Obstruction on the basepaths

“Chances are you never heard of Major League Baseball’s Rule 7.06 before Saturday night,” wrote Boston Globe columnist Chad Finn after the Cardinals won World Series Game 3 on that rule.

It’s easy for me to say now, but when I saw Allen Craig trip over Will Middlebrooks trying to advance to the plate, the first thing I thought was, “He can’t do that!”

I couldn’t quote the rule number, but I took advantage of that rule a lot playing baseball in middle school.

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Before they were Cardinals…

I just finished reading Before They Were Cardinals, a history of the American Association St. Louis Browns, by Jon David Cash.

I have mixed feelings about the book.Most people know the Cardinals are one of the oldest baseball franchises. What most don’t know is that the Cardinals didn’t start out in the National League, were formerly known as the Browns (not to be confused with the later St. Louis Browns of the American League that moved to Baltimore in 1954), and that the tradition of the World Series originated here in St. Louis,

This book gives a nice overview of the early history of the St. Louis franchise and the American Association, the league in which the team had its first early successes.

The upside of the book is that it is very academic. It cites everything and the old maps and photographs prove the author spent hours at the Missouri Historical Society unearthing treasures.

The downside is that the book is academic. While I certainly understand the desire to rise above the sensationalist, opinionated late 19th-century journalism that serves as most of the book’s primary sources, a lot of the color that makes the early history of this team interesting isn’t in the book. The colorful and eccentric owner, Christian Frederick Wilhem von der Ahe, is presented as a German immigrant who bought a bar, noticed one day that his patrons all left in a rush for a few hours on Sunday, then returned to spend a leisurely rest of the day. After asking where everyone went and hearing about baseball, he invested in the team and made (and later lost) a fortune doing so.

That’s all fine and good, but it’s a one-dimensional picture of Chris Von der Ahe. Yes, he was an astute and successful self-made immigrant businessman–the embodiment of the American Dream if there ever was one. While some mention of his nouveau riche excesses is in the book, much of what made him so despised outside of St. Louis isn’t mentioned.

My personal favorite Von der Ahe story, the larger-than-life statue of himself erected outside of Sportsman’s Park to celebrate the successful 1885 season, gets no mention in the book. There is mention that Von der Ahe is buried underneath a large statue of himself, but no mention of where the statue came from.

I did find it very interesting that Von der Ahe, convinced there was no money left to be made in St. Louis, plotted to win the 1887 World Series and then move his world championship team to New York where he could draw bigger crowds, more beer sales, and bigger profits. The team never won another World Series under his ownership, however, so Von der Ahe never put that plan into motion.

Unfortunately, the book ends abruptly with the American Association’s merger with the National League, with only a brief epilogue at the end talking about the slow fall of Von der Ahe and his loss of the franchise.

In the book’s defense, Von der Ahe gets more treatment elsewhere while the American Association is little more than a footnote today, so I can see why the author chose to focus on the more neglected subject. It makes for better scholarship. Since this book is published by the University of Missouri Press and not Random House, I can see why the book was written the way it was.

If you want good history, particularly of what it was that made the American Association what it was–and this is fair, because the St. Louis club was the dominant team of that league and era–then this is a great book. If you’re looking for colorful stories about a guy who was like Ted Turner and George Steinbrenner and Charlie Finley and Bill Veeck all wrapped up into one with a dash of Jay Gatsby thrown in, look elsewhere.

Team of destiny?

The Boston Red Sox just won a World Series.

A lot of people won’t understand the irony of that. But lots of baseball fans are shaking their heads with me.It was a story. Facing their arch-rivals in the playoffs, the New York Scum, the S*censored*had the Sox down three games to none. In all of American sports, only two teams had ever come back from 3-0 to win a championship. Both times, it had been in the NHL. No baseball team had done it. Especially not against a baseball team with a $183 million payroll.

Boston did it, with nothing going for it. One of the sportscasters put it this way, after game 3. He asked whether Boston had ever won 4 straight during the regular season. Still, it looked gloomy, but Boston did it.

Next up: The St. Louis Cardinals. A team with the best record in baseball, and a roster that looked like an All-Star team.

Game 1 was a slugfest. Such is to be expected from two teams with depleted pitching staffs. But Boston outslugged the National League All-Stars, er, Cardinals.

Game 2, the Red Sox pitched Curt Schilling, again. There was little doubt Schilling would win, at least not from me. No pitcher has ever been more determined to win a World Series game than Schilling was on that day.

