Yankees Sign Brian McCann

The Yankees make huge signing by getting catcher Brian McCann to 5-year, $85 million deal, outbidding #Rangers —
Let’s this mark the beginning of the post season team building  competition that I think is as interesting as the season itself.

Please note this player is beyond his peak. See full career record Here.

This points out the flaw in the baseball reserve system where teams spend huge amounts for players who will have declining performance. Experts are already speculating as to what McCann will play when he gets older. He will be 30 this year.

Wild Card Race on September 16; Yankees Falter

The AL Wild Card race is becoming clearer. In two weeks the regular season will be over, and,we will know more, and may even have a playoff for the playoffs, an interesting scenario.  This morning finds Texas and Tampa Bay tied at 81-67 for the two Wild Card slots. Cleveland is now only  .5 games behind, with Baltimore  2.5 back and New York 3 back. On August 23 Here that the Yankees, due to the easy schedule in the last twelve games had a real chance to make the Wild Card, however, the Yankees have faltered. Where they had to win half the games against the better teams, Baltimore and Boston, they have lost 8 of 12, and dominate the lesser teams, they beat Chicago times. The poor showing against Boston, especially, where they lost 7 of 8, is the reason they remain 3 games back. The Red Sox, I am certain, regale in their role in the Yankees apparent demise. 

The Orioles likewise, lost 6 of 8 against NY and Cleveland. They did win 5 of 8 against Toronto and the White Sox. They remain 2.5 games behind.

The team that has won according to the dominate/breakeven rule is the Cleveland Indians. They won 6 of 7 against the Mets and White Sox in September, and won 4 of 7 against KC, Balitmore and Detroit. They are  .5 games behind. If any of the three teams are to make the Wild Card, it seems the Indians are the team.  They will  have to pass Tampa or Texas to do that.

Texas has only won 1 of 10 recently and play Tampa Bay and KC 7 times this week.  They finish with Houston and LAA. Tampa Bay, of course, has the 4 against Texas at home this week and then play 7 against NYY and Baltimore before the final three in Toronto.

Tampa Bay and Cleveland are the probable winners here. However, baseball has strange twists. Yesterday, trying to win its twelth in a row against Minnesota, ran into a Twins team that hadn’t scored in 25 innings only to have the Twins score twice in the 7th on a single by Chris Parmelee, BA  .223 and four times in the 8th, three runs coming on a homerun by Josimil Pinto, a catcher who spent the Summer in AA, to win the game. Tampa Bay will remember that piitch to Pinto if they fail to make the playoffs. That final three in Toronto are critical.

There is another race worth noting and that is to avoid the Igniminy and the MLB Cellar Dweller, Here.  In the NL West, San Francisco, San Diego are tied and Colorado 1 game down for last place. Maybe they will all tie for last, or, as they would describe it, fourth, place and all will avoid the Ignominy of the Cellar Dweller.

The last two weeks of the regular season, like all of September is War, after that we have the playoffs and then the long, cold Winterl

MLB Playoffs on September 10

The playoff drama of September is now focused on the American League where Cleveland and Baltimore are 1.5 games behind Tampa Bay and New York and Kansas CIty are 3 and 4 games back. This drama is created by the new format that adds a one game playoff between the two top non-division winners for what has been the lone wild card position. I wrote hereearlier that the schedule favors the Yankees, but they have faltered and have only gained a half game since August 23.  Kansas City finishes with seven games against Chicago and Seattle, but may be a game or two too far back to close the gap. Baltimore plays three against the Yankees this week and then Boston six times and the resurgent Blue Jays (8-2 over the last ten) six times with three against Tampa Bay. There is no easy road there.

The lesson here is that although it is possible to close a gap in a few weeks, the gap was caused by the way a team played for 135 games, and it is unlikely to change very much in the last 27. So, too, is the lead a team has earned. A team must collapse to lose a long developed lead. I still think the Yankees can make it to the wild card due to the schedule, but they must dominate the lesser teams and they lost 3 of 4 to the Red Sox where a split was necessary, but they swept three against the White Sox. Playing the top teams even and dominating those below is the secret here. The reason the schedule favors the Yankees is that when they finish with Baltimore and Boston next Sunday, they play last place teams twelve straight to end the season. If they are 4-2 or 3-3 with Baltimore and Boston, they can be 9-3, or 8-4 with the lesser teams. It will still be close.

Cleveland has a similar chore, and plays thirteen times against sub .500 teams to end the season, with five more with KC whom they beat yesterday, as well. Cleveland may, in fact, have a slight edge over the Yankees in this race to the wild card.

Of course, all is pure conjecture if Tampa Bay plays well as wild card pretenders trail this team in the standings. TB plays six of twenty against sub .500 teams. If they split with Boston, Baltimore and NYY, and dominate 6-0, 5-1 or 4-2 against Minnesota and Toronto, they will win. It will be interestng and that is why our interest remains.

