There was a big crowd around the batting cages at Maryvale this week. Travis Shaw was smacking the ball as many of the invitees were watch with intentness as the veteran third baseman blistered each machine thrown pitch. Rarely do you see the big boys in The Show in the outside batting cages. Something was up. As we entered, we saw a Brewers team on the field and a team in red jersey’s coming to bat.
As some of the first through the gates, we took our seats and there were just a few in the ballpark. Love this time of the year and the early time at the ballpark. It is all yours. Usually there is just a few players warming up in the outfield. But today, we were given a sheet with all of the players numbers, many in the 90s on the back of their uniform.
There was no announcement of the game. Like an old time ‘Hollywood Sneak Preview’, before the scheduled game between the Milwaukee Brewers and the Seattle Mariners, the Angels and Brewers, represented by lineups otherwise consisting mostly of minor leaguers, played inside Maryvale Baseball Park, in front of a few fans, including me, a bunch of scouts and a ton of media.
Then the red jersey’s took to the field. And out of the third base dugout came large man wearing #17 who walked to the mound, quite confident. With his warm ups, he was a pitcher with great confidence.
The sudden realization of what was happening hit me like a smack of thunder. This was to showcase a starting pitcher. Shohei Ohtani, was right in front of me. ‘Smack’, the sound of the fastball hitting the back of the catcher’s glove ricocheted throughout the stands. Although the stands were quite empty, the anticipated attention back in Japan, we were told, was such that the practice game was shown on live television, despite the first pitch coming at 2A, Saturday, Tokyo time.
For the next 2 2/3rds innings, eight (8) strikeouts, two (2) runs and four (4) hits, one realized that Ohtani, who had been the highest priced import from Japan, looked good, with a massive slider that was awesome as he had batters leaning back thinking they were about to get hit. Bigger than one expected, Ohtani was the real deal and it was thrilling to see this reward before the regularly scheduled game.
Someone once said, you nearly always see something in baseball that you have never seen before.
Sure, it was a ‘B’ game featuring the Salt Lake City Bees and the Sky Sox, but this morning…this very special morning, one glimpsed a bit into the future which few were fortunate enough to witness in person.
‘He’s a comic book hero with a prep school education.’ That is what Adam Karen, Eric Thames agent was told by the Korean representatives as they were in pursuit of Thames for the NC Dinos in the Korean League. A graduate from Bellarmine Prep, a private Jesuit school in San Jose, California, then majored in Integrated Marketing at Pepperdine University, Mr Thames was drafted in the 7th round by the Toronto Blue Jays in 2008. In 2011 and 2012 he was a platoon player while appearing in 141 games and batting .257 with 15 HRs and 48 RBI. On July 30, 2012, he was traded to the Seattle Mariners for Steve Delebar. In Seattle, he appeared in 40 games during batting .220 with 6 HRs and 15 RBI. On June 30, 2013, he was traded to the Baltimore Orioles for Ty Kelly and did not appear in a single game. Then on September 5, 2013, he was selected off Waivers by the Houston Astros. In the field, he only had 5 errors. Disappointed, but not discouraged, he went and played in the Venezuelan Winter Ball league in December 2013.
By this time, the Dinos understood a couple of things: Eric Thames was covered in tattoos and had a big personality while in 633 at bats in the major leagues, he had hit 21 HRs and driven in 54 RBI, had an on base percentage of .296 and a slugging percentage of .431. He was not afraid to travel to other countries to play ball. They understood what this would translate for their fans in Southeastern Korea.
According to Jerry Crasnick, ESPN Senior writer (11/29/16), ‘After signing with the Dinos, Thames bought the Rosetta Stone Korean program and dove head-first into learning the language. “When you look at this as just a paycheck, that’s when you struggle,” Thames said. “The key is to enjoy the ride. Fully embrace the experience. [The] Hangul [alphabet] is pretty easy to learn, so I was able to pick it up easily. I am not fluent by any means, but speaking like a baby is better than not knowing any at all.”
As Thames immersed himself in the Korean culture and began clearing fences with regularity, he developed an ardent following. He patiently signed autographs for long lines of fans at Masan Stadium, and he grew accustomed to having meals interrupted by fans in search of selfies. “Going anywhere with him is insane in that country,” Karon said. “It’s like going out with the Beatles. Girls are crying and people are trying to touch him and get pictures. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
In Korea he put up cartoon numbers. In 2015, Thames won the MVP award and a Gold Glove at first base, became the first KBO player to hit 40 homers and steal 40 bases in a season, logged a .391/.497/.790 slash line and became the first player in Korean baseball to hit for the cycle twice in the same season. In 2016, Thames regressed slightly, but he still hit 40 homers and logged an OPS of 1.101 for the Dinos, who lost to the Doosan Bears in the KBO final, known as the Korean Series.
According to Crasnick, ‘Thames showed a strong work ethic in Korea and was popular with his teammates. The natural question was how his skills would translate to the majors. Could he adjust to higher level of competition and bigger ballparks in the majors? Thames has more of a line-drive swing than loft power. Could he catch up to 94-95 mph fastballs after feasting on 89-91 mph heaters in the KBO? “He’s very aggressive at the plate and on the field, too, for that matter,” a scout said. “He’s a first-ball fastball hacker, boy. He’s trying to hit the ball hard. Sometime you see guys who are happy to make contact and put the ball in play. That’s not him. He’s gonna hurt somebody someday.”
