Category:MLB
Posted on: March 29, 2013 1:25 am
 

MLB Family Feud '13

Wherever people cluster there are bound to be skirmishes.

At the dinner table, school, the workplace, your barber shop, …any place people come together. It’s human nature: different brain-matter, different opinions and then the verbal wrangling ensues.

Sometimes the tension runs like an undercurrent, out of public view. The conflicts that spring up can be as measured as a bow-shot at sea or as lengthy as the Thirty Years’ War (1618), as acrimonious as the ugliest divorce or low-key as a game of croquet.

And baseball’s no exception.

While MLB’s fiscal state is robust ($5B ‘12) and is set to raise the curtain on 2013 Sunday night (3-31 / ESPN) as the Rangers mosey on down to Houston to take on intra-state rival and new Junior Circuit member, the Astros, things are not all hot dogs & cerveza in America’s national pastime.

There are sore-spots that fester, some with a history, some just starting to take shape. Not likely any of these hot button topics triggers a clubhouse fisticuff but try broaching any of ’em with players & coaches and you’re likely to get an ear full.

WBC (World Baseball Classic)

Classic case of wishful thinking, as in, ‘We (MLB) wish the international format, so successful in the World Cup, can work for baseball too.’ Wish upon all the stars your “heart(s) desire” fellas, but even Jiminy Cricket won’t underwrite that dream.

Baseball’s global popularity explains why the WBC has met with worldwide applause since its debut in 2005. But state-side, the tournament barely makes a ripple in the sea of US sport news as fans are indifferent and players not exactly lining-up to participate.

Maybe if MLB went all in, making the WBC a real world series where each nation’s league champion team (‘12 Giants (MLB), Leones (LIDOM), Giants (NPB), etc.) was a participant, rather than a compilation of native players (WC), it might be better received by the American public. One thing is certain, its intrusion upon our beloved spring training traditions in Florida and Arizona, as minimal as it is, does not help the sell.

Sabermetrics (or Billy Beane baseball)

The dogfight between saber-heads & traditionalists flies under the radar but constitutes baseball’s war of philosophy.

Stats have always been a big deal in rounders, nothing new or contentious there. Just check the backs of older Topps cards: NFL versions are numeral-poor while MLBs are jam-packed with figures. Numbers were big in 1880 and they’re still big today.

But saber-heads kneel at the alter of the Holy Digit, spouting the ‘numbers never lie’ mantra while intolerant of other sporting faiths. They view baseball through the eyes of an accountant, dissing the subtle strategy, the history and humanity of the game, always favoring quantity over quality, numbers over nuance. If that reads a little harsh, go a few rounds with one of ‘em and see if it isn’t a pretty accurate assessment of the type.

Who’s winning the war? The battle of ideologies flares up whenever Cooperstown is the subject. By that measure (vote results), I’d say we’re in trench warfare.

PEDs (performance enhancing drugs)

Confused on MLB’s drug testing policy? If you answered yes, you’re not alone, if no, clue me in because I’m kinda’ lost. Thought I had it down last year when they were supposedly drawing blood from every player in spring. Then this winter they announced a new testing twist, a plan to start taking “random” samples during (?) the 2013 season.

Bottom-line: While baseball’s testing policy seems half-measured and a bit of a shell-game (See; MLBPA), they remain the one major US sport who is taking action and making progress. They’re catching some of the slugs, likely deterring others and may someday arrive at a clear, consistent and complete PED prevention policy.

The antagonists: users, pushers, enablers and faux-sport fans vs. everybody else.

Who’s winning this war? Given the persistence of drug peddlers, a cheater’s mentality that’s in vogue and a public that grows more & more dispassionate about anything that’s not TV, gizmos, food or drink, I’d say the crusaders have a long fight ahead. But they’ve drawn a line in the sand and they’re not giving up this time.

Some crusades will end. Saladin and Richard the Lionheart were warriors but also brave visionaries. They knew when to make peace (1192), even if others failed to heed their wisdom (4th Crusade). But if you really love baseball and care about the health, the well-being of children who will someday fill its ranks, this is one crusade we can’t quit on.

The DH Rule

After a period of dormancy, the designated hitter debate is heating up again. That can only mean one thing: someone’s got dollar signs ($$) in their eyes and has deployed an advance force (media) to help prepare the way.

I dislike the DH but have come to accept, even appreciate, its status as a distinguishing trait (vs DH-free National) and fixture of the American League.

Some believe an NL-DH is “inevitable” (3-5 / Jaffe / “True Grit” / SI). I’d say it’s as “inevitable” as abandonment of day-game World Series (’87), football gear in the batter’s box, dangerous maple bats and the AL-DH (’73). In a sport that used to respect its traditions and League distinctions, we fans asked for none of these changes (inter-league) supposedly needed for good of the game. Hogwash.

What fans and the game need, want, and what they get are all very different animals.

Tradition giving way to common-sense change (bat-helmets) and even some profiteering, if it also profits fans (NCAA field: 32 to 68), is a standard all of us can accept.

Just as I won’t oppose progressiveness solely on basis of tradition, I just as surely won’t ditch a tradition merely for sake of change and making change ($) for the greedy few.

