Friday, May 19, 2006

Locked out

Dr. Uetz

I've just about reached my breaking point, and I feel horrible about it. In case you didn't already know, Minor League umpires have been on strike all season and the strike continues. It's a horribly underreported story for the most part. The umpires make no more than $15,000/year and have gone without a raise for nine years. It seems reasonable to give them a raise. After all, without umpires there is no game. And without GOOD umpires, a game can seem more like going out for a nice night at the movies and instead seeing A Night at the Roxbury.

So to stand in solidarity with Blue I have refused to attend any Iowa Cubs games this season. It's been very difficult. I normally attend at least 30 games throughout the season. But I made the decision to stand with the umpires. They've put up with me for years, so I'm returning the favor. But it's getting harder every day. I think any baseball fan can understand why.

The thing that irritates me most, though, is the absolute lack of concern shown by the media and the general public. This is an important issue that deserves thorough discourse. But this is nothing new. Labor unions have been made out to be groups of greedy children, crying about having to do their job. And it's simply not true. Plants close and move out of town and you read the wise words from the local luminaries, "If the union wouldn't have demanded so much . . . " "Can you blame them for leaving? The union is too strong." But where are the savants complaining of CEO bonuses? Corporate jets taking VIPs on vacation?

Is minor league baseball struggling? Is it on the verge of collapse? Bankruptcy? No, and it's time for those poor bastards who take abuse from every side to get a little more compensation and a little more respect. I encourage you to pick up the phone and make one phone call to Mike Moore, President of Minor League Baseball, at (727)822-6937. Tell him to give the umpires what they want. If you need to get nasty, tell him he looks like his per diem could probably be cut back. If you have time and feel like making some more calls, call the league presidents from A to AAA and tell them it's time to do what's right for the umpires and the game.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Traded for Beer

Ben Godar

Today, I am proud to be a baseball fan. Despite its scandals, its whining superstars and its gooey sentimentality, baseball is still a sport where a player can be traded for 60 cases of beer.

Yes friends, pitcher Nigel Thatch of Schaumberg in the independent Northern League was traded to Fullerton in exchange for one pallet of Budweiser. As with any transaction, the immediate question that comes to mind is "who got the better deal?" Is this a straight, value-for-value swap, or is it Lou Brock for Ernie Broglio?

My initial reaction was that Fullerton came out ahead on this swap. The market value of 60 cases of Budweiser is around $1,000, which ain't a bad price for a baseball player. And that's if they were buying off the shelf at Safeway. I'd bet with an order that large, you can swing a deal with the brewery. And I wouldn't be surprised if someone in the organization simply "knew a guy" who got his hands on some beer that fell off a truck.

But upon further review, I began to doubt that Mr. Thatch was worth even $1,000 worth of beer. In seven appearances this season, the right-handed pitcher gave up 22 runs, with 24 hits in just 12 and a third innings.

So, the plot thickens. We're not just talking about 60 cases of beer for a pitcher, we're talking about 60 cases of beer for a really lousy pitcher. But there's still one important component to consider in evaluating this trade:

Budweiser is a really lousy beer.

I mean, seriously, would you want 60 cases of Budweiser? Don't get me wrong, I've choked down many cans of the swill at barbecues, dorm room parties and at the homes of unliked relatives. But 60 cases sounds more like a burden than a blessing, even in exchange for a bum arm like Nigel Thatch.

It also makes me wonder if there was negotiation as to the brand of the beer. Perhaps Schaumberg started high with Sam Adams, then Fullerton low-balled them with Tecate. Schaumberg may then have tried for Michelob, but settled for Budweiser when they weren't willing to part with a "player to be named later."

In years to come, we may look back on the Nigel Thatch trade as a mark of the era before player salaries got out of hand. By 2010, I wouldn't be surprised to see a player traded for a pallet of Widmer Hefeweizen.

But it warms my heart to know that America is still a place, and baseball is still a game, where a transaction like this can take place.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

These Losers Ain't Loveable

My patience with the Cubs is wearing precariously thin these days. Now mired in an eight-game losing streak with the Cubs scoring a grand total of 11 runs so far this month, it appears the wheels may be coming off on the Cubs season.

