The Hall of Fame Debate Has Grown Tiresome

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Barry Larkin was the only player elected by the writers.

Jack Morris’s percentage has risen to 66.7%.

With two years left on the writers’ ballot, Morris might get enough support to make it in by conventional vote. If not, he’s got a great shot on the Veterans Committee.

The debate will rage on until then.

You can make an argument for Morris (post-season hero; innings-eating winner and one of the dominant pitchers of the 1980s) or against him (high ERA; stat compiler).

Nothing’s going to change the minds of those who are for or against him.

Tim Raines received 48.7%.

Raines is seen as a no-brainer by stat people; others think he became a part-time player from his early 30s through the end of his career and he’s a “floodgate opener” whose election would necessitate the serious consideration of the likes of Johnny Damon and Kenny Lofton which would diminish the specialness of the Hall.

Lee Smith received 50.6% of the vote.

I don’t think anyone with an in-depth knowledge of baseball and from either faction whether it’s stat-based or old school thinks Smith belongs in the Hall of Fame.

No matter how convincing or passionate an argument made for the supported players, the other side is unlikely to put their prejudices, personal feelings, stereotypes or ego aside to acknowledge that they may be wrong; and they’re certainly not going to change their votes.

So what’s the point?

What’s made it worse is the proliferation of the younger analysts who may or may not know much of anything about actual baseball, but think they do based on calculations and mathematical formulas who are so adamant that they’re right, it’s impossible to even debate with them.

Bert Blyleven made it to the Hall of Fame, in part, because of the work by stat people clarifying how he deserved the honor and wasn’t at fault for a mediocre won/lost record because of the teams he played for. Another part of his induction, I’m convinced, is that a large chunk of the voters were tired of hearing about him and from him—Blyleven was an outspoken self-advocate and it worked.

I’m wondering what’s going to happen with a borderline candidate like Curt Schilling. Blyleven had likability on his side; Schilling doesn’t; and it’s going to be hard for Schilling to keep his mouth shut if he doesn’t feel he’s getting his due in the voting process. He’s not going to get in on the first shot.

Short of Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton, Ty Cobb and the other luminaries, you can make a case against any player no matter how great he was; on the same token, you can make a case for a player like Bobby Abreu, who is not a Hall of Famer.

Even Greg Maddux went from being a dominating pitcher from age 22-32 and became a durable compiler with a high ERA who begged out of games after a finite number of pitches and benefited from pitching for a great Braves team to accrue wins.

Of course Maddux is a first ballot, 95+% vote getter when he becomes eligible, but could a motivated person come up with a case against him? How about “he only struck out 200 batters once; he had superior luck with amazingly low BAbip rates; he only won 20 games twice; his Cy Young Awards all came in a row and he never won another; and he pitched for a great team in a friendly pitchers’ park for most of his career.”

It can be done for and against anyone.

Does Tommy John deserve recognition for the surgery that bears his name? I think he does. Others don’t.

Then there are the PED cases like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds—Hall of Famers both—who are going to have trouble getting in because of the writers’ judgments that they “cheated”.

At least they were implicated. Jeff Bagwell never was and he’s on the outside looking in with 56% of the vote this season. (He’s going to get in eventually.)

So which is it?

What makes a Hall of Famer?

Is it being “famous”? (Reggie Jackson)

Is it a long and notable career? (Don Sutton)

Is it the big moment? (Bill Mazeroski)

Is it being great at a particular part of the game? (Ozzie Smith)

Is it numbers? (Hank Aaron)

Is it propaganda? (Blyleven, Phil Rizzuto)

Is it the perception of cleanliness? (Al Kaline)

Is it on-field performance? (Carlton)

Is it overall comportment? (Stan Musial)

Is it domination over a time period? (Sandy Koufax)

There’s no specific criteria, so there’s no single thing to put someone in or keep them out.

But the back-and-forth has become vitriolic and dismissive with eye-rolling and condescension. If you even dare to suggest that Jim Rice is a Hall of Famer, your case is automatically ignored regardless of how organized and intelligent it is.

That’s not debating. That’s waiting to talk.

Simply because you disagree with someone doesn’t make the other side “wrong” especially in a judgment call like the Hall of Fame.

But there’s not much hope because few—especially in sports—are willing to listen to the other side, let alone allow themselves to be persuaded.

This is where we are and there’s no use in fighting it.

So why try?

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Verlander Casts A Spell

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When Roger Maris had the infamous asterisk* attached to his home run record because of the extra 8 games played in Maris’s time as opposed to Babe Ruth‘s time, Maris rightfully and indignantly said something to the tune of, “Which 154? The first 154? The last 154? The middle? A season’s a season.”

For the record, there was never an asterisk*; there was a 162 game season and 154 game season separation.

