Is Derek Jeter One of the Five Best Shortstops Ever?

Yes, I’ve been hibernating. It’s good to be back.

The prod that got me out of the cave wasn’t the stupid money thrown at Robinson Cano, or the Royals signing Omar Infante without ever giving my man Tony Seratelli a shot. No, it was a short article on the Five Best Shortstops in History.

The author decided that the five best were Honus Wagner, followed by Derek Jeter, Cal Ripken, Ozzie Smith and Ernie Banks.  Did you start to hack at number two? I did. Jeter the second best shortstop in baseball history? We’re going to be hearing this sort of thing all summer as Jeter repeats the Year of Mariano Rivera Saying Goodbye. (And if your knees still hurt by all the genuflecting at the Yankee altar, I’m guessing you ain’t seen nothing yet. Jeter’s long goodbye will be slower than Lincoln’s funeral train.) Now I know like you do that Jeter has been a fixture on the Yankees for, what, three hundred years and is their Captain and all that but the maddening thing about this ranking is that the author had nothing statistical to base it on.

Is Jeter a great player? Absolutely. He was extraordinarily durable and productive. He had some power,  got on base and knew how and when to steal a base. And of course, he ripped over 3,000 hits. I’d want him on my team. And he belongs in the Hall of Fame.

But one of the very best shortstops? Hmm. To be considered as such, a player would need to be both a top tier fielder and hitter for the most number of seasons.  The dWAR and oWAR stats are very useful here.  (dWAR is defensive Wins Above Replacement, oWAR just measures a player’s offensive performance. They are complicated stats—you can learn the methodology via an internet search.)

So I made a list of all the Hall of Fame shortstops as well as many that played a long time at the position. 31 players in total. I am sure that there are some that I should have included but this wasn’t an attempt to do an exhaustive study, just to examine the idea of Jeter being top five material.  I wish I could have included two Hall of Famer’s from the Negro Leagues—Pop Lloyd and Willie Wells.  Lloyd was called the “Black Wagner” and Honus reportedly took the comparison as a tremendous complement.  So I would guess that one would have to rank Pop Lloyd in the vicinity of Honus. There is just no way to tell where.  I didn’t include Monte Ward either since he played almost entirely before 1894 when Major League baseball was different enough to what we watch today to, in my opinion, make it necessary to consider it a different game altogether. One can compare Ward to the other shortstops of his day, but the rules in place cause the stats to be different and so comparisons between eras get to be meaningless.  (Pitching stats are particularly skewed by the pre-1894 rules.)

For this list of 31 players, I tallied how many seasons each player was in his league’s top 10 for dWAR and oWAR. Then I added the two numbers to see which shortstop had the most seasons of being one of the top defensive and offensive players in his league. The top five, in order, are Luke Appling, Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughan, Pee Wee Reese and Bobby Wallace. They are followed by Joe Cronin, Cal Ripken Jr., George Davis, Rabbit Maranville and Handsome Lou Boudreau. Derek Jeter is in 16th place, tied with Joe Sewell, Bert Campaneris and Phil Rizzuto, just below Alan Trammell and just above Robin Yount, Ernie Banks, Travis Jackson and Marty Marion.

But the WAR stats also make one understand that offense is more valuable in baseball than defense. We Royals’ fans know this well. Having a great defense is nice, but it just doesn’t feed the bulldog enough. I decided that it made sense to consider offense to be twice as important as defense based on this article So if we run the numbers again, double counting the seasons of being in the top 10 of oWAR, Jeter rises , but only to ninth place. The top five become Luke Appling, Honus Wagner, Arky Vaughan, Joe Cronin and Pee Wee Reese.

I know. Luke Appling right? Who’d a thunk it?  But there it is. Now it should be noted that I only counted the seasons in which the guy played shortstop. This distinction is important. It hurts Ernie Banks and Alex Rodriguez a great deal as they each only played eight years at short. Wagner was affected too as he spent several years at the beginning of his career playing all over the place. (He was the best wherever they needed him.) Bobby Wallace was also impacted as he pitched (and did pretty well by the way) at the beginning of his career.

