Thursday, December 29, 2011

Will the old ARod ever re-emerge?

Will we ever see the old Alex Rodriguez again? That is one of the key questions for the New York Yankees heading into 2012.

ARod went all the way to Europe to seek treatment for his ailing knee and shoulder, apparently with the full blessing of the Yankees. Evidently, ARod will go anywhere and try any experimental or controversial treatment, all in a bid to get back on the fraudulent path that will take him to the all-time home run record in baseball (which he hopefully won’t hold for very long).

I’m not surprised the Yankees signed off on the procedure. Fully understanding now that they have saddled themselves with a contract that will choke them for the next six years, the Yankees have to be hoping against hope that somehow Rodriguez becomes a fraction of the player he was when they signed him to that ill-advised pact. If he doesn’t, the Yankees will find themselves with nothing more to show from ARod and quite possibly only one World Series championship for all the money they threw in his direction.

For his part, ARod is promising he will return to greatness. I find myself extremely conflicted over that possibility. I dislike ARod for all the chaos, drama and shame he has brought to the Yankees. Yet, I know that if he doesn’t do well, the Yankees are unlikely to return to the World Series and add another championship banner. So I find myself the most reluctant ARod supporter, cringing as I applaud his home runs, unwilling to celebrate his individual accomplishments, but hoping he can somehow regain his previous form and contribute to another title. 

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Posada likely to move on from Yankees soon

I’m expecting to hear the disappointing news that Jorge Posada will play baseball for another team next season any day now.

As much as I’d love for Jorge to retire forever being a member of the New York Yankees, the fact that he hasn’t announced his retirement might mean that he still wants to play. Posada’s agent is probably trying to gauge the interest of other baseball teams to see if he can get his client a decent contract that will guarantee him some playing time, which is simply not an option with the Yankees, even if they do end up trading Jesus Montero. Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi clearly see a declining Posada and have not even faked a real interest in bringing him back, something that must be breaking the emotional Posada’s heart.

Rumors have the Tampa Bay Rays in the running for Posada’s services. It makes sense for them as the budget-constrained Rays wouldn’t have to pay him a lot of money and can slot him into the designated hitter spot on a full or part-time basis. Posada would bring a lot of fire and leadership to a playoff-worthy ballclub that could use some help getting over the hump. And as Posada showed the baseball world in the 2011 playoffs, he still has some life left in that bat, despite the Yankees thinking otherwise.

Posada has earned the right to go out on his own terms. I just wish his terms were to only ever play professional baseball in a Yankees uniform. 

Friday, December 23, 2011

Frugal Yankees stay on the sidelines

The New York Yankees frugal? You better believe it.

Granted, the Yankees payroll is still above $200 million, by far the highest in Major League Baseball. But the Yankees will pay less than $14 million in luxury taxes, the lowest amount in eight years, and Brian Cashman seems determined to drive that number down as much as he possibly can by not spending ridiculous amounts of money on mediocre free agents. The Yankees general manager is being as frugal as possible for a guy saddled with the Alex Rodriguez contract, which will tie his hands for the next six years.
The best evidence of the Yankees newfound frugality comes from watching free agent after free agent sign with other baseball teams. They refused to be drawn into bidding wars for the best free agents available because none of them fit an actual need for the Bronx Bombers. The Yankees reportedly refused to even entertain CJ Wilson at their stadium, even though the pitcher desperately wanted to play in New York, because his asking price was way beyond his actual talents.

The only substantial money move the Yankees have made this offseason was to re-sign CC Sabathia and I thought they actually got a very good deal from their perspective. If CC had opted for free agency, he would have immediately and by far been the premier pitcher on the market. The Yankees would have had to compete with teams such as the suddenly flush Miami Marlins for his services. If the Marlins were willing to give Wilson $100 million, just imagine what they would have thrown at Sabathia to get him to South Florida. What a coup that would have been for a team desperate to awaken its slumbering fan base.

For the record, I agree with all the non-moves the Yankees have made. Nobody on the free-agent market that would have been a fit for the Yankees was worthy of the price they demanded and I don’t like the idea of giving up any of the Yankees young studs for a non-ace pitcher in a trade. Of course, if the right guy becomes available, the Yankees would immediately throw all caution to the wind, sign or trade for that guy, and write Major League Baseball a bigger check. But I don’t see it happening. 

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Favorite Yankees moment of 2011

What was my favorite New York Yankees moment of the year? That’s a very easy call. Seeing the great Mariano Rivera officially lay claim to the title of the greatest closer in baseball history.

As you can probably tell from reading this blog, Mo is my favorite Yankee player. I traveled up to Toronto that weekend in September just to see him pitch for the all-time saves record because I did not want to miss out on being a part of that magical moment. I was very fortunate to be at the Saturday afternoon game when he tied the record, a moment made even more special as I was watching the game with two friends, one who is as big a baseball fan as I am and the other who likes baseball games because you can drink as much beer as you want (or as much as the stadium workers will sell you before they get suspicious about how drunk you are). But Mo was the big attraction that day and not even the subdued reaction of the Blue Jays faithful could dull my spirits, even though I felt like they should have given Mo a long standing ovation out of respect for all that he has accomplished in the game of baseball.

I generally like my job, but for one day I completed resented it because I could not get out of covering an event in Manhattan to head out to Yankee Stadium and personally witness Mo shine in surpassing the record. Typical Mo, he was quite embarrassed by all the attention from the cheering and adoring maniacs who actually made it out to the stadium to support him that day, but no one deserved that show of love and respect more than Mariano.

That’s not to take away from the other great moments in Yankee land this year. Of course, Derek Jeter’s 3,000th hit ranks right up there behind Mo’s accomplishment. Again, it was another moment I missed seeing in person because of a previously scheduled family engagement (the skipping of which would be grounds for permanent banishment).

I also can’t disagree with this column selecting Joe Torre’s return to Yankee Stadium for Old Timers’ Day. I was actually there that day and it was a wonderful day for a number of reasons: Torre’s return; Bernie Williams playing in the game for the first time, hitting a double and being driven in on a home run by another favorite of mine, Tino Martinez; the lovely tribute to the now retired Gene Monahan (I was completely jealous of all his swag). It was a day made even more special because it was celebrated as part of a group outing with more than 1,000 of my fellow Syracuse University alumni. We were baking under the hot sun, but it was a glorious day full of laughter, baseball and margaritas (yes, they sell them at the stadium and they are really good).

But for me, nothing tops Mo’s moment in the sun. As much as I’d love for Mo to pitch forever, when he does finally decide to call it quits, I will have this memory and all the other great Mo moments to look back on with a big smile.

What was your favorite Yankees moment of 2011? 

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Yankees right not to go crazy on Yu Darvish

I’m not at all upset about the New York Yankees losing out on Japanese phenom Yu Darvish.