It’s a similar comparison to Justin Verlander and those who say that his mere job of being a pitcher and only participating in 34 games a season should eliminate him from consideration for the Most Valuable Player award.

But what about the games in which the other candidates Miguel Cabrera, Jacoby Ellsbury, Curtis Granderson and Jose Bautista did absolutely nothing while Verlander was dominating for 27 of those 34 starts?

It’s impossible to quantify the importance of a particular player based on his position.

Would the Tigers have won 95 games without Verlander?

Of course not.

Because they had such a blazing hot streak of 12 straight wins in September and ran off with a weak division, the contribution of Verlander is being mistakenly muted.

Early in the season, when the Tigers were essentially playing Verlander Incanter (the French word for cast a spell—yeah, I’m going high-end; do something about it) that the rest of the starting rotation would provide something—anything—of use so the Tigers could win a few games that Verlander wasn’t starting, the team would’ve been buried without him.

Max Scherzer was inconsistent to start the season; Rick Porcello was mostly terrible; Brad Penny was Brad Penny; and Phil Coke was yanked from the rotation after 14 starts.

In conjunction with his production, the “where would they be without him?” argument is a viable reason to give someone an MVP vote.

The momentum from the leader of the staff grew so the Tigers were able to stay near the top of the AL Central and make mid-summer trades for Doug Fister, Wilson Betemit and Delmon Young to bolster a flawed team. On August 17th, they only led the division by 2 games and were 9 1/2 games out in the Wild Card; at that time, it was generally assumed that the Wild Card was going to come down to which team between the Yankees and Red Sox didn’t win the AL East. The dynamic changed drastically in September for everyone. For the Tigers, their playoff position was not assured until September despite winning the division by 15 games.

It’s not only about where the team and player ended, but how they got there.

The Tigers would’ve been nowhere without Verlander.

Once we accept that it wasn’t a situation of the Tigers being so deep that they were going to win that division anyway, Verlander’s value becomes stronger.

In their precarious position, the Tigers held the Ace every fifth day; on the morning of a Verlander start, they knew they had a great chance to win because of Verlander. Added to that overriding feeling of foreboding for his opponents and comfort for his teammates, he led the league in starts, wins, strikeouts, ERA, ERA+, WAR (and not just pitcher WAR, WAR period), and WHIP.

My criteria for MVP is, in no particular order: performance; importance; indispensability.

Based on performance, you can make the case for any of the top 5 finishers, but the final trigger for me in such a close race comes down to Velrander’s irreplaceability.

The Blue Jays were a .500 team with Bautista and they misused him by failing to get players on base in front of him and trying to steal too many bases for no reason to run themselves out of innings.

The Red Sox came apart in spite of Ellsbury’s heroics.

The Yankees would’ve found someone to play center field and hit well enough to account for not having Granderson and had the surrounding players to survive his absence.

The Tigers could’ve found a first baseman (perhaps Victor Martinez who was DHing) to play first base and gotten 25 homers from that spot and had better defense.

Given the difficulty in finding quality pitching, can anyone honestly say that the Tigers could’ve replaced Verlander’s innings? His dominance? His mere presence? And still been anywhere close to the 95 wins they accumulated?

No.

The MVP is not for everyday players alone because the pitchers have the Cy Young Award—that’s a faulty premise. The Cy Young Award is for pitching performance independent of team—that’s how Felix Hernandez won the award with a 13-12 record in 2010; the MVP is an all-encompassing award based on the team and the individual, and by that judgment, Verlander is the Most Valuable Player in the American League for 2011.

Period.

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The Carlos Beltran Free Agency Profile

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Name: Carlos Beltran


Position: Right Field; Designated Hitter(?).

Vital Statistics:

Age-34; he’ll turn 35 in April.

Height-6’1″

Weight-215.

Bats: Both.

Throws: Right.

Transactions: Drafted by the Kansas City Royals in the 2nd round of the 1995 MLB Draft. Traded to the Houston Astros in June, 2004. Signed as a free agent with the New York Mets in January, 2005. Traded to the San Francisco Giants in July, 2011.

Agent: Dan Lozano.

Might he return to the Giants? Yes.

Teams that could use and pay him: New York Yankees; Toronto Blue Jays; Boston Red Sox; Baltimore Orioles; Detroit Tigers; Kansas City Royals; Minnesota Twins; Los Angeles Angels; Texas Rangers; Seattle Mariners; Atlanta Braves; Philadelphia Phillies; Washington Nationals; St. Louis Cardinals; Chicago Cubs; San Francisco Giants; Los Angeles Dodgers; Colorado Rockies.

Positives:

Beltran comes to play every single day; he hits for power, average and gets on base; he can steal a few bases when necessary; he’s a solid defensive right fielder.