Thames’ defense in the outfield was considered below-average in Toronto. He moved to first base in Korea and would most likely be viewed by MLB teams as a combination first baseman-corner outfield-DH candidate. A National League front office man said he wouldn’t be surprised if teams were willing to give Thames a multiyear deal to return to the States. “You have an element that’s going to be skeptical,” the executive said. “He’s already played over here, and he wasn’t a tremendous success the first time. But you have to ask yourself, ‘Is this guy a late bloomer?’ “Look at some of the money that Cuban players have gotten. What’s the difference here? I think somebody is going to bite, and he’ll get a contract for two years and $12 million, or three years and $15-18 million.”‘
So far, through Saturday, he has appeared in 23 games, hit 11 HRs, driven in 19 RBI while batting .350 with an OPS of 1.312.
During the past two weeks, while most sports fans were watching college basketball’s conference tournaments, the NCAA first round of March Madness, the first night of the second round of March madness, golf from Florida, NASCAR, motorcycle racing, boxing, WWE, the Premiere League, NBA Basketball and NHL Hockey, there was something that was exceptional happening in the world of sport. Some of the best players in the world were playing baseball for their home nations or for nations someone in their family might have a hereditary line, were playing baseball behind a flag. The WBC this year is exceptional.
For those who have been watching these games, from Korea, Japan, Mexico, Miami and San Diego, the game progressed to mid-season form in a hurry.
Last night in San Diego, with everything on the line for the defending champion, Dominican Republic and the United States, baseball was reborn. In front of a packed stadium at Petco Park, the feeling was electric. Could the USA come back and beat the team who had defeated them in Miami after giving up a big lead last week? Could anyone get the tremendous players from DR out? There were 23 All-Stars on both teams for one game. And something happened.
This was big time, Major League Baseball at its very best. The crowd was in it. In fact, the crowd was one of the loudest one could imagine. But, three plays stood out to make this one of the most amazing games you could ever want to see. And perhaps that was the point. You go to a game in hopes that you see something you can talk about for a long time to come. Then it happens. Not once. Not twice. But three times.
The first was the incredible pressure the Dominican team puts on its opponents. There is one basher after another. There is not space to take a breath. And in the first inning, as the home team, they began pounding the ball. But as it again happened in the second inning and the fifth inning, somehow the USA team stopped what could have ended the game as it had in Miami a week before. Solid pitching and solid defense stopped the DR in its tracks. Danny Duffey’s great pitching and a terrific tag of Nelson Cruz at home by catcher Jonathon Lucroy with a fine throw to him by Brandon Crawford, kept DR at bay in Mission Bay.
The second was an unbelievable force of one Giancarlo Stanton. The ‘Adonis of Miami’ absolutely crushed a baseball which took off faster than one could imagine to give the USA a huge lift and the lead. An unbelievable speed of a ball being hit into the warehouse in left field went out faster than Staton could complete his swing. If in all the time you spend watching baseball, here is a memory nugget you can keep forever. Wow!
Then the third made this game an important turning point for the game. This WBC showed off big time baseball at its very best. And this is a memory nugget you will never forget. The incomparable Manuel Arturo ‘Manny’ Machada hit a blast to deep center field and as if time stood still in the marine layer, Adam Jones, the centerfielder for the Baltimore Orioles, raced to the fence and leaped way over the wall to make one of the best catches in the history of the game. Electric. Unbelievable. Fantastic. The Golden Memory Nugget. The pitcher mouthing ‘Oh My God’. But it is what happened a moment later that made this the great game and gave rebirth to the new era of baseball. Muchada while rounding first acknowledged Jones great athletic feat by his regular season teammate by doffing his cap to him as he headed back to the dugout on third base. In return, silently while a tumultuous roar of the crowd, tipped his hat in return to his teammate for saluting him.
This is when baseball was reborn in the hearts of the old who love the game, in the hearts of the fathers who take their sons and daughters to the game and to the young people who packed the stadium and watched on television what a great game can be as a fabric of their lives today and into the future.
It was simply a very complex day in baseball. In New York City, at the legendary home of Champions, the Yankees on Friday were either saying good-bye or ridding themselves of one of the most gifted, tarnished individuals who ever played the game. For the record, this was Alex Rodriguez last game for the New York Yankees.
Perhaps the center focus of the PED-Era in the game, here is one of the best players who ever played the game crystalized in everything that is bad and good about the game. There is no middle ground when speaking of A-Rod. For the record, he is tied as the 23rd best fielding shortstop in the history of baseball with a career .9772 fielding percentage at shortstop. But in all fairness, he only played 1,272 of his 2,784 games at short. His fWAR was below 50%. At third base, he ranked tied for 32nd place all-time with a .9648 fielding percentage. Let’s face it, fielding isn’t what got him to be one of the highest paid players in the history of the game, although he won the Gold Glove twice in his career at shortstop.
When it came to hitting, he hit 50+ home runs three (3) times with a high of 57 in 2002. In his career, over 22 years, he had a lifetime .295 batting average in 10,566 at bats. 3.115 hits; 548 doubles; 31 triples; 696 home runs; 2,086 RBI; .550 slugging percentage; .930 OPS; 5,813 total bases; and 14 time All-Star; 3 time MVP in 12 years with the New York Yankees, 7 years with the Seattle Mariners and 3 years with the Texas Rangers. In his career he made $375,416,252, with a high annual salary of $33 million in a single season (2009 & 2010). Three times he was named the Major League Player of the Year; won the AL batting title once in 1996 with a .358 average; won the Hank Aaron Award four (4) times and the Babe Ruth Award once. He won the Silver Slugger Award ten (10) times. For his career his WAR was 117.8, five (5) times finished #1. He had an on-base percentage of .380 in his career, had 2,021 runs scored while on base 4,629 times. As a batter he ranks with Willie Mays.
This was a great player in the game of baseball. But that is what you would want in the first player selected in the 1993 MLB draft.