One of the big reasons that the author of the article in question was so enamored with Jeter was his post season performance. I agree that it is very impressive. Jeter has basically played an entire season of post-season games. 33 series. 158 games. Slash line (BA/OBP/SLG) of .308/.374/.465. Wow. But to me, it is completely irrelevant to the question at hand. A player can’t control whether or not he gets to play in a bunting draped stadium. Just ask Ernie Banks. Granted, it’s a nice extra, and will be noted on his plaque in Cooperstown, but it just doesn’t matter in this analysis.

So the answer to the question of whether Derek Jeter is one of the top five shortstops in history is “no.” One of the greatest hitters to play shortstop? Sure. But not top five overall.

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Eric Hosmer, Man On Fire

To what do you ascribe the protracted late-season relevancy of the Kansas City Royals? (Yes, I realize the Boys in Blue are getting beaten black and blue by Detroit as I type this but I wrote this post this morning.) The starting pitching? Could be—it’s generally been quite good.  The bullpen? Perhaps–it’s been, like the starting rotation, extraordinarily reliable and effective. But for my money, it’s the big guy playing first.

Eric Hosmer has been on a season long tear.  And lately, he has been an on-base machine. In the six games preceding tonight’s contest, Hos has nine hits (including two doubles) and four walks in 27 plate appearances. That’s an OBP of .519. It’s true that he has only scored three times in this span but then, he usually has Billy Butler batting behind him and Butler is collecting GIDPs like a kid grabbing chocolate eggs on Easter morning. Over his last 27 games, Hosmer has an OBP of .400, which is Cabrera-esque and so far this year, his slash line is .300/.354/.445 with an OPS+ of 117. Dang.

There has been some criticism of Hosmer for not hitting home runs. Ridiculous. This criticism makes me think of Wall Street. Company A says it is going to turn a 7% profit, which is great. But the three or four analysts at the big investment firms covering Company A scratch their heads and say, oh geez, we think Company A should be making 12%. And when the annual report is released and it shows Company A actually made a fantastic 8% profit, there are many who see it as a failure because of misguided expectations.  Hosmer is a helluva player. To knock him because some people continue to hold on to outdated ideas like teams need “power from the corners” and such is just plain silly.  Would I like to see him hit more homers? Sure. But he’s a line drive hitter so I wouldn’t expect him to get more than 20, maybe 25.

Looking deeper into the numbers, which you can via if you have the time and inclination, Hosmer’s production becomes more impressive.  He’s hit lefties as well as he has righties (respective OBP’s of .352 and .355), does equally well home or away (OBP .347 and .361 respectively) and produces with men on base (.298/.355/.468.) But perhaps the most telling stat is his batting in “late and close” games. lists this stat and says it refers to plate appearances in the 7th inning or later, with the team at bat tied, up by a run or with the tying run on deck.  In essence, the exact times you need men to successfully handle the ash most.  Hosmer has 94 PA in these situations and has produced six doubles, a triple and four homers as part of a slash line of .422/.479/.663. Incredible. 

Now Alex Gordon has been good too. But he’s been fading all year long. Each month, his OBP and other stats drop. Billy Butler can get on base but then the base paths turn into sand. Plus he only plays half of each game. Salvy Perez has been coming on strong but overall has not nearly been as consistent or effective on offense as anyone mentioned so far. (For example, Perez has not performed as well against the better teams in the league, on the road or in the “late and close” games. Still glad to have him of course.)

So hats off to Hosmer for leading Kansas City to its recent relative heights in the standings. And here’s to hoping he doesn’t cool off until November.