Even though the Yankees could use some help in the starting rotation, I remain skittish about bringing a pitcher over from the Japanese leagues and expecting him to be a key member of a big-league starting staff. It’s impossible to know how his stuff will translate to a big-league mound and how he will adapt to living in the US. Unlike with minor leaguers or kids in high school and college, there are limited opportunities for a team like the Yankees to personally evaluate these pitchers. And we all know the Yankees have been burned before by Japanese pitchers that have not lived up to the hype, aka, Hideki Irabu and Kei Igawa.

I don’t blame the Yankees for being skittish either. If there was a lot less money at stake, the Yankees could afford to take a chance on Darvish, who could have huge upside potential. But with the Yankees’ desire to get their bloated payroll under control before the new collective bargaining agreement’s penalties kick in, the Yankees are going to be extremely careful not to dive into another costly, long-term contract mistake.

The Texas Rangers obviously had no such hesitancy and plenty of dough to spend with their new television deal. It’s a good move for a team that just lost its ace to its division rivals and wanted to make a major countermove. But they have to pray that Darvish is as good as advertised. Otherwise, his contract, if the Rangers are able to sign him, will suffocate them for the next few years.

Regardless, I think the Yankees were right not to go crazy bidding on Yu Darvish. As of now, Brian Cashman & Co may have to be content trying to find the next Freddy Garcia or Bartolo Colon. That worked out pretty well for them in 2011. No reason they can’t try to catch lightning in a bottle twice.

Thanks to Neier via Wikipedia for the Yu Darvish photo.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Keeping Bonds out of Hall is right punishment

Since Barry Bonds is not going to suffer any real criminal punishment, I’m glad to hear that it looks like he will at least be kept out of the Baseball Hall of Fame in retaliation for cheating the game.

Most baseball writers have indicated that they will not vote for Bonds next year (or in any other year) when he appears on the Hall of Fame ballot. More than 50% of the writers surveyed by the Daily News refuse to even consider voting for him because of his use of performance enhancing drugs and his obstruction of justice conviction. I couldn’t agree more.

Some writers are saying that they will vote for Bonds anyway because he was already on a Hall of Fame track before using PEDs. I understand the argument, but I don’t think it excuses his behavior and the fact that he cheated both the game and other players out of the recognition they truly deserve. In my mind, Hank Aaron is still the all-time home run king. The books may recognize Bonds as the leader in that category, but I don’t.

Bonds is known to have a big ego and to be a surly guy (I feel really sorry for the kids forced to deal with him when he performs his community service) and missing out on the Hall of Fame will surely be a sharp blow to that ego, especially if the vote is not even close to the 75% needed for enshrinement. As much as I would have liked to have seen Bonds go to jail, the realist in me knew that was not going to happen. Keeping him out of the Hall is the only way to punish Bonds for the damage he caused to baseball.

Thanks to druchoy via Wikipedia for the Barry Bonds photo.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Baseball makes common sense changes

Major League Baseball owners have officially signed off on the new labor deal. With that move, the game is in for a lot of common-sense changes.

MLB is in store for more instant replay, specifically on fair or foul calls, trapped balls and fan interference, all calls that are pretty easy to get right with the technology that we have today. I think the more baseball can reduce blown calls, the better it is for the sport. But some of the replay rules still need to be worked out. I think MLB should institute a maximum number of replay challenges per game so that managers do not abuse the privilege by arguing every call and forcing umpires to take a second look.

I know there are concerns about the impact of expanded instant replay on the pace of the games, but I would rather get the calls right. And baseball is taking other steps to quicken games, including increased financial penalties for hitters and pitchers who take too much time between pitches. That means you, Josh Beckett!

I think baseball is also right to eliminate the rule barring two teams from the same division from playing each other in the first round of the playoffs. I enjoyed watching the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox fight it out for the right to go to the World Series in the American League Championship Series in 2003 and 2004. But it was patently unfair to teams forced to play against stronger teams in the first round simply because the two division teams could not meet early in the playoffs. If the Yankees and the Red Sox end up meeting in a five-game divisional series, that would only add to the intensity and pressure of the best Rivalry in baseball.

So a lot of the changes make complete sense, although this being baseball, even common sense sometimes takes a backseat for a while.

Thanks to PhreddieH3 via en.Wikipedia for the Josh Beckett photo.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Mets, Wilpon dying a slow death

By now, Fred Wilpon might be hoping that Major League Baseball actually does step in to take the New York Mets off his hands.

News that the Mets have taken out a $40 million loan (on top of the $25 million they borrowed from MLB) has created intense speculation about when the Wilpons might receive the Frank McCourt treatment from Bud Selig and be forced to sell the team. Selig and Wilpon are admittedly friends. But at some point, Selig is going to have to remove his blinders and apply his “best interests of the game” philosophy to the Mets the same way he did with the Los Angeles Dodgers. He cannot continue to let a baseball franchise in such a key market flounder for very much longer.

Wilpon loves owning the Mets so he will resist any pressure to sell the team for as long as humanly possible. But the Bernie Madoff-induced financial headache Wilpon is being forced to deal with is not going away anytime soon. At some point, Wilpon has to realize that his ownership may not be in the best interest of the team that he claims to love.

The Mets are borrowing significant amounts of money and desperately searching for minority investors. Yet it looks like they will have no money to spend on actually improving the team or recovering from the loss of Jose Reyes. Next up will likely be a fire sale of their remaining stars, beginning with David Wright and ending with Johan Santana once he proves he is completely healthy because the team will simply not be able to afford them (unfortunately, they are probably stuck with Jason Bay’s expensive contract).

The Mets and Wilpon are just dying a slow death and it’s painful to watch. Forcing Wilpon to sell the team may be the ultimate act of mercy by Selig.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Braun should give back MVP trophy if guilty

I have to reiterate something I said in a post yesterday about Ryan Braun: he should be forced to give back his Most Valuable Player trophy if he loses his appeal over a positive test for a banned substance.

I’m willing to let the situation play out and give Braun the chance to prove his innocence. But if he fails to do so and is forced to sit out for 50 games, then he should also be forced to give back his MVP award. Unfortunately, it appears that the baseball writers who chose the MVP do not have a mechanism to revoke it when a player is found to have broken the rules.

But beyond that, there are some baseball experts who do not think Braun should have to return the award, even if the positive test stands. One argument I’ve heard many times today, and one that I find completely infuriating, is this notion that Braun should be allowed to keep the trophy regardless since we don’t know for sure that the other MVP candidates are clean players. It’s a ridiculous argument. First of all, it doesn’t matter what we know about the other guys, we know that Braun got caught and so he should be punished. Secondly, why should we find Matt Kemp, this year’s runner-up in the National League MVP, guilty by association? Until Kemp or any other player fails a test, they are entitled to the benefit of the doubt. I would have more respect for Braun if, after his appeal fails, he personally hands the award over to Kemp with an apology.

It’s not like there isn’t a precedent in sports for returning an individual trophy. Reggie Bush forfeited his Heisman Trophy award after it came to light that he received improper benefits while playing for the University of Southern California. I agree with that result and would argue that performance-enhancing drug abuse is just as devastating, if not more so, to the game of baseball and should be similarly punished.