Yet he played under the shadow of suspicion, jealousy, admiration and contempt for the better part of the last eight years. It probably began when he left Seattle. But the flight of other great top players from that team including Ken Griffey, Jr. and Randy Johnson (both now in the Hall of Fame) was not that big of a contributing factor to dislike. In 2007, the cornerstone of fan disillusionment when Rodriguez was finishing the last year of a $252 million contract. He did the unthinkable for pin-strip fans. He opted out, effectively making him a free agent once again. Now the die was cast as it was announced he would not renew his contract with the Yankees citing that he was ‘unsure of the future composition ‘ of the team. He was now the target of criticism not only for not meeting with team officials before his announcement but for financial gluttony. But the biggest issue with fans was that he did it during the 8th inning of Game Four of the World Series as Boston was finishing their victory over the Colorado Rockies. MLB’s chief operating officer, Bob DuPuy, called it ‘an attempt by Rodriguez’ agent, Scott Boras, to try to put his selfish interests and that of one individual player above the overall good of the game’. After a quick PR repair job by A-Rod himself, a new 10 year $275 million contract was finalized on December 13, 2007.
Out of nowhere, the report hit. In the February 7, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated hit the stands, it reported that Alex Rodriguez tested positive for testosterone and the anabolic steroid Primobolan in 2003. His name had appeared on a government-sealed list of 104 major-league players (out of 1200 tested) who came up positive for performance-enhancing drugs. As crazy as it seems today, there was no penalty or punishment for a positive steroid test in Major League Baseball. To his credit, two days after the allegations, Rodriguez admitted to steroid use from 2001 until 2003, claiming that he cease using such substances after spring training that year.
What might become a reason for so many star players to take PEDs, injury, has loomed over the game. Prior to the 2009 season, A-Rod was forced to withdraw from the World Baseball Classic where he would represent the Dominican Republic, when an MRI revealed a cyst in his right hip. He went to have the cyst drained but discovered that he was also suffering from a torn labrum in the same hip. He underwent an arthroscopic procedure with a recovery period of 6 to 9 weeks, instead of the usual three to four months. He would require a second, more extensive surgery in the off-season. He missed spring training and the month of April. But he came out with a very strong season. It was his 12th consecutive season and 13th overall of reaching 30 home runs and 100 RBI breaking a ties with Manny Ramirez, Babe Ruth and Jimmie Foxx for the most in Major League Baseball history. And as a topper to any career, he helped the Yankees win their 27th World Series Championship and his first.
Two years later, Rodriguez opted for arthroscopic surgery on his knee to repair a torn meniscus that placed him on the disabled list at the All-Star break. During his recovery, he was facing serious allegations that he had participated in illegal, underground poker games. One of those games turned violent and cocaine was openly used Rodriguez denied that he had ever participated in illegal poker games. MLB had warned him in 2005 not to participate in such games. After retiring in late August, he sustained another injury with a jammed thumb.
In 2013, he underwent another arthroscopic surgery in his hip to repair a torn labrum. It was the second time in four years that he had the surgery. But this operation was more serious than before. He began the season on the 60-day disabled list. While rehabbing, he again was embroiled in a series negative situations He became a central figure in the Biogenesis baseball scandal and MLB’s investigation into his possible connection to performance-enhancing drugs. Then he again got embroiled with Yankee management when he said on social media (Twitter) that his doctor had medically cleared him to play in games. Yankee GM Brian Cashman said Rodriguez’s doctor did not have such authority and that Rodriguez should ’shut the fxxx up.’ While rehabbing in the minors, he sustained a new injury as an MRI later revealed a Grade 1 quad strain, delaying his return and forcing him to continue in the minors. Rodriguez clearly frustrated sought a second opinion on his quad strain with a doctor who stated that there did not appear to be an injury. The Yankees were incensed. The war began. They said he had violated league rules for seeking a second opinion without the team’s permission. The stage was now clearly set for Yankees to get rid of Rodriguez. The ‘Cashman Conflict’ was the beginning of the end. Rodriguez continued to feud with Yankees management following his return, as his lawyers accused the team, and specifically Christopher S. Ahmad MD, of mishandling his hip injury in several ways; Rodriguez’s legal team contends the team withheld the injury from him and continued to play him in 2012 despite his health, and that team president, Randy Levine told Rodriguez’s hip surgeon that he would be happy if Rodriguez never played again. In response to the accusations, Cashman said, “I’m not comfortable talking to Alex about this because we feel we are in a litigious environment. Hello and goodbye, that’s about it.” He added, “It’s not just Yankees’ management. He’s putting it at the level of our trainers, our medical staff. The organization. The team.” It wasn’t a good year for A-Rod.
Alex Rodriguez was suspended from baseball but he delayed it pending an appeal. The suspension was upheld for the entirety of the 2014 regular season and post season. He was found to have violated the league’s Performance Enhancing Drugs policy, specifically through the ‘use and possession of numerous forms of prohibited performance-enhancing substances, including Testosterone and human Growth Hormone, over the course of multiple years’ and ‘attempting to cover-up his violations of the Program by engaging in a course of conduct intended to obstruct and frustrate the Office of the Commissioner’s investigation.’
In the 2015 off-season it was reported that Rodriguez met with new Commissioner of Baseball, Rob Manfred, in which it is reported that Rodriguez apologized while promising to behave in the future. In February he issued a hand-written letter of apology to “Major League Baseball, the Yankees, the Steinbrenner family, the Players Association and you,the fans’.
And now here we are. Criticism is plenty. In Joe Torre’s 2009 book, ‘The Yankee Years’, Rodriguez earned the nickname ‘A-Fraud’ from teammates and particularly from clubhouse attendants who were said to resent his demands. Steroid-user Jose Canseco said in his book, ‘Juiced:Wild Times, Rampant ‘Roids, Smash Hits & How Baseball Got Big’ called A-Rod a hypocrite. But then again, who cares what Canseco says. The fact remains, there is a playing stats side and there is the drugs side.
