Posted on: November 4, 2010 1:03 pm
Edited on: November 4, 2010 1:44 pm

Strike-zone uniforms once existed

Strike zone uniforms In this day and age, as umpires continue to frustrate us all with their seemingly arbitratrary strike zones, a strike-zone uniform doesn't sound like such a bad idea.

Put a stripe across the chest for the upper part and strips across the knees for the lower part. Done.

Except it already happened, as Paul Lukas of UniWatch.com discovered.

The Ft. Worth Cats, a minor league baseball team in 1950, wore the uniforms to the right on Aug. 19.

It didn't work out.

"I don't think much of its future," president John Reeves told the Sporting News on Aug. 30. "The umpire can't look at both the stripes and the ball at the same time. This move showed a gesture toward modernization, but without 'practicability.'"

But wait. That wasn't the only time strike-zone uniforms were attempted. Unbeknowest to the Cats, someone had already come up with the idea -- and patented it , filing it Aug. 18, 1948 and having it approved May 2, 1950. It took until 1952 for another minor-league franchise, this time the Triple-A Denver Bears, then affiliates of the Pittsburgh Pirates. (The Yankees would take over in 1955, with manager Ralph Houk managing many players who would go on to appear in World Series' for New York.)

The players all hated the uniforms, forcing then-manager Andy Cohen to pose for pictures in the uniforms . Unlike the Ft. Worth Cats uniforms, these were two-toned, with dark colors at the top and bottom and khaki in the middle, which may have made it difficult to pick up the ball. There's no indication players wore it after the July 4th doubleheader in 1952, nor how many times. However, another Sporting News article about the uniforms did mention the uniforms would be worn "until proven good or bad."

We all know how that turned out.

-- Evan Brunell

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.

Category: MLB
Tags: MLB
Posted on: November 1, 2010 8:46 pm

Adding two teams to postseason is good idea

Selig Bud Selig's plan to add two Wild Card teams to the playoffs as early as 2012 should be a celebrated occurrence.

As Selig himself pointed out, having 10 teams in the playoffs is "more fair than eight."

Baseball currently has the most stringent prerequisites to play in the postseason. Each division winner plus one wild card team gets to dance in October, while the three other major team sports allow far more than eight to play in their respective playoffs.

The NFL imports 12 of 32 teams while the NBA and NHL welcomes 16 of 30. Expanding to 10 teams, then, wouldn't put baseball at risk of diluted talent making the postseason as is so common in other leagues.

The addition of another wild card would boost interest in baseball down the stretch significantly in several more cities each season which would have major financial implications in TV ratings and putting butts in the turnstiles late in the year. More involvement of teams, players, cities and fans is never a bad thing, especially when the quality of play in the postseason would still remain at a high level.

Take for example the Wild Card winners of the last five years, followed by which additional two teams would have made the cut:

2010 : New York Yankees (95-67), Atlanta Braves (91-71)
Added: Boston Red Sox (89-73), San Diego Padres (90-72)

2009: Boston Red Sox (95-67), Colorado Rockies (92-70)
Added: Texas Rangers (87-75), San Francisco Giants (88-74)

2008: Boston Red Sox (95-67), Milwaukee Brewers (90-72)
Added: New York Yankees (89-73), New York Mets (89-73)

2007: New York Yankees (94-68), Colorado Rockies (90-73)
Added: Detroit Tigers (88-74), San Diego Padres (89-74)

2006: Detroit Tigers (95-67), Los Angeles Dodgers (88-74) [Dodgers tied with Padres for division lead]
Added: Chicago White Sox (90-72), Philadelphia Phillies (85-77)

As the above shows, the added teams would still have brought a boatload of quality to the season and in quite a few cases, the added teams would include ones that just barely missed out on the actual Wild Card. Why can't the two teams square off in a playoff series for the right to advance?

In addition, three of the five new AL Wild Card teams would have come out of a division not named the AL East, which would go a long, long way towards addressing the perception that it is a fait accompli (which, let's be honest, it pretty much is these days) that the Wild Card comes out of the AL East.

As for the argument that adding teams would reduce interest in the postseason chases of teams at the top, that's nullified by general increased interest in those cities due to making the playoffs as well as the added interest of cities that wouldn't have been interested otherwise. How much more attention would Boston and New York have paid in the years they would have made it? The Rangers, Giants (both in 2009) and the Phillies (2006) would also have showed up a year ahead of schedule and given everyone a warning they were coming and given casual baseball fans more of a chance to familiarize themselves with the players. How many more people would be tuning into this World Series having recognized both teams from the season before?

