MLB 2012: Soapbox

(originally written 11/27/11)

This is going to be long. Maybe even multiple parts. Just a warning.

 

Why is it going to be long? I’ve got much reflecting, opining and pontificating to do. The state of MLB, the World Series, the Giants, the A’s, certain free agents, the new CBA, uniform changes, rule changes, replay, even baseball cards. 

 

SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS

 

We’ll begin with the Giants. Admittedly, I defended the signing of Miguel Tejada to the point of public ridicule back in January. My defense was usually confused with predictions of excellence—which I never made. I DID predict Tejada’s adequacy, at worst, admonishing those bashing him before Spring Training was even over. Derek Jeter, also 37, is slipping but still better than most shortstops, and Tejada was once considerably better than Jeter (never more clear now that the “s” word played a role in that.) 

Who’d have thought, at 37, asking Tejada to bat .250 with 10 bombs and 60 RBI when he used to easily double that output likened to asking a turkey for his address. 

 

Well, pretty much everybody I talked to. Tejada was an offensive AND defensive liability, often fielding the baseball like cranberry sauce and ultimately being cut for openly flouting a bunt request while batting .220 something. As a whole, San Francisco had no choice but to miss the playoffs. I will go to my urn believing strongly that only the mysterious Golden State Warrior-style health hex cast upon the 2011 Giants prevented a repeat, at least as division champs.

 

Nothing annoyed me more than comments like this from the media, commentators, the man-on-the-street, etc.: “The Giants have GOT to do better than this! They’re the World Champions!” Uh, Tejada wasn’t a World Champion. Neither was Erik Surkamp, Bill Hall, Brandon Belt, Chris Stewart, Justin Cristian, Carlos Beltran, Jeff Keppinger, Brandon Crawford, or Ryan Vogelsong. They wore the same uniforms as the World Champions, and played on the same home field. But they were no more the defending champs than the 1998 Marlins were. Rafael Medina was not Kevin Brown back then and Chris Stewart was not Buster Posey in 2011. Yes, the Giants were very unlucky in 2011, but their Bay Bridge rivals would love to have their problems…

 

 

OAKLAND ATHLETICS

 

The Oakland A’s spent yet another year on the hamster wheel, unable to move forward due to stadium obstacles but unable to totally move backward lest the nightly average attendance drop below 1,000. You know the details: the A’s play in an unattractive football stadium (now that the Marlins have moved, they will be the last MLB team doing so come 2012), want to move to the South Bay, but are prevented from doing so by A) The Giants, who obtained the territorial rights to that area in 1990 when exploring a move there themselves, and B) The Commish, whose appointed committee has taken years to “investigate” all options for Oakland, including staying in Oakland.

 

Last week, progress was finally made when the Commish announced an upcoming meeting with SF officials. Will the rights be relinquished that day? No, and possibly not ever. All anybody wanted was some sign that wheels were moving on the issue. The A’s, one of MLB’s original franchises, cannot survive much longer in limbo as they have unless Billy Beane can concoct some new formula to replace the dated Moneyball approach and outwit MLB rivals. Perhaps baseball puts too much value in using three outfielders? Five infielders, every play, could be the answer…

 

They just need to know, one way or the other, where they stand. I was watching the infamous 22-9 game at Yankee Stadium this past season, the one where NY used three separate grand slams to overcome—and then some—a 7-0 deficit. I remember Robinson Cano’s slam best—during his AB, it literally felt as if Oakland had no chance to stop him or the rest of his team from the inevitable. One could almost feel the imbalance between the clubs in that moment—three All-Stars on base. An All-Star on deck. An All-Star in the box. A sold-out, brand-new ballpark that’s inherited every ghost of every legend from the old ballpark. Their own lucrative TV network and seemingly equal coverage on the Entertainment and Sports Programming Network.

 

I love the Giants to my core. Everyone knows that. I’m wearing their garb as I type, in fact. But I hate unfairness more, and what’s happening in Oakland is plain unfair. To the players, to the management, to thousands upon thousands more Athletics fans in the Bay Area who just want their team to have a chance to play the same game the rest of MLB plays.

 

 

MIAMI MARLINS

 

At least one franchise got answers—the former Florida Marlins, who will move to their new ballpark next season after years of wrangling as well. Personally, I kind of liked Joe Robbie Stadium (aka Dolphin Stadium and Pro Player Park and Rodney King Park and Ghostbusters Park and about 19 other names). Sure, its capacity was only topped by the continent of Africa and crowds of 35,000 still gave the appearance of sparseness. But JRS featured, up until this season anyway, that tall, teal LF wall with the scoreboard and distinctive lettering—I always dug that.
JRS falls into that Three Rivers’ Stadium/Metrodome/Kingdome/Candlestick category as dumps that hosted enough memorable baseball to almost make their closure sad. Here’s hoping the Oakland Coliseum soon enters that category.