One telling sign: Boston made 8 errors in those two games. The Cardinals normally eat up teams that play shoddy defense. The Cardinals didn’t.

Game 3 was the turning point. Pedro Martinez is a formidable but moody pitcher. When he’s pitching well, he’s as good as anyone ever was. When he’s not pitching well, it’s like extended batting practice. St. Louis expected batting practice.

For three innings it was. Martinez looked shaky. Leading off the third, Martinez allowed Jeff Suppan, the opposing pitcher, to reach base. Suppan pitched most of his career in the American League, where he got about 12 opportunities a year to swing a bat. Then Edgar Renteria hit a long double. Second and third, nobody out, with the big boppers coming to bat. But then Larry Walker hit a ground ball, and for some reason, Suppan didn’t run home. Why? Beats me. But Suppan doesn’t run the bases much. He got hung up after Walker was thrown out at first. What should have been the tying run turned into a double play.

And that was the turning point of the game. From that play on, Pedro Martinez finally showed up at the ballpark. Batting practice over. Enter the 3-time Cy Young Award winner. Boston cruised to a 4-1 victory.

And Boston not only didn’t make any errors, but both of Boston’s most notorious glove handlers, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz–two arguments for the DH, to be certain–contributed good defensive plays with their gloves.

Suddenly St. Louis faced the same odds Boston had beaten a week earlier. But did the Cardinals ever win 4 straight during the regular season? And what did Boston have left? Derek Lowe, a pitcher whose sinking pitches are often matched by his attitude, in Game 4. Tim Wakefield, most likely, in Game 5–a knuckleballer who tends to give up runs in bunches. There was question whether Curt Schilling could come back to pitch Game 6–he had to be sewed back together before every outing and there wasn’t much of anything left to sew. More likely, Bronson Arroyo would have to start. Arroyo was the losing pitcher in Boston’s humiliating 19-8 loss. And in Game 7, the unpredictable Pedro Martinez.

I wasn’t ready to write off the Cardinals.

But then Johnny Damon led off Game 4 with a home run. It proved to be the game winner, as St. Louis only managed four hits against Derek Lowe and three relievers. And Boston’s defense held up once again.

Team of destiny? Maybe, maybe not. I think it was more a team of intimidation. The Red Sox weren’t intimidated, and the Cardinals were.

Both teams look likely to have different makeups next year. Perhaps dramatically different.

But for now, Boston has what it hasn’t had for 86 years: A World Series trophy.

But the Cardinals have nothing to be disappointed about. They were supposed to finish fourth. They ended up with the best record in baseball. With their division rivals looking different next year too, the Cardinals can look forward to next year.

Salary cap? Baseball needs something

Funny how now that the New York Yankees have added the most expensive sports contract in history, Alex Rodriguez, to their already outrageously priced roster, suddenly the freespending Boston Red Sox, owner of the second-most expensive sports contract in history and the second-highest payroll in baseball, are calling for a salary cap.

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When will we learn to ignore Pete Rose?

I’d really rather not acknowledge that Pete Rose is in the news again. I love baseball, and Pete Rose did a lot to hurt it, and talking about him doesn’t do much to help it.
I’d much rather talk about how the Royals just signed Juan Gonzalez and he’s a huge upgrade over anything the Royals have ever had in the lineup to protect Mike Sweeney. With Beltran, Sween and Gonzo in the lineup, this looks like it’s going to be a good year.

For that matter, I’d rather talk about Tug McGraw, one of the great characters of the game and probably the first of the great colorful relief pitchers, who died this week of brain cancer, much too young at 59.

But Rose’s half-hearted confession will appear tomorrow, so nobody’s going to be talking about any of that. It doesn’t change anything. Some people would argue that Rose’s never betting against the Cincinnati Reds somehow excuses his gambling, and his betting on his own team, while the manager of the Cincinnati Reds. It does not.

Contrary to what one might think, a good manager does not set out to win every game. You can’t. You have to pick your battles. You might rest your star players when you’re playing a team like the Detroit Tigers because chances are you could beat that team with your 92-year-old grandparents in the lineup. Or you might play your star players against Detroit, in order to ensure victory, and rest your stars when playing a strong team you’re not likely to beat, such as the New York Yankees or Seattle Mariners.

