A Different World

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Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

You’ve probably noticed the immense increase in home runs around Major League Baseball these last couple of seasons. The game has slowly evolved into one where launch angle and exit velocity are king while aspects of the game like putting the ball in play and hitting to the opposite field are not practiced as widely.

This isn’t an article that will rail against the direction of the game. I’m a firm believer that some of these changes are good while others feel more neglected. Major League Baseball has never had as many talented young players roaming the landscape as they do right now, both at the plate and on the mound. That is good for baseball.

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But the home run has soared to new heights these last couple of seasons that we have never seen before. Last year had not only the most home runs in history but also the highest home run rate of all time. In fact, these last couple of seasons have toppled the numbers put up in the so-called “Steroid Era” of the late 1990’s-early 2000’s:

hr rates years peak
Credit: Baseball-Reference.com

Three of the top four home run rates IN HISTORY have been achieved the last three seasons. A big factor into these numbers can be purely related to the actual baseballs used in a regular MLB game. Yes, the baseballs have changed.

The first sign of a different baseball was after the 2015 All-Star game, as numbers increased across the board at record levels. Last season saw even bigger numbers and tests were done with the baseballs used before and after the 2015 “Midsummer Classic”. Studies were done and it was determined that “reduced drag on the baseballs was responsible for the rising home run rate but had not found any changes in properties of the balls that could account for the reduced drag.”

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While Major League Baseball started using different baseballs, there was also a difference between the balls used in the big leagues and those used in the minor leagues. In fact, last week they announced that next season in Triple A they will use the same baseballs used by MLB. This pretty much proves what many have said these last few years, in that the balls being used are much, much different:

This change could end up being very big for how teams evaluate their talent, as some noticeable differences have occurred due to the differences in baseballs used at the two levels.

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Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

We all are well aware that when Ryan O’Hearn was recalled by the Royals he wasn’t exactly tearing up AAA. In fact, he was posting a very pedestrian .232/.322/.391 slash line  for Omaha when the Royals came beckoning, numbers that definitely don’t just jump out at you. But the Kansas City front office saw his exit velocity was stellar and figured there was a bit of bad luck involved in the results.

We all know how that has turned out: O’Hearn is slugging .612 in the big leagues with an ISO (Isolated Power) of .349. The power numbers are the most notably different for O’Hearn, but it isn’t just him who has seen an increase in those numbers. Hunter Dozier was slugging .339 for Omaha with an ISO of .085; in Kansas City he is slugging .391 with an ISO of .163.

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Credit: Associated Press

Even Adalberto Mondesi has seen an increase, albeit a much smaller one. His slugging has gone up to .498 from .492 while his ISO has actually seen a decrease, .211 compared to .242. There are obviously numerous factors in play here, the most obvious being the small sample size of their time in the minor leagues. That being said, there is a difference and it might very well be why teams have gone outside of the standard numbers to evaluate whether or not a player is ready for the big leagues.

So what does the difference in the balls do that causes the gap in the numbers? I’ll let a couple of pitchers who have used both balls explain. First, Ben Heller on the differences in pitch movement:

“My fastball actually rides a little bit more. For whatever reason, it has more life to it in the big leagues than it does down in the minors. I feel like my slider moves less. The minor-league balls, with the bigger seams, give my slider a little more downward break. I can start it at the batter’s hip, or almost at his shoulder, and it will break down for a strike. With the big-league balls, if I leave my slider up at all… it seems like it just spins. I need to drive it down, and really finish it, to get that good break.”

Now, Kirby Yates on the carry of batted balls:

“I think the ball goes further — it flies better — in the big leagues. I’ve hung stuff in Triple-A where guys have put on a good swing and it was an out, whereas in the big leagues it was probably a home run. That could be the hitters, too — I’m not 100% sure — but it does seem like it flies more. Regardless of the reason, the balls here are definitely different.”

Pitchers who have been in both leagues have noticed the change and it would even explain some of the struggles younger pitchers have had these last couple seasons once they get the call to the big leagues. These changes appear to be helping the hitters while causing a few growing pains for the pitchers.

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Credit: AP Photo/Chris O’Meara

So where does baseball go from here? Having the same ball being used at the top two levels should definitely help, as it should make the adjustment period a bit shorter for any player getting recalled. But hopefully some of the lessons learned from this will carry over.

While breaking down a player’s slash line or home run total is fine, it has at least taught us that it doesn’t always measure whether or not a player will find success. Someone like O’Hearn is an example to why a deeper look is sometimes necessary.