Thanks to shgmom56 and UC international via Wikipedia for the Braun photo.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Braun positive test a black eye for baseball

Taking a break from Syracuse’s bashing of George Washington on the basketball court, I turned to ESPN for the start of the Heisman Trophy presentation. To my complete shock and distress, ESPN was reporting that Milwaukee Brewers’ outfielder Ryan Braun, the reigning National League Most Valuable Player, has tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. I couldn’t help but think two things: “are you freaking kidding me” and “here we go again.”

I'm kind of surprised to see one of baseball’s young stars getting caught up in the PED issue, having been trained on what to look out for and enduring years of PED testing in the minors. I fully expected to see some older veterans from the steroids era still trying to game the system, ala Manny Ramirez, who seems to be getting over yet again as his second suspension is reduced to 50 games. But Braun, who Bud Selig personally mentioned as a shining example of a clean player, testing positive is really a black eye for baseball.

Not that I thought baseball would ever completely get past the PED issue, which is very much a part of the sport’s legacy. I just thought that young guys like Braun, who came up under a very different system, would understand that using PEDs is not worth the risk. But in truth, there is no real downside, not when suspensions get reduced, not when players get to keep their $150 million contracts and MVP trophies (yes Braun should have the decency to give his back if he fails to prove his innocence), not when the only true punishment is that a group of writers down the line will not let you anywhere near the Baseball Hall of Fame.

I’d love to believe that Braun is completely innocent, but the cynic in me takes over when it comes to the issue of PED use in baseball. And truthfully, I worry that the possibility of Braun being cleared could mean that there is a major hole in the system and every single player that tests positive from now on will vigorously challenge the results.

Anyone who reads my blog knows that I’m a Braun fan, but when it comes to PEDs, that means nothing to me. I want to see PED users held accountable for their actions. I was not even willing to give Andy Pettitte of the New York Yankees, who I completely adored, a pass for that behavior. So Braun doesn’t get a pass either, unless he can somehow prove that the result was just flat-out wrong and he should be cleared of the PED accusations. But I seriously doubt that will happen. My beloved sport takes another ugly hit.

Thanks to the Dana Files for the Wikipedia photo.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Random baseball thoughts: winter meetings recap

The Miami Marlins and the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim apparently have more money than the federal government, which is creeping closer to a possible shutdown, just in time for the holidays. Whether the baseball teams are spending their dough more wisely than the feds remains an open question.

There has been some puzzlement about why the Marlins would bestow $27 million to Heath Bell and $106 million for oft-injured Jose Reyes. There are also questions about the 10-year contract for Albert Pujols (although the Angels could shift him to designated hitter when he starts to decline) and why they were willing to overpay for a #3 starter in CJ Wilson. Both teams clearly wanted to make a splash and they have. Only time will tell if things work out for them.

• By the way, I have absolutely no problem with Pujols leaving the St. Louis Cardinals for the Angels and neither should anyone else, including Cardinals fans. The Cardinals had plenty of chances to sign Pujols before the baseball season and during their exclusive negotiating period after the World Series. They seem to have made the same mistake that so many baseball pundits made, thinking Pujols would never leave the only baseball home he has ever known. But Pujols just was not feeling the love from the Cardinals, who took a cold-hearted negotiating stance with their superstar and future Hall of Fame player. And unlike Derek Jeter who was open about his desire to remain a lifetime member of the New York Yankees, Pujols was willing to walk away from the Cardinals. St. Louis fans should be grateful for the two World Series championships Pujols helped deliver and wish him well.

• Prince Fielder is obviously the next big domino to fall. I hope the speculation that the Cardinals will go after him is incorrect because that would be really insulting if they wouldn’t budge off their offer for their homegrown star and then offered Fielder the moon.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Wilson wistful for New York and Yankees

Watching CJ Wilson be interviewed last night by Jack Curry, I felt sorrier for a guy who just got a $77.5 million deal than I ever thought possible.

Wilson was so obviously disappointed that the New York Yankees weren’t interested in him (and reportedly declined his request for a visit to Yankee Stadium). He clearly wanted to play for the Yankees after living in the Lower East Side and would have welcomed the media spotlight, which would have found him due to what can nicely be described as his quirky (Jon Heyman called it flaky) personality. Wilson looked miserable during the interview, didn’t smile even once (unlike Jose Reyes, who was all smiles despite the fact that the Mets didn’t put up a fight to keep him).

“They just weren’t feeling it for whatever reason,” Wilson told Curry in this YES Network video. “They were a place I would have gone for sure because who wouldn’t want to be a Yankee.”

The Yankees weren’t interested because Wilson’s asking price was way too high. Yes, he landed a fantastic deal, but that was mostly because he was the best starting pitcher in a generally weak free-agent class. The Yankees viewed Wilson as no better than a third starter and weren’t willing to pay him as a #1 or #2 and I agree 100%. If Wilson really wanted New York, he had to lower his price a lot. Not that I blame him because it’s hard to walk away from that kind of money.

From a contractual perspective, Wilson rebounded from the Yankees’ disinterest quietly nicely. He landed a terrific five-year deal to play for his hometown Angels, turning down an even richer deal from the suddenly free-spending Miami Marlins. He’s going to be playing for an Angels team that has clearly decided to be aggressive in the fight for the hearts of Los Angelenos, unexpectedly winding up with the big prize of this year’s free-agent class, Albert Pujols.

But Wilson clearly didn’t end up where he wanted to be and I feel kind of bad for him about that.

Thanks to Red3biggs for the CJ Wilson photo.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Bobby V is the gift that keeps on giving

Well, that didn't take long.

Bobby Valentine wasted no time ratcheting up the Rivalry between his Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees. Not even a week after being introduced as the new Saux manager, he proclaimed his hatred for the Yankees and stated that he did not want to waste valuable time talking about them. Bobby V’s comments were a bit tongue-in-cheek. But they showed that he understands perfectly that part of his new job is to give the Yankees fits whenever humanly possible, a task at which I have no doubt Bobby V will be tremendously successful.

Joe Girardi didn’t take the bait. He talked about how managers are different and how only time will tell how things work out for Bobby V. Apparently, Girardi reserves his anger for members of the media after bad losses or probing questions about AJ Burnett. I’d like to see the Yankees manager show some of that fire against Bobby V, but it’s simply not Girardi’s style. It’s definitely Bobby V’s style.

In the grand scheme of things, Valentine’s words do not really mean much, just him playing his new role to perfection. But it promises some fun times to come. Just in time for the holidays, Bobby V is the gift that keeps on giving to the best Rivalry in baseball.

Thanks to the US Consulate General - Osaka for the Bobby V photo.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Yankees stuck with AJ Burnett

For me, the New York Post “exclusive” about the New York Yankees shopping AJ Burnett falls under the category “Duh!”

