Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!

Dr. Uetz

It's time for Wrigley Field to go. Throw things at me, if you must. But I am so sick and tired of hearing Cubs fans talk about the "friendly confines." How friendly are they? April 20, 2006, will be the 90th anniversary of the Cubs' first game at Wrigley. How many World Series championships do they have in that span? Oh yeah, right, NONE! ZERO! NADA!

Cubs fans like to gloat about their home. When was the last time you were there? They're giving out free hard hats now and pregnant women aren't allowed for fear that their unborn children will be physically hurt (never mind the mental damage they will suffer should they grow up as Cubs fans).

One of my brothers is a Cubs fan. He likes to give me all sorts of hell because Shea Stadium is a beast, a dump, nothing too pretty to look at. Fine. But you see those two World Series Championship flags flying out there? Yeah, those both happened within the last 40 years, both since Shea opened in April 1964. Thanks for the architectural advice, pal, I'll take the rings. Plus, let's face it, a beautiful ballpark may seem a bit out of place in Queens.

But the fact is that there is no reason for the Cubs management to worry about fielding a good team. As long as they play in Wrigley, they know that the seats will be full, along with their pockets. So if you want a winning team, Cubs fans, you should demand they tear down that dump with the ivy walls. Otherwise all you have is below average club in an historic ballpark. Yeah. Enjoy that. Sounds real fun.

Impossible is nothing

Ben Godar

Forget this steroid witch-hunt – the biggest threat to the integrity of The Game is still the payroll gap. For years, most baseball writers have acted like it’s not there. Now, some of them actually want to convince us that it’s gone.

It ain’t.

Robert Falkoff guesses that simply because there hasn’t been a repeat champion since 2000, competitive balance is restored. Sure, the last five years haven’t been a repeat of the five previous, when the New York Yankees won four World Series, two Super Bowls and a Stanley Cup. But the gaping hole in Falkoff’s argument opens when even he acknowledges it is still "unrealistic for teams in the lower third of the salary scale to think about hoisting a trophy."

If ANY team starts the season with no realistic hope of winning because of their payroll, the system is flawed – no matter the success of the Marlins or Astros.

A recent feature article in Baseball Weekly went down a similar road, assembling a hypothetical roster of studs for the league’s average salary. It was a fun little exercise, but it has less to do with reality than The Bachelor in Paris. Even with psychic powers to predict player development, no GM could assemble this All-Discount Team. Most of the true values are players too young for free agency and too good for arbitration to catch up. These players, think Victor Martinez or Carlos Zambrano, are exactly the gems that teams who really work within a budget are nearly powerless to keep from cashing out.

What both articles and a growing number of fans ignore is that just because it is hypothetically possible for a lower payroll team to contend doesn’t mean there is parity. Sure, a great GM can do more with less, and George Steinbrenner can certainly do less with more. But unequal resources mean the winner is determined by more than just what happens on the field.

A much more relevant Baseball Weekly article assembled the best team for each franchise made up of current Major Leaguers who came through their system. A few surprising teams, like Hypothetical Kansas City, looked tougher than several real-life contenders. You can chalk a few of the departed up to mismanagement, but the real story is utter lack of cash.

There’s some evidence that the luxury tax is starting to put a drag on the Yankees, but baseball needs more than a slap on the wrist. Until the league enforces a salary cap and a salary minimum, the hopes of a Championship in most small market towns is just a hypothetical fantasy.

Monday, January 30, 2006

A pile of crap by any other name...

Ed McElvain

So, you’re the new owner of a baseball team with a dismal, albeit short history. In their eight years of existence, they’ve never had a winning record and have finished out of last place only once. To make matters worse, the rest of your division is adding payroll and improving their rosters. And you? Well, considering your team had the worst attendance record in Major League Baseball last season and your caps and jerseys aren't exactly flying off the shelves, it’s tough to throw more money into your investment.

Still, you didn't buy the team just to lose money on the deal. It’s clear something has to change to get this team back on the right track, to put some money into the coffers so you can at least try to compete. But what can you do to improve a baseball team?

Bring in a new manager with a winning reputation?
It’s been tried…still no luck.

Devote more attention to developing talent in your farm system?

Rally around the few exciting young stars-in-the-making your club does boast?
Why bother.

More promotional give-away days to get fans out to the park?

A new marketing slogan?
Not even.

Try to gloss over nearly a decade of losing by changing the team’s name?
That’s it! Genius!

Yes, new Tampa Bay Devil Rays owner Stu Sternberg is reportedly going to try this can’t-miss brilliant scheme to remake his new ball club. Everybody knows that the Devil Rays are a bad baseball team, but maybe dropping the Devil will help. Yeah, that ought to fool a few people:
“What’s this, a ballpark? Well, I wonder what team plays in this indoor atrocity.”