The reason is pretty simple. The season is 162 games long, and not everybody is Cal Ripken Jr. Play everybody every day, and your team will break down. Witness the Oakland Athletics of the early 1980s. Fiery manager Billy Martin came in, and in 1981, it looked like he’d succeeded in turning that young team into another dynasty. He had young, energetic players, and he played them hard. In fact, he played them too hard. Within a year, all of his talented young pitchers had sore arms and while most of them stayed in the majors for a few more years, none of them ever lived up to their initial promise. For that matter, outside of Rickey Henderson, none of the 1981 Athletics’ everyday players had particularly and distinguished careers either.

It’s in the best interests of a Pete Rose who’s not betting on baseball to manage his team wisely by resting his star players when they look tired, pulling his starting pitcher after he’s thrown about 110 pitches, and using opportune times to give his inexperienced young players some playing time. Betting on your own team changes the equation. Suddenly meaningless games become must-win games. You leave your 20-game winner in the game longer because winning that bet becomes more important to you than the risk of hurting his arm. You take other unnecessary risks.

Rose tries to justify his actions by saying he never bet from inside the clubhouse. Well whoop-dee-do. I’m sure he never beat his wife or cheated on her in church either. That doesn’t make those action OK either. When asked why Rose bet on baseball, he said it was because he thought he wouldn’t get caught. There’s a long list of illegal things that I could do and not get caught, but that doesn’t make any of them right either.

It’s like a little kid, caught in the act of bullying, forced to tell the other kid he’s sorry. So he lets off the words, insincerely, and does the minimum, and spends the rest of his time trying to justify his wrongdoing.

Now Rose says he’s confessed and he wants reinstatement, and induction into the Hall of Fame.

Some people argue that Rose belongs in the Hall of Fame because he hit the ball between the opposing fielders 4,256 times. Fine. Let’s look at what constitutes a Hall of Famer.

Hall of Fame rules state that induction is dependent upon “the player’s record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character, and contributions to the team(s) on which the player played.

One at a time: Record. Rose has more hits than anybody else, partially by virtue of having more at-bats. But his statistics, while not as great as his fans remember, are better than some people who are in the Hall of Fame.

Ability. His playing ability is probably adequate. But Rose was a one-dimensional player. He wasn’t a particularly good fielder, he hit for very little power, and he was at best an average baserunner. Andre Dawson, Jim Rice, and Ryne Sandberg, three players on this year’s ballot who are unlikely to make it in, all had far more ability than Rose. Pete Rose was Wade Boggs with a character disorder.

Integrity. Besides betting on baseball, Rose served prison time for cheating on his taxes. He beat his wife and cheated on her. Pete Rose isn’t the kind of guy you want hanging around your daughter, if you catch my drift, nor is he the kind of guy you want your son to model his life after. Pete Rose ain’t no Roberto Clemente.

There are lots of unsavory characters in the Hall of Fame, yes. Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and even Joe DiMaggio all have skeletons in their closets. But last I checked, none of them ever stooped as low as Rose, and they also had Rose beat in the other categories.

Sportsmanship. In the 12th inning of the 1970 All Star Game, Pete Rose plowed over American League catcher Ray Fosse, dislocating his shoulder and destroying his career. It was a game that didn’t even count. Fosse, who had drawn comparisons to Johnny Bench, was never the same.

Character. See integrity.

Contributions. To Rose’s credit, he moved around a bit on the field to make room for other players. The Reds had a young power-hiting outfielder named George Foster sitting on the bench. Rose was playing the outfield. The Reds’ weakest position was third base. At the request of his manager, Rose learned how to play third base, which opened the door for Foster to get into the lineup, giving additional protection for Johnny Bench and Tony Perez. In 1980, Rose signed with the Philadelphia Phillies, who had a Hall of Famer named Mike Schmidt playing third, so Rose moved across the diamond to first. Philadelphia was a better team with Rose than without.

Late in his career, this changed. An aging Rose became a part-time player in Montreal. When Cincinnati traded for him and made him player-manager, Rose made himself a regular again, at the expense of playing time for younger players like Nick Esasky and Eddie Milner, and Hall of Famer Tony Perez. Esasky, who usually would have played first base, instead played left field, where he wasn’t as good defensively. Milner was a better defensive player, had good speed, and was at least as good at getting on base at that point as Rose. The Reds had a better lineup with Esasky at first base and Milner in left field, possibly in a platoon situation. People were more likely to buy a ticket to see Rose play than Eddie Milner, but the Reds were a better team with Rose on the bench.

Milner was never much more than a fourth outfielder. Esasky fared better, putting together a couple of really good years after the Reds traded him to Boston, before an injury ended his career.

Playing ability tends to get judged higher than all the rest, so I’ll grudgingly admit that if Rose were eligible, he’d probably get elected.