Of course, the Yankees are making Burnett available. Brian Cashman and Joe Girardi have been talking up Burnett’s good qualities such as his relatively good health and innings pitched and some solid postseason starts. They would never acknowledge it publicly, but I think they are just as tired of his inconsistency as Yankee fans are.

But Yankee fans should not get their hopes up about a possible trade. I think even Cashman would privately admit that trading Burnett is a pipe dream, even though the possibility of a trade has obviously been on his mind for quite some time.

The Yankees would have to offer a hell of a lot more than $8 million of the $33 million left on his contract to get some other team to take Burnett off their hands. Except for the Miami Marlins, this is the start of an age of austerity for many baseball teams, including the Yankees. No team is going to agree to take on the erratic Burnett and $25 million, even if they think they can do a better job of harnessing his talent than the Yankees have done.

But Burnett could prosper in a different, less-pressurized environment. Compared to New York, the glare of the spotlight would be a lot dimmer in any baseball town, other than Boston of course. In that context, a team could decide to take a risk on Burnett. But I highly doubt any team will. Unless the Marlins want to use some of their newfound wealth to bring Burnett home.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Mets fans in for some tough times

I feel really bad for my uncles and their fellow fans of the New York Mets. They are in for some tough times.

Just listen to the Mets’ plan now that they have lost shortstop Jose Reyes to the division rival Miami Marlins: Ruben Tejada will move to short to replace him while Daniel Murphy will likely receive the bulk of the playing time at second base. That’s a pretty weak infield even if the Mets keep David Wright at third base, which is no guarantee considering Sandy Alderson’s comments about the Mets losing $70 million. The Mets clearly have no plans to even look at a solid free-agent infielder, let alone someone who could bring some excitement back to Queens.

It seems like a self-fulfilling prophecy: the Mets gut their team because they want to reduce payroll due to diminishing gate returns, with Mets fans abandoning the team in droves because they rightfully don’t want to spend their limited dollars to watch a losing team. The Mets are going to struggle to sell tickets to any 2012 baseball games aside from Opening Day and the interleague series against the New York Yankees. Perhaps they get lucky and some fans turn out the first time Reyes’ returns so that they can say a proper goodbye, but a sizeable number of fans may resent Reyes for following the money all the way to Miami.

I’m not going to gloat to my uncles about the demise of the Mets. In truth, I like it more when the Mets field a competitive team. It makes those interfamily arguments about whose shortstop is better a lot more fun.

Monday, December 5, 2011

End of Jose Reyes era for Mets

The end of the Jose Reyes era in Queens has come, as the free-agent shortstop has reportedly decided to leave the New York Mets for the newly flush Miami Marlins.

The six-year, $100 million plus deal is almost complete, pending a physical, which perhaps means that a final deal is not a certainty given Reyes’ injury history. But if Reyes passes the medical examination, he will leave the only baseball home he has ever known to try to revitalize baseball in South Florida.

I can't say I blame the Mets for letting Reyes walk away, given their diminishing resources. There's no way I would have spent that kind of money on a player with his injury history. He had to sit twice in his walk year because of leg problems. There's no doubt those injuries will get worse as he ages and I’m sure that the Mets wanted no part of a long-term commitment to an aging, increasingly limited infielder (as the New York Yankees have to contend with in Alex Rodriguez for the next six years).

But I also understand why the Marlins signed him. When healthy, Reyes is one of the most dynamic players in baseball. He just won a batting title despite two stints on the disabled list (although his actions the last day of the season to ensure his victory were contemptible). Even if the Marlins stop at signing him and Heath Bell (the team is also reportedly pursuing Albert Pujols and Mark Buehrle), these two signings and a beautiful new ballpark with a retractable roof might be enough to get south Floridians excited about baseball again.

The upside for Derek Jeter and his fans: the Yankees captain no longer has to endure arguments that he isn’t the best shortstop in New York. So long and Godspeed Jose!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Reduced suspension for Ramirez unacceptable

The Associated Press is reporting that Major League Baseball and the players’ union are working on an agreement to reduce Manny Ramirez’s suspension for using performance-enhancing drugs from 100 games to 50 games. If that’s true, it’s completely unacceptable.

I don’t care that Ramirez sat out most of the 2011 baseball season. He chose to do that rather than serve the mandatory 100-game suspension for being caught using PEDs for the second time. He should not be rewarded for that cowardly act by having his suspension cut.

If MLB agrees to this, it makes a mockery out of their whole get-tough on PEDs stance, which was on shaky ground even after coming out with what many describe as a flawed agreement on blood testing for human growth hormone in the new labor contract. I gave MLB a lot of credit for going where none of the major US sports has gone before, but its drug efforts will take a serious hit if they allow Ramirez to avoid the full punishment he deserves.

I hope this is one of those situations where the leaked report causes so much outrage that MLB has no chose but to back down and refuse the request to shorten Manny’s suspension. If they do allow the reduced suspension, I never again want to hear Bud Selig talking about how clean his sport has become. It means absolutely nothing if you allow the penalties to be gutted.

Thanks to Googie man via en.Wikipedia for the photo.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Marlins spending dough from controversial new ballpark

The Miami Marlins are opening a brand-new ballpark in 2012, but they aren’t pocketing all the money that comes with the new baseball stadium. They are hoping to spend a huge chunk of that dough on some of the best free agents on the market, namely Albert Pujols and Jose Reyes. But a lot of people in Miami are upset about what they call the sweetheart deal that financed the new stadium. Now the feds are poking around, which could mean big trouble.

You have to admire the Marlins’ aggressiveness this offseason. They are trying to make a splash in the free agent market, paying (and possibly overpaying) Heath Bell to close games for what they hope will be the new and improved Marlins. But Bell isn’t their only, or even primary, target as the Marlins have already reportedly made offers to Pujols and Reyes.

Imagine Pujols and Reyes in a brand-new ballpark with a glittering view of downtown Miami. Everyone has assumed that Pujols will return to St. Louis because he has played there his entire career and they just won another World Series. It is probably the longest of long shots, but until he signs his name to a contract I don’t think you can take it for granted that he will return to the Midwest. Reyes might be a more attractive target because it won’t take nearly as much money or be as difficult to pry him away from the New York Mets.

I had the pleasure of having a private tour of the new ballpark when I was in Miami recently (more on that in a separate blog post). While I got a genuine thrill of seeing a ballpark being built from the ground up, I was informed by my tour leader that the stadium deal is quite controversial because the county will end up paying more than $2.4 billion over 40 years to pay for the new ballpark. As it turns out, the deal may have also been illegal because the US Securities & Exchange Commission is now sniffing around. It is unclear what the SEC is looking for, but if investigators uncover something shady, it could set baseball in Florida back for decades.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Emotional Bobby V ready for Red Sox challenge

You never have to wonder too much about what Bobby Valentine is thinking because he is often blunt (sometimes too blunt) with his words and thoughts. But I was surprised and heartened by how emotional he was about becoming the manager of the Boston Red Sox.