In spite of the repeated whining and reminders of that one pitch from Adam Wainwright in which Beltran watched a curveball break in for strike 3 to end the 2006 NLCS, Beltran is a clutch player who’s come up big in the post-season repeatedly.

I’ve said it again and again: Babe Ruth himself wouldn’t have hit that pitch and even had Beltran swung, he had zero chance of hitting it or fouling it off. Get over it.

Beltran’s stunning decision to part ways with Scott Boras will put forth the sense that he’s not going to be a hard-liner when it comes to a new contract and isn’t looking to receive a “Boras Contract” in which the agent asks for something insane that only a few teams are capable of providing.

He can handle the big city and the spotlight as long as he’s not the center of attention.

Negatives:

His surgically repaired knee held up in 2011, but it has to be in the back of any club’s mind when they sign Beltran that it could be a major issue at some point during the contract.

Is he or is he not willing to DH?

If he’s willing to DH, his options will be extended to a large chunk of the American League; if he’s not, then he’s limited to the National League and will hamper his ability to maximize his dollars. Beltran preferred to go to a National League team when the Mets were trying to trade him. Does he want to stay in the NL? Or is he flexible? Would he even think about playing some first base?

He’s a quiet, background player who doesn’t want to be the out-front leader.

What he’ll want: 4-years, $70 million.

What he’ll get: 3-years, $48 million.

Teams that might give it to him: Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Tigers, Royals; Twins; Angels; Rangers; Mariners; Phillies; Braves; Nationals; Cardinals; Cubs, Giants.

Beltran was one of the few players by whom Boras appeared to do entirely right.

Boras followed his desires by offering his services to the Yankees for less money than what the Mets offered; he got a clause inserted into the Mets contract that Beltran could not be offered arbitration, making him more attractive to prospective suitors due to the lack of draft pick compensation; and he got him paid.

Yet Beltran and Boras parted ways in advance of Beltran’s free agency and the player switched to Dan Lozano.

Who can speculate what it means?

Beltran must, must, must be open to DHing at least part of the time if he wants to get a contract of longer than 2-years.

Regardless of how desperate a club is to add his bat, his steadfast refusal to DH would hinder him terribly; and it’s a self-serving exercise in playing the outfield and running the risk of missing time and playing in 110-120 games when he could play in 150 games.

DHing isn’t for everyone—ask Adam Dunn—but this is a matter of exponentially increasing his ability to stay in the lineup as opposed to insisting on playing the outfield.

He has to do it.

The Red Sox could use Beltran’s quiet professionalism; the Yankees could use his switch-hitting power; he’d be a terrific acquisition for the Blue Jays; and the Cardinals could slot Beltran into right field if they lose Albert Pujols.

The Giants have spent freely on keeping middle relievers Javier Lopez and Jeremy Affeldt and there’s been talk that they’ll be willing to trade Matt Cain for a bat. (I don’t think they’re trading Cain.) The easiest thing for the Giants would be to try and keep Beltran if they feel he can play the outfield on a 3-year deal.

The Rangers were very interested in Beltran but since he didn’t want to DH and made that clear, the Mets sent him to the Giants. Texas would be a great spot for him.

Would I sign Beltran? I like Beltran, but wouldn’t spend that amount of money for the number of years he’s going to want on a player with his knee issues.

Will it be a retrospective mistake for the team that does pay him? If it’s a NL team, it’s a safe bet that they’re going to regret it. If it’s an AL team, he’s more likely to produce and stay in the lineup.

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Jose Reyes Does What Baseball Players Do Sometimes…Especially Late In The Season

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Players have pulled themselves out of games in the interests of individual pursuits forever.

They’ve adjusted their competitiveness to be part of history.

They’ve been placed in different parts of the lineup.

They’ve bunted.

They’ve swung at pitches that were clearly out of the strike zone to get extra swings to achieve goals.

They’ve gone for doubles and triples to complete cycles.

They’ve done it all.

Baseball is an individual sport within a team concept.

There are 162 games in a baseball season and rules as to how many innings and plate appearances are necessary for players to be eligible for ERA and batting titles.

Do you really believe that as the season winds down that players are concerned—first and foremost—with winning?

No. They want to pad their stats and they do it intentionally.

Today Jose Reyes of the Mets went up to the plate leading the National League in batting over the Brewers Ryan Braun. (I’m not looking up the percentage points because, truth be told, I couldn’t care less about the batting title); Reyes had told Mets manager Terry Collins beforehand that if he got a hit, he wanted to come out of the game.

Then he bunted for a hit.

Then Collins took him out of the game.

Collins and Reyes admitted as such after-the-fact, in a matter-of-fact fashion.