Performance enhancing drugs have torn baseball’s unique stat world apart. Those accused and/or suspended, Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Ryan Braun, Rager Clemens, Rafael Palmero, Lenny Dykstra, Eric Gagne, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Glenallen Hill, Todd Hundley, David Justice, Andy Petite, Mo Vaughn, Fernando VBina, Manny Ramirez, Melky Cabrera, Jason Giambi, Jeremy Giambi, Benito Santiago, Gary Sheffield, Bartolo Colon, Yasmani Grandal, Carlos Ruiz, Nelson Cruz, Jhonny Peralta, Miguel Tejada, Dee Gordon, Raul Mondesi, Rick Ankiel, Jose Canseco, Gary Matthews, Jr., Matt Williams, Wally Joyner, Ken Caminiti, Chuck Knoblauch, Paul Lo Duca, David Ortiz, Ivan Rodriguez, Sammy Sosa, Mike Stanton and many more have put the stain on the game. We are not talking about hard drugs or alcohol consumption here. We are talking about people taking drugs to make them perform better.
Thus the dilemma.
Alex Rodriguez could hit. Alex Rodriguez could field. Alex Rodriguez took performance enhancing drugs. He paid for the results. He served his time. His day in the game appears to now be over.
Baseball is a game we all play as kids. It is a game we love from our very core. He did as well and did it better then nearly anyone.
In 1958, two teams ventured out of the East and settled on the West Coast, the Giants of the National League in San Francisco and the same league’s Dodgers who settled into Los Angeles. Along with the Bums came their announcer, Vince Scully. And from that date, just 14 years after the Invasion of Normandy, baseball and the West settled into a love affair that has lasted for over a half a Century.
Baseball is played out West and of the eight teams West of the Pecos, four of them have .500 or better records this season, with one team a game under .500. But in the Senior Circuit, three are above .500 including the two originals. They play baseball out in the West.
For many, fans have long gone to bed when the West Cost games begin and end. It’s as if they don’t really exist in the East until those teams have to travel to the left coast. And when they get there, throw those team’s records out. This is the land of pitching. If you are in Seattle, the King resides up there and you don’t want to face the King. In San Francisco, it’s the home of Madison and Timmy. Down in LaLa, Clayton and Greinke rule. Further South, just North of North Island, James and then Kimbrel reside. In other words, when you go out West, young man, you better bring your hitting shoes.
On Saturday night, there was a game that proved this point. Both starting pitchers, Jaime Garcia of the Cardinals and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers, fired bullets. At one time during the game, Kershaw and Garcia had 0-2 pitch counts on 18 batters, 10 of those by Kershaw. With that kind of pitching, there is a good chance you will not get a good pitch to hit. And in fact, only the right fielder, Grichuk, got a single hit off of Dodger pitching on the evening. Garcia, beginning the bottom of the Seventh inning, had only thrown 77 pitches. But in the next five pitches, he gave up a double down the third base line which eluded the third baseman who moved over from Second base after the original third baseman, Carpenter, was hit earlier in the game and had to leave. Then, Kozma’s replacement at second, Wong, couldn’t handle a hot line drive which drove in the second run (this was after Puig had driven in the first with a double to the gap in right center). A game of inches? Yes. A game of what ifs? Yes. In five pitches the game was over. Garcia only threw 87 pitches in his outing, good enough to win most games, but in three games this year, the Cardinals haven’t scored any runs for him.
Throughout all of this, Vin Scully gave us all a delightful presentation of the game along with a history lesson on why this date is so important to Americans.
As Vin Scully told the story that wrapped in and out of pitches, in the Ninth Inning as the Dodgers were putting away the Cardinals and shutting the out, 2-0, he weaved his magic as he said, “a young man who waded ashore in Normandy on this date 71 years ago who was to become a great American writer…he pops up to the catcher for the second out…who had the first six chapters of his novel stuffed in his back pocket…and another guy who is trying to get noticed in the game…and the young man on that fateful day who was in the 12th Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division on Utah Beach was JD Salinger…a roller down the third base line, foul….and the great American novel was ‘A Catcher In The Rye’. ‘Poor guy’…now 1-2 on Matt Holiday who fouls it off again….who can ever forget Holden Caulfield…fast ball got him looking. Do us all a favor…please tell your children and grandchildren what June 6th is all about. 12 Cardinals strike out tonight and the Dodgers remain in first place, a half a game in front of the San Francisco Giants. Good night, everybody.”
And only those of us on the West Coast could hear this fascinating melding of a sporting event in the time of our lives, on a day with a Triple Crown winner became the 12th ever to accomplish that feat, and on a date with destiny that changed the world forever so many years ago.
For those of you back East, you missed one of the greatest story telling blendings in history by a Master of the Art who ventured West fifty-seven years ago. Good night, Vin.
It has been a very interesting first half of the baseball season in 2014 as a couple of things stand out. First, there have been very few umpire disputes that have resulted in the old-fashioned kicking-up dirt and in-your-face heated arguments, spewing high blood pressure to transfer into a blast of spittle upon the face of the beloved ump. Not sure if that is a relief or something we should want back like the ‘No Pepper’ signs on the fence behind home plate. Regardless, the micro view of the slo-mo cameras from the many different angles make today’s baseball look like a reinvention of steam power into the combustible era.