“Says on the sign it’s the Tampa Bay Rays.”

“I seem to recall once seeing a game played by the Devil Rays – they were quite bad at baseball – but this must be a completely different team. Let us purchase four tickets to this sporting contest for us and our dates, friend!”

“Yes, and once inside let us purchase much official team merchandise in the club store.”

“Huzzah to this plan, my friend!"

“Yes, and huzzah to the Tampa Bay Rays! A team which I have never heard of before and will surely provide us with nine innings of quality baseball.”

C’mon, Sternberg, you can do better than the Rays. I appreciate the sentiment, but you’re really half-assing it. Why not go all the way and name the team something really exciting. Why not the Tampa Bay $5 All You Can Drink? Or the Tampa Bay Nightly Human Sacrifices? That oughtta put some butts in the seats.

Look out Yankees, here come the Tampa Bay Live Nude Girls!

Friday, January 27, 2006

The New Red Scare

Mike Popelka

Watch out National League; the Cincinnati Reds are going to win the World Series. Although they haven't signed any decent free agents, their GM was fired less than a week ago, and payroll won't be increasing by much for the 2006 season, new owner Robert Castellini has all but guaranteed a championship for Cincinnati fans. Oops.

It's just a bad idea for the chief of a team in shambles to promise anything to the fans other than marginal improvement. At his introductory news conference last week, Castellini said, "I want to make a promise today to Reds fans wherever you are, a promise from one fan to another: We will bring championship baseball to Cincinnati" (quoted by Joe Kay, Reds New Owner Makes Some Changes, AP). Those are pretty bold words for the owner of a team that finished in fifth place at 73-89 last year.

Promises like that can't be bandied about like cheap cigars; especially when they're directed toward sports fans, a demographic that is notoriously manic-depressive. If ownership says "championship", fans assume that means this year. Joe Namath came through with his promise of a Super Bowl victory in 1969, but I have serious doubts as to the validity of Castellini's claim. The Red's most significant free agent signing for this season was --wait for it-- Tony Womack. Tony Womack? If your big spring position battle is between Womack, Rich Aurilia, and Ryan Freel for second base your team is in deep trouble.

I realize that Castellini wisely left out a timeline in his bold statement, but all Reds fans should be concerned. If I remember correctly, the last time the Reds fan base bought into front office hype it was for the signing of Ken "Walking Disaster" Griffey, Jr. The truth of the matter is, Felipe Lopez is currently the Red's most exciting player and he's being paid next to nothing (in athlete salary terms). He's talented, but the team needs 3 or 4 more guys like him in order to be competitive. In addition to Lopez and Griffey, Adam Dunn and Wily Mo Pena will be key cogs in the championship drive of 2006. I sure hope that Reds fans realize they need more talent than this in order to compete in the World Series.

In order to ensure the four or five remaining Reds fans stay Reds fans, Castellini needs to let them know what he intends to do. Will he stock up the farm system? Bump up the payroll to buy free agents? Change the team's color scheme? The Reds have been rebuilding since their almost-playoff appearance in 1999, but there is no improvement on the immediate horizon. Reds management-- it's time to end the labor and deliver the baby. Do your fans a favor; don't make them wait too long for that promised trip to the World Series, or baseball in Cincinnati will continue on its way to becoming the second coming of the Kansas City Royals. Nobody wants that, not even a Cubs fan like me.

Eric Gagne is The Balls

Travis White

I have an affinity for National League ball and I reside in Los Angeles. Conveniently, I live only a scant twenty minutes from my preferred parking space in Chavez Ravine. Lucky me, this provides the opportunity to watch any and every NL team as my schedule permits. Better still, the Dodgers keep the upper deck tickets at $6 a pop. And the sweetest plum? They employ my favorite in the game, Eric Gagne.

Unfortunately, I really don’t like the Dodgers. I rarely care to see the team win. But I always want to see Gagne rock out to ‘Welcome to the Jungle’. Ever since he became the main attraction, he has been the only attraction (with the exception of former CF Dave Roberts). This made the past season tough for me. With Gagne on the DL and the rest of the team worth exactly nothing, I couldn’t be bothered to see one game. Not one.

Imagine, then, my relief when I awoke to the news that Gagne is feeling top-notch and ready to lay some heavy business on the late innings. God, I hope that’s true. With the tease of his return, I can actually look forward to attending Dodgers games again.