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Rename The Royals As The Zombies

The Kansas City Royals need a new name. Well, maybe that’s a little strong. They deserve a new name. At least right now. The Zombies. Oh yeah. It’s topical. Jersey sales will go through the roof. Especially if they have some fake blood on them. And the name fits them for several reasons:

  1. They are proving to be relentless. Here we are in September for crying out loud and the pesky Royals are still in the hunt for the postseason. Seriously. They struggle against the White Sox and the Marlins, but they play well against the Red Sox and Tigers, scratching out wins. Relentless.
  2. Many, including me, have given them up for dead. But then the Twins come to town or something and they lurch back to life, stumbling towards the playoffs.
  1. They don’t make a lot of noise and can be awfully boring. Did you watch the recent home series with the White Sox? Yawn. 20 hits in three games, (which is okay) all of which were singles, save one double (which is not.) They’re dead last (!) in the AL in homers, tied for 11th (out of 15) in doubles and 13th in total bases.
  2. They’re kinda buried in the standings. It’s true that they are in the playoff picture, but they are looking up at three first place teams in the AL and five others vying for that elusive wild card. Pretty stiff competition.

Okay enough with the bad puns. The comparisons only go so far of course–witness the fact that KC is leading the league in stolen bases this year, even with Billy Butler making like Herman Munster on the basepaths. I’d rather have them leading the league in OBP of course but, hey, it’s something. And as the games dwindle and we stop using the words “playoffs” and “Royals” in the same sentence, people would probably still come out to the K to see the Undead unlose a few more games.


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Assessing the Latest Royal Changes

The Royals made another flurry of moves yesterday, none of which will help the team score more runs.  Let’s take a look anyway:

1. Starting pitcher Wade Davis was sent back to AAA Omaha.  My reaction: About damn time! He seems to be another one of those pitchers the Royals just can’t see accurately. He has not been a good starting pitcher but is a great big (6′ 5″) guy with potential. One might call him Hochevaresque. The most worrisome thing is that, in his three years as a major league starter, he has gotten worse every year–ERA+’s of 96, 85 and, this year, 72.  Manager Ned Yost claimed that the move was made because they were worried about the increased number of innings Davis has thrown this year– 125 compared to 70 last year when he was in the Tampa Bay bullpen. So, what’s he gonna do in Omaha Ned? Play second? I’m guessing he’ll pitch. But maybe he’ll only toss it in there, since it’s the minor leagues and all. The talk is that the team did this because they have already decided that Davis will be part of the KC starting rotation next year. Which, as a Royals fan, is about as depressing a thought as I can bring to mind right now. Unless KC re-signs Miguel Tejada or something.

2. Danny Duffy was promoted to the KC starting rotation.  My reaction: Thank you! Duffy is a young lefty who can strike guys out but who also has to learn to control his talents. Nonetheless, it’s time for him to get a big league chance.

3. Outfielder Quintin Berry was traded from Omaha to the Red Sox organization for pitcher Clayton Mortensen.  My reaction: I’ll be surprised if we hear about either of these guys again.

4. Starting pitcher Ervin Santana was placed on revocable trade waivers. My reaction: None. This was expected. Hopefully, the team can entice a good deal out of someone who is a realistic playoff contender.

And last but not least,

5. The Royals signed first baseman Carlos Pena.  My reaction: Why the heck would they do that? Pena is 35 and has serious Adam Dunn disease. The symptoms are that the player’s annual strikeout total consistently threatens to exceed his batting average but he still manages to have a decent OBP (because of walks) and production value (because of power.)  Last year, for example, Pena whiffed 182 times for Tampa, batted .197 but had an OBP of .330 and 19 roundtrippers. The curiousness of this move is the motivation. Last time I looked we had a superb first baseman named Eric Hosmer who is great at the plate and a dozen years younger than Pena. And an above average DH in Billy Butler. So why start spending money on Pena? I don’t know. I really don’t. Let’s just say ‘security’ or ‘depth’ or one of those other labels that get hung on odd transactions.