In a sport where the home run derby is its biggest event and bunny-hop celebrations make most viewers cringe, the on-going debate over the designated hitter rule actually pumps life into the game, giving it a visceral edge, in opposite of what agents-of-change would have you believe when mocking what they’d call a behind-the-times National, a League who’s been easily dispatching their DH devoted AL rival in recent Series play.

If proponents get their way and force the rule on the Senior Circuit they can kiss goodbye the ‘national pastime’ moniker for that arrogant act will signify the last nail in the coffin that buries what semblance of League distinction remained, along with a good part of history with it.

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Posted on: March 1, 2013 12:25 am
 

Mr. Smith Goes to Palookaville

“Babe Ruth is the biggest runner-up in history.”

That’s what the man said, Babe Ruth, a runner-up.

Words from the mouth of sport opinionator Stephen A. Smith last Monday co-hosting with Skip Bayless on ESPN’s hip-hoppin’ morning show “First Take.”

I don’t take-in “First Take” but rarely these days, having been a regular until producers decided the popular show needed fixing and pulled in the welcome-mat for anyone over 35. Then there’s bombastic Stephen, your morning cup of arrogance whose shtick can only be taken in small doses, otherwise PVCs, BP spike and the migraine all set in.

Don’t know if it was chance, old habit or just gluttony for punishment, but I dropped in briefly on FT and Steve was on his soapbox about Hammerin’ Hank Aaron, a man many still consider the career home run champ, now with the dark cloud of PEDs hanging heavy over Bud Selig’s official title-holder, Barry Bonds.

But calling Ruth a “runner-up” to Hank Aaron is like calling Charles Lindbergh “runner-up” to Chuck Yeager or Vincent Van Gogh “runner-up“ to Pablo Picasso. Pure goofball histrionics, or at least, putting too fine a point on Hank‘s accomplishment.

Having fewer career home runs does not a “runner-up” make, any more than Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax are “runner-up” to Bert Blyleven and Gaylord Perry.

Dead for well over 60 years, Babe Ruth’s name recognition stays strong while other stars like Thorpe, Howe, Unitas and Wilt understandably fad a little more with each passing generation. And here’s why the Babe still resonates:

Babe Ruth is holder of the best non-PED enhanced season in MLB batting history (‘21);

The man who when asked why he believed he should make more money than the President (Hoover), answered back: “Because I had a better year than he did.” I wonder how the Bambino and Rosanne would’ve gotten along?

Is credited with saving baseball after the ‘19 Black Sox and A. Rothstein nearly killed it;

Once described as “a parade all by himself (J. Cannon),“ the multi-talented George H. was fast becoming a HOF caliber pitcher with Boston when Ed Barrow and Col. Ruppert put him in pinstripes (‘20) where he single-handedly ushered in the modern era of baseball with his persona, ravenous appetite for all things tasty and his Ruthian clouts;

Head-to-head with Hank in HR-related stats: career HRs (Aaron / 755 (2) - Ruth / 714 (3)); AB per HR (A / 16.38 (38) - R / 11.76 (2)); career AB (A / 12,363 - R / 8,399); SLG% (A / .554 (23) - R / .689 (1)); BA (A / .305 (T147) - R / .342 (T9)); OB% (A / .373 (T222) - R / .473 (2));

The player who, yes Bob Costas, called his home run shot in the ‘32 Series (Cubs);

And the man whose accomplishments on the field of play, and play on the field of pop culture, gave him a such an immense stature worldwide that it’s never been surpassed and debatably been equaled only twice in persons of The Beatles and boxer Muhammad Ali.

Henry Aaron was a tremendous ball-player, arguably top-ten all-time. But had Ruth had a figure at which he could’ve taken aim and hung-on as did Hank, the Babe just might’ve put the homer, RBI and run marks beyond the reach of everyone, Aaron and Bonds included. God knows he still had pop in his bat with the show he put on at Forbes field in farewell (3 HR / ‘35). He just lost the zeal, holding most marks and nothing left to prove.

Why me so sensitive to SAS remarks? Ruth and other old-timers get kicked around pretty good these days by people claiming to be baseball fans. The pre-WW2 era was a different time (segregation), but the challenges faced by way of equipment, medicine, travel, the reserve clause, were incomparable to Barry’s and to some degree, even Hank’s easier time, though he and others (J. Robinson) bore a burden unlike any other class in breaking the color barrier.

Greats like Ruth, Aaron, Josh Gibson, “Three FingerBrown, all transcend time and serve as “runner(s)-up” to nobody. Such talk fills time on First Take but also puts a “one-way ticket to Palookaville” in hand of the speaker. That’s a place for losers in case you missed On the Waterfront (‘54).

Stephen’s a fan of Henry Aaron and has reasonable basis in ranking him greatest home run man. I too am a fan of Hank's, cheering him on as a Brewer at wide-open County Stadium in the mid-70s and feel no less so because I recognize instead Babe Ruth to be the best slugger in MLB history.

Tell me who's the greatest, okay.  Tell me who ain't and we've got a problem, Mr. Senator. 

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Posted on: December 11, 2012 12:10 am
 

MLB 2013 Wish List

Dear Santa,

I know December’s a crazy time for you, especially with new super-shops in Costa Rica, Estonia and Dandong (China) churning out the goodies at record pace, but it won’t take a minute to read my list. Besides, these wishes are for the good of the game, so do what you can, Santa my man.