Oh, and what can be described only as "wicked-sweet", new recruits to the Dodgers Blue Crew fan club are given a Gagne "Game Over" trapper-keeper, a Gagne action figure and they are encouraged to wear a Gagne mask to Dodger games (I hear this last item is also excellent for city council meetings, gallery openings and grocery shopping). Lucky bastards. Almost makes me wish I was a kid again.

Yeah, this news put me in a good mood for the day. Hopefully, the euphoria will carry over through the season.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

So long, Anna

Dr. Uetz

By now you probably know that the Mets have sent Kris Benson to the Orioles for Jorge Julio and a new set of Samsonite luggage. It's a sad development for me. I wasn't particularly fond of Kris; but his wife, Anna Benson, was a true asset to the Mets organization. She's a real peach. She lamented the difficult time that terrorists would have decapitating Michael Moore - you know, because he's a bit on the tubby side. She railed against the Mets for signing Carlos Delgado - he turns his back on the flag during the 7th inning playing of "God Bless America." But more importantly, she claimed she would sleep with the everyone in the Mets clubhouse were she to ever catch Kris cheating on her. It was a wonderful moment. My friend Mookie (not that Mookie)told me that job applications at the Mets' front office jumped 315% after the announcement. I was part of that increase. But now Mets fans - certainly all the men and nearly 37% of the women - are saddened. Sure our bullpen has been slightly improved. Sure Kris' bloated salary has been dumped. But Anna has left the clubhouse. Be good, sweetie. And God bless America.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Little runaway

Ed McElvain

Once there was a child named Theo who, upset with his parents for not appreciating him enough, decided to run away from home. “They’ll appreciate me when I’m gone,” he said, flinging over his shoulder a backpack full of everything he needed to survive in the big world alone -- a couple comic books, a sweatshirt, a pack of gum, pencils and paper, and maybe a few baseball cards to trade for food when the going really gets rough. Before too long, the child’s parents came running after him, whimpering, “Theo, you’ve proven yourself. We want you to know how much we appreciate you and all you’ve done for this family. You can have more control over the family budget.” And so, Theo returned home and all was returned to normal, in this most perfect of all worlds, the Red Sox Nation.

It never worked that way when I tried it. I usually only made it a couple blocks before I came crying back. Once I did stay away long enough, hiding in the garage, that my parents came looking for me. I seem to recall that I got a spanking though, not more autonomy.

The reality here is that as much as Theo Epstein has been played up as Larry Lucchino’s boy wonder, the student has surpassed the master. The Red Sox really did need Theo more than he needed them. As soon as they won a World Series under his watch, he held all the cards as far as the team’s owner and fans were concerned. Theo’s not dumb and he suspected as much. When he and Lucchino had a “falling out” and Lucchino tried to bluff him, Theo called him on it and he left the table carrying the deck with him.

John Henry was right when he said today that bringing Epstein back was a win-win situation. The Red Sox front office did win, in the end, but at the sake of maybe creating a problem child for themselves as parents who I suspect would still like to pull the “under my roof you play by my rules” routine. It doesn’t work that way so well when the boy knows he can kick dad’s ass, and dad's boss agrees.

The big winner in this win-win situation is Red Sox fans, whose team is back in the capable hands of their little Theo – a head strong wunderkind, fresh off the ego trip of a successful power grab. Too bad their roster isn’t nearly as strong as it was before he left 10 weeks ago, though.

This is going to end badly

Ben Godar

The Astros announced today that they will file an insurance claim to cover the $17 million they owe Jeff Bagwell. The team claims he is physically unable to play, and Bagwell can’t guarantee he is. But the former MVP wants the chance to attend Spring Training so he see if he can condition his surgically repaired shoulder to "throw the ball across the infield."

When you look at how most great players leave The Game, it makes the farewell to race horses with broken legs seem downright humane.

There is no dip of the cap and slow stroll into the clubhouse. When ballplayers reach the end, the fans who love them are forced to avert their eyes and force a smile, like when Grandpa’s telling a racist joke. Nobody goes out on top, even superstars. Especially superstars.

Remember when Ozzie Smith rode into the sunset, with a final back flip punctuating his Hall of Fame career? Nobody does, because he only hung up his spikes a full season after being benched for Royce Clayton. HOF newbie Bruce Sutter sat out most of 1986 and all of 1987 with injuries, only to come back and pitch 46 innings with a 4.76 ERA. In fact, if you look at the Hall of Fame roster and really remember the last time you saw them on the field, you’ll cringe every time.

Jeff Bagwell’s not a Hall of Famer, but Sammy Sosa might be. Two years ago he was still one of the faces of baseball, and the fans at Wrigley roared every time he sprinted into right field. Now he’s a bat corking jerk whose career may end simply because nobody wants him. It’s easy not to be sympathetic to a guy like that, but it’s never pretty to watch a great player hit rock bottom.