Second is the excitement in several markets throughout America. Seventeen of the teams have officially hit the half way mark in the season. The winningest team in baseball is the Milwaukee Brewers, leaders in the Central Division of the National League. The top team in the American League is the Oakland A’s. There are three areas of North America that are entering the world of delirium. First there is Milwaukee. This week they had a three game series against the Eastern Division leading Washington Nationals and drew over 100,000 fans ON A MONDAY THRU WEDNESDAY time frame. Yesterday’s game was packed to the rafters as they defeated Colorado for the seventh straight game against the Rockies. Surprisingly they rank #8 in attendance with 78.5% capacity. Another area where baseball is king is the Bay Area. Both the San Francisco Giants and the Oakland A’s lead their league’s Western Divisions. Both teams are loaded in pitching. Both teams are very exciting. San Francisco leads the major leagues in attendance with 99.4% of capacity while Oakland, in one of the worst stadiums in the world, is drawing 66.9% capacity. Then there is Toronto. They are in front in a very tight Eastern Division of the American league. With over 6 million people in their marketing area, they are the fifth largest city in North America and the largest on the Great Lakes, surpassing Chicago. They are drawing 54.2% capacity but unfortunately that places them only 26th among the 30 Major League Baseball teams. Only four American League teams rank worse (Chicago White Sox with 50.1% of capacity; Tampa Bay Rays while having a disastrous season at 50.0% of capacity; shockingly the high payroll team in Seattle with only 49.9% of capacity and the Cleveland Indians with 38.8% of capacity. FYI: the lowest team in the National League is the Arizona Diamondbacks with only 54.8% of capacity reached this season.)
Frankly, all of those things are shocking except for Billy Beane’s exceptional overseeing of a team with a huge budget limitation and a continual exceeding above expectation as the A’s continue to drive the Western Division in the American League.
As for Milwaukee, who would have thought that Doug Melvin would have put together a team this good. A critic of his methods, I have to admit through the first half of this season, he should be given the Billy Beane Award for the most Outstanding General Manager of the Year trophy. He has put together a splendid bullpen by trading one of the City’s most favored players, Aoki, for an unknown left hander in Smith, who has performed way above expectation. The first base fix with Overbay and Reynolds was masterful in bringing veteran leadership to the club and a solid defensive and occasional offensive performance day-in and day-out. The revival of Rickie Weeks has given Scooter Gannett the time to adjust to Big League pitching and provided Milwaukee with great depth at second. Khris Davis is continuing to develop as a key player for the team in left allowing Braunschweiger to learn how to play right field and concentrate on something other than the mess he created last season. Then there is Jonathan Lucroy. Pound for pound, he is the best catcher in baseball this season. Offensively, there is no match. In the clutch, there is no match. He is single-handedly taken leadership of the team and molding it into a winner only Melvin could have seen before the season began. Then there is the manager, Roenicke. He has proven that this year, with four right handers and four left handers in the bullpen, he can manage as well as anyone in the game. So far, I am the one who has to eat crow IF he continues to lead the team to victory and the Central Division Championship, the national League Championship and the World Series kings.
But…we are only half way in the marathon that is known as a baseball season.
On this day in 1927, Babe Ruth became the highest paid player in major league history when the Yankees announced the Bambino would earn $70,000 per season for the next three years. The historic deal is struck when the ‘Sultan of Swat’, who had asked for $100,000, met with Colonel Jacob Ruppert, the club’s owner at the Ruppert Brewery in the Yorkville section of Manhattan. The Colonel got his money’s worth. On the 15th of April, Babe hit the first of his historic 60 home runs off of Howard Ehmke who would go on to win 12 games that season and only give up 13 home runs all season long for the Philadelphia A’s. On May 31st, Babe hit another off of Ehmke on his way to #60 which came off of Tlm Zachary of the Washington Senators on September 30th. If you would like to see it, click on this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MOt0Tmwc2Rk.
George Herman ‘Babe’ Ruth scored 158 runs that season; drove in 164 RBIs; 29 Doubles; 8 Triples; he hit .356 and had a slugging percentage of .772 with an OPS of 1.258. In the World Series that season, he hit .400, had 2 home runs and the Yankees won the Championship. All in all, Mr Ruth earned his $70,000 and more.
The Yankee’s payroll was $250,000 that year. The Bambino’s salary was 28% of the entire team’s payroll.
Let’s take a look at what some teams are paying their top player and see if it can guarantee what the Colonel got from Babe’s contract.
The team that has a player who was closest to what Babe was paid in terms of percentage of payroll this coming season the Twins, the Mariners, the Astros and the Mets. First the Minnesota Twins have an estimated team payroll of $82.5 million. Joe Mauer, playing First Base this season will be paid $23 million or 27.9% of the team’s payroll. All Mr. Mauer has to do is hit 60 home runs, drive in 160+ RBIs, have his team win the pennant AND win the World Series. Can he carry his team to the heights to reach the playoffs? That’s what he’s paid to do.
In the Northwest, the Seattle Mariners this season will have a team payroll of $87.5 million and Robinson Cano, their newly acquired Second Baseman will earn $24 million or 27.45% of the team’s payroll. We all know what he has to do to equal and earn this Ruthian salary. All Cano has to do is have his team perform like they haven’t since….well, years and jump over the Angels, the Rangers and the A’s to get into the playoffs. But that’s what Cano is paid to do this year.
Down in Houston, they have a payroll of $49 million. This is the second lowest in the Major League this season. They have good reason for such a low salary. They are in a dispute with their local cable vendor who reportedly have not paid them since the middle of last season. It seems that the affiliate of Comcast, the media giant, has put its affiliate into bankruptcy. What a mess. Therefore, their highest paid ballplayer, a starting pitcher, Scott Feldman, will earn $12 million or 24.5% of the teams entire payroll. If he pulls off his Ruthian equal, that achievement in 2014 will be classified a ‘miracle’.
