Jim Rice Polutes the Baseball Hall of Fame

Anyone from outside of the Northeast who likes baseball will eventually get beaten down by the Eastern media bias.  I had some feeling of this growing up, but really had it drilled home with Ken Burns’ Baseball.  You would have thought that there were only three teams in baseball as Burns waited until the last hour of the program to acknowledge the existence of any great player outside of Boston or New York.  I actually think I saw the great Nolan Ryan’s face flash past the screen in a montage, but I was not sure.

The problem is two fold.  Great players from teams outside of the Northeast have to be that much greater to even be considered for the Hall of Fame.  While it seems like Players for that Yankees and Red Sox simply have to be good for a long period, and be likable to make it into the Hall of Fame (see Wade Boggs). 

Today, we are told that Jim Rice will be in the Hall of Fame.  I don’t have any problem with a person saying that Jim Rice was a very good baseball player, but he does not deserve to be in the Hall of Fame.  Put him in your team’s Ring of Honor if you wan to, but not in the Hall of Fame.

He did not reach any of the ‘benchmarks’.  He did not have 3000 hit.   He did not even have 2500 hits (2452).  He did not have 500 home runs (382).  There is no justification for his inclusion, and it cheapens the Hall of Fame.

I looked at a few other players in comparison.  Reuben Sierra and Al Oliver are two Texas Rangers who have never sniffed the Hall of Fame, and rightly so.  Oliver had a 303 batting average, 2743 hits, 219 home runs, and 1326 RBIs in 18 seasons.  Sierra had a 268 average, 1322 RBIs, 2152 hits and 306 home runs in 20 seasons (he played less than 50 games in 11 of these).  These players are not as good as Jim Rice, but they compare with him, and the point is that they obviously do not belong in the Hall of Fame.

Ricky Henderson obviously does belong in the Hall of Fame.  He hit a benchmark with his 3055 hits while compiling the most stolen bases in history.  That’s it.  He’s in the Hall because he did what it took to get there.  Unfortunately, players like the great Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski will now have to have their names spoken in the same breath with Jim Rice.  Am I the only one that sees the wrongness of this?

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A Little More Yankee Hatin’

I don’t know if it is absolutely fair to hate the Yankees for signing CC Sabathia for a record $161,000,000 over the next six years, but just can’t help it.

As a fan of the Texas Rangers, I will always remember how offended the media was when the Rangers offered A-Rod, the best player in baseball at the time, a record $150,000,000 contract.  The media beat the Rangers up and down about how ridiculous the contract was.  Because many people allow their opinions to be determined by the things that knuckleheads in the media say, the outcry was pretty loud.  Eventually, even though he was still the best player in baseball during his tenure with the Rangers, public opinion soured him on the team, and he left (to the Yankees, no less, sticking the Rangers with a good portion of his contract).

Obviously, the best position player in baseball is worth more than the best pitcher in baseball.  Why then is it OK for the Yankees to spend these sums of money, but not the Rangers?

The problem I have is with a sports media which is largely driven and controlled by Eastern press agencies who do little to mask their biases for teams like the Yankees, but never acknowledge these biases.  What I see in all of this is that it is alright for a team such as the Yankees to spend whatever they want on any player, but heaven forbid an upstart, second-tier team like the Rangers even attempt to play ball in the same marketplace that the Yankees play in.  If that were to happen, then perhaps some team other than the Red Sox and Yankees would go to the playoffs every year, and the Eastern media obviously could not deal with that.

So, because the media will not police itself in this manner, I am left with no other option but to wish failure on the Yankees.  And, I do.

How Petty Can a Person Be?

Unfortunately, it is not that much of a surprise to find petty parents involving themselves more in more in their children’s lives, often to the emotional or even physical detriment of other children.  People can be pretty petty.  There are the famous cases of the “cheerleader murdering mom” and the mom who got in a fictitious internet relationship with a teen on line which eventually resulted in her (the teen’s) suicide.

When I started reading this story about a young man who was not being allowed to play baseball because he was too good, I thought that I was going to get to blog about another case where expectations were being lowered and mediocrity encouraged.  This unfortunate trend seems to be the norm in our society at this time.  For a good example, all you have to do is look at the Dallas Independent School District where failure is no longer an option, it’s a feature.  Students no longer get a zero for homework that is not turned in, and failing grades can be reattempted until they are passed.  That’ll get those TAAS scores up (please read this sentence with sarcasm).  This doomed policy will only last until the state threatens to take over the district for low test scores, and they’ll do it.