It clearly means a lot to Bobby V that he got this job. He admitted that he didn’t dare to dream that he could be the Red Sox manager because he would have been heartbroken if things didn’t work out for him. Yes, he actually used that word, to my surprise. As great as he was on ESPN, Bobby V obviously wanted to get back in the dugout where he belongs. But he didn’t just leave for any job. He desperately wanted Boston and was willing to take whatever abuse came his way to get that job. He didn’t object to only having a two-year contract, didn’t take issue with the fact that he wasn’t even on the general manager’s wish list. Bobby V just did what he does best, proved to the Boston hierarchy that he is a brilliant baseball man completely unafraid of the challenge that awaits him.

Of course, Bobby V also admitted that he has a lot of work to do, starting with just getting to know his new players. He casually and delightfully deflected a question about whether his ESPN analyst job will get him off to a bad start with his players by mocking his own criticisms of Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford. But he knows that he wasn’t hired to be the great communicator, but to be a great disciplinarian and to keep a talented Red Sox team from imploding again. It’s clear he relishes the opportunity, but I personally can’t wait to see the uproar that happens the first time Bobby V lets a player (or front-office official) know that it’s his way or the highway.

I also can’t wait to see what Bobby V says and does the first time his Boston team (and yes it will be his team, despite what Bobby V said yesterday) plays the New York Yankees. He wisely did not take any shots at the Yankees, but stated that his Red Sox would be able to match the Bronx Bombers. Can you imagine the hero status that will be awarded to Bobby V if his Red Sox reclaim the division from the Yankees? Of course, beating the Yankees doesn’t guarantee a lifetime pass. Just ask Terry Francona, who was cast aside despite overseeing a historic comeback against the Yankees in the 2004 American League Championship Series on his way to winning Boston's first World Series championship in 86 years.

Bobby V in Beantown sure is going to be a lot of fun to watch. I pledge to read the Boston newspapers every day if possible, just to keep up with the circus.

Thanks to the US federal government for the Bobby V photo.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Bernie should get respectable Hall support

Bernie Williams is one of the great New York Yankees of recent generations, but that is probably not good enough to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame. But he should get a respectable show of support.

Williams is among 13 first-timers on this year’s Hall ballot although he is generally considered a long shot for enshrinement in Cooperstown. Bernie has respectable numbers, with a .297 lifetime batting average, 287 home runs and 1,257 ribbies.

But Bernie will get some support from writers who respect his playoff excellence, with the Yankees centerfielder being a key member of four World Series championship teams. Plus, this year’s ballot is generally considered pretty weak, with Barry Larkin and Jack Morris the only returning candidates expected to get strong support, so that bodes well for a newcomer like Bernie who is clearly the most deserving first-time candidate.

What would be a respectable number for Bernie? Players must be listed on 75% of ballots to get into the Hall of Fame. I would say anywhere between 20%-30% would be a vote total to be proud of. Anywhere above that level would be an astounding show of support and could bode well for his chances of future election. I would personally consider anything below that threshold an insult, but unfortunately I think that might be the result because several writers who have votes have already publicly called Bernie a great Yankee, but not a Hall of Famer. Plus, Bernie’s idol and former Yankees Captain Don Mattingly has never received more than 28% support even though he was considered one of the greatest players of his generation until his Hall of Fame-bound career was derailed by injuries.

How much support do you think Bernie will get his first-time on the ballot?

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bobby V adds fuel to Yankees-Red Sox fire

Adding Bobby Valentine to the Rivalry between the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox is like adding kerosene to a bonfire. It’s going to create an awesome explosion.

Even though I hate the Red Sox, I think hiring Valentine to be their manager is a great move. Valentine is a brilliant baseball man who brings instant credibility to a team most recently known for a historic collapse and a lot of behind-the-scenes nonsense. Bobby V simply isn’t going to tolerate any foolishness, even from the star Red Sox players, who definitely need a kick in the ass. It’s a good thing John Lackey will miss the 2012 baseball season due to Tommy John surgery because he would find himself firmly in Valentine’s crosshairs.

Valentine is also not going to allow the Red Sox to be pushed around by the Yankees in any way, shape or form. When he was managing the Mets, Valentine took great pleasure at needling the Yankees at every opportunity. And that was only during six games a year in the regular season (and a wonderful World Series, of course). Now that he is managing the Yankees’ archrival and his team is playing them 18 times a year, I fully expect Valentine to take his disdain for the Yankees to the next level.

Spring training can’t get here fast enough.

Thanks to the US federal government for the Bobby V photo.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Happy Birthday Mariano Rivera!

Mariano Rivera is used to striking fear in the hearts of opposing batters, but he recently unintentionally struck fear in the hearts of New York Yankees fans.

First, Rivera unveiled that he will be having surgery soon, not on his Hall of Fame-bound right arm, but on his vocal cords. Normally this would not be much of a concern as Mariano prefers to let his pitching talk for him. But as Mariano noted, nothing is simple when it comes to surgery.

But the scarier comment came when Mariano left open the possibility of retiring after the 2012 baseball season. He didn’t commit one way or the other, but hanging up his pinstripes is clearly on Rivera’s mind, much to the terror of Yankees fans and the hopeful glee of opposing hitters all around baseball. As much as we hope that a David Robertson or a Joba Chamberlain can eventually step up to take over the closer’s job, we know in our hearts that Mo is simply irreplaceable.

In our heads, we know the day is coming when Mo will not be closing games for the Yankees. But in our hearts, we all want Mo to keep going until he is at least 50, which gives us another eight years of not having to worry about the 9th inning of baseball games as so many other teams do. It may sound completely unrealistic, except that Mo really hasn’t shown any signs of fading. He marched right up to the all-time saves record without breaking stride. Mo is too humble to care about numbers, but the now 42-year-old has achieved a record that will likely never be broken.

Happy Birthday, Mo!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Solid move by Yankees to re-sign Garcia

Get ready for more Freddy!

The New York Yankees made a solid move by re-signing Freddy Garcia, who more than earned his pay bump after helping to keep the Yankees rotation together in the 2011 regular season. Garcia should have been the #5 starter, but was forced into the #3 spot due to the injuries to Phil Hughes and the inconsistency of AJ Burnett.

Does re-signing Garcia solve the Yankees’ rotation shortage? Absolutely not. The Yankees and Brian Cashman are still looking for a starter to slot in behind CC Sabathia. They don’t seem terribly excited about available free agents such as CJ Wilson and Mark Buehrle, neither of who will come cheap, and don’t really want to spend ace-type money on either one of them. But this being the Yankees, I imagine one of those guys will be in pinstripes relatively soon.

Who else will end up in the Bronx? Stay tuned.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Jeter will be scapegoat for forced All-Star play

Call it the Derek Jeter rule: players voted to the All-Star team must participate in the game, unless they have a really good excuse.