Hopefully the higher-ups remember that. It is the perfect case of why there should always be a glance taken to exit velocity, launch angle and hard hit rate to measure whether or not a player is doing things right but is just not seeing the results.

There are numerous factors that come into play, and anyone evaluating talent should cover all their bases when it comes to determining a player’s future. Something as simple as a physical difference in a baseball could speak volumes that aren’t spoken in batting averages, and slugging percentages.

 

 

 

I See Your Ballot, and I Raise You My Votes

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The announcement for just who(or won’t) be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame won’t be announced for close to two weeks, but the debate will only intensify during that time. I’ve written more than my share about not only the Hall of Fame but also my thought on cheaters in the game. Joe Posnanski even goes a step further, saying the Hall needs to take the lead. To be honest, in a lot of ways I’ve grown tired of the subject and the hypocrisy of the whole situation. So instead of discussing the whole reason the Hall is missing star players from the “Steroid Era”, I thought today I would go through the Hall of Fame ballot, and like the BBWAA has to, pick my ten votes for the Hall. It’s not as easy as you think, as a few deserving candidates have to left off due to the backlog of talent being left behind. So here are my ten votes, not in any particular order:

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1)Craig Biggio

Craig Biggio  didn’t get in last year on his first year on the Hall of Fame ballot, despite the fact that his numbers are those of a HOFer, & he is someone who was never thought of as possibly taken steroids. I mean, seriously–look at him! With that said, I understand why some voters are leery on Biggio. For one, he played for 20 years, with a lot of those years near the end nowhere near Hall of Fame caliber. The prevalent thought was that if Biggio hadn’t held on, he wouldn’t have reached 3000 hits, which normally grants you an easy slide into the Hall. Biggio also wasn’t a big power hitter, or just a pure great hitter like a Tony Gwynn or a Wade Boggs. No, what Biggio was was a consistent performer that went out there every day and gave his all. Sure, that alone won’t get you into the Hall. But when you add in him being a 7-time All Star, a 4-time Gold Glove winner, and was 3 times in the top ten of the MVP voting, you have a Hall of Fame candidate. But all this isn’t the most impressive of his feats. No, Biggio’s biggest feat was that he did all this while changing positions multiple times. Biggio went wherever the Astros asked him to go, whether it was catcher, second base, left field or center field. He was an All Star at both catcher and second base, which within itself is a huge accomplishment. Most players who get moved around that much don’t keep up their All Star numbers, let alone put together a Hall of Fame career. But Biggio did.

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2) Jeff Bagwell

If there is one player on my ballot that I feel has been robbed, it’s Jeff Bagwell. There has never been a sign that Bags used any illegal substance. No proof that used the same substances that so many of his peers did during that era. Yet…he is lumped in with them because “he looked the part”. Ridiculous. I’m not saying he didn’t; there is no way for me to know that. What I am saying is assuming because he had muscles that he used is putting the cart before the horse. Judgment like this is why I hate what the voting process has become for the Hall of Fame. Anyway, I obviously feel Bagwell is a HOFer, and looking at the numbers it’s not hard to see why. Rookie of the Year in 1991, 4-time All Star, won the NL MVP in 1994 and was in the top ten of the MVP voting another five times. Bagwell also won the Silver Slugger Award 3 times and won a Gold Glove in 1994. If that isn’t enough, his 12 years of being one of the top players in the NL and a career WAR of 79.5 ranks him at 63rd OF ALL TIME. Jeff Bagwell hit, hit for power, stoles bases and was an above average defensive first baseman. Bagwell should have been a no-brainer, and it does seem as if support for his HOF case is growing. In Bagwell’s first year on the ballot, 2011, he received 41.7 % of the vote. Last year it had grown from 56% to 59.6%. It has grown enough that it is realistic to think Bagwell will(eventually) get elected to the Hall and rightfully so.

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3)Mike Piazza

Mike Piazza , like Jeff Bagwell, was lumped in as a player suspected of steroid use more by looking the part than actually having proof. That can be the only reason, as the argument can be made that Piazza is the greatest hitting catcher of all time. Piazza wasn’t the greatest defensive catcher you have ever seen, but he worked hard to get better and was heralded more than once for being a good game caller behind the dish. Obviously the biggest argument for Piazza to be inducted is his bat. Sure, he never won a MVP award, but the list of accomplishments he racked up are a nice consolation. 12-time All Star(including 1996 All Star game MVP), 1993 Rookie of the Year, 10-time Silver Slugger award winner, and was in the top 5 of the MVP voting four times. You could read the numbers all day but few, if any, catchers can match up with Piazza. He should have been a first ballot HOFer, and eventually he will get in. The question is just when.