Then there's Mike Piazza, who reportedly thinks a crippled former catcher is still worth $7 million a year. Nobody else does. Piazza's become a punchline; it's easy to forget he's the greatest offensive catcher in history, hands-down. That .311 lifetime average is staggering.

You can’t blame the players – if I had that kind of talent, I’d squeeze it until there was nothing left. And we fans are willing accomplices. Every time a retired legend stops by the broadcast booth, the commentators quip "they still look like they could hit 30 home runs," and we’re apt to believe it. It’s more fun to think the talent is some innate personal trait than a fleeting, non-renewable commodity.

Jeff Bagwell told MLB Radio he doesn’t begrudge the Astros trying to collect the insurance, he just needs more time to find out if he can still play. Maybe the Astros owe him that time and maybe they don’t. But players always look for more time and they never find it.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Search for the Superstar DH


Almost three years ago, I moved from Chicago to Seattle in a move my wife and I agreed was a good idea. In Seattle the real estate is slightly cheaper, the mountain and water views are incredible, and there aren’t as many hippies or rainstorms as many have been led to believe. Aside from the weekly reruns of “Almost Live”, the biggest drawback to living in Seattle is the horrible crap that passes for baseball out here. I’ve been a Cubs fan since my family got cable around 1987, and I am finding it incredibly difficult to even pretend to care about the Mariners. I know that it’s a tired argument, but the designated hitter rule has more to do with my distaste for the Mariners than anything else.

One of the most oft used arguments for keeping the DH is that it extends the careers of star players. Do you know who the Mariners’ DH is for 2006? Carl Everett. Yep, the guy who believes that dinosaurs never existed and who has averaged a .270 BA and 16 homers for the past five years is going to help the Mariners win a World Series. Do we really need to extend the careers of guys like this? Some of the other “superstars” that are projected to start at DH this coming season include Juan Rivera, Bobby Kielty, Eric Hinske, Ty Wigginton, Travis Hafner, Phil Nevin, and Rondell White. I highly doubt that the Devil Rays’ new slogan is “Watch Ty Wigginton’s career come to a grinding halt when other teams realize he’s not a good hitter.” This guy’s only job is to bat? Wow.

Don’t get me wrong; I do understand that not all designated hitters are C grade baseball players. Jim Thome, Bernie Williams, and David Ortiz are genuine stars that will play this negligible position in 2006, but they should have retired when their skills declined instead of being allowed to play half the game. Thome was completely outplayed last year in Philly, and Bernie Baseball has been a less than average player for around three years. As for Ortiz, he played the field in Minnesota and was lucky to hit 20 homers in a season. Can this be explained by youthful mistakes at the plate, or a fat guy getting tired playing first base? You make the call.

Since I will be attending several Mariners games this summer (apathetically and wearing a Cubs hat mind you), I feel that I have the right to demand something from all American League owners: stop telling fans that the DH is for “superstars that can still contribute.” Be honest and say something more like, “The DH is for guys who aren’t that great at Major League Baseball, but aren’t too expensive,” or “The DH is for guys who used to play really, really well but can only sort of hit now.” If I want to watch a washed up superstar do half their job, my gate admission should cost half as much. Take that, Howard Lincoln!

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Mike Popelka

I'm a Midwest gentleman who has recently moved to Seattle. I teach middle school science and enjoy beer, music, scotch, reading, bourbon, and eating. Although a Cubs fan, I'm currently lost in the muck that is life in an American League city. I've thrown 2 no hitters in video game baseball: one with Dwight Gooden in RBI, and the other with Frank Viola in World Series Baseball.

Small Market Boy in the Big City

Ed McElvain

This Spring I find myself in a city with a National League club for the first time in my soon-to-be 28 baseball seasons. I’m trying very hard to adopt the Mets as my new hometown team. In a way it’s pretty easy – I have nostalgia for the good old days of Doc, Straw, Hernandez, Dykstra, Mookie, and the Kid; GM Omar Minaya is putting together a very solid team for this year’s model. In another way though, I feel some guilt about cheering for the Mets.

At heart, I’m a supporter of the Brew Crew. As a Brewers fan, I want it to be possible for small market clubs to build a decent team and play winning baseball for more than a couple seasons at a time. I want to see a day when teams like Brewers could put together a dynasty run of LCS and World Series appearances. But I know that as long as teams with deeper pockets can put together $100 million dollar payrolls (or $200M in the case of the Yankees), teams like the Brewers cannot afford to win for very long.