So there it is, a lot of smoke and noise surrounding one move of everyday substance. It is encouraging that the Royals are finally sitting down a very subpar player in Davis even if they are bleating some nonsense about their motivations. Like I like to say, it’s the results that count. And the Royals should be a better team with Wade Davis out of the starting rotation.

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Miguel Tejada–Spanked Too Hard for his Juice?

Royals infielder Miguel Tejada has been caught taking naughty pills and suspended for 105, count ‘em, games. Yet, many people calling in to radio talk shows and writing about baseball have been full of praise for him. (He’s been quite the darling of the team’s radio announcers all season–they constantly chatter about his leadership and so on.) I don’t understand this at all. He’s Alex Rodriguez on a much smaller scale. He’s cheated and lied about his PED use and his production for Kansas City has not been great.

That being said, the point of this post is this: I’m not sure his 105-game suspension is fair. Relative to the crazy world of MLB suspensions of course. If it is true, like Tejada reportedly says, that he tested positive because he was taking Adderall for some attention deficit disorder AND the league had been granting him an exemption to use Adderall in the past AND he had applied but not yet received another exemption after it expired, well then, the penalty seems to be excessive. (To get an exemption, the league requires a player to get the approval of a “three expert panel” according to Deadspin. See I’m assuming that these experts are reputable, independent doctors that don’t work for some Miami-based anti-aging clinic.)

Of course, it should be noted that Tejada has lied in the past—to Congress about PED use and baseball in general about his actual age. So perhaps the penalty is just, if you look at it in a broader sense. Adderall is an amphetamine after all and if Tejada doesn’t really have an attention-deficit disorder, it would act as a stimulant and possibly enhance his performance on the diamond, although I would venture to say that if his 2013 campaign has been chemically “enhanced,” he’d have a hard time making a AAA team unjuiced.

I understand that the suspension is based on the negotiated agreement between the owners and the player’s union. But I think that a deterrent system needs to be rational and fair in order to be successful over the long term. And the length of Tejada’s suspension seems to lie outside that boundary. I think Alex Rodriguez should be banned for life because it appears that he was not only a user who lied repeatedly and very publicly about his use but also encouraged others to use. (A quick aside—did you notice who is now representing A Rod and who has been making grand public pronouncements about the weakness of the evidence in the Biogenesis case? Joe Tacopino. If that name sounds familiar to folks in Kansas City, it should. Tacopino was the guy hired by the parents of missing toddler Lisa “Baby Lisa” Irwin, whose disappearance from her Northland KCMO home on October 4, 2011 remains unsolved. As far as I can tell, he held a few flashy press conferences and then disappeared.) Anyway, Rodriguez has held himself out as a role model and so should be publicly flogged (figuratively) for his cheating. Melky Cabrera should also be kicked out of the game for recruiting others to help him avoid the consequences of his actions. If the recent reports about the lengths Ryan Braun went to discredit his accusers are true, I’d put him out at the curb as well. And, frankly, I think the Hall of Fame should kick out Gaylord Perry, Whitey Ford and any of the other old timers who actively worked to deceive umpires or the league to gain an advantage or make the game something other than an honest athletic contest.

But if Ryan Braun got a 65 game suspension and the others who agreed to their parts in the sordid little affair down in Florida were sat down for 50, then it seems to me that Tejada should suffer something commensurate. I don’t want him around the Royals anymore you understand, but if MLB wants the clean players to push the union to accept comprehensive testing and such, the deterrent system needs to be respected. And it won’t be respected if it is capricious.

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The Royals Trade For Who? Why?

The Royals recently traded for Jamey Carroll (from the Twins) and Emilio Bonifacio (from the Blue Jays) in an apparent effort to cover however long third baseman Mike Moustakas will be out and to “solve” the problem of second base. This follows their signing Justin Maxwell (from the Astros) to help cover the outfield while Lorenzo Cain spends some time on the ranch, tending to his calf.

These deals, coupled with the franchise’s lack of activity before the trade deadline, have been seen as evidence that the team is committed to success this season, the first year in decades when they have a mathematical shot at making the playoffs in mid-August.

