The Hall of Fame of Apathy

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It’s a byproduct of the times we live in that not only does the vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame have to be counted, but we have to endure the detailing of the vote like the slaughtering and cleaning of a chicken before it winds up on our plate, grilled and placed over salad with a nice vinaigrette.

Or like a sausage. Sausage is a good analogy. The Hall of Fame voting exemplifies why, prior to choosing to eat it, we don’t want to see how sausage is made because if we did, we wouldn’t be able to take a bite. But combine the sausagemaker and the chef being careless about hygiene—disgusting even—and showing the world step-by-step why and how they’re coming to the conclusion that being filthy is the logical progression and for the diner, the response degenerates into an immense powerlessness and disinterest that, in the final analysis, will make us sick.

The noxious process of voting for the Hall of Fame might always have been as it is now, but we didn’t get to watch it and hear it ad nauseam until reaching this inevitable end.

I used to care about the Hall of Fame. As a kid, I wanted Phil Rizzuto to be inducted. It was mostly because others told me he should be inducted without providing viable reasons for this position, but what was the difference? Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese were contemporaries and inter-city rivals of New York, it suited the narrative if they went into the Hall together. They didn’t and that served the clashing of civilizations even more. Ted Williams supported Rizzuto’s candidacy. Writers didn’t. Eventually, the Rizzuto supporters—many of them friends on the Veterans Committee—let him in. Whether or not he “belongs” became irrelevant. Today would either Rizzuto or Reese have a chance of getting into the Hall? No. But that argument was part of what once made the debate interesting. It’s no longer so.

The dirtiest aspect of a conspiracy are those who are left to take the punishment after the fact while others walk away and join the chorus to punish the “guilty” for acts they made possible and participated in by direct involvement or by looking the other way. There are the disposable minions whose job it was to run interference for their charges (Greg Anderson for Barry Bonds; Brian McNamee for Roger Clemens) and take the legal consequences while the people they worked for walk away free.

And there are the players. The players who allegedly used the drugs or are suspected of using the drugs are serving the sentences for the people who were running baseball, allowed and cultivated the performance enhancing drug culture in the interests of making themselves more money and reviving a game that was on life-support after the canceled World Series of 1994 and evident avarice that led to that cancelation.

The media voting for the potential inductees? They’re showing a combination of righteous indignation and contemptuous dismissal of dissent that can only stem from an out-of-control egomania. As self-appointing “protectors” of the game, there’s an unstated similarity to what Max Mercy said in The Natural that his job as a reporter is not to tell the story of the game, but by creating an image that he—in an unabashed treatise of omnipotence—deems as proper and salable. We’re now getting a Hunter S. Thompson, “gonzo” voting bloc. Every reporter feels as though he not only has has to cast his ballot, but get in on the action and make public his choices, explaining why he did or didn’t select a certain player.

Mike Piazza didn’t get votes not because he was caught in a PED drug test in any context other than rumor, but because of the era in which he played and that he had acne on his back. This is presented as a reason. Not “feeling” that Jack Morris is a Hall of Famer, or that Jeff Bagwell and Craig Biggio don’t pass the smell test as PED suspects (Bagwell) and stat-compilers (Biggio) is equated as an excuse of why they’re not garnering support.

There’s no more conversation. No altering of hearts and minds. Perhaps there never was. But today, there are battle-lines and no hope for settlement, so the fight rages on without end in an immovable object vs. irresistible force aura of uselessness.

Like a Tim Tebow pro-life ad, each side sees it their way and takes it as a worthwhile cause to promote or an infringement on the liberty of others to behave in accordance to the laws of the land. Rather than accept it for what it actually is, a commercial, and understand that because Tebow took part in the ad and it was shown during a football game that it’s not an insult to the beliefs nor a threat to the freedoms of those who disagree, there’s a lunatic stimulus reaction. All this while no one says a word if they don’t have the money or the inclination to run out and purchase a Lexus when those commercials run non-stop during the NFL playoffs. There’s truly no difference.

Until a Hall of Fame voter has the supposed epiphany that George A. King of the New York Post claims to have had when he decided that Pedro Martinez wasn’t a worthy candidate for MVP in 1999 and hears from “people he respects” justifying the exclusion with the argument that pitchers have their award and the MVP should go to an everyday player, this will not stop. And that’s the point. As much as we can argue that King, as a Yankees beat writer and resident apologist, was simply punishing a reviled member of the arch-rival Red Sox, nothing can stop it from happening. The votes are what they are; the voters are who they are.