 

The park looks okay, and Miami Marlins sounds nice and alliterate. The logo and uniforms, however…no. No, no, no. If you thought the 1980’s Astros stripes were ridiculous, watch out---the Marlins now basically wear tye-dye. How could anyone think this was a good idea. Somebody from the Marlins was quoted as saying the uniforms “reflect the area and the community”. Those awful things only reflect leaky Otter-Pop runoff. I’m pretty tough on logos and uniforms, but I genuinely felt the existing Marlins look worked fine (as does their fellow 1993-born Rockies) and hoped they’d limit any logo/uni edits to replacing all “Floridas” with “Miamis” only. Ugh.

 

 

TORONTO BLUE JAYS

 

Toronto is making changes as well, their fourth logo change since the 1996 offseason. This time, they’re restoring their original look that coincided with their glory years (1985-1993), with slight tweaks for modernization. This will replace the fiery, metallic “Jays” logo, which I referred to as the Ice Jay and was starting to warm up to (pun intended). My thoughts: why not? They’ve literally tried everything else. 

 

They’ve tried spending money on great players (Roger Clemens, Frank Thomas). They’ve tried spending money on average players (Vernon Wells, B.J. Ryan). They’ve refused to spend money on great players (Carlos Delgado). They’ve almost annually alternated between rebuilding with youth and importing veterans. They even resuscitated their most successful skipper Cito Gaston and still couldn’t get over the  A.L. East hump. So, if Ed Sprague and Jimmy Key and Paul Molitor and Robby Alomar and Dave Stieb and Tom Henke and Tony Fernandez and John Olerud are unwilling to play again, making the current team look as much like them as possible may be the only remaining approach—even if Adam Lind has to wear a helmet in the field. 

 

So long, Ice Jay. As long as Jason Frasor (whose Toronto career paralleled the eight seasons of the logo’s use) is in the league, no one will forget you.

 

 

JUSTIN VERLANDER

 

Boo, Justin Verlander winning MVP. He played 33 games. Detroit had to play 129 games without him and he’s the MVP? I thought this whole pitchers-as-MVPs ended with Eck back in ’92. Dammit! The only way a pitcher should win MVP is if it is proven that his dominance causes opponents to hallucinate his image when facing other pitchers.

 

 

JOE NATHAN

 

Not really understanding the Rangers’ thoughts on replacing Neftali Feliz with Joe Nathan as closer. Feliz, a flamethrowing, nearly unhittable closer for a two-time pennant winner, is about to be bumped into the rotation for a 37-year-old, surgically-repaired dude who’d been demoted from closing for much of 2011? Nothing against Nathan, whose achievements were beginning to lean toward Hall-of-Fame levels before his arm gave out in early 2010. But to me, this is almost like NBC moving Matt Lauer to Dateline so that Regis Philbin can take over Today. I guarantee this move will fail. I guarantee it.

 

(Update: I was dead wrong about Nathan.)

 

 

JONATHAN SANCHEZ 

 

Melky Cabrera for Jon Sanchez—plus for the Giants and a potential plus for KC. Obviously Dave Righetti got all he could out of Sanchez, who’d been one of MLB’s best from mid-’09 thru the end of 2010 and was even improving with the bat, but regressed last year to the point he could no longer be counted on every five days. The ex-Yankee Cabrera, once swapped for Nick Swisher, is no star, but he started to play like one last year. .280/15/75 with some steals would do nicely. We used to have a guy like that, Andre somebody. What happened to him? Oh yeah—he showed the world why it took him 11 years to stick on an MLB roster AS I PREDICTED. One out of two ain’t so bad… 

 

 

TOPPS BASEBALL CARDS

 

Speaking of ex-Giants lefties, this past year I finally bought the 2010, then 2009 (don’t ask) Topps Baseball sets, as is my annual tradition since 1990. Sorting through the latter, I came across a Noah Lowry card, which was not expected as he’d spent the entire preceding season on the DL and Topps doesn’t always recognize such players unless they’re top stars.

Lowry, of course, was the Giants’ winningest pitcher from 2005-2007, a young lefty without much more than a vicious changeup and a ton of guts who always seemed to just win—until an assortment of injuries sidelined him for 2008 AND 2009. The blurb on his card’s reverse begins “When Noah throws his first pitch of 2009—“ a sadly inaccurate forecast, as Lowry never threw another pitch for the Giants or any other MLB club. 

 

 

THE 2011 POSTSEASON

 

Never got a real chance to talk about the 2011 Postseason at length, so here goes—the wrong team won. This must have been how it felt to non-locals when the Giants won in 2010. The St. Louis Cardinals were hardly the best team in 2011. They weren’t even the best team in the World Series! The Braves played the role of Santa and begifted upon them a playoff spot, not unlike San Diego did with the Giants last year.