Before this information was revealed, two of the most absurd places for the dissemination of fact on this or any other planet in the universe—Twitter and Michael Kay—went on abusive rants against the Mets as if they were the one perpetrating this act on an unsuspecting public waiting for aboveboard and fair victors in the all-important batting race.

Naturally, no one retracted their statements when the truth came out.

It was still the fault of the Mets somehow even if it wasn’t.

Never mind that Bernie Williams won a batting title in 1998 after starting the day tied with Mo Vaughn of the Red Sox and when Williams went 2 for 2 with a sacrifice fly, he was pulled.

Never mind that players like Bill Madlock won batting titles after taking themselves out of games to achieve that end.

Pete Rose bunted for a hit to win the batting title over Roberto Clemente.

Denny McLain threw a room service meatball to Mickey Mantle for Mantle to hit his 535th career homer because McLain wanted to be part of history; in fact, he asked Mantle where he wanted the pitch and Mantle obliged by telling him.

The St. Louis Browns let Napoleon Lajoie bunt to his heart’s content in an attempt to take the batting title away from the reviled Ty Cobb.

Reyes played in 126 games this season; George Brett played in 117 in the year he hit .390 and nearly hit .400.

Does the fact that Reyes pulled himself from a game to try and win the title and was injured with hamstring problems twice in 2011 “ruin” a title that few really pay attention to anymore? Does the fact that Brett was oft-injured as well somehow equate into the batting title needing to be put in a negative frame of reference in terms of competition?

When Roger Maris was chasing Babe Ruth‘s home run record, it was decreed that there would be two separate records, one for the 154 game schedule and the other for the 162 game schedule. Incredulous, Maris asked something to the tune of, “Which 154? The first 154? The last? The middle?”

The batting title is a resume builder; it’s an award; and it’s relatively meaningless.

This reaction is based on Mets hatred and the attempt to cast a negative light on a baseball player like Jose Reyes who looked to increase his own status with an “award”.

If you don’t know this or can’t handle it, you shouldn’t be talking about it in such a judgmental, holier-than-thou way.

They’re baseball players.

This is what they do.

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Fit Or Fat, Pretty Or Productive

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Look at this image of CC Sabathia from yesterday as he’s in mid-delivery.

Sabathia’s innings go up every single year, he racks up the marketable statistics and he’s money in the playoffs. He’s been fantastic this year even though his luck on ground balls in 2011 hasn’t been particularly good with a .254 BAbip (batting average on balls in play). In comparison both James Shieldslink, and Justin Verlander are at .177—link.

In short, he’s one of the top 5 pitchers in baseball and the Yankees don’t have to worry that he’s a pitch away from getting hurt.

Does Sabathia’s durability have something to do with his frame and, um, generous proportions?

It’s not something to ignore or accept as a baseline, but it’s something to consider.

David Wells was another corpulent pitcher who’d prefer to get beaten up by men half his size in a drunken late night foray to a Manhattan diner than come within two inches of a treadmill.

Babe Ruth would’ve used a Cybex machine as a bed.

On the other side there are pitchers whose physiques were something out of Muscle and Fitness but spent their entire lives on the disabled list for extended periods of time. Kevin Brown was shredded but had multiple injuries throughout a stellar career; there was an ad during the Athletics-Marlins game yesterday promoting the return of Rich Harden—he of the estimated 2% bodyfat. He’ll be back long enough to injure another part of his body and go back on the disabled list.

Mechanics and genetics have something to do with it, but could it be that—amid other factors—the extra weight is providing padding and protection that a more picturesque athlete doesn’t have?

This isn’t a suggestion to find players who aren’t considered aesthetically pleasing as an end unto itself, but to reconsider what’s considered “in shape” to walk on the beach and “in shape” to throw a baseball repeatedly and not injure oneself.

In his curmudgeonly way, Whitey Herzog once said (in around 1989) that if players “drank a beer or ate a steak” once in a while, maybe their ribcages would stop tearing off the bone.

Maybe he was right.

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And Jose Reyes As Babe Ruth

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Judging from the reaction in fan and media circles, you’d think the Mets are running the risk of losing Babe Ruth rather than Jose Reyes and David Wright.

It’s grown stale.

The latest bit of journalism to catch my eye aren’t from the usual suspects in the New York media who are doing everything they can to paint the Mets as the epitome of the big market team whose ownership issues have forced small market behaviors.

No.

It’s Will Leitch in New York Magazine whose latest piece has inspired me to say the following: Will Leitch should stop writing about baseball.

At least until he learns something about it and can maintain some semblance of belief—backed up by intelligence—regarding the subject.

When a writer has me hearkening to the similar baseball-ignorant related ramblings of Stephen A. Smith, it’s time to step back and contemplate fresh tactics.

