Wednesday, November 28, 2012

One Fan's Hall of Fame Ballot

The BBWAA released the official ballot for the 2013 Hall of Fame today and by now you have all seen it and have read a dozen or more responses. This is your lucky day because you have now stumbled on one more opinion. And no, your host here does not have the privilege of actually casting a ballot. But, yes, there are strong opinions here on what should be the outcome and what we all know will be the outcome.

The moral majority of baseball writers have undoubtedly voted in a PED user into the HOF already. They have also voted for a pitcher who admitted for years that he threw an illegal pitch because it gave him an edge and even wrote a book about it.

Is there a wish here that the steroid era had never happened? Yes. It is a permanent stain that cannot be cleansed. But it happened. And there were a majority of players that used. Even today, there are people getting away with methods that might be spurious to give themselves an edge. The truth is that if Tris Speaker or Ty Cobb could have done something to get an edge, at least one of them would have done so if they thought they had a reasonable chance of getting away with it.

And so the solution for this block of writers is to make a sham of the Hall of Fame by keeping most of the best players of a generation out of Cooperstown. And until they die off of old age (hopefully in the most peaceful of all ways), we are stuck with these annual Mother Superiors putting Barry and Mark in the corner with dunce caps.

This writer will never give in either. There is a stubbornness on this side just as strong as there is on the other side. The trouble is that the other side holds all the marbles. The pen used to be mightier than the sword. But the keyboard? Maybe not.

Okay, enough with the verbal gymnastics. Get to the ballot already, right? Okay, okay. So let's get this done. The real voters get ten slots, right? So here is one through ten:

  1. Barry Bonds - The best player of his generation
  2. Roger Clemens - The best pitcher of his generation (yes, Pedro had a better peak)
  3. Tim Raines - The second best lead off guy of his generation
  4. Mike Piazza - The best offensive catcher ever.
  5. Jeff Bagwell - A no brain pick
  6. Craig Biggio - The on-base machine
  7. Mark McGwire - Not just a one trick pony.
  8. Larry Walker - Wrote about his case last season.
  9. Rafael Palmeiro - The numbers are there, man.
  10. Sammy Sosa - Can't stand the guy, but he has a case.

Just missed:

Stars could have aligned to make Brian Wilson a Yankee

After the Yankees learned that Soriano had opted out of his contract. And if Mariano Rivera had decided not to return for another season, the Yankees might have felt insecure about the back end of their bullpen. And if Brian Wilson was non-tendered by the Giants as has been speculated, the stars might have aligned to bring Brian Wilson to New York. Can you imagine?

What makes thinking about such a scenario so delicious is that the Yankees have a strict appearance code. Consider poor Darnell McDonald who the Yankees picked up after he was waived by the Red Sox. The dread-locked, bearded McDonald had to remove all of those dreads and the beard to join the Yankees. For his efforts, he received four plate appearances and appeared in four total games before disappearing into oblivion.

Now imagine Brian Wilson getting his best offer to pitch for the Yankees. The first thing he would have to do is shave that thing on his face. And he would once again look like this guy:

What would be the benefit to Wilson if such a scenario had happened?
  • His reputation might once again have to be built know...his pitching instead of his "costume." 
  • He would save a ton of money on black hair dye.
  • Half of baseball fans in the world would stop thinking of him as some kind of clown.
  • He would no longer make watercolor paintings after eating tomato soup.
  • Thousands would cheer and it would be an attention-seeker's bonanza to have a public ceremony in cutting that thing.
  • A half a dozen parody Twitter accounts would be lost and wouldn't know what to do with themselves.

Now sure, the beard has become a bit of a crutch for Mr. Wilson and it might be a bit tough to adjust to life without it. And he might not be willing to do it. Daniel Rathman, baseball writer and Twitter bud, said, "I honestly think he would refuse to sign with the Yankees purely because of that."