Jeter was roundly, and I thought unfairly, criticized for his decision to skip this season’s All-Star game, including by an unnamed baseball official. Bud Selig did some major damage control at the time by claiming he was not angry that the captain of the New York Yankees decided to blow off the game. But I think Selig’s true feelings were revealed by the fact that baseball’s new labor contract mandates that players voted to the team must participate unless they are injured or otherwise excused. Get ready to see some interesting doctors’ notes and excuses.

I wonder how Jeter will feel about this change as he will be made the scapegoat for this rather restrictive rule, but we will probably never know. I thought Jeter was emotionally spent after his grueling climb to the 3,000 mark and had every right to take a few days off to mentally recharge for the second half of the year. Plus, Jeter may have been making a last-ditch effort to fix his fraying relationship with then-girlfriend Minka Kelly by spending the time with her on her turf (she was filming the now-cancelled Charlie’s Angels reboot in Miami). I can’t blame Jeter if he decided trying to salvage his long-term relationship was more important than playing in the All-Star game.

I don’t like the idea of forcing players to participate in the All-Star game. In a season of 162 games, half of which are played on the road, players should not be penalized for having a great season by being forced to participate in the game when they would rather spend their limited time off with their families. I don’t think players should have to justify that decision.

But in the grand scheme of things, being forced to play in the All-Star game is a small price to pay to keep the baseball peace.

Happy Thanksgiving folks!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Baseball keeps the labor peace

Major League Baseball gave its fans an early Christmas present: a new labor contract that will avoid the lockout problems seen in football and basketball.

Rather than subjecting their fans to public animosity and bickering, MLB learned from the mistakes made by the National Football League and National Basketball Association and came to what looks to be a very fair and quick agreement. It ensures that there will be no interruption (or threat of interruption) to the game of baseball at a time when baseball’s popularity is on the rise again.

It looks like Bud Selig is the big winner as he got almost everything he wanted, including the addition of two wild cards to the playoffs and draft and signing changes designed to rein in exorbitant spending. He got the players’ union to agree to institute testing for human growth hormone, even though the new agreement is being criticized for the lack of in-season random testing. Selig did have to finally give in on expanded replay, which he has resisted for years. But I think he will eventually come to terms with the fact that instant replay is best for the game of baseball. Overall, Selig now comes off as the wisest commissioner among the Big Three American sports, understanding that a contentious labor negotiation simply wouldn’t fly with so many people out of work and struggling to make ends meet.

The New York Yankees were portrayed as one of the losers in the new agreement because of new taxes to be imposed on teams that overpay for draft picks. But the Yankees and Brian Cashman are sensitive about criticisms that they pay their way into the playoffs every year and have begun trying to limit their payroll and expenditures. And anything that forces the Yankees to be more disciplined in their spending is probably a good thing for us fans who bear the brunt of excessive spending through higher ticket prices.

I’m proud to be a baseball fan today. My sympathies go out to my uncles and all the other basketball fans who continue to needlessly suffer.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Ryan Braun a deserving MVP winner

I believe Ryan Braun is a very deserving winner of the National League Most Valuable Player award. Not everyone agrees.

Those who think that Matt Kemp should have been the MVP point to his slightly superior statistics and the fact that Braun hit in the lineup ahead of the mighty Prince Fielder. But Braun’s numbers were pretty close and the fact that he played on the first Milwaukee Brewers’ team to win their division in almost 30 years and helped lead that same team to the best record in franchise history obviously had an impact on the baseball writers. The vote wasn’t even that close.

No question Kemp had a fantastic year and losing the MVP award doesn’t take anything away from that. He handled the loss pretty well, expressing what seemed to be genuine praise for Braun. Plus, Kemp has better things to worry about, like how he is going to spend all the money the Los Angeles Dodgers are now paying him to play baseball.

I have to admit that I was rooting for Braun over Kemp. While the individual statistics play a key role, I take the word valuable to heart and will always support the guy who is playing for a winning team versus a non-contender. Plus, I thought Braun handled the Jose Reyes controversy wonderfully, showing a lot of class by declining the opportunity to criticize Reyes for bowing out of the last game of the New York Mets season after one at-bat just so he could win the batting title.

As hard as I’ve been on the baseball writers recently, I think they got both MVP winners right (although Curtis Granderson’s fourth place finish in the vote stings a bit). Well done.

Thanks to the Dana Files for the Wikipedia photo.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Granderson's 4th place MVP finish disappointing

OK, I definitely understand why Justin Verlander won the American League Most Valuable Player award. What I don’t understand is the fourth place finish for Curtis Granderson.

The ace of the Detroit Tigers received almost half of the first-place votes, ensuring his victory in a tight competition. Of course, one writer took it upon himself or herself to ignore the rules and left Verlander off the MVP ballot completely, likely due to a mistaken personal belief that pitchers should never win MVP awards, even though they are eligible. Not a surprise at all.

What was a surprise was the relatively poor showing for Curtis Granderson of the New York Yankees. Granderson finished fourth while his teammate Robinson Cano finished in sixth place. I was rooting for Granderson and thought that if he didn’t win, he would finish second to Verlander. How on earth could he finish behind both Jacoby Ellsbury of the Boston Red Sox and Jose Bautista of the Toronto Blue Jays? The Red Sox collapsed in September and even if Ellsbury wasn’t directly responsible for that epic failure, he was a key member of a team that blew a substantial lead in the wild-card race. And I don’t care how many home runs Bautista hit. The Blue Jays finished 16 games behind the Yankees in the AL East division so why did he get so many votes?

The Yankees were the best team in the American League in the regular season. How their two best players could finish no higher than fourth in the MVP vote is mind boggling. Perhaps Cano siphoned off some votes from Granderson. There is no doubt that Cano is the best player on the Yankees. But Granderson carried the team at a time when everyone else, including Cano, was struggling.

If the award is really about the player that is most valuable to his team, then guys on teams that fail to make the postseason should not receive MVP votes. The definition of MVP is left up to the interpretation of the writers, unfortunately, but the word valuable seems pretty clear to me, which is why Granderson’s fourth-place showing is so disappointing. Perhaps it’s time to institute an explicit definition of MVP so that players are not at the mercy and whim of the writers.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Baseball making progress on PED abuse

Major League Baseball is making a valiant effort to ensure it never again suffers the ignominy of widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs. That effort will take a major step forward this week as baseball inches closer to signing a new labor contract with its players.

The reported deal, if finalized, will include blood testing for human growth hormone. Players caught using HGH will be subject to the same penalty that they currently face for using steroids. It’s a major victory for Bud Selig, whose legacy in the game has been tarnished by the use of PEDs by some of baseball’s biggest stars, including Alex Rodriguez.

As a fan of the New York Yankees, I welcome such progress. Players such as ARod, Roger Clemens and, sadly, Andy Pettitte have made the Yankees the poster team for PED abuse in baseball. In fact, now that Pettitte is retired, many of the news stories I’ve seen that mention his name revolve around his admitted HGH use. It’s a sad legacy for a player with a borderline Hall of Fame career, a history that will keep him out of Cooperstown.