Previously, I thought Leitch simply had a Moneyball-fetish and truly didn’t comprehend what he was saying as he continually advocated the nonsensical book as the Holy Grail; that he believed everything in the mythical tome of Michael Lewis (coming to a theater near you in September). Now I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s an opportunist who’s using the issues hovering over the Mets as a hammer to brutalize a club that is trying get its act together.

From the fanboy perspective, I suppose Moneyball is a convenient set of tenets upon which to build oneself up as an “expert”. In the tradition of that atrocious film “Kick-Ass”, it’s the loser makes good, gets the pretty girl and becomes popular.

In other words, it’s a fantasy.

You see it repeatedly when the self-proclaimed baseball experts who haven’t any in-the-trenches, innate knowledge of the game make declarative statements of what they’d do were they running a club or functioning as part of a front office.

This is how you get the caller to Mike Francesa’s show who claimed he would’ve ordered Jorge Posada—a borderline Hall of Fame switch hitter—to bat left-handed against a left-handed pitcher because the numbers dictated that it was a good idea; how you find a Padres numbers cruncher with the abject failure to understand protocol as he suggested to then-manager Bruce Bochy that he bat pitcher Woody Williams second in the batting order.

And how no one is willing to get into a substantive debate about the subject, choosing instead to make comments from afar where they’re safe from retort by the object of their vitriol.

Leitch’s piece combines familiar Mets ridicule with profound negativity and a “they can’t win” sensibility.

It also exhibits a total lack of knowledge and memory of that which he’s advocated previously.

Not long ago, he wanted Billy Beane to come and take over the Mets ignoring what Beane truly is, not in the Moneyball sense, but in objective analysis.

Beane is a competent executive. No more, no less. His teams haven’t been good in recent years; he’s made some overtly stupid decisions; and has taken advantage of his fame without acknowledging the pitfalls of a “genius” and crafted perfection that never existed in the first place.

The Mets hired Sandy Alderson to run the club and he imported many of the characters and strategies from Moneyball—Paul DePodesta and J.P. Ricciardi among them.

Now, as the Mets tenuous financial situation is in the process of being untangled, there’s concern that they’re going to go the way of clubs like the Padres and Marlins who’ve repeatedly torn down the entire foundation of their franchises due to financial constraints.

They might trade Reyes or not even make an attempt to re-sign him; they could deal Wright; there are no impact free agents to be available in the coming years; they’re an exercise in dysfunction with no discernible strategy and few prospects both practically and metaphorically.

We’ve heard it all before.

The New York Mets will not crumble to the ground if Reyes and Wright are no longer the cornerstones of the franchise. They’re not the end-all, be-all of club existence. With the way the franchise is currently constituted, the Mets have to have everything on the table in terms of willingness to deal.

But here we are with Reyes playing brilliantly and placing a wrench in the theories of those who claim there’s no “evidence” of a contract-year bump; of course there’s a contract-year bump for certain players and Reyes is one of them. He wants to get paid and is doing everything he can towards that end.

Each sparkling defensive play; every stolen base; all the exciting triples into the Citi Field gap and Predator-style dreadlocks flying through the air complete with the Reyes smile that was so prominent in 2006, the media and fans pound the drums, blogosphere and social networks with entreaties as to how they want the Mets to ante up and prevent any possibility of the player entering his prime years playing in another uniform.

It would be a similar mistake to do anything desperate now as it was when the prior regimes made such ghastly and short-sighted errors such as the trading of Scott Kazmir for Victor Zambrano and the bidding-against-themselves signings of Oliver Perez and Luis Castillo.

In fact, it would be the exact opposite of why they hired Alderson; of doing what it was the likes of Leitch wanted them to do: find someone like Alderson, unbeholden to fan/media whims and acting in a way commensurate with his Marine-lawyer background to do what needed to be done for the good of the club without reverence to the past nor what would look good in the short-term.

So which is it?

If you examine similar clubs who’ve had financial catastrophes in the past, you come up with some interesting parallels.

The Red Sox were a joke before John Henry took over. Yes, they were good occasionally (like the Mets); yes, they spent money (like the Mets); and yes, they had a loyal and frustrated fan base that took a perverse and masochistic pride in their lot as a punching bag for the Yankees both literally and figuratively (like the Mets).

Spurned by the “genius” Beane—who’d agreed to take over the franchise after the 2002 season and backed out to remain in the comfort-zone of limited media exposure, fan obsession and expectations—they turned to young Theo Epstein who has presided over a model franchise since then.