I expected that this rush to mediocrity was behind the story of a young man in New Haven, Connecticut who was being told he could not play baseball anymore because he pitched too well.  Occasionally a child who is physically larger and stronger that the other kids will be allowed or asked to play a grade-up in football.  This can work out for all involved because the kid who is, say, 50 pounds heavier than his peers will not be able to really hurt them, and he will find a greater challenger and quicker advancement playing with children who are better and more his size.  Baseball is different.  It is mostly a skill-based game where cognitive ability is more important than size and strength.  In the original Foxnews and Google News stories, it was portrayed that this young man was being kicked out of the league because he was too good- specifically, because he threw too hard and the parents were scared of him.

If this were true it would be bad enough, and it would be indefensible, but unfortunately, it appears that the truth is even worse.  Something in the story did not sound right, so I followed the link to the local paper, and therein lay the sad, petty story.

It seems that Jericho Scott is a very good pitcher for a nine year old.  So good, in fact, that Reynaldo Reyes, the president of the league, who also happens to own the barber shop that sponsors the best team in the league, approached Jericho and his parents about joining the league, and his team of ringers.  Jericho was already playing in another league, but decided to take up the invitation.  However, instead of joining Reyes’ team of ringers, he joined another team coached by one of his father’s friends. 

You would think that the league would have been all for this.  Adding a good platyer to a team that was not as good would add to the competitiveness of the overall league.  That just makes sense.  Unfortunately, the team that Jericho joined was not supposed to go 8-0, and be unbeatable this season.  They were supposed to be just another punching bag for the team of ringers whose parents all have thoughts of future professional baseball careers dancing before their eyes.

So, in the grand tradition of parents who become involved in sports everywhere, the parents of the ringer team, and the president of the league decided that Jericho was dangerous (to their winning percentage), and had to be stopped.  They demanded that this child be removed from the league, and not allowed to pitch.  When he took the mound, the umpire forfeited the game for them, and later games have been called-off.  The team has now been ordered to disband, and the coach and Jericho have been kicked out of the league.  Now, of course the court battles will begin, and who knows who will win as the truth will be obscured by feigned parental concern.  In the end, all we are really left with is a nine year old boy crying on a mound wondering why, and a bunch of loser adults who should be ashamed of themselves.

A Parting Shot at the Olympics

I want to start off this rant by saying that for the past two weeks I have watched a lot of the Olympics.  I can be a little obsessive about things like this, and with the greatness of the invention of DVR, I was able to record and playback an significant portion of all the televised events, liberally fast forwarding through the fluff and replays to see all of the important (and some unimportant) events.  I also want to say that, for the most part I enjoyed what I saw.  The Olympic games carry with them a mystique that is hard to screw up in the first place, and the added element of patriotism that I felt, and good sportsmanship that was exhibited by almost all of the athletes (I do exempt the numb-skull from Cuba who kicked the referee in the face from this statement) made watching the events that much more enjoyable.  I will also credit the host country, China, for putting on a great spectacle and providing great venues for the events.  The presentation (excluding NBC’s coverage) was unrivaled and deserves to be lauded. 

That being said, I was angered at the smug attitude exhibited by International Olympic Committee (IOC) chief Jacques Rogge in a three-part interview with Bob Costas over the weekend.  The biggest theme that came out of the interview was that the Olympics were not ever going to criticize China for any reason.  The truth is that China rolled-up the Brinks truck in a way that the Olympics has never seen before.  And, make no mistake about it, the IOC is about making money.  They are not about to bite the hand that just served them the colossal feast that was the Beijing games, and the definitely do not want to cut off this gravy-train.

In the piece, Bob half-heartedly attempted to interview Rogge about several controversial aspects of the games. He asked him about the controversy swirling around the Chinese girl’s gymnastics team, and whether they were cheating by sending underage girls to the competition.  He completely dodged the question by putting the onus on the gymnastic federation.  Let’s be honest, the IOC was not interested in offending the Chinese by strongly pursuing any such allegations.  Besides, the IOC has much more blatant problems to deal with in these games such as the travesty that was the boxing venue.

I said at the beginning of this controversy, that if these girls were under 16 that the rules needed to be changed.  The argument that 13 year olds cannot compete at the Olympic level falls apart when several of them win their respective competitions at the biggest of venues in the sport.  As it is, the Olympics only come around once every four years, and a gymnast’s opportunity to compete is greatly diminished if he or she is unlucky enough to be born in the wrong year.  Costas pointed out that there was a 14 year old British diver at the Olympics this year.  Rogge hid behind the rules of the respective federations on this answer, and added a paternalistic (possibly chauvinistic) statement about protecting the athletes.  This rang especially hollow with China, and its Olympic tradition of taking 3 year olds away from their parents to be trained for the Olympics as a backdrop to the conversation.  As I said, the rule should be, if you are able to compete, you should be allowed to compete, but until the rules are changed, the IOC should enforce them for everyone.

