Saturday, December 08, 2007

Inge as in Fringe

Sometimes a story comes out that simply boggles your world. Today, it was reported that Brandon Inge wants to be traded so he can play every day. His statements come in response to the recent trade that brought Miguel Cabrera to Detroit. Looking at the facts here makes the Fan want to scream to the player: "Do you have any clue?"

Inge has started for the Tigers for four straight years. In those four years, his on-base percentage and his batting average have declined each and every year. This past year, in 500 at bats, he posted a .236 batting average and an on-base percentage of .312. Gee, if I got benched for that kind of production, my feelings would be hurt too. Consider that in Inge's latest banner year, he struck out 150 times compared to his 120 base hits. Can you say "rally killer?"

If you are a MLB player and have a lifetime batting average of .241 and .304 on-base average and were making a shade under $5 million a year, wouldn't it just be gravy to still have a job? Better yet, wouldn't it be okay considering those circumstances to have a job and work for a team that (on paper) has what it takes to get to the post season? Yes, I agree.

Inge rhymes with, "fringe" and Inge would have been better served had he kept his mouth shut, hung on for a few more years and called it a huge bonus just to have bamboozled his managers he was worth keeping around for this long.

Friday, December 07, 2007

While the baseball world waits for the Mitchell report, news in the last couple of days keeps the the steroid and HGH issue front and center. Jay Gibbons and Jose Guillen received the equivalent of a wrist slap while Barry Bonds had his first day in court and pleaded not guilty to perjury and obstruction of justice charges.

I started this site years ago and write from the standpoint of a fan of the game. I also know that we've been here before. The cocaine years of the 1970s tripped up many players and particularly hit the Pittsburgh Pirates hard. As a fan, many of the professional writers want me to be morally outraged that players would "tarnish" the game in such a way. As much as I've tried to work up myself into a lather, I have to admit in the end that I just don't care.

If anything, the whole business saddens me. Anyone who truly loves the game has to be saddened that records and players have come under suspicion. We can't watch a strong performance or see any record broken without thinking about if the moment will be suspect down the line or will we find out if the player had an "artificial advantage."

I have to admit that I just want to enjoy the game. I want to see the highlights and read the box scores. I want to see which rookie will surprise everyone and what player will have a career year. I want to see comeback stories and long shot career minor leaguers finally getting to play in the bigs. The reality is that I don't want to have my cozy little obsession clouded up with bad news and controversy.

And truth be told, I am not overly impressed with the "problem." I certainly understand steroids are dangerous to those that ingest or are shot up with them. The murder/suicide perpetuated by that pro wrestler a while back showed us all the destructive power of steroids. The side effects do not seem worth the short term gains. But let's say that as many as 50% of MLB players were using during the height of the period. And let's add that half of those would be pitchers. That gives any batter a one in four chance of facing such a pitcher and any pitcher facing such a batter. Did it really make that much of a difference?

Sure, we've all been shown how runs and homers increased in the last twenty years. We've also seen more players reach 500 homers in the last 20 years that for decades before this combined. Can we really say with any certainty that drugs were the only factor? How about the baseball, lower pitching mounds and the general decrease in pitching talent over the years or the greater number of teams causing the same amount of talent to be spread more thinly across the leagues? There is no way to quantify the use of drugs as the only culprit in the statistical anomaly.

Without an effective measure and without all other things being equal, records should stand and all talk of asterisks banished from the grandstands. There were some suspicious developments over the years:

- Brady Anderson's fifty homer season.
- The sudden emergence of Luis Gonzalez at Arizona.
- The long careers and sudden fitness of pitchers like Clemens, Schilling and Johnson.

I'm not making any judgment calls on those items above, but can anyone ever know for sure anymore? That's what this mess has done to the average fan. For me, it still comes down to a pitcher having to throw the ball on a certain plane, sixty feet, six inches away and a batter still has to decide in seconds whether to swing and then once committed, hit the darn round thing on a sold part of a round bat barrel. Drugs aren't going to aid you in those things.

While no one would disagree that steroids are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs, Human Growth Hormone (HGH) was widely prescribed by physicians to aid in the healing process. Not outlawed in MLB until 2005, players would go down with a serious injury and take HGH to help speed the healing process. To me, that is very similar than shots many athletes get to relief stress on joints when they deteriorate and ache.