For a small market team to win, they have to put together a team mostly comprised of talent from their farm system, other teams’ castoffs, and solid roll players. This is no small task, winning with inexperienced, unproven, and sometimes marginally skilled (by MLB standards, anyway) players. It takes a very talented coaching staff and a visionary GM. They also have to do this while working against the clock, trying to win before their young talent and reclamation projects get too good and demand more money when their contracts are up.

The Mets don’t have to worry about stuff like that. They can afford to keep guys like Pedro and Beltran around and add guys like Delgado and Wagner to the mix if at first they don’t succeed. The Brew Crew can’t do that. And it doesn’t seem fair that they are up against teams that can. It’s frustrating to be a fan of a small market team.

It is with this frustration that I watch my Brewers building a pretty decent team, knowing full well that they’ll have to dismantle and start all over again in about three years. And it is with this frustration that I watch my new hometown team, who I really do want to support (I even bought a hat), writing checks for large sums for prominent free agents to fill in the gaps that the farm system has left and a lackluster coaching staff can’t fix.

It’s like the difference between buying a good meal at a restaurant and making one yourself – they both taste great, but I get a lot more satisfaction when it’s my skill and finesse that went into cooking it. I know that there’s skill involved in selecting the right restaurant and the best choice off the menu and that just because you go to the most expensive restaurant in town doesn’t guarantee that it’s the best meal. After all, “that’s why they still play the games,” Harold Reynolds will remind us. But, if you think that those games are played on a level playing field in Major League Baseball, you’re crazy.

Maybe I’m a fool or a masochist, but I still like rooting for the underdog. Sure, it’s a lot of fun to cheer for a winner, but it’s even better when you know they beat the odds, earning the glory by working harder, wanting it more, and getting really lucky. It’s sweet enough that it makes only getting to do it once a decade worth sticking to my guns. I want to believe that the players too can taste a difference in the champagne when the grapes are grown organically rather than with a huge free agent budget. But I’m probably just a masochistic fool.

Ed McElvain

I am a recent emigre to New York City from the great plains of Iowa. I love me some baseball, particularly the National League product. I love the strategy of the game and I would rather see a low-scoring, well-pitched contest anyday than a 20 run homerfest. I also collect music and enjoy darker ales and smokey, peaty scotch...probably too much.

Mark Prior: Drink the Kook-Aid

Ben Godar

I knew Cubs fans were high on Mark Prior. Not just high, out-of-their minds, Cypress Hill high. But I had no idea the insanity reached so far into the sound-minded baseball press. Something ain't right, my friends, and I think we must all wonder: "Is Mark Prior brainwashing America?"

Chicago Tribune writer Phil Rogers appeared on MLB Radio last week with the sole intention of laying alms at the feet of Prior. Apparently, the purported ace and his handler/Daddy are unhappy that his name is appearing in trade rumors. I'm on record saying you would have to be a fool (or a true Cubs homer) not to dump Prior for a stud like Tejada. I don't know if Rogers is a fool or a homer, but he also wants to hang onto Prior like his childhood teddy bear.

Not only did Rogers share Prior's shock at a potential trade, he wondered why on earth the Cubs would consider trading Prior but not Carlos Zambrano. Perhaps I can explain:

In the last two years, Zambrano has won 13 more games than Prior. During that span, Zambrano's ERA is 3.01. Prior's is 3.82. Most importantly, Zambrano has pitched 147 more innings than Prior. Plus, and I cannot emphasize this enough, Carlos Zambrano yells at God after a bad outing, which is one of the coolest things I've ever seen.

So by all measures known to science and aesthetics, Zambrano is far superior. So why on earth does this Prior fixation persist? Rogers reasoned that Prior has more "upside" than Zambrano. In fact, he used the word "upside" more times than I could count. Ed Randall of MLB Radio took that a step further, calling Prior's upside "limitless." He added, and I'm not making this up, that he considers Prior "the second coming of Tom Seaver."

More like the second coming of Steve Avery.

We've got to put an end to this Cult of Prior. I'm opposed to fundamentalism of any kind, be it Muslim, Christian or Pitcher-related. I trust you will join me and remain silent no longer. When good people remain silent, the terrorists win ... and the Cubs lose.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

This can't be my seat

Dr. Uetz

I have a request for MLB owners. In 2006, you need to develop the Family Section at your ballparks.

I don't know who started the whole trend of family friendly parks, but it has to stop. Bernie Brewer no longer slides into a keg of beer - something is seriously wrong. Somewhere along the way baseball was designated as a family outing, I guess because the players don't literally hit one another. But baseball games are not for the family. Baseball is a game of agony and pain. A game of great emotion and stress. It is an outing for parents who want to teach their children valuable lessons - including why the word "fuck" is appropriate for Miller Park or Camden Yards, but not school.