The big question here is how the Wild Card playoffs should be approached. A one-game playoff, three-game series or a more traditional five- or seven-game series?

There's already a push to make the Division Series go seven games, which is a change that could quite possibly go into effect for 2011 despite Selig disapproving.

"There's something about a five-game as opposed to seven, where there's more tension. There's more drama," he said.

Should others get there way and move the DS to seven games, it would lengthen an already long season as baseball is being played in November in 2010. While the powers that be have addressed that issue for 2011, pushing the DS to seven games and adding a wild-card round would push baseball right back into November.

The obvious solution here is to make weekly doubleheaders in the regular season, which would trim the schedule to the point where playoffs would still end in October, plus who doesn't want more doubleheaders?

Past that, the only way to keep November baseball-free is to make the Wild Card round one game and keep the Division Series to five. That one-game playoff, however, isn't popular among people not named Bud.

"I've had some managers tell me we can't play 162 games, wind up in a playoff for one game," Selig said. "So you're going to get both sides of the argument, and they're very strong in that opinion, by the way."

Baseball would have to do a bit of dancing to pull this off, but if they scheduled a few more doubleheaders -- not necessarily weekly, but just tack on a couple more -- then baseball would be able to add in a three-game Wild Card playoff, keeping the other series the same and still end baseball in October.

Whichever direction baseball ends up going with regards to postseason scheduling, the move of adding two additional teams is the more important story here, and baseball is getting it right by tacking on two more teams.

-- Evan Brunell

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed.
Category: MLB
Posted on: October 8, 2010 1:55 am
Edited on: October 8, 2010 2:29 pm

Players want meeting with umpires

Joe Maddon gets tossed Sick of the bad calls that have plagued the umpiring crew the last few seasons -- and especially the postseason?

So are the players. The union is trying to organize an offseason meeting between the World Umpires Association, MLBPA and Commissioner's office to speak about the recent performance of umpires, as ESPN reports .

"When you have groups of people that work together in the same environment from time to time, it is a healthy thing from a labor relations perspective to have an exchange to discuss those issues that probably concern them both," Manfred, the executive vice president of labor relations and human resources for MLB, said. "Usually if those types of meetings are conducted correctly, it allows the groups to move forward in a more harmonious manner. I don't see this as an unusual or sort of out-of-the-ordinary thing. More importantly, it is a common workplace issue."

However, even though the players are expected to request a meeting, there is nothing requiring the umpires to agree. If the umpires decline to meet, the union is expected to pursue other avenues to correct what they feel is a growing problem. A similar meeting was requested in the 1990s, but nothing came of it.

Players are frustrated primarily with three things: the inconsistency of umpire's calls, the lack of transparency and accountability in umpire machinations and the attitude of umpires.

"We never know why or when they are fined, or reprimanded or held accountable," A's reliever Brad Ziegler about the lack of accountability. "Anytime a player is punished, suspended or sent down to the minors, the public knows about it. It would be a lot easier to communicate with umpires if everyone was held to similar standards. Our statistics as players are a lot more quantifiable than the umpires'."

Factoring in the issue is that umpires have tremendous job security: once you make the major leagues, you're there for good. No firings, no demotions, no nothing.

"It's not that they're trying to be bad," Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins said. "Some players just can't make it; some umpires just can't make it. That's just the way it is. As long as they don't have to answer to anybody and they have that job security, that pressure of having to be good to stay here -- they don't have to worry about that."

"We're not trying to go out and show the umpires up and tell them how to do their job," Reds pitcher Aaron Harang added. "There's definitely a middle ground we need to find where we can all kind of go in there with an opinion and not have any grudges held upon us."

With all the job security and lack of transparency, umpires have recently adopted a combative attitude -- especially the likes of Bob Davidson, Angel Hernandez and Joe West. Sadly, men like Jim Joyce are far and few in between when it comes to umpires these days.

"We're trying to get every inch we can," Rollins noted." You make the call, but you don't have to keep looking back at me or antagonize and throw me out from the field while I'm in the dugout.

"It's like umpires are taking it more personal these days. I don't know what it was like back in the day, but looking at the footage, they'd get in these guys faces and ream them out. And umpires would stand there and when it was over they'd walk away. You'd really have to do something to get thrown out."

While the umpires likely feel like are coming under fire from all directions constantly (and they are), there's no excuse for umpires to think they can get away with anything and are bigger than the game. There is also a lack of patience, as players are ejected more and more these days for simply looking back at the plate or tossing a helmet to the ground, as Rollins pointed out with multiple players agreeing.