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4) Tim Raines

I’ll be honest–I showed up late to the “Tim Raines   should be in the Hall of Fame” party. Most of my viewing of Raines was late in his career, where he was a solid outfielder who wasn’t an All Star but was still a great addition to your roster. After really viewing the stats, Raines compares very closely to Rickey Henderson, who was a no-brainer HOFer. Raines led the NL in stolen bases  four times, was a 7-time All Star, won both a batting title and a Silver Slugger Award in 1986 and was Rookie of the Year in 1981. The reasoning behind my vote for Raines is easy; he did a little bit of everything, did it above average, and did it for a long period of time. You really didn’t see Raines have a drop off in production until 1994, which was 14 years into his career. “Rock” got on base, stole bases, hit for average, hit for extra bases, drove in a decent amount of runs for a guy who batted lead-off, and was solid on defense. If not for Henderson, Raines would have been the measuring stick for lead-off hitters of his era. Rickey unfortunately overshadowed Raines, which would be a big reason why he hasn’t gotten the vote support he probably should have. In Raines first year on the ballot(2008), he got 24.3% of the votes. Since then he has bumped all the way up  to 52.2% this past year, a lot of it thanks to a number of voters championing his cause. He only has a bit over 20% of the vote left to get, and it’s conceivable to see him get that within the next few years. Once you really sit down and look at everything, it  becomes very obvious that Tim Raines should be voted in. In due time, my friends, in due time.

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5) Greg Maddux

I’ll go ahead and say it; next to Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux is the greatest pitcher I have ever seen. This will be the first year Maddux is on the ballot, and it seems pretty apparent that he will get voted in this year. Honestly, anyone who doesn’t  vote for him just doesn’t get it. Sure, the accolades say a lot; 4-time Cy Young award winner, 18-time Gold Glove winner, 8-time All Star, won the NL ERA title four times, twice lead the league in win-loss %, four times lead the league in WHIP, nine times lead the league in walks per 9 innings, and has the 25th best WAR of all time. ALL TIME! Maddux is what every pitcher should strive for, even if they are unable to perform as well as he did. Maddux understood not only the strike zone, but understood how to throw batters off of their game. Maddux changed speeds, changed locations, and batters had no clue what to expect from him. I have never seen a pitcher who located the ball as well as Maddux did. This might have been my easiest pick for a vote. Greg Maddux is an easy pick for the Hall of Fame.

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6) Tom Glavine

When mentioning Maddux, you pretty much have to mention his former teammate, his left handed counterpart Tom Glavine. During the Atlanta Braves heyday in the 90’s, Glavine was just as important to those teams as Maddux was. Glavine is also on the ballot for the first time this year, and although not quite the no-brainer that Maddux is, Glavine is just as deserving to go into the Hall. Glavine was a 2-time Cy Young award winner, ten time All Star, the 1995 World Series MVP, and even a 4-time Silver Slugger winner. Glavine wasn’t overpowering, but he knew how to pitch. He was also about as consistent as they come. Up until the last five years of his career, Glavine was a consistent 200 innings pitcher who always gave his team a chance to win. He didn’t have a fastball that popped the glove. He didn’t celebrate on the mound or draw attention to himself. Tom Glavine just went out there and won. For that, he should be in the Hall of Fame.

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7) Frank Thomas

Frank Thomas (nicknamed “The Big Hurt”) is the last of the players who are on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time that I would vote in. Thomas was not only a great hitter, but a great hitter with a good eye at the plate. Frank would just as likely take a walk(he led the league in walks four times) as take you deep. Just how good of an eye did he have? He led the league in OBP four times, OPS four times and OPS+ three times. Sure, the last half of his career was spent at DH, but he isn’t going into the Hall of Fame for his defensive prowess.  No, Thomas mashed the ball, and in some ways, took the art of hitting to another level. He was a 2-time MVP winner, but also finished in the top five four other times. It’s actually amazing he only won one batting title(1997), since he was as just a good a hitter as Gwynn, or Boggs, but had a ton of power as well. Late in his career, after it seemed like Thomas was washed up, he bounced back and had a monster season in Oakland in 2006. He parlayed that into another solid season the following year in Toronto, but after that he would last only one more year in the majors. Thomas had a ten year stretch where he was one of the best hitters in baseball. Dominance gives you a plaque in the baseball Hall of Fame.