The Rangers were a train wreck and financial nightmare as recently as last season. They made a decision in 2007 to trade a player the same age as Reyes is now (27)—Mark Teixeira—and laid the foundation for the pennant winning club of 2010 and rebuilt the franchise with the ridiculous haul of prospects they received from the Braves that included Neftali Feliz, Elvis Andrus, Matt Harrison and Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

You can’t say now what will work and what won’t; if a team comes to the Mets and makes an offer that would yield a substantial return for any player, they would be stupid not to think about it.

Alderson’s not stupid.

Indicative of a lack of baseball knowledge or the barest interest in accuracy is the comparison of the Mets to a small-market locale when Leitch writes the following:

But do the Mets want to be the sort of franchise that trades away its best players in their prime because of financial concerns? What are we, Minnesota?

Minnesota?

Which Minnesota is he referring to?

The Twins with their $113 million payroll? The same club that just lavished a contract worth $184 million on Joe Mauer?

Actually, with the way they flamed out in the playoffs last year—the year they were supposed to finally get past the Yankees—and the injury-ravaged, high-expectations, disaster they’ve been this year, you can compare the Twins to the Mets, not the other way around.

Leitch’s allegiance to the Moneyball model isn’t based on any deep-rooted understanding of the concept, but that it’s a book that he read and hasn’t the faintest clue as to how terribly the story was twisted to suit the ends of the author; in order to comprehend that, there must be a foundational baseball knowledge to start with.

Now I’m starting to see that Leitch’s baseball savvy is clearly more in line with the aforementioned Stephen A. Smith rather than someone with whom you could have a legitimate back-and-forth without having to explain these concepts to them like a college professor.

I don’t see Leitch’s column as slimy in a Joel Sherman sort of way, but it’s ignorant and tilted towards smarminess to attack the Mets.

At the end of the piece, Leitch writes: “And yet whichever path they choose, as any die-hard Mets fan knows, will probably be the wrong one.”

Perhaps taking that statement to heart considering his own goal in writing a hit-piece of this kind would serve him well. Get it right or quit writing about baseball altogether. Or at least present a case that isn’t dripping with sarcasm for its own sake.

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Multi-Level Ridiculous

Hot Stove

This could be a duplex, triplex, quadriplex or multiplex.

Or more.

If you haven’t seen it, I’m of course talking about this, um, hyperbolic (let’s be generous) assessment of the 2011 Red Sox—2011 Red Sox Will Challenge 1927 Yankees for Title of Greatest Team in Major League History.

The title is bad enough. It inspires thoughts of Don LaPre with his “Greatest Vitamin in the World”; of Kevin Trudeau and his mysterious “they” who are out to get you, persecute you and destroy your life; of Sean Hannity and his “the hair does look different” when buying into the Elian Gonzalez haircut/faux photograph conspiracy theories during that mess in the year 2000 after the Cuban boy was rightfully reunited with his father.

You could equate this with anyone from the left, right, center, commercial, financial, PR, tabloid or whatever.

Written by Eric Ortiz, a few things about him and his column become clear: contrary to popular notion, the fluctuating concept of intelligence implied by graduating from Stanford doesn’t automatically equal a deep baseball knowledge of history and reality; he has nearly no objectivity nor encompassing knowledge in what he’s talking about; and I’m getting the idea that NESN has a Michael Kay of their very own functioning in a world of make believe.

And that’s before getting into the actual content.

Enthusiasm is one thing. Derangement is another.

The 2011 Red Sox and the 1927 Yankees?

Really?

Ortiz is making this comparison in January?

Good grief.

Let’s do this and let’s do it in an organized fashion.

Hold on tight.

The off-season “champion” doesn’t matter much.

Going back years, we’ve seen teams that were the “champions” of the off-season start the year with outrageous expectations and flame out almost immediately, the holes they failed to fill too gaping to cover by headline-making acquisitions.

How many times did George Steinbrenner sign the big free agent (or three) and watch as his meddling and failure to adequately address the necessary ancillary pieces in building a club cause his team to underachieve? It happened on an annual basis in the 1980s and was even more pronounced directly following the 1996-2000 dynasty as the dismantling of the cohesive unit was exacerbated by the losing mercenaries he brought in.

The Mets, under both Steve Phillips and Omar Minaya, would draw attention to themselves by making drastic alterations only to have dysfunction and mismanagement sabotage them to the point of embarrassment.

It’s happened with stat zombie teams as well—the Mariners and Athletics in recent years.

And, guess what? It’s happened with the Red Sox. Picked to be a World Series winner last season because of the signings of John Lackey, Mike Cameron, Adrian Beltre and Marco Scutaro, the club stumbled with the new “defense-first” strategy early in the year and were derailed by injuries, poor performance by important pieces and two teams in their division that were healthier and better in the Yankees and Rays.

I love the decisions the Red Sox have made this winter; I think they’re the best team in the American League, but that makes little difference once the games start. The off-season champion is often standing on the outside looking in and wondering what went wrong with their master plan.