But to me, the trades look desperate and short-sighted. I thinIMG_1684k the team should be conserving resources and looking long term. If they were in first place, I’d be all for a current year push. But they aren’t. Not even close. Making these moves even more head-scratching is that the players obtained are way too similar to the ones already on the roster. The Royals don’t get on base or score runs. So who do they trade for?

Let’s take a look.

Jamey Carroll, 39, no power, rusty wheels. He has had great plate discipline in the past so his career OBP is very good (.350) but his OPS+ of 85 indicates that he’s a singles hitter. The rub is that his ’13 OBP is a horrid .274 which I suppose isn’t that bad a thing since he can’t run very well in his dotage, so what good is having him on base? Carroll has been a good infielder but, like I mentioned, he’s 39.

Emilio Bonifacio is 28 and plays all infield positions, can steal bases but has no power. His career slash line is .261/.319/.340 with an OPS+ of 78. This is way better than Elliot Johnson, which is good, but is almost identical to Chris Getz, which is not.

Justin Maxwell.  28-year-old free swinger with some power.  He hit 18 homers for Houston last year, which is more than half the total he has produced over parts of five seasons in the bigs. Career slash line is .228/.316/.434 with a career OPS+ of 102. So he’s okay at the plate. His defense is not stellar.

The biggest problem with these deals is that the team has two players at Omaha that they should have promoted instead of dragging the bottom of the trade pool.  I’m talking about Irving Falu and my man, Anthony Seratelli. Neither will win a Gold Glove. Or a silver. Or a bronze. But they can make the plays needed. And they produce on offense. Which is what the Royals sorely need.

In 2012, when the 29-year-old Falu was in the Royals lineup, he had a slash of .341/.371/.435 (OPS+ 120) in 91 PA while playing 2B, 3B and SS. Since KC found this unimpressive and so invested in 39-year-old Miguel Tejada (2013: .288/.317/.378; OPS+ 91), Falu has spent 2013 in Omaha where he’s put up an OBP of .326.

Seratelli, as I’ve pointed out before, has never been given a chance in the major leagues. He’s 30, a switch hitter, has played every infield position although had mostly been an outfielder and has lumber stats that an offense-starved team like the Royals should drool over.  This year, in 419 PA up in Omaha, he’s put up a slash of .292/.414/.452. Gesundheit. Oh and he’s got some power—he hit his eleventh homer yesterday, giving the Storm Chasers the only run in their victory. And then it should be noted that he is rather speedy. He has 22 stolen bases. With one CS.

The Royals need offense, now and for the future. They need guys to get on base so that the young boomers they already have (Hosmer, Gordon, Butler and hopefully Perez and Moose) can knock them in. Investing in old players like Jamey Carroll or Miguel Tejada is a waste of money. Investing in guys who can’t get on base very well but can field is also foolish. Especially when you have talent down on the farm.

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The KC Royals Keep On Rolling

The Royals keep on rolling. With their win Monday night, they crept past Cleveland into second place in the AL Central.

IMG_1648Are they lucky? Or are they simply better than they appear on paper? Does it matter? Nope. Results are what matter. It just doesn’t matter what coulda happened or shoulda happened but what dida happen.

And what dida happen Monday night was that the Royals beat a team they should beat, that they should sweep dare I say it. The Miami Marlins are the worst team in the National League. But they still are a major league team who has pitchers the local nine possibly has never seen. But still, were the Royals lucky? I don’t know but:

  1. They didn’t get any important offense from the usual suspects–Alex Gordon was given the night off so he could be with his wife as she gave birth to their second son, red-hot Eric Hosmer went 0 for 4 and although Billy “Country Breakfast” Butler smoked a homer, it was just biscuit gravy, coming in the seventh when the good guys were already up by three;
  2. The defense, which has been so stellar, had some serious clunks as both Justin Maxwell and Jarrod Dyson misplayed balls that resulted in runs; and
  3. The lumber production came from Chris Getz, Maxwell and Alcides Escobar. Getz has been pretty darn awful at the dish this year, but he rapped out three hits in this game–his first after coming off the DL. Maxwell, a recent addition to the Royal family whose batting stat history made me cringe when it was announced that KC had given up some pitching prospect for him, continued his scorching debut in Blue by tripling in the fourth, scoring Moustakas with the first run of the game. Escobar, who had a truly weak first half of the season on offense, continued his run of placing hits like a champion fly-fisherman by poking a key triple in the sixth, scoring Getz and giving the Royals a lead that they held to the end.

Unexpected results can be written off to luck. Or chalked up to unrecognized skill, careful planning and preparation. But, like I said, it really doesn’t matter. Wade Davis pitched well tonight. And KC won. The five game series coming up in Detroit is the Battle of the Season. Royals’ fans can only hope that the team continues to get contributions from whomever it needs and that any luck that may have been helping to carry them to heights they haven’t seen in years, continues to hold.

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Does Cheap Beer at the Ballpark Bring Team Success?

beer[2]This is a study that is long overdue. Baseball and beer have a long history together. The Major Leagues have a team called the “Brewers” for crying out loud. Another storied franchise, the Cardinals, were owned for decades by the Busch family, who also owned Anheuser-Busch, famed brewers of Budweiser and other frothy products. Heck, my childhood memories of going to Wrigley Field in the early ’70s include how my mother used to throw back a Blatz or two while we watched Kessinger, Beckert, Williams, Santo and the rest do their thing.

So I think it only natural to investigate the correlation between beer prices at the ballpark and what the heroes or stumblebums do on the field. I should state right up front that I am not necessarily advocating for cheap beer at the ballpark. We don’t need any more drunk drivers and loud drunks can quickly ruin an expensive evening at any sporting event. But the topic occurred to me while I was looking at some old programs and noticed that beer was forty cents for a 12 ounce bottle and so here we are.

I found 2013 beer prices via Team Marketing Report and, since they were based on differing sizes of servings, converted them to a dollars per ounce figure. These represent the products of large, national brewers. Most if not all ballparks also offer “premium” beers from relatively small scale, “craft” brewers that cost even more than the mass manufactured brews. The prices of these were not included in the data.

After comparing the beer price info with the standings and other stats of the games played up to August 6, I found that the five stadiums with the cheapest beer are the homes of two teams leading their divisions (Rangers, Pirates), two teams in second place in their divisions (Indians, D-backs) and, well, the Angels, who find themselves in fourth place in their division.

It seems that cheap beer helps your team!

However, on further investigation, I found that the five venues with the priciest beer host one division leader (Red Sox), two second place teams (Cardinals and Nationals) and then the Yankees and Blue Jays, who are in 4th and 5th place in the AL East, respectively.

So it seems that cheap beer doesn’t always help your team.

Well, perhaps if we look at home field winning percentage. Of the five teams with the worst home field WP, we’ve got the Astros (6th cheapest beer) but also Cubs, Marlins and White Sox, who are more or less in the middle of the pack beer-price-wise and the Mets, who have some of the most expensive suds.

Okay, that didn’t make anything clearer.

Perhaps if we look at Runs Scored, a correlation will become apparent. Ah, nuts.  Of the five teams that have scored the most runs, we have the Red Sox and Cardinals, who have the top two most expensive beer prices, and the Indians, who have the fourth cheapest.

Here’s the raw data for you to peruse at your leisure.