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8) Edgar Martinez

Edgar Martinez is that interesting case that is very polarizing for the voters for the Hall of Fame. On one hand, Martinez being a full-time Designated Hitter for the majority of his career hurts him in the eyes of some voters. But does that matter when you are the greatest DH of all time? The argument for or against is logical, so it comes down to how you feel about a guy who hardly played in the field. Me? I feel like if a player is so good that he is considered the benchmark for that position(to the point the award for Designated Hitter of the year is now named after him), then it doesn’t matter that he doesn’t play a defensive position. Edgar hit, then hit some more, and just kept hitting. He hit so well that he is 76th in career WAR amongst position players, a stat that combines offensive and defensive stats. His hitting was so good that it didn’t even matter that he didn’t add anything defensively. That is raking. The honest truth is that the Designated Hitter is still a position, whether or not he wears a glove. The position isn’t going away, so the voters should realize they have to acknowledge it exists. Maybe they should look at it from this view: they wouldn’t be voting for a DH. They would be voting for one of the greatest hitters of his era, a player who’s numbers match up with the all time greats. If that doesn’t mean you should get a vote, then I’m not for sure what voters should be looking for.

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9) Roger Clemens 

My last two picks are possibly the two biggest lightning rods of the entire ballot, but I honestly believe they both deserve in. First on the list is Roger Clemens , one of the greatest pitchers of all time. Obviously, the steroid issue looms heavy over his consideration, and maybe even more because he so steadfastly denies everything. Taking the needle(or the lotion) out of the equation, Clemens stands tall as THE pitcher of his era. His 7 Cy Young awards(SEVEN!!!) alone should get him in the hall. In my eyes, Clemens is up there with the Walter Johnson’s and Sandy Koufax’s in baseball lore. I get why some don’t vote for him, and they have every right. Personally, I think it looks bad that after all this time he denies everything so vehemently. Normally where there is smoke there is fire. But maybe the most intriguing part of “The Rocket’s” case is that the argument could be made that he was a Hall of Famer before his supposed steroid use. To me, that makes the case even sadder. No one is arguing that Clemens should be in the Hall. No, the argument is the circumstances, circumstances that I feel baseball allowed to happen. So in my eyes, he should be in.

Barry Bonds Convicted Of One Count Of Obstruction Of Justice

10) Barry Bonds

Speaking of polarizing, there is no player more polarizing than Barry Bonds. Here are the facts: Barry Bonds is one of the greatest baseball players of all time. He is the all time home run king. He has also always been a major league jerk, which never helps his case in these situations. And like Clemens, Bonds was a Hall of Famer before his supposed steroid use. In fact if you have read “Game of Shadows” , you know that a big part of why Barry supposedly  took steroids was because he was jealous of Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa getting all the attention when he knew he was the better all around ballplayer. Barry was right; he was. Barry was that one talent who could do everything; hit, hit for power, run, and field. In all honesty, his name should be discussed with Ruth, Williams, Mays and Mantle. Instead, steroids is all that is discussed, and is why he already isn’t in. Like Clemens, he is the best player of his era. Like Clemens, I would still vote for him. Doesn’t mean I like what he did, but he wasn’t the only one, and it was allowed to happen. You can’t just erase a part of history because you don’t like it. You can’t erase what Barry Bonds accomplished.

So there are my ten votes. There were a few other players I would have voted for, like Mark McGwire, Rafael Palmeiro, and Mike Mussina, but you have to go with the ten best. I also wouldn’t have voted for Jack Morris, who seems to be a hot button topic. I just don’t feel he is a Hall of Famer. It will be interesting to see how the voting goes on January 8th when the ballots are tabulated. I think at least a few of these players will get in this year, but not as many as they should. Hopefully sometime in the near future, the Hall of Fame decides on set rules for the writers to vote on, so we aren’t stuck with the limbo the voting is in now. The “Steroid Era” happened folks…it’s not any worse than the racism that permeated baseball for many, many years. Acknowledge the era and put in the best players of that period. Doing what they are doing now just puts more attention on what is already a subject most of us are tired of. Do what’s right and let’s move on.

 

Why I Can’t Be Bothered By Baseball’s Cheaters

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Over the last year I’ve had a few people tell me that my stance on baseball’s PED users almost makes it sound like I am okay with them cheating. With Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun being the first casualty of the Biogenesis scandal(he will be serving a 65 game suspension this year, which means his 2013 season is over with), it seems like the appropriate time to lay my cards on the table and just say what I really feel about the steroid mess we’ve dealt with these past 15 years. It’s a complicated debate that has no right or wrong answer, and really is not white and black as much as gray.