The commissioner has set a precedent with fifteen-day suspensions on Guillen and Gibbons. That sounds more reasonable than fifty days. But is he punishing those players for using a substance that was legal when they were taking it? Is that the correct thing to do?

The only logical stance, both now and after the Mitchell Report is released is to grant unconditional amnesty for anything prior to 2006 when this issue got to be as big a deal as it is now. Develop tests and policies that ban everything (including those shots!) from here on in and deal harshly anyone caught going forward. Anything more than this plan reeks of unfairness.

And if you are going to go through with punishing players who get caught, then shouldn't the teams and their trainers and physicians be under scrutiny as well?

The Fan just wants it all to go away. Perhaps there will be so many players on Mitchell's list, we will collectively yawn and put the subject away for a while. I totally understand that will depend on the frenzy created post-report by the writers and those politicians looking for a good cause to flex muscles. Let's hope that both of those groups will recognize that we don't care anymore and just want it to all end.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Tony LaRussa's statements concerning Scott Rolen completely went outside the line. LaRussa tries to make nice and state that he wants Rolen to be a star player again and the Cardinals need him. If you take those as sound bites, it sounds all nice and encouraging. Until you read the rest of his statements.

How would you as an employee feel if your boss said (not to you, but to the media reporting about your workplace), "If he works hard, and as well as he can, he can keep working. If he doesn't, he's not working for me." Obviously, you wouldn't take it very well.

To his credit, Rolen's response was, "These are matters I never discuss publicly and are matters that should have remained private." You think? LaRussa is using bully tactics here and it doesn't come across as very pretty.

Rolen is a true warrior of the sport. Of course he was angry when LaRussa pulled him from the lineup in the 2006 playoffs. As many managers and coaches have said before, Rolen wouldn't be worth very much if he wasn't upset at not playing. What LaRussa did in that series was his call as manager and no one can dispute that fact, not even Rolen. But why would other managers and coaches do that all the time and not create two year rifts like LaRussa has. The only answer is the kind of man LaRussa is.

The kind of statement LaRussa made today was uncalled for and totally unprofessional. He had to know that his words would not help the situation and one can only assume that they were meant to add salt into the already festering situation.

Being in management, I know that personality clashes happen from time to time. I also know that if I have a strained relationship with someone on my team, I do not add to the woes by calling that employee out in public. I work behind the scenes and in private to mend the relationship. Most of the time that's possible. Rarely it isn't. But even when it isn't, I still don't call that person out in public. It's just not the right thing to do.

LaRussa should have kept his mouth shut. His statements point to him as the lower person in this particular situation. Let's hope that Rolen does get traded and away from what is a bad situation. He deserves better.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Executives from Major League Baseball meet in Nashville this week and experts are predicting some noise will come out of that Tennessee city. Rumors are rife and we'll all find out together what the outcomes will be.

It does seem fairly realistic that the Twins' great pitcher, Santana, will be traded this week. It also seems that Scott Rolen will escape Tony LaRussa some time this week as well. Since Santana is the bigger news, let's start there.

The logic of a trade from a salary dump seems twisted in favor of the cheap. We always hear that small market teams can't hold on to their stars for long because they can't pay like Boston or New York. That argument might have held true a decade ago, but rings hollow in the era of the taxes the "rich" teams contribute for their high payrolls.

Bud Selig (who the Fan still hasn't seen the same time as Bill Gates. They are the same guy!) touts the system as an equalizer. Some parity gains seem apparent, but overall, the cheap teams like the Twins and the A's seem to be the winners and the Yankees, Red Sox and Angels are the dupes.

According to published reports, the Yankees will pay Selig's office a combined $85 million. $25 million of that comes from the "luxury" tax and the rest is revenue sharing. How does it seem to be a fair deal that those three teams get to pay all the other teams a portion of their income and yet, the cheap teams still dump their best players.

The Twins rate 29th among teams in value, which means that they are receiving a hefty chunk of that revenue sharing money. If Selig's plan worked to perfection here, the Twins should receive enough from baseball to sign the world's best pitcher.

In effect, whether Santana goes to the Yankees, the Red Sox or Seattle, they will lose their best prospects, lose another big chunk of pay to the brilliant pitcher and thus add to their tax bill.

The system is skewed in the Twins' favor and if I were those three "rich" teams, I wouldn't be further subsidizing the cheap teams by losing good young prospects to pay for some other cheapskate's star.