 

Look at their lineup: a distracted Albert Pujols, whose mind was more on how many small nations to purchase with his upcoming $50 trillion contract than on hitting Texas pitching. Rafael Furcal, who shockingly managed to drive to all seven games without crashing into the ballpark in a drunken haze. Yadier Molina, once the worst of the Molina brothers. David Freese, which sounds more like a police command than a ballplayer. Jon Jay, which sounds more like a sneeze than a ballplayer. Matt Holliday, who thumbed his nose so ferociously at Colorado and Oakland that it still hasn’t healed. Allen Craig, little more than MLB’s Robert Horry equivalent.

 

The only guy who should have given Texas any problem was Lance Berkman, familiar with their pitching from all the interleague clashes with the Astros and obviously back on PEDs of some kind. (Not serious.)

 

And Texas let them win? With that lineup? This team had no holes…yet a Cardinal always managed to ground a key hit through one. I’m no Rangers fan, but I am a baseball fan, and I rooted for Texas to end their long title drought as has become MLB’s trend. Tony LaRussa will be lauded for “guiding” St. Louis to two titles in five years, but face it: title #2 came in spite of his managing in Game 6.

 

 

GAME #162

 

Although this game wasn’t true postseason, it played a major role in how things shook out—the Boston/Baltimore game #162. High-priced, free-spending Boston (whom I’ve long detested) led the A.L. Wild Card by nine games over thrifty Tampa in early September, only to blow it and watch the Rays tie them with one game left. Tampa handled the Yankees—who had nothing to play for at all—in dramatic comeback/walk-off style, meaning Boston had to beat the last-place O’s just to ensure a one-game playoff for the Wild Card! They led the O’s 3-2 in the 9th, where Jon Papelbon (for whom my hatred may cease now that he’s a Phillie) got two quick outs. 

 

Then bam-bam-bam three straight hits and just like that, the Sox were done. The only person more jubilant than the scrappy O’s that day was I. “SUCK IT! SUCK IT, BOSTON!” I irrationally hollered at the TV. “GO DRIVE YOUR MAZERATIS AND YOUR BENTLEYS HOME! YOU’RE TERRIBLE! BUNCH OF PAMPERED LOSERS!”  I continued yelling idiotic insults at the Red Sox even after changing the channel; it felt that good to see their empire brought down.

I'm not here to talk about the past, but...last year at Camden Yards, I’d obtained an unwanted bobblehead of the Orioles’ Nolan Reimold—guests would question why I, a Giants fan, was displaying it in my home. After Reimold drove in that tying run off Papelbon, I received my answer. 

 

 

THE NEW COLLECTIVE BARGAINING AGREEMENT

 

The new CBA was ratified recently, which means little since the two biggest flaws in MLB—financial imbalance and expanded replay—were not corrected, though they were addressed. The luxury tax threshold remains the same and will actually rise in two years. How that reins in spending, I’m not sure. Baseball is “helping” low revenue teams by giving them extra draft picks, but obtaining draft picks has never been the issue with low-revenue teams because their free agents leave them for high-revenue teams every year. The problem isn’t obtaining young players, it’s keeping them once they enter their prime.

 

HGH testing will be done in the pre-and-post seasons, but not in-season, not yet. Since HGH is primarily used to recover from injuries and get players healthy and back on the field earning their paychecks, it’d be surprising to know if anyone ( besides the scrubs filling in for said players) minds its’ use—it’s not a drug, it’s produced by the body, after all. I think of HGH as an internal toupee. When a bald man can’t get women, he gets hair put in, and the problem is solved. When a sore man can’t get outs, he gets HGH put in, and the problem is solved. But obviously, others feel different.

 

As to replay, now foul line calls and “traps” can be reviewed, but until managers get one challenge per game and automatic reviews in the 9th—both of which would have to include base calls—it just won’t be enough. It’s progress, yes, but why must it be so…slow?

 

What I do very much like in this new CBA: no more weaseling out of the All-Star Game. Unless dudes are genuinely hurt and missing regular season action, they must show up and be available to play. Countless times in recent years (most notably this past season with the undeserving Jeter and others), players who’d rather sit home and didn’t care what the fans (and their peers) wanted would simply say “I ain’t getting’ on no plane”—only there was no Hannibal Smith to knock them out and force them onboard.

 

Some who did go only did so out of contract stipulations. It’s an All-Star exhibition game, dudes play three innings at most. If you don’t want to be there…don’t play like an All-Star and soon, nobody will wanna see you. Then what? Can’t have it both ways, fellas. Good job on this rule, MLB—now enforce the hell out of it.

                     

That is all.

Go, Giants.