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Now, this isn’t the first time I’ve tackled this subject that quite honestly I am tired of talking about. There is this. And also this. Whoa, I guess that last one didn’t really quite pan out the way I thought. My bad. Anyway, there is a good chance that if you discuss baseball, even if it is just with your buddies while drinking a cold one, you have debated steroids in baseball, or just cheating. To be honest, I am a firm believer that cheating has always occurred in baseball and always will. There is no stopping that. Sure, you can try to weed out the bad seeds, and to a degree it works in the long run, but you will never catch everyone. So why is there such an uproar about cheating now than any other time in history? It’s simple; the cheaters knocked fan’s heroes off their pedestal.

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Barry Bonds isn’t a likeable guy. Never has been. He has been a pain in the ass from day one. Don’t believe me? Just ask Tigers manager Jim Leyland. But the biggest offense Barry ever made was breaking Hank Aaron’s career home run record. Aaron not only was a great symbol of all that was great about baseball, but also baseball commissioner Bud Selig’s hero. Anyone remember when Barry broke the record? Bud was watching up in the box and if looks could kill he would have done just that to Bonds. I know in some circles Bonds’ record is ignored, but the honesty of the situation is this is the baseball world Selig created, so he only has to look into the mirror to place blame. Bonds, the poster boy for the ‘Steroids Era’, dethroning Aaron is exactly what happens when business men let greed control their business decisions. There are many who think this record is now tainted, but remember– for the longest time Roger Maris breaking Babe Ruth’s single season record was considered ‘tainted’ because it was done in more games. I’m not saying it was okay for Bonds to cheat; what I am saying is it was allowed to happen and is now part of baseball history.

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I guess that is what I need to clarify here. No, I don’t like that cheating was so glorified in baseball during this period. No, I do not feel like it was good for the game, even if it was profitable. But I’m not naive. There was cheating when Ruth played. There was cheaters when Mantle, Mays and Aaron were playing. Oh, I’m sorry, I’m not supposed to discuss greenies, am I? Because to be honest, amphetamine use was just as bad as steroid use. Both help you bounce back quicker from game to game. So why is that not as looked down on as steroids? There was just as much rampant use of greenies, but it was never shoved in anyone’s face. It wasn’t paraded around and used to ridicule those in charge. It was used behind closed doors and no one was the wiser. Baseball became a joke and it was the people in charge that were to blame and anytime that happens…well, when that happens those people with power use their power to make those players pay for being so ballsy.

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That right there is why I quit caring if any baseball player used something they weren’t supposed to. When the higher ups in baseball decided not only to not take blame for any of the problems happening with their lack of a drug program, but then pointing fingers at players while not pointing any back at themselves, well, why should we care at that point? I’m not saying the players shouldn’t be blamed, or the players union. No, both shoulder a fair amount of that burden. But there is more than enough blame to go around, and to have the hierarchy of baseball act like they were disgusted, while making truck loads of money, well, I can’t just act like that is not one of the most hypocritical things I have ever heard. Bud Selig should have stood up, said he was just as much to blame for letting it go on as long as it did, and then profess to clean up the game. Instead, he acted sick to his stomach that these players would do such a thing. That is why I don’t care. But that isn’t the only hypocrisy going around baseball.

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A large portion of baseball’s Hall of Famer’s have also spoken out against steroid use, yet are just as bad about their cheating ways. So none of those Hall of Famers ever used greenies? No corked bats? No spitters or illegal pitches? Not so fast, Gaylord Perry. Perry is a known cheater and yet was welcomed into the Hall with open arms! So it’s okay to throw an illegal pitch, but dammit, those damn steroid users, they ruined the game! Newsflash guys: IT’S ALL CHEATING! You can’t excuse one and abhor the other. Here is the kicker to this whole thing–at some point, while trying so hard to not let in any steroid users, they are going to let in someone who never was on the radar. Never looked the part, never gave a hint they were using. But they’ll get in. Then, with all the other guys on the outside looking in, some not even having any proof against their supposed “guiltiness”, will realize that the system is flawed and that they got screwed. Just another reason why the arguments against steroid users have become a joke.