There’s not going to be a Skull and Bones society of enlightened and objective stat people with impressive degrees from Ivy League Universities, meeting in far off lands to determine the fate of the baseball universe, deciding that the logic of keeping Bonds, Clemens, Sammy Sosa and anyone else from the Hall of Fame is a travesty considering who’s in the Hall of Fame and what they did to get there. Nor will there be a return to the old-school and how things were before Twitter, Facebook, blogging, glory-hunting, attention-seeking, and making a name for oneself by being outrageous as per the mandate like Rob Parker did with Robert Griffin III and lost his job at ESPN because of it.

There’s no going back.

Gaylord Perry cheated and everyone knew he was cheating. He admitted it. He wallowed in it. As a journeyman whose stuff wasn’t quite good enough, he extended his career by 20 years because of it. He’s in the Hall of Fame and there’s a smirk, wink and nod as to how he accomplished the feat of gaining enshrinement. There are drunks, recreational drug users and wife-beaters in the Hall of Fame. There are racists, gamblers and individuals who would accurately be described as sociopaths in the Hall of Fame.

None of that waned my interest in the proceedings as much as having to view the sausage being made; to endure the media throwing themselves into the fray as if they were just as important to the process as the process itself.

I paid attention to the election results in a vacuum of neutrality. That is not attached to an affiliation or deep-seated belief as to whether the players should or shouldn’t be elected, but because of pure apathy that has accumulated over a number of years as a side effect of the arrogance inherent with the doling, reporting and counting of the Hall of Fame vote. It grows exponentially with each writer who not only feels he has to vote, but feels the need to explain the vote as he makes it in the me-me-me self-involvement that’s become prevalent. It spreads with every player whose public agenda and lies insult my intelligence; with every owner or baseball official who crusades against that which they allowed and encouraged to happen.

No one was voted into the Hall of Fame for 2013. And I just don’t care.

//

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2012 MLB Award Picks—Cy Young Award

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Let’s look at the award winners for 2012 starting with the Cy Young Award with my 2012 picks, who I picked in the preseason, and who I actually think is going to win regardless of who should win.

American League

1. Justin Verlander, Detroit Tigers

Verlander won the Cy Young Award and the MVP in 2011. His numbers in 2012 weren’t as dominating as they were in 2011 and the Tigers had a better team in 2012, so he’s not an MVP candidate this season, but he still did enough to outdo the competition for the CYA.

Verlander led the American League in innings pitched, strikeouts, complete games, and was at or near the top in advanced stats such as Adjusted ERA+ and Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

The WAR argument is a factor, but not the factor to set the stage for the MVP analysis between Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout.

2. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays

Price led the AL in ERA and wins, but was far behind Verlander in innings pitched and strikeouts.

3. Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

If he hadn’t had two terrible games in September in which he allowed 7 earned runs in each, he would’ve been higher. In addition to those games, he allowed 6 earned runs in two other games; and 5 earned runs in three others. He was pitching for a bad team that couldn’t hit, pitched a perfect game, and threw 5 shutouts.

4. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels

Had he not gotten injured and missed three starts, the Angels might’ve made the playoffs. It wouldn’t have won him the award unless he’d thrown three shutouts, but he’d have had a better shot. He won 20 games and was third in ERA, but only logged 188 innings.

5. Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox

In his first year as a starter, it was Sale’s smooth transition to the rotation that led the White Sox to surprising contention.

***

My preseason pick was Price.

The winner will be Verlander.

National League

1. R.A. Dickey, New York Mets

Which will win out? The story of Dickey and how he rose from a first round draft pick whose contract was yanked from under him because his elbow didn’t have an ulnar collateral ligament, then to a 4-A journeyman, then to a knuckleballer, then to a sensation? Or will the fact that he is a knuckleballer and the perception of him using a trick pitch sway some voters away from his numbers to the concept of giving the award to a “real” pitcher (as ridiculous as that is).

When Jim Bouton was making a comeback as a knuckleballer in 1978, he pitched well against the Reds of Joe Morgan, Pete Rose and Johnny Bench. The Reds quantified their inability to hit Bouton with head shakes at how slow his offerings were. Bouton’s friend Johnny Sain said something to the tune of, “You’ve discovered a new way to assess a pitcher’s performance—go and ask the opponent what they thought.”

How Dickey did it and debiting him for using a “trick pitch” is like refusing to give Gaylord Perry the Cy Young Award or Hall of Fame induction because he admittedly threw a spitball. Everyone knew it and he got away with it. It’s the same thing with Dickey except he’s not cheating.

Dickey won 20 games for a bad team and led the National League in strikeouts, innings pitched, complete games, and shutouts.

2. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

I wouldn’t argue if Kershaw won the award. You can flip him and Dickey and both are viable candidates.

Kershaw led the NL in WAR for pitchers, was second in adjusted ERA+, led the league in ERA, was second in innings pitched and strikeouts. He was also pitching late in the season with a hip impingement injury that was initially thought to need surgery. (He won’t need the surgery.)

3. Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta Braves

I am not punishing a great pitcher for being a closer. Saying he’s not a starter is similar to saying that a player like Derek Jeter isn’t a great player because he never hit the home runs that Alex Rodriguez hit. He’s not a slugger. That’s not what he does. It’s the same thing with Kimbrel and Mariano Rivera. Make them into a starter, and it won’t work. But they’re great closers.

Hitters are overmatched against Kimbrel. And yes, I’m aware you can make the same argument for Aroldis Chapman, but Chapman’s ERA was half-a-run higher than Kimbrel’s, but Kimbrel’s ERA+ was 399 compared to Chapman’s 282. For comparison, Rivera’s highest ERA+ in his career is 316; Eric Gagne won the 2003 NL CYA with an ERA+ of 337.

4. Johnny Cueto, Cincinnati Reds

Cueto was second in WAR (just ahead of Dickey), third in ERA, first in adjusted ERA+, and third in wins.

5. Gio Gonzalez, Washington Nationals

Gonzalez won 21 games, but didn’t pitch 200 innings. He has a Bob Welch thing going on. Welch won 27 games in 1990 and won the Cy Young Award in the American League, but Dave Stewart had a far better year than Welch and Roger Clemens was better than both. Welch was the beneficiary of pitching for a great team with a great bullpen. Clemens was second, Stewart third. Dennis Eckersley had an ERA+ of 603 (that’s not a mistake) and walked 4 hitters (1 intentionally) in 73 innings that season. Welch had a good year, but it’s not as flashy as it looked when delving deeper into the truth. This is comparable to Gonzalez’s predicament.

***

My preseason pick was Tim Lincecum.

Kimbrel is going to win on points as Dickey, Gonzalez, and Kershaw split the vote among starters. I see some writers punishing Dickey for being a knuckleballer due to some silly self-enacted “rules” or biases just as George King of the New York Post deprived Pedro Martinez of a deserved MVP in 1999—link.

//

The Blame Refrain

Media, Spring Training

When the news of Adam Wainwright‘s Tommy John surgery diagnosis spread across the web, the reactions were widespread and diverse.

“Experts” speculated on how the Cardinals would respond and forecasted their demise; Jonny Gomes of the Reds was accused of celebrating and singing (he denies this); Dusty Baker seemed genuinely saddened by the news in a non-competitive way while still wryly wondering who’d get the blame for the injury; and Rick Peterson promoted his company’s techniques to teach pitching and avoid injuries.

In today’s game there are rules and regulations placed on pitchers to maintain their health; clubs have computer printouts, historical medical reports and such inanities as “The Verducci Effect” to dictate how they treat their pitchers.

One problem.

They don’t seem to be working.

The cacophony of “protective” rules for pitchers is limitless and explainable, but it’s not fostering development; it’s creating an atmosphere of paranoia and self-righteous justification in case the pitchers don’t develop or get injured. There’s a time and place for preventative prescriptions, but taking it too far has yielded the inevitable result.

And it’s getting worse.

Let’s have a look at the frailties of today’s pitching culture.

I’m selling, you buying?

Rick Peterson is a good pitching coach with a fine resume of development and—importantly—keeping his charges healthy. Unlike many other baseball people and would-be experts, he’s willing to think outside-the-box and listen to others. That’s an impressive attribute and a testimony to his confidence and belief in what he does.

He’s also a relentless self-promoter who has a short shelf life for any organization because of his overbearing nature.

Peterson said the following on Twitter when Wainwright’s injury was confirmed:

Sad news for Adam Wainwright, TJ surgery.Avoidable.Get your pitchers to 3P Sports to learn how. ESPN http://es.pn/gx7b65

It contains the essence of Peterson in 140 characters or less. The obligatory condolences for the injury combined with an attempt to sell his wares.

Peterson is a polarizing figure.

When I read his tweets I can almost feel one hand on my shoulder and his other hand covering his mouth in a conspiratorial fashion to prevent the enemy from reading his lips and gaining insight into his skull-sessions.

Peterson’s reputation was made with the Athletics as he mentored Mark Mulder, Barry Zito and Tim Hudson with the Athletics and all three were healthy and productive; he also turned Cory Lidle into a durable winner as a starting pitcher. With the Mets, John Maine and Oliver Perez enjoyed success they couldn’t replicate before or since. And the Brewers, with limited talent, maximized with Peterson handling the staff.

While almost everyone in baseball and in the media rolls their eyes at Dr. Mike Marshall—former big league pitcher, Cy Young Award winner, journeyman extraordinaire, iconoclast and egomaniac—Peterson has met with him to discuss pitching techniques.

Peterson’s style has a short shelf-life. Eventually his pitchers tune him out, but he does have important contributions to make to development.