The real race is to avoid ignominy by finishing last. In the NL Central, San DIego, San Francisco, and Colorado are one game apart for last. All of these teams have tough teams to play going forward with the final series of San Diego at San Fransico likely determining the loser.

“It ain’t over ’til its over,” said Yogi Berra, the sage of baseball lore. So true. It will come down to who throws and fields the best, as it has for the first 140 games of the season.

Perfect Fifth Game in New York

I posted an article on “Fifth Game Theory” here; that explains how pennants are won by those who win the Fifth Game. In short, most all teams win two of five games and lose two of five games, That leaves the fifth game to determine who wins the pennant. Tonight in New York, the Red Sox tied the game in the top of the ninth at 3-3 and in the bottom of the ninth Ichiro Suzuki singled, stole second, advanced to third on a fly ball and scored the winning run on a wild pitch. A perfect Fifth Game outcome. 

Remember that “Fall Baseball is War” here and that is how this season is finishing. 

Fall Baseball is War

A baseball season starts in the Spring with teams playing with a relaxed tone that indicates players understanding that there is the long season ahead and any early deficit can be overcome. This leads to the mid-season, from June through August, where the play intensifies as they are in great shape and have an understanding of how good or bad the team is.  With this understanding comes a developing urge to win, if the team is good, or just survive and avoid the ignominy of the cellar.Ignominy-and-the-MLB-Cellar-Dweller”

Then it is September. This is the month where every pitch has meaning. The glory of the pennant is there, as is the drive to preserve some pride by beating a contender and finishing as well as possible. This is September 3. There are about 25 games left, not the mass of 100+  that faced teams in June. Here a game won or lost can make all the difference. Just one game here or there. Players play September game as if it were war.

In the AL West, Oakland and Texas have identical records, 79-58, at the top. On those teams, as is true of all teams in the pennant race, memories of games lost in April and May due to an error, missed cut off man, misjudged flyball, and all of the ways a game can be lost are remembered, vaguely, and the fact that can’t happen now dominates players’ thinking. As said earlier, some teams play with their hands on their throats. Texas lost to Minnesota to a late homerun recently.  Oakland has won four in a row and beat Texas yesterday, and they play each other five more times this month.

In the AL East, Boston is 5.5 games ahead and shows no sign of losing. The Orioles and Yankees are battling for the wild card position, 1/2 game apart. They play each other four times next week.

In the NL Central, three teams, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and Cincinnati have post season possibilities. The Pirates are ahead by one game over St. Louis and play each other this weekend. In that division, the Cubs and Brewers are tied for last, and that is a real race, as well, as the drive to avoid being last is as strong in September as is the race to win. They will play each other seven more times in what will be vigorously contested games.

In the NL West, the race is between San Diego and San Francisco to avoid the cellar. They are tied at 61-76. They are playing a three game series now, San DIego won yesterday and will finish the season with a three game series in San Francisco. Just thinking of the importance to those two teams of avoiding the ignominy of the cellar means that series will be ferocious.

The long season is 162 games long. It is like life itself where daily events have long term impacts. For the baseball fan, it’s never over ’til it’s over and for all the teams mentioned above, it won’t be over until the season is over. The only time in baseball where time is a factor and for baseball people, in September, time seems to stand still.

MLB Pennant Race on August 25

I wrote on August 12 about the Wild Card race here and added the Yankees to the mix recently here. The Yankees have the benefit of the right schedule but they need to win half the time versus Tampa Bay, Boston and Baltimore. So far, they have lost two to Tampa Bay to move 4.5 games behind in the Wild Card race. They must win against the top teams to allow the schedule to work for them.

The most disapointing feature of the race is the Kansas City Royals seven game losing streak. I am a Royals rooter because I like seeing teams improve to the point they can contend. There are three steps to this process, first you learn to play, then you learn to win, finally you learn to win when you have to. The Royals have clearly not learned the last step. Maybe next year.

As an example of this process, the Miami Marlins, who have been playing better, lost a game 3-2 to Colorado because of the failure to cut off a throw from the outfield that allowed Michael Cuddyer to advance to second after a game tying single. He scored the winning run moments later on a double. The Marlins learned the second lesson there as this is the sort of play a winning team makes.

These are the days where winning Fifth Games ( Fifth Game Theory) is all important. Last night, Texas lost 3-2 to the White Sox, who scored in the bottom of the ninth. Oakland won in Baltimore with a run in the top of the ninth. These are examples of Fifth Games that must be won by pennant contenders.