Then there are the New York Mets. With a team payroll of $82 million, their top player, David Wright who is their Third Baseman, will earn $20 million or 24.4% of the team’s entire salary. If Wright does earn the Ruthian standard set in 1927, the Met’s still will have a struggle to reach the playoffs this season. But that is what Wright is paid to pull off.
As for the other 26 teams, the Indians have a payroll of $80 million and Nick Swisher will make $20 million (18.75%); The Rays with a modest budget of $75.5 million will have David Price making $14 million (18.55%); the Rangers with a payroll of $131 million will have Prince Fielder earning $24 million (18.3%); Pirates payroll is $71.5 and Wandy Rodriguez will be earning $13 million of that or 18.2%. The Cardinals will have a payroll of $108.5 million the most in the Central Division of the National League and they will be paying Adam Wainwright $$19.5 million equal to 18% of the team’s payroll. The White Sox will have a payroll of $89 million and John Danks will be paid $15.75 million (17.7%).
The Rockies have a payroll of $91 million and their All-Star Shortstop, Troy Tulowitzki will make $16 million or 15.9% of the Colorado payroll. In Milwaukee, they will have the third highest payroll in the Central Division of the National League, just north of $100 million and Third Baseman, Aramis Ramirez will make $16 million or 15.9% of the Brewers team payroll. Washington will have a team payroll of $130.5 million and Jayson Werth, their Right Fielder, will be paid $20 million, 571 thousand, 429 Dollars or 15.75% of the National’s payroll. Meanwhile those mighty Marlins will have a team payroll of $42.5 million and one of the best ballplayers in the Show, Giancarlo Stanton, will make $6.5 million or 15.3% of the Miami payroll.
Then there are the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. Their estimated payroll of $151 million dollars, the sixth highest in the Major Leagues and fourth biggest in the American League, will have to pay Albert Pujols, their aging First Baseman $23 million or 15.25% of the team’s payroll. Can he pull off a season of Ruthian standard and carry his team to the top?
For the remaining 15 teams, all of them will pay their top player 15% or less of their team’s payroll. And it appears as though this is where the World Champion will come from. The top salary in baseball this season will be $26 million and will be paid to Zach Greinke of the Dodgers who will have a payroll of $223,000,000. He will only be 11.7% of their payroll. For that amount of money, they better win the pennant, the World Series and a trip to Disneyland, by the bus that will take them there and give everyone FREE Dodger Dogs in the City of Angels for the next year.
Newton’s Theory of Relativity is absolute. What goes up must come down. This bubble will burst. It simply cannot go on forever. Baseball teams are playing with funny money. Television fees are paid because of content that gains eyeballs. Eyeballs bring advertisers. And advertising brings sales. If eyeballs leave, for whatever reason, prices for advertising come down and rights fees decrease. But some of these teams have long-term cable rights for 20-30 years. What if a cable network can’t get the advertisers to pay the teams what they have contracted for? Will it be a giant, Houston Astros v Comcast all over again, but this time on an avalanche sized financial rush downward?
Look, no network pays for boxing rights today. At one time, boxing was the biggest draw on television. The audience left boxing and turned to something else. The Pabst Blue Ribbon Fight Night no longer exists. Neither does the original Pabst Brewing Co.
Money, money, money. Can today’s players really earn the money they are being paid this season? Can their clubs with the pennant?
No matter who you root for this coming baseball season, more than likely you will be cheering for a minor league caliber team. The New York Yankees signing of Tanaka, giving them a powerful starting pitching lineup along with one of the best catchers in the game, gives them a battery no one else can match. Even with the loss of Cano and Granderson, they will be overwhelming favorites to win the American League pennant. Across the country, the Los Angeles Dodgers have similar talent. Powerful pitching wins games and pennants.
What does talent do to a team? If we are judging baseball teams, talent is everything, especially when you consider pitching. So if you are not a Yankee, Dodger, Nationals, Cardinals, Tigers, Rangers and perhaps a Giant fan, you are an also-ran fan. At least, at the very best, you are an always-hopeful fan. If you are an A’s fan, you are always hopeful. If you are a Pirates fan, you are hopeful another miracle can happen. If you are a Rays’ fan, you have talent and a manager. If you are a Red Sox fan, hope is a built-in principal of life. If you are a White Sox fan you are hopeful the new guy can do what that Dodger kid did last season. To the rest of baseball, there is no hope.
Consider the Brewers. Pitching you have Vonnie and the rest. That’s a 12 win season. They were still playing the buyer’s remorse game with Garza on Sunday morning. But, as of 2P on Sunday, the Brewers signed Garza (for details go to: The Brewers signed Garza. http://www.facebook.com/overtheshouldermedia). Thus pitching would have been same-ol, same-ol if he hadn’t signed. That’s one hole filled. At catcher you have Lucroy. He is a very good craftsman with a good bat. But his arm is not there. At first you have nothing but the largest group of has-beens and wannabe’s in the history of first base. At second, you have a young hopeful. At shortstop, you have a legit All-Star. At third, there is a tiring veteran player on his way out of the game in the last of his contact years. In left you have a young hopeful…untested but a young hopeful. In center, you have a gifted defensive player who you hope can hit like he did in the first half of last year’s season all of this season. In right you have a guy who one will have to hope he can play without his meds. Watching a fallen star will be brutal in opposing ballparks. Watching in Miller Park will be a lot of shaking of heads and wondering what would have been. You don’t know what his season will be like . How long has it been since he didn’t play with some assistance? That’s on the field. In the dugout the Brewers have average managerial talent and the worst third base coach in baseball. If they get hot at the early part of the season, then perhaps the owner will give the GM the monies to pull off a bold move. Let’s hope it is not for one of their young pitchers or their shortstop. That’s a lot of hope.