Old Time Baseball

Wish # 1: More Mike Trouts

In the aftermath of one of the most hotly debated MVP races in recent memory, some in the Mike Trout Fan Club staggered into the absurd by claiming their man lost the vote because Miguel Cabrera voters had wrongly applied an old-school standard: the triple crown.

But old-school, throwback, traditional, take your pick, all are pretty fair description of the manner in which Trout conducted his rookie season. The guy knows fundamentals. His round-tripper total (30) would be Ruthian in dead-ball days but near everything else he does would’ve made him one of the guys in 1920, sans stirrups & tobacco juice.

Fielding his position like it mattered (4E / 347-CH / .988), crafting a nifty bat average (.326 / 139G), always aware that an extra-base could be had for free (39-SB) and a run-production that’d make Billy Hamilton (1888-01) nod in approval (129), all showed a player who understood the nuances of baseball. And fans ate it up with a spoon.

Mike’s not the only well-rounded ball-player in the game today, he’s just the first in a long time to make it cool again. That represents a big change in baseball, a sport still dominated by the dinger and whose biggest event is sadly, not its championship series, but a corporate kiddie show and vestige of the PED era, the home run derby. Ugh.

The 2012 AL-ROY has got some work to do in the contact department (139 SO). But if he can avoid the sophomore slump and stay healthy, his zestful play might inspire enough young ball-players to where baseball could be embarking on a whole new era.

Just Say Yes, MLBPA

Wish # 2: Mid-season blood draw

While most were focusing on the wheeling & non-dealing at MLB’s winter meeting in Nashville last week, I was thinking about the 10,000 lbs elephant lumbering down the Convention Center hallways. He’s the PED pachyderm and represents baseball’s half-measured attempt to rid the national pastime of banned substances.

With test samples still coming back queer, I’m guessing many players don’t think too much of us fans. When recent toppers (Braun / B. Colon) and a 2012 league-leading batsman (Melky) are testing dirty, you’ve still got trouble. The good news, spring blood-draws are spotting cheaters; the bad news, by caving to MLBPA’s refusal to a mid-season blood test a window of opportunity has been left wide open for cheaters to crawl through un-deterred.

A drug-free game? I wouldn’t waste the wish. It’s like a kid asking Santa for a Corvette. Not gonna happen. Sadly, the sport-druggie is here to stay. The pro-game has always had a seamy-side or at least a competitive crudeness, but the muscle-bound PED user speaks to kids in a persuasive voice that the game-fixer and sign-stealer never could.

It‘s safe to say, “Just Say No” didn’t percolate too deep into young minds, but then the PED plague and its cheater-mentality never has been confined within USA borders.

What I do wish, Santa, is that players finally face the inevitable and ‘just say yes’ to a sincere, full-testing program, closing the window that keeps inviting in the bad guys.

Outgrowing Your Toys

Wish # 3: Ditch the DH, Inter-League, pie-in-the-face and bunny-hop celebration

April 6, 2013 will mark the 30th anniversary of Major League Baseball’s adoption of the American League designated hitter. Yankees’ Ron Blomberg did the honors, drawing a walk from the Red Sox’ Luis Tiant (Wikipedia). And inter-league, that started in ‘97.

Fans of both would call me a purist. I never saw it like that. I just don’t like gimmicks that fans didn’t ask for and that change my game and the game of my ancestors, purely for profit ($). It was AL founder Ban Johnson (1901) who first permitted fans in the stands to keep foul-balls. Look how that’s turned out. Now the chuckleheads think they have some kind of entitlement and disrupt the action to claim their believed booty.

I don’t expect the DH to get the heave-ho, ever. It’s become part of the AL fabric, a distinguishing trait of the Junior Circuit. And that’s okay in today‘s monopolized, over-homogenized America. Just keep it out of our National.

But inter-league play, that’s a different matter. A curiosity in the beginning, that wore-off quick as we all knew it would. Now it’s become hackneyed, a deviation from regular scheduling, disruptive to intra-league competition and is best returned to its original and rare World Series state. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, you could say Mr. Selig.

And the post-game shave-cream-in-the-face routine? The only people laughing are the pie-pushers and assorted ESPN anchors. As for MLB’s embarrassing walk-off bunny-hop celebrations: thank god for the New York Yankees.

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Posted on: October 29, 2012 1:30 am
 

One Giant Leap for San Fran-kind

California and baseball, they were made for each other. They go together like hot dogs & mustard, guacamole & chips, politics & debate. Kismet.

Long before Walter O’Malley (Dodgers) and Horace Stoneham (Giants) moved their New York business interests cross-country to the Golden State (‘58), the game of baseball was already well-situated on the Pacific Coast, producing such gems as Joe DiMaggio (SF / Martinez) and Ted Williams (San Diego).

But a major league presence? That’s a whole ‘nother ball-game. Big doings.

And when the franchise moves were being planned in 1957, there was no question the Los Angeles team would have the bigger impact on the State and baseball. LA was three-times the size of San Francisco and since WW2 had been fast displacing the Bay area as the undeniable epicenter for the State’s burgeoning commerce and entertainment industry.

While the Giants fielded an impressive roster at their new digs with names like Mays, Cepeda, Perry, McCovey & Marichal, they would reach but one World Series before 1989, losing the memorable 1962 fall classic to long-time rival the Yankees, 4-3.