But too many parents now bring their kids to games with no intention of teaching them a damn thing. The kids run around, their backs to the game (and if you think I don't pray screaming fouls, your wrong), and pester those of us who give a damn. And when I dare to utter a "fuck" or "cocksucker" I am promptly visited by an usher who knows their energy is misspent on me, a true fan.

So there needs to be a section for these limpdicks. A place where they can sit in unoffensive bliss and watch the San Diego Chicken pester the umpire. Oh what fun. But it would free the rest of us to do what we do best, passionately engage the players and umpires in a serious dialogue regarding the events taking place on the field.

I don't want children near me when I'm at the ballpark; unless they're female children, about 18 or 19. If you do choose to sit near me, understand that I am a true fan of the game and I am not required to warn your child about approaching foul balls or foul language. Both are a certainty, and you should know that.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Play it like a Classic

Ben Godar

I am looking forward to the World Baseball Classic. And what fan of the game wouldn't look forward to a showdown of the world's all stars? Let's just hope they don't play it like an All Star Game.

The battle for hearts and minds is on when it comes to the WBC. Will it be a heated battle for national pride or the modern equivalent of barnstorming through a State Fair? Early indications are promising.

Tonight, the US team announced its 42-man roster, including names like Bonds, Clemens and Texiera. Teams from other nations also feature top-tier talent, so it's clear the players will be on the field. But it's not enough for them to just be on the field. If this thing's to be a "classic," the players and the managers need to crank it up to full speed.

What worries me is the All Star Game. Even these last few years, with home field advantage in the World Series on the line, players and managers insist on running the game like Class C Coed Softball. The "nobody wants to lose a player to injury" argument is patronizing to fans. We want to see competition. If I just wanted to see the star players, I'd go to a baseball card convention.

And, incidentally, I wouldn't go to a baseball card convention.

The world's best soccer players lose their club jerseys and lay it on the line for their country every four years in the World Cup. It pains me to say it, but baseball could really take a cue from soccer and make the WBC something worth watching.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

No Cocaine in the Hall of Fame


I would like to thank the 17 voters who saw fit to cast a ballot for Dwight Gooden. Doc Gooden blazed a trail of glory for the Mets. From his first start on April 7, 1984 all the way to his final start . . . well, um, okay, so maybe the final eight or nine years weren’t as memorable as the first eight or nine years – at least not for his performance on the mound. But you have to admit, Doc was fun.

In that first game he got a win against the Astros, giving up only one run and striking out five. He was 19 years old. When I was 19, I was in college; I spent a lot of time partying and discovering new ways of having fun. Well, I guess Doc did that, too; only he was playing ball instead of going to school. And while he did all of that partying in 1985 he won 24 games. While doing all of that living it up, Dwight Gooden was a four-time all-star, Rookie of the Year and Cy Young winner, 6 seasons was in the Top 5 in wins, seven seasons was in the Top 10 in strikeouts. You get the idea. Hell, just look up his numbers for 1985, 24-4, 268 Ks, 8 shutouts, 1.53 ERA. All while partying enough to make Bacchus blush.

But I’ve gone way off track here. My point is that while I want to preserve the sanctity of the Hall of Fame, we need to also make sure that votes are weighted in favor of heroes like Dwight Gooden. The handicap that Doc was playing with was tremendous. And think about how great he was compared to the likes of Gary Gaetti, and Gary had God on his side. (I'm not sure you can really compare the two. It's just that Gary Gaetti has always made me chuckle.)

I’m just suggesting that this be looked into. What have we got to lose? Let’s face it; there are some lean years ahead, so at least the guys who get in could be entertaining. Maybe Doc's whole career on the mound wasn't HoF worthy. But his ability to drink, snort, and screw was; and I think voters need to remember that.

I’ll put it this way. Would you rather belong to a club that included Dave Chapelle or Pat Robertson? Exactly. I rest my case.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Let's keep this thing exclusive

Ben Godar

Baseball writers of America, I salute you. In a thin year for the Hall of Fame, voters resisted the urge to throw the doors open to throngs of marginal candidates. Instead, we get only Bruce Sutter. And I wouldn’t have minded even less.

I’ve got no problem with Sutter being cast in bronze, but I’m a strict conservative when it comes to the Hall. When you listen to supposedly learned folks discussing who should be in, it seems many believe if a guy isn’t elected, it means he’s just another Mackey Sasser. I feel like if you even have to construct an argument for why a guy is worthy, he probably doesn’t belong there.

