s name have been mentioned in the same sentence with the acronym, PED’s. Fine, now look at Tony LaRussa’s stats in the same light.

After about a half-dozen years as the manager of the White Sox where his record was decent but hardly distinguished, LaRussa took over the Oakland A’s in 1986. That was right around the time of the beginning of the steroid era and the Oakland A’s clubhouse was either the epicenter of that steroid era or it was right next door to the epicenter. The A’s won a couple of AL pennants and a World Series under LaRussa in his ten year tenure there and won 100+ games in a season a couple of times. If by magic we are going to figure out how to “devalue” some power stats for hitters, can someone explain to me how we are going to “devalue” some of the wins and the championships pulled down by Tony LaRussa as the manager of the players using the PEDs?

When he moved to St. Louis to take over the Cardinals, one of the players from the A’s who came to join him was Mark McGwire. McGwire has been eligible for the Hall for a couple of years and his vote totals are closer to making him ineligible for next year’s ballot than they are to getting him inducted. So, how many of the wins by Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals during that period of time need devaluation?

When Tony LaRussa’s name comes up for Hall of Fame consideration, I suspect that the commentary noted above will not be a significant part of the chorus so I wanted to lay it out there well ahead of time.

Speaking of this year’s World Series, the TV ratings overall were lower than the ones for last year – - and the TV ratings for last year were either the lowest ever or the second lowest ever. On one hand, that is a shame because plenty of the games in the Series this year were well worth the time spent in front of the TV. On the other hand, these ratings numbers – juxtaposed with last year’s numbers generated by the Rangers and Giants – demonstrate the regional fervor that baseball generates in the Northeastern US. Absent any teams from that region in the last two years, TV viewership is down significantly. People need to keep this in mind during the baseball season when they complain that ESPN is showing too many games involving the teams from Philly, NY and Boston. This is not an “East Coast Bias” on the part of a network located in the middle of nowhere in Connecticut; this is programming designed to attract as large an audience as possible thereby to generate increased advertising revenues for ESPN.

I am not saying that there are not avid baseball fans in other parts of the country; what I am saying is that baseball is a regional focus for folks in the Northeast. When it comes to college football, exactly the opposite is true; in the Northeast there is only a passing interest when compared with the level of interest shown in the Southeast or the Mid-west. When ESPN is picking college football games to highlight, they are far more likely to show Tennessee, Georgia, or Oklahoma State than they are to show Boston College, UConn or Princeton.

The movie, Moneyball, has entertained a lot of people who do not follow baseball at all and who are predisposed to see the movie as a documentary film akin to something one might see on The Science Channel. Several people who would need to be strapped into a chair to get them to watch an entire baseball game have seen the movie, enjoyed it and asked me if that is all true stuff. Obviously, I have no idea to what degree the movie portrays actual personal interactions as opposed to fictionalized accounts of what happened reconstructed after the fact to create a good story. However, I am mindful that a good screenwriter will never allow a fact or two to get in the way of telling a good story…

My comment to these folks is that have never been fully converted to the Church of Moneyball, as have others. I mentioned in a previous rant that the A’s teams that won pennants using moneyball principles a decade ago did so with three young pitchers all maturing at the same time and with a clubhouse where PEDs were hardly unknowns. Additionally, let me point out that if the statistical analyses and numerical nuances that may be coaxed out of performance records were as infallible as the book – - and presumably the movie – - make them out to be, then the same moneyball devotees running the A’s might not have traded Andre Ethier and/or Nelson Cruz.

In return for Nelson Cruz, the A’s got an infielder from the Brewers named Keith Ginter who gave the A’s a single season consisting of 51 games with a batting average of .161 and an OPS of .497. In return for Andre Ethier – - someone who had been the Minor League Player of the Year – - the A’s got to enjoy the services and presence of Milton Bradley.

Keep those two exchanges in mind whenever you encounter anyone who would like to convince you that moneyball is a science. It is not…

Finally, here is a sign of the economic times from Dwight Perry’s column in the Seattle Times:

“In another sign of these bad economic times, the Lingerie Football League’s Miami Caliente has ceased operations.

“At least every player was given a pink slip.”

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

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Comments

  • Rich  On November 1, 2011 at 7:31 pm

    Have not seen Moneyball, but did read Moneyball. I liked the book, but Sabermetrics has not won any championships for the A’s.

  • The Sports Curmudgeon  On November 3, 2011 at 3:11 pm

    Rich:

    I too read the book. It was OK in my mind.

    You are absolutely correct that it did not win any championships for the A’s. What it did was to add players to a good team that got them a lot of wins for a few years. Once those three young pitchers became “unaffordable” and the steroid crackdown happened, that front office of “moneyballers” became less successful almost overnite…

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