As I look at box scores every day, I look first at the line score to see who won in the last three innings. This is because a baseball game is really two games in one. The first game is a six inning game that is played to gain an advantage in the three inning game. This short game is played by specialists, relief pitchers, closers, pinch hitters, defensive replacements and the like. To win pennants, teams have to have competence in the “specialist” category. Take a look at the line score to gain an appreciation of the nature of the game. As Yogi Berra said,”It ain’t over until it is over,” and that means after the last out.

NY Daily News Links Alex Rodriguez and Victor Conte

The New York Daily News here wrote about a meeting between Alex Rodriguez and Balco founder, Victor Conte who spend four months in jail for his connection to illegal steroid distribution to athletes, Marion Jones, Barry Bonds and Jason Giambi. The meeting took place in San Francisco in May 2012. Conte told Rodriguez that he could only offer legal supplements and commented on a blood test. He then sent Bonds supplements that he creates at SNAC, his supplement company. Thus story only adds to the story of how Rodriguez was seeking enhancement from different sources and Conte would only supply legal products. In fact, after looking at the product labels, these are products that I can buy at TAO.com  here in Minneapolis while eating vegan chili. The only new story is Conte’s marketing genius in linking his products to Rodriguez.  I am sure sales will be brisk this week.

MLB, New York Yankees, and the Alex Rodriguez Drama

The baseball world is waiting for the long anticipated release of the names and penalties to be assessed against MLB players who obtained performance enhancing drugs from the Miami clinic, Biogenesis. None of the players failed drug tests, as all charges are based on non-analytical positive evidence such as oral testimony, emails and records obtained from Biogenesis.

Alex Rodriguez is the most well known of the players, but Jhonny Peralta, the Tigers shortstop, is thought to be one of them and the Tigers have already traded for a replacement, but back to ARod.  This is the most interesting case as he admitted steroid use while with Texas and has been accused of such behavior before the Genesis deal. He is said to have recruited players for Biogenesis, which is another crime, as they say.

ARod could face a lifetime suspension, so he is trying to negotiate with MLB for a lesser sentence. It was said today, that MLB is not negotiating so much with ARod as they are negotiating with the Yankees. This raises interesting issues that I find troubling. The evidence is in and MLB has it. It must apply the rules to all players and do so without inquiring of the player’s team as to what it wants to achieve. For example, say the Yankees say “we want him for the rest of this year, but want his remaining $100,000,000 contract blocked for life.”  That would mean that MLB would suspend     Arod for life, but, because he can appeal his suspension, he could play next week.  Similarly, other teams may want the player, Peralta, for example, could appeal a suspension and finish the season, or accept a fifty game suspension and be eligible for post season. The timing of this is not by chance!

If Arbitrator Horowitz upholds a life time suspension, both the Yankees and MLB win. If he limits the suspension to a year, for example, ARod wins, and MLB’s drug testing program is impeded as to future suspensions. In this decision, the Arbitrator will look at other lifetime bans, Pete Rose and Shoeless Joe Jackson, for gambling, for example. I believe that gambling is an attack on the underlying integrity of the game and is the most serious offense against the game as that directly effects the outcome of the game, and has a negative impact on fans who want to trust the outcome is legitimate. This is not to diminish the PED effect, but the Arbitrator will also look to other drug cases, Steve Howe for example, where a lifetime ban was overturned by Arbitrator Nicolau, because MLB did not offer drug treatment. (Howe’s drugs of choice were primarily cocaine and marijuana.)

There is another factor in the ARod case. The Commissioner has power to by-pass the appeals process and suspend for life “to protect the integrity of the game.” Here the risk is that a court (or an arbitrator, I will have to check the proceedural rules) will find the penalty excessive and over turn it.
Furthermore, and this may be the most important factor, is that taking away a player’s appeal rights that exist in the basic union contract is to invite war with the Player’s Association which had been compliant with the suspensions as long as suspension appeal rights were not limited. This could be very damaging.

All in all, this will be a very interesting week. ARod will appeal if suspended and play for the Yankees this week or he may negotiate a deal and accept a lesser penalty. That case will then control drug penalty cases in the future. The Commissioner will be very careful as well, as his power is at risk. Maybe it is better to save that for gambling cases in the future.

MLB is now taking a strong stance against drug use, and, as Henry Aaron is thinking, it is about time.

“42,” the Movie and Its Times

The movie “42” is a magnificent movie on its own; That it tells a tale about baseball makes it that much grander. It is a tale of strong men who were willing to challenge an established social code and change the world. The two major collaborators in this tale are Branch Rickey, Brooklyn Dodger general manager and owner, and Jackie Robinson, an extraordinary athlete as a four sport star at UCLA, Army Officer in WWII, and a gifted, talented baseball player.  The story of how Robinson got to the big leagues is a great tale in itself, but the background is even more amazing.