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So do I have a problem with players who use illegal substances in 2013? The honest answer is I just don’t care anymore. There is no way to ever catch everyone, and very few in the game can ever walk away saying they are a saint. Is it right? Nope. Not even a bit. But is it our reality? Yes, yes it is. I am not naive–this will still be going on in five years, ten years, fifteen. Major league baseball has a good testing program, and guys do get caught, right, Bartolo Colon and Melky Cabrera? Instead of just accepting that the system is working nowadays, Selig has gone out of his way to prove a point. Ryan Braun is just the first. Alex Rodriguez is on deck. But should we care? No, no we shouldn’t. Baseball has allowed this to be an issue, by ignoring it for so long. So let these guys use what they feel they need to. It soils the game, yes. But is it worse than gambling or racism has been for the game over the years? Nope. It’s just another chapter in a book on how if you aren’t cheating, you aren’t trying.

Cementing a Legacy

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With the Major League Baseball All-Star Game taking place tomorrow, it would appear to be the time to shine a light on all the positives so far in the 2013 campaign. Instead baseball is staring down the barrel of a giant mess that could be a black eye the game is not prepared for. Word leaked this past week that the commissioner’s office was planning on suspending possibly as many as 20 players after this week’s All-Star break for their involvement in the Biogenesis clinic in Miami. Baseball is using the word of Tony Bosch, the owner of Biogenesis, which seems shady within itself. Bosch has already lied when the Biogenesis issues were first brought to light, and then tried blackmailing Alex Rodriguez, hoping that A-Rod would fork over the dough for Bosch’s silence. Doesn’t exactly seem like the most honest fellow, does he? But even if Bosch backs up his word with hard, real evidence, it doesn’t mean this issue is cut and dry for baseball.

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There has been word that Rodriguez and Ryan Braun would catch the heftiest of penalties, 100 games which is normally reserved for players on their second offense. Except neither guy has an official first offense on their record. The thinking by the commissioner’s office is that the two-time offense would be A) receiving performance-enhancing drugs and B) lying about receiving said drugs. This not only seems like a big reach, but also seems like a scary, slippery slope to start gliding down. Once you say they can be suspended for two offenses at once, where does it stop? It almost seems like baseball, and more specifically Commissioner Bud Selig, is making up the rules as they go. To be honest, this whole issue reeks of Selig wanting to fix his initial error. You know the one I’m talking about, that whole “Steroid Era”?

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Selig has been adamant that he knew nothing about steroids being so widely used in the game during this era, but are we really to believe that? There is no way the head chief of the entire game has no clue about something that pretty much everyone else was aware of. The truth of the matter was that baseball flourished from the power surge steroids brought and elevated the game coming off of the 1994 baseball strike. Selig and his owner buddies all made crazy money, hand over fists, during this period and only put a stop to it once congress decided to step in. So to make up for this, Selig wants to nail anyone to the wall who is or has used PED’s. But this might not turn out the way he thinks. Sure, a large portion of the suspended will take their suspension and serve it. But Braun and Rodriguez probably won’t, and don’t be the least bit surprised if this ends up going to court. Now answer this; is this whole thing worth it if it means all anyone is talking about within baseball is PED’s and court proceedings? Nope, it sure isn’t.

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This thing could drag on for quite awhile, and it won’t take long for some people to just be sick of it. All this so Selig could fix his major screw up and fix his legacy, a legacy that already has a strike, steroids, a missed World Series and a tied All-Star game. This will just be the cherry on top, more bad press for an otherwise elegant game that if kept between the lines is holding up as one of the brighter eras the game has ever seen. Instead more steroid talk, more finger pointing and name calling. Way to cement your legacy, Allan. I can’t see where this is the best thing for baseball, Instead I see a desperate man willing to use sketchy characters just to prove a point. The old saying goes “if you sleep with dogs, you’re bound to get fleas”. When this is all said and done, I have a bad feeling Selig will be itching quite a bit.

Just to Clarify: the Baseball Hall of Fame is NOT a Church

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This week the BBWAA will announce if there are any new inductees to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, and no matter the results there will be controversy. The biggest names of the “Steroid Era” (Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens) are finally eligible for the Hall, and despite their career’s being Hall of Fame worthy before they took any illegal substances, most voters won’t bother even giving them a passing thought. Soon, the Hall of Fame ballots will be inundated with players who probably should be inducted, but because of the suspicions of PED use, they will not get the 75% of the votes that are required for entrance into the hallowed halls of Cooperstown. But they should be in, and here is why. The Baseball Hall of Fame is not a church. It might be sacred ground for those of us that love the game, but it already has cheaters and players with shady character issues roaming the halls.