So what’s one to do?

Here’s my Solomon-like solution. Rose has been banned for life. What’s banned for life mean? He’s banned until he dies. So reinstate him after he dies. Then the Veteran’s Committee can evaluate him on his merits.

But there’s no precedent for reinstating a player banned for life.

Fine. Make one.

Shoeless Joe Jackson by his own admission took money to throw the 1919 World Series. He was one of the eight Black Sox who so accused. There’s also some indication that Jackson, unlike some of his teammates, played to win anyway, because he put up good numbers in the series, although his detractors point out that in the games the White Sox lost, Jackson never drove in any runs. Of course, it’s harder to drive in runs when there aren’t people on base.

Jackson may not have known what it was he was agreeing to do. Jackson was uneducated, and, by some accounts, not terribly bright. Even dumber than Pete Rose.

After the series, Shoeless Joe, like six other players who took money from gamblers and like one player who knew what was going on but didn’t participate, was banned from baseball for life. Thus the owner of the third-highest lifetime batting average in history, and the youngest player ever to hit .400, was denied his otherwise certain entry into baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Joe Jackson has been dead for 52 years. Baseball still has never seen fit to put him into the Hall of Fame. Baseball has never seen fit to clear the name of Buck Weaver, the teammate who found out about the conspiracy but didn’t report it.

So reinstate Jackson and Weaver. For that matter, reinstate the other six guys as well. Let the Veterans Committee evaluate them for Hall of Fame entry. Then, when Rose dies, they can do the same for him.

Meanwhile, the best thing to do is just ignore the jerk.

Pete Rose, that is.

Why I stand by my Royals

A friend asked me why I stick with my Royals yesterday. Actually he pointed at my Royals hat and scoffed, “Why would anyone waste money on that?”
I thought about that a lot.

He’s a New York buy-whatever-it-takes-to-win-the-pennant Yankees fan. He’s not even from New York. He grew up in Iowa and Texas. What’s the fun in rooting for a team when you already know in Spring Training what will happen in October? Read more

Another All-Star Flub

I remember when the All-Star Game actually mattered.
Well, it didn’t matter–it was still a game that didn’t count, but the guys who showed up, they showed up to play. There was a lot of pride at stake. My first All-Star memory was the 1983 game. The American League hadn’t won a game in years. Then the California Angels’ Fred Lynn came up with the bases loaded, smacked one out of the park for the first-ever All-Star grand slam, and carried the AL to victory.

These days, the only purpose the All-Star Game serves is to give Baseball Commissionerwannabe Bud Selig another opportunity to make a fool of himself. Read more

The Kansas City Royals, where everything is wrong

I was pretty happy that the Royals were just a game under .500 a week ago. That’s good for them. After all, their closer, Roberto Hernandez, has been injured all year. Other players are nursing injuries as well. Even the team trainer, Nick Schwartz, is hobbling around on crutches.
That seems like a long time ago now. Cleveland rolled into town, and then Boston, and now the only thing keeping the Royals out of last place is the positively awful Detroit Tigers.

Part of the problem is economics. But the Royals have trimmed their payroll and, comparatively speaking, aren’t throwing a whole lot of money away. There are far fewer high-priced flops on the Royals roster than there are on other teams, and the typical salary of a Royals flop is much lower than that of the flops sitting on the bench in, say, Pittsburgh or Texas or Boston.

The Royals turned a small profit last year. They need to be willing to lose $10-$15 million the next couple of years, which would allow them to get a top-tier pitcher (Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine are free agents next year) or a couple of pitchers the caliber of their ace, Jeff Suppan. I’d rather see them go get one veteran pitcher to help their army of young pitchers learn how to pitch. Greg Maddux had Rick Sutcliffe and Scott Sanderson to learn from when he was 21. Royals’ pitchers have Jeff Suppan to learn from. He’s 27. Hardly a grizzled veteran.

You have to spend money to make money, which is something I would think owner David Glass would know from the time he spent running Wal-Mart.

And when you look at the billboards in Kansas City versus the billboards in St. Louis, you see a big difference. In Kansas City, Royals billboards have the Royals logo on them. In St. Louis, Cardinals billboards have Jim Edmonds on them. Or J.D. Drew. Or Matt Morris. Fans identify with teams, but they identify even better with players. A lot of Kansas Citians are hard-pressed to identify a current Royals player besides George Brett. Oops, I mean Bret Saberhagen. Oops, I mean Bo Jackson. It’s been nearly a decade since the Royals have had a marquee player.