This is not a post where I give up on the entire season based on a few games of a 162 game season, no matter how shitty these last two weeks have been. But I had serious doubts about the Cubs prior to the season, and now these problems are no longer “speculation.” Ladies and gentleman: the Cubs suck, and I don’t know how they’ll get better.

Let’s go through the lineup, shall we? The catcher, Michael Barrett, is actually doing pretty well. Apart from some possible defensive and game-calling weaknesses, I’ll take the .357/.529/.287 (OBP/SLG/AVG) if it means a few more passed balls at this point. As for first base, Christ Almighty, have we got a mess. Todd Walker is ok offensively, but losing the star player on an offensively weak team hurts real bad. Second base? Can someone explain why Neifi Perez starts any game—and has a 2yr, 5 million dollar contract while hitting .222/.231/.192? Shortstop with Ronny Cedeno is pretty solid, but I’m afraid of a rookie year crash by mid-season. At third base, apparently Aramis Ramirez forgot how to swing the bat. Gonna use your player option at the end of the year, ARam? Hey, Cubs fans, if he keeps swinging like this, we won’t have to worry about him leaving. Outfield? Don’t worry, this is where our spectacular free agent and trade additions are, right? Pierre’s noodle arm was the drawback to his “sizzling” baserunning and batting average. Well, it’s hard to steal bases when your OBP is .275. Jacque Jones, meanwhile, is on pace to do what his past statistics told us he would do—hit a little over twenty home runs, bat around .250. All for the price of 3yrs/15.5 million. Matt Murton seems to be a guy who would be alright on a good offensive team, but his power numbers aren’t up to speed for a team that needs some serious production from its corner outfielders.

As for the pitching, I don’t want to continue talking about this sad saga of rejects and perpetually injured and overpaid stars for too long. The line over the last few years has always been, “just wait until we get Prior and Wood back.” Even if they do come back—and at their full “potential”—the lack of offense is still there. Maddux started great, Sean Marshall has been a pleasant surprise, but this team is still relying on potential and break-out-type seasons for them to contend. Why not build a team based on proven talent instead of hopeful projections? Cubs fans, this is going to be a long season. Then again, thank God for the Pirates, right? Once we start putting together things like this then you’ll know we’re really in trouble.

And yes, I'll be willing to eat my words once these jerks win a few games in a row.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

26 Titles, Even more Entitlement

Ben Godar

The great thing about hating the Yankees is that your beliefs are validated on such a regular basis. So if any of you were wavering in your disdain for the Evil Empire, I give you this weekend’s comments by Mr. George Steinbrenner.

It seems the umpiring crew for Sunday’s Yanks/Blue Jays game featured one official who wasn’t a full-time major leaguer, called up on short notice. He tossed both managers and, according to several reports, generally called a bad game. Steinbrenner blasted the kid, but then pointed his finger at Major League Baseball and wondered how they could send a rookie ump to "such a crucial series."

For anyone who doesn’t speak the sleazy language of entitlement, "crucial series" translates to "Yankees games are more important than all others."

"Crucial series" is a bit of a stretch for any match-up in the month of April. It’s an outright joke when the two teams in question aren’t even first in their division.

But whatever the record of the teams involved, anyone who believes in integrity and fair play in The Game would know that all games are of equal importance. But this cuts right to the core of what has been the mantra of Yankee fans and much of the national media for years – Yankee games are in a league separate and above all others.

The Kansas City Royals already start their season with only a fraction of the Yank's resources, but now Mr. Steinbrenner wants them to be saddled with inferior umpires as well. After all, the Royals aren’t involved in many "crucial series."

Friends, we aren’t far from a day when the major league season is little more than the Yankees barnstorming through our modest villages, beating up on whatever local talent they haven’t bought off us already.

Making Steinbrenner’s little tantrum all the more disgusting was the fact that he was signing autographs at the time. Are these serfs so desperate for a feudal lord that they idolize the guy with the money? And what does one ask George Steinbrenner to autograph? Your wallet? A copy of The Prince?

I hope the Yankees play their next "crucial series" with the Devil Rays to determine last place in the division. But I know there’s not enough justice in the world for that.