Later, in a discussion of the dropping of baseball and softball as Olympic events, Rogge used the steroid controversy (baseball), and being unfairly associated with the steroid controversy (softball) as reasons for the dismissal of these sports from the games from the games.  I will give Costas a little credit here.  He ignored Rogge’s disingenuous answers and went straight at the truth.  First he alluded to the fact that baseball does not send major leaguers to the games due to the conflict in schedule.  Rogge admitted that the Olympics desired to have the best athletes on the field.  Translation: the IOC would make more money if Jeeter and A-Rod were there.  So, if they can’t have those guys, then they’ll take their Olympic games and go home.  This is odd because baseball, being second only in popularity to soccer in the world, can field competitive teams from any number of Central American, South America, North American and Asian countries even if they do not get major leaguers.  Also, a compromise might easily be worked out by rotating the games from the Northern to Southern hemispheres.  This way every other Olympics could be attended by major leaguers who would be attending the games in the Southern hemisphere in baseball’s offseason.

The reason that Costas forced out of Rogge for the removal of softball was dominance by the USA women.  Of course, the irony of this was the fact that the USA women lost in the gold medal game to Japan.  Rogge, in a classic bit of smugness, suggested that the loss had a silver-lining by proving that other teams could compete with the USA.  Golly, thanks, Jacques.  That makes us feel so much better.  So, all we have to do is lose to in order have our sports accepted in the Olympics.  I wonder if Chinese dominance of ping pong, or Russian dominance of rhythmic gymnastics (not a sport, but that is a discussion for another time) or Hungarian dominance of water polo is going to relegate these sports to the Olympic ash-heap.  I doubt it.  This is simply another in a long line of IOC digs at the USA, its biggest generator of capital.

Finally, Costas brought up China’s reputation for human rights abuses.  In particular he mentioned Joey Cheek, Tibet, and two 80 year old Chinese women who were sent for re-education for the sin of simply applying for a legal permit to hold a protest.  Rogge said that the IOC defended Cheek (fat lot of good that did), but on the matter of Tibet and the two women, Rogge went on the offensive.  He stated (and I paraphrase) that if the governments of the world had no power to expect China to reform, then how could the IOC be expected to force China to reform.  This high-handed comment ignored the point of the criticism which has been leveled at the IOC all along. 

The point of this criticism is that the IOC should not award games to countries that have human rights issues, abusive training regimens for their athletes and tend to bend the rules on a corporate level as it comes to the games.  Of course, the IOC has no power to dictate policy to any country.  It does, however, have the right to express its outrage or even concern for a country’s policies by simply not awarding them an Olympic games in the first place.  The sad truth is that the point of this interview was to show where the IOC stands now, and it is clear that when you come to the IOC with enough money, they will bend over backward to make sure that you give it to them.  Look for China to have a games every 20 years from now on.

Confessions of a Yankee hater

The first step in a Twelve Step Program is to admit that you have a problem.  It has been a long hard road filled with a lot of denial, but I can finally admit to myself today, that I am a Yankee hater.  Just saying it feels as if a load has been lifted off of my back.  This has been a hard realization to come to, but seeing how Jonathan Papelbon was treated in New York last night caused me to finally reconcile my feelings on the subject.

 

I consider myself a baseball fan, as much as I can be having chosen the Texas Rangers as the team that I root for.  However, in considering myself a fan of the game, I have found it difficult to place my hatred appropriately on the Yankees.  I mean, how can you hate Babe Ruth?  How can you hate Lou Gehrig?  How can you hate Mickey Mantle?  I really can’t.  So, I have decided to compartmentalize my hatred of the Yankees.  Though he is not the absolute reason that I hate the Yankees, I will use George Steinbrenner as the delineator of my hatred.  I will choose to respect the Yankees and the great players who played for them up until Steinbrenner purchased the club, and choose to hate the Yankees and the players who have played for the ball club since then.

 

So, why do I hate the Yankees?  I asked myself the same question, and came up with a lot of things that I hate about them.  Then I asked myself what do I like about them, and the only thing I came up with was their old great players.  There was really nothing from the past 35 years to like about them, so I admitted to myself, and now I admit to you that I really don’t like the Yankees.

