Captainship in Baseball

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The Yankees name Derek Jeter captain and it’s part of their “rich tapestry of history.” The Mets do it with David Wright and it’s foundation for ridicule. Neither is accurate. What has to be asked about baseball and captaincies is whether there’s any value in it on the field or if it’s shtick.

The three current captains in baseball are Wright, Jeter and Paul Konerko of the White Sox. In the past, teams have had captains but the most prominent in recent memory have been Jason Varitek of the Red Sox and Jeter. The Mets named John Franco the captain of the team in May of 2001 and he had a “C” stitched to his jersey like he was leading the New York Rangers on the ice for a game against the Philadelphia Flyers. Varitek was named captain of the Red Sox after his somewhat contentious free agency foray following the Red Sox World Series win in 2004. The Red Sox couldn’t let Varitek leave a week after losing Pedro Martinez to the Mets, but they didn’t want to give him the no-trade clause that Varitek had said was a deal-breaker. Varitek’s pride was at stake and the unsaid compromise they made was to give Varitek the captaincy and no no-trade clause. Whether or not Varitek was savvy enough to catch onto the trick is unknown. It reminded me of an old episode of Cheers when—ironically—the fictional former Red Sox reliever Sam Malone and two other workers walked into the boss’s office seeking a raise and were met with a surprising agreeability and open checkbook as long as they didn’t ask for a title. They got the titles and not the raises.

Is the captaincy worth the attention? Will Wright do anything differently now that he’s officially the captain of the Mets—something that had been apparent for years? Probably not.

The Mets have had three prior captains. Keith Hernandez was named captain, similarly to Jeter, while he was the acknowledged leader and the team was in the midst of a slump in 1987 with management trying to fire up the troops and fans. An insulted Gary Carter was named co-captain in 1988 as a placating gesture. Then there was Franco. If the captain had any legitimate on-field value than for its novelty and “coolness” (Turk Wendell wanted the “C” in Franco’s jersey for that reason), a closer couldn’t be an effective captain and then-Mets manager Bobby Valentine certainly would not have named Franco his captain considering the difficult relationship between the two. Valentine’s reaction was probably an eye-roll and, “Yeah, whatever. Make him captain. As if it means anything.” Franco never got over Valentine taking the closer job away and giving it to Armando Benitez while Franco was hurt in 1999 and he got his revenge when, due to his close relationship with the Wilpons, he helped cement the decision to fire Valentine after the 2002 season. Franco could be divisive, selfish and vindictive when he wanted to be.

While the Yankees exhibit a smug superiority as to the “value” of their captains, there’s a perception—probably due to silent implication that the truth doesn’t feed the narrative of Yankees “specialness”—that the three “real” captains of the Yankees in their history have been Lou Gehrig, Thurman Munson and Jeter. But did you know that Graig Nettles was a Yankees captain and thought so little of the “honor” that he angered George Steinbrenner by saying, in his typical caustic realism:

“Really, all I do as captain is take the lineups up to home plate before the game.” (Balls by Graig Nettles and Peter Golenbock, page 20, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1984)

Of course Steinbrenner had a fit:

“The captain is supposed to show some leadership out there. That’s why he’s captain. To show leadership.” (Balls, page 21)

Nettles, the “captain” and so important to team success because of his leadership was traded to the Padres in the spring of 1984 after signing a contract to remain with the Yankees as a free agent after the 1983 season in large part because of that book.

Before Gehrig, the Yankees captain had been Hal Chase. Chase was a notorious gambler and repeatedly accused of throwing games. The Yankees would prefer Chase’s name not be affiliated with them in their current incarnation. Chase wasn’t a “Yankee,” he was a “Highlander.” Two different things I suppose.

After Nettles, the Yankees named Ron Guidry and Willie Randolph co-captains and then Don Mattingly as captain. The team didn’t win in those years and the captaincy didn’t help or hurt them toward that end. The teams weren’t very good, so they didn’t win.

The Yankees made a big show of the captaincy because Steinbrenner liked it. He thought it was important in a similar fashion to his rah-rah football speeches and constant haranguing of his field personnel with firings and entreaties to “do something” even when there was little that could be done.

Depending on who is named captain, it can matter in a negative sense if the individual walks around trying to lead and gets on the nerves of others. For example, if Curt Schilling was named a captain, he’d walk around with a beatific look on his face, altered body language and manner and make sure to do some “captaining,” whatever that is. But with Wright, nothing will change, and like Jeter and Konerko, it won’t matter much. It’s not going to affect the teams one way or the other whether the captain is in a Yankees uniform and has become part of their “storied history,” of if it’s the Mets and the world-at-large is waiting for the inevitable cheesiness that is a Mets trademark. It’s an honor and it’s nice for the fans, but that’s pretty much it.