hall-of-fame11 Having players in baseball cheat and do whatever they can to get an advantage is as old as the game. We’ve all heard the stories about players using spitballs, or scuffing the ball to get more movement when they pitch. Batters have long used items like pine tar and cork to help them hit the ball farther. None of this is new. It’s been going on since the beginning of the game, and will be going on long after you and I are gone. Doesn’t mean it is right, but lets not act like the game is 100% pure. In fact, a pitcher named Pud Galvin is said to have injected monkey testosterone back in 1889. With that line of thinking, are we to believe that there is no one in the Hall of Fame with a shady record or who didn’t follow the rules of the game all the time? None of us are that naive, but it’s amazing how many of the writer’s will crucify everyone who used steroids, or is even suspected, yet they idealize former players whose character would be thrown into just as much of question. Two of the biggest in history would not be categorized as “Angels”, and I don’t mean the ones that roam the outfield in Anaheim. Exhibit A: Babe Ruth and Ty Cobb.

baseballhall9   Two of the greatest baseball players of all time are Ty Cobb and Babe Ruth, and neither would be considered of being of great character. Cobb was a known racist, and would sharpen up his spikes so when he slid into a base he would go in with his spikes high. Yeah, real nice guy, huh? To say the least, Cobb was not liked by many, and that includes his teammates. Ruth, while liked by his peers, wasn’t a saint. Ruth was a known womanizer, and poured more than his fair share of alcohol and tobacco into his body over the years. Don’t believe me? Here is an actual quote from “the Bambino”:

“Sometimes when I reflect on all the beer I drink, I feel ashamed. Then I look into the glass and think about the workers in the brewery and all of their hopes and dreams. If I didn’t drink this beer, they might be out of work and their dreams would be shattered. I think, ‘It is better to drink this beer and let their dreams come true than be selfish and worry about my liver.’”

I can not tell a lie: that is a real quote from Babe Ruth!! Now, Babe Ruth is still one of the greatest(if not THE greatest) ballplayers of all time. But these men weren’t saints and I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t take them out of the Hall of Fame, now would you?

6-gaylord-perry_display_imageMaybe the most notable player in Cooperstown that is known for cheating is the great Gaylord Perry. Perry made a career out of playing with the batters head. Perry would go through a whole routine on the mound, including wiping his brow and rubbing behind his ear before throwing a pitch. Did he throw a spitball all the time? No. Did he make the batter think he was? Yes. That was part of his game. The other part of his game was simple; Gaylord threw a spitter. The problem was, there was never any hard proof in a game. There were many attempts to catch him, but most futile. But since his retirement, Perry has admitted to adding a little somethin’ somethin’ to the ball, to give it a little bit of added english. Perry won over 300 games in his career, and won the Cy Young in both leagues, while totaling five 20 win seasons. Pretty safe to say, he is a Hall of Famer; a Hall of Famer that cheated.

mickey_mantleMaybe one of the biggest cases of a player who probably shouldn’t pass the character clause in the rules of voting for the Hall is Mickey Mantle. I know there is a whole generation that worships “The Mick” and who think he walked on water. I will never deny he was a hell of a ballplayer, possibly even one of the best. But Mick also had a major drinking problem and cheated on his wife. He also didn’t have the greatest relationship with his sons, but that is neither here nor there. Everyone loved Mickey Mantle, but he made life rough for anyone who was around him. Dealing with an alcoholic every day is tasking, and that is how most friends and family members felt about Mantle. He deserves to be in the Baseball Hall of Fame, but his character should have been brought into question. Here is where a section of the baseball writers aren’t able to separate their feelings about Mantle while in the same breath crucify steroid users. Hell, Mantle was even given a shot that included steroids back in 1961 to help his ailing hip. Yes, that would “enhance” him being able to play on the field, which would in effect give him an advantage. Are you starting to see where some of the hypocrisy of the writers is seeping in? All that, and I haven’t even mentioned “greenies” yet.

greenies“Greenies” as they are called, were regularly used throughout  the years in baseball, while most prevalent in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Amphetamines(or speed) allow a player to be able to bounce back from a long night and perform at a higher level than they would have clean sober. How prevalent were “greenies”? The percentage of players that used them during that period would be near the majority, where even a player like Willie Mays was known to have amphetamines located in his locker(although no one has ever come out and said they saw him use them). It was common practice for players to use amphetamines to help them recuperate, but there is no scrutiny laid at their feet. Once again, this helped “enhance” their performance, much like PED use would. There is no doubt in my mind that there are players in Cooperstown who used this substance to help them get through a grueling season. It doesn’t make me think less of them, but it once again shows that PED use isn’t an island onto itself.