The 1927 Yankees? Did he do any research before coming to this conclusion?

Comparing eras—especially eras from nearly 100 years ago—is impossible and a colossal waste of time and energy. But looking at the differences between the 1927 Yankees and the Red Sox, along with the other clubs mentioned in the piece as examples of the “best” ever are helpful in detonating the foundation of Ortiz’s piece from the ground up.

The game was totally different then. There were only eight teams in the American League; the ball was dead; the crisis-a-day media wasn’t hovering waiting to post a blog, tweet or go bonkers on a radio show in dictating the decline and fall of the club after a 3-game losing streak; Babe Ruth, if he were playing today and behaved as he did then, would rival Kim Kardashian in the gossip pages; and expectations weren’t prefaced by a suggestion of such dubious magnitude that this is a team that will rival one of the best in history.

The 1927 Yankees had a Hall of Fame manager (Miller Huggins); and Hall of Famers at 1st base (Lou Gehrig); 2nd base (Tony Lazzeri); two HOF outfielders (Earl Combs and Ruth); and HOF pitchers Waite Hoyt and Herb Pennock.

How many future Hall of Famers do these Red Sox have? Potentially, there’s Kevin Youkilis and Jon Lester. Maybe. Dustin Pedroia? I suppose winning the Rookie of the Year and the MVP in his first two seasons give him a good start, but Fred Lynn won both in the same year with the Red Sox and became a very good journeyman player, not what he was expected to be after the start to his career.

The competition in 1927 wasn’t anywhere close to what it is today. The game was based on speed and inside baseball. When you look at those Yankees, led by Ruth (60 homers) and Gehrig (47 homers) and examine the league leaders from that season, you see that while that duo combined for 107 homers by themselves, the next highest total in the American League was Lazzeri with 18; after that, you had Ken Williams with 17; Al Simmons with 15; Harry Heilmann with 14.

Who could compete with that kind of power? Was there anyone in that era—in which the game was still evolving—that could handle a 1-0 lead in the seventh inning with Ruth and Gehrig due to hit and a tired starting pitcher who wasn’t coming out of the game for a fresh arm?

Those Yankees could pitch and they played good defense; but it wouldn’t have made much of a difference if their pitching was slightly subpar; if their defense was a bit shoddy. This is because they battered pitchers into submission!!!

The 1927 Yankees scored 131 more runs than the next highest scoring club in baseball, the Detroit Tigers.

Who could compete with that?

The 2011 Red Sox? They’re going to score a lot of runs; they’ve got great pitching; they’re built to win now and have all the attributes that Ortiz mentions—on base skills, power, speed, great defense—but can injuries be accounted for? Can the other teams in the American League who are also very good and/or have money and prospects to make drastic improvements at mid-season be so easily dismissed to the point of thinking this Red Sox team is going to compete with the 1927 Yankees?

“Dice-K might be the best no. 5 starter ever”.

What?!?

Has Ortiz ever watched Daisuke Matsuzaka pitch? And if he has, would he know what he was looking at to begin with?

I would expect such similar nonsense from a fan blog or the aforementioned Michael Kay. This is what passes for analysis?

It would be one thing if he were simply writing the best-case scenario and going over-the-top, but the way this is presented it’s as if Ortiz has never watched a baseball game in his life and has neither the statistical nor in-the-trenches knowledge to comprehend anything about baseball—the future or the past.

“Dice-K might be the best no. 5 starter ever”?!?

Um, okay.

Off the top of my head, here are a couple of problems with this suggestion: One, teams have only used a regular number 5 starter going back to the late 70s, early 80s; before that, they used a swingman/extra guy to take the start when they wanted to cut back on the workload of the main men.

Two, the best number 5 starter idea is demolished by Daisuke Matsuzaka not being any good and that the teams who accumulated big win totals with deep starting rotations had starters who were far superior to Matsuzaka.

A quick search of teams had superior number 5 starters (in no particular order) like the 2002 Yankees (Mike Mussina, Roger Clemens, David Wells, Orlando Hernandez, Andy Pettitte and an extra guy named Ted Lilly); the 1998 Braves (Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, Kevin Millwood and Denny Neagle); the 2005 Cardinals (Chris Carpenter, Mark Mulder, Matt Morris, Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan); and the 1988 Mets (Dwight Gooden, Ron Darling, David Cone, Sid Fernandez and Bob Ojeda).

There are others you could dig through and find a better number 5 starter. Oh, and none of those teams won the World Series. Not one.

All due respect to Terry Francona, those teams were managed by men who were better managers than he—Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Bobby Cox and Davey Johnson.

Finally, we get to Daisuke Matsuzaka himself.