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Indiana Cashman And The Search For Fossils

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When asked about the Yankees putting out a feeler for Chipper Jones, Derek Jeter wondered, in his typical dark deadpan sense of humor, if they’d also contacted Mike Schmidt.

That got me to thinking of other options for the Yankees in their archaeological dig for dinosaur fossils hoping to unearth a corner infielder. Here are some of the names I came up with and they’re almost as ludicrous as Jones.

Mike Francesa

For a week he’s been pushing for the Yankees to get Justin Morneau from the Twins. Not “pursue,” but “get,” period. Naturally ignorant of the fact that the Twins are in a similar position to the Yankees in that they have to at least put forth the pretense of placing a competent product on the field at the start of the season to sell a few tickets that they’re not going to sell when they’re heading towards another 90+ loss season and that Morneau, if healthy, will have significant value at mid-season, Francesa expects the Twins to just give him up for whatever scraps the Yankees deign to provide simply because they want him.

It’s not going to happen, but during his vetting, perhaps Francesa should pull a Dick Cheney who, while running George W. Bush’s vice presidential search looked into the mirror, saw the epitome of what Bush needed in his vice president and selected himself. Sure, they’d have to get a muumuu for him to wear and he’d have to stand on first base to prevent every runner from beating him to the bag on a groundball, but with the court striking down New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s ban on extra-large sodas, Francesa’s Diet Coke predilection will move forward unabated. When returning to the dugout after a long half-inning, he can scream at the clubhouse kids like a real-life Les Grossman, “DIET COKE!!!!!”

Mo Vaughn

In the tradition of players who didn’t work out for the Mets, Vaughn would fit perfectly into what the Yankees are trying to create. It adds to the intrigue that he’s also a former Red Sock and he hates Bobby Valentine. That he’s probably far past 320 pounds and could barely move when he was still playing is irrelevant. Pinstripes are slimming and maybe no one would notice his girth, plus all the balls hitting him in the stomach because it’s extended so far beyond the plate would send his on-base percentage into the stratosphere.

Keith Law

No, he’s never picked up a baseball and he’s far too thin-skinned to last one day in Yankeeland without crawling into a fetal position and sobbing uncontrollably, but he scammed his way into a front office position with the Blue Jays on the heels of the Moneyball revolution; he parlayed that into a job at ESPN as an “insider expert” by regurgitating terms he’s heard from scouts; and he has an inexplicable following based on his stat savviness and that people think his resume denotes credibility in some sort of circular and wrong “if this, then that” manner.

Maybe he can imitate an athlete just as effectively as he’s aped actual scouts.

Bear in mind that his throwing style will replicate what we see below.

Michael Lewis

I have deep psychological concerns about someone who places a ginormous picture of his own face on the back cover of every one of his books, but that can also be a positive. A level of arrogance that geometric leads a person to believe he’s capable of things he’s universally acknowledged as being incapable of. Look at it this way: people think that because he wrote Moneyball, he knows something about baseball when he doesn’t.

Worst case scenario, he can write a book about his adventures, present it in a twisted (and skillful) fashion so the masses believe it and they’ll make a movie about it. He can be played by Aaron Eckhardt—a man with some athletic skills—and it’ll sell, man!! It’ll sell!!!

If it doesn’t work, the epitome of evil lurks in the shadows of the world as a fugitive and is ready to be blamed for the experiment (disguised as evolution) failing: Art Howe.

Lou Gehrig

Dead for 72 years? Try resting and waiting for his opportunity!!!

Truth be told, how much more absurd is it than thinking Jones will come out of retirement for the “privilege” of playing for the Yankees?

Billy Beane/Brad Pitt

True, Beane was an awful player and Pitt is an actor who played an awful player on film, but if people bought into the “genius” aspect when Beane was simply exploiting analytics that no one else was at the time and has been alternatingly lucky and unlucky in his maneuverings since, maybe putting him in uniform would hypnotize the fans long enough not to realize the Yankees are in deep, deep trouble.

Here’s the reality: Jones is not coming out of retirement and if he was, it would be for the Braves and not the Yankees. He’s injury-prone and he’s old. He’s also fat. Considering the Yankees decisions over the past few months, he actually fits. But why, in a normal and logical world, would anyone believe that Jones would tarnish his legacy with the Braves to play for the Yankees? Not only did he win his championship in 1995, rendering meaningless the long-used desire on the part of certain players like Roger Clemens to gain that elusive title, but he was with the Braves his entire professional life and the 2013 Braves are far better than the 2013 Yankees. This concept that everyone “wants” to be a Yankee is one of the biggest farcical examples of “world revolves around us” egomania in sports today and was disproven by Cliff Lee and even such journeymen as Nate Schierholtz who decided to go elsewhere.