Another issue that has the players upset is the lack of consistency. Strike zones vary widely from umpire to umpire -- to say nothing of blown calls that constantly raise the issue of instant replay. However, there are a large number of players against the increase of instant replay. All they want is more consistency.

"All we hope for is consistency in any shape or form," Blue Jays closer Kevin Gregg said, "whether it's consistently small, big, tall, wide, whatever they want to call it. I like the fact that there's human error in the game, but just the consistency of it kind of beat me right there."

It may seem like the players are piling on, but all they want is what is demanded of everyone else in all walks of life: accountability, transparency and consistency. And they want to hear from the umpires on the subject.

"I think we could hear the other side of it because none of us knows what it's like to be an umpire," Rollins said. "We can speculate what we think umpires should be, but we don't know what it's like to be an umpire. They go into a hostile environment right away so they put their guard up. It should open up those lines. What's it like to be an umpire? What are the rules? Or why can't I come out and argue with you if I'm being respectful?"

ESPN was unable to get comments from Lamel McMorris, the World Umpires Association spokesman and Brian Lam, one of its lawyers, and it is not known if the umpires are even interested in meeting. However, Weiner noted that he expected that umpires would want to raise their own concerns with players.

"I would think a meeting where information is exchanged, we'd have discussions, it gives people an opportunity to think about some things they haven't had to think about," Weiner said, "and then we see if there any other further steps that could be taken."

For the sake of sanity for baseball's fans, players, coaches and umpires, this meeting needs to happen. Clearer lines of communication for delineation of issues needs to be established to ensure that America's Pastime doesn't become a national laughingstock.

UPDATE: ESPN.com's Amy K. Nelson reports the meeting will happen on Dec. 3.

-- Evan Brunell

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed .

Category: MLB
Tags: MLB
Posted on: September 30, 2010 4:10 pm

MLBPA releases statement on early offseason dates

The Major League Baseball Player's Union released a statement Thursday regarding moving up free-agent dates in the offseason, slated to take effect immediately.

The actions of the previous two free-agent classes -- the ones that have severely suppressed years and salary of free agents -- have been of concern to the MLBPA for some time, with even the word "collusion" being bandied about.

The moving up of dates is what both parties have agreed to do, at the MLBPA's wishes.

“The agreement provides a meaningful response to the MLBPA’s concerns about the operation of recent free agent markets," executive director Michael Weiner stated. "It is intended to facilitate negotiations between Clubs and players throughout the salary structure."

However, the MLBPA noted they did not complete all their goals, but decided to agree to the provisions to drop grievances that had been filed.

“The agreement was approved by the MLBPA’s executive board, after consultation with a significant number of affected players and their agents," Weiner noted. "Those affected players, who had the most to gain if the Union had successfully litigated these claims, sacrificed for the benefit of players going forward, and deserve our praise and gratitude."

While the exact terms of the agreement has been termed "confidential," the MLBPA released several details. There is a shorter exclusive negotiating free-agent window, as well as earlier dates for salary arbitration-related dates, as well as tender decisions. There are stiffened rules to protect against collusion and also a crackdown on how much information gets to the media. (Guess we'll just have to work harder to get that information for readers.)

-- Evan Brunell

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed .
Category: MLB
Tags: MLB
Posted on: August 30, 2010 6:02 pm

Baseball trying to get foothold in China

Yao Ming's arrival in Houston sparked massive popularity in China, with roughly 300 million Chinese people now playing the game. For those keeping count, that's the size of the population of America.

That has drawn the interest of Major League Baseball along with the NFL, WWE, golf and multiple sports as sports organizations look for ways to tap into the massive market of China.

Baseball has established a development center in Wuxi, China -- a place handpicked for the relative ease in establishing baseball at that location. William Wan of the Washington Post calls it a type of guerrilla warfare.

In the last three years, baseball has stepped up its pursuit of Chinese involvement in baseball, estabishing an office in Beijing and negotiating deals to market baseball in the area. While revenue is still a ways away, baseball has seen hope -- 16 percent of the population is interested in baseball with an additional 26 percent interested in baseball merchandise as a 2008 survey by TNS Sport Asia notes.

Baseball in China is bolstered by the popularity of the game in Japan, South Korea and Taiwan, but there is still a ways to go with just four million Chinese playing the game. That may sound like a lot, but the population of China is over 1.3 billion, making four million a scant 0.3 percent of the population.