Down South the Dodgers hit the ground running. In only their second season in Chavez Ravine, the boys in blue hosted a World Series (‘59) and broke with tradition by taking it. Then they did it again in ‘63 and ‘65. Transplanted Brooklynites Walter Alston, Duke Snider, Koufax, Drysdale and LA original Maury Wills all became the talk of the nation.

Soon thereafter, three more teams would call California home: the Angels in 1961 (Anaheim ‘66); Charlie Finley’s Kansas City Athletics (Oakland ’68) and the fledgling San Diego Padres (‘69), owned today by Peter O‘Malley, son of Walter.

Though fan support has fluctuated, the As have been a stalwart organization, hoisting six pennants in Oakland, three times that of its NL rival across the Bay. The Padres have made two Series (‘84 / ‘98) and the Angels took their lone title in 2002.

It’s always been the Dodgers who’ve held a special place in the hearts of most Californians. A second wave of success in the 70s & 80s secured this spot as they appeared in five more Series, capturing crowns in ‘81 & ‘88.

But since those halcyon days of Garvey, Valenzuela, Hershiser, Gibson & Lasorda, there have been no more pennants unfurled over Dodger Stadium. Only broadcast legend Vin Scully, planning on a return in 2013, gives the grounds its championship feel.

You can‘t live off the past forever.

Even with some plucky mid-season moves in 2012 (Ramirez / Boston cast-offs) and new investor Earvin “Magic” Johnson joining the ownership group, the Dodgers again missed the post-season, forcing their fandom to watch arch-rival San Francisco bask in the glow of a playoffs spotlight to which they’re growing quite accustomed.

With the San Francisco Giants winning their second championship in three seasons (2010) by besting the heavily-favored Detroit Tigers 4-0 in World Series 2012, baseball aficionados are left scratching their heads in befuddlement.

Explanations for the surprising result range from the sensible (Giants’ pitching), to the whiney (DH fans), to my own guess (homer-happy AL can‘t adjust) and finally the strange (“funky spin” on the ball / ESPN’s Aaron Boone). That last one sounds like a “Dirk Diggler” dance move (Boogie Nights / ‘97).

To say the Giants’ victory is an upset rings as trite as saying ‘Have a nice day.’ I don’t know what an upset is anymore. Basketball excepted, the watch-words in today’s sporting world are ‘expect the unexpected.’ Exactly when & where the upset occurs, that’s the conundrum for prognosticators, week in, week out.

Can’t say the same for politics, unless you go back to 1948 and Harry “The buck stops here” Truman. That’s bad news for Mr. Romney, though he does have Diebold on his side (vote machines). And then there’s his ace in the hole, that GOP stand-by (10x) and vestige of our powder-wigged forefathers, the one, the only, tah-dah: Electoral College.

Tonight I'm sensing seismic waves emanating from the West Coast. But don’t be alarmed, California folk. I don’t mean the plate tectonic variety. What I sense is a major shifting in the balance of baseball power in your grand State.

The Giants 2012 World Series title moves the center of California’s baseball universe upstate to San Francisco, leaving the Dodgers, Angels, Padres and neighboring Athletics as mere satellites orbiting the bright star that has become the Giants.

And yes, stars can fade, just like the Dodgers did by way of a lackadaisical ownership that dates back to the early 90s. But this a big leap for the Bay area G-Men. Multiple titles will start the dynasty discussion and can be the first serious step towards becoming a standard-bearer organization, i.e., the Yankees, Red Wings, Lakers, Packers, Patriots.

Astronaut Neil Armstrong (1930-2012) took one doozey of a step back in 1969 when he left the safety of Apollo 11 and became the first Earthling to venture forth onto the meteor maligned surface of the Moon. The San Francisco Giants’ hope the historical step they took in Detroit this October 28, 2012 proves to be just as memorable to baseball fans as Mr. Armstrong’s famous step has been to the world.

Steven Keys
Can o' Corn
Posted on: October 8, 2012 5:07 pm
 

MLB '12: Year of the Skipper

Whine-fest ‘12

Baseball’s celebratory red, white & blue banners still had creases in ‘em Friday night when one of it’s post-season entrants was quickly bounced from the festivities amid another firestorm of controversy surrounding game-officiating.

This time it was MLB umpires, not referees, in the media cross-hairs getting lambasted after the Cardinals - Braves one & done, wild-card match-up (6-3 STL).  The men in black were under-fire for having the audacity to continue enforcing a canon that's only been on the books since sometime after the Korean War peace accord was signed: the ‘in-field fly rule.’

Sadly for the umpires & TV audience the fans that were handed “the fuzzy end of the lollypop (Monroe)” this time happened to be the home-crowd, unlike the visiting Packers in the now infamous Hail-Mary game (Seattle) a few weeks back. Turner Field fans took cue from hot-heads at Miller Park (All Star ’02) and in protest tossed everything but the kitchen-sink onto their own Braves’ playing field (in what amounted to Chipper Jones’ final game) along with what little dignity each chucker may’ve possessed.

A pattern is now emerging of what’s really behind all the commotion of late surrounding officiating in America’s two most popular spectator sports.

Here’s a hint: the problem ain’t with the officials. It’s not the umpires, it’s not the referees, regular or replacement and it’s not faulty league oversight in either MLB or the NFL that’s to blame.