The Yankees looked into Derrek Lee, who’s a good guy and a good idea if he’s healthy and wants to play, but if he does, he has to get into camp immediately. They signed Ben Francisco, which is a case study of the bargain-basement strategies of the 2013-2014 Yankees with self-evident on field results. They’re desperate and they’re short-handed. As a result, you get nonsense and panic. This is just getting started. It’s only March and there’s a long, long, looooong way to go. It’s getting longer by the day.

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Triple Crown Winners and the MVP

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The reason the Triple Crown is getting such attention is that it’s so unknown to most everyone because it hasn’t happened since 1967 when Carl Yastrzemski won it leading the Red Sox to their “Impossible Dream” pennant. But now, with Tigers’ third baseman Miguel Cabrera on the verge of winning the Triple Crown in the American League, there’s an increasingly contentious debate as to whether leading the home runs, RBI, and batting average will justify Cabrera taking the Most Valuable Player over Angels’ center fielder Mike Trout.

Trout has the accumulation of numbers including great defense and stolen bases to go along with power for a 10.4 Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Cabrera’s WAR has been reduced significantly because he’s a poor defensive third baseman. Discounting defense, Trout is still ahead by .9 wins per game over Cabrera when calculating offensive WAR.

So how is it going to be decided? Will it be based on the player with the big power numbers? The one with the higher WAR and better all-around game? Will the word “value” be taken literally and used out of convenience by the voter to achieve his ends of picking Cabrera or Trout and use a floating, elusive, and adaptive principle to counter disagreement? Will there be the “clutch” stats factored into the equation? Difficulty of opponent? Will it go macro by dissecting when they did their damage and against whom and a myriad of other reasons to do what one would prefer to do? A motivated supporter of either Trout or Cabrera can find a reason to do it. It’s not hard.

I wrote about Trout vs Cabrera recently here, but what’s interesting is examining how players who had previously won the Triple Crown were treated by the MVP voters. Let’s take a look at the Triple Crown winners, some of whom didn’t win the MVP.

(The MVP was called the “league award” before it became the MVP in 1931.)

1925: Triple Crown Winner—Rogers Hornsby, 2B, St. Louis Cardinals; won the MVP

Hornsby won the Triple Crown with 39 homers, 143 RBI, and a .403 BA. He had a 10.1 WAR and won the National League MVP. He also led the league in every major offensive category. His Cardinals team finished at 77-76.

Pirates’ right fielder Kiki Cuyler came in second in the voting and it was far closer than it should’ve been with Hornsby getting 91% of the votes and Cuyler 76%. Cuyler stole 41 bases, had 26 triples, and led the majors with 144 runs scored. Obviously the Pirates winning the pennant with a 95-58 record and pennant helped Cuyler’s case with many of the voters.

1933: Triple Crown Winner—Jimmie Foxx, 1B, Philadelphia Athletics; won the MVP

Foxx had 48 homers, 163 RBI, and batted .356. He also led the league in slugging, OPS, OPS+, and total bases. He had a WAR of 9.0. Foxx won the award relatively easily with 91%. Next was Lou Gehrig at 69%. The only player who warranted consideration based on the way his team finished was third place finisher, left fielder Heinie Manush of the pennant winning Washington Senators, and his numbers weren’t MVP-quality. He led the league in hits and triples.

The Senators didn’t have one significant star who “made” their 99-53 record. They finished 19 ½ games ahead of the A’s, but Foxx won the MVP anyway.

1933: Triple Crown Winner—Chuck Klein, RF, Philadelphia Phillies; did not win the MVP

Klein played for the Phillies who finished in last place in the National League with a record of 60-92. Klein led the league in every significant offensive category and had a 7.3 WAR. Klein had won the MVP in the National League in 1932, but finished in second place to New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell (there was no Cy Young Award then). The Giants won the National League pennant that season, Hubbell went 23-12 with a 1.66 ERA and an 8.5 WAR. Hubbell deserved the award.

1934: Triple Crown Winner—Lou Gehrig, 1B, New York Yankees; did not win the MVP

The Yankees finished second to the Tigers by seven games in the American League. Gehrig led the AL in everything from homers, to RBI, to batting average, to on-base, slugging, and total bases. He had a 10.1 WAR. But Tigers’ catcher Mickey Cochrane won the MVP based on the Tigers winning the pennant. There could be no other reason. The voting was close…but it was close between Cochrane and his teammate Charlie Gehringer. Gehringer should’ve won it over Cochrane. Gehrig came in a ludicrous fifth. You could try to make the argument of Gehringer over Gehrig. You’d be wrong, but given Gehringer playing second base well and Gehrig playing first base poorly, along with the Tigers winning the pennant, you could make the argument.