plaqyesThe point of this is to not knock down some of the greats of the game. They are humans just like the rest of us and in a lot of ways should not be placed on the mantle we like to put them on. The point is that there is a segment of the writers who won’t vote for anyone who is even suspected of using steroids, and while that is their prerogative, it also takes away from what the real purpose of the Hall of Fame is. Baseball’s Hall of Fame is a museum for the game and everything it encompasses, good and bad. Throughout history, bad things have gone hand and hand with the good in the game. The “Steroid Era” is a part of the game, and baseball allowed to it happen. It wasn’t against the rules, and players took advantage of that, making everyone richer. It also put a stain on the game, but it’s a stain we are stuck with. Just like the “Black Sox Scandal”, just like Pete Rose and just like the racism that permeated in the sport for decades. While Cooperstown is the closest thing to Heaven for us fans, it is not Church. Let’s try not to treat it that way.

Perfection (and Why it is Easier to Accomplish)

Yesterday, Felix Hernandez of the Seattle Mariners threw a perfect game, the first of his career, the first in Mariners history and the third overall this season. Not only that, it was the sixth no-hitter thrown this year in Major League Baseball. The last two years, pitchers have been all the rave in baseball, and the focus has been more on what happens on the mound than what happens at the dish. When did this happen and why is it good for baseball?

Last year was considered by many to be the year of the pitcher, a nod back to 1968 and a year where pitchers dominated, especially Cardinals Hall of Famer Bob Gibson who led the National League that year with an ERA of 1.12, a modern baseball record. It also forced baseball to lower the mound, to give hitters a “fair chance” against the pitchers who were dominating the game at that point. This year seems like a continuation of the Year of the Pitcher, with all of the perfect games and no-hitters being thrown around baseball and pitchers putting up flashier stats than their hitting counterparts. A big part of why this is happening is because of all the young pitchers scattered across baseball. Younger pitchers have sprouted up across the majors the last two years and not only are they young, but they throw harder and seem to have a good grasp on how to actually pitch, not throw. This has led to pitchers gaining an advantage over the hitters, a good sign for baseball after the years of power, which is often referred to as the “Steroid Era”.

The “Steroid Era” is another reason for the pitchers success over the last two years. Major League Baseball’s drug testing has proven to be topnotch, and other than the gaffe in the Ryan Braun positive test, no one has been able to successfully appeal a suspension handed down to them by MLB. With the success rate they have had with their testing, many players have chosen not to even chance it when it comes to trying to use banned substances. Sure, there will be guys like Melky Cabrera who either try to see what they can get away with or just aren’t smart about it, but most players know the testing is improving at a rapid rate and is not worth chancing it. Therefore, less players that are chiseled out of granite and more professional hitters litter the baseball  fields of 2012.

With all that drug testing being put into affect, it has made it to where teams focus less on homeruns and RBI’s. Instead, more value is shown to stats like OPS and WAR. Both stats show more of a players full value instead of just focusing on one simple area. While these stats will give you a more patient hitter, which is good, it can also give you a player who strikes out a bit more often, or a hitter who puts the ball in play more. Both are hitters that a pitcher like Felix Hernandez or Justin Verlander loves, as both are efficient starters who attack the strike zone and have nasty stuff to back it up. A power hitter can hurt you in more than one way, where as a singles hitter can hurt, but more likely to put the ball in play. Both can hurt you, but more pitchers would rather face a slap hitter than a slugger. Less loaded lineups lead to an advantage to the pitchers.

Maybe the biggest reason for the influx in pitching has been the focus by a lot of teams on pitching and defense. For years, the saying has gone ‘pitching and defense wins championships’. This philosophy was successful for many years, but after the 1994 baseball strike, it seemed many a team got away from this way of thinking. With power going out of vogue again, more teams stocked up on pitching and better defensive players. More teams will get by with a player who isn’t as good offensively if they bring great defense to the table. Ask Felix Hernandez how much it helps having Brendan Ryan playing Shortstop for the Mariners?  Ryan might barely hit .200, but he gives Seattle Gold Glove defense. Having that on your team can help, but can also make it easier for a pitcher to attack the bottom of your batting order. Utilizing these methods can both help and hurt your ballclub, leading to some really great pitching performances.

All in all, this wave of great pitching has really showcased the game of baseball. After years of sluggers with Popeye-like arms, we are now in an age focusing more on the little details of the game. No one knows how long it will last, but it probably means we will see more no-hitters and perfect games before it is all said and done. Hopefully it won’t dilute the game, only highlight all the great things that the game of baseball brings to the table.

Perfection be thy name!

 

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