Consider the Cubs. Here is an ownership family that says all the right things but simply are very conservative when it comes to spending their money. They have a new ballpark in Mesa for Spring Training. They have a good starting pitcher. They have a hopefully good first baseman. They have an erratic but hopefully improved shortstop who is All-Star quality. Yikes! Its been a long time since Gabby took the Cubbies to the land of dreams.
Consider the Mariners. They have Cano. They have one of the best pitchers in the game. They have an unknown in Cory Hart. They have, however, missed out on one guy who could have put thrill back into the Northwest. Tanaka. They have a new President. When will this management learn not to give up on their great players? When are they going to stop letting ‘The Kid’ go away? A-Rod escape? Johnson let go? And the idol, arguably the best player in the first decade of this Century traded away to the Yankees…Ichiro? Hey…how about another manager? It is time this management stops playing Nintendo and begins understanding that baseball is a game of professionals. Welcome to Peoria this spring.
Consider the Angels. Tanaka was simply too young for them to acquire. They want to give the Arte billions to old, over-the-hill players. Understand A.J. is available for behind the plate duties. Isn’t it time to trade the best young player in the game to the Yankees? He may be too young to keep around those gray hairs who pack the halo’s lineup.
Consider the Padres.
Consider the Rockies. Talk about tight. This ownership’s idea of building a team is in building a party deck in right field. They have a 40-year-old relief pitcher in LaTroy. Doesn’t he understand that the air is thin up there in Denver? Pitchers can’t throw curves in that atmosphere. To win they need to have hammers…big hitters who can win the game 15 to 14 in nine innings.
Consider the Diamondbacks. It is just too bad they couldn’t pull off the deal with Tanaka. They brought in Goldy to assist in convincing the young Japanese star to make the Valley of the Sun his home. It could have given new hope to a team that has disappointed many during the past season or two. Here was a team on the verge of dominance with one of the best coaching staffs in baseball. Now there is no great young outfielder to chastise. Two great coaches in Baylor and Williams have left. They have overpaid an underperforming catcher. And they still have no #1 pitcher. Bullpen? What bullpen?
Consider the Braves. No catcher. No money. Could be a decade of doom for the transplanted Milwaukee nine.
Consider the Orioles. Their manager has done what he has always done in the past. He takes nothing and pushes them to the almost-near the top. He is there again. Can he finally do what he has never done before and win the pennant and World Series? Davis and Hardy need more pitching.
Consider the Indians. Wow! When you get Axford and call that an improvement, I have a bridge I want to sell you. Back to the minors.
Consider the Reds. Why is this team located near one of the biggest package goods manufacturers in the world without funds to rebuild their incredible past? P&G…buy this team and give them some money to make they one of the greats again. Baseball needs it. This is the team who really started it all in the city where pro baseball began. Goodyear will be a terrible place to watch this Spring Training.
Consider the Royals. George Brett must be put into a position to do what John Elway has done in Denver. Ownership has to unload its pockets and provide Brett the monies that can rebuild a once proud franchise. Aoki is a monumental trade improvement. Watch him hit against Darvish and Tanaka. There is hope in KC. Surprise will be a great place to watch baseball this spring.
Consider the Astros. It is a few years off before they will be a power. But will they be able to compete without being paid for their television contract. It seems Comcast owes them monies from last July, August and September. The local Comcast is declaring bankruptcy. The Astro’s are saying Comcast is doing a slight-of-hand. No money…no power. They have the money to improve. We all know they have the city to attract top players.
Consider the White Sox. Money? They have it in spades as they are part owner of the same cable network that carries the Cubs. They are making money hand over fist but can’t seem to do anything to improve their team except to extend their manager’s contract. Yet they did add one key player from Cuba, first baseman Jose Abreu who may be the next big thing in baseball. By sharing Camelback Ranch with the Dodgers this spring, the crowds should be large and boisterous. Unfortunately, there is little shade at Camelback Ranch.
We are only a couple of weeks away before the pitchers and catchers report. Arizona is going to be a great place to begin the season to find out what’s shaking for 2014. Besides, the first games are only a month away in AUSTRALIA. Yep. The D’Backs and Dodgers open the Major League Baseball season Down Under.
Thanks Commish. Great job. Do you have any idea what that gate would draw in LA or Phoenix?
On of the delights of baseball is the ability of fans to get up close and personal with the players of the game. During the years one can become fascinated with how a player not only performs on the field but how he presents himself, when seemingly nothing is happening and no one is watching.
Then just when you think you have seen a player being perfect, he picks his nose, spits baccy juice on the floor of the dugout and on his perfectly clean uniform. There are always the crotch grabbers and fixer uppers. There is an unnamed infield that always blew his nose in the right arm short sleeve of his uniform. Well it was a traveling uniform and not the home ‘whites’.
But there is one guy who honestly is above all of that. I first saw him when he came up. I’ve seen him in only two stadiums in my life. One was in old Milwaukee County Stadium and the other at BankOne/The Chase in Phoenix.
Derek Jeter appears to be perfect. He simply responds to things in a way you would think the Captain of the New York Yankees should perform. He avoids most confrontations. He smiles. He hits in the clutch. Rarely shows excessiveness. He comes back from injury by slapping a ball right up the middle. He is stoic in nearly every thing he does on the field. He is a gentleman off of the field. He has proven he is a champion. He is, in short, a hero.
That is the set up.