Here’s another: Chiefs’ Eric Winston and Matt Cassel can clue you in on the real source of trouble, after their disturbing experience in Sunday's game against the Ravens.

Answer: It‘s that face you see in the mirror each AM, at least, that might be one of the culprits. It’s you, it’s me, it's the grousing players and gurus too, Chip Jones excepted: “I think that when we look back on this loss (Cards) we need to look at ourselves in the mirror. I’m not willing to say that particular call (IFR) cost us the ballgame. Ultimately, three errors cost us…mine probably being biggest.” That’s class.

Much blame goes to the press for bailing-out bad behavior and feeding the flames with feigned outrage. Fans can get passionate (some just weak), but media’s situated different. Even a beat-writer should have a degree of detachment in their craft. Too often they feed the anger that follows a dicey call (Rosenthal @ Fox: “wrong decision at the wrong time”; Corcoran @ SI: “it was an awful call”), appeasing hissy-fits and painting a bulls-eye on easy-target, under-fire officials (S. Holbrook) in their verbiage or next day's column.

The ‘cry-baby bandwagon’ made stops in Green Bay and Atlanta this fall. Maybe it’ll visit your town next. Keep in mind, it’s free to board and always crowded but you can wave it on by, if ya' got the guts.

Year of the Manager

With exception of Jim Tracy and Bob Valentine (top-candidates for Boston will rightly think twice now), MLB ‘12 should be remembered as year of the manager. Never before have so many Davids defied Goliaths: Davey Johnson’s Nationals, Melvin’s Athletics, Baker’s Reds, Gonzalez’ Braves, Showalter’s Orioles, Matheny’s Cardinals and again, Joe Maddon’s Rays. Parity schmarity, this is patriotism. Making-do on a tight-budget. It’s what 75% of America’s been doing since corporate out-sourcing (lost jobs) went vogue in the 80s.

It Ain’t Over ‘til It’s Over

The PED monster still haunts baseball (Mel Cabrera (SF) / Bart Colon (OAK)) but there's one up-side to the bad news. This should put kibosh on any remaining resistance from MLBPA to instituting a mid-season blood-draw for ‘13.

Re-constructing Ryan

With Miguel & Mike dominating the MVP topic, most took scant notice of another triple-crown threat in person of Milwaukee’s Ryan Braun. With Brewers’ ownership reverting to form and passing on title-contention (Greinke / Fielder), Braun kept his team in the race late (.319 / 112 / 41 / 108R). But Ryan still carries baggage from 2011’s positive testing, heavy luggage he could’ve unloaded in Arizona after the ban was lifted.  He might give Mark McGwire a jingle.

Memorables & Forgettables

Decorated stars Tim Lincecum and Albert Pujols just assume forget 2012. The Giants two-time CY winner made his starts (33) but seemed to get baseball’s version of the yips or Steve Blass malady, posting a rough W-L record (10-15) and atypical ERA (5.18).  At this writing San Fran is on PS life-support (0-2 Reds) and looking for any kind of hope.

Arriving in Anaheim with suitcase full of cash & awards, Al started slow but finished nicely (.285 / 105 RBI / 30 HR / 85R). He doesn’t get a king’s ransom to be nice, though. Like fellow NL’er Adam Dunn in 2011, Pujols came to the AL with nose in the air, thinking he wrote the book. Both played like couch-potatoes who couldn’t find a book, let alone write one on baseball. Dunn found his power-stroke in ‘12 (41 HR / 96), Angels hope Albert heals-up & bones-up before spring ‘13.

Topping the hit parade of RS memorables, many of whom are home polishing golf clubs and stocking their mini-yachts this 2nd week of October, were back-stops Buster Posey (SF) and A.J. Pierzynski (CWS), AL newbie Prince Fielder (DET), Josh Hamilton and Adrian Beltre of Texas, resurgents Aramis Ramirez (MIL) and Alfonso Soriano (CHC), Ed Encarnacion (TOR) and Yankees' Rob Cano, Curt Granderson and, still playing like a star in his 18th season, Derek Jeter.

Meritorious moundsmen included David Price (TB), Jered Weaver (LAA), Gio Gonzalez (WAS), reliever Jim Johnson (BAL) and, in only his second full season, dark horse CY candidate Atlanta’s fireman Craig Kimbrel (1.01 ERA).

But three names ruled the roost in 2012: Detroit’s triple crown winner Miguel Cabrera, rookie run sensation Mike Trout (LAA / 129R) and renaissance knuckleballer R.A. Dickey (NYM). At 37 (R.A.), 29 (Miguel) and 21 (Mike), these guys prove that while age can be a factor, it doesn’t have to be.

Steven Keys
Can o' Corn 
Posted on: September 26, 2012 12:30 am
 

DayGame World Series, Sir Selig?

If you’re reading this you’re a sports fan and know all about ESPN’s college “GameDay.” It’s not my cup o’ tea (that outdoor-set, with its screaming fans, really red-lines my annoying-meter), but the name, that works just fine.

So, for purposes of this baseball piece, just flip that title and make it DayGame World Series 2013. That’s my dream, anyway.

It’s been over a quarter-century since baseball fans were treated to a World Series game in the sun. It was 1984. Sparky Anderson’s terrific Tigers club took on the network-favored Padres in San Diego’s first fall classic (DET 4-1).

