Yaisel Puig and the All-Star Game

All Star Game, Games, Management, Media, Players, World Series

Major League Baseball’s All-Star Game has forever suffered from a lack of definition. With mixed signals coming from teams, players, fans and baseball’s front office, the failure to come to a clear-cut determination as to the game’s import or lack thereof has fostered a sense of stuffing everything into one package.

Is it a competitive game? If so, then why have rules that every team is represented?

Do players want to play in it? Some do, some don’t. Many would like the honor of being named without having to actually go. Even players with All-Star bonuses in their contracts aren’t bothered one way or the other. $50,000 might seem like a lot to you and me, but if a player such as Josh Hamilton doesn’t make it the loss of a $50,000 bonus isn’t much when he’s making $15 million this season.

There have been All-Star moments of competitiveness that made it seem like a real game. Pete Rose running over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star game has been brandished as evidence for Rose’s never-ending competitiveness. It has also been a question as to whether Rose did it not just to try and score the run but, in the same vein as his occasionally unnecessary headfirst slides, to get his name and face in the newspapers to make more money for himself. Fosse’s career was severely damaged by the separated shoulder he sustained on the play.

There have also been instances that were entertaining and light-hearted. Barry Bonds lifting Torii Hunter on his shoulder after Hunter robbed Bonds of a homer; John Kruk feigning heart palpitations when Randy Johnson threw a ball over his head; lefty-swinging Larry Walker batting right-handed mid at-bat against the same Johnson; Cal Ripken being pushed to shortstop from third base by Alex Rodriguez at the behest of American League manager Joe Torre in Ripken’s last All-Star Game—we see clips of these moments all the time along with a clip of Rose running into Fosse. The ambiguity lays the foundation for it not being a game-game, but a game that is sort of a game simultaneous to being an exhibition.

If MLB decided to make the contest a true barometer over which league is supposedly “better,” they’d have more than one game, build teams that are constructed to compete with the other league, and play the starters for nine innings. The pitchers would be used for more than a limited number of innings and pitches. Strategy would be seriously employed rather than ensuring that as many players get into the game as possible.

With inter-league play, the frequency of movement of players from team-to-team, and the fans’ ability to watch games from other cities that they didn’t have access to in years past, there’s no novelty in seeing Miguel Cabrera, Bryce Harper and Mike Trout. The decision to make the game “count” by awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the winning league was a slapdash, knee-jerk reaction to the criticism of MLB after the tie game in 2002. It was a silly idea, but this decision was no more silly than MLB’s former method of alternating the AL and NL home field advantage on a yearly basis. This isn’t football and home field doesn’t matter all that much. In addition, many players on the All-Star rosters know their clubs have a slim-to-none chance of playing in the World Series anyway, so what do they care?

This is why the debate over Yasiel Puig’s candidacy to be an All-Star is relatively meaningless. There are factional disputes as to its rightness or wrongness, but if the game is of fluctuating rules and viability, then how can there be a series of ironclad mandates as to who’s allowed to participate?

Until MLB decides to make the All-Star Game into either a full-blown exhibition with no pretense of competitiveness or an all-out battle for supremacy there will be these debates that, in the cosmic scheme of things, don’t make a difference one way or the other.

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Earl Weaver (1930-2013)

All Star Game, Award Winners, Books, CBA, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MVP, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

Glenn Gulliver exemplifies what it was that made Earl Weaver different as a manager from his contemporaries. It wasn’t Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken Jr.—all Hall of Famers. Nor was it Ken Singleton, Boog Powell, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar—consistently top performers. It wasn’t Steve Stone or Wayne Garland—pitchers who had their best seasons under Weaver; it wasn’t Gary Roenicke and John Lowenstein (an MVP-quality platoon) or role players Benny Ayala and Terry Crowley; it wasn’t even the one year Weaver had Reggie Jackson on his team and punctuated Jackson’s arrival by screaming in his face because Reggie wasn’t wearing a tie on the team plane. (Brooks Robinson found him one and explained how things worked in Baltimore—Earl’s way or…well, it was just Earl’s way. Reggie behaved that year.) It wasn’t the frequent ejections, the foul mouth, the chain-smoking, the public ripping of players, his longevity and consistency.