Too many fans and journalists want to play the lowest common denominator game. If a player’s numbers compare to the worst guy already in the Hall of Fame, then clearly that player deserves to be in as well. Jim Molony of MLB.com would have put six guys into the hall this year, his reasoning for Jack Morris and Jim Rice being "there are players with less glittering resumes already in the Hall."

Players certainly deserve to be compared to their peers already enshrined, but that’s hardly reason to keep lowering the bar. If anything, it should be ever tougher to make the cut.
Call me crazy, but I don’t want to lead my kid through Cooperstown someday and say, "Look son, that’s Albert Belle. He was an above average hitter and a real asshole." Ain’t exactly magical, is it?

But the ballots and reasoning displayed by MLB.com’s voters show pretty definitively that there is no science when it comes to Hall of Fame voting. The bulk of the votes went to Goose Gossage and Sutter, but these professional writers threw flyers out to guys like Alan Trammel and Don Mattingly. Rich Draper, in a move that will surely cost him his voting privilege, even revealed he voted for Will Clark, Albert Belle and Willie McGee. Apparently he wasn’t granted the convenience of an "All of the Above" box.

But the reasoning behind the votes is just as varied. Most point to statistics or the players’ prominence on a classic team. Others fall back on some version of "he was a class guy."

I don’t want to make this the Hall of Class Guys. And if you think it is, ask a black guy about Ty Cobb. And I’m also not one of these Sabermetric junkies that wants to make it the Hall of OPS. I just want to see the Hall of Fame stay a place that only absolute best make it into. This year, collectively, I’m glad to see the voters felt that way, too.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Prostitution and Marketing

Dr. Uetz

The thing that really pisses me off about this whole Damon thing is the market reports. When he left Boston to play for the bastards in pinstripes known as the Yankees, the overwhelming number of articles I read discussed what a good move it was because, "He'll be more marketable in New York." It then turned into a discussion on jersey sales, bobbleheads, jockstraps, television revenue and autographed drug tests. There was very little discussion of what his arrival in New York would mean for the Yankees' chances of winning the Series or how his departure would impact the Red Sox in their efforts to avoid another 80 year drought (no matter what they try, it WILL be another 80 years. They're still the Red Sox.). We didn't receive sports coverage; we got lessons on supply and demand, the point of diminishing returns, and market saturation. It pissed me off.

In the glory days we would not have had to put up with this garbage. For one thing, no self respecting sports writer would have known about market saturation, let alone write an entire article about it as it related to how the jersey sales of a particular team would be impacted based upon a new player's arrival.

But these are not the glory days. These are not the diamond drunks we grew up with. These are not the bruisers who could pound beers until 4 am and show up for a double header at noon. The Red Sox who finally broke "the curse" in 2004 liked to refer to themselves as "idiots," portraying themselves as a bunch of dirty bums just out there playin' ball. Go to hell. It was all marketing. I dare anyone on that team to spend a weekend with Lenny Dykstra and Keith Hernandez. "Idiots." That's cute. The 1986 Mets were not cute. They were rowdy, filthy, and subhuman. And we loved them - or at least I did.

A fried of mine was recently lamenting the "loss of baseball's innocence," blaming its decline in popularity on steroids and overpaid players. Nice try, sweet tits. But baseball has never been such an innocent game. What baseball has lost is players with bad habits that we can all share. Babe Ruth was one hell of a player. He was also a drunk and a womanizer. These are things we can relate to, and things we can identify with. When a player gets busted for steroids, we have no way of relating - it seperates us even more from someone we already suspect isn't human. But a drinking problem and a night on the town with a call girl are things we all know and appreciate. Or at least I can. But I'm a Mets fan.

Friday, January 06, 2006

The shelf life of potential

Ben Godar

The latest mega-trade rumor to keep us satiated has Mark Prior going to the O's for Miguel Tejada, and I'm shocked that Cubs fans aren't pleading for Jim Hendry to get this done.

Well, maybe shocked is too strong a word. Every team loves its prospects, those can't-miss kids who batted .700 in high school and belted a few thousand home runs. But the Cubs organization and its fans seem particularly enamored with whoever's taking the field in Iowa.

It's taken half a decade to realize Corey Patterson isn't a five-tool guy, just a tool. Bobby Hill was touted to have 30-30 potential. And he still does, as long as the categories we're talking are games played and at-bats. And that's to say nothing of Kevin Orie and Gary Scott.

But Prior's more than a prospect, he is a major league pitcher. But four years into his professional career, folks still talk about him like a prospect. After all, he's a guy with Cy Young potential and number one type stuff. But there comes a time for every player when their value shifts from their potential to their production, and I think it's time for the Cubs to call in their bets on Mark Prior.