That was also the year Chicago’s Northsiders were re-born. Ryne Sandberg (MVP), Rick Sutcliffe (CY) and Harry Caray (WGN) led the parade at Wrigleyville as the Cubs cruised to their first crown (division) and post-season appearance in nearly 40 years.

Those were the days before expanded playoffs as the Padres & Cubs would decide the NL flag in a best-of-five series. The problem, as MLB and the network saw it, was that the Bruins didn’t play night games in 1984. That year wouldn’t come until ‘88. Chicago’s presence in the PS may’ve been a national thrill for everyone outside St. Louis but threw a big monkey-wrench into baseball’s trend toward night broadcasts. So what would any self-respecting greedmeister do but pull the old switch-a-roo and give night-suited San Diego home-field advantage (Chicago had the NL’s best record).

The Cubs took the first two in the Chicago sunshine by lopsided margins as the visitors looked over-matched. When the series shifted to California, the plucky Padres, led by superman Steve Garvey, overcame deficits in all three night contests and got their ticket punched to the fall classic.

The day-time World Series game is a mystery to younger fans. Older fans might recall, not just the games themselves, but the celebratory mood that began to build quickly after rising in the morning in anticipation of a typical 2:00 pm (?) opening pitch.

To put it in terms for those unfamiliar with a World Series day-game, let’s say, it’s not as great as having a date with a real looker (who actually likes you back), but more fun than, say, leading your fantasy league for the week.

The World Series day-game I remember best was the one I attended with my brother Kev in 1982 at old, wide-open Milwaukee County Stadium between the Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals. It was game 5 and Milwaukee owner Bud Selig must’ve over-sold seats because we were packed into those bleachers like sardines. We didn’t care. It was a chilly but gloriously sunny October day, we drank beer, ate dogs, smoked a few cigs back then and the Brew Crew pulled it out late to take a 3-2 lead in the Series. The peerless Bruce Sutter would prove the difference-maker as the Cards took the classic match in seven.

You don’t need an MBA to understand why the League made the World Series an exclusively nighttime affair: more viewers, higher ratings, bigger fees, more sales, lots o’ loot for the Suits.

But I wonder. I wonder if MLB turned just one game outta’ the Series into a day-game, during a weekday, if it might be so unusual, such good an excuse to skip school and cut work early, so red, white & blue Americana that it might start a new (or revive an old) tradition and actually make some healthy mullah for the cufflink crowd.

And not to worry, night owls. MLB can still keep airing most games after dinner, when they run until midnight or later, when many fans are snoozing on the couch or have hit-the-hay before the last out is called and commercial is aired.  Whoopee!

The way it stands, MLB needs something new, something fresh that’s not just aimed at kids (home run derby), something to give it an edge, a boost over our national obsession with everything football. It’s an obsession that fuels Favre fanaticism, Tebowmania, replacement-ref rage and needs a good swift kick in those shiny Nike pants.

It’s a dream I have.

Steven Keys
Posted on: September 14, 2012 12:25 am
 

Pick ya' Poison: MLB vs NFL

Summer’s on the wane and there’s a nip in the nighttime air. That means three things: school is back in session, baseball is heating-up and the pigskins are flying.

It’s a heady time for fans of America’s two favorite sports. Richard Kimble (The Fugitive) knew the score: “So, what are you, a football player, baseball player?,” asked the good doctor / janitor as he tweaked the orders and wheeled young “Joel” to life-saving surgery.

While one sport is in the home stretch as contenders separate from pretenders and try to finish in the money (playoffs), the other is just outta’ the gate where gridiron gladiators look to hit their stride and jockey for the inside rail to build an early lead.

It’s a daunting choice come Sunday afternoon. Which sport do you watch on TV?

Do you get vested in the pennant races or dive into the game you’ve been yearning for ever since Eli hoisted his second Lombardi trophy last February? Life’s tough decisions.

5 Reasons to Choose Baseball

Reason #1: MLB’s smokin’ hot!

All three American divisions are in play with late-bloomers Baltimore and Tampa Bay joining the chase while the Swingin’ As of Oakland are doing their damndest to make sure those highfalutin Texans don’t go popping any corks anytime soon.

Ever since writer / ESPN commentator Skip Bayless publicly speculated on Derek Jeter’s supplement regime back in August, the Yanks got defensive and lost focus at the worst time (no player’s above suspicion until testing is tightened with an in-season blood draw).

And if you can’t get energized about the rise of the Nationals and the terrific seasons of rookie Mike Trout (LAA), slugger supreme Miguel Cabrera (DET), comeback kid Buster Posey (SF), re-invented R.A. Dickey (NYM), Mr. consistency Derek Jeter (NYY) or moundsmen David Price (TB) and Jered Weaver (LAA), you’ve got the heartbeat of a hibernating bear.

Reason #2: Baseball’s clean’in‘ up

No big Nielsens booster but still nice to know at least one of the pro-sports you watch is trying to put game back into the business. Rather than cause for cynicism, recent busts (Braun / Melky / Colon) are sign the PED-prevention program is working. Whereas, kid brother football keeps twiddling its thumbs, hoping cries for PED testing are drowned-out by a diverting media while their rippling-membership are given ample time to make the necessary adjustments before the inevitable blood-draw comes knocking.