Maybe so. But what a spectacle it could have been. The danger of writing this piece, of course, is that some Giants fans might be offended. And apologies if that is so. But, to be sure, a couple of World Series titles in the last three seasons should take some of that edge off.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

We hated Marvin Miller

Marvin Miller died this week thirty years after he stepped down as the leader of the baseball players' union. The news is more than several hours old and many have already written of Marvin Miller's contributions to the game that we see today. For most of you readers here, these articles all over the Web are history lessons. But some of us lived through those days. And when Marvin Miller began appearing in the sports pages every day, we hated the man. We truly hated him.

We did not understand, of course. Like most great leaders of any generation, these leaders shake up the status quo and right wrongs despite obstacles. But back then, all we knew was that this man...this one man was the reason that our cherished game was interrupted on three occasions during his tenure.

For a game that is rooted in tradition and for the constant flowing and rhythm of the seasons, the sharp break in those rhythms were jarring. In 1972, the season suddenly stopped for thirteen days. And then in 1976, Spring Training was interrupted and the season threatened. Things kept getting worse. In 1981, the season stopped for seven weeks. The result was a sham of a post season with cockamamie rules determining the playoff structure. What was happening to our game!?

And of course, most of us believed that Marvin Miller was the villain. Baseball was sacrosanct and the team owners wouldn't lie to us. Fans are not unlike all other people that want to believe the best of those in power. Heck, even the Supreme Court ruled against Curt Flood. The Supreme Court doesn't mess things up. They were the ultimate in logic and the bastion of the American way of life.

And Marvin Miller came to the players' union via the steelworkers' union. We did not trust those guys. Wasn't the big unions run by the mafia? Why would those steelworkers complain about making three times more than our dads were making? These were the pictures we were painted and most of us bought it.

The game had always been what it had always been. Youngsters break into the game. Some become stars. The elite became superstars. Other than the year that Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax held out for more money, no one thought about the condition of the players. The game had stood the test of time just as it was. If it wasn't broke, why did it have to be fixed?

Those players were getting paid to play a kids' game. Shouldn't they be satisfied with that? We would give a kidney to be in their shoes.

We knew that the superstars made good money. It was a big deal when Mickey Mantle made $100,000. But what about those that weren't superstars? When Dick Schofield was interviewed here last week it was noted that he played nineteen years in the big leagues. All of his years combined would not equal in pay what the least paid player in baseball makes now in one season. Schofield did better in the last few years of his career after Miller's influence started to be felt. But even so, a minimum salaried player today makes as much as Schofield did in his best paid season in just three and a half weeks.

But it wasn't just the lack of revenue sharing the owners allowed the players. It was a lack of any participation in their own destiny. The reserve clause upheld by the Supreme Court in the Flood case meant that the owners owned their players. They controlled them so completely that a player had no option but to accept his fate. Most workers of the twentieth century at least had at will work rules where we could quit to go work for somebody else. The players couldn't do that.

And when Marvin Miller started to win for his players, oh, gosh, the anguish that was felt around fans of baseball. Rich teams would get the best players and the small markets would get screwed. The game was going to go to hell in a hand basket.

Except it did not turn out that way. Well, some of you might want to believe that the system is unfair to the small market teams if you want. But there have always been rich teams and they always got the best talent. They signed the best high school kids. There has always been a caste system when it comes to baseball teams. Do you honestly think the Yankees won all those championships from 1950 to 1961 because they had good managers? No. They had the best players.

History has shown us that the process Marvin Miller started has not killed the game. Instead, the game is richer now than ever and everyone is making buckets of money. Miller's efforts gave the players options. He had to compromise and let those options wait for six years before they could be made manifest, but after that, the player could make the best deal going forward.

And those best deals have led to a thriving off season of interest that continues to build excitement for fans every season to see what happens.