It was none of that.

It was a nondescript third baseman whom the Orioles purchased from the Indians prior to the 1982 season and who played in 73 big league games, 50 under Weaver. Gulliver, more than any other player, shows why Weaver was ahead of his time. If he were playing today, the two things Gulliver did well would’ve gotten him a multi-year contract as an in demand asset because he: A) walked a lot; and B) could catch the ball at third base.

Gulliver batted .200 in his 50 games under Weaver and walked so much that he had a .363 on base percentage. Weaver saw this, knew this, and could only wonder about the stupidity of those who questioned why Gulliver was playing at all with his low batting average.

Twenty years before Moneyball and everyone thinking they were a genius because they watched baseball for five minutes and knew how to read a stat sheet, Weaver was an actual genius and innovator by using a discarded player who other clubs had no clue was so valuable.

For all the talk of Weaver’s use of statistics, riding his starting pitchers, putting a premium on defense and battles with Palmer and Davey Johnson, the concept that Weaver was a dictator who didn’t know how to be flexible is only half-true. He was a ruthless dictator off the field, but on the field, he was willing to go to whatever lengths he needed in order to win.

Weaver’s teams were always near the top of the league in certain categories. They weren’t always the same. Many times, at the plate, it was on base percentage. On the mound, it was complete games and shutouts. Weaver was known not to be a fan of the riskiness of the stolen base, but as he looked at his transitioning club from 1973-1975 and realized he wouldn’t have the power to win, he let his players loose on the basepaths because he had no other alternative and during those years they were at or near the top of the American League in stolen bases.

If Weaver were managing today, that would be seen as “evolution,” or “adapting.” It wasn’t any of that. Often, the question has been asked how Weaver would function today if he were managing; if the old-school techniques of, “I’m the boss, shut up,” would fly with the multi-millionaire players who can get the manager fired if they choose to do so.

Like wondering why he was using Gulliver, it’s a stupid question. Because Weaver was so ahead of his time as a manager using statistics and that he adjusted and won regardless of his personnel, he would have won whenever he managed.

If a player had any talent to do anything at all, Weaver found it and exploited it for as long as he could, then he discarded them. He did so without apology.

Old-school managers who tear into the absence of the human element, increase of instant replay, and use of numbers are doing so because these techniques are marginalizing them and potentially taking their jobs away. Do you really believe that Weaver wouldn’t have wanted expanded instant replay? To have a better method to find tiny advantages over his opponents through numbers? The older managers who’ve subtly changed have hung around. The ones who couldn’t, haven’t.

On the other hand, Weaver wouldn’t have responded well to agents calling him and complaining over a pitcher’s workload; or to have a kid out of Harvard walking up to him and telling him he should bat X player in Y spot because of a reason that Weaver was probably already aware of and dismissed; or bloggers and the media constantly haranguing, second-guessing and criticizing managers and GMs endure today. But he always altered his strategy to the circumstances and he would’ve continued to do so if he managed in any era.

Interestingly, Weaver retired very young at age 52, then came back to manage a terrible team for a couple of more years before finally retiring for good at 56. In a day when Charlie Manuel, Jim Leyland and Joe Torre managed in their late-60s and early 70s, and Jack McKeon won a World Series at 74 and came back to manage again at 81, could Weaver had continued on? Could he have taken a couple of years off in his 50s and returned? Absolutely. He would’ve been well-compensated and just as successful as he was when he was in his 30s and 40s for one simple reason: he knew what he was doing. And that’s about as great a compliment that a manager can get.

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Jose Reyes And The Truth Of Lies

All Star Game, Books, Cy Young Award, Draft, Fantasy/Roto, Free Agents, Games, Hall Of Fame, History, Hot Stove, Management, Media, MiLB, MLB Trade Deadline, MLB Waiver Trades, Movies, MVP, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players, Playoffs, Prospects, Spring Training, Stats, Trade Rumors, World Series

It was entirely believable that Jose Reyes signed with the Marlins so early in the free agent process; without seeing what other offers were out there; declining to go to the Mets and seeing whether they could and would match or surpass the Marlins deal.