To improve that number, equipment will have to become far more commonplace and more baseball diamonds will have to be built which is not an easy task in a land where real-estate value is through the roof. And to be able to afford to do that, baseball will have to create more demand and more talented players -- which means starting young.

"There is no short-term fix," says Paul Archey, MLB's senior vice president of international operations. "It's just the nature of the game. We have to start young."

Hence, the development center at Wuxi where 16 hand-picked students are learning the craft of baseball. They attend regular school, are tutored to learn English and constantly have baseball games on in the dorm rooms and clubhouse. The skills of the children have grown, with a 12 to 14-year-old group recently holding their own in a game against college players.

But don't expect to see any of them hit the major leagues, although they could eventually join the fledgling national league. Some believe it could take at least 10 years for the first legitimate prospect to emerge.

"Look, it's not like basketball. We're not going to suddenly find a 7-foot player somewhere who can walk into Yankee Stadium and pitch the socks off people," Dell says. "Baseball doesn't work like that. We're going to have to be deliberate, build it from scratch. That's what this school is about."

-- Evan Brunell

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter or subscribe to the RSS feed .

Category: MLB
Tags: MLB
Posted on: August 21, 2010 7:11 pm

Nolasco may have torn meniscus

Ricky Nolasco The good news?

The Marlins have expressed interest in signing pitcher Ricky Nolasco to a long-term extension.

The bad?

Nolasco will likely be scratched from his scheduled start Sunday and is undergoing tests to see if he has a torn meniscus in his right knee, according to MLB.com. If so, the righty would be out for the season and finish 2010 with a 14-8 record and 4.22 ERA in 155 2/3 innings. Nolasco has been the team's second-best starter right behind Josh Johnson, so losing him for the rest of the year would be a blow as the team scrapes to finish above .500.

If Nolasco does indeed have a torn meniscus, all extension talks would be tabled until he proves his health. At 27, Nolasco has two more years of arbitration to go before becoming a free agent. Making $3.8 million, his price tag figures to rise quickly, even factoring in a torn meniscus.

To replace Nolasco, the team may elect to tab Andrew Miller for a couple of spot starts until Sean West can return from the disabled list. Currently filling in for West is 21-year-old Alejandro Sanabia, who twirled a gem on Thursday.

Miller was a former top prospect included in the Miguel Cabrera swap. The Marlins gave him 187 1/3 innings across the last two seasons but he only managed a 5.43 ERA, whiffing 7.1 batters per nine and walking 4.8. In 18 Triple-A starts, he posted a 6.01 ERA, whiffing seven and walking 6.4 batters per nine.

That is not a recipe for success.

Miller is already in the big leagues, recalled on Thursday to provide bullpen depth, so it would be simple for the team to slot Miller into the rotation. Whether they should is another question entirely.

-- Evan Brunell

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter.
Category: MLB
Posted on: August 21, 2010 3:35 pm
Edited on: August 21, 2010 8:39 pm

Clemens refused plea agreement from government

Rusty Hardin Roger Clemens' lawyer has revealed that Clemens rejected a plea deal offered by the government.

The deal was offered several months ago in exchange for Clemens pleading guilty, a scenario both Clemens and lawyer Rusty Harden declined.

"I will tell you the recommendation they made was a very good one if he was guilty," Hardin told ESPN. "And if he was guilty we would have jumped on it. Everybody has all this great solicitous advice, all the media ... Nobody is answering the question: What if he didn't do it, what should he have done? And everybody wants him to confess."

It's certainly obvious that everyone believes Clemens guilty, largely based on the evidence and Clemens' poor showing before Congress at a hearing. If indeed guilty, Clemens has brought all of this on himself, and it could have been avoided by simply admitting guilt. It has been proven that those who come clean fare far better in public perception. Even Hardin himself warned Clemens how important it was for him to admit wrongdoing if he did indeed take steroids or human growth hormone.

"He's been told from the beginning if he did it he ought to do exactly what Andy Pettitte did," Hardin noted. "It doesn't take a rocket scientist to know that. And everybody assumes it is his arrogance and his ego that kept him from doing it."

Pettitte, like Clemens, was fingered in the Mitchell Report. Two days later, the Yankees left-hander, one of Clemens' best friends at the time, verified trainer Brian McNamee's claims that Pettitte used HGH. He held a press conference in which he took questions and said he used the performance-enhancing drugs to help heal an injury. Due to Pettitte's own admission and contention that Clemens had told him of the Rocket's own use of performance-enhancing drugs, the two no longer talk.