1937: Triple Crown Winner—Joe Medwick, LF, St. Louis Cardinals; won the MVP

Looking at Medwick’s numbers, he reminds me of Don Mattingly. He was a hacker who never walked, but never struck out either. In addition to the Triple Crown numbers, he led the National League in hits, runs, doubles, slugging, OPS, and OPS+. His WAR was 8.1.

The Cardinals finished in fourth place in the National League far behind the pennant-winning Giants. Gabby Hartnett came in second in the MVP voting, but Medwick deserved it and won it.

1942: Triple Crown Winner—Ted Williams, LF, Boston Red Sox; did not win the MVP

Williams led the AL in every offensive category by a lot. The Red Sox finished in second place in the AL behind the Yankees. Yankees’ second baseman Joe Gordon won the MVP. Williams’s WAR was 10.2 and Gordon’s was 7.8. The voting was close with Gordon accumulating 270 points to Williams’s 249. Of course Williams should’ve won. It’s doubtful anyone was paying attention to his shaky, uninterested defense back then, but the voters certainly knew that Williams had no use for the writers and perhaps that affected the voting more than Gordon’s Yankees winning the pennant with a far better team.

1947: Triple Crown Winner—Ted Williams, LF, Boston Red Sox; did not win the MVP

The Red Sox finished in third place, 14 games behind the pennant winning Yankees, but the absurdity of this MVP voting was stark. Joe DiMaggio won it with mediocre (for him) numbers of 20 homers and a .315/.391/.522 split. His WAR was 4.5.

Williams led the American League in every major offensive category and was again playing for a far inferior team. DiMaggio won the award by 1 point when he should have come in third behind Williams and Lou Boudreau.

1956: Triple Crown Winner—Mickey Mantle, CF, New York Yankees; won the MVP

The Yankees won the pennant by 9 games, Mantle led the American League in every major offensive category; he won the award unanimously and deserved it.

1966: Triple Crown Winner—Frank Robinson, RF, Baltimore Orioles; won the MVP

The Orioles won the pennant that year and Robinson won the AL MVP unanimously and deserved it. The interesting part of the Robinson’s 1966 season was how he’d been traded by the Reds the year before because Reds’ owner Bill DeWitt called the 30-year-old Robinson “an old 30.”

Challenging someone as cantankerous as Robinson—even now at age 77—is not a good idea. In truth, this trade in which Robinson was dealt for pitchers Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun, and Dick Simpson might’ve been something the self-proclaimed experts who think they can study a stat sheet and know the ins-and-outs of baseball would pull and, in theory, it wasn’t a horrible idea.

Pappas has had his name sullied because he was traded for Robinson, but he was a very good pitcher who won 209 big league games. Simpson was 21 and had a big year in Triple A for the Angels in 1965 with 24 homers and 29 stolen bases, a .301 BA and .380 OBP (he was traded to the Orioles a week before they traded him to the Reds). Baldschun had been a useful reliever for the Phillies in the preceding years.

The pride of a man like Robinson was ignored and the trade and comments about why they made it set Robinson off on a mission to prove DeWitt wrong. And he did.

1967: Triple Crown Winner—Carl Yastrzemski, LF, Boston Red Sox; won the MVP

The only thing preventing Yastrzemski from winning the AL MVP unanimously was someone, somewhere who decided to vote for Cesar Tovar. Tovar had led the league in games, plate appearances, and at-bats. He batted .267 with a .325 OBP, 6 homers and 19 stolen bases. He was average defensively. Tovar was apparently voted for the MVP because of his attendance record.

Yastrzemski led the Red Sox to the World Series. The race went down to the wire with the White Sox, Twins, Tigers, and Red Sox all fighting until the end. Yastrzemski hit 9 homers in Sept./Oct. and had a .417/.504/.760 split in that last month-plus when it counted most.

For the most part, the rightful MVP has tended to win. There are mitigating circumstances when humans who rely on various biases and criteria are making the decisions. Some will be starstruck from the Triple Crown because it’s something many probably haven’t seen before. Others will lodge a “protest” vote against the stat people who are rolling their eyes and trying to bully the objectors of Trout’s candidacy using WAR as an end-of-story hammer without taking other aspects into account. Still others will try to use either the Tigers or Angels making the playoffs (or not) as the context of voting for or against either Trout or Cabrera.

When baseball awards are selected, there’s no list of reasons to vote or not vote for a candidate. All that can be done is to make a case and hope others agree. But I don’t see people making a case either way. I just see fighting, and all fighting is going to do is cause the factions to dig in and ignore any list of reasons, regardless of how logical and sensible they are. Being a hardline old-schooler or a condescending and arrogant stat person isn’t going to sway people to either side. That much I can guarantee.

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Jose Reyes And The Truth Of Lies

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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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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.