After all, the Marlins have a history of…signing…big…name…free…age…

Um…well, they signed Carlos Delgado after the 2004 season. The contract was heavily backloaded and didn’t have a no-trade clause, so naturally they traded him—to the Mets, whom he’d spurned to sign with them—following the 2005 season.

Never mind that.

They have sane ownership widely respect…ed…in…base…ball…circl…

Actually, Jeffrey Loria is petulant, disingenuous, capricious, bullying and sneaky.

Well, okay.

They’ve known on-field stability with their man…a…gers….

So, Ozzie Guillen is the seventh managerial change that Loria has made since taking over as Marlins owner in 2003 and that’s not counting Bobby Valentine, who essentially had the job until he got into an argument with team president David Samson (Loria’s son-in-law) during Valentine’s interview.

The players enjoy the…at…mos…phe…

Alright, Logan Morrison has filed a grievance because the Marlins demoted him for reasons he and the Players Association think were based more on his use of Twitter than for his play.

There’s an air of professionalism perm…e…at..ing…the…tea….

Okay. Hanley Ramirez is a diva who’d make Madonna look reasonable; doesn’t play hard all the time; and has taken the “prodigal son of Loria” act to its logical conclusion by acting like Loria.

Er…ah, so…playing the game fairly and in an aboveboard manner is the hall…mark…of…the Mar…lins…organ..i…za..ti…

Oh, well there’s that overblown issue of using Leo Nunez AKA Juan Oviedo while he was an illegal immigrant living in the United States and pitching for the club under an assumed name and that the team presumably knew about it and said nothing.

Aside from all that, it’s Utopia.

Are you getting the picture?

This whole “story” started when someone, somewhere said that Marlins had agreed to terms with Reyes, pending a physical.

The news blasted across the internet; Twitter went bonkers; people searched for information; Mets fans whined; Marlins fans rejoiced; those with a stake in roasting the Mets teed off.

It went on briefly and with a white hot intensity.

Then it stopped.

Because the report was a lie.

Typical of social media, it followed the script that a rumor based on nothing usually does: it’s reported; it’s repeated; it’s reacted; it’s refuted.

Fast, frenzied and embarrassing, if there was any shame or plausible deniability left for those with a clear and blatant agenda in Reyes leaving the Mets, it was extinguished with this bit of “news”. Prepared with their purposeful bashing, it came and went, did its damage and receded. The backtracking was half-hearted because, as a form of self-justification, we again saw the vitriol doled out on the Mets front office and ownership…even if there was none to be passed around.

Let’s just say, hypothetically, that the report was accurate and Reyes had signed with the Marlins.

What then?

Would it be because of his craving for the stability, sanity, atmosphere, adherence to rules and professionalism with the Marlins that was missing with the Mets?

Would it be the money?

Does it matter?

And how are the Wilpons and Mets GM Sandy Alderson to be held accountable if Reyes signed immediately with one of the first teams he visited before making the rounds and chose not to go back to the Mets with the offer to see if they’d match or surpass it?

What were they supposed to do if that had been the case?

The Mets and Alderson asked Reyes and his agents the Greenbergs what it would take to sign the player; they received silence in response; Alderson basically said, “okay, shop around and get back to us”.

If Reyes decided not to do that, who, if anyone, is to blame for that?

The argument that the Mets should’ve signed Reyes to an extension before this is ludicrous. Despite protestations to the contrary—using his games played from 2005-2008 as a basis—he is not a guarantee to stay healthy and perform as he did at his best over the first half of the 2011 season. He missed almost the entire 2009 season with a torn hamstring and 5 weeks of this season with more hamstring woes; he had hamstring troubles in his first two seasons and his 2010 spring training and part of that season were compromised with a thyroid condition.

This is not Lou Gehrig or Cal Ripken.