Reason #3: Fewer TV commercials

Baseball does its share of shill during a telecast, that’s for sure, but it doesn’t compare to the commercial tidal wave to which NFL fans are subjected during a turf-battle broadcast.

Holy cow! Change of possession, TV time-out; injured or embarrassed player, TV time-out; coach’s challenge, TV-TO; official review, TV-TO; quarter-change, TV-TO; studio update, TV-TO. You get the idea. If you like commercials, football is your thing.

Reason #4: Baseball’s tougher than football

How could I make such a ludicrous statement, you ask? I’ll tell you how in two words: sticky-gloves, otherwise known as sissy-gloves. This ain’t your father’s football.

The handy-work of NFL entrepreneurs and glove manufacturers, this foray into cozy is nothing more than a nationwide money-grab (covering high school hands coast-to-coast) and an offense-enhancer to assist the catch-challenged in the same way the 5-foot wedge-putter and cantaloupe-sized driver head give welfare to the golfing community while making cash registers ring.

And spare me the safety claim. I’ll concede their worth in sub-zero temps (Lombardi & Bud Grant were cool customers), but if anything, they may reduce safety by the increased friction they create for hand, wrist and neck movement in tackling. And 9 outta’ 10 of those so-called miraculous grabs ESPN anchors go ga-ga over are directly attributable to the sticky-gloves. It ain’t rocket science and it ain‘t spectacular.

MLB has it’s own gear, sure, but it’s protective (sometimes TOO much) for players as well as fans in the seats (flying bats). Stand in a batter’s box someday and you’ll know what I‘m writing about. Suffice to say, baseball gear has a purpose beyond coinage.

Reason #5: One last look at Greatness?

Faux-sport fans will often bring up John Unitas when they hate on the aged. John stayed a year too long in the NFL (Chargers). But those who love on the game, whether baseball or football, take great pleasure in catching one last glimpse (or ear-shot) of greatness.

Everyone knows future HOF’ers Chipper Jones (ATL) and Omar Vizquel (TOR) are on goodbye-tours, but there are other players with the glow of greatness who have yet to decide or declare their future plans but might be giving their final curtain call.

Jamie Moyer (COL / cut) and Mariano Rivera (DL) were out early, Jim Thome found a spot (on DL) with the upstart Orioles, Jason Giambi still has fire (COL) and injuries have caught up with sweet-swingin’ Lance Berkman (STL). To those who ultimately pack it in, Vaya con Dios, mis amigos. Thanks for the memories.

And don’t forget the veteran voices of baseball, the men who paint pictures with words. Guys like Milo Hamilton (HOU), Ken Harrelson (CWS), Dick Enberg (SD), Bob Uecker (MIL), Mike Shannon (STL), Marty Brennaman (CIN) and Vin Scully (LAD), who announced his plan to return to Chavez Ravine for 2013.

There you have it, sport fans. All the reasons you need to pass on September football come Sunday and turn on the National pastime instead, daring to catch a few laps of NASCAR or Formula One between innings.

So stock-up on beverages, pay that satellite bill, treat your wife with respect (she suffers the supermarket getting those snacks you’ll pound-down) forego the network’s pre-game drivel and plant yourself in that favorite chair for some good, hard-hitting…football! Heck, you can watch rounders all week long, but come Sunday in September, the NFL is just what the doctor ordered.

Steven Keys
Posted on: August 20, 2012 4:55 pm
 

Barry, JoePa & Record Books

It’s not everyday you read something good about the NCAA.

Mind you, I’ve got no major gripe with the landlord of college sport. Not too happy about their cozy relationship with profiteers (Nike) and relaxation of player-standards in recent decades, but other than those two, most of what they do flies above my radar.

The NCAA is like your high school VP, a dirty job but someone’s gotta’ do it. Roaming the hallways, keeping order and quick to judge. No gray area with this guy. And he’ll probably turn gray fast, given the thankless nature of the job, policing the big-hearted youths of today, or as Joe Pesci would call ‘em, “utes” (My Cousin Vinny).

Last month the enforcers of collegiate merriment did something rarely done in today’s sporting world: they altered a record book. Not as shocking as Brett Favre hitting the Twin Cities’ tarmac and donning purple & gold (2009), but still, pretty big doings.

As part of the penalties levied against Penn St. per the Sandusky sex-abuse scandal, 111 of the Lions’ football wins from the years 1998-11 were “vacated” from NCAA rolls, knocking coach Joe Paterno from atop the D1 victories list (409 / 298) and moving the recently retired Bobby Bowden into the top spot with his tally of 377 (“Bobby” / CBS / 7-23).

Of all the sanctions handed down, that one’s gotta’ hurt the most. The others, including the 4-year bowl ban, scholarship cutback and fine ($60 XL) will all be absorbed easily enough over time. Some at PSU may welcome the shake-up as a means of penance to cleanse the soul. And the hefty fine, that’ll just get passed on to the students, like the insurance company that jacks their rates when the hurricane claims start blowing in.

It wasn’t the substance of their action that got my stamp of approval. While I appreciate the awkwardness of leaving JoePa’s name atop the wins-list, sadly, in striking 100+ from his total you hurt those people most who had nothing to do with the wrong-doing, the players & fans. Add-up the shame that will linger for decades at Penn State, the criminal course and other penalties, all together seemed punitive and deterrent plenty.