Marvin Miller deserves every accolade that history has taught us about his contributions to the game. He deserves every anguished article that he fell one vote short of induction into the Hall of Fame. But history teaches this all to us in hindsight. But during those years, perhaps only Richard Nixon had a worse image. We hated the guy and we did so with a passion. He was the scapegoat for the shocking dams in the great river of baseball. It is at least fitting that he lived long enough for most of us to change our minds.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Semi-annual post on BJ Upton, the head scratcher

There seems to have been two concurrent and recurrent posts heading into the tenth season of writing this blog. The first was already avoided when Big Papi signed early with the Red Sox. That made this year's "Should the Red Sox sign him," post unnecessary. The second is a yearly or every other year pondering of B.J. Upton. Perhaps, after the year that his brother, Justin, put up last year for the Diamondbacks, he will become the third one. But let's worry about that later. First, let's ponder Melvin Emanuel Upton, the free agent.

Upton has played for eight years already for the Tampa Bay Devil and not devil Rays. And he is heading into his year 28 season. He was the second pick of the first round of the 2002 draft behind only the Pirates and Bullington. In nearly a thousand plate appearances in A ball, Double-A and Triple-A in 2003 and 2004, he tore up his leagues and was Baseball America's #2 prospect in 2004.

Upton got a cup of coffee with the Rays as a nineteen year old kid in 2004 and held his own. But he was still too raw so he played all of 2005 and most of 2006 in the minors and got another taste of big league life in 2006. That time, he struggled.

Even so, the Rays were ready for him in 2007. He was still an infielder then, or so the Rays hoped. He played 48 games as the Rays second baseman in 2007. But the move was already begun to move him to the outfield and 78 games were played out there.

And in 2007, it seemed a new superstar had emerged. He finished that season with an .894 OPS and a .386 wOBA. His .393 BABIP in 2007 should have warned us, but we didn't think as strongly about such things back then. All most of us unlearned writers knew was that he hit 24 homers and stole 22 bases and looked like a star.

He still looks like a star. But he hasn't really lived up to 2007 ever since. His OPS fell 110 points in 2008. It fell another 98 points in 2009. His power evaporated and he became a speed player who struck out too much. The last three years have leveled off somewhat for Upton. He has settled into the .750 range in OPS the last three seasons and his wOBA in the .320 to .330 range. His fielding and his base running were valuable. But he never did become that superstar.

Is that possibility still in there for Upton? Geez, every time you look at the guy, you just have to think so. Some players simply look more physically gifted than others. We notice that stuff as far back as grade school. The tools all seem there...the speed, the power in the bat...the glove.

But now he is a free agent and teams have to take a gamble on what he could be because his price tag will be higher than what he has been thus far. He'll be slightly cheaper than Bourn. But will he be the better buy of the two?

And you know what? For like the sixth time in the history of this blog, the answer is yes. Take Upton's 81 games out of the cavern in St. Pete and put them in Philadelphia or in Atlanta and you might have an entirely different player. Saying that, his career splits are nearly identical at home and on on the road. Hmm...

There are other annoying little tidbits. Upton had a .438 OPS last season against power pitchers. .438. Let that sink in a second. You can kill Upton late in the game with a power arm out of the bullpen. His OPS in the seventh inning in 2012 was a minuscule .377 and was only .554 in the eighth inning. In both of those innings, he struck out more than thirty percent of the time.

And though Upton's homer total rose to a respectable 28 in 2012, his plate discipline disappeared. For his career, Upton has only swung at 23.7% of pitches out of the strike zone. In 2012, that rose to 30.7%. And that is the conservative PitchF/X stats. Fangraphs has him at 32.7%. His swinging strike percentage of 14.9% was easily the highest of his career after averaging 10.9% for his career.

And both major stat sites have shown his defense to have deteriorated some this past season. has never rated him as high defensively as Fangraphs has. But in this case, after watching so many of his games, Fangraphs seems more correct there. The guy can power glide with the best of them.

There is another troubling stat. Upton struggles against power pitchers, but he is the most successful against the fastball. He does not have a positive value against any other pitch a pitcher throws him. It would be interesting to see statistics on what power pitchers threw him. Was he sitting dead red and flailed away at their off speed stuff?

So yeah. Here we are again with BJ Upton. Once again, there is a lot of head scratching wondering if he will ever become the player we all thought he would be. Or is his game forever doomed to be flawed as pitchers exploit his weaknesses with him unable to adjust? This time, a team will have to shell out a lot of dough to find out.