If you look at a pitching coach or “expert”, you must examine their agenda. Are they trying to get you to buy what they’re hawking as Tom House does? Or do they have a legitimate history of success underpinning their theories as Peterson does?

Blame Dusty.

Baker was only half-kidding when he openly wondered who’d get the blame for Wainwright’s injury. Baker is considered to be an arm-shredder; Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan seen as modern geniuses whose reputations allow them to get away with things that would cost other baseball people their jobs.

One out-of-context example of the different terrain upon which La Russa operates was that 20-inning affair against the Mets last season. What would’ve happened had then-Mets manager Jerry Manuel inserted an infielder to pitch and lost the game? La Russa did it with Felipe Lopez and it was okay because it was La Russa. He wants to hit the pitcher eighth? He has data to back him up and he gets away with it because he’s La Russa.

Such is the nature of the benefits of being a Hall of Famer as opposed to someone hanging onto his job by his fingernails and maintaining an unfair reputation as an abuser of pitchers that Baker has.

Was Baker to blame for the injuries to Kerry Wood, Mark Prior and Edinson Volquez?

It’s a major misapplication of blame to say Baker was at fault for Wood—it was Jim Riggleman who pushed Wood in the Cubs frantic run to the playoffs in 1998. Prior was a mechanical nightmare from the start and his subsequent and repeated breakdowns have had nothing to do with Baker; one would think that he’d be healthy by now; Volquez was allowed to throw pitches in the 120 range numerous times, but it’s a stretch to connect the number of pitches he threw to his eventual Tommy John surgery.

There are a different set of rules for La Russa than there are for Baker because one is La Russa and the other is Baker and it has nothing to do with results or injuries; it has to do with the way they’re perceived.

Front office edicts absolve the blame.

You can believe the propaganda and romanticized notions uttered by the likes of Michael Kay if you choose to, but think about it.

When C.C. Sabathia had a no-hitter going against the Rays early last season, Yankees manager Joe Girardi made it a point to insinuate himself into the debate by saying that Sabathia wasn’t going to throw an outrageous number of pitches strictly in the interests of pitching a no-hitter.

It was a moot point because the no-hitter was busted up before a decision had to be made. But Kay came out with his own take on the situation, quoting Girardi as if his word was gospel, “We’re not about (individual achievement) here…”

As delightful as such a thought of  all-for-one is, baseball is like anything else with fiefdoms, turf-battles and agendas. Girardi can never be blamed for a pitcher’s injury because he has little-to-no say in their use. He makes his own idiotic bullpen/pitching change decisions mid-game, but apart from that, he works in defined parapenters.

He does what the front office says and that’s what GM Brian Cashman wants; it’s why Cashman didn’t want Lou Piniella as the replacement for Joe Torre—because Piniella would’ve ignored him and was unfireable as a manager.

It’s the same situation in Washington with Stephen Strasburg. I’ve said repeatedly that there have to be people with the Nats who were relieved that Strasburg blew out his elbow while under the constraints of “protection”; there was no one to blame for the injury, therefore it was okay.

Naturally, they’d never admit it openly. Nor should they; but put yourself in their position with a once-in-a-lifetime arm placed in your hands. Do you want that on your resume that you’re at fault for his injury that cost him a year? No.

Joba Chamberlain? How have the developmental techniques worked?

Pedro Martinez was traded from the Dodgers because team doctors were convinced he was going to break down as a starting pitcher. He was so small, threw so hard and had such a violent delivery that it wasn’t absurd to harbor such a belief.

Three Cy Young Awards later, where are we?

Conjecture and after-the-fact, unprovable allegations are easy. How about we go back to Sandy Koufax and wonder how great he would’ve been had he been on a pitch/innings count from the time he began his career. Would he have been more durable? Who knows? There’s no way he would’ve been better than he was.

Bob Gibson must be sickened by the way pitchers are babied today. The same goes for Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Jim Palmer, Tom Seaver, Steve Carlton and any of the other greats who pitched until they could no longer pitch and produced into their late 30s and early 40s.

Some of today’s pitchers look like they’re ready for a bodybuilding competition and spend half their days wiling away on the disabled list; Greg Maddux had pipe cleaner arms, skinny legs, a paunch and was the most durable pitcher of his generation who never had an arm injury. Maddux had picture-perfect mechanics and trained specifically to throw a baseball, not to look good in his uniform.

Nolan Ryan is implementing a new strategy in developing pitchers and getting attention for it. If it fails, if they get hurt it’ll be taken as a mistake; if it works, others will follow suit with the techniques.

Fear is a motivating factor for change, but it’s not conducive to making a successful pitcher. But fear is what we have; blame is what we have; and failure is what we have.

It’s not working and doesn’t look like it’s going to change anytime soon because of self-involved stupidity.

At least there’s the fail-safe retort: Blame Dusty.