Bravo to the players’ union for not putting up as much of a fight this time around. The union’s resistance to drug testing during previous contract negotiations is a major factor as to why PED use was allowed to wreck the game of baseball. The union seems to have wised up to this or perhaps the majority of the players, those who are clean at least, forced the union leadership’s hands on this issue.

Of course, there will always be players and their helpers trying to game the system so MLB will have to continue to stay on top of the latest research to ensure their testing is as up-to-date and accurate as possible. But I look at the pending HGH announcement as a positive step toward cleaning up the game of baseball and repairing the damage done to its image.

Thanks to Major League Baseball via Wikipedia for the photo.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Syracuse mess impossible to decipher

I am a graduate of Syracuse University so I’m closely following the allegations of molestation made against associate head coach Bernie Fine. But I don’t know what to make of them at this point.

Bobby Davis, a former ball boy for the Syracuse University men's basketball team, has accused Fine of molesting him for a period of 15 years, which Fine has vehemently denied. His claims are so far backed up only by a relative who also claims that Fine molested him. The Syracuse police have just started investigating so it will be some time before we get any answers.

Unlike in the Penn State University situation, we have no independent corroboration of the charges. We do not have an extensive grand-jury report that describes the accusations in graphic, stomach-turning detail. We do not have eight (and likely more) victims. We do not have an independent witness such as Mike McQueary to confirm the abuse. All we have is two men who are related (and we know families lie for each other all the time) against the word of a coach who may be completely innocent.

What is curious to me is the fierceness of the defense of Fine by head basketball coach Jim Boeheim, who has publicly called Davis a liar for claiming that Boeheim saw him in Fine’s room many times. The legendary basketball coach has also accused the two men of concocting the story for money in the wake of the Penn State scandal.

But Boeheim lost credibility with me when he defended Eric Devendorf after he was suspended for harassing a female student who accused the then-Syracuse shooting guard of hitting her. It’s clear that Boeheim is willing to go to the mat to protect someone in his inner circle. Does that mean that he’s lying? I don’t think he would lie about something as serious as child abuse, but he doesn’t get the benefit of the doubt either. And if it turns out that Boeheim did see that kid in Fine’s room, that means he is the liar and should suffer Joe Paterno’s fate.

To some extent, I do fault Syracuse University for failing to inform the police of its 2005 investigation of the claims made by Davis. Even if Davis told them he had already gone to the police, they should have informed the authorities of the investigation and their failure to corroborate his claims so that the police could take over if they chose or just record it in their case files. A university investigation does not carry the same weight as a law enforcement probe, with district attorneys that can put people under oath and compel them to testify truthfully.

The frustrating thing about this scandal, if you can call it that, is that we have to wait and see how it all plays out. It’s impossible to decipher this mess right now because we simply do not have enough information. If it turns out that Davis is telling the truth, then heads need to roll at Syracuse, as they did at Penn State.

Photo of Boeheim coaching a game.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Baseball gets it right on wild card changes

Bravo to Bud Selig and Major League Baseball for finally doing something right, and on the first try no less!

MLB will expand the postseason to add one wild card team to each league, having the two wild cards in the leagues square off against each other to see who can continue to play baseball in October. The one-game playoff is perfect because it ensures the excitement of a sudden-death game for the right to move on, but does not drag out the postseason any longer than necessary. I love the idea of recreating the excitement we saw on the last day of the 2011 season every year.

Of course, there will be some objectors, including players, even though they stand to benefit if their team has an extra chance to make and then advance in the playoffs. Players such as Mark Teixeira of the New York Yankees hate the proposal because they do not believe that they should have to face an inferior team in a do-or-die game. It’s a legitimate point, but the new format puts a greater emphasis on winning the division outright than has existed in recent years. If a team wins its division, it does not have to worry about suffering a too-quick exit from the playoffs during the wild-card round.

Plus, the extra wild card gives teams such as the Yankees that are often penalized for playing in the toughest division in baseball an extra shot at ensuring their good work over the full year does not go to waste, even if they come in one game behind the Boston Red Sox or Tampa Bay Rays. Of course, if the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays all make the playoffs because of the extra wild card, there will be quick calls for a rethinking of the new format.

But all in all, I think MLB got this one exactly right and I am looking forward to the playoff action next year.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Things starting to look up for the LA Dodgers

The fortunes of the Los Angeles Dodgers are finally starting to change for the better.

Frank McCourt mercifully realized his quest to hold on to the Dodgers was fruitless and agreed to sell the team, much to what I imagine was unbridled glee behind closed doors in the offices of Major League Baseball. It will take some time, but Bud Selig will be successful in his quest to rid baseball of McCourt once and for all and will hopefully find an owner that will not pilfer the team and will make a legitimate effort to reconnect with disillusioned Dodgers fans.

The Dodgers appear to be off to a good start in making their fan base happy with the reported mega-contract for superstar Matt Kemp. I have to admit to being very surprised at the timing considering Kemp is not a free agent and the Dodgers are still in bankruptcy. Perhaps McCourt wants to try to screw over the next owner by leaving an expensive, long-term deal that the next owner will be responsible for and McCourt does not have to answer for if it goes bad. But I don’t have a problem with the deal, especially when you consider that Kemp is only 27 years old and coming off a terrific season in which he almost got the Triple Crown of hitting in the National League with a .324 batting average, 39 home runs and 126 RBIs.

The good news for the Dodgers continues, with young ace Clayton Kershaw winning the National League Cy Young award by a substantial margin. Only 23 years old, Kershaw beat out Phillies pitching studs Roy Halladay and Cliff Lee. Kershaw beat the competition by achieving the Triple Crown of pitching, tying for the National League lead in wins with 21 and placing first with 248 strikeouts and a 2.28 ERA. The best news for the Dodgers is that he is only now becoming eligible for arbitration so they control his rights for three more years. But I would like to see one of the new owner’s first orders of business being to lock up the youngster to a long-term contract that both sides can be happy with.

It really does say something positive about the fortitude of both Kemp and Kershaw that they were able to have such fantastic years with all the drama hanging over the team’s head.

Of course there will be kinks along the way, but things appear to be looking up for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Thanks to SD Dirk for the Kemp photo and Craigfnp for the Kershaw photo via Wikipedia.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Will the Yankees ever get the real ARod back?

Either Brian Cashman is a terrific liar or he really does believe that the New York Yankees will get the real Alex Rodriguez back next year. I’m not so sure.

Cashman blamed ARod’s long stint on the disabled list for a frustratingly inept postseason performance and wondered if the Yankees would have been better off starting Eric Chavez at third base. But he expressed confidence that ARod can retake his place as one of the game’s best hitters if he stays healthy. “If he stays healthy” is a big question mark.

ARod also believes the real ARod will show up again in 2012, but he’s delusional on some many different issues that it’s hard to take him seriously, such as him counting himself and the re-signing of CC Sabathia as the Yankees’ two big moves this offseason. Apparently, ARod still sees himself as one of the premier players in baseball, all evidence to the contrary. Age and injuries seem to have caught up with ARod pretty quickly, although they likely had a lot of help due to his long-term steroids abuse.