And that’s their own fault. The Cardinals lost their marquee player to retirement, so they’re making new ones. The Royals have people to promote. Mike Sweeney’s the best hitter the organization has developed since George Brett. Put a couple of action shots of him on a billboard. Carlos Beltran is the most exciting outfielder the Royals have had since Bo Jackson. Put shots of Beltran crashing into the center field wall and stealing a base on a billboard.

They’ve got another really big problem too. The KC front office says it hasn’t discussed the status of manager Tony Loser Muser. I guess their last names should be Loser too.

Muser should be fired just for having Donnie Sadler lead off two games in a row. Just to give you an idea how bad Donnie Sadler is, the Royals ran out of roster spots in spring training, and even Muser had to admit Sadler was the 26th or 27th-best player on his team. But Sadler was out of options, so to send him to the minors, first any team in the majors could have him for virtually nothing if they claimed him within three business days. The rule may state they have to pay the Royals $1.

Not a single team thought Donnie Sadler was better than the worst player on their roster. Not even the five teams with worse records than the Royals. Not even Detroit!

Sadler cleared waivers and packed his bags for Omaha, the Royals’ AAA affiliate. Within weeks, the Royals had enough injuries that Muser could justify bringing back his favorite player.

The Royals’ regular leadoff hitter is Chuck Knoblauch, he formerly of the Minnesota Twins and New York Yankees. The Royals rented his services (both of them swear he’ll be back next year; I doubt it) for the year. He’s batting about .200, but unlike anyone else on the team, he draws a lot of walks, so he has the highest on-base percentage on the team. And he has good enough speed to be a real pest once he gets on base. As a result, Carlos Beltran and Mike Sweeney finally have someone to drive home when they get to bat.

Knobby’s been nursing some minor injuries himself, leaving his left field spot vacated. The Royals have several competent outfielders. Michael Tucker generally only plays against right-handers, but he’s played every day in the past, and his defense is superb. Raul Ibanez is one of two Royals batting over .300 and he’s a passable left fielder. Rookie Brenden Berger is unproven but he’s hitting decently.

Who does Muser insert in left field?

His backup shortstop, Donnie Sadler, that’s who.

And what .133-hitting backup shortstop takes over leadoff duties?

Donnie Sadler.

Why?

Donnie Sadler has blinding speed.

What someone needs to tell Tony Loser is that you can’t steal first base, which is why Donnie Sadler is hitting .133. What else someone needs to tell Tony Loser is that a so-so-field, worse-hit shortstop in the National League isn’t going to get any better in the American League. Sadler probably hasn’t seen a fastball since he came over from Cincy last year.

Since the Royals insist on sending all of their good players to Oakland, they really need to take a cue from Oakland. The Royals sent their speedster, Johnny Damon, to Oakland for a few no-good pitchers a little over a year ago. Damon, showing his typical loyalty, left after one season to go play center field in Boston. Left without a leadoff hitter, the Athletics did something unconventional. They inserted another former Royal, Jeremy Giambi (the younger brother the former Oakland star Jason Giambi, who sold out everything to play first base for the New York Scum Yankees.)

Jeremy Giambi has stolen exactly the same number of bases in the major leagues as I have. Zero. But he gets on base, giving the really big sticks someone to drive home. You don’t have to be very fast to score from first or second on an extra-base hit. The people behind him get a lot of extra-base hits, so Giambi scores a lot of runs.

Conventional wisdom says you want someone with blazing speed to lead off, but speed demons who get on base a lot are relatively rare. So most teams settle for someone with good speed who sometimes gets on base. Or with blinding speed from home plate back to the dugout, in the case of the Royals and Donnie Sadler.

But the Royals’ mishandling of Donnie Sadler isn’t the Royals’ only problem. Friday night, rookie Chris George was faced with the thankless task of pitching against Pedro Martinez, the best pitcher in the American League. George held his own, giving up 2 runs in 5 1/3 innings. Martinez was impressed with him. Now, keep in mind that Pedro Martinez has every right to not be impressed by anyone who isn’t Curt Schilling or Randy Johnson or Greg Maddux.

“That kid has got some talent,” Martinez said. “I was worried when he got hit [by a line drive]. He stood there like a bull. I like that.”

Tony Muser liked what he saw too, but he’s not certain he’s going to let Chris George start again. Never mind what Pedro Martinez says. Martinez has only won 86 games since 1997. What’s he know about pitching?

My guess is Muser wants to hand the ball to Donnie Sadler. After all, Sadler hits like a pitcher.

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