He’s not any good.

You can parse his 2008 season any way you want, but he’s been a disappointment on and off the field and has progressively gotten worse as teams have learned to wait for him to walk them. He’s been injury-prone, selfish, whiny and eminently hittable. Sprinkling in a near-no-hitter every once in a while does not a successful pitcher make. The wins he has accumulated stem more from having an excellent team behind him, complete with a deep bullpen to bail him out of trouble and win him games after he logs his usual 5 innings with 3 runs allowed (if he’s on his game).

Matsuzaka has been nowhere near worth the press, the money (posting and contractually), nor the hype. He’s been a better investment for the Red Sox than Kei Igawa was for the Yankees, but I’d have been a better investment for anyone than Igawa was for the Yankees.

The “best no. 5 starter ever”?

Yah.

Speaking of accumulating wins…

If the 2011 Red Sox win 117 games or 99, what’s the difference if they don’t meet the expectations that are apparent in such propaganda as written by Ortiz on NESN?

The 2001 Mariners are mentioned:

The 2001 Mariners won 116 regular-season games to set the American League record for most wins in a single season and tie the 1906 Cubs for the major league record (though the North Siders accomplished the feat in 152 games). Both those teams failed to win the World Series. The Cubs lost to the White Sox in six games in the Fall Classic. The Mariners didn’t even make it that far, falling to the Yankees in five games in the ALCS.

The Red Sox have no intention of suffering a similar fate. The way they are constructed, they could surpass the 116-win mark, but nothing less than a World Series title will make Boston happy.

Yes, I’m quite sure the Red Sox have no intention of suffering a similar fate. Whatever that’s worth.

What a win total has to do with anything is beyond me; much like expectations, they’re meaningless in practice. A fundamental lack of understanding of the nature of how teams win is the culprit in missing that reality.

The Big Red Machine of the 1970s were picked to win every year and it was said the Machine was equipped with a “choke” because they always lost until 1975-1976.

The Orioles of the 1970s were considered a similar disappointment as were the Dodgers. The Athletics and Mets of the 1980s were in this category as were the 116-win Mariners and the 1990s Indians and Braves. That the latter mentioned clubs kept running into the Yankees and losing is irrelevant—they lost.

You can’t quantify a number of wins as meaning anything. Those 2000 Yankees collapsed at the end of the season and turned it on for the playoffs; the 2006 Cardinals did the same. Both won the World Series.

The great Braves teams were never able to overcome the absence of a reliable, big time closer; no one in their right mind (or with the faintest clue about baseball) could look at that 2001 Mariners team and think they’re one of the “best” teams in history.

Those massive win totals are—many times—a confluence of events more than any teamwide “greatness”.

It doesn’t help that they lost.

The 1988 Mets and Athletics were “better” teams than the champion Dodgers, but the Dodgers had the hot pitcher (Orel Hershiser) and the magic (Kirk Gibson). Does anyone remember the Mets and A’s as anything other than underachievers that Hershiser single-handedly ripped to shreds?

As for the 1927 Yankees, by 1929, they were dethroned by a Connie Mack‘s masterfully built competing juggernaut Philadelphia Athletics. The Yankees team in 1929 was essentially unchanged from 1927. They too lost.

It happens more often than you’d think, but judging from the pants-changing excitement exemplified on NESN, you’d never know it.

Hubris makes for great sports moments.

Buster Douglas knocked out the “invincible” Mike Tyson.

The New York Giants beat the “unbeatable” New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

The United States hockey team defeated the Soviet Union in the 1980 Olympics.

It happens and it happens all the time. Many times it’s a byproduct of self-importance and arrogance; others it’s due to unfilled holes and factors that can’t be accounted for…especially in JANUARY!!!!

When idiotic fan blogs disguised as even-handed journalism like that which was written by Eric Ortiz on NESN begin popping up this early, it has a tendency to snowball; to create an atmosphere of loathing in the hopes that such a team—unbeatable, unstoppable, unbelievable—will lose.

Other clubs know the difference and if they try just that tiny bit harder just to stick it to those that view themselves so highly, upsets are inevitable.

With the tiered playoff system and short series, anything—anything—can and usually does happen.

This Red Sox team is terrific on paper; but they, like any other team, are not unbeatable, regardless of this bit of “journalism”. If this is an example of the hubris we’re going to see as the season wears on, I’m going to be among the number that hopes to see the team lose just to see this type of thing proven wrong not only because it’s arrogant and obnoxious garbage but because it’s an invitation to disaster.

Disaster has a way of finding those that dismiss it’s potential for wreaking havoc on the best-laid plans.

My suggestion to those that are buying into the hype is that they calm down because they’re asking for fate-related trouble. Big trouble.

Fate will find you.

It always does.