However, Pettitte has escaped rather unscathed by the whole saga, as his use of HGH will warrant but a footnote in his career biography, and he remains a fan favorite in New York. Clemens, meanwhile, is ostracized.

"He wasn't the greatest witness before Congress, I understand that," Hardin added. "But I got to tell you, we've sat on him probably for 100 of our hours over the last two-and-a-half years, always with the same thing: 'If you did it, the best thing to do is just admit it and move on and we'll deal with it.' He has never, ever wavered."

Clemens will get his day in court soon, and perhaps the lingering question of one of the best pitchers of all time's drug usage will finally be settled.

-- Evan Brunell

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter.

Category: MLB
Posted on: July 7, 2010 7:23 pm
Edited on: July 7, 2010 7:23 pm

Dodgers searching for pitching

Roy Oswalt The Dodgers have spoken to the Astros, Blue Jays, Diamondbacks, Indians and Mariners about solutions to the Dodgers' pitching conundrum, reports Evan Drellich of MLB.com. The Dodgers need both starters and relievers.

Manager Joe Torre said that pitching is what the Dodgers are focusing on in any particular deal and expects a deal to eventually be swung. Complicating things is that Los Angeles doesn't have much left in the budget to add, thanks to the brewing divorce between owner Frank McCourt and his wife as well as a current payroll of $102 million according to Cot's Contracts.

So which pitchers could the Dodgers get from the aforementioned teams? Let's take a look.

Astros: Houston has starting pitcher Brett Myers available who is on a one-year deal and has been the second-best starter on the team with a 3.57 ERA. Of course, there's also Roy Oswalt (pictured), who has a standing trade "request" but is due $15 million over the balance of 2010 and $16 million in 2011. And who's to say Oswalt won't demand the $16 million team option for 2012 be picked up if he's traded? With a full no-trade clause, Oswalt has that ability.

The Astros also have a number of relief arms, but none that stand out as an optimal replacement for the Dodgers' current arms -- at least, that would be available. Brandon Lyon is near untradable and it's tough to imagine Houston parting with Matt Lindstrom.

Blue Jays:
The Jays have lost 12 of the last 15 and are in fourth place in the AL (B)East, 11 1/2 games out. It's safe to say the honeymoon is over, and the Jays have plenty of pitching available. Their starting pitching are all young, cost-controllable and quality so it's hard to imagine Toronto dealing any of those. The relievers, on the other hand, should be plentiful.

Kevin Gregg has extensive experience pitching in the NL and in close games. He's posted a 3.94 ERA over 32 innings. Left-hander Scott Downs, one of the best setup men in the bigs, is having another fantastic season and Shawn Camp has emerged as another qualty bullpen arm. Casey Janssen is just 28 and is a quality middle relief arm but certainly fungible to a rebuilding squad.

Now that the GM and manager have been offered a ticket out of town, interim GM Jerry DiPoto has a lot of decisions to make. One of which is if Dan Haren should be traded, something outgoing GM Josh Byrnes also grappled with. Haren is inked through 2012, getting $8.25 million in 2010 and $12.75 million in 2011 and 2012, affordable for a perennial Cy Young contender. The question here is two-fold:

First being if the Diamondbacks would be willing to swap Haren to an intradivision rival, the second if the Dodgers have enough in the farm system to acquire Haren. The Dodgers were ranked No. 21 in minor-league talent rankings by Baseball America prior to the season and Haren figures to command more than Lee will.

The Indians have Jake Westbrook most available, who is finishing up a contract that pays him $11 million on the season. Cleveland is ready to have a fire sale (as detailed here ) but has yet to find anyone to their liking that has been dangled for Westbrook. Westbrook would cost significantly less than one of the top-tier pitchers on the market in terms of prospects due to the contract and the fact he is a mid-rotation starter.

Kerry Wood, provided the Indians chipped in a healthy sum of money to make up for about $5 million remaining on Wood's deal, could also head to the Dodgers.

The obvious one is Cliff Lee, of course. With about $4 million remaining to Lee, he would easily fit into the Dodgers' payroll. He would also allow Los Angeles a way to beef up its farm system by offering arbitration to the lefty after the season -- which Lee would certainly decline. The Dodgers' payroll collapses to a projected $61 million next year, so a Lee extension is possible as well.

Other potential names that may have been swapped could include closer David Aardsma who could fit in a pitcher's park throwing gas as a setupman. Relief pitcher Brandon League is having a solid season as well.

-- Evan Brunell

For more baseball news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsmlb on Twitter.

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com