For many of baseball’s great players, we have placed them on the Jeter pedestal, one which places the player above any wrong doing. He smiles as though he is only smiling at you. He stairs at disbelief as no other. He responds to a strike out as if he has let not only the team down, by you the fans in the stands, and the fans over the YES Network and throughout the world via radio, down. And we all feel his pain. But as he walks back to the dugout, we feel empowered to cheer for him harder so he can make that pitcher pay the next time he steps up to the plate. You can literally see Derek Jeter transform from a mortal ballplayer into a champion whom we all know will be the real ‘Mighty Casey’ the next time at the plate or the wonderful fielder on defense. Remember, the play at the plate? You don’t even have to qualify that play. You already know it in your heart.
This past week, the Hall of Fame elected three great players. Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Frank Thomas. Saw all three in their best days. Tremendous performers. Maddux was so good he could even convinced the plate itself that it was a strike that he had just thrown. Glavine followed Maddux. Thomas was as close to Babe Ruth in our era as we will ever see. He was big. He was powerful. And he was clean.
Why did we have to bring that up? He was clean? The other day when the election was announced, most of the discussions centered around those who were not elected. Many have been placed into the PED barrel, either through admittance or through innuendo. It was at that time I read one of the most interesting articles I have ever read on the subject. It was written by Bryan Curtis. And if you are a fan of the game, this is a must read. (http://www.grantland.com/story/_/id/10261642/mlb-hall-fame-voting-steroid-era)
In the field of those who will be honored at Cooperstown this summer and receiving the sports highest honor will be one former manager of a couple of teams which won pennants. Nearly all of them were won with a player or players who were heavy PED users. After you read the article above, if you are a fan of his and have held him on that pedestal, you all can say it is a lie. If not, you can ask yourself, ‘Why are we honoring this guy?’. Of course he may not show because he is rumored to be the next skipper of the Seattle Mariners. Suddenly, the Mariners have more money than a game developer.
Now you see the problem that was created by the nomination to the Hall of Fame. Very few words in this article are addressing the wonderful accomplishments of the three elected. Maddux painted the corners of a plate that at times got so big, his reputation became that of Picasso on the Mound. His brush was his imagination and an arm that could put the ball where he wanted it. Glavine followed Maddux. Thomas was a huge man who absolutely everyone in the third base section of the stands always began to drink coffee two innings before he came to bat for fear that a foul ball would be heading their way at over 100 mph. Thus one of the reasons why the best place to see baseball is from the first base side, behind the dugout, right down the first to second line (see above).
Which brings us all the back to the Captain. As Ed Bradley, the famed CBS reporter told us back in 2005, as a child, Jeter’s parents made him sign a contract every year that set acceptable and unacceptable forms of behavior. Yankees scout Dick Groch, convinced the Yankees to draft him #6 in the first round selling them on the idea by saying “the only place Derek Jeter’s going is to Cooperstown”. Today, he may finish #5 on the hits list all-time. He has a chance of moving ahead of Paul Monitor, Carl Yastrzemski and Honus Wagner with a mediocre year. If he has a Jeter year, he will move into the fourth spot, ahead of Tris Speaker. He need 199 hits to do that.
Six years from now, when one Derek Jeter is eligible to enter the Hall of Fame, let’s not waste time talking about the injustice of why a guy who bet on baseball was not elected into the Hall. Let’s not waste time discussing why the ‘bloated one’ who pounded the ball over the fence as if he was filled with helium, wasn’t elected, yet again.
Wait! That’s it. They were all on helium. That’s why their muscles exploded overnight. That’s why the ball looked like a ping-pong ball. It was all about helium. Why didn’t the Commish think about this before.
Here’s to helium.
And to Jeter, getting into the Hall and having all of us talk about one of the greatest players who ever played the game and retelling others why he was placed on that pedestal, deserves all of our recognition. Real heroes are like that. They have earned our admiration.
There are nearly 1.4 million permanent residents in Hawaii. With tourists, the population swells. Going to Hawaii during the baseball season is both a blessing and a curse. It is a blessing because you catch a game before dinner. If you are a Giants fan, with a radio affiliate out of Honolulu, you have daily contact with the sport. That is IF you are a Giants fan. The bad is that if you are not a listening Giants fan, all games on MLB TV on the West Coast are blacked out via digital. You can’t watch one of the most amazing seasons a team has ever had, such as the Dodgers. You couldn’t see Kershaw silence the Phillies on Saturday. You couldn’t watch the Giants, the A’s, the Padres or the Mariners play because their games at home are blacked out on MLB TV via digital.
But if you are a Brewer fan, which are far and few between in Paradise, and you are playing in Arlington for one of the rare times, earlier in the week, you can see the game but cannot hear it. That can also be a blessing if you don’t want to hear the team’s PR announcer, Bill Schroeder. But you do get audio during the commercial breaks. Good job, MLB.
And if you try to watch the game on your mobile device, even if you are a subscriber on the digital band, you have to pay for access.
So, if you are a Dodger fan, get ready to shell out and NOT be able to listen to the tones of Vince paint a vocal picture of a game as only he can.
But I’m a Brewer fan. I get to watch in silence the ‘Silent Game’ where the Crew is ahead going into the seventh, 4-1 and watch Gonzalez and Badenhop blow another save and loose the lead in one inning.
Yet this is not about the misery of the Milwaukee AAA team playing in Miller Park this season. It is about baseball and how they tread the 50th State. It is insane to treat a million plus who are six to seven hours away and not be able to watch a team they like on the West Coast.
What in the sanest mile could come up with this dumb idea. No wonder the Islands like football more than baseball. Bud…wake up. There are a million people who might like to have a choice of watching their favorite West Coast team digitally via MLB TV.
So Bud. Get off your throne, fix what you can by giving these folks a reason to get the game and be able to watch the team of their choice. Or are you too busy taking victory laps for your A-Rod PED exposure or the suspension of Miguel Tejada as part of your ‘Legacy Plan’.