I can’t blame Cashman for hoping for the best out of ARod. Through no fault of his own, Cashman cannot run his baseball team the way he wants to because of ARod’s ridiculous contract. Don’t you think Cashman would be more aggressive in pursuing one or two of the top starters on the free-agent market if he didn’t have to pay ARod $30 million a year? The general manager has to hope ARod will regain his previous form and provide enough offense that the Yankees’ stacked lineup overshadows the lack of depth in their starting rotation.

I’ll be beyond thrilled if ARod proves me wrong and becomes a solid version of the player he used to be. But I won’t hold my breath.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Verlander shocks world by taking AL Cy Young

Just kidding! The only thing that would have been shocking about the news that Justin Verlander is the 2011 American League Cy Young award winner is if the vote had not been unanimous.

Verlander’s victory in the Cy Young balloting was never in doubt in a year where some baseball observers believe he also deserves the Most Valuable Player Award. There was no way to argue with his numbers as Verlander won the Triple Crown of pitching: 24 wins, a 2.40 ERA and 250 strikeouts.

The only reason I thought Verlander might not be a unanimous Cy Young selection is that I have no faith in the writers’ ability to follow the rules. I thought that there was a slight chance that at least one writer would think the vote should not be unanimous or perhaps would be trying to get attention for himself or herself by voting for another pitcher. But I think any writer inclined to vote against Verlander wisely decided not to invite that kind of vitriol.

I knew Verlander had the respect of people throughout baseball when he walked out of the bullpen to start Game 1 of the American League division series against the New York Yankees. I was sitting in the bleachers behind the visiting bullpen and greeted him with my typical “You suck, Verlander" chant as he walked toward the dugout. The guy sitting next to me looked over and whispered: “Don’t make Verlander mad.” That tells you exactly what kind of year Verlander had that there were even Yankee fans afraid to set him off.

We’ll find out next week if Verlander will have a MVP trophy to match his Cy Young award. Although I’m all for pitchers winning MVP awards if their numbers merit it, I’m putting my money on Curtis Granderson. No bias there of course!

Thanks to leadfoot via Wikipedia for the Verlander photo.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Nova's year a breakout despite ROY loss

Ivan Nova didn’t win a Rookie of the Year award today, but that loss in no way diminishes his outstanding 2011 campaign.

I’m surprised at Nova’s fourth-place finish in the ROY balloting, with only one first-place vote and 30 points overall, well behind the winner: Tampa Bay Rays pitcher Jeremy Hellickson (congrats, kid!). I thought Nova would get a lot more support and perhaps become the first member of the New York Yankees to win the ROY since Derek Jeter in 1996 (yes, it has been 15 years since the skinny kid from Kalamazoo took New York by storm).

Nova went 16-4 with a 3.70 ERA for a Yankees team that finished with the best regular season record in the American League. He stepped right up to fill a major void to become the Yankees #2 starter behind CC Sabathia after AJ Burnett struggled mightily again and Phil Hughes lost a step because of injuries. I would have liked to have seen Nova rewarded for that.

But in the grand scheme of things, Nova losing the ROY doesn’t really matter. The Yankees will be counting on him to prove that 2011 wasn’t a fluke and that he deserves to be a mainstay in the Yankees rotation for years to come.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Brad Pitt's Moneyball is a solid hit

Now that there is no baseball to be seen on television, unless you like to watch Yankees classics or the MLB Network (which I’m still boycotting), I highly recommend heading to a movie theatre to see Moneyball.

In truth, Moneyball isn’t really a baseball movie even though it revolves around the national pastime. It’s really about one man Billy Beane and his quest to change the way things are done. The same battle could be seen in any other sport or industry because people are naturally resistant to change. Beane’s new way of evaluating players hasn’t brought him the ultimate success, a World Series championship. But it did change the game for other baseball teams who had greater resources than him, namely the Boston Red Sox, who he famously spurned a few years before they finally overcame the Curse of the Bambino.

But back to the movie. I won’t use the old baseball cliché and say they hit it out of the park, but it was a terrific film filled with humor and great performances, namely from, yes, Brad Pitt, who really made you believe that he was Billy Beane. I had a couple of favorite scenes, one of which was of Beane and then Oakland A’s coach (and future Texas Rangers manager) Ron Washington trying to convince Scott Hatteberg to switch positions to play for the A’s. I also loved the scene with Beane at the trading deadline trying to manipulate and cajole other general managers so that he can get the player he wants. It was fun trying to picture Brian Cashman of the New York Yankees doing the exact same thing.

One of my rules for movies that are based on true stories is they have to make me want to learn more about the story afterwards for me to really consider it a good movie. Moneyball did just that. For example, I hadn’t known much about Beane’s struggles to reach the big leagues as a player or the tension that existed between him and manager Art Howe. In what Howe says was an unfair portrayal, the movie depicts him as an immovable obstacle to Beane’s grand plan, refusing to play the players that the numbers game led Beane to sign.

I doubt we’ll ever know whether Beane or Howe was right. Moneyball focuses on the regular season success that the A’s achieved under Beane’s blueprint. But for all the brilliance of Beane’s plan, the ultimate prize continues to elude him.

Thanks to Brett Farmiloe for the Billy Beane photo.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Papelbon flees sinking Red Sox ship

So the player bleeding begins for the Boston Red Sox, with closer Jonathan Papelbon fleeing the sinking ship.

In truth, Papelbon might have been gone even if the Red Sox hadn’t completely collapsed in September, gotten rid of manager Terry Francona and been embarrassed by revelations of beer drinking in the clubhouse. But the speed with which the closer, who had many good years with the Red Sox, fled Beantown was pretty surprising.

The Philadelphia Phillies were aggressive with a great contract offer and Papelbon jumped at it. He didn’t even give the Red Sox a chance to match it, probably because he was tired of the clubhouse chaos, the incessant media bashing and the unyielding expectations of Red Sox Nation. Or perhaps he saw this September as the beginning of the end for the Saux and believed signing with Philadelphia would be his best chance to pursue another World Series championship.

Whatever his reasons, Papelbon’s departure is a positive for the New York Yankees, who often find themselves engaged in tight, epic contests with their archrivals. Yankee fans will miss heckling him-I still call him Papelbum by default. He had his struggles against the Yankees, but he closed some key games against them too, which is why CC Sabathia felt pretty comfortable expressing what must be felt all over the Yankees organization today: that they are happy to see Papelbon depart for the National League.

The Red Sox have to figure out what’s next. I believe Papelbon will be only the first player out the door in Boston, although he may be the only one Red Sox officials eventually regret losing. I think Jason Varitek is done in Boston, but I’m surprised that the Saux are even open to re-signing David Ortiz. I thought they would take the epic collapse as a sign they need to clean house. But as Papelbon showed, it’s not only their decision as we may see others abandon the sinking ship.

Thanks to Keith Allison via Wikipedia for the Papelbon photo.