Div Rank Win Pct rank Home Win Pct rank RS rank Cheap beer rank
Pittsburgh Pirates 1 1 3 23 5
Atlanta Braves 1 2 1 7 21
Boston Red Sox 1 3 3 1 30
Detroit Tigers 1 4 2 2 18
St. Louis Cardinals 2 5 5 3 29
Tampa Bay Rays 2 5 7 9 18
Oakland Athletics 1 7 9 11 6
Texas Rangers 1 8 10 10 3
Los Angeles Dodgers 1 9 13 21 14
Baltimore Orioles 3 10 11 4 10
Cleveland Indians 2 10 7 5 4
Cincinnati Reds 3 10 6 13 23
Kansas City Royals 3 13 18 18 16
Arizona Diamondbacks 2 14 12 14 2
New York Yankees 4 14 16 27 26
Washington Nationals 2 16 17 28 27
Toronto Blue Jays 5 17 21 6 27
Seattle Mariners 3 18 22 15 23
San Diego Padres 3 18 14 16 6
Colorado Rockies 3 20 14 11 10
Los Angeles Angels 4 21 22 8 1
New York Mets 4 21 28 17 25
Philadelphia Phillies 3 21 19 25 9
San Francisco Giants 5 24 20 25 18
Minnesota Twins 4 25 24 20 10
Chicago Cubs 4 26 29 18 21
Milwaukee Brewers 5 27 25 22 10
Miami Marlins 5 28 27 30 15
Chicago White Sox 5 29 26 29 16
Houston Astros 5 30 30 24 6

It seems obvious that some teams may be trying to lure customers to the home park with cheap beer to mask the lousy performance of the local nine. (The Astros, easily the worst team in MLB, have the sixth cheapest beer.) And some teams appear to think that the patrons who come to the ball park even though the home team is lousy are devoted enough to not need cheap brewskis.  (The Cubs, Brewers, White Sox and Marlins all have beer prices in the middle range, with the Cubs being just barely in the top third and the Brewers just out of the bottom third.)

But perhaps the most obvious conclusion to draw is that this was a ridiculous effort and that there is and can be no correlation between team performances and the price of any concession item, beer or hot dogs or Frosty Malts. This may be true, but I think it is much too early to arrive at such a conclusion. Much more research is needed.

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Kansas City Is Enjoying Their Royal Ride

What do the following teams have in common?

Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
San Francisco Giants
Milwaukee Brewers
Chicago Cubs
Miami Marlins
New York Mets
Philadelphia Phillies
Washington Nationals
Seattle Mariners
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Houston Astros
Minnesota Twins
Chicago White Sox
Toronto Blue Jays
New York Yankees

They all have, right now, almost a week into August, worse records than the Royals. The Kansas City Royals. The Royals who have had only one season above .500 since 1994, even though they had years of production from Johnny Damon, Carlos Beltran, Kevin Appier, Jermaine Dye, Raul Ibanez and Zack Greinke.

They are currently listed in the Wild Card standings, these Royals, thanks to being 13-3 since the All-Star break and 9-1 in their last ten games. Sure, they’ve been beating up on soft pillows such as the Twins and the White Sox, but good teams beat the teams they should beat. And the Royals should beat these teams.

So this is fun.

Now many, especially on local sports talk radio, are in a lather about the Royals getting to the postseason. I don’t think they will. But that shouldn’t be how anyone judges this season to be a success or failure. It’s an unqualified success. Despite the crazy pre-season declaration that Wade Davis was going to be in the starting rotation. Despite Wil Myers and, oh, never mind. He’s gone. Despite second base being a gaping hole. Despite everything. The Royals are the sports story of Kansas City in early August.

And for baseball fans in this town, that is really something.

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What To Do With The Biogenesis Fourteen

The slow, sad car wreck that is Major League Baseball dealing with PEDs continues to skid across diamonds throughout the land. (And Canada.) Ryan Braun accepted a 65 game ban recently and today it was announced that Nelson Cruz (Rangers), Jhonny Peralta (Tigers), Everth Cabrera (Padres), Francisco Cervelli (Yankees), Fernando Martinez (Yankees), Antonio Bastardo (Phillies), Jesus Montero (Mariners), Jordany Valdespin (Mets), Cesar Puello (Mets), Sergio Escalona (Astros), Fautino De Los Santos (Padres) and Jordan Norberto (free agent) all accepted 50 game suspensions. Alex Rodriguez, poster boy of PEDs and the lying and so forth that swirls around them, has been whacked with a 211 game suspension and is going to appeal it to an arbitrator. (He gets to play while his appeal is pending.)