The idea that the Mets should have traded Reyes at mid-season is just as idiotic. They want to keep him; the number of players who’ve been traded and then return to the team that sent them away as free agents are limited and unimpressive (think Austin Kearns). Worst case scenario, he leaves and they take the draft picks; had they dealt him, he wasn’t returning and the hit the team would’ve taken for dealing Reyes, Francisco Rodriguez and Carlos Beltran wouldn’t have been worth the potential bounty unless a trading team got unimaginably desperate and sent them a Bryce Harper/Mike Trout-type, blue chip, can’t miss prospect.

So they kept him. He’s a free agent. They’re interested in making an offer when they know what the market is and if they can afford it.

That’s the way it is.

Reyes has a right to sign with anyone at anytime.

He’d be stupid to do it with such expediency unless someone offers a Jayson Werth contract of lunacy, but that has yet to happen. Because he hasn’t signed anything.

Not even on Twitter.

There’s a troubling rush to judgment and a stimulus response of rage inherent with any unverified statement presented and accepted as fact.

Reyes may stay with the Mets.

He may leave.

The decision was not made last night.

But we received a preview of the true face of those who have a vested interest of their own in the outcome.

It’s an ugly face.

It’s a duplicitous face.

Now that we know what it looks like, we can see through the subterfuge of what they’re selling.

And we can point it out and shun it.

In a sense, it’s worth the attention that it’s received as a means to uncover the truth.

The truth of lies.

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Stereotypes, Safe And Detrimental

Books, Management, Media, Players

Dave Cameron of Fangraphs discusses the stereotypical “types” teams search for in filling positions—link.

I disagree with much of what Cameron says and, more importantly, why he says it; I detect an agenda that he and other stat people maintain to “prove” their way is best.

In this case, the premise is somewhat sound.

I can quibble with the assertion that it’s “harder to find a good hitting shortstop than any other position on the diamond”, but it’s the battle against stereotypes that—presumably—we can agree on.

I loathe the concept that a third baseman and first baseman both have to be sluggers; plodding, immobile, two-fisted maulers can be hidden in left field or first base; that the closer has to throw very, very hard; or that immutable “rules” must be adhered to when building a club.

It’s an old-school, ignorant and safety-first method of running a team.

There are so many factors in a team’s construction that holding onto any one sacrosanct concept is ruinous. What does the club need? Do they have a pitching staff that requires solid defenders? Will the player inserted at third base or first base cost the club more runs defensively than he’d provide offensively? Can the offense carry a non-existent bat?

These are not meaningless questions and they can’t be answered with the simplistic, primordial and inane “third baseman must hit homers”.

30 years ago, shortstop was a defense-first position. Before Earl Weaver shifted Cal Ripken from third base to shortstop, the position was relegated to the Bucky Dent, Mark Belanger, Larry Bowa, Ozzie Smith-type player who was in the lineup for defense and defense alone.

Look at some of the names that played shortstop regularly back in 1982 as Ripken became a shortstop who could actually hit and hit for power: Glenn Hoffman; Alfredo Griffin; Tim Foli. Apart from Robin Yount and Alan Trammell and a few that could hit a bit like U.L. Washington, Rafael Ramirez and Bill Russell, they were primarily no-hit glovemen.

Another interesting note in Ripken’s 1982 shift to shortstop was who replaced him as the primary third baseman for those Orioles. It was a minor league journeyman named Glenn Gulliver. Gulliver couldn’t hit (.200 average with no power that year), but he could walk (his OBP was .363) and field the ball at third base.

This was the ahead-of-his-time genius of Weaver—he didn’t care about perception; he inserted Gulliver into the lineup, batted him second and took advantage of what he had: a big third baseman superstar in Ripken who was quick enough and smart enough to play shortstop and a third baseman who had attributes he could take advantage of to make the team better.

It had nothing to do with clinging to stereotypes of “how things have always been”; it had to do with the hand he was holding and how best to take advantage of it.

Be wary of anything that subverts your will like the “sposdas” because it’s those who grasp frantically at the way things are “sposda” be who sabotage and ignore the obvious even if it’s right in front of their faces.

It’s the safe and stupid option.

I published a full excerpt of my book on Wednesday here.

The book is available  now. Click here to get it in paperback or E-Book on I-Universe or on Amazon or BN. It’s also available via E-book on Borders.com.


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