 

Most of my hatred for the Yankees is generated through media bias.  The Eastern media that controls much of the sports information in this country never fails to prostrate itself at the foot of the Yankees.  The Yankees are never criticized for the money that they spend (more on this when I get to the A-Rod part of the post).  The Yankees could be in last place, and they would still be in the first 15 minutes of Sportscenter.  I have missed compelling Ranger’s games, and turned to Sportcenter for a recap only to have to wait 52 minutes for the five second mention of the Ranger’s game if it is mentioned at all.

 

Yankee management and their fans have such a sense of entitlement (which the media also promotes) that it makes me ill.  The owner and management of the team continually overreact.  If the Yankees are not in first place, obviously someone has to be fired,…today. 

 

Every year either ESPN or SI will do an article about the best fans in sports or baseball in particular.  Yankee fans are often at the top of these lists.  The viewing public is continually reminded how smart the fans in New York are, especially when compared with fans in other parts of the country.  If this is the case, why is it Yankee fans that screw up and grab a ball that is in play?  And, if Yankee fans are so smart, why do they fall for disingenuous articles that are printed in newspapers with the sole purpose of causing them to make asses of themselves which they inevitably do. 

 

This brings us to last night’s All Star Game.  Jonathan Papelbon made the horrible mistake of suggesting that he, as a closer, would not be afraid to close the All Star Game.  A sorry New York newspaper suggested that Papelbon was saying that he should close the game instead of Mariano Rivera.  So, these great New York fans take it upon themselves to verbally assault Papelbon and his pregnant wife during the parade on the way to the game.  Very nice.  Then these genius fans decide to boo him and chant against him when he came in to pitch.  Never mind the fact that he was pitching for the American League.  Idiots.  What a sense of entitlement they must have.  It was absolutely right for Papelbon as a closer in the major leagues to want to close the game.  Considering the fact that Terry Francona (the Boston Manager) was the American League manager for the game, it would have been absolutely appropriate for him to choose to honor his own player over a player from another team.  It was his call, and if I had been in his place, I would have left Papelbon in for the ninth to teach the Yankee fans a lesson about treating my player that way after I had gone out of my way to honor Rivera by putting Papelbon into the game in the eighth inning.

 

Yes, I have my reasons, but the biggest one is A-Rod.  Being a Rangers fan, I have suffered through decades of bad baseball.  Longtime Ranger fans know well what it is like to be frustrated with ownership that wants to win on the cheap.  Finally, Tom Hicks bought the team, and we had an owner that was willing to spend some money to make the team better (at that time).  Several times when the Rangers went after a player in the past, they went to New York, even when the Rangers were offering more money.  Why wouldn’t they go and play for a team that would still play them well, and would also pay every other position on the field well?  The Yankees routinely have All Stars or ex-All Stars at every position.  This makes a player look even better, and gives them a better chance to win a pennant or World Series.

 

The Rangers wanted to compete with this.  One way of doing this was to pay what it took to get a good player on their roster.  This would have a three-fold benefit.  They would get a very good player.  They would show other players that they were serious, and willing to pay what it took to win.  And finally, having a great player on their roster like A-Rod would entice other players to want to join a club that had players of his caliber on their roster. 

 

There was a high upside to paying the $25,000,000 a year salary to A-Rod at the time, that is until the eastern media lost their collective minds over the fact that an upstart team like the Rangers- that definitely was not the Yankees- would have the gall to sign a player to such a deal.  The general negative attitude that was expressed toward the A-Rod deal, both nationally, and unfortunately locally, eventually soured the fans, A-rod and the Rangers.  Then where does he go?  New York, of course, on the Rangers dime, that was until they decided to pay him even more, but no one in the eastern media had anything negative to say about that.  That was because it was the Yankees paying out a big contract this time, and that was OK.  Best of all, Tom Hicks had his hand slapped and learned that he was not allowed to play the salary game with the big boys.

 

Through the years, as a Dallas Cowboy fan, I have enjoyed hating the Redskins, the Eagles and the 49ers.  I’ve never really had a team to hate (other than the White Sox while Robin Ventura played for them).  Now, I find it liberating as a baseball fan to embrace my hatred of the Yankees, and realize that I actually have a baseball team to root against.

 

Why Sabermetrics is not going to save the Rangers

I had the pleasure of attending a wonderful baseball game this afternoon between the Texas Rangers and the Kansas City Royals.  It was about 80 degrees with a nice breeze.  There were only about 5,000 fans in the park (Texas has done little to draw fans so far this year).  However, on this day, the Rangers and the Royals got involved in a pitching duel.  Both pitchers went eight innings (very rare in any game much less one involving these two teams), and there were no errors in the game (just as rare if the Rangers take the field).  In the end, Texas won 2-1 on two home runs in a game that took only 2:10 to play.  Games like this make baseball more enjoyable.