Fifty games? Sixty-five? Two hundred and eleven? There was a time when the Commissioner of Baseball had the guts to deal with scandal. Back in 1920, Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis threw the eight White Sox players who had conspired to throw the World Series of 1919 out of baseball. Lifetime bans. Are you dirty? Yes. Boom. Out you go. No matter that you played during a time when you were not paid anything close to market value for your baseball skills, or that Hal Chase seemed to get away with the same sorts of things over and over again, or that you toiled, as the White Sox did, for Charles Comiskey, one of the most wretchedly cheap owners in the history of the game. Those that tainted the game, that made it something less than a honest competition, were shown the door. Should Shoeless Joe Jackson, a rather marginal participant, have suffered the same as Chick Gandil, the organizer? Probably not. But it’s too late to help Shoeless Joe now.  Other Commissioners also handed out lifetime bans, perhaps most notably A. Bartlett Giamatti’s tossing of Pete Rose and Fay Vincent’s ban of George Steinbrenner. (I will assume that you all know about the Pete Rose-betting-on-baseball story. Steinbrenner paid some creep to dig up dirt on Dave Winfield, one of his own players, in order to discredit him. Oy.)

Now, ninety some odd years after the Black Sox scandal, we are in a somewhat similar situation although much larger in terms of number of players involved and longer in duration.  (The “Steroid Era” has been going on for, what, fifteen years now?) But baseball is run by former Milwaukee Brewers owner and used car salesman Bud Selig. (Who, by the by, reinstated George Steinbrenner three years into the Yankees’ owner’s lifetime ban. Oy, again.) Cheaters who get caught get a wink and a nod and a vacation to play with their vast fortunes and then come trotting back onto the field. Over and over again.

Clearly the penalties and/or the enforcement efforts are not a deterrent to cheating.

So perhaps it is time for a new tack.  Perhaps it is time for the players to police their own. After all, it’s the cheaters who are threatening the integrity of the game and, thereby, the livelihoods of all players not to mention the untold thousands who work concessions, etc. (I’ll forgo an exploration of how many of the cheaters are reaping vast dollar benefits by their misdeeds but just say Melky Cabrera.)

Now, I am not talking anything drastic like plunking Alex Rodriguez in his injection site every time he darkens the batters box, although, geez, sometimes a pitch could get away from a fella. No, I’m envisioning something more passive.

Imagine, if you will, a scenario where the players simply refuse to engage in competition with the stained. Baseball, like any other team game, needs competitors. Bill James pointed out years ago that small-market teams could force big-market teams into revenue sharing by simply refusing to play them. How much TV revenue would the Yankees or Dodgers or Red Sox get for a forfeit? Or for a three game series over a holiday weekend that doesn’t happen because they chose to be greedy and keep all of the proceeds that come to them purely by the accident of geographic location and population density? Exactly. They’d be sharing the loot in a heartbeat.

The same approach could be used to deal with the dopers. Ryan Braun at the plate? Refuse to pitch to him. Alex Rodriguez in the box? Maybe roll the ball to home. Let him waddle down to first, then throw over there a few hundred times just to, you know, test his hip flexor. Jhonny Peralta hits a grounder? Field it, then toss it back to the pitcher.  Try to put out any other runners of course. Let fly balls drop, throw relays into the stands, and so on and so forth.

Now, even if you could get around the problem of accurately identifying the cheaters, wouldn’t this approach make a mockery of the game? Sure. But ask yourself what cheaters do. It’s the same thing, only they hide their misdeeds, some more actively than others.

Games are games. They have rules. If he rules aren’t followed, it stops being a game. So if a player can’t follow the rules, he shouldn’t be allowed to play.

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