  In an early scene, Rickey is meeting with his staff and says he is going to bring a black man into major league baseball. He comments, that “there are a lot of black baseball fans in Brooklyn,” so Rickey’s motivation was economic. This fact has been born out by contemporary accounts and interviews. With this economic incentive, Rickey goes on a search for the right sort of man. Robinson is that man in every way.

How did Rickey know there were a lot of black baseball fans in New York? He was reflecting on the Negro League teams, the Newark Eagles, the New York Cubans and the New York Black Yankees who played in New York in 1946. The Eagles had Larry Doby (HOF 1998), Monte Irvin (HOF 1973) and Ray Dandridge on its pennant winning team.  These three teams had enthusiastic fans and Rickey said he wanted them. The movie is true to this history and this adds to its historical accuracy. (The Eagles were operated by Effa Manley the first and still leading female team operator, more on her later.)

Robinson was playing for the Negro League Kansas City Monarchs when Rickey approached him. He then went to Spring Training trying to make the Montreal Royals, a Dodger affiliate, Baseball culture surrounding the play of the game is depicted with perfection, The tensions among players, the struggle to play well enough, is overlain by the tension of Robinson’s ethnicity. He was the first black player, or was he? 

There was no secret that the major leagues would be integrated at some point. There is significant evidence that black players had played before Robinson. My candidate for the first black was Bobby Estalella, thought to be part black, who played for the Washington Senators, but Estalella was a Cuban and Cubans got a pass. Recall Charlie Pryor who played Charles Snow, “Carlos Nevada,” in the movie “Bingo Long and the Traveling All Stars.” Snow studied Spanish so he could pass for a Cuban to make the Majors. These efforts at using Cubans was simply a prelude to hiring African American players. It seems that when Robinson played in Brooklyn it was only a matter of time before other African American players would arrive. A scene in the press box with a writer predicting that blacks would supplant whites in the Major Leagues because “they had a longer heel bone,” was one of the humorous moments but illustrated the myth that blacks had some physical advantage over whites. When Robinson hit it out of the park, the other writers ask “did he hit that with his heel bone?”
Robinson as played by Chadwick Boseman who learned to hit and play like Robinson. It is his deft imitation of Robinson’s batting stance that I liked the most, followed by the base running. The movie shows Robinson as a hitter of note and an aggressive base runner. The movie shows the pitcher pitching out of the stretch rather than a windup every time Robinson gets to third base and has Robinson steal home in such a situation. This is just a director’s error but is one that is caught by every baseball fan in the audience, as is the umpire’s use of the outside, or American league, chest protector in National League games.
This movie uses special effects better than any baseball film ever. The speed of the pitched ball is shown at its lethal best.(See: ‘Baseball’s Timeless Appeal’ on this blog) I have never seen this before in a movie and it is done perfectly.
It is the graphic description of the grand old parks that I enjoyed most, as all baseball games were shown in the appropriate parks like Ebbets Field, Crosley Field, Forbes Field, Wrigley Field, Sportsman’s Park, and the Polo Grounds, where you can see that deep center field where Mays made that wonderful catch in 1954.
The relationship between Jackie and wife, Rachel, is magical. and played wonderfully by Nicole Baharie. As the anchor-to-windward for Robinson, she is perfect, even to the point of giving batting instructions, “you’re lunging, Jack.”
Harrison Ford spent a lot of time studying Branch Rickey, a lawyer turned baseball executive. that was the masterful performance. Ford catches the stance, style, bluster, and bravado perfectly. I spent time with Rickey when I was a kid and I could smell the cigar again.
I discussed Rickey’s motivation above. He wanted to make money. Rickey was a lawyer and Robinson was under contract to the Monarchs when Rickey signed him to a Montreal contract. Usually when this happens, the former team would have been compensated for the loss, absent this, it must sue to recover. Rickey never compensated Negro League teams for players he took and there is no evidence he was ever sued. On the other hand, Bill Veeck, who had been watching Larry Doby for years, paid Effa Manley of the Eagles (see above) $11,000 as compensation for the lost player. Rickey said the Negro League owner were a bunch of petty crooks and hustlers, one team being financed by a gambler; Veeck saw them as baseball colleagues (Veeck told me he should have paid $100,000 for Doby.)
Doby followed Robinson by six weeks into the American League, so they share trail-blazer credit, joined in July by Hank Thompson with the St. Louis Browns. It was the American League that had the most black players in 1947. That there were three black players in the Majors in 1947 is not well known. The Boston Red Sox were the last team to integrate, doing so in 1959.
This movie is important for a number of reasons. First, it tells a story of great men confronting a great evil and overcoming that barrier and changing a nation. Second, for younger viewers it will be a shocking view of segregated America. I don’t know how that will be dealt with, but for me, it was a sad memory of a disturbing time. This is a movie that transcends the theme of baseball to teach America an important moment, as important as any in our social history, and teaches a lesson for all to absorb and wonder how they would have acted if in the same position at that time.