Getting home earlier than I intended, I began to think about the problems with the Rangers as a team.  There is some anticipation around the Dallas area regarding the eminent demise of Ranger manager Ron Washington.  If this happens, I would like to see Buddy Bell given another opportunity to succeed as a manager. Getting rid of Ron would be a nice first step, but much more needs to be done.

General Manager John Daniels claims to subscribe to the ‘Billy Ball’ theory otherwise known as Sabermetrics.  I am not here to denigrate the Sabermetric theory.  It works or it has worked in the past.  Just look at Oakland making their yearly attempt to rise to the top of the AL West with another group of pseudo-stars.  Boston, of course, is the biggest example of how Sabermetrics can work for a team.  They believe in the idea so much, they have retained Bill James, the father of Sabermetrics, as a consultant for the team.

The Sabermetrics method assumes that all teams must function within a given budget, and therefore to maximize your potential to win, you must sign players that give you the biggest bang for the buck.  It really just makes sense, but Sabermetrics uses a set of expanded criteria that are used to determine a player’s ‘worth’ to a team.  In the end, the method tends to focus not on the elite players of the game as much, because they cost too much money to pack a roster full of them (unless you are the Yankees), but rather it focuses on very good, difference makers that are salary friendly.  By dropping out of the bidding for players such as A-Rod who may cost a team upwards of $25,000,000 a year, a team can focus on players who are very good, but not elite.  After applying the Sabermetrics methods to the players that may be available in free agency or for trade, a team can concentrate on packing its roster with these types of players and using them to complement a couple of truly elite players it may also have on its roster.  It is argued that by adding these players who ‘statistically’ make a difference to your team, you make your team better than other teams. Simple.

As I said before, this idea has definitely led to success for several teams in the past few years.  The problem I see is this, Sabermetrics, by being successful has given itself a definite lifespan.  For a number of reasons, Sabermetrics will have, and has already begun to deliver diminishing returns.

As more teams use these criteria for evaluating talent, the group of players that Sabermetrics has identified as ‘budget-friendly difference makers’ will be artificially inflated.  When there were only a couple of teams going for these players, those teams could focus on the ones at the very top of their Sabermetric statistics.  Now, many teams (including my Texas Rangers) have adopted this philosophy, and all teams know about it.  As a result, there is a lot more competition for these types of players.  Teams that do not even necessarily admit to using the Sabermetrics philosophy will make an extra effort to keep the players already on their roster that fit the Sabermetrics profile because their value will be more apparent.  This will further dilute the pool of players that fit the profile.

Another problem with Sabermetrics is that it does not effectively take into account the players that surround a particular player, and as a result, teams that are already pretty good tend to benefit more from its philosophy.  A player in the middle of a line-up with four other good hitters around him may look better that he actually is because he gets more at bats in that line-up, he is driven in more in that line-up, pitchers are forced to pitch to him in more situations, and he has more opportunities to drive in runs in that line up.  Put him on a team with a worse line-up, where he has to carry a lot more of the load, and his stats go way down as his opportunities decrease.  However, take the third best batter from say, the Marlins and plug him into a Red Sox line-up that is already filled with good hitters and he suddenly he is a much better player.

Coming to these ideas a part of a team philosophy as the Rangers have done will eventually be proven to be a losing endeavor.  Due to scarcity, these teams will reach for less talented players in an attempt to find players who fit these newly adopted philosophies.  It also will instill the catastrophic idea that championships can be won on the cheap if you only use this method.  This will sound great to owners who will think that they may be able to spend less, not hire superstars, and still have a contending team.

As far as salaries go, the Sabermetrics philosophy will end up driving them up.  The scarcity of players that fit the sabermetrics mold will drive their prices up.  And as teams attempt to do a better job of holding onto this talent, more teams will reach for talent that is not quite as good, and the salaries for those players will rise as well.  Trades for these types of players will cost more prospects, depleting a team’s farm system.  And don’t think that statisticians and GMs are the only ones paying attention to all of this.  Player agents and the players themselves have already started crunching these numbers, and when the numbers come up saying that they are more valuable, they are going to expect to be compensated accordingly.

As far as I can see, the Ranges have made every misstep possible in their attempt to adopt Billy Ball.  They spent the last few years building up their farm system, and recently have traded a lot of the talent that was almost ready for the major leagues for a group of guys who may not have been as good as they looked statistically.