Instead, it was the NCAA’s deviation from SOP that has me nodding in agreement.

Changing a record book typically requires something just short of an Act of Congress. That’s a good thing. Records are sacred stuff. Whether they’re category leaders, personal or team titles, individual stats or holders of top marks, all will, in theory, stand the test of time. The number & name will change but the record itself will resonate long.

Can’t say the same for the Halls of Fame. Like today’s bloated Olympic field, HOFs are becoming so diluted with a steady-stream of marginal inductees that they’re fast losing that special flavor. Caught up in the enablement age, voters are turning what used to be a days-long walk amongst immortals into a three-day trek through Halls of Good ‘n Plenty.

Maybe I shouldn’t complain. Just imagine in the not-to-distant future, when those collectible crazed kids who put their Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds rookie cards under glass, hold sway over the BBWA and become guardians of the Hall. “Uh-oh!” ("Mr. Gopher" / Caddyshack). The flood-gates are gonna’ open wide.

There are two battles raging over baseball’s Hall of Fame.

One is over quality control. Is the candidate’s stature such that it separates him from his peers, like say, Warren Spahn and Bob Clemente, or, is he a ballot choice that develops a patina of greatness over time, building support for election like…well, you can fill in the names yourself. If you need help, give Reggie Jackson a jingle. His timing is tacky but his standard is right on point (SI / “Reggie / Taylor / 7-5).

The other is about PEDs, where one emerging standard goes like this: ‘He gets my vote because he was a Hall of Famer before he started juicing.’ Oh, brother. Assuming you have the powers of Carnac the Magnificent and can accurately pick the first year a PED suspect ‘Got needles,’ if you apply that standard, Pete Rose and Joe Jackson get in because both were Hall-worthy before they messed-up big time.

So, while the pride & joy of Cooperstown grows fat and a niche of players keep playing fans for fools (Ryan Braun / Melky Cabrera), the official record book must become the safe harbor for greatness, buffered from the winds of changing mores & personal extremes.

Long before Halls of Fame were doing a splendid job of preserving & displaying the rich history of sport, a myriad of record books & statistical surveys were telling the tale.

But there’s a fly in the ointment. Officially maintained by Elias Sports Bureau, baseball’s rolls are tainted, filling-up fast with performance-enhanced pretenders of excellence. Some of the most cherished records are topped by seriously-suspected or proven PED-men.

Enter the NCAA. They’ve set a precedent, of sorts, in re-writing a small part of their own college football record book. It was a tough call that created some collateral damage (See above), but they had good cause, acted with all due speed and didn’t blink.

Now Bud Selig has a template, an impetus to finally move to fix baseball’s record book.

Sure, he’s got other fish to fry. Cheating, being the biggest flounder on his plate.

Victor Conti (BALCO) may actually believe “as many as half” of all players are juicing today (“Victor” / USAT / BN / 8-15). But anyone with any sense knows that recent test-troubles are par for the course when trying to change a culture of drug-use that’s international in its reach and as deeply imbedded into baseball as is performance-enhancement.

The PED problem will resolve in time. The clean-up effort has the backing of the nation, most players and the independent media. Patience & persistence are the watch-words.

But the foul odor that’s rising up from MLB’s record book is not going away on its own.

Naysayers will argue, ‘How can you fiddle with a record book when some of the marquee names never tested positive?’ Two-part answer: 1) An evolving test-policy that was way-late in coming can’t be the sole standard for finding a record-holder to have a PED pedigree, and 2) If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.

Go back in time to August of 1921. The Cleveland Indians are the reigning champs and Babe Ruth is in pinstripes, but the biggest story in baseball is the Black Sox scandal. When the implicated Pale Hosers are acquitted in a dubious Cook County trial after crucial evidence disappears, the newly appointed baseball Czar Kenesaw Mountain Landis is undeterred. Making reasonable inferences from available evidence, the next day he bans the lot of ‘em from pro-ball for life and adds a toxicity-tag.

Bud Selig has seen the evidence of proven & suspected PED users. As Commissioner and having no power to deny liberty (jail) or award civil damages, he’s not bound by the same standard of proof required in a judicial setting. Maybe that’s a good thing. As such, he can do, within certain parameters, as he pleases with the record book.

It won’t be easy. This ain’t 1921. Classifying the proven users vs. strongly suspected, removing names vs. asterisking (*), and then whether or not consideration should be given those few men who decided, for whatever reason, to come clean (Brothers Bash, Canseco & McGwire), will all make for one big sticky wicket.

And the media will have a field day. Some with their own form of collectible to protect, they’ll do their damndest to make sure it’s as thankless an undertaking as policing the high school hallways. It’s an action that’s likely to raise challenges by those players directly affected, claiming a right (intellectual property?) to a place in the hallowed book.

Set to retire after 2014, Selig certainly has the stature these days to afford the boldness that a record book revision requires, with rounder’s popularity and a drug prevention program that seems to be working, if not deterring some pompous players.

There’s no money to be made in re-working the record rolls. But it would be a big step in restoring to baseball some of what was lost when PED users and their enablers started disrespecting themselves, the fans, the game and its history.

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” (JFK).  Doing nothing is no answer, Bud.

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