Only once has he started 30 or more games in a season. So no matter how solid he may be in the games he pitches, penciling Prior into your rotation means you'll also be giving the ball to a guy like Glendon Rusch for 10-15 starts. Factor that in and Prior's value to the team looks a little different. But what about the games Prior does start? In the two years since his spectacular 2003 season, Prior's ERA is 3.82. That puts him more in the Brad Penny, Doug Davis camp than the Roger Clemens, Pedro Martinez range.

Compare that value to the value of Tejada - a 29-year-old shortstop, averaging 28 homers and 110 RBI, winner of an MVP ... Oh yeah, he also has hasn't missed a single game since 2000. Seems like a no-brainer to me.

I can sympathize with the Cubs fan wearing the Mark Prior jersey clamoring for the team to take him off the trading block. But if I had the chance to get my hands on Miguel Tejada, I'd clean out Prior's locker personally.

Sigh of relief

Dr. Uetz

Well, Mets fans, we can breath easy - for now. It appears that Manny has no interest in playing National League ball. Let's hope that cures Mr. Minaya of his sick obsession with one of the game's worst defensive outfielders. Can you imagine Manny trying to navigate the vast expanse of Shea? Not only would we have to fork over $19 million each year, we'd need to hire a Sherpa. Don't get me wrong, his bat is great. And I probably would have gotten over my initial fits of rage had a deal somehow been worked out. But knowing now that he doesn't want to play ball in the National League, there is no way I could ever forgive Omar were he to work a deal with Boston. Perhaps he should go to the Yankees.

I've been hearing about Lastings Milledge for a couple of years now. I want the chance to see him play at Shea. I want to experience something that Braves fans get to experience - watching the players from their system carry the team to a division title. Given the choice between being the Yankees, who win the division every year with other teams' players and fail to win the World Series, or being the Braves, who win the division every year with their own players and fail to win the World Series, I would rather be the Braves. I just hope like hell I never have to choose between the two, because I really can't imagine feeling good about cheering for either team.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Doctor Uetz

I am a professional gentleman stationed in the great state of Iowa. My time is spent gambling on politics, drinking bourbon, and baseball. I have been a Mets fan as long as I can remember and agree with Crash Davis - there really ought to be a constitutional amendment outlawing astroturf and the designated hitter (are you really a baseball player if you can't play in the field?). Play ball.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Company Man

Ben Godar

The sad reality is that for all the players talk about being dedicated to their team, loyalty is really the domain of the fans. We’d like to think the boys on the field share our passion for the team’s history and rivalries, but we’d also like to think that cute blonde at the end of the bar has her eye on us.

After vanquishing the curse and basking in nearly a hundred years of accumulated glory, it seemed as if Johnny Damon was the president of Red Sox Nation. To sign with the Yankees, THE YANKEES, shows Damon’s loyalty was about as disposable as beard.

And I don’t think we can let Damon off the hook simply because "he did it for the money." I can’t necessarily fault a guy for that, but I’m not going to give him a medal, either. Sure, we’re all trying to make a living, but real folks also consider things like family, loyalty, happiness, art, whatever. It’s not a foregone conclusion that every decision is made out of narrow financial self-interest. Unless you’re a Republican.

I’m just sick of this noise from players who insist they are helpless to do anything but follow the money wherever it may lead. Plenty of players have looked at the millions already in their salary and decided to stick around for the fans, the owner, the TEAM. Big Mac was traded to the Cardinals in a contract year, but stuck around for a bit less than market price. And don’t think a guy like Tony Gwynn didn’t garner his share of interest from other teams, pinstripes or not.

Jerry Seinfeld does a bit about how, given all the player movement, fans are really just rooting for the clothes. I think that assessment is a bit bleak, but as long as tools like Johnny Damon are more than eager for a haircut, it may be accurate.

Ben Godar

I’ve worked as a screenwriter, journalist and college professor, but my primary occupation is baseball fan. I’m a lifelong Cardinals fan and a true believer in the National League game. As an advocate of social justice and a sound minded citizen, I loathe the New York Yankees.

My writings have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, MLB.com and Film Threat. I’m currently the editor of Outside Baseball.

Who are these guys?

Outside Baseball is a dedicated group of fans who love to talk and write about The Lord’s Game. We are not ex-jocks, back room insiders or professional personalities. Our goal is to throw a fresh, contrarian perspective at the bandwagon of "sports talk." We don’t aspire to break the big story, just to keep things interesting for the thinking man.

If you like what you read, please spread the word.